As mentioned in the previous blog(s), we are called and commanded to love the fellow members of our local church. You may now agree that God calls all Christians to join (i.e. to be committed to) a local church and that God calls you to love the family of God in your local church. However, I would like to raise the following questions: Do you really believe that you need the local members of your church? Or, do you feel as if you have “out-grown” your local church? These are not simple questions to answer, but they must be asked if we seriously want to love the members of our local church. The reality is that we all need the local church not just in an abstract way; we need the local church because we need each other.
Dealing With the Drama
Each one of us is a deeply flawed individual who lives in a fallen world and interacts with sinful individuals on a daily basis in our various vocations. Because of this, we have developed a plethora of sinful habits, along with emotional and spiritual baggage from our circumstances (before and after our conversion). When we join a local church, we are entering into a relationship with other deeply flawed individuals with a different set of sinful habits, and it is probable that some of them will probably push your pet peeves. As Ian Hamilton said recently, “Some individuals are quirky around the edges, and some individuals may be quirky at the center.” Although we are united to Christ, our sinfulness doesn’t just afflict us; it also afflicts fellow Christians. This is why many believers see parallels between marriage and church membership. The hardships we experience within both kinds of relationships are associated with our fallenness.
This is a reality that virtually all Christians encounter in every age (including the apostolic age), and yet we are called and commanded to love one another. Furthermore, the Apostle John tells us that this love is what should distinguish us from the unbelieving world (cf. John 13:35). Dear Christian, do you keep the members of your local church at arm’s length because you don’t want to deal with their issues and drama? Do you stay on the margins of church life because you hate the drama? While no one wants to deal with perpetual drama within the church, we should be honest with ourselves. In some way or fashion, we are all broken and dysfunctional people, and the truth is that we are blind to most of our dysfunctional issues! We are all a part of the drama that we hate within local churches. Furthermore, it is the height of folly to believe that you can see your full dysfunction clear enough without the assistance of your local church. Even the Apostle Paul states that he is not mature enough to “outgrow” the church. Consider his words in Romans:
First I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son, that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. For I long to see you that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you – that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. Romans 1:8-12
It makes perfect sense that Paul would want to visit the church in Rome and strengthen them through his spiritual gifts. However, Paul clarifies by saying that what he genuinely wants is to be “mutually encouraged by each other’s faith”. Paul is longing to visit this church so that he could be encouraged by their faith. This demonstrates that the local church was never designed to have “super-Christians” who are always giving and “normal Christians” who are always receiving. The reason why is because there is no such thing as a “super-Christian”. Even the mightiest believer will wither and die apart from God’s grace, which is often experienced through the local church.
Another basic reason why you need the members of your local church is because the gifts of the local church are necessary for your edification. In other words, God has distributed His gifts within the church in such a way that the members may have the same need for one another (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:25). Oftentimes, when we think of spiritual gifts, we only think of the public or “flashy” gifts, such as preaching, teaching, evangelism, musical gifts, etc. However, based on scripture, many of the spiritual gifts are much more ordinary, such as service, exhortation, giving, mercy, administration/leadership, etc (cf. Romans 12:4-8). These are the non-controversial gifts that are given to the church, and they form the backbone of many local churches. These are the gifts that Christians no longer exercise or benefit from when they choose to neglect their local church. Consider the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians:
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 1 Corinthians 12:4-7
If you are united to Christ, you have received spiritual gifts for the purpose of serving to build up your local church (“the common good”). We have different gifts with different levels of ability for different objectives. However, the bottom line is that the local church needs the gifts that you bring to her, and you need the gifts of fellow members of your local church. Christians are not to be merely consumers of goods and services, but every member of a church is a distributor and laborer for the common good. Therefore, we need each other.