When Did Church Become Optional?
To most people in America, the local church is not a bad thing. And that is a good thing! Unfortunately though, most Americans feel the local church is optional, unnecessary, even meaningless to their personal lives. Yet God designed the local church to be necessary, essential, and vital. No Christian can grow, develop, and become who and what God wants them to become without active involvement and participation in a local church.
What has contributed to many people believing the lie that local church membership and involvement is an optional thing?
Well, first there are those who think being connected to the Body of Christ (The Universal Church) is good enough. But membership in the heavenly, eternal organism does not lessen the Christian’s earthly duties and responsibilities (II Timothy 4:1-8). Being committed to Christ who is in heaven automatically makes us committed to other Christians on earth (See the “One Another” commands of Christ to His followers). The best way to be obedient to these commands is to be involved in the life and service of a local church.
Second, there are those who are confused about the meaning, definition, and purpose of the local church. It is easy, over a long period of time, to allow our view and definition of the local church to become “spending one hour a week in a church building or at a church service.” While a corporate worship experience is part of what comprises a local church, in no way should that be allowed to become the sum total of that church (Acts 2:41-47). You would no more look at a tire on a rim and say you have a car than you would attend a worship service and say you have a meaningful and complete church connection. A single part does not make the whole. It requires night, and the mid-week service and involvement in several areas of personal ministry to receive the full blessing and benefit of a local church. This commitment of time may not sound very appealing to some fold, but remember what Jesus said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it (Luke 9:23-24). Discipleship costs! Nowhere in the Bible do you read Jesus saying “Let them have their cake and eat it too” or Relax and enjoy life, I don’t require anything from you.” Discipleship involves giving up earthly pleasures so that we may gain eternal treasures.
Thirdly, there are those who want to make excuses for their lifestyle and continued rebellion against God’s authority over goodness and grace, His love and mercy, His holiness and truth, His sovereignty and righteousness (I Timothy 3:15). The things we can know about the invisible Christ are made known through the visible acts of the members of the local church. Jus as the invisible workings of Christ are made known by the Holy Spirit as He works in and through the physical actions of His people on earth. But, since men love darkness rather than light and their deeds are evil, they reject God and His work on earth through the local church (John 3:19-21). They make excuses like: “The church is full of hypocrites,” or “I don’t get anything out of the messages” to try to justify their own disdain of God and contempt for God’s people who are simply forgiven sinners, not perfect angels.
Lastly, there are those who have been hurt, offended, or are still smarting from a bad experience at a local church. They have withdrawn into their own little “religious world” where they practice certain spiritual disciplines such as Bible reading and prayer and leave off doing other ones such as witnessing to the lost (Acts 1:8), assembling with the saints (Hebrews 10:24-25), and storehouse giving (I Corinthians 16:2; Malachi 3:10). They are trying to offer up to God a man-made variety of worship that He does not accept, just as God did not accept the offering of Cain (Genesis 4:3-5), nor the partial obedience of King Saul (I Samuel 15:1-11). God does not accept anyone who does not approach Him properly through faith and obedience. As I Samuel 15:22-23 says, “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubborness is as iniquity and idolatry.” A man-made philosophy that says it is better to stay home and stay safe than to seek out a Bible-believing, Christ-honoring local church to get involved with will never have God’s blessing on it because God does not bless disobedience.
None of the reasons mentioned above are legitimate reasons for believing local church membership and involvement is optional. They are lies and not truth. Christ expects, even commands His people to be actively involved in a local group of believers that the Bible calls a church. Here, in the context of a local church, His followers identify with their Savior through baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the public teaching and preaching of God’s Word, exercising spiritual gifts, being witnesses to His saving grace, singing hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs, fellowshipping together, and being accountable to one another (Acts 2:41-47; I Corinthians 11:26; Hebrews 10:24-25; 13:7, 17; I Peter 5:5).
Each local church is the body of Christ in miniature. It is God’s chosen and ordained way of manifesting Christ to the world (I Corinthians 12:12-31). Commitment to and involvement in a local church is biblical. Since Christ willingly and fully identified with us by giving up the joys and comforts of heaven to come to earth to bear our sin in His own body, shouldn’t we be willing to give up some of our joys and comforts to be identified with Him by uniting with a local church and getting fully involved for His glory?
The church, a living body, containing all the parts
It lives, it moves, it functions, and touches many hearts
When each part is committed to do the Savior’s will
His members are united, His purpose they fulfill