Aug 1, 2005

What Is the Church and Why Should I Care? - Part 6

VI. So What?

We have seen that the church is: (1) A gathered community whose members have entered into a solemn covenant with each other; (2) comprised of baptized believers in Christ who have entered into a life of discipleship; (3) led by gifted pastors who have been called and ordained by the Holy Spirit; (4) shows its true allegiance to Jesus by three marks: preaching the gospel, administering the ordinances, and practicing church discipline; and (5) has the mission of worshipping God, edifying believers, and reaching the world with the gospel.

There are a lot of practical applications that we could pursue in light of these truths. Yet, the one basic application that comes out of this study is the obligation of every Christian to be a member of a local church. Notice again what we have seen in the course of this study. Christ has created the local church for the express purpose of helping Christians grow in Christ. Apart from the ministry of a local church you cannot grow into a healthy, mature Christian. Christ has given to each believer the church, which has gifted teachers to help you learn the doctrines you are supposed to believe and the lifestyle you are supposed to live. Christ has given you other believers to hold you accountable and to encourage you. It is Christ’s desire that Christians congregate publicly to worship him together, and he desires that his disciples work together to evangelize the world.

For Christ’s purposes for the church to be fulfilled, for his purposes for you to be fulfilled, you have to make a covenant commitment to a local church, to submit to its pastors, and to put your spiritual gifts to use for the sake of others. This is what the early Christians did. Notice what Luke tells us in Acts:

The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. (Acts 5:12-13)

After Ananias and Sapphira were struck down by the Holy Spirit for their terrible sin, we read that "none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly." This text tells us that many unbelievers in Jerusalem had great respect for the new church, but kept their distance because they were afraid of the serious—even "deadly"—consequences of joining the church. What we need to note here is that the church was seen as something that could be joined, and this tells us that the church had a clearly defined membership. It was known who was in and who was out. But we can go further than this by looking more closely at the word "join" that Luke uses in this text. The Greek word used here is kollao and it means "to glue" or "cement together." Don Whitney comments that in the context of Acts 5:13, the word kollao

doesn't refer to an informal, merely assumed sort of relationship, but one where you choose to "glue" or "join" yourself firmly to the others. . .The same "glue word" is used in the New Testament to describe being joined together in a sexual relationship (1 Corinthians 6:16) and being joined to the Lord in one spirit in salvation (1 Corinthians 6:17 . . . Clearly this kind of language doesn’t refer to a casual, superficial, or informal relationship.

So when it says in Acts 5:13 that no insincere believer dared joined them for a while, the glue word used there speaks of such a cohesive, bonding relationship that it must be referring to a recognized church membership.(Spiritual Disciplines within the Church, p. 46)

The early Christians understood their duty to be committed members of a local church. It is important that Christians today understand this, too. To shun this duty is to shun Christ’s gift to you. To neglect church membership is to neglect your obedience to Christ. If you love Jesus, you love what he loves; and Jesus loves the church. If you are a Christian, but not a member of a local church, you should make this your first priority.


GL said...

You're a voice crying out in the wilderness. Hope you get heard. Good, needed stuff.

Adsum Peccavi said...

Dr. Cowan,

I am familiar with several (about 15) "home" churches in my area. Almost all have come from a common orignal home church started perhaps 20 years ago. Each one has about 10, but usually no more than 20 adult members based primarily upon space availiable in the homes. They typically divide an start another congregation/church when the home becomes too crowded to conduct an orderly worship service.

These churches are gathered communities of baptized believers, and are overseen by elders. They preach the gospel and (I believe) faithfully administer the ordinances and practice church discipline. The also are committed to worship of God, edification of the believers, and benevolence/missions.

The weakest point is the frequent lack of (in my opinion) qualification (spritual maturity) of some of the elders.

I would personally never be interested in these churches because they are (with one exception) very Arminian and almost militantly legalistic, ala Bill Gothard.

I guess the point I am trying to make is that you do not seem to exclude the possiblity that a a "home church" could be a "true church". The problems facing any home church need not be different than those facing a very small congregation with a building, perhaps less, since they could devote additional revenues to benevolence and missions.

Not avocating home churches... I am just trying to flush out some more details about these types of situations.


Adsum Peccavi

Dr. Steve Cowan said...

In response to adsum peccavi, let me say that I think that so-called "house churches" can be legitimate, God-honoring churches. You don't have to have a building to be a church. Regardless of where a church meets, though, to be a real church, it will have to exhibit the three marks of a church and have biblically qualified leadership.