I grew up in the local church and took for granted that every Christian knew that believers were to be devoted to the local church and I remember hearing many sermons on the importance of being a part of a local church. Scripture references such as Hebrews 10:24-25; Matthew 16:18; Acts 2:42-47 were spoken of from the pulpit and in Sunday School. So, please imagine my surprise when I met a person, 20 years ago, who told me that one could be a Christian and did not need to attend weekly worship. As a matter of fact, according to this individual, a believer didn’t even need to be a part of the local church. This was an earth-shattering statement for me. I could not process why anyone would believe that the local church was disposable and irrelevant to the life of someone who claimed to love Jesus. Even as the son of a pastor who has seen and personally experienced the absolute worst from people in the local church, this was a completely foreign thought. Still today, as a pastor for over 13 years, I still can not fathom that someone sees the local church as optional at best and useless at worst. I will not deny that some of these beliefs may be driven by deep hurt and the betrayal experienced by these individuals at the hands of those in the local church. However, personal experience cannot determine our beliefs, instead, Scripture alone serves as the only infallible standard by which we form all our beliefs. The importance of being firmly grounded in good doctrine is seen in a quote by Charles Spurgeon who once said,
“The feather flies in the wind, but it has no inherent power to move, and consequently when the gale is over it falls to the ground — such is the religion of excitement; but the eagle has life within itself, and its wings bear it aloft and onward whether the breeze favors it or not — such is religion, when sustained by a conviction of the truth. The well-taught man in Christ Jesus stands firm where the uninstructed infant would fall or be carried away.” (Salvation Altogether By Grace)
Again, the Westminster Confession Of Faith, along with the 1689 London Baptist Confession states,
“The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man, or church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God”
Scripture itself states in Hebrews 10:24-25,
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (ESV)
So, what do we do with the local church? We love the local church. We pray for the local church and we work for her good, which means that for pastor/elder, deacon and/or church member, we may have to call her to repentance. It is true that many local churches close. In my denomination alone it is estimated that an astounding 900 churches close every year. Does that mean God has given up on the local church? Far from it; while many local churches in the U.S. and Canada may close every year, the promise given by Jesus is still true. Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock, I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (NASB). Does this mean we just ignore problems when they arise? No. This is why a healthy and robust doctrine of the local church must be embraced. We cannot act as if we can make up our own version of “church” as we go along. Instead, we are to work for gospel reformation and Biblical truth throughout the life of a local church. We take our cue from King Jesus who called 5 of the 7 churches in Revelation to repentance. However, through it all, we look to Jesus. So, pastor, take heart and look to Jesus. Church member, if you long for reformation in your local church, be encouraged and look to Jesus; pray, work and fast to that end but don’t take your eyes off of Jesus. Please, don’t misunderstand what I am saying. Are there times to leave a local church? Absolutely! However, let that not be our first thought; let it be our last. Until then, let us love and work for reform and repentance in the local church for the glory of God.
Soli Deo Gloria