By Steven Chan
1. It is not uncommon to hear some say that it is not important whether you are a member of a church or not, as after all, “my faith is personal to me and it is between me and God”. Some even say: “the church is full of hypocrites”. Others opined: “there is no perfect church”, so it is not important to one’s salvation whether one is a member of a church, or which church one is a member of. Some say: “It’s important that we are members of the universal church that Jesus died for; it matters not whichever church you are a member of in the local community.”
Given the above mind-set, the local church appears to be increasingly irrelevant to both believers and unbelievers.
2. What does the Bible say about the church in God’s scheme of redemption?
The apostle Paul wrote in Eph 3:8-13 that the church and its role in the redemption of man is in accordance with the “eternal purpose” which He accomplished in Christ Jesus; the church is integral to God’s plan for the redemption of man:
“To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; 10 to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, 11 according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him. 13 Therefore I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.”
3. The Bible records that Jesus promised to build His Church (Matt 16:18-19) and Paul urged the elders of the church at Ephesus “to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). “Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body” (Eph 5:23). “Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, 26 that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, 27 that He might present her to Himself a glorious church” (Eph 5:25-27a).
The above passages of Scriptures reveal the importance of the church to Jesus Christ. According to Acts 2:44,47, all those who were being saved were added to the church: “Now all who believed were together… 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” The church comprised of those who are being saved. Jesus “reconciles (both Jews and Gentiles believers) to God in one body (His church – Eph 1:22-23) through the cross” (Eph 2:16).
4. When the Lord adds those who were being saved to the church, was He adding to just the universal body of Christ, or also to the local body of Christ? Let’s consider what the Bible says. When Paul wrote “to the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints” (1 Cor 1:2), he addressed the problems of that local church such as “divisions” among the members (1 Cor 1:10-14), “accepting into their fellowship those who were having immoral relationships” (1 Cor 5), “brethren suing each other in the law courts” (1 Cor 6), and many other matters, including their incorrect attitude and practice in partaking of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11) and the use of miraculous gifts (1 Cor 12-14).
It is noteworthy that Paul was addressing them as the church when assembled: “Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse. 18 For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. 19 For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you. 20 Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. 21 For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you.” (1 Cor 11:17-22)
It is evident that the believers come together in a locality, it is the church of God assembled there. The believers that assemble in that locality have responsibilities towards each other (being the local body of Christ -1 Cor 12:12-31) as well as to the believers who assemble in other localities (2 Cor 8) – being members of the church of God universal.
“But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased.” (1 Cor 12:18) “But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, 25 that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. 26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. 27 Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually.” (1 Cor 12:24-27)
The above passages apply equally to both the local body of Christ as well as to the universal body of Christ. So, when the Lord adds to the church those who were being saved, He adds them to both the church universal as well as to the local body of Christ. If the Lord is only exclusively concerned with the church universal, then why did Paul remind the elders of the church at Ephesus that “the Holy Spirit had made them overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” (Acts 20:28)
Paul explained to the church at Ephesus of God’s plan for the growth of the church – both in the local sense as well as in the universal sense; but it would make no sense if it is to be applied exclusively to the universal church so as to make the local church irrelevant: “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” (Eph 4:11-16)
5. The church is the body of those who are being saved (Acts 2:47). Christ is its head and all are to submit to His authority. While the members of the body (both locally and universally) comprising those who are being saved may occasionally stumble and fall, they are required to repent and do the first works (Rev 2:5); failing which, the Lord will remove their candlestick (- the warning was addressed to the entire church at Ephesus -Rev 2:5) or spew them out because of their luke-warmness (Rev 3:16). The Lord was addressing the seven local churches in Asia (Rev 1:4). It matters to the Lord that believers being members of the local body of Christ, walk faithfully unto death (Rev 2:10).
One who wished to be saved must necessarily be a member of the church because the Lord adds those who are being saved to His body (1 Cor 12:13; Gal 3:26-27; Acts 2:47). And Paul said that there is One body (Eph 4:4).