The Christian in Church
Basic Studies in Christian Living for Young Believers, #10
Which church should I join? The question, in one form or other, presents itself to every young believer. Surrounded by a bewildering variety of so-called churches, he may find it rather difficult to answer. As he studies the Scriptures, he will learn, of course, that when he was saved, he was “added to the Church” — not by any preacher, or even apostle, but by the Lord Himself (Acts 2: 47); and so has become a living stone in the most wonderful building ever built — the Church (see 1 Pet. 2:4, 5; Eph. 2:20-22). It is God’s desire for him — and will be his desire too — that he should, like Saul, “join himself to the disciples” (Acts 9:26) in a local church, and so enter into the privileges of fellowship with God’s people and fulfil his responsibilities in worship and service in association with them. But how is he to choose the right church? Many and varied are the criteria that guide the choice of “church-goers” — from the purely material factors such as the size and appearance and nearness of the building through the social attractions as the kind and class of people who go and the welcome offered, to the more spiritual qualities such as the place of conversion, the quality of the preaching and the apparent happiness and usefulness that fellowship in a certain church might offer. The believer, however, who wishes to do God’s will, will take his directions from the Word of God and not be guided by his own personal preferences. He will want to be where God would have him, and there are clear indications in the Scriptures of the principles that should guide him in his choice. Briefly, some of the important characteristics by which he can recognize a church which is conforming to the scriptural pattern are as follows:
1. Every member is a true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ —see Acts 2:41-47; 2 Corinthians 6:14-18.
2. The teaching of Scripture is believed, taught, obeyed and practised —see 1 Timothy 3:15; and, as a corollary, unscriptural teaching and practices are refused.
3. The Lordship and Headship of Christ are recognized — by each person in his life and by the company of believers in their gatherings — see 1 Corinthians 12:1-5. No other person, however influential, gifted or godly, can take the place of the ascended Head, and all the activities of the church should be under His direction and guidance.
4. Opportunity is afforded to every member to fulfil his (or her) responsibilities and use his gift in the activities of the church. As in the human body, so in the local church, the members differ from each other and each is peculiarly fitted by God to serve in a particular sphere — see 1 Corinthians 12. God has set the members in the Body as it has pleased Him so that they can use their ability — gift — to the profit of all, not one to do everything, but everyone to do something. Only when there is opportunity for all to use their gift is the church functioning in God’s pattern. Moreover, every believer is described in the Bible as a priest — see 1 Peter 2:4-10 — and opportunities for worship and service as priests should be provided in the church. Finally, there will be “bishops” (also described as “overseers,” “shepherds” — “pastors” — “elders” — in the plural) and “deacons” —whose qualifications and service are clearly defined in the Scriptures —e.g. 1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Peter 5:1-4.
5. The ordinances are observed as taught in the Scriptures. Ere He left His own, our Lord gave two such ordinances for His disciples to practise in His absence — baptism of believers (Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:16) and the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:19, 20. etc.). The believer who seeks the Lord’s guidance will wish to associate with those who observe these ordinances in a scriptural way.
Having made his choice in accordance with these and other principles of Scripture, the young believer will find the local church to be his spiritual home where he can enjoy the fellowship of other believers, who are in the same spiritual family, and where he can bring his spiritual problems, sure of finding a sympathetic understanding: a nursery where he receives spiritual food and training in Christian living; a school where he is taught divine things and learns God’s will as revealed in the Word of God; a gymnasium in which he exercises himself in God’s service; and a hospital where he is cared for in times of spiritual weakness and sickness.
The privileges of church fellowship, however, bring responsibilities to every believer in that fellowship, and the measure in which we fulfil these responsibilities will influence not only our personal happiness but also the spiritual power and effectiveness of the church. As in the human body even a sore finger, that is not discharging its functions, keeps getting in the way and may upset the whole body, so the work of a local church suffers if any member is not carrying out his responsibilities. What are these responsibilities? Perhaps we can summarize them in seven simple verbs:
1. Gather. It seems almost superfluous to mention this — a church can only be fully expressed when the believers who comprise it “come together” (1 Cor. 11:17-20, 33; 14:23, 26), “are gathered together” (Matt. 18:20; 1 Cor. 5:4), “assemble” (Acts 11:26). Yet how many there are who, in “the manner of some” in the early days, “forsake the assembling” of themselves together (Heb. 10:25).
2. Worship. This is not the sole prerogative of a few brethren who lead the saints in worship at the Lord’s Supper, but is the privilege of every believer who, as a priest, brings his sacrifices to God — whether by lip, heart or life. In gathering together to remember the Lord —and on other occasions too — we can all “worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” (Ps. 96:9), audibly or inaudibly, and when we are absent, or are present but not worshipping, we not only deprive ourselves but also the local church, and, above all the Lord Himself.
3. Obey. The Lordship and Headship of Christ will be evident in the gatherings of the church only when each believer is obeying Him in his life — carrying out His commands, e.g. in baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and in every detail of life and service.
4. Serve. Service is not confined to preachers and teachers in the church—no more than the tongue is the only member that serves the body. In the Church, as in the body, every member has his sphere, his gift, his task, and, guided by the Spirit, and in fellowship with other members, he should serve the Lord.
5. Pray. Judging by attendances at assembly prayer-meetings, this may well be the most neglected responsibility of believers today — yet it is no less important than the others. Our prayers should always be comprehensive in their scope (“for all saints” — Eph. 6:18; “for all men” — 1 Tim. 2:1), but should also be particularly directed to the saints and service of the local church. Nor should our prayers for the church be confined to prayer-meetings; in private, too, we should seek the Lord’s blessing on His people and His work.
6. Love, How frequently in the Epistles we are exhorted to “love one another,” as our Lord commanded His disciples in the upper room (John 13:34)! Between two very important chapters on the gifts, service and gatherings of the local church —1 Corinthians 12 and 14 — the Holy Spirit has been pleased to interpolate a whole chapter on the pre-eminence of love—Chapter 13—evidence surely of its importance in the Church. Opportunities in abundance will be afforded us for the expression of this love to each other, not only in word, but in attitude and actions.
7. Give. By example and precept, believers are exhorted, in the Scriptures, to “abound” in the “grace” of giving; first giving ourselves to the Lord, and then distributing from our material possessions, as the Lord has prospered us, to the needs of the Lord’s people and His service — see 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, 1 Corinthians 16:1-3, Philippians 4:10-19. How much more might our assemblies accomplish for the Lord if each one of us were more faithful in our giving!
It must be evident that the Christian who has a real heart for the local church and is fulfilling his responsibilities will be kept busy. In his labours, he will have many encouragements. Since no local church, composed of imperfect men and women, is perfect, he may occasionally be discouraged and disappointed in his brethren — and they in him, perhaps. Let him, in these circumstances, remember that he and they are responsible to the Lord and let him do his service to the Lord and not unto men.