There is a question I am sometimes asked. “Can I be a Christian without belonging to a church?” Somebody once said. “Trying to live the Christian life without belonging to a church is just as possible and just as sensible as being:
Anybody who chooses to live completely alone on a desert island.
A student who refuses to go to lectures or seminars or tutorials.
A soldier who will not join an army.
An explorer with no base camp.
A seaman trying to sail a huge ship with no other crew.
An author without readers.
A tuba player without an orchestra.
A football player without a team.
We have been thinking about the church. We read last week about the birth of the church on the Day of Pentecost from Acts 2.
38 Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.’
It was the Holy Spirit, the mighty rushing wind, the breath of God which brought the resurrection life of Jesus to those disciples. Each one who repented of their sins and put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ was born again and received God’s gift of the Holy Spirit, God Himself living in them. And we read this.
41 Those who accepted his message were baptised, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
Everyone who believed the gospel and was baptised was added to the number of the disciples. They became part of the church. And we read in previous weeks about the life those early Christians shared together.
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
They devoted themselves to the Apostles’ Teaching. Because followers of Jesus are called disciples and the word disciple means a learner. Learning about Jesus. Learning how to follow Jesus. Learning to become like Jesus. We thought about what it could mean to be devoted to the Apostle’s teaching and devoted to learning about Jesus. Through Evening Services. By Reading the Bible every day. By Learning Bible Verses from our little leaflet “Words of Eternal Life”. Learning through Bible Study meetings. By Reading Christian books. By Christian Events such as “Celebrate Jesus”. Learning by Reading old sermons from our blog and from other websites, Christian Radio and TV.
They devoted themselves to the Apostles’ Teaching and to the Fellowship. To sharing a common life together.
43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.
“They were like family to each other.” (Acts 2:42 Contemporary English Version.)
We thought last month about what this common life meant, in terms of offering hospitality to one another. “Consider yourself at home. Consider yourself one of the family. Whatever we’ve got, we share.” We thought about Loving each other. Living in peace and harmony with one another, bearing with one another, submitting to one another and Forgiving one another. We talked about Learning from each other and Encouraging each other. Devoting ourselves to the Fellowship.
Then the first Christians devoted themselves to the Breaking of Bread. Sharing Communion Together.
They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people.
Remembering Jesus. Looking back at His death on the cross paying the penalty for our sin. Rejoicing in the presence of the Risen Jesus Christ as we gather around the Lord’s Table. And eagerly looking forward to the day when we will eat and drink together in at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. “God and man at Table are sat down.”
They devoted themselves to Breaking of Bread and to prayers. I have preached many many times on prayer, because prayer is at the heart of our relationship with God and the heart of our Christian lives and at the heart of the life of the church. Teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, prayers.
And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
The Lord added to their number. Because all the wonderful blessings of God’s free gift of forgiveness and eternal life and salvation do not just come to us as individuals. Although God loves YOU and ME he also loves US. Salvation is not just something individual and personal. Salvation is much bigger than that. Salvation is shared and corporate. We are saved together. Saved to be part of the church!
Ephesians 5:25 Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
Yes Christ loved you and me, but even more than that Christ loved the church – all of us together. And if we just think about ourselves as individuals we can miss out on so many of the blessings of salvation, because those blessings are given to us to share together – through the church! God’s greatest gift to us is a relationship with Himself through Christ’s death and resurrection and the Holy Spirit living inside us. But the next greatest gift God gives us is each other in the church, in the body of Christ. Church isn’t some burden God puts upon us as Christians. Church is God’s way of blessing us and bringing us his salvation!
Christians can sometimes be so individualistic. “It’s my faith and my life, and I can live it as I want to.” That is NOT true. That is the attitude of the footballer who hogs the ball instead of passing it around the team. In the Bible salvation is very different. We are saved into the Body of Christ of which each of us is only one single part. We are part of the family of God, being built into the Temple of the Holy Spirit. We are saved together and being disciples is something we are supposed to do together. It has been that way ever since the birth of the church which we read about in Acts 2:41
Those who accepted (Peter’s) message were baptised, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
Becoming a Christian, being baptised, led on automatically to being “added to the number of believers”, added to the company of believers – the church. Then from Acts 2:42 we read We need the church – and the church needs us. Every Christian is part of the church, the body of Christ.
1 Corinthians 12:12 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptised by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
14 Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body.
Every Christian is part of the church, the Body of Christ. God does not intend us to be “solitary” Christians. In the comedy series the Addams Family there is a character called simply “Hand” because it is a disembodied hand which gropes its way around the house, answering the telephone and opening the door. But there is no such thing as a disembodied hand in the Body of Christ – every part is attached to every other part. There is no such thing as an independent ear or a freelance nose in the Body of Christ. Our discipleship is not just a private and personal thing. Our Christian lives should not normally be lived out in isolation but in the fellowship of the church. The church is the community of disciples and if we want to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ we will express our discipleship by belonging to His church.
To become a believer automatically means to be added to the number of believers – the church. `The church’ is not a building. The church is not an organisation. The church is a group of people, “The Body of Christ”, made up of all Christians in every age. Even if they never meet up with any other Christians, anybody who has eternal life IS a member of this invisible universal church. The church God’s “Forever Family” made up of everybody who has a personal relationship with God as their Father.
But the Bible also uses the word “church” to refer to a local group of Christians meeting in a particular place, a local congregation. All true Christians will want to show they belong to the universal church by playing their part in a local church. Being a Christian but not belonging to any local church really would be like trying to be a football player without being part of a team!
We can easily misunderstand the ideas of “belonging to a church” or “church membership” if we think of it in the weak remote sense of membership you find used in some secular organisations and clubs. Some people treat being a member of a church just like being a member of the RAC or the AA – pay your subscriptions once a year and you can call the church out to help as often as you like. But belonging to a church is much more like being a member of a family or a member of an orchestra or a member of a football team. Belonging to a church is not a matter of privileges but of participation. It’s not about what we can receive but what we can give and what we can accomplish together.
We are all different in the time and energy we are able to devote to church life. But every Christian who is taking an active part as far as they are able in the worship and fellowship and witness of North Springfield Baptist Church belongs to this church and is a valuable part of the church. Even if your name is not yet on the Membership List, even if you are not formally a member of that human legal organisation called North Springfield Baptist Church, we hope you feel at home here. If you are playing your part in the life of the church then you belong to the church. In Bible terms all Christians are members of that part of Christ’s body which meets here, all are valued members of the church. That’s the way it should be in God’s perfect plan. That’s the way it needs to be!
Billy Graham said, “Christians are like coals in a fire. When they cling together, they keep the flame burning brightly; when they separate, they die out.” We need each other as Christians – we need the church! Belonging to the church brings us so many blessings. The blessings of teaching, and of fellowship, and of Communion, and of prayer.
There are all the blessings of CARING FOR EACH OTHER
1 Corinthians 12:25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.
It is one of the blessings of salvation to be part of a church which cares for us when we are in need. When we are sick, or grieving, or anxious, or sad, or struggling with life. But it is just as much a blessing of salvation that each one of us has the privilege and the duty of caring for others when THEY are in need. When THEY are sick, or grieving, or anxious, or sad, or struggling with life. Fellowship and brotherly love are TWO WAY things. Jesus himself said “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” So when we think about the blessings we can receive as other people in the church love us with God’s kind of love, make sure also to think about the blessings you can GIVE by loving others. To rephrase a famous saying. “Think not of what your church can do for you – but of what you can do for your church.”
For too many Christians their understanding of salvation has become entirely individual. They only care about their personal relationship with God. They are missing out on so much. We are part of the family of God, being built into the Temple of the Holy Spirit. We are saved together and being disciples is something we are supposed to do together. God wants to give us so many blessings THROUGH EACH OTHER and through our life in the church.
So if you want to find out more about what it means to belong to the church and what it would mean to join the membership of North Springfield Baptist Church I have a little booklet for you. Please take one today.
C. S. Lewis (1898–1963) once said,
“The New Testament does not envisage solitary religion; some kind of regular assembly for worship and instruction is everywhere taken for granted. So we must be regular practicing members of the church. Of course we differ in temperament. Some (like you—and me) find it more natural to approach God in solitude; but we must go to church as well. For the church is not a human society of people united by their natural affinities, but the body of Christ, in which all members, however different (and he rejoices in their differences and by no means wishes to iron them out) must share the common life, complementing and helping one another precisely by their differences.”
Being a Christian is like being a singer in a choir. God does not want us to be soloists. He wants us to sing our part, while others sing their parts! That way we can join with the choirs of angels and the music really is heavenly!
Acts 2:42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer
And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.