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.
A salesman with no customers.
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 are thinking about all the wonderful blessings we have received in God’s free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. We asked, “How much can I get away with and still get into heaven?” and realised that we can’t get away with anything! All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. But then we heard last week about God’s grace and how he puts us right with Himself through the death of Jesus on the cross – God’s riches at Christ’s Expense. Already this year we have learned about the immense privilege of prayer and in weeks to come we will think about so many other blessings of salvation and especially God’s gift to every believer, the Holy Spirit living inside us.
But so far I have been talking about God’s gift of salvation to each individual, what God has done for YOU and for ME! But that’s not the whole story. Because although God loves YOU and ME he also loves US. And 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 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 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. Biblical salvation is very different. It is corporate. 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
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer…. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common…. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts… . And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
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.
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.
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 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.
The Bible also uses the word “church” to refer to a local group of Christians meeting in a particular place, a local congregation. And we show that we belong to the universal church by playing our part in the local church. 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 if you need it.. 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. So what are some of these?
Acts 2:42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
Teaching, fellowship, communion, prayer
Followers of Jesus are called disciples, and disciple means learner. If we want to learn about Jesus and learn how to follow Him we all need other Christians to help us.
Believe it or not, sermons are a blessing of salvation! They are a way God can use to bless you – if you let him!
Learning in HOME GROUPS
One sermon a week is a very thin diet of the Bread of life! We need to meet to learn together, to discuss our faith and learn from each other. Dialogue teaches the parts monologue can’t teach
Learning by meeting ONE TO ONE
Some people meet in prayer partnerships or prayer triplets. Some are following the course, “Fan the Flame.” One of the greatest blessings of being part of God’s church is the ways we can learn from each other.
FELLOWSHIP – sharing a common life and caring for each other
“They were like family to each other.” (Acts 2:42 Contemporary English Version.)
SHARING COMMON LIFE
The people who get the most out of church are the people who put most into it! Church isn’t just services on Sunday! A vital part of our church life together are the Home Groups, groups for Bible Study and Prayer, caring and sharing and bearing one another’s burdens.
When they are working properly, Home Groups embody true Christian love in friendship and community. They are the primary focus and front-line for pastoral care and the place where we discover the reality and power of prayer together. Home Groups are the place where we learn and practise true committed discipleship. Being part of a good Home Group is so exciting and fulfilling that everybody does their best to be there every week because they wouldn’t want to miss what God is doing.
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.”
BREAKING OF BREAD – worship and especially communion
Our worship together should be a blessing to God. An offering of thanksgiving and praise and adoration “to the audience of one”. But our worship is also a foretaste of the eternal worship of heaven, and that should be a blessing to us as well. For many people, the closest they ever feel to God on earth is in the middle of a glorious time of shared worship!
Communion is “a means of grace”. It is the way Jesus has given his church to remember Him, to focus on his death and resurrection and the meaning of these events for our lives today. So Christians should expect to take communion regularly. Roman Catholics and Anglicans celebrate communion EVERY DAY. All Christians should give communion services a special priority because at the Lord’s Table we meet with our Lord in a very special way!
The privilege of Prayer is one of the greatest blessings of salvation. But we don’t always find prayer easy – sometimes it is hard work! Sometimes we don’t want to pray or can’t be bothered to pray. At times like that we need other Christians to help us to pray!
Church prayer meetings
Praying in Home Groups
Praying together one to one
3. Jesus tells us to pray together.
Matt 18:19 “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers. Just some of the ways God blesses us through the church.
For very many Christians in the twenty-first century the focus in their understanding of salvation has become almost entirely individual. They only care about their personal relationship with God. Biblical salvation is very different. It is corporate. 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
Christians can 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. It’s the attitude of the violin player who screeches loudly in any key he chooses, any notes he wants, ignoring the conductor and the rest of the orchestra and thinks it doesn’t matter. None of us is supposed to live the Christian life alone. We need each other. Our salvation is not just a personal thing. God gives us each other in the Church. God wants to give us so many blessings THROUGH EACH OTHER and through our life in the church.
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