There are many people who go through life thinking that their relationship with God is just fine while they have little or no relationship with the church. The reasons they give for staying away from the assembly range from hypocrisy, real or imagined, to the idea that they can just as meaningfully worship at the fishing hole, in the garden or on the couch. The line from the Don Williams song rings true for them: “I don’t believe that heaven waits for only those who congregate.” Their view of Jesus may be that he simply wanted to spread a message of love. They may see the church as a non-vital body part like an appendix that they can just as easily do without.
No one can deny that the church is an imperfect thing. By its nature it will always be imperfect because it is made up of imperfect people just like the folks who criticize it for its imperfections. But neither can one deny the church’s rightful place and priority in the life of the Christian…if one believes what the Bible says. The New Testament simply knows nothing of a faithful Christian who is willfully unattached to other Christians through corporate worship and spiritual fellowship. Here are just a few of the truths that the New Testament teaches us about the church.
First, the church is the body of Christ (Col. 1:24). To cut yourself off from the church is to be cut off from the body, to be amputated. The amputated hand is not only cut off from the arm but also from the head, who is Christ (Col. 1:18). Let’s be real clear. The amputated body part dies. So does the amputated Christian.
The church is also the bride of Christ (Heb. 12:22-24; cf. Rev. 21:2). Think about that for a minute. If we are part of the church, we are part of the bride of Christ. So if we leave the church, what are we doing? Aren’t we basically walking out on Christ? Ending our spiritual marriage to him? (Rom. 7:1-4)
The apostle Paul said that the church is the place where God is glorified (Eph. 3:21). If one leaves the place where God is glorified, how does that one going about glorifying God? Isn’t it a sign that this person is more concerned with what they want than what God wants?
Paul also called the church the household, or family, of God (1 Tim. 3:15). To leave the church is to leave God’s family. It is to be the prodigal son or daughter (Luke 15:11-32). And until we, like the prodigal son, “come to our senses,” we’ll be sloppin’ with the pigs.
Peter called the church the possession of God (1 Pet. 2:9). If we decide to no longer be a part of the church, we decide to no longer be part of what God owns. Therefore, we are striking out on our own, being on our own man or woman rather than God’s. That might sound good for a while, this independence, but as far as eternity goes it is the last place we want to be.
Finally, Paul said that Jesus is the Savior of the church (Eph. 5:23). Do you want Christ to be your Savior? Do you want him to save you from an eternity in hell? If you do, then you need to be in his body, the church…because he is the Savior of the church. The church is who he saves. Back in Noah’s day, there was only one place to be if you wanted to avoid drowning…in the ark. Today, there is only one place to be if you want to avoid hell…in the church of Christ.
The church isn’t perfect as it exists on the earth. We’ve already established that fact and that’s news to no one. But it is perfect in its design because God is its Designer. God created it with the realization that it would be populated by imperfect people. A few of those imperfect people may be insincere hypocrites who have no interest in being truly transformed. God knows who they are. But the rest of them are conscientious men and women who are acutely aware of their own sin and shortcomings. They know they are not perfect in and of themselves. But they also know they are perfected by the One who is. So they stay with his church. You would do well to stay with it too.
Otherwise you’ll spend longer than you bargained for with those hypocrites you allowed to keep you from the church.