The church: is it still important? Many have probably heard some claim, “I don’t need to go to church to be a Christian.” Is this true? This article will show that the church is a critical part of the plan of God. We will examine what the doctrine the definition of ecclesiology, answer why church should be part of a person’s life, and why church is considered essential for the Christian.
What is the doctrine?
When one speaks of ecclesiology, or the study of the church, one finds that it is not so much a doctrine of belief as much as it is an entity with a mission. There are several forms of church government. Hierarchical structures operate from top down. Bishops dictate what pastors and churches do under the leadership of the Lord. Catholic, Methodist, and Anglican denominations use this form of government. Presbytery incorporates a blend of elders and laity, with a primary emphasis on an elected eldership. Therefore, the church has a say by electing elders and their own pastor. But, the elders hold authority. Presbyterians primarily use this form of government. Congregational structures operate within the congregation. The congregation has the final say by voting on major decisions, the hiring of pastors and staff members, and the election of officers. Baptists and Congregationalists use this form of government. Finally, non-government forms of churches, as Erickson states, “deny that the church has a need for a concrete or visible form” (Erickson 1998, 1093).
While this writer is found in a congregational form of denomination, this article will not seek to defend one form of church government over another. The core question is, “what is the church?” The church comes from the Greek word “ecclesia” which means “called out assembly.” Charles Ryrie writes:
“Taking together the features of local churches we see in the New Testament, we might propose the following definition: A local church is an assembly of professing believers in Christ who have been baptized and who are organized to do God’s will. Notice: (1) There must be a profession of faith—not just anyone can belong to a local church. (2) The New Testament knows nothing of unbaptized church members. (3) Churches were always organized as soon as possible (Ac 14:23)—an informal, unorganized fellowship of believers does not constitute a church. (4) There is purpose—doing God’s will which is expressed in many ways (like observing the ordinances, being open and available for ministry to all age groups in all parts of the world, etc.)” (Ryrie 1972).
So, why believe in the church? I mean…the church hasn’t the church messed up several times in history?
Why believe the doctrine?
Many have stated in recent years, “I don’t have to go to church to be a Christian. I can be a good person without going.” While that is true that church attendance does not save a person, the concept of a Christian existing without belonging to the church is a foreign concept in the New Testament. Jesus gave the church a commission. Jesus said,
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).
Jesus shows that the church, the called-out ones, have a job to do. We can do this job far better associated with one another rather than separate (in my opinion.). The writer of Hebrews also writes, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25, NIV). So, from these passages, one discovers that Jesus instituted the church with a command for action. Also, one finds that regular commitment with a body of believers was expected.
Why is the doctrine essential?
Let’s go back to the question that was posed initially. Can one be a good Christian and not go to church? The answer would seem to be no. The reason is that a Christian needs the support of a local body of believers. A Christian was never intended to walk this road alone. Jesus said that the believer would have the support of the Holy Spirit in that “If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:15-18). Notice that Jesus said that a person who truly loves Him will be obedient. Can a person truly be obedient to the Lord while remaining outside the body that Jesus instituted? If Jesus instituted the church, shouldn’t the Christian desire to be with Jesus’ people? Plus, the Christian needs to help other Christians.
Paul writes, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves” (Galatians 6:1-3). Therefore, a Christian is strengthened by being around other Christians. That person is strengthened and is able to strengthen others. We, as Christians, should “carry each other’s burdens.” As is written in Ecclesiastes 4:12, “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
It is understandable that people get burned in church. Sometimes church people can be rude, crude, and ungodly. I recently spoke with a waitress who said that the people who come in on Sunday’s after church can sometimes be worse than anyone else during the week. This shows a need for a change in the heart of many Christians. Some churches may become hardened and legalistic. However, it may that such a church has become unusable. If a particular body of believers has begun to quench the Spirit of God (1 Thessalonians 5:19), then the church is outside the will of God. This means that you need to find another church because God will no longer use that church. This is true across the board. If the Spirit of God is not in charge of that church, there will be no vision, or revelation of God’s will. And where there is no vision or revelation, “people cast off restraint; but blessed is the one who heeds wisdom’s instruction” (Proverbs 29:18). In other words, it may be that you need to find a church where there is a vision, where the Spirit of God leads and flows to the uttermost. For some, they hold a strong connection with their church. But honestly, if God is not in charge of that church, is it really a church, or has it now become a community club with a cross as its logo? It should be the goal of every Christian to faithfully serve the Lord and not follow around a preacher, either. Therefore, it should be the goal of every church to faithfully follow the leadership of the Lord. The church is God’s ambassadors. The church is supposed to reach, help, and serve a lost and dying world for the cause of Christ. The more unity, partnership, and vision that we have as a church united the more usable we become.
All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011.
Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology, 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998.
Ryrie, Charles Caldwell. A Survey of Bible Doctrine. Chicago: Moody Press, 1972.