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Is “Church” Necessary?

There is an ever-increasing number of people who claim to be “Christians” that don’t think “church” is necessary.  That is, they believe they have a connection to God, and by it eternal salvation, but are not part of any “church,” and in many cases eschew any such affiliation or association (for a variety of reasons).  Before addressing this issue specifically, there are a couple of principles we need to be sure we understand…

  1. Any and every “Christian” is connected to and saved by God directly.  The “power of God for salvation” is “the gospel” not the church.  While a congregation can and should be invested in the proclamation and propagation of the gospel locally (Eph.4:11-16), and when possible in other places (Phil.4:15-18), the “power” to “save” has, nonetheless, been endowed by God Himself in “the gospel” rather than “the church.”
  2. The “church” is the collective product of individual salvation, not the provider of it.  Such is made abundantly clear in Acts 2 where individuals “who had received his word (Peter’s proclamation of the gospel, PCS) were baptized…” v.41.  As a result of these individuals being saved through obedience to the gospel, they were “added” by God to the collectivity of the saved (otherwise known as the “universal church”).  So then the church (both universal and local, cp.vv41,47) was/is the product of individuals being save by obedience to the gospel rather than being the provider of it.

Why is this important?  People were and are saved without the church.  The book of Acts is replete with examples of conversions that occurred when one individual taught another “the gospel” and they obeyed it, cf. Acts 8:26-39 et al).  So “the church” did not and does not “save” anyone.  Obedience to “the gospel” does that.  It is true that “a church,” meaning a “local congregation” may be instrumental in the proclamation of “the gospel,” but is not necessarily required for one to hear and obey “the gospel” and thus become saved.  However…

It is also true that Christ is “head over all to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all,” Eph.1:22b-23.  If “the church”- in both the universal and local/congregational senses, is “the body” of Christ, why would anyone say that it is “unnecessary”?   The figure utilized isn’t a headless body anymore than it is a bodiless head for neither would viable!  Each is necessary for the other’s fulfillment. 

Please consider also some specific items addressed to one local body of Christ at Corinth relative to our title question:

  • The notion that Christians would “come together as a church” was expected by God, 1Cor.11:18; and other aspects of “church” activities and worship were predicated upon such;
  • The Lord’s Supper is to be taken as a collective communion Christ, 1Cor.11:20-32, and Christians were instructed to “wait for one another” v.33 so that it might be observed by the congregation together;
  • The church “assemble(d)” (came together) for specified periods of worship and edification (literally, building up one another), 1Cor.14:26;
  • When they came together “on the first day of every week” a “collection” was to be made to meet financial needs, 1Cor.16:1-2;
  • Mutual concern and care was to exist “in the body” so that there would be “no division” and so that “when one member suffers, all the members suffer with it” and if “one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it,” 1Cor.12:25-27; and,
  • There were various appointed offices in the church to provide for the spiritual needs and benefit of the members, 1Cor.12:28.  

Now given these instructions relative to the proper function of a local church, you tell me: Does God expect one who has been saved by obedience to the gospel to be an active member of Christ’s body in a local congregation?  Of course He does!   Go back and read 1Cor.12:12-27 and answer one final question: Is any one part meant to survive and function apart from its association with and attachment to the body?  

God did not mean for nor does he expect one part (and individual) to survive and function apart from the body any more than you would expect a foot, an ear, a nose, an eye, or a hand to survive and continue to properly function when no longer connected to the body. 

So if we mean by “church” the local body of Christ, I’d say it’s absolutely necessary, as is our individual attachment to and function within it. Not only does the individual Christian have obligations to it, he/she also receives tremendous benefits from it- neither of which can or will be fulfilled anywhere else.

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