I well remember a cartoon I saw some 40 or more years ago. It involves two men walking down the street of a town, one was obviously a local, and the other was possibly a visitor. As they walk down the main street, they pass a church, and the visitor asks the other guy, “Is that your church? Do you go there?” The local guy replies, “My church? Well, it is the one I stay away from!”
In recent years, I have come across many people who love Jesus, still seek to follow Him, to some extent pray to Him, maybe even read the Word, and perhaps watch Christian programs on TV or online. But they do not go to church. They are the ones who ‘stay away’ from a local church.
Now there may be many reasons why this is happening. Some reasons are even legitimate reasons, such as shut-ins, etc., but it highlights a trend that is happening and in our modern society. Sometimes people substitute particular activities for being part of a local church such as a home fellowship meeting, a Bible study in a coffee shop, or breakfast meetings with other believers. But let’s be honest. A home fellowship is not a church even though it can be part of a local church. A weekly Bible study at a coffee shop is not a church even though it can be a part of a local church. A meeting over lunch or breakfast with other believers is not a church even though it too can be part of a local church. These meetings are all good and beneficial, but they are not a real church. So what does it mean to belong to a real church?
A REAL CHURCH
Last Spring, I came across a short article by a friend of mine in Australia, Dr. Ken Chant, a gifted Bible teacher. We were colleagues and, at one time, worked together. Let me quote from the article entitled “A Real Church.”
He writes, “I came across a pamphlet recently, which dealt with house churches, and it made this claim: ‘Where two or more people meet together in the name of Christ, there is a church’ (referring to Matthew 18:20)
“But is that really so?
“No doubt, there is a vital place for small fellowships of Christians who convene in houses, offices, and the like, and equally, surely, some of those fellowships may meet the requirements of a church. No doubt, too, Christ is present with them, just as he promised. But in the end, a mere assembly of Christians does not make a church. Before any company of believers, even when Christ is among them, can rightly call itself a ‘church’ (in the biblical meaning of the Word), several other things must be present, such as –
Union – To create a recognizable church, the first essential is for a group of Christians to unite themselves formally as a worshipping body. That implies a stated time and place of assembly, a certain degree of structure and order, and an agreed set of principles and practices. An informal fellowship of Christians, whether few or many, does not meet that requirement (cp. He 10:23-25; and 1 Co 14:26-33,40).
Preaching – A fellowship of Christians does not become a church unless that fellowship exists primarily as a forum in which the preaching of the Word of God has pre-eminence. A church that gives itself only to prayer and praise, that considers fellowship or even worship to be its primary task, that minimizes the preaching office, or that values debate and dialogue above proclamation, has fallen away from its God-given identity.
Sacraments – The sacraments of baptism and holy communion are an integral part of the life of every local church. Have you ever realized that there are few things Christ commanded his church to do as a church? To the whole church, acting as the church, he gave few instructions. Probably the most important are: preach the Word, heal the sick, baptize those who believe, and observe the eucharist (Mt 28:18-20; Mk 16:15; Lu 9:1-6; 10:1,9; 1 Co 11:23-26; Ja 5:14-15).”
Dr. Chant goes on to add some other items, such as the need for discipline, pastoral care, generous giving, etc. As he points out, “a mere fellowship of Christians is not enough to make a church.”
In a recent article from Charisma Magazine, well known Bible teacher Joyce Meyer wrote about the importance of getting involved in the local church, which she considers crucial.
“[It’s important] to get into relationship with people that are going to believe like you and be like-minded with you,” Meyer says.
Meyer says it’s vital that we don’t let a few bad church experiences make us quit going to church altogether-not out of the sake of legalism or rituals, but because we need to be in godly fellowship with one another and be held accountable to one another.
“So many people, if they try a church and they get hurt, or they try a church and they feel like people aren’t friendly, then they just want to ditch it all and forget it and give up,” Meyer says. “But, like I said, church doesn’t save you. … Jesus didn’t die so we can have a religion; He died so we could have a relationship with God through Him. … But it’s important, I think, to be in church. …
“To be in community with people requires some accountability, and it’s good for us. It’s not a matter of somebody spying on you or being nosy, but it’s good for us if somebody says, ‘Hey, we haven’t seen you for a couple of weeks; is everything OK?’ Everybody wants to know that somebody cares about them”(charisma.org).
REAL CHURCH IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
To obtain a picture of real church in the days of the early church would require a study of the whole of the New Testament, but the earliest description is to be found in Acts 2:41 – 46. Check it out to see all that it involved. It definitely was more than just meeting for fellowship or Bible study, and it was more than just a once a week involvement.
MY OWN EXPERIENCE
I’ve been a ministry for nearly 60 years. During that time, when I was pastoring, I was obviously part of a local church. But during the seasons, when I wasn’t a pastor but was rather involved in other forms of ministry, I still considered it essential to be a part of a local church. Being a part of a church is a witness to others about the place and importance of the local church in a believer’s life.
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
If you are a committed part of a local church, God bless you in that place! But if you are one of those who would say, “That’s the church I stay away from!” let me encourage you to find a Bible-believing church that is a community where you can be a part of the family. After all, that is what it was like back in the New Testament days.