When God has a job to be done, He works through people. God has chosen to work out His plan through active secondary participants.
But what is God’s primary work on earth today? And how does He use people to accomplish it?
The answer is found in the promise of Jesus Christ – “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18).
When the Lord Jesus went into heaven, He sent the promised Holy Spirit and through the Spirit He united believers into a body referred to as the body of Christ (Acts 1:4-5,8; John 14:15-17; I Corinthians 12:13).
In the absence of Jesus physical presence, this assembly of believers in Christ is the visible testimony of Jesus Christ on earth today.
Although this body incorporates every believer from the day of Pentecost to the rapture of the Church, all the instructions for body life in the New Testament are intended for each local body of believers in every age.
Remember that, “God has placed the members each one of them in the body just as He desired” (I Corinthians 12:18) and “God has composed the body that there should be no division but that the members should have the same care for one another” (I Corinthians 12:24-25). Thus the apostle Paul says to the local church in the city of Corinth, “You are Christ’s body and individually members of it” (I Corinthians 12:27).
God’s purpose on earth today is to build a visible, united body of believers called the body of Christ, or the Church. The way we align ourselves with it is on the local level. Thus it is God’s design that every follower of Jesus Christ be a functioning part of a local body of believers. This is God’s will for you if you are a believer in Christ.
God has called each believer into fellowship with His Son (I Corinthians 1:9). This is the joy of Christian living – that we have a personal and individual relationship with Jesus Christ who was dead but is alive forevermore, seated at the right hand of the Father, ever making intercession for us according to the will of God. This is a deeply personal joy of Christianity.
But, according to God’s design, what we enjoy on the individual level must become part of the public, corporate life of the church.
“No one Christian believer can fully enjoy the benefits of the grace of God in Christ, or fully express the new activities it makes possible, in isolation.” (A.M. Stibbs. T.N.T.C., I Peter, p. 156)
One of the most important and neglected truths of Scripture is the doctrine of the local church. The late Carl F. Henry warned the 1990 convention of the National Association of Evangelicals that: “Evangelicals continue to neglect the doctrine of the church and at high cost.”
Robert Patterson wrote an excellent article about this titled “In Search of the Visible Church.”
Patterson observed how, “…commitment to the church appears to be at an all-time low among evangelicals…growing numbers of evangelicals are unwilling to commit themselves to any particular congregation. Operating as sovereign ecclesiastical consumers, they hop from church to church looking for the best spiritual “deal” in town.” I personally believe that there exists a desperate need today for a revival in the biblical understanding of the importance of the local church.”
“If the church is a nurturing mother for the souls of believers, as John Calvin proclaimed, those disconnected from her are nothing more than spiritual orphans. They are cut off from a vital source of spiritual nourishment and growth. They may think that spiritual fitness is an individual matter, but their failure to participate in the corporate life of God’s people can only stunt the kind of growth in grace that the apostle Paul envisioned in Ephesians 4” (R. Patterson, Christianity Today, Mar.11, 1991).
We must expose the tenuous division between commitment to the Lord and commitment to a local body of believers. I do not think that the Lord makes that distinction too sharply.
I will build my Church
- In Matthew 16:18 Jesus said: “I will build my church”.
- In Luke 10:2, Jesus is called: “The Lord of the harvest who sends forth workers in His harvest.”
- The church is “the body of Christ.”
- Ephesians 5:25 says, “Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.”
- Ephesians 5:29 says, “Christ nourishes and cherishes the church.”
- In Acts 9:4, Saul was persecuting believers and Jesus stopped him and asked, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
- In Matthew 25 – during judgment the followers of Christ are shocked because Jesus identified a whole list of things that they did to him personally. Jesus cleared their lack of understanding by saying in verse 40, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”
- The author of Hebrews reminds the readers that, “God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints” (Hebrews 6:10). You show love to His name by serving His children.
- In I Corinthians 3:6, the apostle refers to human activity in building local churches, “I planted, Apollos watered but God was causing the growth.”
- In Acts 2:47 we learn that, “The Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”
Ultimately anyone serving in any capacity in the church should view himself or herself as a direct servant of Jesus Christ (see: Colossians 3:23-24).
Patterson listed five action items to help the church regain this lost focus. Each of them is worthy of discussion but I’ll only give the first one:
“Evangelicals need to affirm aggressively the necessary connection between faith in Christ and commitment to his church. So-called solitary or independent Christians need to be incorporated into the life and discipline of some congregation. Those who are already church members need to remain committed to their church, taking seriously their accountability to the congregation and resisting the temptation to ‘jump ship’ when problems develop. At the same time, church leaders need to take more seriously their responsibility to discipline and nurture parishioners under their care.” (C.T. 3-11-1991, p.38)
If you want to stand in the gap in these days we live in and you want to align yourself with God’s plan, you need to be involved in a local body of believers. D.A. Carson recognized one of the reasons for a lack of emphasis being , “…a theological suspicion that those who devote too much attention to the church are in danger of diverting attention from Christ himself” (Evangelical Affirmations).
Hopefully you understand from the above examples that the Lord Jesus does not recognize this distinction as sharply as some think.
Robert Patterson’s concluded, “If evangelicals still value their heritage, they can lament the obscurity into which the church visible has sunk, a tragedy to which they have contributed in both word and deed. Furthermore, they can commit themselves toward a rediscovery of the church in our time, not just out of faithfulness to a tradition, but in devotion to their Lord who promised, ‘I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’”