The Church: A View From Above, Part 2

In part one, we surveyed some foundational principles about the validity and purpose of Christ’s church. Now let’s look at the issue of our personal involvement in the local church. Although true believers in Christ have become part of the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13), some might still ask, is it really necessary to associate with an “organized church”?

It seems obvious that many uncommitted Christians don’t bother with church attendance. Such might neglect church because services aren’t entertaining, or they feel uncomfortable with hearing God’s righteous standards, or perhaps they’d rather sleep in… [1]

Others are currently non-attenders at church for “spiritual” reasons–they are upset with the perceived inconsistencies, ineffectiveness, and shallowness of the typical church. A reader expressed this frustration:

“Vibrant, healthy churches are very difficult to come by; pretence and apathy seem to be the order of the day in many, and I know for myself that it is not refreshing but, draining. Not even is it a struggle or something to wrestle with because it’s not even that challenging. A struggle could be engaged, but apathy is a dead weight. Time and time again I see services that are just ceremonies.”

Many of us sympathize with this assessment.

Is Church Attendance Important?

The question remains, however, can Spirit-filled Christians just opt out of participation in a local church? As those under Christ’s lordship, our answer should come from God’s Word. The classic Scripture on this topic is Hebrews 10:24-25:

“And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”

Commenting on this text, missionary leader Stewart Dinnen noted, “So, discipleship means identification with a local Bible-believing church fellowship and participation in its activities. Concern for the health, well-being and growth of this fellowship should rate a high priority in the disciple’s life.” [2]

In his early 20’s, author Philip Yancey chose to not bother with church, until he changed his focus:

“Scarred by the absolutist fundamentalism of my childhood, I too approached church warily. On Sunday mornings Christians dressed up in fine clothes and smiled at each other, but I knew from personal experience that such a facade could cloak a meaner spirit. I had a knee-jerk reaction to anything that smacked of hypocrisy until one day the question occurred to me, ‘What would church look like if every member were just like me?’ Properly humbled, I began concentrating on my own spirituality, not everyone else’s.” [3]

God’s Word counsels believers to:

  • participate in corporate worship (Psalm 100; Eph. 5:19-20),
  • use their spiritual gifts (1 Pet. 3:10),
  • experience Christian fellowship (Acts 2:42),
  • offer mutual encouragement (1 Thess. 4:18; 5:11),
  • and assist with cooperative ministry (Eph. 4:13-16).

I heard a seminary professor use two metaphors for the local church that help clarify its role. First, the organized church is what a flower pot is to a plant–it supports its growth (1 Pet. 1:23; Matt. 13:37-38). The plant represents genuine believers in Christ. Some flower pots are ornate, others are plain; some are ancient, others are new. The real issue is, do they assist the spiritual life and growth of the “plant”?

Similarly, the local church organization is what scaffolding is to a building–it supports its construction. The building represents the spiritual union of believers in Christ (1 Cor 3:9-11). If we confuse the flower pot with the plant, or the scaffolding with the building, then we will miss the role of the local church. Let’s adopt realistic expectations without loosing Scriptural ideals!

The Role of Community

As he continued on his faith journey, Philip Yancey learned that no Christian can fully cooperate with God and be a “lone ranger.” He observed that,

“Christianity is not a purely intellectual, internal faith. It can only be lived in community. Perhaps for this reason I have never entirely given up on church. At a deep level I sense that church contains something I desperately need. Whenever I abandon church for a time, I find that I am the one who suffers. My faith fades, and the crusty shell of lovelessness grows over me again.” [4]

Some who yearn for revival may chose to not bother with a local body of believers. However, authentic fellowship in Christ is one of the primary conditions for encouraging revival. Missionary author, Norman Grubb wrote:

“The truth is that revival is really the Reviver in action, and He came two thousand years ago at Pentecost. Revival is not so much a vertical outpouring from heaven (for the Reviver is already here in His temple, the bodies of the redeemed) as it is a horizontal outmoving of the Reviver through these temples into the world.”[5]

So if we don’t want to be part of the problem, we need to be part of the solution!

Surely, Biblical, Christ-centered preaching feeds the flock and nurtures spiritual growth. Yancey later benefited from this quality of pulpit ministry. He recalls,

“As I sat under his [pastor Bill Leslie’s] ministry Sunday after Sunday I gradually absorbed grace, as if by osmosis. I came to believe, truly believe, that God loves me not because I deserve it but because He is a God of grace. God’s love comes free of charge, with no strings attached. There is nothing I can do to make God love me more–or less … If only our churches could communicate grace to a world of competition, judgment, and ranking–a world of ungrace–then church would become a place where people gather eagerly, without coercion, like dessert nomads around an oasis.” [6]

Watchman Nee summoned the church to extend its ministry and fellowship beyond the formalities of weekly public worship. He pointed out that relationships throughout the week show the real spiritual temperature of a local church:

“It is when the [believers] meet by themselves [apart from the main worship service] that their true spiritual state comes to light. The pulpit-and-pew principle, so vital for proclaiming the glad tidings to sinners, nevertheless tends to foster passivity in the Christian life. It is by the ’round table’ principle of mutuality, by believers exhorting one another, that the church lives and grows. Has our fellowship the stamp of ‘one another’ on it?” [7]

Recall how frequently the New Testament emphasizes the “one another” imperatives–such as, “love one another; bear one another’s burdens; admonish one another.”[8] Although family life is a context for fulfilling many of these “one another” admonitions, their scope includes the local assembly of believers.

Some inactive brothers and sisters pine away for the “good old days” of the early church. Such an idealization can discourage our present involvement. As the Preacher said in the Old Testament, “Do not say, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For you do not inquire wisely concerning this” (Eccl. 7:10).

Didn’t the early church have its share of problems? For example, of the seven churches the risen Christ addressed in the book of Revelation, five were rebuked for conditions that were hindering their testimony and grieving the Holy Spirit (Rev. 2-3). Paul needed to confront the Corinthian church regarding several doctrinal and moral problems (1 Cor. 1-15), and the apostle John warned the church of false teachers and a power-hungry leader (1 John 2:18-23; 3 John 9). In spite of these blemishes on their testimony, God used the early church in a powerful way! He still blesses and uses congregations today.

We need to avoid more subtle stumbling blocks also. A “holier than thou” attitude that’s unteachable, elitist, or divisive does not further the cause of the deeper life (Isaiah 65:5; 2 Pet. 3:18; Eph. 4:3).[9] Let’s adorn the doctrine of the grace of God by our attitude and conduct (Titus 2:10).

Consider the grand, cosmic purpose for Christ’s church. Paul’s dispensation of revealed truth culminated in his awareness of God’s ultimate goal for our redemption:

“To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery… to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph. 3:8-11).

May God use us as a sanctifying influence in His bride (the church) according to the Bridegroom’s purpose–“that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:26-27).

Part 2 of 2


[1] Of course, many believers cannot participate in local church attendance due to circumstances beyond their control, e.g. infirmity, illness, geography, etc.

[2] Stewart Dinnen, How are You Doing? Checklists on Spiritual Growth and Service, (STL Books,1984), p. 116.

[3] Philip Yancey, Church: Why Bother? (Zondervan, 1998), p. 20-21.

[4] Ibid., p. 23.

[5] Norman Grubb, Continuous Revival, (CLC, 1997), p. 10.

[6] Yancey, p. 33-34.

[7] Watchman Nee, A Table in the Wilderness, (Victory Press, 1965), Dec 14.

[8] Examples:

  • Love one another. John 13:34-35
  • Be of the same mind toward one another. Rom 12:16; 15:5
  • Do not judge one another or be a stumbling block. Rom 14:13
  • Accept one another. Rom 15:7
  • Bear one another’s burdens. Gal 6:2
  • Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another. Eph 4:32
  • Comfort and edify one another. 1 Thess 5:11
  • Exhort one another daily. Heb 3:13
  • Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another. Jas 5:16
  • Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. 1 Pet 4:9.

[9] Those of us who treasure the truths of “the Exchanged Life” pray that the full implications of Cross of Christ will permeate our sphere of Christian fellowship. I’ve noticed that it is not unusual for the struggling believer who finally grasps the truths of the abundant life to feel saddened and frustrated if they did not learn it from their church. Often the saving Life of Christ is learned through personal Bible study, devotional literature, videos, etc. When the “eureka” experience floods the weary soul, they often wonder, “Why didn’t I hear about this in my church?!” Maybe Galatians 2:20 and similar texts were taught but they didn’t yet have ears to hear. In any event, let’s find comfort in Romans 8:28 and be used of God as a change-agent!

Honorable Mention

Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru) has their classic follow up series of lessons available as a free download: Your New Life in Christ.

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