“In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:22, ESV)
In this day and time, there is a great deal of emphasis placed on individualism. “It is ones right to choose”, is a post-modern motto. Tolerance, the idea that groups must side step the choices of individuals, is the idol of the culture. The neo-Christian memory verse is not John 3:16 “for God so loved the world”, rather it is an edited version of Matthew 7, “Judge not, lest thou be judged”. Isn’t it interesting that the whole world knows that verse now, in King James English no less?
An integral piece of the post-modern puzzle is this idea of absolute individual. The reader, not the author, determines the post-modern hermeneutic. Morality is relative to individual preference, not objective and transcendent. And then there’s covenant. Post-moderns avoid covenant like J.E.B. Stuart’s acquisition of Pope’s coat. They want nothing to do with joining anything organized, especially the Church.
That being said, I’d like to offer a few reasons to join a church, and why their façade of philosophy has stolen communion from under their nose. So, here are some reasons to join a church…
Preaching of the Word. There is little doubt that a need of every Christian is to feed on the Word of God and an ordained and efficient way for that to occur is sitting under preaching. I have written on the importance of unction, the effective ministry of the Holy Spirit through the preaching of a preacher. One cannot receive this efficacious sacrament unless they sit submissively under a preacher. The key word in that last sentence is submissively. To sit under preaching one must submit to the authority of the called one, the preacher. It is difficult to imagine this to be the case if the person will not willingly submit to the authority of the pastor himself. That comes by covenanting or joining a church.
Unfortunately, there is an intrinsic mistrust of authority in our present culture. Some of that mistrust is accurately placed, but for the most part, the pulpit of Christ should be presumed as innocent. That mistrust robs people of a specific grace that comes when we are fed efficaciously by a man of God, giving us the Word of God, by the power of God.
- Administering of the sacrament. Most churches hold open Communion. By that I mean that a church offers participation in the Lord’s Supper if a person is a Christian and enjoys a clear conscience. Membership to that church is not required. I would not say that I am a fan of open Communion. I would not say that I am not either. I would say this; if you consistently attend a local body and partake of the Lord’s Supper without joining that assembly in a covenant relationship, your conscience needs to be informed. How much of the Eucharist is done individually? Is it not meant for us to feed on the body of Christ and drink of his blood in community, thus the name communion? There is discipline found in the body and the blood of Christ. Take it carefully lest you be guilty of it.
“first of all, it strikes us, that Christ instituted a supper, which the disciples partake in company with each other. Hence it follows, that it is a diabolical invention, that a man, separating himself from the rest of the company, eats his supper apart. For what two things could be more inconsistent than that the bread should be distributed among them all, and that a single individual should swallow it alone?”-Calvin¹
Did you catch Calvin’s, even Christ’s emphasis on the company, the togetherness of the table. It is at the table, not the chair, that we find fellowship with Christ in his death. Calvin goes so far as to say that the idea of separateness at the table is of the devil.
I think of the word chose by Calvin and others to describe this sacramental meal and what that word meant to my earthly family’s own togetherness when I was young. Supper was a time in the evening, not merely a meal. It was a time in which the family gathered together for a common meal, reflected on the day, grew through each others experiences, and fellowshipped through a common love for one another. I’m convinced that my life would’ve turned out miserably if it were not for suppertime at my home. So it would be for the Christian who attempts to avoid true fellowship at Christ’s supper. I’m afraid that so many have lost this integral, immediate, and intimate moment of Christian life and with it a real presence of Christ that can be found in no other place.
- Discipline of communion. Finally, there is an important role the church plays in the spiritual growth of an individual. The first two of these “reasons” to join a church were just mentioned as preaching and sacrament, but there is another.
One finds accountability in community. This is the discipline found only in a covenant between a local assembly and its members. Just as the family you were born into as a human being, the family you were born into as a child of God expects. They expect you to participate, to be obedient, to work for the good of the family. They expect you to refrain from those things that bring dishonor to the family. They expect you to forgive those in the family who have hurt you but have rejected that means of pain. They expect you to love, fight for, stand with, and sacrifice for their sake.
In all of this, there is accountability. There is discipline. Whether it comes in the form of the intrinsic discipline found in ones own love for their brothers and sisters, or in the form of official church discipline, real covenantal community holds a loving watch over its members.
In today’s culture, this doesn’t sound liberating. It sounds constricting and binding, and in a sense it is. But those restrictions are for the good of the individual, sanctifying them, changing them to a more Christ-like person.
The sovereign grace of God sanctifies us, but it acts within normal means to do so, most of the time. A very great and magnificent part of those normal, yet sacramental means is found in a covenantal relationship found inside a local church. To miss out on that is to miss out on a major facet of God’s grace.
Hopefully, by God’s grace, the generation of post-modern believers that have rejected covenant in local church fellowship will awaken to the benefits God has ordained but confined to church membership. I am convinced that Christ’s Church will persevere to its eschatological climax, but there is no promise that there wont be a void left by an abhorrent generation. Let us parade the reasons to join a church by displaying the wonder found only in its covenantal community.
¹Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.