The question that we want to look at this morning is ‘Must I Go To Church To Be A Christian?’ If a non-Christian were to ask me this question, my answer would be a straightforward ‘No’. Because the Word of God makes it very clear that one becomes a Christian only by believing in Jesus Christ with all of one’s heart. Salvation is a gift of God, not earned by good works or church attendance. And it is a totally mistaken idea to think that church attendance can save anyone from sin.
I. Every Christian is Made Part of The Body of Christ
A. The Universal Church and Local Churches
However when this question is asked, what is often meant by the ones who ask it is this: ‘If I become a Christian, must I go to Church?’ For this question, the answer is definitely a clear ‘Yes’. The reason for this is simple: When a person is saved through Christ, he becomes part of the body of Christ. This body consists of all born again Christians of from every part of the world, past, present and future, who have been redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus Christ. Colossians 1:18 says that Jesus Christ ‘is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things He might have the preeminence.’
This body is sometimes referred to as ‘the universal church’ to distinguish it from the local church. The universal church is not limited to a particular location or time. In fact, we will not be able to see the universal church, until the end of the world, when it will be fully manifested in heaven. What we can see now are local churches. These consist of local congregations of believers that meet in different locations. Many books of the New Testament were actually local churches – e.g. Romans, Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians and Thessalonians. Today, there are thousands of local churches in the world where God is worshipped in spirit and in truth, and His Word is preached. It must be understood, of course, that only those churches that faithfully uphold the Word of God and teach nothing but true doctrine may be considered as true churches of Christ. Some churches have unfortunately apostatised or gone astray from the faith, and they can no longer be considered as true churches of Christ. Instead of keeping to the Scriptures alone, they propagate man-made traditions and false doctrines.
B. The Marks of a True Church
Now, in order to qualify as a true church of God, a local church must not only be teaching from the Scriptures alone, but also implementing every biblical instruction concerning the church – e.g. observing the two sacraments that God gave to the church (Baptism and Lord’s Supper), having a proper church government that consists of pastors, elders and deacons, and maintaining a pure, corporate worship of God every Lord’s Day, and using the ministries of fervent prayer and the faithful preaching of God’s Word to bring lost souls unto salvation in Christ. These are the marks of a true church. This helps us to distinguish the local church from Christian organisations that usually focus on one particular aspect – e.g. a mission board or evangelistic society, or Christian halfway house (e.g. the Helping Hand). These cannot be called churches, but parachurch organisations.
Many Christians have been led to serve God in parachurch organisations. And that is good, provided their involvement with such organisations will not cause them to compromise on their obedience to God’s Word. It is sad that some parachurch groups have become involved in unbiblical relationships, e.g. the ecumenical movement. And we must therefore be careful. But even if a Christian is deeply involved in the service of God in a good parachurch group, that does not mean that he does not have to come to church. Parachurch groups are bodies of believers, but they cannot substitute for local churches, because they do not bear all the marks of the church.
Thus we have seen that God has raised up true Bible-believing local churches that represent the body of the Lord Jesus Christ. Since God Himself has made all Christians members of the Body of Christ, Christians must seek to be a part of a good local church. But now comes the question – what does it mean to be part of a local church? To some people, it just means having one’s name written in the church nominal roll, and taking part in church elections that are held once in a while. To others, it merely means being present in church every Lord’s Day for the worship service. But being being part of a local church is more than these. We need to participate in what can be termed ‘the body life’ of the church. This means interaction, fellowship and mutual edification. And every one of use needs this in order to grow in our faith and knowledge of the Lord Jesus.
II. Every Christian Needs Fellowship With Like-Minded Brethren
A. It Sustains Our Spiritual Health and Strength
Let us look at Vv.10-11 of our text of Scripture in Ecclesiastes 4 ‘For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. 11 Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone?’ A Christian who falls alone has no one to help him up. A Christian who lies alone may not be able to keep warm for very long.
If we say, ‘I don’t need any interaction or fellowship with other Christians. After all, I can pray and worship God on my own and grow spiritually without the help of others.’ Then without even realizing it we may find ourselves gradually going astray from the Lord and getting caught up in the ways of the world. Without fellowship, it is easy for Christians to lose their love for God and His Word, it is easy to become spiritually cold. The analogy that is often used to show the importance of this is that of a pile of burning pieces of coal. As long as the pieces of coal remain together, they continue to burn well. But if you remove one piece of coal from the pile and place it alone by itself, it will soon lose its heat and grow cold.
Dearly beloved, this may also happen to you, if you are not careful. When you try to live your Christian life alone, you face tremendous odds. The pressures of your work, and your family, and influence of your non-Christian colleagues will come upon you. And without the support of good Christian fellowship to refresh your spirit, your resistance can get worn down by these things. Even the most spiritually strong Christian can suffer tremendous spiritual defeat when he has no like-minded brethren to fellowship with. In the book of Genesis we see the example of Lot, the nephew of Abraham. At first, when he was together with Abraham, he and his family were well. But after they parted ways and Lot chose to live near the sinful influences of the city of Sodom, his family gradually came under this influence. Lot’s wife looked back with longing at Sodom as they fled from its destruction and she died. Lot’s daughters adopted the immoral ways of Sodom and committed incest.
The sustaining effect of Christian fellowship is only the first of the many reasons why we should be part of the ‘body life’ in a local church. Let us go on now to the next reason as given in our text of scripture (Eccles 4:9-12):
B. It Enables Us to Accomplish More for the Lord
According to v.9 of this text, ‘Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour.’ Fellowship is the bond that enables us to work together for a common goal – the goal of glorifying the Lord. And there are much greater things that can be accomplished for the Lord as a team rather than as individuals. Take for example the work of reaching out to children – in VBS, in going up to Johor Baru and Kota Tinggi. Working together also provides greater protection for all, and this the third reason why we need fellowship.
C. It Provides Strength in Our Spiritual Battles
To put it simply, there is strength in numbers. That is essentially the thrust of v.12 ‘if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.’ Now as we move on to other passages of Scripture, we will find even more reasons why we need to have good Fellowship with other Christians.
D. It is Pleasing in God’s Sight
This is stated in Psalm 133:1 ‘Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!’ Do you know that God takes great delight in seeing His children having sweet fellowship together? Why does it bring Him delight? Perhaps it is because such fellowship actully reflects the divine fellowship enjoyed by the three persons in the Godhead: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Thus our fellowship with one another glorifies God by being a replica on earth of the divine fellowship. Let us look at another reason:
E. It is Christ’s Intention for His Disciples
Our Lord Jesus Christ clearly intended His disciples to fellowship together and serve Him together. And He gave three things for this fellowship: His promise, His command and His prayer.
1. His Promise To Be Present with Them
Look at Matthew 18:19,20 ‘Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of My Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.’ Although the context here is that of carrying out church discipline, it does show that Jesus encourages His followers to gather together and carry out His will together in His name. He promises to bless such gatherings with His own presence.
2. His Command To Love One Another
Look at John 13:34,35 ‘A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.’ Jesus wanted His followers to be known to the world as a fellowship characterised by love. As people watch the way that Christians serve one another, help one another, and work together in doing God’s work in a church, it should amaze them that such love fills the church.
3. His Prayer That They May Be One
In the high priestly prayer that Jesus made for his disciples before He went to the cross, He prayed that we may be one – John 17:11,20-23 ‘And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; 21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. 22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: 23 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one;’ We notice that in this whole prayer, Christ made this same petition for unity no less than 5 times.
In Ephesians 4 the Apostle Paul turns this petition of Christ into a urgent exhortation for us: (1-6) ‘I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, 2 With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; 3 Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; 5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.’ We have already looked at 4 reasons for fellowship and we now come to the fifth one:
F. It Is The Natural Outcome of Being In The Same Family
We who are saved through Christ have become brothers and sisters through Him. Fellowship in the body of Christ is simply the outward expression of that close relationship.
One passage that brings this out is Ephesians 2:19 ‘Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;’ Phrases used here like ‘fellow citizens with the saints’ and ‘of the household of God’ imply that we are members of the same family. We have become related to each other through Christ. And it is only natural for brothers and sisters to have close fellowship with one another. Another verse where the same term, ‘household’ can be found is Galatians 6:10 ‘As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.’ We notice here that while Christians are expected by God to do good to all, they are especially to seek opportunities to do good to fellow believers. Fellowship then becomes the natural channel by which we may do good to one another.
And so we have considered six reasons why every Christian needs to fellowship with like-minded brethren. And this in turn reinforces the main lesson of our message – That every Christian should be part of a local church. And this brings us now to the final part of the message:
III. Every Christian Should Actively Participate in A Local Church
His participation is in three areas: Corporate Praying, Mutual Edification and Caring for Others.
A. Participate in Corporate Praying
The book of Acts records how the early Christians often met together to unite their hearts in prayer. Whenever a crisis was faced, either by the whole church, or even by just one member, they would get together and pray. Acts:4:24 ‘And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is:’
In Acts 12:5 the apostle Peter was arrested by King Herod and he was to be put to death just as the apostle James had been martyred. ‘Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.’ And this corporate prayer by the church was answered in a wonderful way. God sent an angel that released Peter from prison and led him to the street outside. Then when Peter had realised what had happened he went to the house where believers came to fellowship together and he found them all still praying for him (Acts 12:12) How surprised they were to see him freed, in answer to their prayers.
So let us be like these early disciples and participate in corporate prayer. Come for our church prayer meeting on Tuesday night and perhaps we may see equally wonderful answers to our prayer. The next thing that every Christian should participate in is in:
B. Participate in Mutual Edification
The word ‘edify’ literally means ‘to build up.’ Life in the Body of Christ is meant to help us build up one another, to nurture the development of each member’s walk with God, testimony before the world, and ability to serve. And the scriptures reveal that this is done in a church in at least two ways:
1. Exhorting One Another
Let us turn to Hebrews 3:13 ‘But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.’ To exhort is actually to give strong encouragement. We are to keep cheering each other on in our spiritual race. We are to keep urging each other to go on to greater things for the Lord. The same thought is expressed in Hebrews 10:24,25 ‘And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: 25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.’ The words ‘one another’ are found twice here and they bring out the reciprocal or mutual nature of the action. The early disciples met together regularly for the purpose of giving mutual exhortation toward showing love and doing good works. And even at that time they already had the problem of some members not turning up for meetings and activities!
In order to do this, it is not enough to just come for worship service and leave immediatlely. The worship service is not an occasion of mutual exhortation among fellow Christians, but a time to praise to God, and hear His Word. And so, in addition to coming for worship, we must spend time to meet other church members for the purpose of ‘provoking one another unto love and to good works’. All the things that we share should have this ultimate goal. This may take the form of sharing a personal testimony that can motivate someone to trust in God, or sharing some needs that can be met – e.g. needs of missionaries on the field, needs of those who are sick, needs of upcoming projects of the body of Christ where more hands are needed.
The kind of sharing we should seek to promote is the kind that stirs all of us into action – to do things for the Lord and for brethren who are in need. Where can do these things? – in the regular meetings of our fellowships, in family worship, in our Neighbourhood Bible Communities, and also before and after worship service or prayer meetings. Now, besides exhortation, there is another aspect of mutual edification:
2. Teaching And Admonishing One Another
These have to do with the Word of God. While what we had just seen about exhortation is to increase love and good works, teaching and admonishing is meant to instruct and increase the knowledge of God’s Word. Participating in the life of the local church must therefore include teaching doctrine to one another as well giving one another instructions in Christian living. In church it is usually the pastor, elder or Sunday School teacher who gives teaching and instruction in God’s Word. Because of the spiritual gifts God has given to them, their training and maturity they would be the most qualified to do these things. But that does not mean that they alone are to do all the teaching and instructing of others in God’s Word within the body of Christ. The understand of the Word of God is not the monopoly of a limited few teachers. Every born again Christian who studies the Scriptures on his own, and has the Holy Spirit leading him into all truth, has a part in it.
Let us look at some verses: Romans 15:14 ‘And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.’ Col 3:16 — ‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you (plural) richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.’ Now besides participating in corporate prayer and mutual edification, we should also:
3. Participate in Caring For Others
Phil 2:1,4 ‘If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, . . . 4 Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.’ Life in the body of Christ should be filled with concern and care for others and not just for ourselves. This care is expressed in 3 ways. Firstly by:
1. Comforting One Another
1 Thess 4:18 — ‘Wherefore comfort one another with these words.’ 1 Thess 5:11 ‘Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.�’ There will be times when some of us will go through times of suffering, of grief and sorrow. The rest of us should then express care by showing sympathy, by words of comfort and by helping to bear the heavy burdens. But our care should not be limited to just saying words alone. It should also be manifested in
2. Serving One Another
This is the second way we need to participate in caring for others. Gal 5:13 ‘For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.’ Our energies and resources should be chanelled to help meet the needs of others wherever we can. Not just spiritual needs, but physical needs as well. Depending on the need, it may mean providing things like food, clothing, lodging, transport, or financial assistance.
1 Peter 4:9,10 ‘Use hospitality one to another without grudging: 10 As every man hath received the gift, even so minister (serve) the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.’ Life in the Body of Christ should be characterized by giving rather than getting. We come not to be served, but to serve. Jesus set the example by washing the feet of His disciples. Finally, besides Comforting and Serving one another, we should also participate in caring by:
3. Forbearing and Forgiving One Another
Eph 4:32 ‘And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.’ Col 3:13 ‘Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.’ There should not be any unresolved disputes, disagreements and quarrels within the church. These things originate from self-centred, and self-righteous attitudes rather than from a Christ-like disposition. It is a fact that no two persons are exactly alike. God made us that way. We have our own individual personalities and problems. And some personalities do tend to clash with others. But the amazing thing is that, in Christ, individuals who are as different as night and day or as black and white, can still share a truly blessed relationship with one another!
This brings us to the end of our message to answer the question ‘Must I Go To Church To Be A Christian?’ I hope that by now you would understand that if you are a Christian, you should not merely go to church, but also spend time to fellowship with others, and to participate in the life of the church.
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