Many churches have recently and gradually resumed physical gatherings or made step-up plans to do so. I think we've learned some things in the process about the importance of the local church. Simply "going to church" as if that was the end goal in itself has never been at the heart of God's idea. Yes, WE ARE THE CHURCH. I am in full agreement with that resounding anthem. But to fully experience the width, the depth and the breadth of the local Body of Christ, I believe we've realized cyber church or "church online" is a great tool to be leveraged, but it's not a good substitute for the long term. You can love your neighbor by social distancing. But there are limitations.
There were 2-3 weeks where we really wanted to be with family members. FaceTime was nice. We were thankful for it. But it was FAR BETTER when we could be with them. We ate, laughed, had conversation, looked one another in the eye-balls. Our physical family prepares us to live life with a blood-bought, spiritual, eternal family. And it's been FAR BETTER to be with them. The Holy Spirit dwells in that bodily temple beside you as you take notes in your Bible. The Holy Spirit is using that brother or sister in your Life Group to encourage you. The space is sacred not because you're in a building, but because the Holy Spirit is indwelling us and multiplied through us.
A few weeks ago, we got the ball rolling on "what is a local church." You can read that here. Now, let's press a little bit further in considering its importance. There is certainly more to say, but for sake of brevity, I want to list three primary reasons for the importance of the local church.
1) FOR THE EDIFICATION OF BELIEVERS
The word "edification" or "edify" is a word we see in the New Testament, but not one we use in our regular vocabulary. When Scripture uses that word, it means the "act of building", "spiritual advancement," "instruction for improvement."
One of the main reasons the local church is important is because we need other Christians who will live out the Christian life alongside us and who "build us up." We need their encouragement (Hebrews 10:25), their accountability (Matthew 18:15-17), and the benefit of their spiritual gifts (Ephesians 4:11-12; 1 Corinthians 12:4-31). I believe you can be a Christian and not be part of a local church. But I also believe from what we see in Scripture, it's hard, maybe impossible to be a vibrant, growing Christian without it. Part of being there is also being a contributor to the growth and journey of others.
Watching a church service online you receive the gifts of only the person/people on the stage, such as the Worship Leader and Pastor. Being there, being in community means you are available to receive personal gifts of the pastors, elders, deacons, ministry teams, and fellow believers. I've been in many worship gatherings when the person behind me, singing the truths of God loudly has blessed and encouraged me. They didn't know it, but they were edifying me. The team that works with our toddlers, every single week, edify me by allowing my wife and I lead in worship and preaching.
Since no one has reached a state of perfection, the local church is a way to express the biblical art of practicing forgiveness, seeking reconciliation, and bearing one another's burdens. Those are difficult to do without ever being in their presence. Some personalities are far more hasty in their speech and conduct on social media than in the physical presence of someone. This gives the opportunity to practice the "fruits of the Spirit" that Paul lists in Galatians 5. We can actually discipline ourselves to practice self-control, gentleness, and seeking peace. All of these attitudes or postures are for our edification.
2) FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF THE GOSPEL
Another reason the local church is important is because it is God’s plan “A” for the advancement of the gospel. The most relevant thing the world needs is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The local church is responsible for reaching its community with the gospel, and it is responsible for raising up and sending out those who will take the gospel to communities around the world that need to hear the gospel (see Acts 13:1-3).
If we believe that Jesus died for the penalty of our sins, was buried in Joseph's tomb, was raised from the dead, and before ascending to the right hand of the Father, gave us a mission, then that should change how we pursue every day of our lives.
The Church is the vehicle for "Jesus in public life." Through our word, deed, and example we represent that the "Kingdom of God is not of this world." What Jesus inaugurated was the Kingdom of God. He's the King. And the King has a mission. Jesus did not form a mission for his church. He formed a CHURCH for his mission. Without the mission, a church is not a church. It's just a bunch of disobedient Christians hanging out. Before it's an institution, it's first a movement.
In Matthew 16, I am positive that when Jesus announced that he will build his Church (v. 18), he didn't have in mind his disciples wearing a bunch of cheesy Christian T-shirts, eating Chick Fil-A, and huddling up so nobody could get "in the club."
God's heart is for the nations, the outcasts, and the lost. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. He calls his Church to be salt and light. Salt preserves and adds flavor. Light dispels the darkness. Many we know are living in darkness. How can they know if we don't speak? How can we speak if we don't go? (Paraphrasing Paul's exhortation in Romans 10.) It may be our mission field is the neighborhood in which we live.
Jesus has not merely called an audience to himself. He's called an army. Armies advance. As the Church, we advance with the Good News that Jesus is King and victory has been achieved!
3) FOR THE GLORY OF GOD
Finally, when a local church functions as it is supposed to function, it is a reflection of God’s glory in a dark world. God's glory often may look very ordinary in what we perceive to be an ordinary world. But He's not given us the task of being impressive for the world to see. We point to the One who is SUPREMELY and INFINITELY WORTHY!
For example, Paul writes to the Corinthian church, "So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greek or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved." (1 Cor. 10:31-33) Eating and drinking are ordinary things. But even when we do ordinary things, God can be glorified and make Himself known through it.
Paul also says that it is “through the church” that “the manifold wisdom of God is made known” (Ephesians 3:10). Notice, it is not through the Christian individual that God’s wisdom and glory are displayed; rather, it is through the church (a local assembly of disciples committed to obeying Jesus together) that the wisdom and glory of God are displayed. We all bring different gifts, skills, experiences, and personalities to the Family Table that shape us and nourish us. Just as I can't be physically nourished when food is not around to be eaten, I can't be spiritually nourished like I need to be, without a church family.
I'm so blessed and grateful for my local church family. Aren't you?