Commitment To A Local Church 1

trees in pots (5-14-17)

We’re taking a short break from digging into the book of Acts in order to dig into other Scripture passages to understand the importance of a commitment to a specific local church, of putting down roots in a particular local group of disciples of Jesus Christ.

In some ways, though, this isn’t a break from the book of Acts. We‘ve been digging into Acts to understand our mission, our purpose, what God wants His people to DO with the new life, forgiveness & adoption we have by grace alone thru faith alone in the blood, death & resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. As I hope you’ll see after this post & next, the question, “Is there a Biblical importance to being committed to a specific local church?” is foundational to our mission & purpose from the LORD.

This comment has been made by many over the last 50—100 years: “I have a personal relationship w/God—I don’t need to be part of a local church to have that. I meet w/God & worship Him by myself, on my own, in many different ways in the week, not just on one morning. I’m doing just fine, thank you very much. I love Jesus, but I don’t really love the church. Just give me Jesus—I don’t want religion.” We see this happening even more now via the internet, via t.v. & radio preachers, etc.

  • Sometimes this stems from past hurts & wounds that have occurred in local churches—in the short run it’s safer to simply stay away so others can’t hurt &disappoint us/let us down (in the long-run the effects are devastating, however);
  • Sometimes this stems from personality: in general, some people tend to do things on their own, just as some gravitate towards individual sports like tennis or golf as opposed to team sports like baseball or football or soccer;
  • Sometimes this stems from our culture: though the actor John Wayne died nearly 40 years ago, the celebration of one person single-handedly overcoming an obstacle or winning the battle or defeating an enemy is deeply part of the American way of life. We love the idea of the “self-made person” or “pulling yourself up by your boot-straps.” We often consciously or subconsciously consider it one of the peaks of the mountain of American life–relying on no one but ourselves;
  • Sometimes this stems from sinfulness, specifically pride, the root of all sin: Adam & Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden was a declaration of independence from God, getting out from under His way & living life according to their way/opinion. We love the idea of “independence” & not wanting to rely on others, not needing to rely on others, because deep down that feels like weakness, that reminds us that we aren’t good enough, smart enough, strong enough, capable enough to make it thru life by ourselves. We also sometimes love the idea of not having to submit to a pastor or elders or other leaders in a local church: “I submit to God alone!” Well, no, not if you aren’t part of a local church. More on that below…

These are just some reasons why people often feel comfortable not making a commitment to a local church, treating their relationship with the Lord Jesus as personal and private (personal it is! private it is not). But regardless of the reasons, it is simply not Biblical, not allowed by the LORD for His people…

  • Please also keep in mind that it’s possible to attend a local church & still be isolated, still stay away from others emotionally & spiritually, to arrive, make a little small talk, stay for the service, and then leave. You attended, you were there, you may have even given some money or served, & so your conscience is satisfied but you were still safe, you never left your comfort zone, you didn’t risk, you weren’t vulnerable with anyone else. You were acting IN a church but you weren’t acting as the Church; you were in a church but you didn’t let the Church into you. This happens far more often than people praising God through the internet only.

Some might say, “Come on—you don’t see people being members at local churches in the New Testament. This idea of commitment to a local church was added by Christians hundreds of years later.”

My friends, you absolutely see commitment to a local church in the New Testament…and the Old! I can’t find an example of someone who had merely a “private” relationship with God by themselves, separate from a specific group of other Christians, or separate from other Israelites. Even John the Baptizer, in the desolate wilderness eating locusts/wild honey, had many disciples whom he regularly taught, met with, prayed with (John taught his disciples how to pray—not a one-time lesson!), undoubtedly read the Scriptures with, etc.

  • After Egypt: God gave specific instructions for building the tabernacle, the tent of meeting, where the Hebrews would gather together as a group to worship the LORD, to make sacrifices, to sing praise to Him, etc. Logistically that would’ve been a nightmare—can you imagine the parking problems with two million Hebrews all coming together as a group! 🙂 It would’ve been much easier/simpler for the LORD to have them meet separately, in their own private tents. But He didn’t.
  • Promised Land: God gave specific instructions for building the Temple, the center of Jewish spiritual/political life, where the Israelites would gather together as a group to worship the LORD, make sacrifices & sing praises to Him. Not just to worship Him anywhere they wanted or any way they wanted do based on what style of worship they liked, but worshipping Him as a group in one location.
  • New Testament: the Lord Jesus began His public ministry by attending a local synagogue to read publicly from the book of Isaiah—many Jewish people there gathered together to listen to God’sWord read & taught!
  • NT: Adam preached last week on different passages in Acts that show that from day one the early Christians gathered together daily to praise God, have meals, celebrate the Lord’s Supper, dig into the Bible, encourage each other, & pray. Daily, at the Temple & in each other’s houses. Both…daily—together, not separate!
  • NT: in 1 Corinthians, God gives specific instructions on orderliness in worship for local church worship services, for corporate gatherings of Christians. When you gather, not if… Hebrews: “Do not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encourage one another as you see the Day approaching.” Even back in the 1st century there was a habit of some to drift into isolation regarding their walk with the Lord Jesus…we aren’t so different from them…
  • Heaven: In Revelation, John has a vision of countless numbers of people in white robes gathered together to sing praises to the LORD Who sits on the throne & to the Lamb Who was slain. John says their voices were like the sound of many rushing waters, e.g. Niagara Falls. You dont hear sports fans collectively cheer when they watch the game in their separate living rooms but when they gather together at the stadium. Heaven isnt each of us staying in our rooms in our Father’s house&praising Him privately—it’s gathering together with other forgiven & adopted former sinners to publicly & corporately worship the LORD forever!
  • Some of Paul’s letters in the NT were sent to individuals, some were sent to all Christians in different countries, but most were sent to specific local churches! To the church at Ephesus, to the church of Philippi, to the church at Corinth, at Rome, etc. These letters in the NT were to be read out loud to congregations or gatherings of many believers, not individual Christians who “connected with God” by themselves only in their bedrooms/living rooms.

My friends, the early Christians needed each other to survive and grow as Christians in a hostile and foreign culture. They knew they couldn’t survive and thrive on their own, but I also believe they didn’t want to survive & thrive on their own even if they could.

Hopefully we have all experienced fellowship with other Christians: not acquaintanceship, not just a shared enjoyment of a particular hobby or activity, but a soul-level fellowship/connection simply because of the Holy Spirit living in us, the Holy Spirit who transcends all the ways we are different (personalities, ages, nationalities, professions, income levels, etc.), the Holy Spirit we received as a free gift when we were reborn through repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit in us that cries out “Abba Father” to God & Who rejoices when we are in the presence of brothers & sisters in Christ—the family of God!

Romans 1:9-12: God, whom I serve in my spirit in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you 10 in my prayers at all times; 

[Loved ones, Paul is not talking to all Christians here (though I’m sure the LORD did grow in him a love to all Christians wherever they were); he is specifically talking to the Christians in Rome—they are the ones he constantly remembers in his prayers, a specific group of people whom he loves by the power of the Holy Spirit. And this isn’t a general/generic love—Paul doesn’t just “wish them well” in general but he prays for them constantly in particular because he knows them, because he has a fellowship with them, a deep closeness that cannot stay in the shallow-waters of mere acquaintanceship, of merely sitting in the pews occupying the same space on Sunday morning. He knows them, he is committed to them, he remembers them, he constantly prays for them and invests his time & energy into them. That is commitment to a particular group of Christians in a particular local church.]

and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you.

[Oh my friends, Paul was so busy with his mission from the LORD, it was so dangerous to travel in the 1st century AD, he easily could have focused on the other things or merely stopped at writing a letter to encourage the Christians at Rome and yet he prayed for the LORD to allow him to come to them physically, regardless of the expense, danger and time commitment.

Commitment to a particular local church over the long-haul, truly discipling & being discipled by the Lord Jesus through His Holy Spirit, His Word and other Christians is messy, takes time, is dangerous, is not convenient, costs us much. You’ll never really “have time” for it…do you pray to the LORD to part the Red Sea of your schedule to make a way for you to invest in the Christians of a local church? Will you cry out to Him to make a way through all of your daily/weekly responsibilities? He freed His people from Egypt’s chariots; He can free us from our weekly schedules.]

11 I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong—

[Paul easily could have said, “I give enough of myself already; time for me to GET.” But he longed to continue to pour himself out, for the glory of God, so that the Christians at Rome would grow spiritually, would mature in holiness, would know the LORD more and more closely. He longed to do the hard work of commitment to a particular local church, getting the dirt under his nails and thorn scratches on his hands and poison ivy on his arms as he labored to cultivate the garden of a particular local church. Though it might make him weaker/more tired in the short run, he longed to be a vessel through which the Holy Spirit would make strong a specific group of Christians.]

12 that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. 

[But he also realized that in the long run he would get something out of such an investment in a local church; both their faith and his faith would be strengthened and encouraged! He didn’t just want to “hang out” with the Christians at Rome and sight-see and chill and talk about the weather and sports; he wanted their faith in Christ Jesus to be strengthened. And thus they dug into Scripture together, they prayed together, they confessed sin to each other, they told each other about the Lord’s marvelous deeds and bragged about Him, they went out to fill the city of Rome with the Gospel, etc. Paul didn’t merely want to attend the local church at Rome, he longed to invest–at great cost to himself–in its spiritual maturity for the glory of the Father.]

Do you ever long to be with other Christians, making specific plans in your busy schedule not just meeting up when convenient? Do you ever deeply desire to dig into God’s Word together to help each other grow spiritually strong, not only talking about sports/weather/other things? Do you long for this, loved ones, do you ever deeply desire this? Not to soothe your conscience—I guess I’m supposed to meet up with Christians like this—but to quench your thirst for true Christian fellowship! Paul feasted on the pearls in the deep-sea of true Christian fellowship; he could never be satisfied with the sea-weeds on the surface of the shallow end of the beach…

That is what makes us desire to commit to a particular local church, that is why deep down we should never be satisfied with just a “private” relationship with God.

But many church-attenders have never experienced this spiritual bond with other Christians, the joy of fellowship, or haven’t in a long time. Why?

Sometimes it is because a person isn’t saved, doesn’t have the Holy Spirit, hasn’t received the Lord Jesus as their Savior for the forgiveness of their sins by grace alone through faith alone. They are hanging around the water-cooler of Christ but haven’t actually drank from His Living Waters by faith; they haven’t surrendered to Him as King…

But sometimes it is because, though saved by Christ, we are still playing it safe, still remaining in our shell, even though we are physically in the church building. We simply don’t realize the Biblical importance of cultivating fellowship, and so we simply attend church when we can, we are in the church building but we aren’t acting like the Church that the Lord Jesus is building! Or we wait for others to come up to us instead of going to them.

One implicit example of the importance of committing to one particular local church is found in Hebrews 13:7-8,17:  Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. 

[You can learn some things from a popular Christian leader’s book or internet sermon, but you cannot imitate their way of life and faith—you simply don’t know them personally. While Christian books can be a blessing & can be used by God, we need to be up close & personal with Christian servant-leaders in a local church to learn the Word of God and see them live out the Word of God in their daily lives.]

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever…  Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.

Loved ones, this passage is telling a Christian to submit to servant leaders/shepherds…yet not at all local churches but at a specific place! As one pastor told me, “Specific servants/shepherds of a local church will have to give an account to God for the way that we sacrificially serve and shepherd a specific group of people in a local church regarding their spiritual maturity, not for how we shepherd all Christians in a given city. There is a specific group of people for whom we have a responsibility to build up in the faith.”

Likewise, there is a specific group of people in a local church who have a responsibility to allow pastors/elders/Bible study leaders to serve & disciple them & help them grow. That takes commitment to a particular local church over a long period of time. This is so serious to God that He will judge spiritual elders/pastors/Bible study leaders more closely.

I wonder if one of the reasons many hop from church to church over years, or stay in their shells within a local church over decades—attending but not participating, participating on the outside but never letting anyone in on the inside to see not just our “best foot forward” but both of our feet with all the long nails and toe fungus and smelliness—is because deep down we don’t want to submit to anyone, especially not that leader/pastor/elder—who does he think he is?

But submission and authority and teaching and correcting and warning and keeping watch over a local church is part of God’s design for His people.

Of course you can visit other local churches, but for most of the year you participate & serve & grow in one location, you are committed to that specific local church, not just attending but building up & investing in & improving.

Closing Challenge

Some may be thinking, “I don’t need to make a formal commitment to a local church!”

Please prayerfully consider: this isn’t so much about what you or I will get out of a formal commitment to a local church, but what others will get from you: not renting but owning, not leasing but purchasing, not planting yourselves in easily movable jars/pots but planting yourselves in the ground to put down roots & provide fruit & shade for the rest of the garden.

We like the mobility of being trees in pots, but such trees never truly grow tall and broad with thick trunks and ripe fruit–mobility limits our growth. The only way to become “oak trees of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of His splendor” (Isaiah 61:3), is to move out of the pot–losing some mobility to hop to another local church easily when times get tough!–and plant ourselves in the ground for the long-haul. That is the only way for our roots in Christ to grow deeply for the glory of God…

By the grace of God alone, those who serve this local church prominently and behind the scenes make no distinction between those who regularly attend & participate or those who sporadically attend—by God’s grace you’re all served in the same ways whether u commit here or not!

But the impact between the rest of us in the seats—that dramatically changes over time when people move from sporadic attendance to regular attendance, when we move from mere attendance to participation, when we move from being a spectator to being an investor, when we aren’t only looking to have our own cups filled but are looking to pour out into others’ cups to fill them, as risky as that is.

That takes a decision—it won’t happen on accident; that takes a commitment, it won’t happen by showing up when it’s convenient or only doing what is comfortable and easy or only talking each Sunday to the same people we already know or always answering “fine” when people ask how we are doing.

trees in the ground (5-14-17)