So now we get to answer a favorite question of the atheist. If the Bible is so clear, how come there are a bazillion Christian denominations? First off, there are not. Second; because God is good, gracious, and merciful. Third; because well-meaning, brothers in Christ can disagree without undermining the Gospel. Fourth; we can have preference for things and still rejoice to one day be in heaven together. This leads us to the doctrine of the church – ecclesiology.
How we do church is a matter of Biblical fidelity. We are all called to be a part of a local church to which we have some accountability; Hebrews 10:19 – 31 lays out some of this. The majority of the New Testament epistles were addressed to churches. All of the one-another verses assume living in Christian community. Jesus assumed the church when providing for wayward believers in Matthew 18. Evangelists and messengers were sent by and received into local churches.
The New Testament has no category for the Christian disconnected from a local church. NONE!!!!!!!! The Church is the bride of Christ and is beloved by Him. Therefore the members of that Church (the local-small c-church) should be loved by us.
So what is the church? The local church is a group of regenerate (repentant, saved) people gathered together for the worship of God (Romans 12:1 – 8).
So how do we organize our local church? Do we follow the Episcopal format and have a top-down structure? Do we follow the Presbyterian model that allows for more local autonomy but places authority in differing levels of “committees”? Do we go with the congregational model that places the authority at the local level with each church directly accountable to Christ alone?
I’m a Baptist pastor, so it is obvious I think the local church should be autonomous and free. Nowhere in the New Testament did Peter, Paul, James, or John demand the local churches “get in line” with the higher-ups. Instead, they encouraged, instructed, and exhorted the churches to faithful living; trusting in the work of the Holy Spirit to move in the hearts and minds of the local congregations and lead them to the truth.
But you’re not railing on those other evil ecclesiologies!!! No, because I think they are wrong; but not outside the faith. How we organize our churches and the authority we endow them with is well into the secondary issue category. Even among congregational churches; is the authority: democratic, committee led, elder led, elder ruled, committee ruled? Each church is free to establish Godly leadership because they are accountable to God for what they do.
The great take-away is this. Are you in a local church? If not, stop making excuses and get in one. But I can watch sermons and teaching online! I don’t care; they are not your pastor online. Those people are not your community when online. Get in a local church, or risk endangering your soul and being disconnected from Christ. You can’t love the Savior and hate the wife He has died for and remade through the Spirit. Make sure the local church you join rightly follows Scripture. Do they teach the Bible simply and directly? Good, keep it up. Do they teach all of Scripture in accordance with the historical reality of the faith and God’s working? Good, keep it up. Do they keep the faith as it has been handed down in Scripture and through the history of the church? Good, keep it up. Do they abandon historically held beliefs and practices because the modern world and modern-man knows more? RUN!!!!!!! Do they abandon the clear teaching and understanding of the Word because we supposedly know better today? RUN!!!!!! Do they practice the disciplines and encourage them (Bible-reading, prayer, communion, discipline of wayward members)? Good, keep it up.
This is the criteria we use to judge a local church. Everything else is related to personal preference and should be secondary to the above. If you live in an area where there is more than 1 church that is doing these good things, then count yourself blessed and pick the one you like the best.
So what?!?? You said this stuff was going to be important to my life!!!!!
This matters because the church matters. God has promised to be with us until the end of the age. God has promised the church will prevail against evil. God has promised His Word will endure. The means of these promises is the local church. Who on the earth, knows you best; the people who are around you the most. But it’s a messy thing that aggravates me!!! I know, this is how God builds character, patience, and perseverance. You annoy people too, and that’s ok. It may not be ok, but my point is that this is the encouragement. God puts up with our arguing, fighting, division, because He is building something bigger than us and because His mercy is that big. That is good, because it reminds me how big He is in spite of my sin. It reminds me how awesome God’s completion of my sanctification will be because of how much He still has to weed out of people. It reminds me how amazing eternity will be that God has overcome ever sin that entangles us and sets us to right worship of Him.