As you head off to a new location to attend school, or as you settle into a rigorous schedule of classes in your hometown, it is helpful to remember the importance of the local church. All the Bible classes in the world cannot take the place of what the Church is meant to be and do. You still need the church, and the church still needs you.
The church of Jesus Christ is described in the Bible with many vivid and touching word pictures. To name just a few, she is compared to a body, a house, a family, and a bride.
She is compared to a body because all of her members are to work together in unity with each other, each one utilizing their distinctive gifts for the common good of the whole. Just as the eye assists the hand, each member must assist each other to achieve the lofty objective for which this body has been designed—the glory of Jesus Christ.
The church is called the “house of God” because it has the extraordinary privilege of being the one place where He has determined to dwell for as long as this world lasts. The chief cornerstone of this house is Jesus Christ. His person and work the whole building depends.
We also read of the individuals in the church being addressed as brothers and sisters in Christ. This is because the church is to be a haven for heartbroken sinners, a family to fatigued saints.
Perhaps the most distinguished title that the Church enjoys is that of a bride. Not because of her own beauty or worthiness, but because of the beauty and worthiness of her Groom, who is the Lord Jesus Christ. How humbling and how exhilarating to realize the great love that our Lord has for His bride, the church: “You have captivated my heart” (Song of Solomon 4:9). Certainly, such a selfless and sacrificing love demands our purest affection and most ardent devotion.
But how do we serve Christ in His Church? How is it supposed to work? Thankfully, the Bible gives us specifics as to how the body, the bride of Christ best functions to the glory of Christ.
A Multitude With One Heart
“The full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common” (Acts 4:32). This picture of the early Christian church shows, in a nutshell, the source of their power to impact the world around them.
First, they are described as believers. Only those who have a genuine and common faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior can enjoy the unity of spirit and purpose that is described here.
Second, because of their common faith in Jesus Christ, they were of one heart and soul; they were singular and focused in their objective. True believers in Jesus Christ, who share that common ground with each other, have every motivation to overcome personal differences to pursue the greater good of the name of Christ!
Finally, their unanimous endeavor to glorify Christ resulted in practical implications for their daily lives. Although they did have personal possessions, they did not see these things as their own. More than unity, we could call this losing “self” in the cause of Christ. The New Testament church possessed personal goods, but their personal goods did not possess them.
The greatest thing the Church has to offer is the opportunity for sacrifice and service for Christ. We are striving in the church, with fellow believers in Christ, to exalt the name of Jesus together! We are together laying all that we have and all that we are on His altar, to be used in His cause, as He sees fit.
It should be our prayerful desire, then, to resemble this New Testament multitude with one heart — to continue to multiply in number, and yet grow more and more unified in our single and common goal of glorifying Jesus Christ.
To this end, pastors must strive prayerfully to both grow the church and the church’s understanding of God’s Word. Simple Sunday platitudes simply will not do for this great purpose. Only delving deeply into the divine revelation, with accurate and thoughtful and relevant messages, will truly grow a congregation in grace and the knowledge of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. As pastors, we will also want to communicate—with both prospective visitors and with the whole church—each opportunity for learning, service, prayer, or worship.
And speaking of service, it is helpful to regularly review—for ourselves and for the sake of our congregation—what our goals and commitments are as members of a body of believers.
“We Believe It to Be Our Duty To…”
The church that I help to pastor has a formal, written church covenant that we try to review with each prospective new member. And, while each church may differ in particular wording or exactly how they define the members’ commitment, it is a helpful tool for considering our God-given, biblical roles within the church. Our own church covenant spells out at least seven ways, in addition to participating in the ordinances of the church, that each member can and should serve in the body.
When a person joins our church they are committing 1) to give generously (2 Cor 9:6-7; Heb 13:16; Php 4:17); 2) to care for the sick and needy (Gal 6:10; 1 Jn 3:17-19; Jas 1:27); 3) to keep ourselves unspotted from the world (Jas 1:27; 4:4; Ro 12:2; 1 Cor 9:27); 4) to as far as possible attend worship services (Heb 10:25; Ac 2:1, 42); 5) to speak often to each other in a sanctifying way (Ac 2:46; 2 Ti 2:22; Heb 3:13); 6) to edify with our gifts (1 Cor 12:14-22; Rom 12:6-8; 1Pe 4:10); and 7) to apply godly discipline (Mat 18:15-17; Jas 5:19, 20). In all these efforts, including church discipline, we are of course striving for unity and purity, not uniformity (Eph 4:1-3; 4:29-32).
In listing these seven duties of a church member, we are specifying the role each one has within the congregation so that the congregation can, in turn, fulfill its role to be a powerful light and a savory salt, in our community and to the world.
My prayer is that your church and ours will be all that Christ intended for us to be. May your distinctive gifts find a welcome place among your fellow church members. May we be built on the person of Jesus Christ not only hearing His teachings but doing them. May you find a warm reception and a beautiful belonging in your family of believers. And, most importantly, may we each grow in our love and devotion to our Groom, always ready for and looking to his coming.