During my years attending Seminary, I would often frequent coffee shops around the Boise, Idaho area, near my home. I would spend all day working on reading various theology books, working on assignments, and writing papers. Seeing the mounds of books on my table, people would often ask me, “What are you studying?” This question led to many a theological discussion when I explained that I was studying for my Masters of Divinity. Often, questions such as, “Are you a Christian?” and, “Do you go to church, and if so, which church do you go to?” led the way to long discussions. At first, I was surprised by some of the answers; not their responses to if they were a Christian or not, but that the majority of people said that they were “going to church” right there in the coffee shop, and then proceed to point to their table. I would gently explain to them that what they were having was called a Bible study and not church, but so many times my words fell on deaf ears and often led to an abrupt end to our conversation.
Church membership and church life have fallen on hard days in recent years; not only from those who think that the lone-ranger view of Christianity is right, but also from many in the Church who don’t see church attendance or fellowship (nor the Church itself) as essential. The Church, however, is essential because it is the only institution for which Jesus has bled, died, and rose again. Further, the Church is essential because it is the primary instrument through which the gospel is preached, the lost are saved, and the saints equipped for the mission of making disciples for God’s glory.
Even some professing Christians think they don’t need the preached Word of God. To their way of thinking, all they need is regular Christian fellowship. Yet, if you ask these same Christians if they go for a regular check-up to the doctor, they would tell you yes. When we gather to hear the week preached, week in and week out, the Word does its surgery on us by the Spirit bringing conviction, comfort, and encouragement into our lives. So, when we say we don’t need the preached Word, we are saying we don’t need to continue to grow spiritually, which is absurd because every Christian is to be growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus (2nd Peter 3:18).
But of even greater significance is the need to take off our masks (at least metaphorically) and be who we are in Christ as the Church, His Bride. I remember meeting often with a pastor while serving in a campus ministry as I attended college in Washington (my home state). We would sit around for about an hour talking, and it would frustrate him that I would wait until the last fifteen minutes to open up and share. One time he even mentioned this to me, and it struck me later that what he wanted wasn’t a little theological conversation, but to get to know me and enjoy genuine Christian fellowship. At this time (around 2000-2001), I was holding people at arm’s length because I was enslaved to pornography. I couldn’t take the chance that the pastor (or others) would find out about this dark sin in my life. I lived my life behind a mask, but have since repented of my enslavement to pornography.
Church is the best place to take off our masks, drop our guard, and be who we are in Christ. That doesn’t mean that you have to like everyone or that you’ll get along with everyone. It means that you will, because of Christ, be who you are in union with Jesus. Over fifty times in the New Testament, we are taught to “one another” each other (love one another, care for one another, etc.); and that ministry is vital because I need you, and you need me. Charles Spurgeon once said, “I have a great need of Christ and a great Christ for my need.” Now that is true, but it’s also true that we have a great need for one another as members of one Body.
And that’s what brings us to this issue of Theology for Life. I need Christ, but I also need the Christ in you. I need you to encourage me, and you need me to encourage you, to walk alongside you. When I’m hurting and struggling, I need an arm around the shoulder. When I’m in sin, I need rebuke and correction. So, in this issue of Theology for Life, we are discussing the matter of church membership and what it means to “one another” each other. This topic is vital for us as Christians because it’s within the Church that we can share openly, honestly, and fellowship with one another. It’s in the Church where, because of Christ, we are the people of God, indwelt by the Spirit, and sent out to make disciples of Jesus.
Wherever you are at in your journey in the grace of God, I pray that this Issue will encourage you to devote yourself to the essential ministry of your local church—perhaps even help you to join a local church. Together in our local churches, under qualified male eldership, we use our gifts, talents, abilities, and everything we are to make disciples of Jesus, for the glory of God. So I hope you’ll find this Issue helpful to your spiritual growth and begin to see, as J.I. Packer once said, that the healthy Christian life is a life lived in the local church.
Executive Editor, Theology for Life Magazine