The joy of commitment to a local church

The joy of commitment to a local church

Our church accepted six people into membership yesterday. This is always an encouraging time as we think about what it means to be a church together. It means not just attending a place to get teaching and sing some songs, but being part of a family and serving one another. It involves commitment, and membership is one way of expressing that commitment.

It is true that all Christians are united across the world. All of us, as soon as we come to trust in Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, are part of the universal church. We will be singing in eternity with people from all nations and tribes and languages. That’s all true. If I was to travel to Kenya or to Brazil or to Estonia, I could find brothers and sisters in Christ there. That is a wonderful truth.

Although it is a joy to be part of the universal church, the place we learn to serve and grow is in the local church. I know I have brothers in Kenya and Estonia, but I don’t know them. I can’t do much of what the New Testament calls me to do if I don’t know them and they are far away. How can I bear with other believers in love, show humility, and show gentleness all by myself (Eph 4:1-3)? In the local church, I am one in a family of saved sinners. I need to learn to love those I might not have chosen as my friends. I need to learn how to work through disagreements in a godly way, to serve others, to build others up, and to rejoice and cry with others. For all of this, I need others whom I know personally and will know for some time. I need a local church.

It is the norm for Christians to be part of a local church. That’s what universally happened in the New Testament. People came to believe in Jesus, and then they met with other Christians near them. We see it again and again, in Jerusalem, in Philippi, in Ephesus, anywhere you can think of. Yes, I know that churches are full of sinners and have lots of problems. Yes, I know many have been hurt by churches in the past. But we need the church. We need other believers. Staying away hurts you and the church by depriving them of your spiritual gifts.

There is real value in committing to one local church rather than floating around and visiting many. After all, if the church is a place that we serve, not just receive a service, then we want to get involved in a church family. That will mean working hard at building relationships so you can be as useful as possible in serving others. It will mean sometimes getting through difficult times so we understand what forgiveness and reconciliation are like in practice.

As we strive to become more like Jesus, the truth is that we need the work of the Holy Spirit, we need time, we need effort, and we need other Christians. We are stronger together. We encourage and rebuke one another, we spur one another on to love and good deeds, and we learn together.