It is a common practice among professing Christians to announce, “I love Jesus, but I don’t love the church.” There is a growing disconnect between claiming to be a Christian and recognizing the importance of the local church.
In Scripture, the Greek word for church, ekklesia always refers to “a group of worshipers”; never a building, a system, a religious service, a particular denomination, etc… It’s always a group of worshipers. This group of worshipers is made up of all Christians and is sometimes referred to as the invisible church. But, the invisible church (all believers) is manifested in local congregations.
Part of the problem may be that we don’t really understand the importance of the local church. Dave Swavely and Wayne Mack, in their excellent book, Life in the Father’s House, state,
“Far from being only one of many options for the Christian, the church is the primary means through which God accomplishes His plan in the world. It is His ordained instrument for calling the lost to Himself and the context in which He sanctifies those who are born into His family. Therefore God expects (and even demands) a commitment to the church from everyone who claims to know Him”(p.6).
Take a look at I Timothy 3:15. This is perhaps the most powerful verse in the Bible in terms of presenting the importance of the local church. Paul told Timothy,
“I write so that you may know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.”
In this verse Paul gives 4 word pictures that describe of the church.
Household of God
This particular word has two meanings. It can either mean “house, or dwelling place”, or it can mean “immediate family”. Both meanings are applied to the church in Scripture. First Corinthians 3:16 says to the whole church that it is the temple of God (note: he is not addressing individuals here, but the whole church). It is a collective group that makes up the temple of God. Therefore, if we want to be where God is, we need to be in His church, for that is where He dwells.
The more likely meaning of the word “household” is that of a family. This is a familiar idea to us. We speak of being born into it, refer to God as Father, praise him for adopting us as sons and making us heirs. We also sing “I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God”, but we seldom think of that family of God as the local church. However, that is exactly how it’s being used here.
Church of the Living God
The church proceeded from God and belongs to God. Not only that, but in contrast to the temples of the dead pagan gods, the church is of the living God. In fact, each member of the Trinity is portrayed as treasuring the church. God the Father has revealed His love for the church by His sovereign election of it before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4-5; Rev. 13:8). God the Son also loved the church and gave Himself up for her (Eph. 5:25; Titus 2:14). He laid down His life for the sheep (John 10:11-16) and God made Him “the head of the church” (Eph. 5:23; 1:22). God the Holy Spirit initiated the church at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4), and later, confirmed the inclusion of the Gentiles (Acts 10:44-48). He brings each member to regeneration, indwells them, illumines their minds to the truth of Scriptures, and guarantees their eventual glorification (1 Cor. 12:13; John 3:6-8; Eph. 1:13-14).
The entire Godhead is involved in the origin and operation of the church. How much more should we, as recipients of grace, “sons of the living God”, be involved in His church?
Pillar of Truth
From the Greek word, stulos, this description actually says that the church holds up the truth. In other words, God’s truth is not able to stand without the church. If the pillar of a building is removed, the building topples. The implication is that the truth would fall into disaster if the church did not exist. Of course, this will never happen because God has promised that His church would always endure (Matt. 16:18). This alone should convince us of the indispensable role that the church plays in our lives. Our relationship to God is in danger if the church does not occupy her intended role in our lives. Consider the people who claim to grow spiritually after they have left the church. It is unlikely that they are holding to the truth or cultivating a meaningful relationship with God by themselves. In light of I Timothy 3:15, it is much more likely that their faith has crumpled, because they have torn away the pillar that holds up truth.
Support of Truth
This may appear redundant, but it’s actually an entirely different Greek word. This word, hedraioma, should be translated “foundation”. It speaks of stability and permanence. This idea of stability and permanence is familiar. As we noted above, the church is the one institution God has promised to preserve throughout all time (Matt. 16:18). Plus, Ephesians 3:21 says that God will receive glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. As Mack and Swavely note,
“The truth that the church will always be built and blessed by God Himself provides a tremendous source of hope and confidence to us as Christians. It also presents a convincing argument for the idea that we should direct our energies and efforts primarily toward the edification and growth of the local church rather than organizations and institutions outside of it.”(p.15).
These four vivid descriptions more than communicate the importance of the local church. What remains is the question, “how important is it to us?” Is it as important to us as it is to the Lord? How can we make sure that it holds the rightful place in our lives and ministries?
For further study: