Do I Need to Be Part of the Local Church to Be a Christian?
People are beginning to ask the question, "Do I need to be part of a local church to be a Christian?" Stories of abusive leaders, and dysfunctional churches foster unease toward the church. An increasing number of people no longer want to tether themselves to the local church. Individuals are asking questions like the following: Why must I be part of an imperfect church if I am worshiping a perfect Savior? If my faith is personal, is it necessary to gather with a public body of believers? If my salvation is not at risk, does being part of a local church really matter?
We need to separate the primary question - “Do I need to be part of a local church to be a Christian?” - into two parts. When people ask this question, or others like it, most wonder if they risk losing their salvation if they are not part of the local church. Others question if local church membership is a matter of obedience. Let us examine both aspects to grasp how the Bible wants us to respond to this question.
Does Being Part of a Local Church Save Me? No.
The short answer is no. Your salvation does not hinge on your church membership status. Salvation is by grace alone through faith in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection (Eph. 2:8-9). Many biblical figures were not part of a local church because it did not exist until after Pentecost (Acts 2). Prior to Pentecost, Jesus told the paralytic, “Man, your sins are forgiven you” (Luke 5:20). In Luke 23, the thief on the cross was never part of a local church. Yet, Jesus told the thief, after his profession of faith, that he would be with Him in Paradise,(Luke 23:42-43).
Salvation is not dependent on being part of a local church. Only Jesus can save. He alone has “authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom [the Father has] given him” (John 17:2).
Do I Need to Be Part of the Local Church to Be Obedient? Yes.
While salvation is not dependent on being part of a local church, obedience is. “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). He came to proclaim the message of God’s kingdom, where those who trust in Him are His children, and heirs of His promises. Being part of a local church helps believers obey Christ and His Word.
We Are Called to Strengthen the Body of Christ
The universal church is the body of Christ. The local church is a physical representation of it. “The body does not consist of one member, but of many” (1 Cor. 12:14). Jesus calls us to be part of the body. As Christians, we cannot walk alone. If we “neglect meeting together,” we cannot “stir up one another to love, good works, and encouragement” (Heb. 10:24-25). We cannot “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the Law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). We cannot “teach them (the disciples of all nations) to obey all that (Jesus) commanded them” (Matt. 28:20).
Jesus is sanctifying the church as the bride of Christ. He desires to "present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and blameless” (Eph. 5:26-27). Christ “loves the church and nourishes it because we are members of his body” (Eph. 5:30). As members of the body of Christ, we are called to encourage one another and build each other up, which must be done in community with one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
We Are Called to Submit to Our Leaders
Hebrews 13:7 says, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” Paul asks the Thessalonians “to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you” (1 Thessalonians 5:12).
How can we submit to our leaders if we are not part of the local church? How can we respect those who labor with us if we are not working with them? Paul’s churches were like synagogue structures. He would appoint “elders for them in every church” (Acts 14:23). James tells the church to “call for the elders of the church” to pray for any who are sick (James 5:14).
Paul worked to appoint elders in other churches. As the body of Christ grew, local churches needed leaders to guide the churches toward God. God selected prophets, judges, and kings throughout the Old Testament to lead Israel. Jesus appointed apostles to lead the early church.
Submitting to leaders honors Christ’s appointment of pastors,elders, and deacons. In the local church, submitting to leaders aids in discipleship. Additionally, by imitating their faith believers become more Christlike.
We Are Called to Spread the Gospel to All Nations
Jesus called the disciples together to follow him. He sent them out on mission together. He prepared them together. He commissioned them together. Why? It is because we cannot fulfill Jesus’ commands on our own. Jesus tells the disciples that they “will be (His) witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Jesus gave the Great Commission to the group, not to one person.
We must work together as part of the local church to obey the Great Commission. Paul commends the Thessalonians because they became “imitators of them and of the Lord" (1 Thess. 1: 6).
The Thessalonians' fervent faith led them to spread the good news of Jesus Christ. It traveled so far that Paul, Silas, and Timothy did not need to go to some places to preach the gospel. The Thessalonians had already spread the good news in many areas. The local church is the most effective vehicle to spread the gospel, as It houses the people and resources to share the gospel of Christ to the ends of the earth. . Our church is sending out many families to Europe, the Middle East, and Central Asia. They will strive to make disciples of all nations. The church is the instrument God created to make disciples of every nation.
The local church helps us obey the commands and tasks Jesus gives us in the Bible. Do we need to be part of the local church to be saved? No. Do we need to be part of the local church to be obedient? Absolutely.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article.
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Christian serves as the Director of Mobilization/Missions
as he leads the For the Nations ministry for The Journey Church in Lebanon, TN. He will be married to Danyel as of September 2022.
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