Famous rapper Lecrae recently tweeted, “I love Jesus, but I’m not churchy. I used to be embarrassed by that, but now I realize it is okay to love God but not fit in with Church culture.”
I will agree with Lecrae if he is alluding only to a religious, legalistic, church culture. However, if he is referring to not participating in a local church, I strongly disagree. This sentiment exhibits a growing trend of Christians who do not see the importance of being affiliated with a local church. Is this healthy? Can a Christ-follower truly follow Jesus apart from a local church?
Let me ask this question: Can you cut off your finger and expect it to live, fulfill its purpose, and function properly?
I believe the greatest challenge we have in evangelical circles is a lack of biblical ecclesiology. Because of this, we have seen rampant individualism amongst Christians, unaccountable social media teachers, and so-called prophets. We see the blind leading the blind as these believers aimlessly attempt to fulfill their purpose.
Here are 8 reasons why Christ followers need to function in a local church:
1. In the Gospels, when people followed Jesus, He immediately brought them into His community.
Jesus had his 12 disciples and then another 70 (Luke 9:1, Luke 10:1). With this community, He said He was building His church (Matthew 16:18). Hence, at the very least, this shows the church in its nascent form. This debunks the notion that Jesus made disciples without the local church in mind.
2. The Church is inextricably connected to Jesus.
The apostle Paul called the Church the fullness of Jesus as the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22-23). Hence, those who follow Jesus apart from the Church are attempting to follow a head without a body!
3. The Church is the visible manifestation of the invisible Christ.
The Apostle John said, “as He is [in heaven] so are we in this [present] world (1 John 4:17). He also equated loving the invisible God with loving the visible Church (1 John 4:20). Thus, there is both a mystical body of Christ and a visible body (Hebrews 12:23). It is mystical partially because there is a church in heaven, and in this life. (We don’t always know who all the true Christians are). However, there is also a physical corporate church with members who participate in doing life together as a family of families. We see this in all the New Testament Epistles (1 Timothy 3:15).
4. The promises of God assume a corporate body.
When we read both Testaments, the promises and prophetic utterances were given in the context of the nation of Israel or the corporate Church. Individuals never assumed scripture was just for them. Since people didn’t walk around with Bibles during the early Church, they would not have even known the word of the Lord if they weren’t either in a synagogue or hearing somebody read a letter from one of the Apostles in a local assembly (Luke 4:16-20). A promise about God completing the good work He started in you was given to a church, not merely an individual (Philippians 1:6). Consequently, people in biblical times could not conceive of following God apart from a community of believers.
5. You cannot be a disciple apart from the Church.
In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus said that the way a person can be discipled is by being baptized. Since baptism was the initiation rite to officially join the Jesus community, it means that Jesus commanded people to join His Church to follow him.
6. You cannot hear the whole counsel of God apart from the Church.
In the book of Revelation, there are seven times where Jesus admonished us to hear what the Spirit was saying to the Churches (Revelation 2:7, Revelation 3:6, Revelation 11, Revelation 13, Revelation 17, Revelation 29, Revelation 22). Hence, people in their city could not hear the Lord’s word regarding the destiny of their city without participating in their own local church.
Also, it was interesting that when Jesus wanted to speak, He spoke through the messenger of a particular church, which likely was the overseeing Bishop of that region. He also assumed spiritual and apostolic alignment with the local church for a Christian to hear His word and walk out His message of warning, correction, and edification.
7. Jesus is coming back for His bride.
According to Ephesians 5:27, Jesus is coming back for His Bride, not merely for individual Christians. As we know, the bride of Christ as His Church will be publicly given to Jesus in the final consummation of human history at the marriage supper of the lamb (Revelation 19:6-9). Jesus loves His Bride so much that Paul the apostle warns Jesus-followers not to cause division and that He will judge them for not correctly discerning His Church (1 Corinthians 11: 27-34).
8. We need the gifts and abilities of a committed congregation to function.
According to Ephesians 4:11-12, the body of Christ needs the five cluster gifts to be matured in faith for the work of the ministry. Also, in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, the apostle Paul depicts the Church as a human body that depends on its various parts to function (such as a hand, eye, ear, leg depending on one another to fulfill its purpose). Consequently, God does not depend upon merely one person to minister to His Church but distributes the gifts according to His will. They are for many members for His body to function correctly and fulfill her assignment in Him (1 Corinthians 12:4-11).
Thus, those outside of the local Church cannot function in Christ the same way a hand cannot function apart from the nervous system, the arm, the heart, the brain, and the rest of the human body.
Dr. Joseph Mattera is an internationally-known author, consultant, and theologian whose mission is to influence leaders who influence culture. He is the founding pastor of Resurrection Church, and leads several organizations, including The U.S. Coalition of Apostolic Leaders and Christ Covenant Coalition