Have you met friends who say they don’t need the church because they are following Christ just fine on their own? Or perhaps you have had these thoughts or said these things yourself! Christians can recognise how wonderful Jesus is, but the church often doesn’t live up to expectations, whatever they may be. Non-Christians can sometimes get on board with the love offered by the Christian idea of God but are put off by how His followers behave. Do we need the church then? If we do, why?
From the beginning, God chose to reveal Himself through humans. He started the story of humankind with Adam and Eve and didn’t abandon them after the fall (Gen 1–3); He continued on to promise to bless all people through Abraham and his family (Gen 12:1–3), and through His people (Deut 10:12–22; Matt 28:18–20; Acts 1:8). While God could have chosen to reveal Himself on His own, He has always given His people the privilege of representing Him on earth.
When Christ came, died and rose again, He offered forgiveness and the possibility of reconciliation with God to all who repent of their sins and follow Him. In turn, we now all play a part in God’s plan by pointing others to reconciliation with God through Christ (2 Cor 5:18–19). The church is therefore vital, not expendable, as we play a role in sharing the gospel with those who don’t yet know Him.
It is tempting to think that since Christians belong to the global church, we therefore do not need to commit to a local church. After all, aren’t we part of the body of Christ no matter where and how often we attend a particular church? Well, no! The church has the responsibility of showing the world who God is, and to bring His reconciliation and reign to all people and creation. We can’t do that without committing to a local church community.
Jesus told His disciples, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34–35).
The world will know Christ through the way His disciples love one another. But how can we be people who truly love each other if we refuse to commit to being in a community with each other? How can we show the steadfast, long-suffering, loving nature of God if we hop from one place to the next, always looking for something “better”? How can we care for one another if we choose to stay home alone on Sundays and listen to sermons online?
We can only live out the full gospel of Christ, the good news that He is, if we are in community, and we need to be part of the church in order to do that.
Our world is one of bitter competition, brokenness, self-preservation, greed, and fear, where people look out for themselves first. But if our local churches live as a family who love one another and care for one another as we are called to, imagine what the world would see!
They would see people who selflessly give of themselves even if they gain nothing from it. They would see people extending love, kindness, and forgiveness even to those who don’t deserve it. They would see a community who refuses to give up on each other even when it would be easier to walk away, and they would see a community who accepts all — the businessman, the prostitute, the schoolteacher, even the murderer — because of the Saviour who loved us and gave Himself for us (Gal 2:20). In short, they would begin to see God’s kingdom and what life in Christ looks like starting today.
The church is therefore first and foremost about letting God’s love for mankind be known. It is not just about coming to church on Sundays, listening to a sermon, and rushing off for lunch — it is about being with the people who belong to Christ as much as you do, loving one another, and letting the world see Christ’s love by our love. As we choose to love our brothers and sisters day after day, week after week, year after year, we will grow together into Christ-like maturity, and we will show the world who God is and step out to bring His love, redemption, and reign to all the world.