The church’s part in our journey
So, how is the Church supposed to help? While the responsibility to grow in God’s grace rests solely with the individual, it is the “community of saints” – the Church – that is meant to be the “green house” where Christians grow to maturity. The Church is the “body of Christ”: Christ’s visible presence on earth. It is also Christ’s “bride”, for which He gave His life and will one day return. The Church is therefore precious to Him. Although there have always been people who disparage the Church with comments like, “There are so many hypocrites there”, or “I feel closer to God hiking in the woods than at church on Sunday”, it is the network of local churches that have always been at the heart of God’s plans to build His kingdom and redeem the world. As Bill Hybels notes, “The local church is the hope of the world”.
How specifically does the church help our growth in Christlikeness? Here are five important ways.
- It provides community. We are relational beings, having been made in God’s image, who is Himself inherently relational as a Trinity of Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We were created for community and cannot thrive apart from it. This is especially true when we go through hard times or experience milestone events like birth, baptism, graduation, marriage, children, and death. At these times, especially, we feel an acute need to “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).
- It facilitates worship. The church meets on the Lord’s Day – the day Jesus was resurrected from the dead – to collectively celebrate His glory and goodness. True, we can and should worship the Lord every day of the week. How can we do otherwise, given how gracious He has been to us? And we should worship Him in every setting, whether alone, in small groups or large. The church, however, gives us a regular venue to join with a significant group of other, like-minded believers, coming together for the express purpose of worshipping the Lord according to the traditions passed down by the Lord Himself, the Apostles, and the early Church. Per that tradition, we gather to sing praises to God, pray to Him, be instructed in Scripture and the Apostolic faith, care for the poor and hurting, get equipped for ministry, and celebrate the sacraments: holy baptism and holy communion.
- It teaches truth. Left to ourselves, we invariably end up going off the proverbial tracks. Truth is rarely discovered or faithfully lived out in isolation. We need the accountability of loving friends, united in Christ, committed to His Word and the Apostolic teaching, in order to remain true to the Gospel. This is why the church teaches different classes, encourages personal Bible study, and devotes a good portion of each worship service to providing instruction from God’s Word. This is also why the Church adheres to the four ecumenical Creeds, practices historically formulated liturgical elements, and makes use of orthodox Christian symbols, for these are all expressions of the faith “once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).
- It equips for faithful service. All of us are called to be ministers. Not in a professional sense, of course, but as part of our calling in Christ. All of us are gifted by God’s Holy Spirit to serve others in the Church and in the world given the gifts, time, and other resources the Lord has given us. Each of bears the responsibility to faithfully develop and use these gifts for the glory of God and the good of others. The church is the primary place where we are trained in Christian service, which includes learning new concepts, acquiring new skills, and putting into practice what we know “for the work of ministry” (Eph 4:11-16).
- It affords opportunities to give and serve. There are always more needs to meet than our scant resources will allow. The church is the primary place Christians pool their energies and monies to accomplish things collectively we are unable to accomplish individually. As a local church, we are able to minister strategically to our city and region, partnering with other churches in the surrounding area. And we are able to join with other churches internationally to support Christian workers in other parts of the world.
There are lots of other ways the church helps us all grow in Christ, but these are the main ones. The Church is not optional to God’s program: it is His program. And it is not optional to our individual lives in Christ. We cannot flourish spiritually without the support, guidance, instruction, and nurture of the Church.