“Practicing” Church

Without a saving relationship with Jesus Christ all information about the church is lost. But we must not mistakenly reason that one’s relationship with Christ minimises the importance of His Local Church. Yet this is precisely what multitudes of Christians assume and act out. Church attendance is infected with
a dissatisfaction of conditional loyalty, which has produced an army of church hitchhikers. The hitchhiker’s thumb says, “You buy the car, pay for repairs and upkeep and insurance, fill the car with petrol — and I’ll ride with you. But if you have an accident, you are on your own! And I’ll probably sue you.” So it is with the statement of belief of so many of today’s church attenders: “You go to the meetings and serve on the committees, you clean, you grapple with the issues and do the work of the church, the ministering to others, witnessing, and pay the bills and I’ll come along for the ride. But if things do not suit me, I’ll criticise and complain and probably bail out — my thumb is always out for a better lift.”

This supposed loyalty is fuelled by a “consumer philosophy” — a “Burger King – Have It Your Way” – Or a McDonalds “McChristianity—I’m Lovin’ It” mentality — which picks and chooses here and there to fill one’s religious shopping list. There are hitchhikers who…

…attend one church for the preaching, send their children to a second church for its dynamic youth program, and go to a third church’s small group “Bible Study”. Church hitchhikers have a telling vocabulary: “I go to...” or “I attend...” but never “I belong to...” or “I am a member of...” The pollster George Barna supports this, saying: “The average adult thinks that belonging to a church is good for other people, but represents unnecessary bondage and baggage for himself.”

So today, in the twenty-first century, we have a phenomenon unthinkable in any other century: churchless Christians. There is a vast herd of professed Christians who exist as nomadic hitchhikers without accountability, without discipline (character), without discipleship, living apart from the regular benefit of the ordinances. They have God as their Father, but reject the Local Church as their family body and as a result they are incomplete and stunted in their Christian growth. The tragedy is compounded because statistics indicate that men are far less committed to the practice of Church than women - inevitably producing a shrivelled leadership.

As to why Local Churches have fallen on such hard times, historians tell us that an overemphasis on the “invisible” Body of Christ [which is an unbiblical false doctrine] by evangelical leaders produced an implicit disregard for the local visible churches. However, membership in an “invisible” church is never mentioned in the Bible. The Bible was written with the expectation that all Christians would be strategically involved parts (members) of a Local Church.
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Another reason for the de-churching of many Christians is the historic individualism of evangelical Christianity and the natural fleshly impulse (SIN) of rebellion against authority. The natural inclination is to think that one needs only an individual relationship with Christ and needs no other authority. Such thinking produces Christian Lone Rangers who demonstrate their authenticity by riding not to church, but out to the badlands, reference Bible in hand, to do battle single-handedly with the outlaw world.

Such a cavalier disregard for the doctrine of the Local Church is eccentric, to say the least. It is a blatant disregard of Scripture. It goes directly against all that Jesus and His apostles lived, taught, and wrote about. The Catholic and Protestant “Church Fathers” believed and taught that salvation could only be found in their universal visible church, or invisible church, and a deserter of the church was a deserter of Christ. We reject this ideology, because the Bible states that salvation is found only in Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. But, we do believe that during this current time period, God has set up His local churches as the place of worship, service, and His special presence. You can be a christian without being involved as a part of a local church, but it is impossible to be an obedient, “Spirit-filled”, christian in this condition. So we conclude that church hitchhikers, ecclesiastical wanderers, spiritual Lone Rangers, Christians who disdain membership, are abnormalities in the history of the Christian Church and are in grievous error.

So many today need to be blasted from their delusions by an understanding of the great doctrine of the Church. There is no texts that will ignite one’s soul more than these Matthew 16:13-20, Ephesians 2:14-22; and Ephesians 3:19-21 which describes the great events of history fulfilled, and in which the Christian personally experiences in the Church: Friend, the Scriptures tell us that in the Local Church, you are part of His special building in your location, fulfilling His purpose and plan for the World, experiencing the love of the brethren, and the power of a Spirit-filled life. If this does not create a wellspring of thanksgiving in your hearts and a longing for fellowship in the Local Church, nothing will!

The dazzling imagery of the Local Church assaults us again and again in the New Testament in an effort to raise our thinking to the proper height. As the Church, actually we are Christ’s Body in that specific location (
Ephesians 1:22, 23). He is the Head, and as members of His Body we have at the same time a profound unity, diversity, and mutuality. We are a temple (Ephesians 2:19-22). He is the (foundational) cornerstone, and we are living stones (1 Peter 2:5) – forming a living place of worship. We are the bride (Ephesians 5:25-33). And the Christ, our groom, loves us with a holy love which will bring us to the Marriage Feast of the Lamb. We are his sheep, and He is the nurturing shepherd (John 10:14-16, 25-30). He is the vine, and we are the branches. We are in Him, drawing all our sustenance for life from Him (John 15:5 ff.).

What should the truth that WE are the Church mean to us? It should fill us with wonder and thanksgiving. We ought to sing, “I am His body, His temple, His bride, His sheep, His branch. I have come to His city — to angels — to brothers and sisters — to God Himself — to the Church glorified — to Jesus — to forgiveness through Christ’s blood.”

Personally, the doctrine of the Local Church ought to tell us that we are part of the grandest institution the world has ever known, and that we are tragically diminished by non-participation in Christ’s Local Body. Correspondingly, the Local Church is diminished by our non-participation as well. You and I need the Local Church! The Scriptures are most explicit regarding this: “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approach-
ing.” (
Hebrews 10:25).

This straight-forward exhortation ought to be enough in itself. But there are several other powerful reasons for faithful participation in the Local Church, not the least of which is that we all need a family body. The Local Church has certainly been that to me and many others. It was the womb which has warmed many souls till they were ready for the “new birth” in Christ. Many are lovingly nurtured by the Local Church through their youth years. The Local Church gives the milk of the Word through the strong teaching of the Bible. The Local Church has seen many through hard times through the prayers of spiritual brothers and sisters. When our children came along, the Local Church stood with us as we dedicated our children to God. The Local Church has also been the source of my best friends.

We owe so much to Christ’s Local Church: our life, our character, our worldview, our calling, our vision, our peace, our hope — everything. These things cannot be biblically recognised apart from the reality of Christ in a life in and through a local church. We believe in the Church!

Understanding, then, that we need the unity (support) of the Local Church, we must also understand that we will never benefit as we should from it apart from commitment to her Head (Christ). The entire Christian life is about commitment — first and above all to Christ, but also to the Local Church, to family, to marriage, to friendship, to ministry. None of these will ever flourish apart from commitment.

For example, marriage can never produce the security, satisfaction, and growth that it promises unless there is commitment. This is why today’s provisional live-in arrangements are coming up short. Commitment through good and bad times is what makes a marriage grow and brings the greatest fulfilment.
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Friend, on the most elementary level, you do not have to go to church to be a Christian. You do not have to go home to be married either. But in both cases if you do not, you will have a very poor relationship.

Among the growth-inducing benefits of commitment to a specific Local Church are:
Worship — having your soul swept up to God in the unique elevating power of corporate worship.

Hearing the Word — so that your soul can feed on its proper food, bringing health to your whole being.

Attendance at the Lord’s Table (Lord’s Supper/communion) — so that you are refreshed as you thank God for the atoning work of Christ.

Discipleship — as one is committed to the Church through its ups and downs, an appropriate deepening takes place which the uncommitted heart can never know.

Vision and mission — as one remains committed, a supernatural vision for their personal life takes hold which results in a life mission.

Friend, you need the Church because the Scriptures say you do, because you need a body, and because without commitment to her (the church) you will not grow.

If the grand and great doctrine of the Church tells us anything, it tells us that whoever you are and however busy you may be (whether the President, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a business executive, or leader of an organisation, a working class person, a homeless person off the street), the Local Church must be at the very centre of your life. Church hitchhiking is an abnormality! And so is mild commitment.

Friend, honestly, are you a hitchhiker, kind of a “free agent” looking for a tentative place on the roster, here for a season, there for another? If so, you will never attain to your full spiritual potential, nor will your family reach its spiritual maturity. At the end of the twentieth century both the Church and the lost world need people who practice the discipline of Church (the character of specific local church participation).

The Discipline of Regular Attendance
As part of this matter, you need to commit yourself to regularly attend all of the worship services of YOUR church (not just some church). Your schedule ought to bow to your commitment. When you travel, you ought to attempt to schedule yourself to be back for church, and if that is impossible, you should plan ahead to attend a similar Bible-believing New Testament Church while you are on the road.

The Discipline of Membership
If you are not a church member, you need to covenant before God to find a good church, join it, and commit yourself to supporting her and submitting to her discipline.

The Discipline of Giving
Your giving to the Lord through the financial support of a local church should take precedence over your governmental tax, family, bills, and other financial commitments. This should be regular and systematic (10% is a good starting-point).

The Discipline of Participation
Your time, talents, expertise, and creativity must be poured into your church, to the glory of God.

The Discipline of Love and Prayer
Timothy Dwight, a president of Yale University, penned these words:

I love Thy Church, 0 God! Her walls before Thee stand.
Dear as the apple of Thine eye. And graven on Thy hand.
For her my tears shall fall; For her my prayers ascend;
To her my cares and toils be giv’n, Till toils and cares shall end.

Read: Psalms 84:1-12

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(At An Carraig Baptist Church, we take a literal, fundamental approach to the Bible (AV 1611). We are also a local, independent body of believers, which means we are not subject to any religious hierarchy. Being "Baptist" means we hold to the Bible-based Baptist Distinctives that has been the hallmark of true Baptist churches through the centuries. You are welcome to join us at any of our weekly meetings or schedule to meet for tea/coffee.)