After viewing CNN’s recent story about Texas Pastor David Ray’s “Sanctuary under the sky” drive-through services, I immediately thought “a drive-through Church…really?” However, after doing some digging around, I found this wasn’t exactly what it seemed at first (www.preschurchmaster.org). What’s curious is that the story seemed to gain traction precisely because many people kind of like the idea of a drive-through church.
The public fascination with rolling up in a locked vehicle solo only to hear sermons, hymns, and prayers by portable radio underlines what more and more people wish church life could be, namely isolated, independent, and as effortless as possible. Perhaps this very same sentiment entices many an “able-bodied Christian” to roll over on Sunday morning with remote in hand, turn to their favorite televised worship service, and think they really “had church.” Such feelings may also help fuel much of the “Church hopper syndrome” as well as the near universal excuse (I mean reason) for Church member absenteeism, namely, the “The Lord knows how I feel about Him and I don’t need to be a part of local Church to prove it!” excuse (I mean reason). Given our modern impulse towards autonomy and individualism even (of all places) in our religious life, I would like to offer just a few (among many possible) reasons the disconnected (disgruntled and/or hurt) Christian should intently, prayerfully, and discerningly seek out local Church membership TODAY.
1. Local Church membership is biblical (addressing the individualism issue): There is no such thing as “at-large Christianity.” As the Lord saves individuals, he adds them to the local church (see Acts 2:47). The clear practice of the early Christians was to walk out their faith in the context of congregational life. They were not “lone-rangers,” only interested in their discrete personal relationships with the Lord. They understood their relationships to be with Christ as the head of the body of believers, the local Church. They viewed Christ as the great purchaser and shepherd of the flock of God, rather than merely individual sheep. In short, they saw their entrance into the Christian life as an entrance into a body of parts (see 1 Corinthians 12:27), a flock of sheep (see Acts 20:28), a temple of stones (see Ephesians 2:21), a household of members (see 1 Timothy 3:15), and a kingdom of citizens (see Philippians 3:20).
The community of believers was in view more so than the individual. In fact, the majority of the biblical epistles were written to local church bodies, rather than individuals. Even the ones written to individuals were intended for specific use within broader congregational settings. Undoubtedly, the Christian life is normally lived among a discernible and definite local community of believers in Christ, covenanted together around sound biblical doctrine, baptism, communion, prayer, lovingly accountable relationships, and faithful preaching and obedience to God’s Word, i.e. a local church.
2. Local Church membership is essential to Christian growth (addressing the independence issue): Christians need one another to properly grow in Christ-likeness. Ephesians 4:16 describes the local Church as a Christ-empowered body that only grows “when each part is working properly.” Therefore, the growth of each individual believer is dependent upon God’s grace working through the other parts of a local body of believers. The metaphor of a body primarily highlights the believer’s living union with and dependence upon Christ as head, but also our union and dependence upon each other. Indeed, there is a mutual dependence among the varied parts, each of which depends upon God’s manifold grace distributed among the entire body (see 1 Peter 4:10). All of this to say, no believer can afford to live without the gifts in the local body, or has any real right to withhold their gift/s from the local body. In fact, Peter goes on to say that God is glorified specifically as we “serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace (1 Peter 4:10).” Therefore, proper stewardship of God’s grace means that we must serve and be served by one another according to our gifts.
Of course, all of this takes some real effort. We must get to know others and make ourselves known in deep and meaningful ways in order to effectively serve them. Moreover, we must make ourselves available to serve others, even at inconvenient times. Covenant relationships such as this involve mutual responsibilities and obligations. It is difficult to see how this mutual dependence and service could ever be properly realized among the detached occupants of separate vehicles listening via radio, among Church hoppers, or even able-bodied stay-at-home television ministry partners (you “meddlin” now Reverend).
3. Local Church membership is essential to mutual accountable relationships (addressing the autonomy issue). Let’s be brutally honest here. Many people avoid Church membership simply because they don’t want church folks “in their business” or “telling them what to do.” The driver in the next car over and the television ministry have no idea what sins we personally fight against. However, God uses the agency of other local people to remind us of our accountability to him, to guard us against destructive teaching, and even to exercise authority over our lives (see Galatians 6:1-2, Hebrews 10:24, Hebrews 13:17). In fact, the very last court of appeal in confronting the sin of a brother or sister (including the Pastor/s) is the local church (see Matthew 18:15-20).
Now, there are unchecked abuses and destructive heresies taught among some congregations which would make membership there unthinkable. In fact, the Lord himself warned that local churches would be full of pretenders (see Matthew 7:15, Matthew 13:30) and was infamously betrayed by Judas Iscariot, one of his own apostles. The apostles also repeatedly warn that some of the Church’s chief enemies would arise from amidst its own ranks (2 Corinthians 11:13, 1 Timothy 4:1, 2 Peter 2:1, 1 John 4:1, Jude1:4). So I understand the caution and I plan to blog about how to sniff out a healthy and safe church soon. Yet, knowing all the dangers which attend congregational life and knowing the near impossibility of finding a local church which perfectly fits all our personal tastes and preferences, the Lord STILL calls his people to membership in the local church (see Hebrews 10:25). So I’ll save you a seat on the pew this Sunday--all you can eat buffet to follow!