Dr. Llanes is a native of El Salvador and fulltime faculty in the College of Theology at Grand Canyon University. He served as pastor, completed a M.Div. and earned a Ph.D. in church history before becoming an online instructor. His interests relate to historical theology and philosophy, history of Christianity and biblical studies. He and his wife of 30 years, Margarita, have four children.
Dear Faculty, does a Christian need a church?
I am a Christian and have a personal relationship with Jesus. Do I need a church? I do not see the reason to belong to a church. I can worship God in my own private time. Why do I need to meet with other people to worship God and grow in my relationship with Him?
Many Christians today devalue the church and think it is unnecessary. They have decided to leave the church and live the “Christian life” on their own. This kind of thinking is far from what we find in the biblical story of redemption. There are strong biblical/theological reasons and practical reasons for the validity and necessity of the church. Throughout the Bible, we learn that God calls out individuals to live as part of his community.
We find in the Bible that both the individual believer and the community of believers are in the will of God and are essential parts of his plan. The church is not an afterthought in the mind of God. It is dear to God, and it is part of his plan from the beginning. The Bible describes in strong terms the love of God for Israel in the Old Testament and the church in the New Testament, it is eternal (Jeremiah 31:3; 1 Kings 10:9), it is compassionate and reliable as the love of a father or mother for a child (Hosea 11:1) and it is sacrificial. Paul described the love of God for his church when he said that “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5: 25b).
A plain reading of the New Testament reveals the priority of the church in God’s plan. Wherever we turn our focus in the New Testament, we find that there are no solitary believers; we find believers living as part of the community of faith. From Jesus’ example of living and teaching and learning with a group of disciples to the birth of the church on Pentecost to the missionary and church planting activity of Paul and the message given to John in the book of Revelation, Christian believers are always part of the community of faith.
The New Testament description of the church in relationship to the person of God and the believers reveals vital practical and theological truths. Paul used the image of marriage to depict the union of Christ to the church (Ephesians 5:21-33). Paul’s description of the church as the body of Christ shows the union of the church with God, but also the organic unity of believers and the value of each of the members and the way in which God works within the body and how a coordinated body of believers ought to fulfill the work of God (1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12:3-8).
There are practical reasons why each believer needs to belong to a local church or congregation. One reason is spiritual growth. Church life provides us with unique opportunities to grow as we learn what it means to be part of a group committed to being God’s people on earth. We grow spiritually and emotionally as we learn to love one another, participate in God’s mission together, study the Bible as a group, provide for the needs of others in and outside the church and support the church financially and otherwise. As we participate actively in the work of the church, we discover spiritual gifts and put them to practice. We rejoice with the people of God when we worship together and serve God together, fulfilling 1 Peter 2:4-5, 9-10 and Ephesians 4: 1-16.
Finally, we must be honest and accept that the people who make up the church are imperfect people. There is no perfect church. There is no way to avoid some conflict within the church, as it is an organic, living, organism. It is vital for the church to draw its life and energy from Jesus and its devotion to him, always be focused on Jesus and his gospel and have a strong biblical foundation and structure.
Any conflict will present a challenge. The point is how will we respond to those challenges in a godly way and learn to be agents of peace and reconciliation within the body of believers. Each believer has an obligation and a calling to be part of a community of faith that has covenanted to be the people of God and the family of faith in this particular time and place for the glory of God.
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