At Bibles.net, we believe that the local church is the means through which God displays his manifold wisdom (Ephesians 3:10). In the Bible, God reveals that the local church is part of his grand plan, and he reveals how he wants us to structure local churches.
It’s clear from the Bible that Christians belong in local churches.
If that sounds a little foreign to you, that’s okay! Each of us here at Bibles.net has our own story with the church. Some of us didn’t grow up in church, some did. Some of us have taken a little longer to understand the importance of the local church (like the writer of this article!), some have known about its’ importance since they were little. But each of us has been blessed through local church ministry and life in our respective churches. Through the Holy Spirit, Paul instructs us to belong to local churches,
so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the whole body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:14-16 ESV)
Paul uses a few different metaphors in this passage. Let’s look at two.
- First, notice that he says we’re children. The church (“the whole body”) helps us to “grow up in every way into him who is the head into Christ.” In the same way that our bodies naturally age over the years, we grow in spiritual maturity as well—and the church is what helps us grow!
- Secondly, notice Paul’s sea-faring language: “Tossed to and fro by the waves . . .” Paul wants to make clear that, outside of the church, we’re liable to shipwreck (1 Timothy 1:19). Spiritual danger lurks outside of the safety Christ provides for us in the local church. The local church anchors us in truth.
The local church is a good gift from God. God intends to bless us spiritually through the life and ministry of the local church. Not everybody understands the importance of the local church. Maybe this is something you would like to learn more about. We have gathered some resources for you, so that you can learn about the biblical basis for belonging to a local church. We hope the following resources prove helpful to you!
1. Church: Do I Have to Go?
Written by Garrett Kell, pastor of Del Ray Baptist Church in Alexandria, VA, this book is essentially a booklet. It’s about 100, very small pages.
It’s an easy read, accessible, and short. Kell has written a helpful book that explains why we need the church. To sum up his message in short: we need the church because God provides for us through the care and ministry of local churches.
2. Church Membership
In this small book, Jonathan Leeman lays out the biblical case for local church membership. Though that may sound a little daunting, Leeman is a helpful and patient writer. It’s an easy and enjoyable book to read.
He writes, “My primary purpose is to show you what church membership is, because it’s not what you think it is . . . And here’s my prediction: if you grab hold of how the Bible views church membership, it just might change the shape of your Christianity” (18). If you want to see if he’s right, buy the book and see for yourself.
3. The Life of God in the Soul of the Church
Taking his cues from Henry Scougal’s The Life of God in the Soul of Man, Thabiti Anyabwile beautifully writes about how our union with Christ (the root) produces spiritual fellowship and unity in local church ministry (the fruit).
The chapters in this book were originally sermons. This makes for easy reading, because the chapters retain their tone of devotional fervor. This book warms your heart to the theological realities that undergird our faith.
Anyabwile beautifully ties the idea of our union with Christ to our union with one another. We ought to pursue and cherish that union we have with one another. The author wonderfully shows us how God makes that growth in relationship possible in Christ.
4. A Place to Belong
Megan Hill’s (truly wonderful) recent book, A Place to Belong, asks, “When the local church appears utterly unremarkable—insignificant in the eyes of the world and pretty ordinary even in our own—how do we delight in belonging there?” (13). The church certainly appears unremarkable at times. She wrote her book to help us “see the church as God sees the church and then to embrace the privilege of being part of it” (13).
The book looks at terms the New Testament writers use to refer to the church, words like “beloved,” “flock,” or “body.” One of my favorite chapters is “Flock.” In this chapter, Hill details how God blesses his people with elders and pastors. Paul says that “elders who rule well” are “worthy of double honor” (1 Timothy 5:17 ESV). Megan Hill helps us see why.
5. The Church
If you want something a little more academic, I encourage you to read this book. Though not especially long, Dever’s book covers many topics related to ecclesiology (the study of the local church).
Dever’s book is split into three sections.
- The first section outlines what the Bible says about things like the church’s purpose or the church’s membership.
- The second section details some historical understandings of the church.
- The final section is how Dever puts all of the preceding material together.
It’s worth quoting him at length here:
By affirming the sufficiency of Scripture and the requisite role of faith in participating in the ordinances, we can conclude that a biblically faithful church is a Protestant church. By affirming the necessarily voluntary and consensual nature of membership in a local congregation, we can conclude that a biblically faithful church is a gathered church. By affirming the nature and polity of a local congregation, we can conclude that a biblically faithful church is a congregational church. And by affirming Christ’s command to baptize only those who believe and obey, we can conclude that a biblically faithful church is a baptistic church. (127-28)
Obviously, Dever writes this as a Baptist (in terms of the denomination he identifies with), but his book makes clear that he’s a Baptist because he believes that’s what Scripture teaches. Some may (and many do!) disagree with his positions, but most of his detractors share his emphasis and love for the local church. This means that one can read his book and benefit—even if you don’t agree with all of his conclusions.
Reading in the Local Church
These are introductory books that will, Lord willing, help to convince you about the local church’s importance for your life. Please reach out to us if you have any questions. We’d also be happy to help you find a healthy, local church in your area.
We pray these books are a blessing to you. We also pray they help you to love the local church and, above all else, the God who created it, nourishes it, and loves it.