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  Do I Have To Join A Church?Sunday, May 19th, 2024  
John Mark Ministries

[Christ] is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. Colossians 1:17-18,27-28.

And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. Ephesians 1:22-23.

In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God. Ephesians 2:21-22.

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God. Ephesians 2:19-22

They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. Acts 2:42-47.

The gifts he gave were... to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children... But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love. Ephesians 4:12-16.

You then, my child, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus; and what you have heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will be able to teach others as well. Share in suffering like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 2 Timothy 2:1-4.

As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.Colossians 3:12-17.

Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:25.

As you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 5:1 9-20.

But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love,
will enter your house,
I will bow down toward your holy temple in awe of you. Psalm 5:7.

We walked in the house of God with the throng. Psalm 55:14.

Honor everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honor the emperor. 1 Peter 2:17.

Can you be a good Christian outside the Church? That's like asking 'Can a nose be a nose without a face?' When asked this question, a pastor reached for a live coal from the fire, put it onto the hearth, where it blackened and lost its heat. He then restored it back to the fire and it soon burned brightly again.

According to sociologist Robert Bellah, 81 percent of Americans agree that 'an individual should arrive at his or her own religious belief independent of any church or synagogue.' Many who claim to be Christians are arriving at faith on their own terms - terms that make no demands on behaviour. A woman named Sheila, interviewed for Bellah's Habits of the Heart, embodies this attitude. 'I believe in God,' she said. 'I can't remember the last time I went to church. But my faith has carried me a long way. It's "Sheila-ism." Just my own little voice.' (1)

The church has four functions, essentially: Worship - everything we do for the glory of God, individually or collectively; Community - all we do to enhance the lives of one another; Formation - the process of individuals' being formed into the image of Christ; Mission - everything done for those outside its membership. A healthy church does all these effectively, as does every group within it, to some extent.

To enhance those four functions, we sing praises to the Lord, hear the word of God in preaching, share a sacramental life, pray with one another, study the Scriptures together, encourage one another, and celebrate significant events in each others' lives.

Every church needs a pastor, or shepherd. The pastor - with others appropriately gifted - leads, preaches, counsels, visits the members and others, and trains the church for ministry. Typically a full-time pastor spends half the time with God, alone, and half with people; and half the people-time ought to be spent in training. Because pastors are called by God, their office should be honoured. Pastors suffer a high degree of stress these days trying to meeting many conflicting expectations. Do your best to encourage your pastor/s. Allow them to have at least one day off a week, and be available to their families without having to attend lots of meetings. ('What shall it profit a pastor if he or she gathers a whole lot of people and loses health or family?).

Pastors must never forget that the 'ministry' belongs to the whole church. Pastors facilitate the ministry of others; others do not exist to 'help the pastor run the church'.

Most churches at some time have a Sunday school for children, boys' and girls' clubs during the week, a youth group, small groups for adults, women's group, and perhaps a men's group etc. Most churches have a deacons' or elders' board, and, if larger, a finance committee, nominating committee, mission committee, etc. Your church can't do everything, particularly if it's small: why not figure out the few things your church does best and work hard at producing excellence in those areas?

Training is essential - for every ministry within the church. Leaders should be trained to lead, imparting a vision to those they lead. Church members should be trained to help their friends (counseling) and reach out to those who do not yet know the Lord (evangelism). The whole church should be a miniature theological seminary, learning about the faith. Then new Christians or those enquiring about the Christian faith ought to have a 'Christianity Explained' class. A seminar on spiritual gifts will help people discover why they are on this planet and not yet in heaven!

Classes or groups can address life-situations: young mothers with their first babies, marriage enrichment, coping with retirement, balancing the budget for young marrieds or the unemployed, how to get a job, alcohol- ics anonymous, GROW groups for those with emotional troubles, tutorials for high school students, etc.

One of the problems the church faces - as does any human system - is institutionalism. Every group has its traditions or structures, but when these rule the life of the group, it soon dies. Structures need renewal; but renewal needs structure, as a body needs bones. The ideal is to seek for freedom within order.

What kind of order? The New Testament churches - and churches since - seemed to make decisions three ways: first the episcopal way - leaders with almost absolute authority ruling by decree; second, the presbyt- erian way, with groups of elders making significant decisions for the group; third the congregational way, with the whole church meeting to decide what is God's will for them. Catholics, Anglicans and the Salvation Army are generally episcopal; Presbyterians give high authority to elders; Baptists are congregational. Most churches these days incorporate the best of all three into their 'polity'.

Institutionalism breeds legalism, with lots of rules for this and that. Certainly have a constitution - make it simple, and refer to it rarely. Who should belong to your church? Any who 'name the Name' in my view (see Romans 15:7). Churches that insist on only one form of baptism or who rebaptize those from other churches, may be guilty of Pharisaism: adding traditions to grace.

It's good to prayerfully set a few goals - just four or five a year. This keeps us future-oriented. Those who fail to plan plan to fail.

Pull your weight in the church: be available to help. Be friendly. One person visited a church and stayed. Why? 'They're friendly. When they ask how you are they really want to know. And If I say "Not too good" they respond with "Tell me about it".' That doesn't mean we are 'addicted to affability': if we don't see eye to eye we do something about it. Two people who think and disagree are closer together than two people who don't think and agree!

And always remember, Christ is the head of the church, not any human being. Our calling is to follow him, and to follow others inasmuch as they follow him. We are not merely a social institution or a 'glee club', we are his people in the world, doing in our day what he did in his. Ours too is a ministry of reconciliation, of healing, of salvation: we exist for those outside the church, as well as for those within it.

Reprint courtesy of John Mark Ministries

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