THE RELIGION of Jesus Christ is basically an individual matter. It involves a personal relationship of one human being with Jesus. Christ loved the church for sure — and gave Himself for it, according to Ephesians 5:25, but the next verse points out that the church is “built” one person at a time as men are sanctified and cleansed with the washing of water by the word.
Sometimes people have put a wrong kind of emphasis on the church. This wrong kind of emphasis leaves the idea that men are saved on a group plan, or that their individual responsibility is drowned when they are baptized. Some people seem to think that all they need to do is “get in the church, keep up their dues and wait for the last train to glory!” This notion does not come from the Word of God. A man’s salvation depends on his own personal faith — in the beginning and until the end. “The church” cannot add one inch to his spiritual progress unless he does his part on an individual basis.
Someone might ask, “If this is so, why have a church at all?” It is a good question. There is also a good answer. Nowhere in the Bible do we read of God’s hermit, but of a people of God. The man who comes into Christ comes into His body — and a body has many members, not just one. This was part of Paul’s point in First Corinthians 12. Earlier I said there may be a “wrong kind” of emphasis on the church. There is also a right kind, and sometimes it has been overlooked. One can leave the extreme of group-policy religion and then wander into the other extreme of isolationism. Neither comes from Scripture.
The Old Testament people of God were called a “church.” This word, of course, stands for the Greek word ekklesia in the Bible. Stephen uses that very word of the Jews in Acts 7:38. It also appears more than 70 times in the Greek Old Testament which circulated in the days of Christ and the apostles. One man did not wander out of Egypt to be an Israelite by himself. Israel was a people of God, a working body of individuals functioning together. The New Testament people of God are also called a “church,” or assembly (ekklesia, Matthew 16:18). They exist as co-members of the Body of Christ, not as isolated individuals in the world.
The fact that God has planned it this way is reason enough for it to be. But we can also see wisdom in the togetherness of God’s people as a “church.” Perhaps it can be said under four headings. (1) There is strength in numbers (Ecclesiastes 4:9ff). (2) There is morale in companionship (Hebrews 10:23-25). (3) There is need for Christians to praise God’s saving acts together as a worshipping body (I Corinthians 11-14). (4) There is need for Christians to cooperate together in a financial way on a local basis (II Corinthians 8:8-15; Philippians 4:12-15). For these reasons and others, individual saints need the fellowship found in a congregational relationship. This is God’s way.
God calls men into a fellowship of saved individuals (I Corinthians 1:9). He then equips them for service together (Ephesians 4:11-16). Each man is to use his own ability to God’s glory and his brethren’s growth (I Peter 4:10, 11). Titus was to “set the church in order”
(Titus 1:5). Timothy was taught how to behave himself in “the house of God” (I Timothy 3:15). Both expressions suggest a working arrangement of the individuals who are together the church in a given place.
The first emphasis is always personal and individualistic. No man can pass his own duties to the rest of the church (I Timothy 5:16). Each man must bear his own burden (Galatians 6:5). At the same time, God has provided for a togetherness of individuals which is not to be overlooked either. This working together, this fellowship, is for the final benefit of each individual involved. It provides him strength. It boosts his morale. It gives him opportunity to worship God in company with other saints. And it enables him to cooperate financially with others of like faith as they together work in a common cause.
You can’t go to heaven on a group plan. But you can’t be a Christian in a corner.