“Unchurched Christian” is not a biblical category. Ask Paul, John, or Peter what they think about unchurched Christians and they would have responded, “Why are you calling them Christians if they are not a part of the church?”
The New Testament does not have a vision of the Christian life outside of the church, the local church. But there are many professing Christians today who seek to be committed to Christ with no commitment to the church. They do not believe in organized religion. They claim the church is full of hypocrites. They have experienced church hurt. They cannot find a faithful, biblical church. They do not find the church necessary, supportive, or beneficial. So they follow Christ but forsake the church.
It is wrong. It is unbiblical. It is non-Christian. You cannot have a high view of Christ and a low view of the church at the same time. Jesus declared, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). The church belongs to Jesus. Christ himself is building the church. And nothing can defeat the church of Christ.
Christ is the head of the church. And he does not have out-of-body experiences. To submit to the authority of Jesus Christ over your life is to live in fellowship with the church.
Here are nine reasons why you should have a high view of the church…
Faith in God is practiced in spiritual community. The unbelieving society we live in regularly claims that faith is a private matter. But this is not the truth. Indeed, faith is a personal matter. As Jesus told Nicodemus, “You must be born again” (John 3:7). But personal faith is not private faith. True faith is lived in spiritual community with others. In the Old Testament, the faith community was the nation of Israel. In the New Testament, it is the church, a new community in Christ that transcends gender, race, or status (Galatians 3:28). To live in faith in Christ is to live in fellowship with the church.
The church is the household of God. Writing to Timothy in Ephesus, Paul called the church “the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). In salvation, we are born again and adopted into the family of God. But a newborn child needs to become a part of a household for nourishment, fellowship, and protection. The church is the household of faith (Galatians 6:10). More than that, it is God’s household. To reject the church is to reject the means of care the Lord has provided for his redeemed children.
Church membership brings assurance of salvation. A Christian is one who has professed saving-faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. But that personal profession must be made to and among the church for there to be true assurance. In the New Testament letters, the two essential marks of true conversion are faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and love for all the saints. Christian fellowship is as essential to true assurance as personal faith. Love for the saints demonstrates faith in Christ. “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers,” wrote the Apostle John, “whoever does not love abides in death” (1 John 3:14).
The church is spiritually united to Jesus Christ. In the Gospels, Jesus called would-be disciples to follow him. But the actual relationship between Christ and his follows is greater, deeper, and higher than that: “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27) No other religion speaks of the relationship between its leader and adherents that way. But this is the spiritual union between Christ and the church. We are in Christ, and Christ is in us. This spiritual union with Christ is what binds us together as the church. The indwelling presence of the Life-Giver King resides within each us and has made us one in Christ.
The Lord Jesus Christ is the Head of the church. The church is often rejected because of things members of the church do or do not do. But no leader or member of the church is the standard by which we measure what the church should be. Christ is the standard. He is the head of the church. The church is the body of Christ. The church is safe and secure in him, as you cannot drown with your head above water. “The church is full of hypocrites,” they complain. But Christ is no hypocrite! And if Christ is not a hypocrite, he is worthy of our trust and obedience, even if he tells us to go hang out with a bunch of hypocrites!
The church is the most valuable thing on earth. Paul exhorted the Ephesian elders, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the flock of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). The church is God’s flock, purchased by the blood of Christ. There is no institution in the world more valuable than that – not family, nor business, not government. There are many worthy causes in the world that deserve our support. But no worldly cause should usurp our commitment to the church for which Christ died. The church is the hope of the world.
The church is the outworking of God’s eternal purpose. This scripture is not a haphazard collection of stories, poetry, and letters. It is the unfolding of a divine plan. This plan of God was initiated in eternity past. It will be fully accomplished in eternity future. The church is essential to the eternal purpose of God. Paul declared “the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:9-10). The church is not incidental to the plan of God. It is the platform of the glory of God in the heavenly places.
The church is an earthly expression of heaven. What do you think heaven is like? To answer that question, turn to scripture, not near-death fantasies. For all we do not know about heaven, scripture makes it clear that heaven will be filled with the glory of God. In this regard, the church is to be a reflection of heaven on earth. Church growth experts advise pastors to shape the church around desires of the culture. But this only makes the church like the world. The church should be shaped around the character of God. Only the church can display the truth, love, and holiness of God, as it is in heaven.
Your sanctification is a community project. Hebrews counsels, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25) This is why is we must not neglect to meet together with the church for corporate and public worship. Many Christians feel it is no big deal if they miss a Sunday or two. However, scripture teaches, “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13).