You Are Not “The Church”

“But I am the church!”—I would bet we’ve all heard this once or twice. It is the proud anthem of lone ranger Christians reveling in the “irreligiosity” and “freedoms” of their unchurched life. The solitary follower of Jesus often justifies his detachment from a local church by insisting that he, individually, is the church. He argues that because the presence of God dwells in human hearts and not in brick buildings or fancy-shmancy sanctuaries, he has all the “church” he needs inside of himself.

It is mind-bogglingly true that God has chosen to take up residence in the souls of individual Christians. But the New Testament does not describe individual believers as “the church”—it describes them as members of the church who possess a particular and necessary role in its life and ministry (1 Corinthians 12:27). Just as a human body can only function at full capacity if all its parts are present and working, the body of Christ can only function at full capacity if all its members are present and working. An individual follower of Christ cannot operate as “the body of Christ” because he is merely a single member of it. What good is an eye or an ear or a foot or a hand by itself?

“If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.” – 1 Corinthians 12:17-20

I think it may be helpful to take a moment and consider the two senses in which the Bible speaks of the church. There is the invisible (or universal) church, which is the whole sum of God’s elect people spanning all generations and geographic regions. And there is the visible (or local) church—a visible, institutional manifestation of the invisible church in which Christians living in the same time and region frequently gather to participate in the teaching of the Word, the fellowship of the saints, and the administration of the sacraments. When a person is baptized into Christ by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13), he is simultaneously united to the universal church. He then gives visible expression to this invisible reality by being baptized with water and received into a local church.

When Paul describes the body-like nature and function of the church in 1 Corinthians 12, he is thinking in terms of the visible, local church. At this point in redemptive history, as we await Christ’s return and the resurrection and glorification of his universal Body, the local church is the only context in which believers are able to express their faith by obeying Christ’s commands to love one another (John 13:34-35), serve one another (John 13:13-15), and disciple one another (Matthew 28:18-20). Don’t get me wrong; Christians can and do demonstrate their faith individually. Personal Bible reading, private prayer, and relational evangelism are all individual activities in which a person demonstrates his love for and trust in Christ. But a follower of Jesus cannot fully express his faith in Jesus unless he is connected to and participating in a local church. It is impossible to love, serve, and disciple other believers if you are not gathering and “doing life” with other believers.

The communal aspect of the Christian life is, according to Jesus and his apostles, indispensable. We cannot grow and persevere without it. God could have infused into each one of us all the gifts and graces necessary to reach “mature manhood” in Christ (Ephesians 4: 13). But he didn’t. Instead, he chose to endow each of us with particular gifts and graces (Romans 12:4) so that our spiritual maturation would occur as we exercise them in a communal context. When we gather together for the purposes of worship, fellowship, and discipleship, our individual, God-given roles and functions merge and work together to build up the whole body in the love and knowledge of Jesus.

“ . . . we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body . . . makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” – Ephesians 4:15-16

The Christian who lives in willful disconnection from a local church not only stunts his spiritual growth (and perhaps hinders the spiritual growth of the local church to which he should be connected) but also puts the very survival of his faith at risk. The author of Hebrews warns: “take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12). In the next verse, he provides the means by which we guard against the development of this deadly heart: “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).

Our perseverance in the gospel hinges on us speaking gospel truth to one another. If we are to overcome the doubts and despairs that would crush our faith in Jesus, we must ceaselessly remind one another of God’s unshakeable faithfulness toward us in Christ. If we are to mortify the fleshly lusts that seek to overpower our love for Jesus, we must continuously warn one another of sin’s deceitful nature and hardening effects. In a million and one ways, we need to relentlessly speak the faith-sustaining truths of the gospel into one another’s lives. And we can only effectively do this if we are connected and committed to one specific community of believers.

If you are a professing Christian and not a member of a local church, I can promise you three things: 1) you are living in disobedience to God, 2) you are missing out on a wealth of empowering grace, and 3) your soul is in imminent danger. For your own sake, seek out a biblically sound community of believers that adores Jesus, and throw yourself into the midst of it. Give your life over to the glorious purposes of God that are being fleshed out in the life and ministry of that church. Love selflessly. Serve tirelessly. Feast ravenously on the Word with others. You will only be the strong (in grace) and faithful (by grace) follower of Christ you were destined to be if you will gladly and voluntarily attach yourself to a local church.

  • Lyle Nelson

    As Matt says, being part of a church body means more than just going into a church building for an hour on Sunday morning, listening to a sermon and singing a few songs, not really engaging with anyone other than to say “Hello!”, and walking out the door and going home when the service is over. That’s a “snack”, but not the full meal that God intends and commands for us. It’s consuming without giving anything back, So it’s important to serve and engage, and not just belong.

    This can often be difficult to do in a church that has several hundreds or maybe even thousands of members. You may have a good conversation with someone one week, and not see them again for several weeks or months. And the same may be true of serving; you may not even know the names of the people you are serving.

    Many large churches have addressed this problem by having “small groups” (they go by many different names) of perhaps 15-20 people, which often meet in people’s homes, may have meals together, study Scripture (either a recent sermon or other studies), and have a time to “go deeper” in developing relationships, supporting others with prayer and counsel about what’s going on in their lives, what their current needs or challenges are, serve others (inside or outside the group) and basically function as a “Christian family”.

    I belong to a church that has several hundred attenders in a typical service. But my closest relationships are mostly with others in my small group. They’re my family (I happen to be single), the people I know I can depend on if I need something, and who will stick by me when times are hard, for whatever reason. And I do the same for them.

    Unless you’re part of a small church that is able to function like this as a whole,
    I would highly encourage you to become part of a church body that has such groups AND JOIN ONE. Don’t expect them to be perfect and exactly what you want, because they are made up of imperfect people just like you. But they can help greatly in being “part of a church body” as Matt outlined it.

    • Regan DuCasse

      I lived across the street from two churches in the last two decades. The earlier decade, it was a Catholic church. Very ornate and large. And now, across from a Baptist church, very small, modern.
      One of the deacons there is a neighbor and friend.
      I’ve gone to both of them at least once. I grew up in an Episcopalian church.
      And my favorite MCC’s and Episcopalian churches are kind of far away for me now.
      My sister is very devout. But her church is a very large popular one, with a world class gospel choir (that she sings in).
      I can recall those times in which her piety became more intense.
      And she met her second and current husband on a Christian dating site.

      And I live in a temple rich area, and I see Jewish families, walking on Saturday mornings to worship.
      I think fellowship is important. But I wonder now at these incredibly large churches that seem like football stadiums and services can take up to several hours.
      I would think that since this is such a free country in which people can gather together in each other’s homes, or in a park…that would keep the necessary intimacy and productivity of worship at the level that’s most effective.
      I think I started feeling quite at a distance precisely because of the sheer size of so many houses of worship these days.
      But there is something to be said, about being prayerful and meditative in rendering a painting, or piece of music.
      I think I mentioned on another thread that my family heritage whose religious disciplines require making things beautiful, orderly and serene, is one that I thoroughly embrace.
      And you help others with this endeavor through your hands, more than words.
      Seriously though people, if I’d rather read “The Prophet”, by Kahlil Gibran (a devout Catholic), because the words in the book are so gorgeous and tranquilizing, why would anyone have a problem with the many paths one can take to get to the same place?

      • Milton Orgeron

        Your point (and others’ point) about worship places and congregations needing to be more like (healthy) families and less like football games and stadiums is well made and well taken. And one size does not fit all.

        I see no problem at all with anyone reading “The Prophet”, or with painting or viewing paintings or with performing or listening to secular music of depth and power and creativity. Mostly I listen to Baroque harpsichord or lute music at work when I am at my desk, and none of that is sacred music. I have been on a Francois Couperin kick for several months now. 🙂

        We should be careful about our spiritual path, because not all roads lead to the same place. We do well to use John’s discernment.
        1 John 4:1-3 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.

        C. S. Lewis warned us about a path that is too easy in “The Screwtape Letters”. In the words of the senior demon Screwtape to his nephew and apprentice Wormwood:
        “Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”

        I like this calmer Reagan very much – someone I could sit down with and have a conversation and even agree to disagree with civilly and respectfully. 🙂

        • Regan DuCasse

          Well, I get less civil and so on when I know that Christians are engaged in political action and having their congregations involve themselves in taking away the rights of their fellow citizens and changing the Constitution to reflect such actions.
          Dr. King said “that church on Sunday was the most segregated hour in America”.
          And unfortunately, he was very right about that.

          • Milton Orgeron

            Regan, let me apologize for misspelling your name in hasty typing.
            It has been a stain on the church that for so long, many churches were racially segregated, reflecting the culture around them instead of challenging it. Paul had to rebuke even Peter for following the Jewish believers who distanced themselves from the Gentile believers. Numbers chapter 12 makes it very clear that God takes a very dim view indeed of racism. Moses’ siblings Aaron and Miriam spoke against Moses because he had married a Cushite woman, Zippora, while in hiding in the desert from Egypt for 40 years. Cush was Ethiopia, and the Cushites were black. The LORD called the three to the tent of meeting, and in anger, struck Miriam white with leprosy for seven days. An ironic and fitting punishment, as if to say, “So you don’t like black skin? Then you will indeed be white – with leprosy!”

            Since all Christian churches that I know of (and even Mormons changed their immutable segregationist doctrine from Joseph Smith) have opened their doors officially to all ethnic groups, the ongoing self-chosen church racial segregation seems to be both a leftover from the separate church cultures that arose during segregation, and a reflection that the races remain mostly segregated by the neighborhoods they live in, regardless of whatever contact people have with diverse races in the workplace. There is no overnight solution, and such is not the case in all churches, and the larger the church, the more diverse ethnically it is likely to be, drawing from a larger geographical area.

            Revelation shows no segregation at all in heaven.
            Revelation 7:9-10 After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

        • mike

          Curious Milton, whether intentional on your part or not, you spelled it “Reagan” rather than Regan :).
          Indeed, Reagan is not the same person as Regan. There are two Regans: the happy one (Reagan) and the other quite caustic unhappy one! They need to meet and reconcile.

          • Milton Orgeron

            Just typed faster than I was thinking. Sorry, Regan.

  • Lynn Jamail

    Connecting with a small group of believers is vitally important. Thousands are leaving the church because it is a “spectator” sport not participant oriented. Most churches operate the same way–out of Pagan traditions that have nothing to do with the New Testament church. Read: Pagan Christianity by Barna and “So You Don’t Want to go to Church Anymore” by Jacobsen. These books shine light on how the church has been run since Constantine and why so many people are opting out. Most christians have had to unlearn many “well meaning” things taught in the church but were a HUGE stumbling block to the RADICAL life giving freedom that Christ died to give us. People want to be a part of something that is truly life giving and points the way to walking in a deeper relationship with Jesus & building His Kingdom not a person who is building an empire. I believe God is pouring out his Spirit and wants to do a “NEW” thing in His Bride who is truly hungering for more of Him.

    • I had to unlearn many things since coming back to Christ. It was religious teachings that drove me away for so long, and made me very bitter and angry.

    • Lyle Nelson

      Yes, it goes without saying that it is important that you find a doctrinally sound church. If you, and/or any others reading this message, are looking for such a church, the Acts 29 Network and The Gospel Coalition are two good sources of churches. My church belongs to both organizations. and are the websites for these organizations.

    • Milton Orgeron

      Is “Pagan Christianity” by Barna or by Frank Viola?

      • Cal Teichmann

        It’s was written by both, but it is NOT recommended to read this piece of new age swill.
        I’ve been warning people since the late 90’s that Viola is a major false teacher with new age leanings and practices.
        Along the same caliber of John Wimber, Rick Warren, and many others.

        • Milton Orgeron

          Would list exactly what are Frank Viola’s New age ideas and practices? I have heard other people make similar accusations against him but can find no examples of them in his writing. I want specific quotes of Viola’s, not lumping him in with anyone else and “proving” your case with guilt by association. Maybe you can point out what I have been missing.

          • Cal Teichmann

            First while reading Viola’s “Rethinking the Wine Skin”back in 98 or 99 I recognized his usage of the term “Paradigm shift”, and this terminology made a “red flag” alert in my Spirit and my mind. This is a term which was first propagated by a non-believer “Thomas S. Kuhn” (“The Merriam-Webster Online dictionary defines this usage as “a
            philosophical and theoretical framework of a scientific school or
            discipline within which theories, laws, and generalizations and the
            experiments performed in support of them are formulated; broadly: a philosophical or theoretical framework of any kind.”[6]”)

            And it is a terminology that is utilized widely by the New Age movement. ”

            Paradigm Shift Refers to a shift in world views. The so-called “new paradigm” (new model
            orform) is pantheistic (all is God) and monastic (all is one).

            This also explain Viola’s ecumenical stance mean “all is one”, “all is God”.
            Now I did agree with some understandings of Viola’s writing, but Viola also mis-used the scripture from where he titled his book.

            If read within Context the verse has nothing to do with the “Body of Christ” but is meant for the “individuals”

            Rebirth……….into the Lord’s Kingdom.
            Mat 9:16 No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse.
            Mat 9:17 Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.
            While I tried to read the complete writing, much confusing arose, and my mind felt as if it was being twisted. I took it to the Lord in prayer, and the Lord made known to me that this man was not authorized by the Lord to write the book, nor did this man KNOW the Lord in Spirit.
            I also did some research about Mr. Viola and found he had a degree in Philosophy, which is actually man’s reasoning, and has NOTHING to do with the Gospel of Christ nor should be utilized in understanding the Gospel and God’s wisdom especially when “teaching” the body of Christ, especially newly born Christian’s, or babe’s in Christ. Mr. Viola at the time was a “Philosophy teacher at a college or University, and I realized this created a conflict with the Lord’s Word. Because we are warned NOT to allow man’s reasoning to affect our faith in the Lord nor understanding His Word.
            Col_2:8 Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.
            May I suggest you follow this link and read further detailed outline on why he is a danger to the true Body of Christ with these new age leanings and practices:
            I hope this assists you in some respect, but I also know that for over twenty years Mr. Viola has been practicing a new age concept known as “Contemplative Prayer” I read his own confession of this some six years ago.
            This is a “new age” spirituality and Mysticism practice………has NOTHING to do with the Lord and His requirements for His Bride.

  • Lynn Jamail

    Pagan Christianity is by George Barna and Frank Viola

  • David Martinez

    Well, first of all I enjoy reading your Blogs. Now, I am a Single Christian, Never been Married, and I have No Children Either, Some of Us Do Obey certain Logical Rules, but there was a time that I was serving in the US ARMY for the whole decade of the 1980’s, and eventually I became part of a Church in North Carolina, but when DUTY Calls, my Country would come first, God opened the doors for me to Serve All of You. I also met many other Christians in the US ARMY that were not part of a local church because we never stayed long enough to get grounded in the Local Community. Now I am 55, still not married, but That’s a Good Thing! and no children either. I do attend church regularly, and I take my Mom with me Every Sunday. With that being said, Yes There Are “Lone Wolf Christians” out there, I am One of them, but I Do see a need not just for my life, but for Others as well to belong to a Local Body of Believers, I benefit from them, and they from me, However, Married Christians have a Strong Tendency to Leave Us Single Christians out of their Lives. I Wonder Why. Now was I in “Sin” while serving in the Military? Trust me a Believer Has To Have a Very Close Relationship With Our Lord in the Military.

    Remember, “Not All Who Wander Are Lost”… Of course Spiritual Maturity is Crucial To The Life of a Believer, Single or Married. I have friends who are Christians who do not go anywhere on Sundays, and they are fine, And I KNOW MANY Christians who Go EVERY Sunday, and Are MESSED UP!!!
    So I would only say to you is that just because someone you may know, who is a Christian and are Not Going to a church, find out why first before We Judge, there was a time when I was working every Sunday for years and I could not attend Sunday Service, but we had “House Church”, which was fine, and that created a much deeper friendships than being around a crowed church. Having “Understanding” is Also Crucial for One’s
    Spiritual Maturity, God Blessings in Our Struggle To Serve Him…

    • Cal Teichmann

      Yes I do agree with you, this article is not very different from the same teaching that has been going on for over 30 some years. It is based upon the “Shepherding Movement”.
      Thousands upon thousands of true believers are leaving the Institutionalized government churches, because the majority of them follow and support many major false teachers.
      They are based upon decades of “traditions”, which have no biblical support. Many still follow the Old Testament foundation of conducting “church” which stems from the “Roman Catholic” church methodology.

      Col_2:8 Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.
      Col_2:20 Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances,

      Due to the dastardly influences of “ecumenicism”, which has influenced most denominations, people are leaving by the droves to stay “Faithful” to the Doctrinal teachings of Jesus Christ, and have separated themselves from this unholy “anti-Christ” system.
      So this writing is stemming from “good intentions” but lacks in spiritual maturity and Godly wisdom.