Christ alone saves. Then why the Church? Full of error and sin, wracked by hypocrisy and shallowness, why even bother with church?
Because Jesus bothered with it. Because the Church is His beloved bride. Because He promised to build His Church and that the gates of hell would not overpower it (Matt.16:18).
The Church of the Lord Jesus is the community of His people. It is the place where God’s children are to be instructed and encouraged and challenged in the way of Christ. It is the family context where young Christians are to be nurtured in the faith and where growing Christians learn to use the gifts God has given them for the sake of the body. It is the setting in which the disciples of Christ are supposed to live out their love for one another, in obedience to His commands.
Of course, the church always fails to be all that it should be (and GPC is no exception). But it is still the church. It is still beloved of the Lord. Our Lord loves His church -- how can we despise it? He prays for His church from the right hand of the Father -- how can we ignore it? He longs to bring her close -- how can His people repudiate it?
Billy Graham said, "You’ll never find the perfect church. And if you do, don’t join it -- because you’ll ruin it!" The church is not an elite club of those who have their act together. It is a hospital for sick souls who need the great Physician. The fact is that there is no problem in the church that isn’t in each and every one of us. If we repudiate the church, we must repudiate ourselves.
"Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling 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)
Aren’t Alternatives to Church Enough?
Jesus didn’t create a parachurch ministry, He created a church. (I am not criticizing parachurch ministries -- but they are no substitutes for the church.) There are no rules in the New Testament about how parachurch ministries are to be run. But it is filled with guidance about how churches are to be run.
The New Testament does not tell us that the Christians gathered as families for fellowship and worship (though family fellowship and worship is certainly to be encouraged). It tells us how the Christians gathered as local churches for fellowship and worship.
It doesn’t have to be in a church building, but it does need to be a church! It doesn’t have to worship on pews, but it does have to worship. It doesn’t have to have all the traditional trappings, but it does have to proclaim the word of the Lord and have qualified leaders and practice baptism and the Lord’s Supper as Christ commanded. It must be committed to church discipline as Jesus instructed us in Matthew 18:15-17, and to Christ’s command to make disciples of every nation in Matt.28:19-20.
God has not only ordained a message of salvation, He has also ordained an institution where that message is to be upheld and lived out on the earth. We have been saved out of the world. But we’ve not only been saved out of something, we’ve been saved into something. We’ve been saved into the church. The church is God’s house (1Tim.3:15) -- it is where He lives, and it is where His family lives. Christ is not just building individual believers. He is not just building Christian fellowship. He is building His Church.
We at Gainesville Presbyterian Church are just one small branch of the Church of Jesus Christ which is one over all the earth and yet it is manifested in local congregations in every place under the sun. It is our privilege to be members of God’s Church, and to serve Him by serving one another.
I love Thy kingdom, Lord,
The house of Thine abode,
The church our blessed Redeemer saved
With His own precious blood.
I love Thy church, O God.
Her walls before Thee stand,
Dear as the apple of Thine eye,
And written on Thy hand.
For her my tears shall fall
For her my prayers ascend,
To her my cares and toils be given
Till toils and cares shall end.
Beyond my highest joy
I prize her heavenly ways,
Her sweet communion, solemn vows,
Her hymns of love and praise.
Should I with scoffers join
Her altars to abuse?
No! Better far my tongue were dumb,
My hand its skill should lose.
(Timothy Dwight, 1752-1817)