Some Christians view the local church as optional. The local church is like an accessory that a follower of Jesus may choose to go with their outfit, but it is certainly not crucial. But the Bible does not treat the church in that manner. The Word of God considers the church as a crucial element in the Christian’s life; more like water in the desert than a designer purse.
The contributing authors in Don’t Call it a Comeback: The Old Faith for a New Day pick up on the necessity of the local church in the life of a follower of Jesus. The authors of the chapters “Sanctification: Being Authentically Messed Up is Not Enough” and “Kingdom: Heaven After Earth, on Earth, or Something Else?” dedicate time to emphasize the local church.
In the eyes of the New Testament writers, the local church – ordinary as it may be – is the fundamental work of God on the earth. It is the center of his kingdom. It is he outpost of his gospel. It is the foremost display of his glory. It is the laboratory of sanctification, the entity that, as the dwelling place of God, we are to love, serve, edify, pray for, and devote ourselves to. It keeps us accountable through church discipline (Matt. 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 5:1-5, 9-13), it hosts the Lord’s Supper and baptisms (1 Corinthians 10; Matt. 28:16-20; Acts 2:38), and it calls for our regular attendance and service (Heb. 10:25)…
Many of us have been well served by parachurch groups and by Christian friends. We all need the local church, however. It is where we find all the resources we need to love God in a sin-stricken world – exhortation, encouragement, rebuke, opportunities for service, enjoyment, edification, and so much more. It is specially set up and calibrated to mature us, to lift our eyes from ourselves and to see the needs of those around us and the glory of the church’s Lord. The local church is not designed to bore us and cause us to live small lives, but to grow us, to bring us into close contact with other believers for mutual accountability and help, and to give us a transformative vision of a mighty Lord who is carrying out a cosmic mission of deliverance and salvation.
The church may not seem exciting on the outside… [but every] local church that preaches the true gospel is a part of the most dynamic movement the world will every know… The local church is not the B team – it is ground zero for God’s kingdom work. Join it, serve it, love it, and experience the sanctification that comes with involvement in the gospel cause that transcends all others (pp. 113-114).
We find the kingdom, often, in the place where we, like our ancestor apostles, would be least likely to even think about something as majestic as a messianic reign: in a local church.
Just like the kingdom language, evangelical Christians often try to make church language abstract and idealistic. We sometimes talk as though church were simply a synonym for “everybody with Jesus in his or her heart, all together.” But that’s not it. The Scriptures do speak of the church as that great, majestic gathering of all of God’s people in Christ… But this church is manifested in particular local gatherings…
[The] kingdom [is] there, and King Jesus [is] there – and in every congregation gathered in his name (Matt. 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 5:4). The church is an outpost of the coming kingdom. Part of this is the very existence of the church itself as a sign of the kingdom. These gatherings of sinners reconciled to God and to one another are, as Paul says, so “the manifold wisdom of God might be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph. 3:10). Your church might be struggling to make a budget, and you might not be able to agree on whether to sing Bill Gaither or Chris Tomlin songs in worship, but the very fact you’re here says to the demons, “Your skulls are about to be crushed” (cf. Rom. 16:20) (p. 124).