Why the Local Church is Irreplaceable
by Steve Klein
Intro: In an article carried in Newspapers and on the Internet, Scripps Howard News Service religion writer Terry Mattingly wrote recently of the "Fade Away Church Movement." This is an effort by many denominational or independent churches to re-invent themselves as non-churches to appeal to people.
A typical name change reflecting this effort would be when the Community Assembly of God Church becomes the Community Church, then the Community Family Worship Center and finally, the Center for Family Love. Notice the trend in these names away from God-centered "church," and toward names that focus on man and emotion.
In these churches, drama, video, humor & musical entertainment have replaced hymns, Scripture reading and sermons. Martin Marty of the University of Chicago observed that if someone does succeed in creating a non-church church "there will be just on thing wrong with: It will have nothing to do with the Christian faith."
And there is in fact a call from some to do away with churches entirely. Internet and radio evangelist Harold Camping has told his followers "No longer are you to be under the spiritual rulership of the church -- the church as ceased to be an institution or divine organism to serve God&ldots;" Camping advocates forming fellowships with no pastors that exist to support mass-media evangelism.
Evangelical scholar Gene Edward Veith notes that "American churches have been complicit in this new and heretical anti-church movement." If we do not need what churches offer, we do not need the churches!
The attitudes reflected in the Fade Away Church movement may not be just a "denominational problem". At the summer camp run by Christians that my children attend, the camp convenes Sunday afternoon and evening. Some do not attend local church services in order to be at camp. Through the week, there is daily Bible study, singing, prayer, etc. individually and collectively. Wednesday evening, no provision is made to for the young people to attend a local church (this would involve transporting a large number of children several miles -- the only sound congregation in the area is small). Is the idea here that people can worship as individuals or in small groups and not be obligated to attend local church assemblies? If so, would this be true once, occasionally or for an entire lifetime?
While individual or group worship outside of local church assemblies is plainly authorized, and while Jesus is with His people anytime they meet in His name (Matthew 18:18-20), the question is can this replace what is to be done within the local church?
It is the point of this lesson that the worship assembly of the Local Church cannot be replaced by worship conducted by individuals or groups outside church assemblies. This is true because the local church assembly offers the following:
I. Unique Edification
A. The church comes together in one place for edification, 1 Corinthians 14:26 (cf. 23, 29, 33).
B. While a Christian can be edified by Bible study and worship outside the local church and its assemblies, one obviously cannot receive the edification of the church when not in the church. And that seems to be the reasoning present in Hebrews 10:25
II. The Power of Collective Resources
A. The concept of Synergy -- 1 Corinthians 12:
B. In prayer and shared material goods, the early church seems to have experienced synergy, Acts 4:31-33
C. Relative to meeting financial needs of saints, supporting a preacher, evangelism.
III. Partaking of the Lord's Supper
A. It is to be done in the assembly, 1 Corinthians 11:17-20.
B. Paul's example is instructive, Acts 20:7.
A. Elders watch over our souls, Hebrews 13:17 "Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you."
B. They provide us with examples, 1 Peter 5:2-3 "Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock."
V. Church Withdrawal
A. While we may and should make choices about personal fellowship, withdrawal by a church has the effect of group discipline.
B. Note that withdrawal is accomplished by the assembled church for the purpose of saving an person's soul. 1 Corinthians 5:4-5 instructs us, "In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus."
C. It is discipline that is effective because it is inflicted by the majority, 2 Corinthians 2:6 "This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man."
Conclusion: When Paul traveled for the gospel's sake, he was sometimes unable to be with a local church when they met (Acts 20, etc.). Sometimes circumstances beyond our control make it impossible to meet with a local church.
1. Worship and Bible study during these times is good, but should not be considered a replacement for assembling with a local church.
2. We must consider whether or not it is necessary for us to be in the position of being unable to meet with a local church. God will judge!
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