5 Benefits of Being Part of a Church
Those who wish to have Christ without His church will soon find that they have neither. Nor can the church survive if she forgets Christ. Christ and His church are inseparable, so much so that those who come to Christ become a part of the church, and those who are a part of the church remain in Christ. It is foolish for those who wish to have Christ to neglect the church. God has ordained the church to be a means by which we not only commune with Christ, but a means by which we are kept in Christ.
Suppose there is a young man who has been on the fence between Christianity and the world for most of his life. One day, by the illumination of the Word of God through the power of the Holy Spirit, a fire is lit within his soul, and he is, as it were, singularly focused on knowing Christ. He becomes connected with believers who mentor and help him in his faith. It seems as though a spiritual growth is happening within him at lightning speed. However, not long after, the fire seems to die, and he finds himself enamoured more and more with the things of the world again. Not only that, but he has to deal with personal issues that weigh him down. He goes to his worldly friends for help, but their advice is shallow and fleeting. Finally, he comes across a Christian brother with whom he can confide. This Christian brother responds with foundational truths, setting solid ground beneath his feet once again. As he returns to the path of Christ, it is as though the fog is lifted and the way becomes clear again.
Or say a Christian woman of middle age is struggling along in her faith. It is not that she is close to losing faith, but that she is unsure of what to believe anymore. The 'brand' of Christianity that she has been exposed to all her life just isn't inspiring her like it used to. What lit the fire in her soul before, now only seems to douse the flames with water and suck all the oxygen out of her. She needs something more. One Sunday, she decides to visit a different church, and there, as the preacher faithfully expounds the Scriptures, she sees God's Word with greater clarity than ever before. She wants more, and so she joins a women's only Bible study that this church runs. As she attends, these women teach her a solid biblical theology, and help her pull all her thoughts about God, the gospel, and the Scriptures into a system wherein the truth remains, and falsehoods are rejected. This is a freedom she has never experienced before, for now she can focus on truly loving and living for God instead of focusing all her attention on figuring out what is right and what is not.
I'm sure that there is an abundance of scenarios that further describe certain benefits of the church. We may all have a story of how the church has helped us, but we do not have the time to expound on them here. Rather, here is a list of 5 benefits the Christian community brings.
1. The Preaching of God's Word
For the whole history of the church, where the preaching of God's Word is central, the church has flourished. The opposite is also true, that where the teaching of God's Word has taken the back seat, the church soon flounders and fails. But preaching is not just for the well-being of the church; it is for the well-being of the believer. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul exhorts him, stating, "Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. . . Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers" (1 Tim. 4:13, 16). In his second letter to Timothy, Paul says much the same thing: "I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching" (2 Tim. 4:1-2). When Christians sit under the preaching of God's Word, they receive everything they need for the Christian life.
The overarching benefit of preaching is the salvation of the hearers. Not all will come to salvation, but those who do, come by the proclamation of God's Word and are kept by the same means. The reason Christians go to church to hear God's Word preached is so they would remain in the faith. When churches place preaching on the backburner, or embrace a modern motivational and topic-driven styles of preaching, they are withholding the very means of grace by which the congregation remains steadfast in the faith. Where there is no Bible taught and proclaimed, the congregation will soon embrace another gospel.
This benefit comes to us in four parts. The first is teaching, by which we learn. Second is exhortation, by which we are motivated and commanded. The third is reproof, by which we are guided back toward the correct path. Lastly, we are rebuked, by which we are jolted out of the worldly daze we have drifted into. These are all wrapped up in the head of preaching. In fact, every other benefit which the church provides flows from this fountainhead.
When Augustine stated in the 4th Century that “there is no salvation apart from the Church," he was saying something profound. The Church would soon after interpret it to mean that if you were not a member, you were not saved. They would also go on to believe that if you simply became a member, you would be saved. But that was not what Augustine was saying, for he simply meant that the church was the keeper of the gospel. The church is formed by the gospel, it calls with the gospel, and it goes with the gospel. The gospel is the foundational message of the church, and unless the church brings the gospel to the world, the world remains in darkness.
As we saw previously, the church not only brings the gospel to the world, the church brings the gospel to the church. We hear it preached, we proclaim it to one another, and we proclaim it to ourselves. We are not saved by attending church, or even becoming members of a church, but we are saved by the message belonging to the church. We remain saved by that same message as well.
Not only do the trials of this life burn away the dross of this world from the Christian, but the communion of believers also does as well. Ask any husband or wife, and they will tell you that living in close quarters with another person for an extended period of time reveals their hidden faults and character shortcomings. That is what the church is to the Christian. Rather than having one person who can only coax so much of your sinful nature to light, you now have many.
C.S. Lewis once pointed out that when his close group of four was reduced to three, he did not get more out of his fellowship with these two remaining friends, but rather got less. He found that the one who was missing drew out certain aspects of the other men that he could not. So it is with a body of believers, each one draws something (whether good or bad) out of the others that the rest cannot.
When our sin is brought to light, it must be dealt with. We cannot continue as Christians if sin is not forgiven and repented of. However, if our sin is left in the dark, we cannot properly deal with it. Therefore, Christians embrace the reality that being part of a community of people will bring sin to light. It may be tough and, at times, messy, and Christians may be called hypocrites for it, but it is a glorious picture of the victory over sin in Christ when Christians confront sin and repent of it. We are called to spur one another on to good works, and that may include dealing first with the weight of sin holding us back.
The writer of Hebrews teaches Christians to both, "leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity" (6:1), and to "consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together" (10:24-25). Both the meeting together and the maturing in faith happen together. Furthermore, we mature in our faith as we are taught the Word of God, and as our sin is confronted and repented of.
I have found that my maturity in the faith rarely comes from my 'personal times with God', but comes from listening to the preaching of God's Word, discussing God's Word with fellow believers, being mentored by a mature believer, and confessing my sins to close Christian brothers. It is when I am with brothers and sisters that I am able to live out my faith best, and encouraged all the more to press on in it. Furthermore, I would not know what I know had it not been for other believers teaching me, nor would I be as strong as I am in the faith without other believers holding me up.
Of course, my faith is mine and not yours. I cannot have faith for you, nor can you have faith for me. However, I can encourage your faith, as you can mine. It is as Dietrich Bonhoeffer stated, "The word in a brother's mouth is stronger than the word in our hearts." We need one another in order to press on in the faith, be taught the things of Christ, and be further conformed to His likeness.
One of the greatest practical blessings that comes with being a part of a Christian community is the reality that there are willing shoulders to carry the burden ours cannot. How often we find ourselves in valleys so dark we cannot see the path! We are feeble people (often too proud to admit it) that are constantly in need of support and encouragement. In the Christian community, we find warm words on a cold night, strong words where weakness prevails, and soothing words to heal our hurts. The Christian brother or sister sitting next to you in the pew next Sunday has their own story, their own hurts, their own faith, their own struggle. Yet, they are not alone because they are part of a community that seeks their benefit.
Where can you find calm counsel when anxiety is crushing? Where do you find someone to guide you through the fog of grief? Where do you find wisdom for the next step on life's path? Who is going to pull you away from the ledge above the pit of sin? Who is going to sit with you through the loneliness? Is their antidote fleeting, or is it eternal? In the Christian community, we find the preaching of the Word of God bringing salvation to sinners, keeping the saints in the faith, confronting our sin, pushing us on to maturity, and encouraging our feeble hearts. These are lasting benefits, for they have eternal implications. Let us pursue these as we walk alongside one another in the faith.