“No man is an island” and we might add “and no Christian is an island either.” Yet some Christians try to be and so miss out on so much in the Christian life. We rightly stress the need for an individual response to Christ of commitment and acceptance. We believe in the priesthood of all believers (i.e. all believers have in Christ the right of direct access to God in confession and prayer). But one of the dangers of stressing these things is of encouraging a thoroughgoing individualism of which the New Testament knows nothing.
Some Christians say they were converted and then they joined the church as if somehow joining the church was separate from conversion and not absolutely essential. But according to the New Testament you cannot become a Christian without joining the church. You may become a Christian outside the ‘visible’ church as we call it. But at the moment you become a Christian you are ‘incorporated into Christ.’ That is you have this intimate relationship to Christ which involves an intimate relationship with Christians everywhere whether you attend services in a church building or not.
We might well draw a parallel with the fact that a baby isborn into a family. It receives help and support and it gives joy and happiness. The family is not an optional extra. The baby doesn’t slip its nappy on and trot off into the big wide world. Yet some spiritual babies (and even older spiritual children) act like that – as if they were quite self-sufficient spiritually. And so their growth is stunted or they just seem to die. If you are a Christian you are a church member. And so if you don’t join together and share with other Christians in practice then you are heading for spiritual frustration and disappointment.
But is our church a true church in the biblical sense? Is it in practice the Body of Christ where it is possible for all the members to minister to one another so that each person gives and receives in various ways? Just coming to Sunday services is nowhere near enough spiritual food for anyone. We all need the less formal setting where Christians can share together in Bible Study, prayer, discussion, testimony, encouragement and even at times correction; where they can praise God and sing together spontaneously.
How would the baby develop mentally if the family always sat in a row and listened to dad ? Some Christians are content to sit and listen (or not listen) to Christian Teaching but never learn to study for themselves and to share what they find with others. Some Christians are content to let someone else pray and never learn the immense power and blessing of corporate prayer. Some Christians never experience the benefits of sharing both blessings and problems, victories and failures with one another. If you are such a Christian then you just can’t imagine what you are missing.
© Tony Higton: see conditions for reproduction