We’ve been going through an old list of questions and answers contained in the Westminster Larger Catechism published in 1648. Last week we started looking at questions about God’s church. We saw that the ‘visible’ church is a society made up of people who profess to be believers in Christ. In other words, a ‘visible’ church is a local church. But why bother joining a ‘visible’ church? What are the privileges of being part of the visible church?
Many people believe that you don’t need to be a part of a local church. You can function quite well as a Christian without needing to be around other Christians.
But if you aren’t part of a local church, then you miss out on the many privileges that come from being amongst other believers. In 1 Corinthians, the apostle Paul says that God has given us one Spirit but many gifts: ‘There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines. Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ‘ (1 Corinthians 12:4-12). Paul is clear. The different gifts are given for ‘common good’. Which means if you don’t join a local church, you miss out on experiencing the gifts that others have but you don’t have.
Paul continues to make his point by comparing the church to the human body: ‘If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?‘ (1 Corinthians 12:17). The eye needs the ear and the ear needs the nose. The human body does not function properly unless all its organs are present. So it is with the church – to function properly, it needs the members with their different gifts.
Paul then warns against an attitude of disdain for other members of the local church: ‘The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”‘ (1 Corinthians 12:21). And he doesn’t end there. I’d encourage you to read the rest of the passage for yourself.
So if you’re a Christian, you must belong to a local church. If you don’t, you’re missing out on sharing in the gifts that God has given to others, but hasn’t given to you. You’re also being selfish – you are keeping for yourself the gifts that God has given you that were meant to be shared.
So do you belong to a ‘visible’ church? Do you thank God for the special privileges that come from being part of a ‘local’ church?
– Joel Radford