Updated: Feb 16, 2022
This is a question I struggle with the start of every weekend as Sunday morning will soon be upon us. But in spite of my emotions, I still get in the car with my wife and go. I know several professing Christians who don't go or who occasionally go to church because they were hurt by people in a church years ago. Talk about being hurt! I got some nightmares for you, but I don't want these terrible experiences to add to your reasons for not attending church. Others don't go to church because they are not able to find one that meets their needs - not friendly enough, no programs for children, they don't sing the old hymns or the latest contemporary songs, and the list goes on.
Church in the Scriptures
The first mention of the word "church" is found in Matthew 16:18. Jesus said that He will build His church upon "this rock," and "the gates of Hades will not overpower it." The word "rock" in the Greek is petra which means "large rock or bed-rock." It is NOT referring to Peter (Petros which means "a stone"). It is in reference to what Peter said when the disciples were asked by Jesus "But who do you say that I am?" (Matthew 16:15). Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).
The word "church" in the Greek is ekklēsia - "a group that meets together for various religious, political, or civic purposes." This word is used one more time in Matthew 18:17. It is not used in the gospels of Mark, Luke, and John. There are 19 occurrences of the word "church" in the book of Acts, 64 occurrences in the Pauline Epistles (Romans, 1st and 2nd Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1st and 2nd Thessalonians, 1st Timothy, Philemon), and 24 occurrences in the General Epistles (Hebrews, James, 3rd John, Revelation). Thus, the word "church" is mentioned 109 times in the New Testament.
It is important to note that the church did not replace Israel. God dealt with Israel for about 1500 years under the dispensation of the Law. He is dealing with the church today under the dispensation of Grace. Yet God is not done with Israel. A "partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so, all Israel will be saved" (Romans 11:25-26). Some will point to Acts 7:38 as proof that the church existed in the Old Testament - "This is the one who was in the congregation (ekklēsia) in the wilderness together with the angel who was speaking to him on Mount Sinai, and who was with our fathers; and he received living oracles to pass on to you." This is in reference to Exodus 19:17 - "And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain."
Acts 20:28 reveals that God purchased the church "with His own blood." 1st Timothy 3:15 teaches that the church is "the household of God" and "the pillar and support of the truth."
Universally, Christ Jesus is the "head of the church" (Ephesians 5:23) and believers are "members of His body" (Ephesians 5:30).
1st Corinthians 12:12-14 - "For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit, we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many."
1st Corinthians 12:27 - "Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it."
Ephesians 1:22-23 - "And He (God the Father) put all things in subjection under His (the Lord Jesus Christ) feet and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all." (Emphasis mine)
Ephesians 4:11-12 - "And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ." (Note: the offices of apostles and prophets are foundational and do not exist today).
The local church is the visible representation of the "body of Christ" as established in any specific geographic location. There are multiple examples of this throughout the New Testament. Paul speaks of "the church of God which is at Corinth" (1st Corinthians 1:2, 2nd Corinthians 1:1). We also see other examples such as "the church in Jerusalem" (Acts 8:1), "the churches of Galatia" (Galatians 1:2), the "church of the Thessalonians" (1st Thessalonians 1:1, 2nd Thessalonians 1:1), and "the church in your house" (Philemon 1:2). In Revelation chapters 2 and 3, Christ Jesus instructs the apostle John to write to the "seven churches" (Revelation 1:20): "the church in Ephesus" (Revelation 2:1), "the church in Smyrna" (Revelation 2:8), "the church in Pergamum" (Revelation 2:12), "the church in Thyatira" (Revelation 2:18), "the church in Sardis" (Revelation 3:1), "the church in Philadelphia" (Revelation 3:7), and "the church in Laodicea" (Revelation 3:14).
God individually gifts each member of His body for service and devotion to one another.
Romans 12:4-8 - "For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness."
Romans 12:10-13 - "Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality."
God wants us to "stimulate one another to love and good deeds" and to not forsake "our own assembling together" but to encourage "one another" (Hebrews 10:24-25), and to "have fellowship with one another" (1st John 1:7). He commands us to "love one another" (1st John 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11).
The local church is where we are nourished "on the words of faith" and "sound doctrine", by giving our "attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching" (1st Timothy 4:6, 13). It is in the local church where like-minded believers worship God "in spirit and truth" (John 4:23-24).
Christians trying to go it alone, for any number of reasons, is like cutting off your hand then expecting it to function on its own. Or worse yet, expecting you to function like you did before without that hand. The apostle Paul drives this point home.
1st Corinthians 12:14-20 - "For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. If they were all one member, where would the body be? But now there are many members, but one body."
A Lesson Learned
The lesson I learned over the years is this: believers are still SINNERS! I set my expectations too high for the longest time by having high expectations of those I attended church with. The apostle John gives this warning: "If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us... If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us" (1st John 1:8, 10). Being "saved by grace through faith" (Ephesians 2:8) does not mean that you are without sin. However, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1st John 1:9).
You have probably heard this adage: If you are looking for the perfect church, don't go there. Once you do, it will no longer be perfect!
There is no such thing as a perfect church on this earth because there are no such things as perfect people on this earth, no matter how perfect some people think they are!
Looking For a Church?
When looking for a local church, I suggest examining their statement of faith or what they believe. Most churches have this information of their websites. Essential doctrines to look for include:
There is only one God who eternally exists as three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Man did not evolve but was created by God.
Jesus (the Son of God and God the Son) came in the flesh, was born of a virgin. He was crucified and died as payment for our sins. He completed His work of redemption on the cross. He was buried then rose from the grave on the third day. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. Jesus is the head of the church and is engaged on behalf of the saved as our intercessor before the Father.
The Holy Spirit is a real person (not a force) who convicts the world of sin and righteousness. He baptizes believers into the body of Christ, indwells believers, comforts believers, and seals believers (we are God's own possession).
The Bible, consisting of the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments, is inspired by God and inerrant in the original writings. It is the supreme and final authority in faith and life.
Man was originally created in the image and after the likeness of God and that he fell as a result sin. As a consequence of sin, man lost his spiritual life becoming dead in trespasses and sins. He became subject to the power of the devil. This spiritual death, or total depravity of human nature, has been transmitted to the entire human race, Christ Jesus alone being the exception. Every child of Adam is born into the world with a nature that is corrupt in body, mind, and soul.
Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Man is unable to save himself from the wages of sin - eternal death away from the presence of God based on his own merits and free will. All who believe in Him, who come to faith in Christ, are justified on the grounds of His shed blood. All who receive by faith the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior are instantaneously born again of the Holy Spirit and are thereby justified and accounted righteous before God. Eternal life begins the moment one comes to faith in Christ. It is impossible for true believers to lose their salvation. The preservation of all believers' rests upon the finished work of Christ and the unchanging promises of God.
Baptism by immersion in water and the Lord's Supper (communion) are ordinances that God instituted in His church. Although not required for salvation as some denominations teach, baptism is a public profession of our faith in the crucified, buried, and risen Savior. It pictures our death to sin and resurrection to our new life in Christ.
The primary mission of the church is to proclaim the gospel of Christ and to equip the saints for the work of service. It is the responsibility and privilege of all who are saved to seek to win others to Christ.
"Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth"
2nd Timothy 2:15
Unless otherwise noted, all scripture cited in this post is taken from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update.