Just How Important Is the Church?

Just How Important Is the Church?

“… I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:14–15).

I became a Christian in the spring of my senior year in high school. That fall I went away to college and worked part-time in an insurance office to pay for my college education. Though it was difficult to both work and take a full college load, I was nevertheless excited about my new life in Christ. I was going to church regularly, studying the Bible daily, reading good books, meeting new Christian friends, learning to pray and growing in Christ. Those were very joyful and exciting times.

Toward the end of my freshman year I realized I was going to need more money than the seventy-five cents per hour I was making on my job (that was in 1955). I heard of a job on a large company farm near Chicago where college boys could make good money. So I loaded my belongings in a small black trunk, boarded a train and headed to Mendota, Illinois, really not knowing for sure what I was getting into. Shortly after my arrival, the canning company, for which I worked, assigned me and several other young men from across the nation to a pea farm, where they housed us in some rather plain barracks, fed us three meals a day and worked us seven days a week, often as much as sixteen to twenty hours per day. It was hard, dirty, dangerous work, but where else in 1955 could a college student earn up to $200 per week, with no living expenses?

When we began that summer there were a few believers among the crew and we had some rich fellowship on that farm. But soon the hard work, long hours and homesickness began to take their toll. Serious attrition began. Within a few weeks I was the only college student left on that particular farm. In order to complete the crops that summer, the company began to pick up men off skid row in Chicago and bring them to live and work on the farm. The result was that I was the only Christian there, with no one else left to provide me with spiritual fellowship. Many of the men were alcoholics and were foul-mouthed derelicts. Thus began some very lonesome days. I was starving for spiritual conversation. Yet I needed the money if I hoped to return to college that fall.

Finally, late in the summer we received a Sunday off in order to rest. That morning I hitched a ride into town and made my way to a small, white frame building, which housed the local Baptist church. But much to my dismay a sign was stapled to the door, which read: “Closed for the summer.” 

The remainder of my time there that summer was spent with no Christian fellowship. My only spiritual stimulation was my Bible and the few Christian books I had with me.

I now believe that this episode in my life was used by God to show me the vital importance of the local church. All one has to do to recognize this is to be without one. I am glad the Lord taught me this lesson early in my Christian life. Several times later while on mission trips, the need of a local church was made much clearer to me. In some of those areas of the world, there have been many villages where there were no Christian churches whatsoever. My heart bled for those individual believers who were forced to live and grow spiritually all on their own.

In America, particularly in the southern Bible belt, we are very spoiled. Churches abound. In some of these areas churches are on almost every corner. This is not true in many parts of the globe. To be without a local family of God is to miss some of God’s richest blessings. Just how important is your church? Consider the following:

It provides you with daily and weekly fellowship.

It warns and encourages you.

It helps hold you accountable.

It provides communion for you.

It challenges you to use your spiritual gifts.

It provides a place for those gifts to be exercised.

It helps protect you from heresy.

It guides you to godly living.

It spiritually ministers to your family.

It collectively supports Christian causes and missions around the world.

It often means the salvation of souls (perhaps even your own).

It helps you when you are spiritually, emotionally, physically or financially in need.

It is the pillar and ground of the truth in your area.

It disciplines you when you develop a sinful lifestyle.

It helps bring down racial barriers.

These are just a few of the benefits of belonging to a good local church. Try to imagine where else you could receive such benefits and direction. Indeed, our Lord manifested His wisdom when He established both the universal and the local bodies of Christ. And we are the primary beneficiaries. Today, thank God for the grace shown to you in placing you in a sound, local church body. If you are not in one, either find one to join, or help start an evangelical church in your area. It will be an important key to your spiritual growth and service.

This article is an excerpt from Curtis Thomas’ book – Life in the Body of Christ: Privileges and Responsibilities in the Local Church. A new hardcover edition is now available for pre-order for $19.98 at press.founders.org

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