by Jim Karg
Editor’s note: This column originally ran Feb. 2, 2018.
Flip. Flop. Flip. Flop. A fish out of water is a pitiful sight. That fish just isn’t going to last long on land – he was designed by God to thrive in water.
In a similar way, each and every genuine Christian is designed to thrive in a Christ-centered, gospel-upholding local church. A believer living outside a faithful local church is like a fish out of water – it is just not going to turn out well for him (or others) in the long run.
When a person turns and puts his trust completely in the Lord Jesus Christ (not good works), he is baptized by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ, which is the church. “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” (1 Corinthians 12:13, NASB).
That person is now a member of the household of God and should have a strong desire to gather together with other believers right away in a local church. This is God’s plan for the church, which Christ promised to build (Matthew 16:18).
What if I don’t want to be a part of a good (yet not perfect) local church? To put it simply – something is wrong. Every genuine Christian loves God, right? Well, how can I love Jesus Christ and not love his body, which is the church? Christ is the head of the church and believers are his body.
How can I not want to worship and love and serve and spread the gospel together with my fellow body members? This is simply unthinkable! Jesus said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Doesn’t a lack of love for the body of Christ show a lack of love for Christ himself?
The local church is a place where the truth of God’s word is to be upheld and consistently taught. The church of the living God is to be “the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).
Sadly, many churches no longer uphold the truth of the Bible, but there are still local churches that remain faithful. The danger for those who wander from the local church is that they can soon also wander from “the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3). Remember that some who wander are actually lost (1 John 2:19).
I often hear stories of those who have had very difficult experiences at a local church and have turned away from any local church altogether. None of us likes to be “hurt” or “burned” by others, especially people who claim to be our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Yet, we must remember that a local church is a gathering of saints that still sin and that every one of us “fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Sin in the church must be dealt with (Matthew 18:15-20), yet forgiveness from the heart characterizes the forgiven (Matthew 18:21-35). Confront sin! Forgive sin! Don’t just abandon the body of Christ.
So, what is our Lord’s charge for every genuine Christian? “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25).
Don’t be a fish out of water. Don’t be a Christian outside of a faithful local church.
The Rev. Jim Karg is the former pastor of Cotopaxi Community Church in Cotopaxi.