Questions I’d like answered 3 – church?

Posted: January 26, 2013 by J in General

We evangelicals know that you can get right with God ‘directly’, by faith in Jesus. You don’t need the church to mediate salvation. The church is not part of the gospel, and joining a local church, while an important result of becoming a Christian, is not of the essence, not involved in the actual conversion. It’s the fruit, not the thing itself.

QUESTION: If joining a church is not fundamental to becoming a Christian, how can it ever get to be a fundamental part of living as a Christian?  How does church ‘jump the gap’ later on, from non-essential to essential? How can local church membership ever be anything more than an add-on to Christian faith?

  1. Mike Wells says:

    I think the answer would be
    “Your first paragraph is bollocks”

  2. Seumas says:

    I’m with Mike about your first paragraph. Again, here’s my brief answer.

    Trust in Jesus always expresses itself in belonging to the church, but belonging to a church is neither a sufficient cause for salvation, nor is a necessary cause for salvation, it is a necessary consequence of salvation.

    The same is true of most particulars of Christian living. Prayer, Bible reading, good works.

    • Jonathan says:

      Seumas, thanks for your comment.

      ‘Necessity’ is a strong term. In my experience a fair number of Christians do not feel local church membership as a necessity. The necessity doesn’t seem to happen automatically, seems we need to be convinced about it for it to function.

      I think we’d be interested to know what makes you assert it as a necessary consequence, rather than say a desirable consequence, or an optional consequence. Why should people be convinced of this necessity?

      • Seumas says:

        I think a fair number of people don’t feel it’s a necessity because (a) our culture is still highly individualistic, (b) the gospel is often presented and believed in a highly individualistic paradigm. That’s what makes it feel like a case of “Okay, now that you’ve trusted in Jesus, here’s a bunch of things you have to do”. Which, if our gospel presentations run the danger of sounding anti-nomian (they should run that danger!), makes Christian living sound legalistic.

        I would make the case that it is a necessary consequence on the basis of being not only ‘saved from’ but also ‘saved for/into’. While I think the NT lays a real foundation for an individualism before-unknown in its context, it spends considerable time talking about the church as the people of God, a community formed by the new covenant. People might be brought into salvation individually, but the salvation they are brought into is corporate, it’s the body of believers in Christ.
        Giving people a bigger picture of how salvation is corporate makes the ‘necessary consequence’ – not because it’s something people must do, but because its stitched into the very constituency of what salvation involves.

        Sometimes you need short-cut ethics, and I think a case can be made for simply saying that a believer should, extreme circumstances aside, belong to a local congregation. Not to do so is simply disobedience to Christ, in my opinion. Just like believers who argue “I’m saved by faith, not baptism, so I don’t need to get baptised” are mistaken, so too are those who say, “I’m saved by faith, not church, so I don’t need to belong to one”.

      • Jonathan says:

        that’s very helpful, thanks Seumas.

        If I understand you rightly, you’re saying ‘church belonging is not a cause of salvation – it’s a part of salvation, an aspect of the thing itself.’ It’s necessary in the sense of ‘of the essence.’

      • Seumas says:

        Yes, that’s what I’m going for. To be saved is to belong to the church. One cannot truly be saved and not belong to the church, one cannot truly belong to the church and not be saved.

        Regarding the expression of that through regular gathering with other believers, rejecting fellowship with other believers is a kind of cognitive dissonance that is ultimately unsustainable.

      • Jonathan says:

        Ah, Seumas, since you describe regular gathering as the ‘expression’ of belonging to the church, I am now wondering whether we are talking about the same church. I have been meaning to discuss the local church, but I suspect you’re thinking of something more universal.

      • Seumas says:

        Perhaps. I would say there is no universal church that exists apart from embodied churches. ‘Expression’ of Churchness is not optional to churchness.

  3. It’s interesting that around 8 million Australians roughly hold to Protestant convictions – but we see no where near that number in church attendance on Sundays. We’ve sold the “you don’t need to go church to be saved” line so well that people have stopped going altogether.

    Any gospel that has no place for the church is a truncated gospel; it fails to understand God’s plan for the world in making his wisdom known to the powers through the body of Christ. And it fails to appreciate the life of fellowship and mutual self-giving that we are called into – a life that imitates relationship within the godhead.

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