Paul has some special things to say about the disciples at Thessalonica in his first letter to them. He spoke of their faith, hope and love (1:3), how they were a model to all believers (1:7), and how their faith in God had become known everywhere (1:9). But maybe the most amazing thing is that they did all these things not as part of some multi-national conglomerate or even a national network connected through social media—they impacted the world of their day as a church—a local congregation of disciples. Nothing less and nothing more. Roll that around in your mind a bit.
The church is, quite simply, the community of Christ. It is composed of people who belong to each other because they belong to the Lord. Or to say it another way, because they have given themselves to the Lord, He has given them to each other.
The church is the framework, the dynamic, the structure God has provided us for our growth and development. To go try to go it alone as a follower of Jesus without the church is, in effect, to tell God that we know better than He does.
For anyone who has grown tomatoes, you know that you must either stake them, use a wire basket, or do something to provide them with support. If you don’t, the weight of the tomatoes will cause the plant to topple over. Tomatoes on the ground are easier for animals to get, people to step on and rot to develop in. If you don’t do something to get your tomatoes off the ground—well, you won’t have to worry about picking them at harvest.
Yes, churches have their share of problems. They are, after all, filled with (penitent) sinners. But if there was such a thing as a perfect church—would they let you or me in?
There is only One who was perfect. And He didn’t ignore the hypocrisy of some of the religious leaders of His day (read Matthew 23). Nonetheless, it was “His custom” to be in the synagogue (Luke 4:14). Churches in the New Testament range from healthy to struggling—at no time is any disciple told or given permission to abdicate their responsibility to their brothers and sisters in order to go it alone.
We need the church, and the church needs us. Trying to grow on the ground is not an option.