The short answer is no.
Blogging isn’t conducive to short answers, however, and perhaps a longer answer would be more helpful than simply quoting Hebrews 10:25 as a definitive proof text. While that verse certainly carries all the authority necessary to teach that Christians need to meet regularly with their brothers and sisters in the Lord, looking at other passages can help us develop a fuller understanding of why we need to devote ourselves to a local body of believers.
In the interest of full disclosure, let me admit that John and I can’t attend our church during the winter months due to health concerns. And this past Sunday, the RIDE got us there late and picked us up early, completely depriving us of fellowship opportunities. But (and mark this point) we maintain contact with various people in the congregation, keeping accountable to the pastors and elders. We continue serving the church as best we can while we’re providentially hindered (to borrow a phrase from Michelle Lesley) from making personal appearances and/or encouraging our church family.
Resisting the temptation to get on my soapbox about being appalled that young, able-bodied evangelicals deliberately choose not to join churches, let me talk about Scriptures that demonstrate the necessity of church membership. Throughout his epistles, the apostle Paul writes with the assumption that the believers in each region met together regularly. Look at just a few of many passages with me.
4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.~~Romans 12:4-5 (ESV)
We belong to each other, the apostle insists. As we read on in the chapter, we discover that God gives each of us spiritual gifts to better serve each other (1 Corinthians 12 expands on this point).
We can’t use our spiritual gifts if we “do church” by listening to hymns on iTunes and watching sermons by Join MacArthur on YouTube. Sure, we’ll get top-notch teaching, but we won’t have any way to serve within a church family. We miss opportunities to sacrificially serve our brothers and sisters by using the gifts that the Holy Spirit has given us. In other words, we waste His resources. Consequently, refusing to join a church exposes our selfishness.
Church membership also enables us to grow in Christian maturity.
11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. ~~Ephesians 4:11-16 (ESV)
God arranges His churches so that our leaders can equip us against deception.Through faithful preaching and teaching, church leaders give us solid doctrine that strengthens us against all the popular evangelical fads and celebrity teachers that distract us from the truth. We need each other to keep from falling prey to falsehood.
As a result, we grow together, developing Christ’s nature. It’s as as we have those difficult conversations and love those undesirable people that we receive correction and develop unselfish habits. Serving alongside people whom we wouldn’t ordinarily choose as friends allows us to demonstrate the love of Christ to a world that watches us.
Yes, churches hurt us. And yes, churches that rightly handle the Word of God are few and far between. Both of those problems keep Christians from plugging into churches, but neither provide Biblical excuses for doing so. I hope to address both concerns in future posts.
For now, however, let me challenge the idea that church membership is optional. Even though I only managed to show you two passages on the subject today, I pray that the Holy Spirit will speak through them to convince you of your need to serve Him through a local church. Believe me, you need to commit to a church so that you can use your spiritual gifts for Him.