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SCRIPTURE CANNOT BE OBEYED WITHOUT A VITAL RELATIONSHIP WITH A LOCAL CHURCH
by Philip Owen

      God does not save nations. He does not save groups of any kind, not even families. He saves individuals, person-by-person, one at a time. The new birth is as individual and personal as natural birth—actually even more so because sometimes natural mothers experience a multiple birth. However, although the initial moment of salvation always includes God and just one person, a believer is born into the family of God and is expected to fellowship with siblings in the faith. The local Bible-teaching church is the “home” in which the child of God grows up; it is the place where he is nourished, protected, and cared for, and the place where he is expected to serve.

      It may surprise some to learn that the phrase “one another” recurs 315 times in the epistles, underscoring the truth that the New Testament norm for a believer is a “one-another” life, one that is to be lived around and for others. With the exception of persecutions, such as Paul’s imprisonments or John’s exile to Patmos, the New Testament knows nothing of believers living apart from faithful attendance at a local church and service in and through the same.

      The list of “one-another” commands provides an incontrovertible argument for uniting with a sound local church. Some of the commands are profound and all encompassing, like “love one another” (Rom. 13:8; I Thess. 4:9; I Pet. 1:22; I John 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11, 12; II John 5). Some are remarkably mundane and seemingly simple, such as “greet one another” (Rom. 16:16; I Cor. 16:20). Do we really need to be commanded to do such a basic, ordinary thing? Apparently so. And among other things, the Lord is reminding us that there are no little things where the relationship of His sons and daughters are concerned. The command also reminds us that God is far more interested in and concerned with relationships within the local church than are we believers.

      Some of the commands address our attitude, for example: show tolerance (Eph. 4:2); be humble (Phil. 2:3; I Pet. 5:5); be subject (Eph. 5:21)—all to one another. Some commands are negative: do not judge one another (Rom. 14:13), do not bite and devour one another (Gal. 5:15), do not challenge or envy one another (Gal. 5:26), do not lie to one another (Col. 3:9), and do not speak against one another (Jam. 4:11). Other commands demand real exertion, to borrow from Winston Churchill, “blood, toil, tears and sweat.” In that category are commands to admonish one another (Rom. 15:14), to teach one another (Col. 3:16), to comfort one another (I Thess. 4:18), to build up one another (I Thess. 5:11), and to serve one another (I Pet. 4:10).

      Of course, many other commands contain implicit “one anothers.” Note these examples. “Admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone” (I Thess. 5:14b). “Do not grow weary of doing good” (II Thess. 3:13b). Teach the rich “to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share” (I Tim. 6:18b). “Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth” (I John 3:18).

      Any unbiased reading of the New Testament will leave the believer with the unequivocal realization that the life God has ordained for those He has redeemed must be one integrated with the lives of other believers in a local church; it must be immersed in serving other saints—and being served. A life divorced from a vital relationship with other believers is a concept alien to Scripture. We must throw out all the commands mentioned here, and many others if we reject, or even neglect, the necessity of playing a vital role in the body of Christ through a local church. To think that God can be pleased with someone who professes salvation but lives in relative independence of the local church is to deny the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. It is impossible to obey God, much less to honor Him when we ignore what the Word of God reveals to be the normative experience for the believer. To view the privileges and obligations of fellowship in the local church as a thing of small consequence truly dishonors the saving work of God in our lives. And failure to obey these many commands suggests a careless or casual attitude toward sin—if not a sin of conscious, overt rebellion.

     

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