Why should I belong to a church?

Today there are so many churches. People ask: which is the best church? Which is the true church? To which one should I belong? And: Do I need to belong to a church at all?

Many of us had bad experiences in churches. Many who grew up in a church are no longer satisfied with that church. They experience it as boring. Others experienced problems; there are often conflict between members or with leaders; there are problems of people who seek their own interests in seeking positions of leadership and ignoring others; there are problems about money or procedures.

Many people therefore think it is better not to belong to any church. They move from one church to another and enjoy what they find there. But they do not want to make a commitment to a specific church. To them that is the best way to prevent problems.

Others think it is best not to go to church at all. They say they serve God on their own or with their family. In this way no one can tell them what to do and what not. They say they only obey God and do what the Holy Spirit tells them to do.

But is this right?

In order to know what the right thing to do is, it is necessary to consider the following points:

1. We need to understand what the church is

It is perhaps helpful to firstly say what the church is not:

The church is NOT an organisation. An organisation is something that one may choose to join or not to join. One belongs to an organisation as long as you like and as long as you pay your membership fee. But one does not belong to a church because you choose to or not; paying your fees does not make you a member of the church.

The church is NOT a social club. A social club is something that you join because you want to enjoy what happens there. The church is not like a sports or a senior club that one joins for what you can get there.

The Church does NOT belong to people, to a certain group of people or to a church leader. Often people act as if the church belongs to them, as if they own the church. This is wrong. It belongs to God.

The Bible uses different metaphors to explain what the church is:

The Bible calls the church the body of Christ. The human body has many parts; hands, feet, eyes, ears and a mouth one can see. But the more important parts of the body cannot be seen: the heart, the lungs, the kidneys, the brain, etc. A body can live without some parts like a hand or toe. But no part of the body can live on its own without all the others. A toe needs the heart and lungs and brain. By this picture of the church Paul shows that no one can be a believer and say that he or she belongs to Christ without belonging to the church. One simply cannot survive as a believer without others. It is not a choice to belong to the church. It is a matter of fact. And what is more: the body of Christ, the church can only be healthy if all members play their part, even how small it may seem (1 Corinthians 12:12-31). That the church is called the body of Christ also means it belongs to Christ; he is the head of the body. It is also not good to tear the body of Christ apart – he has only one body.

The Bible calls the church the flock of Christ. A flock of sheep knows that they belong together. If one gets separated from the rest and tries to go his own way, he surely gets lost and will not survive. Believers belong together because we all have the same shepherd (John 10:1-17). Christ is the Good Shepherd, taking care of his flock. He even gave his life for his sheep.

The Bible calls the church the family of Christ. A family is people of the same parents, brothers and sisters. They share the same blood and the same customs. It is only within your family that you can truly be yourself. In times of joy and sorrow we need one another. Like in a family one cannot decide not to be part of the family. We all share the blood of Jesus and the Spirit of God lives in all of us. This binds us together. One who separates him- or herself from his or her family is just not a full person, even if that person may think so. Family simply belongs together (Ephesians 2:19-22) and care for one another.

The Bible calls the church also a light of the world. This means that the church is called to carry the light of the gospel into the darkness of this world. The church does not only exist for itself, but to be a witness in the world, through words, deeds, by setting an example of love and obedience and by worshipping God in all sincerity. (Matthew 5:13-16, Philippians 2:12-16)

The word “church” comes from the Greek word that means “that what belongs to the Lord”. The church is not just a body or a flock or a family: it is of Christ. If one belongs to Christ, one belongs to the Church. If one believes in Christ as Savior, one must be baptized. Baptism is the ceremony to assure us that we belong to Christ. If you are baptized, you belong to the church.

But still the question remains: To which church must one belong? There are so many churches and they are so different denominations.

2. We need to understand that there are different types of churches:

There are Western type Churches: These are all the well known mainline churches like the Catholic, Methodist, Anglican, Presbyterian and many other such churches. These churches have a well structured organisation and the church services usually take a specific fixed form. Also the churches that came from these churches, like the AME, Ethiopian and many other, are like this.

There are spiritual and Pentecostal Churches: These are many different small and large churches, of which some call themselves “Evangelical churches”. The Zionist and Apostolic churches, where lively services and things like prophesy and faith healing is found, belong to this group.

There are churches with their own particular teachings: In some of these churches the Bible does not play such an important role as in those named above. These are some Old and New Apostles and the Jehovah’s Witnesses and others.

Now, which of these is the true church? Is there only one true church? What can help me to decide?

3. We need to look at the teaching of the church:

All Christian churches have one thing in common: They all confess that the Bible is the Word of God. But different churches interpret the Bible very differently. The important thing is not the way in which a church baptizes people or how the Holy Spirit works in a particular church.

Churches that confess the following things about God have been seen as true churches through all the ages. If you do not find these things in the teaching and preaching of a church, you must not join it:

Faith in God the Creator of heaven and earth: We know this God and have a relationship with Him and call Him “Father”, only through Jesus Christ.

Faith in Jesus Christ the Savior: He is God eternal who became a human being just like us, was borne, lived, suffered and died on the cross to pay for our sins and was raised to life again to give us new eternal life. It is only through faith in Him, and without anything that we need to do, that we are reconciled with God.

Faith in the Holy Spirit by whom God lives in us: By Him we are born again and He gives us the power to accept Jesus as Savior. He gives us faith and the will and power to serve God and to overcome sins and Satan in our lives. He leads us in the understanding of the Bible.

Hopefully you will find these truths in almost all churches. If not, then you have to be careful in joining such a church.

4. Here are some practical steps that can help you to find a church to join

Visit some churches in your area: It may be wise to visit each one more than once so you get a good understanding of the teachings of that church and how it operates.

Carefully listen to the preaching: Make sure this church teaches the true message of the Bible about God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit as we pointed out above. If you want to make sure about this you may also speak to the leaders of the churches that you visit.

Note the general spirit in the church services: You must make sure you like the way they conduct their services, whether you like the way that they sing and pray. Will you feel at home with these believers and would you like to be part of this community?

Note the leadership of the church: Look at the style of leadership and at the way the congregation and leaders relate. Are they the type of people that you would be able to work with? Are the leaders only using the church for their own benefit, as if it belongs to them?

Note the willingness of the church to serve God’s Kingdom, to witness to the world, to care for others, especially those in need.

5. A few final notes:

Make a commitment to a particular church. After you visited some churches, pray that God will guide you to choose the church that He wants you to join. Every believer must belong to a particular church and a particular congregation. If you have not yet been baptized, you must ask to be baptized. If you have been baptized before, even as a baby, you need not be baptized again. If, after some time, you may find things in this church that are not what you were looking for or that make you unhappy, you must not just leave. If there are things in your family that do not make you happy, you would not just leave. It is your responsibility to help this congregation to put these things right.

Commit yourself to become an active member of that church. A member is not just a churchgoer. Every member of the body of Christ must be active and is there to serve others. It is therefore wrong to seek your own interests, like to become a leader yourself or try to have things just the way you like. Use every opportunity to grow spiritually. Work with others to serve the members of the church and the community that are in need and to help those who are in trouble and pain. Seek to bring the message of love and salvation wherever you go.

We pray that you will find a church where you will be happy and will be of service to many to the glory of the Lord.

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