I’ve been surprised to find out how much we don’t understand the answer to this question.
We are together because the church is the light of the world.
That’s an overly simplified statement, of course, and there’s a lot of similar statements we could make that would be true. But let me explain what this statement means.
We sing “this little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.” However, God doesn’t want to shine a little light. He wants to shine a great light, a city set on a hill that cannot be hidden. In Matthew, we are told to let our good works be seen so that our Father can be glorified. The context of that command is the city set on a hill. It’s our good works–ours together, not yours individually–that causes the world to glorify God.
This is because what God wants to show the world is the unity and love of his people. John 13 tells us that the world will know we are Christ’s disciples is because we love one another, not because we love the people of the world. Yes, we are to do good and be charitable even to those of the world. We are to be like our Father, who causes the sun to shine on the unjust as well as the just. However, the proof to the world that we are disciples is by our ability to get along with one another, something that American Christians, for the most part, are proving they cannot do.
Not only does our love for one another prove we are Christ’s disciples, but it also proves that Christ is sent by God. Jesus says several times in his prayer in John 17 that our unity will cause the world to know that the Father sent him.
It is for this reason that the apostle Paul teaches us not only that we should do good, but that we should do good especially to those who are of the household of faith. That seems a strange verse to those who are trying to shine their own little light by doing good works to the world. However, to those who know that the testimony of God is the love for one another that he has put inside his disciples, it is apparent that good works should be done first to one another. We are indeed the household of faith, the family of God, and family takes care of one another.
It is a great miracle for human beings to get along without dividing. Division, factions, and schisms are works of the flesh, and it is typical of our flesh to divide. However, the salvation of God comes with the love of God being shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Love is the perfecting bond of unity, and so a spiritual people is a united people.
There is a practical application to all of this. Division in the church is a big deal. Thus, we are not free to simply “go to the church of our choice.” We cannot look at our brother, find some small thing we disagree with, and then move on to find someone who agrees with us.
What indeed are we to do? The promise of God is that he will teach his disciples. 1 John tells us that the anointing will lead us into all things, and that leading will be true and not a lie. Ephesians 4 tells us that as the leaders of the church equip the saints to do the work of ministry and to build the body of Christ, then the “speaking the truth in love” that the saints do with one another will lead to a unity of faith that protects us from varying winds of doctrines and from the deception of false teachers.
Together we can learn. Apart, we have no such promises. Indeed, we are told that if we are not exhorted each and every day, we are likely to have hard hearts, deceived by sin (Heb. 3:13).
There is much more to be said about all of this that could never be said in a short blog. However, we need to know the importance of being together. Being together is no guarantee that we are good or right. The Laodiceans were together, but Jesus was fed up to the point of nausea with them. However, if we are going to go forward and grow, it will be together. If you think that going forward means going off on your own and teaching the great insights that you have had on your own, then you are mistaken. You, too, need the daily exhortation of the saints to avoid being hardened and deceived, no matter how much you believe your faithfulness or Bible reading will be what protects you from deception.
I need to add one more thing to all this because I really want you to understand both the importance and the purpose of being together.
Ephesians says some absolutely amazing things about the church. For example, in Eph. 1:23, we are told that the body of Christ is “the fullness of him that fills all in all.” The fullness of God? Dare the Scriptures say such a thing? They do.
Shortly after, Paul begins describing a mystery that has been hidden for ages. In Eph. 3:2-11, he describes this mystery. The short form is given in Colossians one, where Paul tells us that mystery is “Christ in us, the hope of glory.” Ephesians uses more words, but the mystery is the same. Christ has come to live in people, binding Jew and Gentile into one body, which is the church. The church then makes known to “principalities and powers in the heavenlies” what is the manifold wisdom of God.. This, says Paul, is an eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ.
The church is not a mere building that we attend on Sunday or a club we join. The church is the binding together of disciples into one family, caring and taking care for one another, a body for the Son of God to live in so that he might fulfill the eternal purposes of God, testifying both to the world and to powers in heavenly places that his grace is able to unite human beings in love, producing a people for himself, the church, that is zealous for good works.
In future posts we’ll talk about the practicalities of living this out not only in a corrupt and fallen world, but also in an age where the faith and the church are greatly misunderstood and the saints are scattered throughout pseudo-churches.