We completed our first membership class for Columbia Presbyterian Church. One hundred and ten people joined earlier this month, covenanting to be disciple-making disciples in a church planting church, submitting to her leadership, pledging to join with one another in unity and fellowship, and carrying each other’s burdens. I couldn’t be more humbled or happy.
There’s a rising sentiment in our culture of a desire to be connected to the universal Church (big ‘C’) without linking into a local church (little ‘c’). The thinking goes something like this: “If I’m a Christian, I’m automatically part of Jesus’ bride the Church, so why bother joining a local fellowship? If Jesus is present where two or three are gathered in his name, can’t I just grab Five Guys with friends and call it church?”
Essentially, this group is after the spiritual reality behind the physical expression. But that’s not how the physically expressed gifts work. That would be like a guy saying he believes wholeheartedly in Baptism; he just doesn’t want to get wet. Or that he’s a huge advocate of the Eucharist, just not lining up for bread and wine. I can imagine thirteen-year-old Ishmael telling Abram he considered himself so spiritually circumcised in his heart, why bother sharpening the flint.
This Platonic quest for spiritual kernels unencumbered by physical husks is unbiblical, dangerous, and weird.
Jesus rose from the dead in the body to reclaim bodies and what we do with bodies. Diving headlong into a local church with time, energy, money, frustration, sweat, misunderstandings, hope – all this done in a time and place is participation in the Church. It’s the only way to participate.
I think that’s the one plausible explanation for Paul risking his neck to plant elder-led local churches in the far corners of the Mediterranean world. Winning converts wasn’t enough. His mission was to see them linked in local bodies, grounded in the Word, and fulfilling the Great Commission together.
If church membership were just the icing on the cake of Christianity, Corinth would have disbanded the moment Paul boarded his ship, Philippi at the first scent of rivalry, and Jerusalem under pressure from Judaizers.
But of course they didn’t. They saw something greater at stake in their midst than themselves. And we do too. We’re excited about taking this journey together as members of a local church.