Is a church important?

Dear BPCWAians, Over the last 2 weeks, we have been writing about praying for churches. We are all familiar with the word “church”, but what does it really mean to us personally and our family? As long as we are saved, is it important to be in a church today, a part of a visible congregation of worshippers? Many of us know about the stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We are familiar with the children of Israel. We are familiar with how God led them out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and finally into a promised land. We know that they became a nation. To many of us, we just know of them as a “special” nation. Almost the whole of the Old Testament documents and reminds us of what God had done for this people. Then, in the New Testament, the focus seemsto change. We see in the book of Acts of the Apostles the prolific establishment of NT churches while Israel seems to be no more in focus. Instead, the epistles in the New Testament are addressed to churches.

Are churches part of God’s plan? To answer this question, we must first understand what happened to Israel. Israel was God’s chosen people. God told the Jews that “if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.” (Ex 19:5-6). They were to worship Him alone as their God. How they lived was to be a special witness to all the earth. And, as their Lord, He would have a special care over them. Israel received God’s Word, not other nations. They were to reflect God’s character as a people by their obedience to His Word. And they were to bring the Truth to the world. But over time, Israel only wanted to be “special people” who received blessings. They neglected their obligations to God, and forgot that God established them so that they would be a nation that would point men to the God whom they served. How Israel lived and functioned was supposed to reflect who God is and point man to repentance. By their lives, they must represent the Holy God and loving God that would one day send a Saviour to save man from their sins. Refusing such a role, they were removed as His witness and kicked out of the Promised Land. Moreover, when God’s Promised Messiah, Jesus Christ, came, they rejected Him and crucified Him instead. They did not treasure their God given privilege. The Jews not only ignored their purpose on earth, but also rejected their King.

Temporarily setting Israel aside as God’s national witness to the world, God began to establish individual lights around the known world. God did not change His purpose, but the instruments He chose to use changed for now. Where Israel had failed as a nation to be “a kingdom of priests”, churches now continue, to be “… lively stones, … a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:5)

Why is the church important? When we understand God’s plan, then we must realise the importance of a church. We must not fail as Israel did. Today, some Christians don’t see the importance of a church. The thinking is “as long as we are saved, we go our own jolly way”. We do not see the need to be part of a church because I can pray and read the Bible and even worship by myself at home. To many, faith is totally individualistic and self serving in purpose. But the Christian must view the church from God’s plan and purpose. God said to Israel that He made them His people and He will be their God (Ex 6:7). But when Israel ignored their privilege, with everyone living for themselves, and doing what was right in their own eyes, then God says to the Gentiles, “I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved.” (Rom 9:25) Israel, as a nation, represented a collective group of God’s people. The church as a local assembly of believers represents a collective group of God’s people. To those that that say that a church is not important, do they read in the Bible that God intends it to be a churchless Christianity today? The answer to this is a resounding “no”.

In God’s plan for now, the church is the instrument to which He entrusts the witness and the teaching of the Word of God (1 Cor 12:28). It is through the instrumentality of the church that saints get sanctified (Eph 4:11). Moreover, the church is important to you, His child, as it is the place in which you must gather with other Blood bought siblings. Why? Because the church is God’s gift to His children for their spiritual safety and growth. Summarised in the Westminster Confession of Faith 25.3, it accurately explains that God “has given [to the visible church] the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world: and does, by His own presence and Spirit, according to His promise, make them effectual thereunto.” We cannot separate the visible local church from the practice of our Christian faith. What God gave to the church are essential and fundamental for making us an effective witness and for our edification. When these are absent in our lives due to our neglect of the assembling of ourselves, our Christian walk will falter, and God’s testimony will be affected.

What does this mean to us at BPCWA? The local church is God’s provision for the believers to be equipped and to fulfil His purposes. It is hence an important part of the individual believer’s life and for their families alike. God uses it to feed His sheep and to shine forth as His Light. Israel failed because they only wanted to enjoy the land but not live lives that made them different from the world as a people. The priests failed to teach, the people had no desire to obey God. The Temple life was soon a farce. It was a downward cycle. Have you and your family been treating the church as an appendix, and the pursuits of the world and our personal life as the central focus instead? When Israel ignored God’s warning, God removed the light from them. We must be part of God’s local church. Be diligently present when the Word is taught so that you will grow spiritually. Be actively serving together for the cause of Christ. Be engaged in loving fellowship with Christians at church.

We must strive with all our might, and watch in prayer, that BPCWA will not fail. BPCWA is not a perfect church. There is no a “perfect church” today, and there never can be before Christ comes. But as long as God continues to keep the way open for us to be a faithful testimony for Him here, we must earnestly strive towards fulfilling His purpose for the church. And we must do it together. We must not distance ourselves from church. Instead, let us learn to love His church, let us learn to pray for His church, let us learn to care for one another in His church. Let us be an integral part of the church because it is God’s provision for us to fulfil His purposes on earth.

This is why, as long as God has put BPCWA here and put you in this church, and because church matters, then

For her my tears shall fall; for her my prayers ascend;

to her my cares and toils be given, till toils and cares shall end.

Beyond my highest joy

I prize her heavenly ways:

her sweet communion, solemn vows ,her hymns of love and praise

Yours in our Lord’s service