I love the following excerpt by Owen Strachan about the church. Quoted on www.9marks.org
But what is the local church, then? Well, first and foremost, it’s a group devoted to worshiping the living God according to his inerrant Word, the Bible. It’s an outpost for weary people burdened by sin to meet God and be transformed by him. The church building may not look exciting from the outside, or it may be an aesthetic masterpiece. Whatever the building looks like, though, I can assure you that the local church truly is exciting, because when it’s devoted to God’s Word, it is the body of Christ. It’s a tangible, visible sign that God is real and working and moving in our world.
You could say it this way: the church is created by the gospel, and the church is edified by the gospel. God loves the local church. He made it, after all. It’s his brainstorm. God is super-creative. He’s the ultimate aesthete. He loves beauty and full-orbed, surround-sound faith. He wants all our senses and emotions to be engaged in weekly worship. So we pray, sing, hear the Word read and preached, eat the bread and drink the wine, and share fellowship together.
The Lord wants these blessings for us. We experience them when we join local churches (see 1 Cor. 5 and its discussion of those “outside” and “inside” the Corinthian congregation). What’s called “church membership” is very important in Scripture. Our redeemer wants every born-again Christian to be in fellowship with others so we can build one another up in the faith. He wants us to be baptized as our public declaration that we’ve passed through the waters of judgment and have risen from spiritual death through Christ. He wants us to partake of the Lord’s Supper to remember Jesus’ death on our behalf.
I didn’t grow up in a massive congregation. I grew up in a small church on the coast of Maine. There weren’t many believers around. But I was trained to see the church as an inherently dignified gathering regardless of how many people attended on Sunday. My father was steadfastly committed to the First Baptist Church of East Machias. He went every week to prayer meeting; he and my mother were faithful to the church even through troubled times. They modeled covenantal commitment to their church. I am grateful they did.
It made a mark on me.
Church was a natural part of my youth; without really knowing it, I was formed in the worldview we’re discussing here. I was being trained in the holy rhythms of a Godward life. I heard the preaching; ate the tiny little communion crackers barely visible to the human eye; sang in the Christmas choir. We weren’t a large body, but we were devoted to the Lord.
More important, he was devoted to us.
He is devoted to every church, to every local expression of the global people of Christ, however humble, however popular. So should we be.
Owen Strachan is Assistant Professor of Christian Theology and Church History at Boyce College in Louisville, Kentucky and the Executive Director of the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood.