Do I Have to Join a Congregation? by Asher Intrater
Some people ask: “If I read the Bible and pray, why do I have to join a local church?” Well, to receive forgiveness of sins (salvation), one does not have to join a congregation. However, there are many reasons why one should. Here are a few:
Yeshua’s Intention – right after Simon Kefa’s (Peter) statement of faith, Yeshua responded by saying, “on this rock I will build my kehila (ecclesia, church)” – Matthew 16:18. How can one say he is committed to follow Yeshua, but not cooperate with Yeshua’s intention to build His church?
Spiritual Warfare – in the same passage Yeshua says that the “gates of hell will not prevail against it” –Matthew 16:18. Within a godly community of faith, there should be spiritual authority to protect us from attacks of the devil. If one is not part of a godly faith community, he is needlessly exposed to demonic attacks.
Response to Gospel – In Peter’s first message, he encouraged the people to repent, be immersed in water, and receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). Those who were saved, immediately joined the community of faith (“were added to them” – Acts 2:41 and 47). Their response to the gospel was a deep commitment to the Lord and His community on earth (Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-35).
United Prayer – Peter was arrested and put in prison, but was supernaturally set free by direct angelic intervention (Acts 12:3). One of the reasons for that miracle was “at the time Peter was in jail, the church offered strong prayer for him to God” – Acts 12:5. United prayer is stronger than individual prayer. United prayer happens within the community of faith (Matthew 18:19).
Moral Accountability – As followers of Yeshua, we are to live according to principles of faithfulness and integrity. When we sin, our brothers and sisters are to help us out by counsel and confrontation. This is supposed to happen within the congregation (Matthew 18:15-19). If there is no commitment to a community of faith, there is no framework of relationships to hold one another to moral accountability.
Elders in Every City – Throughout the travels and ministry of Paul (Saul), we see a recurrent pattern: prayer, evangelistic preaching, gathering the new believers into a congregation, appointing elders. “In every church they appointed elders…” – Acts 14:23. In every place and every city, the believers joined a community with leaders having spiritual authority. There is no other pattern in Scripture.
Pauline Epistles – It is ironic that some justify not joining a congregation by quoting verses from the epistles of Paul. Yet most of Paul’s epistles – Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians – were addressed to local churches. We are to read the epistles as members of a local congregation.
Gifts of the Spirit – Others refer to their being led personally and independently by the Holy Spirit. Certainly the Holy Spirit leads each of us individually. However the primary explanation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is found in I Corinthians 12-14. There we find that ALL of the gifts are ALWAYS for strengthening a local congregation of faith (I Corinthians 12:4, 14, 26, 14:4, 5, 12, 26).
Yeshua’s Epistles – Not only did Paul write letters to local congregations, so did Yeshua! In Revelation 2-3, we find Yeshua’s epistles to 7 different churches. It was obviously His expectation that ALL of His followers would be members of local congregations.
Universal Ecclesia – A local congregation is a cell or body part of the greater Body of Messiah. In that way, we participate in Yeshua’s headship (Ephesians 1:22), displaying the wisdom of God (Ephesians 3:10), receiving the glory of God (Ephesians 3:21), revealing the mystery of the “bride” (Ephesians 5:25), and maintaining the pillar of truth in the world (I Timothy 3:15).
A local church congregation may meet in its own building, or in someone’s home, or secretly in the middle of a forest! But the basic principles don’t change. May we all find a good “family home” as part of a local community of faith in Yeshua!