Our individual sanctification happens throughout the day – every day, whether we are around Christians or not. However, I am thinking of three reasons why our spiritual growth happens most effectively as we are in relationship with a local group of believers.
Reason #1: Differing personalities in the local body stimulate our sanctification.
As more Christians commit to a local, diverse body of people, our assemblies will be colored by various personality types. As a result, conflict can and will occur in the local church. (Avoiding conflict is a reason is why many “Christian nomads” keep to themselves.) And yet, it is through conflict that the Christian grows in maturity. “Where there is no pressure, there is no diamonds,” someone once said.
God has composed His body with many diverse parts in order for each part to help strengthen the other. Because we are unified by Christ’s love in the local church, this strengthening often happens through encouragement and care for each other. However, there are times when God allows conflict to occur for the strengthening His body. To use a practical analogy, our physicals bodies will become weak if we do not subject them to the discipline of exercise. Exercise, though painful, strengthens our muscles and develops endurance. If we ignore exercising so we can stay comfortable, we will grow increasingly unhealthy.
Likewise, we Christians cannot flee the first sign of interpersonal conflict just so we can be happy. In fact, we will become unhealthy if we always keep to ourselves and deny ourselves the blessing of corporate relationship where conflict can arise. This conflict, when embraced and resolved with humility, will produce Christlikeness. Jesus Himself modeled for us this example of humility when He fully submitted to those who hated Him. As we face our own hardships (with people or with life in general), we can find comfort in knowing that the joy of the end result will far outweigh the pain of the struggle. Again, diamonds are produced when pressure is present:
“…Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God…consider Him…so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.” (Hebrews 12:2-3)
Therefore, neglect not the assembling ourselves together, for it is there that conflict produces Christlikeness.
Reason #2: Believers in the local church gain the shared benefit of the same pulpit ministry.
As members of the local church hear the sermon each week and engage in small group Bible study and fellowship, each member has tremendous opportunity to encourage the other primarily through the Scriptures. In this setting, the Word of God becomes the glue that bonds fellow Christians together.
Again, the makeup of a local church is composed of diverse personalities – those from differing social statuses or having differing maturity levels. These believers then, because they are all impacted by the same Word of God, can rely on the Scriptures to encourage and sharpen one another, not carnal or superficial advice. In this setting, the more mature believer is able to contribute his or her insight from the verses preached during the Sunday sermon and minister to a less mature believer.
The result is deeper relationship between the members, greater mutual excitement over the Word, and a more steadfast walk of faith as they endure life both independently (when the corporate gathering ends) and together during the week.
Reason #3: Believers in the local church are immersed in an environment of mutual care.
Read 1 Corinthians 12:26: “And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.”
Perhaps this is the greatest benefit to our Christian growth in maturity: having relationship with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who help us to endure through both the good and bad times in life. The Christian nomad and the church hopper do not experience this mutual care as fully as the church member. This is because God has designed His Church to be the place (physically and spiritually) where each member can find comfort and strength when they need it most. Sure, the nomad or hopper may find this comfort from a fellow believer independent of the church. More than likely, however, the nomad and hopper will fulfill his or her need for comfort from someone in the world. For the church member, though, it is in the gathering of at least 2 or 3 where Christ is present most fully (Matthew 18:20). Here, the comfort of love and encouragement abounds because each member displays a dependence on the other that is centered on the living Christ.
Consider the time when Peter and John were arrested for preaching Jesus (Acts 4). After being released the court of the Jewish leaders, they immediately returned “to their friends” (v 23), or their local fellowship of believers, and “reported” their experience. Then what happened? The church raised their voices to God and prayed that He would strengthen, embolden, and encourage His “servants” to continue to preach Christ (v 24ff). At the conclusion of their prayer, “the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (v 31).
What a sight! What power! What profit this unity brings! The nomad and the hopper simply cannot find such care, encouragement, spiritual support, and divine power independent of the local church.
So then, let us embrace the local body of Christ. The Day is fast approaching, and we simply cannot risk forsaking the assembling of ourselves together. Christ died so that His body would be unified under Himself, who is the Head (see Ephesians 2:14-22). It is here in this assembly of unity that we become like Jesus, ever growing into His image through the sharpening iron of our fellow brethren.
Can you think of any other reasons why discipleship happens most effectively in the local church?