One doesn’t love Jesus if you don’t care for the Church (despite her sinfulness). It is the same as saying, “I love a husband but I hate his wife.” The Church is the bride of Christ. You may retort, “But, Austin, are you saying to love Jesus that you have to love the Church?” I reply “People who love Jesus, the light of the world (John 8:12), will love the children of light (1 Thess. 5:5; Eph. 5:8). You will love them because Jesus loves them.”
The writer to the Hebrews said, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” The Church meets together regularly for encouragement. The Church worships God in all his splendor (Col. 3:16; Eph. 1:12, 5:16-19; Rev. 5:9-15, 7:9-17), nurtures and matures believers to their full potential in Christ (Col. 1:28, 2:2-3; Eph. 4:12-13), and works both in evangelism and ministries of mercy (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 11:29; 2 Cor. 8:4; 1 John 3:17; Luke 6:35-36). It is a vehicle for God to extend his rule and reign to every corner of Creation (Matt. 12:28; Eph. 3:10-11).
The prominence and preeminence that the pages of the New Testament devote to the Church implies that it is God’s main locus of salvific work for the world. The word “Church” is used in many ways within the New Testament: used of single congregations (Rev. 1:4, 11), used of different congregations throughout a single region (Acts 9:31), used of a single congregation being a part of a larger entity (1 Cor. 1:2), and used of the New Testament believing community (1 Cor. 15:9; Eph. 5:25). The Church is also described in many other metaphorical ways: body (Eph. 1:22,23, 2:16, 4:4; Col. 1:18; 1 Cor. 12:13), bride (Eph. 5:23; Rev. 19:7-9), temple / Building (2 Cor. 6:16-18; Eph. 2:20, 21; 1 Pet. 2:5), priesthood (1 Pet. 2:5,9; Rev. 1:6), flock (John 10:11-17; Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:3), family (Eph. 5:1), pillar (1 Tim. 3:15), and the People of God (1 Pet. 2:9; see Exod. 19:1-6). It is both a visible and invisible reality.
Gene Getz said, “Though true Christianity uniquely involves a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, it is also a corporate experience. Christians cannot grow spiritually as they ought to in isolation from one another.” Another writer, Preston Sprinkles aptly noted the following:
God first dwelt in EDEN. After Adam and Eve sinned, they were banned from the garden and therefore from the full presence of God. God’s presence returned when Israel constructed the TABERNACLE (Exod 25:8; 40:34-38) and it was filled with the glory/presence of God. The glory then dwelt in the TEMPLE (1 Kings 8), but after piles and piles of sin, the glory departed (Ezek 8-11) and didn’t return until JESUS came on the scene. “And the Word become flesh and tabernacle among us” (John 1:14)—a clear connection with the Tabernacle/Temple theme of God’s presence. But Jesus Himself said that a greater manifestation will come when Jesus leaves and sends the Spirit to dwell in……not just individuals, but the CHURCH. The gathering of believers. This is why Paul often refers to the CHURCH as the temple of the living God (1 Cor 3:16-17; 2 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:19-22). Jesus passes the baton on to the corporate gathering of believers, who now house the presence of God. It’s a clear line: Eden, Tabernacle, Temple, Jesus, and then the Church. You want to visit Eden? You want to walk with God (Gen 3:8)? You want to bust through the veil and gaze upon the glory of God in the holy of holies? You want to commune with God in a way that David only longed to have (Ps. 63)? You want to hang out with Jesus? Then go be a part of your local gathering and then—and only then—will you experience the rich, surprising, counter-intuitive, dangerous, powerful presence of God. The presence of God is experienced more fully when you engage the corporate body and not when you isolate yourself from the body.”
That you are commanded to go be with God’s people is implied in the NT by the amount of time the writers spend talking about the following: Church discipline (Matt. 18:15-20; Gal. 6:1; Jas. 5:20; 1 John 5:16-17; 1 Tim. 1:20; 1 Cor. 5:1-13), Church leadership (Acts 14:23, 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5, 7; Phil. 1:1;1 Thess. 5:12,13; Heb. 13:17; 1 Tim. 4:14; Jas. 5:14; 1 Pet. 5:1-2), Church giftings (1 Cor. 12-14; Rom. 12:6-8; Eph. 4), Church mission (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8), and Church sacraments (baptism-Rom. 6:1-12; 1 Cor. 10:1-22; Gal. 3:14-4:11; Col. 2:2-3:11; Acts 22:16 and the Lord’s Supper- Matt. 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-23; 1 Cor. 11:17-32; John 6:22-59). Paul and the rest of the writers knew that pilgrims would be constantly meeting together. The time spent talking about the aforementioned issues would’ve been superfluous had they believed going to church was optional for believers. Granted, there are always situations where one is not able but those are far and few between.
In the end, the New Testament knows of no commitment to Christ without a commitment to his body. There are no willful, lone-ranger Christians. If you currently claim the name of Christ and are not meeting regularly with a local body, I invite you to commit to a local manifestation of God’s bride. Call up a friend or send them a facebook message. I assure you, your presence would be welcomed among God’s people this Wednesday or Sunday.