How Important Is A Christian Community?

One does not need to find a community of perfect disciples of Jesus to enjoy Christian fellowship. One can meet with a small group in a small “house church” similar to many in the first century, but one can also find wholesome fellowship among a wide variety of denominations and traditions. What makes someone a Christian, whether within or outside an organized denomination, is being in a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and one can find Christian fellowship where even “two or three” are gathered in Jesus’ name. – Matt 18:20

But even within the context of a religion which does not closely follow the apostolic pattern, one can also find meaningful fellowship. I have presented evidence herein that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not follow the example of early Christians, even in characteristics they point to as identifying them as the “right” religion. But when I was a member of that organization, I saw what I believed to be evidence that I was a true Christian and a member of the right religion. I sincerely wanted to please God, and he heard and answered my prayers to open the Scriptures to me so I could know him better. I believe he has guided me throughout my entire life course, including the years when I was deeply involved in the Watchtower organization.

Members of many churches today also fail to imitate early Christians in many particulars. But sincere members of most denominations see themselves as Christians. If they believe or practice things which appear to be in conflict with the Scriptures, perhaps they are simply misled as I was. In time, God may guide them into a more accurate knowledge of his will and they will walk in a way that is more pleasing to him. Perhaps, due to our having access to them, we will be used by God to help them do that. If Jesus came to earth and lived among sinful humans in order to save them, would he disapprove of us helping those in need who happen to be in churches?

Don’t let the behavior or teachings of oppressive religious leaders from your past paralyze you or make you unfruitful. If you have been freed from an oppressive religion, you are uniquely qualified to help others who may have had a similar experience and are wounded spiritually as a result. They are in need of tender care and understanding which you may be able to render.

Jesus’ parables, including the one about wheat and weeds, suggest that most communities of believers will include both true disciples and those who only practice the externals of Christianity. To the Corinthians, Paul wrote: “You are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Cor 12:27) That congregation included true Christian believers, but it had many problems, including divisions and quarrels (1 Cor 1:10, 11), immaturity (3:1-3), immorality (5:1, 2), legal disputes (6:1- 6) irreverence (11:20-22), misused spiritual gifts (14:20-23) and even doubts about the resurrection (15:2-19)! Why should we think that today’s churches, with all their problems, cannot also contain genuine members of Christ’s body?

God’s will for Christians, as stated specifically in Scripture, includes being sanctified (1 Thess 4:3), renewed in Christ’s image (Rom 12:2), thankful (1 Thess 5:18), doing good to all (Heb 13:21), enduring evil (1 Pet 3:17) and learning to trust in God (1 Pet 4:19). Virtually no community of Christians will complain about such behavior. Most will welcome you with open arms! Jesus said that it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). Most any community of believers will provide you with virtually unlimited opportunities to learn to give joyfully, unselfishly and generously.

If you have decided to obey Jesus and biblical Christianity, and you want to do so in fellowship with others who want to do the same, you will be accepted in just about any community of believers which claims to be Christian, regardless of style or tradition. In short, it is important to have regular fellowship with other believers, and if you choose to seek for them in an organized Christian community, you can expect God to bless your efforts to find them. If a particular religious association or denomination is so narrow they refuse to tolerate someone who will not accept all their teachings or conform to all their expectations, you may decide to find associates elsewhere. On the other hand, if you choose to stay and associate with people who differ in viewpoint from you, that does not mean you approve of their unscriptural views or behavior. God may have sent you there to help some of them see the error of their ways.

Jesus promised to be with his disciples until his return at the end of the age or system of things (Matt 18:20). The development of multiple religious traditions and denominations has not changed that promise. From the founding day of the Christian congregation on that Pentecost nearly two millennia ago, Christians have gathered together in imperfect communities. Yet Paul’s words, “in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others” (Rom 12:5) make it clear that regular interaction with other believers is very important.

As a youth, I believed that not only did one have to be associated with an organization to be saved, I thought that there was only one organization in the entire world through which salvation was available. Several years ago, after I changed those views, I wrote an essay entitled Does God Work Through An Organization? I presented biblical evidence that God has never selected one organization to be his official channel of communication with humans. I argued that God has no relationships with organizations, only with people. Does this essay contradict the views I presented then? Have I changed my mind on this issue? Not in the least. I still believe that each individual is accountable to God independently of any organizations with which he or she may be connected.

Organizations, whether religious, charitable, commercial or governmental, are only a way for humans to accomplish things. They are not wrong in themselves. Organizations have provided ways for people to pool efforts and channel funds which in many cases have produced results which have ultimately resulted in God’s will being done, even if imperfectly so. The poor have been helped, the sick cared for, the naked clothed, the hungry fed. There have been and there always will be evil, corruption and improper motives and actions connected with any organized group of imperfect humans. But that does not mean that a true Christian cannot function effectively within them. We need not fear or avoid organizations or their members. Not only is that impossible, it does not reflect the attitudes and actions of Jesus or his first-century disciples.

There is no command from God in the Hebrew Scriptures to form or use synagogues. From that perspective, they were of human origin. But the activities done there were in harmony with commands in the Torah for God’s people to gather together, and the activities there were in harmony with His will. They provided a wonderful place for Jesus and the apostles to turn sincere Jews to God.

The result of my decision to seek out Christian associates in an organized setting has been a great blessing to me. I have come to know many wonderful men and women of faith within many denominations who believe in Jesus and follow Him as Lord. May God bless your efforts to find other believers, and may you experience the truest love, found only within the body of Christ!

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Thomas W. Cabeen. (Excerpt from the article Where is the Body of Christ?)