“It really doesn’t matter whether I go to church. I have Christian friends, Bible classes, and chapels at Biola; why do I need a church?”
I’ve heard some version of this statement at least three times during the past week. Although many Biola students truly understand the importance of the local church and are actively involved in their churches, some of our students still don’t get it. They think that they already have plenty of access to good Bible teaching, fellowship, worship services, and opportunities to go on short-term missions trips. So what’s the big deal about the local church?
This week I have been preparing a talk for a New Testament survey class I’m teaching at my local church where I serve as an “overseer” (biblical code word for “elder”). This coming Sunday I’ll be walking people through 1 & 2 Corinthians and focusing on marks of Christian community. And interestingly enough, a quick look at this list will answer the question: “Why does a Christian college student need to be part of a local church?” Some of the items on the list could be used to describe Biola; some of them you cannot. Here are ten marks of Christian community I’ve culled from the Corinthians letters.
- Adherence to and proclamation of the Gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-5; 1 Corinthians 1-2)
- Baptism & the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 1:13-15; cf. Acts 18:81; Corinthians 11:17-34)
- Teaching & mentoring (1 Corinthians 3)
- Church discipline & restoration (1 Corinthians 5; 2 Corinthians 2:5-11)
- The church as family (marriage & singleness) (1 Corinthians 7)
- Body life & love (1 Corinthians 12-13)
- Corporate worship (1 Corinthians 14)
- Shared suffering (2 Corinthians 1, 4, 6, 7)
- Generosity & service (2 Corinthians 8-9)
- God-appointed leadership (2 Corinthians 10-13)
So here is the problem: Christian colleges and universities, as important as they are, don’t address all of the issues on this list—nor are they trying to. Biola students (I’m speaking to you now), here are some of the things you are missing when you aren’t committed to a local church.
- If you lead someone to Christ while a student at Biola, where are you going to take them to grow? To Biola? (Are you going to pay their tuition?) No, they need a local church.
- What if you start developing a hardened heart toward the Lord because of unconfessed sin? You need a church to confront you, discipline you if necessary, and restore you when you repent. You need the leadership of a local church to do this for you.
- Though there are occasional exceptions to the pattern, most baptisms take place in the context of a church, and most opportunities for sharing the Lord’s Supper are in the context of a church. You need to be regularly sharing the ordinances that Christ established in the community he appointed, that is, in the church.
- Body life will only occur on a limited level in a place like Biola. Unless you are regularly interacting with older people and children, your Christian development will be stunted. You will not be able to break out of the assumptions shared by people of your same age and stage in life; and you need to learn how to see beyond these presuppositions more than you realize. Being an integral part of a Bible-believing church will help you to see beyond your blind spots.
- Though a Biola student can be individually generous and involved in service, he or she cannot be part of the systematic member-care that takes place in churches. Churches collect benevolence funds to help people who are struggling, host cold-weather shelters for people on the streets, visit older members who are bed-ridden. This all takes place on quite a different level from a Biola student collecting money from his friends to help someone he knows who is in need (as God-honoring as that is).
- Short-term missions—though valuable in many ways—will not reach the remaining unreached peoples of the world. We need long-term cross-cultural missionaries who are sent and supported by their local churches to do that. Everyone needs to be part of reaching the least-reached peoples of the world; this means that everyone needs to be involved at some level with the outreach ministry of their local church.
Should Biola students go to church? No. They shouldn’t go to church—not if it means simply finding another sermon to sit through every week. What they really need is to become active and committed members of a local church where they serve the community, where they place themselves in submission to God-appointed leadership, where they interact with older and younger members, and where they prepare for the day when they will no longer be students at Biola University.