Many Christians question whether being part of a local church is a must for them. They say they have good Christian friends around them and that is enough for them. At first, it sounds plausible, as many Christian activities can happen in such settings. But a gathering of Christians and a local church is fundamentally different in three important ways: The preaching of God’s Word, the sacraments, and headship.
First, what doesn’t happen among Christian friends is preaching of God’s Word. Talking “about” the Bible and Bible being preached “to” you are a different thing. A healthy discussion about the Bible is beneficial, but is not a replacement of preaching. But what if the Christian gathering has a speaker who also preaches the Word regularly?
The second difference is that a local church administers the sacraments of baptism and communion (Lord’s supper). Both were instructed directly by Jesus. Baptism has the meaning of inclusion in the body of Christ (Rom 6:3-5) and the Communion was directly instructed to apostles who became church planters. (Mat 26:26) But what if these can be practiced by someone in the gathering? (a friend happened to be a pastor, or the gathering is led by a pastor who can administer these two)
The last difference is a headship. There is clear implication of church membership as part of being a Christian (Eph 5:30), and belonging to the body allows accountability and corporate discipline to happen, which is a big part of discipleship. Apostle Paul makes “submission” as the most Christ-like attitude, as that is what Jesus himself did. (Phil 2:5-11) Christians need to be under spiritual leaders not only for protection but for their growth. Unlike a gathering of Christians, a local church has leadership made up of pastors and leaders. (Eph 4:11-12) Their job is to keep watch over their members souls, and they are ultimately accountable for members to God (Heb 13:17). Apostle Paul also instructs the church to discipline those in the church who continue to live in sin, so they can turn from their ways through loving but firm corrections. Again, these don’t happen in a friendship or gathering of Christians.
As I often say, Church is not man’s idea, but Jesus’ idea. Belonging to a local church is visible evidence whether you are obeying Christ or not as a Christian.