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Thursday, January 17, 2013 | Comments (11)

by John MacArthur

The genuine spiritual unity of saved souls is evident throughout the New Testament. And back then, just as today, that unity was manifest in the local gathering of believers.

Christians inherently bond together in common, shared spiritual life with those of like precious faith. Through the new birth of salvation, we have entered into a fellowship with other believers—a fellowship that’s so wonderful, unique, and precious that Paul sternly warned the Corinthians to make sure there were no divisions among them that could threaten it (1 Corinthians 1:9-10).

The word we translate as fellowship—koinonia—essentially means partnership. Paul describes that partnership in Galatians 2:9: “And recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship.” He and Barnabas were affirmed and welcomed into common participation in eternal life, as it is manifest through the visible life of the church.

That’s exactly what happens in church membership—the individual believer is publically identified with the local body of believers and enters into an ongoing spiritual partnership with that congregation. It’s a public affirmation of our unity in Christ, our care for each other, and our shared desire to grow together in the love and knowledge of God’s Word.

That’s why the modern trend of believers floating freely between congregations and never firmly planting in one place is a foreign concept to Scripture. What we have today is a model built on a consumer mentality—people go to church wherever their felt needs are addressed, and unplug and move on when those needs change or are better met somewhere else. That pattern is completely contrary to the one we find in God’s Word.

In fact, it’s expressly forbidden by Scripture. Hebrews 10:23-25 is unequivocal when it comes to the necessity of fellowship.

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

How can the people of God “stimulate one another to love and good deeds” if they aren’t regularly meeting together? It can’t happen. Forsaking the fellowship of other believers cuts you off from a key, God-ordained source of biblical instruction, refining accountability, and spiritual growth (cf. Proverbs 27:17).

And the need for fellowship is even greater as we draw nearer to the return of Christ. The shepherdless flock won’t thrive; it’ll scatter. And the rogue sheep is easy prey for wolves. Faithful fellowship helps insulate you from the influences of a world that’s sprinting to hell. Why wouldn’t a Christian take advantage of that?

Instead, too many believers today approach church like a duty or a task—one that’s quickly pushed aside and forgotten as soon as it’s been accomplished.

I can’t understand that attitude. I want to be with the people of God every opportunity I get. I want to share together in our common love for the Lord and His truth. I want to build and deepen friendships, bear each other’s burdens, and extend comfort and encouragement to those who need it. I want to come together with a collective choir of believers to sing praises to the Lord. I want to pray and worship with people who love God’s Word, and I want to see firsthand what His Word is accomplishing in their lives.

All of that is meant to happen in the church, not in spite of it.


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#1  Posted by Franklin Eckenroad  |  Thursday, January 17, 2013 at 4:48 AM

What John is saying is the ideal but not what we find out here in many parts of the US. We are working towards this. We would all like to be in a fully functioning church but this is just not the case. The thing that disturbs me is that John knows this but seemingly at times makes no allowance for the situation. I remember at least one sermon where he has said that most churches are the First Church of the Tares with a few weak stalks scattered in. Amen and Amen. But a little more sensitivity to those of us who are suffering because we can't find a church that is even headed in the right direction would be greatly appreciated.

#2  Posted by Mae Ella Jones  |  Thursday, January 17, 2013 at 7:28 AM

Right now I am so frustrated! Because my husband and I have not been directed to a Bible teaching, obedient church. The ones that we have joined have been apostate. I receive what Pastor John is saying and I know that it is scriptural, so it causes me sadness. We will continue to pray.

#3  Posted by Nathan Murrell  |  Thursday, January 17, 2013 at 12:28 PM

First of all let me say thank you thank you thank you to pastor John for these posts. As a pastor it is so disturbing that people just float about from church to church to meet their consumer needs. I do have a question as I have watched the responses to these posts. It seems that people from all over the country can't find a solid Bible teaching church. Not a perfect, every duck is in a row church. But a Jesus worshipping, Bible teaching fellowship. Where is everyone living and what exactly is keeping you from the churches? What (in your view) is making every church in your town or region apostate? That sounds like a very weighty accusation to be making, it sure seems to me that it needs to be backed up. I am concerned that many are not finding exactly what they want in the format they want. Not unbiblical issues just preferential issues. I find it hard to believe that across our nation there are such a great number of people churchless because "every church is apostate". I also find it hard to believe that so many pastors are apostate. Yes I know many are but lets define that word please. Maybe you could help us out pastor John. I know you are a fan of the local church and I would love to hear what your guidelines are for what to look for in a church. I know you have taught this before (I have listened to it) but it might be helpful for those reading these posts. Please help me understand....

#4  Posted by Brad Kennedy  |  Thursday, January 17, 2013 at 3:57 PM

I have also heard Pastor John say that if you can't find a local church that exalts Christ and upholds the truth of Scripture, start one! Amen?

#5  Posted by Kirk Doward  |  Thursday, January 17, 2013 at 5:33 PM

It's so hard when the pastor fills up his sermons with downloaded videos and other such nonsense. We had to leave that church. There are next to none in our rural neighbourhood. We are devastated that we can't find a good church. Praying for new fellowship.

#6  Posted by Belinda Colyer  |  Friday, January 18, 2013 at 2:31 AM

I am a pastors wife and I agree with Nathan. We are a small congregation of around 100 people. My husband is pastor in the mold of John. I read the article on what should you look for in a church and why you should leave. My experience is that most folks want the perfect church - not so much in terms of sound faithful teaching and leadership - but rather in facilities and programmes. The reasons we have been given for folks leaving us : Your sunday school is to small. You dont have a youth church, your music is to conservative. The sermons are to long (40min). You cant expect me to live like the bible times (i.e - sexual purity). We dont believe anyone should judge someone else (in response to church discipline). There are to many black people in your church (we are racially mixed). I dont want to keep hearing about sin and hell. We want more postive messages. You need more technology in the service. You make non christians feel uncomfortable. Now of course I know that those are silly reasons. What many congragation memebers dont realise, is how much we love them and how deeply it hurts when they leave. And when they leave for reasons such as this - it is not only hurtful but also frustrating. By God's grace - we have never had anyone leave for any of the reasons John gave.

#7  Posted by Nathan Murrell  |  Friday, January 18, 2013 at 7:28 AM

Kirk thanks for what you shared!! I am hoping that more guys will remember that rural areas need solid churches too!!

#8  Posted by Jun Ang  |  Friday, January 18, 2013 at 8:42 AM

Nathan, you're right, it's not the shortage of biblical churches. I think it's because most of us Christians are looking for big churches that are biblical. But the truth is there are far more biblical churches that are small.

#9  Posted by Rose Michels  |  Friday, January 18, 2013 at 9:45 AM

My heart breaks for those that have replied that they just can't find spiritually sound churches where they live. It is so true--it takes time to find one. Not everyone has access to a church sound in doctrine (like Grace Community). What the previous commenter posted about all the glitzy type of stuff that people are looking for is also true ... and very sad indeed. Right also is the comment 'there is no perfect church'. Thank you, Brother John, for a great post. My prayer is that everyone searching, by God's grace, will be directed to a place where they can grow and serve.

#10  Posted by Roni Menefee  |  Friday, January 18, 2013 at 12:49 PM

Though I respect Nathan's and others comments, why is all the responsibility for a church's state of 'musical chairs membership' or lack of Biblically grounded churches laid upon prospective members? Granted, there is this cult of personality mindset that a lot of people have these days... but when they do leave for issues that have more to do with their resistance to God's Word than anything, guess who's just around the corner waiting with open arms? Another so called 'Bible-believing" or "Baptist" church or even a non-denom church - Pastor (not to mention Co-Pastorettes, ie. the Pastor's wife whic is completely unscriptural IMO) waiting with arms wide open to tell all these new members whatever it is they want to hear.

It seems to me the blame goes to both so-called members as well as so-called Pastor's, I mean we are talking about spiritual babes here... how can we hold people new to Christ at a higher standard than those who profess to be an ordained minister?

But therein is the whole problem IMO - the professing church, will be the professing church - markedly different than the real church. Unfortunately, depending on where you live - specifically (and ironically) in densely populated areas, you're selection for a church that is truly, spiritually grounded can be quite limited. Pastors of churches that do tow the line can find a lot of resistance for simply being Biblical.

Of course this doesn't excuse someone from continuing to look, but it's not just a serious, unsubstantiated charge that these churches can be few and far between, sometimes it's actually the situation on the ground.

I believe prayer is the only resource to this problem, myself.

#11  Posted by Tom Harmon  |  Saturday, January 19, 2013 at 6:44 AM

I think John is writing this to the "if the shoe fits wear it crowd". I have children who have "professed" faith, brought up in good, sound doctrinally churches, but are "neglecting" their opportunity to serve in the local church. With eternity"s values in view, is where John is coming from. There are many,many,professed believers, and real believers, who are close enough to good churches, but for whatever reason (God knows), they don't follow through as John exhorts here. My wife and I drive a half an hour, we hate to miss a service..because our Lord Jesus is lifted up, and fellow believers are there!