The COVID-19 shutdowns have created a renewed interest in virtual church services. What was once a temporary solution in the early days of the quarantine has become the preferred method for many. We believe that trend poses a danger to the church and to her members, and that this series, first published in November of 2016, is a timely and instructive response. –ed.
I’ve experienced Grace to You from both sides of the speaker (or screen). Before representing the ministry as an employee, I benefited from Grace to You’s radio and Internet ministry for almost a decade. I clearly remember living in a spiritual wasteland and discovering John MacArthur’s sermon archive. It was like drinking from a fire hydrant.
And I know I’m not alone. We hear testimonies like mine every day. It’s encouraging to know that Grace to You effectively ministers to people all over the world, and that John MacArthur’s verse-by-verse teaching of God’s Word has had a profound impact in so many lives.
The testimonies we receive are also a sobering reminder of the spiritual consequences of the work we do. All of the staff at Grace to You take that seriously. We know we are accountable to the Lord as we serve a global audience, delivering spiritual food to hungry souls.
But we also know our limitations. Grace to You is not a local church, nor can we function in its place. We can’t offer the face-to-face fellowship you’ll find in a church. We can’t provide pastoral care, counseling, or visitations. And we can’t perform church discipline on those who are straying from the faith. Our ministry is meant to be a supplement to the local church—not a substitute for it.
That’s why we are alarmed every time we hear someone declare that Grace to You is their local church—with John MacArthur as their downloadable cyber-pastor.
Most of the people who replace their local church with Grace to You do so reluctantly. They see it as the last option in a seemingly futile quest for a sound biblical congregation. And their grievance has plenty of merit—I know that first-hand.
For some, they had to vote with their feet when their once-sound church slid into apostasy. Others simply become aware—through the sanctifying work of the Spirit—that they’ve been taking in a steady stream of heresy, and have to remove themselves from its influence. There are some who come to saving faith through a parachurch ministry like ours but struggle to find a local body of believers where the gospel they’ve believed is clearly proclaimed. And then there are others, like myself, who have had to relocate, only to find there are no churches preaching the gospel nearby.
We are aware of how difficult it can be to find a solid church, and we really do sympathize. But that’s no excuse for substituting ministries like Grace to You for the local church. Nor does it mean that you should give up on finding and joining a congregation in your area.
Why We Need a Good Church
Spiritual lone rangers are nothing new. The author of Hebrews warned against that very thing: Hebrews 10:25 forbids “forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some.” Even in the earliest days of the church, people had a faltering commitment to the Body of Christ. As John MacArthur explains:
The writer is telling them that one of the best ways to hold fast to the things of God—the real things of God that are found only in the New Covenant of Jesus Christ—is to be in the fellowship of His people, where they could love and be loved, serve and be served.  John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Hebrews (Chicago: Moody Press, 1983), 268.
The local church matters for assurance. “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Our ability to love our brethren is demonstrated through interaction with other believers—especially those we find it difficult to love.
The local church also matters for accountability. Spiritual solitude often leads to overlooked and unchecked sin. The fellowship of the saints and the practice of church discipline are safeguards to our purity and spiritual growth. Moreover, our fallen propensity to interpret Scripture according to our own preferences is reined in by the oversight of faithful shepherds. A healthy local church, led by a plurality of godly elders, protects us from popish tyranny and sectarian isolation.
Most importantly, the local church matters for spiritual survival. All Christians are designed to function as members of the larger Body of Christ:
For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. (1 Corinthians 12:12–14; cf. Romans 12:4–6).
Organs and limbs cannot survive disconnected from the body. The same goes for people who sever themselves—and their families—from the Body of Christ.
So it’s clear all Christians need a solid local church. But where can we find one?
Finding a Good Church
We need to know how to identify a good church (a subject that will be addressed in greater detail later this week). But with so many bad churches out there it can be like hunting for a needle in a haystack. Just because you haven’t found a healthy, biblical church in your area yet doesn’t mean there isn’t one nearby.
Don’t give up. There are good ways to both speed up and narrow down the search. One example is The Master’s Seminary website, and their database of graduates ministering all over the world. Visit this search engine to find TMS graduates pastoring near you. Other schools and ministries keep similar databases—today you can do much of your hunting for a new church online.
One other thing: Don’t have standards for your new church that are higher than God’s. Not every hill is worth dying on. You will never find a perfect church that appeals to all your personal preferences and offends none of your sensibilities. The church—even Grace Community Church—is an imperfect place full of imperfect people. And even if you did find a perfect church, you’d ruin it the moment you walked through the door. Be gracious as you search, and don’t carelessly write off every local church over secondary matters.
Moving Closer to a Good Church
After that diligent search, if you still cannot find a viable church in your area, it may be time to increase the search radius, or consider uprooting your life and moving closer to a good church.
Moving is a tough decision to make, especially when the roots run deep in your native habitat. Even so, the consequences of staying put and forsaking involvement in a local church are often disastrous. The long-term fallout is even greater when that decision also affects your family. It’s hard for wives to submit to their husbands when their husband submits to no one. And being severed from the local church sends a strong message to our children about its importance that they won’t forget in adulthood.
Seven years ago I came to the realization that I had to pack up and move so my family could be close to a good church. It wasn’t easy, but it was undoubtedly the right thing to do. In hindsight, we look back on it as one of the best decisions we ever made.
Planting a Good Church
You have one other option if there are no good churches near you: plant one. This is the most difficult route but it is doable as many people (myself included) have found out. One common scenario is for like-minded believers in a particular location to invite a pastor to their area. Organizations like Grace Advance (www.graceadvance.org) can provide tremendous help and resources for people who want to explore that option.
At Grace to You we want to continually exhort our readers and listeners to participate in, and be champions of, the local church. We want to provide you with resources and teaching that deepen your love for the truth and your investment in the lives of others—in the context of the local church.
As you may be aware, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into full effect on 25th May 2018. GDPR is the new European privacy regulation, which will replace the Data Protection Act 1998 in the UK and the equivalent legislation across the EU Member States.
Here at Grace to You Europe we take our data protection responsibilities very seriously and, as you would expect, have undertaken a significant programme of work to ensure that we are ready for this important legislative change.
Unleashing God’s Truth, One Verse at a Time Since 1969