As we talked I asked him: "So, which local church do you belong to here in Charlottesville?" His reply: "Well, we mostly attend ______ (a large evangelical church in the area), but we’re not members anywhere."
Now, this man has lived in Charlottesville for years. He is passionate about supporting missions. He is a professed believer. How is it then that he thinks he can operate as a freelance Christian without a serious, covenanted connection to a local body of believers? Why is the doctrine of the local church so lacking in his practical theology?
I have found some parachurch persons to have this same attitude. They love to talk about the work of the church universal, but they have not taken the time to become connected as a body part to the church local (see I Corinthians 12). Part of the issue, I think, is a lack of accountability. If you belong to a local church, people will actually expect you to faithfully attend services (even if it might not fit your schedule), to give your money to its work (rather than your select mission causes), to inspect your doctrine (holding your personal beliefs accountable to Biblical orthodoxy), and to serve the needs of the body (in ways you may or may not particularly enjoy).
At the "Together for the Gospel" Conference this past year, the conference leaders issued a set of Affirmations and Denials. Article XIV reads:
We affirm that the shape of Christian discipleship is congregational, and that God's purpose is evident in faithful Gospel congregations, each displaying God's glory in the marks of authentic ecclesiology.
We deny that any Christian can truly be a faithful disciple apart from the teaching, discipline, fellowship, and accountability of a congregation of fellow disciples, organized as a Gospel church. We further deny that the Lord's Supper can faithfully be administered apart from the right practice of church discipline.
When I was a missionary in Hungary, I even found that some of my fellow missionaries never got connected with a local church. They talked a lot about witnessing to students and neighbors, but if they ever had one of these persons comes to Christ what would they do with them? How would they be discipled? You cannot do ministry apart from the local church! Remember, Jesus did not say, "I will build my parachurch group or my ministry or my mission organization," but "I will build my CHURCH (ecclesia-the local congregation)" (Matthew 16:18).
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle