My previous post on the importance of the church was meant to support the proposition that unless a person is a faithful member of local church, he cannot be saved. Each of the patristic quotations indicated this sentiment: if a person is not connected to the church, he is not saved. This post, and following ones, will discuss the biblical basis for such an opinion. Why is active, faithful, membership in a local church so important? It is so important because of what the church is.
The church is the body of Christ. The church as the body of Christ is Paul’s favorite metaphor to describe the nature of the church (Rom. 12:4-5; 1 Cor. 10:16-17; 12:12-13, 18, 20, 27; Eph. 1:22-23; 2:16; 3:6; 4:4, 12, 16; 5:29-30; Col. 1:18, 24; 2:19; 3:15). The metaphor is so important to Paul because of the wonderful picture it provides to the truth that is often identified as central to Paul’s theology: union with Christ. A body is one. Though it is one, its strength and ability come from its diversity. If the whole body was an ear, it would only be good for hearing; and even then not for very long since there would be no hand with fingers to keep it clean! Yet the body can only work properly, when it works orderly. The body needs a head to provide organization, structure, leadership. That Head is Christ (Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:18; 2:19).
So while Paul uses the analogy of the body to teach truths concerning unity, diversity, and authority; the presupposition of the metaphor is life. Individual body parts do not live when they are severed from the body. Individual “Christians” do not live when they are separated from the Body of Christ.
Jesus does not use the body metaphor, but He teaches the same truth in John 15:5-6: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” If there is no union with Christ, there is no life.
But some might say, “Jesus says I must abide in Him, not in His church.” It completely misses the point to assert that one can be united to Christ and not be united to His church because the Church is His body. Can Paul be any more provocative when he writes in Ephesians 1:23 that the church is the very fullness of Christ? A body without a head is as useless as a head without a body is abhorrent.
But some might say, “Paul is speaking of the church as people, not an institution. Since I am a person I can be a part of Christ’s body without being part of a church.” But that misses the entire point of the analogy. Paul never says “I am” Christ’s body, but “we are” members of Christ’s body. A body needs members. A finger connected to the base of the neck is not a body, it is a monstrosity.
Why is the church important? Because the church is Christ’s body and things not connected to a body have no life.