“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you Christ Jesus.” – 1 Cor. 1:4
“I’m not going to that place, it is nothing but a bunch of hypocrites.” “I can have church right here in my own home.” “Me and God have our own thing going on, I do not have to go to a church to get that.”
These, among many others, are common objections to gathering with God’s people and being a part of a church. The underlying premises for such protests might be the result of numerous occurrences. It might be that someone was abused by the church, a Pastor abused his authority at some point, God’s people were harsh towards an individual and acted in an ungodly manner, or immorality was accepted within the church and God’s people ignore God’s commands in Scripture. All of these incidents are potentials within the church that easily lead people out the door, all of which grieve the heart of God.
However, it does not have to be this way. Think about the church to which Paul is writing in 1 Corinthians. To a degree, all of the incidents just mentioned that would lead someone out the door of the church were happening in Corinth. Yet, Paul begins the letter with declaring his love and thanksgiving for the church. Here is a church that has issues. The church at Corinth had some serious moral issues, ecclesiological issues, they were dabbling in charismania, and the people had an issue with regularly coming together as the body of Christ. Paul is aware of all of these things and yet offers great thanksgiving to God for the church.
Why? He does this because he understands the importance of the local gathering. Forsaking church, casting aside membership and regularly gathering with God’s people for the Christian is in direct violation of the commands of Scripture; it is sin. For the person looking for the perfect church before they commit, they are leaving in lala land. What Paul understands about the Corinthians church is the lack of perfection, the occupancy of imperfect people, but knows the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul knows that despite our imperfections and the church’s imperfections this side of heaven, the grace of God extends to the church as they pursue holiness, practice repentance, and keep Scripture as their centerpiece.
The church may not always have it together this side of heaven, but a church that holds high the authority and supremacy of Scripture, making it their manual for instruction, that is the church that will “succeed.” Please understand, we are not talking worldly success. We are not talking big numbers, huge budgets, and monumental buildings. We are talking success gauged by health, commitment, and faithfulness.
I am thankful for the church because it provides nourishment for my soul. I am thankful for the church because the people of God at my local congregation are gracious, merciful, and caring. I am thankful for the local church because it encourages me to pursue holiness, fight sin, and hold high Scripture. I am thankful for the local church because it provides a safe place for my family in which I know they will be taught the word of God in every area. I am thankful for the local church because it provides me with a place to use my spiritual gifts that God has given me for the edification of His people. I am thankful for the local church because it is the God-ordained gathering of the Saints that equips me with what I need to fight through the week and battle sin. Without the local church, the Christian cannot and will not fend off sin and the evil one. So, I echo with Paul, “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you Christ Jesus.”