Many people today who are saved and love the Lord still don’t want to join a church. Their reasons are many and often true: most churches are messed up; there are many hypocrites; churches are just after your money; people do not love God like they ought to. Yet, although churches have always had problems (read the New Testament), the idea of staying out of any church is not a New Testament idea. In the first church in Jerusalem, “the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” These were the same people who had received God’s word and were baptized. So, from the beginning, the order was to receive God’s word, get baptized and join the church.
We would all like to think that we would always do the right thing even if no one ever knew what we did. Truly, doing the right thing when no one is looking is the test of character. Yet, in reality, we all often do the right thing because we don’t want to let others see us fail. This is the power of accountability. We do right so we will not have to explain to our friends or loved ones why we did wrong. This is a motivation that God Himself uses with us. In the context of the local church, we are “to consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works” (Heb 10:24). Knowing that people at church care should help us to do what is right. It is a blessing to know that if I stray from God, my fellow church member may come and talk to me about my spiritual life.
God takes accountability one step further in His instructions concerning church discipline. Notice this passage (out of many that teach the principle). The people in the church in Thessalonica were to withdraw themselves “from every brother that walketh disorderly.” The purpose was “that he may be ashamed.” Yet, even then, he was not to be counted as an enemy but to be admonished “as a brother.” Consider what is happening. The people of the church were to withdraw from fellowship with the man who had strayed from truth. But the final purpose in his life was not to hurt him but to restore him (see Gal.6:1).
In our modern independence, we have created virtues that God’s word never teaches. One of these virtues is what we call ‘staying out of other people’s business’. Truly, God speaks against gossip of any kind. But He does not teach us to stay out of other people’s lives. Neither does He teach that people should always stay out of your life. God teaches us to confront those who are hurting themselves and to try to turn them in the right direction (Gal.6:1). He also teaches us to accept godly confrontation (Heb.10:24). Why then would people not want to belong to a church where loving people would confront them if they started down the path of immorality, idolatry or heresy? Church membership means that there are people who love you too much to let you destroy yourself without putting up a fight for your good. What should give us a sense of security has simply made us angry and rebellious. Instead of changing God’s plan, we are the ones who should change.