“There is no such church as Bedside Baptist or Pillow Presbyterian.”
ear freshman at a Christian college,
As a senior student this year, I am truly not that much farther along in life and learning than you – but I have learned some things that I wish all students at Christian colleges could hear when they begin their college careers. The most important of these is this: The church is a necessary component of the Christian life. The Scriptures teach that the duty of the Christian individually is based upon what Christ has done for the church corporately: “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us. . . . Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Christ gave himself up for the church, and this is the reason Christians are to walk in love. Therefore, to be a Christian is to be a member of the church.
In the passage above, “church” is used in a sense that encompasses all people everywhere throughout all of history who have called or will call upon the name of the Lord. But the New Testament also teaches that every Christian who is part of the invisible and universal church must be part of a visible and local church. This is seen in the letters of Paul to Timothy. The letters teach the leader of the Ephesian church how the church is to be governed. Therefore, a Christian who is not a part of a local church cannot obey this portion of Scripture, which the second letter testifies is “breathed out by God and profitable . . . for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Hebrews 13:17 admonishes, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.” A Christian who is not a part of a local church has no leaders to obey or to whom to submit, and so cannot obey this command. But this passage brings up something even more important. The leaders of a local church will give an account to God of those under their care. Those who do not submit to the leadership of a local church are sheep without a shepherd (Matt. 9:36). So for the sake of obedience to biblical commands, and Christian discipleship and accountability, the Christian must be a member of a local church.
Another reason that a Christian must be a part of a local church is that the church is “a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). This aspect of the church is vital to recognize in the context of an educational institution. Of all human institutions, that which the Holy Spirit testifies is a reliable source of truth is the church and the church alone. Other institutions may and do teach truth, but the Holy Spirit’s seal of divine authority rests solely upon the church. Throughout the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, many colleges and universities were founded by Christians; many of those institutions were affiliated with a Christian denomination, held to that denomination’s confession of faith, and included faculties of theology and of biblical studies. Christian colleges that continue to confess the gospel are anomalous; but none of them are unassailable. To the church Christ promises through the Spirit to guide her into all truth, and to bring to the apostles’ minds all that he had said (John 16:13, 14:26). While most of the Christian denominations of America have declined in the same way as the afore-mentioned educational institutions, the church, unlike those educational institutions, having God’s assurance that she is the pillar and buttress of the truth, has continued through renewal movements within existing denominations and the formation of evangelical denominations. Her witness to the truth will never be overcome, her light never snuffed out. That which is taught in the classrooms of Christian colleges must be understood in relation to other aspects of truth, most importantly to the truths of the gospel, that area of truth that God has entrusted to the church. In terms of ideas and philosophies, there is a wide gate and easy way “that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matt. 7:13-14). If the Christian is to be faithful to Christ in the life of the mind, the Christian must be a member of a local church.
It needs to be said in the context of any Christian college that a Christian college is not a church. Wheaton College, for example, explains in its Community Covenant, “While the College is not a church, it is yet a community of Christians who seek to live according to biblical standards laid down by Jesus Christ for his body, the church.” Because Christian colleges do not claim to be churches, they do not take pains to follow biblical commands concerning the leadership, worship, or discipleship that takes place within the church, and so are not directly the recipients of the previously mentioned promises of God to his church.
The next question the Christian college student must ask is, “Which church should I attend?” First, you should ask the question of other people – most importantly, of spiritual leaders in your life, your pastor at your home church, your parents, and others. But the source of wisdom to which any of these believers should point is the Bible. And on its basis, I can begin to answer the question. Given what we have already seen of what the church is and the biblical reasons to be a member of a local church, you should attend a church whose leaders lead the church according to Scripture. They should be men who will be prepared on the Day of Christ Jesus to give an account for your soul (Heb. 13:17). They should be men who preach Scripture and most importantly, the heart of all of Scripture, the gospel of Christ’s death and resurrection. From the fountain of the preaching of the gospel from the Scriptures should flow a concern for right teaching or doctrine. On the basis of this doctrine, preeminently the doctrine of the gospel, the church should be characterized by love and good works, for “you will recognize them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:20). Needless to say, as a member of a body that fits this description, which is not a description of perfection but of faithfulness, you will benefit greatly and grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ throughout your time at college (2 Peter 3:18).
As a member of the church, you will then ask questions about what your duty is toward God with respect to your church. Start by attending worship faithfully each Sunday. There is no such church as Bedside Baptist or Pillow Presbyterian. To fail to worship God on the Lord’s Day is to rob God of the glory due his name, just as Israel in the time of the prophet Malachi robbed God in their tithes and contributions (Mal. 3:8). But most importantly, to neglect membership in the local church and worship with the local church is to risk being found on the last day to be one crying “Lord, Lord!” and to hear the words, “I never knew you” (Matt. 7:21-23). For it is in the local church gathered for worship with reverence and awe, at the foot of the heavenly Mount Zion, that we hear the voice of God from the cloud in the preaching of the word of the gospel, which is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Heb. 12:22, 28; Rom. 1:16). As the apostle commands Timothy, and every minister of the gospel, “Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. . . . Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:13, 16).