Dr. Kim Riddlebarger
The New Testament has no category for someone who is a believer in Jesus Christ but who is not also a member of a local church. The reason is so obvious that we take it for granted. Since all true believers become members of the body of Christ by virtue of their union with Christ through faith, the New Testament assumes that those who are members of Christ’s body will naturally identify with a local assembly of those who likewise believe in Jesus and confess him as Lord before the unbelieving world. Sadly, many Americans have completely different assumptions.
Given the rugged individualism of American culture and our innate suspicion of authority, many Americans who consider themselves faithful Bible-believing Christians make little connection between their own personal faith in Jesus Christ and membership in a local church. This is one of the most pressing issues of our day and it arises from a general ignorance of the doctrine of the church and the necessity of membership in a local congregation of fellow like-minded believers. In fact, John Calvin writes in his commentary on Isaiah, “We cannot become acceptable to God without being united in one and the same faith, that is, without being members of the church.” These two things, “justification by grace alone through faith alone,” and membership in Christ’s church are inseparable for Calvin, because the Bible clearly indicates that all those whom our Lord justifies through faith, he also gathers together is a visible assembly, a local church.