©2001 by Robin Arnaud


“I love the Lord just fine, it's just that I can't stand His people! Besides, I can worship God anytime and anywhere. I don't have to be in church to worship Him, I can worship Him on my own. I truly do love the Lord, but I don't want to go to church.”

A very common sentiment is expressed in that paragraph, one that I hear often and from many people, some of whom haven't been to church in many years but still say they love the Lord and worship Him in their own way. But is this legitimate? Can we truly love the Lord as we ought while rejecting church? Is participation in church really “mandatory” for those who love the Lord in their hearts?

We know from the scriptures that Jesus Christ is our King, and because we love Him we gladly submit to His rulership over our souls. We recognize the bible as His word and His will, and we read our favorite passages once in awhile when we need comfort or reassurance, or when we wish to point out someone else's faults. But many don't want to learn about the church. They love the King, but reject the church as something completely separate and apart from the King's rule over them.

The King

Way back in Deuteronomy, the Lord promised Israel a king of His own choosing. This king would be one of their own, not a foreigner, and would rule righteously and without using his office to multiply his wealth and power. “When you enter the land which the Lord your God gives you, and you possess it and live in it, and you say, `I will set a king over me like all the nations who are around me,' you shall surely set a king over you whom the Lord your God chooses, one from among your countrymen you shall set as king over yourselves; you may not put a foreigner over yourselves who is not your countryman. Moreover, he shall not multiply horses for himself, nor shall he cause the people to return to Egypt to multiply horses, since the Lord has said to you, `You shall never again return that way.' He shall not multiply wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away; nor shall he greatly increase silver and gold for himself. Now it shall come about when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself a copy of this law on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. It shall be with him and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, by carefully observing all the words of this law and these statutes, that his heart may not be lifted up above his countrymen and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, to the right or to the left, so that he and his sons may continue long in his kingdom in the midst of Israel (Deut. 17:14-20, NASB).”

Looking at the history of Israel we can see several kings, some good and some bad. But even the great king David couldn't be the king promised in the Deuteronomy passage, since he multiplied wives through deception and murder and did not keep the law carefully. Even the great Solomon, wisest among men, multiplied horses, and wives (over 700 concubines!), as well as gold and silver. And by marrying Pharaoh's daughter to form an alliance between Israel and Egypt, he broke the command of God “never again to return that way (Deut. 17:16).” Only one king completely and fully fulfills this prophecy of Deuteronomy 17, who abandoned wealth and power and privilege, kept the whole law and rules righteously. His kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36), but of His countrymen (his brethren, the elect - Colossians 1). Yes, Christ is this king.

The King's Rule

As King, Jesus Christ must surely have a government:

“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us, and the GOVERNMENT will rest on His shoulders ... There will be no end to the increase of His GOVERNMENT or of peace, on the throne of His father David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this (Isa. 9:6-7).”

“Let THE ELDERS THAT RULE well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and in doctrine (1 Tim 5:17).”

“We beseech you, brethren, to know those who labor among you and ARE OVER YOU IN THE LORD, and admonish you (1 Thess. 5:12).”

“Remember those who have AUTHORITY OVER YOU, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith you follow... Obey those that have AUTHORITY OVER YOU, and SUBMIT YOURSELVES; for they watch OVER YOUR SOULS as they who must give an account... (Heb 13:7, 17)”

“And GOD HAS SET some IN THE CHURCH, first apostles, then prophets, then teachers, after that miracles, healers, helps, GOVERNMENTS, diversities of tongues (1 Cor 12:28).”

According to these scriptures, our King governs through human agents who are held accountable for their rule over us. If we reject His government, have we not rejected the King's rule entirely? Look again at the Deuteronomy passage and compare it with the King's ministers, described in 1 Timothy 3:1-13.

“Not a foreigner (Deut 17:15)” becomes “not a new convert (1 Tim 3:6),” in other words, a brother.

“He shall not multiply horses for himself (Deut 17:16)” becomes “not fond of sordid gain (1 Tim 3:8).”

“He shall not multiply wives (Deut 17:17)” becomes “the husband of one wife (1 Tim 3:2).”

“He shall read it all the days of his life (Deut 17:19)” becomes “able to teach (1 Tim 3:2)” and “those who labor in the word and in doctrine (1 Tim 5:17).”

The King's government IS the church. He has empowered His ministers with awesome responsibility for the flock of God, and authority to carry out that responsibility: To “retain and remit sins*” (Matt 16:19, 18:17-18, John 20:21-23), to “shut the kingdom against unrepentant rebels”* (1 Cor 5:1-5, 1 Tim 1:20) and “open it to penitent sinners”1 (2 Cor 2:6-8), in the discipline of errant believers (1 Tim 5:20, 2 Thess 3:6, 14-15, Titus 3:10). If we reject church, we reject the government of God.

There is even a Scriptually established government BETWEEN churches, according to the examples given to us in scripture:

Questions which arise among churches and between churches are biblically settled by councils of their rulers (Acts 15:2,4,6) and that such councils have some authority over the churches they oversee (Acts 15:22-25, 16:4). But because these councils may err, they are never to be made the final rule of faith or practice, but only to be a help in those things, the scriptures being the supreme arbiter in questions of doctrine and practice (Eph 2:20, Acts 17:11, 1 Cor 2:5, 2 Cor 1:24). Under no circumstances are church councils to decide CIVIL or DOMESTIC affairs except by way of petition, advice, or conscience (Luke 12:13-14 and John 18:36). The authority of a church council is ecclesiastical, not civil, and is limited by the reign of scripture.

Clearly, a government over God's people, separate from the civil government, IS scriptural! When we stop going to church, we lose all the benefits of that government: Its protection from error, from predators, from pretenders, abusers, and even from ourselves. God's government, biblically, provides material and spiritual benefits that we really can't do without.

We need one another. And without participation in God's government, we are in great danger from within and from without.

  1. That's a direct quote from the Westminster Confession of Faith (30.2). The rest of WCF 30 clarifies the meaning of these terms, describing the church discipline to be used: Admonition, suspension from the Lord's Supper for a season, excommunication. The quote is not used to imply by any means that a minister can retain or remit sins. That authority and power is God's alone.

Indeed, sins are retained or remitted according to God's will, and the church's authority to proclaim sins remitted or retained is limited to the preaching of God's word. Yet an argument can certainly be made for Apostolic authority to decree certain people accursed because of particular sins, as was the case for Ananias and Sapphira who lied to the Holy Spirit. Roman Catholics will argue that the Pope has the same apostolic authority today, while Protestants argue that there are no more apostles today, and that authority to retain or forgive sins is God's alone and is proclaimed strictly through His written word. “Shutting out the kingdom” again refers to church discipline — the church being the kingdom of God here on earth. It does not refer to denying salvation to anyone.

Copyright 2001 Robin Arnaud.

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