There are many good reasons to join a local church. But there is yet another: love. In this way, I do not mean just the Christian compulsion to love; to love other Christians. I am referring, instead, to our inability to love – our inability to love everyone with the same intensity and devotion.
Some Christians object to this emphasis on church membership by appealing to their good desire to love others. The objection goes something like this: “Every Christian is a member of Christ’s body; His Church. I don’t need to join a particular local church and I don’t want to. Because if I join a local church, I will be saying I love these Christians over here more than those Christians over there. We are called to love all Christians. If I join a church, it will be like I’m sinning against the Christians who do not belong to that local church. I have lots of Christian friends, and I want to belong with all of them. And I refuse to leave any of them out of my life.”
In this objection, something critical is overlooked. Of course, we ARE compelled to love all Christians (and many other people too). Of course, all Christians ARE also members of Christ’s body, His universal Church. Of all that this objection gets right, it overlooks a critical reality: our creaturlieness.
We are creatures. We are not the Creator. There are limits to our capacity to live, to move, and to love. We are finite. We are limited by time, with only so many hours in a day. We are limited by space, with only so much ground to cover. We are limited in energy, with only so much to give. We are limited in knowledge, with the ability to truly know a relatively small number of people. We are limited in our attention, with a short span allotted to us. In addition to our ongoing battle with our own remaining sin, all of this inevitably adds up to a limit on love.
As a creature, what is your capacity to love? How many people can you love really well? How many people can you know really well? Have you noticed a limit to your ability to love? If you were to list the names of all the people you have ever known, your list would probably appear almost endless. You could list name after name after name. When the sun finally set on your list of people who have crossed your path, for good or ill, you could review all the names and without doubt, you would be struck with an alarming fact. You don’t really know many of these people. If you were to circle the names of those whom you knew well – kept in contact with…those in whose lives you were well versed…those for whom you enjoyed an enduring love – your circles would be few.
The reality is that we are creatures. We have limits. And because of these limits we have a choice; a privilege even. The choice and the privilege is to decide who will you love well? We simply cannot know and love everyone. If we try – to love only as the Creator can love – we creatures will end up loving less. On the other hand, as creatures, we can choose to love to our limit; to love our closest neighbors, and to love them well. This is a central reason all Christians should seek out a healthy local church, make a commitment to the Christians who are there, and love to the limit.
Simply put, a local church is a gathering of Christians, in a particular place, who have a made particular commitment to love one another the way God has enabled them to love. Have you committed yourself to a local gathering of Christians? Will you love more or will you love less?
1 Peter 1:22-23
Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.