Can a person go to heaven after he/she dies without being a member of a local church? I’m confident the answer to this question is yes. At the most fundamental level it is only by faith through grace that anyone spends eternity with the Father. With that said, we should get back to this idea of whether or not you need the church.
God’s great motivation in all of his work is to display his grand glory. Through his loving grace, he created so that his glory is displayed through us having a growing relationship with him. Further, as Jonathan Edwards brilliantly articulated through volumes of sermons, our greatest joy and satisfaction is found in being satisfied in our Father in heaven. The next logical question is to struggle with how we are meant to experience this growing relationship and joy that comes from a relationship with God.
There are many different components of this idea, but this is where we can begin to find an answer to the question at hand. To walk ahead in this relationship, we need to be digesting the word of God (i.e. the Bible). We also need to be communicating with God (prayer). After all, how many growing relationships do you have which consist of zero communication? We also need the transforming power of Christ-centered relationships. This is where the church comes in… the church, by definition, is a group of people called out by God. The church is not a big pretty building on the corner that clogs community traffic on Wednesday nights and Sundays. The church is people.
With a proper definition of church in place, we can easily see that the entire Bible has the story of the church woven from cover to cover. God created us to participate in the display of his glory as objects of reflection. In this, he also created us so that when we are functioning in that designed purpose, we are walking in joy and an often times illogical satisfaction. The Bible tells us that all of this will appear foolish to those who are not participating in this great story. The church, just like scripture reading and prayer, was created and given as a means of transformation in our lives. At least one-third of our Bible is specific instruction regarding how we participate together as the church.
Do you need the church? Yes. As people who are sinful and in constant need of the grace of God in our lives, we have been designed to grow within the blessing of the local church. As a sinful man living in this Katy community, I would be completely consumed by my own arrogance and materialistic pursuits if it were not for the church. We see in Paul’s writing to the churches that the activity of shepherds, elders, and other discipleship and accountability relationships are just as important as other spiritual disciplines in which we participate. After all, some of the most noteworthy heresies and cults throughout history were started by people reading a Bible. Yet, they were not allowing the Holy Spirit to use the local church to challenge their theology and life-style choices, and generally hold them accountable. We need the church for encouragement when we are being faithful and obedient. We also need the church to speak difficult and convicting truths into our lives so that we can grow in the joy and satisfaction of glorifying God.
You and I need the church in our lives and I encourage you to lean into the gospel transformation that our Father designed to be wrought in our experience of biblical community.