Should You Belong to a Church?
‘I DON’T have to belong to a church or go to church regularly in order to believe in God!’ That is how many people feel about membership in a church or in any religious organization. In fact, some say that they feel closer to God when enjoying nature outdoors than when attending a religious service in a church. Today, it is a commonly held opinion that affiliation with a religious group or denomination is not a prerequisite for belief in God.
Others, however, sincerely feel differently. They contend that church membership and attendance are necessary, even vital, if one is to have God’s approval. So the question of whether religious affiliation is really necessary is more than just a matter of statistical or academic interest. In any case, since our relationship with God is involved, would it not be logical to find out God’s view on the matter? What, then, can we learn from his Word, the Bible, on this subject?
How God Dealt With People in the Past
Almost 4,400 years ago, a catastrophic flood struck the entire earth. Such an event could not easily be forgotten, and peoples the world over have stories about it in their early history. Although differing in details, these stories have much in common, including the fact that only a few humans and some animals survived.
Were the Flood survivors simply individuals fortunate enough to have randomly escaped destruction? The Bible account shows that this was not the case. Significantly, God did not inform each individual about the coming Flood. Rather, he told Noah, who in turn warned his contemporaries of the approaching Deluge.—Genesis 6:13-16; 2 Peter 2:5.
Survival depended on being part of this close-knit group and on being willing to accept God’s direction given to Noah. Even the animals in the ark that survived the Flood did not do so apart from this group. Precise instructions were given to Noah to make appropriate provisions for the preservation of animal life.—Genesis 6:17–7:8.
Centuries later, descendants of Noah through his son Shem came into bondage in Egypt. Yet, God’s purpose was to free them and bring them to the land that he had promised their forefather Abraham. Once again, this was not revealed to each individual but was first revealed to those chosen to be their leaders—Moses and his brother, Aaron. (Exodus 3:7-10; 4:27-31) After the former slaves were delivered as a group from Egypt, they were given God’s Law at Mount Sinai and formed into the nation of Israel.—Exodus 19:1-6.
Deliverance was possible for individual Israelites only because they were associated with a divinely established group and followed the direction of this group’s appointed leaders. Provisions were even made for individual Egyptians to associate with this group that obviously had divine approval. When the Israelites left Egypt, these individuals went with them, thus putting themselves in line for God’s blessing.—Exodus 12:37, 38.
Then, in the first century, Jesus began his preaching activity, gathering people together as his disciples. He dealt with them as a group, though he also directed loving attention to individuals according to their needs. To the 11 faithful apostles, Jesus said: “You are the ones that have stuck with me in my trials; and I make a covenant with you, just as my Father has made a covenant with me, for a kingdom.” (Luke 22:28, 29) Later, God’s holy spirit came upon the disciples when they were together as a group.—Acts 2:1-4.
These examples clearly show that in the past God has always dealt with his people as an organized group. The few individuals with whom God had dealings personally—Noah, Moses, Jesus, and others—were, in fact, used by Him to communicate with a closely associated group. There is no reason to believe that God deals any differently with his servants today. Of course, this gives rise to another question: Will affiliation with just any religious group suffice? We will consider this vital question in the next article.
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God has long dealt with his people as an organized group