This is an emotionally loaded question, probably rooting in personal experiences of tension. Maybe you are in disagreement with the elders in your church. They ask you to do something, but you really don’t agree. What should you do in such a situation? The question pops up: if I don’t obey the church, will I be lost?
My first thought is: it’s not about what your church says, but about what God says. The church can help us understand God’s will. But the church consists of ordinary people who can be wrong. If someone says: “Do what I tell you, or you’ll be lost”, my alarm bells go off. That smells of manipulation. That can’t be God’s plan.
God will make a way
The church is called to preach God’s Word. In this Word of God, we find many rules for a blessed life. It is very wise to listen carefully to these regulations. If you are making plans, ask in prayer: “Lord, what do You want me to do in this situation?” Proverbs 3:5-6 says: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.” If you take God’s will into account in everything you do, He will clear a way for you.
In 1 Peter 5, Peter tells church leaders to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly.” It is clear that the elders bear responsibility for the people in their congregation. But Peter continues: “not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” The church leaders should not be arrogant and domineering over church members, but give the right example. It’s not about ruling, but about serving.
Correction and guidance
That doesn’t mean, of course, that you should not take it seriously when a church elder or some other fellow believer warns you that you are making wrong decisions. Or if they tell you that there are particular sins in your life that need to be dealt with, or that you are mistaken about some theological truth. If this is the case, you should not obey since the church tells you so, but carefully consider, study and pray about this issue. Being a church member includes the blessing of loving correction and guidance of other Christians, and it is very wise to take that to heart.
It’s never okay to sin
You can’t claim that someone will be lost if he doesn’t do what the church tells him to. What matters, is what God says in His Word. That determines what we should or should not do. If you don’t do what Gods tells you to do, that is sin. And sin leads to death (Romans 6:16). We know that the Lord Jesus was crucified for our sins, and therefore we can be reconciled to God (Romans 5:8-10). However, that never means it is okay to sin, because God will forgive us anyway. Realize how much your sins cost the Lord Jesus, who paid for them! He loves you and wants the best for you. Therefore, He gives you rules to live by.
Run the race
Nobody is completely free from sin. Christians make mistakes as well. In Hebrews 12, we are called to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” Your life is a race, in which you follow Jesus to your best ability. The church can and should help you in this. But ultimately, we look to Jesus: “Consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (Hebrews 12:3).
We are not saved by doing exactly what the church tells us to. We are not even saved by doing exactly what God tells us to – we can’t. We are saved by God’s grace, by the forgiveness Jesus earned for us. That gives me peace and a deep longing to follow Him. You too?
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