10 Reasons Every Believer Needs The Local Church
by John R. Carter

John CarterJohn Carter is committed to helping people reach their potential in life through spiritual transformation. Known for his engaging and practical teaching style, he is the senior pastor of Abundant Life Christian Center, a culturally diverse church located in Syracuse, NY. He is the founder and president of Mercy Works, a charitable organization that creatively meets the practical needs in distressed urban communities. John and his wife, Lisa have three sons—Jordan, Joshua and Caleb.

This article is an excerpt adapted from The Transformed Life by John R Carter. The Transformed Life is powerful discipleship tool that is designed to help believers experience personal transformation through a dynamic relationship with Jesus and the local church. The Transformed Life is now available for purchase through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Transformedlifenow.com.

Transformed LifeA purpose is a reason for being. Everything God does has a purpose. Everything God has made has a reason for existing. There are specific purposes Jesus intended for His church to accomplish. Knowing those purposes is important for every believer. The law of purpose states that unless you know the purpose of a thing, you will be likely to either neglect, misuse, or abuse it. The reason some Christians neglect the local church is because they really don’t understand its purpose in their lives.

Hebrews 10:25 (NLT)
And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.

There are many people today who have received God as their Father, love Jesus, and mistakenly think that they can grow spiritually without having to make any formal connection with the local church. Because of technology, it is possible to watch church meetings online, listen to great teaching through electronic means, and interact with others on the internet. While all of these things are wonderful tools that can supplement our spiritual development, none of them can replace God’s purpose for the local church.

It is especially important for we who are called as Christ’s ministers to passionately teach God’s purposes for the local assembly. In the United States today a new phenomenon is occurring. Believers are forsaking the organized local church in favor of alternative systems of private worship that consider themselves a truer expression of the biblical church. However, upon close examination, these meetings lack some of the key elements that constitute a biblical expression of the local church. Among these are a resistance to recognizing human church authority and an “allergy” to tithing and church building programs.

In many cases they are under the misguided belief that since the New Testament teaches the authority and priesthood of the believer, it is unnecessary to emphasize any special “class” of ministerial authority. While it is certainly true that every believer is a king and priest unto God (1 Peter 2:9), Jesus never intended His church to do away with spiritual authority. In fact Jesus spent 3 and a half years training ministers for His Church, and Paul clearly understood that a biblical church required human leadership by specially called and gifted ministers (Eph. 4:11-12).

Naturally, as leaders of the church, we who occupy that position of special calling are to passionately preach God’s purposes for His Church while maintaining the attitude of a servant. After all, biblical leadership is servanthood (Matt. 23:11).

The Lord designed the church as a distribution system. There are many things that Jesus distributes to His people exclusively through the local church. The Lord intended for us to live the transformed life in community together. Knowing the purposes God intends for us in the local church enables us to receive them. Let’s look at these purposes.

1. Experiencing the Special Presence of Jesus

When Jesus began teaching about the purpose of His church, He made this statement:

“For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).

Throughout the Scripture, whenever God’s people would gather to worship, God promised a special manifestation of His presence. This is known as the corporate presence of God. While the Lord is present inside of each of His children, when we come together to worship as the church, He is present in an even greater way. All throughout the Bible, when God’s people came together in His name, powerful things occurred. Whether it was the dedication of Solomon’s Temple (1 Kings 8:10), the miraculous outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4), or the sudden healing of a lame man (Acts 14:8-10), the record shows that the Lord longs to manifest special blessings on His gathered people.

When you come to church, expect the Lord to manifest His presence. Know that regardless of what you may feel emotionally or physically, Jesus is there in a special way. Often it is your presence in church and participation in worship by faith that sets the environment for the Holy Spirit to move in the service. He is present to minister to the needs of His family, so attending worship services is a selfless way in which your presence helps to create the environment God uses to move in the lives of others.

Together, we are his house…We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord…being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit” (Ephesians 2:20-22 NLT).

2. To Make Disciples by Teaching God’s Word

“All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42 NLT).

“‘Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’Amen” (Matthew28:19-20).

Every believer needs to regularly hear the teaching and preaching of God’s Word in order to develop in faith and grow to spiritual maturity. Paul told us to be “transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). Anointed preaching in the local church is the cornerstone of this transformation.

When the Lord Jesus left the earth, He appointed ministers to lead His church. “And He himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints in the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12). They are referred to as the ministry gifts because Jesus personally chose, called, equipped, and sent them as gifts to minister to the local church.

The primary way these ministers lead the church is through anointed preaching and teaching. If the ministers of the church are Christ’s gifts to us, then we need to receive them in order to reach our potential and fulfill our purpose! There is a difference between reading the Bible on your own and hearing the anointed teaching of God’s Word through the pastors and ministers of the church. When the church gathers to hear God’s Word, the Holy Spirit speaks through the pastor to equip God’s people to transform their lives. The teaching of God’s Word is the most important aspect of the weekly worship event. No matter how long one has been a Christian, we never outgrow our need to be fed by our spiritual shepherd(s) by the living Word of God. The Bible tells us to “remember your leaders who taught you the word of God” (Hebrews 13:7 NLT).

There is a difference between reading the Bible on your own and hearing the anointed teaching of God’s Word through the pastors and ministers of the church.

From the beginning, the church met weekly to hear the teaching of God’s Word (Acts 2:42; 20:7). Because most believers did not have personal copies of the available Scriptures, church meetings involved lots of Bible reading and teaching. The local church was the place the Lord’s “flock” came to be “fed” (1 Peter 5:2). One of the first Christian historians who lived less than one hundred years after the resurrection of Christ was Justin Martyr (AD 100-165). He wrote about the practices of the first believers:

“And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place and memoirs [letters and gospels] of the apostles or the writings of the prophets [Old Testament Scriptures] are read, as long as time permits. Then, when the reader has ceased, the president [pastor] verbally instructs and exhorts to the imitation of these good things.” (Justin Martyr, First Apology 67, Public Domain.)

Purposes of Local Church Preaching and Teaching

  • Increases Our Faith

Paul taught that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). The Greek term translated “word” in this verse is the word rhema which means “that which is spoken in the moment.” Paul was teaching that we need to be present to hear the inspired message of the preacher (Romans 10:14-15). When we gather to hear a sermon each week, the Holy Spirit works through the gifts in the pastor to inspire our faith. Strong faith is essential to pleasing God (Hebrews 11:6), receiving answers to our prayers (James 1:6-7), and living a victorious Christian life (1 John 5:4).

  • Enables Spiritual Growth

“As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby” (1 Peter 2:2).

Just like a newborn requires the proper diet in order to grow physically, our spirits need the “milk” of God’s Word in order to develop into maturity.

  • Renews Our Minds

Anointed teaching and preaching can often help us to change our thinking and renew our minds faster than private Bible study alone. The Holy Spirit anoints the pastor to minister God’s word in such a way that it takes deep root in our hearts and minds. The more we hear the preaching of the Word, the more our minds are strengthened in new and better patterns of thinking. Preaching and teaching uproots worldly thinking and replaces wrong and self- destructive thoughts with the inspired revelation of God’s Word. Paul told the Corinthians that when he arrived to preach he was going to “cast down” their unhealthy mental strongholds and take every wrong thought into “captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). This process is critical to our growth.

  • Corrects and Protects Us

Timothy was a young pastor of the enormous local church in Ephesus. Paul wrote Timothy two letters instructing him how to lead the church effectively. Much of what Paul told Timothy had to do with His teaching and preaching ministry. Paul wrote: “Preach the Word! Keep your sense of urgency [stand by, be at hand and ready], whether the opportunity seems to be favorable or unfavorable. [Whether it is convenient or inconvenient, whether it is welcome or unwelcome, you as preacher of the Word are to show people in what way their lives are wrong.] And convince them, rebuking and correcting, warning and urging and encouraging them, being unflagging and inexhaustible in patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2 AMP).

The pastor needs to do more than encourage us. It is also the pastor’s responsibility to correct and warn us. When God speaks correction through the pastor, He is actually protecting us from error and deception (Ephesians 4:14).

  • Provides Prophetic Guidance and Needed Inspiration

In the Spirit-filled local church, God often speaks through the pastor’s message to address hidden problems or prepare the church for future events. Sometimes the pastor will find himself saying something he did not plan to say. Often the pastor will not know why he is being directed to say things in his message. Later it becomes clear that the Holy Spirit was using the pastor to speak to issues in the congregation or future events that are beyond the scope of the pastor’s knowledge. This is a sign that God loves His people enough to speak personally to a room full of different people at the same time!

As a pastor, I have had several very unusual experiences along these lines. On Mother’s Day, May 13th, 2001, I was a guest at my pastor’s church, Christian Cultural Center in New York City. During the worship service, I had a vision in my spirit. When the senior pastor, Dr. A.R. Bernard sensed the Holy Spirit was speaking to me, he asked me to share what I was seeing in my heart with the congregation. Some of it I shared publicly, and the rest I shared privately after the service with Dr. Bernard. I remember saying, “I see dark clouds rising over the southern end of Manhattan—a great darkness that spreads out over the city and beyond. It feels like a disaster of some sort.” I went on to share that I felt the Lord was going to use Dr. Bernard and the congregation to be a light and help to the city when this event occurred.

Naturally, I felt somewhat strange afterwards because I had no idea what I had seen or whether I was accurate or appropriate in sharing it. The pastor was very gracious and assured me that he had sensed they were preparing for something important as a church—to be a great witness to the city. On September 11th when the planes plunged into the World Trade Center, the congregation remembered the things I had shared and were instantly energized to bring relief. Dr. Bernard was asked by the churches of New York to coordinate a massive relief and recovery plan—helping thousands of New Yorkers rebuild their lives. His sensitivity to the Holy Spirit in recognizing I had a message from the Lord—combined with his great wisdom in leadership—set the stage for the thousands of members of that church to be prepared to bring Christ’s love to a hurting city.

Not every pastor is used in the same way. However, every pastor called by the Lord will be inspired to teach and preach God’s Word in a way that will apply to the needs of the moment, while often preparing the church for things to come as well. By faithfully attending church and listening carefully to the messages that are preached, you will often discover that God is speaking into your life and preparing you for the challenges that lie just ahead. Many times we leave church thinking the message was probably for someone else, only to discover later that week that God was speaking directly to us! Thank God for the supernatural ministry of the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Word of God!

“Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32 KJV).

3. United Worship

A powerful celebration takes place when believers gather and begin to worship and praise God together. United worship has a transforming effect on those who experience it. Throughout Scripture, we are told to praise and worship God together in His assembly.

“I will give You thanks in the great assembly; I will praise You among many people” (Psalm 35:18).

“Praise the Lord! I will praise the Lord with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright and in the congregation” (Psalm 111:1).

“Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, and bless the Lord” (Psalm 134:2).

“I will declare Your name to My brethren; in the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You” (Hebrews 2:12).

There is nothing quite like the experience of openly participating in united worship in the local church. As believers lay aside their personal struggles and focus on God through music and song, God’s special presence begins to manifest in the church. The Bible says that God inhabits and “sits within” the praises of His people (Psalm 22:3). He often speaks to our hearts and reminds us of His love through His presence. Healing, deliverance, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit may begin to operate in the church as the Lord responds to His people in worship.

United worship is the part of the local church experience that is completely selfless. In true worship, we focus on Christ and His work, giving unrestrained thanks to God. The less we focus on those around us and the more intent we are on fully expressing our hearts to God, the greater our worship experience will be. While any believer may offer praise to God privately, there is something altogether different that happens in us when we openly worship God together in the local church.

“But You are holy, enthroned in the praises of Israel” (Psalm 22:3).

4. United Prayer

There is something powerful that occurs when believers gather to pray. Each of us needs prayer. It is our living source of communication with our Father. The Bible teaches that we should pray both privately and with others. When the church prays together, there is a multiplication of our power in prayer. The Scriptures teach this principle in the Old Testament (Ecclesiastes 4:9; Deuteronomy 32:30). When Jesus was teaching about the church, He said,

“Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:19-20).

When the church gathers to pray, Jesus Himself is present and the Father has promised to do whatever is asked of Him. This is an astounding promise for the local church. In the book of Acts, we see that the Holy Spirit was poured out as the church gathered on Sunday to pray in one accord (Acts 2:1-4). Then after the church leaders had been threatened, the church gathered to pray, and something supernatural occurred:

“And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31).

Paul told Timothy, pastor of the Ephesian church, “I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them” (1 Timothy 2:1 NLT). In the New Testament, we see that some of the most powerful miracles occurred when the church gathered to pray about the needs of the moment. It is the faith we offer in prayer that moves the heart of God to work on our behalf (Hebrews 11:6; 2 Corinthians 5:7; James 5:14-15; Mark 11:24).

“Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:24).

5. Fellowship

“All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer…And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had…They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity” (Acts 2:42, 44, 46 NLT).

The word translated “fellowship” in this passage means “to partake of something together, to share, to experience intimate relationship with.” One of the most important purposes of a healthy local church is to connect believers to one another in fellowship. In the verses above, we see that they did not just attend services to hear teaching. They opened their homes, shared their possessions, and ate together with great joy. Nearly every change that occurs in our lives for the better or worse comes by way of relationships. People have gravity. That means that they have a certain spiritual, emotional, and natural force of influence. Whether we intend it or not, the people we habitually associate with have gravitational influence on our feelings, thinking, and behavior. The people we associate with will either pull us upwards towards positive transformation or pull us downwards towards negative or distracting patterns of thinking and behaving.

I told my sons as they grew up, “show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.” We become like the people we spend time with. If we are going to transform our lives, we need to discover people who are going in the direction of change we want to establish in our own lives. When a person becomes a believer in Jesus, they need to build genuine relationships with others who love Jesus and are hungry for personal transformation. While we may have many relationships with non-Christians who can help and advise us in natural things, our deepest intimacy needs to be forged with other believers in the local church who are seeking to follow Jesus. Choosing friends and building fellowship in the church is a choice that you must make. Because the church is made up of people from all walks of life, it is important to build quality relationships with different people and open your heart to the diversity of age, race, gender, and social status that make up the body of Christ, the members of the church.

6. Sacred Unions and Passings (Marriage and Funeral)

The local church is the place where believers enter into the sacred covenant of marriage. Today marriage is thought of more as a legal contract issued by secular government. But human governments did not invent marriage. Neither can they change its definition. Christian marriage is a union of one man and one woman through vows of love and commitment made before the families and believers of the local church. The Bible calls marriage such a holy gift from God that everyone is to hold it in high respect (Hebrews 13:4). The Apostle Paul said that marriage was so sacred that it was the closest thing on earth to the special relationship the Jesus has with His people, the church. Marriage is the place that God designed for us to express and enjoy our sexual passions. God’s church is the place where believers can enter into and learn to enjoy this sacred gift from God.

Naturally, everyone will eventually leave this earth through the passage of physical death. As we learned in chapter seven, the physical body is still mortal, and therefore ages and wears out. Sometimes death occurs unexpectedly, prematurely, or painfully. While God has promised us an abundant life (John 10:10), sooner or later this life will be over for us, as well as for everyone we know and love. This is a sacred passage for the believer as they prepare to enter the presence of God and their heavenly home.

When a person becomes a believer in Jesus, they need to build genuine relationships with others who love Jesus and are hungry for personal transformation. It is also a time of great emotion, as surviving family, friends, and co-workers endeavor to make the difficult adjustments of living their lives without their loved one. It is in these moments that the local church should be at her very best—a place believers go for comfort, counsel, as well as natural and spiritual support. The ministers of the church conduct special services for the families and friends of those who die, and offer perspective and hope to the living. At these moments, we need the body of Christ. We need living relationships with a visible community of faith to mark life’s passages with dignity and meaning.

All of these passages of life—birth, marriage, raising families, facing tribulation, and physical death—are events for which God has provided the local church as a means of celebration, support, healing, and restoration.

7. Exercise of Spiritual Gifts

“God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another” (1 Peter 4:10 NLT).

When you were born again, you received at least one spiritual gift from the Lord. That gift was designed to be used in the local church. Some people imagine that their spiritual gifts are the same as their natural talents. We all have natural abilities that we may use to help others and serve the church. But the gifts spoken of here are given to the believer for ministry to others in the local church. They are spiritual in nature and come from the Holy Spirit. Every place in the New Testament where spiritual gifts are mentioned, they are always mentioned for use within the local church between believers. Not a single time in scripture are our spiritual gifts given for ministry to the unbeliever. Not once.

“A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other…It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have…All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:7, 11, 27 NLT).

“Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well” (Romans 12:4-6 NLT).

One of the most important purposes of the local church is to discover and learn about spiritual gifts so that you can use the one or two that God has given you. He gives these gifts for use in the local church body. Someday we will have to give an account for what we did with our spiritual gifts as “good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10).

8. Evangelism: A Visible Witness of the Kingdom of God

When Jesus introduced the church, He said, “I will build my church…And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:18-19). He was indicating that the church would have authority on earth to manifest God’s kingdom to the world. Jesus was not just giving the keys of God’s kingdom to Peter or the first disciples. Nor should we understand this passage to apply to individual believers alone. He was giving these keys to the church as a collective community. He was stating that God’s invisible kingdom would be “unlocked” on earth through the ministry of the visible church.

When Jesus’ ascended to heaven He left a visible “body” on earth to carry on His work—the church. The local church stands in Jesus’ place as the visible representation of the invisible God and His eternal kingdom. Every genuine church congregation in each generation throughout the world is a visible witness to the unsaved community of God’s love and salvation through Jesus Christ. As we gather together to joyously worship, attentively learn, powerfully pray, participate in sacred events, and lovingly serve one another, God’s kingdom becomes manifest as a witness to the world.

The local church should also organize to meet the needs of their generation in a practical way. No religious group in history has been more creative, more generous, or more effective in sharing its message. The first schools, hospitals, orphanages, elder care facilities, and disaster relief agencies were started by, or in the name of, the church of Jesus Christ. Modern science was a result of Christian thinkers seeking to explore the physical world as an act of worship to God. No religious faith has spent more of its own resources on relieving the suffering of humankind—particularly the suffering of those who are outside its faith. Christians have been on the cutting edge of technology throughout the ages to spread the message of Jesus. Massive public preaching events, books, radio, television, movies, internet, and every form of creative arts have been used to share Jesus with the world. Some of the finest paintings, sculptures, architectural marvels, songs, operas, and musical genres, have been inspired by a love for Jesus and His church.

While it is the responsibility of every believer to share their faith with others through personal testimony, it is our collective witness of mutual love and worship that is the greatest force for evangelism in the world. Jesus said, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

9. Spiritual Covering and Accountability

We all need a roof over our heads. That is true physically and spiritually. The local church provides spiritual covering for people of God. A covering is not for the purpose of controlling or caging the people in its care. It is designed for protection, safety, and securing an environment for healthy personal growth. The local church is a community of believers who are living transparently with one another under the oversight and covering of spiritual leaders. The pastor, elders, and leaders of the church are responsible “for…constantly keeping watch over your souls and guarding your spiritual welfare, as men who will have to render an account” (Hebrews 13:17 AMP).

Every member of the body of Christ needs the spiritual covering of the local church and pastor. This “covering” is like a shelter in the midst of a world that is filled with deception, temptation, and demonic activity. There is a supernatural grace that connects members of the church to each other and their pastor(s) and leaders. Regardless of how long you have been a Christian or how gifted you may be, a believer should always seek to operate under the safety of a biblical spiritual covering in the local church.

10. Participation in Sacred Events (Sacraments and Ordinances)

Last, but certainly not least, of the ten purposes for the local church is so that believers can participate in sacraments and ordinances. The word sacrament comes from a Latin word that means a “sacred or holy practice.” The word ordinance means a “commandment or sacred ritual.” Church groups sometimes use these words differently to describe various practices within their church communities. However, there are two special events that Christians agree should take a special place in the life of the local church: water baptism and Holy Communion, or the Lord’s Supper as it is sometimes called. Additionally, the Bible teaches there is special ordinance of the church called the laying on of hands. Each of these three holy experiences are given to the local church for the purpose of experiencing and building the transformed life.

A. Water Baptism

Water baptism is a sacred rite of initiation into the body of Christ. While the event in itself does not save us, the Lord never intended for us to be saved without experiencing it. Baptism is designed to accompany our faith as an outward expression of our love for Jesus Christ. Throughout the book of Acts, whenever anyone believed in Jesus Christ they were immediately baptized in water. Baptism is the doorway into participation in the local church community.

Jesus began His earthly ministry by being baptized by John at the age of thirty. This event marked the moment the Holy Spirit anointed Jesus with power to preach, teach, heal, and perform miracles. Later, when Jesus had been raised from the dead, He told the apostles to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:18). He said that, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16). When the church began on the day of Pentecost, over three thousand people were born again and water baptized that same day.

“Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’…Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them” (Acts 2:38, 41).

Some churches baptize infants, believing with the parents that these children will grow up in the church community and know the Lord. While this practice is not mentioned in Scripture, it is nonetheless a very ancient tradition. What the Bible directly teaches and commands us topractice is the baptism of believers. When a person is mature enough to understand the gospel message, sense the conviction of the Holy Spirit for their sin, and believe for themselves in Jesus Christ, the church is to baptize them in water as soon as possible.

During this special moment, the believer declares they are separated from sin, Satan, evil spirits, and every curse that was a part of their past life. God’s Spirit is present in baptism to sever the claims of darkness and the past. The love of God enfolds the believer through the experience, bringing comfort and assurance that they have died to sin and been raised with Jesus to a new life.

Important Truths about Believer’s Baptism:

  • Baptism Follows Believing

“And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned’” (Mark 16:15-16).

“But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized” (Acts 8:12).

“Then Simon himself also believed; and when he was baptized he continued with Philip, and was amazed, seeing the miracles and signs which were done” (Acts 8:13).

“Then Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his household. And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized” (Acts 18:8).

  • Baptism is the First Step in Becoming a Disciple of Jesus Christ

“And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ Amen” (Matthew 28:18-20).

  • Baptism Claims the Forgiveness of Sins

“Peter replied, ‘Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38 NLT).

“Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41 KJV).

“And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16).

  • Baptism May Precede or Follow the Gift of the Holy Spirit

“While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God. Then Peter answered, ‘Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they asked him to stay a few days” (Acts 10:44-48).

  • Baptism Connects Us to the Work of the Cross

 “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” (Romans 6:3).

  • Baptism Initiates Us into the Church (Body) of Christ

“For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (1 Corinthians 12:13). 7. Through Baptism We Claim Our Sonship and Inheritance

“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ…And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:26-27, 29).

B. Holy Communion

Jesus began His earthly ministry by receiving water baptism, and ended His earthly ministry by introducing the new practice of Holy Communion.

Communion is a sacred event that demonstrates our ongoing fellowship and intimate connection with the body of Christ. It is a celebration of our relationship with Jesus and His family—the church. While there is nothing in Scripture that forbids believers from receiving the Lord’s Supper in private devotion, the biblical purpose of communion is to commune with Christ and His assembled family. The word commune means to share intimately with another. It is the basis of the word community. Therefore, Holy Communion is a sacred event that should be experienced with the full community of believers in the local church.

  • Jesus: Our Passover Lamb

At Jesus’ baptism, John prophesied, “Behold! The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). In this moment, God was declaring through John how His Son had come to deal with the problem of human sin—as a lamb. There is one Jewish feast that involves the sacrifice of a lamb. It is known as the Feast of the Passover.

Every spring, the nation of Israel would celebrate the Feast of the Passover in memory of the last night they spent as slaves in Egypt. God had warned the pharaoh that if he did not let His people leave Egypt, terrible plagues would come upon the land. Pharaoh resisted God’s command, and plague after plague came upon the Egyptians. The final plague was the most severe. Unless Pharaoh released His “first born son,” Israel, God would send an angel to take the lives of all the firstborn of Egypt (Exodus 4:22-23).

God told Moses to instruct the people to sacrifice a spotless lamb and spread its blood over the lintel and side frames of their homes—forming the endpoints of a cross. As the Jews feasted in their homes that night, the angel of death passed over every house that was covered by the blood of the Passover lamb. This terrible judgment was what it took to let the people of Israel go. Afterward, God commanded the Jewish people to have an annual feast to remember how they were delivered from bondage through the blood of His Passover (Exodus 12:2-14).

On the night before His crucifixion, Jesus sat with His disciples to share the Jewish Feast of the Passover. As Jesus broke the unleavened bread of the traditional Passover meal, He said, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” After they had eaten, He took the cup that traditionally was filled with red wine, and said, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.” (Luke 22:19, 20). With these simple words, Jesus was proclaiming that a new era had come—a new covenant between God and man was being forged. The Lord was declaring Himself as the final Passover Lamb who would be sacrificed. His body and blood would fulfill the prophecy of John the Baptist and “take away the sin of the world.”

The first Christians regularly met together to receive the Lord’s Supper. Different churches practice the communion event in different ways. Some Christians receive it weekly—others monthly, quarterly, or annually during the Feast of the Passover. The Bible does not tell us how often to receive the Lord’s Supper, but the practice of weekly or monthly communion goes back to the earliest histories of the church.

Three Necessary Elements in Holy Communion

  1. The Bread. Following the Lord’s example during the Feast of the Passover, the communion bread is consecrated in prayer and broken into pieces and distributed to each believer. The breaking of the bread shows that Jesus’ body was broken in death upon the cross. It also demonstrates that the local church is one loaf—made up of many members (1 Corinthians 10:17).
  2. The Cup. The fruit of the grape is lifted and consecrated in prayer and then distributed to each believer. The cup represents the blood of Jesus that cleanses us from all sin and has given us eternal life. Just as Jesus’ blood is necessary for each believer to be forgiven and transformed, each believer drinks from the cup to show that Jesus’ one life was given for many (1 Corinthians 10:16).
  3. The Gathered Church. After the Last Supper, the only direct instructions given in the Bible for Holy Communion is in 1 Corinthians. Here we learn that communion is a special event that is to occur when you come together as a church in one place (1 Corinthians 11:18, 20). The gathered church represents many believers as parts of one unified body of Christ. In communion, we are declaring our union with Christ and one another. As Paul indicates, “For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:17).

Purposes of Holy Communion

  • Receiving the Benefits of the Body and Blood of Christ

The body and blood of Jesus have a physical and spiritual reality. The physical body of Jesus was broken upon the cross, raised from the dead, and ascended to heaven. The physical body of Jesus exists today at the right hand of God. Jesus is seated in heaven next to His Father in the same body that purchased our redemption (Hebrews 1:3; 12:2).

The blood of Jesus was poured out upon the cross, and later taken by Jesus into heaven. Jesus presented His blood to our Father as a continual reminder of the price that was paid for our sin (Hebrews 9:11-14; 20-24). When we consecrate the bread and cup in Holy Communion, we identify them as earthly symbols of the actual body and blood of Jesus in heaven. As we eat and drink together, we commune (or intimately connect) by faith with the real body and blood of Jesus and all of its benefits. Whatever we need is made available to us in that holy moment.

“The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16).

In this way, Holy Communion enables the believer—through the local church—to connect to the living benefits of Jesus’ sacrifice. Together, as a believing community, we receive the forgiveness of sins, deliverance from evil, healing for our body and soul, protection from the enemy, and every other good thing that belongs to us in Christ Jesus. The bread and the cup are like earthly extension cords that the church collectively places a hand upon and uses to plug into the power that flows from the presence of Christ’s body and blood in heaven!

It is important to note that every believer may claim and experience the benefits of Jesus’ body and blood as individuals at any time. After all, we each have received a direct personal relationship with our heavenly Father and can access His love and grace whenever we need by faith (Hebrews 4:16). In Holy Communion, however, we are accessing these benefits collectively and therefore we receive God’s grace as a community. We are believing for God’s blessing for our entire local church family, not just for ourselves, when we participate in this sacred time.

  • Declaring Jesus’ Death, Resurrection, and Future Return

Jesus taught the disciples, “do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). Paul added that “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). As we take part in Holy Communion, we actively remember that Jesus paid the highest possible price for our redemption. We publicly declare together our living faith in Jesus; He died for us. We also express our expectation that Jesus is alive and coming again!

There is something powerful that happens when God’s people release their faith together in a public gathering. It is a testimony to the world that Jesus is alive.

  • Opportunity for Personal Cleansing

The Scripture says, “So anyone who eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily is guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. That is why you should examine yourself before eating the bread and drinking the cup” (1 Corinthians 11:27-28 NLT). Because this event is sacred, God expects us to examine our lives and confess any personal sin or unforgiveness we may have towards others before eating and drinking. It is better not to partake of Holy Communion than to do so without getting our hearts right with God. In this way, communion is an opportunity for the entire church to be cleansed of the errors and sins that we all commit as we live in this world.

  • Connecting with Our Spiritual Family

Through Holy Communion, we become aware of our real supernatural connection with others in the local church. “For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.” (1 Corinthians 10:16, 17). We are not designed to live out our faith in isolation from others. Communion is important because it reminds us of this fact, humbles our pride and independence, and supernaturally strengthens us by connecting us to our spiritual family.

  • Healing of the Weak, Sick, and Terminally Ill

Paul went on to indicate that when believers continue in personal sin while receiving Holy Communion, the sacred event actually becomes a time for the Father’s judgment and discipline. The Corinthian church was behaving so carnally that they often fought with each other, sued each other, divorced and remarried each other, practiced sexual sin, and then behaved as if there was nothing wrong with their choices. They continued to come to church, operate in spiritual gifts, and take Holy Communion—without examining their behaviors and judging themselves. Paul said, “For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body” (1 Corinthians 11:29). He then explained, “That is why many of you are weak and sick and some have even died” (1 Corinthians 11:30 NLT).

While this may seem severe, the truth is that this judgment at the communion table is an act of loving discipline by our Father. He is allowing us to experience the consequences of our own sins physically through weakness, sickness, and premature death, so that we may avoid the ultimate judgment that will come upon the unbelieving world. “But when we are judged, we are chastened [or disciplined] by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world” (1 Corinthians 11:32).

The great news is that the same event that opens the door to judgment can close that door as well. When we examine ourselves and confess our sins, the communion table becomes a place of mercy, healing, and restoration. “For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged” (1 Corinthians 11:31).

C. The Laying on of Hands

One of the foundational teachings of the church is called the “laying on of hands” (Hebrews 6:2). This truth is often neglected, but is an essential part of the ministry of the local church. Once again because it involves physical contact between at least two individuals, we can know with certainty that this special ordinance is designed for the visible local church. The Scripture teaches that there are four primary purposes for this practice:

  • Healing of the Sick and Oppressed

One of the most important ordinances of the local church is the healing of the sick. After His resurrection, Jesus instructed the apostles to preach the gospel to everyone. Then He said, “And these signs will follow those who believe…they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mark 16:17-18). The Lord has placed a special healing ministry upon the elders of the local church.

“Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:14-16).

This is another reason we need to be committed members of a local church. You cannot call for the church elders to pray for your healing if you don’t have any elders to call on! In many churches today, this ordinance is neglected. Sometimes a ritual of praying for the sick is practiced, but no one expects anything to really happen. That is why it is important to be a part of a local church that teaches the Bible, believes in the healing power of God, and has a pastor and elders that know how to pray the prayer of faith!

  • Dedication of Infants and Children

Jesus Himself was dedicated as an infant in the Lord’s temple. During this Jewish ceremony, hands were laid upon Jesus and words of faith were spoken.

“Now when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord…And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon…and the Holy Spirit was upon him…So he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God…And Joseph and His mother marveled at those things which were spoken of Him” (Luke 2:22, 25, 27-28).

You cannot call for the church elders to pray for your healing if you don’t have any elders to call on!

Later, Jesus made it a practice to lay His hands upon children and babies to bless them:

“Then little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray” (Matthew 19:13).

“And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them” (Mark 10:16).

Believers should follow this example and bring their newborns and young children to receive prayers and blessings by the elders of the church.

  • Appointing Church Leaders

Whenever people are set in places of ministry in the church, the laying on of hands is used. This serves as both a symbol of the transfer of authority and an actual impartation of God’s grace to lead. Sometimes when church authorities lay hands on new leaders, God speaks through the gift of prophecy, giving encouragement and guidance to their lives.

“Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business… whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them” (Acts 6:3, 6).

“As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away” (Acts 13:2-3).

“Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership” (1 Timothy 4:14).

  • Imparting Spiritual Gifts and Blessings

Spiritual gifts can be activated, prophesies given, and blessings imparted when believers minister to one another in prayer. There are also special gifts of the Holy Spirit that can operate through the ministers of the church. It is important to see that God has placed spiritual gifts in church leaders for the benefit of the members of the body.

“Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:17).

“And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied” (Acts 19:6).

“Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands” (2 Timothy 1:6).

In the next chapter we are going to learn about taking our place in the local church. We are going to see how the church provides a covering for the believer through spiritual leadership. Together, we will discover God’s plan for our personal transformation, which requires us to make a personal commitment to God’s visible church.

This article is an excerpt adapted from The Transformed Life, by John R Carter. The Transformed Life is powerful discipleship tool that is designed to help believers experience personal transformation through a dynamic relationship with Jesus and the local church. The Transformed Life is now available for purchase through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Transformedlifenow.com.