Our family had this discussion on Monday night in the context of studying part of the book of Ephesians in the New Testament, and I'd like to share what we discussed. Let's start with Ephesians 2:18-22 (KJV):
18 For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.After stating that we have access to the Father through Christ, note that Paul immediately turns to the theme of the community that is found within the Church. In following Christ, we are not meant to be alone, not meant to be strangers, but are part of the saints, fellow citizens with other people seeking the holy things of God, members of the household of God.
19 Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;
20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;
21 In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord:
22 In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.
A household is like a family. Family members need each other for strength, for support, for nourishment, for healing, for teaching, and for protection. Just as loving parents don't throw newborns into the wild and wish them luck but expect to spend years nourishing and teaching them, so also our new converts, those who are newly born again, still need much nourishment and gentle teaching and support to become grounded and strong on their own. And all of us need the strength and support of others, or the opportunity to serve others. Whether serving or being served, this interaction in the household of God is how we grow, how we develop charity, and how we better fulfill our divine destiny as children of God. We can't do it alone. We can't fully be who we are meant to be by living as hermits.
After introducing the theme of community and the household of God, Paul then tells us that we are built upon a foundation with Jesus Christ as the chief corner stone - but not the only stone. The foundation on which we must build, on which the Church of Jesus Christ is built, also includes His authorized servants who receive revelation from Him. Thus, the foundation of the Church includes apostles and prophets, who provide leadership and teachings from Jesus Christ. This foundation helps create the setting where we can have the fellowship needed and participate in the household of God.
As we work together in this household, being based on foundation of Christ, His Atonement and His revelations and ongoing guidance through apostles and prophets, we experience growth and progress in the Gospel. We find that the Spirit can be more fully in our lives and in our community, and that what we are building becomes like the temple - a holy place where we can prepare for fellowship with God. Our eternal destiny is not about being immortal hermits, but part of a glorious community with God as our Heavenly Father. We need the Church in our lives to prepare for that now and enjoy the blessings of guidance, mutual service, self-sacrifice, and fellowship that the Church gives us.
These themes are continued when Paul discusses some of the specific offices in the Church and their reason for being (Ephesians 4:11-14, New KJV):
11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ-- 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.Paul teaches that we need these different offices, including leaders such as apostles and prophets, to guide the Church until there is a unity of faith, something most definitely absent in the world. These offices are needed more than ever! He also discusses the need for us to grow up through the influence of the Church and become the perfected person the Lord wants us to be. This growth process requires the kind of cooperation of parts that we see in the human body, again signifying the harmony and cooperation that we should strive for in the household of God. It's something we can't do alone. We need each other, and we need the various offices the Lord put into his Church anciently, and has restored in modern times. How greateful I am for the Restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ. In spite of our warts and weaknesses, the Church provides a wonderful tool to bless our lives in some many ways, and a tool for us to learn to bless the lives of others as well. It's a divine instrument that we all need, no matter how much we flatter ourselves thinking that we can do it alone, that all we need is Jesus - but do we really accept Jesus if we reject the organization He brought and the leaders He has sent to teach and guide the household of faith?
To say that one doesn't need the Church of Jesus Christ, with its apostles and prophets, because all one needs is Jesus, is like a saying that one doesn't need the Bible and the teachings of its prophets and apostles for the same reason. It completely misses the point of what the Lord is trying to help us do and who He is trying to help us become, if we'll let Him. The scriptures and the Church are there to bless us. May we not think we are self-sufficient and reject what the Lord offers us.