What The Bible Says About the Local Church
When a person becomes a Christian, it is a very personal response to the gospel. God looks upon the heart of the individual as he or she obeys the gospel, adding only the honest, trusting soul to His church. This action is accomplished without the approval of any human being, or board, or council, or congregation. It is in the mind of God that we are determined to be saved from our sins. It is completely up to Him.
But being a Christian involves various changes in our relationships with others;
our family, friends, neighbors, other Christians and even our enemies. With
reference to our relationship with other brethren, there is a locally organized
community of believers in which God had ordained that His people function
together. Practically all of the English versions of the New Testament translate
the Greek word for this community (ekklesia) into our English word "church." The
local church is not something man dreamed up. It is an arrangement planned by
God and must adhere to His instructions to faithfully fulfill His purpose for
WHAT IS A LOCAL CHURCH?
"...to the general assembly and church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven..." (HEBREWS 12:22). That would be quite an assembly! It is made up of all the saved, past present and future, from every nation! But this group is not appointed to come physically together in this world. Though we are spiritually assembled with one another in our common relationship, it would be impossible to gather together in one big group. I am sure such a sight would be impressive, but we live all around the world, and perhaps some of us are yet to be born, others of us have already left this world and await the resurrection.
As far as this life is concerned, there is a gathering that has been ordained by
God for His people to partake in. While most of what we do as His people from
day to day is purely individual in nature (prayer, helping neighbors, being
godly husbands and wives and parents and children, teaching, etc.) there are
definite responsibilities that can be met only as a part of this body
which God has ordained. This body, or group, or collectivity of Christians is
the local church. While the universal assembly, or church, is without human
organization, the local church is the organization authorized by the Lord for
collective efforts which He has authorized for His people to undertake.
Individuals join themselves to a local body voluntarily. The New Testament shows
that each of these local groups had its own common work, treasury and leadership
(I CORINTHIANS 1:2; ROMANS 16:16).
THERE IS A PATTERN
"...and thus I direct in all the churches" (I CORINTHIANS 7:17). The various local churches which sprang up across the Roman Empire in the first century were bound by the Law of Christ, as given through the teachings of the inspired apostles. This was true from the very beginning of the church (ACTS 2:42). As long as they remained true the the apostolic doctrine, they taught the same thing and held in common the same creed; the word of Christ.
Man has always sought to improve upon what God has given him. The Israelites had been given a specific pattern for worship under the Old Law. They were told to be very careful not to go beyond the pattern. The book of Hebrews makes the point that we have a better covenant in Jesus than they had; that we have better promises and a superior high priest; Jesus. So, it follows that if anything, we should be more careful to keep within the pattern which God has given to His church; "...See,' He says, 'That you make all things according to the pattern which was shown to you on the mountain.' But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted upon better promises." (HEBREWS 8:1-6).
Local churches across the world may be quite different from one another in some
respects; their customs, manner of dress; language; traditions and so forth. But
concerning matters included within the pattern; matters which the Lord
specifically spoke about, there should be no variation. There is a pattern
II TIMOTHY 2:2). It does matter to the Lord whether a local church remains
faithful to His pattern; it ought to also make a difference to us.
THE WORSHIP OF THE LOCAL CHURCH
"...and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as we see the day drawing near.." (HEBREWS 10:24,25). The purpose of worship is at least two-fold. Jehovah is glorified by the acts of the faithful worshiper. The other purpose of worship is for the benefit of the worshiper. Both of these purposes are mentioned in the instructions the New Testament gives concerning worshipping God in song; "Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts unto God." (COLOSSIANS 3:16).
When the local churches of the New Testament worshiped, they would sing praises
to encourage one another and to jointly express their gratitude unto God. They
would also pray together voicing unto God their joint concerns. They would
involve themselves together in a study of the word, with a teacher or preacher
expounding on the doctrine of Christ. Also, on the first day of the week, or
Sunday, they would take up a collection by which the members of the local church
could pool their resources into a common treasury for the purpose of carrying
out works which God appointed the local church to do. Also, on this day,
Christians would remember the Lord's death for them by observing the Lord's
supper as He had directed (ACTS 2:42; ACTS 20:7; I CORINTHIANS 16:1,2).
THE WORK OF THE LOCAL CHURCH
"...I write so that you may know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and the support of the truth." (I TIMOTHY 3:15). The purpose of the church is to bring God glory by declaring His wisdom to the universe (EPHESIANS 3:10,11). This is in accordance with God's eternal purpose! God's plan for the church has been around for a long time; in fact, His plan predates the creation of the earth; it is eternal.
God has made the church responsible for holding forth the truth of the gospel to the world. The church at Thessalonica was commended for the diligent way in which they undertook this mission; "...so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything." (I THESSALONIANS 1:7,8).
Some in the local church at Corinth were having a difficult time cooperating with one another. They were still too carnal; envious and jealous of one another. Paul told them that their relationship to Jesus and to one another, and the heavy responsibility of the work God had given them to do, made it important for them to put away such worldly attitudes. He described the local church as a body which needs the efforts of every one of its members: "...Now you are Christ's body, and individually members of it." (I CORINTHIANS 12:14-27).
The local church today needs each of its members to join in the godly efforts of
the congregation. "The body is not one member, but many." If each member does
not do His part, then the most important work we could possibly be involved with
suffers. The church is the body of Christ; and He is the head of the body. We
must listen to the head. Because of the human part, no local church is perfect.
But because of Christ, let each member push on toward perfection, always
growing, and never quitting.
By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 2.9; September, 1995