The Lord's Church...The "local" church
By Dick Ward
Parson's Quick Verse indicates the English words "church/churches" appear 114 times in 111 verses in the King James translation of the New Testament. The word from which we get the English word church (gk. ekklesia) is said by Bible Works to be found 118 times in the New Testament and translated "church" 115 times; and translated "assembly" 3 times. Young's Concordance differs with Bible Works and gives a listing of ekklesia as being translated "church" 112 times and "assembly" 3 times. One of the best Bible students I have ever known suggests that the word church is used 18 times with reference to the church universal and 92 times in the sense of the local congregation. With so much information available as to the local church we will, of necessity, have to be selective in this article.
We read of several local churches being clearly identified in the New Testament. The very first local congregation was that at Jerusalem (Acts 2:42; 5:11). We read of local works at Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, Colosse, Cenchrea, Antioch, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Philadelphia, Sardis, Laodicea, etc. The Jerusalem church was not the "mother" church, nor did Jerusalem hold authority over the other local churches. Actually, local churches were autonomous (I Peter 5:2). It is an accepted fact among Christians that Jesus "built" His church (Matt. 16:18) and "purchased" it (Acts 20:28) with His blood - the church is His church. Nevertheless, the Scripture speaks of "the church of the Laodiceans" meaning the Laodiceans' church (Col. 4:16). The Bible speaks of "the church of the Thessalonians" meaning the Thessalonians' church (I Thess. 1:1). Both are in the genitive case and J. Gresham Machen says, "The genitive case expresses possession" (The New Testament Greek For Beginners - p. 25). Local churches had a unique and independent nature - separating them from other local congregations. The important question for this article is, What is a local church?
A PLURALITY OF MEMBERS
It quickly becomes evident that one baptized believer cannot constitute a church. "For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.... :14 For the body is not one member, but many.... :19 And if they were all one member, where were the body?" (I Cor. 12:12,14,19 KJV). Suppose we find only one Christian in a particular location, maybe hundreds of miles from the nearest local congregation. Do we understand he cannot establish a local church in his community until he converts another man or another brother moves into his area? There must be a plurality of members in a local church.
We must realize that a plurality of baptized believers cannot constitute a local church without agreement among themselves to work and to function as a church. First of all, just having a group of Christians gather together does not necessarily mean a local church exists. Matthew 18:16 shows a plurality of brethren trying to resolve a spiritual problem, but this is not the church! If the three or four people cannot correct the problem, this plurality of diisciples is to take the unresolved matter to the church - meaning they are not the church in their actions as described in verse sixteen. A group of Christians riding together in a van or bus cannot stop on the side of the road and act like they constitute a church by engaging in acts of church worship. There must be a proposal to establish a local church on the part of the plurality of disciples: the pledging of themselves to do their respective parts and to meet their respective duties to the new work. There must be the willingness to pool their abilities to make the work a success. There must be the mental acceptance of the common responsibility to carry out the God-assigned work and worship of the local congregation (Eph. 4:16).
Mental assent alone on the part of a plurality of faithful brethren to establish a local church does not mean a local congregation exists. More is involved than just mental assent.
To be what the Bible describes as a local church, there must be location - a place where the church assembles. James speaks of two men coming into a meeting place of brethren in Christ: ..."For if there come unto your assembly ("synagogue" - ASV; "place of worship" - NEB) a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment;" (James 2:2). Today, we have available "Where to Worship" directories that give us the exact location where a local church meets in a particular city or community,
To be what the Scripture describes as a local church there must be local government - the goal is to have "elders in every church" (Acts 14:23). Remember, the church must exist before the elders of that local church can exist (Titus 1:5). Without an eldership in the local congregation, it falls upon faithful men of the local work to meet together and in unity they make scriptural decisions facing the local congregation until qualified elders are appointed to tend the flock (Eph. 4:1-4; I Cor. 1:10-18).
To be what the Revelation of God describes as a local church there must be a local treasury - the collection of funds to carry on the work and worship of the local church. The Living Oracles translation has the following: "On the first day of the week, let each of you lay somewhat by itself, according as he may have prospered, putting it into the treasury;..." (I Cor. 16:2). Members who make up that local congregation are committed financially to give into a common local treasury as they have been prospered by God. That is why Christians leave their contribution with the local church when they occasionally are away visiting at other local congregations.
To be what the New Testament describes as a local church there must be scriptural worship - to worship God in spirit and in the truth (John 4:24). The group function of worship involves assembling to hear God's word preached; scripturally eating the Lord's Supper; giving from our prosperity into the local treasury; scripturally singing songs to God and to one another; offering scriptural prayers (I Tim. 3:14, 15; Acts 20:7; I Cor. 16:1-3; Acts 12:5; I Cor. 14:15, 26).
To be what the Truth describes as a local church there must be a pattern of scriptural work - the work assigned by God for the church. The local congregation is to teach lost souls what to do be to saved. The church must edify (spiritually build up) its membership and engage in a limited benevolent program (I Tim. 3:15; Acts 9:31; I Cor. 14:3, 4; I Tim. 5:16; Acts 2,4,6).
To be what the Bible describes as a local church there must be church discipline - the rebuke and, when necessary, the withdrawing of fellowship from erring members. Church discipline has two basic goals. First, it is God's designed approach to restore the erring Christian (I Cor. 5; 2 Cor. 2 & 7). Secondly, it is God's designed protection to keep the church pure (I Cor. 5).
There is a personal responsibility for each individual saint to be a faithful member of a local church. Most God-assigned work is individual action, but there are also many commands that require collective participation with other Christians of like precious faith.
[Editors Note: Thanks to Dick Ward for the article! He may be reached at: Dick Ward, 18 Eldorado East, Tuscaloosa, Alabama 35405, (205) 556-2407.]
Email the Editor at firstname.lastname@example.org
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