The Local Church – Week 7 / February 11th

“And they continued steadfastly in the Apostles
doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread,
and in prayers.”

Acts 2:42

There is no doubt that the center of God’s work in the world is the local church. The first century believers knew this and made it their business to gather believers together in designated local areas. These gatherings took place in homes initially and they were not informal unorganized meetings. No, they had a definite structure and they were put in order by ordained leaders who assumed the responsibility before God to care for the people, known as the “flock of God.” (Acts 20:28) These were God’s people and godly shepherds were put in place to care for them. (Acts 14:23)

Paul’s various missionary journeys give expression to this holy work of planting local churches. Paul did not just hold evangelistic meetings or public gatherings. Once he had gained disciples he organized them into local fellowships where they could be cared for, discipled and in turn sent out to share Christ with the world.  (Titus 1:5)The divine calling over a local church is thus special requiring careful attention to it and obedience. The truth of scripture is therefore clear; every believer in Jesus is required to attach himself/herself to a local church. Failure in this regard is truly disobedience to the revealed will of God. Indeed the writer of the book of Hebrews exhorts believers to “not forsake their assembling together as is the habit of some.” (Hebrews 10:24-25) So, already in the first century there were followers of Jesus who were living out their faith independently from the local church.

At one level we can understand this as gathering together with people that you do not necessarily know or want to be with is a challenge but it is one that we must embrace since by this mechanism our social failings and faults are highlighted meaning that we have to change and learn to love people and get on with them. (1Corinthians 3:3) The hallmark of God’s kingdom is unity (Ephesians 4:1-3; 32) since it is the antithesis of the kingdom of darkness from which we have all come. In this dark kingdom division, disunity and schism are the order of the day. If following Jesus means anything it means living reconciled lives. That is, being reconciled to God and to our fellow men. If we cannot get on together in the local church the real issue that has to be examined is; how saved are we? In fighting and schism is always evidence that the powers of darkness are at work! We must not forget this. The devil loves to ignite our carnal natures and thereby get a foothold in our churches. (Acts 4:26-27)

We should therefore note the following about the local church:
1.    It is the Temple of God Ephesians 2:19-22
This gives it a dignity that is awesome to say the least. Jesus lives in all of us but He makes His presence known in a special way amongst the assembled people of God. (1Corinthians 12:13)  This means that supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit are distributed to the members of the local congregation. (1Corinthians 12:1-11) We must accordingly treat the household of God with reverence and awe. This does not mean that it should not be a joyful and happy place. No, it means that we must hold in our hearts the fear of God as we come regularly to worship. Scripture teaches that there is a deposit of the Holy Spirit upon the assembled people of God that you cannot experience on one’s own.

2.    It is cared for by God-Ordained leadership Hebrews 13:17
A casual read of the New Testament will reveal that local churches were considered to be God’s Temple when they had been set in order by the ordination of leadership. (Titus 1:5) In the Bible this leadership is called Elders and Deacons. (Philippians 1:1) Their qualifications are in all respects the same meaning that they are chosen because they are mature godly people. (1Timothy 3:1-13) Elders rule, Deacons help them rule. Deacons are not simply glorified administrators! Their main function is to care for the flock of God and protect it. (1Peter 5:1-2) By all means they must seek to protect the flock from self serving people who are in it for themselves. This too was a problem encountered by the early church. (3John 9-12)

3.    It has structure Acts 2:42
Acts two verses forty to forty-seven reveals that the local church expressed itself on a regular basis by holding prayer meetings, Bible study, fellowship gatherings and communion or breaking of bread. It states in this passage that they did these things steadfastly! Filled with the unifying life of Christ they then, because of this structure, began to care for one another by spontaneous acts of generosity. (Acts 4:32-35)

4.    It is a sanctified place 2Corinthians 6:16-18
This means, since it is set order properly by the ordination of God-given leadership that it is set apart for God. In turn this means that we have to treat the local church with great care. It is not just a gathering place for Christians but a place where God dwells with his people. For this reason scripture warns that those who assault it in any way will be destroyed! (1Corinthians 3:17)

5.    It is outward looking Matthew 28:18-20
The local church exists for those who do not belong to it! It is a catalyst and springboard for evangelism. Its members are to see themselves as vital to the spreading of the Gospel and must be mobilized in this regard. This was the way in which the church at Thessaloniki saw itself. (1Thessalonians 1:8) Scripture affirms that the word of God went out from them into the entire surrounding region. A local church will become inwardly looking and corrupt if it does not see itself as part of the great commission.

6.    It is connected Philippians 2:25-30
The local church does not live in isolation. It is connected to the wider Body of Christ by trans-local ministry gifts.  (Ephesians 4:11)The Bible calls these the messengers of the churches. (2Corinthians 8:23) These gifted people may be Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists and pastoring teachers. They serve the people of God in a way that the local church is enabled to be functional. Everyone has something to give to the life of the local church. (1Peter 4:10)

This then is the biblical teaching concerning the nature and dignity of the local church. Please be sure to take your place in a local church because you are only a part of the universal church to the extent that you are a part of the local church. When Jesus comes back He will present to Himself the glorious universal church, of all ages, but a universal church that owes its existence entirely to the local church. (Ephesians 5:27) Every local church will experience challenges and trials because we have an enemy who is “hell bent” on infiltrating it and destroying it. Jesus is looking for faithful people; are you one of them? Thankfully, in the end the local church cannot be destroyed because Jesus said, “I will build My Church.” (Matthew 16:18)

“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly
above all that we ask or think, according to the power
that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ
Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen”
Ephesians 3:20-21

Malcolm Hedding

©Malcolm Hedding Ministries

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