Definition of the local church.
The Church Universal—The Church Invisible—The Mystical Body of Christ
But the NT also speaks of local churches composed of believers in any given locality. To name a few: Jerusalem, Corinth, Rome, Ephesus. These in reality were local expressions of the universal church of God. The observant reader will find that:
1. Each one was a sovereign unit.
2. Each was independent of other churches.
3. Each one was subject to Christ.
4. Each one was in fellowship with the other.
What would the be true features of a local church? In 1593 Henry Burrow wrote, “A true New Testament church is a company of believers separated from unbelievers, gathered in the name of the Lord Jesus, whom they worship and obey. They are a brotherhood, a communion of saints, each one of them standing in and for their Christian liberty, to practice whatsoever God has commanded and revealed in His Holy Word.”
See also Acts 2:42—“They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship and in breaking of bread and in prayers.” In conclusion, a local assembly or church is a group of believers on the Lord Jesus Christ, who assemble themselves regularly in His name for the purpose of fellowship, breaking of bread, worship, praise, prayer, testimony, ministry of the word, preaching of the Gospel, and discipline.
Every such church:
1. Has Christ in its midst.
2. Is a temple of God.
3. Is controlled by the Spirit.
When mature in Christ it consists of saints, bishops, and deacons. Philippians 1:1.
The local church should be miniature of the universal church. If then the local is to be a replica of the complete church, what are the great truths of the body of Christ to which it must give living testimony? There are at least seven:
1. There is one body.
2. Christ is Head of the body.
3. All believers are members of the body.
4. The Holy Spirit is the President in the Church.
5. The church of God is holy.
6. Gifts are given for the edification of the Church.
7. All believers are priests of God.
For our present study we will take those seven truths and seek to determine how the local assembly can really be a living testimony of them to the world.
The Truth of the One Body
The origin of the brethren movement was to preserve this great truth. The local church is responsible to witness to this great church.
How can we witness to this fact today?
By taking no name that would separate us from other Christians. In God’s sight the Church is not divided. Compare 1 Corinthians 1:10 with 1:11-13. In Corinth there was in the making: “The Church of Saint Apollos”; “The Church of Saint Paul”; “The First Church of Christ”; “The Church of Saint Peter.” Is Christ divided? NO!
What sort of names should we take (Acts 11:26). The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch (Acts 5:14). And believers were the more added to the Lord (Acts 9:1). And Saul breathing out threats and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord (Ephesians 1:1). To the saints which are at Ephesus (James 2:1).
It is difficult to maintain this position in these days. And I may say that we will remain a conundrum and to the community, most people like a handle to hang on.
The Lord has never looked kindly on divisions in the Church. See 1 Corinthians 3:4—“For while one saith I am of Paul, and another, I am of Apollos, are ye not carnal?”
Divisions in the Church bring great evils:
1. They create artificial barriers to fellowship.
2. They limit the movement of gifted men of God whose ministry should be available to all the church.
3. They confuse the world causing them to ask “Which church is right?”
Marcus Rainsford wrote, “For my own part I believe that sects and denominations to be the result of the devils attempt to mar and hinder as far as possible the visible union of the Church of God. They all have their root in our spiritual pride, selfishness, self-sufficiency, sin.”
Believers who are determined to witness to this unity of the body will find it difficult to keep themselves separated from all these divisions and at the same time maintain a loving spirit to all the people of God. Separation with a spirit of grace and gentleness.
We cannot have fellowship with systems which deny Christ, but we should show love to all born again believers who are endeavoring to live and labor for Christ.
Churchmen today realize that there is something wrong with the system of Christendom. This realization has brought about great ecumenical movements. Men know that the Church of God should be one, but their methods to accomplish this are unscriptural. Ecumenicalism is only possible by compromising the great fundamentals of Scripture. Christian congregations deny their Lord when they join with those who repudiate His virgin birth, sinless life, substitutionary death, bodily resurrection, ascension and exaltation, and coming again.
The only true basis for Christian unity is a common devotion to Christ and His Word. When His honor and glory is the great desire of our hearts, then all His people will be drawn together as one, then the Lord’s prayer will be answered. “That they may be one, even as we are one.” John 17:22.
So, in this the day o our pilgrimage, it is our responsibility as local churches to maintain a testimony to the unity of the body, in a day when Christendom denies this fact.
May we do this by acknowledging in spirit, in principle and in practice, all other fellow-believers.