The Local Church

I Don’t Know What I Believe – Friday Day 10

The Local Church

 

19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

Ephesians 2:19-22

 

In the current evangelical world there are a number of interpretations regarding the ekklesia or church of Jesus Christ. The New Testament teaching on the church contains a number of analogies used by various writers to describe the nature and function of the church. The “body” of Christ, the “household” of God, the “temple” of God, the “kingdom” of Christ and the “bride” of Christ are some of the ways the church is described.

 

All of these metaphors give important insights into the nature of the church but individually they fall short in giving us the complete picture. Collectively they give us an understanding of what the church is and how it is to function.

 

Semantics, particularly the current usage of English provides us with problems as well. The word ekklesia is clearly interpreted as a called out assembly of people, but the word is often used as a noun to describe the institution of the church rather than individual local churches. When Jesus said “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” he was speaking of his institution, not any particular local church. Local churches will go out of existence, but the institution of the church will always be represented by active local churches in existence somewhere on the earth until the end of time.

 

Some have taken this teaching to mean that there is an invisible universal church into which we all became members of when we believed in Jesus Christ. However the scriptures teach that there existed believers who were saved but had not yet become part of the church until they were baptized and added (see Acts 2).

 

When Paul said he was the least of all the apostles because he persecuted the church, he was not talking about an invisible body of believers, he was referring to the institution that Christ established, having persecuted people who were part of the local church in a number of different areas. These believers had submitted to public baptism and had identified themselves publically with the other members of the local church. They were easily identified because of their behavior.

 

Remember that Jesus asked Saul (Paul before he was converted) “why are you persecuting me?” Paul could have said, “I’m not persecuting you, I’m persecuting church members” but Jesus would argue that these were members of his body and what you do to these people in the local churches you are doing to Christ. The church is his visible body on earth. It is found in various places all over the world and as an institution it is still being persecuted today. But who is being persecuted? Individual believers are being persecuted as part of the local church in the world today.

 

There is however a group that we become a part of when we believe. It is called the family of God. We are adopted into it, having been placed into Christ by the Holy Spirit. All family members have the spirit of God dwelling in them and they have an eternal destiny made available by the blood of Christ. But it is not the church.

 

No one was ever adopted into the church, that metaphor is only used of the family of God. But as Paul says in Ephesians 2, as fellow citizens and members of the household of God we can and should be added to the “building” of the church. We become the proper building material when we become believers but we must willingly submit ourselves to God and follow Christ in physical baptism and actively seek the fellowship of the local church where we can serve God according to His plan not ours. The teaching of the New Testament does not allow for believers to remain isolated and not become part of a local church.

 

The teaching that has evolved over the years that says a believer can be a member of the universal church but not be baptized and not be in fellowship with the local church is not found anywhere in the Bible.