What Is a Local Church?
Arvid K. McQuire
The church is the fulfillment of the eternal purpose of God. This purpose was accomplished in Jesus Christ (Eph. 3:10-11; Matt. 16:18). The church is composed of saints (I Cor. 14:33). These have been called out of the world by the gospel and stand in the true grace of God.
The local church is God's plan for saints to do his work collectively. There is collective action evident in the work of the local church. This action is intra, i. e., "within. inside" the framework of a local church. It is "together" work. It is our purpose to study the passages of scripture that reveal to us what a local church is.
More Than location
It is more than the location of persons. Paul wrote to the church of God which is at Corinth. In the salutation of Second Corinthians he included "all the saints that are in the whole of Achaia" (I Cor. 1:1-3; 2 Cor. 1:1-2). Were the saints in the whole of Achaia members of one local church in Corinth?
Suppose a Christian lives next door to the meeting-place of the church in your community. He does not assemble with the church meeting next door but drives across town to another congregation. He would be a member of a local church, but his location alone would not identify him with the church meeting next door.
A Certain Relationship
A local church is a relationship of certain members to certain overseers. The church at Philippi was a relationship between certain saints, deacons, and bishops. This relationship and oversight is restrictive. Paul called the elders of the church at Ephesus to meet him at Miletus. They were admonished, "Take heed to yourselves, and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit hath made you bishops..." (Acts 20:17,28). Peter exhorted the elders to "tend the flock ot God which is among you" (1 Pet. 5:2). Elders are restricted to oversee and be examples unto one flock.
This relationship in no way binds all Christians to one eldership or one eldership to all Christians. The oversight has been assigned by the Holy Spirit. It is one flock "the flock of God among you," a relationship between certain members and certain overseers. All centralization of power violates this principle.
Unit That Makes Decisions
Paul gave order concerning the collection for the saints. This collection was to be rayed by in store upon the first day of week. Messengers were chosen by the local churches to travel with Paul to carry their bounty to Jerusalem. Each church acted independently in the matter. Each church selected and approved its own messenger and he carried its bounty to Jerusalem (I Cor. 16:3-5). Each church made its own decision in the selection and approval of her messenger.
New Testament cooperation of local churches was concurrent action. Each concurred independently, retaining its own autonomy. There was no organizational tie-up or arrangement. No local church acted as a brotherhood agency for the collection and pooling of the resources of sister congregations.
Unit That Exercises Discipline
A local church exercises discipline on ungodly members. This involves an assembly of saints, for Paul commanded the church at Corinth, "Ye being gathered together... to deliver such a one unto Satan...." (1 Cor. 5:4-5.)
A local church is a unit of fellowship. This fellowship is withdrawn or denied to an ungodly member. Paul instructed the saints not to keep company or to eat a meal with a brother who has been disciplined (I Cor. 5:9-11). The purpose of the discipline is to reclaim the ungodly member by effecting his reformation.
Unit of Worship
There is a coming together in the church (! Cor. 11:18), an assembly (11:20), a coming together to eat the Lord's supper (11:33). The disciples at Troas met on the first day of the week to break bread (Acts 20:7). Christians are commanded not to forsake our own assembling together (Heb. 10:25).
A local church is a collective unit that worships according to the New Testament pattern. Each Christian participates in the acts of worship: singing, prayer, giving, studying the scripture, and eating the Lord's Supper (Acts 2:42; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16).
Has a Treasury
A church treasury is the pooling of the means and abilities of the members (I Cor. 16:1-2). It is a medium of exchange used by the church. From the treasury is the only way a local church can send as a unit. By this means a church can have fellowship in preaching the gospel. This fact demonstrates that the church at Philippi had a treasury. When Paul was departing from Macedonia, "No church had fellowship with me in the matter of giving and receiving but ye only; for even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my need" (Phil. 4:15-16). While preaching in Corinth Paul received support from other churches (2 Cor. 11:8-9).
The local church can as a unit relieve the necessities of poor saints (I Tim. 5:16; Rom. 15:25-26). For the church to accomplish such as a unit necessitates the pooling of the means and abilities of the members.
Receives as a Unit
"And the disciples (at Antioch), every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren that dwelt in Judaea: which they did, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul" (Acts I 1: 29-30). The elders received on behalf of the brethren, for they are stewards of God (Tit. 1: 7).
There were a number of local churches in Judaea (Gal. 1:22; I Thess. 2:14). According to apostolic authority and practice, elders were appointed in every church (Acts 14:23).
The elders were where the brethren were. The brethren were in Judaea. Therefore, the elders were in Judaea. Each local church in Judaea received as a unit, its elders receiving and dispersing as stewards of God.
A local church has abundance or is in want as a unit (2 Cor. 8:14). This does not mean that every individual Christian was poor but that the church as a unit was poor, in want. The churches having abundance became the supply for those in want.
Must be Joined
Paul, upon arrival in Jerusalem, assayed to join himself to the disciples.... (Acts 9:26). A Christian must be identified with a local church. He must establish the relationship with certain elders and fellow-Christians. The local church is God's plan for his saints to do his work collectively. A Christian must work in this relationship under the oversight of elders.
Every Christian must be a member of a local church. He cannot discharge his responsibility as a Christian otherwise. He must pool his means and abilities with fellow Christians to do the work Christ assigned to the church.
Joining a local church means to establish a man-to-man relationship. A Christian has been baptized into Christ and added to the one body. This established fellowship with God.
Joining a local church means to have fellowship or to be a joint partaker with the brethren by sharing in the collective action of doing God's work.
A Christian cannot congregate with himself. He must assemble with the saints to worship God. This demands attendance at all the services of the church. To forsake the assembling or to neglect responsibility is to commit sin (I Cor. 11:17-34; Heb. 10:2S).
What is a local church? It is God's revealed plan and organization for his saints to do his work collectively.
Truth Magazine VII: 10, pp. 8-9