If you are a Christian, you know that the local church is a substantial aspect of your faith. Even if you aren’t a Christian, you recognize church buildings, organizations, and meetings. You may be wondering what exactly the local church is and what it isn’t. For many of us, we have seen a horrible representation of Christianity, Jesus, and Christians. Therefore, it is important that we define and redefine what the local church actually is, in congruence with scripture.
What is the local church? The local church is the consistent gathering of Christians within a certain community or area. The local church may have a specific building or institution to which it is connected. Every local church that believes and follows the principles of the Bible makes up the global church. Typically, when people consider the local church, they associate it with an established building and the members within it.
Table of contents:
- The Local Church
- Biblical References to the Church
- Biblical Basis for Church Function
- How Local Churches Fit Globally
- Is Church Attendance Necessary?
- Do I have to Serve in a Local Church?
The Local Church
The local church is the consistent gathering of disciples of Christ. The local church can be attributed to a building or institution. However, the local church is much greater than the building it meets in. Overall, the local church is the people who fill the building or the room.
A local church can meet in a home, a park, a rented building, or an elaborate building with the church’s name on it. Too often the term “church” is identified with a building, steeple, pastor, or name, whereas, “church” should be connected directly to God’s church. Scripture explains the church in various ways. It explains the church as the bride of Christ. Furthermore, it explains church as an ekklēsia.
Ekklēsia is a Greek word that Jesus used. This term would not have been new to the original hearers or readers. Rather, it would have a strong connotation and definition related to a legislative or political assembly. Essentially, Jesus was stating that His church would bring His reign and authority to earth.
They would be the ones to bring about the way of the Lord in the world. Today, ekklēsia is often defined as a gathering or assembly. While this is true, God has a greater plan for His people than them meeting a couple of days a week to fellowship.
Moreover, the church is not a building or location. It is the people who are within it. The people who believe, follow, disciple, and are discipled, are the church. They are the ones who bring the Kingdom to the world. The local church building is simply where they meet. The local church is believers on a communal level.
Biblical References to the Church
Jesus referenced His church. Through the inspiration of Holy Spirit, additional scriptures were written to explain, define, correct, and advance the work of the church. Most of the New Testament are letters to the church from Apostles and disciples.
These letters were written and given to local communities and gatherings of the church. At times, the gospel writings and letters to specific churches were circulated to other believers and the Early Church as a whole.
Matthew 16:16-18: Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
Matthew 28:18-20: “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Letters to the Early Church
Hebrews 10:24-25: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Colossians 3:16: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
Ephesians 2:19-22: “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In Him, the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him, you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”
1 Corinthians 3:16-17: “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.”
Ephesians 1:22-23: “And God placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way.”
1 Timothy 3:15: “If I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.
Biblical Basis for Church Function
There is a manner in which the local church functions best. This may be partly dependent upon the local of the church, the building that is in use, the members of the church, and the freedom of religion within an area. Despite these variances, scripture does give clear examples of how a healthy church flourishes.
1. God Gifts the Entire Body of Christ
1 Corinthians 14:26 states, “What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.”
This specifies that each one of those who are gathered contributes. Meaning, there shouldn’t be one person in a hierarchical position that runs the show and dominates the other believers. Instead, the church should, in an ordered manner, allow the other believers to use their giftings to exhort the Body of Christ.
Furthermore, when the Apostle Paul speaks of spiritual gifts, he lists the following in Ephesians 4:11-13. “So Christ Himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors, and teachers, to equip His people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
2. Gifts are Distributed as the Spirit Desires
Spiritual gifts are not proof or a sign of salvation. Moreover, not all believers have the same gifts or all the gifts. Speaking in tongues isn’t necessary to be saved or filled with Holy Spirit. Rather, the Spirit gives gifts as He sees fitting. Believers can also ask the Lord for spiritual gifts.
1 Corinthians 12:27-31 explains, “Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. All are not apostles, are they?
All are not prophets, are they? Are all teachers? All are not workers of miracles, are they? Do all have gifts of healings? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they? But earnestly desire the greater gifts.”
Furthermore, gifts are used for the edification and encouragement of the Body of Christ. They are not intended to exalt the individual with the gift. 1 Corinthians 14:1-5 displays this.
“Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy. For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort.
Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church. I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified.”
3. Love is the Greatest Gift
Love is the greatest gift. It far surpasses spiritual gifts and any other matter in this life. God, Himself is love (1 John 4:8). It is because of this great love, which is wholely existent as God, that we are able to love. 1 John 4:19 states, “We love because He first loved us.”
Moreover, love is the only thing that will not pass away. If we do not have love, we have nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 expresses this. “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
And if I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”
The Apostle Paul continued to explain what love is in verses 4-8. He states, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”
Why We Love
1 John 4:7-12 commands, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this, the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.
In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.”
Moreover, Jesus proclaimed to His disciples, “By this everyone will know that you are My disciples if you love one another.”
4. Christians are Called to Unity
Before Jesus willingly gave His life for the word, He prayed for those who followed HIm and those who would follow Him. One of the greatest themes was that of unity. His desire is that His followers would be one with God as He is one with God. Additionally, He desires that those who follow are one with each other. This goes directly in hand with the call and blessing to love.
This is seen in John 17:20-24. Jesus proclaims, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.”
1 Corinthians 1:10 also advises against division. Instead, believers are to advocate for unity. “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.”
5. Believers Are Called to Respect
Believers should use self-control to not dominate the meeting. They should give place to other individuals. They should use their giftings in an orderly way that does not bring confusion or division.
1 Corinthians 14:27-32 explains, “If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God.
Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets.”
6. God Desires Orderly Services and Meetings
God does not create disorder. He does not approve of disorder. He is a God of order who calls His people to order. Therefore, His people should function in such a way that brings order, peace, efficiency, and effectiveness. The way that this is done may look different based on the local church, the people who are a part of it, and the circumstances.
Scripture outlines much of this order to be in how the spiritual gifts are used. It also relates order to unity rather than division. Peacemaking rather than quarreling. And Godly leadership, instead of all individuals in the church deciding their own guidelines.
1 Corinthians 14:33 states, “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.”
7. Local Churches Function with Leadership
The local church should not be one without leadership. Scripture outlines what leadership should look like in a local church setting. It gives specific qualifications, as well as emphasizes that leadership and overseers should be part of the church.
1 Timothy 3:1-7 states, “Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.
He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full[a] respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?)
He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.”
Additionally, Titus 1:6-9 explains, “An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain.
Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.”
8. Local Churches are a Means to an End
Lastly, local churches are a means to an end. They are not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is to see God’s Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. The goal is to make disciples and preach the good news of the Kingdom to the ends of the earth.
The local church is one way to do this. It exists at a local level to develop the community, disciple the community, and bring others into the Kingdom of God. Churches should not get caught up in whether are not they are the best church. Furthermore, church attendance should never be the goal. Churches can be filled with thousands and have a small percentage of true, devoted followers and disciples.
Additionally, the local church supports missions, ministry, and outreach. This support is financial, prayerful, emotional, physical, and mental. The church sends its members into the world or helps other local churches to send missionaries and people to reach out in the community.
How Local Churches Fit Globally
Local churches fit into the global church because they are what makes the global church. The global church consists of all the local congregations of believers. Recall that the church is not a building but the people who make up the building. These individuals are those who hold fast to the principles of scripture and live obediently to them.
The global church is all the individuals who believe and follow the Jesus of scripture. There are some individuals who have various conceptions of Jesus. It must be noted that the global church is not merely those who believe that Jesus was a real man.
They must believe that Jesus is fully God and fully man. He is the promised Messiah of God and the solution to the issue of sin, evil, and death. He is the second part of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Additionally, all truths explained in the Bible must be accepted for someone to be an orthodox Christian, and therefore, part of the global church.
For example, Muslins believe in Jesus. Yet, they would deny that He was ever God. Rather, they see Him as a prophet of Muhammad and that Allah is God, not Yahweh. Christians recognize that this is a conflicting view of Jesus. In order to be part of the global church, individuals must be Christian by definition of scripture and what the Early Church decided at the various councils.
The Purpose of the Global Church
The purpose of the global church is the same as the local church. The goal of the church as a whole is to bring the Kingdom of God to the earth. The manner in which this is done may be different on many levels. Yet, it should never conflict with scripture.
If you are interested in learning more about the roles, differences, and similarities of the local and global church, refer to my blog. Universal Church vs Local Church: Differences & Similarities clearly lays out what church means on both levels. It additionally, provides a table that outlines the major differences and similarities in a simple and easy to comprehend manner.
Is Church Attendance Necessary?
The answer is, yes. However, I do not like the term “attendance” or even the understanding of “necessary”. The Western world has greatly impacted the way in which the church functions. It associates the church in much of the same way that it relates to school attendance and participation and going to work. In many ways, it has become something of a legal matter or obligation.
This was never the intention of the church.
Scripture clearly commands that believers do not stop meeting with one another. If this is not possible or if a believer chooses not to for a time, it does not put their salvation at risk. Salvation is by grace and through faith. The term “attendance” makes it sound like you check the box and are fine. Yet, the gathering of believers isn’t to complete the good work of showing up.
It is for edification, encouragement, accountability, growth, application, and understanding of scriptures, worship, love, unity, and the advancement of the Kingdom. So yes, “attending” church is necessary to bring the Kingdom to the world because that was God’s design.
However, you do not have to attend an institutional church. Remember, the church is the gathering of believers. Your local church can meet in your home or anywhere for that matter. It is necessary for believers to meet together when they can. It is necessary for the good of each individual and the good of the world. The type of church you attend or what kind of building it meets in does not matter.
Do I have to Serve in a Local Church?
Again, this is based on your definition of local church and service. You do not have to serve in a local institutional church. For example, many people feel that they are required to greet others as they enter the building, pass out the offering bucket, or make crafts with children.
While these are not bad, they are simply another understanding and construction of the local church. You can serve in your local church that meets in a home or a different building style by providing for those in need, praying for others, using spiritual gifts for the edification of the body, and participating in the church like scripture clearly explains.
However, note that if you attend an institutional style church, serving is required. In order to keep the building, ministry, facilities, lights, plumbing, etc. there must be people giving money and time. This type of service exists to keep the church running. Without it, the building will go into foreclosure, or the church will have to cut back on child care, events held, etc.
I do believe, that these types of service should not be the only kind of service. Serving the Body of Christ in these ways is good but we cannot neglect the command to care for widows, orphans, and the other types of needs that are within the church. If we focus too much on the upkeep of the building and being able to maintain a Sunday service, we are doing something wrong.
Growth of the Local Church
Many individuals leave the institutional church style and hold churches in their homes because it is more economical. The money that would have been required to pay for a building can now be used to care for the believers. Often, there are greater funds to give to the unreached, and the lost within the community.
In many ways, the institutional church is doing a great work of the Lord. If this is how the Lord calls a community, it is not for me to judge or assess. Rather, I believe that each community of local believers should prayerfully ask the Lord what His best plan is in all areas. He may very well command the continuation of the church the way that it is. Or, He may bring reform.
Believers shouldn’t be afraid to challenge what is comfortable or traditional. They should also seek God with a fresh mind and intention. They should be willing and open to hold onto whatever God commands. In the same way, they should be ready to let go and reform what He commands.