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The Local Church: Where Christ Equips His Saints

The Local Church: Where Christ equips His Saints

When the conversation, as you’re out and about turns to “church,” what commonly comes to the fore is preconceived notions and assumptions about “church:” “church” as organized religion not needed or wanted.  Or “church” is where I got burned by a bad experience. Or “church” as in I haven’t yet found one that suits my needs and tastes. Or “church” is full of hypocrites. Even among those who consider themselves to be Christians different understandings of “church” show up: “Well, I listen to Christian radio and podcasts and read Christian books and as time and money allows, I like to attend Christian conferences, but no, I don’t belong to any church.” Or, “I’m a born-again believer and just waiting for Jesus’ return.” 

I’ve not uncommonly heard those almost exact statements, sad to say, but not with surprise in our culture’s sparsity of minds renewed by the faithful preaching and teaching of “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3, NKJV). That apostolic, Christian faith, foundationally set down for us as the completed Scriptures, provides godly understanding of “church” for us who believe it and abide in it, “taking every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor.10:5). 

We who confess the undoubted truths of our faith as summarized by our creeds confess “The Holy Catholic (universal) Church”, this view “church” is fleshed out by HC #54 as “the Son of God, by His Spirit and Word, gathers, defends, and preserves for Himself unto everlasting life a chosen communion in the unity of the true faith.” We, the members the universal church by the faith worked in our hearts through the preaching of the gospel, know the vital importance of the universal church, for we live on this present earth in the sure hope of its glorification. 

Yet, as we study the apostolic testimony of the New Testament, the great majority of its references to “church” are not to the universal church, but to the visible, local church(es). The Book of Acts testifies to the church in Jerusalem and Antioch and the apostle so instrumental in establishing local churches on his missionary journeys, writes letters to these local churches.  For instance:  “to the church of God that is at Corinth,” “to the churches of Galatia;” and it highlights the emphasis on the local church when Paul includes the overseers and deacons in addressing the saints who are at Philippi. Before the exalted Christ Jesus returns to take His universal “church” to glory, He is gathering the members of His “chosen communion” into local, visible, churches throughout this present earth.  The concept of a professing Christian not part of a local Christian church is foreign to the New Testament. 

But why is so much importance given to local churches in the interim between Christ’s first and second coming? Why should our understanding of “church” be not just limited to the universal church? Why should we Christians be joined together in this present life as local churches? The short answer is that it is via His local churches that Christ Jesus, the Head of His church, equips His church to display God’s glory on earth. As Christ’s apostle Paul puts it at the end of His prayer in Ephesians 3: “to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations.”  The church must be equipped to that end by the mind-renewing, life-transforming, sanctifying gospel heard and heeded by the saints gathered in local churches. It is as we Christians are part of a local Christian church that we are each equipped by Christ’s gift of pastors/teachers for the work of ministry to which the whole congregation is called, each member doing his/her part. 

The work of ministry has as its given goal the church being built up in love (see Eph. 4:11-16).   Love for one another, the members of the church, as a witness to the love of God that was made manifest among us by the life we have through the crucified and resurrected incarnate Son of God, Christ Jesus. As Christ’s apostle John (I John 4:11) exhorts us Christians:  “Beloved, if God so loved us (by sending His Son to be the propitiation for our sins) we also ought to love one another.” Even as we are members of Christ’s body, His church, by God’s gracious love, our loving one another requires equipping, which is by Christ Jesus, in the local church, through His gift of pastors/teachers. 

The love of God that we, born of Him, are to witness to one another is a witness to the ungodly culture. Jesus said (John 13:35): “by this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” This is a love most evidently demonstrated as we grow up into Christ Jesus, become more conformed to Him and demonstrate the love that is self-sacrificial, compassionate, giving of self, time, effort, resources to meet one another’s needs as was demonstrated by the apostolic local church in Jerusalem. Such love, love as God defines it and demonstrated it, is not our natural inclination. Such love requires the equipping, putting-to-death-the-old-man, making-alive-the-new-man-in-Christ gospel preached/taught by the local Christian church, so together we learn, are trained, to be loving one another…and witness the love of God in Christ Jesus to our local communities.

May we who profess Christ Jesus be thankful for the local churches He is establishing by His Word and Sprit and may we be steadfastly availing ourselves of Christ’s equipping us, so we are built up to witness God’s love to us by loving one another.   

George Horner
Westminster, CO

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