Christians are not to go solo. God expects every one of His children to be part of a local church where they can find help and support, grow and mature, get involved, and so live to bring glory to God and blessing to others. In doing this they will become more like the Lord Jesus Christ Himself1 this being the biggest challenge for us all.
The pattern in the book of Acts shows that those who were saved through faith in Christ were baptized before being received into the local church.2 They were called out of the world to gather solely to the Lord’s name. Their lives were meant to be clean, even as their doctrine was to be pure. The Bible calls them ‘saints’3 as those set apart for God – they were to fulfil the meaning of that name by living holy lives before God and men.
This is the church age, the present time of grace, when the gospel is being preached and sinners can be saved. God is calling out of the nations a people for His name4 The church which is the body of Christ includes every saint that believes in Him: some are in heaven, many are upon this earth, and others may not yet be born, therefore it is not yet complete or fully seen. Christ is the Head of this church which is His body5 and we are the members. We are to obey Him and do His will.
By contrast, local churches can be seen here and now. They show the features of the body of Christ of which they are a part. Other people should be able to see that the believers in each local church are loyal to Christ, even as they bear witness to Him and reflect His beauties – His truth, love, and grace.
There are three main functions of the local church and each is vital:
God’s children are thankful people and, every time they gather, the purpose is to worship God and gladly sing His praises. Each week the believers meet to honour Christ and recall His death by breaking bread and drinking the cup, in keeping with His command6 These symbols remind us of His body given and His blood shed for us. The fragrance of this special meeting should be carried out into the world and affect how we live before others day by day.
The saints willingly give of their income or possessions and off er it to the Lord<7 These funds are used wisely for the upkeep of the church building and to support the Lord’s work at home and further afield. In the New Testament, no member of the local church received a wage or mandated payment for any service rendered.
A local church will bring its needs before God and pray often, seeking His help and blessing.8 They depend upon Him, and will be quick to off er their thanks when He answers those prayers. They will also follow the leading and guiding of the Holy Spirit of God as they meet together to worship and to pray.
The believers not only worship God but they also serve Him in many ways. There is no reason why each act of service should not also be an act of worship, when it is done first of all for the Master’s pleasure and glory. In a local church there are the public meetings and roles, but a lot of work also goes on behind the scenes. Some people are better at the latter, and God does not forget their quiet and unseen labour of love. There is a part for all to play, whether young or old, male or female. Each saint has been given a gift by the Holy Spirit to use for the blessing of all.9
The headship of Christ will be upheld: brethren will set a good example by seeking to uplift Christ, keeping Him at the centre, and giving Him His rightful place; sisters will obey the scriptures as they cover their heads and remain silent in the public meetings.10 By these lovely symbols, man is hidden, and Christ is seen. The angels look down from heaven and take note.
The life of the church will affect how each member functions in the wider spheres of home, work, and in the street. Christian husbands will love their wives, and wives will honour their husbands.11 Parents will love and guide their children; children will respect and obey their parents. Workers will work hard for their bosses; bosses will look aft er their workers. Christians should be known as good neighbours in the street where they live, and the love of Christ in their hearts should overflow.
In the New Testament, every local church had a number of mature and godly men known as elders who were to care for the Christians. They are also described as shepherds caring for sheep.12 They love the sheep and are always found among them. They tend and watch over them day and night, guiding and guarding them, and leading and feeding them. They will seek to bring back the straying, bind up the wounded, and lift up the fallen. They help to carry the young, and also bear up the old. These true shepherds are humble and faithful men who devote their lives to the welfare of the flock. They do not look to any central body on earth to govern or to guide them, but solely to Christ their risen Head in heaven.
There are times when elders weep in private as they plead and pray for the flock and those who have erred. It is a sad matter when the church must judge sin, if found in the life of any member; this is done to preserve the purity of the church and to assist the erring saint in repenting and returning to the Lord. There should be a ready spirit to forgive those who do repent, even as Christ loved and forgave us who were guilty and needy before Him.13
A programme of teaching the scriptures is vital for each local church, so that those who are young in the faith receive the milk they need, and more mature saints can feed on the meat of God’s word.14 The diet should be varied. In this way the whole church comes to love the Bible, reading it, searching it, learning it, living it, and preaching it. The Holy Spirit raises up those with the gift of preaching and teaching the truth of God. Elders will encourage such gift in the church and be willing to share this work with others.
Apart from the work of the elders, each saint is called upon to love his brothers and sisters in Christ. This will mean being kind and helping each other in times of need, weakness, sickness, or sadness. The warmth of love and mutual respect should pervade the church, shielding each saint from the cold and callous world outside. Older saints in their wisdom will counsel and care for the younger saints; the younger ones in their zeal will off er ready help to the older ones.15 Gossip, pride, and envy should be absent, these being some of the things the devil can use to destroy God’s work and divide His people. The world, the flesh, and the devil are to be kept at bay. This is a constant battle for us all on the Christian pathway.
A local church will shine brightly in the darkness of this world and proclaim the gospel to all.16 It will show as well as tell the love of Christ. People will be warned of
their need and guilt as sinners, and of the judgement ahead, but they will also be pointed to the loving Saviour and His finished work upon the cross. They will be urged to be in time and trust Christ without delay.
The church should not function as an island, but engage with those around it who do not know the Saviour. No one will be ignored; young children, those in their teens, adults and seniors will all be welcomed so that they hear the good news. The believers will work hard to do this, and keep praying and looking for blessing.
The patient sowing of the word of God in the minds and hearts of the young has borne much fruit in the past, and still does today. Sunday School work always looks to the future. This is not an easy work these days with so many young people coming from broken and troubled homes. Other places can also be used for the preaching of the gospel, such as schools, prisons, and old people’s homes. Indeed, no place is off-limits. The gospel is for all in every place, and no one is to be left out. Our God who so loves the world desires that all men should be saved and that none should perish.17
The bright hope of the church will be kept burning as well – that Christ is coming back again soon to call His children home to heaven.18 This will add an urgent note to the preaching of the gospel, because His coming will spell the end of this present day of grace. It will also produce in the saints the desire to watch and pray as they look for the return of their Lord. They will seek to keep busy in His service so that they will not be ashamed before Him at His coming.19 Best of all, they know that when He appears they will be with Him for ever and be like Him at last.20 for they will see Him as He is!
Rom. 8. 29.
Acts 2. 41.
1 Cor. 1. 2.
Acts 15. 14.
Eph. 5. 23.
1 Cor. 11. 23-25.
1 Cor. 16. 2.
Phil. 4. 6.
1 Cor. 12. 11.
1 Cor. 11. 3, 10.
Eph. 5. 22-25.
Acts 20. 28.
Eph. 4. 32.
Heb. 5. 12-14.
Titus 2. 1-7.
Matt. 5. 14.
2 Pet. 3. 9.
1 Thess. 4. 16, 17.
1 John 2. 28.
1 John 3. 2.