They say that confession is good for the soul but bad for the reputation. There comes a time in later life when we are no longer threatened by this. After fifty-seven years in the ministry, I still have in front of me a Scofield Reference Bible. Back in Bible college we learned that, while the scripture text is always right, the notes inserted by men are not.
I am reading from Matthew 18:20 – “For where two are three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them”. That is true because God is all-present, and that is the meaning of the text. The note above this verse in the text before, however, says “the simplest form of a local church”. Nothing in the text even hints at this being a church. That is because two or three believers who are gathered together is NOT a church. It is good way to have fellowship, but it is not a church.
THE CHURCH ACCORDING TO THE BIBLE
The Old Testament prophets made it clear that there would be salvation for the gentiles. In John 10:14-16, Jesus makes it clear that the future church would be composed of Jews and gentiles. The idea was repulsive to the Jews. In Matthew 16:18, there is a clear prophecy about the future church. In the gospels, the church is eschatological, and the disciples would not have had a clue as to what was being referred to. The church was a mystery until after the gospels, and the apostle Paul clearly explains this mystery in his writing. In reference to Matthew 18:15-19, Scofield wrongly inserted “Discipline in the future church”. There is nothing in that text to indicate such a command. In fact, the disciples would have thought of the synagogue when he used the word. While the book of Matthew may have been written for the church’s benefit, it definitely was not written to the church. The content of Matthew demands that it was written to the Jews who were still under the law. “Behold your King”. The church could not have existed prior to Pentecost despite what historical theology claims.
The Bible calls the heavenly church the Body of Christ. That body includes everyone who is redeemed in the time from Pentecost to the catching away of the church prior to any part of the tribulation. Some of the members of that body are in heaven, others are alive on earth, and some have not even been saved yet. In this age, God has chosen to use the local church to function and minister through. Some members of the local church are members of the Body of Christ; others are not. The local church is definitely not equal to the Body of Christ. The local church represents the Body of Christ on earth. Every true believer is part of the Body of Christ and should also be part of a local church body. The local church is made up of people, not buildings. It is God’s agent for ministry to carry the gospel message.
God helps us understand the ministry of the heavenly church by painting a clear picture. The Body of Christ is a flock with a Chief Shepherd. It is a body of redeemed members with Christ as the head of that heavenly body. It is also a household, or home, and it is a theocracy.
The Bible clearly assigns these functions to the local church. The local church is a flock with a local resident “under-shepherd”. Members of a local church are sheep. Obviously, some of them are wolves’ in sheep clothing. The New Testament local church is supposed to function like a flock, not a political organization. The local church is a body with a local resident head assigned by Christ himself. It has members with different spiritual gifts, roles, and functions. In reality, it is a theocracy. The Bible is the rule book, the Holy Spirit directs the church, and the church administrates that which God has commanded. Sadly, many have pressed a humanistic model onto the church by inserting culture into the text.
SO, WHAT IS A CHURCH?
Using the word “church” for a building or group does not make it a church. It may be a gathering, assembly, fellowship, or small or large group; but any one of these does not make it a New Testament local church. In Acts 19 you have an assembly in the theater at Ephesus, but it was not a church. A true local church will be a functioning flock with a shepherd. It will be a local body with members who have gifts and ministry through the church. A Bible study group, a family, or a prayer group is not a church in itself. Without a local church, an individual believer is without a flock and a shepherd. He would be a member alone without the benefit of other members or a local resident head appointed by Christ. He would be a person who is an orphan without a church home.
AND WHAT IS NOT A CHURCH?
In our day, there are many groups who choose not to use the word “church” in their names. That would be good, because many of them are not really churches. There are those groups who one day were New Testament local churches, but their candlestick has been removed and God has written “Ichabod” over them. They once were, but now they are not.
What about the churches who have the form, but not the content? A true local church depends upon what a church believes and where its authority comes from. The Word of God will be the final authority in all matters. If a church denies the Word of God, it has denied the God of the Word. So, if a church rejects the inspiration, inerrancy, authority, and sufficiency of scripture, is it a church? You cannot reject the deity and virgin birth of Christ and expect to go to heaven, so is a church that rejects the real Christ actually a church? If a church pulpit disrespects the clear truth of scripture, and the “worship” person leads them in singing lies, is it a church?
So, if a “church” meets once a week, and there is no real shepherding or flock interaction, if all the sheep get is a “cute” story time to sustain them for a week, is that a church? If a so-called church body doesn’t interact daily in ministry with members who have atrophy, is that a church? Is it a flock, body, and home? What would you think of a home where members only interacted once or twice a week?
There is no end to the questions that need to be asked, but the real point is this: Are you part of a local church, and is it a church? I personally know a lot of people who have no idea what their church believes. It may be a cult, and they wouldn’t know it. Before you waste your time debating the above, consider reading the following, which has been in print since 1985.
The Weeping Church, Confronting the Crisis of Church Polity. By Clay Nuttall, D.Min. Faithful Life Publishers, North Fort Myers, FL 33903. FaithfulLifePublisers.com