Note: All Scripture quotations found in this article are from the text of the Authorized King James Version of the Bible.
The word "church" is used five different ways in the scriptures: Israel (Acts 7:38), pagan assemblies (Acts 19:39), a glorified church (Eph. 5:27), a local assembly of Christians (Rev. 1-3) and the Body of Christ on earth (Eph. 1:22-23). In this article, we will focus on the two main applications of the word "church" that are commonly talked about today.
1. The Universal Church - This Church contains all of those that have trusted Jesus Christ to be their Saviour in the Church Age (1 Cor. 12:13). Everyone in this Church will go up in the Rapture before the Tribulation. There is no particular denomination that is the Church. The Catholics and Baptist Briders are wrong. It is possible for a person to truly get saved and be part of a denomination that teaches heresy. The Church is also called the Body of Christ and the Bride of Christ (Eph. 5:22-32).
1 Corinthians 12:27 "Now ye are the body of Christ.."
Revelation 21:9 "And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb's wife."
2. The Local Church - This is a group of believers joined together by doctrine, desires, goals, convictions and affections. Some people are against denominational titles, such as "Baptist", but denominational standings are needed among the local church bodies for the sake of true unity, for the protection of doctrine and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Eighty percent of the references to a church in the Bible are to the local church. Paul wrote to local churches in the New Testament and the Book of Revelation records seven local churches (Rev. 1-3). Ecumenicism has tried to "demonize" denominational labels, but this is just to draw a big crowd by throwing away sound doctrine and bringing worldly entertainment, such as Contemporary "Christian" Music in the churches.
Romans 16:1 "I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea: 4 Who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. 5 Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Salute my wellbeloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia unto Christ. 16 Salute one another with an holy kiss. The churches of Christ salute you."
(Also read: Acts 15, 19; 1 Cor. 4, 6, 7, 11, 14)
So, the Universal Church is made up of all saved people and the local church is a group of believers that usually meet in a church building or house. Keep in mind that someone can be part of a local church and not be part of the Universal Church, meaning they are not really saved. In the rest of this article, the local church will be emphasized.
After a person is Born Again, they should become a member of a local church and not just any church, but a scriptural church.
Matthew 5:14 "Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. 15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house."
Revelation 1:20 "The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches."
The candlestick is a representative of the local church. Therefore to have a good testimony in this night time dispensation, it is good to be part of a local church.
The local church testifies of the invisible, universal Body, to lost souls, to new Christians and to the spiritually mature. It testifies that there is more to life than physical responsibility and that there is something after death. It also testifies of both present and future separation from the world, at the Rapture and the White Throne Judgment.
The importance of the local church is seen in scripture many times.
1. The Gospels show the record of Christ organizing the church.
2. Acts is the history of early local churches.
3. Romans is written to all the saints at Rome where local churches had been established.
4. 1 Corinthians and 2 Thessalonians are written directly to local churches.
5. 1 Timothy and Titus are written to young preachers who were establishing local churches (1 Tim. 3, Titus 1).
6. Philemon was written to a man who had a local church in his house (Phil. 1:2).
7. Hebrews through Jude is indirectly related to the local churches (Heb. 12:23; James 5:14; 1 Peter 5:1-4,13; 3 John 1:6,9,10).
8. Revelation was written to seven local churches of Asia Minor (Rev. 2-3).
The local church is said to be a dwelling place of God and called the "house of God".
1 Timothy 3:14 "These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: 15 But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
Noticing the nine temples in scripture give us good practical application for the local church (Exodus 40:33-38). When God's orders had been carried out and everything was in place then God would enter the temple and it was filled with the glory of God. For a local church to feel the spirit of God, the members must make sure their flesh is put out (Gal. 5:16-24).
The Nine Temples: Mosaic Temple, Solomon's Temple, Zerubabal's Temple, Herod's Temple, the Human Body of Christ, the Believer's body, the local assembly of the saints, Tribulation Temple and Millennial Temple.
1 Kings 8:10 "And it came to pass, when the priests were come out of the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of the LORD, 11 So that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud: for the glory of the LORD had filled the house of the LORD."
The word "church" means "a called out assembly". The church should be sanctified towards the gospel of Christ and separated from the world (Ezek. 37:1-10). Read in Ezekiel 37 and notice that the word of God is preached in the assembly.
Going back to 1 Timothy 3:15, notice the phrase "ground of the truth". The local church is the launch pad of God's work. Every ministry should be started out of a local church, so that it has a good foundation. When Christians come together as a local church, they are coming together as the house of God, an assembly called out by the living God, a pillar responsible for holding up the word of God and a place where they are edified by the preaching and teaching of the Bible.
1 Timothy 3:15 "..the pillar and ground of the truth."
A pillar is something that holds up and supports. The local church is to be supporting the "truth", which is the word of God. Therefore, the stronger the support of the word of God, the stronger the local church. The local church is responsible for preserving, publishing, pursuing and proclaiming the truth.
Hebrews 10:25 "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching"
The members of a local church can forsake assembly by laying out of church and denying God's order. Every member should be faithful to go to their church every time the doors are open, if possible. Also, God's order is for the purpose of unity. Without God's order, confusion is created in the local church. The work of a local church is not an earthly, humanistic business, rather it is the Father's business.
Business meetings usually cause division because a majority vote is not one mind (1 Cor. 1:10). The Lord Jesus Christ did not institute business meetings in the local church, but sometimes they are necessary today. There should be differences between a local church and a business. For example, a church is operated by faith, hope and charity, while a business is operated by money. The Lord Jesus Christ should be the head of the local church, while in businesses, the owners, stock holders and corporate heads are in charge. The members of a local church are purchased by the Blood of God (Acts 20:28), while businesses are bought, sold and are transitional. Local churches should be orderly, stable and secure, while businesses rise, fall and depend on the economy. If the local church is ran by politics then it will be ran by the rich members and the ones with the most family or friends.
1 Corinthians 14:40 "Let all things be done decently and in order."
The two offices in the local church are found in 1 Timothy 3, which are the Pastor and Deacon. Both of these are male servants of the Lord. The Pastor is called to feed the sheep with the word of God and pastor the flock. He is to be able to preach, teach, counsel, soul win and etc. The Deacon is an attendant, waiter, minister and handles the carrying out of suggestions and recommendations made by the elders or the church itself. He is not a rich businessman that handles the finances of the church. The Deacon has a spiritual calling to a spiritual job. Deacons should be leaders in things such as, hospital visitation, greeting people, prayer meetings, carrying out the distribution of goods, maintaining good relationships between the people and the Pastor and help to poor Christians (Acts 6:1-7).
Finally, the purpose of the local church is to exalt the Lord Jesus Christ, evangelize sinners and edify the saints (Eph. 4:7-15). Every local church should be involved in supporting Missionaries (Acts 1:8), preaching (Acts 11:19,29), witnessing (Acts 11:21), teaching (Acts 11:26), giving (Acts 11:29) and it should also be a praying and sending church (Acts 13:1-3).