What comes to our minds when we think of a church? Quite often, we would picture a building where Christians gather to worship on Sundays.
The English word “church” is derived from the Greek adjective, “kyriakon”, meaning “belonging to the Lord” (Theology For Every Christian – Timothy Tow and Jeffrey Khoo). It may refer to (1) the Lord’s people in general, (2) any particular group of the Lord’s people, or (3) the physical building in which the Lord’s people congregate for worship (1 Cor 11: 20; Rev 1: 10).
The word “church” in the New Testament is translated from the Greek word “ekklesia” which means “called out” or “gathered” or “summoned out”. The church is therefore an assembly of believers which has been “called … out” of the darkness of sin and the world, to be a holy people separated unto God: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (I Pet 2: 9).
In most cases, the word “church” refers to a particular local church or a community of believers: “Greet the church that is in their house” (Rom 16: 5). While all believers throughout the world together form “the universal church”, each assembly of believers constitutes “the local church”.
What principles determine the character of the local church?
1. Comprises regenerate members only
The church is made up of all those who have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, “out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation” (Rev 5: 9). The apostle Paul’s opening greeting to the Corinthians and the Colossians reflected this truth – that membership was restricted to those who had come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ: “Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours” (I Cor 1: 2); “To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Col 1: 2).
This truth is clearly recorded in Acts 2: 41, 47: “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls (v 41). “And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (v 47).
2. The Body metaphor
The New Testament uses several metaphors to describe local churches, one of which is that of the body. We are members of the same body. This requires co-ordination, unity, order and agreement with every part. The apostle Paul reminded the Corinthian Christians that although they were individual members of the church, they were one in the Body of Christ: “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ” (I Cor 12: 12).
“We are taught that a congregation is far more than a number of people all listening to the same preacher. It is a church membership in which all the members have very significant duties, and the whole church is dependent upon each and all of its members. There is co-ordination, order and a common direction” (Church Membership in the New Testament – Dr Peter Masters).
The Lord, the Head of the Church, has given to every believer a place in the body life. Yet, we are mutually dependent on one another. Imagine if one member of our body had to do the work intended for another. How absurd it would be to use our nose to feel, our hands to see or our feet to eat! Like different parts of the body, we must each function according to our respective design for the benefit of the whole.
Members are to be of one mind and one heart, closely united in doctrine, serving the Lord zealously, and striving to love one another. “To be withdrawn, aloof, reserved, lazy, complacent or indifferent is a blatant, wilful rejection of all the Lord’s teaching on this subject” (ibid). No one should say: “I come to church only to worship and to give my tithe. I don’t need to relate to my brethren or serve in the church.”
Sadly, there are members who take their church membership lightly. They switch churches in the same way that they switch banks and grocery stores – at their own convenience, and according to their whims and fancies. These members have no qualms about attending another church other than their own. They may think: “So long as I attend church to worship God, it does not really matter which church I attend.” They have forgotten their responsibilities as church members – to love and serve the Lord together as His people and to be an example, encouragement and blessing to one another.
When members are not committed to the church, the body life is affected and the work of God suffers. It is therefore important that every member takes his or her responsibilities seriously.
Brethren, let we resolve to be faithful members of the Body of Christ. May we be true to our calling to love and serve the Lord in Berith. May we also use our gifts and talents for the glory of God and the blessing of His people. (… to be continued)