In the New Testament, the local church is defined as a spiritual family, designed and intended by God for various purposes. Some of these purposes include:
1. The corporate worship of God
One of the functions of the local church is to provide an orderly, corporate means of worshipping God. As God’s redeemed people, it is our privilege to “offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name” (Heb 13: 15). In his epistle, the apostle Peter exhorted the believers to “shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (I Pet 2: 9). In the original, the word, “praises” means “excellent qualities”. God’s “excellent qualities” include His love, goodness, mercy and wondrous works. “It was that they might proclaim the glory of God, and keep up the remembrance of his wondrous deeds in the earth” (Albert Barnes). What a joy and blessing it is to gather with God’s people to praise His glorious Name every Lord’s Day!
When believers gladly set aside their Sabbaths to praise their Almighty God, they give a united and powerful testimony to the world that their Lord is worthy of their worship, devotion and commitment. This was true of the early New Testament church: “And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2: 46-47).
“Corporate worship is, incidentally, a very powerful witness. And if worship is to impress the world such a witness cannot normally spring from the worship of an individual believer, because individual worship is a very private and intimate activity. Praying and almsgiving in public by individual was actually condemned by the Lord because of the problems of human pride. But the worship of a company of believers is an essentially humble activity. The fact that a company of people are seen heart and soul committed to the Lord, adoring and revering Him as though they felt and sensed His presence and benefitted from His power and glory – all this is a powerful witness” (Church Membership in the New Testament – Dr Peter Masters).
The prayer of our Saviour in John 17 – that the church is intended to be a powerful testimony – reiterates this truth: “they all may be one” … “that the world may know” (Jn 17: 21, 23). With this thought in mind, let us be found in the church on the Lord’s Day to praise Him with His redeemed people. May our worship of our God make a deep impression upon the watching world.
2. The nurturing of believers
One of the purposes of the local church is to build up the faith of believers through the “means of grace”, namely, the faithful preaching and teaching of God’s Word, fellowship, partaking of the Lord’s Supper, and prayer. This was the practice of the infant church in Jerusalem.
Luke gives us an account of the conduct of the first New Testament converts in their assembly and partaking of the “means of grace”: “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2: 41-42). Let us consider the various “means of grace” as highlighted in Acts 2: 42.
o God’s Word
The early church was praised because they “continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2: 42). This means that they attended diligently to the teachings of the apostles.
In the same way, let us abide in God’s Word which is the foundation of our faith. Knowing it well will enable us to stand firm in our faith “that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive” (Eph 4: 14). There are many opportunities to learn God’s Word in the church through the pulpit ministry, our fellowship meetings and our Bible Study classes. Do make it a priority to attend these meetings.
The New Testament believers were united in love, hope and service. They saw themselves as fellow members of the same body, and gathered often in “fellowship” with the brethren.
“They (the members of the infant church) not only had a mutual affection to each other, but a great deal of mutual conversation with each other; they were much together. When they withdrew from the untoward generation, they did not turn hermits, but were very intimate with one another, and took all occasions to meet; wherever you saw one disciple, you would see more, like birds of a feather. See how these Christians love one another. They were concerned for one another, sympathised with one another, and heartily espoused one another’s interests” (Matthew Henry).
The church is the Body of Christ. By coming together as a church, we enjoy the love, care, help and mutual support of our brethren. Like the early Christians, let us also desire the company of the saints and seek to be an encouragement to one another. May we “consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: 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” (Heb 10: 24-25).
o The Lord’s Supper
In obedience to the Lord’s instructions to “this do in remembrance of me” (Lk 22: 19), the early church gathered to observe God’s ordained sacrament.
The Lord’s Supper – “breaking of bread” – is a “means of grace” whereby we remember the Lord’s sacrificial atonement at Calvary. Let us heed the apostle Paul’s warning to partake of the Lord’s Supper worthily: “Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body.For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep” (I Cor 11: 27-31).
The New Testament church is also our fine example in prayer. We are told that they “continued stedfastly … in prayers”. As a church, we gather weekly to pray for the work of the ministry as well as for one another. “Prayer produces and strengthens in the mind conscious dependence on God, faith, and love, the state for receiving and appreciating God’s blessing ordained in answer to prayer” (Fausset’s Bible Dictionary). No church member should neglect this “means of grace”. Let us therefore come together to intercede one for another as well as for the work of the ministry. Like the worship service, the prayer meeting is “non-negotiable”. May we all seek to honour the Lord and encourage our brethren by our presence at the prayer meeting each week.
(… to be continued) – Pastor