Monday, June 19, 2017
The Local Church
There is a great deal of confusion about just what is involved in the church. Many believe in a universal church of which all believers are members. In Matthew 16:18-19, Jesus said, “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” When the Roman Empire split, with the western Empire centered at Rome and the Eastern Empire centered in Constantinople. Constantine had made the Catholic or “universal church the official Roman religion, interpreting the verses to mean the church was founded on Peter, and that Peter started the Church at Rome. Religious centers were established in both Rome and Constantinople.
Later the Roman Empire became so unwieldy it split, with the Western Empire centered in Rome and the Eastern Empire centered in Constantinople, Conflicts between the two empires led to conflict between the two religious centers and the formation of the Roman Catholic and Eastern or Greek Orthodox churches. Based on the belief that possession of the Keys gave Peter the authority to decide who would be saved and that he had been the first Bishop of the church in Rome, The Catholic Church claimed they were the only true church and had received Peter’s authority.
Centuries later, protests against corruption in the Roman Catholic Church led to the Reformation and the formation of various Protestant churches. While they rejected the Idea that the Bishop of rome, otherwise known as the Pope had the authority to decide who could be saved, they retained the universal church concept. From the very beginning there had been groups who rejected the Idea that the church was founded on Peter, believing it was founded on Christ instead. These groups were usually called Anabaptists because they did not believe that being baptized by the Catholic church automatically made one a Christian. After the Reformation some of the Anabaptists etained their particular doctrinal stances, while others joined with various Protestant groups, adopting some of their doctrines and rejecting others, and leading to wide variety of so-called Christian groups we see today.
The concept of the universal church is one of the most widely held doctrines and forms the basis for trying to reunite all the churches. Unfortunately, as we saw in the previous post, doctrinal conflicts hinder true worship of God and need to be corrected so that we can worship in true unity. In fact, in romans 16:17-18, Paul instructs, “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.” Our focus is to be on doing what God said, rather than on getting along with other groups.
The Greek word translated church is έκκλησία, and means a calling out, a popular meeting or assembly. Literally, there can be no church which does not assemble together as a body. As a result many speak of it as a universal invisible church, meeting together spiritually. In reality, that universal church will only meet together when the Lord returns, and does not exist as a church in this present age. We are commanded to separate ourselves from those who teach things contrary to what the scriptures teach because as Amos 3:3 says, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?”
Since the word Church means an assembly, for practical purposes, there can only be local churches in the present world, even if people travel half way around the world to attend it unless we have some kind of video conference. Since that was not possible until just a few years ago, I do not think that is what the scriptures are referring to. It is significant that the scriptures refer to various locan churches in the following references. “The churches of Asia salute you. Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house,” in I Corinthians 16:19. Acts 9:31 says, “Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied.” They were not a single church at that time nor will they be until we meet together with the Lord.
With this understanding, we need to focus more on developing the local Christians to become the best followers of Christ they can be, rather than on trying to cater to those of differing beliefs in an effort to unite various doctrinal positions into a huge regional church. We can trust God to unite the various local churches at the proper time in the proper manner. We need to concentrate on doing our Job and allow God to do his.
Far too many have construed Paul’s statement about magnifying his office in Romans 11:13 as referring to trying to expand the ministry. In fact, the word translated magnify means to honor or esteem the ministry we have as being glorious, If we consider it such we will have no need to expand it to something larger. Romans 11:13-14 says, “For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office: If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them.” Paul was magnifying or respecting his office by trying to develop Christians who would believe and follow Christ like he did, by just doing the job he had been given.