A local church is a group of believers in a particular geographical location.
A Local Church
1. Is NOT a linguistic group of Christians (Acts 6:1 – Both the Hebrews and the Greeks were in the same local church). The churches at Jerusalem and Antioch were never divided into separate Greek and Hebrew churches.
2. Is NOT a racial group of Christians – A Black Church or A White Church or A Dalit Church as a racial division in the same locality doesn’t exist.
3. Is NOT a human leader-oriented group of Christians. (1Cor.1:12). No church could call itself by the name of a human leader, even if it were planted by him (1Cor.3:6).
4. Is NOT a classed group of Christians. The church was not divided into the Slave Church or the Aristocratic Church (Col.3:11).
5. Is a geographical group of Christians (Acts 9:31; 1Cor.16:19; 2Cor.8:1; Rev.1:20;2:1). It is only distinguished by its geographical location; however, the location must not become an ecclesiastical cult. For instance, members from a location, e.g., from Delhi, going to London are not supposed to start there a Delhite Church.
Planting of the Local Church
1. A local church is planted in a place when the Gospel seeds are sown there and people get saved. The sowing might be by an apostle (1Cor.3:6), an evangelist (Acts 8:5), or any disciple who bears the testimony of Jesus Christ (Acts 8:1,4).
2. The Holy Spirit guides the growth of the church in form and function (1Cor.3:6; Acts 9:31; 1Cor.12:4-11).
3. Apostles, prophets, and teachers (teaching-pastors) play important role in equipping the church qualitatively in the true faith of God (Eph.4:11ff; Acts 20:31,32). Evangelists, meanwhile, continue to proclaim the gospel to regions beyond.
4. The apostles or the ones given authority by Christ appoint elders and commend the church to the Lord (Acts 14:22,23; Tit.1:5).
Things to Note
1. The identity of a Christian doesn’t come from the local church, but from Christ and from his/her belongedness to the universal church (Mark 9:41; Heb.12:22).
2. Being listed in the local church doesn’t guarantee being listed in the Book of Life (Rev.3:5; 2:5).
3. In the modern context of multiple denominations and options to select which “church” to go to, one must not forget that the church is one body and all believers in Jesus Christ are one in the Lord. The only separatists are those who are either carnal, sensual, or unbelieving ones. The true believer will accept other believers as fellow Christians in the one body (regardless of which “church” one goes to). They are always keen for spiritual fellowship one with another whenever and wherever possible. (Jn.17:11; 1Cor.1:10-12; Jude 1:19; 1Jn.2:19; Eph.4:4-5; Col.3:15).
4. Opposition of the Way can justify withdrawal of disciples from a group that is not-Christian; of course, the church is a believing community and so is logically separate from a non-believing group (Acts 19:9). The Word of God is the solo authority and reason (Acts 2:40; Gal.1:8,9; 2Jn.1:10,11; 3Jn.1:9-10).
5. There can be several area-wise churches in the same region (therefore, we read about “churches of Galatia”). However, the church in a city is always referred to in the singular, except in the case of 1Cor.14:34, which is an instruction to the Corinthian church but gives instruction to “churches”, probably referring to “church meetings” as some translators paraphrase. It is probable and not unbiblical for the church at Corinth to have different church meetings at different localities of the city, especially if the number of believers was great and all of them could not be accommodated in the same place at the same time. Certainly, we don’t expect that the number of believers gathered together in Mark’s house to pray for Peter were all the thousands of believers in Jerusalem. Of course the church was praying (Acts 12:5); but, only some of them (perhaps, as many could fit in there as indicated by the word hikanos (sufficient) used there for “many”) were at the house of Mark (Acts 12:12).
6. If there is a truly believing community already in a place, the true apostle will never go and try to establish another denomination there, though he would love to visit that church; his goal is to reach out to places where Christ is not named (Rom.1:10-12; 15:20,22,23) (Acts 19:1; 11:22-24, 25-27).
7. Jesus warns churches that fail to keep themselves alive in His truth and love (Rev.2:5,16,20-23; 3:2,3, 16,19)
8. Numerical growth is visibly observed in the local churches (Acts 9:31; 16:5).
9. Being excommunicated by a tyrannical leader doesn’t divide the local church. They may be forced to gather in a different place; but, the congregation is still one.(3Jn.1:9-10). Note that John says that he would come and deal with the situation. He had earlier written to the church, but the tyrannical Diotrephes was turning him off. So, he writes to another elder, Gaius. The solution was not division, but discipline.
Relationship between Local Churches
1. The churches in different locations are spiritually connected to each other (Rom.16:16)
2. Customs in the local churches in general become exemplary for particular churches (1Cor.11:16)
3. Experiences in the local churches in general become exemplary for particular churches (1Cor.14:33)
4. Churches must follow the example of other local churches in sending support for other churches in need (1Cor.16:1; 2Cor.8:1,2)
5. Churches can choose someone as their messengers to travel to various other churches to appeal for help and carry aid to the needy churches (Acts 11:29,30; 2Cor.8:18,19,23).
6. Local churches help the apostles carry the gospel to the ends of the earth (2Cor.11:8)
7. Testimonies from a church are carried to other churches to testify of the grace of God (2Thess.1:4; Rom.1:8)
8. Churches must appeal to the final authority of the Word of God with regards to matters of doctrine and practice. In certain cases, approaching an apostle or a council of apostles and teachers is needed (Gal.1:8; Acts 15:1ff; 1Cor.7:1). However, the Bible has final authority on all matters (Acts 17:11).
Offices in the Local Church (Phil.1:1)
Elders/Pastors/Overseers (Bishops)/Teachers (Acts 14:23; Eph.4:11; 1Tim.5:17; Acts 15:6; 20:28; Tit.1:5,7,8,9; 1Tim.3:1-7). While these are appointed by the apostles or someone sent by the apostle, it also seems possible that someone can aspire to be a bishop or a teacher (1Tim.3:1; James 3:1). They will give account to God and will receive stricter judgment (Heb.13:17; James 3:1).
Deacons (Acts 6:1ff; 1Tim.3:8-13)
Offices beyond the Local Church
Prophets (Acts 21:10,11)
Evangelists (Acts 21:8)
Teachers (Acts 13:1; 1Cor.12:28)
A pastor’s ministry goes beyond the local church when he ministers as apostle, prophet, evangelist as teacher; however, he is pastor only of the local church where God has appointed him.
A deacon’s ministry goes beyond the church when he or she ministers as an evangelist or teacher.
A woman can only pastor along with her husband. If her husband is not pastor, she can be a counselor for younger women, but not pastor. However, a single woman can be a missionary.
Ministries in the Local Church (Rom.12:6-8)
Responsibilities of the Local Church (1Tim.5:3ff; James 1:27)
Local Church as a Missionary Church (Acts 13:1ff)
Places of Local Church Gathering
1. House of a believer (Acts 12:12; 1Cor.16:19)
2. Hall (Acts 19:9)
3. Any place where the church can gather to worship.
Worship Service of the Local Church
Reading of God’s Word (1Tim.4:13)
Exhortation (1Tim.4:13; Rom.12:8; )
Singing (1Cor.14:26; Col.3:16)
Communion of the Lord’s Table (1Cor.11:23ff)
Testifying (Acts 14:27; 15:4)
Collecting offering (1Cor.16:2)
Rivalry (Phil.1:15; 2Cor.10:10)
Commercialism (1Tim.6:5; 2Pet.2:15; Jer.6:13)
False gospels (2Cor.11:3,4,13,14; Gal.1:8; 2Tim.4:3)
Aristocracy (Gal.4:17; Matt.23:5-7, 8-10; James 2:1ff)