The Local Church
by Pastor Carlton Helgerson
Pastor Carlton Helgerson ministered faithfully for many decades in New England. He was a beloved man of God and a wonderful teacher of God's Word. In many ways he was a Pastor to pastors--a tremendous influence to many pastors who were taught by him at Bible Conferences, at monthly Pastor fellowship meetings, and in the classroom at the Burlington (MA) Bible Institute. His reverence for the Word of God and for the God of the Word is remembered by everyone who knew him. The burden of His heart was to help believers understand WHO GOD IS, and also to help them understand the awesome truth of the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God. As this present paper demonstrates, he also had a great burden to share with men how precious the local church is to the heart of God. It is with thanksgiving to God that we make this study available to you, with the kind permission of his son, Pastor John Helgerson.
This study, in which Rev. Carlton Helgerson shares the burden of his heart, is a compilation with some minor revisions of messages given in The Church of the Open Bible, Burlington, Massachusetts, and in Bible conferences. It is a product of more than five decades (1936-1992) of Bible study and ministry.
Amidst Christendom's pendulous oscillation between institutionalized, apostasy-prone denominationalism and reactionary independents, God's revelation and its application regarding the local church tends to be neglected. Merely to draw illustrative texts from the earthly ministry of Jesus or to make sweeping platitudes about the universal church leaves us unmindful of the potential of the local assembly of believers and its inherent glory.
Within the following pages you will find an introduction to the New Testament emphasis for this dispensation: God making His glory manifest through the collective witness of the "called-out-ones." As you are reminded of the truth involving a body energized by the life of God, a building inhabited by the Spirit of God, and a bride adorned for her Christ, you will be moved to study the Epistles more carefully and challenged to apply these facts and principles to your local assembly in a practical way.
In ages past, antedating history, God conceived a plan by which He would have a peculiar witness unto Himself on the earth during the period of time in which we now live the dispensation of the grace of God. This new creation would be to the praise of His glory, both in this age and in the ages to come.
God purposed in Himself to create a new race-- new humanity having His life--distinct from the fallen humanity of the first Adam. The new humanity would be created in Christ Jesus, the last Adam. Yes, created! Thus denoting a supernatural work by the triune God and ordained to be a testimony before the world and before all principalities and powers in the heavenlies (Eph. 3:10-11).
The Epistles refer to this as the great mystery kept secret from previous ages but now clearly revealed to us (Eph. 3:5; Col. 1:26; 1 Cor. 2:10). Only the soulish can fail to see this glorious revelation (1 Cor. 2:14). It is further identified as the body of Christ consisting of born-again believers: "For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body" (1 Cor. 12:13).
Every Bible believing pastor professes adherence to this doctrine at the time of his ordination. Its application to the local church certainly merits our attention. The word "CHURCHES" will be more meaningful to us when we reflect upon the Divine plan, purpose, and priority and consider the pastor's position as a teacher, presiding over the local manifestation of this new humanity (Eph. 4:12).
According to Romans 5:12-19, by one man came sin, disobedience, condemnation and death; then by one other Man the reconciliation, the abundance of grace, and the gift of righteousness. The first man is the federal head of a race fallen and under condemnation; the second Man is the federal head of a new race unto justification of life.
In that precious resurrection chapter, 1 Corinthians 15, it is written:
"For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive" (v. 22).
"The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening Spirit" (v. 45).
"The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second Man is the Lord from heaven" (v. 47).
By physical birth the believer inherits of the earthy; by spiritual birth the believer receives of the heavenly life of the Man in the Glory.
This race is a new creation. "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature" (Gal. 6:15). In teaching believers correct attitude and deportment now that they are "in Christ" and under "no condemnation" (Rom. 8:1), the Apostle Paul referred to "the new man which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him" (Col. 3:10) and "the new man which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness" (Eph. 4:24).
To know that he is now a part of this new creation and in union with Christ enables the believer to more fully appreciate 2 Corinthians 5:17: "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature [lit. creation]: old things are passed away, behold, all things are become new." A wonder, something supernatural--a creation miracle--has taken place. Having believed the gospel unto salvation, I am not merely a reformed member of the race of Adam. I am regenerated--a living part of an entirely new entity, a new creation, the new humanity. For God decided before the foundation of the world to create a race that would partake of the Divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4) while still having the physical properties of the first Adam and a fallen nature. This did not take place in prior ages. The resurrection and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ brought in a new order! As believers in the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:10). This is the great salvation we dare not neglect (Heb. 2:3).
It is the local segment and manifestation of this new mankind. The Greek word translated "church" is ekklesia and would be better translated "assembly." If we keep this in mind, most of the current misunderstandings will vanish.
When we allow the Holy Spirit to show us in the Word the composition and the true nature of the local assembly, we will not be satisfied with a carnal organization. For this manifestation of the new humanity is an organism: the assembly which is His body (Eph. 1:22-23)!
Therefore, we are to bear in mind that the local church--and I prefer to use the Scriptural term assembly--is really a supernatural thing. A study of its life and function as an organism is necessary if we are to honor the Lord.
It is clear that certain spiritual properties apply to the church universal, but what is too often overlooked is that these also must apply to the local fellowship of believers in Christ!
In addition, it should be noted that the practical applications--management, polity, preservation of doctrine, discipline, the observance of the Lord's supper, and the collective witness unto the Lord as taught in the Epistles--all focus upon the local assembly.
Because God has so ordained that He would manifest Himself in and through the local church, it must be seen as sacred and held in high esteem. For this reason a most severe judgment will be visited upon any person who in any way brings in defilement (1 Cor. 3:17).
Saved persons--regenerated by the Holy Spirit through the incorruptible seed of the Word of God--constitute the local assembly. The resurrection life of its Head is in each one, and together they constitute the dwelling place of God, described as "an habitation of God through the Spirit" (Eph. 2:22).
Whether these believers in the Lord Jesus Christ worship God under the open sky, under a thatched roof, or in a more substantial structure, they, together, are Christ and the manifestation of Christ in that locality. Therefore, the local assembly is holy unto the Lord and designed by God to evidence His virtues and to radiate His glory.
Let us not take the New Testament concept of local churches lightly, but reverently and in the fear of God. Rejoice in this high calling; grow and develop accordingly.
The apostolic expression "in Christ," when understood and applied by the local assembly of believers, with its obvious implications pertaining to spiritual union and oneness in Him, will not fail to produce the collective witness designed by God.
We do not disavow God's label when He calls us "saints" but will fully recognize an obligation to walk worthy of this calling. Neither should we be hesitant in accepting what the Lord has revealed about the local church as the current incarnation of the mystery of godliness (1 Tim. 3:16). We are to allow Him to manifest His life in body coordination, interpersonal relationships, and true holiness.
It is in the local church that the life and nature of the new humanity first rises above the old racial distinctions that produce friction and where we may observe that equality which is now in Christ (Eph. 2:15-16; Col. 3:11). Furthermore, we are to see that the glory which Jesus bequeathed to His own (John 17:22) ought to be recognized in the local church (Phil. 1:11; Eph. 3:16,21). We ought to pray for spiritual illumination in order to discern the potential wealth of this glory now present in the local assembly (Eph. 1:18).
It is primarily in the discipline of the local church fellowship (Rom. 12:4-5) through surrender, separation, and the renewing of the mind that the believer proves the perfect will of God (Rom. 12:2) for the exercise of the differing gifts of grace (Rom. 12:6). This certainly coincides with the principle illustrated by our Lord Jesus Christ with respect to faithful service (Luke 16:10). Our service begins here in the local church.
Failure to discern the wonder, the glory, and the spiritual potential of the local church will prevent it from being that witness before the world which was intended by its very existence as the local manifestation of the new humanity created in Christ Jesus.
Instruction in the uniqueness and composition of the local church was employed by the Holy Spirit to correct the carnality and abuses in Corinth, where they were not discerning the Lord's body despite the prevalence of genuine spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:27). Perhaps we have not been reminded often enough that the genuine phenomena--speaking in tongues, for example--were not then an evidence of spiritual maturity, nor did the presence of unusual gifts produce holiness! Understanding church truth and its local applications is the best safeguard against falling prey to the soulish enticements of the modern, spurious charismatic movement (Eph. 4:14).
Furthermore, it is written that when principalities and powers in heavenly places observe the local church in its proper function, these beings marvel at the evidences of the manifold wisdom of God (Eph. 3:10). What does the devil see in our churches?! Perhaps we ought to think about this.
Where, but in the local fellowship, are we first to feel and express love for the brethren? At least fifty times we find this admonition. Who can fail to see the immediate application to the brethren in the local assembly?
"By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another" (John 13:35).
Of course, the application also extends to believers beyond the local group, but it does not warrant abnegation of the local responsibility. It should be obvious that the man who may profess great love for other organizations, while showing little or none for his local church, is not in the will of God.
It is the will of God that local churches evidence His life--which is not synonymous with activity--and present a pure testimony in function, not only in professed doctrine. The bulk of the apostolic admonitions--too numerous to list here--have to do with behavior, one-mindedness, and interpersonal relationships to be cultivated in the local setting, as befitting constituents of the new humanity created in Christ Jesus.
We should be thinking organism, not merely organization, because God's primary witness unto Himself in this dispensation is the local church.
Many churches have failed the Lord by disobedience, and in the process of time--through the demise of saints and the acquisition of unregenerate members--have ceased to be real churches in the apostolic meaning, though the organizations may have continued.
We have an obligation to perpetuate a pure testimony for Christ. Therefore, a correct concept is imperative in order to let the true light shine. The risen Lord showed John seven golden lampstands (Rev. 1:12). Some had already become disappointing; one had left its first love (2:4); one tolerated the doctrine of mixture (2:14); another seemed too paralyzed to deal with a false prophetess (2:20); one was in a state of spiritual deadness (3:1); and the pastor in Laodicea was informed of the prevailing lukewarmness that was repulsive to the Lord (3:16).
"Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward" (2 John 8).
The world sees institutional Christianity as an anachronism, fading in significance and to be replaced by a more advanced form of ecumenism, not so much by organizational mergers as through charismatic movements and a religion professing social concern.
Some formerly conservative churches have thought themselves likely to be outrun in the race for recognition and the world's approval, and have yielded to pressures to share in questionable programs or to adopt novel methods in evangelism in order to accomplish what God never intended.
We are not concerned over what the world thinks or predicts. Nor should we be swayed by this spirit of competition either to reach men or to please men. We are not a part of apostate christendom nor participants in popular religion.
We know that local churches, consisting of Scripturally-based, born-again believers in Christ, are in God's plan and purpose. We do feel more than a little concern if and when we detect in our midst any lowering of the morale, any tendency to try to impress the world, or any lack of emphasis upon true function and purpose of the local church.
When misunderstandings arise or when the numerical growth seems to compare unfavorably with other endeavors or associations, it strengthens the inner man to let the Word of God reassure us that the local church is God's idea, that it is an institution ordained of God and exists to please and glorify Him!
Unless the local group is an abortive product or formed through caprice, there is no reason to doubt its purpose--a body in which it pleases God to manifest Himself. Is it not a vital part of that great mystery which God designed in His wisdom before the foundation of the world? It is (Rom. 16:25; 1 Cor. 2:7).
Much organization can blur the fact of the mystery of organism. The mundane often hinders its full and proper development. Nevertheless, God has so decreed that He would have the local body as His dwelling place. Therefore, even if the regenerated are few in number in any place, there is glory because of His indwelling. The size of the roll or treasury does not impress the Lord. It is holiness that pleases Him.
There are several contributing factors to any lack of appreciation for the local church. We will cite a few:
Any subconscious yielding to a Roman Catholic view with its empire concept and assuming that "the church resides in the clergy" distorts the Biblical picture. To the extent that this view prevails psychologically, the emphasis tends to be placed on ministers while the local membership is viewed as merely followers or adherents rather than as an organism, vital in being. Hence, the concept of a supernatural collective testimony for God is lost.
We can also miss the importance of the local church by overlooking its place and prominence in the pattern given in the Scriptures. This oversight is abetted by some of the accepted commentaries which attribute most of the applications of church truth to the totality of believers, i.e., the church universal, whereas the New Testament places great emphasis upon local assemblies.
Sometimes local churches are not held in higher esteem because of unfortunate personal experiences. After having observed some local congregations in which one noted the frailty of man, ineptness in leadership, or frustrations due to an unsatisfactory form of organization, one can become so aware of problems that one overlooks the potential. The local church will then be seen as necessary only up to a point, hardly deserving of an all-out commitment to its preservation.
It is easy to become enamored with the publicity given to other institutions which seem to be progressive and prospering. In comparison the local church seems to lack glamour. If it is not seen as God gave to the Apostle Paul to see it, the local church will just be taken for granted rather than as the initial company on which to prove and practice the will of God (Rom. 12:2, 4-5).
A pastor often inherits the problem of an untaught congregation which has a program established by tradition and an erroneous or very limited understanding of itself: at worst, barely holding together, constantly in danger of fragmentation; at best, merely trying to be an evangelistic center. If the shepherd is not gripped with a conviction based on God's revelation as to the true nature and proper function of the local church, can he do otherwise than try to adapt to the status quo and hope to see at least a few souls saved before he leaves? If only he could be helped to see the potential in the revealed plan of God!
Another factor, perhaps, is that our people are hindered in grasping the full significance of the local church because of our English versions which employ the word "church" instead of a more correct translation such as "assembly"closer to the real meaning in the Greek. The origin and use of the English word "church" perpetuates an association with certain types of structures used for worship and meetings. The word "church" also lends itself to an ethereal or ambiguous connotation, whereas the word "assembly" enables the reader to more readily perceive in the context the applications to the local body.
Undoubtedly the major reason for any lack of emphasis upon the local church and its potential is that we have not been praying according to God's will (1 John 5:14). Perhaps we have not prayed specifically for the local assembly as did the Apostle Paul: that its members would have the eyes of their heart opened to the written revelation to see the place, the priority, and the purpose of the local assembly (Col. 1:9).
We should covenant to pray for one another that we all come to know and to comprehend what God has revealed to be the true gloryboth present and potentialby the unity of the Spirit of Christ at work in the local assembly (Eph. 1:17-23; 3:18-21).
The subject of the local church and its unique position in the plan of God should be revived with in-depth study in the schools which profess to prepare missionaries and pastors. Merely to examine forms of contemporary organizationthis kind of government or that kind of practice, etc.does not get to the heart of this matter!
Unless the Holy Spirit's revelation of church truth and how this focuses upon the local church is impressed upon mind and heart, the aspiring young minister will be sorely handicapped.
It is amazing that the generally accepted practical importance of local churches does not compel a closer study of the Epistles. In our time and in the system of thought and practice in which we find ourselves, the well-being of local churches should merit prayerful consideration.
In the local assembly there is teaching and challenge to service. From it young people enroll in Bible schools. From its membership comes support for schools, missions, and other organizations. In it regular prayer meetings are held, interceding for so many enterprises. To it institutions direct their financial appeals. The practical value of the local church ought not be underestimated.
Nevertheless, the source from which so much help is drawn receives but scant recognition. Much seems to be expected with but a minimum of serious thought as to the true purpose of the local assembly. Perhaps our system is not correct.
This thoughtlessness can become abuse. Church doors are assumed to be open to any representatives desiring to present their unique ministry. The local assembly is expected to accept without hesitationoften without prior consultation with the pastorthe announcement of an evangelistic team that is coming to town. Full cooperation by the local church is taken for granted.
Some radio ministries seem unmindful of the local church's priority in God's order, its needs and problems, yet actually rely to a great extent upon support from its members.
Were it not for Bible-centered churchesmany comparatively small and strugglingthese institutions could not progress, probably would not long survive. In not a few places the membership seems to assume that it exists chiefly to support other organizations.
We have allowed this attitude to develop over a long period. In many minds the Scriptural position of the local church has receded, the concept is organization, and the unique character and purpose of the local assembly are ignored.
Bible churches are eager to advance the cause of Christ. We have no quarrel with cooperating in worthy causes, but we seriously question the propriety of any program that relegates the local assembly to a place that is not consistent with its high calling.
Assuming that the system which has evolved is correct (something this writer is not ready to fully concede), it would appear as a practical matter that stronger and purer churches would by their counsel and spiritual influence insure the stability of these auxiliary institutions which are constantly subjected to temptations to modify their standards or to make compromises with the world.
It should also be pointed out that converts need instruction. Willingness to receive instruction is an evidence of discipleship. Something is wrong if our converts disdain service in the local assembly and avoid the discipline involved (Luke 16:10).
There is evidence that some have gone forth in pursuit of their own concept of service, seemingly convinced (even after having received some formal theological training) that they were to start something novel, something more exciting, and have become parasites in local churches.
It can also be said that the better a man understands the will of God in his home church the more valuable will be his contribution in another, should his firm relocate him in some other area. Blessings can be far reaching when the local church does not limit the power of God within. It has an influence upon missions, too.
The missionary's aim ought to be the establishing of stable testimonies that reflect an appreciation for God's plan. He ought to avoid duplicating western complexities of organization or imposing on people of a different culture and economy that which is peculiar to the American scene. He must know God's plan and be thoroughly committed to it!
If the foreign missionary is not "sold" on the Biblical concept of a local church, he is not likely to have an impelling urge to see such a body established. If his only concept of the churches in his homeland is that they are sources of support, it will be reflected in his ministry. Furthermore, if his concept should in any way be warped by what he has seen of carnal organization at home, he will have no desire to see that same thing repeated in another country.
From the record of the Apostle Paul's ministry we learn that the Lord seeks to establish properly ordered testimonies, local churches which are the incarnation and manifestation of Christ by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, it also behooves us, whether in starting a new church or in guiding one already established, to avoid guesswork or copying what man has constructed. We must see its purpose and potential, adhering only to the blueprint provided in the Scriptures.
The local body of saints is so highly valued by God that He calls it His temple and pronounces a most severe judgment on any who defile it (1 Cor. 3:16-17). It is amazing that exegetes overlook how much there is in the New Testament (specific as well as implied) about the local church.
Of far greater importance than any favorable evaluation we might give to this sacred institution is what it means to our blessed Lord Jesus Christ, "who loved the church and gave Himself for it" (Eph. 5:25).
We should believe in the local church, not because of nostalgia, nor because of sentiment (many of us having received our deepest wounds in the local setting), but because the local church is sacred to the Lord and His chosen vehicle for the manifestation of Himself in our time.
The local assembly should take precedence over all other units because it is formed according to the purpose of God to possess and to radiate His glory. It is not merely incidental to the divine plan for this dispensation. It is very important and has a potential for a most gratifying service.
A veteran minister once said something like this: "Despite all the emphasis on the local church in the Bible, it appears to be the least understood, the most underrated and the most abused of all that pertains to the Lord's work!"
We must realize that Satan is constantly utilizing the deception of "the mystery of iniquity" (2 Thess. 2:7) to prevent God's people from understanding the mystery of the church as the body of Christ (Eph. 1:23), causing the real significance of the local church to become blurred.
Before the foundation of the world God envisioned and planned to have a special and distinct entity, even the mystical Body of His Son in which to live, composed of born-again believers who would share with Christ in all His glory, be a witness unto God on the earth, and then reign with Christ throughout the ages to come.
This He calls a "mystery" or secret which was not disclosed to any man in Old Testament times nor made known while His Son, our Lord, was on earth. Not until after the Lord Jesus had returned to Heaven did God begin to reveal the secret He had held in His loving heart so long. Paul writes that he learned of this by Divine revelation (Eph. 3:3). Now God wants His saints in the local church to know the "riches of the glory of this mystery" (Col. 1:27).
The revelation that Christ has a body here in addition to His glorified humanity in Heaven is involved in the preaching of the Gospel (Eph. 6:19). This requires great boldness and clarity, not just giving out the historic Gospel as defined in 1 Corinthians 15:1, 3-4, but according to the revelation of the mystery which was kept secret since the world began (Rom. 16:25). Boldness is required to preach the "mystery of the Gospel" because (1) it involves God's foreknowledge and election which the natural mind resists; (2) it runs counter to man's pride of wisdom and love for programs since it deals with the unspectacular; and (3) it insists upon an equal standing before God in the local fellowship nailing social bias to the cross.
The mystery is not christendom, nor all institutions in general that use the name of Christ. This is a spiritual Body, chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4) and, strictly speaking, known only to God (2 Tim. 2:19).
To appreciate the local church in the New Testament sense we begin with a recognition of the uniqueness, sanctity, and supernaturalness of this Body and all of its spiritual parts. If the whole is holy unto the Lord, its parts are holy. Furthermore, since one spirit of man joined to the Lord (1 Cor. 6:17) is a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), a visible group of such have the same eternal life of God, even Christ "who is our life" (Col. 3:4). Therefore, the local church is "an habitation of God through the Spirit" (Eph. 2:22).
A local assembly of true believers in Christ is no less related to the supernatural than the invisible whole or than the individual saint. The miracle of regeneration is equally real in each.
So, when we speak of the local church we do not mean less than a group of saved persons, each one being indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9).
But that is not saying it all! Is every gathering together of Christians a local church in the New Testament sense? Is any study group, association of believers or missionary activity the same as a New Testament church insofar as saved people are involved? The answer is, of course, no. There are several reasons.
There are certain definite distinctives which are readily discerned when reading the Acts and the Epistles which distinguish the local church from other forms of association. These involve objectives, organization, operation, and obedience to certain specific apostolic instructions pertinent thereto.
The same Lord, Who outlined His plan for the propagation of the Gospel of the grace of God (chiefly through personal evangelism) and the world-wide extension of the testimony of Christ (the establishing of local churches), has also provided the blueprint for the structuring of the local church so that men won to Jesus Christ by the Gospel would understand the function of this collective witness.
Usually a pastor has the advantage of having had some years in which to accumulate detail and to obtain a comprehensive view. He can look upon this subject from the spiritual vantage point of the totality of Scripture, whereas the average believer may not see the significance of the local church as clearly. A pastor needs much patience in providing the teaching that the subject requires and needs to pray much as did the Apostle Paul for the illumination of the hearers (Col. 1:9).
That the great mystery, hid from the sons of men in ages past but now revealed, refers to the church is not disputed, even if not always understood. It is that new creation in Christ Jesus distinct from Israel. Yet, not all believers fully appreciate the centrality of the local church in this revelation: an organism through which He desires to manifest Himself.
In fact, believers do not always evidence appreciation for what they are in Christ; perhaps having assumed that they are supposed to try their best to duplicate His earthly ministry to Israel, whereas the Lord desires to manifest His heavenly life to them and in them!
Unless we are alert to this, we might fall prey to a current version of the old liberalism that was the downfall of the major denominations. The liberals coined the slogan "back to Jesus" and stressed confining reading about Christ to the Synoptic Gospels. The untaught thought the slogan sounded good, and when they tried to construct a Christianity out of the Synoptic Gospels, they surrendered to apostasy.
Did not the Lord Jesus Christ predict and promise a new and intimate biological relationship to be realized after His ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit (John 14:19-21)? As believers we ought not neglect so great salvation (Heb. 2:3), but praise the Lord for the precious promises by which we may partake of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4), that as His possession we might reflect His virtues (1 Pet. 2:9).
We cannot be reminded too often that we were predestinated according to His purpose to the praise of His glory (Eph. 1:11-12), and that the major aspect of our calling is not our activity for God but that by allowing the Word of Christ to dwell in us richly (Col. 3:16) His resurrection power (Eph. 1:19-20) will work in us. Hallelujah!
When such people are formally and properly united together into a local assembly, according to the design of the Holy Spirit and not man, there will be an effulgence of practical holiness in an atmosphere of love.
So much depends upon what is in our minds and whether we are thinking spiritually, whether our reasoning is within the framework of revealed truth with the concept of organism. O how we need discernment to see the local church as God sees it and by the transforming of our minds submit to what He wants to do in and with us!
Will we then get a lot of new members? Maybe, maybe not. What difference does it make? Is it not His purpose to glorify Himself in His saints? For that purpose He does not require vast numbers, only yieldedness!
When we really know the Lord and trust Him, He will bring credit to His grace. That comparatively small flock in West Overshoe will not have less of the glory than the larger one in Urbania. Each will be a collective witness, pleasing unto the Lord (John 17:22-23).
When the local church is orderly, its members well-taught and well-fed, out of its services of worship men and women will go forth into their daily pursuits to properly represent Christ and to point the lost to the Saviour.
The whole community may not be won, but the community will know that a witness is in its midst. Not all the souls we would like to see saved will respond, but those who are drawn by the Father will come to Christ (John 6:44,65).
We must get back to the New Testament concept of the local church and understand that it is God's primary witness unto Himself, chiefly by the way it functions as an organism under its Head (Col. 1:18; Eph. 4:15-16).
"There should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.... Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular" (1 Cor. 12:25,27).
It was the Apostle Paul's prayer that believers "be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: that ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God...." (Rom. 15:5-6).
Because this collective witness is to be a living portrait of Christ, the local church must be careful not to distort the picture. Therefore, teaching is necessary so that the members will know their objective and have spiritual understanding in structuring what may be necessary with respect to organization.
Since God is so concerned about quality, let us not become obsessed with quantity. Let God give the increase, and He will.
With respect to organization or government we find a comparatively simple form when studying the Book of Acts and the Epistles. The basic system is as effective in a more complex society as in a primitive culture.
The local church is to be independent. It is not to be a democracy. A democracy is neither practical nor Scriptural. (It is the Scriptural pattern that we must follow.) There are certain aspects of democracy. These may be considered later. The essential form of government is to be by a collective leadershiptwo or more spiritual elders, (the number according to the current necessity), who together have the oversight (Acts 14:23; 20:17,28; Heb. 13:17). This rule is to be parental as in a family, not autocratic (1 Pet. 5:2-3).
One of the distinctives that we referred to earlier involves discipline. Discipline is related to discipleship and thus to all aspects of the total testimony of the local church. It should not be limited in our thinking to chastisement but seen in relationship to the training of a disciple and the maintenance of such standards as will safeguard the purity, peace, and reputation of the assembly. Discipline is one of the awesome duties peculiar to the local church as the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15).
It is to the local church that the observance of the Lord's Supper has been committed. How important that the believers discern the Lord's body, for the partaking of the elements is the fellowship of the body of Christ (1 Cor. 10:16-17). Here again is the emphasis upon oneness. This fu