The Functions of a Local Church

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A study of the New Testament Scriptures will enable us to understand that an assembly (or church) of believers in the Lord Jesus, in any given area, has at least a four-fold function.

1. It has a Function in Relation to God Himself

There are three expressions used in the New Testament which clearly indicate the God-ward aspect of an assembly’s function:

  1. The church of God’, see, e.g. Acts 20. 28; 1 Cor. 1. 2.
  2. The house of God’, 1 Tim. 3. 15.
  3. The temple of God’, 1 Cor. 3. 16.

The first of these, ‘church of God’, emphasizes that a local church is God’s ‘called-out company’. As such, it is His property. Since it belongs to Him its function is to be a witness to Him. Everything associated with its life and work should speak eloquently of Him who is its Owner.

The second expression, ‘house of God’, stresses that a church is a sphere where divine authority and order are in evidence, inasmuch as the concept of a household conveys the ideas of rule and discipline.

The third phrase, ‘temple of God’, directs our attention to the fact that a church or assembly is God’s dwelling-place, and is therefore required to portray His holiness. In the great cities to which Paul carried the gospel of Christ, many heathen temples existed. Each one purported to worship and praise the deity in whose honour it had been constructed. Today, local churches are Temples of God’; they exist for the corporate worship of Him who is the only true God.

2. It has a Function in Relation to Christ

An important aspect of the Christ-ward function of an assembly may be grasped when we consider the figure used in Revelation chapters 1 -3. Here local churches are depicted as ‘candlesticks’ or ‘lampstands’, each shedding light upon the resplendent Person of their Lord who walks in the midst of them. Their function is not to highlight their own activities, nor to try to outshine each other, but rather, to illumine the glories of the One who oversees every detail of their lives. We are hereby taught that a church has the function of illuminating the Person of Christ in all His excellence. Its worship and witness should always be a portrayal of its all-worthy Lord.

Essentially the same idea is conveyed in Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 3. 15. Here, a local assembly is spoken of as The pillar and ground of the truth’. The word ‘ground’ might be translated ‘bulwark’ or ‘support.’ Paul is teaching that a church exists for the purpose of supporting and maintaining the truth, just as pillar and bulwark hold up whatever may rest upon them. A church, formed and operating in accordance with the principles of the New Testament, is a living and visible expression of ‘the truth’ embodied in Christ.

3. It has a Function in Relation to Itself

The whole exists for the benefit and up-building of each part. The New Testament scriptures consistently refer to the human body as providing a clear illustration of this truth, see, e.g. Rom. 12; 1 Cor. 12. A body is comprised of many members and organs each having its own function to perform. The well-being of the entire body depends, to a large degree, upon the proper functioning of each part. This illustrates important truth for a local company of believers. They cohere, as do the parts of a body, and the spiritual health of the whole church is assured when each member plays his or her part, in accordance with the position and ability which the Lord has assigned. The self-ward function of an assembly is not to exalt one member above another. It is, rather, to ‘edify one another’ and to ‘have the same care one for another’, 1 Cor. 12. 25.

4. It has a Function in Relation to the World

In addition to glorifying God as its Owner, portraying Christ as its Lord, and edifying each of its members, a local church must give attention to its responsibilities world-ward.

Its obligation is to ‘sound out the word of the Lord’ by all means which are consistent with the name of the Lord Jesus. Alternatively, it may be expressed as the responsibility to ‘shine out’ as a clear, undimmed light in a world of moral and spiritual darkness, see Phil. 2. 15, 16. Yet again, the function of the assembly may be thought of in terms of an ongoing and ever-increasing effort to ‘show out’ the love of Christ to all men, see 1 Thess. 3. 12.

Because of our inherent frailty, we constantly need to upgrade our concept of the assembly. We fall far below the standard of Biblical teaching if we think of it merely as ‘our meeting’. It is infinitely more than a humanly-organized gathering of persons who share common interests. On the contrary, it is a divine organism, planted in its given location, to discharge God-ward, Christ-ward, self-ward, and world-ward functions.

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