Ecclesiology (The Assembly/Local Church)

Chapter 3: The Church Local: Constitution, Character and Maintenance

“Where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20) is a very precious text of Scripture. In his edition of the Bible, Dr. C. I. Scofield has inserted over it, “The Simplest Form of a Local Church.” Many have come to accept this as the only form of a local church, and look upon this Scripture as a charter for a local congregation. This concept has become so prevalent in some places that its language is unintentionally used with a sectarian connotation.

There is no question about the Lord recognizing and blessing the smallest company of His own. In Matthew 18:20 He gives assurance of His presence to the smallest plural number who meet in His name, but to use this text as a definition of a local church is to ignore the whole tenor of New Testament doctrine on the subject of the Church.

A Definition

The local church is a congregation of Christians that calls upon the name of the Lord, both their Lord and the Lord of every other similar group (I Cor. 1:2). It is a congregation ruled by an administration through overseers (Acts 20:28), and is sustained by the ministry of the spiritual gifts with which it has been endowed (I Cor. 1:7).

A definition of a local church that is based upon the principles of the New Testament might read like this: A local church is the gathering together in the Lord’s name of a number of Christian persons who are submissive to Christ as Lord, and who are ruled over by elders and deacons, and sustained in life and testimony by a spiritual ministry.

The constitution of a local church is not as simple as some claim who glibly quote Matthew 18:20.

Chapter 2: Christendom Versus Christianity: Profession, Apostasy and Doom

The British Historian Toynbee says that there are three explanations of the relationship of Christianity to civilization. First, as a destroyer of civilization. This is why according to Gibbon the Roman Empire collapsed. Christianity taught men to be more interested in Heaven than in earth, to be more concerned with the future than with the present. Consequently, when the barbarians attacked Rome, the Christians were not zealous for the Empire of earth so did not defend it.

Second, as a bridge. Christianity bridged the gulf between Roman civilization and modern civilization; that is, through the Church the finest elements of Roman culture have been preserved and introduced into our Western civilization. Third, as a benefactor. There are those who see how Christianity has influenced for good those nations called Christian nations.

We are not as interested in the influence of Christianity upon civilization, either ancient or modern, as we are in the influence of civilization, so-called, upon Christianity. To appreciate this, we must differentiate between Christendom and Christianity.

The Distinction

“Christianity is Christ.” wrote Dr. Griffith Thomas, and while this is true, it is necessary to amplify that simple definition. Christianity proper also embraces all who are in Christ. The mystical Christ is Christianity, the Risen Head and all the members of His Body on earth. Christianity is that which on earth is genuine.

Chapter 1: The Christian Church: Organically and Ethically

The Church in her universal aspect may well be called the Holy Catholic Church; she is holy in Christ before God, and catholic, universal, in her membership from among men. In this regard the Church is the general commonwealth of all Christians, the community of all saints throughout the world, both Jews and Gentiles, in each generation since Pentecost.

Her Designation

Different terms are used to designate the Church, and, of course, the most common one is the name Church.

The Greek word: The Greek word is “ecclesia” which means to call or summon a people, to segregate others from the masses. In the New Testament it is used in three different relationships: to the heathen (Acts 19: 39), to the Jews (Acts 7:38), and to the Christians (Acts 2:47 etc.). The full implication of these usages implies not only an apartness but a togetherness, therefore, a congregation. Significantly, the New Translation usually translates the word “ecclesia” into English by the word “assembly.”

The English word: The English word church has no actual connection with the Greek word “ecclesia”; it is derived from another Greek word, “kyriake,” which means, “that which pertains to the Lord.” This is the Greek word from which our English word church is directly derived, so also the Scotch word kirk, and the German word kirche.

The word Church in its Christian sense is used to denote the Church in her universal aspect, as for example in I Corinthians 10:32, Galatians 1:13, etc. It is also used to denote the church in any given locality. We read of the church at Jerusalem, the church at Corinth, and the churches of Galatia.

Step 9: The Disciple's Vision for the Church

Without a vision for active participation in the life of the local church, this is a Scriptural lack in the disciple’s vision.  The church is a God-established gathering center for believers as collective members of His family.  This goes beyond being simply a separated or individualized member of the general or “universal church,” made up of believers from each century of “the church age.”  New Testament churches received the epistles (letters of the apostles), not var...

The Basis for the New Testament Assembly

Let us go back in history to two points in time, two beginnings. The first commenced almost 2,000 years ago but, for the moment, we will not discuss this. We will consider first the new beginning which took place approximately 150 years ago. At this time scriptural truths and principles, long hidden in ecclesiastical darkness, were rediscovered and there was an unprecedented movement of the Holy Spirit. His working in the hearts and lives of godly men was apparent, especially in Dublin, Ireland; in Plymouth and London, England; and in various places on the continent of Europe.

    In later years, when church historians assembled all the facts, they discovered that this manifestation of the Spirit was not confined to Europe. In many parts of the world, the Spirit’s presence and power were evident as He drew men and women from religious and worldly backgrounds and gathered them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

    Among those moved by the Holy Spirit were brethren who were spiritual giants—some of them ordained preachers—who came to be esteemed and respected in evangelical circles for their scholarly and meticulous translation of the Sacred scriptures. In retrospect, they may have been among the godliest men, raised up by God to represent Him in the world. Deeply concerned about the low spiritual state of the professing church, they also were heartsick and discouraged over the unscriptural practices in the various churches with which they were affiliated. Their deep-seated exercise of soul led to a prayerful searching of the Holy Scriptures, to discern divine principles and practices.

Fragmentation

A Statement of the Problem One of the current problems affecting local Church life is that of "Fragmentation," where for a variety of reasons, some assemblies divide along the lines of sex, age, groups or geographical location to practice the exercises of the local church. This trend is a danger to the church and a denial of the unity of the Body of Christ as taught in the N.T. Also in some cases, it is an attempt to circumvent the teaching of the N.T. regarding the conduct of men and w...

Assembly Finances

In the Acts of the Apostles, where we have the historical account of the foundation and development of the church from its early beginning in Jerusalem until there were many local assemblies planted in the main centres of the Roman Empire, it is remarkable how little is said about how the work was supported financially. There must have been considerable expense in the extensive journeys of the apostle Paul and his fellow-workers, yet the subject is scarcely mentioned. This is in startling contra...

The Ministry of Women

I TIMOTHY 2. 9-15; 5. 2-l6; TITUS 2. 3-5   Prior to the advent of Christianity, the position of women in pagan Greece and Rome was decidedly inferior. As in Islam today, they were forced to lead very secluded lives. With some exceptions., the wife was regarded merely as a piece of property completely under the control of her husband. History shows that Christian teaching concerning women stood in sharp contrast to anything found in the heathen world. Luke's Gospel especially em...

What Church Should I Join

"What Church Should I Join?" An Address To Young Believers John Ritchie Many of you here tonight have recently been converted to God. A few weeks ago you were asking the all-important question -- "What must I do to be saved?" And this you had answered, by the Word of God telling you, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved" (Acts 16:31). You have believed, and you are saved, for God was as good as His Word. As young believers, other inqui...
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