Which Church Should I Attend?

God's Church!

Introduction

Converted and convinced to do God's will, the next important step is to consider which church to attend.  The Bible teaches that a local church should have certain essential characteristics.  First, however, we must recognize the difference between God's will for people in OldTestament times and for Christians today under the NewTestament.   Otherwise, we will accidentally enforce requirements that were intended only for the Old Testament saints.  One should also be convinced that there is indeed apattern that God expects us to follow.  Now, let's examine somebasic Bible concepts about churches in general.

What is a "Church"?

The original word for "church" was an everyday Greek word, ekklesia, which merely meant a common assembly (Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words).   The word is sometimes used to refer to common assemblies of government (Acts 19:39) or even to a riotous mob (Acts 19:32, 41).  Other times it refers to the religious assembly, or group of God's people (Matthew 16:18, Ephesians 1:22).  However, the same word is translated as "church" when it is used in a religious context and as "assembly" when used in a common sense.

The Local and Universal Church

The Bible speaks of the church in two different ways.  Although it never uses the above references, it does speak of two distinct assemblies that are well characterized by the labels, local church and universal church.  Understanding the distinctions between these two assemblies is essential to understanding and finding a local church that is patterned after God's Word.

The phrase, "universal church", refers to the entire church at large, all saints - past, present, and future.  It is the body of all the saved, and it is always used in a generic sense.  The identity of each person is lost in the use of this phrase.  It always refers to the group as whole.  Jesus Christ used it when He said, "I will build My church" (Matthew16:18).

Paul illustrated the universal church through the symbol of a body, where Christ was the head, and the entire church was the body:

"And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be the head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all." Ephesians 1:22,23

"There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling." Ephesians 4:4

"For the husband is the head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church, and He is the Savior of the body." Ephesians 5:23

The Bible never speaks of the universal church being organized to do anything.  While it is given a work and mission, the work is not carried out by any other organization than the distributed and autonomous local churches.  It has no committees, no overseeing boards, no organization - except what is seen in the passages above.  Christ is the head of the entire church, and it answers solely to Him.  It is merely the group of all saints, of which one must be a member to be saved (Ephesians1:3 ; Galatians 3:26-27).  It is God who places people in this body as they are converted and enter a saved relationship with Him (Acts 2:37-38; 47).

The phrase, "local church", refers to members of the church that assemble together in a given location.  Unlike the universal church, man has some control over who is a member of a local church.  Churches are commanded to withdraw fellowship from those who do not follow God's Word (I Corinthians 5:1-13; IIJohn 9-11).  This occurs on the local level, not the universal.  Christians may erroneously withdraw fellowship from someone who is still approved by God and a member of the universal church (III John 9-10).  Moreover, members of a local church may erroneously extend fellowship to someone who is excluded by God from the universal church (I Corinthians 5:1-13).  Therefore, the local church is a collection of Christians, overseen by fallible men, who work together to worship God and be pleasing to Him.

Since the universal church is made up of individuals, it is therefore not made up of local churches.  Local churches and denominations are not subsets of the universal church, neither are they saved as whole.  The Bible nowhere speaks of such a structure or system.  But, the Bible does speak of individuals being saved as members of the universal church (please read again Ephesians 1:3; Galatians 3:26-27).  The local church is simply a collection of people who are working toward this final salvation, while the universal church consists of all Christians, whose membership is controlled by God.

Outline of the Essential Characteristics

It is within this study of the "local church" wherein lies the answer to our question.  We should be asking ourselves, "What are the Biblical characteristics of a local church which will be approved by God?"

Using examples and commandments found in the NewTestament, we can establish a list of characteristics that are essential to a local church following God's pattern.  Some characteristics would be:

Although many characteristics could be used to make up this pattern, we will use this brief list to help us identify and differentiate between many practices which are taught as God's will, but are in practice the doctrines and traditions of men .  Understanding the Bible teaching on these points will assist us in finding a local church that is in truth trying to follow God's pattern; however, it is by no means a complete or infallible list.  God's word in its entirety is the only standard for determining His Will and the pattern for a local church that is striving to obey it.

Conclusion

The difficult task is determining which characteristics are essential and which are not.  Obviously if we seek to please God, we must use the Bible as the standard to determine if a characteristic is essential.  This demands a diligent effort to study the Bible, an open mind, and constant attention to prayer.  Once we have established such a pattern, then we must compare the church that we now attend to the pattern.  If it does not coincide with God's pattern for a local church, then we must do one of two things, if we seek to be pleasing to God:  We must either seek a new local church that is following God's pattern, or we must try to reform the church with which we now attend.  How can we do otherwise if we love God and love our brethren?

 

Next: The Work of the Church

Unless otherwise noted, all quotations are from the New King James Version, copyright © 1994 by Thomas Nelson Publishers.

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