By Morgan Stoecklein
Chances are, if you’re reading this, you have a local church. Chances are, if you reside in the US-of-A you have 752 local churches. That’s not even an exaggeration. If you’re reading this from Dallas, TX, you’ve got over 2000 local churches!
Anyway, to talk about the local church without mentioning the “Big C” Church would be unfair to the local church. The Big C church is made up of God’s people. One Body, Many parts. It spans cultures and political parties and borders and you name it. Universal. Heavenly and earthly. Past, present, and future. All who belong to Christ’s new covenant and kingdom. You can read a little more about the function of God’s Church here.
Most likely you’ve heard an officiant declare the verses of Ephesians 5 before friends and family and family’s friends. “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” To some of you, those verses sound ignorant and outdated, and that’s a-whole-nother article, brothers and sisters. We’re here to talk about church. Stay focused.
I’d challenge you to read those verses again.
Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. Ephesians 5:
The Church submits to Christ.
Christ loved the Church.
Christ gave himself up for the Church.
Another thing we can’t ignore when mentioning the local church, is that “local church” means many things to many people. And still today we can see how racism, discrimination, and disagreement has brought about division in the church. There are mostly black churches and there are mostly white churches and that’s a-whole-nother article, brothers and sisters. I won’t speak more about that here, but if you’re finding yourself unaware, here is a place to start.
There are churches that are too charismatic and churches that don’t serve enough and churches that are too harsh and churches that aren’t honest enough. Left churches and right churches and wrong churches and churches that have bad theology and bad people and bad coffee. We could write a book about the star-bellied churches and the churches who don’t have stars upon thars.
For now, for here, when we talk about the local church, we’ll just talk about your local church. The one you go to. Or went to, before this whole pandemic reared its head. Or want to check out, as this whole pandemic begins to settle. Being a part of God’s Church, means being a part of the local church.
So, here’s a few beautiful things about the local church:
Here’s the thing. Community can be found anywhere: the local YMCA, sitting on the sidelines of your kids’ swim lessons, enjoying a cold beer out at Logboat Brewery. But community like this can’t be found just anywhere: Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. (Acts 4:32-35) This is the type of community Christ gave himself up for. The Holy Spirit within them, within us, empowers and enables relationship with this kind of depth, where the Body is working together in dependence, accountability, humility and love. Fellowship like this is what we all long for, whether we admit it to ourselves or not. I’ve heard it explained that we all desire to be fully known and truly loved. It’s like being loved by God, and a love like this can and does exist within the local church.
Discipleship & Baptism
These are some of Jesus’ final words: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28: 18-20) The last page, the closing scene, the final note: these things seem to hold more weight than the others. The exhortation to make disciples, be discipled, and be baptized came straight from the lips of Jesus himself to the early Church. And the promise of his presence quickly followed. Unbelievers are hearing the gospel, being baptized, and maturing in their newfound faith because of the work of the local church every day. With the help of his promised presence, discipleship and baptism can be wonderful and God-glorifying within the local church.
Worship can happen however and wherever you think it can, and however and wherever you think it can’t. Where two or three of God’s people are, there He is. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:46-47) The people in Acts were praising God, together. They praised as they ate with glad and sincere hearts. Within a Church body, worship of God reflects that of Heaven. Multitudes of his people in awe of his holiness and enduring love. In the good times and bad, the Church body comes together in reverence and adoration of the One True God. This happens in a way that we sometimes can’t do all on our own.
Speaking of revering our Lord, we have the practice of taking communion. The night before Jesus’ crucifixion, he reclined with the 12 disciples, broke the bread and poured some wine and said to them: This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me (Luke 22:19) Like any practice of the church this is not what saves, but is a symbol of the Savior and what he gave up so that we could have. But there is delight and pleasure with God when we do what he asks. Communion in the local church is an affirmation, an acknowledgment of what the living Christ has done for the church. What a joy to participate in a meal so sacred, alongside other believers.
I mentioned the Great Commission earlier, which presents God’s will (by loving Him and loving others) for his people. The local church is a place to be filled up by the living and active word of God. It’s a place to be reminded of our God-breathed mission and to hear the gospel preached to us, over and over again. Because we can never outgrow needing to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. In the local church the Word of the Lord should ring out, so that we might know and live out the purpose for our lives. And I get it. You can hear The Word of God preached in a live stream or on your television, but stepping into the walls of a church building gives us a chance to really sit under the teaching of pastors and the authority of God’s word. The words within the Bible are powerful in many ways and to watch its power unfold within the local church, is truly a miracle.
The local church is a place to serve and live out God-given gifts.
It’s a refuge to mourn, a retreat to be joyful. It’s a venue to learn and unlearn. And a home to know grace and forgiveness. A firsthand view of confession and repentance. An environment to be humbled and edified. A buffet of doctrine and theology. A home base from which laborers are sent into a field ripe for harvest. The local church is important. It gives evidence for, displays, and protects the Universal Church. It’s a reflection of the heavenly assembly shouting “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come.” It’s a place to be with people, not behind a screen but in the presence of one another, existing before God.