It is the purpose of this article to discuss, “The Importance Of Local Church Membership.”

It is always good to define our terms.

By “importance,” it is meant significance or great worth. The term “local” suggests a given or specified area as opposed to a wider scope, or area. “ Membership” is defined as “the state or status of being a member,” and also refers to one’s alignment with the local church. The word “church” is used to define that body of those saved or called out to follow the Lord. The church is discussed in the New Testament in both a universal as well as a local sense. In the universal sense, it encompasses all of those saved by the blood of the Lamb. In the local sense, it describes the saved in a given locality.

Sometimes, the church is spoken of in the universal sense, but it is the living, real, visible saints in the local church who fulfill the eternal purpose of God. This is what the first Christians did and what the Lord wants us to do. The apostle Paul established local congregations with their governing elders, their serving deacons, and working members as the visible display, God’s Showcase, for all the ages. Here, in the local church, is where the saved lived, died, and went to heaven.

Some have a twisted concept of the church. Many have a building mentality. The church is not a building. The church uses a building. There is not a sacred block, nail, or board in a building used for the church to meet. The church is people. Luke records, “Saul made havoc of the church” (Acts 8:3, KJV). He did this by putting men and women in prison (Acts 8:3). Yes, the church is composed of those redeemed by the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 5:9).

The New Testament church was established in the city of Jerusalem on the first Pentecost following the resurrection of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:1). On that occasion, the apostle Peter preached the first recorded Gospel sermon under the worldwide commission (Acts 2:17-40). Luke records that about three thousand obeyed the Gospel (Acts 2:41). They continued steadfastly in the doctrine of the apostles, fellowship,

prayer, and the breaking of the bread (Acts 2:42).

That was the beginning of the local church in the City of Jerusalem. Soon thereafter, the church was scattered because of persecution (Acts 8:1-4). From that point onward, the church of our Lord was set up in localities over the then known world. Collectively, they comprised the universal church. That is, the church as a whole. Separately, they were in different localities and they constituted the local church.

In the New Testament there are some sixteen such local churches named, among those were the church at Jerusalem (Acts 2:5, 46-47; 15:1-4); the church at Antioch (Acts 11:26); the church at Corinth (Acts 18:8; 1 Cor. 1:2), and the church at Ephesus (Acts 19:1-5; Rev. 2:1).

These local churches were well organized, functioning units. The church at Philippi is an example of an organized local church. “Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons” (Phil. 1:1). The local church was composed of (1) saints, (2) bishops, and (3) deacons. God did not organize the universal church into a functioning unit.

He left the work of the church to individual local churches. One of the problems faced by many, if not most, local churches, is that many members who should be actively involved in the church have never established a relationship with the local church. They do not take seriously the responsibilities that are theirs as members of a local church.

There is no such thing as being a member-at-large. Each Christian should find a sound, faithful church of Christ and become a strong, faithful member of that congregation.

Some drift from one church to another and never make any significant impact in any of them. This is not God’s arrangement. We can never evangelize the world with “floating” members.

Evidence That Supports The Importance Of The Local Church

Consider the following situations where individual Christians are seen in scripture as joining, identifying, etc. with a local group of God’s people; a local congregation.

Soon after Saul of Tarsus obeyed the Gospel, he went to Jerusalem and sought to join himself to the disciples who were there.

And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he

was a disciple. But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. And he was with them coming in and going out at Jerusalem. (Acts 9:26-28)

The church at Antioch stands out as a mission-minded local church.

Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers as Barnabas and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. (Acts 13:1) It was this church who sent Barnabas and Saul on Saul’s first missionary journey. “As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them” (Acts

13:2). Then they “laid their hands on them” and “sent them away” (Acts 13:3). If we had more local churches like the one in Antioch, we could evangelize the entire world in our generation!

The brethren in Ephesus wrote a letter urging the brethren in Achaia to receive Apollos (Acts 18:24-28). Here is an example of one church recommending a preacher to another church.

Paul recommended Phoebe to the brethren in Rome.

“ I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea” (Rom. 16:1). He urged them to receive her and assist her in any way necessary. “That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you” (Rom. 16:2).

It should not go unnoticed that no fewer than ten of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament were written to local churches.

It Is Important To Worship With A Sound Local Church

In the times in which we live, one cannot be too cautious when finding a place to worship. Not every group that calls itself the “church of Christ” is the Lord’s church. Many strange and uncertain sounds are heard in some quarters. It is suggested that before one identify with a local church, that he talk to the elders and the preacher. If they are sound, they will not object to a few questions on their doctrinal positions. Occasionally, someone will say in regard to where they worship, “I know they do some things not taught in the Bible, and they teach some things that I understand to conflict with Bible teaching; but they are good people, and I enjoy their fellowship.” We cannot fellowship those not fellowshipped by the Lord.

Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. (2 Jn. 9)

If one is unable to find a sound church with whom to worship, one might consider starting one in his home.

The local church is described as a candlestick.

The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches. (Rev. 1:20)

Each of the seven churches of Asia was called a candlestick.

The local church means so much to the Lord that he walks in the midst of it.

Unto the angel of the church at Ephesus write:

These things saweth he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks. (Rev. 2:1)

The Lord constantly walks in the midst of the churches in spite of their faults and failures.

The local church is the divinely appointed agency for the support of the truth.

Paul wrote, But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how

though oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. (1 Tim. 3:15)

In as much as the church is to support the truth, this must refer to a local church, for there is no legislative or executive power by which the universal church may act. There is no earthly headquarters for the church in the universal sense. It seems to be a logical conclusion that since the church is to support the truth, and since there is no earthly headquarters, this work of supporting the truth is to be done by the local church.

The oversight of the Lord’s work is to be done in the local church.

Each local church has its own elders.

And when they had ordained them elders in every church and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed. (Acts 14:23)

The elders in each local church are to oversee the flock of God that is among them. To the elders of the church located in Ephesus, Paul said, Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. (Acts 20:28)

Peter, who was an elder (1 Pet. 5:1), admonished his fellow elders. “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind” (1 Pet. 5:2).

The members of the local church are to submit to the oversight of the elders appointed over them. “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves” (Heb. 13:17).

God has no other arrangement for the governing of the local church. There is no universal bishop. There is no conference, synod, or earthly central headquarters ruling the universal church.

Paul told Titus to appoint elders in every city (Tit. 1:5). There was to be a plurality of elders appointed in every church (Acts 14:23), in every city (Tit. 1:5).

Consider the following.  If there is no importance in being identified with a local congregation of God’s people, how would one appoint elders?  If people just came together with one group now and another group later, how could you ever establish an eldership?

Furthermore, the elders are to be shepherds over the flock, to oversee, to rule.  How would they know who their flock is if there is no way to identify them?  If local membership is not important, how do the elders know whom they are ruling over?

In the New Testament times, shepherds had their own flock over which they cared for.  The shepherds knew their sheep and the sheep knew their shepherd.  The Holy Spirit used the term shepherd in reference to elders.  Spiritually then, elders must have their own flock.  They must be able to identify their flock, and their flock must know them.  Such is impossible if church membership, identifying with a local group of God’s people, is not exercised.  How would the elders know who their sheep are, and how would the sheep know their shepherds?

The fact of accountability is seriously important, and cannot be accomplished where there is no established group of God’s people so that accountability can be observed.

The importance of church membership is seen in the structure of the church.

Involved in the work of the church, along with elders, are deacons.  If you had no established group of God’s people, how would you ever appoint deacons?  If you have Christians simply float from one place to another, there is no way to ordain deacons to carry out that God-designed work.

From another practical standpoint; how would you have teachers to take care of that important area of church growth?

Each of the local churches was autonomous in self-governing.

Each local congregation is a self-governing body responsible directly to Christ the head of the church. Autonomy means the right to attend to your own business.

Someone has defined autonomy with six points: (1) control its own resources; (2) exercise the oversight of its own work; (3) manage its own affairs; (4) discipline its own disorderly members; (5) provide for its own worthy indigent to the limit of its ability; and (6) govern itself in all matters of judgment and expediency.

There is, therefore, no super-organization or ecclesiasticism over the churches. No society, convention, synod, educational institution, benevolent institution, publication society, business firm, clique or group must ever be allowed to gain control of the affairs of the local church.

Another thing that shows the importance of the local church is the fact that one must meet with the local church to partake of the Lord’s Supper. In writing to the local church in Corinth, Paul urged them to correct the abuses of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:17-20). It cannot be missed that Paul tarried at Troas long enough to have the opportunity, not only to speak to the church but also to partake of the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7).

It is the work of the local church to help those in need.

The churches in Galatia were ordered to take up a collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem.

Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the 2 first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come. 3And when I come, whomsoever ye shall approve by your letters, them will I send to bring

your liberality unto Jerusalem. (1 Cor. 16:1-3)

The churches in Macedonia stand out in Scripture as fine examples of liberality. Macedonia was a Roman province at the time Paul wrote the Book of Second Corinthians. The people in Macedonia were suffering the throes of three civil wars that left them impoverished. So poverty-stricken were they that Tiberius lowered their taxes. In spite of their poverty, they were liberal beyond anyone’s expectation. In the New Testament, the principal cities in Macedonia were Thessalonica, Berea, and Philippi. Thessalonica was an exemplary church where faith was known far and wide (1 Thes. 1:8). The Bereans, through their thirst for truth, possessed true nobility (Acts 17:11). The church in Philippi was a good church, which supported Paul in his work of evangelism (Phil. 4:15-19). These were good local churches and the one thing highlighted in Second Corinthians 8 is their liberality in the face of a great need. In the New Testament, there is a record of at least three occasions where brethren responded to a great need. The first was in Jerusalem (Acts 2:44, 45; 6:1-7). Second, Agabas, a prophet, predicted a famine (Acts 11:27-28), and the brethren, in keeping with their ability, sent relief to the saints in Judea by the hands of Barnabas and Saul (Acts 11:29-30). Some ten or more years later, Paul was collecting relief for the poor saints (1 Cor. 16:1-2; 2 Cor. 8-9; Rom. 15:25-26) and solicited the aid of Titus and two other brethren in gathering the collection (2 Cor. 8:16-20). The Macedonians saw this need and responded to it (2 Cor. 8:1-5).

Another question comes to mind concerning the contribution of the church that is used to help the needy, further the kingdom, and strengthen the church.  How could the congregation possibly have ongoing works of this nature if it could not be confident that the funds would be there?  If there were no local structure, made up of people who were committed to the Lord’s work, how could the elders be confident that funds would continue to be there to carry on a given work?  If there were no local membership, this would be impossible.  The Lord designed the local congregation so that such matters could be taken care of in a good way.

Each member of the local church is responsible for promoting purity in the church.

In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul addressed the issue of immorality in the church.

“It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife” (1 Cor. 5:1).

They were “puffed up” and had not “mourned” about this matter (1 Cor. 5:2). He told them that when they were “gathered together” (the church gathered together) to “deliver such an one unto Satan” to save the man’s soul (1 Cor. 5:4-5).

This was an action to be taken by the local church. They were to purge out “the old leaven” (1 Cor. 5:7). They were to “put away from among yourselves that wicked person” (1 Cor. 5:13). No doubt one of the great failings of many local churches is a failure to keep the church pure. Satan is having a field day with the Lord’s church. Almost every sin in the catalog of sins is found in the church. To keep the church

pure, godly elders must lead the church in a pathway of purity. That includes instructive discipline through good, sound Gospel preaching. Also, corrective discipline must also be exercised (2 Tim. 4:1-5; 2 Thes. 3:6).

How could the local church at Corinth take such actions if there was no recognition of who was a member there and who was not?  Suppose this person had not identified with the congregation at Corinth.  How could they “put away” such a person from among themselves?  This person had to be identified with the congregation at Corinth, otherwise, such actions as instructed by the apostle Paul could not have been carried out.

Another thing that underscores the importance of the local church is the need each Christian has to admonish and be admonished.

And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. (Heb. 10:24-25)

We are to provoke, motivate, and stir up one another to love and good works. Next, we are not to forsake the “assembling of ourselves together” (Heb. 10:25). When the local church assembles, we are encouraged to be diligent by the presence of others. When we willfully forsake the assembling of ourselves together, we not only hurt ourselves but we hurt others. In worship, we admonish one another in song (Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:19). How can we admonish one another in song if we do not assemble with the saints for the purpose of worship? One of the most prevalent sins in the church of Christ today is that of forsaking the assembly. How can the local church be strong and function as it should when the members are not doing their part? If it is right for one Christian to ignore God’s local church arrangement, it would be right for all of them to do so. If all Christians ignored God’s plan for the local church, all local churches would soon

cease to exist. Be assured that it is wrong, sinful for any Christian to willfully, intentionally remain aloof from the local church. One cannot forsake the assembling together of the local church without incurring the displeasure of God.

As Christians, we are to promote “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). Why would one want to be in the one body and not want to promote unity? Paul wrote to the local church in Corinth about unity. He addressed them, in his first epistle to them, “the church of God which is at Corinth” (1 Cor. 1:2). It was to this local church that he wrote, Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. (1 Cor. 1:10)

Paul’s charge to keep unity in the church was addressed to the local church in Ephesus (Eph. 1:1; 4:3). It is the responsibility of each and every member of the local congregation to strive to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

How do we promote unity in the local church?

(1) We should respect the consciences of others in matters of personal conviction (Rom. 14:1-4); (2) we must avoid envy and jealousy (Gal. 5: 19-21); (3) we should avoid gossip and idle talk (Mt. 12:34-37); (4) we should work for peace (Rom. 12:18; 4:19); (5) we should be humble (Rom. 12:3); (6) we should admit our faults (Josh. 5:16; 1 Jn. 1:9). Nothing is more precious than the unity of the local church (Ps. 133:1).

Another thing that gives strong evidence as to the importance of the local church is the way in which the work of the church is funded.

There is no super, centrally headquartered organization for the support of the church. It is the responsibility of each member in the local church to “lay by in store” on the Lord’s Day to support the work of the congregation (1 Cor. 16:2). This means to put into the treasury of the church. J. W. McGarvey says of the phrase “in store” (Eph. 5:21), The word “thesaurizoon,” translated “in store,” means, literally, “put into the treasury;” and the phrase “par heauto” translated “by him” may be taken as the neuter reflexive pronoun, and may be rendered with equal correctness “by itself”…If each man had laid by in his own house, all these scattered collections would have had to be gathered after Paul’s arrival, which was the very thing he forbade.

Every member of the local church has a personal responsibility to give. The work of the church is not funded by pie suppers, yard sales, doughnut sales, begging on television, or any other man-made scheme. We are to give as we have “prospered” (1 Cor. 16:2). In years past, the church of Christ did not do much teaching on the subject of giving and as a result, the members did not give properly. We are doing more now in teaching on this subject.

The work of the late V. P. Black made a great contribution in educating the church on stewardship. A preacher in the local church should prepare sermons that challenge brethren to give generously to support the local work. We should teach brethren that when they give, God will bless them (Lk. 6:38). We have the money in the church of Christ. When we give as God would have us give, we can preach the Gospel to the whole world. Think of the good that can be done by the local church in spreading the Gospel. Men need to be trained to preach. It takes money to do that. Missionaries need to be sent (Rom. 10:13-17). It takes money to do that. Radio and television programs need to be aired. It takes money to do that. Bibles need to be bought. It takes money to do that. It is the local church that is the driving force in sending the light of the glorious Gospel to people in darkness. We cannot afford not to give. One thing of which we can be assured: one cannot out give God! The money we give is to support evangelism (Phil. 4:15; 2 Cor. 11:8-10); relieve widows in need (1 Tim. 5:16); help the fatherless (Jas. 1:27); help all people, but especially those of the household of faith (Gal. 6:10; 2 Cor. 9:13).

Occasionally, someone will hatch the notion that they will not give into the local church treasury and will direct their money where they want it to go. Be it known, nothing is wrong in giving to any worthy cause over and above giving into the treasury of the local church, but to withhold giving to the local church is fraught with many dangers. First, to refuse to give into the treasury of the local church shows a lack of loyalty and cooperation. Second, a failure to support the local church financially keeps the church from doing many good works. Third, a failure to help support the local church and self-direct one’s funds to a particular area is to show defiance of the elders who have oversight of the local church (Heb. 13:17; 1 Pet. 5:1-4). Fourth, a refusal to give into the church treasury and send that which belongs to God where one wants it to go seems to reduce that person to a one man missionary society. Fifth, withholding money from the local treasury is

tantamount to robbing God (Mal. 3:8-10). Sixth, by giving elsewhere than to the local church treasury on the first day of the week, one takes for himself the glory that should belong to the Lord (Eph. 3:21; 1 Cor. 10:31). God has designed a plan or pattern for the support of the local church. When we give upon the first day of the week into the local church treasury, the church can function properly (1 Cor. 16:1-2). We have allowed too many stingy, covetous people to hold back the church by their blatant refusal to support the work of the local church.

It is the duty of local elders to see that the church is taught the truth on the subject of giving.

The local church is a place to settle differences.

Leroy Brownlow, in writing about the value of the local church, commented, Jesus recognized the value of the local church by commanding that personal differences, if they cannot be settled otherwise, be taken before the church (Matt. 18: 15-17). This must refer to the local church, for one could not take the matter to the universal church; neither could one hear the universal church.

It is the case that as a Christian, I am to love all fellow Christians. Peter, in a very short, pointed way, wrote, “Love the brotherhood” (1 Pet. 2:17). That includes brethren all over the world. In a practical sense, this can only be done through the local church. This is where love can be manifested, or shown. The local church should be one of love, peace, and goodwill.

And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. (Heb. 10:24-25)

A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

(Jn. 13:34-35)

Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently.

(1 Pet. 1:22)

And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.

(1 Pet. 4:8)

Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.

(Col. 3:12-14)

We are to encourage and love one another. There is turmoil and tension in the world, but in God’s family there should be peace and harmony (Ps. 133:1; Rom. 14:19)!

Good Influence In The Local Church

If it is important to be a member of a local church, then it is equally as important to be an influential member.

Each member should love and want to make the church of which he or she is a member the best it can be. We cannot remain detached and aloof from what is happening in the church. We need to work and be an active participant.

From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love. (Eph. 4:16)

It has been said that in some churches, ninety percent of the work is done by ten percent of the members, and the other ninety percent are willing to sit back and let them do it. Paul wrote to the local church in Corinth, “For we are laborers together with God; for ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building” (1 Cor. 3:9).

We are “laborers.” Not just “laborers,” we are “laborers together.” We are not just “laborers together;” we are “laborers together with God.” If ever there was an enterprise that deserves the full cooperation of all, it is the church of the Lord. Some are like the little boy who had his dog hitched to the front of his lawn mower. The dog refused to pull it. Instead, he was barking. A passerby noticed this and asked the boy why his dog was barking. He replied, “He’s barking to keep from working.” Perhaps that explains why some complain and bark in the church—to keep from working! We have to work together in harmony like an orchestra of many instruments. When they are all in tune and play together, they can make beautiful music. If one of the instruments gets out of tune, it can ruin the performance. The devil tries to get brethren out of tune, to disrupt the peace, harmony, and work of the local church (Acts 5:1-11; 6:1-6).

We need to work together to preserve “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3).

All of us have responsibilities in the local congregation.

We should be loyal to Christ and the church. May we be impressed with the greatness of the cause of Christ! When we do all within our ability to help build up the local church, (1) we will then be totally committed to Christ (Mt. 16:24; 2 Tim. 1:12; Rom. 12:1-2); (2) we will grow spiritually and will be characterized by the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23); (3) we will be faithful in attendance (Hebrews 10:25), never offering excuses for not attending worship; (4) we will put first things first (Mt. 6:33; 22:37); (5) we will be willing and ready to work (Mt. 20:1-16; 1 Cor. 15:58; Jas. 1:25; 2 Tim. 2:15; Jas. 9:4); (6) we will assume individual responsibility (Eph. 4:16; Acts 2:41-44); (7) we will keep a positive, optimistic attitude (Phil. 4:13).

It is the purpose of this article to discuss, “The Importance Of Local Church Membership.”

It is always good to define our terms.

By “importance,” it is meant significance or great worth. The term “local” suggests a given or specified area as opposed to a wider scope, or area. “ Membership” is defined as “the state or status of being a member,” and also refers to one’s alignment with the local church. The word “church” is used to define that body of those saved or called out to follow the Lord. The church is discussed in the New Testament in both a universal as well as a local sense. In the universal sense, it encompasses all of those saved by the blood of the Lamb. In the local sense it describes the saved in a given locality.

Sometimes, the church is spoken of in the universal sense, but it is the living, real, visible saints in the local church who fulfill the eternal purpose of God. This is what the first Christians did and what the Lord wants us to do. The apostle Paul established local congregations with their governing elders, their serving deacons, and working members as the visible display, God’s Showcase, for all the ages. Here, in the local church, is where the saved lived, died, and went to heaven.

Some have a twisted concept of the church. Many have a building mentality. The church is not a building. The church uses a building. There is not a sacred block, nail, or board in a building used for the church to meet. The church is people. Luke records, “Saul made havoc of the church” (Acts 8:3, KJV). He did this by putting men and women in prison (Acts 8:3). Yes, the church is composed of those redeemed by the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 5:9).

The New Testament church was established in the city of Jerusalem on the first Pentecost following the resurrection of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:1). On that occasion, the apostle Peter preached the first recorded Gospel sermon under the worldwide commission (Acts 2:17-40). Luke records that about three thousand obeyed the Gospel (Acts 2:41). They continued steadfastly in the doctrine of the apostles, fellowship,

prayer, and the breaking of the bread (Acts 2:42).

That was the beginning of the local church in the City of Jerusalem. Soon thereafter, the church was scattered because of persecution (Acts 8:1-4). From that point onward, the church of our Lord was set up in localities over the then known world. Collectively, they comprised the universal church. That is, the church as a whole. Separately, they were in different localities and they constituted the local church.

In the New Testament there are some sixteen such local churches named, among those were the church at Jerusalem (Acts 2:5, 46-47; 15:1-4); the church at Antioch (Acts 11:26); the church at Corinth (Acts 18:8; 1 Cor. 1:2), and the church at Ephesus (Acts 19:1-5; Rev. 2:1).

These local churches were well organized, functioning units. The church at Philippi is an example of an organized local church. “Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons” (Phil. 1:1). The local church was composed of (1) saints, (2) bishops, and (3) deacons. God did not organize the universal church into a functioning unit.

He left the work of the church to individual local churches. One of the problems faced by many, if not most, local churches, is that many members who should be actively involved in the church have never established a relationship with the local church. They do not take seriously the responsibilities that are theirs as members of a local church.

There is no such thing as being a member-at-large. Each Christian should find a sound, faithful church of Christ and become a strong, faithful member of that congregation.

Some drift from one church to another and never make any significant impact in any of them. This is not God’s arrangement. We can never evangelize the world with “floating” members.

Evidence That Supports The Importance Of The Local Church

Consider the following situations where individual Christians are seen in scripture as joining, identifying, etc. with a local group of God’s people; a local congregation.

Soon after Saul of Tarsus obeyed the Gospel, he went to Jerusalem and sought to join himself to the disciples who were there.

And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he

was a disciple. But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. And he was with them coming in and going out at Jerusalem. (Acts 9:26-28)

The church at Antioch stands out as a mission-minded local church.

Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers as Barnabas and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. (Acts 13:1) It was this church who sent Barnabas and Saul on Saul’s first missionary journey. “As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them” (Acts

13:2). Then they “laid their hands on them” and “sent them away” (Acts 13:3). If we had more local churches like the one in Antioch, we could evangelize the entire world in our generation!

The brethren in Ephesus wrote a letter urging the brethren in Achaia to receive Apollos (Acts 18:24-28). Here is an example of one church recommending a preacher to another church.

Paul recommended Phoebe to the brethren in Rome.

“ I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea” (Rom. 16:1). He urged them to receive her and assist her in any way necessary. “That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you” (Rom. 16:2).

It should not go unnoticed that no fewer than ten of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament were written to local churches.

It Is Important To Worship With A Sound Local Church

In the times in which we live, one cannot be too cautious when finding a place to worship. Not every group that calls itself the “church of Christ” is the Lord’s church. Many strange and uncertain sounds are heard in some quarters. It is suggested that before one identify with a local church, that he talk to the elders and the preacher. If they are sound, they will not object to a few questions on their doctrinal positions. Occasionally, someone will say in regard to where they worship, “I know they do some things not taught in the Bible, and they teach some things that I understand to conflict with Bible teaching; but they are good people, and I enjoy their fellowship.” We cannot fellowship those not fellowshiped by the Lord.

Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. (2 Jn. 9)

If one is unable to find a sound church with whom to worship, one might consider starting one in his home.

The local church is described as a candlestick.

The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches. (Rev. 1:20)

Each of the seven churches of Asia was called a candlestick.

The local church means so much to the Lord that he walks in the midst of it.

Unto the angel of the church at Ephesus write:

These things saweth he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks. (Rev. 2:1)

The Lord constantly walks in the midst of the churches in spite of their faults and failures.

The local church is the divinely appointed agency for the support of the truth.

Paul wrote, But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how

though oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. (1 Tim. 3:15)

In as much as the church is to support the truth, this must refer to a local church, for there is no legislative or executive power by which the universal church may act. There is no earthly headquarters for the church in the universal sense. It seems to be a logical conclusion that since the church is to support the truth, and since there is no earthly headquarters, this work of supporting the truth is to be done by the local church.

The oversight of the Lord’s work is to be done in the local church.

Each local church has its own elders.

And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed. (Acts 14:23)

The elders in each local church are to oversee the flock of God that is among them. To the elders of the church located in Ephesus, Paul said, Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. (Acts 20:28)

Peter, who was an elder (1 Pet. 5:1), admonished his fellow elders. “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind” (1 Pet. 5:2).

The members of the local church are to submit to the oversight of the elders appointed over them. “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves” (Heb. 13:17).

God has no other arrangement for the governing of the local church. There is no universal bishop. There is no conference, synod, or earthly central headquarters ruling the universal church.

Paul told Titus to appoint elders in every city (Tit. 1:5). There was to be a plurality of elders appointed in every church (Acts 14:23), in every city (Tit. 1:5).

Consider the following.  If there is no importance in being identified with a local congregation of God’s people, how would one appoint elders?  If people just came together with one group now and another group later, how could you ever establish an eldership?

Furthermore, the elders are to be shepherds over the flock, to oversee, to rule.  How would they know who their flock is if there is no way to identify them?  If local membership is not important, how do the elders know whom they are ruling over?

In the New Testament times, shepherds had their own flock over which they cared for.  The shepherds knew their sheep and the sheep knew their shepherd.  The Holy Spirit used the term shepherd in reference to elders.  Spiritually then, elders must have their own flock.  They must be able to identify their flock, and their flock must know them.  Such is impossible if church membership, identifying with a local group of God’s people, is not exercised.  How would the elders know who their sheep are, and how would the sheep know their shepherds?

The fact of accountability is seriously important, and cannot be accomplished where there is no established group of God’s people, so that accountability can be observed.

The importance of church membership is seen in the structure of the church.

Involved in the work of the church, along with elders, are deacons.  If you had no established group of God’s people, how would you ever appoint deacons?  If you have Christians simply float from one place to another, there is no way to ordain deacons to carry out that God-designed work.

From another practical standpoint; how would you have teachers to take care of that important area of church growth?

Each of the local churches was autonomous in self-governing.

Each local congregation is a self-governing body responsible directly to Christ the head of the church. Autonomy means the right to attend to your own business.

Someone has defined autonomy with six points: (1) control its own resources; (2) exercise the oversight of its own work; (3) manage its own affairs; (4) discipline its own disorderly members; (5) provide for its own worthy indigent to the limit of its ability; and (6) govern itself in all matters of judgment and expediency.

There is therefore, no super-organization or ecclesiasticism over the churches. No society, convention, synod, educational institution, benevolent institution, publication society, business firm, clique or group must ever be allowed to gain control of the affairs of the local church.

Another thing that shows the importance of the local church is the fact that one must meet with the local church to partake of the Lord’s Supper. In writing to the local church in Corinth, Paul urged them to correct the abuses of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:17-20). It cannot be missed that Paul tarried at Troas long enough to have the opportunity, not only to speak to the church but also to partake of the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7).

It is the work of the local church to help those in need.

The churches in Galatia were ordered to take up a collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem.

Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the 2 first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come. 3And when I come, whomsoever ye shall approve by your letters, them will I send to bring

your liberality unto Jerusalem. (1 Cor. 16:1-3)

The churches in Macedonia stand out in Scripture as fine examples of liberality. Macedonia was a Roman province at the time Paul wrote the Book of Second Corinthians. The people in Macedonia were suffering the throes of three civil wars that left them impoverished. So poverty-stricken were they that Tiberius lowered their taxes. In spite of their poverty, they were liberal beyond anyone’s expectation. In the

New Testament, the principal cities in Macedonia were Thessalonica, Berea, and Philippi. Thessalonica was an exemplary church where faith was known far and wide (1 Thes. 1:8). The Bereans, through their thirst for truth, possessed true nobility (Acts 17:11). The church in Philippi was a good church, which supported Paul in his work of evangelism (Phil. 4:15-19). These were good local churches and the one thing highlighted in Second Corinthians 8 is their liberality in the face of a great need. In the New Testament, there is a record of at least three occasions where brethren responded to a great need. The first was in Jerusalem (Acts 2:44, 45; 6:1-7). Second, Agabas, a prophet, predicted a famine (Acts 11:27-28), and the brethren, in keeping with their ability, sent relief to the saints in Judea by the hands of Barnabas and Saul (Acts 11:29-30). Some ten or more years later, Paul was collecting relief for the poor saints (1 Cor. 16:1-2; 2 Cor. 8-9; Rom. 15:25-26) and solicited the aid of Titus and two other brethren in gathering the collection (2 Cor. 8:16-20). The Macedonians saw this need and responded to it (2 Cor. 8:1-5).

Another question comes to mind concerning the contribution of the church that is used to help the needy, further the kingdom, and strengthen the church.  How could the congregation possibly have ongoing works of this nature if it could not be confident that the funds would be there?  If there were no local structure, made up of people who were committed to the Lord’s work, how could the elders be confident that funds would continue to be there to carry on a given work?  If there were no local membership, this would be impossible.  The Lord designed the local congregation so that such matters could be taken care of in a good way.

Each member of the local church is responsible for promoting purity in the church.

In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul addressed the issue of immorality in the church.

“It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife” (1 Cor. 5:1).

They were “puffed up” and had not “mourned” about this matter (1 Cor. 5:2). He told them that when they were “gathered together” (the church gathered together) to “deliver such an one unto Satan” to save the man’s soul (1 Cor. 5:4-5).

This was action to be taken by the local church. They were to purge out “the old leaven” (1 Cor. 5:7). They were to “put away from among yourselves that wicked person” (1 Cor. 5:13). No doubt one of the great failings of many local churches is a failure to keep the church pure. Satan is having a field day with the Lord’s church. Almost every sin in the catalog of sins is found in the church. To keep the church

pure, godly elders must lead the church in a pathway of purity. That includes instructive discipline through good, sound Gospel preaching. Also, corrective discipline must also be exercised (2 Tim. 4:1-5; 2 Thes. 3:6).

How could the local church at Corinth take such actions if there was no recognition of who was a member there and who was not?  Suppose this person had not identified with the congregation at Corinth.  How could they “put away” such a person from among themselves?  This person had to be identified with the congregation at Corinth, otherwise, such actions as instructed by the apostle Paul could not have been carried out.

Another thing that underscores the importance of the local church is the need each Christian has to admonish and be admonished.

And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. (Heb. 10:24-25)

We are to provoke, motivate, and stir up one another to love and good works. Next, we are not to forsake the “assembling of ourselves together” (Heb. 10:25). When the local church assembles, we are encouraged to be diligent by the presence of others. When we willfully forsake the assembling of ourselves together, we not only hurt ourselves but we hurt others. In worship, we admonish one another in song (Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:19). How can we admonish one another in song if we do not assemble with the saints for the purpose of worship? One of the most prevalent sins in the church of Christ today is that of forsaking the assembly. How can the local church be strong and function as it should when the members are not doing their part? If it is right for one Christian to ignore God’s local church arrangement, it would be right for all of them to do so. If all Christians ignored God’s plan for the local church, all local churches would soon

cease to exist. Be assured that it is wrong, sinful for any Christian to willfully, intentionally remain aloof from the local church. One cannot forsake the assembling together of the local church without incurring the displeasure of God.

As Christians, we are to promote “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). Why would one want to be in the one body and not want to promote unity? Paul wrote to the local church in Corinth about unity. He addressed them, in his first epistle to them, “the church of God which is at Corinth” (1 Cor. 1:2). It was to this local church that he wrote, Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. (1 Cor. 1:10)

Paul’s charge to keep unity in the church was addressed to the local church in Ephesus (Eph. 1:1; 4:3). It is the responsibility of each and every member of the local congregation to strive to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

How do we promote unity in the local church?

(1) We should respect the consciences of others in matters of personal conviction (Rom. 14:1-4); (2) we must avoid envy and jealousy (Gal. 5: 19-21); (3) we should avoid gossip and idle talk (Mt. 12:34-37); (4) we should work for peace (Rom. 12:18; 4:19); (5) we should be humble (Rom. 12:3); (6) we should admit our faults (Josh. 5:16; 1 Jn. 1:9). Nothing is more precious than the unity of the local church (Ps. 133:1).

Another thing that gives strong evidence as to the importance of the local church is the way in which the work of the church is funded.

There is no super, centrally headquartered organization for the support of the church. It is the responsibility of each member in the local church to “lay by in store” on the Lord’s Day to support the work of the congregation (1 Cor. 16:2). This means to put into the treasury of the church. J. W. McGarvey says of the phrase “in store” (Eph. 5:21), The word “thesaurizoon,” translated “in store,” means, literally, “put into the treasury;” and the phrase “par heauto” translated “by him” may be taken as the neuter reflexive pronoun, and may be rendered with equal correctness “by itself”…If each man had laid by in his own house, all these scattered collections would have had to be gathered after Paul’s arrival, which was the very thing he forbade.

Every member of the local church has a personal responsibility to give. The work of the church is not funded by pie suppers, yard sales, doughnut sales, begging on television, or any other man-made scheme. We are to give as we have “prospered” (1 Cor. 16:2). In years past, the church of Christ did not do much teaching on the subject of giving and as a result, the members did not give properly. We are doing more now in teaching on this subject.

The work of the late V. P. Black made a great contribution in educating the church on stewardship. A preacher in the local church should prepare sermons that challenge brethren to give generously to support the local work. We should teach brethren that when they give, God will bless them (Lk. 6:38). We have the money in the church of Christ. When we give as God would have us give, we can preach the Gospel to the whole world. Think of the good that can be done by the local church in spreading the Gospel. Men need to be trained to preach. It takes money to do that. Missionaries need to be sent (Rom. 10:13-17). It takes money to do that. Radio and television programs need to be aired. It takes money to do that. Bibles need to be bought. It takes money to do that. It is the local church that is the driving force in sending the light of the glorious Gospel to people in darkness. We cannot afford not to give. One thing of which we can be assured: one cannot out give God! The money we give is to support evangelism (Phil. 4:15; 2 Cor. 11:8-10); relieve widows in need (1 Tim. 5:16); help the fatherless (Jas. 1:27); help all people, but especially those of the household of faith (Gal. 6:10; 2 Cor. 9:13).

Occasionally, someone will hatch the notion that they will not give into the local church treasury and will direct their money where they want it to go. Be it known, nothing is wrong in giving to any worthy cause over and above giving into the treasury of the local church, but to withhold giving to the local church is fraught with many dangers. First, to refuse to give into the treasury of the local church shows a lack of loyalty and cooperation. Second, a failure to support the local church financially keeps the church from doing many good works. Third, a failure to help support the local church and self-direct one’s funds to a particular area is to show defiance of the elders who have oversight of the local church (Heb. 13:17; 1 Pet. 5:1-4). Fourth, a refusal to give into the church treasury and send that which belongs to God where one wants it to go seems to reduce that person to a one man missionary society. Fifth, withholding money from the local treasury is

tantamount to robbing God (Mal. 3:8-10). Sixth, by giving elsewhere than to the local church treasury on the first day of the week, one takes for himself the glory that should belong to the Lord (Eph. 3:21; 1 Cor. 10:31). God has designed a plan or pattern for the support of the local church. When we give upon the first day of the week into the local church treasury, the church can function properly (1 Cor. 16:1-2). We have allowed too many stingy, covetous people to hold back the church by their blatant refusal to support the work of the local church.

It is the duty of local elders to see that the church is taught the truth on the subject of giving.

The local church is a place to settle differences.

Leroy Brownlow, in writing about the value of the local church, commented, Jesus recognized the value of the local church by commanding that personal differences, if they cannot be settled otherwise, be taken before the church (Matt. 18: 15-17). This must refer to the local church, for one could not take the matter to the universal church; neither could one hear the universal church.

It is the case that as a Christian, I am to love all fellow Christians. Peter, in a very short, pointed way, wrote, “Love the brotherhood” (1 Pet. 2:17). That includes brethren all over the world. In a practical sense, this can only be done through the local church. This is where love can be manifested, or shown. The local church should be one of love, peace, and goodwill.

And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. (Heb. 10:24-25)

A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

(Jn. 13:34-35)

Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently.

(1 Pet. 1:22)

And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.

(1 Pet. 4:8)

Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.

(Col. 3:12-14)

We are to encourage and love one another. There is turmoil and tension in the world, but in God’s family there should be peace and harmony (Ps. 133:1; Rom. 14:19)!

Good Influence In The Local Church

If it is important to be a member of a local church, then it is equally as important to be an influential member.

Each member should love and want to make the church of which he or she is a member the best it can be. We cannot remain detached and aloof from what is happening in the church. We need to work and be an active participant.

From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love. (Eph. 4:16)

It has been said that in some churches, ninety percent of the work is done by ten percent of the members, and the other ninety percent are willing to sit back and let them do it. Paul wrote to the local church in Corinth, “For we are laborers together with God; for ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building” (1 Cor. 3:9).

We are “laborers.” Not just “laborers,” we are “laborers together.” We are not just “laborers together;” we are “laborers together with God.” If ever there was an enterprise that deserves the full cooperation of all, it is the church of the Lord. Some are like the little boy who had his dog hitched to the front of his lawn mower. The dog refused to pull it. Instead, he was barking. A passerby noticed this and asked the boy why his dog was barking. He replied, “He’s barking to keep from working.” Perhaps that explains why some complain and bark in the church—to keep from working! We have to work together in harmony like an orchestra of many instruments. When they are all in tune and play together, they can make beautiful music. If one of the instruments gets out of tune, it can ruin the performance. The devil tries to get brethren out of tune, to disrupt the peace, harmony, and work of the local church (Acts 5:1-11; 6:1-6).

We need to work together to preserve “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3).

All of us have responsibilities in the local congregation.

We should be loyal to Christ and the church. May we be impressed with the greatness of the cause of Christ! When we do all within our ability to help build up the local church, (1) we will then be totally committed to Christ (Mt. 16:24; 2 Tim. 1:12; Rom. 12:1-2); (2) we will grow spiritually and will be characterized by the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23); (3) we will be faithful in attendance (Hebrews 10:25), never offering excuses for not attending worship; (4) we will put first things first (Mt. 6:33; 22:37); (5) we will be willing and ready to work (Mt. 20:1-16; 1 Cor. 15:58; Jas. 1:25; 2 Tim. 2:15; Jas. 9:4); (6) we will assume individual responsibility (Eph. 4:16; Acts 2:41-44); (7) we will keep a positive, optimistic attitude (Phil. 4:13).

God used great wisdom in setting up his work through the local church. May we as members find our place in the church and work diligently. We can do no less for him who died for us!