The Local Body
People throw the word church around quite a bit, and often they have different things in mind. Most often, I would say people have one of two things in mind, and I think this broadly corresponds with what we find in Scripture. Maybe you have the universal church in mind—that is to say, all Christians everywhere from different times and in different places. All of us together will comprise that end time and heavenly assembly we think of as the church. So when Jesus says, I've come to build my church, I think that's what he has in mind. He has a universal church in mind.
But there's another way that Scripture uses the word church—perhaps even the more predominant way. The way people often use the word today refers to the local church. In Matthew 18, Jesus says if a brother doesn't listen to another brother, he should tell it to the church. And if he doesn't listen to the church, treat him as a pagan or a tax collector. Here, Jesus has the local church in mind.
What is a local church? Well, going back to the Protestant Reformation, people often define the visible local churches as any place you see the preaching of the gospel and the celebrating of the ordinances. Or let me put it like this: What is a church? A church is an assembly of Christians.
We Share in His Name
People who have been born again in an assembly and have affirmed themselves as Christ followers through the ordinances into the name. We share the supper in his name. We gather in his name. We've affirmed each other as Christ-followers through the ordinances and through the preaching of the gospel.
We share the supper in his name. We gather in his name.
Jesus asked Peter, Who do you say that I am? Peter says, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. And the church is the people who gather in that name and proclaim that name. We do this under the authority of the elders, and we do this by the help of deacons. We do this to equip ourselves, to go out and make disciples and to live as representatives of the kingdom.
So, what is a church? Well, in one sense, it's all Christians everywhere—the universal church. And in another sense, it's these assemblies of born-again people gathered in Jesus’s name to declare the gospel and affirm one another through the ordinances.
Jonathan Leeman is coauthor with Collin Hansen of Rediscover Church: Why the Body of Christ Is Essential.
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