Vol.XIII No.IX Pg.4
November 1976

The Local Church

Robert F. Turner

The word church is a collective noun, like herd or flock. It calls together the saints, it groups them. It may refer to the group as a whole (Matt. 16:18), or it may refer to the saints distributively (Acts 5: 11). It may be used of the universal body of saints (Eph. 1:22),a relationship of individuals to God in Christ, having no organizational entity, or, it may refer to a group of saints who function as one, having overseers and servants, and acting collectively (Phil. 1:1; 4:15). A statement or argument which rests upon the word church must indicate the use intended, and present proof accordingly; or remain an ambiguous and useless statement.

We do not consider church, either universally or locally, as referring to a society which validates worship or service. We are acutely aware of the need to avoid any position which places an institution between a saint and his Savior, a servant and his Master. The priesthood of believers — the direct relationship of individuals and Christ via the word — must be preserved. But there is still a need to clarify the role of a local church, and the distinction which exists between it and the church in a universal sense. It is completely illogical to treat the local church as the organizational medium by which the universal church functions.

There is a sense in which church is considered an organism in the word of God. Websters Collegiate defines organism in two senses: (1) Biologically: An individual constituted to carry on the activities of life by means of organs separate in function but mutually dependent; any living being. Obviously church is not literally an organism; but figuratively, Paul presents saints as being (like) the members of a body. For as the body is one, and hath many members... so also is Christ (1 Cor. 12:12 - f). By saying, so also is Christ (and by putting apostles, prophets, etc. in this body- v.28-f) he is referring to the universal body of Christ, or the universal church. And since this is a figurative matter, consider the second definition: (2) Philosophically: Any highly complex thing or structure with parts so integrated that their relation to one another is governed by their relation to the whole. This certainly can be said of the universal body of Christ, for we are thus branches on the Vine (Jn. 15: 6), children in the family (Eph. 3:15), members of His body. It is an organism figuratively, and has organized functions only in a figurative sense.

The saints who agree to work as a local team or church are, of course related to all saints in the universal organism, and their desire and obligation to work together grows out of this basic sphere of fellowship in Christ. But their relationship to one-another that is distinctively local is an additional relationship, dependent upon the congregational covenant (their agreement to work as one.) The N. T. has no evidence of a universal treasury, nor universal decision making business meeting (Acts 15; notwithstanding) — no universal organized functions. But such things are clearly present on a local scale. The (local) church may hear and speak (Matt. 18:17), man send (Phil. 4:15). (continued next page)