What do you think of when you hear the phrase “local church”?
Do you think of a building on the corner with a steeple? Most believers will admit that this is not a church, but may be a building where a church meets. But, what about the people who meet there?
Is the local church a group of believers who meet regularly at a specific place and at a specific time? Does a regularly meeting define a “local church”? Again, most believers will accept that someone may be part of a “local church” even if that person cannot meet at each regularly scheduled meeting. So, what about membership?
Is the local church defined by a list of names on a membership role? Again, when push comes to shove, most believers agree that a membership list does not define a “local church”. There could be people on the list who are not believers, and perhaps there are people who are part of the local church whose names are not on the list.
So, what is the local church?
Let me ask a few questions about Scripture…
1) When did Paul “join” the church in Jerusalem, or Tarsus, or Antioch, or Corinth, or Ephesus? What about Barnabus, Luke, Timothy, Titus, etc? When did they “join” a particular “local church”? What about Priscilla and Aquila? When did this couple join the church in Corinth or Rome?
2) At what point were these individuals members of one local church or another? When did they consider themselves part of the church in Corinth, or Ephesus, or Thessalonica, or Rome? When did they not consider themselves part of those particular churches?
3) At what point did the particular local churches recognize these individuals as part of their church? When did they not recognize these people as part of their church?
4) Where does Scripture give us an example of a believer moving into an area and then being required to do something to “join” the church in that area? Where does Scripture give us an example of believers covenanting with one another in order to be a local church?
I am not suggesting that “joining” a local church is wrong or bad. It is not unscriptural to have your name on a membership list – it is ascriptural though – that is, not found in scripture. However, if we cannot find this commanded or even described in Scripture, should we make this a necessary step of recognizing someone as a part of the “local church”?