Temple Terrace, Florida
The book of First Corinthians is the most comprehensive single study of the local church in all the New Testament. Perhaps the central characteristic of a local congregation is best described in Paul's admonition: "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" (I Cor. I: 10).
With that verse in mind, a local church may be defined as a group of Christians meeting in one place who have love for and fellowship with one another and who have agreed to speak and do together those things which God has given them to speak and do collectively.
The term "church" is a collective noun and therefore one Christian is not "the church" (universal) or "a church" (local) … (cf. I Cor. 12:12-14, 18-20). Each Christian is, however, a member of the body Q Cor. 12:15-17), and important to it as a working part (I Cor. 12: 2 1 27). Each Christian is given personal responsibilities to be done individually, and he is given collective responsibilities to be done together with other Christians. One may not isolate himself from other Christians in his general locale without avoiding many extremely important responsibilities given to him by God. The idea that I may be a Christian and not a member of a local congregation, if one exists near me, is false to the core. If faithful brethren are joined in the Lord's work in the area where I live, I must fulfill my collective responsibilities.
If one does not exist near me, I must attempt to teach men the Gospel and thereby bring one about.
Not every responsibility of the Christian is in the realm of collective action; thus, one cannot say that every action of the Christian is the church at work … or at play … or in sin … or doing good. It is true, that my personal responsibilities sometimes affect the collectivity either for good or bad, but that does not imply that the church has done what I have done. Our brethren who have supported human institutions to do the church's work on the ground that when the individual Christian acts the church is necessarily also acting must see this truth. I may murder a man and my family suffer tremendously, but the facts that I am a member of the family and that the family has been affected by my action do not legally incriminate the family unit.
Now, understanding that as a member of a body acting together, I must function with the others, and understanding that acting personally as a Christian my works may affect the church, I feel a grave responsibility to the local church of which I am a member. The book of First Corinthians will serve as a guide in viewing that responsibility.
1. My responsibility to the local church of which I am a member is to be free from divisiveness (I Cor. 1). Churches need so badly to be united within themselves upon the word of God. The church at Corinth was literally torn apart by the attitudes of the member parts. They wished to be divided. Theirs was not a question of doctrinal belief. They simply would not get along (I Cor. 1:10-16; 11: 17-21; 4:67; 6:1-7). Some are so self-willed that they will divide the body of the Lord over trivial, meaningless questions or over matters which are purely determined by judgment or expediency. The attitude of many is: "I will have my own way or I will tear up the church!" The words of Paul. . . Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves" (Phil. 2:3), are so very timely for churches today.
2. My responsibility to the local church of which I am a member is to stand upon the revealed word of God (I Cor. 2). In matters which involve human preferences within the realm of lawful selection, the Christian must bend his desire many times to accommodate others; but in matters involving revealed Truth there can be no bending. Paul addressed the Corinthians with the proposition that faith is directed by the revelation of the mind of God and that the words of man's wisdom can only destroy.
Many churches could have been saved from digression in the past twenty-five years if Christians had only been strong enough to stand upon the truths of the New Testament. I owe that to my brethren with whom I worship. They may not always appreciate it, but it will be to their good. I cannot be compromising in dealing with God's revealed word. I may cause my brethren to be lost.
3. My responsibility to the local church of which I am a member is to labor for the building up of the body (I Cor. 3-4). Paul uses first his own example, how that he diligently worked to build at Corinth (I Cor. 3: 1-10). He then turns to the responsibility of each man and woman there to build upon the foundation which is Christ. Their work should be an abiding one (I Cor. 3:11-15). And then in chapter four, he discusses further his stewardship and its place in their growth.
Saving souls by leading them to the Savior is the primary work of the church. We have been saved and we must help others to be saved. If any local congregation is to grow, each member must put himself to the task of talking to others about the Lord and teaching the Truth to all that we can. This takes persistent effort. It takes getting folks out to the worship services. It has often been suggested that every Christian try to convert one soul to Christ each year. This is not an unreasonable request. If we were all as interested in souls and giving our best to the task of converting them, we would be doing more than that. And if we did, the church would double in size each year.
4. My responsibility to the local church of which I am a member is to lead a righteously moral life (I Cor. 5-7). At Corinth there was fornication (chapter 5), public defrauding of one another (6:1-14), more immorality (6:1520), and uncertainties about the proper marital and home-life requirements of God (chapter 7). Now how could the Corinthian church grow with the world seeing all that? If the church of which I am a member is to be what it ought to be, each member must be a Christian in every sense of that word. We want the congregation to radiate a wholesome influence in the community. We must show the light of Christ in our lives. None of us is so insignificant that our example cannot hurt. What we do reflects upon the other brethren either for good or bad. When the world sees our evil, they associate it with the church. When the other brethren see it, they are discouraged and some may even imitate us. Paul said that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump and therefore must be purged out before its effect may be felt. On the other hand, the influence of a godly life will do as much, for the well-being of the local church as any other single act.