Last week we looked at the universal church, which includes all the called-out ones who trust on the name of the One, True God, through faith in His risen Son, Jesus — in all times, from all places.
We have learned that the word church in our English Bibles is often the word ecclesia in the Greek New Testament. Ecclesia means “called-out ones.”
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ (Ephesians 1:3-10).
As I’ve been studying about the church, I’ve been struck by something.
While the ecclesia is huge — mind-bogglingly enormous in time and place — God’s plan to “bring all things… together under one head” is really rather boring.
It’s called the local church.
God uses ordinary, very imperfect people to carry out “the mystery of his will.”
It almost never looks like what we think.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
God uses people who gather together (from the Greek word sunagoge) to strengthen, encourage, and comfort each other. Everything they do is for the edification of all the body. (See 1 Corinthians 14:1-5.)
Here are the characteristics of local churches in Scripture, so that you can take some time to look them up for yourself:
- Churches are local, made up of gatherings of believers in specific cities and locations. Look up each verse, and write down the specific location in which each church gathered.
- Acts 8:1 __________________________________
- Acts 9:31 __________________________________
- Acts 11:22 __________________________________
- Acts 13:1 __________________________________
- Acts 15:4 __________________________________
- Acts 15:41 __________________________________
- Acts 18:22 __________________________________
- Romans 16:1 __________________________________
- 1 Corinthians 1:2 __________________________________
- 1 Corinthians 16:1 __________________________________
- 1 Corinthians 16:19 __________________________________
- 2 Corinthians 1:1 __________________________________
- 2 Corinthians 8:1 __________________________________
- Galatians 1:2 __________________________________
- Colossians 4:16 __________________________________
- 1 Thessalonians 1:1 __________________________________
- 1 Thessalonians 2:14 __________________________________
- 2 Thessalonians 1:1 __________________________________
- Revelation 1:4, 11, 20 __________________________________
- Revelation 2:1 __________________________________
- Revelation 2:8 __________________________________
- Revelation 2:12 __________________________________
- Revelation 3:1 __________________________________
- Revelation 3:7 __________________________________
- Revelation 3:14 __________________________________
- Churches gather together regularly, for many purposes. List some of the purposes you see in these verses.
- Acts 11:26 __________________________________
- Acts 14:27 __________________________________
- Romans 16:23 __________________________________
- 1 Corinthians 11:18 __________________________________
- 1 Corinthians 14:23 __________________________________
- Churches pray together. List some of the reasons the church was praying in these verses.
- Acts 2:42 _________________________
- Acts 11:26 _________________________
- James 5:14 _________________________
- Individuals in local churches were taught. List the kinds of teaching mentioned in these verses.
- 1 Corinthians 4:17 _________________________
- 1 Corinthians 14:1-5, 12, 19
- Some churches met in homes. Some churches did not. List some of the locations where local churches met.
- Romans 16:5 _________________________
- 1 Corinthians 11:22 _________________________
- 1 Corinthians 16:19 _________________________
- Colossians 4:15 _________________________
- Philemon 1:2 _________________________
- Churches kept records of their members. How do these verses show that records were kept?
- Acts 2:47 _________________________
- Acts 5:14 _________________________
- Acts 12:1 _________________________
- Churches had qualified leadership. What kinds of leaders did these churches have?
- Acts 14:23 _________________________
- Acts 15:22 _________________________
- Acts 20:17 _________________________
- Acts 20:28 _________________________
- James 5:14 _________________________
- Churches were to judge sin within their membership. How do these verses show that sin was judged?
- Matthew 18:17 _________________________
- 1 Corinthians 6:4 _________________________
- 3 John 1:10 _________________________
- Churches had fellowship with called-out ones in other locations. What was one way in which churches kept in touch?
- 3 John 1:9 _________________________
- Churches sent out missionaries to preach the gospel in other locations. How were apostles and missionaries sent out?
- Acts 15:3 _________________________
- 2 Corinthians 8:19 _________________________
- 2 Corinthians 8:23 _________________________
- Churches financially supported other believers in hardship. How did churches support others?
- 2 Corinthians 11:8 _________________________
- 2 Corinthians 11:28 _________________________
- Philippians 4:15 _________________________
- Churches were persecuted for their faith in Jesus. How were these believers persecuted?
- 1 Corinthians 15:9 _________________________
- Galatians 1:13 _________________________
- Philippians 3:6 _________________________
This was not an exhaustive list! Can you think of additional Scripture passages that support each statement?)
And here are some important questions:
- How does your local assembly of believers fit these characteristics?
- Is your local assembly missing any of these characteristics?
“Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:41-47).
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