We believe that God reveals the church in the New Testament. Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians: “When you read this you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Ephesians 3:4,5). Scripture refers to the church as “the mystery of Christ” (Ephesians 3:4). He unveiled it. He is the source of its life. He is its focus. Jesus said, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). This is the first occurrence of the word “church” in the New Testament. A short time later, on the Jewish feast of Pentecost, His disciples were baptized with the Holy Spirit and the church was born (Acts 2:2-4).
We believe that the church is composed of all those “who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:2). They are “God’s people” (1 Peter 2:10). The Bible calls them “saints” (Philemon 5), “believers” (1 Corinthians 14:22), and “Christians (Acts 11:26). It describes them as saved (Ephesians 2:8), “ransomed (1 Peter 1:18), “forgiven” (1 John 2:12), at “peace with God” (Romans 5:1), and “holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:4). These have entered into a family relationship with God through Jesus Christ. “To all who received Him,” the apostle John writes, “who believed in His name, He gave power to become children of God” (John 1:12). They have the privilege of addressing God as “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15). This relationship is permanent. Should one of his children go astray, the Father disciplines him in love (Hebrews 12:6). He does not cast him out. God promises: “I will never fail you nor forsake you. (Hebrews 13:5). Elsewhere the Bible describes the intimate relationship between Christ and his church as that of a groom to his bride (Ephesians 5:25-33; 2 Corinthians 11:2). Speaking of marriage, the Bible says: Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). Scripture also uses the human body as a picture of the church. Christ is “the head of the body, the church” (Colossians 1:18). The redeemed are the members of the body” (1 Corinthians 12:12).
We believe that we are responsible to follow the teaching of the New Testament with regard to the church. God blessed Israel for completing the construction of the tabernacle “just as the Lord had commanded (Exodus 39:43). In a similar manner, the Lord will bless us, if we follow His design for the church just as the Holy Spirit has outlined it in the New Testament. Paul writes, “According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building upon it. But let each man be careful how he builds upon it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:10-11).
We apply these doctrines as follows
The local church should welcome in the love of Christ true Christians who visit their meetings. We are to “accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God” (Romans 15:7). As members of Christ’s body, the universal church, we are a family. We should not make distinctions based upon gender, race, language, tribe, nationality, or social status (Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11; James 2:1-9).
We know a true believer through his sound doctrine. A true believer will confess Jesus as Lord and Savior and have a clear understanding of Christ’s saving work on the cross (1 Corinthians 15:1-4; Galatians 1:8-9; Romans 10:9,10). He should have confessed Christ in baptism, or, if a new believer, be willing to do so. He should also hold to the foundational doctrines of the Christian faith, particularly with regard to the person of God and the way of salvation. We should not expect a new believer to be able to clearly explain every doctrine of the faith, but he should know the basic truths of the Christian faith and be teachable and ready to learn. The Lord said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me,” (John 10:27).
We know a true believer also by his love and holy walk. He should have a love for God and other believers, rather than a love for the world (John 8:42; 13:35; 14:21; 1 John 2:15; 3:14; 5:1). As a new creature in Christ, the fruit of repentance should be manifest (Matthew 3:8; Acts 26:20; James 2:14-26). There should be the practice of righteous living, not sin, and a new sensitivity to sinful conduct and attitudes (1 John 1:8-10; 2:4; 3:3-10).
Should a Christian express interest in becoming part of the local body and making it his church home, the elders should inform him of the doctrinal position of the church and the responsibilities of church fellowship.
Elders should not receive into fellowship a person who is under discipline from another church for biblical reasons (1 Corinthians 5:9-13). God respects the judgment of a local church with regard to discipline, and so should we (Matthew 18:15-20). To establish a person’s standing with his previous church, the elders might ask the person transferring for a letter of introduction from his previous church or contact them directly (2 Corinthians 3:1; Romans 16:1,2). Such a letter can also be helpful when Christians are just visiting another church. It should briefly introduce the person and state the status of his fellowship in his home church.
Responsibilities of Fellowship in the Local Church
Christians within a local church must commit themselves in a particular way to love, care, and pray for one another. As “Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25), so they must love His church and sacrificially serve it. They should be faithful to the meetings of the church, coming together for teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer (Luke 22:17-20; Acts 2:42), “not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some” (Hebrews 10:25). They should use their spiritual gifts to build up one another (Romans 12:4-8; 1 Corinthians 12:4-27; Ephesians 4:12). They should give of their financial resources in a regular, proportional, systematic way, to provide for the ministry of the church (1 Corinthians 16:1-2).
To be a truly New Testament church pleasing to the Lord, the saints must be correct both in their doctrine and their spiritual condition. They must be a living testimony of the truth, having lives empowered by the Holy Spirit. Even if they were to get everything right doctrinally, without love they would be nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1,2). They must always be aware that their conduct reflects upon Christ and His church. They are a letter of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:3), “known and read by all men” (2 Corinthians 3:2). For this reason, they must “maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men” (Acts 24:16). They must recognize their responsibility to resolve conflicts through biblical methods (Matthew 5:23-24; Matthew 18:15-20). They should be in submission to the elders of the church (Act 20:17; 28-31; Titus 1:7-9; Hebrews 13:17). They must accept the fact that they are accountable to the church and that unrepented sin may bring church discipline (Matthew 18:15-17; 1 Corinthians 5; 6:1-8).
A Gatherings of Believers
The meetings of the church are primarily a gathering of believers. For this reason, they should have the worship of God and the building up of the saints as their focus. Christians should always be sensitive to the needs of visitors and make them feel welcome. The needs of the unsaved, however, should not distract the church from its responsibilities to remember Christ and edify His people. Occasional evangelistic meetings, however, may alter this emphasis, moving the needs of the unsaved to the forefront.
A healthy church is a growing church. We read in the New Testament that “the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). We should not measure a church, however, simply by how many people it attracts at its services. More important is the spiritual condition of its members. When it comes to church size, bigger is not always better. The principles of the New Testament church appear to work best within a certain range. When because of great size the elders can no longer effectively shepherd the flock or apply the principles of the New Testament, the church has become too large. Rather than working toward ever-increasing numbers of people and programs, the elders should prayerfully consider dividing the flock to establish two independent local churches from the one.