Lesson 24: The Role of the Church as a Local Assembly | Biblical Foundations for Living

Lesson 24: The Role of the Church as a Local Assembly

In Lesson Twenty-Three, we learned that the body of Christ is made up of all believers in this dispensation, the church age, and was established to bring glory to God through the ministry of His Word. This “invisible” body is visible through local assemblies. Of the 114 occurrences of the Greek word ekklesia in the New Testament, 99 refer to the local church. These assemblies are organizations designed to carry out the objectives of the body of Christ. Apart from the local church, these objectives cannot be accomplished properly . This lesson will focus on the organization of the local church, which includes:

[This lesson has to do with the local church, not the universal. ]

1. Administrative responsibilities

2. Leadership offices

3. Specific ordinances

4. Membership requirements

5. Biblical limitations

I. The Local Church is an Organization with Administrative Responsibilities.

The church of the first century is often viewed as being free from administrative details. This, however, was not the case.

A. The early church engaged in ministry planning .

Meetings were a necessary part of the ministry of first century churches. The book of Acts indicates that administrative meetings were held to address the following issues:

1. Acts 6 – The problem of service to widows

2. Acts 11 – The question of whether or not to accept Gentiles into the church

3. Acts 13 – The commissioning of the first missionaries

4. Acts 15 – The question of what requirements should be placed on Gentile converts

B. The early church developed procedures for implementing its plans.

The early church not only discussed what needed to be done, but also determined how to accomplish, or implement, its plans. For example, when they met to address the problem of service to the widows in the church, they solved the problem by creating the office of deacon .

So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them.   Acts 6:2 3 (See also Acts 15:22 30.)

C. The early church engaged in evaluation . [I.e., checking to see how everything is working and trying to make it work better.]

At the close of Paul’s first missionary journey (Acts 13 14), he and Barnabas returned to the Church at Antioch [the commissioning church, Acts 13:1-3] and presented the details of their ministry among the Gentiles.

On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.   Acts 14:27

The meeting of the Jerusalem Council recorded in Acts 15 was designed to further evaluate the information presented to the Church at Antioch.

The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them.   Acts 15:12

[Thus we should evaluate ourselves and our ministries periodically to see if we are hitting what we are aiming at.]

II. The Local Church is an Organization with Leadership Offices.

A. The office of pastor

1. The titles of the office

The office of pastor is described with a variety of titles, each emphasizing a different aspect of the one office.

a. He is called the pastor . [comes from “shepherd”]

This title refers to the pastor’s responsibility to care for the spiritual needs of the congregation, a responsibility he fulfills primarily through the preaching and teaching of the Word of God.

b. He is called the overseer . [Gk episkopos = bishop = the boss]

This title refers to the administrative oversight that the pastor is to exercise. He is to set the agenda for the church’s ministry and lead the church in accomplishing its objectives.

[God holds the pastor especially responsible for what goes on at the church he pastors. Oversight means management. The pastor is in charge, not the deacons, the secretary, etc. That does not mean that he is free to be a tyrant, tho.]

c. He is called the elder . [Gk = presbuteros]

This title refers to the wisdom and experience of the pastor and the respect that the office should be given.

[We ought to respect the pastor. That’s one of the reasons we don’t call him by his first name. 1 Thes 5:12-13 tell us to avoid young, inexperienced pastors. ]

Paul’s address to the pastors at Ephesus contains all three ideas.

From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church. When they arrived, he said to them, “. . . Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.   Acts 20:17-28 (See also 1 Peter 5:1-2.)

[The three terms, pastor, elder, and overseer, are synonymous, referring to the same office. The episcopal form of church government sets up a bishop over local pastors. ]

2. The qualifications for the office

The qualifications for the pastor are listed in 1 Timothy 3. This list gives both personal and professional qualifications.

[Personal — inner qualities, characteristics, “character.” Professional — abilities pertaining to the duties of pastor.]

Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.   1 Timothy 3:2 7

[Note that there’s nothing here about being funny, a dynamic speaker, a “people person,” etc. Those qualities are nice but not primary and really not necessary.]

3. The responsibilities of the office

a. The pastor is responsible to teach and preach the Word of God.

Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.   1 Timothy 4:13

[The public reading was important because many couldn’t read and most did not own a copy of the Bible. Often the pastor was the most educated person in the community. ]

Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage  with great patience and careful instruction.   2 Timothy 4:2

[This is the primary task of the preacher. This is so because the rest of his duties depend on this one.]

b. The pastor is responsible to equip the congregation for ministry.

It was [Christ] who gave some to be . . . pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.   Ephesians 4:11 12

c. The pastor is responsible to govern the congregation.

Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who [govern] you in the Lord and who admonish you.   1 Thessalonians 5:12

The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor.   1 Timothy 5:17

[Because of these responsibilities, the pastor has a great deal of authority. He’s the one in charge. The deacons don’t run the church; the pastor(s) does.]

B. The office of deacon

1. The title of the office

The word “deacon” simply means servant . The Scriptures use the word in a general sense for anyone who serves another and in a specific sense for the local church office of deacon.

2. The qualifications for the office

1 Timothy 3 lists qualifications for the office of deacon similar to those given for the office of pastor.

Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons. A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well.   1 Timothy 3:8 10, 12

Note: The personal qualifications listed in 1 Timothy 3 are not special qualities found only in pastors and deacons. They are marks of mature believers. Therefore, all believers should be striving after them.

3. The responsibilities of the office

Unlike the office of pastor, the Bible does not clearly spell out the responsibilities of the deacon. Therefore, they must be derived from the title of the office and the example of the first deacons. In Acts 6, the first deacons were selected to minister to the congregation in order to free the pastoral staff to focus on more important matters.

We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.   Acts 6:3 4

[Biblically, deacons are not in a position of authority; however, authority may be delegated to them. The primary task of deacons is to serve.]

III. The Local Church is an Organization with Specific Ordinances.

A. The nature of an ordinance

1. An ordinance is not a sacrament .

Sacraments are intended to provide saving grace. However, if grace was linked to any work or ritual, it would cease to be grace. [C.f. Rom 11:6]

[An ordinance is a rite or ritual that the church is responsible to administrate. Such ordinances are important and meaningful, but they have no saving value. The word “sacrament” suggests a means of grace or a work that saves. Since we are not saved by works, we avoid sacramental language.]

2. An ordinance is a symbol .

When Christ gave the ordinances, He intended them to serve as reminders of the spiritual truths which they portray.

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “this cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”   1 Corinthians 11:23 25

[A symbol is representative, designed to bring to memory the thing represented. ]

B. The ordinances of the local church

1. The ordinance of baptism

a. The method of baptism is immersion .

The Greek word which is translated “baptize” literally means “to immerse” or “to submerge.” Every instance of baptism in Scripture is by immersion.

Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, . . . .   Acts 8:38 39

[So when a baby is “baptized” by sprinkling, he is really not baptized.]

b. The purpose of baptism is identification .

Baptism is to be carried out in the “name” of the triune God. The significance of the “name” is that of identification. The one being baptized is visibly picturing his identification with the triune God through Christ.

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.   Matthew 28:19

[Baptism publicly identifies one as a follower of Christ. It says of the one baptized, “I am a disciple of Christ.”]

2. The ordinance of the Lord’s Supper

a. It is a reminder of the cross work of Christ.

[By “cross work,” we mean all that Christ accomplished by his death on the cross for us.]

For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.   1 Corinthians 11:26

b. It is a time of self examination .

A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.   1 Corinthians 11:28

C. The authority for the ordinances

The authority for the carrying out of the ordinances lies with the local church .

[That is, not just anybody can legitimately go out and start baptizing people or serving the Lord’s Supper. E.g., baptisms at camp, Lord’s supper of potato chips and pop, serving communion in a hospital, etc. are not valid. They have to be done in the right way and in the context of the church.]

1. The command to observe the ordinances was given to the apostles (Matthew 26:26-29 and 28:16-20).

The apostles were given the task of laying the foundation of the church (Ephesians 2:20).

2. The ordinances were practiced in the context of the local church.

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.   Acts 2:41-42

[Christ ? apostles ? church ]

3. The early church was responsible to correct improper observance of the ordinances (1 Corinthians 11:17 34).

IV. The Local Church is an Organization with Membership Requirements.

The early church believed in the importance of church membership. The New Testament knows nothing of believers who are not members of a local church. The book of Acts speaks of believers being added to the church through baptism. Even more clearly, there are examples of people being removed from the church by action of the local assembly (Matthew 18:15 17 and 1 Corinthians 5). One cannot be removed from a church unless he is a member of that church.

Requirements for church membership include the following:

A. Church members are saved .

Only those who are saved may become members of a local church. This was the practice of the church from the beginning.

And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.   Acts 2:47

B. Church members are baptized by immersion .

On the Day of Pentecost, three thousand people responded in faith to the message preached by Peter. All three thousand were baptized shortly thereafter.

Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.   Acts 2:41

Therefore, church membership and believer’s baptism should not be separated. One becomes a member of a local church through baptism.

[The biblical pattern is always being saved, then baptized and added to the church. Believers who refuse baptism are out of order. ]

C. Church members are living obediently .

The early church practiced church discipline. Those members who persisted in sin were to be dismissed from the assembly. Thus, in order to remain a member of a local church, one must live obediently.

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this? “Expel the wicked man from among you.” – 1 Corinthians 5:1-2, 13

V. The Local Church is an Organization with Biblical Limitations.

Local churches are engaged in a great variety of activities. Some are appropriate and some are not. What limitations can be applied to help identify appropriate activities for the church? An understanding of why the church exists and what it is to do will help determine how it should minister.

A. The local church is limited to the objectives of the Great Commission .

Lesson Twenty Three identified the objectives of the church as presented in the Great Commission. They are:

1. Edification

Edification is the process of building up the believer’s life on the foundation of Jesus Christ.

2. Evangelism

Evangelism is the effort to see people saved, baptized, and become active members of a local church.

[Evangelism does not stop short at one’s profession of faith. It extends to baptism and spiritual growth. The church should strive to win people to Christ, baptize them, and encourage them to grow as Christians. ]

3. Expansion

Expansion is the growth and management of the church’s physical and human resources. This is necessary for ongoing edification and evangelism.

Note: All the activities of the local church must be consistent with these objectives. Any activity, however beneficial, which is not consistent with these objectives should be avoided.

B. The local church is limited by the purpose of the body of Christ.

We learned in Lesson Twenty Two that the purpose of the body of Christ is to glorify God through the ministry of His Word. The application of this purpose will limit the activities of the church in two ways.

1. The activities of the church must reflect the character of God.

To “glorify” God means to demonstrate or make known His character. When this purpose is consciously pursued, the methods of church ministry will be evaluated in light of God’s holy character. Consequently, church is no place for frivolous or worldly activities.

[The church building may be used for lots of different events. But when it comes to the worship service, it should be characterized by holiness and reverence and awe. ]

2. The activities of the church will center around the Word of God .

Every function of the church must provide either a means to proclaim the Word or a means to obey the Word.

Learning to Live It

1. A friend of yours tells you that there are three churches that he really likes and that he has decided to attend one on Sunday morning, the second on Sunday evening, and the third on Wednesday evening. How does your friend view the concept of church membership?

not very seriously. If he sees it as optional, he misunderstands.

What might you tell your friend to convince him that he needs to be faithful to one church?

The New Testament underscores the need to become a member of a local church, and membership implies commitment.

2. One Sunday afternoon, your little brother wonders why the family has to go to the business meeting at church that night. What “words of wisdom” might you give him?

Business meetings are a necessary part of local church ministry and help a church function more effectively and efficiently. All members should attend. All members should be concerned about how the church is spending money, what they plan to do, who they support, etc. You could say that those 4 meetings in Acts discussed earlier were business meetings. NOTE: Even teens who are members should stay for business meetings.

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