In March 2016’s guest column, we considered the prayer burden a number of men had for the success of the gospel, which resulted in their earnest crying to the Lord.
Their desire was that the cause of Christ would prosper at home and abroad, for God’s glory.A key factor in that was the reviving, strengthening and, where necessary, planting of local gospel churches.
The New Testament teaches that all the redeemed of all ages belong to the church eternal. However, it is also true that the overwhelming majority of New Testament references to the ‘church’refer to local manifestations of that universal body of believers (e.g. Acts 11:22; 1 Corinthians 1:2).
The doctrine of the church, in particular the local church,has been consistently undermined and set aside in recent times. The society in which we live does not esteem commitment and loyalty. It has emphasised the individual and developed an acute consumer mentality. This has coloured the way people consider and evaluate churches.
Hesitancy to commit; concern for what benefits the individual; and preference for style over biblical substance and faithfulness: these challenges have tossed local churches in all manner of directions, and, sadly, not always back to the Word of God.
Though we may verbally acknowledge the inspiration, inerrancy and sufficiency of the Scriptures, do we really have confidence that the Word of God is the all-sufficient rule and guide for all that we do, as individuals and corporately?
There has also been the multiplication of para-church organisations which have stepped in to do the things that churches themselves have ceased to do and should be doing. There are many Christian organisations that do many good things — we thank God for them — but they cannot, and should never, seek to replace local churches.
In all of this, the beauty and preciousness of the local church can be lost. The local church is Christ’s possession, bought with his blood. In God’s sovereign purposes, she has been given the tremendous privilege of showing forth his praise, exalting his name, and declaring his mighty gospel in this sinful world.
This dark and fallen world is allied to the enemy. Satan’s evil influence is seen all around us and in many earthly institutions. It is no surprise that Satan and his forces are doing all they can to destroy true gospel churches. He hates the local church and is concerned with destroying its testimony in any way he can.
Sometimes we struggle to see the beauty and glory of the church. Facing a hostile world; often beset with sad occurrences of division and strife; an outwardly ordinary community that the world ridicules, we can be in danger of thinking that the local church is anything but glorious and precious. But she is both of those things.
When a church comes again to a Christ-centred, biblically grounded approach, with the power and blessing of the Holy Spirit, it is made very beautiful. Then it confounds the world, honours the Master with its witness, and stands strong, firm and invincible under God’s hand.
It is a precious jewel in the universe, with a mission which sees all its biblical endeavours, no matter how small, take on eternal significance.
No matter how weak things may appear, the local church is precious to the Lord Jesus Christ. If we love him, we will love what he loves. ‘Christ also loved the church and gave himself for her’ (Ephesians 5:25).
It was Christ’s love for the church that saw him give himself for it.Those who love the Lord Jesus Christ willdemonstrate the same attitude, in loving the church.
The church is a stunning creation of the Holy Spirit, a glorious body. Too often believers speak of gospelchurches with disparaging words. Yes, there are churches who have turned their back on the Word andembraced error, and we must warn against such. However, that is different from cheap, damagingconversation that maligns true churches who are seeking to maintain a biblical position.
Individual members must realise that they are part of the local church by the grace of God alone. We need to recover that sense ofthe church’s glory and, as members of a local company, treat this great work of God with reverence.
Head of the church
In Revelation 1, John is given a wonderful vision of the seven golden lampstands representing the seven churches. The most glorious part of the vision is the Lord Jesus Christ himself walking among the lampstands.
This is the Lord, the head of the church, in the midst of his churches. He appears as the sovereign king, with all divine attributes of wisdom and power. Therefore, as we think of the local church, we need to remember that it is Christ’s church and he is all-glorious.
When I speak of the church, I am speaking of his possession. When I commit myself to the church, I do it before him. Likewise, if through sinful attitudes and actions I bring dishonour or damage to the church, I dishonour him and damage his cause in the world.
The local church is not a side issue; it is central to God’s plan to exalt his Son, and that alone makes it precious. Therefore, if we love the Saviour, we will treasure the church.
Jonathan Stobbs is pastor of Penzance Baptist Church, Cornwall