Dear Church Family,
Last week we focused on a definition of the universal church, and this week we will focus on a definition of the local church. A local church is a covenant assembly founded by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ resulting in love for God and His people as revealed through her united pursuit to obey His Word by the power of the Holy Spirit to the praise of His glory thereby representing Christ in the world. Yes, that definition is entirely too long—but yes, I love it.
Until the Lord returns, the universal assembly of the people of God remains unrealized. We are unable to gather together with all the believers on this earth—let alone all the believers who have ever and will ever live on this earth. The great assembly that lies ahead is foreshadowed through the local assemblies that take place throughout the world. In this way, it is appropriate to refer to these mini-assemblies as local churches, plural, while still affirming the one universal church (Acts 15:41; 16:5; Romans 16:16).
This helps to explain why we so often associate a physical building as the church since that place is designated for the assembly of a particular group of people. A church can meet in a building, but the building is not the church (Romans 16:5). It is easy to confuse the people and the place because the assembling, gathering, or congregating of a particular people in a particular place composes a particular church (Acts 14:27; 15:30; 1 Corinthians 5:4; 11:18; Hebrews 12:23; James 2:2).
However, this distinction is necessary since under the Old Covenant, God’s indwelling presence was particularly located in a particular place; namely, the tabernacle and later the temple. Now, God’s indwelling presence is particularly located in a particular people by His Holy Spirit. Such that, “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:4-5).