The local church

(This is an online mini-message for January 17, 2021, by Michael Larsen.)

When I first became a Christian, I thought churches were very boring places. People came together to sing old songs and listen to a lecture. It seemed to be a rather poor way to worship Jesus. I was more interested in missionary work and evangelism. Instead of meeting together in a building, why don’t Christians go out and help people on Sunday mornings? I asked myself. Or do evangelism? In my early years as a Christian, I was certain that the purpose of the church was to go out, preferably to foreign countries, to seek the lost, and to make disciples of all nations. But most Christians I met didn’t seem to concerned about those things. So I looked more deeply into my Bible for the meaning of the local church. 

   Why do we have churches? What are they for? What is their main goal? What is the basic purpose of a church? What does the Bible say a church is? 

   I often say during worship that the local church is the body of Christ. It has different members with different temperaments and gifts that complement one another. People are the church, not the building. You don’t go to church; you meet as a church. A local church is a group of Christians who meet together once a week or more to worship and fellowship. But why do Christians do this? 

The apostle Paul helped start many of the first local churches. He endured many hardships for those churches. Much of the New Testament is the letters he wrote to churches. When he wrote to individuals, he primarily talked about their responsibility in the church. 

   In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul talks almost exclusively about the theology of the church. After discussing the foundation of the church (Jesus Christ), the new reality of the church (there is neither Jew nor Greek), and the gifts given the church (pastors, teachers, evangelists, etc.), he says that the purpose of the church is that,

“the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach the unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:12–13).

This is a theme that Paul never got tired of, because in one form or another, it comes up again and again in his letters.

• 1 Corinthians 14:12, “Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church.”

• 1 Thessalonians 5:11, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”

• Colossians 2:6–7, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”


   So the local church exists so that the Body of Christ might be built up, and that Christians may become more like their Lord, Jesus Christ. Some Christians want the church to evangelize and support missionary work more, and they try to do so themselves. But they recognize that that is merely one of the tasks of the church, not its purpose. Its purpose is to be a place where Christians can be built up into the likeness of Christ. That is something we all need and what the church does best. Maybe that's why Christ made it the church’s number one purpose.

   We often refer to the church as our family.

“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1)

"You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household.” (Ephesians 2:19)

   Families exist to nurture children and honor parents and share resources. I used to think of the church more as the army of God. I assumed the role for the church was to conquer the evils of the world (mainly unbelief) with the weapons of spiritual warfare (put on the armor of God and evangelize). It seems the New Testament writers believed that the church had a mission. But at its core, it wasn’t a missionary organization as much as a people who were to build one another up to become Christ-like. 

   Our local church is like a small community or a big family. We help one another to grow up in Christ. We build one another up. Things like evangelism and social justice and feeding the poor are part of a healthy church’s life. But these tasks of the church can never replace its main purpose: to build up one another in Christ. That’s why we have local churches and why we should be involved in one. And even if we can’t meet together temporarily because of the pandemic, we can still find ways to encourage one another in Christ through the sharing of scripture and praise songs and other creative means.

   This week, let’s pray about how we can do that.

Pastor Michael Larsen