The Primacy of the Local Church

Note: This article was originally posted December 16, 2005.

A man skips church because he and his co-workers receive free tickets to an NFL game. A Sunday school teacher runs in a marathon rather than teaching his class. Both of these are real situations. Both men graduated from fundamental colleges. Are they right or wrong? Certain segments of Fundamentalism criticize other segments for not being “big on the local church.” Although much of this criticism is due to petty differences over the doctrine of the universal church, some of this criticism is well-deserved. Sometimes those who lift up Christ and the fundamentals are guilty of slighting the local church.

The word church literally means “called-out assembly.” “Called-out” teaches separation from the world and its sinful system. Second Corinthians 6:17-18 says,

Come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.

The church gives believers an opportunity to physically practice this principle on the Lord’s Day and at other times during the week. “Called out” also signifies being drafted into the work of the Great Commission. Jesus says in John 20:21, “As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.” He prophesies in Acts 1:8:

But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.

The church is to be the hub of evangelism and discipleship. Whether people are involved in Sunday school, the youth program, visitation, or some other ministry, they ought to channel their energies through the local church.

“Assembly” speaks of a group of believers encouraging one another in the Christian faith. Hebrews 11:24,25 describes this “assembly” and encourages believers to come together:

And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

This passage in Hebrews is a favorite of those who trumpet the cause of church attendance. People sometimes drop out of church and claim they were not being fed, the people were not friendly, or, perhaps, there was nothing for their kids. These are self-centered reasons for leaving a church. This passage specifically calls on believers to “consider one another”—take special note of and be concerned with other people’s needs. Church is not only for oneself; it is for others. The believer attends church to stimulate others in the areas of love and good works.

The Bible specifies that early believers met “upon the first day of the week” (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2). This day was chosen to celebrate Christ’s resurrection which took place on a Sunday. A very helpful resource on Sunday worship is a booklet titled “Reclaiming the Lord’s Day for the Lord” by Dr. Mark A. Minnick. It can be obtained by visiting www.mountcalvarybaptist.org. He describes his booklet as “a plea for the recovery of the Lord’s Day for the Lord” (p. 3). He asserts that “Fundamental churches are going to be seriously damaged if we fail to restore the Lord’s Day to its elevated New Testament status” (p. 7). He declares: “It is from our assembling on the first day of the week that all of our evangelism and edification throughout the week pulsates” (p. 7). These are some strong words concerning the need to congregate on Sunday.

Matthew 16:15-18 relates the anatomy of a Bible-believing church. To understand the church’s anatomy is to understand the priority it ought to have in the believer’s life. The following are three vital facts from this passage concerning the church:

1. The Church’s Confession

In verse 15, Jesus asks His Apostles, “Whom say ye that I am?” Peter answers in verse 16, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus declares in verse 17 that Peter’s confession is not the product of man’s thinking, but it is given to him by God the Father. Believers today echo Peter’s confession when they unite with a Bible-believing church. Every time a person goes to a such a church, he is proclaiming to the world: “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.” What a witness!

2. The Church’s Founder

With a play on words, Jesus declares in verse 18 that He is the Rock upon which every Bible-believing church rests (cf. 1 Cor. 10:4; 1 Pet. 2:6-8). He says, “Upon this rock I will build my church.” The church is anchored upon, built by, and owned by Jesus. Every time a person attends a Bible-believing church, he identifies himself with the Lord Jesus Christ. What a witness!

3. The Church’s Power

To “prevail against” in verse 18 means to “be too strong for.” Individually, true members of the church cannot be imprisoned by Hell just as Jesus their leader was not bound by Hell in Acts 2:27. Corporately, Satan and all the demons of Hell will never be able to destroy the true church; First Thessalonians 4:16-18 speaks of a remnant at the time of Christ’s return. Every time a person joins a Bible-believing church, he associates with the organization over which Hell and all its fury has no power. What a comfort! Absence from one’s local church for frivolous reasons takes away an opportunity to illustrate the importance of the church to the lost. The NFL fan mentioned at the beginning of this article could have said, “I need to go somewhere more important on Sunday–church.” That statement, uttered in sincerity, could have been a powerful witness to lost co-workers who need to visit a Bible-believing church themselves.

Absence from one’s local church also sets a stumbling block before the weaker brother or unsaved church attendee. The aforementioned Sunday school teacher is, by his actions, telling his students: “This race is more important than the church.” That will come back to haunt him when his students begin missing church for athletic, academic, or social pursuits. A seemingly minor fault in a spiritual elder often finds itself multiplied in those who would set him up as a spiritual example.

Even one absence from Christ’s church can have eternal consequences.

Fundamentalists ought to always be found faithful to God’s house. Were those long “Sunday School Perfect Attendance” ribbons of yesteryear given in vain? No. They produced a strong and steady church that won many souls to Christ. It has often been stated that revival always begins at the house of God. Fundamentalism will only experience revival when it wholeheartedly embraces a biblical view of the importance of supporting and regularly attending the local church.

Ephesians 5:23-27 proclaims:

Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. … [Christ] loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word. That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.

In his hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation,” Samuel J. Stone declares:

The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord;
She is His new creation by water and the word:
From heav’n He came and sought her to be His holy bride;
With His own blood He bought her, and for her life He died.

The church represents the body of Christ on earth. Nothing is more important than that. Football games, races, and other interests pale when placed alongside Christ’s glorious church!

———–
C.D. Cauthorne, Jr., is assistant pastor at Victory Baptist Church (Pikeville, KY). He graduated from Bob Jones University with B.A. and M.A. degrees.

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