by Bruce Cook

While doing the study about my articles on prayer and love I saw a sermon by Pastor Jim Feeny Ph.D. titled "Why I Love the Local Church," and I thought WOW, I need to do something on this subject.

So as you can guess this article is about the local church, and of all the topics that I have written about, this one is the hardest for me to begin to write about. I had all this material and notes stacked up before me and I knew a lot of what I wanted to say, but I just didn't quite know how to start.

So I started off by asking myself what is the church? In my studies I found that Matthew 16:18 tells of the church that Jesus built. He said you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not over power it. The church is a subject worthy of careful study because of the high estimation of it in the scriptures.

Putting it most simply, we can think of the church in two primary ways.

Universal and Local

The church universal, which is the whole assembly of people who are saved, both living and dead and there is just one church, the Lords church. In the universal sense, it is the grand assembly or company of people who are save by Christ. Eph. 5:23-27. Made up of all those redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, both living and dead. Following are some of the observations about the church universal.

Church Universal

It is composed of all Christians
There is just one
It began on the day of Pentecost
Enter only by being added by the Lord
The Lord keeps the books of membership
Consists of all the saved
You must be in this to be saved
It has no earthly organization
It can't be divided
Death doesn't affect membership

The Local church is composed of Christians in one location such as the church at Cornith, and the church of Thessalonica. 1Cor.1:2. There are many local churches and Paul had reference to this when he wrote Rom. 16:16 & Gal. 1:2. Following are some of the observations of the Local church.

It is composed of Christians in one location
There are many churches
Begins when people join together
We enter by joining ourselves
Enrolled by human judgment
Consists of both saved and unsaved
It has earthly organization
It can be divided
Death does affect membership

I note these differences between the universal and local church to better understand how the word church is used in the New Testament, and be better able to identify the New Testament church of today. The key difference between the two is that the universal church in essence concerns our relationship with Christ. The local church concerns our relationship with one another, and of course, our service in the local church certainly affects our standing in the former, Christ's church. So I ask you, is our relationship with Christ and each other what it should be?

Every true Christian should be a member of a local church. There has been much damage done to the name of Jesus Christ because of unfaithfulness and ignorance on the part of many Christians, concerning the expectations of the Lord and their responsibilities to follow Christians.

I have had people tell me Oh! I don't need to go to church to be close to the Lord. I can watch a service on television or listen to one on the radio. Well, yes you can listen to them by means of the media, but the truth is that the bible tells us we need to associate with other Christians. Some tell me it's the only day I have to spend with my children or family. I say that's wonderful, take them to church with you.

The other day at work I left the office to go out into the factory. When I usually go out the door the storage area is usually messy and dirty. But this day when I opened the door the floors had been swept clean and all of the products had been put into perfect rows. Everything was in place and it looked neat and clean. But I knew that it wouldn't take long for it to start looking dirty and messy again. I started to compare it with our physical and spiritual bodies and houses. How we start to let them become cluttered and our priorities become out of place. Perhaps we start to miss church and our spiritual lives begin to get rusty and dusty, perhaps we start praying less, so we need to get back to church and ask God to clean up our physical and spiritual houses. We know that it will try to creep in again, so we must continually work at this problem of life.

I've heard people say that they didn't want to go to church with those people, there are a lot of hypocrites in those churches, so and so does this and so and so does that. Do you remember earlier I told you the local church memberships are made up of the saved and unsaved? But even as Christians no church member is prefect and is not likely to behave totally victorious all the time. Yet there is much in the bible that we should consider that will help us live more pleasing to God. 2 peter 1:12-13 3:1-3 Tim. 4:6

Some characteristics of an ideal church member are:

1. The bible tells us that church members should be saved and sure of it. John 1:11-13 Eph. 2:8-9 1 John 5:13.

The biggest problem today with Christianity is the fact that churches all over America are filled with unregenerate church members who do not give fresh life to recreate the moral nature or cause people to be born again and create a spiritual state. Paul challenged the church of Corinth to examine yourselves whether ye be in the faith, prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves how Jesus Christ is in you except ye be reprobates? 2 Cor.13-5

2. Matthew 28:18-21 says that church members should be baptized.

3. The bible tells us that church members should attend their church faithfully. Acts 14:27 Heb. 10:25

4. Church members should be consistent. 2 Cor.6:14-18.

5. We should be careful about our associations, activities, language, music and appearance.

6. Church members should be students of the bible. 2 tim.2:15.

7. Church members should pray for one another. Luke 18:1.Prayer is one of the most positive things a church can do. Prayer is unique in its successes. Who has been able to measure the multitude of times that almighty God has intervened in some mysterious way, changed direction of some lonely sole headed down a road of despair. Who can measure the lame that are walking, the sick that did not die, the diseased who over come, or weary and depressed who were lifted up in testimony to prayer success of a person or church.

8. Malachi 3:7-11 tells us that church members should be givers.

9. Church members should be spirit filled soul winners. Eph.5:18, Acts1:8

10. Church members should be committed 1 Cor.15:58. Therefore my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, for as much as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.

When I think about how important local churches are, I think about our ancestors and earlier settlers in this country. As you travel the rural areas have you ever noticed all of the one room churches that they built in strategic areas, so families and neighbors could worship together? This was always one of their first priorities. Sometimes these churches were often better than the houses they lived in. It was important that they would all pitch in to help build them. I love to go into them and just sit, to feel and know the dedication it took to provide a place to worship. It was their church, town meeting hall and community center. They walked, rode horses and wagons or later on old model T or model A cars that could easily get hung up on country muddy lanes or roads, and often times they would need to change or repair a flat tire during their trip.

As you travel through any city or town have you ever noticed the huge old churches that were built like fortresses and usually towered above most all other buildings of that time. The next time you travel through Wheeling, or Wheeling Island, Steubenville, Weirton, Wellsburg, Follansbee, Benwood or most any large or small town in America notice these grand old places of worship that were built by our previous generations. And see how important a place of worship was to them.

Today all we need to do is get out of a warm bed in a warm house, eat a warm meal, get in a warm vehicle and drive to a warm church and worship the Lord. But sadly this generation as a whole doesn't have that commitment. As a result many of these grand old churches in the rural areas have been destroyed or converted for other uses. In the cities the bigger churches have become warehouses, parking lots, community centers or remodeled for other residential or commercial uses. To live as long as I have this causes me great concern and makes me very sad.

Researcher and Pollster George Barna has recently published a book entitled "Revolution". His research has led him to make this prediction. That between 2000 - 2025, the percentage of Americans for whom a local church is their primary means of Spiritual experience and expression will decrease by at least 50 Percent.

This is a disaster in the making because without reservation the local church is described in the bible as the very center of the heart of Jesus Christ in His plans for the world.

Acts 2:47 KJV Says "And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” Prof. Peter Wagner says that the single greatest evangelistic method under heaven is the planting of new local churches. In all of his apostolic journeys, Paul left local churches springing up where ever he preached.

In Acts 14:23 Paul and Barnabus preached in many cities and started new churches and followed up on these churches by ordaining elders in every church.

There are two motives for this message.

To strengthen our unfailing love and commitment to and for the Local Church - to prevent casualties.To challenge each individual here to ask yourself, how can I add my spiritual gifts and my participation in such a way that my local Church becomes a magnet for people wanting more of God?

I read an article by Pastor Jim Feeney PH.D and he listed eight reasons why he loved the local church.
1. It plugs one into a spiritual family and prevents me from becoming a Christian loner.
2. It makes me part of something that Hell can't overcome.
3. It puts people in my life who will pray for me.
4. It provides ministries unlike my own.
5. It encourages my soul having strong Christians around me.
6. It encourages my soul having true servants around me.
7. It gives me a place to express with others the worship of God, the word of God, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and God - given ministries.
8. It locks me into the pillar of truth on the earth- the church of the living God.

1 Corinthians 12:28 KJV says “and God hath set some in the church, first Apostles, secondly Prophets, thirdly Teachers, after that miracles, the gifts of healings, helps, governments and diversities of tongues.”

Acts 13:1 tells us that at Antioch there were, prophets and teachers. In the church we are blessed by the ministries of Apostles, Prophets, Teachers and other ministries, as well as being blessed by prophecies, healings and other spiritual gifts.

I thank God for the gray hairs I see in church and the younger saints, too. We come together as a church to seek the Lord, not the meeting of our needs.

The local churches are places to hear God's word, to participate with others in worship, and to be strengthened by spiritual gifts and anointed ministries. You'll not find these things at work, in the neighborhood, at the bowling alley or the ball game. Effective church, effective leadership always expresses itself in two ways, vision and faith. This is true in the secular and sacred world alike.

I like to read the faith section of the Wheeling Intelligencer newspaper. In the November 10th issue I read an article written by Pastor Michael Amico titled "Why should I belong to a church?" I Wish I could read it all to you but time prohibits me to do so. He says that America is plagued by 20 million stay at home Christians. Millions of others attend but never really join. We often prefer isolation and independence. The message today is leave me alone, I don't want to be bothered, It's all about me and I don't have time for you; We have become obsessed with our privacy and short term commitments.

We try to find ways that we can escape and retreat from communication and connection. The elevator attitude with the unwritten rule of absolutely no eye contact, talking, smiling or relating with others. We are becoming a generation of hermits in our culture, community and church. The attitude of don't call me and I won't call you.

Today we struggle with the biblical concepts of interrelating, interacting and interconnecting with other members of the body of Christ. Isolation rather than involvement. Prof. Philip Zimbardo noted psychologist at Stanford, says “I know of no more potent killer than isolation. No more influence on physical and mental health. It is the central agent in the cause of depression, paranoia, schizophrenia, rape, suicide, mass murder and a wide variety of diseases.”

So Why Belong To a Local Church? First God commands it and second the body needs it. Within every human being there is a longing to belong! Christianity is God's answer to your emptiness, loneliness and hopelessness. The church is not man’s idea, but God's brilliant idea. Without a church home you're like an orphan without a body, a lamb without a flock, a child without a family, a ballplayer without a team or a bee without a hive.

Without a church family you're a spiritual orphan! What good is a steering wheel without a car? What good is an arm or eye without a body? Try amputating your arm and see if it continues to live. Note how disabled your body becomes without the use of that arm. That's what happens when you, a vital member of Christ's body, the church, when you amputate yourself.

The church, and there are over hundreds of thousands of local churches in America, represents the pillar of truth that God has placed on earth.

Belonging is all about involvement in a local church, and quite frankly, that is God's design and desire for every single Christian, without exception. Belonging is all about becoming involved with other people, not only for their sake, but also for yours.

It's not enough to just be part of the big world wide church, you need to be part of your church - in Corinth - your local church in your city.

Hebrews 10:25 says, “let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another - and all the more as you see the day approaching.”

Acts 12: 5-12 tells us a local church is a group of people who knew each other well enough to gather from around the city to pray.

Now Let Me Review With You What Can Kill A Church.

The bible tells us that the church at Sardis was described as a "dead church." This reveals to us that churches can die, and often do. At some point in their history congregations we read about in the New Testament died.

There are two ways a church may die.
It may cease to exist or it may die inwardly, even while it still lives outwardly.

There are different weapons Satan can use to destroy us, and there are things that threaten our very existence even now.

While there are many more ways to kill a church, these four are certainly effective.
False teaching

What about your congregation? Is Satan making any progress at killing it? The church might be free from physical persecution, and be known as a sound church. But is worldliness and indifference taking its toll? To be forewarned is to be forearmed. The church will die when we no longer care. We need to shake off apathy, which means without feeling. I don't care, I don't want to be bothered, I don't know and I don't want to know.

The members of the church of Christ at Sardis had a name and they were alive, Jesus said, but they were dead. "The church of the living dead" we might call them. They were dead because they didn't care. They had no passion anymore for the things of God, they were apathetic and no more than a social club.

It's dreadful when a majority of an entire church doesn't care anymore. There were a few who had not soiled their garments but apparently that few was such a paltry number that apathy was the driving force in Sardis.

Those who are apathetic all have one thing in common. Their lives develop cracks that become unguarded. And ultimately, if they do not wake up from their stupor, the enemy will entirely over throw them.

We do not have to oppose the church to kill it, just be slothful, indifferent and apathetic.

Symptoms of Indifference and Apathy are:
1. Irregular attendance of services.
2. Lack of participation in the (services, bible classes).
3. Consistently arriving late to services.
4. Waning efforts to win souls to Christ.
5. No personal and private devotions. (bible study, or prayer)

The only antidote to indifference and apathy is fervent service.Gal.6:9 says we must not grow weary in doing good.
We must be diligent, and not become sluggish or apathetic. Heb. 6:11-12 We must hold fast the hope we confess by encouraging one another. Heb. 10:24-25

Don't let the great deceiver succeed in deceiving us. We must each one do our part in bolstering our defenses against the one who seeks to destroy us. As Paul wrote in 2 Cor. 2:11, "lest Satan should take advantage of us, for we are not ignorant of his devices."

There can be no such thing as a lazy Christian. Proverbs 10:26. Like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so is the lazy one to those who send him. Do your best to make their life sweet in the Lord. To be loving and compassionate is easy if we live it ourselves, and so it is, the speaking forth of the gospel message. May God bless the local churches and their congregations.

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