I believe in and love the local church. The word ecclesia is mentioned in the New Testament approximately 117 times omitting Acts 2:47 as not in the best manuscripts. Of these 117 occurrences approximately 112 of them refer to Christ’s church. The passages which do not are Acts 7:38; 19:32, 39, 42; Heb 2:12. The last passage, Heb 2:12 is a quote from the Old Testament. Of these 112 references to Christ’s church, approximately 90 of them refer to the local church. (B.H. Carroll’s work Ecclesia lists them all) The others can be debated but do indicate a doctrine known as the universal church. While I acknowledge that the universal church exists at least in conceptual form, there will be no meeting of it until we gather in heaven. Why does it not meet you ask? The universal church is the redeemed from all the ages. That includes
1. Members who are now in heaven.
2. Members who are now on earth.
3. Members who have yet to be born and thus are not in heaven or earth.
4. Thus, the universal church has prospects of future assembling, but no opportunity for present assembling.
Because the universal church does not currently meet and is a conceptual idea, we must focus on the local church which does meet. For this reason, I studied systematic theology with a concentration on Baptist theology and an even deeper focus on ecclesiology or the doctrine of the local church. In the wisdom of God, he has chosen to have me serve at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; however, my love and passion is still for the local church. Perhaps this is healthy since our seminary serves the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention.
I love the mega-churches which have reached so many people for Jesus Christ and where the pastor must manage a large company in addition to preaching the word of God. I love the small country churches where the pastor wears all the hats. I love the medium size church which makes up the majority of our Southern Baptist Zion and contains many underappreciated men who serve our Lord faithfully.
The primary reason I love the local church is because Jesus in divine wisdom chose to establish the local church to accomplish His mission and bring glory to Him.
1. Jesus established the local church. (Matt 16:18)
2. Jesus gave the power of discipline to the local church (Matt 18:17)
3. The ordinances belong to the local church. (1 Cor 5)
4. The church is the “bride of Christ.”
I love the fact that the local church is where people hear the preaching of God’s Word, come to faith in Jesus Christ, publicly profess Christ through baptism, observe the symbolic celebration of the Lord’s Supper, and are taught all things as Jesus has commanded us. If I were to include all the reasons, I could write a book on why I believe in the local church. Let me simply close by expressing my appreciation to all those who serve in our local churches. From our largest mega-churches to our smallest country churches, I sincerely appreciate all you do. Proper theology must be chained to the cross, to evangelism, to missions, and to the local church or it becomes an ivory tower, dead orthodoxy. I hope that what I do as a seminary servant, professor, and theologian helps the local church. This is my goal because I believe in the local church.