Audio Transcript:

Welcome to Missions on Point, the Propempo perspective on church and missions. Thanks for tuning in to episode 143 of Missions on Point. This is the second in a series about the centrality of the local church in missions, and as you may have learned from the last episode, this is a synopsis or overview of a book that I'm authoring on this subject. This second episode deals with Christ's view of the local church. Here in Propempo International Ministry and in the Missions on Point Podcast, we like to start with the Bible and what better place to start than in Christ's view? To set the stage, we'll start with the general overview of the term, church, in the New Testament. There are 109 references to Ecclesia or the term church in the New Testament. It is predominantly applied to the local assembly of believers or a local church.

The plural word applies to a group of churches in a particular region, just like in Galatians 1:22, it refers to churches of Judea or a number of churches as in other churches in 2 Corinthians 11:8, or for all local churches together as in all churches in 1 Corinthians 7:17. In our current day, you may hear or read terms like the Invisible Church or Universal Church, which are usually intended to mean the collection of all believers regardless of location or even time. I believe these terms are harmful to our understanding and our interpretation because we often assume that when we see church in the Bible that it means this universal or invisible church that is neither good interpretation or good practice. There are a lot of Christians out there that like to think they're part of the universal church and not have any obligation to be committed to a local church.

In fact, in the mission side of things, we often get confused with so many organizations trying to do evangelism or evangelism and discipleship with no reference to the local church, and that is contrary to New Testament thinking. The terms visible church or local churches are intended to mean the collection of mutually committed believers in a specific local church or group of local churches. The New Testament primarily refers to local churches when it uses the term church or Ecclesia. In fact, as we'll see, in the macro contextual sense, the default interpretation of the term church should always have a local church or a group of local churches in mind. Only when the term church is used in a context for which the local church does not make sense, should it be interpreted to mean the universal church. Robert Saucy writes, "As for membership in an invisible church without fellowship in any local assembly, this concept is never contemplated in the New Testament. The universal church was the universal fellowship of believers who met visibly in local assemblies."

F.F. Bruce wrote to the effect, "The New Testament knows nothing of a believer not being connected to a local assembly." So we can easily say that the New Testament assumes that believers will be a vital active member in one local assembly. There is no room for church hoppers. There is no allowance for lone ranger Christians. We will see as we survey the teaching of the New Testament and the macro context of the life of the church in the New Testament and the teaching of the authors of the New Testament that they saw the local church was the default understanding of the context of Christian life, fellowship, growth, accountability, and obedience to the Lord's commands.

Now, it's also helpful to recall how the church is referred to in images or analogies in the New Testament. The church is referred to as a family, the bride of Christ, a new temple or God's house, a holy priesthood, the pillar and bulwark of truth. And last but not least, the body of Christ. Note that all of these have as their basis interdependent relationships, mutuality, a special relationship to God and his truth, and particular relationship to Christ.

Let's get into Christ's view. First, we start in Matthew chapter 16 and look at this context as we find his use of the word church. I'll read verses 13 to 20. "Now, when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, who do people say that the son of man is? And they said, 'some said John the Baptist. Others say, Elijah and others, Jeremiah are one of the prophets.' He said to them, 'but who do you say that I am?' Simon Peter replied, 'you are the Christ, the Son of the living God,' and Jesus answered him, 'blessed are you Simon Bar Jonah for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you but my father who is in heaven, and I tell you, you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever you lose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.'"

"Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ." Verse 21. "From that time, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed and on the third day be raised."

Two notes quickly. One is that we know that the rock on which Jesus builds his church is not Peter. It was a play on words and the rest of the New Testament gives us nothing to support the idea that Peter was the foundation. In fact, it is the statement or confession of Peter that is the rock on which the church is built, and this is confirmed for us in 1 John several times, but notably 1 John 5:1, "Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. This is an echo of that confession that Jesus is Lord, he is the Messiah. I love a quote from a dear pastor friend of mine. I don't think it's original with him. He says, "Jesus has only one building project and it is the church."

The next occurrence is in Matthew chapter 18. It's in a set of interesting, smaller interactions with people about temptation and about being lost and found, and he says this in chapter 18:15 and following, "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuse to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a gentile and tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever you lose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again, I say to you, if two or three agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them."

There are so many connections in this passage to local church. This passage is about Christ's instructions on church purity and restoration or sometimes it's called church discipline. It's very clear in this passage that he's talking about a particular local church body and he's talking about the relationship and accountability to each other if a brother is in a pattern of unrepentant sin. The goal is restoration, but he clearly says that there is this interaction, this process that takes place to try to restore that brother to fellowship again and he makes it clear also that the church has authority to do so. Note also the similarities between this and what he told to Peter about binding and losing. It is clearly in this context about the role of the local church in this process.

Now we're going to take a look at Acts chapter nine where Jesus makes a surprise appearance. Saul, who later became known as Paul, was persecuting the church. He was going after believers and he had specific instructions and authority from the Jewish authorities to persecute Christians, and on his way to Damascus, a light from heaven flashed around him. This is Acts 9:3, "And falling to the ground. He heard a voice saying to him, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?' And he said, 'who are you, Lord?' And he said, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but rise and enter the city and you will be told what you are to do.'"

Now, you must not lose the importance of this. Saul is persecuting Christians in a particular place, in Damascus and Jesus says, you're persecuting me. Jesus identifies with a local group of believers in Damascus, and as Paul was persecuting them, he was persecuting Christ. All of this points to the significance of the local church in the mind of Christ.

Now we're going to look at Ephesians five. We will deal more with Ephesians five when we talk about Paul, but when we think of Christ, we've got to mention this passage. Ephesians 5:22, "Wives submit to your own husbands as to the Lord, for the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church, his body and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word so that he might present the church to himself in splendor without spot or wrinkle or any such thing that she might be holy and without blemish."

"In the same way, husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself, for no one ever hated his own flesh but nourishes and cherishes it just as Christ does the church because we are members of his body. Therefore, a man should leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each of you love his wife as himself and let the wife see that she respects her husband."

So many uses of the term church in here, and it's obvious that Christ values the church so much that he gave himself for her and does everything for her so that he might present her to him complete and blameless. There's much more here in Paul's writings in which he says that Christ directly told him the order of the church, things that he learned that he was not present for, he learned directly from Christ as we see in Galatians. Christ personally gave instruction to Paul about the order and structure of the church, which we will see later when we talk about Paul. But we must go on to Revelation in the first three chapters.

What we see is that the revelation of Jesus Christ to John was starting out as a revelation of Christ himself, passing along instruction through John to the seven churches of Asia. These are specific churches, and the single big picture thing that I want you to see is that Christ knew them so well. He knew everything about them. He knew the names of their leaders, he knew the names of sinful offenders within the church. He made specific corrections to each church and urged them to follow his instruction through the Apostle John inspired in scripture. Christ makes it very clear that he has local churches on his heart, specific local churches, and he knows every one of them.

He says in chapter one, verse 17 and following, "Fear not. I'm the first and the last and the living one. I died and behold, I am alive forever and I have the keys of death and Hades. Write therefore, the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches and the seven lampstands are the seven churches." And then he goes on through chapter two and three addressing each of the seven churches in order. We start by seeing in Christ's view that it is his priority to build his church. And chapter 18 of Matthew, it's clear that he's thinking about local churches, individual local churches everywhere. And in Acts nine, he makes it clear that he identifies with the church. When the church is persecuted, then he is persecuted.

We see from Paul's note in Galatians and elsewhere in Acts chapter nine, and then in 22 and 26 confirmed with his testimony in Galatians and in Ephesians three. His interaction with Christ, specifically getting instructions for how the local church is to be organized. We see the beautiful picture in Ephesians chapter five of the church as the bride of Christ and his body, and he does everything to provide for and purify his bride. This glimpse we see in Revelation chapter one through three is really incredible. This is almost 60 years after his ascension. He comes back to appear to John and give him specific instructions about specific things and people happening in local churches around the area where John was living and ministering.

Please stick with me for this series and let other people know about it also. If you have questions, comments, please write me through email,

Thanks for joining us today on Missions on Point. We trust that you'll find more help and resources on our websites at and We are so thankful for those who support us, enabling us to produce this podcast. Now to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus forever and ever. Amen.

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