AM I “FOR” THE LOCAL CHURCH?
What IS the local church? For one thing, it is an organism, not an organization, though it could have an organizational structure to it. Primarily and basically, it is NOT an organization like a business corporation, but it is a body, an organism.
If a “church,” which is an assembly of “called-out” believers is not CALLED OF CHRIST, then it has no right to call itself a Christian church. But Christ Jesus builds His church, or His body, one individual at a time. When He CALLED His original 12 disciples, he called them ONE AT A TIME. They became true members of Christ’s body ONE MEMBER AT A TIME. They were part of the BODY OF CHRIST, even the first called one, before others joined with them. Had there been only one called, he still would have belonged to Christ. Then as OTHERS were called and there were more than one, they were then “an assembly”—more than one—becoming known as “the local church” or “assembly of the called out ones.” The “local assembly” itself DID NOT DO THE CALLING. That is the work of Christ alone, the work of the Godhead.
SO GOD CALLS INDIVIDUALS
Even in the Old Testament, He CALLED Abraham alone! Before Moses moved into his great work of leadership and deliverance, God called him ALONE! He called His prophets ALONE and individually and gave them a work to do. And woe unto them if they did not do it. Consider Jonah. You know THAT story.
Same thing in the New Testament. As already stated, Christ called His early disciples one by one, which means “individually.” Throughout all history, God’s children are called to salvation “individually.” It is ONLY when they gather together in assembly that they are moving “collectively” as a group—a group of called-out individuals. That does NOT and should not affect their calling or the work or gift they are given to perform. That is God’s job.
The New Testament speaks much about being “called to be saints.” That is God’s work, not the work of the local church or any collective group of churches. Does that fact negate the purpose of the local church? No, it does not. It simply places the work and purposes of the local church where it belongs. And that is NOT to do the Lord’s calling. The Lord Jesus Christ calls who He will; the Holy Spirit, the very Spirit of Christ gives gifts to the body, the church. The local church is to merely RECOGNIZE what Christ has done; they do not cause it or make it happen, or make that work or gift valid. Again, the work is God’s; the local body of believers just recognizes it, if they are spiritually discerned.
The CAUSE, the CALLING, the ANOINTING, the PERMISSION to go out and work, to bear fruit is all God’s work.
WHAT ABOUT THE APOSTLE PAUL?
Paul, of course, was CALLED to be an apostle, not by the local church but by God, by Christ. Even BEFORE the local assembly recognized it!
Paul did not need the local church’s permission to begin preaching. Listen to what he says:
“But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the heathen [unbelieving Gentiles]; I conferred NOT with flesh and blood: Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me [IMAGINE THAT!]; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus. Then after THREE YEARS [!] I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. But other of the apostles saw I NONE, save James the Lord’s brother. . . And was unknown by face unto the churches of Judea which were in Christ.” (See Galatians 1.)
Uh oh! Paul is in trouble with the “Churchmen.”
If Paul were to do that in today’s Christianity, generally speaking, or if a preacher today does a similar thing in performing the ministry GOD has called him to do, he is in big trouble with “the Churchmen”! The work, they teach, cannot be valid, or a bonafide ministry UNLESS the local church not only recognizes it but gives their stamp of approval, and sends them out under their auspices. They ACT as though THEY are the ones who do the calling and the gifting. At least, if a minister or ministry does not move out under THEIR auspices, it just is not valid, no matter how faithful and true it is or whether the fruit of doctrine is “sound” and ripe, rich and tasty to those called out to be saints. Never mind God’s individual calling!
It seems there is a huge element in the body of Christ that is even idolatrous, the “local church” taking on the Lordship of Christ, and assuming the role of doing the calling, not merely recognizing what God has done.
I once knew a young Christian brother who had developed, feeling led by the Lord, to have a phone ministry, where people in trouble, like feeling the urge to commit suicide, could phone this number to listen to an uplifting message. I don’t believe the brother had a church home at the time, but he was attracted to a sound local church. If I remember correctly, the local pastor there frowned on this brother having his own private ministry. The pastor was an avowed “churchman.” I do not know all that took place in that exchange, but I know that very soon after that confrontation, the dear brother totally gave up his little ministry, that was receiving many phone calls. Why was this termination necessary just because “the local church” had not sent the brother out under their auspices, into a ministry caused and called by them? Why?
BECAUSE THAT WOULD BE ENDORSING
A “PARA-CHURCH” ORGANIZATION,
A “LONE WOLF” MINISTRY!
A true Christian just cannot have a personal ministry that he has been personally called to UNLESS the Church did the work. Hence ALL ministries not under the DIRECT auspices of a local church are simply INVALID and UNBIBLICAL! So they teach.
WHAT IS THE CHURCH, ANYWAY?
Referring again to our inspired pattern, the apostle Paul, he says in 1 Corinthians7:22-24. Remember that Paul preached for three years even before he conferred with another apostle or the local church. How much of this was time spent in learning from the Lord or in preaching we do not know. But he said, regarding his CALLING, that “he conferred NOT with flesh and blood.” In this passage he says,
“For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord’s freeman [not CHURCHMAN!]: likewise also he that is CALLED, being FREE, is Christ’s servant. Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of MEN.”
Yes, Paul, I understand. Here nearly 2,000 years later your words ring TRUE!
But, again, WHAT IS THE CHURCH? What does the Lord, God Almighty say about it?
“For where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20)
Then isn’t THAT “the church” or the visible body, the “local church”? Nothing is said by the Lord about having a greater number, or being organized in a certain way; it is just where one believer meets with at least one other believer. CHRIST IS IN THE MIDST.
Now what if a “Paul” or a preacher or evangelist comes and starts meeting with them, and feeding them good spiritual food FROM THE LORD. Does their discerning that the Lord is with him and has called him make it so, or validate his ministry? He was preaching and proclaiming truth BEFORE he even knew them, or BEFORE they heard him. Nothing is ever said that to validate his ministry, it must be under the auspices of an organized “church.” If the two meeting together in the Lord’s name want to continue to hear him, all they have to do is recognize that this brother has been taught and called of the Lord, and they want to hear more from him. They don’t have to go through any organized ritual or “rigamarole,” otherwise known as “rigmarole.” This is the church, this is Christianity in its simplicity.
IS NOT “PARA-CHURCH” THE BODY, TOO?
So let us say an individual Christian has a burden and feels a calling from the Lord to perform a work in the Master’s Vineyard, for the blessing of many people. He may even be supported and endorsed by some number of OTHER Christian believers. They may or may not have their names on local church roles, but they are believers. Say there are 2 or 20 of them, but they attend DIFFERENT churches. So they back this specific ministry. They may even organize it more like a business so regular actions are taken with an organized template. But the ministry is not under the auspices and call of any ONE “local church.” This is what is called a “para-church organization that the “churchmen” frown upon and count as invalid.
But I ask you, the ones so involved in the Christian ministry, feeling the blessing of God, are they not PART of the church of Christ, the body of Christ? I have NEVER heard of a “para-church” ministry where those behind it were NOT believers in Christ!
So is not this work or ministry in the Lord’s Vineyard being done, and producing fruit by PART of the body of Christ? I think so. A Christian is still part of the body of Christ even if circumstances has him working alone. The more there is to help, the better, but he even alone is PART of the church, the body!
NOW FUNNY THING IS:
The funny thing is, or rather the SAD thing is, in the “Churchman’s” eyes all that is necessary for that ministry to become “biblical” and “valid,” is for those two little members, in whose midst the Lord Himself is said to be, is to ORGANIZE into an “acceptable” church, and put this “para-church” ministry under their wing, or under their auspices! Just a little orderly organization, that is all! And bingo, or kazaam, the ministry is now valid, worth listening to!
LET ME ASK ANOTHER QUESTION:
Suppose the supporters of this “para-church” ministry, who all “belong” to different organized churches, suppose they MEET IN THE LORD’S NAME in the process of doing “the ministry,” and meet together in formal worship in the Lord’s name. I ask you, is not this ALSO a visible assembly of believers meeting to serve and worship the Lord in His name? Are they not ALSO PART OF THE BODY OF CHRIST? Is Christ not with them, ALSO, in their midst, AS HE HIMSELF PROMISED? I say, Of course so. Then why call it “para-church” anyway? Did Paul operate as “para-church” for over three years”? Men’s traditions can easily lead to UNbiblical doctrine and error. Even into danger of an idolatrous situation.
Am I for the local church? YES, I am for and I believe in the local church. That is other believers in Christ, like myself, who meet together to worship in the name of Christ, in their hearts to worship only Him. Of course I am for that. That is why Christ died, to save us from sin, to give us the new birth, to wash us in His blood, so that we would have the will and have the freedom to do just that, meet and worship together in spirit and in truth. This is what He told the Samaritan woman at the well that God the Father looks for.
But away with the unbiblical complexities caused by the traditions of men. May we WALK IN TRUTH!
Let us just be simple, biblical Christian believers, whether working in the Master’s Vineyard alone, or whether we are working in the field with others, which is always preferable, adding strength and encouragement, BUT NOT VALIDITY!
“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in Me. I am the vine, ye are the branches. He that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without Me ye can do NOTHING. If a MAN abide not in Me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. . . .
Herein is My Father GLORIFIED, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be My disciples. . . .
Ye are My friends, if ye do WHATSOEVER I COMMAND YOU. . . .
Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain. . . . (John 15:4-6,8,14,16)
“Son, go work to-day in my vineyard.” Matt. 21:2 8b
“For the Son of man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work . . . Mark 13:34
“Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day will declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.” 1 Corinthians 3:13
“But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not another. Galatians 6:4