The Life of the Local Church -- By: John H. Fish III

Journal: Emmaus Journal
Volume: EMJ 06:1 (Summer 1997)
Article: The Life of the Local Church
Author: John H. Fish III

The Life of the Local Church

John H. Fish III1

The Structure, Ministry, and Functions of the Church


What the church is determines what the church does. Further, the structure of the local church is determined by the nature of the church. Thus, the practical matters of the structure and functions of the local church are determined not by pragmatism, what may happen to be effective for a particular community, but by theology, what the church is by its very nature. The descriptive portions of Scripture which present the organization and practice of the church in the New Testament need to be correlated with the doctrinal sections which present the character of the church itself.

The church is the whole company of believers who are spiritually united to Christ who is the head of the church. One of the favorite descriptions of the church by the apostle Paul is “the body of Christ.” Christ is the head (Col. 1:18). The church as His body is a unity. A person is made a member of that body by the work of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13) and as a member of the body is organically related to every other member.

There is one church. Every believer from the day of Pentecost to the Rapture is a member of that church (cf. “all,” 1 Cor. 12:13). The church then is the whole company of the redeemed from the time the church was formed on the day of Pentecost until Christ comes again to take His bride, the church, to Himself. This aspect of the church is often referred to as the universal church.

The universal church is not the sum total of local churches, nor is it the

combination of all those who are members of local churches. The members of the body of Christ are all individuals, not churches.2 A local church may have individuals in it who are not true believers (cf. Rev. 3:16–17). These are not part of Christ’s body. These individuals have only the external profession of being Christians, but not the inward reality.

The local church is the body of Christ particularized in a specific locality.3 The genuineness of a local church is not determined by a required organization4 or by certain practices. It is the reality of the relationship of individuals to Christ which determines the reality of the local church....

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