The Character of the Local Church“” -- By: James A. Stahr

Journal: Emmaus Journal
Volume: EMJ 07:1 (Summer 1998)
Article: The Character of the Local Church“”
Author: James A. Stahr

The Character of the Local Church“1

James A. Stahr2


The title and subject of this article is, “The Character of the Local Church.” While I will refer to many Bible passages, there are two which I will examine in some detail. Neither passage mentions the church, whether local or universal. Neither is likely to be discussed, or even quoted, in typical sermons or articles on the subject of the church. For these reasons both passages will require careful exposition, in context, to establish the legitimacy of their credentials and their relevance to this topic.

The first passage, Psalm 68:5–6, a text from the Old Testament, lays a foundation for the character of the local church. The second, John 13:34–36, a New Testament text, is a well-known command of the Lord Jesus. I would like to describe this command as the charter of the local church.

My subject is the character, not the characteristics, of the church. Character can be defined as the aggregate of the characteristics of a thing or a person. Using that definition as a starting point, I might have chosen to enumerate a series of characteristics of the local assembly of God’s people, and then to sum them up as a statement of its character. Instead, I intend to work in the reverse direction. I will concentrate first on the basic nature of the local church. Following that, I will list some of the characteristics that arise from this essential nature. The presentation will conclude with some vignettes of the local church, all drawn from New Testament epistles and all displaying the essential character of the assembly.

My thesis is this: first, the local church is designed by God and intended by

the Lord Jesus to be a family. Second, as a family the church takes on or reflects the character of the head of the family, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Other images or illustrations of the church are better known than the family image. One quickly thinks of the three “B’s,” body, bride, and building. The church is well described as the body of Christ, as the bride of Christ, and as a building that “fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord” (Ephesians 2:19–22). These three images all come from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. They are also found in the Corinthian epistles. They are especially appropriate to the universal church. They may be appli...

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