The Value of the Local Church

By Ty Blackburn
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In The Church

I have to confess that when I began pastoral ministry I had a low view of the local church. Of course, I wanted people to be saved and I wanted them to attend our services, and I believed that the local church ought to be an important part of their lives, but I didn’t see it the way I should have. Today, after twenty years of pastoral ministry, I can now say that I have a very high view of the local church. What accounts for that change? I have read some good books, and I have been blessed to fellowship with other ministers who have lifted up the importance of the church, and for both of these influences, I am grateful. But without doubt the thing that has made the greatest difference in my view of the local church is the word of God. The transforming power of God’s word—read, studied, meditated upon and preached—has fundamentally reshaped my thinking and practice as a pastor. After all, that is the essence of our calling as Christians:

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,… – Romans 12:2

Your mind is renewed and you change. As I’ve read the Scriptures and worked through more of the Bible, I see that God has a much higher view of the local church than I ever realized. He has a much higher view than most evangelicals do today. Many today have been confused by an imbalanced emphasis on the universal (invisible) church over against the local (visible) church. The result is that it is common today to acknowledge the value of the universal church while at the same time devaluing the local church. Scripture shows that God has a very high view of both the universal church and the local church. The word ‘church’ is used 110 times in the New Testament. In his book, To Be or Not To Be a Church Member, Dr. Wayne Mack observes that “93 of the 110 times the word church is used in the New Testament, it refers to a local, visible church, so we see then that when God is talking about the church, He is almost always talking about the local church.” One way we see how much God values the local church is by considering the metaphors He uses in the New Testament to describe the local church. Here is one to consider:

The Temple of the Living God

Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are. – 1 Corinthians 3:16-17

In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul is talking about the local church at Corinth which “he planted” and “Apollos watered.” He is urging them to build that church correctly and to beware of those who would undermine the work of God. To express the urgency of the matter he reminds them that they, the local church in Corinth, are God’s temple! Next, he shows how God views those who harm His local dwelling places. He says, “If anybody destroys the local church that God is building at Corinth, God will destroy him.” Clearly God places great value on every local church. That ought to both frighten and encourage us as we seek to fulfill our calling as ministers in God’s local church!

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Ty Blackburn is Senior Pastor of Providence Church in Duluth, GA.