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21105
“The Importance of Local Church Order”
by Ian Kurylyk   
March 3rd, 2014

"For though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order, and the stedfastness of your faith in Christ" (Colossians 2:5).

This verse in Paul's Epistle to the Colossians is an excellent introduction to a study in the order and ordinances of the local church;  Paul cites the "order" that is God's plan for the church, and considers it with reference to the underlying "faith" life of God's people.  This presents to us the balance and interrelationship of inward spiritual life and outward practical concerns of order.

There are those that try to champion one side without the other.  Some, claiming a concern for spiritual life, diminish the importance of what they call external or institutional concerns.  As a result they lapse into either worldliness or mysticism.  Others err on the opposite extreme of preaching only rules and  outward conformity - to the exclusion of spirituality or matters of heart.  This imbalance gives rise to dead orthodoxy, externalism, and often empire building.

Nevertheless, Biblical order in the local  church is essential for its spiritual health, testimony, and effectiveness of ministry.  Order is part of the individual life of holiness, and it is also key to corporate security and blessing in the church.  Before searching out the specifics and details of church order prescribed in the Word of God, it is a worthwhile exercise to pause and reflect on just how important these matters are.

The Visible Expression of A Spiritual Reality.

The local church is the present, visible expression and focal point of the work God is doing in this Age of Grace.  It has been well said, local churches are God's business.  A very quick survey of the New Testament will confirm this analysis and convince that God's program has changed from that found in the Old Testament to one in which we speak of the primacy of the local church.  This does not mean we fall into the grave errors built into some large religious systems that would claim for their church the power of salvation.  This is vested in Christ alone and appropriated by faith alone.

To sort out the confusion that exists, it is necessary to understand the two Biblical senses in which we speak of the church.  The concern of order and ordinances have to do with the local church, but there is a sense of the word church that applies to the new spiritual identity of a person immediately realized at the moment of salvation.  Some speak of this aspect as the "universal" church, some the "invisible" church.  Then there are some who preach against such terminology, fearful that the life of the local church will  in some  way be weakened.  Call it what you will, there is a spiritual prerogative, position, and privilege that is an accomplished fact for every born again New Testament believer in Jesus Christ (irrespective of his local church life).

These "invisible" new things of the spiritual life for a Christian, in fact, underly and give reality to participation in God's plan for the local church.  Without the spiritual changes brought about by personal salvation, activity in the local church is simply dead religion that brings no profit to the individual and is not recognized by God.  This is what we call nominal Christianity; Christian in name only.  "I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead" (Revelation 3:1c).

Further, local church life as laid out in the New Testament is designed by God specifically for the embodiment and expression of  the spiritual life imparted at salvation.  A Christian could not, for example, engage in the order and ordinances of the worship program of the Mosaic covenant in the Old

Testament and experience God's acceptance or blessing.  Only local church order is exactly matched to present spiritual realities for New Testament Christians.

Living without God's prescribed local church life robs the believer and disables him from realizing the fullness of God's plan for his redeemed people in the present age.  Wilful refusal of God's Biblical program is sowing disobedience and rebellion, and will reap accordingly.  In those situations where there is no real New Testament church to participate in, God must be appealed to for grace.  Many in prison have testified to the experience of true worship while cut off from the normal program of God.  Yet neglecting the provisions and benefits that accrue through local church Christianity is tempting the Lord thy God and pitching your tent toward Sodom.

The question of whether to go to church or not when the only available choice appears to be succumbing to error, disorder, or sin is not an easy one to answer.  Clearly, departure from the fundamentals of the faith brings about an organization that no longer answers to the Biblical definition of a church.  How can a true Christian stay in what has become the congregation of the wicked?  And it is no doubt true that there are other problems coming into the churches of these last days that are so grieving to the spirit that edification is impossible and the spiritual life is better as a result of separation than it could be by identifying with the disobedience.  Yet, every difficulty and problem in a church is not a reason to leave.  No churches are perfect, and no individual Christians are either.  The decision to leave a church should be carried out with much prayer, Biblical consideration, and the counsel of other faithful Christians.  Likewise for the decision to remain.  If one determines to stay in a troubled church, there should be no capitulation to errors or sins - no matter who else has given in to them - but rather testimony against them as led by God.  Faithfulness to the Word of God, not playing the game of church politics, leads to the experience of God's deliverance.

We can sum up this fact of spiritual reality and New Testament practice in a few words;  The normal situation for this age should be that one who is part of God's church (in that sense of the word that applies to the spiritual transaction at salvation) should also diligently apply himself to the practice and order of church life in the local sense of the word.

The Church Is the Body of Christ

The importance of the order and ordinances of the local church asserts itself also when we reflect on the fact that the Bible teaches us the church is the body of the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ.  This is a fundamental truth as to what constitutes and defines the church in God's plan of the ages.  Again, the significance of this starts with God's plan for the church as we consider it from the perspective of its spiritual position.

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