the weblog of Alan Knox

Local Church in Scripture

Posted by on Jan 15, 2011 in definition, members | 7 comments

Three and a half years ago, I was investigating the modern (and traditional) understanding of “local church.” One of the posts that I wrote about this is called “Local Church in Scripture.” Are we excluding brothers and sisters in the way we that define “local church”? Do we find this same kind of exclusion in Scripture?


Local Church in Scripture

What do you think of when you hear the phrase “local church”?

Do you think of a building on the corner with a steeple? Most believers will admit that this is not a church, but may be a building where a church meets. But, what about the people who meet there?

Is the local church a group of believers who meet regularly at a specific place and at a specific time? Does a regularly meeting define a “local church”? Again, most believers will accept that someone may be part of a “local church” even if that person cannot meet at each regularly scheduled meeting. So, what about membership?

Is the local church defined by a list of names on a membership role? Again, when push comes to shove, most believers agree that a membership list does not define a “local church”. There could be people on the list who are not believers, and perhaps there are people who are part of the local church whose names are not on the list.

So, what is the local church?

Let me ask a few questions about Scripture…

1) When did Paul “join” the church in Jerusalem, or Tarsus, or Antioch, or Corinth, or Ephesus? What about Barnabus, Luke, Timothy, Titus, etc? When did they “join” a particular “local church”? What about Priscilla and Aquila? When did this couple join the church in Corinth or Rome?

2) At what point were these individuals members of one local church or another? When did they consider themselves part of the church in Corinth, or Ephesus, or Thessalonica, or Rome? When did they not consider themselves part of those particular churches?

3) At what point did the particular local churches recognize these individuals as part of their church? When did they not recognize these people as part of their church?

4) Where does Scripture give us an example of a believer moving into an area and then being required to do something to “join” the church in that area? Where does Scripture give us an example of believers covenanting with one another in order to be a local church?

I am not suggesting that “joining” a local church is wrong or bad. It is not unscriptural to have your name on a membership list – it is ascriptural though – that is, not found in scripture. However, if we cannot find this commanded or even described in Scripture, should we make this a necessary step of recognizing someone as a part of the “local church”?


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 1-15-2011

    only some thoughts:

    the way we define “what is a church?” will help us answer your questions
    ekklesia = assembly
    ekklesia is not the sum of local believers

    when we say “local church”, is it assumed that there is such a thing as the “universal church” , and a “mother church” ? … some time I feel that the words “local church” sound like “the local McDonnald restaurant”… in the way some denominations are so centralized and churches are like brand franchises. If “local church” is defined in relation to some visible “universal” or “national” church, I don’t think it even exists.

  2. 1-15-2011

    Great thoughts!

  3. 1-15-2011

    The only biblical parameters for a local church are geographical. All of the believers in Savannah are part of the local church in Savannah. All of the believers in Raleigh are part of the local church in Raleigh. This is the only distinguishing factor between one local church and another that we are given in scripture. While believers live in different towns and cities, we are all part of the same church.

  4. 1-15-2011

    amen bro!

  5. 1-15-2011


    I wonder when the term “local church” started being used and how…




    That’s the way it looks in Scripture to me also.




  6. 11-8-2011

    John to the seven churches in Asia… Rev.1
    As I teach every where in every church…1Cor.4
    Over thirty references to churches( plural)
    Paul wrote letters of recommendation for Timothy and Philemon for them to be received into the fellowship of specific local assemblies.
    John also. There is a universal body of all believers however nearly every New Testament reference is to the church local. Most local assemblies I have been privileged to be associated with receive members by baptism or recommendation from another local assembly this is to prevent false doctrine from creeping in.

  7. 11-9-2011


    Thanks for the comment. John wrote to the church in Ephesus, the church in Smyrna, the church in Pergamum, etc. So you are part of the church in what city? And how do you demonstrate unity in Christ and fellowship in the Spirit with the other believers in that city?