Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. — Hebrews 10:24-25 (ESV)
The second phrase of this verse is crucial in understanding what a church is, and in effect what it means to be a member of a local congregation. “Not neglecting to meet together” can be put another way: don’t forsake the gathering of the saints.
What constitutes the gathering of the saints though? Obviously, a general gathering of the saints happens frequently. When a couple of brothers of Christ meet together at a local restaurant or pub, the saints are gathering in a sense, but this is not the only sense of gathering required of believers. The specific gathering, or assembly, has been understood as the church. To understand the assembly and the importance of covenant membership into it more fully, we must understand the nature of the New Testament Church.
1. The Church Universal – The Body of Christ Bound by the Spirit
The Church can be delineated into two understandings: the Church universal, and church local. Take note that Church in the universal sense is uppercase, and the local congregation is lowercase. This is simply for clarification of what “church” is being referred to.
The catholic or universal church is invisible in respect of the internal work of the Spirit and truth of grace. It consists of the whole number of the elect who have been, who are being, or who yet shall be gathered into one under Christ who is the church’s head. The church is the wife, the body, the fullness of Christ, who ‘fills all in all’.
— 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, Chapter 26 Article 1 (Scripture Proofs)1
First and arguably foremost, the Church is universal entity of the entire body of Christ, believers before, after, and among us. This is not some visible entity, as the Roman Catholics would say. It is the invisible, but very real, body of believers grafted into the New Covenant: a circumsized heart. In other words, the Universal Church is all of God’s elect who by necessity have been regenerated.
Every person who has been elected and regenerated, comes to faith in Christ and is now a part of the body of Christ, or the Universal Church. Each believer is indwelled with the Holy Spirit, and because of this, are “bound by the Spirit.” The same God indwelled in the individual believer, binds together the believers militant and triumphant. Though bound by the Holy Spirit, the Church is under the authority of Christ.
2. The Local Church – Members of a Serving Body
All persons throughout the world who profess to believe the gospel and to render gospel obedience unto God by Christ are, and may be called, visible saints, provided that they do not render void their profession of belief by holding fundamental errors or by living unholy lives; and of such persons all local churches should be composed. —
1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, Chapter 26 Article 2 (Scripture Proofs)2
The local church is made up of the visible saints of the Universal Church, gathered together in a local body under the authority of elders who administer the sacraments. That definition of the local church holds true for all Christian denominations, but the Baptists go further with this.
The Presbyterian, Dutch Reformed, or any other Reformed paedobaptist holds that the children of believers are also a part of the New Covenant, and are to be administered the sacrament of baptism, but not the sacrament of Lord’s Supper. “Wed but not fed” is the way some paedobaptists would put it, though a very small number of paedobaptists who claim to be in the Reformed tradition take exception to the Westminster Confession of Faith. The Reformed Baptist, however, would claim that both ordinances are to be administered to professing believers.
Because of this, the Baptist claims that all of the local church members–provided their profession is accurate–also belong in the body of Christ, or the Universal Church. To go further, all members of the true local and Universal Church are the “eschatologically elect”, those who are true believers, and not a person more.
The purpose of this gathering of local regenerate saints is for the administration of the ordinances, the edification of the body, the work of discipleship, the equipping for evangelistic endeavor, and most importantly the worship of God.
“A Faith to Confess” A Modern English Rendition of the 1689 Confession
“The Holy Catholic Church, The Communion of Saints” by Matt Chandler
“What Is The Church” free eBook by R.C. Sproul
“What Is The Church” by Matt Slick
This article was originally published at Seeing God Ministries by Jason Hinrichs
1 This excerpt of the “1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith” was retrieved from Founders Ministries, reworded into modern English by Carey Publications, Ltd ©1975; Scripture Proofs Ephesians 1:10, 22, 23, 5:23, 27, 32; Colossians 1:18; Hebrews 12:23
2 This excerpt of the “1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith” was retrieved from Founders Ministries, reworded into modern English by Carey Publications, Ltd ©1975; Scripture Proofs Acts 11:26; Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2; Ephesians 1:20-22