But we have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel. (Hebrews 12:22–24—NKJV)

There is nothing more symbolic of the New Testament era than the church. It had its birthday on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) and it will finish its usefulness on this earth upon its promotion to glory at the rapture of the all the church age saints (1 Thessalonians 4:13ff). It did not exist on this earth, nor was it conceived of, in the Old Testament. It also finds no place in the future days of the Great Tribulation on this earth. It reenters the earthbound scenes at the institution of the Millennial Kingdom alongside our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 1:3–10, Revelation 19 & 20).

Our word church is a translation of the Greek word ekklesia, it is a compound word combining ek, out of, and klesis, a calling. Its literal meaning is “called out ones.” The idea of the kind of calling is found in passages such as Romans 11:29, Ephesians 1:18, 4:1, Philippians 3:14, and 2 Peter 1:10—the call to heavenly citizenship through salvation and the life transformation which comes along with it. Ekklesia was used in the Greek world to identify a company of citizens gathered together to discuss affairs of state, e.g., Acts 19:39.

It is patently obvious the church has never met in one place since its early days and cannot be an entity until it is brought together at the rapture. There are saints that have departed to glory and are present there today, separated from the saints alive on this earth. The combination of the two groups is often referred to as the Church Universal, or the Mystical Church. A quick review of the New Testament verses that use the word ekklesia will reveal that the overwhelming focus of the word is upon the local manifestations of the church. Out of over one hundred uses of ekklesia, ninety five refer to an identifiable, local body of believers.

It is therefore useless to think in terms of serving the Universal Church while not being responsive to the local assembly of believers, for that is where God’s priority rests in the current church age. It is with this in mind that I believe the idea of the word ekklesia involves a company of people. In the Greek world, it was a gathering of citizens joined to discuss the affairs of the state. For believers, the local church is a company as well!

The military concept of a company seems particularly instructive. A company is a body of troops that is the lowest administrative unit under command of an officer, like a ship’s captain. The origins of the word are Latin and referred to a group sharing bread. We use the term in the sense of companionship, a society, a habitual association. In the local church context, the idea of a company really shines.

The local church is a body of born-again people, voluntarily associating themselves for the observation of the ordinances (“sharing bread”), for worship, and for mutual equipping and enabling to do the work of ministry to the glory of God. They have been called out by the Head of the church, the Lord Jesus Christ. Colossians 1:17–18 reads, “And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.”

The local body of believers that make up the local church are the local body of Christ. It must be responsive to its Head, the Lord Jesus Christ. It is an identifiable company of believers (Romans 16:23, Acts 20:28, 1 Corinthians 16:19, Philemon 2). Local churches are designed to be salt and light in the geographical area where God has drawn them together (1 Corinthians 1:2, 1 Thessalonians 1:1). It is only in a local church context that the officers of pastor and deacon have any meaning (1 Timothy 3:5). There will be certainly no need in the Universal Church for these officers. They will be effectively out of a job at the rapture!

What is your relationship to the local church, a company of the saints? Despite the problems that accompany any assembly of unglorified saints, every genuine believer is duty-bound to join with a local body of Christ and through it find his function and service. Trust and obey.