What is a Local Church?

There is a great need for spiritual awakening. There are many churches and preachers. There are good, healthy churches and preachers. Yet, with all the churches and preachers preaching, the movement of the Holy Spirit seems often lacking.


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I know, the Holy Spirit moves where He wants to move, and we cannot see where He is coming from or going (John 3). The existence of a legitimate local church depends on the Holy Spirit. Look with me at Acts 2:37-47:

Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, awhat shall we do?”

38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

39 “For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.”

40 And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!”

41 So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand asouls.

42 They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and ato prayer.

43 Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles.

44 And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common;

45 and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.

46 Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart,

47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.

This pericope describes the response of the Jews who hear Peter’s Pentecost sermon about Christ Jesus. It describes what happens when people are filled with the Holy Spirit and come together as a local church. In my experience, though I have seen local churches I would consider healthy and preachers who exposit the word of God well, I have never been a part of a congregation that emulated the characteristics of this first local church in Jerusalem. Local churches like this may exist, but I have not seen one that I can recall. We made a few observations:

  1. Upon being forgiven of sin, the new believers would receive the Holy Spirit.
    • Such a promise was for as many as God would call to Himself.
    • Whatever was happening at the first local church was not a result of the work of people, having the correct leadership, making enough visits, running the best ad campaign, having the greatest music or best preacher, or producing bomb search engine optimization. This movement started with God’s forgiveness and was driven by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. That’s it.
  2. The first local church was born as a result of the Gospel, not good business planning.
  3. They continually devoted themselves to:
    • The apostles’ teaching,
      • Not because of some legalistic expectation or religious law, but because of the conviction of the Holy Spirit, the gathered believers continually devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. The apostles taught what Jesus taught them to teach. Jesus taught them to exposit the Old Testament Scriptures. This is the first mark of a local church–the people are continually devoted to Scripture (the Old Testament and the apostles’ teaching, the New Testament). Without the sincere exposition of Scripture, there is no local church. Teaching, not just some shallow oration some refer to as preaching, is the central ministry of the local church. Teaching brings understanding as to the word of God.
    • the fellowship,
      • While some translation simply indicate that they devoted themselves “to fellowship,” the Greek text has a definite article. The first Christians were continually devoted to “the fellowship.” There was something special about the type of fellowship Christians were continually devoted to, a covenanting together around the apostles’ teaching, proper exposition of Scripture. So, a local church is a covenant community in a geographical area such that the people are continually devoted to being the church together as a local body under the apostles’ teaching as their sole authority for all of life and ministry.
    • the breaking of bread, and
      • Along with devotion to the fellowship, the first Christian local church was also continually devoted to the breaking of bread–which is something distinct from the fellowship. The fellowship is the group; the breaking of bread is one thing the group does. While this action does refer to the taking of meals together, I believe that the eucharist (communion or The Lord’s Supper) is also in view. The local community of faith ate as they gathered. This wasn’t one family going over to another families house but a meal at the local church gathering, which included the eucharist (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:23-34).
    • the prayers.
      • Like “the fellowship,” this phrase in the Greek reads “the prayers,” not merely “prayer.” There seem to have been specific prayers that the local church was continually devoted to–probably prayers that reflect Jesus’s teaching in His sermon on the mount and His model prayer for His disciples. Corporate prayers were to be short, simple, and kingdom-centered. The local church would pray for God’s kingdom to come and His will be done, and the gathering reflected such a desire. The need in the church isn’t more prayer; it is more biblical prayer. Our prayers often center on our wills rather than God’s and our kingdoms rather than God’s. We often spend much of our time justifying our unforgiveness rather than asking God to forgive us as we forgive our debtors. The disciple’s prayer reminds us immediately that if we don’t forgive, our sins will not be forgiven. Such is the purpose of prayer, our humility and not our exaltation like the babbling heathens who believe they will be heard for their many words (cf. Matthew 6:5-15).
  4. Everyone felt a sense of awe, and the apostles performed signs and wonders.
    • People could feel the movement of the Holy Spirit, and awe-inspiring thing. The apostles performed signs that legitimized their apostolic ministry. We should still feel a sense of awe when we gather because the Holy Spirit fills us. Even though the apostolic sign gifts ceased with the apostles (not to be confused with miracles altogether), the community of faith is stimulated on to good works. Each person yearning to give of him or herself rather than force others to meet their own preferences or expectations. Being a local church was much simpler than what we have made it today.
  5. They held all things in common and sold their possessions so that no one would be in need.
    • The finances of the church reflected the local church’s heart. They were not running a business. They did not burden themselves with bills because they bought property to use only for themselves. The local church focused its money outward. The offerings that voluntarily came in (not to be confused with the Old Testament Tithe) were primarily distributed to those who had need so that no one would be in need. Rarely have I seen a church primarily use its budget as a distribution bank for those in need, even within the congregation. Budgets are always primarily about buildings, programs, and making sure the gathering is comfortable and meets the preferences (or expectations) of the members–which is selfish and centers the church’s worship on people rather than Christ. It is the difference between inward and outward focus.
  6. Each day, they continued in the Temple and from house to house.
    • Every day, not only on Sunday, they continued in the Temple. The first local church met in the Jewish Temple courts to hear the apostle’s teaching and break bread. They continued from house to house (not necessarily visitation but in house church campuses because the local church did not own its own property), hearing the apostle’s teaching and breaking bread. Because of the movement of the Holy Spirit, the people who received the Holy Spirit were hungry for God’s word and to live in covenant community with one another, and so having communion together. This hunger is basic to the Christian faith. If there is no hunger for the word in us, we likely don’t have the Holy Spirit in us. Again, we see that being a local church is much simpler than the organizational, business-minded mess we have created for ourselves today.
  7. They praised God and had favor with all people.
    • Because of the Holy Spirit and their new found salvation, the people praised God. They did not condemn the world to Hell, spend their time maligning Caesar like they did in their former way of living, define their faith as some political party affiliation, complain about the heathens next door, participate in worship wars, or hire people to tickle their ears or serve them out of compulsion. Instead, they praised God. Their focus was outward. They had not centered the gathering on themselves but on God. As a result, they had favor with all people. They did not unnecessarily place burdens on the world or create unbiblical hindrances to the Gospel.

Where are all the Acts 2 local churches? If this is what the Holy Spirit inspires within people, why don’t we seem to see it in our communities? I think that there are many people convinced they have the Holy Spirit who do not bear the Spirit’s fruit. I believe it is time to pray for God to send workers into His harvest.

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