Distinguishing Differences: The Church and the Churches

In this article we continue to consider the important distinctions between the Body of Christ and the local church (assembly). While we never read in the NT that the Body of Christ gathers together, we do see in Scripture that local assemblies gather together in many places in the world. The Body has never yet assembled on earth unless for a few moments on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2 when the Church period began. Touching the thought of gathering, it is interesting that there was a gathering in the past typical age when God says “Gather My saints together unto Me, those that have made a covenant with Me by sacrifice” (Ps 50:5). There is a present gathering of assemblies and a future gathering of all the saints of the present dispensation, for Paul speaks of “our gathering together unto Him” (2 Thess 2:1). These three aspects and their differences are worth pondering. Look, as well, at three further important distinctions between the Body and the local assembly.

The Body Can Never Assemble On Earth – The Local Assembly Can

It is impossible for the Body to meet on earth at any one place at one time, because it is not complete yet. Sometimes we hear the expression used, “the Church of God on earth.” We have no such description in the NT It is a false and misleading term. The Church is never seen on earth. A local assembly, however, composed of believers who are members of the Body of Christ, has the privilege of gathering at stated times. Because a local church is able to gather, a believer who has a difficulty not resolved can take the course taught by the Lord Himself to “tell it unto the church” (Matt 18:17). It is plainly evident that a brother cannot tell it to the Church of the whole dispensation which began at Pentecost and will only be completed when the Lord comes. A local assembly not only gathers in the Name of the Lord Jesus in the functional sense when actually meeting together, but it is also true that it is gathered in a positional sense. For example, we must not think that an assembly is only such by the clock while the saints gather with one another. In Acts 11:26 we read that in Antioch the first Gentile assembly gathered for a whole year, but no one would think from this statement that they assembled together every day for a whole year! This is positional truth and it is well for us to remember that while we are not actually gathered, we are nevertheless gathered by virtue of association with the assembly. In this we have a solemn practical point that concerns our lives and how we behave when not meeting in the assembly lest we bring shame on the testimony of the assembly.

The Body Presently Has Never Been Seen By Man – The Local Assembly Has

Only God sees the Body. Man cannot see it in its present aspect. The local assembly is both seen by God and by man also, for each local assembly is a place of public testimony. It is not some secret society. This is seen in 1 Corinthians 14, for the church at Corinth is visible and public. Note that Paul uses the expression, “If therefore the whole church be come together into one place” (v 23). The unlearned and the unbeliever are present, witnessing the exercises of the assembly. This reference to “the whole church” would show us that in those early apostolic days there was no wilful absenteeism in the gathering of the saints. Oh that this were true in assemblies today!

The assembly does not meet in a corner. It has nothing to hide. In the assembly at Troas there were “many lights” in the upper chamber where they gathered (Acts 20:8). If the nature of such meetings in those days were under suspicion it would have been relatively easy to check them out. God expects the local assembly to know the reality of His presence among them. When God’s presence is known, divine order is practiced and there is a right use of gift locally; what a powerful witness this is to the unlearned and the unbeliever! Thus while the Body is invisible the local assembly is very much visible. How does your home assembly in its witness appear to men? Is it welcoming or aloof? Is the presence of God felt or missed by the outsider?

The Body Never Receives Any Exhortations – The Local Assembly Does

There are no exhortations in the NT that the Body should gather together. The exhortation, for example, to “forsake not the gathering of yourselves together” (Heb 10:25) could never be addressed to the Church, but only to believers gathered as an assembly. This may be a simple and obvious point, but it is an important one as we distinguish between what is not true in relation to the Body and what is true of the local assembly. The exhortations in the epistles are to be obeyed; they contemplate the believer in his responsibility to live for God now. Countless numbers of believers since Pentecost have gone to heaven, and although they are still part of the Body of Christ, they are past receiving exhortations. Exhortation has to do with the present life. The question for each believer is, “What am I doing about the practical exhortations of the Word of God? Do I yield to them and recognize that they come from God?” It is very searching to think that all opportunity to obey God will soon be gone forever and though we shall ever be in the Body and death itself will never take us out of it, yet in the assembly God wants my obedience now.