The Local Church
What is its Function?

By Dr. Ken Matto

(Mat 16:18 KJV) And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

The Lord Jesus Christ is giving a prophecy here that He is going to build His church and all the leaders and principalities from Hell will not be able to prevail against it. The word “church” in the Greek is “ekklesia” which carries with it the meaning of “a called out assembly.” This refers specifically to those whom the Lord Jesus Christ was going to call for salvation.
(Rom 1:6 KJV) Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ: The reason that the gates of Hell cannot prevail is because the salvation that Christ gives to His sheep cannot be lost. The word “prevail” in the above verse carries with it the meaning of “conquering or overpowering.” Satan does not have the ability to destroy the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a shame that Satan has been successful in reversing terms. For many years, the term “church” has been transferred from the body of believers to a building. Every Sunday, millions of Christians say they are going to church, when in essence they should be saying, “the church is going to meet.” Since the terms have been reversed, the function of the local church has also been altered. No longer is it a meeting place for the redeemed of God, it is now the weekly social gathering. What I want to discuss in this article is the true function of the local church, what God designed it for. First, we must understand what the local church is not and then we will look at what the true function of the local church should be.


A Political Meeting House
One of the greatest misuses of the local church are by those who have political agendas. In many churches, the gospel of politics is the norm. Men like Jerry Falwell or D. James Kennedy had continually pounded the political gospel from their pulpits. I would like to know how people become saved when they are tearing apart the ACLU or some other political group? The local church is also used by godless candidates who feign Christianity during election time just to try and win the vote of the so-called “Christian Right.” Pastors puff themselves up when a candidate chooses their assembly to visit. Men like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have also used the church for their own personal political agendas. Unfortunately, God has removed the candlestick of all those churches who have chosen to replace the Gospel of Christ with the gospel of politics.

A Cliquish Ethnic Club
I am very familiar with this mindset having grown up in the Hungarian Reformed Church. While that church is a historic Reformation church, by the time I was growing up in it, the main theme was Hungarianism. Whenever we would get a visiting clergy, they would always speak on Hungary. What I couldn’t figure out was that if their love for Hungary was so great, why were they still here in the USA? I use this as an example that when a local church is formed, it should not be formed because of common social values or ethnic background. Dr. Robert A. Cameron, a Pastor close to my home once said, “Sunday morning is the most segregated day in the church of Christ.” He meant that almost every race has their own local church body and because a foreign language is normally prevalent, no outsiders would be able to attend. In the confines of ethnicity also comes feasts and celebrations from the old country, most of which have nothing to do with the Gospel. Let me go back to the Hungarian Reformed Church for a moment. In Hungary, in October there was something called a Grape Festival, which was like a harvest festival. In the HR churches in America, at least the one I grew up in Perth Amboy, NJ, we had a Grape Festival. One of the things served at the Grape Festival was copious amounts of Alcohol. Before I became a Christian, I went to the festival with two friends of mine and we amassed 41 bottles of beer on our table. Of course, they had a full bar with everything else such as Whiskey, Vodka, etc. I remember after I became a Christian and became involved with the Youth Club in an advisory capacity, we had taken them to a concert and we introduced ourselves to the Pastor of the Church we visited and when we told him where we were from, he responded, “Oh yes, the church with the bar.” What a testimony to the outside world. There is nothing wrong with having an ethnic church but it should not become a private club.

An Entertainment Center
Over the past 40 years, it seems there has been an exponential rise in the local church of the use of entertainment. It normally starts out with a worship leader, then it goes to a worship team, then it degenerates to a full band, then the big screen goes up, and all the 6X20 songs come in, while the beautiful hymns of the Faith are thrown out. 6X20 are songs with six words sung twenty times over. Then if the big band is not enough, the sermon is then deleted and a theatrical play is put on. These things are incorporated in the service based on the “church growth movement” which basically disregards the teachings of Scripture and uses fleshly means to bring in the unbelievers to get them churched. Nowhere in Scripture do we find that the unbelievers are to be evangelized by worldly means just to get them into the church. The principal thing is to get them saved, not churched! Big Difference.

I have been in charismatic churches as well as non-charismatic churches which use the above means and have found them to have a football game atmosphere. People yelling and screaming, walking around, not paying attention, etc. There is no reverence or quietness before the Lord in anticipation of the service.
(Lev 19:30 KJV) Ye shall keep my sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary: I am the LORD. These entertainment churches show 0% reverence. It is not that we worship the building, but that as God’s children we are to come into the sanctuary in deference to God and in anticipation of worshipping Him and learning from His Word. When a church turns to entertainment, it means the Pastor and the church leaders have totally failed in their offices and should resign.

A Weekly Evangelistic Crusade
Many pastors have been influenced by the large evangelistic crusades of Billy Graham and others who travel the world and hold crusades in many parts of the world. However, the Sunday service of local church is not to be used as a weekly evangelistic crusade. The local church is not to be packed with unbelievers on Sunday. This may sound wrong but it is not. By consistently making the local church a weekly evangelistic crusade, the believers there will never grow and never learn anything new.
(Heb 6:1 KJV) Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, The Christian is to grow and go on to maturity but if their local church Pastor is preaching basic evangelistic sermons every week, the existing sheep will be stunted in their growth. There is nothing in Scripture which teaches that Christians should bring the unbelievers into the local church, in fact just the opposite exists. The Christians are to go out into the world and evangelize and if someone becomes saved, then they are to bring them into the church to be discipled.

(Mark 6:7-8 KJV) And he called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits; {8} And commanded them that they should take nothing for their journey, save a staff only; no scrip, no bread, no money in their purse:

Bringing the unbelievers into the local assembly is the lazy Christian’s way of evangelizing and revealing their inability to discuss spiritual things. Many Christians bring unsaved friends to the church and hope they become saved, not realizing that it is every Christian’s responsibility to evangelize, not just the pastor. Suppose you have a pastor who really likes to delve into the word deeper but he knows his church is loaded with unbelievers, he will feel compelled to leave the deeper studies, namely the meat, and bring only evangelistic messages, the milk of the word. The two verses above give a good example of evangelism, and that is for the Christians to go out. The Great Commission commands us to go out into the world, not bring the unbelievers into the local church.

A House of Experimentation
(Rom 10:17 KJV) So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. This verse gives the principle that salvation and spiritual growth for the already saved comes by hearing the word of God. It is unfortunate that many churches consistently go from one program to another to try and build the local assembly. The newest one is the “Purpose Driven Life and Church.” It is just another scheme to draw people into the church and make them feel good. The church growth movement does not have the blessing of God on it. In fact, in the book “The Purpose Driven Church,” Rick Warren counsels Christians to begin to think like unbelievers again. Where in Scripture do we find such a teaching? Nowhere! Look at the following Scriptures:

(James 1:8 KJV) A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.

If I am to once again think like an unbeliever, according to James, then that would make me unstable in all my ways. This would mean I would be wavering back and forth between the mind of a saved person and an unsaved person. Rick Warren would have us believe that thinking like an unbeliever is necessary.

(Phil 2:5 KJV) Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:

When did the Lord Jesus think like an unbeliever? Never! Keep in mind that thinking like an unbeliever is once again invoking the mind of Satan! The regenerated mind that we are given at salvation is not to think like an unbeliever but is to be trained on the things of the Lord. Christ did not give us the regenerated mind so we could use it to walk or think as an unbeliever. In fact, the Lord Jesus spoke in parables so the unbelievers would not understand.
(Mat 13:10-11 KJV) And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? {11} He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.

Is Not A Numbers Game
These church experiments do not have the spiritual welfare of the redeemed of God in mind, they are primarily focused on numbers. Remember in 1 Chronicles 21 the trouble that David caused Israel and himself when he chose to number the people of Israel? Well, when pastors are not satisfied with the numbers the Lord has sent them, they are asking for trouble when they try to build the congregational numbers into a mega-church. First of all, we must remember that God is in charge of every local congregation and He is the one who determines the size of that assembly. When the church begins to look for larger numbers, they are sinning against God by telling Him that He made a mistake in keeping their assembly small. When man takes upon himself the god-complex and tries to build the church themselves, according to worldly methods, then God removes the candlestick and they are on their own. This is why mega-churches always remove the strong and true teachings of Scripture, because to keep a large crowd, they must appeal to their flesh and pride. Do you want to reduce a 20,000 member mega-church to 100? Just put the pulpit back in the middle of the platform and start preaching from the King James Bible plus bring back the hymns of the Faith. That church will reduce its numbers drastically and quickly.

Do you remember the principle that God gave to Gideon for choosing the faithful amount of warriors? Let’s take a look at it and we can glean some truths from it.

(Judg 7:5-7 KJV) So he brought down the people unto the water: and the LORD said unto Gideon, Every one that lappeth of the water with his tongue, as a dog lappeth, him shalt thou set by himself; likewise every one that boweth down upon his knees to drink. {6} And the number of them that lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, were three hundred men: but all the rest of the people bowed down upon their knees to drink water. {7} And the LORD said unto Gideon, By the three hundred men that lapped will I save you, and deliver the Midianites into thine hand: and let all the other people go every man unto his place.

Gideon had an army of 32,000. Gideon then told the people that those who are faint hearted and fearful to depart out of the ranks. The Scripture tells us that at this point 22,000 had decided to leave. Then God tells Gideon that he still has too many in his army, so the Lord sets up a testing program whereby Gideon will be able to see who the really committed warriors are. The Lord brought the people down to a watering hole and God gave Gideon the simple method of determining his true warriors. When the men went down to drink the water, those who basically stuck their head in the water to drink were disqualified. Those who lapped the water by taking it in their hands and bringing it to their mouth were qualified.

What a simple test but it says something about those who lapped. Those who brought the water up to their mouth were able to drink and keep an eye out for the enemy. Those who put their head in the water, could only see the water and nothing else. The 300 who lapped showed they were more prepared for the battle than those who were drinking with faces down. As a result of this simple test, 9,700 were disqualified from fighting with Gideon. One great principle that we see here is that God is not concerned with big numbers, so why should pastors be? Another great principle we see here is that 300 out of 32,000 were the real faithful warriors. That means .009375% of this army were the true warriors. I can confidently say, that probably the same percentage of true Christians probably exist within these mega-churches, those who drink of the word and watch for the enemy at work. God is revealing an overriding principle here. Gideon won the battle against the Amalekites and the Midianites with just 300 faithful men. Let us be honest, wouldn’t a truly saved pastor be content with a church of 300 faithful Christians rather than a church of 32,000 with 99% unqualified and unsaved to do spiritual battle? This is why mega-churches are always predominantly false churches, because the extreme majority of the congregants are unsaved and disdain any and all true Bible teachings. This is why when pastors start setting their eyes on numbers, God may send them, and with those numbers comes the removal of the candlestick. As David was, the pastor will also be held accountable to God for lusting after big numbers. If you are a true pastor, then minister to those whom God sends your way. If you lust after having a mega-church, then how will you invoke church discipline, how will you prevent false gospels from coming in, will you be able to have a unified congregation, will you care when the true believers are driven out since they are only a minor number? These are only four questions of consequence for mega-churches.

I have listed six points which reveals what the local church should not be. Now I want to focus in on what the local church assembly should be.

Gathering of Believers
(2 Th 2:1 KJV) Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him,

The most primary function of the local church is that it is the weekly gathering of believers. When all the true believers gather in the church on Sunday it is a representation of the rapture of the church at the last day. The only ones who are going to be raptured is the body of believers. The church gathering on Sunday is the only time the invisible church of God becomes visible. It represents all the believers being gathered together on the last day. This is why when unbelievers are allowed to join, the whole typology of the local church is impaired. God is not going to rapture the unbelievers to Heaven, only His redeemed. When unbelievers are allowed to join a church, they adulterate that assembly because they are of Satan. Once unbelievers are allowed to join a church, they begin the process of causing the church to drift into apostasy because of their unbelief. The unbeliever has absolutely nothing to teach the believer about in the area of spiritual things since unbelievers are still spiritually dead. Unbelievers try and replace spirituality with intellectualism and when the teachings of man begin to permeate the assembly, then Satan gets a foothold and soon the church is in full apostasy. This problem was already in full swing in the end of the first century.

(Rev 2:12-13 KJV) And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges; {13} I know thy works and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth.

Pergamos was already suffering with the intrusion of unbelief into its ranks. This situation continues right down to today and will continue until the last day. When unbelievers are allowed to join a church, it causes dissension among the ranks because immediately they start throwing the “love” word around and accuse Christians of being cruel. Christians are called to be faithful to Christ and not to unbelievers. To prevent Satan from having a seat in the church assembly, do not allow unbelievers to join the church. If they visit, welcome them and minister to them, remember they may seem nice but the nicest unbeliever is still a child of the devil and we are to have no agreements with Satan.

(2 Cor 6:15 KJV) And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?

A Place of Encouragement
(2 Cor 1:4 KJV) Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.

The Greek word for comfort in this verse carries with it the meaning of “encouragement.” When Paul addressed the Corinthian Church, he was addressing them with the comfort of God. God is the one who encourages us in the tribulation that we go through. The local church needs to be a place of repose for the believer. The Christians are getting beat up all week and need to come to a place which is apart from the world where they can be encouraged without worldliness.
(Mark 6:31 KJV) And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat. Jesus even told His disciples that they needed to come apart for a while. The world with all its snares, enticements, hustle and bustle can wear one down. The local church needs to be a place where Christians can come to rest. (Psa 23:2 KJV) He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. While Psalm 23 ultimately teaches that being in Christ is like being beside still waters and in green pastures, because our souls no longer need to search for truth, we have truth and life in Christ, but we need to be fed the Word of God and when we hear the true Word of God being taught, it is like being in a verdant pasture of peace. How can an unbeliever encourage someone, by saying “Good Luck?”

A Place Where The Word Of God Is Taught
(Eph 6:17 KJV) And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:

The place where the true Word of God needs to be taught is in the church. All week Christians are being bombarded with worldly philosophies which eventually wears one down but when the true Word of God is preached, Christians feel rejuvenated and ready to carry on. When I speak of the true Word of God I am speaking not of the Gnostic modern versions or the psychological programs of men, I speak of the true word of God found in the King James Bible. Christians need to be both encouraged and warned through the Word of God but that can’t be done if you don’t have it or don’t use it. The true word of God is a sword and is our armor against the philosophies of the world which try to neutralize our Christian walk. Normally the sermon which is extracted from the word of God is a boost for the whole week. If we hear sermons which continually contain sayings like “my seminary professor says..” or “this theologian says this…” then the pastor is a total failure and does not possess the ability to teach the Bible. 
Brief quotes are fine but not a continuous stream of them.

A Place Where The Word Of God Is Discussed
(Luke 4:4 KJV) And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.

It is a place where the Word of God should be discussed by the congregants. I remember I was talking with a brother in my present church about a biblical subject and as we were speaking some dolt interrupts us and tried to sell us some tickets to a sports event. This person was worshipping his god which was sports. The local church needs to be a place where Christians can come to discuss and learn from God’s Word without worldly interruption. Schedules are so busy during the week and there needs to be a place where the Christian can graze upon God’s Word. When unbelievers join the church, then the conversations normally turn to secular matters.

A Place Where Even The Most Timid Believer Can Feel Safe
(Rom 14:1 KJV) Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.

The local church needs to be a place where even the weakest believer can sit with the Elders or Pastor to discuss spiritual issues which may help facilitate growth in their Christian walk. Many weak Christians are devastated in their Christian walk because they may be overwhelmed by the world and need to be spiritually recharged at church in a non-intimidating environment. The local church should be the place where young believers flourish in the faith. They need to know there is one place they can count on which is free of worldly influence.

A Place Where The Lord Jesus Christ Is Worshipped And Taught
(Eph 2:20 KJV) And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;

The church needs to be a place where the Lord Jesus Christ is worshipped and taught. When we have Gnostic versions, church growth programs, psycho-babble, entertainment, the nation of Israel and other similar things, then the Lord Jesus Christ has been set aside for these things. Christians need to have themselves refocused on the person of Christ and His redemption of the body of believers. When a church become a self-help, Tony Robbins clinic, then the church might as well close its doors because it has no value, except for unbelievers who bask in their own abilities. Christ is the founder and purchaser of the church and needs to be the center of that congregation. When all true believers make up the congregation, this will happen but if unbelievers are allowed to join, then eventually the church will replace Christ with the sovereignty of man and most of the time when the true believers speak out against the collapse of their church, the good church leaders normally throw them out and keep the unbelievers. A true church will always have the Lord Jesus Christ as their center focus, going not to the right or to the left.

The local church assembly must be a place where the Lord Jesus Christ is center and where the true word of God is taught so believers can grow in the Lord. When church leaders use the local assembly as a testing ground or as their personal playground then they have failed miserably and should step down or be fired. It must be kept as pure as possible from false gospels and worldly theories brought in by unbelievers. This is why it is imperative that only believers be allowed to join a church. An unbeliever has nothing in common with believers and the church leadership must never try to amalgamate the two groups. When a person becomes saved, then it is permissible for them to join the church but why would an unbeliever want to join a church since they are spiritually dead? If an unbeliever wants to join a church, then let them join a congregation of unbelievers, of which there are many in mainline denominations. On Judgment Day, the Lord is going to separate the sheep and the goats, why then should a church try to make them one congregation in the present? It is time to follow biblical principles concerning the local church and keep it pure from unbelievers. Unbelievers are to be evangelized and only after they become saved, are they eligible for local church membership. Whenever we read the Apostle Paul addressing a church at the beginning of his letters, we never read one being addressed to the unbelievers in the congregation, only to the believers which gives us an insight that the local church is for the redeemed of God only.

(Rom 1:6-7 KJV) Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ: {7} To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

(1 Cor 1:2 KJV) Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:

(Eph 1:1 KJV) Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus:

(Phil 1:1 KJV) Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:

(Col 1:1-2 KJV) Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timotheus our brother, {2} To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

(1 Th 1:1-2 KJV) Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians which is in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. {2} We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers;

Take a look at these nine verses and see if any of the greetings fit the description of an unbeliever. They are all to the believers and no one else. The free will movement has helped, in a big way, to destroy the purity of the church with their “let anybody in because they said a few words” theology. It is probably too late to try and take back the churches, but at least now we know what we could have been.