Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,
What is the local church? The local church is a distinct Biblical entity, but that simply tells us that it is, not what it is. The question is essential, given that our answer greatly determines our conduct in the church, but it isn’t a question for us to decide for ourselves. The answer has been given to us by the apostles.
In the inspired view of Paul and Peter, the local church is a flock.
Paul – “take heed to all the flock”
Knowing this is his last opportunity, Paul sends for the Ephesian elders. The gathering is recorded in Acts 20:17-38. Paul reminds them of his manner of life among them, exhorting them to follow his pattern. Then he says this: “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). Fundamentally, the local church is a flock, complete with shepherds who are to feed and protect. This is a beautiful picture of a very practical way in which God provides feet-on-the-ground care for His people.
These shepherds, put in place by the Holy Spirit, are exhorted to give attention to “all the flock”. It isn’t “teach Christians” or “encourage believers,” although there is ample basis in the Scriptures for both. It is “take heed to all the flock”. The task and the target are both eminently specific, not generic. Take heed. All the flock. No wondering who to shepherd here.
Peter – “shepherd the flock”
What Peter teaches in 1 Peter 5:1-4 is so similar to Acts 20 that it would almost suffice to say “ditto”. In the opening verse of the book, we learn that Peter is writing to “the pilgrims of the Dispersion”, and in the fifth chapter he narrows his exhortations to the elders of these scattered congregations. “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers” (1 Peter 5:2a), he tells them. They are to serve selflessly, tenderly, and by example. They are to shepherd the flock like the Chief Shepherd does.
Again, the task and target couldn’t be more specific.
This all has tremendous significance, given the rich Biblical teachings which draw on the imagery of sheep, flocks, and shepherds. The implications are profound. Shepherd elders aren’t the Chief Shepherd, but they have been given passages like Psalm 23 and John 10 to learn what it means to serve after the manner of their Master. The shepherds are to know, feed, and protect the sheep. The sheep are to know and follow their shepherds. “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27). In fact, when things function by God’s design, when one in a hundred goes missing, the shepherd notices, goes in search, and rejoices at the safe return (Matthew 18:12-13).
Not exactly the arm’s length, “hide and not seek” atmosphere of the modern evangelical church, is it? But it is the local church of Paul and Peter. And isn’t this what we want – churches where faithful men have a vigilant eye on the people of the congregation, really knowing them and really being known by them?
This is the heart of God for His people.
Next is Argument 3: Serious Obligations Require Order.
More to come.