THE CHURCH IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
The Church in the Gospel of Matthew
In the Gospels in the New Testament, the church is mentioned only twice, in Matthew 16 and 18. In Matthew 16, the Lord had been with His disciples for three years. One day He brought them into the parts of Caesarea Philippi, in the northern part of the land of Judea, far from the atmosphere of Jerusalem. It was there that He asked them, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Immediately, the Lord Jesus said, “Upon this rock I will build My church” (vv. 15-18). This is the first time the term church is plainly mentioned in the entire Bible. Then in chapter eighteen, the Lord said that if a brother sins against us and refuses to hear our admonition, then we should tell it to the church (vv. 15-17). This is the second time the church is mentioned.
These two portions of the Word reveal two aspects of the church. The church revealed in 16:18 is the universal church, which is the unique Body of Christ, whereas the church revealed in 18:17 is the local church, the expression of the unique Body of Christ in a locality. Chapter eighteen says that if a brother sins and refuses to hear our admonition, then we should go and tell it to the church. To be sure, this refers to the church in the locality where we are. Therefore, Matthew 18 concerns the local church. The church is unique in the universe, yet it is expressed in each locality. This is the church revealed in the Gospels.
The Church in Acts
The church is expressed in each locality. So where was it first expressed? This requires us to come to Acts. Verse 1 of chapter eight says, “The church which was in Jerusalem.” The church is mentioned here not in a doctrinal way but in a way of actual practice. On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the disciples so that they, being filled with the Holy Spirit outwardly, preached the gospel with great power and brought in three thousand and five thousand persons on two occasions respectively (2:41; 4:4). Thus, there were close to ten thousand believers in Jerusalem. Christians were everywhere. When they met together in the city, that was the expression of the Lord’s church in that place, Jerusalem. Hence, the first church that was expressed in a locality was the church in Jerusalem.
The church in Jerusalem was the first church established in a locality within the jurisdiction of a city, the city of Jerusalem (5:11). Therefore, it was a local church in its locality, as indicated by the Lord in Matthew 18:17, and was a part of the universal church, which is the Body of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23), revealed by the Lord in Matthew 16:18. The record concerning the establishing of the church in its locality is consistent throughout the New Testament (Acts 13:1; 14:23; Rom. 16:1; 1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 8:1; Gal. 1:2; Rev. 1:4, 11).
In Acts 13 there was the church in Antioch. From Antioch, the gospel of the Lord spread outward and reached different cities in Asia Minor. Therefore, 14:23 says that the apostles appointed elders in every church. Every church here means every local church because there is only one church in one city (cf. Titus 1:5). The Greek word for church, referring to the church in Jerusalem in Acts 8 and in the church in Antioch in chapter thirteen, is singular. This indicates that in the eyes of God, regardless of the number of believers, in one city there is only one church. The church in Antioch was one. In Asia Minor, each of the several cities, such as Ephesus and Smyrna, had its respective church, so there were the “churches.”
In Matthew the Lord Jesus only briefly mentioned the church in its unique, universal aspect and in its local aspect for expression. He only said this much when He was on the earth. Then after His resurrection, ascension, and descending, immediately the church was manifested in place after place, first in Jerusalem, then in Antioch, after that in city after city in Asia, and then in different cities in Macedonia (Acts 16:8-12).
(Four Crucial Elements of the Bible, The—Christ, the Spirit, Life, and the Church, Chapter 9, by Witness Lee)