The New Testament Church
A Local Body
The Bible Tells of Churches, Plural
God says what He wants to say in the Bible. He does not say one thing and mean another. If He did, then we would be left to guess as to what the Scriptures teach. But since God says what He means, and means what He says, we can depend on it. When the Lord speaks of a church at a given place, like the church at Jerusalem, the church at Antioch, or the church of God at Corinth, He always speaks of just one church. The word is in the singular form. Likewise, when God speaks of several congregations in a state, or territory, He always uses the word churches. This is called the plural number and the plural number denotes more than one. It may be two or it may be a thousand. This fact alone, if there were no other reason, proves that the church of Christ is a local congregation and never a universal, invisible, or general thing which covers the whole country. If there were only one, it would never be spoken of in the plural number, but it would always be spoken of in the singular number.
Now let us notice some of the scriptures where the Lord tells about churches which are scattered throughout a territory or state. "And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches" (Acts 15:41).
Here Paul is on his second missionary journey. He took Silas with him this time and went to some of the same places that he had visited on the first journey. Syria and Cilicia were Roman Provinces lying along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The cities of Derbe, Lystra and Iconium were in the province of Galatia, and we are told that Paul went through these places confirming the churches. We are also told in Acts 16:5 that the churches were established (built up) and increased. In Acts 14:23 some of these cities are referred to along with a place called Antioch on the coast of the sea, and it is said that he appointed elders in every church.
The thing that is important is that in these countries and cities the different church bodies are referred to in the plural number, not in the singular number, churches, not church. If there had been just one big universal church, then, it would be church, not churches.
In Romans 16:4 we find Paul referring to "the churches of the Gentiles," and in the same chapter, verse 16, he says, "The churches of Christ salute you." In both passages Paul uses the plural number, churches, and not the singular number, church. If there had been just one big universal church, he would have said, "The church of the Gentiles," and, "The church of Christ," but the Holy Spirit was telling Paul what to write and He knew exactly what He wanted to say.
It is this last passage, Romans 16:16, "The churches of Christ salute you," that Campbellites use to try to prove their name, "The Church of Christ." They prove themselves to be both silly and dishonest in making such an argument. This is true first of all because the passage says churches, not church. Then, too, the words "churches of Christ," is not a name, but a phrase. A name always begins with a capital letter. Campbellites know this and they know that they are trying to deceive people when they use this passage to try to prove their name. There is no such name as, "Church of Christ," in the Bible.
But the Campbellites argue that you cannot have a plural number without having a singular number in the plural. They say that if there are churches of Christ, and the singular is in the plural, then there must be "The Church of Christ." That is like saying that since a city has houses; you talk about the houses of the city, and since the singular is in the plural, then you would have the house of the city. You may have houses of the city, but you cannot find "The House of the City." You may talk about the rivers of America, but where would you go find "The River of America"? You may find the mountains of Europe, but where could you find "The Mountain of Europe"? You may find the trees of the forest, but where can you find "The Tree of the Forest"? That is just how ignorant and silly the Campbellites are.
It is amusing also to use the same argument that the Campbellites are trying to prove their name in other passages. Let us observe, for instance, Paul says in Romans 16:4: "The churches of the Gentiles." All right, since the Campbellites say the singular is in the plural, and, since we have churches of the Gentiles, there must be, "The Church of the Gentile." So, if I should build a church house and organize me a church, then put up a sign in front of the building, and write on that sign, THE CHURCH OF THE GENTILE, my new church would be just as Scriptural as the Campbellitesí church, for I find churches of the Gentiles in the same chapter in which they find churches of Christ and they say, "The singular is in the plural." Campbellites are deceivers.
We return now to the main thought, showing that the churches of a province are never spoken of as one big church, but many churches. In 2 Corinthians 8:1, we find: "Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia."
Macedonia was a large province in Greece. Philippi was its chief city, and it was there that Paul was put in jail and the Philippian jailor was saved, (Acts 16). There were many churches in the province of Macedonia. If all the congregations put together make one big, universal church, then, why did Paul say "churches of Macedonia"? Why did not he say "the church of Macedonia"? There were many churches in Macedonia, but there was no such thing as "The Church of Macedonia." There just is no such thing as a universal or invisible church.
Again, when Paul wrote the Galatian Letter, he addressed it to churches and not to a church. Galatians 1:2: "And all the brethren which are with me, unto the churches of Galatia."
Galatia is another province or state known as Asia Minor. There were many churches established there by Paul on his first missionary journey. Now he writes them a letter. This letter was to be read in all the churches of that state, so he addresses it to all of them. If there is just one big, universal church, it does look like Paul would have known it, especially since he was inspired by the Holy Spirit and was writing what God was telling him to write. The Lord knows what a church is. He knows it is a local assembly and not a universal, invisible something, so God just said what He wanted to say, and He let us know that it was not "The Church of Galatia," but "the churches of Galatia."
While there are many other examples which could be given showing that the churches are many in a state, it seems that one more should be sufficient. In Revelation 1:11, Jesus is speaking and He says: "I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia and unto Laodicea."
It would be difficult indeed to find a passage which could more clearly state the truth than this. Asia is a great country. There are seven cities named and it is stated that there was a church in each city. And if it could be any stronger for Jesus to say it than for the Holy Spirit to have it written, then it has that strength, for, these are the very words of Jesus. Jesus said that there were seven churches in Asia. He named each city where they were and sent each one of them a message. If there was just one big, universal, invisible church in Asia, then Jesus would not have made such a mistake as saying that there were seven. He would have said, "The Church of Asia."
In the light of Godís truth, the idea of a universal, invisible or general church is a false notion and an impossibility. The Bible Church is a local assembly of baptized believers, keeping house for God.