Membership in your local church is one of the most important things about you.
The local church is the greatest, most profound collective of which any human could be a part. Your family, your career, your nationality — these all pale in comparison to what it means to be a member of a local church. And of course, this doesn’t make any sense unless we understand what the local church actually is.
There is a lot we could say at this point, and there are many good definitions out there, but in hopes of keeping it basic, here’s one way to put it:
The local church is a community of Christians who live as the on-the-ground expression of the supremacy of Jesus by advancing his gospel in distance and depth.
Now, there are three important parts of this statement that especially highlight the unparalleled role of the local church. But foundational to the whole thing is the supremacy of Jesus, and before moving to the other pieces, this is worthy of our focus. The most basic part of this basic definition is that the local church is the on-the-ground expression of the supremacy of Jesus. What does that mean? And how so?
1. Jesus is supreme.
The centrality of the local church is derivative of the supremacy of Jesus. If it weren’t for him and who he is, the local church would simply be an affinity club, something conjured up by our own devices and sustained for our own false sense of hope. But Jesus is who he is, and he’s behind this thing. Jesus is the one who has all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18), the one before whom everyone will bow (Philippians 2:9–11), the one who reigns among a cascade of endless praise (Revelation 5:9–14).
Everything that is, or could be, for as long as it will ever be, is entirely pointing to Jesus — the eternal Son of God, the radiance of God’s glory, the exact imprint of God’s nature, the second person of the holy Trinity through whom all things were made, the one who became God with us, God in human flesh, the God-man, the last Adam, the offspring of Abraham, the lion of Judah, the prophet like Moses, the root of Jesse, the descendant of David, the suffering servant, the hope of Israel, the Savior of the world.
This is Jesus, and he is the great end. He is the one we are meant to see, to know, to treasure. Through our tears and triumphs, our pain and pleasures, our losses and loves, Jesus stands at the end of the road offering himself to us, inviting us to behold his worth and cherish his sufficiency.
And fact is, this is fact.
It isn’t ancient mythology or theological well-wishing. Jesus is real and everything the Bible says about him is true. And so we must ask: How is his reality felt?
2. Jesus expresses his supremacy.
If Jesus is really reigning, is that reign actually operative? What does it even do? In order for the reign of Jesus to transcend the mere climax of a good story, it must have a tangible expression in the real world. What is the force of his supremacy felt here?
Answer: his church.
It is no accident that immediately after Peter confesses the identity of Jesus — “You are the Christ, the son of the living God!” (Matthew 16:16) — Jesus makes a statement about the church. He says, first, “For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven” (verse 17), and then, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (verse 18). Both parts of this statement are related to the supremacy of Jesus, making the church its exposé. The first part is about the church’s beginnings; the second part is about the church’s sustenance.
The church exists because God has designed it to be. It’s not according to “flesh and blood” creativity, but to God’s eternal purpose that he has realized in Jesus (Ephesians 3:11). This is God’s prerogative, in other words, and the purpose is to say something about himself by letting the church say something about Jesus. It is Jesus who stands as the fulcrum of a new nation, having created in himself “one new man” (Ephesians 2:15). And there’s the key: He’s the one creating, not us. We would all still be in darkness had it not been for the mission of God — Jesus having been sent, and his Spirit opening our eyes.
But not only that, the only reason the church lasts is because the Father, who put all things under the feet of Jesus, gave Jesus to the church (Psalm 110:1; Hebrews 1:13; Ephesians 1:22–23). Jesus gave his life for the church, but he also nourishes and cherishes her (Ephesians 5:29), which makes her holy and invincible. The head of the church is the ruler of the universe, which makes for pretty good auspices under which to have our being.
Everything about the church — her beginnings, her ongoing life, and her destiny — is owing to God alone, who laid out the script of world history in eternity past, the Father and Son agreeing in the Spirit’s fellowship to share their communion by creating, redeeming, and creating anew, all with the Son at the center (2 Timothy 1:9; Ephesians 1:4; 1 Peter 1:20; Revelation 13:8).
3. This expression is on the ground.
“On the ground” is another way to accent the local nature of how Jesus expresses his supremacy. Without doubt, there is the one holy, universal, and apostolic church — “all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:2). But then there is the myriad of her local expressions spread out across different times and places.
The time-and-place element has always been important, even long before interstate freeways and information highways have shrunk our modern landscape and discombobulated our sense of geographical belonging. Place matters, as the Book of Acts shows us, because it reminds us that the work of Christ isn’t an ideological movement for abstract, amorphous peoples, but that it’s the good news proclaimed to people who are surrounded by the concreteness of some*where, *some place.
It is glorious that Jesus became God with us — with us here on this earth as the God-man. And then there’s a whole extra layer of wonder in that he is God with us here in the particulars — here on the same road I drive to work everyday, when I get stuck at that same light, by that same gas station. The supremacy of Jesus is expressed not just in the church invisible, but here, in the touchable, smellable, hearable pell-mell of this planet — and he does it by touchable, smellable, hearable assemblies of people worshiping him, serving one another, and making him known.
And no matter how insignificant it may sometimes feel, our being part of that, our participation in that fellowship, is one of the most important things about our lives.