What is the local church? Hints from the Old Testament

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What is the local church? Hints from the Old Testament

June 10, 2024 -

Church prayer meeting. By Катерина Євтехова/stock.adobe.com

Church prayer meeting. By Катерина Євтехова/stock.adobe.com

Church prayer meeting. By Катерина Євтехова/stock.adobe.com

Note: This article is part two of our series on the church and its role within our lives and God’s plans to establish his kingdom. For more on how the local church relates to the universal church, please see part one: “Less than half of Americans attend church monthly: Is there hope for the church?

Our culture is desperate for a sense of belonging. Recent studies have shown that “Sixty-four percent of Americans reported non-belonging in the workplace, 68% in the nation, and 74% in their local community.” It is likely that a lack of belonging has contributed to the mental health crises that plague our culture. And whether we like it or not, humans seem to carry the need to feel a sense of belonging.

What if this finding is nothing new though? What if humans were created to belong from the very beginning, and it is just a matter of belonging to the right group/entity? A look at the foundations of the local church in the Old Testament will show us that belonging is central to the local church’s identity and actually a part of God’s plan for all of humanity.

Created to Belong

Millard Erickson informs that “The word ‘church’ and cognate terms in other languages (e.g., Kirche in German) are derived from the Greek word kuriakos, ‘belonging to the Lord.’”  This idea of belonging to the Lord is a major theme throughout Scripture.

Moreover, it is no less relevant concerning the identity of the church, and this idea can be traced to the Old Testament. Everett Ferguson reiterates how it communicates the importance of “being God’s people,” and he infers “It is significant for the understanding of the church that God’s purpose was to call a people and that he dealt with individuals in relation to a people.” God valued a distinct group of people who worshiped him because it produced a tight and secure community that he would call his own.

You may read this and think of God simply using people as his personal property, but that misses the point. God created humans with the inherent need for relationships and worship. Why? Because intimacy and dependance on God is what translates to life for a human. A healthy human has relationships and worships. However, he gave us free will to decide what or to whom we relate and worship because he wanted these things to be genuine.

Bringing belonging back to all nations

Of course, humanity’s connection and role as God’s people was taken away through sin. But God had a plan to bring humanity back into his family, and this started through establishing Israel. For the time being, he called them to uphold the perfect Law. And though they were not able to do so perfectly, the distinction of God’s people was originally returned to, or held, by the Israelites.

As for the rest of God’s plan, the Old Testament continuously conveys how God wanted to expand his people beyond the Israelites. One example is Zechariah 2:11, where the Lord notifies his people, “Many nations will be joined with the Lord in that day and will become my people.”

Considering this, the Old Testament reveals a major mechanism for how all people would have the opportunity to worship God in a unified manner. Ferguson informs of how the Psalms “spoke of God acquiring a congregation, redeemed to be his heritage (Ps. 74:2).”  Congregations, an assembly of people for worship, would be this way. And these congregations can be seen through the OT word “qahal.” Erickson informs that qahal was prominent in the Old Testament and essentially serves “as a designation of the occurrence of assembling.”  Assembly was a way to cultivate community in the Old Testament, and God’s plan would be for it to carry the same purpose when all peoples were redeemed to be his heritage.

A family like no other

From the beginning, God wanted to provide the best sense of belonging. He created people with the inherent need to be involved with each other and submit to him through a worshiping community/family. Though this was severed by original sin, God did not give up. He established a community that was meant to be expanded and would serve as a major part of the local church’s identity.

Moving forward, we will see how God used the foundation of community and assembly to connect his people to the ultimate redeemer of humanity. But for now, let’s conclude by taking a moment to reflect on how the church’s role in the Old Testament might relate to your life today.

Would you say that your church helps people connect to God and feel that innate sense of belonging? What can you do to help it fulfill that purpose?

The most effective way to introduce people to the heart of Christ is by helping them to experience the sense of belonging only he can provide.

How can you share that sense of belonging today?

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