If we, as God's people, want to attain to God's purpose in Christ Jesus, if we are going to be moving towards God's end purpose, we must first have a heart for God and be willing to obey the Spirit. This means that we must first be filled with the Spirit and able to hear God by the Spirit so we can obey. Paul says in Romans 8:9, "Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His." There is no substitute for the infilling of the Holy Spirit. This must be more than profession, or our own theology about what having the Spirit of Christ means. The issue is whether we are Christ's or not. We cannot trust our eternity to some man's teaching. We must truly know that we are His, and one of the ways we know that we dwell in Him and He in us is that He has given us of His Spirit (1 John 4:13). "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God" (Romans 8:16).
To know what God is doing and judge with righteous judgment, we must be spiritual, and go to the scriptures and find the spiritual principles that define the church. Then we must be able to discern whether these principles are being worked out in an assembly. We cannot be looking for perfection, because the church is made up of those who are growing in the knowledge of Christ, not those who have attained to a state of complete maturity.
We must consider the government in a gathering. Is the government solely on the shoulders of Christ? Are there brethren under the spiritual authority of Christ in the place of eldership? Do these men meet the qualifications set forth in the Word, found in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1? Do these men have a revelation of God's church and how it functions? Is spiritual discipline being exercised?
These questions must be considered in the light of God's revelation in His Word, to determine the true expression of the local church. We can judge only according to the revelation laid out in the Word of God. Without a revelation, we cannot find the church because we do not know what to look for.
If a group or gathering is an expression of the church, it must be autonomous. When control comes from the influence of men outside the local expression, the church can only miss the mark that God has set forth in His Word, the revelation of the church.
Local churches, expressions of the one body, are not meant to be joined together on earth. They are one, but only in the nature in which they are expressed. Where many try to bring different local expressions into fellowship through conventions, convocations, or special meetings, they begin to destroy the local nature of the church, and open the way for teaching and ministry that cannot be judged because there is no spiritual authority given in such gatherings to judge it. It doesn't matter how good the ministry may be--by its independent expression it takes away from Christ and causes many to follow after personalities and teaching rather than submitting to Christ and His working in the local body.
It is important to see the local nature of the church because it protects the members from much error. It puts responsibility where it belongs and doesn't allow each member to be a law unto himself. It also keeps a group of men from taking control and directing the church. The only oneness is that which is created by the Spirit, and it is revealed only in the local church. To continue to express the nature and purpose of God, Christ must be the head of the local expression, "controlling all of its functions. The wisdom of man can never accomplish the will of God.
Many man-made and man-controlled groups go under the name of "the church." If Christ is not continuing to be the head of the local church, it is not the local expression of the one true church. Man's authority always robs the gathering of a true expression of the life of God. Man's authority dominates and controls, thus in the long run is no more than a ministry of death, rather than a many-membered body functioning under the headship of Christ, building itself up in love (Ephesians 4:11-16). The church is the body of Christ, and it can only function properly when it is under His control.
God has not changed His original plan for the outworking of His church. He is still calling men and using them to build according to His design. God's plan brings us to His end purpose; therefore we cannot lay it aside and bring in our own plan. Let us settle it, that we must have God's plan for God's results. And not only must we know His plan, we must have His life. Let us not follow men, but allow the truth of God's Word to set us free and bring forth a fuller witness of His purpose.