What is The Church?
The universal church (brought into being by the internal work of the Spirit and truth of grace) may be called the invisible church. It consists of the complete number of the elect who have been, who are, or who shall be gathered into one under Christ its Head. The church is the bride, the body, the fullness of Christ who fills all in all.
All people throughout the world who profess the faith of the Gospel and render obedience to God by Christ according to the Gospel, and who do not destroy their own profession by any fundamental errors, or by unholy behaviour, are and may be called visible saints. All local congregations ought to be constituted of such people.
The purest churches under heaven are subject to mixture and error, and some have degenerated so much that they have ceased to be churches of Christ and have become 'synagogues of Satan'. Nevertheless, Christ has always had, and always will have to the end of time a kingdom in this world, made up of those who believe in Him and profess His name.
The Lord Jesus Christ is the head of the church. In Him is vested, by the appointment of the Father in a supreme and sovereign manner, all authority for the calling, institution, order and government of the church. The Pope of Rome cannot in any sense be the head of the church, but he is the antichrist, that 'man of lawlessness', and 'son of destruction', who exalts himself in the church against Christ and all that is called God, whom the Lord shall destroy with the brightness of His coming.
In executing the authority entrusted to Him, the Lord Jesus, through the ministry of His Word and by His Spirit, calls to Himself out of the world those who are given to Him by the Father. They are called to walk before Him in the ways of obedience which He prescribes for them in His Word. He commands those who are so called to form local societies or churches for their mutual edification and to engage in the public worship which He requires of them while in the world.
The members of these churches are 'saints' by calling and they visibly demonstrate and give evidence of their obedience to the call of Christ by their profession and walk. They willingly consent to walk together according to Christ's instructions, giving themselves to the Lord and to one another by the will of God, affirming their subjection to the directives of the Gospel.
To each church so gathered according to the mind [of Christ] as declared in His Word, the Lord has given all the power and authority required to conduct the form of worship and discipline which He has appointed for them to observe. He has also given commands and rules for the right and proper use of that power.
A local Church, gathered and organized according to the mind of Christ, consists of officers and members. The officers appointed by Christ to be chosen and set apart by the church are bishops or elders, and deacons. They are appointed particularly to oversee what the Lord has ordained, and to execute the powers and duties which the Lord has entrusted to them or to which He calls them. This pattern is to be continued to the end of the world.
The way appointed by Christ for calling any person qualified and gifted by the Holy Spirit for the office of bishop or elder, is that he is to be chosen by the communal vote of the church itself. He shall be solemnly set apart by fasting and prayer, with the laying on of hands by the elders of the church (if there are any previously appointed bishops or elders). Similarly, a deacon is also to be chosen by vote of the church and set apart by prayer, with the laying on of hands.
The work of pastors is to give constant attention to the service of Christ in His churches, in the ministry of the Word and prayer, and by watching over their [members'] souls as they must give an account to Christ. Therefore the churches to which they minister have an obligation to give them all due respect, and also to provide 'all good things' according to their ability, so that they may have a comfortable income without being entangled in secular affairs, and may also be able to exercise hospitality towards others. This is required by the law of nature and by the specific command of our Lord Jesus who has ordained that those who preach the Gospel should live by the Gospel.
Although the bishops or pastors of the churches are obliged to regularly preach the Word as part of their office, yet the work of preaching the Word is not exclusively confined to them. Others who are also gifted and qualified by the Holy Spirit for the task, and who are approved and called by the church, may and ought to perform it.
All believers are obliged to join themselves to local churches when and where they have opportunity to do so, so that all who are admitted to the privileges of the church, are also subject to the correction and government of the church in accordance with the rule of Christ.
No church members who have been offended by a fellow member, and who have followed their prescribed duty towards the person they are offended at, may disturb church order in any way. Nor should they absent themselves from the meetings of the church or the administration of the ordinances because of the offence, rather, they should wait upon Christ and the further actions of the church.
Each church and all its members are obliged to pray continually for the good and prosperity of all Christ's churches everywhere. At all times churches should assist all believers within the limits of their area and calling in exercising their gifts and graces. Therefore, when churches have been planted by the providence of God so that they may enjoy the opportunity and advantage [of fellowship], they should seek fellowship amongst themselves to promote peace, increase love, and mutual edification.
When difficulties or differences arise in points of doctrine or [church] administration which concern the peace unity and edification of churches in general or any single church, or when a member or members of a church are injured by disciplinary proceedings not consistent with truth [in the Word] and [church] order, it is according to the mind of Christ that a number of churches in fellowship together, through their representatives, should meet to consider the matter in dispute, give their advice about it and report to all the churches concerned.However, when these representatives are assembled, they are not entrusted with any real church power nor with any jurisdiction over the churches themselves; they cannot exercise discipline over any churches or persons, nor impose their conclusions on the churches or officers.
 John 13:34-35; 17:11,21-23; Ephesians 4:11-16; 6:18; Psalm 122:6; Romans 16:1-3; 3 John 1:8-10 with 2 John 1:5-11; Romans 15:26; 2 Corinthians 8:1-4,16-24; 9:12-15; Colossians 2:1 with 1:3,4,7 and 4:7,12