The Bible recognizes three major divisions of the human family in this dispensation...the Jew, the Gentile and the Church of God (I Cor. 10:32). As used in the New Testament, the word "church" denotes first the entire body of believers of all ages (Eph. 5:23-32), and secondly, individual groups of Christians meeting together (I Cor. 1:2).
The individual [local] church is therefore not a building but rather a band of true believers in Christ who assemble for the purpose of worship, Bible teaching and exhortation, and united service. The indispensable requisite is that such believers must meet about the spiritual presence of Christ (Acts 2:42-47; 14:23-28).
Groups of churches or denominations were unknown in the days of the writing of the New Testament. In fact, Paul by the Spirit discouraged the separation into individual groups which would have divided the Church (I Cor. 1:11-13; 3:1-9).
The birthday of the Church is on the day of Pentecost. It was on this day that the Holy Spirit came into the world to unite the believers around the person of Christ. The process by which believers are joined to Christ and one another is called the baptizing ministry of the Spirit (Acts 2:1-4; I Cor. 12:13).
Membership in the universal church is therefore conditioned first on the salvation of the individual, and then on the baptizing work of the Spirit. The local church rightly exercises every care to be sure the applicant for membership has genuinely passed from death to life.
The church today, strictly speaking, has no divine commission. All divine missions are given to the individual believer. However, together the Lord's challenge is to go into all the world with the story of the gospel (Matt. 28:19-20; Mark 16:15).
The era of the church which began at Pentecost will be ended at the second coming [rapture] of Christ when, the last member being added, the Lord will resurrect the saints who have died, and translate the living saints into His presence. Following this, they will be forever with the Lord (I Thess. 4:13-18; I Cor. 15:51-53).
Copied for WholesomeWords.org from Believer's First Bible Course by William W. Orr. Wheaton, Ill.: Scripture Press, 1956.