When Paul wrote to the church in Philippi (4:15) he addressed “all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons” (l:1).
Saints are “set apart” people, who have come “out of darkness into His marvelous light” ( 1 Peter 2:9), who belong to the Lord (l Corinthians 6:20). This is another way of saying that all Christians are saints (in the N.T. sense) and beatification by some Roman council has nothing to do with it.
One does not become a saint by “joining” the church; but one becomes ·a part of the church by becoming a saint. The church does not save; it is the saved. Thus we read in Act,2:47, “And the Lord added to the church (“to them” “together” ARV) daily (day by day) such as should be saved (those that were being saved).
The word church is a collective word, such as “herd” “covey” “flock.” Literally, it indicates collection or assembly (called- · out people) and is translated “assembly” in Act.19:32,39,41, with no reference what-so-ever to God’s people. In some places it refers to saints literally assembled (l Corinthians 11:18) but is perhaps more often used to “collect” figuratively those who have something in common.
All of God’s children (the firstborn ones, Hebrews 12:22,23) make up the church in its general or universal sense. They are “collected” in this designation because they have something in common — their relationship to God the Father. They need not know one another, and God authorizes no plan for collective acts. But as each seeks to serve God through Jesus Christ, he “glorifies God in the church”(Ephesians 1:6,12; 2:6,22; 3:21). The reader is blind indeed who tries to bind these pages to the local organized church.
But there are requirements, and provisions in the N.T., for saints to work collectively — to function as a unit. They were to assemble (Hebrews 10:2S), worship (1 Corinthians 11:22f), have overseers (Acts 14:23), a treasury (1 Corinthians 16:2) etc. It was to such a group as this that Paul addressed the Philippian letter, and he called them a “church” (Philippians 4:15). This is the local church or congregation - the largest, smallest, and only organization of Christians given divine sanction in the New Testament.
These saints are “collected” by something more than a common relationship to God; they enter into a certain oneness by agreement (cf. Acts 9:26-28; 3 John 10); discipline one another(Matthew 18:17; l Corinthians 5); have servants (Romans 16:1) and send messengers (Philippians 2:25); and in many other ways work as one — collectively.
Many errors arise because we fail to recognize the N.T. definition of “church” (ex.: the importance of being a member) or the· various uses of the word (ex.: some try to make each obligation of the individual saint, an obligation of the :local church.)
Careful reading “would from many a blunder free us, and foolish notion.” Beside that, we might learn something.
Robert F. Turner – Plain Talk (April 1964)