While the universal church is defined as being comprised of all believers between Acts 2 and the Rapture and consists of believers only, the local church has a different definition.

The local church is a group of professing believers in the Messiah who have been baptized and have organized themselves under the leadership of elders and deacons for the purpose of carrying out the Great Commission; for conducting the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper; for building up of the Body through the worship of God, the fellowship of believers, the teaching of the Word, and the exercise of spiritual gifts.

Some simply define the church as being “where two or three are gathered together.” All Matthew 18:20 teaches is that where two or three are gathered together, the Messiah is in the midst of them. But this is not the definition of a local church. A local church is much more, than merely where two or three are gathered together.

One last thing by way of defining exactly what a local church is: the local church is also the Temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16–17).


The Purposes of the Local Church

There are many purposes to the local assembling of believers.

  • To teach Bible doctrine, to teach the content of Scripture, to teach the whole counsel of God (Acts 2:42; 11:26; 1 Tim. 3:15–16).
  • To exercise the function of priesthood (1 Cor. 16:1–2; 2 Cor. 8:1–15; Phil. 4:18). All believers are a priesthood, and every believer is to exercise the function of a priest, which is representing the people to God.
  • For corporate prayer. (Acts 2:42; 4:31; 12:5, 12; Heb. 13:15).
  • To observe the ordinances. (Acts 2:41–42; 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:23–29).
  • To exercise spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12, 13, 14).
  • To exercise church discipline and spiritual discipline (1 Cor. 5:1–13; 2 Thes. 3:14–15; 1 Tim. 5:20).
  • To send out missionaries around the world. (Acts 11:22–24; 13:1–4).
  • To provide for the needy, in particular, the needy among believers. (Acts 6:1–6; 2 Cor. 8:4–7; 1 Tim. 5:16; Jas. 1:27).
  • To make disciples and disciple believers. (Mat. 28:18–20).
  • To build up the Body of the Messiah (not just Local Body but the Universal Body) in order that individual members of the Body might be firmly planted and rooted in the Word of God. (Eph. 4:12)
  • To do good in this world in general, but emphasizing especially good to those who are of the household of faith (Gal. 6:10).
  • To show the love of the Messiah so that the world can see the believer’s love for Him (Rev. 2:4–5).
  • To glorify God in its ministry (Rom. 15:6, 9; Eph. 3:21; 2 Thes. 1:12; 1 Pet. 4:11).


Biblical form of government within the local body

Exactly what is the biblical form of church government? The biblical form of government is that each church is totally independent from one another. There is no hierarchy of authorities over many churches, and no denominational structure. There is no higher spiritual court of appeals than the local church.

Each local church is to be ruled by a plurality of elders and they are the authority of the church. The relationship of the elders to the people is often that of shepherds and sheep. Each local church is ruled by elders, not a singular elder who can let power go to his head and become a dictator, but rather each local church is ruled by a plurality of elders who are coequal.



Elders are the ruling body of the local church. The Greek word is presbuteros from which the word “presbytery” comes. The word “elder” emphasizes the office itself and the position of authority that lies with the office.

A second term for the same office is “bishop.” The Greek word is episkopos, which is the origin of the English word “episcopal.” This term emphasizes the function of the office, and that is general oversight (Acts 20:28; Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:1–2; Titus 1:7; 1 Pet. 2:25).

The third main term used of the same office is the word “pastor.” The Greek word is poimanos, which emphasizes the aspect of shepherding and feeding (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 2:25; 5:1–2).

These three terms describe the office. They are not three different offices, but are three different terms describing the same office.

The concept of “elder” originated from the concept of the elders of Israel who had authority within the body of Israel. Remember, all of the early church leaders and members were Jews, and they would naturally have brought in much of their Jewish frame of reference when the Church was born. Therefore, the concept of “elder” arises out of the elder within the nation of Israel who was able to exercise authority. From a Jewish frame of reference, this is the biblical form of government; it is encouraging to see more and more churches switching over to this form of government as they see clearly what the Bible teaches.


The Number of Elders

How many elders should a church have? The answer is: a plurality. The Bible never envisioned one pastor over a congregation. This is always dangerous and has led to some pastors becoming dictatorial over the congregants. Whenever the Bible speaks of a local church and its elders, it is always a plurality of elders, not a singular elder over many (Acts 14:23; 20:17; Phil. 1:1; Titus


Types of Elders

What are the different types of elders? There are two types of elders according to 1 Timothy 5:17. There should be a plurality of ruling elders, and within that group, a plurality of teaching elders as well. Paul writes that both ruling and teaching elders are to receive financial remuneration, especially the teaching elders.


The Duties of the Elder

  • First, they are to rule, which is emphasized by the title of elder (1 Tim. 3:4–5; 5:17; 1 Thes. 5:12).
  • They are to oversee. (1 Tim. 3:1; 5:1–3).
  • Thirdly, they are to feed the flock. (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2).
  • They are to guard right doctrine. (Titus 1:9; Acts 15:1–6; 15:22–29; 16:4; Heb. 13:17).
  • They are to anoint the sick, if called upon by a sick believer. If the sick believer knows that his sickness is due to a specific sin, then he is to call for the elders of the church, who are to anoint him (Jas. 5:14–15).
  • They are to supervise financial matters (Acts 11:27–30).



There are two main passages in the New Testament that detail the qualifications of an elder.


1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:6–9

If one puts the passages of Titus and Timothy together, an elder has quite a number of qualifications, and it is very important that no one is appointed to the office of an elder unless he meets all of these qualifications. The problem is with people who were put into that office who have never met these particular qualifications.

Here are the qualifications:

  • He must desire this position. He must not be pushed into it.
  • He must be above who is above reproach.
  • He must be the husband of one wife, or “a one woman man.” This text could be understood in two ways therefore each local church must make its own decision about what it feels this passage means, and then consistently function accordingly and not make exceptions to the rule depending on each case. It is when a church acts inconsistently on this matter that bad feelings arise.
  • He must be temperate, mentally alert and able to make sound judgments.
  • He must be prudent, of sound mind, have self-control, and not be impulsive.
  • He must behave well and have a well-ordered life.
  • He must be hospitable and exercise a love of strangers, a love of hospitality to people in general, not only to those close to him.
  • He should be able to teach. This does not necessarily require the gift of teaching, but he should have a minimum amount of ability to teach.
  • He is not to be addicted to wine.
  • He must not be given to physical violence.
  • He should be gentle and patient.
  • He should not be contentious.
  • He should not be a lover of money;
  • He should be able to rule his own house. The fact that the children are in subjection shows that the person has exercised discipline over his children.
  • He must not be a new believer but spiritually mature.
  • He must have a good reputation with those outside the church. They may not respect his beliefs, but they should respect his conduct and his way of life.

If one puts the passages of Titus and Timothy together, an elder has quite a number of qualifications, and it is very important that no one is appointed to the office of an elder unless he meets all of these qualifications. The problem is with people who were put into that office who have never met these particular qualifications.



What will be the rewards of the elders if they fulfill their roles in the biblical way? According to 1 Peter 5:4, those who do fulfill their roles in a biblical way will receive as their reward one of the five crowns of Scripture: the crown of glory.


Limitations of Elder Authority

The authority given to elders is in matters dealing with the local church. It is the elders who make decisions concerning which missionaries or mission boards they will support, what is going to be taught in various Sunday School classes, what is going to be the series of messages in the Sunday morning service, how the morning worship service is going to be conducted, when and how communion is going to be served, among other things. However, they have no authority in a believer’s personal spiritual life. An elder cannot tell one whom to marry or not to marry, where to work or not to work. The elder’s authority ceases outside the local church.


To get the free Local Church, manuscript #106, by Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum, please click here. Topics covered in this manuscript also include the Sabbath and Sunday, and the Role of Women in the Church.


Click here for the complete teaching: Leadership in the Local Messianic Congregation