When is a local church a true New Testament Church? When most of the members are true believers? Even if only a minority are true believers? Wherever Christians are gathered in the Lord's Name? What qualifies a group to be considered a local assembly?
Actually the New Testament does not lay down hard and fast rules as to what an assembly is. It does state that where two or three are gathered in Christ's Name, He is in the midst (Matt. 18:20). And the Scriptures assume that those who compose the assembly are Christians, although it is also recognized that unbelievers are sometimes taken into the number unawares (Acts 20:29, 30). Also the New Testament seems to assume the presence of elders and deacons in the normal assembly (Phil. 1:1). But beyond that there is no final way for us to say that certain Christian groups are New Testament churches and that others are not. We can be grateful that we are not the judges in these cases.
If a group professes to be a Christian assembly, then it should manifest the truth of the church universal. it should be a miniature, a replica of the body of Christ. It should present a living portrayal of the church of the living God.
Now the situation among local churches in the world today is this. Some local assemblies depict the universal church very badly. Some do it more accurately. None does it perfectly. What you have is a wide range of churches with all different degrees of likeness to the universal church.
Some churches obviously have no right to be thought of as Christian assemblies. I am thinking of those liberal churches, for instance, that deny all the fundamental doctrines of the faith.
But then we have a wide variety of other churches that do acknowledge Jesus Christ as only Lord and Savior. Some are more evangelical than others. Who can say where the line is that divides those that are N. T. churches from those that are not? We have to leave them with the Lord. Our responsibility is to build according to the pattern, that is, to give a true likeness of the church in our own local assembly.
Certainly no assembly has any reason for pride. If we could see ourselves as the Lord sees us, we would probably shrivel up and die. Spiritual pride is itself a denial of the truth that we are seeking to uphold.
To what should we be loyal? Once again we emphasize that we should be loyal to the Scriptures, not to any church system or circle of fellowship. In a day of drift, we must constantly test everything by the Bible and act accordingly.
And there will be a price to pay. It costs something to follow New Testament principles. There will be reproach from the world and opposition from other Christians. But our responsibility is clear. We must obey God and leave the consequences with Him.