First of all let me emphasize clearly that when we use the word Church we are primarily referring to the spiritual union of God with His called out ones, who have been washed and cleansed by the blood of Jesus, and are now indwelt by the Spirit of Christ. All persons that have been born again by the living and abiding word of God are members of the body of Christ which is His bride. The basis for this membership is a spiritual union with Christ. That being said, there is obviously a physical and earthly aspect to the Church. When God's people gather together to worship, pray, and fellowship, we define this as the Church getting together. We do not “go to church”, “meet at a church”, or “join a church”. Rather we meet with the Church and as the Church. Our corporate gatherings are the gatherings of the Church.
What The Church Is Not
Contrary to much of our popular terminology today, the Church is not a building. Neither is it a denomination, nor an institutionalized collection of localities or assemblies. Christ has one body, and members worldwide belong to that one body, His Church. In this aspect the word catholic (universal) is accurate. The expression of Christ's body is that of the local Church, or local assembly of God's people.
Now the question I want to ask you is this. How does the Church today determine who has authority to define doctrine, practice, and teaching? Is there a basis for hierarchal authority in the Church outside of a locality? What are the limits of the elders authority?
The answer seems fairly clear from scripture. Elders (pastors and teachers) have the charge over their local assembly and beyond that do not carry much authority. As an apostle Paul wrote to many churches with authority, but few in the Church today would admit to any apostolic ministry or office still in existence.
So how do we decide what a Church will belief, teach, and practice. From what I have seen many Christians choose to follow their favorite theologians over the elders and pastors of their local church. Do these theologians really have any grounds for the authority they presume? Of course many of them have been pastors and teachers in their respective churches and from those ministries have brought forth many writings that edify, encourage, and exhort the larger body of Christ. Still, do these theologians at large have the right to dictate doctrine for us today?
"Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you". Heb 13:17
From this verse we see the importance of understanding who it is we must submit to. Who is it that has the rule over us in the Church? I submit to you that there is no authority in the Church above the local rule of the elders, and this only in accordance with the truth of God's Word and the Spirit of God.