Many Christians make a strong distinction between the “universal” and “local” church. For example, John S. Hammett writes, “Local and universal is the most widely used terminology for the twofold meaning for ekklesia found in the New Testament.” (Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches) (See this post for further discussion of the “local” and “universal” distinctions.) For the purpose of this post, I will assume that Hammett is correct: the New Testament uses the term ekklesia to specify a “local church” and a “universal church”. However, even if this distinction is correct, it does not mean that we generally use “local church” in the same manner that Scripture recognizes a “local church”.
For example, “church” in the NT (when not used of the “universal” church), always designates a geographical group of people. (UPDATE: When I say “a geographical group of people,” I mean a group of people in the same geographical area. HT: Lew) For example, there is the church in Jerusalem, the church in Antioch, the church in Ephesus, etc. Yes, there are churches based in homes. But there is no indication that these churches were removed (separate) from the geographical church in the respective city.
However, today we use the term “local church” differently. We do not use “church” to specify a “geographical locale”, but instead we use the term to differentiate based on structure, organization, theology, etc. For example, the people in the houses around me attend four different “churches”. In fact, even though we are all brothers and sisters in Christ (in theory), we rarely interact. And, this is considered normal.
However, I do not think this is biblical, nor does it describe how the biblical authors use the term “church”. What do you think?