the weblog of Alan Knox

Local church again…

Posted by on May 10, 2007 in community, definition | 24 comments

I’ve posted several blogs about the modern definition and practice of the “local church” (see “City Church Revisited…“, “More on Defining the Church…“, “Ekklesia as a Qualitative Term…” and especially “Geographically Local Church…” and “Blurring the distinctions…“). In particular, I don’t see the modern exclusionary practices when we see the church in Scripture.

When I say “modern exclusionary practices”, I’m talking about the way that we recognize our responsibilities as believers toward other believers. In “modern exclusionary practices” we recognize our responsibilities as being limited only to those with whom we share “membership in a local church”, while we do not recognize our responsibilities toward other believers (even if they are our neighbors, coworkers, or family members).

Pecheur at “Crushed Leviathan” asks questions about the local church in a post called “How local is the local church?” He says:

I recently came across an article that pertained to the “local,” church. Now, I have always seen the church as a local visible body of baptised believers (that is for those of you who were wondering if I’d ever show my hand). This article was expressing how the church should be local geographically. In other words if someone had to travel some distance (of course that distance is relative) for church was it really local.

So how local is local? The author said if you have to travel more than 30 minutes, was that church really local? He added that believers needed to be close enough to be able to be involved in other’s lives on a pretty regular basis. So it is important to view the church as local and visible or can it remain universal and invisible?

Any thoughts?

In response, I commented:

You’ve asked a great question, and one that I have wrestled with on my blog. While location and distance are certainly important, I’m also concerned about how we see our connection to believers around us. If we drive even 5 minutes to meet with a group of believers, but never interact with the believers in our own neighborhood (because they belong to another local church), I think we have an invalid concept of local church.

I’m beginning to think of the “local church” as all believers with whom God allows me to interact. That includes the ones that I meet with regularly. But, it also includes my neighbors and co-workers who are believers. They are part of the local church for me, and we are responsible for one another just as the ones who share “membership”.

So, here is my question for you, my readers: What concerns would you have in seeing all believers that God brings into your life as part of your church? What benefits are there in recognizing the church in this way?


24 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 5-10-2007

    Alan -

    This post hits all-too-close to home for me. You asked: What concerns would you have in seeing all believers that God brings into your life as part of your church? What benefits are there in recognizing the church in this way?

    I don’t really have any concerns, unless I am at a place where I am expected to be within the 4 walls so much so that I do not have any time to minister to believers (even those within my own family) that may not also be contained within those same 4 walls. And so then the concern is not in seeing all believers as part of my church, but in the unrealistic and burdensome expectations of others.

    Benefits? I think that seeing all believers as part of my church opens up my world to so much more opportunity to minister, to edify, to glorify the Lord and to learn. At least that is what I have experienced in the past few months. As I have opened up my world, the Lord has opened me up as well. Opportunity abounds and I am truly enjoying, for the first time in my life I think, being salt and light.

    Thank you for posting this :)

    Peace…
    ~Heather

  2. 5-10-2007

    Alan,

    Regarding your question: I have no concerns at all.

    When my wife and I were young (30’s), we, and our five children, traveled 32 miles to church. That really was our “local” church.

    From that extreme I have come to believe that the local Body is those believers, who are truly local, are within a radius of ten to fifteen minutes walking distance from one’s home (we may not actually walk to the furthest ones).

    I have met people, who travel long distances to attend “church”,so that they, quote, “cannot be expected to support the many activities of the church”.

    I thoroughly agree with your comment,”think of the “local church” as all believers with whom God allows me to interact. That includes the ones that I meet with regularly. But, it also includes my neighbors and co-workers who are believers. They are part of the local church for me, and we are responsible for one another just as the ones who share “membership”.”

    An interesting thought occurs to me: There is a sense that those who interact with each other, in blogs such as yours,have become “local”. You are in my office, on my computer screen as I write.

  3. 5-10-2007

    Heather and Aussie John,

    Thank you for your comments. My thoughts are similar to yours. I am hoping that someone who disagrees will take part in this discussion as well. I want to ensure that I am thinking through this from all different perspectives.

    -Alan

  4. 5-11-2007

    Well, I disagree. I mean if local means EVERYONE who says they believe in Jesus who lives nearby then that could include all kinds of irritating people. There are a lot of annoying people out there and I don’think that Jesus really intended for me to waste my time caring about all of them. Look, for two thousand years Christians have found a perfectly acceptable method of ostricizing each other without getting too personnal. We have our little organizations we call churches and they are a part of denominations that we have created so that we can stay separate. I am not saying I am better than anyone else but you know what I mean…. we can keep the folks that believe lots of stupid stuff or the folks that worship God is silly ways far away from us this way. We don’t have to interact with them and we don’t have to serve them. We can claim to the world that we love everyone and it will be easy to do as long as people with whom I disagree with stay on the other side of town. I can’t really believe that you want to mess with this system? You are being hypothetical right?

  5. 5-11-2007

    Alan,

    I’ll try to be difficult in just a minute.

    First, I agree with what you are saying. We clearly have responsibility toward all of our brothers and sisters in Christ regardless of denomination, etc.

    Here is the difficulty: how do you keep people accountable if you are not sharing life with them? We certainly cannot be close acquaintances with all Christians we come in contact with. How is church discipline handled?

    I’m not trying to create an artificial Universal-local church dichotomy, but I also wonder how we can carry out some of the aspects of the church with all of the Christians we come in contact with.

    It seems that we can be loving toward, serve, build up, and nurture all Christians. I hope we would try to do this, albeit possibly in different ways, with non-Christians as well. However, I also think we have responsibility toward those within the local church that simply cannot be carried out toward the larger church as a whole.

    I hope I am not arguing simply from pragmatics. I guess what I am asking is this: how can you keep someone accountable when you do not know them well?

  6. 5-11-2007

    Strider,

    Thank you for the laugh this morning. (At least, I think you’re being sarcastic.)

    I have heard the (serious) argument before that multiple denominations and multiple local churches in a small geographic area helps Christians maintain unity.

    -Alan

  7. 5-11-2007

    Eric,

    I don’t think you’re being difficult. I think you’ve asked a very good question, that ALL believers should continue to struggle with. Let me explain…

    A professor who is a member of a church of thousands of people was asked a similar question recently. He was arguing that we should not partake of the Lord’s Supper with other “churches” because we do not know them. Someone (I don’t think it was me) asked him if he knew all the people in his “church” of thousands. He admitted he did not, but said that was different. Honestly, I don’t see the difference.

    I think the same is true here. Can we know everyone with the same amount of intimacy? No. But, the question for me is, how are we reacting and relating to the people that we do know – whatever “level” of knowledge that is?

    Turning to the question of discipline: it seems that discipline has more to do with withdrawing fellowship with the goal of restoring the person to fellowship. I think this is possible regardless of one’s view of the local church. In fact, “my church” are those believers with whom I fellowship (that is, the believers that God brings into my life), then I will be better able to withdraw that fellowship. It seems that with the modern definition of local church, all that can be withdrawn (organizationally) is attendance and participation.

    This is a good question. I believe this is a question that all believers should wrestle with, whether they accept my view of the local church or not.

    -Alan

  8. 5-11-2007

    Alan,

    I as well like the idea of “being church” with all believers in my locality, and think it is something we should all try to do more in principle and in attitude.

    However, I guess I’m still struggling, along with Eric, on the discipline question as well. It still seems to me that, in the real world, whenever something is everyone’s responsibility, then, de facto, it is no one’s responsibility. It seems to me, from passages such as Matthew 18, and 1 Corinthians 5, that there is a certain protocol to be followed, that assumes a certain structure and definition of who’s who in the church, and who has the responsibility for leading out in decision-making.

  9. 5-11-2007

    It puzzles me that whenever this conversation occurs someone begins talking about church discipline. Like it ever happens! In the west, outside of housegroups we all go to churches of 50 to 5000 members and the pastor will stand up on Sunday and say something nice about the family because it’s Mother’s Day (Don’t forget) and nobody in the auditorium has any clue as to what kind of husband and father this guy is. What does he do at home? Have you ever even been to his house other than ‘Open house’ during the Christmas season? Alright, YOU know because you really care but do all five thousand of you know? We don’t have church discipline NOW under the current circumstances so why bring it up as an obstacle to a new paradigm? I am not being argumentative here, I really do not understand this.

  10. 5-11-2007

    Thanks for saying that Strider!!! I agree … it puzzles me too. So, is that the only argument against “the local church” idea here that we can come up with?

    ~Heather

  11. 5-11-2007

    I think we would all agree that church discipline is a biblical concept. We would all probably also agree that it rarely occurs. That is one of the reasons why we have so much blatant sin in the church.

    However, just because churches aren’t practicing church discipline is no reason to ignore the fact that we should be performing it. In light of that, I again ask: How do we keep others accountable who we do not know well?

  12. 5-11-2007

    Strider,

    One thing I like about Alan’s blog, as I understand it, is that it is not mainly about different models of church (traditional, or house church, etc.), but rather about what does Scripture itself say (Not that I am uninterested in talking about models of church as well).

    The reason for bringing up discipline is because the Bible talks about it, and, from what I am able to understand, it is indeed tied in somehow to a biblical understanding of what church is all about.

  13. 5-11-2007

    Alan,

    I appreciated Strider’s tongue-in- cheek comments.

    On the other hand, I am saddened by the reality which he describes, and I suspect he realizes that he was actually describing the underlying philosophy of many churches, certainly most of the denominational/institutional ones, with whom I’ve had contact.

    Eric’s comment regarding “accountability” also strikes a chord with me because I believe that much of what is promoted as “accountability, has in fact, no Biblical basis. I am referring to the culture in which I live where “accountability” is more akin to secular philosophy than Biblical.

    Accountability would never be an issue if we were to practice Biblical responsibility(which I assume David is meaning), towards each other. That’s what the “one anothers” of the N.T.are all about.

    Of the very many times a person has come to me expecting that I would “bring to account” some one of the brethren, not one would personally speak to the person concerned according to Matthew 18, which I think has much more to say TO the one bringing a charge than ABOUT the one being charged.

    Without exception, the times when I’ve seen a church bringing someone to a place of “accountability”, it has been an opportunity for the “spiritual policemen” to flex their muscles, or the Pharisees to beat their chests. These occasions have never been out of compassion and concern for the spiritual well being of the one being brought to “account”.

    As I said I agree with you Alan.

  14. 5-11-2007

    I really appreciate the questions concerning church discipline. Since Eric and (later) David asked this question, I have been thinking about church discipline. In fact, I plan to post something soon about Matthew 18 – something that no one had told me before, and something that I had not seen on my own.

    A couple of things I will mention in this comment. I believe (as Aussie John said) discipline should be carried out within the context of the “one anothers” of Scriptures. I believe that discipline is not working currently because the “one anothers” are not being practiced. Note that this does not depend on structure or leadership. Instead, it depends on each believer taking responisbility for his own brothers and sisters in Christ.

    Also, as I have thought about the various passages that deal with discipline – specifically, the passages of Scripture that deal with how to react to an unrepentant brother or sister – I’ve noticed that neither structure nor leadership is mentioned in any of those passages. (Now, I hope that my readers will double check this, because I could have missed something.)

    Could it be that structure and leadership are not necessary for what Jesus and Paul had in mind? I’m not saying that I have all the answers. However, I am willing to ask the question at this point.

    -Alan

  15. 5-11-2007

    Alan, sometimes it’s a bit freaky to me how I’ll come here to comment on something and see that you’ve already said the same thing.

    In this case, I saw the comments about discipline, and came here to say that Matthew 18 does not require structure or hierarchy to be carried out, and I found a comment from you that hadn’t shown up in Reader yet — questioning the need for structure or hierarchy vis a vis Matt 18! Amazing.

    So, instead of making the point, I will tell you that I agree with your hypothesis that passages dealing with discipline in Scripture do not reference structure or leadership. They are in the context of body fellowship and life.

    For example, when Matthew 18 says “Take it to the church” (if the previous two steps to reconciliation have failed), that is often read to mean that we take it to the elders, or the pastoral staff, of the church. But that’s not what it says. It says simply, “Take it to the church”.

    I take this to mean that we should call a meeting or something of the sort of the believers in our area and say, “Hey, here’s the situation blah blah blah” and let the whole church deal with it.

    With regard to discipline being brought up as a problem for certain models: I think the point that discipline is not hardly ever practiced is important to the conversation because it means that any existing models have failed in this regard, as well.

    It may not be the model of church that is at fault. It may be our interpretation (or mis-interpretation, as the case may be) of how discipline is to play out anyway.

  16. 5-12-2007

    Steve,

    Thanks for the comment. I hope you will come back and comment on my new post about Matthew 18 and Discipline.

    I have learned, that if I begin to think of “church” as people, many things change… including the process of discipline.

    -Alan

  17. 5-12-2007

    I think that it is good to attempt to truly live in the understanding that all of the believers in the community are a part of the local church.

    In doing this perhaps we make efforts to involve ourselves in relationships outside of our particular gathering of believers.

    This requires an inclusive attitude about interacting with other believers where we differ on the nonessentials. I’m not sure what our attitude should be toward local fellowships who are in greater degrees of error.

    Realistically though, as others have said, we can only intimately involve ourselves in a limited number of relationships. I don’t think the problem with that is really about accountability or discipline as much as it is about our responsibility to truly “one another” in those relationships.

    I think that the greater error is in lost opportunities to serve one another and express unity rather than in the risk that a circumstance of church discipline is going to slip under the radar.

  18. 5-14-2007

    Grace hit on a point that immediately jumped out to me. I love the idea of local actually meaning the hundreds (maybe thousands) of Christians I live within a few (<3) miles of.

    My next door neighbor, who I believe loves God and is a great neighbor, also loves Joel Osteen. She thinks that “You’re Best Life Now” is the greatest spiritual literary work since the Bible. When it comes to viewing life, we have totally different views of how God purposed to care for and save us.

    I liked that Grace used the term “non-essentials” and we should be able to agree on what they are.

    I can’t worship\have spiritual fellowship with someone who views God as a wishing well, a far off force, or an angry, drunken father waiting to beat his children.

    Sometimes division lines are good, sometimes not.

  19. 5-14-2007

    Oh…and good question Alan. Kudos!

  20. 5-14-2007

    Grace,

    I’m sorry that I missed your post earlier. You said: “I think that the greater error is in lost opportunities to serve one another and express unity rather than in the risk that a circumstance of church discipline is going to slip under the radar.” I think you are right. I have been told before that I don’t need to serve believers who do not share membership in the same group as me. Some will never say those words, but they live that way. Thank you for this comment.

    Chad,

    What if that person who views God as a wishing well has never heard anything different? What if that person is a brother or sister in Christ? Should we not disciple (or at least attempt to disciple) that person?

    -Alan

  21. 5-14-2007

    Alan,

    I am not disagreeing with your comment to Chad here. In fact, I tend to agree with it.

    However, for the sake of discussion, and to help me to think through some issues I have some questions about, I throw out this:

    What about “sheep-stealing”? If people consider themselves to be members of a particular local congregation, with a defined membership, and defined leadership structure, if we attempt to disciple/teach them in ways that are in disagreement with what the pastors/elders/teachers of their local congregation would want to disciple/teach them, when do we cross the line into “sheep-stealing”? Is there really even something called “sheep-stealing” that is, in and of itself, a bad thing?

  22. 5-14-2007

    Alan,

    I would agree that discipleship is a great thing to do especially when their view of God is flawed (from Scripture). However, I put it in the same category as speaking to a lost person – I speak the word of God and if I don’t see change I shake the dust off my feet and move on (Matthew 10). I’ll encourage growth, but I won’t argue and fight a person to see them change their mind.

    Chad

  23. 5-14-2007

    David,

    I think I understand what you are asking. However, I believe that all of us are part of God’s flock with Christ as our shepherd. I’m not sure that “sheep stealing” plays a part in discipleship. I will say this, though, if I am discipling someone just so they will be part of my group (my church) then I am not discipling with the right attitude or motive.

    -Alan

  24. 5-14-2007

    Chad,

    I would stop discipling someone only when one of us refuses to obey what God has shown us in Scripture. That is subjective… or spiritual discernment… but I don’t see another way to handle this.

    -Alan