the weblog of Alan Knox

Unity and the Church in a City

Posted by on Jun 16, 2008 in chain blog, definition, unity | 14 comments

This post is the eighth post in a chain blog on the topic of the “City Church”. I started this chain blog a few weeks ago in a post called “City Church – A Chain Blog“. See the end of this post for more “links” in this chain, and for more information about chain blogging.

So far in this chain blog, there have been some good posts and good discussion in the comments concerning the idea of one church in a city. As most of the bloggers have pointed out, the idea of a “city church” stems from Scripture, and the observance that scriptural authors recognized one church in a city, even though that church may meet as smaller groups of people, which are also called “churches”. We’ve discussed meetings of the city church, hindrances to the city church concept, and leadership in the city church. In this post, I’d like to toss around some ideas that may help others begin to recognize themselves as part of a larger “church” – that is, that every believers is co-member with every other believer in their area, especially those believers that God has brought into their lives, whether or not they share a formal “membership”.

Recognizing our connection with other believers in our area does not automatically make for a “city church”. However, followers of Jesus are so disjointed and disconnected now, that there seems to be a need for small steps before jumping into attempting to recognize (whether structured or unstructured) a church in a city. Here are a few suggestions of “small steps” (or large ones, depending on how you looking at it) they may help people recognize their mutual relationship with other believers in their area and the possibility of one church in a city.

Membership vs. Members of One Another
The idea that all believers are members with one another is a concept that is reiterated throughout Scripture. We become members of the body of Christ – and, therefore, co-members with one another – by the work of the Holy Spirit. The “one anothers” of Scripture demonstrate that the Spirit works within each of us toward any other believer that God brings into our lives. However, this idea of being mutual members with one another can be thwarted by the idea of “membership” in a particular organization. “Membership” itself is not a problem as long as it is not seen as being exclusive. However, occasionally “membership” is taken to be exclusive and the “one anothers” are only seen as applicable toward others with whom we share “membership”. This type of “membership” hinders unity among believers.

Leadership and Exclusive Domains
Sometimes, church leaders will get the idea that some of the people are their “domain”. Because of this, they become possessive and protective of their “church” – not in the sense of protecting from heresy, but in the sense of keeping them to themselves. Thus, it is seen as a bad thing if someone who is part of “their” church spends time with another leader. However, when leaders recognize that the church belongs to Jesus Christ, and when leaders desire to see people mature in Christ regardless of who helps those people, these leaders will welcome encouragement, edification, and teaching regardless of the source. These leaders will want people to mature if that means that these people are no longer part of “their” church. Leadership with an “exclusive domain” on people will hinder the unity of the church.

You went WHERE?
The concept of one church in a city and even unity within the church requires that believers form and maintain relationships among a diverse group of believers within their area – not just the leaders, but all believers. As believers form relationships with people who are part of other churches, they should feel the freedom and the encouragement to meet with those other churches. This is related to the previous two “small steps” and is perhaps one outward manifestation when a person begins to recognize unity among the body of Christ.

Again, these are a few “small steps”… but in many ways these are steps that directly contradict the prevailing attitude about “church” today. Can you think of other “small steps” that might help believers recognize the unity that Jesus desired and prayed for?

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Chain blog rules: (Note: I’ve modified Rule #3 slightly as requested by James.)

1) If you would like to write the next blog post (link) in this chain, leave a comment stating that you would like to do so. If someone else has already requested to write the next link, then please wait for that blog post and leave a comment there requesting to write the following link.

2) Feel free to leave comments here and discuss items in this blog post without taking part in the actual “chain”. Your comments and discussion are very important in this chain blog.

3) When you write a link in this chain, please reply in the comments of all previous links to let everyone know that your link is ready. Also, please try to keep an updated list of links in the chain at the bottom of your post, and please include these rules at the bottom of your post.

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“City Church” Chain

Link 1: “City Church – A Chain Blog” by Alan Knox
Link 2: “City Church: Meeting” by Charlie Wallace
Link 3: “Roadblocks on the Path to City Church” by David Rogers
Link 4: “The Major Roadblock to a City Church” by Steve Sensenig
Link 5: “The Resurrection of the City Church: Who Will Move the Stone?” by Paul Grabill
Link 6: “A City Church Thought Experiment” by Jon Amos
Link 7: “The Restoration of the City or Locality Church and Apostolic Leadership” by James Goetz
Link 8: “Unity and the Church in a City” by Alan Knox
Link 9: ?


14 Comments

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

  1. 6-16-2008

    Alan. I´m not sure I agree with the concept of “city church”, although I am familiar with the concept. I think the biblical base for this teaching is thin. Ekklesia in the original context seems to mean a distinct gathering of people (it´s a secular term). I can´t see how one could talk of A ekklesia that never gathers (like the church in the city). To me this seems to be a contradiction in terms. (I agree with Robert Banks on this one.) Most churches in mentioned in the NT seems to have been small, for example the church in Korinth might have been about 50 people. That might be a simple reason why there are not “churches” in Korinth, but only one church. Also, in Romans, the believers are never called “a church”, and the greetings instead suggests a handful of small independent (house)churches.

    I also think “city church” gives a theological focus on the city that is doubtful. The city appears to be a God-given entity whose boundaries God´s people should structure themselves around, despite the biblical tradition being very critical of the city.
    /Jonas Lundström
    http://blog.bahnhof.se/wb938188

  2. 6-16-2008

    Alan

    Just out of curiosity, do you think there are any theological differences that would prevent believers from being able to worship together? For instance, I’m a Calvanist. I wouldn’t havae the slightest problem with worshipping or serving with someone who is not, however. If a church had a woman as it’s pastor, I would not feel comfortable associating myself with that church. Likewise, I feel pretty sure they would look at me as a shortsighted, bigoted, male chauvanist pig.

  3. 6-16-2008

    Wonderful.
    I think it is a great thing.
    May we strive for unity.
    I was in Abilene this past weekend and counted 7 churches in a five blocks. What message does it send to non-believers when there is a church on ever corner. I pray we will set our differences aside and can strive to be One as God and Christ are one. May we be the church and Christians that Christ prayed for in John 17. We can be the answer to that beautiful pray by Christ. I am looking forward to reading more on this subject. Thank you for striving for unity and the Church in a City. You are to be commended for your faith and vision.

  4. 6-16-2008

    Alan,

    Unity and the Church in a City is definitely a thing that should be, in my opinion. However, I think that a couple of hinderances that stand in the way at this time are: 1) Competition – Pastors are viewed as to how successful they are by the numbers that attend their services each. A common question I hear Pastors ask each other on a regular basis is “How many are you running”. Like people are only valuable for the number they represent and not the souls that they are, to be saved and matured in Christ. 2) Alot of Pastors are into preserving their churches, because in doing so, they are preserving their paychecks. I’m just calling it as I see it.

  5. 6-16-2008

    Lightbearer

    Dude, you are so on target. It’s like most “professional ministers” are exclusive members of a mutual congratulatory society with secret handshakes and everything rather than being under-shepherd of the flock of God.

  6. 6-16-2008

    Alan, I agree with you. Sub-city church leaders cannot covet their members while some Christians might be better off in another nearby sub-city church. And there is balance to this issue. Christians shouldn’t casually float from one sub-city church to another while always avoiding discipleship and accountability. And many sub-city churches will depend upon committed volunteers.

  7. 6-16-2008

    Alan,

    I’ve avoided making comment before because I’m seeing myself in the conversation.

    In our early days of leadership, I and my peers were busy putting labels on everything theological and pseudo-theological. We thought that if we could discover what our forebears had missed we could solve what prevented us from functioning as the church of our ideals.

    I tend to think the search for “thing” on which to stick the label “the city church” is a red herring on which far too much energy,conversation and thought can be expended.

    The entity already exists. There is only One who needs to know its “living stones”. He is not only the builder (Matt.16:18)but part of it as the Chief Cornerstone(1 Peter).

    I once shared the ideal expressed in this chain blog. What I was looking for is reserved for the time when I see Him as He is. Until then much depends on how we are able to deal with the common corruption which affects us all, which is the very power behind the division we see and live.

    At this time, I believe, our greatest need is to have the same mindset towards fellow believers in our communities, as Christ had/has towards us.

  8. 6-16-2008

    Jonas,

    While I’m not sure what data points to only 50 believers in Corinth, I agree with almost everything that you’ve said. I don’t think of “city church” as an official structure, although I know that some who are taking part in this chain blog see it that way.

    Joe,

    There are many theological differences that keep brothers and sisters in Christ from worshiping, fellowshipping, serving, etc. together. The question that we rarely ask ourselves is this: According to Scripture, what should we allow to separate us? I think the list in Scripture is much shorter than the list that we use.

    Preacherman,

    What message does our divisiveness send to unbelievers? I think it tells them that we don’t really believe what we say we believe.

    Gary,

    Yes, I think those are hindrances to unity as well. It seems that we have created a system that thrives on division instead of maintaining unity.

    James,

    I think we’ve (historically) created a system of mutual co-dependency. “Clergy” are dependent on the “laity”, and the “laity” are dependent on the “clergy” – though I don’t like those terms. Both will have to change to see a change in the system.

    -Alan

  9. 6-16-2008

    Aussie John,

    You said, “At this time, I believe, our greatest need is to have the same mindset towards fellow believers in our communities, as Christ had/has towards us.” This statement reminds me of Paul’s statement in Romans 15:7 – “Accept one another just as Christ also accepted us, to the glory of God”. By the way, this statement was also made in the context of theological differences.

    -Alan

  10. 6-17-2008

    Jonas said: Alan. I´m not sure I agree with the concept of “city church”, although I am familiar with the concept. I think the biblical base for this teaching is thin. Ekklesia in the original context seems to mean a distinct gathering of people (it´s a secular term). I can´t see how one could talk of A ekklesia that never gathers (like the church in the city). To me this seems to be a contradiction in terms.

    Jonas, I don’t know how you can possibly say what you’ve said above. City Church is not only the only model the NT knows, but denominationalism/extra-local networks is/are specifically condemned in 1 Cor 1 and 3. Can you help me understand what you think NT ecclesiology looks like if it doesn’t look like City Church.

    I do think you make a good point about ekklesia, but here in State College we have, indeed, assembled together on multiple occasions (even multiple times on Sunday mornings), as a city-wide celebration. I think we can safely assume that as the churches of various NT cities grew that they outgrew what any single home could accomodate and would have gathered as a whole body less frequently than when they had 40 or less. We’re still working on it. Please pray that we get it right.

  11. 6-17-2008

    Hi Paul and Jonas,

    This motivated me to compare some verses with the words “church” and “churches”. I used the NASB at [BibleGateway.com]. I’ll defer to a Greek scholar if the NASB words for “church” and “churches” are not translated from ekklesia.

    I got 79 verses with “church”.

    Here are some verses referring to the worldwide church:
    Matthew 16:18 I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.
    Acts 9:31 So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase. (This was the entire church at the time.)
    1 Corinthians 12:28 And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.
    Ephesians 5:32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.
    Colossians 1:24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.
    1 Timothy 3:15 but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.

    Here are verses referring to one or more city church:
    Acts 13:1 Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.
    Acts 14:21-23 After they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
    Acts 18:22 When he had landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church, and went down to Antioch.
    Romans 16:1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea;
    1 Corinthians 1:2 To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours:
    2 Corinthians 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God which is at Corinth with all the saints who are throughout Achaia:
    Colossians 4:16 When this letter is read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and you, for your part read my letter that is coming from Laodicea.
    1 Thessalonians 1:1 Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.
    2 Thessalonians 1:1 Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
    Revelation 2:1 To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:
    Revelation 2:8 And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write:
    Revelation 2:12 And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write:
    Revelation 2:18 And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write:
    Revelation 3:1 To the angel of the church in Sardis write:
    Revelation 3:7 And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:
    Revelation 3:14 To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:

    Here are verses referring to a house church:
    Romans 16:5 also greet the church that is in their house
    1 Corinthians 16:19 Aquila and Prisca greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.
    Colossians 4:15 Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea and also Nympha and the church that is in her house.
    Philemon 1:2 and to Apphia our sister, and to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:

    And there are 34 verses with the term “churches”. The plurality of the term suggests divisions while all such divisions are geographical instead of sectarian. Since I already quoted way too much, sorry, I’ll only list one quote with “churches”:
    Acts 15:41 And he was traveling through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

    According to the New Testament, the term church sometimes referred to the worldwide church while the term sometimes referred to city churches or smaller house churches.

  12. 6-17-2008

    Paul and James,

    Thank you both for continuing this discussion. I’ve learned alot through considering everyone’s perspective on the city church.

    -Alan

  13. 11-24-2009

    Alan
    I would like to post the next in the chain if it hasn’t been taken already.

    I would like to talk about how the city church provides a degree of missiological strategic unity which is typically lost in the us/them system.

  14. 11-24-2009

    rastis,

    This chain blog on “city church” ended just over a year ago. Laura at “Who in the World Are We” recently started writing about “city church” again and referenced this chain, but the chain itself is closed.

    I would love to read your thoughts though. So, please, write your post and let us know when it’s published.

    -Alan