the weblog of Alan Knox

The trans-congregational church

Posted by on Mar 3, 2009 in community, definition, fellowship, unity | 11 comments

In a recent study concern community development in the New Testament, I came across an article called “The Trans-Congregational Church in the New Testament” by Jefrey Kloha (Concordia Journal 34 no 3, July 2008, 172-190).

In this article, Kloha suggests that the term “ekklesia” was used for local congregations that generally met in houses, and more generally for the church-at-large – the heavenly assembly – the “universal church” – the una sancta. But, Kloha says there is a third usage of the term “ekklesia” in the New Testament, which he calls “the trans-congregational church”. He says this “trans-congregational church” consisted of “several (or many) local congregations conceived of corporately”. (173)

Kloha suggests several examples of “the trans-congregational church” in the New Testament. For example, he says that the “church in Jerusalem” could not have met in one place – even the temple courts – so, they must have met in many locations. However, they were considered a single “church”. Also, Kloha says the singular use of “ekklesia” in Acts 9:31 indicates that the individual congregations of Judea, Galilee, and Samaria were considered one church. (Yes, he does discuss the plural variant in this passage, albeit briefly.)

Also, Kloha suggests that the trans-congregational church is demonstrated in the relationships between churches. For example, there is a close connection between the church of Jerusalem and the church of Antioch. Kloha recalls that Paul told the church in Collosae to read his letter to the Laodiceans, and vice versa, indicating a relational connection between the congregations – or multiple congregations – in each city. Paul recognizes the relationships between the various churches in Rome as well (Romans 16).

I think that Kloha has pointed out something that may be missing among the church today. The church has become so exclusive and independent that we often miss the fact that we are united with other brothers and sisters in Christ as well – not only with the ones that meet with us from day-to-day or week-to-week. Kloha offers this concern at the end of his article as well:

By ignoring the NT understanding of the trans-congregational nature of the church we have weakened the bonds of fellowship, mutual concern and support, and unity in doctrine and practice which should inform and indeed define our life together as church. By turning again to the New Testament we might sharpen our understanding of church and apply that understanding to our structure. (191)

I think Kloha has inadvertently (or perhaps intentionally) pointed to one of the problem – structure. Many churches have structured themselves in a way that precludes trans-congregational relationships.

In the life of our community, we have seen this in action. We often encourage our brothers and sisters to meet with other churches. In fact, our elders have met with other churches. Of course, we have to explain that we are not unhappy with our church, nor are we interested in “joining” their church. We simply want to build relationships with other brothers and sisters in Christ.

When we talk about the possibility of other “church members” or leadership meeting with us to further build relationships, this seems strange and odd to them – like they would be unfaithful to their church or their pastor.

Our view of church has become so exclusive and structured that we have a hard time recognizing our relationship to those in “other churches”. So, I agree with Kloha that we have (for the most part) lost this idea of “the trans-congregational church”.

What do you think? Is it important for believers to have “trans-congregational” relationships? Why or why not?


11 Comments

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  1. 3-3-2009

    Alan, iron sharpens iron. I think one reason for the lack of trans-congregational relationships in many churches is the sermon series. When the pastor emphasizes expository preaching, and he just started a 2,385 year series in Romans, each and every message needs to be heard. We simply cannot afford to miss a week. (semi-satire) We place so much emphasis on attendance – attending our own assembly – that we miss out on real opportunities for fellowship with others.

  2. 3-3-2009

    Think about this. We(our family) have a lot of friends who we are close to, that go to other “churches”. We have fellowship outside of the official “church” meetings.

    The relationships are genuine and real. I think we as individual believers are able to fellowship, but it is the institutions that are not able to relate and fellowship. I don’t think it is the heart of the individuals for this to happen. However, when you try to mix two competing institutions together, it is like mixing oil and water.

  3. 3-3-2009

    Alan,

    I think it is important to have trans-congregational relationships. But, Pastors sometimes get offended when you visit a congregation elsewhere. It’s almost like they want sworm allegiance to their institution. On the occassion when churches have joint services, it’s almost always with a church within the same denomination or movement.

    To even have a name for befriending believers of other congregations suggests to me there is a problem. Because this sort of thing should really be regular and not only expected, but encouraged. Although, that’ just my opinion.

    Blessings,
    Gary

  4. 3-3-2009

    I concur with some of the comments here. It is sometimes viewed as a betrayal, like you are shopping around, if you are in fellowship in a different church body instead of the one you are a “member” of. When our worship becomes something we market in a competition with other churches, that might be a sign of a problem.

  5. 3-3-2009

    If trans-congregational involves visiting other “church services”, that probably is not likely to happen very often. Those folks may sing the wrong songs, read their prayers, allow women to teach or whatever it is we may dislike.

    On the other hand, we have discovered that gathering with a variety of believers to serve the community is an excellent vehicle to get to know each other. Theology and other points at which we divide take a back seat.

    We have attended music and movie nights that were sponsored by a variety of denominations and congregations. While a first step in the right direction, most people are just an audience, and interactions with people from other groups is very limited.

    Working alongside others while painting a house, cleaning a yard or what have you, however, lends itself to natural conversation, and few people feel it necessary to discuss doctrine.

    Yes, I think it is important to have relationships with a variety of believers. Is not the body of Christ stronger if we are united?

  6. 3-3-2009

    Steve,

    I think you’re right that the current models of leadership and teaching/preaching in the modern church tends to hinder trans-congregational relationships.

    Jack,

    You mean your family maintains relationships outside of your family???? :)

    Gary,

    You said, “Because this sort of thing should really be regular and not only expected, but encouraged.” I agree. We do encourage people to maintain relationships with people from other congregations, and even encourage people to skip meeting with us in order to meet with them… weird, huh?

    Arthur,

    Do you think feelings of “betrayal” indicate that we have a wrong view of who believers are supposed to be loyal to?

    Sam,

    I agree that service is a great way to build and maintain relationships between different groups of believers!

    -Alan

  7. 3-3-2009

    Alan,

    That’s definitely weird. I wish the Church at large was as weird as your congregation.

    That is the only way to create true unity in the Body of Christ.

    Blessings,
    Gary

  8. 3-3-2009

    This reminds me of a Franklin Graham festival that came to town. I would say that “the Church at Winnipeg” was acting like one Church that week. The Church at/in Winnipeg was serving together, worshiping together, and witnessing together.

    For the past few years our family has tried to visit the other church traditions in our area to gain some respect and understanding. We’ve had to throw out a number of of our stereotypes in the process.

    I’ve never used such a big word, but I think I’ve been trying to view ‘church’ as trans-congregational lately. But it’s hard to see.

    Thanks for the insight, and giving me a big word to use. :)

  9. 3-3-2009

    Gary,

    We’re certainly not perfect – not weird enough? :)

    But I am very excited about what God is doing in our lives.

    Jonathan,

    I didn’t make up the term “trans-congregational church”. Lately, I’ve been tossing around the term “trans-community” or “intra-community”.

    -Alan

  10. 3-3-2009

    Thanks for the reply Alan. Just want to make sure you know I wasn’t taking a jab at you for coming up with another term for us. Sometimes tone of voice gets lost in type.

    God bless.

  11. 3-3-2009

    Jonathan,

    No, I didn’t think you were taking a jab at me. I wanted to make sure that I didn’t get credit for someone else’s term.

    -Alan