I love that line. “‘To the church in…’ suggests unity as opposed to exclusion.” I stole that line from my friend Eric (from “A Pilgrim’s Progress“) in his post “To the Church in…” In part of the article, Eric says:
As I have read Paul’s letters over the years, I have pictured him writing to a local body. In particular, I have pictured those who are in the church (of some city) to the exclusion of those who aren’t in the church. I suppose I was inadvertently taking the modern view of church membership and placing it upon those churches. For example, I was picturing Paul writing to the members of the church in Rome, while not writing to those who were not members.
As I read Paul’s letters today, I think the apostle was emphasizing something else when he wrote, “To the church in…” Paul was making it clear that he was writing to ALL the saved people/followers of Jesus/Christians who happened to reside in a particular city. Paul had no aim of excluding any Christian from hearing the letter, but was simply addressing it to those who were in the church body in a particular geographic region…
This ought to make us think about how we view the church. If Paul wrote to all the Christians in an area, it is clear that he considered them ALL to be part of the church. Paul did not make the universal/local distinction that we tend to make in the modern church. If Paul saw, for example, all the Christians in a city as part of the church of that city, that should inform us as we think about issues of unity and membership.
I agree, Eric. When “membership” becomes exclusionary, it is also divisive and it also becomes unscriptural. Great post!