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God does not view your local church as distinct from other local churches in your area

Posted by on Feb 22, 2012 in community, definition, fellowship | 11 comments

God does not view your local church as distinct from other local churches in your area

So, I made a claim in the title of this post with which some will readily agree and with which some with just as readily disagree: God does not view your local church as distinct from other local churches in your area.

In Scripture, we do see examples of groups of believers meeting together regularly in certain locations. For example, Paul tells the Christians in Rome to greet the church in Prisca and Aquila’ house. (Romans 16:5) He also tells them to greet the brothers and sisters who were with Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, and Hermas (Romans 16:14) and to greet the saints who were with Philologus, Julia, Nereus and Olympas. (Romans 16:15)

It seems clear from these greetings that Paul knew that these believers normally met together in some way. However, this does not mean that these groups of believers were distinct from one another. The very fact that Paul could address one letter to all of these believers and more indicates that he did not view them as distinct but somehow connected with one another.

This connection was not simply some kind of spiritual connection. Even today, people say, “Sure, we’re all part of the same church.” But, then, there is very little – if any – real indication or demonstration of this unity and fellowship. It is a unity in name only.

If you work with another brother or sister in Christ – spend most of your day in the same location as that person – then you are (in reality) part of the same church with them, whether or not the two of you recognize it and live it out and whether or not the two of you are part of the same “local church.” If you live next door to another brother or sister in Christ then you are (in reality) part of the same church with that person, whether or not the two of you recognize it and live it out and whether or not the two of you are part of the same “local church.”

We cannot choose to love, serve, teach, encourage, etc. those who are part of a certain “local church” but not recognize our responsibility and privilege of serving other brothers and sisters who are part of our lives but who may not be part of the same “local church” as us.

In reality, the modern concept of the “local church” – a concept and division of the church that began during the Reformation – is a division among the church that is outside the scope of Scripture. There is nothing in Scripture written specifically about or to the “local church” but the “local church” – as it is understood and practiced today – is not found in Scripture.

So, let’s not let the concept and boundaries set up by modern “local churches” separate us from brothers and sisters in Christ that God brings into our lives. We are responsible for one another in Christ, whether or not we are part of some “local church” organization together.


11 Comments

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  1. 2-22-2012

    How can it be that perhaps our most cherished tradition is not only not Biblical but actually divisive and harmful?

  2. 2-22-2012

    Arthur,

    Well, originally, it seems the “local church” division started because of secondary doctrines that were not specifically gospel related.

    -Alan

  3. 2-23-2012

    Not sure I buy it Alan. If God does not see a difference between local churches, why does the book of Revelation make a distinction between the 7 churches? Some luke warm and spit out. Some on fire. But all viewed and judged separately by God for their own life as a local church body.

    You seem to be creating a third Ecclesiology:
    1. Groups that teach there is ONLY a Local Church.
    2. Groups that teach there is both a Local church AND a Universal Church.
    3. Alan, who teaches there is ONLY a Universal Church and no Local Church???

    Or is what you are writing about more a refining of the view held by the 2nd group?

  4. 2-23-2012

    J.R.,

    Actually, the letters to the churches in Revelation 2-3 are a great example of what I’m talking about. How many churches did Jesus address in Ephesus?

    I’m saying that even if we tend to meet together in different locations at different times, we are all part of the same church in any general area, and should treat each other as such.

    -Alan

  5. 2-23-2012

    So is there, in your mind, such a thing as Local church at all?

  6. 2-23-2012

    J.R.,

    It depends on how you define “local church.” I do not believe the modern practice (since the Reformation at least) of “local church” can be found in Scripture. I believe that believers probably gathered together regularly in the same place with a same (or similar) group of people. But I do not think these groups were independent of other groups in the same area. In other words, I think the same people may have gathered with multiple groups and still considered themselves all part of the same church.

    -Alan

  7. 2-23-2012

    You still have not answered the question, is there in your Ecclesiology, however you define it, such a thing as the Local Church that is different from the Universal Church?

  8. 2-23-2012

    J.R.,

    I don’t see any reason to use the terms “local church” or “universal church.” There is the church. It exists in many different localities, and it exists in the world, and it exists in eternity.

    Can you show me an example of a “local church” in Scripture that is independent of another “local church” in the same geographical area (in the same sense that “local churches” in the same city, even on the same street corner, or independent of one another today)?

    -Alan

  9. 2-24-2012

    Hi Alan,

    First, let me clarify where we do agree. I once had a friend who was told by their “Pastor” that they could not be in a Bible study because it was led by people outside his church. I have had numerous churches tell people they could not help with a new church plant because they were “needed” at their home church (as if the plant was in competition and the pastors had the right to tell people they were not allowed to leave.)

    Based on my experience, I agree 100% that all too often today’s “local church” fosters exclusivity and is an excuse to disfellowship and divide the saints and that is a tragedy, dare I say a sin, not supported by the teachings of our Lord.

    Regarding our differences, I have reread your post several times, and I hope we are not talking around each other. For my part, I fear I am not framing my comments very well, so please be patient if I am being obtuse to your meaning.

    —–

    Okay, with all that being said, I take it from you answer that your Ecclesiology precludes the existence of the “local church”. I still don’t feel like you have given a straight answer, but what you write does seem to be a 3rd view.

    Now to the point of where we seem to disagree. first, I find your inductive argument flawed. Your argument as presented in this post reads like this:
    1. Local churches today are flawed by divisiveness
    2. God does not like divisiveness.
    3. Therefore, the Bible does not teach the existence of the local church.

    I agree with statements 1 and statements 2, but these do not necessitate the 3rd statement.

    You asked, “Can you show me an example of a “local church” in Scripture that is independent of another “local church””
    I will pull an Alan Knox here and say, it depends on your definition of “independent”. :-) Seriously though brother, adding the word “independent” is an equivocation that you never define, but I will still do my best to answer in two parts.

    Part 1, is there a NT example of a local church? YES.

    YES, the NT has examples of what I would define as local churches.

    1. In Acts Paul goes on his first missionary journey, Paul established churches in all the cities and on his return trip he established Elders in these churches. None were “independent: of God’s authority, the authority of the Spirit or the authority of the Apostles, but each did have its own eldership. Did he have “city church” elders or “house church” elders, no one knows and most likely I think his decisions were practical not theological. But certainly, each of these manifestations of Christ Body was a local church.

    2. The fact that Paul did not write letters to every single local gathering calling them the “church of ________” is really a non-sequester. Even if he had wanted to, Paul had neither the facilites or the technology to write a letter to every single gathering, so he wrote one letter sent by messenger that was often taken to many different churches.

    3. The NT uses the plural form of the word church (ἐκκλησίαι) 7 times. If there was no such thing as a local church, this plural word form would not exist in the NT.

    4. The NT uses the plural churches (ἐκκλησίαις) 18 times. If there is no such thing as a diversity of local churches, Paul would not say, in 2 Thessalonians 1:4 (ESV) “Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.”
    Notices that churches, plural, in this context is NOT a regional designation, nor does Paul use the singular ONE church of God, but he refers to the multiple churcheS of God. So your contention that God does not see a difference between churches does not mesh with how Paul uses this plural “churches of God.”

    5. As you acknowledge above, churches met in different homes. For example in 1 Corinthians 16:19 (ESV) Paul writes, “The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord. We have here multiple churches in Asia greeting and one local church that met in one house greeting the Corinthian believers. So unless Aquila and Prisca had the ONLY church in their entire city, there is clearly appropriate use of the term church that allows us to distinguish one “local church” from another. Now you try to dismiss this biblical example with, “this does not mean they are independent”, but what do you mean by that word? You never define it. So until you do, I think it is impossible to agree or disagree with your post. But for my part, it does show that the word church can, and does, refer to multiple local churches within Roman provinces, regions and multiple “local churches” within city boundaries.

    Part 2: Are local churches independent?

    You never define that term “independent” in your post so I can only give my answer using my own definition.

    Yes, NT churches were independent but not autonomous.
    Yes, NT churches were independent but not exclusivist.

    No, NT churches were not to be divisive (heretical). The NT church in Rome was clearly divisive in that they were excluding Jews. The Church in Galatia and the Church of Jerusalem were divisive in that they were excluding Gentiles. So if this is what you mean by “independent” than this kind of activity is clearly wrong for the church.

  10. 2-24-2012

    J.R.,

    I don’t think I disagree with anything that you said. The point of my post was the divisive nature that most people associate with the phrase “local church.”

    -Alan

  11. 2-24-2012

    good to know. :-)