If you’ve been in “Big Church” on Sunday mornings during the last couple of months you know that Pastor Z is in a series about the church. Hopefully God’s Spirit is illuminating the truth of the Word to your mind and helping the fact sink into your heart that the church is God’s chosen channel in this period of redemptive history.
Since the church takes precedence in God’s plan, and since “repetition is the mother of learning,” I thought I would take a series of weblogs and recap some of the distinguishing traits of New Testament churches.
For today let’s focus on the fact that New Testament churches were always identified by their geographical locations. The letters to the Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians are all addressed to believers gathered in specific communities. This classification is further verified by the fact that Paul directed Timothy to appoint elders in “every town” (Titus 1:5), thus delineating groups of gathered believers by location. Of course, this is not the same thing as saying that the church is a building, but it is the people (Christians) in a particular place.
You may be saying to yourself right now, “OK. So what? Why is that so important?” I believe there are at least two major implications that come directly from this truth.
The first implication of this fact is that no church was ever identified by a particular family or house. Even though they may have sometimes met in individual homes rather than public meeting places, a church is bigger and broader than a family unit. It is true that churches are made up of multiple families, but they are never biblically defined by as a congregation of a family or families. The church is the “household of God” (1 Timothy 3:15) in specific locations, but not “households” by definition.
A while ago there were some questions about “house churches” on the discussion forum. The little bit of research that I did on home churches yielded more than a few concerns on my part, but one of the clearest problems is that the house church movement fails to take into account the Scriptural representations of local churches. Additional evidence comes from observing that Paul ministered BOTH in public and from house to house (Acts 20:20), further confirming a distinction between the two. There is a place for smaller group Bible studies, prayer meetings, and fellowship in home settings, but a small group is not equal to a church.
A second implication of the fact that churches are identified by their place of gathering is that churches were not identified by their ministry dream/scope. That means that a church is not a group that focuses on ministering only to youth, or just to the elderly, or just the Jerusalem Track & Field Association, or just the women, just businessmen, etc. In a few days we will talk about the fact that there is considerable diversity in New Testament churches, again emphasizing that a church is not simply a narrow-banded bunch. The common bond in a local church is belief in Christ, beyond that there ought to be a great variety and assortment of people.
These implications challenge the many assorted (and anemic) definitions of what an actual church–as identified in Scripture–really is. We’ll take a look at the second distinguishing trait of New Testament churches in the next weblog.