There might be no other question on earth that frustrates me as much as “what church do you go to?” To start off, I’d just like to make mention that unfortunately I am horrible when it comes to photoshop, so I wasn’t able to insert the text box saying, “this is not a church,” on the photo above. The concept of “church” as a building on the street corner or even just a place where you go to worship is absolutely foreign to the Bible.
In my posts on the church a few months ago (see: The Church (I) and Church (II)), I discussed the universal aspect of the church, being the assembly of the called out ones, the Body of Christ, the fullness of Christ, the New Man, the Kingdom of God, the Household of God, the Dwelling Place of God, the Bride of Christ, and the Corporate Warrior. Now I’d like to turn to the local, practical expression of the church as described in Matthew 18:
“And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to hear the church also, let him be to you just like the Gentile and the tax collector.” Matthew 18:17
The “church” Jesus describes here is not the universal church as in Matthew 16:18, but the local expression of the local church. Today I beg the question: where would we take our backslidden brother as described in Matthew 18? Given today’s situation, we would have responded to the Lord with “which one?”
God’s Perspective: One Church, One City
“Saying, ‘What you see write in a scroll and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamos and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.” Revelation 1:11
“To the church of God which is in Corinth…” 1 Corinthians 1:1
“…the church which was in Jerusalem…” Acts 8:1
See also: 2 Cor. 1:1, Gal. 1:2 (Galatia is a region composed of multiple cities: Acts 16:6), 1 Thes. 1:1, 2 Thes. 1:1
According to the revelation of the New Testament, a church is composed of all the believers in one city. That is how the churches used to meet, on the ground of one church in one city. Having multiple “churches” in one city or several denominations was an absolutely foreign concept.
The epistles written to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3 were not addressed to seven churches but to seven cities! In the Lord Jesus’ eyes, there is only one church in Ephesus, one church in Laodicea, one church in Dallas, and one church in Austin. If I label a Pepsi as a Coca-Cola, that doesn’t make it a Coca-Cola. Neither does calling something a church make it a church. I say again, in the Lord’s eyes there is at most one church in every city.
Ground to Divide
Now is time to discuss the unsettling situation in today’s Christendom. There are countless so-called “churches” in every city. In fact, there are over 33,000 denominations in the world today! That’s more denominations there there are cities in the US… We must look at what the cause of these divisions are and whether there is legitimate ground for such.
While this may actually be a reason why a group of Christians divide, for the most part the capacity-argument is almost always in the form of a hypothetical. Yet, I will use a biblical example the show that having too many people is not ground to divide:
“Those then who received his word were baptized, and there were added on that day about three thousand souls…But many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of men came to about five thousand…the church which was in Jerusalem…” Acts 2:41; 4:4; 8:1
That’s right folks, the first church was a mega-church. There were no believers in any other cities until after Stephen’s martyrdom, which caused a scattering of the believers into Judea and Samaria (8:1). So how on earth were the believers able to have over 5,000 people come together in one place (and that doesn’t count the women and children)?
Remember that a church is not a building, but is rather all the saints in that city. In regards to how they met, it is clear that it was not in a chapel with a bell tower:
“And day by day, continuing steadfastly with one accord in the temple and breaking bread from house to house, they partook of their food with exultation and simplicity of heart” Acts 2:46
The early Christians met in their homes, in small group meetings, for the most part. They didn’t need the coliseum, but rather broke bread, continued in the teaching and fellowship of the apostles, and prayed (v. 42). This is how one church, one city is possible today.
Are you allowed to divide over doctrinal differences? This one probably touches home for most of you. The answer is no:
“Now him who is weak in faith receive, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his considerations. One believes that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables…One judges one day above another; another judges every day alike. Let each be fully persuaded in his own mind.” Romans 14:1-5
Though this might not seem relevant, matters of eating and reverence towards the Sabbath were the early church’s predestination, baptism, and spiritual gifts. In other words, the matters disputed today (Calvinism vs. Arminianism, immersion or sprinkling, gifts or cessation) can replace the matters of eating and days in these verses.
The biblical principle regarding matters not of the common faith (Tit. 1:4) is that they should not divide us or restrict us in our fellowship and communion with one another. These are all just winds and waves of doctrine (Eph. 4:14). Oneness in the Lord’s eyes is more important than doctrinal perfection.
“I will build My church” Matthew 16:18m
“I love my church.” “The worship at my church is incredible!” The pastor at my church is great.” The problem with all of these statements (and I hear statements like this daily) is the “my.” That should be capitalized, if you know what I mean.
“If anyone wants to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” Matthew 16:24b
This is the word of the Lord. The word of Christianity today is contrary: “Find a church that fits you.” To use the term “my church” is insulting to the Lord. We are not granted an opinion or a preference when it comes to the Lord’s church. Due to the divisive situation today, people have many places they can go “church-hop”, but the Lord’s church is where all His saints gather as one, denying themselves with all their opinions and preferences, and coming after Christ!
The Present Situation
I will have to continue in my next post, but I hope then to talk about the present situation in Christianity, what the Bible says about such, and what exactly the Lord desires us to do today. Though a practical solution may not seem feasible (there is one btw), we have to admit that there is a serious problem in the Church today before we can talk about solutions. Read the book of Acts and you will find that there are striking differences from the Church then and now. Anyways, I hope you enjoyed and ask some questions if you have any before my next post!