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Geographically Local Church

Posted by on Jan 1, 2010 in definition | 2 comments

Three years ago, I wrote a post called “Geographically Local Church.” In this post, I try to point out that we do not use the term “church” today to distinguish between groups of believers the way the corresponding term was used by the New Testament authors. I think that if we started trying to use our word “church” the way the NT authors used the Greek term ekklesia, we would see just how far our understanding of “church” has changed. What do you think?


Geographically Local Church

Many Christians make a strong distinction between the “universal” and “local” church. For example, John S. Hammett writes, “Local and universal is the most widely used terminology for the twofold meaning for ekklesia found in the New Testament.” (Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches) (See this post for further discussion of the “local” and “universal” distinctions.) For the purpose of this post, I will assume that Hammett is correct: the New Testament uses the term ekklesia to specify a “local church” and a “universal church”. However, even if this distinction is correct, it does not mean that we generally use “local church” in the same manner that Scripture recognizes a “local church”.

For example, “church” in the NT (when not used of the “universal” church), always designates a geographical group of people. (UPDATE: When I say “a geographical group of people,” I mean a group of people in the same geographical area. HT: Lew) For example, there is the church in Jerusalem, the church in Antioch, the church in Ephesus, etc. Yes, there are churches based in homes. But there is no indication that these churches were removed (separate) from the geographical church in the respective city.

However, today we use the term “local church” differently. We do not use “church” to specify a “geographical locale”, but instead we use the term to differentiate based on structure, organization, theology, etc. For example, the people in the houses around me attend four different “churches”. In fact, even though we are all brothers and sisters in Christ (in theory), we rarely interact. And, this is considered normal.

However, I do not think this is biblical, nor does it describe how the biblical authors use the term “church”. What do you think?


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  1. 1-1-2010


    “…we are all brothers and sisters in Christ (in theory), we rarely interact. And, this is considered normal.”

    The fact that this is considered normal should be a cause for concern, I believe; it has always bothered me personally as well. How can we claim we are any different than the lost when we act just like them? I don’t see the biblical basis for a lack of interaction either. There are many reasons for this lack of interaction, but let me start with one I see:

    In general, I don’t see inter-church cooperation and interaction promoted or encouraged – in fact I see the opposite. If I see it at all, I believe the more accurate term would be tolerated, not encouraged. Which brings us to why.

    With the recently converted, there is legitimate concern over doctrinal confusion. I believe in the majority of cases however, the church is worried about losing a paying customer =ahem= I mean member.

    Anyway, just my 2 cents.

  2. 1-2-2010

    What if, in fact, God views the local church as a people He has made One in a given locality (see the seven letters in Rev 2&3)? What if our oneness in a given locality was something critically important to God, to our ability to function and grow, and to accomplishing our mission as the people of God here and now?

    What did Jesus pray about in John 17? How did Paul describe the mystery of the church?