Can you imagine what it would be like if all the saints in your town gathered as one body, in love and in freedom? What a testimony that would be to the reality of Jesus Christ!
In the first century a church was identified only by its location. In other words, the biblical ground of the church is locality, and the only biblical grounds for separation between one church and another is location. It’s all a matter of geography, you see. In the New Testament you never see a church with a name. You only see “the church at such-and-such a place.” The issue is one of locality.
Alas, however, the setup of most “churches” today denies this basic fact of oneness and locality. The church building is the center of fellowship, where all (or most) of the action takes place, and people are drawn to come to it from many surrounding localities. Sadly, the people who gather in this manner are not provided much of a life together outside of the Sunday services, simply by virtue of the fact that they do not live near one another. The believers are scattered, much like the Jewish people were under Babylonian captivity long ago. Thus the majority of true church life-which is more than a weekly meeting but a day-to-day living together as the body of Christ-is lost.
Then consider this: Most “churches” today have names that reflect either a man, a doctrine, or a particular ideology, whether drawn from scripture or not. This is a contradiction of the true nature of the church, which has its life in Christ and gathers unto His name alone. This kind of gathering around a particular doctrine or teaching, or a gifted individual who handles all the ministry, is a major hindrance to any hope we might have of a practical unity finding expression among the Lord’s people.
If you were to ask me at different points in my life where I went to church I might have answered, “First Baptist,” “God’s Tabernacle,” or something similar. But if you were to ask God what church I am a member of, He would simply say, “the church in Portsmouth.”
It’s funny if you think about it. The very question most people spend so much time fretting over-“Where should I go to church?”-has already been answered for them by God. If you are a believer, if you have the life of God inside of you, then you are a part of the church in the town where you live. Period. If only all God’s people would see this precious truth and begin to live and gather according to it!
I am already a member of a local church, the church at Portsmouth. I don’t need to sign up or enroll in any membership class, or join a particular organization. I became a member by spiritual birth. The very moment I was born again in Jesus Christ I was also born into the family of God. The family of God worldwide, yes, but more specifically, the family of God in my own town. Membership in the local church comes by spiritual birth!
Even still, it’s not enough to confess this truth in theory and never see it come to any practical expression. The fulfillment of God’s purpose demands a practical expression of the church; therefore, we have to face this issue practically. If God has given us light concerning the local character of His church and the oneness of His body then we must follow through with it, as impossible and impractical as it may seem. This is how believers gathered in the first century. I know times have changed and that our situation today is drastically different than theirs was then, but even so, God’s will is just the same. Could it ever really be this way again, if only on a small scale? How I wish! But as the old song goes, “though none go with me, still I will follow.” This then is what we must work towards and live for: A true expression of the body of Christ!
Your comments and thoughts are more than welcome on this post, as I realize most people have probably never looked at things in this way before. I’m interested to know what you think.