Where do you go to church? (re-post)

For the next installment of this series on the ground of the church I’d like to refer back to my post from March 24 of last year entitled Where do you go to church? Follow the link if you’d like to see the original comments, otherwise here’s a re-post of the entire article…

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.

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About Joshua

Writer, husband, father, friend. View all posts by Joshua

3 responses to “Where do you go to church? (re-post)

  • rexhowe

    Josh,

    In order to move from what we know as a “local church” to what you are suggesting, how would you propose developing the leadership structure of the geographically centered church? While I think you are accurate in your suggestion, I think the leadership issue is perhaps your biggest “obstacle.” However, establishing elders/pastors are certainly biblical and one may even suggest the necessity of bishops in such a geographically centered approach in order to fellowship in unity and truth with churches in other cities and regions.

    Rex

  • lawdawg23

    That’s one heck of a question bro. I won’t pretend to have an adequate answer for it, either, but rather quote Paul: “Who is sufficient for these things?” 🙂

    All I know is we are groping forward according to the light God has given us at this point. I don’t expect a wholesale return to the biblical model (if we may even call it that) by the churches at large in our area. I am just trying to be faithful to proclaim God’s ideal, in case there are any hungry hearts out there ready to abandon their present concepts/practices and-through the Lord-to work this thing out on a smaller, representative scale. That is what I see in the Old Testament foreshadowing with the Jews who returned to rebuild in Jerusalem. When they got the foundation up it was nothing in comparison to the temple that once stood in its place, enough to cause the older men who saw the first House to weep as well as shout for joy, but it was true to God’s original intention and that is all that mattered. I draw a lot of inspiration from that.

    Local leadership developed organically from within the assembly in New Testament times. At first it was provided by an outside worker such as Paul or another of the itinerant ministers. Then when certain brothers gained the necessary maturity and growth in life, it became evident whom God had gifted for oversight.

    If any number of congregations were truly gripped by this vision of the local church and desired to put it into practice, I don’t see how it would work without there first being the dissolution of all official positions of leadership. The saints could all begin to come together informally, in homes, on the streets, in outreach together, just as brothers and sisters in one Body. To throw up an immediate structure would be a mistake, I think, and defeat the whole purpose. It would be messy-which is why I don’t see it happening on any large scale-but it would be wonderful. A lot like Jerusalem must have been in those early days. Nobody really knew what they were doing then, but it must have been a glorious experience nonetheless.

    If you and your wife end up returning to Portsmouth I would love to fellowship with you over these matters, brother. As the Lord said, the harvest is great but the laborers are few. The more I go on the more I see there is a real field to be worked here in P-town. We are connecting with new brothers and sisters every week who are hungry for the Lord. I am excited to see and be a part of what He is doing.

  • lawdawg23

    By the way, Dustin mentioned to me that you will be in town soon. I don’t know what your travel plans are but on the 26th there will be a brother in town from Akron visiting us, along the lines of what I referred to above with the outside worker. He’s been coming down once a month now since about April. We’ve always had a great time together. All day fellowship, then dinner and a meeting in the evening. It would be great if you could make it, though I understand if you can’t. Either way we should definitely try to get together!

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