(Parts one and two)
As we move past the two dimensional concept we have of the Church, (an eternal reality that exceeds space and time) and go right past the somewhat artificial representation we have created for the depth of field that is the local body, we arrive at the real thing. The Bible is clear that the local church is the grouping the Christ established and a means through which God works in the world. It is the gathering of diverse believers with various abilities and gifting that are more together than they could be on their own. However, one of the reasons our ideas of local church and the reality of the local body don’t quite mesh is that our understanding may be too small.
We naturally attempt to define, limit and classify everything. The local church is no different. As with many Biblical concepts, however, it may be a little bit beyond us; it may be uncomfortably nebulous to our understanding.
Take the examples we have in the Bible, for instance. In Romans, Paul is addressing “the saints” in Rome. We assume or infer that he is addressing the church in Rome. However, we know from the letter itself that that does not mean a church, but rather the portion of the Church that happened to be in Rome. Late in the letter when Paul is greeting people, he singles out “the church that meets at [Priscilla and Aquila’s] house.” There were likely many such churches.
In Ephesians, we see Paul addressing a city or region where he had planted and worked for years. Yet when he addresses his readers, he says that he has “heard about their faith.” Obviously, he is addressing many churches including people he has not met. This is seen when he described his work in Ephesus to the Roman Christians and says that the word had spread fully to the entire region.
It seems that the reality of the local body is that it is a bit more fluid than we would like. Small groups of believers sharing life and impacting their world with the flexibility to adapt grow and multiply at a moment’s notice are likely more in line with what Jesus had in mind than all the brick and mortar, membership roles, and city square property we can store up.
In the thessalonian believers we see a group that was able to impact their entire region in a matter of months! You can guarantee that that process was a lot messier than today’s record keepers would like. One doesn’t just see that type of growth in the Bible, though. Some of the most impressive church explosion occurred in the first 100 years of American history. Once again, it was carried out on the backs of small, poorly organized, house churches.
What real group (or groups) like those do you belong to?