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WHAT IN THE WORLD IS ‘THE LOCAL CHURCH’?
Growing up as a catholic boy [though not a good one] I remember when I came to know the lord I started reading through the bible and found how the bible contradicted many of the religious beliefs I held to as a boy [this is not to say Catholics are not Christian]. Later while attending a good Baptist church I naively believed that good Baptists must have it right because they do read the bible! Well now I see that none of us have everything right [including me!] but some of us are closer to truth than others.
One of the traditions I saw with my Baptist friends was their whole concept of ‘local church’. They seemed to see it as the actual process of ‘going to church on Sunday’ and all the things associated with that particular form of worship. Many of them found fault with the Catholic Church and her traditions, but could not see how their own limited view of ‘local church’ was just as religious as some of the Catholic teachings that they so often criticized. Till this day I still cant see how so many of my brothers in Christ view a particular form of modern church service as ‘the local church’. Some brothers view it to a degree where they really do harm to the rest of the body of Christ.
When any system of church or worship is embraced to the degree of seeing others who don’t embrace it as lost or in rebellion, then we unconsciously are saying that all others are illegitimate. While the practice of Sunday church and the other expressions of it are o.k. with me [to a degree], I still couldn’t see how bible believing Christians could view this form as ‘the’ legitimate form of church that Jesus established 2000 years ago. The ‘church’ in the New Testament are all the communities of believers in any area where they reside. She is not some limited form of worship or specific social group that someone joins. How arrogant would it be for me to teach that the meetings or expressions of my own ministry were ‘the’ local church, and then tell people if they do not put 10% of their money into this expression that they would be under a curse! This really is wrong at the heart of it. Its o.k. for Christians to associate in this Sunday church way, but its not o.k. to view this form as ‘the local church’ to the exclusion of all the other varied forms of ‘church’ that exist in a living organism [the real ecclesia].
I recall reading an article from one of the leaders of ‘youth with a mission’ [ywam] this is a great organization. This leader is seeing many of the truths I’m expressing in this book. He went on to explain how in the early years of ywam that they would lead many college students to Christ, and these students would naturally form on campus Christian associations/bible groups that would flourish naturally as any living organism should. But they would then tell their students that in order to not be in rebellion they needed to be ‘part of a local church’ [not realizing that they already were ‘part of the local church’ by virtue of the fact that Christ was dwelling in them and having expression through them as they met together]. Well the brother explained how they would then send them into ‘the local churches’ [which really meant lecture hall/church building environments in order to hear sermons]. And how these young groups of students would stagnate by being told to be under this type of authority. So what they viewed as being in submission to authority and being ‘under a local church covering’ was really a violation of the true expression of church that already existed in the on campus meetings. The brother also shared how they felt constrained to send the students to ‘the churches’ in order to appease the egos of the men who led the churches. This little example shows us how the mindset of viewing one form of religious expression as ‘the local church’ can actually hinder ‘the local church!’
One night I attended a fellowship group where a bunch of Christians ‘unofficially’ met together to eat and share and just have a good time [much like the early atmosphere of the Lords supper/love feast]. During this time of fellowship everyone just shared, sang and enjoyed themselves in a very relaxed atmosphere. The place we were at is a beautiful environment out in the country that is dedicated to the body of Christ. This place is not considered ‘a local church’, though every aspect of our meeting fit the criteria of ‘local church’ to the tee. On our way back to Corpus Christi the friend I was with had recently read some of our books and sincerely asked me about my views on the ‘local church’. This brother is a mature older prophet in the Corpus Christi area with a proven track record of faithfulness to the Lord.
He couldn’t understand why I saw very little distinction between the ‘local church’ and para-church ministries. Well as we were driving back into town it was late in the evening and all the lights of C.C. could be seen, it was a great view of the city. I explained to my friend how what we just experienced at the ‘para-church’ ministry was a real expression of ecclesia and Christian unity. Two or more were gathered together and Christ was present. As we drove back into town I explained that today [it was Sunday] many various groups of believers met in many different locations and that this was also an expression of the Body of Christ. And as we looked over the city I told him that my understanding of all the various ‘churches’ that met together in all the different locations were in Gods eyes one church. That the New Testament doesn’t show them to be 100 different separate entities that we call ‘local church’, but that all the believers who gathered in this day were ‘local church’ [ecclesia] even the ones who met at the Christian camp [actually the style of meeting at the camp was more in keeping with the 1st century model].
God sees his church as one entity, not as many different entities all with their own separate identities. There are many church buildings going up in our city [nothing wrong about this], while driving to work not to long ago I noticed how one of the churches is building within a few hundred feet of another church. They are both good churches, but God simply doesn’t see these brothers as separate entities. It would be like the kids living in your home, they might be in different rooms right next to each other, but they don’t ‘operate’ as unique entities apart from the other siblings [at least I hope not!].
I was fellowshipping with a friend and sharing with him some of the thoughts in this book. During our discussion he was struggling with the concept of ‘the church’ being a free society of Christ followers [a brotherhood] as opposed to the normal way we see church today [the whole concept of Sunday church as the ‘church’ we go to]. While trying to explain myself [or should I say ‘defend’] I noticed that there was a picture of the last supper on the wall. I then used it as an illustration of ‘local church’. I showed him how this ‘supper’ was one aspect of Jesus sharing of his life with the disciples. Jesus lived and walked daily with his disciples for three years and is now going to leave them for their benefit [even though they don’t see it yet!].
During this final meal he rightfully is the center of their attention. He has already taught them the principle of calling no man on earth ‘father’ or ‘master’ or ‘rabbi’, because they are all brothers and their master/rabbi is Christ himself. So the atmosphere of them all being equal at this supper with him being the focal point is an intentional lesson for them. He then does the unthinkable, he gets up from the table and puts on a servants garb [towel] and begins to wash their feet! He tells them he is giving them an example of what it will mean to be a leader in the church. He shatters the gentile idea of leadership [being at the top] and once again shows them that the last will be first is a real mindset that is to be lived out in Christian community. True ‘local church’ is the common sharing of the life of Christ [the Eucharist is a picture of this] in Christian community where we all are equals [this means all, do you see how there was purposely no man or office that was predominant here, apart from Christ] and where leadership is identified by a servant’s heart!
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