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There is One Church in a City

 

Most of the time when I say “there is one church in a city”, people respond back with, “Well, there is really only one church”.

Although that is a true statement, that is not what I am talking about. The reality of one church in a city is not referring to the “church universal”, but the truth of “one church in a city” must be understood in order to maintain unity, provide for proper growth in the saints, and to maintain church discipline issues. So open your heart and let’s dive in to this rarely understood subject.
 
 
In the church today we see rampant division, splits, denominations, separation, factions, schisms, and a church on every corner.

This is not the New Testament example, but we’ve SETTLED for it.

In fact, we expect it.

To raise a higher standard, a New Testament standard, is frowned upon. Sure, we all think unity would be nice to have, it’s a nice concept – but not associated with righteousness. It is not a real standard that we uphold.

The early church did not allow for this . As you know Paul strongly rebuked the church for divisions. He said that “We should all speak the same thing…,” “Be in agreement…,” “Be devoted to one another…,” “That there should be no divisions among you…” I Cor. 1.

Unity is not just a pie in the sky concept. It is a command from God.

We are not allowed to remain in the fleshly condition of not being in unity. We must be diligent to preserve it. We must pursue it. And in the process, we are even more knit together.

There is only one church (everyone nod your head). The church is referred to in scripture as ONE. One entity. One thing. A unit. We would all agree with that. The problem comes in with the following question:

How do we practice unity? And better yet, how do we practice unity in this day and age?

In order to answer this, we must first see the church correctly. We must discern the Body of Christ in a correct manner.

The church is already one. There is only one Body. As Christians, there is one Spirit in all of us. We are all members of the one Body of Christ. This is true, whether we walk in it on earth or not.

As far as the practical, walking out of our unity that we already have in the Spirit…

…what are the only reasons, according to scripture, that should be allowed to separate the church?

Only 2 things:

1. Geography.

2. Not repenting of sin.

Each of these things must be looked at and understood in order to be practiced correctly.

Let’s look at geography first.

Geography Determines What Church You Are Of

Paul wrote to the church in each city. He wrote to the church at Ephesus, the church at Corinth, the church at Philippi, and the church at Rome. He never refers to churches (plural) in a city. He only writes to the church (singular) in a city. The only time he refers to churches (plural) is in a region, such as Galatia.

It is terribly erroneous to refer to the “churches” (plural) in a city.

Let’s look at a short story. I believe that if you can get the heart of this short little scenario, it will help you to see the church in a city. If you can grasp the picture, it will answer many questions.

Let’s say that you went to a brand new town that has never heard of Jesus Christ and has never heard the gospel. You preach the good news in that town. People become born again. They begin meeting together in one place. They grow in the grace of God and it begins to multiply. The numbers increase. The living room is packed. It now grows to such a point that they have to meet in two homes because the one living room cannot fit everyone. Over time…three homes, then four. Occasionally, once a month or so, everyone that is meeting in different houses all get together at one time outside at a park or under a pavilion somewhere.

The fact that there are believers meeting in different locations in the city does not affect their mixing with one another during the week or separate them very much at all.

Let’s look closer at what’s going on…

There is tremendous overlap and an intermixing of all the families – no matter where they gather for the regular meetings.

The Smith family who attends the regular meeting at the 1201 Park Lane house often get together with the Jones family who attend the regular meeting at the 1402 Hill Rd. house. They go to different regular weekly meetings, but they still get together during the week.

Bill and Fred meet on Thursday nights at Fred’s house for a “1st Corinthians 14 meeting.” But Bill and Fred, along with a guy named Joe, get together for breakfast on Tuesday mornings to pray. Joe does not attend the meeting at Fred’s house.

There are also several pockets of ladies from many different home meetings that get together often to visit and let the kids play together. They don’t all attend the same weekly meeting either.

There is a group of guys who love to go out witnessing. They too are a combination of brothers from many different home gatherings.

The Miller family only shows up on at the I Corinthian 14 meeting on Thursday nights at the Fillmore’s home, but nobody sees them otherwise. (We will be praying for them to get more involved).

Everyone knows each other, fellowships with one another and is intermingled with each other on some level. Everyone is part of the same group. They just meet in different places at different times throughout the week.

One Church in a City Deters Divisions

Something happens to our group in the city:

Bill and Joseph, who both meet at Fred’s house on Thursday nights, have a disagreement. They try to work it out, but Bill decides that he just can’t get along with Joseph and doesn’t agree with him. In fact, Bill didn’t really agree with how the whole thing was handled concerning the issue between him and Joseph at Fred’s house.

Because of the disagreement and the way things are, Bill decides that he is going to take his family over to the Fillmore meeting on Thursdays, instead of meeting at Fred’s house.

In fact, Bill is thinking of starting his own meeting. He is only inviting over to his house those who agree with him on the issue.

Uh oh. Now what?

The answer to this above scenario is absolutely critical!The way the church has handled this type of situation in the past is one of the reasons why we have the mess we have today. The way the church currently handles this type of situation is one reason why we keep creating more of a mess.

Division is so commonplace in the church today, that we really don’t know or expect anything different.

According to Matthew 18, Bill should be pulled aside. The problem between Bill and Joseph is one thing. The fact that Bill now wants to join with another group or start his own is group is a second problem that also must be dealt with – and swiftly.

If anyone has any maturity in the Lord, they know and have tasted of God’s love for the unity of the brothers. It is so dear to His heart. Jesus even goes so far to tell us in Matthew 5:23-24, “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.”

WOW!

This means that it if there is a breach between you and another, that it is more important to God that you first be reconciled and be at one with your brother or sister, than it is to come and worship the Lord! Therefore, it is hypocrisy to worship God and have broken relationships that you are not attempting to mend. You are living a lie. It would be like practicing murder, agreeing with it, and just allowing it be a practice in your life, while trying to have a relationship with Jesus.

If people were to practice what Jesus said in this passage, there would be no worship services held this Sunday. There would not be enough people to participate in a worship service because everyone would be too busy having important talks with people and reconciling past relationships.

Back to the story…

First Bill must be spoken to and convinced to stay and work it out with Joseph, no matter what or how long it takes. There may need to be other brothers involved to help. Both Bill and Joseph need to be willing to be wrong and have it in their heart to defer to one another.

But what if they don’t work it out? What if Bill is unwilling to stay and do whatever it takes to work it out? What if he leaves, joins a new group, or starts a new one?

Because there is one church in the city, there is no place for Bill to go. If he goes to the Fillmore’s house, Mr. Fillmore will respond with something like, “Bill, we need to deal with this thing together, you can’t just join a different group.”

If Bill wants to leave the church, the only way he can do it is to move to a different city. Otherwise he will be required by everyone to deal with the problem. Even if he does leave the city, we might send a letter to the church in the city where he is going.

Sin separating the Church

If Bill continues to not deal with the problem and he tries to start his own group, even after several brothers have gone to him and confronted him, the issue with Bill needs to be brought before the whole church. Eventually, if continued unrepentance is clear, he is to be officially “shunned” by the entire church in that city (for his repentance, but not to reject him). This goes for any sin in the church that will not be repented of, not just Bill’s example, according to Matthew 18.

Today, the current way of the church is such that every meeting in the city is considered “it’s own church.” If you have a problem with one group, just join with the one next door. If you disagree with their doctrine, start your own church or attend a place with which you agree.

People are shopping church gatherings in their town like they would choose which grocery store to go to based on preferences and what it has to offer.

In I Corinthians 1:10 Paul says, “Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment.”

Paul wrote this to the one church in the city of Corinth.

I can hear it now, “Well now Terry, you’re just taking this all too far…it would never work in this day and age.”

If everyone would do their part, it would work in this day and age.

It is a serious thing to destroy the Body of Christ. God says “He will destroy you.” To walk away from brothers and not work out a breach is damaging. The church should not allow folks to start new churches in a city. Sure, there can be more groups formed and more homes opened up because of overflow, but not because of disagreements. Not because you disagree with doctrine.

The Bible says that we should be in agreement. It takes time, work, talks, and prayer…and through this process the Lord knits our hearts together and makes us strong.

Remember, we must “be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit…”. Paul tells us in 1 Cor. 1:10 that “by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree, and there be no divisions among you….” And he goes on to discuss the fact that the Corinthians were having quarrels and it was causing division.

There is only one church. There is only one body. I hear people all of the time saying, “our body”, or “the body here”, or “the body we used to belong to.” This is all wrong. To say such things exposes a lack of really seeing the church. It is not just a matter of using the wrong word or phrase. People say these things because they do not accurately see what the church is or where it is. What comes out of our mouths is what is in our hearts. Let’s don’t change our words, but let’s change our hearts.

Rom 12:4For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function,

Rom 12:5so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

1Cr 10:17Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread.

1Cr 12:12For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.

1Cr 12:13For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

1Cr 12:20But now there are many members, but one body.

Eph 2:16and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity.

Eph 4:4There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling;

Col 3:15Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.

The church is so unified and one, that only geography should separate it. And geography only separates the church as far as walking together.

The saints in Turkey are still part of the saints in Korea. So, we must refer to the church in different regions as “The church that is in Korea”. Just like Paul did.

A Name Is A Big Deal

Let’s say for example, that we have a very large family. Their last name is Burney. The Burneys have a lot of children. Over the decades the Burneys have become so large that now there are hundreds of them. Many of them live in one particular town – Burney town. But some of them have moved away. Some of the Burneys now live in Illinois. Some Burneys live in Florida. Some of them live in New York. And, some of them now live in China.

How would we refer to the Burneys in China? Like this: The Burneys that are in China! How would we refer to the Burneys in Florida? Like this: The Burneys in Florida. The Burneys that live at 104 Main Street would be called the Burneys at 104 Main Street.

The church is the same as the Burneys. We are one family. Just like the Burneys, we are to refer to the Christians in Chicago as either “the Christians in Chicago, or the church in Chicago.” If you live in Tampa, Florida, you are a member of the church in Tampa, Florida and nothing else. If we are referring to the believers in Ontario, Canada, we are to speak of those believers as “the church in Ontario, Canada.”

What would happen if a few of the Burneys got angry and disagreed with the rest of the Burneys? These particular Burneys who got mad didn’t agree with spanking their children like the rest of the Burneys believed. They decided that they wanted to change their name from Burney to the “Anti-Spanking Burneys.” They now want to be referred to as only the Anti-Spanking Burneys. They are really just Burneys, but they have separated themselves by having a different name. Now, any Burney who doesn’t spank, should participate with the Anti-Spanking Burneys.

Let’s take a different situation. What if some of the Burneys suddenly began to disagree with the rest of the Burneys new ways of doing things in the family? They were opposed to all the modern ways of life. They felt strongly that all Burneys should maintain all of the old Burney family traditions. Therefore, this particular handful of Burneys decided to form their own group and change their name to the “Traditional Burneys.”

What if some Burneys got together and changed their name based on what job they had or based on where they lived or based on how many kids they had? This would all seem like nonsense. In fact this whole example is nonsense. Why would any Burney want to do such a thing? To take on a different name than the family you really are would be crazy.

In this situation, we would have many Burneys going by several different last names. They are now separate from just the Burneys. They all are separate from each other, and they only associate with each other. Now, there are different Burney family reunions. There are now different Burney family picnics. They’ve all taken on different names based on disagreements and based on what they believe or don’t believe. These names identify them, align them with those who believe the same way, and separate them from those who do not.

Really, the only thing that makes a Burney, “a Burney,” is the fact that they have Burney DNA. It’s the fact that they have Burney blood running through their veins is what makes them a Burney. If a Burney had different views from another Burney, they would really still be a Burney. If a Burney had any number of various beliefs, moved to China, or even changed their name; they would really still be a Burney. What makes them a Burney is physical in nature and cannot be changed. It does not matter if they distance themselves and identify with being an Anti-Spanking Burney, what makes them just a Burney is still flowing through their veins.

The same is true of a Christian. We are only to be followers of Jesus and nothing else. We are only to be Christians and nothing else. What makes a Christian a “Christian” is something that is in our spiritual DNA. It is because of something that is running through our spiritual veins. What makes us Christians is the reality of the Spirit of Jesus Christ living inside of us. We are Christians because it’s who we are. We are Christians because of a relationship we have with Jesus. It does not matter if a Christian believes in once saved, always saved, predestination vs. free-will, pre-tribulation, post tribulation, mid-tribulation – none of these things changes who we are. There is only one thing that makes us Christians and that one thing is what unites us and makes us one Body. Yet, Christians align themselves and separate themselves with others who “believe like they do.” Christians take on different names, separate themselves, and group themselves with others based on things that have nothing to do with what makes others a member of the Body of Christ or not.

We all have a strong need for identity. Who am I? Who are we? Groups have strong needs for identity other than the identity of the church in the city. Individuals have strong needs of identity other than just “Christian”, or “follower of Christ.” It’s all too vague for us. To be just a part of the church in Chicago is too general for us. It requires too much faith. It’s too hard to relate to. All we are able to relate to is divisiveness. It’s all we understand. We are eagles who have been born and bred in captivity.

Names divide us. Or, a name can unite us. When you take on a name for the group that you are with, at the very moment you do this, you separate and distinguish yourself apart from all the other believers who are not of that same name. You also just aligned yourself with everyone else who is of that same name.

A name provides identity. It provides belonging.

Don’t EVER give the people you are walking with a name. It is completely unbiblical. All you are is the church in …. whatever city or town or province you are in. You are a Burney! You are a Christian, and that’s it.

We are not to recognize denominations. The word denomination means “to divide”. In a mathematical fraction like 4/12, the bottom number is the denominator. This is the number you divide by.

Do you think that after the judgment, when we are in the Kingdom of God together, that God will refer to the Baptists? Will He refer to the Methodists? Of course not. So why do you do it now? Why not stop doing it? Stop contributing to division and recognizing groups and names. Stop calling your group by a name. It’s unbiblical. You are just the Christians in whatever city or town you are in. You may refer to yourselves as “the saints that meet at such and such place,” just like Paul did. If you don’t, you are dividing yourself from those who are not of your group. There is only one group in any city…you all just happen to meet at different times and at different places.

This exposes the division in our hearts. In your city, do you feel like the saints that meet at the Baptist building are a part of your group? They are. It’s just a different meeting. You must change your heart on this. There is one church in the city, but different meetings. The Christians at the “Baptist meeting” may not know that you both belong to the same church. But you can know the truth. Do you feel like the Christians who meet at the Lutheran building in your city are a part of your group? They are. But they don’t know it. They just refuse to meet with you because you don’t share their name. As we all begin to relate to one another and see one another according to what the truth is it will change our practice, our minds, and our hearts. It will change everything.

Where to Go From Here

It’s difficult to create unity out of disunity. I realize it is next to impossible to try to get a divided church in a city to come together (to truly come together). I’m not saying God can’t do it or He won’t, but it would take Him doing it and it would take many people doing their part. People’s mentality and total way of life here in the West consists of division. It is ingrained in our society. We have hundreds of years of independence rooted in our genes. America was founded upon “The Declaration of Independence.” Unity is a common word but the true and heart level spiritual meaning is completely foreign to us.

Doing unity-type activities, such as holding events in a city for all “churches” to attend, things that appear to be steps of unity, usually only give the appearance of unity. As long as everyone is a part of a “church,” we really cannot achieve true unity. As long as people belong to a traditional organization with a name, they will be separated (at some level) from those who are not of “their church.” Please understand me. There is nothing at all wrong with walking closely with a group of people. You can only walk closely with so many. God will have you with a certain number of people. You will be knit with them and committed to each other. There is nothing wrong with acknowledging that. However, belonging to an organization is not OK in the church. It’s fine for a baseball team, a fraternity, or a social club. There is nothing wrong with institutions, systems, or organizations – in things of the world. But God’s church is not a thing of the world. It is not to be institutionalized and changed to fit men’s ideas. If to an organic and living church we dictate a series of predetermined events, it will become largely dysfunctional. This is what we see today.

When you join a club, an association, or a fraternity, you are separating yourself from those who are not of that club. And that’s perfectly fine in things of the world. Those who are members of the “Lions Club” are included with those of the Lions Club. Those who are not members are not, and for a reason. But we should not take on different names within God’s Church. You are separating yourself from those who are not of that same name.

The problem is most everyone that belongs to a traditional church has a “golden calf”, but they don’t see it as that. They would feel like they are losing something or going against God in some way to actually take down their sign and to forsake their name (the name of their organization). But it would take those type actions to get back to the scriptural example. You cannot have true unity if everyone in a city just comes together occasionally and has an ecumenical meeting. The ecumenical movement is not unity. Many times it can even be an expression of humanism.

We cannot make attempts to come together as a church in a city and then go back to our individual “churches” on Sunday. We cannot each maintain memberships in religious organizations and then try to be one church in a city. The identity we each have with “our church” is too strong.

The easiest way is to leave the traditional churches, forsake the names, and meet in simpler ways. If you stay with your religious affiliation and name, you are practicing division according to I Cor. chapter 1.

What Can You Do About It Now and Today?

First, change your heart. In your heart, you need to stop belonging to a “church.” Change your belonging to the church in the city you live in. I am not saying you should forsake the people you are with or your commitment to them. But you need to repent of being a member of an organized, traditional, non-profit, religious institution. The scripture forbids it (I Corinthians). It fosters and promotes division in your city. No matter how involved your church may be with other groups, the name they maintain is still providing an identity that is divisive.

I know those are all strong words, and you may not fully see it yet, but at least spend some sincere time in prayer about all this.

What does the Bible say about belonging to a name that is a name separate from your other brothers and sisters?

Look again at what Paul said in I Cor. 1

“Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.” Has Christ been divided?”

How much more plain can it be?

We know the truth, but we lack the courage.

I know it is a high calling, but from the New Testament example and commands, you are required to do this or some form of this:

Go tell the Christians that you associate with and your “pastor,” that you believe there is only one church in your city. Tell them you believe the name of the church and denomination affiliation is unbiblical and is a divisive practice. You still want to fellowship with them (at whatever level you can after repenting of all this), but you can no longer be a member. You are a member of the church in the city and you became a member of the church when you accepted Christ. Any additional membership requirements are the inventions of men, are not Biblical, and promote division in the Body.
 

Urge the saints you are with to take down their sign on the building. If God wants to add to the number of Christians who meet with you, He will do it with out having a store front display.
 

Try to get others to meet with you someplace outside of that religious building and not on Sunday, to get all the religiousness out of your system. Quit dressing up in fancy clothes and having “services” (that’s not what the Bible calls a meeting of the saints anyway, it’s another tradition of men).
 

As you get free and begin to truly see the church, go and visit regularly all the different meetings in town. Remember, those are just meetings, not churches. Don’t be divisive, sectarian, and just attend home meetings. You should regularly visit with the other saints in your city and go as far as they are willing to go but without going against scripture. Meet with them, invite them over for supper, and recognize them as part of the group. You are all one group in the city or town that you are in (even though that may not be in other people’s hearts, you can choose to live the truth).
 

If someone asks you in your city, “What church do you go to?” Tell them you are a member of the same church they are a member of.
 

“The Church that is in Their House”

There are a few references in the New Testament that Paul makes saying “the church that is in their house,” (Rom 16:5, 1 Cor. 16:19, Col 4:15). If you read those verses from a bias and a preconceived idea of there being many churches in a city (a bias that Paul did not have), then you might say that these verses are indeed evidence of there actually being multiple churches in a city.

Because such a thought is not consistent with the rest of Paul’s language throughout the New Testament, this would not make any sense. The more accurate way to read these verses is to understand that Paul is simply referring to Christians that meet or gather in those particular homes. It does not mean they have their own identity or their own name that is separate from the rest of the church in that city. Multiple Christians in any setting can be referred to as “the church.” Paul is not coming from a bias of division that we all tend to have. Therefore, he would not be stating that the Christians that meet at those particular homes are an entity in and of themselves, or who are separated from the rest of the Christians in the city and who have their own boundary. If you understand that there is only one church in any city, then there would be no problem using such language as Paul did.

If you can follow this example closely it will help. Let’s say that we have a baseball team called the Tigers. On game day, some of the Tigers are on the field warming up. Some of the Tigers are taking batting practice in the batting cages. And, some of the Tigers are in the locker room. If you wanted to refer to the Tigers that were in the locker room, you would say, “the Tigers that are the locker room.” This would not make the baseball players who are in the locker room their own team. The “church that is in their house,” simply means, the “Christians that are at their house.”

Miraculously, I recently got many church leaders together in my town. We had a big fish fry. I spoke on everything I’ve been talking about here in this chapter. I showed them from the scriptures how they needed to take their signs down in front of their buildings and let go of the names that divide us. They all said “AMEN!” Yes, they really did. I was so excited! After that meeting, I pursued them and called them, but I never heard back from them.

All we can do is our part. Jesus said that He would build His church.

One last note on this subject:

Don’t obtain a tax exempt 501c3 status.

You are not a business. And the group you are with is not an entity in and of yourselves. When you get a 501c3, you are saying that your group is a thing. It is saying you are an article, a unit, an item, in and of yourselves. This is not so. Having a name for your group does this as well. The folks you happen to meet with, walk with, share life with are just that – people in the city that you are sharing life with. The church is organic, ever growing, changing, overlapping and alive. Do not create an artificial boundary other than that of geography. Don’t create an artificial boundary and identity around those you are walking with by obtaining a 501c3 or by having a name.

Remember, you all are a part of an entity that is much bigger than yourselves. You are part of a unit, a thing that does have a name. A name which is called by the church in whatever city or town you are in. To get a 501c3 is saying that the folks you are walking with have their own identity. This will tempt you in your hearts to view yourselves that way. We are trying to get back to Biblical reality. Let’s don’t do things that make it more difficult.

Jesus said, “Woe to you if all men speak well of you”.

In other words, if you are going to live according to the New Testament and the teachings of Jesus, it will cost you. It will cost you everything.

It takes courage, but don’t be afraid! Others are doing this all over the world! I hear from people every week through email, who are forsaking the divisions of traditional church and are meeting with only the identity and name of Christ as one church in a city.

Now it’s your turn.

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