"To testify the gospel of the grace of God." Acts 20:24
**PUBLISHED AS A MISSION PROJECT OF PILGRIMS HOPE BAPTIST CHURCH**
IS A CHURCH TRULY LOCAL WHEN IT HAS CONGREGATIONS MEETING IN SEVERAL DIFFERENT LOCATIONS?
By Wayne Camp
In recent months I have been asked by several brethren to deal with the question which I have used as the title of this message. "Is A Church Truly Local When It Has Congregations Meeting In Several Different Locations?" Another question I have been asked to deal with is, "Is a church truly local if it has members at large that conduct services in their homes and are periodically visited by their pastor who conducts services in their home?" In this message I will only consider the first question. Perhaps in the future I may deal with the second.
A STATEMENT OF POSITION
Before I set out to answer this, let me state my position on the teachings of Scripture on the nature of the Lords churches. I hold no view of a true church of the Lord Jesus Christ but the local, visible view. I sometimes use the word "church" in the generic, or institutional sense much as Paul used the words "husband" and "wife" in Ephesians. Ephesians 5:23 For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Paul used "husband" in the generic sense. He did not mean there was one big universal husband who was the head of some universal wife. Nor did he men Christ is the head of some universal church. He meant that whereever one finds a particular, local husband and wife, that husband is the head of that wife. And, wherever you find a true, local church Christ is the head of that particular church. I do not believe Old Testament Saints, nor John the Baptist, nor unbaptized saved people are in any church in the New Testament sense of that word. I do not believe the family of God and the church are spoken of in the same sense anywhere in Scripture. I believe that faithful members of local New Testament Churches will compose the bride of the Lord Jesus Christ.
I believe that Christ established his first local, visible New Testament Church while on earth as recorded in John 1:35-51. I believe his promise to that church and all his churches that the gates of hell would not prevail (Mat. 16:18) has not failed and that there has never been a moment of time since that first church was established on earth in which there has not been at least one true church of the Lord Jesus Christ functioning somewhere in this world.
LOCAL. In this message, I will use the word "local" to refer to true churches of the Lord Jesus Christ. I believe a true church is local in nature. According to my unabridged Websters the word local means "pertaining to, characteristic of, or restricted to a particular place or particular places. Pertaining to a town or a small district rather than the entire state or country." When we say a church is local in nature that necessarily infers that it meets in a particular local place. There was the church of God in Corinth, the church in Rome, the church in Ephesus, the church in Pergamos, the church in Thyatira, etc. If one is speaking of churches in the plural which meet in several particular places, he may speak of the seven churches of Asia (Rev. 1-3), or the churches of Macedonia (II Cor. 8:1), or "the churches . . . throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria," (Acts 9:31). One might also speak of the churches of Syria and Cilicia (Acts 15:41), or "the churches of Galatia (1 Corinthians 16:1).
One can also speak of local churches without designating the specific location in which they worship. Paul wrote of all the churches of the Gentiles. (Romans 16:4) Each and everyone of those churches, you can be assured had a local place to which they could be referred. Paul commanded, "Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law" (1 Corinthians 14:34). Paul referred to "all churches of the saints" (1 Corinthians 14:33). Again, note the inference that these are local churches. The very fact that he uses the plural indicates he is referring to specific, local churches, specific local assemblies meeting is specific localities, each meeting in its own specific locality.
VISIBLE. When, in this message, I refer to a visible church I am speaking in contradistinction to the so-called universal invisible church. I mean, as defined in my dictionary, that the particular assembly is an assembly "that can be seen;" an assembly that is "perceptible to the eye." A local, visible assembly then is one which can be seen in its particular locality when it is assembled. If it is a visible assembly it is an assembly "that can be seen." If it is a local, visible assembly it is one that can be seen in its specific locality when it assembles.
NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH. When I use the expression New Testament Church in this message I am referring to a church that follows and teaches the things that churches of the New Testament followed and taught that were right. None of the churches of the New Testament period were perfect. Many were very imperfect. Consider all the problems in the church of Corinth. Paul rebukes some 16 or 17 things in that church and says that he would set the rest in order when he got there indicated there were other problems which the Spirit did not move him to include. The church at Pergamos had some problems which were the objects of the holy hatred of the Lord Jesus Christ. Revelation 2:14-15 But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. 15 So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. Several in the churches in Galatia had been bewitched into believing salvation required the keeping of the law, and circumcision.
It would be wonderful if every church of the Lord were perfect, but none are. And none will be as long as they are made up of members who are not perfect. Churches of the New Testament were composed of saved, scripturally baptized believers who had covenanted together to carry out the work of the Lord as set forth in the great commission.
Having defined these terms, I now set forth to answer the question which I have been asked to answer.
The question is, "Is A Church Truly Local When It Has Congregations Meeting In Several Different Locations?" According to current tradition, when a church sends forth a missionary he goes where the Lord has called him to go and to which his sponsoring church sends him, preaches the gospel, and baptizes those who are saved into the church back home. Let me set up a scenario of how this may work. Pilgrims Hope is a local, visible church of the Lord Jesus Christ which meets in Memphis, Tennessee, more specifically, at 3084 Woodrow St., Memphis, Tennessee. We assemble visibly each Sunday morning and evening, and Wednesday evening (except on rare occasions).
Lets suppose that in time, PHBC sends a missionary to Canada who sets up a "mission", in time some are saved and baptized into PHBC. This "mission" that assembles regularly in Canada is, according to the current tradition, said to be a part of the local, visible assembly at 3084 Woodrow, Memphis, TN. We then send a missionary to Mexico and he does as the missionary in Canada. We send yet another to some city in Africa, and another to India, and then another to the Philippines. All of these make disciples, baptize those disciples, and hold regular assemblies in their respective localities. But, they cannot be called a local, visible assembly because they have not yet been organized into a church and are members of the local (?), visible assembly which regularly assembles at 3084 Woodrow, Memphis, TN.
A part of PHBC assembles in Canada; a part of PHBC assembles in Mexico; a part of PHBC assembles in Africa; a part of PHBC assembles in India; and, yet another part of PHBC assembles in the Philippines. Pilgrims Hope Baptist Church is no longer a local assembly, it is an international assembly which regularly assemblies in several different countries. How could we claim to be a local, visible assembly when we are actually six local which meet in six different countries? How can we claim to be a visible assembly when we are actually six visible assemblies which may be seen in six different countries. To the congregation in Canada, the assembly in Memphis is not visible. To the congregation in Mexico none of the other five are visible. There is a sense then in which Pilgrims Hope has ceased to be a visible assembly.
The Roman Catholic Church has long held the Universal Visible theory of the church. The Mother Church is located in Rome and is presided over, overseen, and ruled by the Pope who is the chief pastor of the Universal Visible Church of Rome. The various congregations of Roman Catholics which meet all over the world are merely branches of the mother church in Rome. The pastors (priests) of these various congregations are under the authority of Mother Rome and subject to the chief pastor, the Pope. The members of the various congregations are also subject to the mother church in the Vatican, and also subject to and under the authority of the chief pastor of the mother church, the Pope.
In the scenario I set up concerning Pilgrims Hope and her "missions" in several different countries do we not have the same thing in miniature form? PHBC is the mother church and I, Wayne Camp, am the chief pastor. Since the members of the assembly in Canada are members of PHBC, they are under our authority and I am their chief pastor, even though they have a "mission pastor" on the scene in Canada. However, this "mission pastor" is kind of a second-class pastor since he must work under my oversight. Since the pastor of PHBC has the oversight and rule over the members of PHBC (Hebrews 13:17 Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you. Acts 20:28 Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. ), as pastor of PHBC I have the rule, oversight of the members in Canada, Mexico, India and the other countries where we have branches of our church assembling. As pastor of PHBC, I have the rule, oversight of the "mission pastors" of those various assemblies. I desire to be no pope, not even a Baptist Pope (No pun intended, Bro. Daniel Pope.). I fear there is in most of us a certain amount of the spirit of Diotrephes (3 John 9 I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not.) and some of us love to have other assemblies and pastors under our rule and oversight.
And, Dear Readers, this sometimes extends beyond the time when those "missions" are organized into churches. I know of occasions where a "daughter" church was having some problems several years after they were organized and the pastor of the "mother" church used the fact that his church was the "mother" as an excuse to nose into their problems. I know of instances where the pastor of "mother" churches told the pastors of "daughter" churches they could not preach in certain Bible conferences. Matthew 20:21-28 And he said unto her, What wilt thou? She saith unto him, Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom. 22 But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able. 23 And he saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father. 24 And when the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation against the two brethren. 25 But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. 26 But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; 27 And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: 28 Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.
This is one of the problems faced by the current tradition of starting missions which, after various lengths of time, may become churches. When Paul and Barnabas were sent forth from the church at Antioch and went into a city preaching the gospel, baptizing and teaching they had churches. If my wife did not tell me that its sounds like I am betting, I would offer a $1000 reward for clear proof that Paul and Barnabas ever operated what, in our day, is called a mission. Paul and Barnabas were the mission of Antioch, not some branch congregation somewhere outside Antioch. One missionary who follows this current tradition suggested that it is necessary today because new converts and "missions" must be well-grounded in the faith before they can be organized into churches and released from the authority of the "mother" church and her pastor.
My question is, "Where is the Holy Spirit who watched over the churches which Paul and Barnabas established and left behind, and that very shortly in some instances? Some were even left without pastors until Paul and Barnabas were returning from their first trip, at which time they led the assemblies in the choosing of their pastors. Acts 14:23 And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.
If I started a company that manufactured snowplows and it was located at an address in Millington, Tennessee, it would be classified as a LOCAL company. If I built a second plant in Arkansas and a third in Mississippi, I would have a company that was INTERSTATE in nature. If I then locate a plant in Mexico, my company has become INTERNATIONAL in nature. The only way I could keep it local in nature would be to move every thing to that one location in Mexico. If I continue to operate my company in more than one country it is definitely, irrefutably, and legally INTERNATIONAL in nature.
A truly local New Testament church is one that meets in a particular locality and it can be seen with the eye when it is meeting. If it regularly assembles in different states it is interstate in nature. If it regularly assembles in more than one country, it is international in nature.
The local church at Jerusalem never, according to the Biblical record, assembled in Antioch. Some have advocated that Antioch was a mission of the church at Jerusalem until that congregation sent Barnabas down to check out the situation. If that contention is true, the church at Jerusalem was not truly a local church. Nor was it truly the church at Jerusalem. It was the international church of Jerusalem and Antioch. If, as many believe, James was the pastor of the Jerusalem church, he was also pastor of its assembly in Antioch even though he was not aware of what was going on in Antioch and had to send Barnabas to find out.
The church at Antioch, from the time of its origin, was always the church at Antioch. The church at Corinth was always the church at Corinth. There is no BIBLICAL record that Antioch ever operated "branch churches," or "missions" or "prospective assemblies" anywhere in the world. The church at Antioch never assembled in Thessalonica, Corinth, Rome, or any locality except Antioch. If it had, it would have ceased to be the local assembly at Antioch. The church at Jerusalem never operated a branch assembly or mission in Antioch, Galatia, Ephesus, Thyatira, or Smyrna as far as can be clearly ascertained or authoritatively declared from the Biblical record.
Sometimes we get into things much as David got into hauling the ark of the covenant on a new cart. The Philistines had taken the ark and had hauled it away on a cart. It appeared perfectly harmless so David and his people built and new cart and went to fetch the ark home on it. When the oxen shied and the ark nearly tipped over, Uzzah reached out to steady it and God struck him dead. God had a prescribed way for carrying the ark and no innovation of the Philistines could be substituted.
The Roman Catholic Church has long operated "missions" and "branches" and "parishes" and "dioceses" within what they claim is the universal (catholic) visible church. There is no such thing in their mind as Roman Catholic churches (plural). There is the Roman Catholic church which meets in many locations all over the world. All of these people are considered members of the church of Rome, the Roman Catholic Church. If you challenge their tradition and teaching you can be the object of their wrath and denunciation as I have been recently. I received this letter from a Roman Catholic in Great Britain.
Long live the Holy Romano-Catholic Church! Death to all heretics!
Having read your heretical condemnation of Promise Keepers and the Holy Romano-Catholic Church, I must tell you that you shall be broken to pieces and the greatest pain will be brought to you. You need to know that God will send you to Hell as a heretic agent of Satan. You, (vulgarity), claim that Churches should be separate from each other, thus breaking the word of Jesus who says there should be one Church.
Who the (vulgarity) are you anyway? Some (vulgarity), somewhere in a small town, maybe some priest of a heretical Church who enjoys democracy for being allowed to pour his (vulgarity) on God's work. What (vulgarity) power can such a small Church have anyway? How can you claim that Christians shouldn't be one body? Or are you afraid that true Christians will burn you as heretics were burnt by the Holy Inquisition?
One day, the old feudal order will be revived all over the world. Heretical liberals like you will be destroyed in the name of the King and the Church. As you probably live in the US, you must know that each state of the US shall become a colony of England as it was before (vulgarity) Washington and his revolutionary gang rebelled against their legitimate master, George III. There will be no representation for the (vulgarity) nation, just the hereditary rule of nobles. Heretics like you, liberals, Pagans like Moslems, democrats and other (vulgarity) who love to think and not blindly believe will be killed, taking care that the greatest pain is inflicted on them by the monks of the Holy Inquisition.
Hoping in your immediate painful death, hoping that you'll suffer the loss of those you love and that you yourself will hurt more than all of them combined.
This mans main attack on me was because I attacked, in an article on our WebSite, Romes idea of being the mother church and all these "missions" or "branches" being a part of the mother church at Rome. This struck at the roots of their hierarchial system.
Where did our independent, associational, and convention Baptist churches get this idea of having a mother church that has one or more "branches", "arms," or "missions" operating in various parts of the world who are allegedly part of the mother church somewhere else? We did not get it from the Bible, that is certain. Did we get it from Rome?
As painful as it may be, we need to take a good long look at this practice and see if we can find where it came from. We have, among us, a lot of little hierarchies. Let us not try to eisegete or superimpose it upon Scripture. Some who do not like this message may, as Rome has long done, seek to kill the messenger. But, until someone can show me Biblical example or mandate for this practice of having an international or interstate church and calling it a local, visible assembly, I will continue to ask for one Scripture in all of Gods book that clearly shows that any church of the New Testament ever operated a mission with assembling members in another locality while still maintaining their local and visible nature. I will be waiting patiently as I have for the last 25 or more years. Twenty-five or more years ago I offered a $1,000 reward for one clear example of a "mission" in the New Testament. At the time I would have had to borrow the money to pay the reward, but no one ever claimed it.
Therefore, I will patiently wait for someone to show me clear evidence that Paul and Barnabas first started missions which were later organized into churches. And, if this can be shown, then I challenge the argument that the church at Antioch was a local visible body. How could it be local, if it assembled in several different localities in several different cities in several different countries? How, my Brethren? How?
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Last updated on Friday, March 04, 2011