Being a Local Church
Like I mentioned last week, it is helpful sometime for us to take a step back and consider who we are as All Nations Baptist Church. This week we will consider a couple aspects of being a local church.
Who are we?
We are and seek to be a simple, local, faithful Church
What do we do?
We confess the gospel of Christ, grow in the Lord, and go out into the world.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
…Give us this day our daily bread…
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
This week, I want us to consider what I mean by, ‘local.’ This has been a popular word in the past decade where local is a virtuous thing. We like to drink local drinks, buy local honey, and buy local chickens. I am not taking this principle from this cultural idea, but we could say that there is much to commend in the local movement (and some to criticize since humanity constantly corrupts what is good).
What I mean by this is slightly different. It begins with the fact that we are physical beings placed in a specific space and time. While God is everywhere and in every time, we are in one place and one time. So we must be good stewards where the Lord God has placed us. At creation when God created humanity in his image and likeness, he created humanity to exist and act in his creation. God instructed humanity to be obedient to him, but also committed them to and blessed them with work in the world even as they entrusted themselves to their creator. However, they cultivated the world in a specific moment of time and in a specific place. Adam and Eve of themselves could not subdue the whole earth. Instead, they had to tend to their specific plot, and in their fruitfulness, commit to their children the continuing of this creation mandate. And in this pre-fall state God looked at everything he made and it was very good.
But humanity fell, and humanity neglected their responsibility to be devoted to God and to be fruitful and tend the earth wisely in accordance with the creation mandate. Further, as we reflect on humanity and our boundedness to space and time, it can seem that we are stuck and frustrated by this. But this is not a curse, it is a part of being human and created, limited and yet blessed with work to do, and it is important that we are faithful to what God has instructed us to do.
On the most basic level, we are to be devoted to God, be fruitful and subdue the earth. But in the New Testament, there are specific instructions that fill out the creation mandates. First, as we live in space and time, Jesus instructs us to live trustingly. We ask, ‘Give us this day our daily bread,’ and so we are reminded that inasmuch as we are supposed to subdue the earth, in this fallen world where famine and disease are common we must acknowledge the provision of our creator and redeemer. “Living local” as a Christians means humility.
Second, to live locally in the New Testament is to be committed to participating in a specific, regular gathering. However, the way we do church nowadays can be quite odd. Churches have multiple services and multiple ‘sites.’ The variety of churches makes it easy to choose a church that culturally aligns with you whether this is determined by the music, the preaching, the language spoken, or whether people share similar life stages as you, among many other factors. The very basic teaching of the church from the New Testament is neglected. This is that the church is a group of believers that is committed to gathering in a place and time to draw near and confess Christ, to stir one another up to good works, and encourage one another (among all the other one-anothers) as we see the say drawing near. It is nearly impossible to be a part of a regular gathering if we don’t go and participate in it. We are not a part of a church by listening to our favorite preachers and teachers on the internet or radio. We are not a part of a church if we stay home and listen to our favorite worship album. We are a part of a church when we regularly meet together and practice the two ordinances of the church: baptism and communion. These are signs of the new covenant and signify our covenant relationship with Christ and with his church, and they are physical happenings that cannot be done from afar.
So we are a local church in that we are committed to gathering regularly in one place and time. And even though our desire is to be a local community church, we acknowledge that mobility of our culture means we don’t always live near to our regular gatherings. But we would say that we ought to choose and be committed to a church gathering insofar as we are able to be meaningfully involved in the lives of the believers that gather.
In other words, we have a specific responsibility to those with whom we have committed to gather with. God built the church in this way (i.e. that there are multiple churches) in order that no one would be neglected. If the local gathering does not tend to its own, then who will? The answer is more often than not: no one. Yet all too often we neglect our local responsibility (many churches in fact do), and the outsiders and those struggling are left out. This is because many have natural relationships and long-term friendships which are good, but we are not always as careful to remember that not everyone is blessed with such a set up in this broken world. In fact, if we do not invite the outsider who is a member of our local church into our natural relationships, then these natural relationships are not healthy. We must always live with an openness to serve the needy, which at the most basic level means showing them hospitality in a way that shows them they are a part of the family of God. And if there are needy non-Christians, then inviting them into your home shows them what Christian love looks like.
In many ways in our modern world we can have an illusion of omni-presence. Our ability to travel across the world and across our city, our online connectedness to news and friends all around the world, these all can make us feel as though we are able to be everywhere and should meet needs everywhere. This is not our true nature though, and can distracts us from the real good that God is calling us to in our specific callings right in front of us as well as from humble dependence on Him.
So local means something different from our world when we reflect on it biblically and theologically. There are other ways we could draw this out, but may we be faithful in tending to the matters that God has entrusted us with.