All Church Is Local

The Preaching Hour 488. All Church Is Local   https://youtube.com/watch?v=euNahWig           

Yes Jesus set up a universal plan to get His gospel message to all the world (Mt.28,19). But his plan was that this was going to happen at the local scale, by local congregations, by local churches, one by one sprouting up with the universal message, and governed locally.

At the local level is where the vitality of politics is found- the change, the passion, the movement- likewise in the church.

The farther politics get from the local level the more detached the people are, the more distracted we get. So, likewise in the church, the farther away church governance gets from within the local community the more detached the people are from it, and the further away from Jesus.

We have studied before on 'The Preaching Hour' the 1945 novel by Carlo Levi "Christo Si E Fermato a Eboli" Christ Stopped at Eboli. I think we were talking about the Nicolaitans, the controlling church with deeds and then doctrines per Revelation2,6 and 15. Levi's book showed that the territorial and hierarchical institutional empire got there, but Jesus didn't. So the dear souls were left with their own local customs, but not Jesus.

We live in an age where local communities often feel like we are just subjects of hierchical powers, of the federal government, of the bureucratic state, both imposing thier ways and means, and so called plans and bigger and better solutions. But then, if the past be our guide, not so much actual help and change filters down to the actual needs and wants of the local community.

Something very similar can happen in denominations that are run with a top down traditional business-political model.

And the people are left to wonder "Well nothing much changes, but I hope they send us a good one."

And the good one, that would be a gospel one, a bible based one, comes in or doesn't. If a good one is there for awhile, the local vitality of the local congregation migth be felt, but then the worldly top down church business model system, by design, just asserts itself once again. 

Real life, real church and real blessings and faith growth take place at the local level. Or not. As I said, and I think you migth agree, its very similar in politics, and the politics of social welfare. In Aprill 2020 a WSJ reporter Lauren Sandler wrote a book "This Is All I Got- A New Mother Searches For A Home." It's a real life story about a Dominican American woman, Camiila, who  is homeless, but the New York City social welfare system for the homeless is so burdened, with a varying city homeless population of between about 50,000-100,000 in recent years it's not really getting any results helping Camilla, who does everything right, but is left in a hard spot and not too many good choices.  

The impression I took away from this telling book was that New York city is so big, over eight million people, that the very system's scale and the scale of the problems makes it too big to be "local" and help a whole lot. In contrast Vermont (a most liberal and most conservative place, or the most conservative liberal place I have ever been), a state I know a little about, it seems the social welfare system blessedly still has a local scale, with its only 600,000 residents, with its small "cities." So, the social welfare system works better, than New York and Connecticut because its scale is still local and the scope of the problems are still in some sense local and manageable. But what do I know. 

When Jesus brought salvation to all, it was salvation coming through his local people, Israel (John4,22). He set up His church from the ground up, thinking to spread the local to the universal (Matthew28,19), not try to make a top down universal church, not a Western model political model of the Roman imperial model, based on the traditional state religion model, a hierarchical universal Pontifex ruling over a man made territorial provincial priesthood model based. This is more or less followed by both Catholic and Protestant Christendom even up to this day. It's a model that tempts all churches even good local churches who might want too make a franchise and a hierarchy and leave the local governance of the bible.

But Jesus at the beginning of his ministry at Matthew10,5-6 Jesus sends out his twelve disciples on a "local" scale, not as part of a state church, or a political church, but firstly to Israel geographically to gather them and introduce them to their new shepherd, the promised prophet messiah [Jesus, Genesis49,24, Dt18,15-18; Acts2,30). He and they by extension were Word bound to gather up the Jews scattered (Jeremiah31,10) in the Greco Roman world: "Do not go among the gentiles [they are still unclean, not to the "nations"] or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go  preach the message of the kingdom [promised first to Israel] of heaven is near." His disciples mostly came from a local place too, from around Gallilee.

At Matthew10,23 Jesus says the gospel message of the kingdom in Israel  is so important that there's no time for being territorial, just gather as many of our any of the brothers and sisters you can. Without territoriality, there's no reason for hierarchy (and also the tedious and distracting answer answer to the question who is the greatest among earthly religious leaders).

This non territoriality in Jesus' plan is also important because being territorial, even in Israel, where Christ knows he is going to be largely rejected (in these early days anyway) would require not only non biblical hierarchy, but sooner or later some sort of force. But Jesus said "Blessed are the peacemakers they shall be called sons of God." Teritoriality goes against Jesus' gospel and kingdom plan, his local church plan. Stay local and and peaceful unto the worldwide establishment of the salvation message. And from that local plan the universal message there would be the foundation of local congregations sprouting up first in Israel and later all around the world. Territoriality doesn't jibe with Jesus' peaceful bible based establishment of the gospel.

So we have Matthew10,23: "When you are persecuted in in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes."

Mark9,38-40 also is strictly non territorial and non hierarchical. And its still in the general context of getting the kingdom message to local Israel, and also in the specific context of a willingness of Jesus' first Jewish disciples (and also us gentile later disciples) to accept other gospel disciples who are not in own local group or church:

"Teacher" said John, "we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us. 39 "Do not stop him," Jesus said. "No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment can say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us."   

Let's keep going on this local thing. It reveals and unlocks a key understanding of God's Hebrew and New Testament revelation.

Revelation1,11-12 depicts the risen Jesus giving a message to the prophet John the Revelator. John the Revelator was not a territorial or hierarchical pastor, but when there are no pastors, or the pastors are not pastoring, or some real important teachings need to be established, well the prophets become sort of like pastors, by their teachings, like Daniel did when Israel was in Babylonian exile. See Amos3,7 God does nothing without revealing it to his pastors.

Both Jesus and John are in a sense via the Book of Revelation prophetically pastoring the churches, throughout church history. John was the prophet who heard the messages from the supreme prophet pastor Jesus for the seven local churches in Asia Minor. This was a crucial part of the world and the true message of salvation in Jesus for the local churches (and the church all through its future history) had to get out to the local churches and then be maintained amidst difficulties and various persecutions then and there (and throughout the church age until Jesus comes back to a local place Zion, to Israel and judges Israel and gethers her, and reigns for a thousand years with her and all the holy ones. Zechariah14,5 and Rev.19,14). 

Verse  12-14 of Revelation1 depicts Jesus as the 'Son of man", messiah of Israel, promised prophet, eternal high priest High Priest, dressed in a white robe with a golden sash around his chest, and as God himself with his head and hair white like wool. And he's standing among the seven lampstands, ie the seven local churches. John the Revelator was doing his best to give these churches his prophecies, get the message of God to the local churches.

The messages came from the one who is standing in the midst of his local communities. Pastors of these churches are not mentioned, as if Jesus wanted to get his message- as head of every church- directly to each, without any fleshly or wordly questions about the Word being stifled. These urgent letters are addressed to the angel of each local church, God's messenger, with God's local message to God's local church, not addressed to the pastor. This prophetic imperative of the Word is fitting and normative for Jesus knows exactly what going on in each local church and he not only stands in their midst, he also 'walks among the seven golden lampstands." Rev2,1 

So these messages are delivered obediently by both the angel or "star" of each church, but also written the obedient Prophet John (1,19)

This is all to say Jesus and his message, and his local church and his "church" and a worldwide collection of local churches (not a hierarchy), his Christianity, and bible Christianity has no mediators other than He himself. 1Tm2,5. The message for the salvation of each local church, and the gentiles and Israel can't be destroyed, even by men, not when Jesus has a willing prophet like Moses, or Jesus, or John, to whom He tells his plan (Amos3,7). And his plan in Revelation is firstly local, and then universality of local churches, and He is and has been sending messages to each local church throughout church history and that is still happening even now.

Prophets like these keep the Spirit moving, and the Word teaching, and Jesus is still chief shepherd of his church, his local churches.

The first generation of disciples and apostles kept moving with his message of salvation, first to Israel, then to scattered locally in the nations, then to the mixed Jewish and gentile churches and later to then primarily gentile church. That's the pattern in the New Testament.

Timothy, Paul's faith son, was a second generation Apostle and he apparently stayed in Ephesus teaching and evangelizing because it was so important that the gospel and the local church there got rooted in that region. But generally speaking the first evangelists and Apostles kept moving, and then local pastors would later become the norm as the message was planted and then pastors would administer each local church.

The Apostle Paul kept moving and was involved catalyzing and localizing something like twenty churches, making them come alive with the gospel, teaching how they should teach and get rooted, get stronger. He even got to Rome according to the Book of Acts, at Acts28,11ff, which was just another Jewish based local church.

We don't know if Peter got to Rome. (That tradition is likely built upon a misunderstanding of Matthew16,13-20, the passage about Peter correctly answering the question Jesus asked all the Apostles: "Who do you say I am?" We'll break down that important passage next time) But we know Paul did  get to Rome because Acts28,11ff tells us so. And we know Paul wrote Romans before voyaging to there to the local Roman church because he wanted to impart some spiritual gift [further apostolic teaching] "to make you strong" and "mutual encouragement " (Romans1,11-12)

If Peter was involved with the foundation of the local church there, Paul would not have likely even shown up there because Paul at Romans15,20 makes a sort of curious but efficient and logical point about his ministry: "It has always been my ambition to preach where he was not known, so I would not be building on someone else's foundation." 

Peter and the ordinary course apostles were told to go to the lost sheep of Israel, beginning in physical Israel and that's very likely what they did (Mt 10 and Mt 15,24 Jesus even says He likewise was sent on this local mission to Israel's lost sheep).

Paul in contrast was given a specific mission from the risen Jesus directly, prophetically: "to carry the name of Jesus to the gentiles, non Jews per Acts22,21. So Paul's gospel mission culminated with his letter and then his visit to the local chuch at Rome, mostly Jewish in origin, but which Paul knew would need his apsotolic teaching to stay rooted, especially as it became more gentile as it grew. I believe knew this as Apostle to the gentiles, and Rome being the center of the Greco Roman gentile world. 

Before Jesus ascended the the apsotles were told at Matthew28,19 to take the good news message, all Jesus'  teachings, including adult water baptism, and 'go make disciples of all the nations" with the promise that he as chief shepherd-prophet would be with them until the end of the gospel age.

And after this gospel age of local churches all around the world, the nations, then there's the kingdom age, with Jesus going back to the local kingdom place of Israel.  As Joel 3,17 says "The Lord your God dwells in Zion." Zion, God's faith hill in Jerusalem, and it is a local place, that one day will contain the final partucular and local people, both Jew and gentile faithers. And Jesus is coming back to this local Zion, with his localized people, who want to be localized, to be there, in the Zion kingdom. Revelation19,14ff, Zechariah14,5.

Yes his fulfilled priestly people Exodus19,6; 1Peter2,5, ie all his holy ones, Jew and gentile, will then be in the same local place, and will enjoy the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom promised to Israel, a local and fruitful place, designated for the chosen since God's prophecies to Abraham in Genesis 12, fruit of faith of local congregations all around the world.

We know the apostle Paul was used to go to the gentiles so as to broaden the base of the church. The church at Rome epitomized Paul's particular missionary charge from Jesus to the gentiles, so he wanted to go there, center of the Greco Roman world, without fail, come what may. The local church in Rome was possibly or even likely founded by the Jewish married couple Prisca and Aquila, to whom Paul pays "mad respect" or much respect (as the young people say about someone who has done something challenging). Accordingly, at Romans16,3-4 Paul writes: "Greet Priscilla and Aquila my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches [local] of the  gentiles are grateful to them."

Again "mad respect" for this couple at the end of 1Corinthians16,19. Paul is writing from Ephesus, and Prisca and Aquila, tentmakers there like Paul, have been run out of Rome in 51 or 52 AD with the whole Jewish community by the emperor Claudius (Acts181-2). And now this super evangelistic and hospitable and courageous hosting the emerging church, emerging out of the synagogue, at their house- nothing more local than that! "The church in the province of Asia send you their greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the the church that meets at their house."

Acts18,24-28 tells us Prisca and Aquila were still welcome in the local synagogue there, still welcoming Jewish believers in Jesus. So Prisca and Aquila invited Apollos, also a messianic Jewish believer, from Alexandria in Egypt, to their home "and explained to him the way of God more adequately." (v.26) This was done in compassion and strategically because Apollos was a fiery teacher as he attempted to bring His fellow Jews in the local synangogue to faith in Jesus as their messiah.

So we're seeing that the base of church is the congregation was always expected to be founded and rooted in a local place, with a local community, and it was also uiniversal, in the sense that it had one message, one faith, one Lord, one baptism, ie one message that Jesus is messiah and savior first of Israel, but also the nations, in the local church(es) in Israel first and then in the nations.

We can also see that the view of the church per Matthew28,19, and the appointment of Paul as Apostle to the gentiles that the "church" itself can be seen as a collection of local churches, all spread out in the Greco Roman world, but should not be seen in a territorial or hierchical way with doctrines fashioned by non biblical sources and traditions. That the church as a universal message doesn't mean it is ever ruled and governed from a far off in a way foreign to the scriptures, but its goverance remains local.

The message of Jesus to his apostles, and the amazing apsotolic work of Paul and the amazing evangelizing by Prisca and Aquila in so may local churches shows us that all church is local. All church derives form the Jewish idea of the local congregation, the minyan, a local community of 10 (cf Oxford Dictionary Of Jewish Religion, perhaps based on the ten spies that scouted the promised land) what we would call in the secular sense a "quorom" a minimum number of the faithfull to carry out the local business of the local people of God.

Jesus was even more generous and said "wherever two or three are gathered in my name there I am in their midst." Matthew18,20.

This fits with the fact that Jesus was in the midst of the local churches in Asia Minor. Revelation1,12 He still is amidst us. He walked among the seven churches. Revelation2,1.

He walks among his local churches today. And starts up church wherever faithful folks gather in his name.

Alll church is local. It was first local in Israel with the local ordinary course apostles.Then local in the Jewish communities scatterred in the gentile Greco Roman world, such as in the local churches in Rome, in Corinth, and in Ephesus, which were set up very similarly to the Jewish synagogue system. And them became mixed with gentiles and then more gentile as the Christian movement sadly distanced itself from its local Jewish roots.

A synagogue, a church, a congregation is not about the building but about the local congregation, the community, because salvation is of the Jews, a local group, a local people chosen for salvation, a partcular group that belongs to a called out, a set apart people, a local people and local peoples that have heard and accepted the universal biblical message of salvation;

The Preaching Hour 489. All Church Is Local (2) https://youtube.com/watch?v=6PWcGtCCLI

We're continuing our teaching on the centrality of the gospel message in a local place, for a local community, built on the Jewish synagogue model, and the fact that salvation comes from the Jews (John4,22), from their prophetic scriptures like Isaiah and from their biblical tradition. So this means "All church is local" or better said, all church is governed locally.

A collection of churches might be considered 'the church' but Church is still comprised of local churches, not a Rome based, territorial, provincial, hierarchical system, based on secular and then religious empire. 

"Church" is about the one true salvation message getting planted in a local place, among a local community. This is where the church meets and where the church is governed, and most importantly where the Spirit comes down locally, and then the gospel message comes in, and creates that local church, as demonstrated by the first feast of Pentecost, local to Jerusalem.

What is the gospel, the precious message that founds local churches? We could describe it in many ways, I particularly like the 1Peter2,9, addressed to both Jews and gentiles because it's all about declaring the message and declaring the miracles of Jesus: "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light." 

But since we are teaching about local church governance, local supremacy, in the church, we'll biblically assess Peter's right confession of who Jesus is at Matthew16,18- Jesus as Son of God, the messiah of the Jews. This message came first to Peter locally, in Israel. And He sent locally to the 'Lost Sheep of the house of Israel." Matthew10,6. We know he fulfilled this local mission from Galatians1,18 in that we are told by Paul that he visited Peter in Jerusalem three years after his conversion, and Galatians2,1-9 says Paul went up to Jerusalem again, and met with James, Cephas, and John, the acknowledged local church "pillars." Notice that in keeping with our theme of 'all church is local' theme- Paul refers to James, Peter and John, in that order, at Galatians2,9, with James the local pastor, Peter the message planter Apostle in Jerusalem, and John the prophet-evangelist.

So, as the local pastor James, brother of Jesus, ruled at Acts15 that gentiles did not have to be circumcized to become followers of Jesus 

Peter in His Christ given ministry focused primarily and locally in Jerusalem, and also locally in Israel, and then and then locally in Antioch just north of Israel, to the lost sheep of house of Israel. Yes in all his known ministry, Peter was still focused on the responsibility given to him to take the message to Jewish folks, lost sheep of Israel. In keeping this responsibility, a strange thing happened when Peter would not eat with gentiles, or non Jews, Paul, the apostle to the gentiles, rebuked him. Galatians2,11. 

So when we look at the famous and often misunderstood Matthew16,18 we don't forget that Jesus gave Peter the charge to go to the lost sheep of Israel. Matthew10,6. And we don't forget that Peter is going to still carry out that job, doing it well, staying close in Jerusalem and Israel for about 15 years, planting the local message in the local church there.

So when Jesus commends Peter at Matthew16,18 he's doing so because Peter, little Rocky, a chip off the block of the real rock, the rock of ages, knows the right revealed message of who Jesus is. So we read at v. 18 "You are Peter and on this rock [of your faith in the right "local" message, to the lost sheep of Israel] I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. " 

Jesus did not say the church was Peter's, or Peter was the rock, or that he would go to Rome and be the first "Pope" or that the church would become an religious empire and take a secular empire's administrative provincial structure and teritoriality. He was saying "I am the rock, I am the cornerstone of my church, and I am the the one who followed Israel and gave them food and drink in the dessert." cf 1Corinthians10,3-4.

Jesus was saying "I am the rock. I am the message. And Peter, little Rocky, you now got the right message! And what does one do with the local message- plant it locally, ie in local churches, local synagogues, local ecclesias, so to speak, as the local gospel Word and Spirit came down on each local place and local people. 



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Tobin Hitt is the founder of the Zion Pentecost Mission. He is open to gospel partnership with all, and identifies with Paul's description of our mission as ambassadors for our king, Jesus, urging all to reconcile with God (2Cor.20-21). He resides in Cheshire, Connecticut.