Much is made of “the local church” today but I wonder, do we really know what the term means. More importantly, do we know what that term meant to the early Christians?
In an excellent post by Alan Knox, he writes:
..“church” in the NT (when not used of the “universal” church), always designates a geographical group of people. (UPDATE: When I say “a geographical group of people,” I mean a group of people in the same geographical area. HT: Lew) For example, there is the church in Jerusalem, the church in Antioch, the church in Ephesus, etc. Yes, there are churches based in homes. But there is no indication that these churches were removed (separate) from the geographical church in the respective city.
However, today we use the term “local church” differently. We do not use “church” to specify a “geographical locale”, but instead we use the term to differentiate based on structure, organization, theology, etc. For example, the people in the houses around me attend four different “churches”. In fact, even though we are all brothers and sisters in Christ (in theory), we rarely interact. And, this is considered normal.
I think Alan is on to something here and it makes me wonder; Why do institutional churches tend to downplay this clear teaching in Scripture? Could it be that we love our sects more than God?