Locality is a key part of what makes a church a church.

The first part of this definition is clear from the meaning of the word "church". The Greek word translated as church in the New Testament is "ekklesia". An ekklesia is an assembly or meeting. Its most common use was for the public meeting of citizens, which governed most Roman cities. It refers to a meeting and not to an organisation or building. Transferred to a Christian situation, it means a group of believers in a particular locality, who gather together on a regular basis.

The word ekklesia is derived from the Greek word for "call". It follows that a Church is made up of people who have been called and born again into the Kingdom of God. A Church does not include everyone who lives in a locality, but only those who are Christians. Only citizens could attend the city council; in the same way only, members of the Kingdom of God can belong to a Church.

Locality is an essential part of the meaning of the word ekklesia. So each Church should be attached to a particular locality, and there can be as many Churches as there are different localities. However, each locality should only have one Church. To have a number of different kinds of church in the same locality is inconsistent with the New Testament.

Differences in beliefs, leadership structure or worship style cannot be reasons for different churches. Disagreements over these things can only be a testimony to our lack of understanding of who Jesus is and what he has done. He died to make us one. The consequence of his death is that there is one faith, one hope, one baptism, one body and one Spirit. The unity of the church in a divided world should be proof of what Jesus has done. Therefore, for a church to distinguish itself from other churches on the basis of something connected with Jesus is an enormous contradiction and a terrible sin. We need to get a revelation of this truth. Difference in location is the only reason for having a different church.

Location, Location, Location

A Church should be defined by its location. Difference in location should be the only reason for a different church. Today we have different churches for a whole variety of reasons; none of them very valid. Different churches are based on theological niceties, worship styles, personal loyalties or denominations. People leave a church and go to another because they cannot get on with someone. However, Jesus died to break down the barrier and make his people one (Eph 2:14-18). If this is true, then Christians should be able to live and work in unity. If Christians can only get on with Christians whom they like, or who are similar to them, they are no different from non-Christians.

Ideally, there should only be one church in each location as illustrated above. If we live in Smith Street we are part of the church that meets in Smith Street; we are part of the body there. We do not have the option of belonging to the body somewhere else.

Modern churches are organised differently. The diagram below shows the members of a church travelling to the Sunday meetings. Some members live quite close, while others travel a long way. When we look at this from the point of view of the local church, it does not look too bad. It looks like a sun.

The diagram below is a mess. It looks like the work of an infant who has been let loose with a crayon and not like the creation of an all-wise God. It is the church from the point of view of a non-Christian (NC); it is a mess. He sees a whole lot of churches. They all look slightly different, but he cannot understand the differences. To add to the confusion, some are the same. When he looks at the Christians he comes into contact with, they are all heading off in different directions. None of them to the same church. The red line represents one Christian who goes right across town, passing four churches on the way. The squiggles represent Christians who do not go into any church. From NC's point of view, there is no evidence of the unifying power of the Jesus.

The Christians who live close to NC have no impact in their own location or community. They are always away at their church. Many of them do not even know each other.

The picture above is not complete. Each church only has a few lines. Imagine what it would be like, if I put a line on for each Christian, the picture would be a blur of lines. Looking at this, it is hard to claim that we have a "ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor 18,19). Yet this is how the world sees us. Are we really committed to the "message of reconciliation"?

We need to get a better understanding of how bad the body of Christ looks from the outside. Pastors are often so focused on their own church, that they lose this broader perspective. If we understood, how much of mess the church looked from the outside, we would be much more embarrassed about our differences and our disunity. We should be ashamed of what we have created.

A crime of the western church is that it has taken its divisions and denominations and transplanted them into Africa, Asia and Latin America, where they do not mean anything. The concept of an Anglican Church (Church of England) in Africa should be seen as bizarre. Yet this kind of thing is so common, it has become acceptable.

In contrast, a city in which all churches were based on locality, would look like this.

All the Christians that NC has contact with go to the same church, which is in his location. He is aware that there are other churches, but they are similar to the one near where he lives. Their only difference is that they are in different locations. There should be no Christians who are not linked to the body of Christ in their location.

Many readers will now be saying, "This cannot work. It is not practical". I understand that many Christians cannot go to their local church, because it does not provide spiritual protection or opportunity for ministry. They need to go further afield to a church where they can find these things.

I also understand that in the modern world there is such a divergence between youth culture and adult culture, that it is very difficult for people of all ages to worship together. In some modern cities, there may be a need for youth orientated churches which can specialise in reaching the youth of today.

However, these situations are not God's perfect will. He would much prefer our unity was evident to the world. Therefore we should only establish different churches on the basis of age, culture, ethnicity or worship style where there is really no alternative.

The churches will not be quite as distinct as in the diagram above. In reality, there will be many lines between the churches, representing the relationships between people. There will be strong relationships between the people in one church and the people in the one next door. However, the lines will not be Christians driving past another church. They will be commitments to each another.

Back to What is a Church.