by Getahun Gebremedhin
One of the revelations that God has given in our time is to bring an end to the problem of unity in the Body of Christ. God is redefining the locality of the Church. The present truth in our generation is to build the Church as one body in every locality. Jesus wants to build His universal church, city by city. The Spirit of God is stirring the hearts of His people concerning unity and the government of God within the city. There is a noise, a rattling sound, of unity across the globe (Ezk 37). This revelation is not a new revelation: it is a biblical truth which has been revealed to men of God for many years, but now God is urging His leaders in our time, to come into this reality.
I would like to quote what other men of God have said about the City Church.
Brother Watchman Nee discovered the ground of the church locality in 1934 and I would like to quote from “The Orthodoxy of the Church” by Br Watchman Nee:
“The ground of locality was not discovered by us till 1937, and that through Br Nee. Even by 1934, Br Nee had only discovered the boundary of a local Church, which is the boundary of the local city within which a local church is situated. Due to the confusion among the ‘Brethren’ assemblies (that is, in one city there are several ‘Brethren’ assemblies), which he saw in 1933, he studied the New Testament once again in order to ascertain the boundary of a local church (assembly). Eventually he discovered that the New Testament reveals clearly that the boundary of the local church is the boundary of the locality (city) in which the local church stands. Immediately after his new discovery Br Nee gave a series of messages on this matter in January of 1934 at Shanghai, and these were published in the same year as the book ‘The Meeting Life’. Thus, in his messages and publications subsequent to that time, he began to use the term ‘the boundary of locality’; not yet the term, ‘the ground of locality’.
Then based upon the boundary of locality, Br Nee came to see the ground of locality. Since the boundary of a local church is the boundary of the locality in which it stands, the ground of the church must be the ground of the locality on which the local church is built. This a unique ground which keeps the genuine unity of the church. Any ground other than this is divisive.”
To know more detail about “the ground of locality”, read ‘Assembly Life’ and ‘The Normal Christian Life’ by Br Watchman Nee.
Dr Kevin Conner, in his book “The Church in the New Testament”, chapter 11 – the Church in the book of Acts, explains the local church very well. I would like to quote from him the meaning of “Local Church”:
“However, within this one universal church, there were many churches in many and various localities, all replicas and part of the whole. The concept was from the whole to the part, and part to the whole. This concept maintained the unity of the church universal and the churches local.
The Church in the City
The following shows the concept of the Church in a city – one church in one city, yet within this were many congregations, part of the whole.”
“The Church and the Churches
It is important to note what the Apostles, the foundation of the church, did not do with these churches:
They did not create a denominational church of all local churches
They did not use Jerusalem or Rome as “the mother church”. Though Jerusalem reproduced itself, there was no centralization nor was Jerusalem the “headquarters” for all churches. Christ was headquarters!
They did not have country churches ie the Church of England in Japan etc
They did not have provincial churches. There were churches in the provinces, but never the church in Galatia, Macedonia etc
They did not have a national church eg the Jewish church in Corinth etc
They did not have a district and bring all the churches under a district.
All churches were locally governed. They were autonomous, and reproduced themselves accordingly. They were not welded into a great organization, nor was the unity an organizational unity, but unity of the spirit, by the spirit.”
Dr Derek Prince, in his book “Rediscovering God’s Church”, page 145, under the title of “The Local Church defined” said: “I now enter a territory that I acknowledge is very idealistic, nevertheless, I suggest to you that it contains God’s viewpoint of the local church in a city. Let me offer you my admittedly radical definition of the complete local church. If you accept this definition, it involves a revolution because it is not compatible with present-day Christian practice as a whole. Simply stated, it is this: the local church is that part of the universal church resident in any given locality. There is no further qualification required. You never have to join the local church because it is not your decision to make. If you are in the universal church, then automatically, without further qualification, you are also a member of the local church in the city where you live. Again, you do not have an option. In regard to the universal church, the only option you have is your personal relationship with Jesus Christ, they you are a member of the universal church. The matter is settled.
The New Testament never speaks at any time in nearly forty occurrences of churches (plural) in a city. In one small locality, there is never more than one church. On the other hand, the New Testament never speaks of a singular church in a province. A church can never grow to a kind of vast organization that embraces people living in many different areas.
In other words, there are only two churches – one in a house and the other in a city. The important thing is that whatever we view as one unit of the local church within an area, there is only one church. There never can be two churches overlapping, much less competing, in the same area. This is the vital conclusion. It is totally unscriptural to speak of two churches overlapping or occupying the same area. It is completely ruled out by usage of the New Testament without one single exception. The present pattern in a city is that there are many local churches, each with one leader. However, God’s original order is different – one local church in a city with many leaders. This is the practical and revolutionary conclusion.
Is there any scriptural evidence to support this theory? Yes. When God created heaven and earth in His mind, there was a plan and a purpose. First God created the human being to be part of His family. And before He created him, God prepared a place to live. God located Adam in a particular place called Eden. That was prepared before Adam. We can see the eternal plan of God even after the fall. God created a new heaven and earth for His family. In this new heaven and earth, God created a New Jerusalem, the city of God. As we see in the book of Hebrews “Instead they were longing for a better country – a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them” (Heb 11:16).
Jesus said to His disciples before his crucifixion “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me, in my father’s house is many rooms; if it were not so I would have told you. I am going to prepare a place for you” (John 14:1-2). The same is true on earth. The city that we live in is the shadow that is going to come. Jesus speaks many times about the city – why? Because it is in the city people are living. It is the place where everything starts. In the book of Ezekiel, the last chapter, we see how God targets the city and wants to be here. He named the city as His city. God always wants to take over the city. The temple in the city of Jerusalem was not an end but it was the beginning of God’s plan to take the city for Himself. That’s why it says at the end of the last chapter in Ezk 48:35 “And the name of the city from that time on will be ‘The Lord is there’”. The city of Jerusalem is different than the other cities because the presence of the Lord was there in the temple. There is always a connection between the temple and the city.
God gave to Isaiah the revelation of the restoration of the city of Jerusalem – “I will restore your judges as in days of old, your counselors as at the beginning. Afterwards you will be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city.” (Is 1:26).
God wants the whole city to be his. In Jeremiah 31:38, the Lord said this “the days are coming declares the Lord when this city will be rebuilt for me from the tower of Hananel to the corner gate.” God is building the city for Himself. In the New Testament, God does not tabernacle in a particular place as in Old Testament days, but he dwells in the midst of his people wherever they live. In other words, in every city. That’s why Jesus commanded his disciples to be his witnesses from city to city.
“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you shall be witnesses to me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth”. (Acts 1:8).
Can we identify the church with a city?
Yes, Jesus mentioned in the gospel of Matthew “You are the light of the world, a city on a hill cannot be hidden.” Jesus said that we are the light of the world, which means in a place where we live. We cannot be in every place at one time. Jesus is talking about our life being a shining light wherever we live (Matt 4:15-16) whether it is in a village, town or city. As Christians, we are expected to impact people by how we live, not where we go. The starting point of being a witness is the locality where we live, but the ultimate goal is to influence the whole city. When Jesus sent out his disciples he said to them that whatever town or village they entered, they were to search out some worthy person and stay at this house. (Matt10:11)
At one time Jesus had to go through Samaria and encountered the woman at the well at Sychar. Although this woman’s life was changed by this encounter, Jesus goal was to reach the town. (John 4:39-42) Through one woman the whole town was impacted. Another example of a “divine commandment” was when Jesus spoke to the Apostle Paul in an vision and said “Don’t be afraid: keep on speaking and do not be silent. For I am with you and no one is going o attack you and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” (Acts 18:9-10)
There is no other way that we identify the Church except by a city or geographical location. Any identification other than geographic will divide the Church as we see it now. If we identify the Church as a people group, denomination, language, race, nationality etc, the Church will remain divided and fractured. This is not the Church Jesus will build. Jesus has already made it clear through the Apostle Paul how to build His church. Does the Ephesian 4 five-fold ministry lead to the “Church in the City? The answer is, “yes”. There is no other short cut and the five-fold ministry are the ones that are going to build the house of God in the city to the standard of Christ. As it is mentioned in Eph 4:12-16, there is no other way to see the unity that Jesus prayed in John 17. But to do that, the five-fold ministry must come to their first calling of building the body as a team and have the vision of the body or the City Church. This must be the corporate vision of the leaders in the city. This must be our common goal. Every leader of God in the city is part of the whole. All of us are given a part to play in building the whole. We must embrace one another. Remember that you don’t have all the gifts needed to accomplish his purpose, which is why God has given us each other. In the context of teaching on spiritual gifts, Paul desires that we not reject each other or the gifts reflected in one another: “But now indeed there are many members. Yet one body and the eye cannot say to the hand I have no need of you, nor again the hand to the feet, I have no need of you.” (1 Cor 12:20-21)
Today, more than ever, the Lord requires the whole body to move forward together.
Jesus is interested in His body (the Church), not members (congregations)
Because members are created to bring the body into being, the eye, the kidney, liver etc do not function by themselves – they need the body. The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up only one body. So it is with the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:12). Someone has said that all our ministries must be examined and redefined in the light of the whole. Seek only God and His plan as a whole, His Church as a whole. What is the heart of Jesus? His body, the Church, as a whole.
We need to come out of the “I have it all” mentality because every member (congregation) in the city has a part of the whole. We must contribute our part to build the body and accept the other parts of the body. Our existence as a member is in the body. All our vision, ministry, any activities, must adjust and function for the well-being and unity of the body. Someone said that “God intended that all these waves of recovery would blend together into one glorious whole with a balance of doctrinal truth and a dynamic spiritual life.” Instead there was a limitation of vision, each thinking that the part he held was the whole. To bring this whole as it is mentioned in Eph 2:20-22, we need the five-fold ministry to come together to build the body of Christ in the city: “Having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a whole temple in the Lord in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the spirit”.
When we think about the building, we need to answer these questions: How are we going to build up the body of Christ? Where are the workers? Where are the materials? Where is the location? Where is the land on which we are going to build the house of God? We must have the answer for these questions. The other question that we need to answer is: Is the body of Christ going to have a governing body? How is this government going to function? Are we permitted to function separately in the Kingdom? If not, how are we going to function or work together? Until we answer the above questions according to the word of God, the church will remain divided and fractured.
It is the responsibility of the fathers or leaders to model walking the road of humility and love with one another. From this we can mentor and equip others to be the sons and daughters of the most high God. The greatest commandment of the Lord Jesus Christ is that His people are to live as a community of the Kingdom. This is a great commission. It is not enough to witness of the kingdom in words, but Jesus is commanding us to live the kingdom on this earth, so that the people who see how we live will know that we are the disciples of Christ. This is how we are to be witnesses of the great commission. First we live it out and after we teach it and preach it to tell people why we live as we do. In the Gospel of John, chapter 13:34-35 Jesus said, “When you love one another the world will know that you are my disciple.” When believers live as a kingdom community, we can see the result, as in Acts 2:42-47: “… praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people and the Lord added to their number daily those who where being saved.”
As I mentioned before, from the beginning, God has created the physical world to be a living place for human beings. Human beings are living time and space and they are living in the land where there is shelter. Human beings are living as communities in different forms and in different locations. One of the main divisions of location is the city. The city is the address for human beings living on planet earth. Jesus addresses from heaven the seven churches in their particular locality, the city. Within the city, human beings are living in a particular region, suburb and family. Jesus’ ministry focused on every family and city. He begins with the family, but reaching out to the whole city. We can see this when he commanded his disciples to go to minister in “whatever city or town you enter, inquire who in it is worthy and stay there till you go out.” (Matt 10:11) Not in the synagogue, but in a worthy home in each city or town. The small group, such as the family, is really the basic nucleus out of which the local church is made.
The definition of the church is that it is a community of believers who are living in the same locality (city). We cannot separate the church and the city. When there is a church, there is a city. The church will not exist without a city because that is the place where we are preaching and bringing the living bricks to build the house of God. It is the place of our mission. It is the place where we are living our Christian life and demonstrating the kingdom to the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden, nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand and it gives light to all who are in the house: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt 5:14-16).
Jesus, at all times, targeted a city. In the book of Acts, Jesus commanded his disciples to witness from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the end of the world (1:8). This shows us that Jesus demonstrates that His church will build city by city. We can see other examples of Jesus concern for the city (Matt 11:20-24). Jesus denounced the cities because they didn’t repent (Luke 13:31-35). Jesus sorrowed over Jerusalem.
As I mentioned before, in the book of Revelation, Jesus addressed each church as the church in that particular city. Jesus saw his church in every city as the local body. Every true believer who lives in the city is part of the church in the city. Jesus didn’t address each local congregation in every suburb, but he addressed all local congregations as a single body in the city.
What does it mean by preaching the good news and discipling the nations. Here two things must go hand in hand. The church has two main ministries. On one hand it is reaching out to the community in the gospel and on the other hand, it is discipling believers until they become sons and daughters of the Lord. The whole plan of God is to bring his church for the work of service, to build up the body of Christ to reach the unity of the faith and in the knowledge of the son of God; to become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ as is stated in Eph 4:12-13. The new believer must be equipped and trained by the five fold ministries. This is not an option but a command. There is no other way to come to true unity and maturity except through the five fold ministry.
As George Warnock mentions in his book, ‘The Feast of Tabernacles’, concerning the five fold ministry he says this “God has ordained ministers in the body by which this perfection shall come to pass. To refuse the ministries, then, is to say to Christ, ‘I don’t need your ascension gifts. I prefer to be perfected some other way’. Until these ministers know their responsibility and some together as a team to build the body of Christ in the city, the church will not come to her destiny. And there is no other way to reach to that measure of the fullness of Christ.”
Evangelists can bring the living bricks, but the rest of the ministers will build the body to maturity and unity; because living bricks will not become a house if they don’t build up together.
Having a heap of stones doesn’t mean that we have a house until they build up together. In other words, having a baby is not ended until that baby grows up and matures and is useful to his/her community. Jesus was born as a baby but he was growing in stature and wisdom before men and God: “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men” (Luke 2:52). To grow up spiritually we need fathers and mothers of the faith. Did Jesus model or teach that a new church should be built in each of the cities or towns in Galilee or Judea?
When Jesus commanded the disciples to wait and receive the promise of the Father, which was the promise of the Holy Spirit, what did he say? He said to them, “When you receive the power of the Holy Spirit, you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria.” This is a very clear statement. Kevin Conner addressed this issue very clearly, as I have mentioned before. There is no other way that we are going to build a church other than in the city. Watchman Nee said, “… since the boundary of the local church is the boundary of the locality in which it stands, so the ground of the church is built. This is the unique ground, which keeps the genuine unity of the church. Any other ground other than this is divisive” (from “The Orthodoxy of the Church” by Watchman Nee.)
The other reason is that there is no other name that the people of God who are living in that city are to be called and addressed collectively except the name of their city. That’s why Jesus called and addressed them through the name of their city (Rev 2,3).
The apostles addressed the name of the city when they wrote their epistles to the churches. If we want to build or form a community, we will build in the place where the community lives, which is in their city. We are not allowed to build God’s community in any other way except in the geographical location; we are not allowed to father or congregate the children of God in any other name except the name of Jesus Christ. But now what we see is very different: the church of God is gathered or congregated in the name of the denomination, network, language, nationality etc. Because of this, the church in the city is fractured and disunited. Not only this, but we are competing, hating, accusing etc on another. Why? Because our definition of the local church is very wrong. We cannot separate people from their city and the city will not be a city if people are not living in it. As I mentioned before, Jesus addressed the church in the city many times. He called the church by the name of the city. When Jesus commanded them to be his witness from Jerusalem, he wasn’t talking only about the evangelism side, but the discipling side of the gospel. When you teach and disciple, you are building the church in that location (city) which means the whole purpose of the gospel is to form or build a kingdom community within that city and impact the city to become a habitation of God (Eph 2:20-23).
There is not any posture that we should take except the church in the city. Any other posture except the geographical location will divide the church. The only posture that will bring the church to true unity is the geographical location.
God ‘s call in our time, to the leaders in every city and globally is “To let his people go”—His people who are separated from one another because of denominations, language, experience etc. God is challenging the leaders to bring his people and to build them up together to be the habitation of God. This is the present truth in our time. The time is to build up the church as a house and to work together as one body. The leaders are supposed to be a bridge of unity instead of a fence of division. The primary vision and call of every leader who is living in a city, is to build the one church in the city. Every part of the body must remember that the gift, ministry and outworking that is given to them is to build up the body of Christ together as a team. As leaders we must come to the understanding that “I am not the whole, but I am part of the whole” (1 Cor 12:4-31; Eph 4:11-16).
Every network, whether apostolic or denominational, para-church, ministry etc across the globe, they have to come to this understanding and facilitate this movement in every city across the nation. To do that, all leaders must release the people of God to be united in their cities as one church and live as the community of the kingdom of God. In other words, every leader who lives within or without the city must release the people of God who are under their network or ministry to be part of the city church which Jesus is building. They must teach their members to come to the understanding of this present truth that God is restoring. This is the time of building his global church, city by city. Every true leader in every city must come together and bring their members and build them up in love to be a dwelling place for God (Eph 2:22).
First of all there is one fundamental truth that all of us must accept. This is the true meaning of the locality of the church. Once we redefine the locality of the church, we can see our purpose clearly. Although this issue has been raised and thought of for many years, we haven’t seen the practical application of it. Because of this, the church is fractured and divided. There is no single structure that is going to bring the church as one body. For the body to stand as one, there must be a skeletal structure. There must be a divine structure for the church to function as a body of Christ. One of the problems that we see in our day is that we define the church wrongly and we work independently. The wrong definition of the church brings the wrong result. We must return to the word of God and see how the early church worked and functioned together. There are many local churches in our cities established or planted as ethnic churches, denominational churches, racial churches (white and black), national churches, some of the churches planted are based on restorational truths (Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, Deliverance, Apostolic, Prophetic etc), independent churches, nondenominational churches, para churches etc. Even within the same denominations we divide churches by name. Because of our division, our gifting, our ministry and resource is divided and as a result, the body of Christ becomes dysfunctional and restrained (limited) in its impact. As in the time of the Judges, every one does as they see fit. Like them Israel (the church) has no king. In our time, because there is no governing body within the city, every congregation goes independently in their own way and programmes. Nevertheless, leaders are accountable to God for the division of the body of Christ. If leaders don’t learn from the word of God, we must learn from the government of the world and learn how the government is working together as one government within the city. That’s why Jesus said, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined and every city or household divided against itself will not stand” (Matt 12:25).
As I mentioned again and again, the major problem of the church comes from the wrong definition of the locality of the church. Until we solve this problem, the problem that we see today in the church will continue. We must correct this problem once and for all.