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City Church

Understanding How God Views the Church in Our City

 "I pray…for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you…. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one…. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." John 17:20-23

The life, health and growth of the church of Jesus Christ immediately following Pentecost stands as one of the greatest demonstrations of God's grace and power throughout the centuries. A key factor that contributed to the effectiveness of the early church was the practical, relational unity of the people of God in any given city. The existence or absence of such unity in our cities today has important implications for effective ministry.

The church in our city already exists in the mind of God. It is not something we create or join. God calls pastors to each church in this city. By virtue of that divine call, each is a partner with other God-appointed pastors. We honor God when we support our ministry colleagues in reaching our city. God desires the whole church to reach the whole city with the whole gospel.

The Scriptural Basis for the “City-Church”

What is the biblically historical basis for developing a city-wide church partnership and strategy? Consider the New Testament data through a “city-lens” of vision:

A. Jesus dealt extensively with people in their city context.

1. Unlike John the Baptist, much of Jesus' ministry and miracles take place within cities and towns of Israel. A simple list of the places where Jesus is recorded to have exercised his ministry indicates that cities held an important place in Jesus' strategy of ministry (i.e. Nain, Nazareth, Cana, Korazin, Tyre, Sidon, Zarephath, Caesarea Philippi, Capernaum, Sychar, Bethany, Jericho, Jerusalem, etc.).

2. The passion of the Lord for the city of Jerusalem is undeniable in his words of Luke 13:34, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!"

3. Jesus himself prayed specifically for the unity of all those who would believe on Him through the testimony of his disciples and indicated that such unity would be a powerful apologetic to a watching world (John 17:20-23).

4. Jesus spoke some of his harshest words of judgment against individual cities (Mt. 11:20ff) rather than provinces, regions or nation-states.

5. Jesus called for effective world evangelization to begin first with effective city-focused witness (Ac. 1:8). Note the relationship in Acts 2 and 4 between united city-church life and on going evangelistic witness and growth.

6. Jesus, in the Parable of the Ten Minas (Luke 19:11-27) rewarded faithful and competent stewards of mere financial resources with oversight of entire cities.

7. Our Lord's last recorded words to the developing churches of the first century were addressed to the spiritual needs of "the church [singular] in…" each of seven individual cities.

B. The Early Church understood "the church" in three distinct capacities.

1. The Church Universal: The entire community of believers in Christ through all ages, in diverse cultures and nations of whom each believer is a part but which does not have opportunity to gather together at one time (see Mt. 16:18; Ac. 9:31; I Cor. 15:9; Gal. 1:13; Eph. 1:22; 3:10,21; 5:23-25, 27, 29, 32; Phil. 3:6; Col. 1:18, 24).

2. The City-Church: The visible, interrelating, localized (within the same geographical city) community of persons who believed in Christ and periodically gathered together to fulfill mutual functions as believers. See for example, the church in Jerusalem (Acts 5:11; 8:1, 3; 11:22; 14:27; 15:4, 22), the church at Antioch (Acts 11:26; 13:1; 15:3, 30) the churches in Iconium, Lystra, and Pisidian Antioch (Acts 14:21-23), the church at Caessaria (Acts 18:22), the church at Ephesus (Acts 20:17; I Tim. 3:5, 15; 5:16, 17), the church in Cenchrea (Rm. 16:1), the church in Corinth (I Cor. 1:2; 11:18; 14:23; 2 Cor. 1:1), the church at Philippi (Phil. 1:1; 4:15), the church at Laodicea (Col. 4:16; Rev. 3:14), the church at Thessalonica (I & 2 Thess. 1:1) the other churches of Revelation (Rev. 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7) and other churches (Gal. 1:2; 3 John. 1:9, 10).

3. The House Church: Believers of a particular geographic area/city who frequently gathered together in homes of other believers (Acts 12:5; Rm. 16:5; I Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15; Phile. 1:2).

NOTE: Twentieth-century western Christianity has been quick to acknowledge both the church universal and the modern house/local church in Scripture but has given little or no attention to the city-church in the New Testament - that church which is referred to more often than either of the other two distinct church entities.

C. The apostles viewed the city-church as the central representation of the Body of Christ in a given area.

1. By far the largest body of references to "church" in the New Testament refer to the local city church (see 2.B. above). Most of the Epistles were written either to all the saints of a city (Eph. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; Col. 1:2) or to the city-church there (I & 2 Cor.., 1 & 2 Thess. and the churches of Revelation 2 & 3).

2. When unity upon that city-wide basis was threatened by factions who followed various spiritual leaders, Paul is forced to speak to them as "worldly, mere infants in Christ" (1 Cor. 3:1).

3. Paul left Titus in Crete to "appoint elders in every town" (Titus 1:5) rather than various gathered fellowships in a given city.

4. Whenever Paul writes to saints in a given city, he addressed his words to "the church" (singular) in that city but when

he writes or refers to a region (such as Judea, Galatia or Macedonia) he speaks to/of "the churches" (plural) of that region.

Summary and Challenge:

 In the first century, it is evident that God dealt with His people at some level on a city-church basis, and His people lived in biblical unity at the city level. This seemed to be a crucial component of the effective spread of the Gospel.

What might be the impact on our city if spiritual leaders and churches worked together in a functional unity? What would happen if a significant number of congregations in this city mobilized together to reach the lost? If the Great Commission is to become reality in our city, it will require far more than any one church or denomination can possibly address.

It will take the whole church … reaching the whole city … with the whole gospel!

Adapted and modified by David Niquette( from “A Brief Apologetic for the City Church of Spokane” by John S. Repsold.