We are currently living in a day where denominations are thought of as things of the past. The number of independent churches rises daily. Yet no one questions whether or not this is biblical or sound.
When we closely examine the New Testament we find that the church did not consist of independent and autonomous churches. Rather they were interdependent and connectional in nature. This can be seen in looking at the following:
There were many individual churches in any given area. This is testified to by…
1. The sheer number of believers
Large cities were typically had large numbers of believers. Some believe that the number of believers in Jerusalem alone could easily have been up to (or exceeding) 10,000 souls (Acts 2:21; 2:47; 5:14; 6:7; 12:24). It should be obvious that the multitudes that were coming to faith would require more than just 12 apostles to apply pastoral care.
2. The number of house churches within one given city
These large numbers could not meet in one given place for worship. They did not have facilities for such crowds. Instead, they met in smaller groups within various people’s houses through the city. For instance, some of the brethren met in the home of Mary/John Mark in Jerusalem. No doubt all of them would not fit into this one house!
Evidence supports the fact that there were many house churches in the city of Collose. Paul wrote to the Collosians (Christians in the whole city), but he also wrote to one particular congregation in Colosse: (Philemon “and to the church in [his] house.”). The same can be said of Corinth: Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, but as he did so he indicated that particular greetings were to be given to one specific congregation (1 Cor. 16:9).
We should also recognize here that the word church can be used in a number of ways. It can refer to the whole of God’s people in heaven and earth, just those on earth, just those in a particular region, or just those in a particular house.
3. The number of pastors/teachers
Acts 13 begins by naming the various prophets and teachers that lived in the city of Antioch. Five of them are listed. It is quite likely that each of these men were leaders in different house churches, but came together for prayer, encouragement and planning purposes.
4. The number of languages
Practically speaking, it would be very difficult to conduct worship et. al. with people who did not share your native tongue. This would necessitate different groups for gathering. The large metropolitan cities of the ancient times, just like today, would likely have different congregations to meet to dialectic needs.
These churches were nonetheless connected
These were not all individual or independent churches though. They were very much interconnected and part of “the body of Christ.” These brethren would support one another (1 Corinthians 9), work in unison for missions (Acts 13), work together to solve doctrinal problems (Acts 15), ordain ministerial candidates (2 Tim. 1:6).
We might also infer from various texts that the connectional nature of the churches were helpful for the purpose of appealing decisions and cases of trial. Deut. 17 makes it clear that there should be a tier system for appealing cases of trial. In Matt. 18 Jesus gives instructions for progressive discipline. Acts 15 demonstrates how the church acted corporately as a means of reference when further wisdom was needed.
We might also note in this regard that the decisions that were made by this counsel had implications for the rest of the body. After the decision had been made, the apostle Paul was set apart to go out and inform the churches in Asia. These churches were then to follow the procedures that were acted upon.
When it comes to leaders, we should see that they too operated under the notion of a connected church. The leaders of the churches never took a cowboy attitude towards their leadership. Instead, they carried out their leadership by respectfully submitting to one another and respecting the geographical boundaries of their authority. For example,
“In Acts 21 Paul finally arrived back to Jerusalem despite repeated warnings that he would be arrested. In verse 18, he met with the elders of the regional church there and gave them details of all that God was doing among the Gentiles. But since they had been informed that Paul was teaching concepts which were contrary to Judaism, they gave him instructions in verse 23 concerning how he should conduct himself in their region. Paul had come into their district, was subject to their authority and he did what they told him.” citation
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.