Because I don’t think that one post will do the topic justice here is part deux.
In this post we will talk about the scattered nature of the church. First, I want to start off by saying I think the need to distinguish between gathered and scattered comes from a western context, and is not as clearly depicted in scripture as we might find. Of course there are clues for us that the church existed in a gathered/ scattered form, but as discussed in the post last week I believe that the Church is always gathered in some form.
What is presented in the New Testament is the idea of a church in the city, that is dispersed throughout the city. For example, Paul’s letters are addressed to “the church in [insert city name here]”. Now it is very possible that in some cases that letter would have been shared in the gathered presence of the believers, or it might have been passed around from house to house being read by the church.
I point this out to say that even in the cities where the church was more decentralized than the next it was still one church. The phenomenon in a western culture/ context are the variety of churches that exist in one city, that largely don’t interact with one another. Now I am a product of this. It has been the only form of the church that I have known, but I have become more convinced in the last few years that for the church to REALY be the church in a western context we have to see a great ecumenical movement.
As I read the scriptures it seems to me that the church is most effective in a more decentralized form. When you have pockets of the church all over the city there seems to be a greater opportunity for the Gospel to permeate every part of the life of the city. This is where the ecumenical part comes in. As the body of Christ we have to work together, we need to keep the main things the main things and work toward seeing the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.
We have a few examples from scripture that highlight what I am talking about. In Luke 10 Jesus sends out the seventy-two to go out into the places where he was going to go. Before Jesus sends them out he taught them the things that they were going to need to know to accomplish the mission he would give them. He gave them specific instructions to follow and sent them out two by two. A few things we need to catch here: 1. Jesus modeled and taught them what they needed to do, 2. Jesus gave specific instructions about what they should do in their adventure, 3. Jesus sends them out in pairs.
The church is a sent body of believers. There is a time for us to learn what we need to do, this happens by walking shoulder to shoulder with someone doing what they do, walking where they walk, and hearing from them the teaching they have. It is a time for a transmission of knowledge and action. We should go out knowing exactly what we need to do, and we should always go out in the context of community.
In Acts 13 the church in Antioch what worshiping, and God send to set apart Barnabas and Saul for the mission. They were leaders of the church and it was time for them to leave. Because the church was united they were able to hear the direction of the Holy Spirit, and although I am sure it was difficult for them, they were able to send them out.
For us to see real kingdom movement, for us to actually BE the church we have to unite in Christ, gather for equipping and training in the mission that is before us, and then send people to go and do the work. The church gathers, it is always gathered, but the church also scatters. We have to embrace both and realize that the two are not mutually exclusive but work in harmony with one another. We cannot scatter as lone wolves out in the wilderness, we have to travel in some sort of pack. When we gather it should be pointed in helping us refuel, and be equipped to back out into mission.