The Major Roadblock to a City Church

This post is the fourth link in a chain blog started by Alan Knox. Alan wrote the first link, which was followed by Charlie Wallace, and most recently by David Rogers.

I won’t bore you with summaries of the other posts because you can read them for yourself (and I highly recommend you read them now, if you haven’t already). I am primarily, however, responding to David Rogers’ post…or rather, I should say, I’m attempting to continue the thoughts that David has interjected into the conversation.

David wrote about several roadblocks that he sees in the way of the concept of a “city church”. And in large measure, I agree with what David wrote. But as I read his thoughts on roadblocks, I couldn’t help but think that there was one major roadblock that he didn’t really list. (He sort of touched on this in his fourth roadblock, but I want to flesh it out a bit further.)

Without addressing this roadblock, I am of the opinion that attempting to solve any of the other roadblocks will be an exercise in futility. And in my opinion, this issue would actually take care of several, if not all, of the roadblocks David listed.

That roadblock is pride.

What prevents the body of Christ from being unified in a geographical region? Pride.

David touched on this somewhat in his comment about simple/organic/house churches dismissing the “institutional church” as irrelevant. Now, obviously, many of my readers know that I am involved in an organic church that meets house to house. And I’ve written quite a bit on that topic in the past.

My intent here is not to defend simple church against David’s comment. Because frankly, David is quite right when he highlights certain factions of the simple church adherents as basically ignoring the traditional institution. The only exception I would make to David’s statement is that, as some have already pointed out in the comments on his post, it’s hardly unique to simple/organic/house churches.

The point that I would like to make is that, regardless of the mode of fellowship (institutional, simple, etc.), when anyone shuts anyone else out, I believe that boils down to pride. And without addressing the pride issue, we cannot expect to see any genuine improvement in the area of divisions within the body of Christ.

Recently, on another blog, I read a post about the need for a certain denomination to exercise humility. The author of the post chose to use the phrase “doctrinal humility”. In a sickening twist of irony, the commenters could not get past that two-word phrase. They rushed to defend their lack of humility when it comes to their doctrine. If I may paraphrase, they basically were saying, “We have doctrine that is the most biblical of anyone’s. What are we supposed to be humble about??”

That is exactly the pride that divides. And it is by no means the domain of only one particular denomination. Who among us believes our doctrine is not “biblical”? If we believed that it weren’t, wouldn’t we rush to change it? So to argue that our doctrine, or our ecclesiology, or our system of church, or our mode of baptism, or our position on spiritual gifts is “biblical” is to miss the point.

The only thing over which we are ever instructed to separate from others on in scripture is a compromise of the message of the Gospel. And I would hasten to add that, in the context of the entire teaching of the New Testament, I believe that any separation at all is always with a hope for reconciliation.

So, for a city church to actually be able to function as a city church, there has to be humility. There has to be a willingness to say, “I believe that my convictions in {insert area of doctrine or practice} are based on the revelation of scripture, but I also recognize that those who differ with me also believe theirs is based on the revelation of scripture. Because we are both adherents to the message of the Gospel, I will not allow this area to divide us. After all, my brother or sister may actually be right, and it may be I who am wrong in this area.”

Not too long ago, I participated in a brief discussion on a blog that asked if it’s possible to fellowship and worship together with people who did not believe the same thing about certain doctrines. In the post, the author was offering his compromise, which was to say that we acknowledge a spiritual unity, yet we do not fellowship or worship together with those who believe differently. He used as an example in his post a difference in baptism. Specifically, he was writing from a “believers only” view of baptism vs. “infant baptism”. I offered the following comment:

It’s always refreshing to see other brothers and sisters thinking through these concerns, and I definitely appreciate your heart in these posts….

I think, however, that your solution of “unity in spirit, but not in fellowship” is a step in the wrong direction. And…that’s pretty much what is already going on in the body of Christ today. It strikes me as trying to have it both ways. Unity really means nothing if we can’t actually walk together, in my opinion.

Your example of infant baptism is, ironically, the one that I think is one of the easiest to reconcile. If both sides are approaching the subject with humility and grace, I see no reason why one could not fellowship with the other.

The humility and grace would mean that the one believing in infant baptism would not pressure the other to baptize his infant. And likewise, the one not believing in it would not belittle the faith of the other for practicing it.

It would seem to me that throughout the course of time together, perhaps one might be persuaded to the others point of view, but not because one is demanding it or pushing the issue.

I don’t know if I’m correct here, but it seems to make sense to me. For there to be a “city church”, this type of humility is required. Otherwise, we end up digging in our heels and closing ourselves off to the possibility that we could be wrong.

If we cannot lay down our own pride and humbly relate to our brothers and sisters in the Gospel, regardless of their beliefs about other things outside the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and our reconciliation to the Father through Jesus, there is no hope of unity. And there is no hope of a “city church”.

_______________________________________

Chain blog rules:

1. If you would like to write the next blog post (link) in this chain, leave a comment stating that you would like to do so. If someone else has already requested to write the next link, then please wait for that blog post and leave a comment there requesting to write the following link.

2. Feel free to leave comments here and discuss items in this blog post without taking part in the actual “chain”. Your comments and discussion are very important in this chain blog.

3. When you write a link in this chain, please reply in the comments of the previous link to let everyone know that your link is ready. Also, please try to keep an updated list of links in the chain at the bottom of your post, and please include these rules at the bottom of your post.

  1. Alan Knox, City Church – A Chain Blog
  2. Charlie Wallace, City Church: Meeting
  3. David Rogers, Roadblocks on the Path to City Church
  4. Steve Sensenig, The Major Roadblock to a City Church (this post)
  5. Paul Grabill, The Resurrection of the City Church: Who Will Move the Stone?
  6. Jon Amos, A City Church Thought Experiment
  7. James Goetz, The Restoration of the City or Locality Church and Apostolic Leaders
  8. Alan Knox, Unity and the Church in a City
This entry was posted in Chain Blog, Church, Discussion Topics, Relationships. Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to The Major Roadblock to a City Church

  1. Sarah says:

    Thanks, Steve, for a very well written post! Yes, amen! I have been so disheartened by how difficult it has been to find people who are willing to cultivate a friendship beyond the place where they find out that we have a difference of opinion or preference in some non-essential (at least it’s non-essential to me) area! I have found a few, but they have been few and far between. It’s sad, since I think relationship is more important than being right.

  2. I will take that word and agree.

    The word that has been in my mind is self-centered. We do not want to see beyond ourselves – it is only about us (individually and our individual local church).

    Thanks for the post.

  3. Alan Knox says:

    Steve,

    Yes, pride gets in the way of many things. I’m preparing to teach from Matthew 7 – “Judge not, etc.” I think the failure to see and deal with our own sins, but still pointing out others’ sins comes from pride as well.

    Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), the church today seems to be extremely proud – especially in North America. Since humility is a fruit of the Spirit and something that only he can produce, we’ll have to trust him to deal with this issue. I think, though, that dealing with pride on such a large scale will be very costly.

    What about for those few who do not think that they are always right, and welcome those brothers and sisters who disagree with them? How do those brothers and sisters foster the idea of one church in their city?

    -Alan

  4. David Rogers says:

    Steve,

    The temptation for me would be to just say, “Yes, you are right. Pride really is the bottom-line roadblock.” And on some very important levels, indeed you are right.

    But, just as you correctly observe about all of being convinced about the biblical correctness of our own views on doctrine, I think the overwhelming tendency is for us to identify the pride problem as one belonging to the guy (or gal) on the other side of the fence from us. And even though we may all come to point of recognizing the problem is ever present, lurking inside each of us, we are still left with the complex issues of how do we make our different perspectives live side by side in unity and harmony.

    One view of unity is that we should all submit to the same doctrinal standard. That, as I understand it, has essentially been the view imposed by the Catholic church over centuries and centuries. Other groups throughout history and even today do not lag far behind in this basic mindset.

    The opposite view, perhaps, is to minimize the importance of doctrine, and adopt an “anything is free game” approach.

    Another view is “live and let live” and “to each his own.” Let everyone (and every group) decide for themselves what they want to believe and practice. Just don’t worry about trying to get together with others who think differently, because it is too complicated and conflictive.

    The example you give about “believers baptism” and “infant baptism” living side by side in the same church, if I understand you correctly, is basically the practice of the Evangelical Free Church. It can be done, and there are fine examples to show that it has worked.

    The problem, though, is those whose sincere convictions and understanding of Scripture lead them to believe the E. Free approach is a compromise on what Scripture teaches. Can we recommend that someone violate their own conscience in the name of the city church?

    Another way of posing this question is: Are strict “baptist” and “paedo-baptist” ecclesiologies both incompatible with the idea of the city church? If so, that leaves only the “moderates” so to to speak as the only ones able to put the city church into practice.

    That is why, in my post, I propose another solution, a sort of hybrid approach, in which for some purposes, we must continue to recognize the existence of separate congregations with divergent doctrinal standards and practices; but for other purposes, we can “agree to disagree agreeably,” and set those issues that divide us to the side for the time being, in order to pursue some other purposes.

    In any case, my good friend, Paul Grabill, has indicated he plans to weigh in on this soon. I am looking forward to what he has to say on this as well.

  5. Sarah, thanks for your input here. I definitely agree that relationship is more important than being right. It is important to be willing to look past ourselves and our need to be right.

    Jeff, thanks for reading. “Self-centered” is probably a good word to put on this problem.

    Alan, you wrote: Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), the church today seems to be extremely proud – especially in North America.

    I’m not entirely sure what you mean by “(or fortunately…)”. I agree that corporately, we have taken on a lot of pride in our nation. I personally think it’s related to our national pride apart from the church.

    David, thank you for your input, too. I didn’t realize that E. Free was already striking a balance on the baptism issue. Very interesting.

    I think I understand what you’re saying about pride always being easier to identify in others. However, I did not intend for this post to make it sound like I was the humble one and others are the proud ones. I see it as a corporate problem that we all need to own. The call to humility is not a call that I am sounding to others. It’s a call for all of us.

    Can we recommend that someone violate their own conscience in the name of the city church?

    We should never ask someone to violate their conscience. We need to respect each other’s conscience. And perhaps this is a discipleship issue, but Paul’s instructions regarding conscience and our own relationships with others indicate that we should all be willing to give each other the benefit of the doubt.

    This is basically what I was getting at in this post. The humility has to go both ways so that each believer is willing to give the other the benefit of the doubt.

    With regard to whether or not certain practices are compatible, though, I would think the important lesson to learn would be that if our practice causes division from people that we otherwise believe to be brothers and sisters, the practice must be re-examined.

    For example, I can attend an institutional church with very little difficulty, even though my preferred practice is to meet informally in homes. So when I am invited to a church service, or asked to minister in music, or whatever, I am willing to do it out of respect for the unity of the body. And I would never grab the microphone during a church service and say, “This is so wrong! You should all be meeting in homes!!” ;)

    But if I take a position that tells people, “You can’t fellowship here because you believe such-and-such”, or maybe more along the lines of, “You can fellowship here, but don’t try to talk about such-and-such”, or maybe “I can’t fellowship with you because you believe such-and-such”, then maybe we need to re-evaluate our practice.

    Bottom line: I see in the NT where we are commanded to separate from those who teach a false Gospel (separate in the sense of not fellowshipping with them), but I don’t see where we are supposed to branch off into separate gatherings.

    I’m open to other viewpoints, though. And I certainly believe in Paul’s instruction to live at peace with others “as much as it depends on me” (i.e., I can’t make city church happen. It takes all of us.)

  6. Alan Knox says:

    Steve,

    LOL… yes, I see your confusion concerning “fortunately”. Originally (in my mind), the following two sentences in my comment were supposed to be one thought: “Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), the church today seems to be extremely proud – especially in North America. Since humility is a fruit of the Spirit and something that only he can produce, we’ll have to trust him to deal with this issue.” Thus, the “unfortunately” is that pride is prevalent and we can’t do anything about pride on our own. The “fortunately” is that we can’t do anything about pride on our own and must rely on the Spirit.

    -Alan

  7. Alan, ahhhhh, that makes perfect sense!

    And you have hit on an important factor in all of this. Jesus said that he would build his church. We must simply remain faithful to him and trust him with the results.

  8. Alan, I just realized that I never really responded to your question here:

    What about for those few who do not think that they are always right, and welcome those brothers and sisters who disagree with them? How do those brothers and sisters foster the idea of one church in their city?

    My answer is that I’m really not sure. Although, like I said to David Rogers above, I desire to live at peace with all, as much as it depends on me.

    The area (as you may have observed) that creates the most frustration for me is when my brothers and sisters who don’t agree with me are unwilling to even listen to what I have to say. When my attempts to reason together are reduced to absurdity, or my own character or way of thinking is called into question, it seems impossible to have any reasonable dialogue.

  9. Kansas Bob says:

    Maybe I am misunderstanding your post but I wonder what the need is for organizational unity.. seems that organizations.. be they of the house-church or small-church or mega-church or denomination-church flavor.. are by nature focused on the unity within their own organizations (which is a considerable challenge) and really don’t have much motivation to be unified.

    I have found that people will unify around Jesus (i.e Billy Graham crusades, promise keepers) when they are given the opportunity to. Maybe we just need enough Jesus meetings to remind us that it is all about Him and not our organizations.. after all He is the Way to unity.

  10. Dana says:

    “Doctrinal humility.” Interesting thought. I always thought the biggest problem in conservative Christian churches runs along these lines. We often treat secondary issues which really are a sign of what is happening within as if they themselves were the ticket to God. There are a lot of conversations we carry to the public when they more rightly belong in our church to encourage the growth of believers rather than thrown at nonbelievers, as if it mattered if a non-believer follows our “rules.”

  11. David Rogers says:

    Kansas Bob,

    I don’t hear Steve arguing for “organizational unity” per se here. I do think our various organizations can sometimes get in the way of living out the unity we share in Christ in a practical way, though. Also, if we just talk about unity in a theoretical sense, and don’t really get to know our brothers and sisters, and fellowship with them in tangible ways, it doesn’t seem to have a real authenticity to it, from my perspective.

  12. Paul Grabill says:

    Steve, Alan said that I should leave a comment here indicating willingness to do the next posting. I think I can do it by late Wednesday, if that’s okay.

  13. KB, David Rogers already beat me to responding to you. And I’m glad he did, because I’m not entirely sure I understand what you were asking.

    If anything, I’m looking for “relational unity”, not “organizational unity”. But you’re definitely right in that it’s about Jesus. I couldn’t agree more.

    Dana, thanks for your input. Secondary issues being treated as tickets to God — big problem. Thanks for drawing attention to that.

    David, thanks for jumping in to respond to KB’s comment. Your last sentence very accurately sums up my opinion about this whole topic. There is an awful lot of “lip service” paid to the subject of unity. I think it’s time, to quote a country song, for “a little less talk and a lot more action” ;)

    Paul, you’re up! I look forward to your response in the chain. Just post a comment here with a link to it when you get it done. Then the rest of us in the chain will update our entries to add your post to our set of links.

  14. Paul Grabill says:

    Here’s the link, Steve. Thanks, Alan.

    Resurrection of the City Church: Who Will Move the Stone?

  15. Paul, is it Wednesday already?? ;)

  16. ded says:

    I’d just like to add a thought regarding holding one’s doctrine with humility.

    The first use of doctrine in NT Greek is —

    Mt 15:9 ‘But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.'”
    Spoken by Jesus to Pharisees.

    The Greek word translated “doctrine” just means teaching or instruction. That’s it. We are the ones who determine what we teach from the Word and the interpretation it is given. Cults use the written words of the Bible and call it doctrine. We can call anything and everything we teach from Scripture “doctrine.”

    So whose “doctrine” is going to apply to all of us? Here is where humility is called for desperately. Isn’t humility part of the NT teaching concerning godliness? Much scriptural evidence supports this conclusion.

    If I accept humility as part of godliness, how can I reject being humble about anything including what I believe from the Scripture? What’s more, to separate from others in direct violation of Jesus words about unity and brotherhood demands by Jesus own words in Matthew 5-7 from the Sermon on the Mount, that I expect to be judged myself in a like manner. Ouch! Thank you, Lord, for the “hard” word that does not give us self-righteous wiggle room!

    When the Scripture is so completely clear about the nature of love (I Cor. 13) and the consequence of hating one’s brother (I John 4:20) how can anyone choose not to fellowship with believers outside their denomination?

    Refusing to fellowship with brethren who proclaim clearly the Cross of Christ (His blood atonement thus fulfilling God’s righteous judgment against humanity)and His Resurrection (upon which the wonder of regeneration by the Spirit is fulfilled) is to completely fail accurate discernment of the Body of Christ, His Holy Bride.

    Denying to accept unity of brethren for which Christ prayed in John 17, reduces all doctrines upon which such division is based to nothing more than the doctrines based on the precepts of men which are warned against by Jesus and associated with Pharisees.

    I realized years ago that I belong to the church in my city. Period. I am brother to all who live here and proclaim Him the Crucified Lamb and the Resurrected First Born among many. They may reject me for various reasons. That is on them. I love them all and we would enjoy communion with each, should I be given the opportunity.

    I submit this observation humbly and for review by others, but such is my “doctrine.”

  17. ded, I am so blessed to be able to fellowship with you.

    Your comment is something everyone needs to read here and meditate on. I believe you have spoken the truth.

  18. Tony Sisk says:

    Steve,

    Sorry for the (no completely) off-topic comment, but if I may address ded for a moment, I simply wanted to say thank you for your comment on this post. It was a word that has spoken to my heart and soul in a wonderful way and it has encouraged me GREATLY in my walk with Christ right now.

    God bless you, brother. Thanks again!

  19. Alan Knox says:

    David (ded),

    What you expressed is the necessary humility for us to recognize ourselves as one church. We can talk about logistics and planning and leadership all we want, but until we accept one another as brother and sister in Christ simply because God has accepted us and in spite of our differences, we will not know the unity that Jesus prayed for and we will not recognize ourselves as part of the church in our city. Thank you.

    -Alan

  20. Aussiejohn says:

    Steve,

    I have enjoyed your post and the discussions in response.

    I believe we need to be careful about definitions which can be interpreted so differently by individual. Maybe it may well be that I don’t understand the term “city church”, as you folk are using it.

    As I understand the term, it simply refers to all who believe and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and His finished work, in any given location. The only problem I see is when we don’t simply accept the fact, but try to identify, quantify, or label it any further. I think the true city church is a lot like the One whose home it is,indescribable, but very evident when not quenched.

    For many years I ministered in, so-called “full time pastoral ministry”, in smaller country towns, where different denominational groups combined to present the Gospel several times per year. There were times when invitations were given for sharing with another for special times in our church year. We tended to refer to each other as “brethren”, regarding ourselves corporately as “the church in ——” whilst accepting there we had differences, which, at times were the cause of some corporate chuckles.

  21. Aussie John, you are absolutely correct in your understanding of the term “city church”. The major thrust of this discussion is simply attempting to figure out how to make that “city church” more recognizable — or, perhaps a better way to say it is that we are trying to figure out why so many don’t even acknowledge that it is a reality.

  22. Thanks for the website – i just found it.

    We are planting a house church network, with the concept of planting a network in major metro-areas, so instead of retro-fitting the concept of a city church, we are just starting one from scratch. Honestly, it’s utopian to think that we could cause churches to come together, outside a miraculous act of God. But, there is a generation coming up that has very little use for traditional churches and church structures. It’s not they are irrelevant, but they are largely irrelevant to this generation. So, the current “irrelevance” is an opportunity for a change, but to force the change would be to put new wine in an old wine skin. Start with the new wine and put it in the new wine skin.

  23. Alan Knox says:

    I’ve posted link #8 in this chain blog in a post called “Unity and the Church in a City“.

    -Alan