Restore the Centrality of the Local Church? Yes!

If you’ve been following my posts regarding the present statement of the fundamentalist movement, you probably have noticed that I am not big on that idea any more. In case you have not been following, here’s the quick summary: (1) there is no identified, singular fundamentalist movement, but clusters of relatively like-minded people who claim to represent the fundamentalist movement; (2) these clusters often do not recognize the validity of the other clusters’ claims to be fundamentalists; and (3) some (many?) of the clusters really show very little likeness to historic, theological fundamentalism. Instead of movement-itis, my suggestion is that we:

Restore the local assembly to the center where God intended it to be. When your local assembly engages in Great Commission work outside its walls, find some folks you agree with and get busy doing it. Unity is built on agreement about the truth, not by politics. Few things are as political as trying to preserve movements once they have fragmented theologically.

It was somewhat surprising to find Dr. Jeff Straub seeming to disagree with this suggestion. I think that Dr. Straub and I mainly agree about fundamentalism and separation, but it seems like we disagree about the centrality of the local church to God’s work in this dispensation. He writes, “We are told that part of the current problem in fundamentalism and evangelicalism is that we have moved away from the centrality of the local church. Come again?” While he does not say that too much emphasis on the local church has been fundamentalism’s problem, he certainly doesn’t agree with me that restoring the local church is the proper way to move forward. We probably share common ground on some of the concerns that he expresses about churches which self-absorbed.

I suppose the center of our disagreement hinges on the meaning of 1 Timothy 3:15. Dr. Straub takes it, I assume for his allusion to it, as referring to the Universal Church—“It is The Church (Universal) that is the pillar and ground of the truth, not a particular local assembly. Local churches come and go but the pillar remains unmoved.” This caught me offguard because I have always understood this text to be referring to the local church. My reason for this is how the verse starts, “but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself…” IOW, Paul’s letter is intended to give specific instructions about how life in the church is to be conducted. About what has Paul written up to this point in the letter? The place of prayer among God’s people (2:1-7), the conduct of men and women in the assemblies (2:8-15), and the qualifications of overseers and deacons (3:1-13). This doesn’t sound like instructions for the Universal Church, but for the conduct of local churches. Is Paul concerned about women quietly receiving instruction in the Universal Church? Does the Universal Church have overseers and deacons? No, I think this Pastoral Epistle is written regarding life in the local church.

There really is no conflict between restoring the centrality of the local church and cooperative ministry. I don’t hear anybody arguing that we have no obligation outside of the local church. The Great Commission calls us outward into cooperative effort and we should be large-hearted in our commitments to obey our Savior. But I see nothing in Scripture that calls for the establishment of a supra-church movement. Churches don’t exist for movements, associations, mission agencies, and educational institutions. All of these, if they have any value, serve the churches.

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