In the visions of God He took me into the land of Israel and set me on a very high mountain; on it toward the south was something like the structure of a city (Ezek. 40:2).
One of the most obvious and easiest truths to prove in all of the Bible is that the smallest denominator of a local church is citywide. In others words, in God’s pattern no smaller governmental structure exists for a local church other than on a city level. This does not mean we cannot meet in smaller groups, but the church government is citywide according to the patterns of the Bible.
One reason this truth is so easy to prove scripturally is that most of Paul’s letters to the local churches are addressed to the city in which that church operates. They are the actual names of several books in the New Testament. Have you ever considered the names of the Epistles? Also, when the Lord Jesus addressed the seven local churches in Asia, He said, "To the angel of the church of Ephesus write,” (Rev. 2:1) etc.
In the pattern of Ezekiel’s temple, he does not say, “I saw a congregation on the corner of a street.” No, he says, In the visions of God He took me into the land of Israel and set me on a very high mountain; on it toward the south was something like the structure of a city (Ezek. 40:2). Then at the end of the vision – just in case we miss this important element of church structure – the angel tells Ezekiel, . . . and the name of the city from that day shall be: THE LORD IS THERE (Ezek. 48:35). It must be a citywide church according to the pattern if we want the glory of the Lord to be there.
As was their custom, the apostles Paul and Barnabas appointed groups of elders to shepherd the churches in the district of Lycaonia. So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed (Acts 14:23). A careful reading of the chapter tells us that these churches were cities in the district of Lycaonia (14:6, 21-22).
Paul also instructed Titus to appoint elders in every city for the church since that is the scriptural pattern. He said, For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you (Titus 1:5). The Bible knows nothing of a smaller governing church body than citywide. The New Testament makes this crystal clear with example after example.
To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 1:7).
To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours (1 Cor. 1:2).
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and faithful in Christ Jesus (Eph. 1:1).
To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons (Phil. 1:1).
Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thess 1:1).
Do you see what I mean by this being one of the most obvious and easiest truths in the whole Bible to prove?
Hebrews 11 tells us that Abraham was looking for a “city” not built by man but by God. That city is Zion or the New Jerusalem. In the following chapter we are informed that city is a church.
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect (Heb. 12:22-23).
During the millennial reign of Jesus, faithful saints will be put in charge over churches – that is to say, they will be put over cities. And he said to him, “Well done, good servant; because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities.” And the second came, saying, “Master, your mina has earned five minas.” Likewise he said to him, “You also be over five cities” (Luke 19:17-19).
Can you imagine the impact it would have on a city if all the Christians were united in one church? I don’t mean one building, but a spiritual unit. They could certainly influence what happened in that city and who is elected in a much greater way. Do you think maybe this was part of God’s plan from the beginning? It is clear that it will be that way in the new millennial church.
What if you do not live in a city? Personally, I don’t live in a city; I live in a county. That is the smallest governing structure under which I live. So the church in my county should be county-wide since that is the smallest government structure there.
Can We Meet in Smaller Groups?
Of course, we can meet in smaller groups than a citywide meeting. Jesus said that where two or more are together, He is in the midst of them. However, the elders are appointed on a city level. You may have some of those elders in a small group when you meet, or you may not. Your little group could be visited and taught by knowledgeable elders from other parts of the city. If there are no elders in a small group, then the men of the group should share leadership with the guidance of the elders of the city. No smaller group is to have one man dominating over it; that would destroy body ministry. They may have one person who is recognized as the chief servant – there are no prohibitions against preeminent, self-sacrificing “slaves”!
Scriptural Suggestion: Begin to pray for the Lord to mend all the divisions in His church. “And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare” (Jer. 29:7 NLT).
* The local church in the New Testament is citywide.
* Any church government smaller than that are a division in the Lord’s body.
* The pattern in both Ezekiel’s temple and the New Testament show a citywide church.
* Smaller groups can meet without official leadership.