Is Multi-site Biblical? An Exegetical Critique

Click here (see pp. 45-49) to access an essay I wrote critiquing multi-site church structure from an exegetical standpoint.  The essay appeared in the May-June 2009 edition of the 9Marks eJournal.  The entire edition is devoted to the subject of multi-site, and includes articles by advocates as well as critics.  I argue that the multi-site church structure is outside the bounds of the New Testament’s teaching on the local church in at least two ways. First, it violates the biblical understanding of church as assembly by considering a group of believers a church even though they never actually assemble.  Second, it violates the biblical understanding of a particular local assembly as a full-fledged manifestation of the one heavenly assembly by not considering each local assembly a church in and of itself, and by subjugating local assemblies to the governmental authority of other local assemblies without biblical warrant for such a practice. Simply put, multiple sites equal multiple churches, and churches should be self-governing.

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6 comments

  1. I agree that fellowship should be self governed but I don’t think we should refer to that as church or ecclesia.
    It seems that the New Testament suggests Christians fellowship in their neighborhoods and I don’t see their fellowship as looking anything like church meetings. They seemed to fellowship on a daily basis and looked more like a family in their neighborhood rather than taking treks 15 miles by car one day a week and having nothing to do with their neighborhood because that is “the church’s job”
    Multi-site as you have said, is not self governed and therefor bad news. That opens the door for all sorts of personal motives outside of God’s glory not to mention it is not the model that the NT gives us
    John L. Nevius was right about that.

    1. Joshua,

      Thanks for the thoughtful reply. I’m not sure I follow you though on why we shouldn’t refer to the Christian fellowship as an ekklesia. It seems that this is, in fact, the word of choice for Paul and the NT authors when they refer to a local body of Christians. I think it’s clear that their fellowship did indeed involve meetings. The NT frequently speaks of the ekklesia as coming together (Acts 1:15; 2:1, 44; 5:12; 14:27; 15:22, 30; 1 Cor. 11:18, 20; 14:23). First Corinthians 11:18 even ties coming together with the group’s status as an ekklesia: “when you come together ἐν ἐκκλησία.” It seems then, that local fellowships were marked by, among other things, their meetings.

      I think you’re right that local churches should not neglect their neighborhoods. That is every member’s responsibility. However, I don’t see anything in what I have presented in the above post that would necessarily lead to such neglect.

      Blessings,

      Grant

  2. Grant
    Read your article… just for clarification… are you saying that you believe that all of the thousands upon thousands of believers met together in Solomon’s Portico in Acts 5:12? I understand what you are saying that it is an argument from silence, but given the things that we know archaeologically about the temple in that day, are you still willing to say that they were literally ALL there? Just trying to make sure I’m understanding the article correctly.
    BJ

    1. BJ,

      Great to hear from you. I hope you’re doing well. Yes, I believe that even given archaeological factors, the thousands of believers could have and did meet in Solomon’s Portico. There’s a section in a post (from a paper) in which I deal with the issue of space limitations–especially as it relates to the supposed space restrictions of house churches. You can find the link to that post at the top right of my blog. It’s entitled “Were New Testament House Churches Multi-site?” There is archaeological evidence that anywhere from 300 to up in the thousands could’ve met in large homes. As far as Solomon’s Portico is concerned, I like the way Thomas White has put it:

      “Solomon’s Porch ran along the eastern wall of the temple, which was 1,509 feet in length. To put this in perspective, the Bank of America stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina, measures only nine hundred feet in length and eight hundred feet wide. This stadium holds 73,367 people. . . . The wall would be about the length of five football fields. Also remember that this was the location where the three thousand were added and where the number increased to five thousand. Thus, we know that large crowds could gather and could hear from this location. This structure was enormous, and despite the lack of microphones or speakers, large crowds apparently had no trouble hearing. Biblical evidence forces the conclusion that even the large Jerusalem church could and did gather at Solomon’s Porch.” (from his book, Franchising McChurch)

      Blessings,

      Grant

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