Are Multi-Site Churches Biblical?

Posted: May 18, 2011 in church, ecclesiology, theology

Gregg Allison attempts to answer this question in a post at The Resurgence.  The helpful article references a conversation between Mark Dever, James MacDonald, and Mark Driscoll, in which the three pastors discussed/debated the answer to this question, but gives more specific biblical evidence in support of multi-site models.

First, Allison reminds us that “concepts are more than a single word“:

For example, if someone asks us about salvation, we would not respond by saying “the meaning of the word sōteria in the New Testament is deliverance from danger.” Similarly, if someone asks us about justification, we would not respond by saying “the meaning of the word dikaioō is to acquit of wrongdoing.” Both salvation and justification are far richer in meaning than the mere definitions of the New Testament words translated for them. So it goes for church; its meaning is much more than the definition of the word ekklēsia. Thinking that church can be discussed by appealing to a definition of the word ekklēsia commits a methodological error.

Second, he notes that words can have multiple meanings:

…while it is true that a meaning of the word ekklēsia is “assembly,” it is only one of the meanings of that word. An assembly is certainly in view when Paul addresses celebrating the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:17-34) and regulates the exercise of speaking in tongues and prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:26-40) when the church is gathered together. But ekklēsia cannot mean “assembly” in Acts 8:1, for example, when Luke’s point is that the church was “scattered”—not assembled—because of persecution. In fact, the word church can refer to meetings of Christians in houses (Acts 12:12), the church in a city (1 Corinthians 1:1-21 Thessalonians 1:1), all the believers in a region (Acts 9:31), the universal church (1 Corinthians 10:32), and even the saints already in heaven (Hebrews 12:23). Saying that the word ekklēsia means “assembly” commits a lexical error.

Finally, he argues that there are examples of “multi-site” churches in the New Testament (although he doesn’t deal with the many obvious differences between the churches of the New Testament and churches of today):

…the church of Corinth would gather regularly for worship in the home of Aquila and Priscilla (1 Corinthians 16:19), “the house of a man named Titius Justus” (Acts 18:7), the home of Crispus (Acts 18:8), the house of Stephanas (1 Corinthians 16:15), and others. These “church gatherings” distributed among the houses stood in contrast with the “whole church” assembling together, probably in the home of Gaius (1 Corinthians 14:23;Romans 16:23). Importantly, “each of the home-based groups included only parts of the church, i.e. a subset of its membership.” Still, each home-based gathering was a legitimate gathering of the church of Corinth.

Theologically, I think I would fall more closely in line with the reasoning and arguments presented in this article.  I just don’t think Dever (and those who share his strict ecclesiology) have the Scriptural warrant for some of their strong ecclesiological claims.  However, I would have some (tentative) reservations regarding the methodology employed by large churches like Mars Hill.

What do you think?

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