So Dave and I often met together to pray and to discuss the scriptures and seek to challenge each others' thinking regarding the church. But I think Dave challenged my thinking far more than I ever challenged his!
I had long been taught and had believed that there were just two kinds of churches composed of Christians:
The first was the church which is Christ's Body which is composed of all born again believers who have lived since the Holy Spirit was sent down by the Lord Jesus on the Day of Pentecost. This church is commonly known or referred to as the "Universal Church". That term is not found in scripture but is commonly used to designate the church which Christ is building and against which the gates of hell will not prevail.
The second was the church we called "the local church" of which there are many in the world today and for which men are given the responsibility to build and (as history shows) such churches have often been prevailed over and many which existed in former times are no longer in existence! But neither is the term "local church" found anywhere in scripture!
I don't recall just how Dave and I began to discuss the matter of different kinds of churches, but he began to suggest to me that there were, in fact, not just two kinds of churches in the NT but rather three! The term "local church" has confused and prevented many from recognizing the distinctions between two of these three for both are found and are located in local communities!
Dave suggested that the first kind of church in a locality is what scripture refers to as "the church of God". (See I Cor.1:2) That passage of scripture also clearly describes what kind of people comprise such a church.....the church of God at Corinth was comprised of all those at Corinth who were "sanctified in Christ Jesus, called saints". Such churches in other places were also composed of "all (in those places) who call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours". So Dave suggested, that all the born again believers in the city of Woodstock comprised the church of God at Woodstock!
Then Dave suggested that the other kind of church that was mentioned in scripture in a particular locality was churches that met in houses. Houses were the most common meeting place of NT assemblies until the early 4th century when Constantine made "Christianity" the state religion of Rome and from then on "church buildings" became commonly used along with many other unscriptural practices such as a clear distinction between "clergy" and "laity"! Churches which met in homes of believers are mentioned in scripture in such passages as Acts 8:3; Romans 16:5; I Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:15 and Philemon 1:2.
The idea that God recognized churches in cities which were composed of all the believers in that city was an idea which was totally new and strange to my thinking and one which I adamantly opposed in discussions with Dave.
However, I also began to realize that I had long encountered some difficulties with seeing only two kinds of churches. Some of those difficulties began to arise when I realized that the early believers broke bread and remembered the Lord in their breaking of bread on a daily basis in their own homes (Acts 2:46) for they had no "church buildings/sanctuaries/halls" in which to meet! While Old Covenant believers always had special places designated by God where they were to meet with Him and to which their sacrifices and offerings were to be brought...New Covenant believers were taught that God did not dwell in temples made with hands (Acts 7:48 and 17:24) but rather that He now dwelt in His own saved and sanctified PEOPLE! ( I Cor.3:16,17 and Ephesians 2:21,22) I will never forget the day when that truth was forceably brought to my attention as I walked out of the Bunsmaster Bakery on the west hill in the city of Owen Sound. Directly across the street was a large billboard with this bold statement in huge letters: "WE DON'T GO TO CHURCH!" Then, in smaller letters beneath that statement was placed a second statement... "We are the church!" As I stopped to ponder that bill board, I had to acknowledge that whoever had placed it there "had their head screwed on right" and had understood a truth of scripture which many Christians never realize! God no longer dwells in PLACES but rather in His redeemed PEOPLE!
Whenever that truth is realized and practically acknowledged by any believer they must also recognize that it is an absolute impossibility for them to "go to church"! If "church" is a place you go to, you could certainly "go to church"! But since an assembly (the Greek word "EKKLESIA" of the NT) is always a people, then if I am one of the people of God, I am part of that "EKKLESIA" where ever I go!
So realizing that breaking of bread, the Lord's supper (feast), was actually a meal eaten in the believers homes, I could not for the life of me visualize such occasions being times at which believing sisters (who had prepared the meals) would now be required to be silent while those meals were eaten in their own homes! (And yet, in the gatherings described and regulated in I Cor.14:23-40, women were to be silent (i.e. not to speak!) But I had never before even considered the fact that the I Cor.14 meeting was (1) not convened in a home, (2)did not include breaking of bread but was, in fact, (3) a gathering of the whole church (in the city of Corinth) in one place! It was NOT a small gathering of just a few of the Corinthian saints in someone's house, but rather a very large gathering of the whole church into one place, I Cor.14:23 (which of course would have had to be a venue large enough to accommodate them all)!
It was then that I began to realize that many assemblies in homes in the first century were gatherings in which sisters took an active vocal part! (see Acts 1:14-2:4; 4:23-31; 10:44-48; 12:5-17; 19:24-27) These facts ran completely counter to my belief (from I Cor.14:34,35) that women were to be silent (not to speak) in church gatherings! How could the Holy Spirit lead women to speak in assembly gatherings when His own Word tells them to be silent????
It was then that I also realized that I Cor.14:23-40 did not regulate small gatherings of churches in peoples houses, but rather the large gatherings when the whole church came together into one place! (I Cor.14:23)
This is verified in the Book of Acts where a number of city-wide or whole church gatherings in one place are recorded. If you read the accounts of such gatherings in Acts 2:46a; 6:2-7 and 15:4-29 (see especially 15:4,12 & 22) you will see that these gatherings were conducted in accordance with the regulations of I Cor.14:23-40.
-There was one speaker at a time,
-no women spoke and,
-although not all the men spoke, they all had the opportunity to do so for there were no “pre-appointed speakers”!)
-Please notice too that in such gatherings of the whole church, there never was breaking of bread (this was always done in houses. See Acts 2:46b)
-Nor was there congregational singing because singing is speaking (Eph.5:19) and women are not to speak in such gatherings (I Cor.14:34,35).
Thus I realized that scripture not only mentioned…
-churches in people’s houses AND churches of God in cities,
that scripture recorded…
-actual examples of both kinds of gatherings and
that scripture required …
-different behaviour in the gatherings of these two kinds of churches!
It was then that I realized that my brother, Dave Johnston, had been right after all when he suggested to me that scripture actually described three kinds of churches!
If you would like to investigate this matter in more detail and consider all that the scriptures have to say relative to these three kinds of churches (The church which is Christ’s Body, The Church of God in your community, and churches in houses) just send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and request the article “Three Kinds of Churches” and I will gladly send it to you.)