Sunday, January 27, 2013

Located Church

" will be a community that does not live for itself but is deeply involved in the concerns of its neighbourhood.  It will be the church for the specific place where it lives, not the church for those who wish to be members of it - or rather, it will be for them insofar as they are willing to be for the wider community.  It is, I think, very significant that in the consistent usage of the New Testament, the word ekklesia is qualified in only two ways; it is "the Church of God" or "of Christ", and it is the church of a place.  A Christian congregation is defined by this twofold relation: it is God's embassy in a specific place.  Either of these vital relationships may be neglected  The congregation may be so identified with the place that it ceases to be the vehicle of God's judgement and mercy for that place and becomes simply the focus of the self-image of the people of that place  Or it may be so concerned about the relation of its members to God that it turns its back on the neighbourhood and is perceived as irrelevant to its concerns."

Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society

If the former neglect is the danger faced by Anglican congregations in particular (although not by any means exclusively), the latter is the great danger for free churches.  We tend to be drawn from wider areas, made up of people who have opted out of the parish system for theological or personal reasons.  The temptation is to say that it doesn't matter - geographical location is less important to people nowadays   That is certainly true, but the question is whether it is a trend we should be fighting.  I suspect that Newbigin is right.  Without a geographical focus, our churches become private members clubs, which attract people like us.  Our evangelism begins to be directed only to our friends and colleagues, and large numbers of people whose lives do not throw themselves in the way of a Christian are overlooked.

I don't know how much longer the Church of England as we know it will be with us.  I do know that in many parishes the gospel is not preached.  We in non-conformity will need to be more than just the alternative.  We will need to be churches for places.


  1. Thanks for this Daniel. A viewpoint I wholeheartedly agree with but don't see the argument jump out of scripture...?


  2. Fenning, sorry I missed this. I think a proper Biblical argument would have to involve looking at a theology of space and community. I'm sure someone has written it! I guess the thing that Newbigin mentions - that churches are 'in Christ' and 'in Philippi' (or wherever) - could be seen as the end point of a Biblical understanding of the important of location and relationship.

    Pretty vague, but I think it is there...