Without a doubt, the New Testament alludes to the concept of a local assembly of baptized believers as being the church. In our current study on the book of Revelation, we are in the section where there are seven local bodies identified as churches. The Lord saw them and was aware of what each of them was doing in this world. He likens each church to a lampstand or candlestick. Interestingly enough, the Lord didn’t see one huge candlestick, but he saw seven individual candlesticks and identifies each one as a church.
I would be so bold as to say that there is no concept of a universal, invisible church found in the pages of the New Testament. The suggestion that all the churches will make up the church in the future in Heaven is surely seen, but right now, God sees churches—plural. Each real New Testament church is the body of Christ, and He is the head of that church!
In the New Testament these churches were identified by their geographic location. In 2016, Independent Baptists often tag their churches with a location; for instance, we are known as Cleveland Baptist Church. We are a regional church that draws people from across the greater Cleveland area. Yet, around us are other Baptist churches that have names such as Grace Baptist Church, NorthCoast Baptist, Southwest Baptist, etc. In New Testament times, those churches would have had a city associated with them in order to designate its location.
As one of the oldest and largest Independent Baptist churches in this area, Cleveland Baptist Church has planted several of the other Baptist churches in this area. We have either directly planted that church out of our church, or we have helped a man that has been sent to this region to plant a church. Throughout the years, we have given people and resources to help these regional church plants. We don’t look upon these other churches as competition. We see them as partners in the ministry. I firmly believe that as large as the metro Cleveland area is—seven counties and 2.1 million people—it would be impossible for one church to reach and impact this region totally or effectively. So it takes churches—plural—to be placed in strategic areas to reach a region like this with the gospel.
It is a wonderful thing when churches in a close geographic area can cooperate and strategically plan some combined efforts. As I look around me, I know some of these Baptist churches in this region wouldn’t agree on every detail, but we agree on the major doctrines and understand the concept of independence and autonomy. Yet, we have been able to come together for teen camps, summer missionary ventures and other joint efforts. Some of the churches in our region have chosen to utilize our Christian school for some of their church families and send men and women to our Bible Institute for training. Recently, we have been planning a combined outreach to the Republican National Convention which will be convening here in a few weeks. It has been refreshing to have the pastors and leaders of these churches sit down with us to strategize about outreach and evangelism. Next year we are looking at working together for a joint meeting on Revival and Prayer!
Please join me in praying for the Independent Baptist churches of the greater Cleveland area to not only be effective in their individual work but also powerful in our collective work! I want Cleveland Baptist Church and the other area Independent Baptist churches to have a great spirit of unity and cooperation. In this day of cultural shift and animosity toward Bible-believing Christians, we are going to need each other. Unless something changes, I believe that we are going to be dealing with pressure and persecution that we have never known from the world around us. Therefore, we must encourage and pray for each church and pastor. We must remember the Lord is still walking among the candlesticks, and He is the head of every New Testament church. I think He is pleased as we show grace and kindness toward each pastor and church that shares our doctrine and faith.