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Multi-Site Church Thinking

In: Philosophy and Psychology

Submitted By mvanderwarker
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A Paper Presented to Dr. Michael H. Windsor Central Baptist Theological Seminary of VA Beach


In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Course 354 Systematic Theology 4


Submitted by: Matthew E.Vanderwarker February 27, 201

TABLE OF CONTENTS INTRODUCTION ...............................................................................................................3 THE DEFINITION OF MULTI-SITE CHURCH ..............................................................4 THE MEANING OF ΕΚΚΛΕΣΙΑ ......................................................................................6 Lexical Definition .....................................................................................................6 Biblical Usage ...........................................................................................................7 Profane Usage ...........................................................................................................8 Etymology and Meaning ............................................................................................8 ΕΚΚΛΕΣΙΑ AS THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH ...................................................10 NEW TESTAMENT EVIDENCE FOR MULTI-SITE CHURCH ..................................11 The House Church and Paul's Writings ............................................................................12 The House Church and Luke's Writings ...........................................................................14 Επι Το Αυτο .......................................................................................................................18 THE NATURE OF THE LOCAL CHURCH ...................................................................19 The Metaphors Describing the Nature ..............................................................................20 The Metaphor of the Body ......................................................................................20 The Metaphor of the Building................................................................................. 21 Decision Making in the Local Church .............................................................................. 22 The Process of Church Discipline........................................................................... 23 The Process of Choosing Leaders ........................................................................... 24 MULTI-SITE PRAGMATICS ......................................................................................... 27 CONCLUSION ................................................................................................................. 28 BIBLIOGRAPHY ............................................................................................................. 30


Introduction There is nothing more important than the glory of God, and the greatest way to glorify God is through magnifying the cross. In a culture much different than that of the first century Christians, well-intentioned pastors are looking for alternative media to expose people to the cross. In December of 2009, a USA Today article proclaimed, “Multi-site churches mean pastors reach thousands.”1 It is reported there are now over 5,000 expressions of multi-site churches across North America, and in 2013, that number will grow.2 If these prophetic words of multi-site are true, it is possible that every ministry will contemplate going multi-site. Mark Driscoll, a popular author and pastor, declares, "In conclusion, the multi-campus and video churches are here to stay."3 Consequently, congregations all over the world need to know what the Bible states about the multi-site structure. When examining the biblical data, certain questions need to be answered, like: What is a multi-site church? What is a church? Is this arrangement biblical? How does it affect a church? How does one respond to others who may come to different biblical

Cathy Grossman, "Multi-site Churches Mean Pastors Reach Thousands," USA Today, 17 December 2009. Accessed 7 January 2013. Justin Tomberlin, "What is Trending in Multi-Site? 2013," Outreach Magazine, Online Edition, December 18, 2012. . Accessed 7 January 2013. Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears, Vintage Church: Timeless Truths and Timely Methods (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008), 263. Kindle Edition.
3 2




conclusions? While the issue of multi-site structure is an issue of secondary nature, it still requires the honest attention of congregations. This paper is intended to engage the minds of believers seeking to understand the biblical data concerning the multi-site model. First, with a wide variety of multi-site expressions, a shared definition of multi-site is established. With this definition, the use of ἐκκλησία is investigated. Next, the Scriptural evidence regarding house churches and the nature of the local church is examined. After looking at general pragmatics of multi-site proponents, this paper will ultimately arrive at the conclusion that there is no biblical support for multi-site churches. The Definition Of Multi-Site Church Defining a multi-site church is tantamount to identifying oneself as a Baptist. What does Baptist mean? Is one a Baptist of the Southern, Independent, Reformed, or Anabaptist persuasion? And if you are a Southern Baptist, are you conservative, contemporary, orthodox, or traditional? The same can be said regarding multi-site churches. In the book, The Multi-site Church Revolution, the authors describe the varying looks of multi-site: A congregation just north of San Diego sings “How Great Thou Art” in Traditions, one of six venues on the same church campus. North Coast Church in Vista, California, developed six different worship atmospheres, all within a few feet of each other. Traditions is more intimate and nostalgic, while other venues range from country gospel to a coffeehouse feel to vibrating, big subwoofer attitude.4 The authors continue their observations: In downtown Chicago at New Life Bridgeport, a small church meets in a century-old former United Church of Christ facility. The pastor, Luke Dudenhoffer, preaches a sermon that he’s worked on with up to ten other pastors across the city. Each pastor leads
Geoff Surratt, Greg Ligon, and Warren Bird, The Multi-Site Church Revolution: Being One Church in Many Locations (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), Kindle Locations 275-277. Kindle Edition.

5 a satellite congregation of New Life Community Church, which is known as one church in many locations. At Community Christian Church in Chicagoland, eight different drama teams perform the same sketch at eight different locations. Then up to three different teachers deliver a message they’ve developed collaboratively. Most services have an in-person preacher, though some sermons are videocasts.5 Obviously, the practice of multi-site has taken a variety of forms. In just three of the numerous examples the authors give, there is variety in atmosphere, location, artistic expression, and technology. One may wonder if there are more succinct boundaries. The scope of this paper is to examine the united denominator of multi-site. This facilitates an appropriate understanding and clear discussion regarding the evaluation of multi-site churches. The authors of The Multi-site Church Revolution define a multi-site church as, "one church meeting in multiple locations—different rooms on the same campus, different locations in the same region, or in some instances, different cities, states, or nations. A multi-site church shares a common vision, budget, leadership, and board."6 With such a broad range, it would be impossible to engage in a meaningful discussion. A laconic demarcation is vital to engage in intelligible conversation. The word site is defined by Webster's as, "the spatial location of an actual or planned structure or set of structures; a space of ground occupied or to be occupied by a building."7 Scott McConnell states, "By definition, multi-site involves starting a site somewhere other than your current campus."8 Liberty Baptist Church in Hampton, Virginia, provides a palatable

5 6 7

Surratt, Ligon, and Bird, The Multi-Site Church Revolution, 286-291. Ibid., 309-311.

Henry Woolf, ed., Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary (Springfield: G. & C. Merriam Co., 1975), s.v. “site," page 1085.

6 definition, "A multi-site church is one church meeting in multiple locations that share a common vision, budget and leadership."9 Liberty's definition is a clear, complete, and acceptable basis even in the midst of varied expression. This definition will serve as the foundation for this examination. A proper understanding of the NT church is now sanctioned.

The Meaning Of Εκκλησία The word ἐκκλησία occurs approximately 114 times in the Greek New Testament.10 Like any other word, according to the laws of language, it might be used abstractly, generically, particularly, or prospectively, without losing its essential meaning.11 One can not push too far with etymology, for he could be found guilty of hermeneutic fallacy, but the study of a word can help to illuminate meaning. This illumination is vital to the evaluation of multi-site churches because it helps to provide necessary boundaries in meaning. If there are no boundaries, then we do not have language and linguistics becomes impossible. Understanding constituent lexical, biblical, and profane data can help determine the essential meaning of ἐκκλησία. The Lexical Definition The Greek word ἐκκλησία is not a word exclusive to the community of believers, but was used by the common tongue. LSJ defines ἐκκλησία as an assembly of the citizens regularly

Scott McConnell, Multi-Site Churches: Guidance for the Movement's Next Generation (Nashville: B&H, 2009), 17. Kindle Edition. Liberty at Harbour View, "One Church: Two Locations," harbourview Accessed 19 February 2013.
10 9


Logos Bible Software, s.v. "ἐκκλησία," (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 1996), word query

search. Richard V. Clearwaters, The Local Church of the New Testament (Chicago: Conservative Baptist Fellowship, 1954), 16.

7 summoned, the legislative assembly.12 The TDNT mentions that it is used in secular Greek and means a “popular assembly.”13 Further, the TDNT references, "In the LXX ἐκκλησία is a wholly secular term; it means “assembly.”14 This lexical authority helps to understand the translation, essential meaning, and computational perception of ἐκκλησία. It stands that these assemblies gathered together, in community, for a mutual concern or there would have been no assembling. Biblical Usage While the predominant usage of ἐκκλησία in the NT refers to the church, there are instances of other usages. Robert Banks explains the Ephesian riot in Acts: We have an example in the NT where ekklesia is used to describe just such a meeting. This occurred when Paul was staying in Ephesus during his third missionary journey (Acts 19:21-41). The silversmiths of that city feared the impact on their trade of his preaching against idolatry and provoked a demonstration of the populace against Paul and his associates. The town clerk of Ephesus, probably the chief civil officer in the city, urged the crowd to restrain themselves, advising the silversmiths to make their complaint formally before the courts or proconsuls. If the people wished to take matters further they should do so in the lawful and regular ekklesia where such matters were decided (Acts 19:39), not in the unconstitutional and near riotous ekklesia now in session (vs. 41). Here we have two instances of the typical Greek use of the word in reference to an assembly of people.15 The writer of Hebrews mentions ἐκκλησία in Hebrews 12:23. No matter ones' interpretation of "the assembly (ἐκκλησία) of the firstborn," this writer makes mention of this gathering as an assembly. In both cases, the Bible expresses ἐκκλησία as an assembly gathered together for a shared interest.

H.G. Liddell, A Lexicon: Abridged from Liddell and Scott's Greek-English Lexicon (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996), 239. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley and Gerhard Friedrich, electronic ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964). Volume 3, page 513.
14 15 13


Ibid., 527. Robert Banks, Paul's Idea of Community, (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 27.

8 The LXX also gives insight into the use of ἐκκλησία. A. M. Hunter, former professor of Biblical Criticism in Aberdeen, Scotland, pens, "if that Greek had become 'a God-fearer' and taken to read the Greek Old Testament, his mystification would have vanished; There as a rule, Qahal (ἐκκλησία κυρίου=Qahal Yahweh), and Qahal in the Hebrew Old Testament is the usual term for Israel as the gathered people of God."16 The lexical and biblical treatments are in harmony. Profane Usage Thucydides, a fifth century BCE Athenian general,17 recalls General Pericles resisting the pressure of the Acharnians to go out to war against the uncomfortably close Lacedaemonians. He mentions that Pericles would not call either an "assembly (ἐκκλησία) or a meeting of the people, fearing the fatal results of a debate inspired by passion and not by prudence."18 In this case, ἐκκλησία was viewed as a group of citizens gathered together for discussion concerning the potential invaders. These semantic features provide evidence that disproves a loose interpretation of ἐκκλησία. Εκκλησία must mean assembly due to a collective interest. Etymology and Meaning The Greek word ἐκκλησία was not a word owned by the first Christians. It was a general word used for an assembly. The essential meaning carries the idea of being together with a

A. M. Hunter, The Unity of the New Testament: One Lord, One Church, One Salvation (London: SCM Press, 1957), 61. Preece, Warren. ed., Encyclopedia Britannica. s.v. "Thucydides," Vol. 21. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967), 1092. Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War, trans. J.M. Dent (New York: Dutton, 1910) 2:22, Perseus Digital Library. %3A1999.01.0200. Accessed 18 February 2013.
18 17


9 common interest. Allison, a professor of Christian theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, states that we do not define a concept by defining a word.19 He goes on to illustrate this by using the example of explaining salvation. He states that when asked about salvation, one would not quote the strict meaning of σωτηρία to the inquirer. Allison states that the meaning is far richer than the mere definition. He then states that one who thinks church can be discussed by appealing to a definition of the word ἐκκλησία commits a methodological error.20 Allison pushes too far. Definitions elucidate the varying nuances. For one to understand σωτηρία in accordance with its definition is no methodological error. This provides the basis for one to comprehend that salvation is deliverance from danger. Although a word may not be completely wooden, neither is it totally plastic. Allison rightly states that we should not respond with the strict definition when talking about salvation, but the conversation wouldn't happen if there weren't a definition to provide essential meaning. After all, words mean something. The methodological error would be for one to completely divorce the concept from the definition. It follows, that ἐκκλησία may have different expressions, just as multi-site churches, but it still has a basic foundational meaning. Allison also states that for one to say the word ἐκκλησία means assembly, this person commits a lexical error.21 The sole proof text he uses is Acts 8:1. The church in Jerusalem is being persecuted by Saul. Luke states, "And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered

Greg Allison, "Are Multi-site Churches Biblical?" The Resurgence Blog, entry posted 18 May 2011, 2011/05/18/are-multi-site-churches-biblical. Accessed 1 January 2013.
20 21


Ibid. Ibid.

10 throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles" (Lk 8:1).22 Allsion states that this cannot mean assembly, because the church was scattered, not assembled.23 Context would help us to understand the reason for the scattering was because they were assembled together. There doesn't need to be any scattering if there is no gathering. Therefore, the word ἐκκλησία is proved to mean assembly in this reference. Understanding ἐκκλησία to mean a gathering of people together with a common interest is important. This understanding helps us to see the people, whether to rally to war, to conduct legislation, or to riot, were together. This is clearly the intent of ἐκκλησία. Εκκλησία As The New Testament Church An ἐκκλησία took on specific meaning depending upon the reason for assembling. For instance, a cordwainer’s guild was known as those who met together regarding footwear. The primitive union of carpenters met together for carpentry purposes. Neither the guild nor union would have been defined as such if they had not met together. Louw and Nida define ἐκκλησία as, "a congregation of Christians, implying interacting membership—congregation, church."24 Newman defines it as, "church, congregation; assembly, gathering (of religious, political, or unofficial groups).”25 English translations of the Bible all refer to those that met together in the name of Christ as the church. Robert Saucy gives helpful words when defining church:

22 23 24

Unless otherwise noted, all scriptural citations are from the English Standard Version, 2001. Allison, "Are Multi-site Churches Biblical?,"

Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains, vol. 1, Electronic ed. of the 2nd ed., (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 125. Barclay M. Newman, Jr., A Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament (Stuttgart, Germany: United Bible Societies, 1993), 55.

11 The English term church, along with the Scottish word kirk and German kirche, is derived from the Greek kuriakon, which is the neuter adjective of kurios, "Lord," and means, "belonging to the Lord." Kuriakon occurs only twice in the New Testament, neither time with reference to the church as commonly used today. In 1 Corinthians 11:20, it refers to the Lord's Supper and in Revelation 1:10 to the Lord's Day. Its application to the church stems from its use by early Christians for the place where they met together, denoting it as a place belonging to God, or God's house. With the realization that the place had significance only because of the people of God who met in it, the term was applied to the assembly itself. The church is the gathering together of God's people.26 Saucy puts it together for us well in stating that there was a place and people met in that place. Therefore, the definition of ἐκκλησία as a NT church conveys the same characterization. Next, the Textual data claimed to support multi-site churches is examined. New Testament Evidence For Multi-Site Churches The authors of The Multi-site Church Revolution claim, "The concept of having church in more than one location isn’t new or revolutionary; the roots of multi-site go back to the church of Acts."27 Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle claims the practice of his multi-site church follows the example of the first century church: It is clear that we were in many ways following the pattern of the New Testament. Many of the New Testament letters were written to networks of churches scattered throughout a particular city (e.g., Corinth, Galatia, Thessalonica, and Philippi). Some of the instructional letters, such as Hebrews, James, and the epistles of Peter, are called general epistles because they were intended to be read and obeyed at multiple churches. Furthermore, the New Testament seems to indicate that churches spread across regions as a linked network of congregations. For example, 1 Peter 1:1 refers to churches in the areas of “Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.” While the circumstances in the New Testament era are not the same as what we are doing today, the variety of venues there indicates that the early church was quite flexible, meeting and worshiping in distinctive situations to meet the needs and opportunities of their time.28

26 27 28

Robert L. Saucy, The Church in God's Program (Chicago: Moody, 1972), 11. Surratt, Ligon, and Bird, Multi-Site Church Revolution, 302-303. Driscoll and Breshears, Vintage Church, 5327-5334.


Driscoll holds 1 Peter 1:1 is proof that the congregations were nothing more than a single church linked together in a network across a broad region. Are proponents of multi-site churches correct to claim that the NT allows for multi-site churches? An examination of the NT evidence resolves there is not a precedent for this conclusion. The House Church And Paul's Writings Multi-site sponsors appeal to Scriptural evidence for support. The argument usually tracks that since there were house churches in the book of Acts, then this is prescriptive for multi-site churches today. Romans 16:5 articulates, "Greet also the church in their house." Paul was delivering personal greetings to Priscilla and Aquila, his fellow servants. Paul greets the same two servants and the church in their home in 1 Corinthians 16:19. Paul also sends greetings to the "brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house" (Col 4:16). In Paul's address to Philemon, he sends greetings to "Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house," in verse two. Multi-site supporters correctly state that there were meetings of Christians in houses. What is improper is their interpretation of these passages. In Romans 16:5 and 1 Corinthians 16:9, Paul greets a church that is meeting in a house which is in one location. There is no evidence that this church was part of a larger corporate gathering in Rome or Corinth. Regarding the Romans passage, R. Scott Revealy writes, "In the letter to the Romans, Paul addressed 'the church' in Rome and told them to greet 'the church' that met in the home of Aquila and Priscilla

13 (Rom 16:5). If the entire church met together in their home, he would not have needed the special greeting."29 This rationality does not follow. The reason for offering a greeting, and not necessarily "special" as Revealy claims, had nothing to do with the size of the congregation. The assembly that Paul addressed in Colossians 4:15, which met in Nympha's home, also met together for their common faith in Christ in the same location. F. F. Bruce states, "Sometimes the whole church in one city might be small enough to be accommodated in the home of one of its members; but in other places the local church was quite large, and there was no building in which all the members could conveniently meet together."30 There is no mention of multiple sites or of a larger church body in Paul's communication. The same can be said of Paul's address to Philemon regarding the church in his home. In these passages, these churches had to meet in homes since this was most likely the only place for them to meet. We do not have any evidence of the size of these congregations that would warrant an understanding of a larger church divided. The common bond in Christ would have been enough for Christian κοινωνία. The fact that they met in these homes isn't support for multi-site churches. Grant Gaines gives a thought provoking statement, "If multiple house churches per city is true in the overwhelming majority of cases, it is strange that Antioch and Ephesus, two very important cities in the early Christian movement, cannot be proven to be a part of this majority."31

R. Scott Revealy, "An Ecclesiology for Multi-site Churches: Thinking Biblically about the Local Church in Multiple Locations," unpublished DMin dissertation, (Portland: Western Seminary, 2007), 125. F. F. Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984), 183. Grant Gaines, "Were New Testament House Churches Multi-site?" (seminar, Southern Baptist Theological Seminar, 2010) . Accessed 9 January 2013.
31 30


14 The House Church And Luke's Writings Peter had the sobering responsibility of preaching at Pentecost, and three thousand souls were redeemed (Acts 2:41). Luke writes, "And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes" (Acts 2:46). This large number of people are said to have gathered together in the same place, the temple. Luke records the apostles were "every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ" (Acts 5:42). Elsewhere Luke pens, "On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered" (Acts 20:7-8). In this case, Paul and his seven companions ministered in the upper room of an individual's house. Roger Gehring, in his influential work regarding house churches, writes: On one point nearly all NT scholars presently agree: early Christians met almost exclusively in the homes of individual members of the congregation. For nearly three hundred years – until the fourth century, when Constantine began building the first basilicas throughout the Roman Empire – Christians gathered in private houses built initially for domestic use, not in church buildings originally constructed for the sole purpose of public worship.32 Gehring goes on to say that the insight of early Christians meeting in homes is not new.33 Additionally, he states: At least some of the members of the community must have kept their homes – otherwise the congregation would not have had a place of assembly. In the beginning, then, we see a dual structure in the Jerusalem church: the practice of the community of goods, on the one hand, and on the other, the organization of the community into house groups.34

Robert W. Gehring, House Church and Mission: the Importance of Household Structures in Early Christianity (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2004), 1.
33 34


Ibid., 1. Ibid., 78.


Wolfgang Simpson, a house church activist, states, "The Christians in New Testament times and immediately after were meeting literally in house churches, usually in the largest rooms of its members.35 In Acts 2:42 and 46, the Christians were meeting in the temple and in homes. A key phrase in this verse is used in support of multi-site churches: "breaking bread in their homes." The multi-site advocates claim that since these early believers broke bread in homes, this must be a multi-site church. Stancil writes, "Put simply, man needs to eat. So, God took an everyday need of man and joined it with a memorial celebration of the death of the Son of God on the cross. He then commands his followers to remember Him by continuing to celebrate this meal until the Son of God returns again."36 Mr. Stancil is not alone in his conclusion. Robert Banks advocates, "One would most naturally expect the Lord's Supper to be part of what took place, as was the custom from the beginning (Acts 2:42-46). In any case, the setting of the Lord's Supper, even in the larger gatherings, was always the home."37 Many others interpret this to mean the Lord's Supper as well. There is no dogmatic verification for this conclusion. C. K. Barrett marks, "The meals referred to … were not wieldy celebrations of the Lord’s resurrection but, much more probably, the necessary daily meals, which the believers took in common."38 Acts 27:33-38 also describes Paul breaking bread. In this passage, Paul is on a ship in the midst of a storm. For fourteen days the inhabitants of the ship had not eaten. Paul encourages them in verse thirty-three to eat. In verse thirty-five, Paul gave thanks for the bread and "broke it" and began to eat. While

35 36 37 38

Simpson, Wolfgang. Houses that Changed the World (Waynesboro, GA: OM Publishing. 1988), 40. Stancil Theron, "A Text Critical Evaluation of Acts 2:42," Faith and Mission 23:3 (Summer 2006): 33. Banks, Paul's Idea of Community, 81.

C. K. Barrett, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: Clark, 1998), 170.

16 the contexts of the Acts 2 and Acts 27 passages are not identical, it is reasonable to infer that the phrase "breaking of bread" was possibly nothing more than the common understanding of eating. To depend upon this argumentation for proof is to be guilty of petitio principii. In Acts 20:7-8, Luke writes about the account of Paul and company ministering in Troas. On the first day of the week, this group gathered together in an upper room of a residence while Paul preached. One, Eutychus, fell asleep and out of the window (Acts 20:9). Eutychus died, but Paul proclaims that he isn't dead any longer, but alive (Acts 20:10). Following this great miracle, Paul went back up and broke bread and conversed with those assembled. It is difficult to be rigid about the meaning of breaking bread in this context. On one hand, Paul and company could have been famished from his long oration; on the other hand, this could have been a great time to memorialize the resurrection. Those on both sides of interpretation must be careful they are not appealing to assumed evidence to garner their position. If Acts chapters 2 or 20 describe the Lord's Supper or just a common meal, it proves nothing. It would have been perfectly normal for believers to share together in the memorial that is the Lord's Supper as fellowship groups in homes. Therefore, the multi-site supporters cannot conclude this ordinance was the practice of a house church that was part of a larger church. The context of Acts 5:42 informs us that the apostles were busy about teaching and preaching about Jesus Christ. They specifically did this in the temple and from house to house. Again, there is no textual or semantic evidence to prove a multi-site church. This is simply nothing more than faithful men sharing the gospel in different locations.

Floyd V. Filson writes:

17 Moreover the suggestion of Acts 12:17 that this was not a meeting of the whole Jerusalem church, but only of one group, indicates that as the group grew in size it became increasingly difficult for all the believers in the city to meet in one house. For all ordinary occasions, at least, the total body would split into small groups, which could be housed in private homes.39 Almost everyone will agree with Filson's conclusions. The church did grow in size, and it did become difficult for believers to meet solely in one house. The disagreement with Filson comes in interpretation. The authors of Multi-Site Church Revolution would have modern readers believe this is a case for multi-site churches. They quote, "Likewise, Aubrey Malphurs observes that Corinth and other first-century churches were multi-site, as a number of multi-site house churches were considered to be part of one citywide church."40 Additionally, these authors conclude: Paul and Barnabas discovered some of the organizational challenges of a multi-campus church very early on, as reflected in Acts 15. The Jerusalem campus felt that the other congregations just weren’t doing things the way they were done at the “main campus,” so several self-appointed leaders headed to Antioch to straighten them out. “This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them” (Acts 15:2). Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other church members, to go to Jerusalem to sort out this problem. At Jerusalem, they began working out organizational challenges, defining the essential DNA of the new church, and clarifying how best to communicate between the campuses.41 These authors read out of the Text what it does not say. As demonstrated, each house assembly was either an independent church or a fellowship gathering in the same location. In this case, the church in Jerusalem, a large congregation that met together in the same location at times (Acts 2:44; 5:12; 6:1-2), was together for the purpose of discussing false teaching. The clarifying that was needed was on the teaching, not on the distribution of the teaching. The apostles and elders
39 40

Floyd V. Filson, "Early House Churches," JBL 58:2 (June 1939): 107.

Aubrey Malphurs, Being Leaders: The Nature of Authentic Christian Leadership, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 22–26 quoted in Geoff Surratt, Greg Ligon, and Warren Bird, The Multi-Site Church Revolution: Being One Church in Many Locations (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 301.

Surratt, Ligon, and Bird, Multi-Site Church Revolution, 2167-2172.

18 that were gathered with the whole church chose men to send to Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia to encourage the shaken believers (Acts 15:22-27). When they arrived it Antioch, the messengers gathered the believers that met at that location. The result was joy and encouragement (Acts 15:31). This is simply the voice of apostles faithfully teaching the Word of God to another local assembly at another location. Paul was a missionary or evangelist, not the elder of the church in Jerusalem. Επι Το Αυτο Both Luke and Paul employ a Greek phrase that requires attention. Luke records in Acts 2:1, "They were all together in one place (επι το αυτο)." While this group may be no more than the one hundred twenty assembled (Acts 1:15), Luke uses the same phrase after Pentecost in Acts 2:44. The three thousand souls redeemed were meeting together. Acts 2:44 reads, "And all who believed were together (επι το αυτο)." Grant Gaines states: Instances in Acts in which the whole church in a particular geographic location is designated as having come together in the same place by the phrase epi to auto include 1:15, 2:1, and 2:44. The latter two instances make it even more explicit that the entire church was in the same place by noting that "all" (pantes) were "in the same place" (epi to auto).42 Clearly the evidence that multi-site champions advance is nothing more than rhetoric. They assume that three thousand people could not have met together. They accept that the references to meetings in homes are identical to the multi-site strategy.

Grant Gaines, "Exegetical Critique of Multi-Site: Disassembling the Church?," 9 Marks eJournal 6:3 (May-June 2009): 34. Online, accessed 9 January 2013, files/ejournal 200963mayjun.pdf.


19 The Apostle Paul uses the same phraseology in 1 Corinthians 11:20. Gaines goes on to say, "In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul implies that it is the act of gathering in the same place that enables a body of Christians to be labeled an ekklēsia. He states that when the believers in Corinth ―come together as a church [ekklēsia] (v. 18), they are ―meeting together in the same place [epi to auto] (v. 20)."43 In both cases, the Scripture indicates that these large assemblies were together. This verifies the semantics of ἐκκλησία. Ferguson writes, "We might appropriately translate epi to auto in every case 'in the assembly.' Thus, instead of a more general reference to unity or fellowship, there is a more specific reference to a definite expression of that unity: the assembly of the church, more particularly the worship assembly of the church."44 Therefore, επι το αυτο, is another proposition attesting that multi-site advocates have assumed house churches are reflections of multi-site philosophy. The Nature Of The Local Church After examining appropriate definitions and Scriptural passages regarding multi-site churches, the argument now leads to the nature of the local church. Is there any biblical confirmation found in the nature of the church that informs this paper's thesis? The NT describes the fundamental characteristics and qualities of the local church. It is these essential qualities that are indivisible from the makeup of each local church. Jesus taught the disciples saying, "I will build my church" (Mt 16:18). It is, therefore, Jesus that gets to determine how that church is built and how it functions. At first glance, the nature of the church

43 44

Ibid., 33.

Everett Ferguson, "When You Come Together‘":Epi To Auto in Early Christian Literature," Restoration Quarterly 16 (1973): 202- 208.

20 appears to be mere pragmatics. After examining the biblical evidence, pragmatism will move to concreteness. Metaphors Describing The Nature Multi-site churches cannot ultimately be unified. By definition, when there are multiple campuses, there is disjointedness. While multi-site leaders may place many safeguards to prevent incoherence, the intent of the NT Scriptural evidence is for a local assembly to be in a position where all members are unified. The NT employs the use of metaphors to describe this essential character of each local assembly. The metaphor of the body Using anthropomorphic language, the church is described as a body. Colossians 1:18 describes Christ as the head of the body or the church. Paul uses a metaphor to describe Christ as the one who gives and supplies life. While the idea of a universal church is in view here, this provides context to the organic body description developed in 1 Corinthians 12. 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 aptly describes the various appendages of the human body. The foot, hand, ear, and eye are all described as individual members of the body or church. Paul is writing to the church that is in Corinth. There is no evidence or insinuation that this is written to a large mother church manifested in multi-site expressions. So, when Paul writes, he is instructing the local church found gathering together in one place. Saucy writes, "The local assembly is the one body of Christ particularized in a certain locality. Members of the body are always individuals, not churches."45 Paul's instruction describes the various gifts of the Spirit


Saucy, The Church in God's Program, 25.

21 endowed to each believer. He goes on to explain that each gift is like a leg, arm, eye, or ear.46 They all diversely work together, individually, in the local expression even though they are part of the universal church (1 Cor 12:27). Peter O'Brien, speaking of this passage in 1 Corinthians, shares, "In these earlier letters, Paul employs the body terminology and its constituent parts to refer to the mutual relations and obligations of church members."47 Believers are to understand that in the local church expression there must be unity in working together. "A similar use of the figure is made in Ephesians 4:7-16 where Paul states that the purpose of gifted members is 'for the edifying of the body of Christ.' The picture is of mutually-adapted parts fitted closely together."48 The clear sense of the metaphor is a local church that is working together or connected in ministry. Multi-site churches will not have a unified body with multiple campuses. It is possible for each campus to have a variety of spiritual gifts, but the nature of the church is one local assembly working in concert together. The metaphor of the building Paul uses another metaphor in 1 Corinthians 3:9 when he calls the church in Corinth a building. He moves from agriculture to construction to teach this local church how to be diligent in being aware of how others build upon the foundation (1 Cor 3:10). In Ephesians 2:20, Paul calls Jesus the Cornerstone of the building. In other words, Jesus was the initial, key piece that set the entire structure in perfect alignment. Jesus is the standard by which a church was built.

46 47

Ibid., 25.

Peter T. O'Brien, Word Biblical Commentary, ed. Bruce Metzger, vol. 44, Colossians and Philemon (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982) 49.

Saucy, The Church in God's Program, 26.

22 The significance of this for the multi-site church can't be overstated. Saucy states, "The metaphor of the building reaches its climax in the revelation of its nature. The church is no ordinary building, no matter how great; it is a holy temple in the Lord (Eph 2:21). It is because of the tremendous importance of the building of the church that Paul earlier had warned the Corinthians concerning doing harm to the church."49 With members of a multi-site church located on different campuses, they can't be attuned to the harmony of the entire building or the building process. The intended desire is for the people to be together in a location to make sure it is "joined together" and "grows into a holy temple in the Lord" (Eph 2:20). These metaphors help us to understand why the NT writers chose ἐκκλησία as the word to define the church. One must wonder what harm is done to the assembly when it does not assemble. The nature of the church is to be unified in a congruent location. Decision Making In The Local Church In the life of a local church, the congregation is responsible for the government of itself and its decisions. Saucy notes, "The congregational form rests the authority of the church in each local church as an autonomous unit, with no person or organization above it except Christ the Head. Emphasis is also upon the democratic structure of the church whereby the ultimate authority is vested in the members themselves."50 The NT gives confirmation of how the governing process occurs. The practice of a multi-site church must be evaluated in this light.

49 50

Ibid., 36. Ibid., 114.

23 The process of church discipline There are a few examples of decision making in the local church that should be done in a corporate fashion. In Matthew 18, there is a three-fold process for restorative discipline. In verse 15, the first step is for the two aggravated parties to reconcile. If there is no settlement and repentance, then two or three witnesses are involved in step two (Mt 18:16). The final step involves reporting the matter to the church (Mt 18:17). The Bible reads, "tell it to the church." Technically, multi-site champions could broadcast this information very easily in our culture. The question arises, "Is this the intent of the passage?" A few other passages help to give comprehension. In 1 Corinthians 5:3-5, Paul instructs the church in Corinth how to exercise the discipline of an errant member. He tells the church that when they assembled in the name of the Lord, they were to excommunicate the member. Fee comments, "First, in this text church discipline is not the affair of one or a few. Even though Paul as an apostle pronounced the sentence prophetically, the sin itself was known by all and had contaminated the whole; so the action was to be the affair of all."51 Still another passage in 2 Corinthians helps us to understand the nature of the local church. Paul encourages this local church to forgive a repentant sinner. He writes in his letter, "for such a one, the punishment by the majority is enough" (2 Cor 2:6). John MacArthur marks, "The Corinthian congregation had officially acted and put the sinning individual out of the

Gordon Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 214.


24 church. Apparently that discipline had had its desired effect, and the man had repented. It was time to forgive and to restore him."52 These passages inform each other and give us evidence to the nature of local church unity in church discipline. It is easy to understand that a body of believers that engages a multi-campus strategy cannot fulfill the biblical commands for church discipline. In the multi-site application, there is no coming together, and therefore, no opportunity to practice this restorative discipline. The process of choosing church leaders The Bible mentions two offices in the NT church. 1 Timothy 3:1-9 describes the qualifications for elders, and verses 8-12 describe qualifications for deacon servants. Among the sobering list of qualifications for an elder, the Bible requires a man to be sober-minded, self-controlled, not quarrelsome, and a good manager of his own household. To know if a man fulfills these requirements requires a careful eye. Can a multi-site church member confirm the presence of these qualities while located on another campus? Recently, Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, MN, went through a pastoral transition. Pastor John Piper was stepping down as the lead elder, and the church began the vetting process with Jason Meyer. The church leadership was very meticulous, patient, and Spirit driven during this process.53 Their job of communication was complicated as Bethelehem had grown to a three campus multi-site church. Sam Crabtree, executive pastor at Bethlehem, explains on the church blog, "This span of time between the first (May 20) and second


John MacArthur, 2 Corinthians, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody, 2003),


Bethlehem Baptist Church, "Introducing Jason Meyer, Candidate for Associate Pastor for Preaching and Vision,">. Accessed 23 February 2013.


25 congregational vote is as of now unknown, as the Council of Elders wants to make sure that the people of Bethlehem have time to interact with Jason’s preaching and other visible avenues of leadership/grooming that he will take on before the second congregational vote."54 Crabtree specifically states that the desire for the congregation is to interact with the preaching and visible areas of responsibility. While this is possible, it is impossible to know the character of the man in this format. While any man can hide sin, the biblical qualifications of an elder are set in place to make sure, as humanly as possible, that a man's character is measurable. The members of at least two of the campuses can't essentially have enough knowledge and understanding of Jason Meyer's character to make the informed decision the Bible calls for, despite the few campus visits. The Bible gives a particular example for the selection of the deacon servant. The glorious gospel was changing the world as Luke records in Acts. The apostles were commissioned to proclaim the gospel to the whole world (Acts 1:8). As discussed earlier, the apostles gave themselves to the ministry (Acts 2:42). We pick up in Acts 6 where the number of disciples was increasing due to the faithful proclamation and power of the gospel. A complaint arose from the Hellenistic Jews that their widows were not being taken care of (Acts 6:1). The twelve apostles gathered together the Christian congregation to come to a resolution. Longenecker states, "The apostles' response in this matter was to call the Christians together and suggest a solution."55 MacArthur echoes this comment, "they summoned the congregation of the disciples to seek a

54 55


Ryan Longenecker, The Expositors Bible Commentary, ed. Frank Gaebelein, vol. 9, John and Acts (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 330.

26 solution."56 The action of the apostles was to instruct this gathered, corporate, local congregation to "pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom" (Acts 6:3). This instruction was met with affability. It is important to take notice of the context of this seminal feature. First, the apostles called together this local assembly, and they assembled in one location. Second, the apostles felt comfortable in asking the congregation to choose these seven men. If they were not aware of the character of the members, this would have been an unwise suggestion for the health of the church. Third, for the congregation to make an informed decision, they had to know the other members as well. The congregation obviously knew each other well enough to choose seven godly men from their peers. Again, advocates of multi-site churches cannot use this as a proof text for multiple campuses. The apostles called the group together to make a decision. Also, in a multi-site structure, the congregants of one campus will not know the spiritual health of others to make informed decisions about leadership. While they may claim that the assembly at each location is able to make that decision for its own location, this still fails. The NT direction is for the ἐκκλησία to be assembled together in one location. Multi-site churches cannot biblically choose leaders in their splintered condition. Jonathan Leeman sums up unity in discipline and leadership: In other words, if my campus is being shaped by one preacher of the Word, and another campus is being shaped by another preacher of the Word, the quarterly gatherings of all our campuses as a "church" will be undertaking some of a church's most sensitive work, like church


John MacArthur, Acts 1-12, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody, 2003), 179.

27 discipline or elder nomination, we won't quite share the "one mind" that a single service, singlecampus church has by sitting under one preacher together week after week.57 Multi-Site Pragmatics The strongest argument that multi-site proponents engage is one of pragmatics. There are two main pragmatic arguments coming from the multi-site camp: outreach and finances. The authors of The Multi-Site Church Revolution write: The primary motive behind the multi-site approach is to obey the church’s God-given directives. The Great Commandment (Matt. 22:37–39) is to love God and one another, the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18–20) is to make disciples of all nations, and the Great Charge (1 Peter 5:1–4) reminds us to involve all believers in ministry.58 There is no doubting these men's desire to see souls converted. While their motivation is admirable, it is not the standard. Are not the Scriptures sufficient for faith and practice? Further, multi-site proponents appeal to financial stewardship. These same authors write: Using many different bands and worship leaders, Seacoast’s eighteen nearly identical weekend services represent the look of a church that chose not to fight city hall in order to construct a bigger building. We instead continued to reach new people by developing additional campuses.59 They continue: Over in Texas, Ed Young Jr., senior pastor of Fellowship Church in Grapevine, preaches every Sunday morning on four campuses—Grapevine, Uptown Dallas, Plano, and Alliance—all at the same time. Ed delivers his Saturday night message in person in the main sanctuary on the Grapevine campus. It is videotaped and viewed the following morning by congregations at the other venues via LCD projectors and giant projection screens, framed by live music and a campus pastor. “We decided we could reach more

Jonathan Leeman, "Theological Critique of Multi-Site: What Exactly is a Church?," 9 Marks eJournal 6:3 (May-June 2009): 44. Online, accessed 9 January 2013, files/ejournal 200963mayjun.pdf.
58 59


Surratt, Ligon, and Bird, Multi-Site Church Revolution, 212-215. Ibid., 272-274.

28 people and save a huge amount of money by going to where the people are and doing smaller venues instead of building a larger worship center in Grape-vine,” Ed says.60 God instructs us all to be good stewards of all that we have, including money. Any person who has undertaken a church building project knows well the cost and red tape from legislation. It is true, a church desiring to build would find a more affordable option by pursuing a constructed building. Nonetheless, this is mere pragmatics. Multi-site advocates elevate the financial proficiency above the outline of Scripture. Again, this fails to recognize the sufficiency of the Scripture and seeks trust in a source for provision outside of God himself. Conclusion This paper has endeavored to faithfully examine suitable material regarding multi-site churches. First, evidence from the definition and meaning of ἐκκλησία proved to mean a gathering together of people on one site. Multi-site churches cannot claim this character. Further, the exegetical evidence that multi-site promoters cite to support the claim that the house church in the NT was the first multi-site model, was found to be false. Both in Paul and Luke's writings, the house church was found to mean a gathering together of people on one site, not necessarily a local church. After exploring the nature of the local church, it is concluded that unity of the people is prescribed. The local church must practice church discipline and select its leaders in the bonds of unity. Multi-site churches cannot accomplish this as laid out in the NT. Last, the strongest argument for multi-site churches is one of pragmatics. Although there is a great zeal for evangelization and stewardship, these arguments don't supercede the biblical evidence laid out.


Ibid., 281-286. There is no source cited by these authors for the quotation of Young.

29 Therefore, the conclusion of this paper is that there is no biblical support for a congregation to engage a multi-site strategy.


BIBLIOGRAPHY Allison, Gregg. Are Multi-Site Churches Biblical? Accessed 9 January 2013, . Anyabwile, Thabiti. Multi-Site Churches Are from the Devil. Accessed 9 January 2013, churches-arefrom-the-devil/. Banks, Robert. Paul's Idea of Community: The Early House Churches in their Cultural Setting. Revised ed. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994. Bergin, Mark. Out of One, Many. Accessed 20 February 2013 . Bruce, F. F. The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians. New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984. Carson, D. A. Exegetical Fallacies. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996. Chandler, Matt. "Clouds on the Horizon." 9 Marks eJournal 6.3 (2009): 32. Accessed 9 January 2013, . Clearwaters, Richard V. The Local Church of the New Testament. Chicago: Conservative Baptist Fellowship, 1954. Driscoll, Mark and Gerry Breshears. Vintage Church: Timeless Truths and Timely Methods. Wheaton: Crossway, 2008. Kindle Edition. Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985. Fee, Gordon. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987. Ferguson, Everett. "When You Come Together: Epi To Auto in Early Christian Literature." Restoration Quarterly 16 (1973): 202-208. Filson, Floyd V. "The Significance of the Early House Churches." Journal of Biblical Literature 58 (1939): 105-112.


31 Gaines, Grant. "Exegetical Critique of Multi-Site: Disassembling the Church?" 9 Marks eJournal 6.3 (2009): 33-37. Accessed 9 January 2013, . ———. "Were New Testament House Churches Multi-Site?" Unpublished Paper. 2010. . Accessed 9 January 2013. Gehring, Roger W. House Church and Mission: The Importance of Household Structures in Early Christianity. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2004. Gilbert, Greg. "What is This Thing, Anyway? A Multi-Site Taxonomy." 9 Marks eJournal 6.3 (2009): 25-27. Accessed 9 January 2013, . Greear, J. D. "A Pastor Defends His Multi-Site Church." 9 Marks eJournal 6.3 (2009): 19-24. Accessed 9 January 2013, . Hammett, John. "Have We Ever Seen This Before? Multi-Site Precedents." 9 Marks eJournal 6.3 (2009): 28-31. Accessed 9 January 2013, . Harris, Murray J. Colossians and Philemon. Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991. Hunter, A.M. The Unity of the New Testament: One Lord, One Church, One Salvation. London: SCM Press, 1957. Jamieson, Bobby. "Historical Critique of Multi-Site: Not Over My Dead Body." 9 Marks eJournal 6.3 (2009): 46-48. Accessed 9 January 2013, . Leeman, Jonathan. "Theological Critique of Multi-Site: What Exactly is a Church?" 9 Marks eJournal 6.3 (2009): 38-45. Accessed 9 January 2013, . ———. "The Alternative: Why don't We Plant?" 9 Marks eJournal 6.3 (2009): 52-54. Accessed 9 January 2013, . Longenecker, Richard N. The Expositor's Bible Commentary. Vol. 9, Acts. Edited by Frank E. Gæbelein. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981. MacArthur, John. Acts 13 – 28. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary. Chicago: Moody, 1996. ———. Acts 1 – 12. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary. Chicago: Moody, 1996.


———. 2 Corinthians. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary. Chicago: Moody, 1996. McConnell, Scott. Multi-site Churches: Guidance for the Movement's Next Generation. Nashville: B&H, 2009. Kindle Edition. O'Brien Peter T. Word Biblical Commentary. Vol. 44, Colossians, Philemon. Edited by Bruce M. Metzger. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Osiek, Carolyn and David L. Balch. Families in the New Testament World: Households and House Churches. Edited by Don S. Browning and Ian S. Evison. Louisville: Westminter John Knox, 1997. Pickering, Ernest. "When is a Church a Church?" Central Bible Quarterly 05:4 (Winter 1962): 18-24. Preece, Warren, ed., Encyclopedia Britannica, s.v. "Thucydides." Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967. Revealy, R. Scott. An Ecclesiology for Multi-site Churches: Thinking Biblically about the Local Church in Multiple Locations. DMin diss., Western Seminary Portland, 2007. Saucy, Robert. The Church in God's Program. Chicago: Moody, 1972. Schulke, Jason. Missional Ecclesiology. Unpublished Paper. 2010. . Accessed 16 February 2013. Simson, Wolfgang. Houses that Change the World: The Return of the House Churches. Waynesboro, GA: OM Publishing, 1998. Surratt, Geoff, Greg Ligon, and Warren Bird. The Multi-site Church Revolution: Being One Church in Many Locations. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006. Kindle Edition. ———. A Multi-Site Church Roadtrip: Exploring the New Normal. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009. Kindle Edition. White, Thomas. "Nine Reasons I Don't Like Multi-Site Churches, From a Guy Who Should." 9 Marks eJournal 6.3 (2009): 49-51. Accessed 9 January 2013,>. Woolf, Henry, ed. Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary. Springfield: G. & C. Merriam Co., 1975.

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