(Nov.7, 1994, but not published)
When Paul wrote his letters to the Corinthians, Philippians, and Thessalonians he addressed the one single church in that city. Writing to a Roman province with several cities he addressed "the churches of Galatia." In one case the readers are "all God's beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints."
This suggests that in Paul's mind a city has only one church. But in the last chapter of the Epistle to the Romans Paul sends greetings to at least five groupings of Christians in the city. It is possible that this list of personal greetings was sent to the church in Ephesus together with Paul's letter to Rome. Obviously whether in Rome or in Ephesus there was no room for all the Christians to meet in one home, and walking several miles back and forth in a city of half a million people would have been impractible.
The fact that Paul thinks of only one church in each city explains his astonishing statement that he had fully evangelized the whole area from Jerusalem to present-day Croatia. (Romans 15:19) The area included huge cities such as Salamis, Tarsus, Antioch in Pisidia, Ephesus, Philippi, Thessalonica, Athens, and Corinth. Obviously he had not spoken personally about Christ to all these millions of people. What he had done was plant a church in each major center.
So we wonder what would happen if if we used Paul's language for Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatoon, Regina, Winnipeg, and so on across Canada? In my case I think of the church in Kingston, Ontario. There are many gatherings of saints. Some call themselves by a street name such as Sydenham Street United or The Union Street Gospel Hall. Anglicans like to call themselves by a saint's name. In Toronto the Presbyterians have Knox Presbyterian. Others have no name but they meet in a house. But in Paul's mind, and I suspect in God's sight, there is only one church in this city. That suggests that the congregation I serve is quite wrongly named Christ Church.
When I tried having my mind changed in this way I found it made a difference to how I think about the work of other church gatherings. I am less bothered by people moving from one to another. And I can rejoice in the way the Lord seems to use saints from all over the city to accomplish the conversion of one, the healing of another, and the loving of individuals in all sorts of need.
Readers will object that some gatherings in their city are hardly Christian, and some groupings have very few who seem to know the Lord. But then in the Book of Revelation the church in Ephesus had Nicolaitans, Smyrna and Sardis both had "a synagogue of Satan," the church in Pergamum had terrible false teachers, Thyatira had "that woman Jezebel," and there were only "a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes." I would hardly dare use such language about the worst and deadest in Kingston, but it seems the Lord still views them as part of the church in this city. But then he also knows how to come like a thief, remove a lampstand, and even spew a whole church out of his mouth. Happily he has rather more love and patience than I can muster.