The following is an excerpt from the recently released volume Baptist Foundations: Church Government for an Anti-Institutional Age, edited by Mark Dever and Jonathan Leeman. In his concluding chapter, Leeman explains how local churches are both independent and interdependent.
Though Christ has placed the apostolic authority of the keys into the hands of local assemblies, churches should work together to fulfill the Great Commission because they call upon the same Lord and share a common apostolic confession.
Again the embassy image is useful. One might imagine sitting inside the US embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979, while angry Muslim students gathered just outside the embassy gates. The mob eventually broke into the compound, and fifty-two Americans spent 444 days as hostages in the Iran Hostage Crisis. But the question worth considering is, what would it have been like to be inside the embassy while the fury was still building? What would an embassy worker be thinking and doing in those moments before the mob broke through the gates? Presumably most would be on the phone in a frantic search for friends. The US State Department, the nearby Canadian embassy, the Swedish embassy in town—the occupants of the US embassy, presumably, were grabbing for whatever outside friends they could find to intervene. What a person in such circumstances presumably would not do is assume the little embassy compound, floating like a storm-embattled boat in the middle of the seething urban sea that was Tehran, would be fine all by itself. The inhabitants would not try to “go it alone” as if the fate of the US government’s diplomatic mission in the world rested upon the embattled embassy’s shoulders.
Strangely, this is the attitude many free or independent churches maintain as they seek to undertake God’s mission in the world. Christians know they are sojourners and aliens. They know other embassies and friends are “out there.” They know the world, the flesh, and the Devil oppose us like a bloodthirsty mob—“for your sake we are being killed all the day long” (Rom 8:36). But too easily churches undertake Christ’s mission by themselves. They go it alone. They don’t cooperate with other local churches in evangelism and missions, in discipline, in counseling, in mercy ministry, and in prayer.
A Better Appreciation of Family Ties
The Bible offers a much more intimate picture of the relationship between local churches. One embassy quickly jumps in to help another. To switch to a family metaphor, the relationship between churches in the New Testament reveals close family ties.
Different churches shared love and greetings:
- “All the churches greet you” (Rom 16:16).
- “The churches of Asia send you greetings” (1 Cor 16:19).
- “All the saints greet you” (2 Cor 13:13).
- “I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints” (Eph 1:15; also Col 1:4).
They shared preachers and missionaries:
- “With him we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel” (2 Cor 8:18).
- “Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, who testified to your love before the church” (3 John 5–6).
They supported one another financially with joy and thanksgiving:
- “At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem”(Rom 15:25–26).
- “For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God” (2 Cor 9:12; also 2 Cor 8:1–2).
They imitated one another in Christian living:
- “You became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia” (1 Thess 1:7).
- “For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea” (1 Thess 2:14).
These testimonies of shared love and support between the earliest churches are matched by exhortations. Churches were told to greet one another:
- “Greet also the church in their house” (Rom 16:5).
They were instructed to care for one another financially:
- “Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem” (1 Cor 16:1–3).
- “So give proof before the churches of your love and of our boasting about you to these men” (2 Cor 8:24).
They were cautioned about whom to receive as teachers:
- “Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).
- “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves” (2 John 7–8a).
They were exhorted to pray for other churches and Christians:
- “To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints” (Eph 6:18).
They were exhorted to imitate other churches in steadfastness and faith:
- “Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring” (2 Thess. 1:4).
The point is impossible to evade: local congregations of the New Testament were very much integrated with one another. A church will best fulfill the Great Commission when it is connected in relationship, prayer, and work with other churches. Local churches possess independence, we said a moment ago, because they possess authority for representing Christ, pronouncing a confession, and initiating the Great Commission. By a similar measure, the interdependence of local churches is founded in the fact that they share the same Christ, the same confession, and the same Commission.
About the Editors:
Mark Dever is senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, president of 9Marks, and occasional adjunct professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Jonathan Leeman is editorial director of 9Marks, occasional lecturer at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and adjunct professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Download sample chapter here.