The assembly (church) in the city
By Andy Zoppelt
I will not be using the word “church*” but “assembly” except when I refer to the churches we have set up, see my article on “The origin of the word church”
*Jesus would never had used the word church if He spoke in English... it was a word from Satan himself that changed the whole world.
Importance of the city assembly
When Jesus stated that He was going to build His assembly “upon this Rock”, He sent out His disciples and they set up assemblies in homes and in each city. Though there were many house assemblies within the city, the city with the saints and its leaders functioned as one assembly. The assembly of each city represented the unity, the manifestation and the reality of the kingdom of God on this earth. There can be no unity in the body of Christ if the assembly in the city is divided. The assembly in the city and the kingdom of God represented God’s will on this "earth as it is in heaven."
Christianity was not a bunch of religious organizations within a city all separately doing their own thing as we see today. In fact it would be hard to conceive the “kingdom of God” outside of the assembly in the city. Divisions within the city of its believers and its elders could not have represented the work of the Holy Spirit in building the kingdom of God. Such divisions within the city would have constituted an act of rebellion to the commands which Jesus gave to His disciples. Jesus made it that we were to obey all He commanded us. Matt 28:20
Paul gives in his letters many examples of the testimony of the assembly in the city. To the assembly in the city of Thessalonica he had this to say:
“And you [the assembly in Thessalonica] became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe. For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything.” 1 Thess 1:6-9, NKJV
If there had been hundreds of churches, movements, networks, etc. in Thessalonica that were formed out of translocal ministries and if they were thus locally divided governmentally, how could they have represented the testimony of Jesus’ rule and the kingdom of God? Thessalonica, like we are today, would have been stifled by its many divisions, names and divided governments.
The word city in scriptures
Let’s look at the word “city” from a practical standpoint as representing God’s kingdom. Abraham looked for “a city whose builder and maker was God.” (Heb 11:10) What God put in Abraham’s heart was more than land; it was something eternal, an eternal people under God’s authority. Although Abraham was promised geographical land for his family as a blessing to his faithfulness, the promise Abraham was looking for according to Heb 11:10 was more than land… it was a city “which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”
In scripture the city represented the coming kingdom of God as an eternal bride: John “saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” Rev 21:2, NKJV
The city was His bride, His people…including Abraham.
“He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God” Rev 3:12, NKJV
The city of Jerusalem represented the nation of Israel. The term “city of God” is used in the OT numerous times. Zion was captured by David from the Jebusites and was called the city of David, the place of God’s presence and a demonstration of His essence… a unity within a plurality!!!.
Ps 53:6, “Oh, that the salvation of Israel would come out of Zion!” NKJV
“But you have [present tense – now!] come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God [one city one government], the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and assembly of the firstborn who are registered in heaven.” Heb 12:22-23, NKJV
God’s kingdom is to come and His will is to be done on earth as it is in heaven. There is one city in heaven and our cities should be one on earth. There cannot be a kingdom of God without the rule of the King on this earth as it is in heaven. If Jesus is our king, why are we so divided in each city? That is not God’s will in heaven why would we think it is ok on earth?
In scripture even a single person is likened to a city: “Whoever has no rule over his own spirit is like a city broken down, without walls.” Prov 25:28, NKJV
Before the Greeks became a nation, they were divided into what was called “city states” (Polis). The idea of city governments were not uncommon; it represented a government that was close to the people demonstrating its unity and policies of that city. Whenever a city was divided governmentally there was chaos. In scripture we find the expression “to the assembly of God which is at Corinth;” “To the saints who are at Ephesus;” “To the saints at Philippi;” …Colossi, Thessalonica, etc.. In the book of Revelation we find Jesus making the same reference: “the assembly of Ephesus…” “The assembly in Smyrna,” and on and on. We are quick to point out the assemblies in the house, but slow to take it to the next and important step of the assembly in the city. The word used in our translations as “church” (should be assembly) is used in the singular when dealing with a city and in the plural when referring to providences made up of many cities: “to the churches (assemblies) of Galatia.” This is foundational. Without the function of the city we are building on a false foundation representing the kingdom of God on this earth. “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” Ps 11:3, NKJV
The blessing of Unity in the city
Psalm 133 is a kingdom Psalm. It speaks of an anointing coming down from heaven upon the head and throughout the whole body (the kingdom of God). The anointing binds together the whole body into one body. In Ephesians 4 it is said that we are “compacted together.” It is here that God “commands the blessing.” If we are under His authority and keep His commands then He commands a blessing upon us. But if we are following men that do not keep His commands, then we are under a curse and sickness, death and divisions prevail within the body.
Many movements, networks, churches and denominations have established translocal governments. This in OF itself totally obstructs any unity of the body of Christ within a city. It stops the direct and complete flow from God to His bride, each isolated group has proclaimed “l have no need of you” to the others within the supposed body within the city. Those whom Jesus sent understood this and they also understood that it would be heresy to allow division in the city. That is why division is listed among the acts that hinders a person from entering the kingdom of heaven. Matt 12:30; Gal 5:19-21, 1 Cor 3:16, 17. John 17. Woe to the pastors and leaders, where are they getting their commands and authority???
Matt 12:25, "Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or [every] house divided against itself will not stand.” NKJV
In Matthew Jesus points out three points of unity: the kingdom, the city and the house. From a biblical perspective, there are only three places where the assembly is recognized in the singular: in the single house assembly, the assembly in the city and the universal assembly. These are like links in a chain in the kingdom of God; break any one link and you remove its strength and function. A kingdom divided cannot stand… that is a universally known rule in any structure. Ignore it and we are left with religion focused on success, works and methods.
Today, with all the division in each city, the testimony of the kingdom of God has been greatly diminished… though everyone is convinced in their own heart they are walking in the light. “If the light that is in us be darkness how great is that darkness?” If we are building our assemblies in direct rejection of the direction given by God, just how wrong are we? Too often we think we have light, but is our light producing the kingdom of God? Well did Jesus say to the religious people of His day who were convinced they could see, “Some Pharisees who were there with him …asked him, ‘Surely you don't mean that we are blind, too?’ Jesus answered, ‘If you were blind, then you would not be guilty; but since you claim that you can see, this means that you are still guilty.’” John 9:40-41, GNT
We cannot continue to pass our divisions, competition and our inability to relate and function locally as an insignificant matter. Whoever gets between Jesus and the establishment of His kingdom will suffer greatly. How could we say that we are ruled by one King if we are not one body? We were never told to build in the manner we see today. The restorers of the breach will be men of peace; they will restore everything that has been destroyed by the hands and traditions of men.
The kingdom and the city (the pattern)
Jesus’ disciples fully understood that the ekklesia represented a people that repented and were “called-out” of the world and into the kingdom of God. They understood that the “ekklesia” was one body with every member joined to its one Head. They understood the importance of maintaining that unity within every city and throughout the world. They understood the importance of all its leaders striving together for the unity of the body and the kingdom in order to bring glory to God. They understood the uniqueness of the body of Christ being held together by love and obedience compacted together as one.
The smallest unit of civil government is the city. Not so with the assemblies in our cities. Some cities have six or seven church governments on each block.
Elders in the city
Before I start, I would like to make one comment: elders do not have authority over the saints, Jesus and His word is the authority. I spent years in the “Discipleship Movement” and I saw first hand the abuse of authority by elders. I will deal with this in another article later.
Let’s look at how Paul dealt with the appointment of elders, “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders [WHERE?] in every city as I commanded you”
Paul did not command that elders should be appointed in every house assembly, but in every city. It seems from the above verse that Paul was building the assembly on the basis of the city based on the kingdom of God in heaven. In fact, Paul commanded them by the authority of Jesus to do so. So on what basis can a man be faithful to God and build "their own" organizations within the city ordaining their "own" elders? Commandments are not optional, yet in our statements that we are walking in truth is not true, we are walking in darkness if we deny God’s commands.
In Acts 20:17, Paul again refers to the elders in the city, “From Miletus he [Paul] sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the assembly.”
According to the book of Acts the assembly started in Jerusalem and then during the persecution at Jerusalem many of the saints fled to Antioch and an assembly at Antioch was formed. From there the record shows how Paul traveled throughout the country setting up assemblies in every city.
From the point of the city assembly and the city elders there should be “no divisions.” When we read the scriptures we read about the assembly as it relates both to the city and its elders. It should be obvious that they set the foundation and pattern for us all to follow and it is through their pattern and foundation that we understand the rule of Jesus in what is called the kingdom of God.
The assemblies all followed the instructions and commandments given by Jesus and from those whom Jesus specifically sent. Here are some examples:
1 Cor 11:2, “Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you.” NKJV
2 Thess 2:15, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.” NKJV
Acts 2:42 “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' ** [sent ones’] doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” NKJV The breaking of bread represented there being one body, not in theory, but in reality.
** we got apostles wrong, read my article on apostles at http://www.therealchurch.com/articles/new/apostles.html
2 Thess 3:14, “And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed.” NKJV
We must believe that those commissioned and sent by Jesus represented Him and His teaching, so how can there be city elders if there is not a city assembly? How can there be city elders if some of the assemblies relate translocally instead of locally? Would a house divided be acceptable in a family? What makes us think that dividing a city would be acceptable to God? Don’t cities count?
Though we ignore the obvious divisions within our cities, the world doesn’t. What the world sees are churches and ministries scattered throughout the city, unrelated, each a kingdom unto itself (with its own kings=pastors and apostles). Under what and whose authority do we operate as we do today? What kind of government are we building? Who told us to build in this unconnected way which is contrary to the examples that were given to us in the early assembly? We are standing against the clear words of Jesus in dividing and defiling His temple and we are in opposition to the commands give to us by Paul throughout his epistles. In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul relates to how the triune God in unity functions within the body and then goes on to show how the gifts and each member functions within that body.
“For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.” 1 Cor 12:12, NKJV
To ignore this we would have to make a conscious rejection of the simple truth represented here. Whenever we shut ourselves out to clear truth we are open for “strong delusions that we should believe a lie.” It is here that God’s revelations to His kingdom stops and we live off the revelations of men. The assembly in the city with its elders and body ministry is foundational, violate that foundation and we count ourselves out of His will and power.
If the kingdom with its elders in each city is not a local expression, then what is it? Is it some thread weaving throughout the country, that if we follow the thread we will come to some subtle form of hierarchy? This concept is in total contrast to the government set up by Jesus’ disciples in building and having elders in the city. If there is a plurality of leaders within each city, then we cannot have hierarchy. But if the governmental thread is translocal, we have established a subtle form of hierarchy whether we like to admit it or not. We have translocal leaders leading divisions within the city, which is against everything that Jesus and His disciples commanded. How many cutting-edge groups have done this in ignorance? The same goes for independent churches within the city, they deny the rest of the body and thus deny Jesus’ rule over them. Realistically and biblically, they are not under His authority.
In other parts of the world this kind or unity is already in effect because of their simplicity and innocence. For instance, in China, God had the leaders imprisoned first and forced the Christians into hiding. Out of that they met together without the agendas of the old leaders. Once the buildings and the names of the organizations that divided them were removed, they gathered only under the name of Jesus and within the unity of the local body and it is there that God has commanded a blessing on these saints. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to hear of the elders of the city again and the message of the kingdom of heaven having its root under one government again… Jesus… full of grace and power and glory?
Wrong building practices
If we are building wrong, then the buildings we are building are wrong. We often talk about biblical patterns while denying the patterns of the NT. God will not inhabit a building that is not completely His and under His total authority. Today we are not one building but many buildings; we are not one kingdom, but many kingdoms. The main reason we don’t really want to see the establishment of the kingdom of God is because it represents a threat to the kingdoms we have established under the rule of our divided leaders. Could we imagine breaking up our translocal structures and uniting with others locally, both relationally and governmentally? Wow! What a novel idea! Regardless it is coming and those that resist it will be judged. Is God going to have our leaders tortured and imprisoned before His assembly can be free as He did in China?
Many talk about brokenness and humility and the importance of giving up their self-interest to establish Jesus and His kingdom. However, a united assembly in the city will demand all these great virtues; this will be exceptionally difficult for those who have spent their whole spiritual lives establishing their “own” kingdoms. Many talk about being the people of God, the remnant, but that cannot be if the people of God are not operating as the kingdom of God in each city. We occasionally talk about the kingdom of God, but how blind can we be and not see that our kingdoms are replacing His kingdom?
If the kingdom is a message that has no real substance, it is because many of the men that are leading us have no real substance, nor do they desire the sacrifice required for the establishment of the kingdom of God in each city.
Many of the individual churches “kingdoms” that are in operation today brag about how successful they are and the works they have accomplished. Their success is irrelevant if they are building wrong and without God’s authority. Read the rebuke coming from the Lord to the assembly at Ephesus in the book of Revelations concerning their great works...without love we are nothing, without obedience are love is nothing. What good is our success compared to the success if God is permitted to be our Head? We could do a thousand times greater works with a greater quality of spiritual growth if God was given back His assembly. By building these individual kingdoms, we are displeasing God and bringing an open shame to His name. The message of the kingdom of God cannot exclude the unity of the assembly within the city.
Building without a permit
In the natural world there are codes in which one has to follow in order to build a home or building. Every part of the building from the foundation to the roof must follow these codes; if not, all work must stop until the violation is corrected. In the kingdom of God the code is God’s word and commandments and we must keep His commandments if we are going to build His kingdom. Today we are building without His permission, without His plan and without His purpose and we are suffering due to the lack of His power. We are dependant on silver and gold.
Looking at the assembly of the city from the viewpoint of being a home inspector, I see many additions that have not been permitted and were not present in the first construction. I see areas that could not withstand the hurricane winds. I see areas that could cause the house to burn down.
First, no leader should ever build around his own revelation; that is a code (commandment) violation. No movement should deny the voice of others; that is a code (commandment) violation. No leader should build ignoring other local brothers and sisters; that is a code (commandment) violation. Building in a manner where we are disassociating ourselves in a local city assembly is a code (commandment) violation. Building vertically ignoring the horizontal material is a code (commandment) violation. All leaders are seen as builders, but I say they do not hold in hand the permit (His commandments). I see danger coming and storms coming and our house with its leaders are not going to stand. Today we are not prevailing against the gates of hell and soon the gates of hell will prevail against us if someone does not wake up. No movement has a “building permit” in hand and all movements must be torn down for the coming of the kingdom of God. We need to get in the Way or out of the way.
I doubt that many realize what it is going to take to reestablish the kingdom of God, the assembly in the city, proper ministry, and a true definition of what a believer is and the total rule of God. The reestablishment of the kingdom is not a matter of if it comes, it is a matter of when it comes. Where we stand personally will have personal and eternal consequences. It is going to take more than a little teaching or revelation on the fear of the Lord. It is coming as a stone cut without man’s hands and it will smash, without respect, every kingdom that is not totally under His rule.
Conclusion and rebuke to our leaders.
The responsibility for the lack of the kingdom of God and the assembly in the city lays at the feet of our leaders, sadly those we respect the most… they will all one day stand before Him face to face and answer Him when He questions them: “Who told you to divide My Body, to create your move, your church, your network? On whose authority and by what command, teaching or scripture gave you the authority to build outside of My rule? Your work is the work of iniquity and lawlessness and you have shamed Me and My name before the world that I loved and died for.”
As sure as there is a tomorrow, the kingdom is coming and with it His judgment, it scares me to think our response has been that of the whore in the book of Revelation, “I sit as queen, and am no widow, and will not see sorrow.” Rev 18:7, NKJV. Men talk much of fear and demonstrate little of it. Men talk much of the cross but we see little evidence of it. Many talk of the kingdom of God and being a part of the remnant, few confirm it in their lives being under God’s rule.
We have spent years in magnifying revelations and men, all of which has not brought us any closer to the foundation of the city whose builder and maker is God alone.
When God is permitted to move again and when men are no longer willing to run off with their little revelations and create another move of puffed up people... when we hate and can’t live without one another and we can’t live without the rule of God being demonstrated in our cities and localities... when leaders are pushing people away from centering on “their” apostolic mantles and when they start demanding that they find others in their localities to build together with as those early disciples built…when leaders begin to see the damage they are doing to His body... when people stop thinking they are too spiritual to listen to others outside of their move or group...when praying and weeping and seeking to become one is more important than adding numbers to “our” movements...when God’s power is missed and we stop confusing our success with God’s approval…when we stop talking about what we think is first on our list and the kingdom of God becomes first on all of our lists…when we stop naming our networks and moves and we stop talking about what we are doing and start talking about how much we are hindering His kingdom and His assembly in the city, maybe then, maybe out of true and deep Holy Spirit humility, openness and respect for one another and true fear of God, maybe then God will be pleased to return and manifest His glory and His kingdom. Maybe He will pour out of the kingdom of Heaven an anointing where it will be all of Him and none of us. Maybe the world will see something real without the competition and bickering we have displayed in our cities. Maybe God will be able to speak to us once again those words we only read about: “to the assembly in Miami, the assembly in Los Angles, the assembly in Chicago.”
Maybe He will send out those to represent the kingdom of God with power. Maybe they will go out full of wisdom and power and full of life. Maybe we’ll experience a power of joy that will flood our meetings and we will not have to come up with some idea, some method to have a “good” meeting. Maybe it will not only be the speaking gifts, it will be the power gifts that we will see. Maybe people will fall on their faces and once again say, “Of a truth God is in you.” Maybe we will praise God from the unity of the Spirit and the power of God. Maybe God will once again get “all” the Glory. Oh how we need Him and don’t fully know it. My spirit is in agony over our condition and few are even bothered… they go right on with their movements as usual… we have lost our ear to hear. The coming new wine will never be poured into those old dried up vessels.
I am absolutely convinced that none of the leaders we see today will be the leaders in the upcoming kingdom. They are receiving their recognition and rewards now, they gather together but not in repentance. I believe that out of the wilderness, from the unknown will emerge vessels full of resurrected life and power and in their lives will beat His will as it is in heaven.
“That which is spiritual isn't first, but that which is natural, then that which is spiritual.” 1 Cor 15:46, WEB
I believe it is going to be the common people who the religious have looked down upon and ignored. God loves the weak, the foolish to reveal His power, this is exactly what Acts 2:17-18 is referring to, “And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams. And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; And they shall prophesy.” NKJV
It will come from those who will never trade His power and Glory for their success and pride.
“Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven… for Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” Matt 6:10, 13, NKJV When we stand before Jesus, our church or movement won't be there and it just may be the bases on which He judges us.