The English word ‘Church’ has come to mean a lot of things to a lot of people. The most common is a building, a place of worship, of bricks and mortar, history, structures and things. The original English word however is derived from the Greek adjective Kyriakos meaning ‘the Lord’s House’.
Church in the New Testament however is from the Greek Ekklesia, meaning Congregation. Tyndale’s 1526 and 1534 Translations immediately spring to mind here. For Tyndale, the Christian Church was never a building or a hierarchy of bishops, popes and prelates, but a collective of equal souls, united in faith and bound together through the Bible. This concept is entirely Biblical, and even though the early New Testament Church did not have the entire Canon of Scripture, they had the Apostles teaching.
For them, the Ekklesia, was not merely a gentile thing, but was known and lived among the Jews.
While there certainly were many ‘Churches’ scattered throughout the cities of the New Testament, most, if not all of them were house Churches. I have visited many ancient sites throughout the Biblical lands and a majority of early ‘Church’ buildings were constructed centuries later. Despite this, the New Testament recognises there is only one Church. The modern ideas of pulling out of one Church and setting up your own is alien to the New Testament. Likewise, the idea of popery and one man leadership is unknown. What we see is a plurality of elders and deacons and a collective of equal souls.
In the New Testament, whether a Church be in Jerusalem, Antioch, Corinth, Philippi, Ephesus or Rome, it saw itself as one body. It was a heavenly reality, being built in this world and on this earth, where Jesus Christ is exalted at the right hand of the Father and in the midst of the Church (Hebrews 2: 12) and is head over her (Ephesians 1: 20-23)
Today however, because of false teachers and false doctrine, divisions are as common as muck. Because of circumstances, historic divisions, tribalism, the idea of one Church (in a context) simply does not work. I say this because no person who actually believes the Bible and knows that truth, can abide with a fake unity that excludes truth. As though right doctrine can be set aside, and categorised as unimportant in the cause of unifying people. It really doesn’t work!
But in Acts 21: 20, when they heard they glorified the Lord and many thousands of people believed. Other Churches grew and when Peter wrote his epistles, Churches had scattered to the south coast of Black Sea, Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia (1 Peter 1: 1) and this is in the context of persecution.
Thankfully, in England, we do not have any set persecution. Individuals may seek to undermine the faith and push down conservative values, but that will get them nowhere in the long run. A democratic society must be founded on freedom of conscience, belief and speech, otherwise we are not a democracy. So long as Christians do not attempt to force their beliefs on others, we are free to maintain them. If anyone seeks to force their beliefs and ethics upon us, they are guilty of doing what they condemn others of. Simply let them do their worst and their own extremist mindsets will expose their deeds.
This is actually quite a picture of the Church in the New Testament. Believers lived their lives, had families, met together, and the world did what the world always does. The New Testament Church never persecuted anyone, but visa versa. When read in this context, Romans 13: 1-7 makes perfect sense. The Church influences society, and works with the governments, but does not not rule them.
This is where todays independent Churches have got it right. However, I have come to understand that the idea of independent churches is unknown to the New Testament. Christ did not say I will build my churches but “I will build My Church…” (Matthew 16: 18). New Testament Churches may well have been established in various cities, but they were still part of one Church.
Thus, to answer my question, are independent Churches in the New Testament? My answer is no. But again, that is just my opinion.