This might prove to be a fluid article, one which is edited and expanded from one day to the next, but I have to start somewhere, sometime.
First: Odyssey. When we moved to this area 14 years ago, we eventually settled in at the downtown Southern Baptist congregation....not for any reason of "great preacher" or "beautiful 15 million dollar building" --just a matter of "where else?" Lots of things on which I could comment but to get to the point, we were soon hearing that "IT" was all about the local church. Pastor was teaching/preaching thru Ephesians and time and again remarked how the entire epistle was "all about the local church" When he finished Ephesians and moved to Philippians, it introduced that epistle with the statement that it too is "all about the local church."
There has been for years an element of the Baptist world known as "Landmark Baptists" or "Baptist Bride" who, to put it simply, teach that the local church is The Church and there is no other, no "Universal Church" made up of all believers. In other words, if a believer is in "the church" he is a member of a local Baptist congregation. Of course there are degrees of this, variations and permutations, but that's the basic idea. And it's this school of thought which leads to teaching that Ephesians is "all about the local church" since, in the teacher's mind, there is no other church.
We left that congregation and eventually moved our membership to First Baptist Church of Muscle Shoals, Alabama (now known as Grace Life Church of the Shoals). It seems like a good idea at the time. We're credo-baptists with a calvinistic soteriology (quite unwelcome in most SBC circles) and this congregation was led by a man who seemed in line with that, plus it was represented to be a very mission-minded congregation. The fact that Paul Washer had just moved Heart Cry Missionary Society under the headship of that congregation seemed like a strong recommendation at the time.
In 2010, we stopped attending the services there because of our disintegrating health. I wrote to the Administrative Pastor and asked to be removed from the rolls under a specific provision of the by-laws which I quoted in my request. This request was "pooh-pooh-ed" as unnecessary in view of the congregation's desire to continue its "ministry to [us]" I never pursued the idea and we never returned.
Two weeks ago, I got this letter:
This introduces the "Irony" mentioned in my title. We moved at least partially to escape the "local church only" view and it appears we never escaped at all. There's a lot which could be said about the content of this letter, but I want to (at least in the beginning) focus on the theology of the main thesis: the implication that "forsaking" the local congregation is forsaking Christ the "head of the church"--an implication that this local congregation is indeed the Body of Christ, the Body into which all believers are baptized by the Holy Spirit. "For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of
the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit." (I Corinthians 12)
We'll look at this in detail in the second part of this. I hope those reading this will post their views and comments.