I just read Dr. Allison’s short post on multi-site here. Before reading Jonathan Leeman’s eloquent, persuasive, and far superior response, I typed up a response from my first impression of Allison’s post.
Response to the methodological error: I can agree to this statement “we do not define a concept by defining a word” with one nuance: We don’t fully define a concept. That’s what Dr. Allison goes on to show in his post. Justification is not fully defined by “acquitting someone of wrongdoing.” Salvation is not fully defined by “deliverance from danger.” Church is not fully defined by, “assembly.” But because of my nuance, I can’t agree with Dr. Allison’s point. He argues, in my own words, because a concept isn’t defined by a word, a concept can contradict the meaning of the word. In his view church can not mean assembly. But in his two other examples, justification is more than acquitting of wrongdoing, but it isn’t less. Salvation is more than deliverance from danger, but it isn’t less. And the concept doesn’t contradict the definition of the word.
Response to the lexical error: First of all, I appreciate this paragraph and the verses he cites. They are helpful in defining the concept and necessary challenges for my view (and my friends at 9Marks). For the universal church and the saints in heaven, I see that “church” as gathered in Christ in a spiritual sense presently, much like our dying and being raised with Christ spiritually (Colossians 3:1-3). Assembly is not dismissed or contradicted, it is used in a particular sense that is not physically local. But it is still actual assembly.
Using Acts 9:31 to define a church in a region that actually never physically assembles is a tough one for me. I think it was Peter O’Brien who says this goes against the “assembly” concept but its uniqueness shows that the rule is established.
It’s easy to call the church in the city the church when it’s the only one. Remember, Paul was doing pioneer church planting. The churches meeting in houses is interesting to me and is dealt with below.
Regarding Acts 8:1 and the church scattered as not physically assembling in that reference, I think that is easy for my view. The “assembly” is the people who assembled in Jerusalem. They were scattered during the persecution. They don’t have to be assembled at that point to be the assembly, they just have to be those who have committed to Christ, each other, and did assemble (though not at that point of persecution).
Response to the argument based on the church at Corinth. I think it’s interesting what he’s saying regarding this church. It makes me rethink how small groups or mission teams of a local church can be called in a sense, “house churches” of First Baptist Church of Corinth (or whatever). I do think Allison disproves his point and application of the multi-site church today when he asserts that the different house churches in Corinth actually did physically meet together at times that seem to be more than one off. Allison writes, “These ‘church gatherings’ distributed among the houses stood in contrast with the ‘whole church’ assembling together, probably in the home of Gaius (1 Corinthians 14:23; Romans 16:23).” So the “whole church” did assemble together at times. That establishes both the lexical meaning of the word and the necessity for actual physical gathering of the whole church at some points in their life and mission. Many modern churches that are multi-site never assemble the “whole [local] church” the way the whole local church at Corinth did at the home of Gaius alongside of the church gatherings in various homes.