JD Greear argues that multi-site churches can be biblical. His two thoughts in response to the critique of multi-site churches are:
(1) The question—our primary point of disagreement with ‘single service only’ advocates—is whether the New Testament mandates that we must all assemble in the same place, at the same time, every week; and
(2) We continue to maintain that the essence of the local church is covenant, and assembly a necessary function of a church.
Here’s my comment response posted on his blog that has not yet been approved. If he posts a response to these questions for clarification I’ll repost it here.
Thanks for the post JD. I appreciate it and appreciate your ministry brother.
A few questions that may help clarify your position (and I don’t mean to be argumentative but to further understand your understanding of the ecclesiological issues):
1. “Assembly is an indispensable function of the church, but covenant is its essence.” So could multi-site churches that NEVER meet all together be considered “biblically sound”? I’m guessing your answer is “no” because they are not fulfilling the “necessary function” of the church. If so, then where do you draw the line in exhorting multi-site churches to obey “biblically sound” ecclesiology? Maybe once a year? Maybe once every few years? “If God” requires (necessitates) the “function” for his church to meet all together at least sometimes has he “made that abundantly clear”? Are the other multi-site practitioners just not hearing what he has made abundantly clear?
2. When one tells “the church” of an unrepentant member (Matthew 18.17), do all the members in all the campuses know? And are all the covenant members on all the campuses responsible to call this brother/sister to repentance since the brother/sister needs to “listen to the church” before being excommunicated?
3. Why does the Summit Church gather all together annually? Is it only to experience a powerful encouragement to the body and compelling testimony to the world and to meet the bare minimum frequency of “assembly” to be a faithful New Testament Church? I understand the reasons Greear gives for multi-site, but I’m not sure I understand his compelling reasons for assembling. It might be seen as primarily a hoop to jump through or box to check off that they’re keeping the New Testament and it just happens to be powerfully encouraging.
UPDATE: 10/24/14 response by JD
PJ, excellent questions. Let me answer questions 1 and 3 together. It seems that you are looking for a “rule” about how often to assemble (and I don’t mean to be pejorative by that), but the NT simply doesn’t give one. That’s the crux of my argument–single-service-advocates have added a rule about meeting weekly that isn’t found in the NT. It appears, and again I don’t mean to be pejorative, to be a “hedge about the law” of the NT description of churches as assemblies. They can provide no chapter and verse for that shade of the rule, and, as I’ve noted, we seem find as much biblical evidence supporting churches not assembling all together weekly as we do them assembling all together. My question is why feel the need to go farther than the Scriptures? Why not emphasize that assembly is an important function of church, and let individual churches work that out, knowing they will answer to God for how they do it?
What is clear is that churches do assemble. So, each person in a 100 person church can’t stay home each week and say they are united by covenant so therefore they don’t need to assemble (as Leeman charges would be consistent with our model). Furthermore, it seems healthy, by implication, that a church should all assemble together periodically. That’s less a rule and more an inference from the church’s nature, but I think it’s a valid one. “Once a year” is not the magic number. The point is that healthy churches assemble often, and it makes sense that from time to time the whole body comes together. If you have 6 grown kids, how often do you come together for a family reunion? I can’t give you a “rule” on that, but I can tell you that if your family never comes together for a family reunion, you likely don’t have a healthy family. That analogy will break down eventually, but hopefully you get the point that this is less about rule and more about healthy expression of church.
Your second question, about discipline, is one created for us more by being a large church than a multi-site one. Discipline in a larger church can be complicated, even bringing in legal ramifications. We believe that discipline must be public, but that me announcing each week a list of people we need to discipline the majority of people have never met is not healthy or edifying. So we make the circle of discipline as wide as that person’s relationships. Sometimes that is on the campus level; sometimes it is a circle of small groups. It is the congregation that disciplines, but elders act as congregational representatives in this.
The exception is elders. We believe, as Paul says, a more public office demands a more public rebuke.
This is an issue we continue to wrestle with, and have a lot to learn about. But, again, it is more a function of being a large church than a multi-site one.