Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. 1Te 1:1
Instead of today’s verse I could have taken almost any opening verse of the letters written to churches. The commonalities? Many would say that they state the sender and recipient of the letter, like modern email from and to. Some even state a cc: if you read this letter, give it to the city of Laodicea. But that is at the end of the letter. Some say that the credentials of the writer are essential, but here they are not stated.
Some say that it is important that Paul always states the other ministers that composed the letter with him. And that is important. Christianity in its maturity is about teams.
Yet today I want to talk about another aspect: it is written to the church of the recipient city.
Not the churches.
There is only one church in each and every city. Sometimes the bible even talks about the church of a whole area: Ephesus as the center of Asia Minor.
We read in the book of Acts that they met in houses and that Peter had his own gathering or meeting place. When he was freed from prison he went to “his own”. A certain house.
Still we only hear of one church in a city. They all belonged together.
One of the defining attributes of the church of the city were city elders. Inspired by the Old Testament, the church had city wide elders. Their duty?
They watched what came into the city.
City elders met at the gates and allowed passage for travelers. More than that they decided whether a prophet was allowed in the city or not to speak. A prophet was always sent to the city and only if rejected by the city elders went to a place nearby in the wilderness to preach. Close enough for the people of the city to go hear, but not under the jurisdiction of the city elders.
That was why John the Baptist taught on the banks of Jordan.
We see that city elders have a great part to play in the protection of the city of bad influences, but can also hinder God’s will. Great responsibility calls for great character. In Jerusalem we see the twelve as city elders. In Antioch we see prophets and teachers. City elders will be fivefold ministers.
They watched what came out of the city.
In Eze 48:30, the doorways of the city that the river flows out of are described as exits (not entrances!). The city elders are in charge of what is exported from a city. The river in Ezekiel runs through two gates: from the temple and from the city. The gate keepers could keep it from flowing.
Israel as a people of priest and kings decided to keep the river from flowing into the world and kept the gospel of their time for themselves. So many churches did the same throughout the ages.
The gate keepers of the temple decide not to let the river flow into the city. As we know from revelation, the city is the church, the bride of the Son. They keep revelation and blessings away from the church.
The city elders keep the river from flowing outside of the church into the world.
In the natural, cities are known for their art, manufacturing, goods, entertainment. But not any more for their godly lifestyle.
They promote sons.
When a son reached the age of thirty and was a trustworthy son, the father took him to the city elders and proclaimed him a son. From this moment on the sons word was as good as the fathers.
Even God did the same when Jesus was baptized: “This is my son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.” And he did it at the place of authority for the city of Jerusalem of the day. There were no godly city elders at the time as they had rejected the word of God in form of his prophet John. Therefore John, prophet and son of one of the highest priests and latter high priest, was in charge.
Today, acknowledged elders promote sons. Church fathers. Apostles and prophets.
Why should we as believers go and have worldly judges decide our matters. They usually do not know the word of God and are bound by local law. City elders do know the word and are not bound by any law other than the Spirit.
We lack city elders. We are usually organized in international denominations and answer to centralized offices. The church down the road is further from us than the church in our denomination across the globe.
It is time for city elders. Elders in authority.
I do not speak of administrative gatherings, clubs, and organizations meeting on the basis of the greatest common denominator, not embarrassing or challenging others.
I speak of relationship. Encouragement, admonishment, friendship. With a common vision and focus for the city. To protect it from evil influences. To promote it as a city of God. To let the river flow from it. To grow the next generation into maturity. To judge righteously.
Do you know such a city? Or do you have a comment? Feel free.