We will now deal with the subject of the boundary of the local assembly—that is to say, how far-reaching is the sphere of a local assembly?
The authority of the elders, which we have mentioned before, is to be exercised within the local assembly, because elders are established for the local assembly. Their position and function are all related to the local assembly. Elders in Shanghai are not elders in Nanking or Peking. Whereas the gifts of God are for the whole Church, the offices are for the local assembly. There are no super elders who can control assemblies other than their local one. Elders can only govern a local assembly.
How extensive is the border of a local assembly? How large a place is required to form a local assembly? Please note that the Bible never divides the Church according to region, nor does it even place several churches under a regional church. Although there are seven churches in Asia being mentioned in Revelation, we do not find in God’s word that Ephesus or Philadelphia had been chosen to control the other six churches. We only see seven churches represented by seven golden lampstands. In the Old Testament record there is mentioned the one lampstand with seven branches; but here in Revelation are seven lampstands—not one with seven branches but seven lampstands representing seven separate churches, each emitting light and each bearing responsibility directly to Christ. Whichever church it may be, it accepts the rule of Christ and not the control of other churches. Each lampstand is independent in government, without it being managed by other lampstands. Each is responsible to its high priest, the Son of man who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands. None of them is subject to any of the other churches. Though they are seven churches, they do not join to form a united church and make themselves answerable to a regional or annual conference. We may say that each is a “congregation” which takes a locality as its limit.
The Bible usually takes a city, the smallest executive governmental area, as the boundary of a local assembly. A local assembly is the unit of the Church in God’s word. It does not join with other assemblies and make the resulting larger church a central church. In other words, in the eyes of God, He has not made Rome as the central church. He never makes any local assembly the center of the churches to be in control of other assemblies. There is no center on earth in God’s government. Even Jerusalem was not a center to the early churches.
This did not rule out the existence of regions in the biblical record. Some places were so similar in conditions and needs that they would receive the same treatment in the record. For instance, it is said of Paul that he “passed through the upper country” (Acts 19.1); again, “from Jerusalem, and round about even unto Illyricum” (Rom. 15.19). These are regions.