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defining
church

An Overview of Structure, Function, and Activity

Most people today identify the Church as the brick building down the street with a lofty steeple on top. But is this truly the Church or a common misconception? The word “church” is translated from the Greek ekklesia, which simply means “the assembly of called-out ones.” So the building in which Christians meet is merely a gathering spot, not the actual Church. The true Church is comprised of everyone, everywhere, who has a personal relationship with Jesus and faithfully follows His teachings: “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Co. 12:13). According to this verse, anyone who truly believes in Jesus and has received the Holy Spirit as evidence is part of the body of Christ and therefore the universal church.

 

Yet today’s “church” has greatly evolved from the original movement established by Christ and the Apostles. For instance, many customs and traditions have crept in over the centuries that are completely foreign to the New Testament. As a result, the spiritual practices that were once common in the first century Church are now lacking or entirely absent. So this leaves us to question much of what we call “church” today and whether it agrees with God’s Word.

 

The following study will attempt to unravel the accurate definition of Church and what the Bible reveals concerning its structure and activity. My hope is that we can better understand how first century Christians would have assembled and what they would have considered normative practice.

 

WHO OR WHAT IS THE CHURCH?

Note: The following section is borrowed from an online source (in red). 

In Romans 16:5, Paul refers to the church as a body of Believers meeting in someone’s house, “… greet the church that is in their house.” It is clear, then, that WE are the Church—not the building.

The Church is the body of Christ, of which He is the head. Ephesians 1:22-23 says, “And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.”

The body of Christ is made up of all believers in Jesus Christ from the day of Pentecost (Acts chapter 2) until Christ’s return. The body of Christ is comprised of two aspects:

 

1) The universal church, which consists of all those who have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink” (1 Corinthians 12:13). This verse says that anyone who believes is part of the body of Christ and has received the Spirit of Christ as evidence. The universal church of God is all those who have received salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

 

2) The local church, which is described in Galatians 1:1-2: “Paul, an apostle … and all the brothers with me, to the churches in Galatia.” Here we see that in the province of Galatia there were many churches—what we call local churches. A Baptist church, Lutheran church, Pentecostal church, etc., does not necessarily represent the true church. The universal church is comprised of those who belong to Christ and who have trusted in Him for salvation. The members of the universal church should seek fellowship and edification in a local congregation or fellowship.

 

In summary, the church is not a building or a denomination. According to the Bible, the church is the body of Christ—all those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ for salvation (John 3:16; 1 Corinthians 12:13). Local churches are gatherings of members of the universal church. The local church is where the members of the universal church can fully apply the “body” principles of 1 Corinthians chapter 12: encouraging, teaching, and building one another up in the knowledge and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. That is why we are exhorted to meet together regularly: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching (Heb 10:25).

TRUTH OR TRADITION?

Note: The following section is borrowed from the book Pagan Christianity (in red).

Why do Christians do what they do for church every Sunday—have you ever wondered? Why do we "dress up"? Why do we have sacred buildings to meet in, pulpits, sacramental tables, clergy, liturgies, etc? It may surprise you to learn that most of what Christians do in present-day churches is rooted, not in the New Testament, but in pagan culture and rituals developed long after the death of the apostles. As you reconsider Christ's revolutionary plan for His Church—to be the head of a fully functioning body in which all believers play an active role— and as you examine many of the historical facts surrounding our popular church traditions, you'll be challenged to decide whether you can ever do church the same way again. 

THE BUILDING

Prior to 324 AD, there was no such thing as a church building. Christians simply met in their homes or worshiped in public places like the Jewish temple (Act 2:46). In most instances, persecution necessitated that they meet underground like in the catacombs for fear of being discovered. So what brought about the change and how did the church building come to exist? The transition from house fellowship to the “brick and mortar edifice” dates back to the period of Rome's history under Constantine the Great.

 

Emperor Constantine is often lauded for turning Christianity into the legal religion of the Roman Empire (313 AD) and granting Christians freedom to worship. But what many fail to realize is that Constantine acted strategically when converting Rome to Christianity. The well known saying, “if you can’t beat them, join them”, was coined by the emperor and represented the very technique used to subvert Christianity and corrupt it with paganism, the religion of that era. In so doing, Constantine prevented paganism from dying out completely in the centuries to come.

 

Yet how exactly did Constantine go about seeding Christianity with paganism? History tells us that one of his most successful methods was to convert all of the existing pagan temples into “holy spaces” for Christian worship. The “church” building was thus created, and as a consequence, Christianity lost its “organic” quality and began to operate much like an institution.

 

Today, Christians must ask the following questions in relation to this issue:

 

1. Where did the early Church gather for worship and fellowship?

 

2. Do church buildings create the same atmosphere of fellowship as that of the home?

 

3. What is at stake if we continue to employ the same pagan model adopted centuries ago?

 

So let’s begin by addressing the first question, which deals with location. The Bible provides ample evidence that the early Church did in fact meet almost exclusively in houses. Notice: 

 

And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart (Act. 2:46).

 

And when he had considered the thing, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark; where many were gathered together praying (Act. 12:12).

 

Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Salute my well beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia unto Christ (Rom. 16:5).

 

The churches of Asia salute you. Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house (1 Co. 16:19).

 

Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church which is in his house (Col. 4:15).

 

And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in thy house (Phm. 1:2).

 

It is clear, then, that Christianity started off rather simple and early Believers considered their homes to be the most suitable location for gatherings and regular fellowship.

 

But what about our second question? Do “church buildings” foster the same atmosphere of fellowship as that in the home? If we're really honest, then the answer is no. You see, it's important to realize that Christ's intention was to establish a Body of Believers that functioned much the same way as a family. That's why Jesus is called our elder Brother in Romans 8:29 and we are His Brethren (Mat 23:8). What does this tell us? It speaks of the fact that Christ did not come to create a formal religion like those already in existence. Yet sadly, the church building promotes the same formal atmosphere found in the temples and meeting places of other religions. The truth is that large buildings crammed full of people do not create the intimate atmosphere of fellowship as found in the home.

 

Now in relation to our third question of what's at stake if we continue to perpetuate a false model of “church”, let me point your attention to the following points:

 

1) Overhead Expense

We can’t deny the enormous overhead involved in maintaining a church building. Just consider the cost of acoustic equipment, furnishings, upgrades, expansions, and regular maintenance. Not to mention the annual renovations to the inside or outside of the building. Then, of course, there’s the salary of an academically accredited “pastor”, which members are expected to finance so that he can oversee every spiritual function of the “church program”. Lastly, we can’t ignore the fact that because of all the money invested in this big “corporate effort” the leaders and members are pressured heavily into delivering results, even if those results are artificial and lack the power of the Holy Spirit.

So is this loss of quality really worth the enormous investment of time and money? You decide.

 

Note: Dare I point out that the millions of dollars invested every year into these “sacred” church superstructures could have been donated to millions of poor people around the world.

 

2) Formal Fellowship

The simplicity of the first century Church is in stark contrast to the formality of its modern day counterpart. Take for example the custom of dressing up for church every Sunday. This custom cannot be found anywhere in the New Testament, and in my opinion does very little to glorify God. In fact, it only serves to further enhance the air of formality. Then there’s also the hustle and bustle of crowded meetings typical of most churches today, which has many members bemoaning the lack of intimate fellowship between congregants. Here again is just another example of total loss in terms of meaningful spiritual interaction.

 

3) Programmed Meetings

Most of us have grown weary of the same programed meetings that drag on from Sunday to Sunday, week after week, with very little variance. In essence, we have replaced the Holy Spirit with our own programed format. So can we blame God for failing to show up for our phony "church" gatherings that exalt our human endeavours above His supreme preeminence?

 

Answering Common Objections 

Now that we've covered a few of the negatives associated with the church building, let's respond to some of the common objections toward house meetings. Perhaps the most frequent objection has to do with space. Church buildings are intentionally built large and roomy in order to accommodate as many congregants as possible. This poses a serious problem to home gatherings forced to function with much less space. Unless, that is, we make some adjustments to our preexisting suppositions on how a typical church must operate. Then also, if we look at the model that is being implemented by persecuted Christians around the world, we will find that they have grown accustomed to house churches simply because they are not able to meet in the open for fear of death or imprisonment.

 

Take China for example. It has a thriving underground Church numbering in the many millions, yet all are part of the house Church network. So how do they make it work? How are they able to gather in homes with so many more congregants than the church averages in the free Western world? How these house Churches operate is proposed in the following:

 

1) Distribution of Members between Homes

When hosting capacity has reached its maximum in one house, members will simply redistribute themselves to meet in someone else’s house. This way no single member’s house is overwhelmed by too many congregants. Also, this allows the Church to strategically spread and multiply across the city, town, or village, to eventually occupy all regions of the country, which is the best form of exponential growth!

 

2) Delegation of Authority

As house Churches spread, so does the authority responsible for oversight. This means that members are constantly appointing new individuals to positions of leadership. So how does this impact the greater Body? The impact is rather profound when realizing just how many godly leaders are being created all the time and given responsibilities pertaining to ministry. This in itself is the greatest attestation of success! Furthermore, and most importantly, it reduces the potential for any one leader to monopolize God’s people.

 

Please Note: While advocating for the above principles, we are not suggesting that Churches must meet exclusively in houses, or that all meetings within a large building are wrong. Sometimes exceptions may apply, and we must be lead by the Spirit as to when and how they are appropriate.

 

OPEN PARTICIPATION

“Open participation” refers to the practice in which all Church members are allowed to partake in public roles of ministry. It is the opposite of the formal Church service where only the clergy are permitted to address the congregants from behind the pulpit. Most often we find open participation in smaller gatherings that meet informally in houses as opposed to large “church” buildings. These types of meetings, as demonstrated thus far, were a staple of all New Testament Congregations throughout the Apostolic period. The best example of this is described in 1 Corinthians 14:26:

 

How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.

 

When reading 1 Corinthians 14, we find that Paul was clearly encouraging all members of the Church to participate in a diverse array of ministry functions. However, despite this clear teaching, there are many Churches today that refuse to practice any form of open participation with “lay people”. This is very sad. And to be candid, a Church devoid of open participation is bound to become a formalistic and dead substitute for what Jesus Christ intended for His Body. Such churches are in danger of having to give account to God one day for why they have chosen to suppress the unique giftings and individual contribution of His people.

 

DENOMINATIONALISM: "BUILDING NAMES & FRAMES"  

At its core, denominationalism is an ugly thing. This harmful and unbiblical practice is responsible for fragmenting the Body of Christ into thousands of different groups, each boasting their own brand of Christianity. Often, this results in a detrimental lack of spiritual growth and an exclusive atmosphere. Yet sadly, the practice of adopting specific name labels and enclosing ourselves within a restrictive doctrinal framework is extremely common throughout the Christian landscape. But Christ’s Church was always intended to be a single entity and was never meant to fracture along denominational lines (Jn 17:22). We were also meant to increase in spiritual knowledge and understanding of God's purpose (Eph. 4:15; 2 Pet. 3:18). So perhaps our desire to distinguish ourselves by a particular denomination is a disturbing indication that the Church has grown carnal and fallen into the same pitfall Apostle Paul had so clearly warned of:

 

Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal? (1 Co. 1:12-13; 3:4).

 

SEMINARIES AND BIBLE COLLEGES

The practice of going through a seminary or Bible college to enter the ministry is so prevalent that most Christians never bother to question it. But is this really what qualifies men for spiritual service? As we shall soon discover, there is no biblical precedent to justify this common practice.

 

While it's true that universities and colleges have their place in secular society and are needed to gain entry into certain professions, the same cannot be said for spiritual ministry. Serving the Body of Christ is not a job description that offers financial compensation or requires a resume listing one’s educational history and credentials. Because of this, individuals are not qualified for Church service based on their graduate status or academic degree. 

 

According to the New Testament, the only way to gain rapport in the Body of Christ is by practicing humble servitude and becoming an able minister to the needs of God’s people (Acts 6:1-6). The complete requirements for ministry are concisely listed in 1 Tim. 3:1-13 and Tit. 1:5-9 and they do not include formal education. What is required is godly character, spiritual anointing, and a good track record as a servant in the Body of Christ.

 

Yet still, many church leaders consider themselves qualified for spiritual service based only on a theology degree. As a result, they will often use it as a badge of spiritual authority or a token of anointed leadership. Sadly, these men are deceived into thinking that spiritual status is gained through academic means. But those who insist on racking up status through academic means are merely professional businessmen keen on profit and monetary gain. They are “hirelings”, not true shepherds, and they are fleecing God's Flock (Jn 10:12-13).

 

TITLES OF HONOR

And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ (Mat 23:6-10).

 

There are many "pastors" that expect their members to address them by their special honorary titles. No doubt these men savor their titles of honor much the same way as the Pharisees (Jn 12:43). But Jesus warned about the use of titles in the Church, and we should take extra caution to avoid such practices diligently.

FALSE CHURCH HIERARCHY

heirarchy.png

Most churches today practice a model of authority that is both hierarchical and political. For example, pastors are often appointed to lead a church after receiving their "ministry credentials" from an accredited seminary or Bible college. Sadly, they are often power hungry and driven by greed and a craving for notoriety. Then there is the fact that certain members of the church are often more privileged than others and hold greater authority based on their rank or status, as depicted in the pyramid model above. But this model of authority is completely unbiblical, as we shall soon discover.

 

According to the New Testament, Christ’s Body is made up of servants (Lk. 17:10). The Greek word for servant is diakonos, from whence we derive the English “deacon”. Some servants are older and some younger, but ALL are servants. Those who are older and have served the Body of Christ well are given the task of oversight and are worthy of greater honor (1 Tim 5:1, 17). The older category of servants, known as elders, is the one we will examine in the following section.

 

Elders

The New Testament uses two Greek words to represent the English word for elder, namely presbuteros and episkopoi. Both the 1940 Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words by W.E. Vine and the Strong’s define these Greek words in the following manner:

 

Presbuteros: “an adjective, the comparative degree of presbus, an old man, an elder, is used of age, whether of the elder of two persons (Luke 15:25), or of a person advanced in life, a senior (Acts 2:17)…”

 

Episkopoi: “or overseer, is applied to the work of a presbus, to their spiritual maturity or experience (1 Timothy 3:1-7, 5:17, and Titus 1:5)…”

 

So as we can see, the Bible defines an elder as an old man of spiritual maturity whose duty is to serve as overseer within the Church. But here's an important question, are only elders qualified to oversee the Church? The simple answer is yes. Only elders are qualified to oversee the Church. Much of the confusion over this matter is the result of a few interchangeable titles all pointing to and describing the same office. For example, the elder is also the "bishop", "pastor", "overseer", and "shepherd". This is easy to prove when considering the following verses:

 

And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church…And when they were come to him, he said unto them….. Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God ,which he hath purchased with his own blood (Acts 20:17, 18, 28).

 

For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls (1 Peter 2:25).

 

The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away. Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:1-5).

 

Notice that the elders in Ephesus were charged with “feeding” the Church of God by serving as overseers. This, of course, would also describe the work of a shepherd or pastor (Latin for shepherd). In the above passages we find that only elders were instructed to care for God’s flock (“taking the oversight thereof”). And they alone were qualified for the service of overseer or bishop. Also, notice how the title “Chief Shepherd” (1 Pet. 5:4), referring to Jesus Christ, is used as a comparative for their office. In other words, while subordinate to the Chief Shepherd, elders are also shepherds, but with limited authority. Finally, 1 Pet. 5:5 makes it plain that the word “elder” is not merely a title, but actually refers to an older man serving as overseer—“ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder”.

 

Biblical Qualifications for Elders

So far we’ve proven that the Church elder is also the pastor and bishop, and that elders are called to serve the Church in the capacity of guiding “shepherd”. But now that we understand the role of an elder, it's important to recognize the biblical qualifications listed for elders. Obviously, not every old man will make a good leader. That's why the Bible provides precise instructions for how elders are to be chosen and what criteria they must meet. Notice:

 

This is a true saying, If a man desire to serve as a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil (1 Tim 3:1-9).

 

For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers (Tit 1:5-9).

 

The above passages make it clear that a Church elder must be an older man with the following spiritual qualities:

(a) immaculate character 

(b) a good reputation 

(c) an exemplary family 

(d) a capable teacher of the Word

(e) and a servant of all

 

Any who wish to pursue such a call better have all of these attributes present before assuming the post of elder in the Assembly. In other words, this is not a role to be taken lightly and only a select few are qualified to serve as leader of God’s people--legitimately. Nevertheless, there are many today who pursue positions of authority out of selfish ambition or because they are power hungry and love preeminence. And if God’s people don’t wish to be deceived by these false leaders, they must test all of them against the qualifications listed in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. If we fail to do so and end up with a corrupt or abusive form of leadership, we are to blame for this and no one else.

 

How to Understand Hebrews 13:17 & Obedience to Church Authority

Spiritual leaders with an abusive or authoritarian nature may often cite Hebrews 13:17 in order to control or manipulate members of their Church. In such cases, this verse is twisted out of context and misconstrued as a means to secure unconditional obedience to Church authority. So let's examine this verse to better understand its intended meaning:

 

Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you (Hebrews 13:17).

 

Ok, so what does this verse actually mean? To understand Hebrews 13:17, we must drop back a few verses to verse 7. Notice: Remember those leading you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: consider the outcome of their behavior and imitate their faith (Heb. 13:7). By reading verse 7 it is easy to see what kind of leaders we are required to submit to and how.

First, we must consider the overall character and lifestyle of our leaders. Then we can decide whether or not they are deserving of respect. If they are truly qualified servants of God, then it is wise to heed their advice or instructions. And it's even wiser, to emulate their conduct and way of life. 

 

To put it simply, qualified elders are permitted to lead the Church by their godly example and way of life. As such, members of the Church should respect their spiritual authority and heed their wise council. It is that simple.

 

Leaders, Not "Lords" 

Another important point to recognize is that Biblical authority is never compulsory or authoritarian. 1 Peter 5 contains a clear prohibition warning elders against "lording" it over God's people. Notice: The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder...Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. ...Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble (1 Pet 5:1-5).

 

In the preceding verses, we find that elders are expressly commanded not to “Lord it over God’s inheritance”. This means that they are not permitted to micromanage our life or control all of our activities. Unfortunately, there are many leaders who do exactly that; and there are many foolish Christians who willingly submit to them anyway.

 

Leadership by a Plurality of Elders

According to the New Testament, every Church is required to have several qualified elders to oversee it, not just one. Notice:

 

And when they had ordained them elders (plural) in every church (singular), and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed (Acts 14:23).

 

Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders (plural) of the church (singular); and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him (James 5:14).

 

…but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety (Proverbs 11:14).

 

Based on the above Scriptures, we find that Churches were overseen by a group of elders, not a single person, and that this practice was a common feature. Leadership by a plurality of elders is also a safety measure for counterbalancing poor leadership or adequately addressing the needs of each member. So it's easy to see why those who ignore this instruction and relegate all Church oversight to only one individual may experience failure and the loss of optimal function.

 

Age Requirement for Elders

Many wonder about the age of an elder before he is qualified to lead the Church. While this question may seem trite, the guideline of age is actually very important because it's a good indication of experience and wisdom—both of which derive from age (Job 12:12). According to 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, an elder is an aged man whose children are mature adults. The conduct and behavior of an elder's children is a good measurement of their father’s success at parenting. And therefore it is the best way to gauge his level of competence. Now obviously, the behavior of really young children is not a good measuring rod of parental success since only time can reveal whether or not children were brought up in a truly godly manner.

 

Additionally, we have a number of verses that clearly distinguish between an elder and a young man. This suggests that an elder must at least be old enough to have children of marriage age. Notice:

 

The elders which are among you I exhort… Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility… (1 Pet 5:5).

 

Rebuke not an elder, but entreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren; The elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, with all purity (1 Tim 5:1-2).

 

Notice that Timothy was commanded to “entreat” or address an elder as he would his father. Timothy was a young man and a fellow Church planter with Paul. He was not a teenage boy. So clearly the reference to “younger men” located in the above passage refers to adult men of marriage age. Therefore this makes the elder an aged father of fully mature adult children.

 

Now perhaps the reason why Peter and Paul appointed elder men to Church leadership is because both were Jews familiar with the Jewish customs and traditions of their day. As such, they were predisposed to follow the religious order of the Sanhedrin when electing elderly individuals to positions of authority in the Assembly. It is also a very natural standard of authority. Most individuals will naturally adhere to the authority of an older man as opposed to a younger one. In fact, it's hard to imagine an Assembly in which all of the elderly men present have to appeal to their 30 year old "pastor" “as unto a father” (1 Tim 5:1). Such an order of authority is completely absurd. Yet this is exactly what's happening today in many Churches.

 

Nevertheless, you may still be wondering about the level of authority delegated to such young men as Timothy and Titus. After all, they were the ones charged with electing elders to their post in the Church. So doesn't that make them greater than the elders whom they elected? Hardly. While this argument may sound convincing it is as foolish as supposing that because we participate in electing the president of the United States, we are therefore more powerful than he. You see, both of Paul's young coworkers were given certain oversight of the Church. It is evident from their assignments that Timothy and Titus were evangelists and Church planters. They were present to help organize the Church and facilitate order, which they did by appointing elders in Paul’s authority. But that was the full extent of their authority. And therefore they always remained subordinate to the elders. 

 

Finally, the Bible makes it abundantly clear that elders are men of old age and are thus to be honored:

 

You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the Lord (Leviticus 19:32).

Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days (Job 12:12).

Hear, my son, your father's instruction, and forsake not your mother's teaching (Proverbs 1:8).

Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life (Proverbs 16:31).

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land” (Ephesians 6:1-4).

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching (1 Timothy 5:17).

 

Note: Double honor is given to the elders who rule well because they are honored first for their age and second for their godly leadership.

Do not rebuke an elder but entreat him as you would a father, younger men as brothers (1 Timothy 5:1).

Elders: Conclusion

By taking into consideration all of our previous study points on elders, we can define the authority of the Church elder in the following terms. It is the difference between hierarchy and patriarchy, positional and experiential, tyrannical and exemplary (1 Tim 5:17; Tit 1:5-9, 1 Pet 5:1-5, 2 Cor 1:24). These qualities are key for choosing the right spiritual leader and making sure their authority does not cross over what's proper.

WOMEN’S ROLE IN THE CHURCH

Borrowed from an online source (in red).

A Call to Order

In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul begins to instruct the Corinthian church about their somewhat disorganized worship services. As we studied previously, he says that women should wear a head covering when they pray and prophesy; then he corrects the Corinthians on the way they had been observing the Lord’s Supper. In chapter 12, he addresses the proper use of spiritual gifts in the worship service. He describes a number of gifts, and insists that all gifts are important to the Body of Christ; the variety of gifts calls for mutual respect and honor, not vanity or shame.

 

In chapter 13, he describes character (i.e. Love) as the focus of our spiritual pursuit, and in chapter 14 he makes an extended contrast between the gift of tongues and the gift of prophesying. Apparently some people in Corinth were extolling the gift of tongues as a mark of superior spirituality. Paul did not tell them to stop speaking in tongues, but he did put some restrictions on how tongues should be used in the worship service:

 

1) There should be two or three speakers (14:27).

2) They should speak one at a time (v. 27).

3) There should be an interpretation (v. 27b). If no one can interpret the tongues, “the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God” (v. 28).

 

However, this requirement should not be lifted out of its context to create a complete prohibition on the person ever speaking, singing or praying. Paul is apparently trying to give some organization to what had been a rather chaotic worship meeting— several people speaking at once, speaking words that no one could understand. Paul recommends the gift of prophecy as a far more helpful gift, but he gives similar guidelines for those speakers, too:

 

1) Only two or three should speak (v. 29). If someone else has something to say, the first speaker should be quiet.

2) They should speak one at a time (v. 31).

3) People should “weigh carefully what is said” (v. 29; cf. 1 Thess. 5:21).

 

Paul notes that “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the control of the prophets” (1 Cor. 14:32). That is, the speakers are able to stop; they cannot use “God made me do it” as an excuse for adding to the commotion. When God gives a gift, he also gives the person the responsibility to make decisions to use that gift in an appropriate way. Simply having the gift is not an excuse to use it whenever and wherever the person wants to. Paul explains his reason: “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace” (v. 33).

 

Paul then tells the women to be quiet, and to ask their questions at home: “As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent (quiet/under control) in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church” (vv. 33-35).

 

Let’s examine some of the details in these verses:

 

1) The first thing we notice is that women are not the only people Paul tells to be “silent.” He uses the same word in verses 28 and 30 to tell “tongue-speakers” and prophets to be silent when others speak. In both of those verses, he is calling for a temporary silence, not a complete and permanent prohibition.

2) The word for “speak” (laleō) does not necessarily mean a formal role in the pulpit—it is a general word that can also be translated “talk.” Paul used a general word to say that women should not talk, and we have to make an interpretive choice: Was he prohibiting disruptive talk (talk in the audience), argumentative challenges, or all utterance?

 

3) Paul says that instead of speaking, women should be in submission. This implies that the Corinthian women were speaking in an insubordinate way. Perhaps they were asking questions and then challenging the answers? Maybe they were making a disruptive commotion and detracting from the sermon? The fact that Paul said in chapter 11 that women could pray and prophesy (prophecy being a public utterance addressed to a group of people), and in chapter 14 that two or three people could prophesy in a worship service, shows that women are allowed to have a slot in the speaking schedule. It is not insubordinate for them to speak prophecies; it is therefore likely that Paul is prohibiting some less-formal speaking, such as chatter or comments from the audience, and of course, insubordinate challenges and arguing.

 

4) Paul says that “the Law” requires submission (Gen 3:16). And this indicates that women should submit to their husbands or their spiritual authorities, not challenge them publicly. When Paul says that it is “disgraceful” for women to talk in church, his choice of words appeal to a certain sense of propriety. He forbids the type of “talk” that is disruptive or insubordinate. Blomberg suggests, “Perhaps the largely uneducated women of that day were interrupting proceedings with irrelevant questions that would be better dealt with in their homes.” Belleville says, “Their fault was not in the asking per se but in the inappropriate setting for their questions.”

 

So what does this tell us? If we take the instruction located in 1 Corinthians 14 completely at face value, then women must never sing, pray, or prophecy in the Church. But since this is clearly at odds with the rest of Scripture (see 1 Co. 11:5) we must understand Paul's instruction to be aimed squarely at a woman's disruptive behavior in the Church or her public display of insubordination towards Church authority. Nevertheless, Paul's instruction makes it clear that women must never assume any formal role of authority in the Church, such as public teaching and preaching.

 

In conclusion, it is wrong to require women to keep completely mute during the Church service. I believe that it is well within the bounds of Scripture for women to prophecy, pray, and even share a testimony during a Church meeting.

 

COMMUNION

Borrowed from an online source (in red)

“This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way, he took the cup of wine after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant between God and you, sealed by the shedding of my blood. Do this in remembrance of me as often as you drink it.” For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord's death until he comes again (1 Corinthians 11:24-26).

As we come to the Communion table, there are three things we should remember, according to 1 Corinthians 11:23-30. First, we should look back. We are to participate in Communion in remembrance of Christ (see verse 24). Though we must be reverent and must be appreciative of what Communion symbolizes, Communion also speaks of intimacy and fellowship. And so we look back. We look back to the cross. We remember what Christ accomplished for us. And we are reminded of His love for us.

 

Second, we are to look ahead. The Scriptures say to do this "until he comes again" (1 Corinthians 11:26). The first time Jesus came to this earth, He came as the Suffering Servant. The next time, He will come as the Conquering King. Communion is an observance to remind us that Jesus will come again.

 

Third, Communion is a time to look within. We are to look within and ask the Holy Spirit to show us any areas of our lives that may not be pleasing to God (see verse 28). Once we acknowledge these areas, we are to repent of these sins. To fail to do so and then to take part in Communion is to eat and drink damnation to yourself, as the King James Version renders it. Or, it is to eat and drink, "not honoring the body of Christ" (verse 29).

 

So come to the Communion table in joy. Come in reverence. Come in honesty. If there is something that isn't right, such as an old grudge or feelings of bitterness towards some individual, this is the time to deal with it. Communion is an ideal time to make things right, and to make a commitment or recommitment to Jesus Christ.

 

The Communion Meal (1 Corinthians 11)

According to 1 Corinthians 11:26, the frequency of communion is up to us. It should not be regulated ritualistically or otherwise. However, it does appear that the early Church observed the Lord’s Supper frequently (verses 17, 20, 33) or whenever Believers assembled together (verse 18). Moreover, in Luke 22:20, we discover that the disciples partook of the sacraments (bread and wine) sometime after their supper. Paul seems to support this practice when advising the Corinthians to satisfy their hunger at home (11:34), but then to “come together to eat” the Lord’s Supper (verse 33).

 

In my opinion, it is better to hold communion often in order to remember Christ’s atoning sacrifice on our behalf. This also encourages us to examine ourselves regularly as to whether or not we are worthy of partaking in the holy communion of the Saints.

 

Note: Because leaven symbolizes sin (Mat 16:6; Luk 12:1; 1 Cor 5:6-8; Gal 5:9), Communion should always be kept with unleavened bread (1 Cor 5:6-8). Jesus was our perfect Passover Lamb and He was without blemish (sin). The Communion meal is a memorial of this fact: Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth (1 Co. 5:6-8). Preparing Communion with unleavened meal will also enable us to explain the symbolic meaning of Communion to our children or the unbeliever. We will be able to tell them that Christ our Passover lamb was unblemished and without sin/leaven when partaking of the unleavened bread of Communion.

 

“Closed Communion”

The term closed Communion refers to the practice of restricting certain members of the Church from participating in the Lord’s Supper. To explain it simply, Communion should never be offered to a member of the Body known or suspected of living in sin. By our willingness to offer the holy sacraments to an unrepentant sinner, we are compromising their safety, which is not a loving action: For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep (1 Cor 11:29-30).

 

TITHING

Old Testament tithing was part of Israel’s tax code and was mandated under the Mosaic Law. It was to be distributed among the Levites as compensation for their service in the temple and also to be disbursed among the poor (Deut. 26:12). When adding up the total amount of tithes required of Israel annually, it appears that the Jews gave over 19% of the fruits of their land during five of the seven farming years and as much as 27% the other two years. Ten percent was to go toward the work of the temple, ten percent for festivals of worship, and ten percent every third year for the Levites and poor (Ex 29:28; Lev 27:30-32; Num 18:20-32; Deut 12:17; 14:22-29; 26:12).

 

Preachers are quick to remind their congregants about the importance of tithing ten percent of their weekly income to the church every Sunday. This ten percent figure, borrowed from Leviticus, is completely inaccurate because it doesn't reflect the actual sum total of the tithe required (as demonstrated above). Nor does it correspond to the same time frame by which the Old Testament tithe was due. Israel paid an annual tithe of as much as 27% percent while today's churches require a 10% cut from their members' weekly income.

 

But the question to ask is this. Is the model of Old Testament tithing still valid in the New Testament and therefore applicable to Christians? Read more...

FEET WASHING

Borrowed from an online source (in red)

In Bible times, the dusty and dirty conditions of the region and the wearing of sandals necessitated foot-washing. Although the disciples most likely would have been happy to wash Jesus' feet, they could not conceive of washing each other's feet. This was because in the society of the time, foot-washing was reserved for the lowliest of menial servants. Peers did not wash one another's feet, except very rarely and as a mark of great love. Luke points out (22:24) that the disciples were arguing about who was the greatest among them, an attitude that precludes a willingness to stoop to wash feet. When Jesus moved to wash their feet (see also John 13:1-16), they were shocked. His actions serve also as symbolic of spiritual cleansing (vs. 6-9) and a model of Christian humility (vs. 12- 17). By washing His disciples’ feet, Jesus taught the lesson of selfless service that was supremely exemplified by His death on the cross.

 

The foot-washing was an example, a pattern of servitude. Many groups throughout church history have practiced literal foot-washing as a church ordinance. But it's important to note that the passages in John 13 emphasize inner humility, more than a physical rite. A Christian widow's practice of "washing the feet of the saints" (1 Timothy 5:10) speaks not of her involvement in a church ordinance but of her humble, slave-like service to other Believers. To refuse to follow the example of Jesus is to exalt oneself above Him and to live in pride. “No servant is greater than his master” (John 12:26).

 

Today, the feet washing of the Saints is a symbolic ordinance that should underscore our willingness to serve others. Assemblies should choose to practice this command in a literal manner (washing each other's feet), while also demonstrating their willingness to carry out the practical servitude to which it points. On a personal note, I have always found feet washing with fellow Brethren to be an enriching and unifying experience and intend to continue practicing it with others who find similar value in it.

 

THE “HOLY KISS”

Greet one another with a holy kiss…Greet one another with a holy kiss… Greet one another with a holy kiss… Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss… Greet one another with the kiss of love (Rom 16:16; 1 Cor 16:20; 2 Cor 13:12; 1 Thes 5:26; 1 Pet 5:14).

 

The Jewish culture of Bible times was openly affectionate and emotional in their display of love, and even today it is similarly so. However, it could be that the gentile Believers or certain Jews of Paul's day struggled with this. And as a result, the Apostles often reminded the Believers to greet each other with a “holy kiss” in order to encourage this emblem of love. Since then, and for many centuries after, the Church has been practicing the “holy kiss” in compliance with the biblical injunction. Even today among the Anabaptists and Russian Pentecostals it is still an expected practice. Yet most Western evangelicals have long ago abandoned the “holy kiss” in exchange for the more formal handshake or pat on the back. While this is sad, it is also a very strong indicator of the waning atmosphere of love present in many Churches. It is a sign that we are growing much more formal and far less intimate in our interaction.

 

Note: It is the custom of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cultures to greet family and friends with a kiss on the cheek. This has been our own preferred method as it does not give the appearance of sexual misconduct or impropriety. For similar reasons, the holy kiss is an inappropriate gesture between unmarried individuals of the opposite sex since it violates the clear prohibition located in 1 Corinthians 7:1.

 

A HEALTHY FEAR OF GOD IN THE ASSEMBLY

And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things. And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things (Act 5:5; 11).

 

The story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 is a stark reminder of the concentrated presence of the Holy Spirit in the first century Church. When this couple attempted to deceive the Apostles concerning the sale of their land, they were immediately informed that they had lied, not to man, but to the Holy Spirit, and promptly dropped dead. This account then circulated among the Believers and great fear fell upon the Church as a consequence. It was this very fear that also caused many to repent of their sin and to realize that God was not to be trifled with, especially by those who were practicing their faith insincerely.

 

But what can we learn from this account today? Why have we no fear of God anymore? And why doesn't God dwell among us in the same awesome and frightening way evident in the first century Church? While the answer to these questions is uncomfortable, it’s also obvious. Clearly, we have resorted to playing make-believe church and have no interest in authentic Christianity— the kind involving sacrifice and suffering. We just want the warm emotional feelings that we invent in our social gatherings, nothing more. As a result, the presence of God is no longer with us, and neither is the fear of God. In the absence of the fear of God, which was indicative of the early Church, the alternative atmosphere is one that is casual, lukewarm, and even playful. Many of us are walking in blatant sin seemingly impervious to the consequences and we don't seem to mind it. We simply don't care that we have lost touch with the awe inspiring presence of the living God.

 

So to regain God's manifest presence in our Assemblies, we must begin living in the fear of God and order our lives by His Word.

 

COMMUNAL LIVING AND THE COMMON PURSE

There are Churches today that practice communal living and the common purse as a matter of Scriptural command. They will usually point to the book of Acts and the example of the first century Church as justification for this practice. But could it be that the examples in Acts are taken out of context? Let’s find out by examining the following passages:

 

And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common (Act 2:44-45; 4:32).

 

If read carefully, the above verses fail to prove that the early Church put their money into a “common purse” or that they forfeited personal stewardship of property in favor of shared possessions. What we do find is that the need present, i.e. the poor in the Church, necessitated a sacrificial act of giving by those who were able—the wealthy. And in order to give in accordance with the need, those who could, sold their excess possessions and distributed the proceeds among the poor. No one in the Church had the attitude that because they owned something, they weren’t going to share it with others. They realized that everything they owned ultimately belonged to God and was not intrinsically theirs. Therefore they were willing to share as the need arose.

 

The New Testament provides plenty of evidence to counter the practice of communal living and the common purse. Just notice the following scriptures which support the idea of personal stewardship:

 

Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7).

 

Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth (Eph 4:28).

 

But by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality (2 Cor 8:14).

 

Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come (1 Cor 16:1-2).

 

Clearly, the above verses prove that the early Church was expected to have full stewardship over their own finances. Yet besides what we’ve already demonstrated, there are many other biblical examples where the apostles were not only given personal stewardship of money, but were also in possession of their own homes and property (Mark 10:30; Act 2:46; 1 Cor 16:19; Rom 16:4-5; Philemon 2; Col 4:15).

 

So what does this tell us? Simply that the teaching of communal living and the common purse are not supported in the Holy Word.

 

Special Note: There is a type of community lifestyle that will be necessary during the coming tribulation period because of the cashless society even now emerging. Yet this “living together” will not necessarily require a common purse or the joint ownership of all property. It will, however, involve an exchanging of goods and skills and caring for each member of the Body as we seek to find ways to survive the changing climate of a devolving world.

 

EXCOMMUNICATION

Borrowed from an online source (in red).

Excommunication is the final step in Church discipline. Church discipline is the process of correcting sinful behavior among members of a local church for the purpose of protecting the church, restoring the sinner to a right walk with God, and renewing fellowship among church members. In some cases, church discipline can proceed all the way to excommunication, which is the formal removal of an individual from church membership and the informal separation from that individual.

 

Matthew 18:15–20 gives the procedure and authority for a church to practice church discipline. Jesus instructs us that an individual (usually the offended party) is to go to the offending individual privately. If the offender refuses to acknowledge his sin and repent, then two or three others go to confirm the details of the situation. If there is still no repentance—the offender remains firmly attached to his sin, despite two chances to repent—the matter is taken before the church. The offender then has a third chance to repent and forsake his sinful behavior. If at any point in the process of church discipline, the sinner heeds the call to repent, then “you have gained your brother” (verse 15, ESV). However, if the discipline continues all the way through the third step without a positive response from the offender, then, Jesus said, “let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (verse 17, ESV).

 

The process of church discipline is never pleasant just as a father never delights in having to discipline his children. Sometimes, though, church discipline is necessary. The purpose of church discipline is not to be mean-spirited or to display a holier-than-thou attitude. Rather, the goal of church discipline is the restoration of the individual to full fellowship with both God and other believers. The discipline is to start privately and gradually become more public. It is to be done in love toward the individual, in obedience to God, and in godly fear for the sake of others in the church.

 

The Bible’s instructions concerning church discipline imply the necessity of a member’s participation in a local assembly. The church and its pastor are responsible for the spiritual well-being of a certain group of people (members of the local church), not of everyone in the city. In the context of church discipline, Paul asks, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?” (1 Corinthians 5:12). The candidate for church discipline has to be “inside” the church and accountable to the church. He professes faith in Christ yet continues in undeniable sin.

 

The Bible gives an example of church discipline in a local church—the church of Corinth (1 Corinthians 5:1–13). In this case, the discipline led to excommunication, and the apostle Paul gives some reasons for the discipline. One is that sin is like yeast; if allowed to exist, it spreads to those nearby in the same way that “a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough” (1 Corinthians 5:6–7). Also, Paul explains that Jesus saved us so that we might be set apart from sin, that we might be “unleavened” or free from that which causes spiritual decay (1 Corinthians 5:7–8). Christ’s desire for His bride, the church, is that she might be pure and undefiled (Ephesians 5:25–27). The testimony of Christ Jesus (and His church) before unbelievers is important, too. When David sinned with Bathsheba, one of the consequences of his sin was that the name of the one true God was blasphemed by God’s enemies (2 Samuel 12:14).

 

Hopefully, any disciplinary action a church takes against a member is successful in bringing about godly sorrow and true repentance. When repentance occurs, the individual can be restored to fellowship. The man involved in the 1 Corinthians 5 passage repented, and Paul later encouraged the church to restore him to full fellowship with the church (2 Corinthians 2:5–8). Unfortunately, disciplinary action, even when done correctly and in love, is not always successful in bringing about restoration. Even when church discipline fails to bring about repentance, it is still needed to accomplish other good purposes such as maintaining a good testimony in the world.

 

We have all likely witnessed the behavior of a youngster who is always allowed to do as he pleases with no consistent discipline. It is not a pretty sight. Nor is the overly permissive parent truly loving, for a lack of guidance dooms the child to a dismal future. Undisciplined, out-of-control behavior will keep the child from forming meaningful relationships and performing well in any kind of setting. Similarly, discipline in the church, while never enjoyable or easy, is necessary at times. In fact, it is loving. And it is commanded by God.

 

REIMAGINING CHURCH

In this final section, we will try to envision what a “normal” Church would look like if it were practicing the reality found and described in the New Testament. But before we do, let’s briefly revisit the traditional church setting in order to compare the two and really appreciate the contrast.

 

Culturally Relevant Church

Borrowed from an online source (in red).

Dressed in their Sunday best, the members of the church made their way down to the building with the sign out front that read, "First Church of Christ". The usher by the door was ready with a broad smile and a handful of bulletins containing the sermon topic for the day, "How To Overcome Anxiety in a Frenzied World", and the name of the class that would meet later that evening, "Divorce Recovery".

 

Everyone filed in, sat down in neat rows, eyes forward, and waited for the choir director to start the service. They sang three songs, sang another song, passed the offering plate, and listened to a choir ‘special’. Then the ‘pastor’, looking resplendent in a shiny blue, three-piece suit, with a really great silk tie, took to the pulpit and delivered a comforting, somewhat humorous, thirty minute sermon. Everyone felt good about what they had heard and complimented the dear man on what a splendid job he had done, and then they all went to lunch.

 

Pastor Joe was relieved that no one was uncomfortable with what he had said and felt sure that most of them would return the following week. And in the satisfaction of a job well done, he soon forgot about the whole thing and began to think about something really important, his golf game (his putting had been terrible the past several weeks).

 

Biblical Ekklesia

One-by-one they entered the home of the young couple who volunteered to host this week’s meeting. The members greeted one another with a warm hug and a kiss on the cheek (the “holy kiss”). As they sat down in a circle around the living room, an elder Brother led out in prayer and the others eagerly joined in. The atmosphere was far from casual or relaxed and there was an earnest desire to experience the presence of God. Those assembled were concerned for the salvation of lost individuals, such as family members and loved ones, and interceded passionately for their redemption.

 

Last week, the service opened with a lengthy time of worship and singing, but this week the Lord was moving them to pray through some pressing issues that had recently developed.

 

After the prayer concluded, a number of testimonies were shared. Some shared their stories of spiritual victory, while others requested prayer for various needs and described their trials and burdens with refreshing transparency. Members were eager to encourage each other in whatever way they could and this was the time to do so.

 

Then a young sister stood up to deliver a prophetic message. No, not the kind we call “preaching”. This was a word from the Lord directed to the Assembly in respect to the compelling need of the hour. It was exact and filled with special detail, which only the Holy Spirit could reveal.

 

A few times during the meeting young mothers left the room to tend to their little children. The older children present enjoyed the meeting along with their peers, and were permitted to contribute like everyone else. In fact, they looked forward to it.

 

No one was concerned about the length of time or the exact format implemented, as this was a matter of the Spirit’s leading, not their own. They really wanted to be “fed” spiritually and to leave satisfied and full of joy.

 

Sometime later, a Brother was moved to speak a “word of wisdom” and the godly council shared was well received by everyone. Then after a stirring sermon delivered by one of the members, the service concluded with some more prayer. Prayer was central to all of their meetings and represented their ongoing relationship with God both inside and outside the Assembly. Those who were present realized that only prayer could summon the presence of the Holy Spirit.

 

When the meeting was finally over, everyone gathered to share an afternoon lunch. Last week the meeting lasted several hours. And the week prior, they spent the entire day fasting and praying corporately. Yes, they did this together too from time to time.

 

After lunch, it was decided they would partake in the Lord’s Supper, but they weren’t sure whether communion would take place again next week. This was something they left open to the spontaneous leading of the Holy Spirit. In fact, very little about their meetings was actually planned or programmed long in advance. The congregation was accustomed to allowing the presence of God to direct the flow of their meetings and was content to partake in whatever spiritual function the Lord was leading them into. After all, He was their Master, and they were simply present to do His bidding and to enjoy each other’s fellowship in the bond of unity and love.

 

Note: The members in this example are not satisfied to meet only once or twice a week as described, but rather multiple times throughout the week with regular, but varied frequency.

 

Now granted, perhaps the latter example of Church seems a bit idealistic and far too impractical. And maybe we even find it intimidating or uncomfortable compared to what we are generally accustomed to. If so, we should consider another example located in Acts 20 of a meeting very similar to the one just described. Consider the fact that on one occasion Apostle Paul was led by the Spirit to preach to a group of congregants well into midnight. This resulted in a certain young man perched atop a window ledge falling asleep and toppling to his death (Act 20:7-11). Yet Paul was not hindered by this. He simply prayed over the young man, raised him from the dead, and then proceeded to take up a spiritual dialogue with a cluster of men well into daybreak (v.11).

 

You see, while we may be unaccustomed to such meetings, this is precisely the way the early Church operated. They weren’t regulating meetings according to a timed schedule like we do nowadays. It was simply up to the Spirit’s leading. But to further compare the above two examples of Church, you may have already noticed that the first involved a well defined program—one that was quite formal and predictable. Also, the pastor was the main person “running the show”, and apart from the singing, the members were merely spectators. The atmosphere was casual and relaxed, and everyone knew exactly how things would proceed because there was very little variance between meetings. In essence, their “church” gathering was little more than a “spiritual” performance.

 

Now while many prefer to do Church in the manner of the first example, it is an affront to the Holy Spirit and to any who are sensitive to His leading. It is simply unacceptable. Genuine Believers who desire to experience the supernatural moving of God will never be satisfied with a “spiritual” routine. Instead, we desire to partake in a Church that is free from the usual humdrum of meaningless rituals. Because you see, if we follow the example of the New Testament Church then we are bound to witness a spontaneous, and yes, even supernatural movement of the Holy Spirit in our meetings. There will be revival! And the Church will grow and spread while many new converts are added to it.

The greatest revivals in history have transpired when godly men and women

chose to throw off formalistic constraints in order to invite God to move in a fresh and powerful way. When comparing the traditional style of “doing church" as opposed to the simple and uncluttered house fellowship method, we find the former to be much more clinical in its process. It shouldn’t surprise us then that with such a “sterile” environment revival is greatly hampered and God is unable to move beyond our pre-established proxies of scheduled activity and tidy programs. Revival simply cannot survive in these conditions. To have revival, we must be willing to return to the original pattern for Church located in the book of Acts and follow it unwaveringly.

 

CLOSING

I realize that many of you may be thinking that what I’ve presented thus far is a novel fairytale. You may be thinking that I’m being far too impractical to suggest that such Church gatherings are even possible. But friends, I assure you that I’ve witnessed several assemblies gather in this manner and practice all of what was described until now. I’ve experienced the supernatural presence of God when men and women decided to gather for the glory of God and to abandon human tradition. And I’ve personally observed the amazing function of the spiritual gifts when the Holy Spirit was allowed to move unrestricted. You see, if we are willing to confront the reality that our traditional way of church is a pagan substitute for the New Testament model, and if we really want to practice Church the Bible way, then we better be willing to modify our approach. Yes, not just a wee little bit, but drastically and dramatically. We need to be willing to “throw out the old wineskins” so that new wine can be poured into “new wine skins” (Mark 2:22). I hope this teaching encourages all of us to seek the real and living way over the “preferred method” of our day.

 

In Christ alone,

 

John A.