Last night, a small group gathered to hear the amazing teaching of Beresford Job from the U.K. who is travelling around the States this fall with his wife, Belinda, and daughter, Bethany. It’s always a treat to have the privilege to hear someone who has so thoroughly scrutinized the Word of God, looking only at Scripture, its origins, it’s language, structure, context and Divine inspiration without the influence of man’s interpretation (or misinterpretation, as the case may be). That being said, what follows are from my notes from last night’s teaching and I am just passing along these truths that have been misunderstood for way too long.
First of all, if we can know one thing about a church in the New Testament, we can, typically, know what is true of all the churches. i.e. scriptures addressing or referring to “all the churches,” “As in all the congregations of the saints” -1 Cor. 14:33b, etc. We also know that the apostles taught the same thing about everything. They didn’t each have their own version of how things should be done. There was consistency. In the NT, the test of if a church was truly a church was they were conforming to all the other churches.
So, 4 things in Scripture that characterizes the church of the New Testament:
- Leadership – For any institution to function, some form of “government” is needed. Even in marriage, there is a form of “government” necessary. In the Bible, the church leaders are referred to elders, bishops/overseers, pastors/shepherds. These terms are synonymous for the same people. Beresford told us to underline this: Scripture knows nothing of the pastor/minister of a church. Especially one brought in from the outside.Church government and decision-making was by consensus. Elders were part of the decision-making process but were not the decision-makers. Also, the church leaders were raised up from within the church, not brought in from elsewhere. There’s no “power pyramid” in Scripture. There are many little men, not a few “big” men and certainly no “expert” in charge of it all.
Whenever a church is located in Scripture, it’s located in the home, without exception. The church, by its purpose and Biblical example, is meant to be numerically small, which will shock most Christians as today’s church believes the bigger, the better. The design is small as opposed to big because of its purpose. Beresford offered the parallel of the purpose of an airplane. Its purpose is to fly people from one place to another therefore; it is designed to do so. If you remove the wings of the plane while it’s over the ocean, it becomes a rather ineffective submarine. If you change the design, you compromise its function. The function of the church: it’s an extended family of God’s people – “the household of God” (Eph. 2:19, 1 Tim. 3:15). If you’re a believer, you are literally my brother or sister; God is literally our Father. What is the church? A family. Again, another underline, Scripture has no knowledge of a church building. No church met elsewhere other that the home. Also, when joining the small church, you are delivered from two evils: a. churches in competition with each other and b. “Ego” leaders from the outside will go looking for other fish to fry.
3 & 4 address what happened when the church was gathered:
- There was a time of worship, prayer, teaching, sharing, ministering of the Spirit, et al. Many as possible would make small contributions to the gathering time as opposed to a few or one making a large contribution. Scripture has no knowledge of a church service. The church service was created in the 2nd century by church leaders and is not merely different from the original design, it is the opposite.
- They ate a meal together. The Lord’s Supper, the bridal supper, the love feast…it was a MEAL! The loaf and the cup were a part of the meal and stood in for the physical presence of Jesus. God’s Word says He’s there with us but until He eats with us in person, we remember His presence through the breaking of bread and drinking of the “cup” and we share a feast that looks forward to the wedding feast to come.
These four things define the New Testament church. Again, form follows function. The church’s function – God’s family. What do families do? They hang out, catch up, help each other, relate to one another, eat together, play together – this takes time! A church gathering is a family get-together. Picture a family get-together with Granddad at the front of the room in front of rows of chairs and he offers a pep talk to the family. A couple of others give a few comments, announcements, and then everyone goes home. Ironically, some family members will meet at a restaurant or home for lunch. (I think we know instinctively inside this is how it’s suppose to be). Unfortunately, in institutional church, many “family members” are excluded from the cliques gathering for the Sunday lunch. That’s because the family has become dysfunctional. Dysfunctional family = unbiblical church (remember – you change the form, you compromise the function). Today’s church is the real church, it’s just dysfunctional. Try having fellowship with 500 of your closest friends.
In the Bible, there is no salary for ministering. There are scriptures used to justify this; “a worker is worth his hire,” etc. but these are NOT referring to the function of the church gathering. We need to get back to making the Scripture the final authority on church life. We’ve bought into the idea that the Bible is the final authority on everything but church life.
“What about digging into deep doctrines?” Daily study and teaching doesn’t belong in the Lord’s Day gathering. Teaching happened! But not on Sunday. There was sharing, testimony, singing, praying. Some make the argument that the New Testament church gathered in homes because they were underground. That’s simply not true. Some were, but the persecution was spasmodic and had not become widespread until later. Not all churches were persecuted. There is no instance of the church gathering in a building. Some will say “but the church building is a lighthouse to the community.” Um, that’s not what Jesus said. We’re to “live such good lives among the pagans that they see your good works and praise our Father in heaven.” Paul would rent a hall for teaching. Peter would evangelize. Interestingly enough, every religion at the time worshiped in a building. Christians were considered atheists since they didn’t meet in a building. They were asked, “Where does your God live?” They could have but didn’t. And yet, there was no time the church spread more. Relying on a building is a mistake. They met in houses because that’s what the apostles taught them. There were no denominations.
How can small churches “cough up” all of the ministries needed? “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Eph. 4:11-13 Word got out about Paul without a building. Churches in Greece got finances together to help the Jerusalem during famine. Ministry is NEVER hierarchal. We’ve made the mistake of relying on ministries to do the works of service rather than people…families working together as God’s family.
A little history – in 95 A.D., Clement of Rome said, “Let’s have a priesthood.” Your relationship with God depended on your relationship with a bishop. In 150 A.D., the priesthood decided if you were a Christian or not. These are the roots of today’s institutional church. No wonder it doesn’t look like a family.
Beresford noted that whatever the current move of God is, it’s considered bizarre, weird, off the wall, and peculiar. That’s been the case throughout history. Home church, or house church, is considered the “lunatic fringe” right now, except in China where it’s been growing at an unstoppable rate. And, wouldn’t you know, China has more Christians than America, now. Hmmmm. Coincidence?
There’s also something to be said for the house church’s sustainability – “Divorce isn’t’ an option.” You won’t have fewer problems you will have more but you’ll have the problems that sanctify you.
Evangelism isn’t the job of the church; it’s the job of Christians. The job of the church is the same as family – to nurture, love and support its members. Church growth should not be a measuring stick. Healthy church is measured by the Gospel going out through its relationships.
TODAY’S PRAYER FOR OUR CHILDREN: Father God, I pray our children will read Your Word with open eyes and open heart. I pray they are teachable and will love You and Your Word so much, they will earnestly seek Your Truth as they grow in wisdom and discernment. In Jesus, amen.