The Church as if was Meant to be

Posted: December 13, 2008 by Matthew Hussey in Uncategorized
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It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything on this blog. I’ve been trying to keep more regular updates of my adventures in South Africa on my own blog page:
But this article here is one of my favorites and I think I would like to share it with you all!
Recently, as part of the discipleship process we’ve been going through, we are learning how to live interdependently and live as God’s church. More than just “going” to church, but actively deciding to “be” the church. About two weeks ago we had a session specifically looking at the church and what God commands his church to do. We started out by looking at what the church today does. For example the people usually gather in a building (large or small), sing worship songs (maybe dance a little, raise their hands), hear a sermon, give a testimony, tithe; we sometimes greet each other, make announcements, do special programs: prayer meetings, youth groups, small groups, Sunday School, Baptisms, dedications, weddings, potluck meals, and all that stuff. Then we looked at what the church building has: sounds system, instruments (anywhere from a piano, to guitar, to organ, to a praise band, to an African drum), pews, Bibles, hymnals, bulletins, decorations (crucifixes, candles, flowers, lighting). Then of course there are the people: sometimes well dressed, or just casual, sometimes all white or all black or mixed. Often times there are multiple services, maybe for different languages or different venues (contemporary or traditional, or for different speakers). Some people have an important role to play: pastors, worship leaders, announcement makers, office and administration, sound people, ushers, greeters. Others just come and participate, but don’t play as active a role. Some will only come once a year, others come three or more times a week for various things. All in all there is a lot of variety, even in the specifically “Christian” churches I’ve seen. And I’ve never even been to a Catholic or Eastern Orthodox Christian church.
Anyways the real challenge came when we took our rather large list of stuff that the modern church is or does and compared it with what is “Biblical,” or what God specifically commanded us to do. And honestly there wasn’t all that much stuff left after we got down to it. I think we can all agree that the term “church” has been a little confused. Church is not in a building, nor is it a formal establishment. It is merely a group of believers who follow Christ gathering together to fulfill God’s commands. What did Jesus command us to do? First, “Repent and be baptized…and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Second, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Thirdly (I would say this part expounds on what Jesus already commanded: and that is to love):”Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” and “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” and “if anyone would come after me he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” And that is everything that Jesus commanded his church to do. And if you look at the church, as it was first developing that was exactly what they did: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer…Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need…they broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.” It’s interesting to note that this church had just grown to several thousand people large in only a few days. Yet in Acts 4:32-35 it says “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had…There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales, and put it at the apostles’ feet.”

What an amazing testimony! Of all the thousands of people that just became Christians there was not a single needy person among them! Even Jesus said there will always be poor people, and yet for a time there were none among this church! What I really love about the early church is how simply things really were. I mean they didn’t need some formal building with decorations and hymnals. Of course they met as a large group to worship and to hand out the money so everyone would be provided for. But I also love how they ate together and met together “with glad and sincere hearts.” How far we have gone from that today! Most churches you would be lucky to know the names of everyone, much less have a deep relationship with them.

So how exactly do we get back to that original church? Well I don’t exactly have a three step process that’s been tested and approved by the latest and greatest pastors and evangelists of the century. Basically I just say do what they did, and apply what the Bible actually says, not what tradition dictates. Devote yourselves to the “apostles’ teachings:” which are really the teachings of Christ. Let them lead you and guide you. I’m not trying to say that people should leave their current churches and do something new. Really it doesn’t matter where you are in life, you can apply what the Bible teaches and become the church that Jesus intended for us to be.
This topic is one that has been near and dear to my heart recently, so there will hopefully be more to come soon! Thanks for listening!

  1. Matt, I appreciate hearing from you my friend. Glad to hear things are going well in South Africa. I just wanted to share a few things about your post. I agree with everything you said, but was curious about a few things that weren’t elaborated on in your post…
    – You mentioned baptism with Peter’s words in Acts as a command for the church. I would also go to Jesus’ commission in Matthew where the church is instructed to baptize, disciple, and to teach those things that they had been taught by Jesus. You rightly mentioned the Apostles’ doctrine and need for instruction.
    – You didn’t really elaborate on the role of leaders in the church. Elders and Deacons are God’s idea, not man’s (as is sometimes thought from bitter folks today). In Ephesians, Paul tells us that Jesus has gifted the church with gifted folks who fill certain positions, like pastor, for the purpose of building others up. The church is also empowered with Spiritual gifts to edify one another.
    – I think you recognize the value of the things mentioned…but I just want to caution you a bit towards those who say that they are about “being” the church. There are some who rationalize that it is right to just reject what they call the “institutional” church while setting up church in their home. The only problem with such folks is that they usually disdain the role of governing offices within the church as being some form of man-made hierarchy when it is really God’s intention for the sanctification of our souls.

    I have a background in Pentecostalism and Reformed churches, among others, and have an Ecclesiology (study of the church) that I think best respects each tradition. I am theologically charismatic and therefore believe that all members of Christ’s body are gifted in various capacities to edify one another through fellowship. I also believe in the primacy of the Word and Sacrament (Baptism and Communion) as being primary and ordinary means of grace in the life of the believer. I also believe that Elder/Shepherds are to care for the flock of God and build them up…thus discipling and aiding in sanctification. Deacons also serve various needs in the church to make sure that we are caring for the household of God.

    Sadly, Matt, I rarely find all such emphases in one church. None are perfect. I strive to be a “Biblically” defined church that honors God. I also realize the gravity of my role as Pastor/Shepherd. I see each soul as entrusted to my and the elders’ care, for which we will have to give an account. I take to heart the Biblical warning, “Let not many of you be teachers for you will fall under a stricter account” (paraphrase).

    One thing we agree on is that we should “do” church in a flippant or presumptive fashion but should fall on our faces and look to that great Shepherd of our souls and great high priest, JESUS, and take our cues from Him.

  2. joelmartin says:

    I think the intentions behind this post are good, but I have see some problems with the central idea. You wrote: “So how exactly do we get back to that original church?” Well, where are we commanded to do that? It seems to me that we Protestants in the USA have been trying in one way or another to recreate the “New Testament Church” for centuries and guess what? It just leads to more and more groups that all end up in about the same place.

    I think this approach ignores the role of the Holy Spirit in abiding with the Church and guiding her through history. Jesus didn’t leave the Church orphaned, he left her with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit guided that early Church through its Bishops and Presbyters. The Church should continue to mature, which means faithfully living out all of God’s commands and learning from the entire history of the Church.

    And really, there was no “NT Church.” There were all kinds of different groups. Corinth seems to be very different from Rome or Jerusalem or Antioch. The 7 churches in Revelation were all over the map spiritually. So which one are we supposed to imitate?

    Just some thoughts. If you read American history, you’ll see group after group trying to reclaim this “NT Church.” It led Peter Gillquist and his bunch into Eastern Orthodoxy, early Mormons into Mormonism, and on and on.

  3. Good points Joel…I have longed thought that Pentecostalism best represented the early church from Acts 2 only to realize that all groups have various strengths that align well with the early church. I believe in the catholicity of the church and would therefore see all believers as being the church in a Universal sense…as such, I am comforted by what I see in the “Church”, but also acknowledge that if Jesus wrote letters to each church today, most would be chastened about something.

  4. Rick,
    I thank you so much for the comments that you wrote, it’s been so nice to be able to discuss these things in the open, when I feel like so much is kept in the dark and ignored in our culture today.
    1.) Jesus’ words are absolutely essential for our church today, I didn’t deliberately omit them, but had just focused on that passage of Acts, and wasn’t really thinking of this passage at the time.
    2.) Again I wish I had commented on the role of elders, deacons, and other leadership before, that is essentially what most people end up arguing about. I agree whole-heartedly that God has appointed some people to be leaders in the church, he has appointed some deacons, and he has given all sorts of other gifts listed throughout the NT for all the members of the church. The purpose of all these gifts is the building up of the church as a whole. I agree that such roles exist, but I don’t think that they have to exist in the way we see them today. Personally (please feel free to disagree) I don’t believe that someone has to get a college education to be in the role of an elder, deacon, or pastor of the church. If the role is “God-appointed,” then God will lead that person through whatever “education” they need. Paul says in Galatians 1:10: “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” And if preachers are called by God, then they don’t need any human thing to be justified in preaching, it is God who justifies. Not to say that “anyone” can be a pastor, there must still be a calling and a testing (which for some maybe includes going to college), but I think we have put a very “human” requirement on a heavenly appointed position.
    Some people worry about the affects of having teachers without a college degree. Wouldn’t they just preach anything they want? Couldn’t they spread heresy throughout the church and cause it to splinter and fall apart? The argument is much exaggerated, because the reality is most of the problems in the Western church today don’t come from people without college degrees, but the people with them! Yes, those who are teachers are held to a higher standard before God. But just because someone doesn’t get a formal education does it mean that they can’t help to build up the church. And God just seems to use people from humble backgrounds all the time in the Bible: anywhere from a poor Galilean carpenter, to a Shepherd boy, to a group of fisherman. Interestingly enough, it’s the people who are “wise” by the standards of this age who get humbled the most: I think of Saul/Paul who traded his right to leadership and authority with the Pharisees to die a martyr’s death for the foolishness of the gospel he preached. That is what I mean when I say I want us to go back to the early church. We need leaders like Paul, not just ready to die for the gospel, but willingly giving up everything for the sake of convincing other’s of the great worth of Jesus Christ.
    3.) Joel, I do see your point of view about the problems with “going back to the NT church.” And honestly I don’t think there should be any church set as a perfect example for us to follow. All we can do is to point out where certain churches have done things right or wrong and learn from them. The reason why I think we need to look back to the first NT church, was because the Holy Spirit moved powerfully in that time as people genuinely repented of their sins and many sold everything they had, only to be persecuted by the Jewish and Roman authorities and scattered across the world. They were probably one of the only churches to get it right about taking care of the poor. For them it wasn’t about giving a tithe once a week to a church and walking away satisfied at accomplishing their duty, but they sacrificed everything they had (literally) for the love of Christ. Today we enjoy perhaps a few too many privileges in this nation. There is so little persecution that we don’t have a need to hope in a heaven. Rather we have put our hope in this life, and we have money and material things for gods. I would like to see not a revival based not a set of rules resulting in another denomination, but a heartfelt revolution that leads to social action and caring for the poor: something to demonstrate the love of Christ in a new and significant way to the cultures around us. If we are a “Christian” nation, then why can’t Christians either start living up to the gospel they preach or else be rejected for their hypocisy?
    4.) Lastly, Shane Claiborne comments on a quote from Augustine in The Irresistible Revolution: “For those of us who have nearly given up on the church, may we take comfort in words of St. Augustine: ‘The church is a whore, but she’s my mother.’ She is a mess and has many illegitimate children…(but) we still love her.” And I don’t think that the church is beyond saving either. I think that there are many wrong things about the church that still need to be changed. You’re right Rick in saying that Jesus would have a lot of bad things to say about the church today, but the answer is never to just leave her behind. I am encouraged to hear reports of where the church is growing the most: China and and other Asian countries, where persecution is deadly. I wish that the American church could join them in their suffering for their gospel. Perhaps then we would see revival finally take root again.

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