There is a great need today for a study of churches. Most Christians know that there is something wrong today with the churches, but yet it seems that very few can put their finger on the problem, and still fewer can find the solution. I know of some that seem to know what is wrong with the organized system, but have not found the right way for a church to function.
Since God has no other plan or program for the world than the true churches, it behooves us to find out what a true church is, and how it functions.
To begin with, we must decide whether or not we accept the Bible as our only and sufficient guide in this matter. It makes a lot of difference whether you start with that premise, because if you do not, then of course you can add and plan and prepare programs and do many things, to amplify what God is doing in the world. But if the Holy Spirit shows you that the New Testament is a sufficient guide for rightly conducting a church, and that anything not found there is too much, then of course this surrounds you with limitations. In other words not only is the New Testament a sufficient guide for our personal Christian lives, but also for a church. No additional thing is needed. We cannot accept such reasons as, "Times have changed", or "Young people are different", or "We have more means of communication", or "These are more modern times", or "We live in a scientific age", or any similar explanation for practices in a church. Everything must be in accord with the New Testament. And so it is very important to decide once and for all whether the New Testament tells us enough about a church. If it does, then we have to govern everything we do by what we find in the New Testament.
Some people use the term "invisible church", and we know what they mean: the general or universal church, or the church made up of believers of all times. But their choice of words is not good. The church does touch down in certain localities in what we call local groups, fellowships, churches, or assemblies, It does not matter about the term. The New Testament justifies all of these terms.
How are these local groups formed? Often we hear talk of organizing a church. Recently while in Venezuela, I learned that the denomination with which I was once affiliated has set a goal for 200 churches by 1980. They have a plan to organize. Some even decide in what cities they will be located. How can men decide the date, or place, or number of churches the Lord wants? This is in the hands of almighty God, and all Christians have to do is obey the Now Testament, and these groups will come into being. It is God's work to form a New Testament church.
ARE THESE ASSEMBLIES ORGANIZATIONS OR ORGANISMS?
Most Christians readily agree that the church is an organism. And yet many say, "But we have to have a certain form of organization for it to function." And in a sense they are saying, "But we have to help God. Is God not able to give enough light to a group of people so, that the group can function properly without organization? Actually, the Bible gives organization no place whatever in church life. it has no place at all. God does not want it. A church is always shown to be an organism in the New Testament. This is very important, because when a group makes the most simple organization and continues in it, it will eventually became exactly like other secular churches, Only a little organization will lead right back into apostasy. Organization has a way of demanding more organization, and then more. It is very important to decide whether or not we are going to believe that God can function in a group of people as an organism, giving them the life of Christ by the Holy Spirit, without any organization, or whether or not we are going to have to have some organization. The very dictionary definitions of the two words ought to show us which a church should be. Webster says that an organization is "individuals systematically united for some work". Whereas he says that an organism is "a living body". If you take the dictionary definitions, and then take the Scriptures, and compare what they say, you will discover that a church is not a group of individuals systematically put together to do some work, but rather a living body.
For as the body is one, and bath many members, and all the members of that, one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were 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. For the body is not one member, but many. (I Corinthians 12:12-14)
For as we have many members In one body, And all members have not the same Office so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. (Romans 12:4)
The Scripture is clear. Every Christian is a member in a body, and that body is the body of Christ, and thus a living organism. Nothing here hints of organization.
And bath put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be the head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all. (Ephesians 1:22,23)
This Scripture is enough to tell us that God doesn't accept anything that calls itself "church" being an organization. It is an organism. Christ is the Head, the church is His body - a living organism.
He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the walk of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about by every wind of doctrine. (Ephesians 4:12-14a.
Anyone who says that the church needs to organize is giving you a wind of doctrine. It is not Biblical, no matter how simple the organization.
...by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive. (Ephesians 4:14b)
To be sure, all may not know they are doing this, but if any man says the church has to be an organization he is not basing his teaching on the New Testament. You cannot find one verse that tells you any church needs organization. It is the body of Christ. It is a living organism, and functions without the addition of any man's organization.
But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into Him In all things, which is the Head, even Christ; (Ephesians 4:15)
We see a body growing up, into all things, into Christ, which is the Head.
From whom the whole body, fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh Increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love. (Ephesians 4:16)
Over and over the Holy Spirit shows us that the church is a body, the church grows like a body, the church has life like a body, the church is directed by Christ as the Head of the body, and it functions as A body.
This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of your mind. (Ephesians 4:17)
In other words, do not reason out of your own mind as to how a church ought to be. That is the way lost people walk, (Gentiles) in the vanity of their minds, reasoning about things. How are we to get truth? Out of the Bible, taught by the Holy Spirit.
Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their hearts. Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness and greediness. But ye have not so learned Christ; if so be that ye have heard Him, and have been taught by Him, as the truth in Jesus: that ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to deceitful lusts; and be renewed In the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man which after God is created in righteousness, and true holiness. Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man the truth with his neighbor: far we are members one of another. (Ephesians 4:18-25.
We are members of a body - of one another. We see clearly in this passage that the church is a body.
For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. (Ephesians 5:30) And He is the Head of the body, the church. (Colossians 1:18a)
How can anyone ever think of the church as an organization? The Bible says so plainly and so many times that it is a body, and that Christ is its Head.
He is the Read of the body, the church; who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things He might have the preeminence. (Colossians 1:18.
Christ does not have the preeminence in an organization. He has preeminence in the living body where He is the Head. Organizations run dry and go into error. He has the preeminence only in His body. Now the same idea from a little different slant.
In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple In Lord, in whom ye also are build together inhabitation of God through the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:21.
Here the Holy Spirit changes the illustration. Instead of calling the church a body, He calls it a temple, or building And you might immediately think this is an organization. But I want you to notice the passage very carefully that this is a temple, or building, which the Holy Spirit builds. He is talking about spiritual things, not about material things. In the Old Testament they built two physical temples under God's command, These physical temples fulfilled their purposes for God in that epoch, but they are also illustrations of a spiritual temple that God was going to build later on, and which He is building in our day. When you think of this temple, let your mind only think of a spiritual temple. This spiritual temple is the church. And spiritual things must be built by the Holy Spirit. There is nothing physical about it at all, nothing mechanical, nothing man organized. It is something the Holy Spirit is building. Look at the verse again in that light.
In whom all the building fitly framed together, groweth into an holy Temple in the Lord, in whom ye also are build together for an habitation of God through the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:21-22)
A spiritual temple is the picture of an organism, not an organization.
Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? (I Corinthians 3:16)
Earlier in this chapter Paul distinguishes between the Christian working by human and by divine measures. He talks about building materials for this temple. He says there is going to be a test of fire on these materials. He gives you six, and tells you to choose those that will not burn up. The three that will not burn are gold, silver, and precious stones. These illustrate God's work through true believers. The three that will burn are wood, hay and stubble, which illustrate man-made or fleshly doings, They will be burned up. Then comes this dynamic question: "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?.
It is as if he asks, "Why do you want to do things in man's way when you are indwelt by the Holy Spirit? Why are you putting your thoughts and your actions to it, trying to do God's work in man's way? You are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and have His direction and His power." It is so evident that the church is a spiritual temple, directed by the indwelling Holy Spirit in the life of each believer.
If I tarry long, that thou Mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God. (I Timothy 3:15a)
I have heard that verse used to tell you that you ought to know how to behave in a church building. It is not talking about a building at all. It tells you this.
... which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth (I Timothy 3:15b)
It doesn't take much perception to see that Paul is talking to Timothy about spiritual things. He is not talking about brick and mortar. He is not even talking about anything organized He is talking about spiritual things, and is saying that Christians form' the house of God. That is where God lives, he says. That is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. So we have again the church likened to a spiritual house.
When a person is born again he is put into the church. and we need desperately to learn how to function spiritually today, and to clear our minds once and for all of man's ways and man's doings and man's organization.
THE COMPOSITION OF A LOCAL ASSEMBLY
What is the composition of it? Is it made of Christians, lost people, or a mixture? Whatever it is made of, that is what it ought to be when it meets. If it is the body of Christ, then it is made up of Christians and no one else. A local assembly is a gathering of born again people. God never intended for it to be a mixture. Just as you cannot put a lost person into the body of Christ, you should not want a lost person in a meeting of the body of Christ. And therefore, all of this thing we have in the world about going out and inviting lost people to "church" is absolutely in opposition to Scripture. You cannot justify it by one verse in the New Testament. There is nothing in the New Testament about bringing a lost person into a meeting of the body.
There are some very real reasons why it should be a meeting of Christians only. And the main thing is that, that which Christians need done for them in order to be light and salt in the world, is not going to take place if there is a mixture when they meet. Some people say, "Well, aren't you interested in lost people?". And I answer, "I am so interested in them, that I want them to hear the gospel. And I know that in order for them to hear the true gospel, there must be some meetings of Christians." If Christians don't meet, they are not going to be quickened. They will not have anything then they go out into the world of lost people. Therefore, it is very important to lost people that Christians rediscover how a church meets.
What is the purpose then, of any local assembly meeting? From the New Testament standpoint, why did God ordain Christians to have gatherings in local places? His purpose was this: that they meet to receive quickening, and direction from Christ as to what He wants His people to do. Do you think a lost person presence will help that? No, it will impede the work of the Holy Spirit. When a group of people meet in the name of Christ, no one is neutral. Everyone either accelerates the moving of the Holy Spirit or impedes His moving. If you invite lost people to your meetings, they will only "put brakes on." Therefore, the purpose for which you have met will not be fully accomplished. You have met that you might receive life from your Head, and that you might receive direction and guidance as to what He wants you to do. You will not get this if you have a mixture.
Suppose two nations are at war. "Do not forget that Christians are at war with the powers of Satan. we are in a spiritual war in the world." If two nations are at war, what would you think of a general who called all his top officers to a conference for strategy and invited several of the enemy officers into the meeting. Does that make sense? You would wonder on whose side he was fighting. It is more important than ever before that we Christians have some meetings. It does not matter if they are not large. More will be accomplished in the world with two Christians meeting in the power of the Holy Spirit than two thousand meeting mixed with lost people. We need those strategy meetings in which the Holy Spirit will direct and guide, and give the wisdom of Christ.
Small wonder that the so-called "church" is so dead today. It has gone out and brought the enemy in, in mass, so that now the enemy runs it. In fact, it has gotten so bad, that in most meetings that are called church meetings, the Christians present are a very small minority. Most of the "members" are lost.
What would you do if a lost man comes in? You would be courteous and considerate, not rude. And you would go right along with your meeting. One of two things will happen. He will either soon be converted, or he will not want to came back. If the meeting is what it should be, a lost person will be very uncomfortable. You don't invite anyone out of your meeting unless he causes unusual disturbance. The point is, you don't encourage them to come.
We have learned the ways of the traditional system out of which we came. It has brainwashed us. We get anxious for our loved ones, and think we have to invite them to "church". But they soon begin to feel out of place, and stop coming. Even a Christian that is walking far from the Lord feels uncomfortable in a meeting of Christians until he gets his heart right, That is why it is not uncommon to hear prayers of confession in the meetings. The church meeting was not intended to be a meeting of a mixture of lost people and Christians. It is a meeting of Christians only.
Let us remember this, that lost people do not come to Christ by seeing and hearing Christians in their meetings, but by seeing and hearing Christ in their daily lives. And we do not exemplify this power of Christ if we do not constantly meet with fellow believers to be quickened and directed by the Holy Spirit. Therefore; the composition of a local assembly is of Christians and their dependent children.
THE SIZE OF THE LOCAL CHURCH
What are the numbers that are needed? Few or unto? The Bible says few; the world says many. The world says the more you can get under one roof, the more you can prove that God is blessing. The Bible plays down the numbers. God always works through quality, the devil through quantity. Always! And you can find it right across the pages of Scripture. The Jewish people were God's chosen people to carry out certain purposes, supposed to be directed by God, through a king chosen by God. And then one day this king got into fleshly thinking.
And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel. (I Chronicles 21:1)
How much clearer Scripture could you want than this? Here we see Satan as the author of numbers. And where there is an emphasis on getting numbers to the church meetings, I am inclined to believe the same one is provoking someone who provoked David. Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.
And David said to Joab and to the rulers of the people, Go, number Israel from Beersheba even to Dan; and bring the number of them to me, that I may know it. And Joab answered, the Lord make his people a hundred times so many more as they be: but, my, lord the king, are they not all my lord's servants? Why then doth my lord require this thing? Why will he be a cause of trespass in Israel? (I Chronicles 21:2,3)
This general knew that David was wrong in wanting to count Israel. In essence he said, "I would that God would multiply your people a hundred times. I would be happy. But why will you make the nation to trespass against God by counting the Why was David counting them?" He wanted to know how many soldiers he had. He stopped trusting God against the enemy, and thought that the number of his soldiers would be the guarantee of his success. How awful that some groups today think they can conquer the enemy by getting large numbers into their buildings. The fad today for wanting to count and wanting to get hundreds and thousands in, comes from the devil. It does not come from God. A casual reading of the Bible will show that God always does His work through what He calls a "remnant". A little handful.
Enter go in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which to in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth into life, and few there be that find it. (Matthew 7:13,14)
Here we have Jesus Christ giving the difference between quantity and quality. He emphasizes that quantity is the broad way that leads to destruction. (Mark.
Quality is that which leads to God. Few find it. Now when Jesus saw great multitudes about him, he gave commandment to depart unto the other side. (Matthew 8:18.
That was strange, was it not? We wouldn't do that today. If we had great numbers we would try to think of some way to organize and to get them to go out and get that many more. Jesus saw the multitudes and said, "Let us cross over to the other side." He knew that when the multitudes came, they were not coming for the right motive.
Then Jesus sent the multitudes away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field. (Matthew 13:36)
Here we find Jesus continuing to teach, and the question arises, "If He is going to spend the rest of the day teaching, why did He send the multitudes away? He sent them away, and went into the house and taught a handful. What a strange thing to do. Why didn't He want all the crowd to hear that wonderful teaching? Because the crowd could not take such teaching. He sent them away, took a few, and taught them. This is backwards from the way organized religion does it.
For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:20)
Here Jesus is talking about a church. This is one of the few times He takes direct reference to it. He put the quorum low., He says where two or three are gathered together in my name, Do you know why I think He did it that way? Because if He moves one couple to a new, city, He does not intend for them to look for an organization. If they cannot find an organism there, they have one. They carried it with them! Because where there is a husband and his wife, there is A quorum, and they can start meeting. There is no need to look for an organization. "Where two or three are gathered in my name..." He promises to be there. Would you rather be in a meeting with two or three people with Christ present, or with two or three thousand without Him. And I do not mean by this that He can't go to two or three thousand, but I am saying He Himself played down numbers.
And in the morning, rising up a great while before day; he want out; and departed to a solitary place, and there prayed. And Simon and they that were with him followed after him. And when they had found him, they said unto Him All men seek for thee (Mark 1:35-37.
Jesus had a very successful day the day before. crowds gathered around to hear Him and to be healed. Now His apostles come and pay, "Everybody is looking for you." How did He answer.
Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, for therefore came I forth. (Mark 1:38)
He did the opposite of the organized way. And He wants us to learn His ways.
Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them, Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter and shall not be able. (Luke 13:23,24.
We see here that one of the disciples evidently got the idea that not many people were getting saved. Jesus showed him the necessity of striving to enter in at the strait gate. He said many will want to got in, and will not be able to get in, showing here how they were not to expect great numbers.
And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned and said unto them, If any come to me, and hate not his fathers and mothers and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:25,26)
He gave a hard teaching to show the necessity of putting Him first and everything else second. That kind of teaching was designed to thin the crowd down, and perhaps did.
Judas saith unto him, (not Iscariot), Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world? (John 14:23)
Judas realizes that Christ has shown him light, and he gets interested in having a big ministry. If he were alive today he would perhaps promote a "bus ministry", so-called. He was anxious to get everyone in.
Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. (John 14:23)
What a strange way to answer a man who gets his eyes on numbers. As much as to say, "Judas, you have a full time job keeping your own relationship right with me, without getting your eyes on numbers." The amazing thing is that people don't realize that when they have their eyes on numbers, even if they have them on lost people, they are not on Christ. And he made it very clear here. When this man asked, "What about all the rest in the world?" Christ emphasized, "You keep your relationship right with me. You love me and keep my commandments. That is your job, Judas." And you see, that is the church's job - to meet, focus on Christ, be quickened. That is our priority, if we are truly interested in lost people. And it is exactly how Christ, gave it.
There are two words used mainly in the Old Testament that we could study. One is the word "remnant" and the other the word "residue". You know that both of them mean. A woman who buys a remnant at a cloth store buys a small piece that is left over. If you have a residue of something, it is a little bit that remains. These two words are used over and over for God's people in the Old Testament, to show that God does His work through the few, and not through the many.
WHERE SHOULD A LOCAL ASSEMBLY MEET ?
This is very important. Should it meet in a special building, built for the purpose? Should it meet in a rented building? Or should it meet in a home? By "home" I mean a house where a family lives. I am not saying God cannot meet with Christians anywhere. We have known Him to meet in buildings that were built as meeting places, and also in rented places. And We have certainly known Him to meet in homes. Our problem is not where can God meet. God can go anywhere. He is sovereign. Our problem is to find out there the New Testament Christians met, and whether we have any warrant from Scripture to do otherwise. If we can find out where they met, I believe we will not find a better place. Times have not changed so that we need to do it differently.
Did they build buildings? I cannot find a place in the New Testament where they built one building.
Did they rent places? The only place I can find is that Paul, in Rome, rented a building in which to live, and people came unto him. That place he rented was his own home, where he lived.
According to the New Testament, every time a church met, we find it in a home. And I believe this is important if you keep it an organism. I believe the minute you get your eyes on a special building, then you have reverted from the New Testament way, to the Old Testament way. The Old Testament has physical buildings. The New Testament has a spiritual building. The Old Testament majored on place. The New Testament majors on the manner in which you worship.
You remember this was the question of the woman at the well. "Where is the right place to worship, in Jerusalem, or on this mountain?" And Christ answered very plainly, showing her that no longer is it the place that counts, but the way you meet. In other words, a complete shift in the emphasis. How sad that many groups that call themselves "churches" today spend most of their time and most of their money on the place, then Christ Himself said, "The hour cometh, And now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth." And he said God seeks that kind. And so I believe that a focus on the spiritual building, rather than on a physical building; will eliminate many pitfalls. But let us look at the Scriptures to see where we find the early church meeting.
Likewise greet the church that is in their house. (Romans 16:5a) Paul is speaking of Priscilla and Aquilla, as you see in verse 3 "My helpers in Christ Jesus," he calls them. Salute Herodion, my kinsman; greet them that are of the household of Narcissus, which are in the Lord. (Romans 16:11)
To be surer in the original the word, "household" is not there. But in the original you have a possessive. In other words, greet those of Narcissus, or you might say, the group that is with him. And then.
Salute Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Marmes, and the brethren which are with them. (Romans 16:14)
This is all in the same city. And yet a greeting to the church in Rome, and where is the church meeting? In various homes. That is the third group in that city. Greet the ones that are with them. Then notice.
Salute Philologus, and Julia, Nereus, and his sister, and Olympas, and all time saints which are with then. (Romans 16:15)
There you have the fourth group in one city. They didn't try to build a building and get everybody under one roof. They just met in homes.
The churches of Asia Salute you. Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house. (I Corinthians 16:19)
Now Paul is writing from Rome to Corinth. And air though he doesn't tell us where Corinth meets, yet it is clear that he is writing from a group that meets in a house, one of the same houses that he mentioned in the letter to the Romans.
And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in thy house. (Philemon 2)
Here is a meeting of the church in Philemon's house.
Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake. (Titus 1:11) He is talking about false prophets who have come in and brought their false doctrine into whole houses, which he means whole local assemblies of Christians. And he said they have subverted whole houses. This shows the identification of the group perverted with the place there they met, in houses.
For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts. (II Timothy 3:6) Again, he is talking about the apostasy, and he is talking about men who will creep into houses, into groups of Christians, aid pervert them.
If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed. (II John 10) In the Greek, you don't have the word "your". The King James translators put it there. What did it say in the original? "If there come any unto you and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into house." What does he mean by "into house"? Into the house where the church meets. Neither bid him God speed. In other words, if a false prophet wants to come into your meeting, do not let him in, and do not even wish him God speed.
In Acts you have the very beginning of the church. These letters that we have read from, came a few years later, but in Acts you have the record of the church, when it started.
And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking broad from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness aid singleness of heart. (Acts 2:46)
Just file for a moment the word "temple". No will come back to it later. Here we see the early church seeming to eat in two places. We will seek to find out which place the church really met. We are told that they are with one accord in the temple, and they break bread from house to house. The phrase "breaking bread" is a common New Testament phrase far the Lord's Supper. And you know the Lord's supper is only partaken of by Christians. The very first meeting we have of them in the New Testament is recorded in this passage. Where are they taking the Lord's Supper? They are taking it from house to house. Why did it say from house to house? Because there were thousands of Christians in Jerusalem. Three thousand were saved at one time. Where are they meeting? In houses. They are having the Lord's Supper in their houses, breaking bread from house to house.
As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women, committed them to prison. (Acts 8:3)
Saul is tearing up the church, arresting all the Christians he can find. Where is he finding them? "Entering into every house." Here we have the church. Where is it meeting? In houses! They had not built a chapel, or a church building.
And he departed thence, and entered into a certain man's house named Justus, one that worshipped God, whose house joined hard to the synagogue. (Acts 18:7)
Here we have Paul going in Corinth to join himself to a Christian, one that worships God. And where does he meet? He meets in a man's house, next door to the synagogue.
I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have showed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house. (Acts 20:20)
That is, the public preaching of the gospel to lost people, but also from house to house, he met with Christians.
And the text day we that were of Paul's company departed, and came unto Caesarea: and we entered into the house of Philip, the evangelist, which was one of the seven; and abode with him. And the same had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy. And as we tarried there many days, there came down from Judea a certain prophet, named Agabus. (Acts 21:8-10)
In this city, where did the church meet? They met in the house of an evangelist. Hire they met for many days. It is very evident that the early church met in homes. Now, let us come to the latter of the temple.
And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house...(Acts 2:46a)
In the Greek, there are two words that are translated "temple". In English, we have only one. One of these words means the inner sanctuary of the temple, where only the priests could go. The holy place and the holy of holies, was called the temple. The other word meant the temple area, the court, and all the environs of it. Now, the Holy Spirit was careful to pick the right word. 'When he talks about the Christians going to the temple, or being in the temple with one accord, He always uses the word that means the general area of the temple. This then is the word He uses here, to show that they went up to the temple area, where they knew they would find many people. The word which means the inner sanctuary isn't used here.
We find also in Acts 5:42.
Daily in the temple and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.
We understand that the temple area was where they found lost people. The meetings in houses were of Christians. Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him. (Acts 17:17.
Here is seen the daily activity of the apostles But it is the market in this particular city, where the lost were found. The early Christians went out where the people were, to speak to them of Christ, but they met in houses with other Christians for edification and worship.
THE MEMBERSHIP ROLL
Should a local church have a roll on which its members are placed? I think it goes without saying, that if you know that Christ has put you in the body, how can you be put into it? If Christ has put you into it, that would putting your name on a roll do? This is just another idea that comes from organization. Nowhere in the Now Testament can you find it. Some. people try to se Scriptures that talk about them sending letters of commendation by Christians to another group. That is foolish to believe that this was a transfer of church membership from one group to another. These were letters of introduction for people who were moving from one pity to another.
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. For the body is not one member, but many. (I Corinthians 12:13-14.
This Scripture shows very clearly that upon redemption Christ puts you into the body, Therefore, haw does a person know he is in the church? If he knows he is redeemed, he knows he is in the church. How are you going to join the church if you are already in it? And what is man going to do to improve on what Christ has done? If He has put you in the church, is that not sufficient? Church rolls are devices that have been taken from the world, to try to control and regulate people. Denominations, by what they call transfer of membership to another locality, seal you into the denomination. Some people are afraid that when they did, their name will not be on any church roll, therefore there will not be anything to put in the paper saying they are church members. You don't have to have anything put in the paper if you know Christ has put you into the church.
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself far it. (Ephesians 5:25)
First of all, note that Christ gave Himself far whom? For the church. Christ died for the church. If the Holy Spirit has made it true to you that He died for you, that you have been redeemed by His blood, and He died for the church, then you are a part of the church. And the illustration Paul used is, husbands love your wives, making a comparison between Christ and the church, and the husband and wife. Would it not be amazing if a woman got married, and then all of a sudden decided that she had better join something to prove that she is married? If Christ redeems you and puts you into the church, why do you need to join something to prove you are married to Him? There is no need for any kind of church roll, regardless of what others may tell you.
WHAT WILL KEEP SUCH GROUPS FROM BECOMING A DENOMINATION?
People ask this question sincerely, because many have started out on that they thought was truth, and later it turned out to be a new denomination. If we truly believe that we are nondenominational, that denominations are divisive to the body of Christ, that we have fellowship with any truly born again person, and that God has shown us the New Testament way in which to meet, of course none of us would like to see a new denomination formed.
As God brings new churches into being in various cities there will be some communication. There will be visitation back and forth; there will be some common fellowship. And so the question arises, "What will keep them from becoming another denomination?" A review of some of the points we have already seen will show that there are many safeguards that the Scriptures give that will keep churches from becoming a denomination if these safeguards are observed.
(1) There should be a refusal to organize in any way. If we can be content with being a part of an organism, and not want organization, this in itself will keep it from becoming a denomination.
(2) The local groups should not take names. This is wise. I know sometimes it is hard to explain to people who you are, and people try to force from you some name. Let the individuals in the groups, and the groups themselves, refuse to take names, and just call themselves Christians. Adopting a name helps to crystallize groups into a denomination.
(3) There should be a refusal to have church rolls. Be content to be in the body that Christ put you in and never have church rolls.
(4) Do not desire a building. If you will be satisfied to meet in homes, or in whatever place the Lord provides without wanting to have buildings, I believe this will be a safeguard. Do not get your eyes on a building. The Lord has been proving to many group; for several years now, that it is possible for churches to function without owning property. We do not need buildings.' If we refuse to enter into any kind of purchase or any kind of building program, this will help assure that the churches will not become a denomination.
(5) There ought not to be any permanent treasury in a group. As I see the New Testament, we do not have a warrant for having a permanent treasury. I do believe that there will be times when groups will need to receive money, and will have deacons to administer this money. And I also realize that sometimes this might run for a long period of time, depending on the need. You certainly have Scriptural basis for having deacons receive money and administer it to those in need. But if there is not a desire for a permanent treasury, and if the Biblical way is followed as simply as possible, this will help keep groups from forming a denomination.
(6) Fellowship as much as possible with other groups, without seeking to copy them or officially align with them, will keep down the possibility of a denomination. There is something in us that makes us desire a larger fellowship than just the particular group with which we meet regularly and this desire has led some to form organizational ties with other groups. The desire for this kind of fellowship is God-given, but God also provides ways. He brings us in contact with other groups in other cities, or he provides means whereby we can fellowship back and forth. And we ought to do this. Any group that becomes tight where no effort is made to fellowship with other groups loses something. This keeps them from becoming a denomination to be sure, because they are just locked into one little group. And yet they miss something. We do need this kind of fellowship, but only in the way God provides it.
(7) Regular prayer meetings for God's guidance are absolutely essential. This cannot be said too strongly, The business meeting of a local church is the prayer meeting. On the knees, the group prays about problems, prays for guidance, prays about things it needs to know, prays for its leaders, prays for God to select them. The Holy Spirit guides a group who prays. And if the group is guided that way, God Himself will keep it from joining with any other group in any sort of thing that might lead to a denomination.
(8) Test everything you hear by the Word of God. Do not accept anything from any man, no matter who he is, without testing it by the Word of God. I believe that Christians and Christian groups are under the injunction of Scripture to examine everything. We are told to do that. Examine everything, but keep that which is true. And it doesn't matter there or who we get truth front if we are certain it is truth. But we don't accept anything from anybody just because somebody said it, no matter how much we think of that person. We ought to examine everything in the light of Scripture.
These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so. (Acts 17:11.
Here you have the Holy Spirit in Scripture complimenting a group of people in Berea. He said these people did two things. They received all the truth they could get, not having a closed mind to truth. They did not have crystallized ideas, but were open to truth. But whenever they heard anything, they went to the Scriptures, and tested it to see whether or not it was of the Lord. And so we see that we do have some safeguards against becoming a denomination.
Tom Neely, p.o. box 1454, Black Mountain, NC 28711
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