Local NT Churches DEFENDED!If you don't mind, think this deserves a thread of its own. I know the last days local NT churches is ever becoming Apostate - but nonetheless there ARE still good, solid ones out there, and they are increasingly becoming attacked and persecuted like never before (ie, largely from a lot of these "online ministries" where these people do nothing more than criticize and nitpick from behind their PCs, in the comfys of their living rooms).
THE BIBLICAL BASIS OF A NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH.
God established the New Testament churches to be a vital part of the life of the believer, therefore it is an important for Christians to have a proper understanding as to what is a true New Testament church and what is its function. Most Christians learned what they believe about the church from the practices and teachings of the churches they attended.
The question is this: "Can we rely on what we have been taught as being Biblical? Are the beliefs and practices of our churches what God established them to be in the New Testament?" It should be every believer's responsibility to know "what saith the Lord" on the matter of Christ's church. We need to scripturally determine what is a true biblical church; how it began; what is its importance and function; what is its organization; who is its Head, who are its leaders and members.
An initial question we must ask ourselves is "what is the authority for what we believe about the church?" The problem is that you can ask ten denominations and you will get ten different answers. How then can you know that the beliefs of your church are correct, what God intended them to be?
What then is the answer? In a world where there is so much confusion and difference of opinion, can we know for sure? The answer is yes, a resounding yes! We have a way, a sure and absolute way and that way is the Bible, God's Word. The problem is not that we cannot know what is correct. The problem is some have declined to accept the Bible as the absolute authority, ignored what the New Testament teaches, and others have confused what it says because they did not, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
The Bible is God's Holy Word and it tells us the church was established by Christ Himself. (See Matt. 16:1 He did not leave the matter of establishing His church with human wisdom nor did He leave us in the dark as to what the church should be. He left His Word and complete instructions to deal with every aspect of establishing His church.
Many of the practices of churches today come from a mixture of the Bible and their traditions. What they believe has been passed down through time and developed over their history. Let's look at the example of churches that practice infant baptism.
You do not find the practice of infant baptism mentioned in the Bible. Yet, Catholics and many Protestant denominations practice infant baptism. Why? In their past some of their church leaders established it based on their misunderstanding of Bible passages such as Acts 16:33. In Acts 16:33, the verse says the jailer (who had received Christ) was baptized, "he and all his, straightway." They concluded this would mean adults and children alike or all his household including children. But the verse does not say infants were baptized. In truth, we do not even know if the jailer had children.
Is is biblically proper to teach infant baptism using this verse? Do we find other places in the Bible that says infants were baptized? The answer is no, as there is no reference in the Bible of infants being baptized. So is it correct to practice infant baptism based on assumptions that are not supported by Scripture? These churches further their error in believing the church is the means of salvation and one must be a member of their church to be saved. Baptism to them is a sacrament which places them in the church and therefore is necessary for salvation. With no biblical support, they falsely conclude that baptizing an infant puts it under the protection of the church and assures it will go to heaven. Their doctrine is based on a clear misinterpretation of Scripture and upon falsely applied logic. Today these denominations do not even question such teaching! Their "church fathers" established the practice as doctrine, therefore today it is accepted without question. In truth their "church fathers" are their authority for what they believe and practice and not the Bible.
The mode of baptism as practiced by many churches is another example of following man's opinion instead of complying literally with what God's Word says. The Greek word used in the New Testament for baptism is baptisma (bap'-tis-mah). The word means "to immerse" or dip under the water. There is no record of any church "sprinkling" or "pouring" in the New Testament. Those who use these methods get their practice from the opinions of man, not from what God has cleared stated in the Bible.
In the author's library is a booklet entitled "Why Baptize by Sprinking," written by a Protestant preacher who states the reasons why his denomination sprinkles and calls it baptism. He states he believes the early church sprinkled even though he admitted the New Testament always refers to the mode of baptism as being immersion. One reason he gave for sprinkling was that there was not enough water in Jerusalem to have baptized five thousand people on the day of Pentecost. He said water in Jerusalem was too scarce and too precious to be used for baptism. Therefore, he concluded that in Jerusalem, they sprinkled instead of immersed. On a trip to Israel in 2002, I saw many huge cisterns which could be used for baptizing. However, the Pool of Sholoam discovered in 2004 and 2007 on the west side of Jerusalem was probably the site. The pool was a large reservoir constantly fed fresh water from the Gihon Spring, through Hezekiah's tunnel, from the Kidron Valley. The pool was a mikveh for ritual bathing prior to entering the Temple Mound and the pool was at least 225 feet wide and believed to be the same in length. There was plenty of water to baptize thousands of people as Luke recorded.
The preacher also falsely concluded that Philip could not have immersed the eunuch because there was no water in the desert (Acts 8:26-39). So, he concluded, if there was not enough water they must have sprinkled the converts. This Protestant preacher has a poor understanding of God's ability to communicate what happened or instruct the early church properly. He failed to understand that if they sprinkled those saved at Pentecost, God made a mistake and used the wrong word in recording the event because God who inspired the writing of the Book of Acts used the Greek word "baptizo" which means to immerse. What does he then base the practice on? Clearly, the practice of sprinkling is man's opinion or human reasoning, and not what the Bible clearly says. So are those that sprinkle or pour for baptism biblical? Certainly they are not obeying what God has said.
The matter is settled when we accept that God, the Holy Spirit, inspired the writers of the New Testament to use the Greek word that means to immerse. There are other Greek words that mean to sprinkle or to pour that the writers could have used if that had been what they wanted to convey. For the churches who sprinkle, the word of God is not their final authority and therefore God, by his Word, condemns their false practices.
The Bible is the Sole Authority for the Faith And Practice of a True New Testament Church
What does the Bible say is the sole authority for the faith and practice of the New Testament church? There are two scriptures in the New Testament, which affirm that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant word of God.
"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:” (2 Timothy 3:15-16)
"Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” (2 Peter 1:20-21)
In all matters of faith and practice the New Testament church has but one authority and that authority is the Bible, the very word of God. The Bible is free from error and this doctrine is called, "verbal plenary inspiration" meaning every word God used was inspired by Him and is without error (2 Timothy 3:16). Some might conclude that since we do not have the original copies of the Books of the Bible that this makes today's Bible suspect. Nothing can be further from the truth. Note that God says He preserves His Word: "For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. (Matthew 5:1 God not only gave us His Word He promised to preserve it for all eternity. God absolutely keeps His Word and we have His completed word today. His Word is preserved in the Traditional Text (Byzantine or Majority Text) as represented by the "Textus Receptus" and translated in our King James Bibles.
Note the warning to those who would attempt to add or subtract from the Bible.
“For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” (Revelation 22:18-19)
The Bible says it is the Source of Salvation Pointing to Jesus
"Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.” (John 5:39)
"For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16)
"So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans 10:17)
“And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:15)
The Bible Instructs Believers and Sets the Model for A New Testament Church
"These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:14-15)
"I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” (2 Timothy 4:1-4)
In order for a church to call itself a church in the true Biblical sense it must base its faith and practice solely on God's Word the Bible. No mortal man founded the New Testament church; it was Christ who instituted the church.
"And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:1
Christ says He built the church and Ephesians 5:25 clearly states that Jesus died for the local church, "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;”
Although an assembly is organized and administered by an assembly of believers, the church is not their possession. Believers established a church based on Christ's instruction. It is Christ who owns the church and is its Head. He purchased it with His blood (See Acts 20:2.
God cannot bless error or be a party to false teaching. A church that is based on false doctrine is not a biblical church and God cannot have any part in it. Paul, in Galatians 1:7-9, twice says that anyone who would pervert the Gospel, ". . . let him be accursed." No man or congregation that claims to be a church of God has the right to change anything God has said for any reason. A biblical church is one whom Christ is the Head, and follows the word of God. If a church does not follow the Bible, then it is not a church that belongs to God, because in refusing to obey the scriptures they separate themselves from God.
In Matthew 16:18, Jesus said He would build His church. How then did Christ proceed in establishing His church? He began to instruct His disciple and entrusted them with carrying out His instructions. The New Testament is clear that they followed His instructions to the letter. Christ's has not changed His instructions to His church. The way He left it is the way He intended it to remain. Any man, church or denomination who establishes a church on any other basis, it is not a biblical church. If a church allows tradition or the opinions of men to establish its doctrine and practice it is in grave error and is not establishing a true New Testament church. Jesus said, "For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ." (1 Corinthians 3:10-11) A church that is established and does not follow the New Testament example, does not have God's approval, blessings or presence.
In Revelation 2:5, Jesus warned the church at Ephesus that it should repent and return to its first love. Jesus said plainly that if they did not repent, he would come quickly and remove their candlestick which means the light on which the church was founded. In other words, if the church did not repent, God’s presence and power would be removed and they would be left in darkness.
It is worth noting that Jesus commended them for hating the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which He said He also hated. The Nicolaitans were a heretical sect of people in church. The word means, Niko, to conquer and Laos (the people. It means simply this: their philosophy was to put a difference between the "laity" (the people) and the clergy (the pastors). This was an attempt to reestablish the Old Testament priesthood in the churches which led to a group of leaders that were above the common people. This hateful practice later led to the establishment of a hierarchy in which the local church was ruled by an outside organization. Their idea is that the spiritual work of a church can only be done by the elite leaders in the church. They falsely teach that God only speaks to these special persons and they have the authority to control and dictate to the congregation. Only thus an elite little group has access to God and the people must come through them in order to worship and serve God. Ultimately the Nicolaitan philosophy is to enslave the congregation by controlling access to God. The Roman, Orthodox and Protestant churches are the result of the success of the Nicolaitans efforts.
Jesus said the "gates of hell would not prevail against" His church. This applies to the churches He founded and assures us that there are sound biblical churches today. Our responsibility to the Lord is to make sure that we are part of a church that follows the Bible.
What Does the Word Church Mean?
The King James Bible translators were under obligation to use the English word "church" even though it was not a proper translation. The reason for this is apparent. The word "assembly" or "congregation" did not support the founding of a hierarchical form of church government, such as the Roman Catholic, Anglican and Protestant churches had set up. King James was a theologian and fully understood the ramifications of properly translating the word ekklesia into assembly or congregation. If the word ekklesia was translated "assembly or congregation" it would expose the unbiblical hierarchy of the Church of England and under mind its authority. Historically, during this time Baptist churches were being established and the hierarchal system of church government was being attacked as being unbiblical.
A look at any English dictionary will reveal the English word church is taken from a Late Greek word kyridakon not ekklesia. The word kyridakon is not found in the New Testament and came into being in the 16th Century long after New Testament times. The definition refers to a building, "Old English cir(i)ce, cyr(i)ce, related to Dutch kerk and German Kirche, based on medieval Greek kurikon, from Greek kuriakon (doma) 'Lord's (house)', from kurios 'master or lord'.
The Bishops Bible was used as the immediate foundation for the KJV, and it had used the term “church” instead of “congregation.” King James or the officials of the Church of England (1604) had required the translators to use the word "church" instead of congregation or assembly.
The word church was not used in Tyndale's, Coverdale's and Crammer's Bible (Great Bible). The congregation was the only rending in the English Bibles. The term "church" was first used by Theodore Beza, a Protestant, in 1556, who followed John Calvin at Geneva. It would be normal for a Protestant, who followed a hierarchical "Presbyterian" (elder rule) form of church government to use the word "church" instead of "assembly." The use of the word "congregation" or "assembly" would not support his church's hierarchical government. William Whittingham's Testament of 1557 followed Beza's usage of "church." This was actually the first edition of the Geneva Bible and was a revision of the Tyndale New Testament. The Tyndale (1526) translation used the word "congregation."
What is the Significance of the New Testament's use of the word Ekklesia?
The correct definition of the word "church" has great and far reaching implications. The question is not what the word can be made to mean, but what does it mean; and the witness of its usage elsewhere, its form and mode of composition, and the sense given it by its readers. First, it means there is no biblical basis for a universal or catholic church. Further, it precludes that there is no church hierarchy outside the local church or local assembly of believers. The only ekklesia the New Testament uses is of a local assembly of believers. It can not be used in a universal sense, referring to all believers everywhere or what some call the "universal" or "invisible" church. A universal church cannot meet in one place together and assemble, therefore the word cannot be used in referring to all believers of all time all over the world.
The New Testament refers to believers universally only once and this will occur at the Second Coming of Christ. In Revelation 21:9, New Testament believers are not called a church, but "the bride of Christ." At the Second Coming, there are no Church Age assemblies on earth. They all will have been raptured, at the beginning of the Seven Year Tribulation and judged at the BEMA in the seven year interval preceding the Second Coming. At this point in time of Revelation 21:9, we see the body of Christ, coming with the Bridegroom to earth to reign with Him. Tribulation saints are not part of the "body" or "bride" of Christ.
Some conclude that the term "body of Christ" (1 Cor. 12:27, Eph. 4:12) refers to a universal church. However, "the body of Christ" and the ekklesia are two different bodies. The "body of Christ" is made up of all believers of all times from Pentecost to the Rapture. The ekklesia only refers to those alive and assembled together in a particular locality. In 1 Corinthians 12, the whole of the chapter is referring to the makeup and the relationship of individual members of a local assembly using the analogy of the human body. In 1 Corinthians 12:13, the verse reads, "For by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body" and the body is the local church. This is referring to water baptism and is not referring to the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. The Baptism of the Holy Spirit occurs when the individual believer receives the indwelling of the Holy Spirit at conversion. Water baptism is another matter. It is a public declaration of a born-again Christian, obeying the Lord by baptism, identifying with Christ and joining with the local assembly of believers.
Clearly, when a believer was baptized, he was baptized into a local assembly (Acts. 2:41,47). A believer becomes a member of the local church when he identifies with Christ and the local church through his baptism. No believer is baptized into all churches worldwide. In Verse 24-25, Paul says the reason for this instruction was that there not be "any schism in the body" and "that the members should have the same care one for the other." This phrase limits the body to a local church and precludes it referring to a "universal" or "invisible" church. It is beyond human ability to govern a worldwide church. The overseeing of all believers on earth is an individual action done on a local level and is the sole responsibility of Christ Himself through His undershepherds. Even if you ignored the context and preclude this is referring to all believers, you must also equally conclude that the application of these verses can only be done on a local level and this verse is not teaching the concept of a universal church.
In Verse 26, it reads, "And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.” (1 Corinthians 12:26) Clearly this statement can not apply to a universal worldwide church. Churches in Africa and around the world, at this moment are suffering gross persecution, but the effects of it are not known in America or other parts of the world. Yet, when a member of a local assembly suffers, other of that assembly know and share the burden for a brother in the Lord.
If there is a "universal" church, then why did God not give clear instruction as to its government. In the Bible, God always gave some degree of organization to everything he created. There is no reference or even hint of an organization of a "universal" church. God clearly did not establish a hierarchical system of government over all the churches (plural). Each church rules itself following the New Testament example and principles. God in Revelation 2:6, 15, said he "hated" the Nicolaitanes who sought to set up a hierarchy to rule over the people. It would be against God's very nature to sanction human government over a universal church. This would violate the autonomy of the local assembly of believers, which He clearly established, and said He hated (Rev. 2:5, 15). The ekklesia that Christ established organized, met together, had pastors (bishops), it took the Lord's Supper, it baptized new converts into its assembly, it supported missions, administered and edified the members of the church. "so called "universal" or "invisible" church cannot do any of these things and biblically it does not exit.
The Matthew's Bible (1537), translated by John Rogers, who used the pen name of Thomas Matthew, correctly used the word "congregation." He was an assistant and friend of William Tyndale. The Matthew's Bible was the first entire Tyndale Bible. Tyndale completed the New Testament, and part of the Old Testament before he was martyred. Matthew completed the translation of the Old Testament (using some work from Coverdale) and published the first entire Tyndale Bible under the name "Thomas Matthew." The Great Bible (1539) also used the term "congregation." The Geneva New Testament of 1557, produced by William Whittingham, was the first to use the word "church" (note the Protestant source of the translation). The Bishop's Bible (1568) was a revision of the Geneva Bible and continued the use of the term "church." (For an article addressing the translation of the word ekklesia as church go to http://bible-truth.org/Ekklesia.html)
This shows that the use of the word "church" instead of "assembly" or "congregation" came from those who had a hierarchy and an unscriptural form of church government. To have translated the word ekklesia accurately into "assembly" or “congregation" would have exposed their form of church government as being in error. They knew the truth that God had not set up a hierarchical form of church government and deliberately used the word "church" to confuse and support their false doctrine.
What then does the biblical word, translated church, really mean? It simply means an assembly of people. The New Testament knows nothing of using any formal word to refer exclusively to the assembly of believers.
The Importance of the Local Church to the Believer
It is Christ who established the local church and He has said to us that the scriptures are given by God to instruct us. They teach us doctrine, reproof, correction and righteousness (See 2 Tim. 3:16). Why? That we might be fully equipped to do the works of God. Christ established the church for His disciples or those who trust in Him as their Lord and Savior. There are many reasons why Christ established the local church. Believers are edified (built up) in the faith by the leaders and teachers of the local assembly (Eph.4:11-13). God uses the local church as a training ground to teach others the word of God. (2 Tim. 2:2) It is a place where the child of God gives his tithes and offerings to the Lord for the support of the local church and missions (Acts 4:32-37; 1 Cor. 8:1-6; 9:6-15; Phil. 4:15-19). The local church provides a place where believers come together to pray one for the other and do the work of the Lord (See2 Cor. 1:11). The local church sends missionaries (Acts 11:19-30, 13:1-3, 14:27).
One thing is clear, if Christ established the local church, then no believer should ignore it or refuse to be a part of it. The church is a vital and necessary part of a disciple's life. A believer outside the church would be like a fish out of water. Christ established the "ekkleisa" for individual believers to band together in carrying out God's purposes.
All Believers are Placed in the Local Church upon their Baptism
The Bible says that after Pentecost, those who were saved were added to the assembly of the original one hundred and twenty believers gathered in the upper room (Acts 1:15).
In Acts 2:47, the New Testament says that those who were saved "were added to the church daily." The New Testament never refers to believers who are not a part of a local church. The word "added" in the verse is the Greek word pros-tith'-ay-mee; it means "to place additionally, i.e. lay beside, annex, repeat: -add, again, give more, increase, lay unto, proceed further."
Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words gives this information about this word:
"to put to" (pros, "to," tithemi, "to put"), "to add, or to place beside" (the primary meaning), in Luke 17:5 is translated "increase," in the request "increase our faith"; in Luke 20:11-12, "he sent yet" (KJV, "again he sent"), lit., "he added and sent," as in 19:11, "He added and spake." In Acts 12:3, RV, "proceeded," KJV, "proceeded further" (of repeating or continuing the action mentioned by the following verb); in Acts 13:36, "was laid unto"; in Heb. 12:19, "more... be spoken," (lit., "that no word should be added"). In Gal. 3:19, "What then is the law? It was "added" because of transgressions, there is no contradiction of what is said in V. 15, where the word is epidiatasso (see No. 4), for there the latter word conveys the idea of supplementing an agreement already made; here in V. 19 the meaning is not that something had been 'added' to the promise with a view to complete it, which the apostle denies, but that something had been given "in addition" to the promise, as in Rom. 5:20, "The law came in beside."
The verse is saying that God added to or increased the local church each time a person received Christ. In addition to being saved the believer became a member of the church in Jerusalem when he was baptized. We have seen in this study that the word "church" never refers to a "universal church" but always to a "local assembly of believers." These new believers were added to the church in Jerusalem. Later, when believers returned to their cities, they became members of the local churches in the town in which they lived. For example:
". . . the church which was at Jerusalem" (Acts 8:1) "the church which was at Antioch" (Acts 13:1) "the church which is at Cenchrea" (Rom. 16:1) "the church that is in their house" (1 Cor. 16:19), (speaking of the church which met in the home of Aquila and Priscilla) "Nyumphas, and the church which is in his house" (Col. 4:15).
When a person is saved, he should immediately submit to Scriptural baptism and become a member of a local church. The "Church Covenant" accepted by Baptist churches, recognizes this biblical Truth and makes this statement in the last paragraph:
"We moreover purpose that when we remove from this place we will as soon as possible unite with some other church of like faith in order, where we can carry out the spirit of this covenant and the principles of God's Word. If there is not such church, we shall seek, with the Lord's help, to establish one."
Believers are to Learn Doctrine in the Local Church
The Bible says doctrine is to be taught in the local church. Note what Paul says in Ephesians 4:11-16:
"And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work 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 fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: 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 4:11-16)
In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul giving instruction on the local church says, (V18) Note in V28, the same truth is presented, that God set believers in the local assembly and gave all the spiritual gifts in the context of the local church. "And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.” (1 Corinthians 12:2 The gifts that are given to believers are to be used in relation to the local church. Nowhere in the New Testament do you find believers serving God apart from the local church. Never do you find believers who are not a part of a local assembly of believers.
Believers are Instructed Not to Forsake the Assembling of Themselves Together
Hebrews 10:24-25, the Bible commands us to, “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; And having an high priest over the house of God; Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: 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.” (Hebrews 10:19-25) God clearly instructs us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together. When the church meets we should be there and support the work and worship of the local church.
Believers are to be Under the Leadership of the Pastor and Church
Pastors are called of God to oversee the local assembly of believers. "Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood." (Acts 20:2 "As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, "Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." (Acts 13:2)
Believers should be members of a local church and under the care of the pastor called by God to shepherd that local church. God's plan is that they are under the supervision (overseeing) of God's under-shepherd. God says in Hebrews 13:17, that the members of a local church should be submissive and follow the local pastor as he follows the Lord.
"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) Believers who are not a part of a local church are not obeying God by putting themselves under the leadership of God's pastor and the local church. (For an article titled "What is so important about attending church?" go to http://bible-truth.org/whyatten.htm.)
The pastor is the leader of the church, not the "lord" of the assembly. The New Testament instructs pastors to, "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." (1 Pet. 5:2-3) "Feeding the flock," means to teach them the Word of God. "Taking the oversight," refers to providing spiritual and administrative leadership or oversight. The pastor has no authority, not given to him by the New Testament. He is the Lord's servant doing the Lord's work. His first responsibility is to the Lord, to preach, to teach and live by the Bible, God's word. He and the congregation alike are to obey the Word of God and if so there will be unity in the assembly.
;He has the responsibility to: "Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine." (2 Timothy 4:2). He is not to "lord" over the congregation in the sense of acting as the boss, master or dictator of the people. He leads by example and by the word of God. He does have the responsibility to reprove and rebuke false teaching and practices in accordance with what the Bible teaches and to make sure his congregation is pure in doctrine and deed. The basis of his authority is the word of God, which he is called to uphold without compromise. Pastors and congregations who follow the word of God will be in harmony.
The pastor is to do this willingly, which refers to his calling to the position and responsibility from God. He is not to choose being a pastor as having a vocation because of its financial benefits or position. A man does not choose to be a pastor as one chooses an occupation, but is chosen by God. The pastor is to serve the church because God called him to shepherd the flock and he wants to do God's will for his life. It does not mean he is not to live by the ministry and receive financial support. (See 1 Tim. 5:17-18, 1 Thess. 5:12-17, 1 Cor. 9:14, 2 Cor. 11:7-9)
Believer's Responsibility to Missions as part of a Local Church
A believer ought to be a part in supporting missions through their local church. The clear New Testament example is that it was the local church which sent forth missionaries. In the New Testament there are no para-church organizations or mission boards. Further, no church has the authority to delegate this responsibility to anyone else which would include mission boards, conventions, or any agency outside the local congregation.
Mission boards can only function biblically when they are under the direct supervision and direction of a local church and function as a missions support agency. Missionaries were supported spiritually and materially by the assembly of believers, both individually and collectively. (See Acts 15:3, 20:38, 21:5, Rom. 15:24, 1 Cor. 16:6,11, 2 Cor. 1:16, Titus 3:13, 3 John 6) Missionaries were ordained and sent out by the local church. (Acts 13:2-3) Mission boards have no authority to call missionaries or send missionaries. To be a part of God's plan for the propagation of the Gospel it is important that the local church follow the biblical example. Christ himself commissioned His disciples and commanded them to: "Go ye therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the age" (Matt. 28:19-20).
Believers are Given the Responsibility and Privilege of Supporting the Local Church Financially
God's instructions concerning the believer's responsibility to support the work of God are given to the local church. In Corinthians, Paul says, "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 Corinthians 16:1-2) (See 2 Cor. 8-9) Paul is commanding the Corinthians, as well as the Galatians, to take on Sunday (the day they met) the collections for the saints at Jerusalem. The use of God's tithe and offerings was a matter for the local church. An individual believer can support any ministry or cause he desires, however, he is not to do it with God's tithe or offerings. The church collectively has that responsibility. Tithes and offerings were commanded by God to carry on the work of God.
Believers have a Responsibility in Helping Govern the Local Church
Christ in establishing the church instituted order and organization by which believers would carry on His work. This government of the local church was by simple democracy under the direction of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 6:5, 13:1-3, 15:22) No hierarchal system of church government was established in which popes or prophets or anyone operating outside the local congregation ruled over an individual or collection of churches. More will be said about this later.
Believers who Need Discipline are Disciplined Under the Authority of the Local Church
The disciplining of the unruly or believers in open sin is to be done by a local church. (Matt. 18:15-17, 2 Thess 3:6, Titus 3:10, 1 Cor. 5:1-13) The Bible lists many "public offenses:"
False doctrine. Gal. 1:9, 2 John 10.
Disregard of authority. Matt. 18:17.
Contention and strife. Rom. 16:17, 1 Cor. 11:16.
Immoral conduct. 1 Cor. 5:11.
Disorderly walk. 2 Thess. 3:6, 11.
A covetous walk. Eph. 5:5, 1 Cor. 5:11.
Arrogant deportment. 3 John 9-10. Going to law. 1 Cor. 6:5-7.
Jesus said in regard to trying to correct an erring brother, to "tell it to the church." He was giving this responsibility to the local assembly of believers.
Believers who need Healing are to call the Elders of their Local Church Together for Prayer
The prayer for the sick was also clearly a function of the local church. James says, "Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven." (James 5:14-15) After the church was begun in Acts 2, those who received the miracle healings were always a part of the local church. Peter and John, who performed the first miracles after the church was begun were Apostles and elders in the church at Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas were missionaries ordained and sent out by the church at Antioch. Everywhere you find miracle healings after Pentecost, it was always related to the ministry of a local church.
Clearly, God's plan is that born again Christians be a part of a local church. Nowhere in the New Testament, after the institution of the local church was established, do you find believers serving God outside the authority or rule of the local church. Those who served the Lord were sent out and supported in prayer and materially by the local churches. The New Testament gives no example of any ministry outside the local church and that is an important and vital truth everyone who professes Christ should understand. Present day ministries should be directed from and under the authority of a local church. The biblical example is that God always organizes everything he begins and establishes clear lines of responsibility. For example, in the first missionary work the church at Jerusalem sent Barnabas to organize the believers at Antioch in a church (Acts 11:19-24). Later, Paul and Barnabas were sent from the church at Antioch (Act 13:1-3). They reported back to Antioch the results of their missionary travels. The biblical principle is that any ministry should be under the care and supervision of a local church.
The church is at the very center of Christ's plan for each believer. Christ is to have an absolute first place in the believer's life. (Col. 1:1 Christ, through the Holy Spirit administers to His sheep through the local church.
THE DISTINCTIVES OF A NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH
These are the distinctives of true Baptist churches. Traditionally it has been Baptist churches who practiced all these Bible principles. A church must believe and practice all of these distinctives to truly be a New Testament church. If it fails to accept even one of these principles it is not a New Testament church and certainly not a Baptist church.
I. THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH ACCEPTS ONLY THE NEW TESTAMENT AS IT SOLE AUTHORITY IN ALL MATTERS OF FAITH AND PRACTICE.
This means that a true Biblical church does not accept any authority for its faith and practice, outside the New Testament Scriptures. This in no way lessens the importance of the Old Testament Scriptures. The church is not found in the Old Testament because it is the record of God's dealing with Israel. Only in the New Testament do you find the pattern and instructions from God concerning the church. It also means that the true New Testament church does not accept for doctrine or practice the councils of men, dominations or tradition.
The New Testament church believes the Word of God, the Bible is complete and is the sole authority. God says “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
The New Testament church rejects the idea that God is giving supposed "new" revelations, believing that God forbids any adding to or taking away of the canon of Scriptures (John 14:26, 16:13, I Cor. 13:8-10; Heb. 1:1-2, Jude 3, Rev. 22:18-19) We do not accept any authority over the local New Testament Church, but Christ Himself, including any hierarchy to include popes, councils of churches, priests or any other group of men outside the local church. Christ is our Head, and the New Testament Scriptures are the true churches sole authority.
II. THE AUTONOMY OF THE LOCAL CHURCH.
“But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15)
"Autonomy" means: self-governing, and independent of its other parts. The autonomy of the local church means that the church governs itself. The Biblical example of a New Testament church is one that is not ruled by any board, hierarchical system or another church.
The local church has been defined as a body of believers immersed based upon their credible profession of faith in Jesus Christ. It has two ministry positions that being a pastor(s) and deacon(s) (appointed servants). The local assembly is sovereign in polity, and banded together for work, worship, the observance of the ordinances and the worldwide proclamation of the Gospel."
FORMS OF CHURCH GOVERNMENT IN PRACTICE TODAY
1. Papal - Roman Catholic: The church is viewed as being universal with a hierarchical totalitarian authority beginning with the Pope.
2. Episcopalian: The word means "bishop." The authority of the church as a denomination rests with the bishops. This is a hierarchal system of church government. The bishops make up a board which rules over the churches which are under them. Episcopal and Methodist churches use this system.
3. Presbyterian: The word means "elder." A board of elders elected by the congregation rules over the church as well as the denomination. These elders may or may not be preachers.
4. Congregational: The Biblical form of church government. The authority in a true New Testament church is God's word and it is absolute. The final human authority in a church rests with the congregation as they follow God's word. Each member has a vote and the rule is democratic. The church does not answer to any authority outside of itself. The Pastor is the administrative and spiritual leader of the congregation being called and appointed by God to the position. The membership after consulting God’s word, and seeking the leading of the Holy Spirit, issues a call to the pastor. The church recognizes that Christ is the Head of the local church and the Bible is God's instruction and authority. It owns its property and appoints committees and individuals to take certain responsibilities.
The Book of Acts gives two clear examples of congregational government. In Acts. 6:1-7, the appointment of the first appointed servants (English Bibles: deacons) was done by the whole church following the apostle's recommendation. In Acts 15, there arose a dispute over whether Gentile believers should be required to keep the Law of Moses and be circumcised. The two churches involved were the assemblies at Antioch and Jerusalem. The pastors from Antioch were sent to Jerusalem and held a council with the church there. The pastors, apostles and the whole church met together and made the recommendation (Acts 15:7, 12, 22, 25).
THE TRUE NEW TESTAMENT IS LED BY THE LORD'S UNDERSHEPHERD
First, we must understand that a church is an organization instituted by God as Acts 2 records on the Day of Pentecost. Any organization must have leadership, and in a local church that calling and position of God has been divinely given to the pastor. God has given us clear instructions as to how His assembly is to be governed. If a church follows God's plan, He will bless and guide them in accomplishing His will for the church and for its members.
The word "pastor" is poimen which refers to a shepherd who takes care of sheep or flocks. It means more than one who feeds them, but who protects, looks out for, and will give his life for them. The pastor is to guide and set the example as well as feed the flock. (See 1 Tim. 4:12)
Ephesians 4:11 gives the New Testament lists of leading servants or ministers in the churches. The last position stated as given by the Lord to the churches is "pastors and teachers." Note that the wording of the verse reads, “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;” (Ephesians 4:11)
In referring to the apostles, prophets, and evangelists, the verse states that God “gave some” followed by the name. However, the verse omits the word “some” in referring to “pastors and teachers.” Most believe the reason for the omission is that pastor and teacher are the same position of "pastor-teacher." The pastor is a shepherd to the Lord's flock and also their teacher. True pastors refer to themselves as "under shepherds" because they recognize that Jesus is the True Shepherd and the flock, the local assembly of believers, a church belongs to him.
The concept is that the pastor, as shepherd, is the overseer who feeds the church members that the Lord has placed him to lead. Peter, to whom the Lord commanded to "feed His sheep" (John 21:15-17) wrote this in his 1st Epistle.
"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." (1 Peter 5:1-3)
Paul also addressed the calling of a pastor as an overseer of Christ's flock.
"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 20:2
He is literally to pay close attention to himself, and his congregation that God has given him charge of. It means he is to vigilantly superintend the group. The position of pastor is referred to by several titles and each denotes the traits and responsibilities of the calling. The terms used to refer to God's leader are the titles Pastor, Elder and Bishop, which all refer to the same office.
Bishop is the Greek word episkopos and means an overseer as Acts 20:28 shows. The word episkopos Means: epi = over and skpeo = to look or watch. Philippians 1:1, 1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:7, 1 Peter 2:25 all use this title.
In many churches the position of a bishop is an official over the local church. Our English New Testaments read, "This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work." (1 Timothy 3:1) In our English Bibles the single word episkope is translated “the office of a bishop.” However, the Greek phrase literally translated reads “If a man ei tis desire oregomai bishop epithumeo ." This is important to understand because it defines the position of a pastor as being a minister and servant to the congregation. The verse says if a man desires to be a epithumeo it means to be a superintendent or overseer, he desires a good work.
The word “office” is not in the text. The English word office means a position of authority or holding an official position. However, the New Testament presents the pastor or bishop as being a minister, one who serves the congregation and does not hold a ruling office or position.
Paul repeatedly referred to himself as a "bond servant" of the Lord. The pastor is the overseer, and does not hold the office of being a boss or authority over the assembly. Peter instructed the overseers saying, "Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock." (1 Peter 5:3) The overseer is not to control, subjugate, or exercise dominion over the local congregation. He is to lead and oversee in accordance with the instructions of the New Testament. His calling is to serve God’s flock as their servant.
There was no hierarchy among the New Testament churches and certainly no popes, or prophets leading a universal body. No reference in scripture indicates apostolic session of authority. When the apostle died, his authority ended. Paul was used to lay the foundation of the church and wrote most of our New Testament under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Once the scriptures were complete, the scripture inspired of God became the authority. (See 2 Tim. 3:14-15) On a subject as important as the organization of His church, surely the Lord would have given some instructions on the make-up or hierarchy if He desired one to exist.
The title "elder" presbuteros is not a noun, but an adjective, referring to age, as an older man, an elder. (See Luke 15:25, John 8:9, Acts 2:17) The word "elder" refers to the experience and spiritual insight of a pastor, rather than the office. When the position is referred to by the word "bishop," is refers to an overseer. Elder refers most often to the spiritual maturity of a pastor. The word "bishop" refers to the work they do, whereas "elder" refers to the maturity of their spiritual experience.
What should be the title of a leader of a church? The proper and biblical title is "pastor" as Ephesians 4:11 states. It is improper to use the title "Reverend" and never in God's word is a preacher called "Reverend." Psalm 111:9 is the only time that title is used in God's word, and it refers to Almighty God. "He sent redemption unto his people: he hath commanded his covenant for ever: holy and reverend is his name." (Psalms 111:9) This title had its origins in Roman Catholicism, which perverted God's word and set a hierarchy over God's people. It was a title given to the "clergy" to distinguish their authority and high position over the "laity" or the common people. This author always corrects those who use that title in addressing him. Only God is to be called Reverend.
III. THE EARLY CHURCH ELECTED ITS OWN MINISTERS.
Acts 6:1-7, records that the early church elected special men to do a particular task. These men were the first deacons. They were not officers or leaders in the church, but men chosen by the congregation to perform a particular administrative menial task that needed to be done. The apostles and pastors were the leaders of the church. (For further reference you might like to read my article, "The Biblical Role of Deacons")
IV. THE LOCAL CHURCH IS THE FINAL AUTHORITY IN DISCIPLINE.
In Matthew 18:15-17 the Lord Jesus taught the local church has the final authority in disciplining an erring member. 1 Corinthians 5:1-5, and 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15, teach that it is the local church that has the responsibility to discipline members.
V. THE LOCAL CHURCH HAS THE ABSOLUTE RIGHT OF SELF-GOVERNMENT.
In Acts 1:23, Jesus's disciples chose two men from among them, Barsabas and Matthias to replace Judas who betrayed Christ. The Greek word used for "appointed" is histemi. It means to put forward or "to propose."
They proposed two men and then sought God's choice by casting lots. We do not cast lots today for two reasons. First, we have the complete New Testament with instructions as to how we are to chose men for service. Second, they were choosing an apostle and we do not have apostles today. Christ called each apostle. There is no record of the assemblies after the death of the apostles appointing men to replace them. God gave Paul instructions as to qualifications of pastors and deacons. (See1 Tim. 3:1-7, 3:8-13, Titus 1:5-9) John was the last apostle.
But they did begin the procedure of choosing men from among their congregation. In Acts 1:6 they chose seven men as special servants (diakoneo deacon). The assembly was instructed to chose from among them seven men of good report, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom to elect to the position of administering over the distribution of food to the widows.
In Acts 15:2, the Antioch assembly elected Paul and Barnabas with several other men to go to Jerusalem and question the apostles about the matter of the Gentiles. After the matter was decided, the Jerusalem church sent men of their assembly with Paul and Barnabas, to convey the message. The message was that the Holy Spirit had directed them in their decision and the local church agreed. It was not a command, but was a recommendation.
It is scriptural for local churches to associate with each other for fellowship and the propagation of the Gospel as seen in Romans 16:1-2, 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, Acts 15:2-4, 22-27, 30-33, 18:27. The local church sends out missionaries. In Acts 13:1-4, the local church at Antioch under the direction of the Holy Spirit commissioned and sponsored the first missionaries. In Acts. 14:26-27, they returned and reported to the church what God had done. The local church is pictured in Scripture as autonomous, meaning it governs itself under the direction of the scriptures and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The local congregation rules itself led by the Holy Spirit with no hierarchy of individuals or organization over it in or out of the local assembly.
VI. THE PRIESTHOOD OF THE BELIEVER
The New Testament church is made up of individual born-again believers who can go directly to God in prayer without the intercession of any man or institution. Christ is our only Intercessor and is our High Priest. (See Heb. 2:17; 3:1; 4:14-15; 5:1,5,10; 6:20; 7:1,26; 8:1,3; 9:7,11,25; 10:21; 13:11)
In 1 Tim. 1:20, Paul instructs individuals to pray, and describes various subjects of prayer. In Verse 5, he states, "For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim. 2:5). There is both private (Matt. 6:6) and public prayer (Acts 4:24-31). Hebrews 4:14-16, states Christ is our High Priest who knows our every emotion and need personally. We are boldly going to the throne of Grace (God the Father), to find help in a time of need. In Jesus's model prayer, Luke 11:1-4, Christ instructed us to pray to the Father. All prayer in the Bible is addressed to God the Father. . It is not correct for a believers to pray to Jesus, or the Holy Spirit. When we pray to God the Father, we are praying through Jesus Christ, being led by the Holy Spirit. We address our prayer to the Father because He is the Head of the Trinity
Nowhere in the Scriptures are we instructed to pray to a "saint" or anyone but the Father. Christ is our sole Intercessor, no other exists. We are to confess our sins directly to God and personally ask Him for forgiveness (1 John 1:9). It is unbiblical, degrading, and disrespectful for a person to pray to anyone, but directly to God the Father through our Intercessor Jesus Christ, who is the Savior.
In the Old Testament the priest offered sacrifices and interceded for the Children of Israel. Everything they did was a picture of the coming Messiah and Intercessor Christ Jesus. After Christ has come we no longer need the picture or symbol, we have the reality of Christ as Intercessor. Every believer is a priest. "
"Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. . . . But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:” (1 Pet. 2:5,9)
The Holy Spirit leads us in prayer. “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;” (Ephesians 6:1
“But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.” (Jude 20-21)
Every believer has the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who leads him and enables him to know the things of God. 1 Corinthians 2:1-16. Tells us, we can know nothing of God apart from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Romans 8:26, tells us that the Holy Spirit helps us in our weaknesses. The Holy Spirit Himself makes intercession for us for things we do not know how to express. John wrote, “But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things.” (1 John 2:20) Believers have a special endowment that means you may not know exactly how to pray or what to pray for, yet the Holy Spirit knows and intercedes for us. Note the phrase, "groaning which cannot be uttered." This is not verbal prayer, it is not our own prayer, this is the interceding of the Holy Spirit that we are not aware of. We are told this to help us to understand we are to pray as best we can, but it is the Spirit who knows our hearts. Even our prayers are purified and corrected by the Spirit. This has nothing to do with ecstatic speech or “praying in the spirit” as the modern Charismatic movement practices. Praying in the spirit simply means praying with discernment and understanding. The Bible never presents praying without one understanding what he is praying. We pray the best we can and the Spirit intercedes.
VII. THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH HAS ONLY TWO ORDINANCES.
Baptism and the Lord's Supper are the only two ordinances given to the local church. "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (Acts 2:41-42)
In Acts 2:41, the three thousand souls who received Christ withdrew from the crowd and were baptized. In doing so, they identified themselves with the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. They believed Peter's sermon and received "his word." Peter's word was the Gospel, the Good News that Christ was the Messiah and that He had died for the sins of the world, and that He was buried and arose on the third day from the grave.
They were baptized, which was a public dedication of their belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, the Messiah. They showed by their submission to baptism that they believed in His death, burial and resurrection. Baptism always follows salvation.
Baptism is never presented as salvation or as a sacrament. A sacrament is defined as a religious act done by men, which has saving properties. In other words, an act which helps in saving a person. The Bible knows nothing of any sacrament. Men are saved by faith in Jesus Christ only and salvation is the free gift of God. Christ suffered and died atoning for the sin. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) No act or ritual of man has saving properties.
In Hebrews 11, the Old Testament saints are presented as saved because of their faith in what God told them to do. They trusted God and obeyed. The acts of the Old Testament sacrifices were understood as being a picture and a symbolic looking forward until the day the Messiah would come and make the atonement for sin. The Bible knows nothing of infant baptism. Only those who trusted in Christ were baptized. An infant cannot understand and receive the Gospel by believing. Therefore an infant should not be baptized.
THE MODE OF BAPTISM
The word baptism means to immerse. Actually the Greek word baptisma or baptizo is transliterated into an English spelling. If it was to be translated, it would mean to dip, bury, submerge, or to immerse. There are other Greek words which mean to sprinkle or pour, but they are not used in reference to baptism. Romans makes it plain that baptism is a picture of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Sprinkling or pouring does not symbolize this. “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.” (Romans 6:3-6)
History records that all churches immersed until about 250 AD. After that time for the sake of convenience at a time of sickness, clinical baptism was practiced. Once allowed, others began to ask for sprinkling, including old people and later on it was allowed for any who ask for it. Most Protestant denominations will immerse if it is requested, however it is not taught or encouraged. The Roman Catholic church did not make sprinkling its mode of baptism until 1311. Those who sprinkle do so as a means of convenience and ignore the biblical teaching of the mode of baptism?
THE LORD'S SUPPER
Christ instituted the Lord's Supper the night before He died. (Matt. 26:26-30) The Lord's Supper was a memorial act for believers. It was given to the believer to bring to remembrance Christ's sufferings and death for our sins. (See 1 Corinthians 11:26) When an assembly takes the Lord's Supper they show or proclaim their belief in Christ's death for the remission of sin, looking forward to the day when Christ will return.
The Lord's Supper is only for believers and is an ordinance of the local church. It is never to be given to individuals and not to be practiced outside the local congregation. It is not a sacrament with saving properties. It is mockery for an unbeliever to take the Lord's Supper. An unbeliever has not believed or received Christ as their Savior and thus has no part in salvation. Because of a lost person’s unbelief, their sins have not been forgiven and Christ’s sacrifice for sins does not apply to them. In verse 28, a person is admonished to examine himself before he takes the Lord's Supper. It warns that one who eats and drinks unworthily eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's body.
The Lord's Supper is a picture of Christ's suffering and death for our sin. For a man to take the Supper and not receive Christ's is blatant sin. To have a knowledge of Christ's suffering for one's sins and then to reject Christ as one's Savior is belittling and mocking Christ.
It also mocks Christ and belittles His suffering for a believer to have unconfessed sin in his life and still take the Lord's Suffer which is a memorial remembering His suffering. The believer is to examine himself first, confess sin and then take the Lord's Supper. No one is "worthy" in himself to take the Lord's Supper. But it honors Christ when we confess our sins and receive His free gift of forgiveness. It shows a deep respect and regard for Christ's suffering when we repent of sin and turn from it.
"What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? . . . Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.” (Romans 6:12-15)
The elements of the Supper, the bread and the cup are only symbolic of the body and blood of Christ. They do not, as practiced by Catholicism, magically become the actual body and blood of Christ. Nor do they become spiritually "blessed," as some believe, thus affording the taker some spiritual benefit. The bread and wine (grape juice) are only symbolic and the value in taking the Lord's Supper is in honoring and revering Christ in His suffering for us and for self-examination to judge sin in our own lives.
THE RELATIONSHIP OF THE ORDINANCES TO THE LOCAL CHURCH
We call these two symbolic acts "ordinances" because the Lord ordained or appointed them. They are not sacraments or a means of dispensing grace. Grace is only obtained by faith in Christ Jesus. Believers are to follow the ordinances because Christ commanded us to. (See Matthew 28:19-20). When Christ commissioned the disciples to baptize and observe all things that He had taught He also told them to wait until they were indwelt and empowered by the Holy Spirit. (See Acts 1:4-5) The church began when it was empowered by the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Christ forbade them to go before they received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Christ commissioned the church to practice the ordinances, not individuals, schools, Christian youth groups, camps and etc. 1 Corinthians 11:20, states that this local church "came together" for the purpose of taking the Lord's Supper. Note V17, 18, 33. The context is clear in the setting of the local assembly which had come together. A memorial is a public declaration or remembrance. Ephesians 5:25, states Christ died for the ekklesia the local assembly or church. The Lord's Supper was taken with all Christ's disciples present. The Lord's Supper is an act of public worship. Note 1 Cor. 11. There is no record in the Bible of an individual or anyone apart from the church taking the Lord's Supper.
How often it is to be done is left up to the church. The only instruction is in 1 Corinthians 11:26, as "For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come.” The charge and instructions are given to the "whole church." Ministers are not given the authority to give the Lord's Supper at their discretion outside of the gathering of the local assembly.
VIII. THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH PRACTICES SOUL LIBERTY.
"But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.” (1 John 2:27)
Every believer has the responsibility and right to interpret the Scriptures, to hold and profess and to worship God as the Bible teaches. No church or religious organization has God's authority to direct believers to obey it or recognize it as their authority to any further degree other than directing them to follow the scriptures. The word of God is one's authority, not the church organization. A true New Testament church will carefully teach its members God’s word.
The Holy Spirit deals with and teaches the believer as an individual. "But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:7) The gift of God is given to believers as individuals, being used in the context of the local assembly. "But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.” (1 Corinthians 12:7) [See Romans 12:3-8.]
Christians will be individually judged at the BEMA judgment of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10). Romans 14:10, says we shall all stand before judgment. 1 Corinthians 3:13-15, shows the examination of Christians is based on one's individual work.
2 Peter 1:20 states, “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.“ (2 Peter 1:20) As believers, we have the personal responsibility to God to know what the Bible teaches and to follow it alone. We cannot at the judgment plead that we were mislead by our church, pastor or anyone else. We have the right to believe the Bible without regard for the creeds or traditions of churches.
IX. THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH IS MADE UP ONLY OF SAVED INDIVIDUALS.
"Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. . . . Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” (Acts 2:41-42, 47) The church is an assembly of people who have received Christ as their Lord and Savior. It is made up of those who have made a public declaration of their faith in Christ by being baptized.
The Bible teaches one should be a member of a local assembly of believers. This is demonstrated in the definite step the first Christians followed. This order is always the same.
1. Believers receive Jesus Christ as their Savior by believing the Gospel. The grammatical construction of the phrase "they gladly received his word" meaning they believed the Gospel message of Peter, were baptized ßapt??? baptizo. The word is first aorist passive indicative, constative aorist. This denotes that “received the word” is an action that takes place before the action of the main verb "baptized." It means that only those who had already received the word and were saved were baptized. "Receiving the word" came first and based on that they were baptized.
2. Following salvation the believer gives a public declaration of his faith by submitting to baptism. Jesus said He would be ashamed before His Father of those who were ashamed of Him, and His word before this adulterous and sinful generation. (Mark 8:3 Many other verses in the New Testament speak of the fact believers are not to be ashamed of Christ before men. (See Rom. 1:16, 5:5,9:33,10:11, 2 Tim. 1:8,12,2:15) Baptism a God’s assigned way believers can show they are saved, not ashamed of Christ, and are in agreement and fellowship with the local assembly.
3. Following conversion and baptism the believers were "added" to the church. The fact that Christ died for the church as Ephesian 5:25 states, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;”. This reveals the importance of the local church. The gifts were given in the context of the local church and are never shown as existing apart from the ministry of the assembly. (1 Corinthians 12:7,11,18,2.
Each believer has a great responsibility to know what God's will is and what He wants His ekklesia His local congregation, to believe and practice. Even though Christ said the gates of hell would not prevail against His church, the fact is Satan has made great inroads among those who have not been vigilant. Yet, in spite of the Devil’s cunning devises there have always been believers who joined themselves together in local assemblies to honor and serve the Lord.
It is imperative that each pastor and church member be vigilant in protecting, with the Lord's help, the purity of his local church. That means the word of God must be studied and following and applied without spot or blemish to the Lord's flock. God’s plan and desire are stated in Ephesian 5:25-27.
"Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish." (Ephesians 5:25-27)
May God grant His saints, the diligence and the fortitude to “. . . exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.”(Jude 1:3) Paul wrote "That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God." (1 Corinthians 2:5)
Why Churches Should Euthanize Small Groups
A few years ago I brought in a nationally recognized pastor to do some consulting for our church. One of the things I remember most about my time with him was a side conversation we had about small groups.
“I haven’t really figured out the small group thing,” I confessed to him.
“Well, Brian, that’s because they don’t work. Small groups are things that trick us into believing we’re serious about making disciples. The problem is 90 percent of small groups never produce one single disciple. Ever. They help Christians make shallow friendships, for sure. They’re great at helping Christians feel a tenuous connection to their local church, and they do a bang-up job of teaching Christians how to act like other Christians in the Evangelical Christian subculture. But when it comes to creating the kind of holistic disciples Jesus envisioned, the jury’s decision came back a long time ago—small groups just aren’t working.”
“Finally,” I said, “I’ve met someone who’s got the guts to euthanize this small group sacred cow.”
I have been leading, participating in, championing, and applauding the efforts of small groups for the last 20 years of my ministry.
But now I’m done. In my opinion, they just don’t work. Let me share why.
A Flawed Starting Point
Church-initiated “small groups” begin from a flawed starting point.
For reasons that still escape me, soon after becoming a Christian at age 18, Deron Brickey, Dave Polonia, Jeff Snyder, and I started hanging out with one another.
Soon that group grew to 10 to 12 friends. We laughed together, prayed together, studied the Bible together, ate together, evangelized together, and served the poor together. Even though we had no leader, no real set meeting time, no agenda, and no plan or focus, it was through these friends that I made incredible strides toward becoming a holistic disciple of Jesus.
And it all happened by accident.
In fact, looking back on my 25 years of following Christ, here’s what I’ve noticed: Every small group I’ve ever been in that helped me grow as a disciple started by what appeared to be an accident.
I wasn’t looking for it. I wasn’t interested in joining a small group in the least. And in many respects, I didn’t even feel a need to grow spiritually.
Most of all, I wasn’t participating in some superficial churchwide small group sign-up initiative the senior pastor dreamed up to jack up small group attendance because he heard church analysts say you should always maintain a certain ratio of worship attendees to small group participants.
It just happened, naturally and spontaneously.
Those experiences couldn’t have been planned, even if I tried. And for the most part, that’s exactly how it’s been happening in the Christian community for, say, I don’t know, the last 1,960 years. That is until we westerners, particularly Americans, started messing it up.
Well-intentioned Christians, armed with the latest insights in organizational theory, let their pragmatic and utilitarian hearts delude them into thinking they could organize, measure, and control the mystical working of the Holy Spirit in community in order to consistently reproduce disciples in other contexts.
Then these people started writing books and hosting seminars. And then church leaders like you and me bought into what they were saying because we didn’t recognize that the same faulty worldview that produced a mechanized approach to Christian community fostered a ready-made market in our hearts to consume their quick-fix solutions.
So we came home, armed with our “101 Sure-Fire Discussion Starter” books and binders full of slick recruitment techniques, and started small group ministries at our churches.
We preached powerful sermons. We cast vision. We contorted Acts 2 into saying what we needed it to say. We blathered on and on about all the “one anothers” in the Bible and about how, if we met one time a week for 1.5 hours and followed a well-conceived discussion regime, we could experience Acts 2 in all of its splendor and glory.
And what happened? You know what happened. They failed. Like big-time.
And meanwhile, while our people were constrained by their obligation to the church and their sense of loyalty to us as leaders, their hearts searched for real community and an opportunity to grow as disciples.
What would happen if we euthanized all of our small groups, taught the value of discipleship and community, and then simply let the Holy Spirit do his work?
When I attended my very first church growth conference in 1992, a nationally known small group “expert” stood up and said, “The way we say it at our church is, ‘If you can read, you can lead.’ If a Christian can read the questions in our study guide, he can lead a small group at our church.”
That’s easy, I thought. Too easy, in fact. And ridiculous.
“If you can read, you can lead” is a great slogan for people who organize a rugby team from your church, or your knitting circle, or the Saturday morning llama-riding group. But not for someone recognized by the community of faith as a mentor of new disciples.
The Achilles’ heel of the modern-day small group movement is simple: Small groups don’t create disciples; disciples create disciples. And modern-day small groups are led, for the most part, by people who have attended the church, had a conversion experience, led a reasonably moral life, and can read the study-guide questions, but are not disciples themselves.
American churches have lowered the bar of small group leadership to an absurd level. In fact, it’s so ridiculous most churches would be better off not even having small groups than to offer them with leaders who aren’t disciples.
The common argument against small groups is flawed. The problem with small groups isn’t that they pool the group’s collective ignorance; it’s that they pool the group’s collective disobedience. And it’s not the small group leader’s fault.
It’s the fault of the people who installed the leader and convinced him he could lead their group to a place where they themselves have not gone.
Jesus in Your Group?
Would Jesus join a small group in your church?
Think about that for a moment. Forget about your goals. Forget about your motivations for offering them. Forget about all the supposed benefits of participating in one. Do you honestly think Jesus would join, lead, or start a small group within the existing structure of your small group’s ministry at your church?
Of course not. Not a chance. Not in a million years.
Because while your people are stuck in the “hairball” of your church’s ministry (to steal Gordon MacKenzie’s great line), Jesus would be out rubbing shoulders with people in your community, helping them find their way back to God, and teaching them to obey his teachings.
Jesus would actually be doing what small groups say they want/should/need to be doing, but they can’t, because they’re too busy being a “small group” inside the confines of your small group’s ministry infrastructure.
It’s like a jogging class where the instructor, instead of taking his class jogging and commenting on technique while class members actually are jogging, stuffs everyone into a classroom and lectures to them three days a week and then gives them a final exam.
Disciples are created “out there.” Small groups, if not by their definition, definitely by their practice, all occur “in here.”
With few exceptions, modern-day small groups are great at producing:
• Christians who sit in circles and talk to one another inside a building
• people who read and comment on the Bible
• people who rant about how they long to “get out there” and do something that matters
• people who awkwardly end their time by praying for “prayer requests”
• people who go home unchallenged and unchanged.
You would think there’s a Small Groups Revised Version of the New Testament somewhere. And I quote: “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore stay where you are and make Christians of the people you already know, baptizing them in the name of American consumer Christianity, and teaching them to sit in rooms with one another, read the Bible, and pray for one another. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18-20, SGRV).
If the Small Groups Revised Version of Matthew 28:18-20 were the stated purpose, then most American small groups would be nailing it.
In my humble opinion, the Americanized small group is a remnant of an impotent religious institution that can’t transition effectively into a post-Christian, postmodern world.
Thank God small groups worked in some instances, and in some contexts!
But for every story of success about a small group creating an authentic disciple, my hunch is there are three times as many failures (and that just takes into account the 10 to 30 percent of church attendees who actually participate in them).
If we had time to waste, this wouldn’t be an urgent problem.
But we don’t.
The cell group is a form of church organization that is used in some Christian churches. Cell groups are generally intended to teach the Bible and personalize Christian fellowship. They are always used in cell churches, but also occur in parachurch organizations and other interdenominational settings, where they are usually referred to as such as Bible study groups. They are known by a variety of other names, including growth groups, connect groups, care groups, life groups, fellowship groups, small groups and home groups. David Hunsicker suggests that the "cell" group concept in church structure "is becoming prominent in almost every denomination in American Protestantism."
The cell group differs from the house church in that the group is part of an overall church congregation, whereas the house church is a self-contained congregation.
The term cell group is derived from biology: the cell is the basic unit of life in a body. In a metaphorical sense, just as a body is made up of many cells that give it life, the cell church is made of cell groups that give it life.
Colin Marshall uses the term "growth group", suggesting that the aim is for group members to "grow in Christ", and, through the group, for the gospel to "grow and bear fruit."
Another term, typically employed in Missional Communities, is huddle. This refers to a small group in which discipleship is emphasized and in which membership is by invitation only.
David Hunsicker points out that while house churches are mentioned in the New Testament, the institution of a "well-organized, structured church" resulted in the decline of the small home groups. The concept was resurrected at the time of the Protestant Reformation and "Ulrich Zwingli inadvertently pushed the Anabaptists in the direction of small groups when he started meeting with a small gathering of men who were interested in learning New Testament Greek. The concept of small groups was revived again in the late seventeenth century by Anthony Horneck in Great Britain and Philipp Jacob Spener in Germany.
Spener published his Pia Desideria in 1675 and laid out his program for the reformation of the Lutheran Church, emphasising the use of small groups. He suggested the reintroduction of "the ancient and apostolic kind of church meetings," held "in the manner in which Paul describes them in 1 Corinthians 14:26–40." Spener goes on to suggest
This might conveniently be done by having several ministers (in places where a number of them live in a town) meet together or by having several members of a congregation who have a fair knowledge of God or desire to increase their knowledge meet under the leadership of a minister, take up the Holy Scriptures, read aloud from them, and fraternally discuss each verse in order to discover its simple meaning and what- ever may be useful to the edification of all. Anybody who is not satisfied with his understanding of a matter should be permitted to express his doubts and seek further explanation. On the other hand those (including the ministers) who have made progress should be allowed the freedom to state how they understand each passage. Then all that has been contributed, insofar as it accords with the sense of the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures, should be carefully considered by the rest, especially by the ordained ministers, and applied to the edification of the whole meeting.
Influenced by Pietist conventicles, John Wesley took on the concept of small groups, and has been called the "Father" of the modern small-group concept. John Wesley formed societies to "bring small numbers of people together (usually twelve) to pray, read the Bible and listen to exhortations, and to encourage and enjoy each other's company."
Cell groups are made of small numbers of Christians, often between 6 and 12, and led by a cell leader. Members may be in the same cell group because of common locality, schools or interests. Cell meetings are usually not conducted in the church sanctuary, if any, but in any of the members' homes, rooms in the church building or other third-party venues.
Cell meetings may consist of a fellowship meal, communion, prayer, worship, sharing or Bible study and discussion.
The use of small Bible study groups is related, but not exclusively associated with, the large churches sometimes called megachurches. In these congregations, small groups perform much of the ministerial work of the church, including teaching the Bible. David Hunsicker suggests that Willow Creek Community Church "has exploded through an effective use of small group strategy."
A number of lesson plans, workbooks, and programs have been developed to facilitate the study of the Bible in small groups. The Alpha Course, originally developed in a Church of England context, but now ecumenical, is one such course intended for use by small groups that provides a synoptic introduction to the entire Bible. The more theologically evangelical Christianity Explored course was devised as an evangelical response to the Alpha Course. Other denominations have similar resources available, such as the Roman Catholic Great Adventure Catholic Bible Study and the United Methodist Church's Disciple series.
Five Small Group Myths
Home Bible studies don't always operate by the textbook.
by David A. Womack
After more than two decades of promotion in books, magazines, seminars, and classes, the fact about small groups is that few churches can testify to success. Among the reasons are:
We have few role models, at least in our own culture.
The literature on the subject has promoted the idea without offering practical methods.
The American concept of home privacy causes such ministries to develop more slowly here than in some countries.
Our American style of church leadership does not often encourage lay ministries to develop outside the walls of the sanctuary, beyond the immediate supervision of the pastor.
Pastors who decide in favor of home ministries become discouraged when they cannot find specifically prepared Bible study materials. If we want to give direction to the teaching, we must adapt materials created for other purposes—and that's too much work.
Yet we cannot escape the reality that many lay Christians want a small-group experience and can benefit greatly if the group functions properly. The question is how.
After seven years of experience with thousands of home meetings in dozens of churches as a denominational administrator, I think I know why more churches do not have home programs. The writers and speakers, myself included, were onto a good idea but were simplistic, idealistic, and premature. We approached the subject without understanding the complicated sociological terrain onto which we had so glibly ventured. The equilibrium of congregational life is finely balanced, and few pastors will risk disaster by adding untested and partially understood programs that operate largely outside their direct supervision.
Here are five theories I've had to revise along the way:
Myth 1: Small Groups Are a Wonderful Evangelistic Tool.
One of my early misconceptions was about the very purpose of home Bible studies. At first I said, "Home groups are our outreach to the city."
But a couple of years later I said, "Home Bible studies contribute to the total outreach of the church. They are not directly evangelistic."
Several years and much experience later, I said, "The evangelistic results of home Bible studies are indirect, for the groups draw from the congregation rather than the neighborhood. Home ministries conserve the results of other evangelistic methods." Most churches that start new programs have outreach in mind, but they soon become disappointed with the evangelistic results. Churches that are successful with home ministries, I concluded, must do so for their developmental and conservational value, not solely for evangelism.
Then finally it dawned on me: Home Bible studies are a withdrawal from the community into an intimate Christian circle for fellowship and nurture. They are for inreach, not outreach!
People brought to Christ through the home meetings usually are drawn to the church by answered prayer. Much as wheat is harvested at the critical point of its ripeness, so people brought into the church through the home meetings are reached at some moment of personal crisis. Still, they often come to the church before attending the home group that prayed for them.
Myth 2: Small Groups Unite the Christians in a Neighborhood.
Another lesson I learned was about the locations of home groups. Like many churches starting home programs with little advance knowledge, we began by studying the territory and recruiting host homes throughout the community. Then we asked the church people to attend the home fellowship group nearest them.
Obedient as our congregations sometimes are, the plan worked … for about two weeks. After that, people went wherever their friends attended.
People form small groups around centers of common interest; they cluster socioeconomically, not geographically. True, home fellowships are brought together by a common interest in the Bible, love for Christ, and dependence on interpersonal support. Yet, many people share those interests without bonding together in clusters. These common bonds would not suffice in themselves to form a particular small group without some additional core of commonality that draws people to one another. At the heart of the small-group phenomenon is an interdependence among friends.
This raises the question of cliques in the church. Most of us have preached or heard preaching against church cliques as far back as we can remember. Now we are beginning to understand that cliquing is a natural and desirable gregarious trait that unites a congregation and forms the basis for home ministries. Home Bible studies take advantage of this natural bonding by providing a creative function for friendship groups.
The negative side of this social phenomenon is cliquishness—the temptation to exclude outsiders. Church leaders can avoid this problem by actively encouraging hospitality, posting public invitations to all home groups, and starting new groups as friendship circles develop.
Although home programs are not in themselves evangelistic, they contribute to church growth by strengthening the whole fiber of the congregation. Much as grapes grow in clusters, a church develops by attracting friendship groups around a central stem. Some center of mutual interest binds a congregation together in love and fellowship; but the church is made up of smaller units, each of which is more or less complete in itself. The force that attracts groups into a church body varies, but it often has something to do with a common ethnic, economic, or social background and lifestyle, a common belief system, and a popular pastor. The larger church learns to cluster smaller groups into its greater whole by providing nourishment, encouragement, identity, and protection.
Myth 3: Bible Study Is the Centerpiece of a Small Group.
In the beginning, I thought people wanted to gather in homes to study the Bible, so I put most of my effort into preparing the lessons. I still write and print a Bible lesson each week and accumulate them into 13-week series, but I have learned that people do not come to homes primarily for Bible study.
Rather, they are attracted by their needs for social interaction, the support of caring and sharing friends, and a sense of belonging to a meaningful body of peers. They want a place where they can get good advice and feel free to speak without rejection.
When I realized this, I did the necessary research in small-group dynamics and organized the home meetings to provide for the whole range of needs. Our church's home meetings now have four elements … in this order:
1. Fellowship (conversation and refreshments)
2. Bible Study (a prepared lesson)
3. Self-Expression (sharing, exhortation, and prayer requests)
4. Prayer (either individually or as a group)
Myth 4: A Small Group Needs One Strong Leader.
The biblical shepherds led their flocks to pasture, but those of today drive the sheep. I soon discovered a similar contrast of leadership styles in home fellowships. Some led out strongly; others nudged around the edges.
Because people need both to hear and be heard, small groups do best with sharing rather than dominant leaders.
The wise shepherd learns to recognize and put bells on certain sheep the flock tends to follow. This keeps the sheep together and simplifies the task of moving the flock from one place to another. Guiding a few bell sheep and thereby leading the whole flock is much better than driving with sheep dogs.
Human nature is competitive, and every relationship includes a factor of leading and following. Whenever we put anyone in charge of anything, we establish a power structure in which a certain amount of struggle for domination will occur. It is not easy to find unthreatened and nonthreatening teachers who will lead without feeling ego-bound to rule.
On this score, I am glad I listened to the advice of Korea's Cho Yonggi, who told me to put two teachers in each home, both equally responsible to the pastor. It was a stroke of genius. Neither feels the group is his or hers to control; both must remain loyal to the church and the program. They simply alternate each week, one teaching and the other leading the rest of the meeting.
Another problem was how to maintain quality with teachers who had little or no previous experience and training. I overcame this by providing weekly lesson outlines and teaching the lessons myself on cassette. Each week the teacher listens to the 30-minute tape and follows along in the Bible and a lesson outline. Then he or she takes the outline to the home meeting. We also have a training manual with an accompanying tape.
The method works well, allowing us to use almost any Christian who will accept the responsibility. In fact, we generally do better with humble people who lack some confidence than with teachers trained in other methods.
Myth 5: Small Groups Multiply by Cell Division.
The popular idea compares home groups to amoebas that grow to a certain size and then divide into two equally viable cells. At first I suggested a group should divide when it reached 20 in regular attendance. Well, in the first three years only one group grew that large—and after it divided, only one of the two cells survived. Most groups grew to 14 or 16 and stopped.
The idea of church growth by cell division works only on paper. Real groups grow to the size of the available space minus a comfort factor of about 20 percent (to allow for introverts, claustrophobics, and others who resist crowding). In most homes that means a maximum of not more than a dozen people. The concept of growth is not really a goal in small-group dynamics.
So how do we start new groups? The best way is simply to form new groups! Some people will come from other crowded groups, and the new home with its friendship connections will attract its own following. This is a constantly flowing process as some groups flourish, others stabilize, and still others fade for lack of leadership or cohesion. The experiences are as varied as the people who attend.
Truthfully, a home Bible study network is a living thing that comes and goes, expands and contracts as the years go by. We must expect some groups to fade while others flourish. One group in our church has met continuously for five years—mainly because of steady leadership and practical teaching materials. But others have fallen by the wayside. That is why we must never cease starting new groups.
Why Groups Are Worth the Effort
The best lesson of all was when I began noticing that people who regularly participate in home meetings seldom require pastoral counseling. The small group is a caring and sharing environment that provides excellent psychological and spiritual therapy in addition to fellowship and Bible knowledge. The people receive emotional support, Christian advice, and answers to prayer.
The early church did not construct its first church building for 300 years. In the beginning of that period, it used the temple for corporate worship, and after A.D. 300 it began to worship in the Roman basilicas, but its basic meeting places were believers' homes. Those nonthreatening, marginally evangelistic, low-profile leadership gatherings accounted for some of history's best church growth.
Pastor Gerald A. Roles of Calvary Community Church in San Bruno, California, attributes much of the growth of his crowded church to home fellowships. He is fond of saying, "Home Bible studies grow on you."
He is like a number of other pastors, myself included, who have learned a lot on the twisting, turning road of home ministries. The small groups did not do everything we originally had in mind, but they have surprised us with unexpected success in the maturation and care of our congregations.
That is why I still say with conviction: Every church should be a motivational and training center surrounded by a network of home Bible studies—even if they don't take shape the way you projected in the beginning.
David A. Womack is pastor of Twin Palms Assembly of God, San Jose, California.
Leadership, Winter, 1986. Copyright by the author or Christianity Today International/LEADERSHIP JOURNAL.
Over the past few years a number of people have asked me about Greater Joy Ministries operated by Michael and Debi Pearl, and as I have traveled on preaching trips I have found that many families in good fundamental Baptist churches are using their materials.
The following is a report on my investigation into this ministry. I have read two of Michael’s books as well as issues of No Greater Joy magazine, and I have looked carefully through the material available at their web site.
Beware Michael Pearl
There is much to praise in Greater Joy Ministries. The Pearl’s book To Train up a Child contains many very helpful things (though it often goes beyond clear biblical precepts and enters into a legalistic “Pearlosophy,” which is presented as dogmatically as the parts that are supported directly by Scripture, such as some of his teaching about education and other things that almost require an Amish-like lifestyle). The Pearls rightly avoid “Christian” psychology. They promote godly husband-wife relationships. They teach parents how to reach the child’s heart rather than enforcing mere externals. They focus on how crucial it is for the parents to live what they preach, to avoid hypocrisy. They teach a biblical approach to corporal punishment without apology. They teach parents how to jealously and carefully protect their children from evil influences. They give some excellent and timely warnings about the danger of the average church youth group that throws young people together in a secular fashion and thus allows strong but worldly personalities to corrupt heretofore innocent youth (which is exactly what happened to me as I grew up in a Southern Baptist congregation). They are clear about parental responsibility, that the “buck stops here” with Christian parents in regard to child training.
I am sure that the Pearls are genuine salt-of-the-earth people who try to practice what they preach, but I want to mention some serious errors that those who use their materials should be aware of.
THE ERROR OF EXALTING THE FAMILY BEYOND A SCRIPTURAL BOUND AND RELEGATING THE CHURCH TO A LESSER REALM OF IMPORTANCE
No Greater Joy has some excellent practical teaching on the family, but I do not believe that it is presented within a scriptural balance and framework in regard to the church. In the topics listed at the No Greater Joy web site, “The Church” is glaringly absent. When Michael Pearl speaks about the church it is almost always in a negative context.
While the family is the foundational unit in the church and society and is very, very important, I believe it is possible to turn the family into an idol, when it is emphasized beyond biblical bounds and when it becomes an end unto itself.
I don’t believe the Pearls themselves have made an idol of the home, but I believe that many associated with the home schooling movement have, and the Pearls should do more to resist this error. Debi Pearl wisely says: “Do not get caught up in pouring your life into a good cause--even the rearing of a large family. Pour your life into knowing and serving the Savior and desiring that every life you touch be touched with the knowledge of forgiveness in the shed blood of Jesus. We are called to be soldiers in the army of the living God. Raising up young new recruits is exciting” (To Train up a Child, fifteenth printing, 2004, p. 119).
The problem is that this is only a brief postscript in their book on child training, and it is not something that seems to be properly emphasized. In the dozens of articles I have read by the Pearls, this is the only time I have seen that type of emphasis. The Pearls have 150,000 on their mailing list and their book To Train up a Child has sold more than 400,000 copies. They therefore have a vast influence among home schoolers.
Christ’s Great Commission is to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth and to plant churches that are discipleship centers, the pillar and ground of the truth, where believers are trained in the service of God and in the work of world evangelism (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:17; Luke 24:46-48; Acts 1:. This is what we see lived out in the book of Acts and it is a program that is to be perpetuated until Christ returns.
Parents who are committed to Christ will have this Great Commission before them at all times as they raise their children.
To raise wholesome, talented, law-abiding, hard-working citizens is not enough, because it falls short of what Christ commanded.
I believe home schooling is by far the best way to educate children. That is how our own children were educated, but within some home schooling circles there is neglect toward and misunderstanding of the New Testament church.
For example, on my last preaching trip to Australia I met some godly families in one of the churches. The children play various musical instruments; they have a wide variety of interests and talents; they have serious goals in life; they are getting a wonderful education; they are separated from the wicked things of the world. There is nothing wrong with any of this, of course. It is a great blessing to see close and godly families in this wicked age. The problem is with the emphasis and balance. These families do not place the church and the Great Commission in a Scriptural priority. They attend services only once service a week, forsaking the other services for “family time,” in direct contradiction to Acts 2:42 and Hebrews 10:25. They brazenly neglected the special services that the church was hosting and thus gained no benefit from the visiting preacher. Their lives could have been challenged by that preaching, but other things were more important to them.
These parents are teaching their children many good things, but they are wrong in teaching them to slight the church.
My friends, the Bible plainly states that it is the church that is the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15). Why doesn’t it say that the home is the pillar and ground of the truth? And this is not some vague “universal” church. The context is a scripturally organized assembly that has pastors and deacons (1 Tim. 3:1-14). The believer’s service to the Lord is to be in and through such a church, in submission to God-ordained pastors and elders (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13; Hebrews 13:7, 17).
Any family that is not in proper relationship with and submission to God-ordained church authority is not in the will of God (unless, of course, no such church exists in the area). I say this on the authority of the Scriptures. I would ask such a family, “Who has the rule over you?” If the reply is, “God does,” I would rejoin that God Himself says that church elders are to have the rule over us (Heb. 13:17), not as lords over us but as under-shepherds who must, in turn, give account to the Great Shepherd (1 Pet. 5:1-4).
I understand all too well that pastoral authority has been abused at times and that this is an hour of great compromise in churches, but that is no excuse to reject it. Husbands and fathers have abused their authority at least as much as pastors have abused theirs, but that does not mean that we are free to reject them. The Lord Jesus Christ said, “I will build my church” (Mat. 16:1. It is His plan and program, and it is not to be despised.
There is nothing wrong with a “house church” as such, if that church is scripturally organized, but a loose knit gathering in a home is not necessarily a church, and a father of a family is not a pastor unless he is qualified and called and ordained (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-11; Acts 14:23).
Paul wrote to Titus and informed him that he was to “set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city” (Titus 1:5). The thing that was wanting, or lacking, was for the new converts to be organized into proper New Testament assemblies, and this required the ordination of qualified, God-called elders (Titus 1:6-16).
This is the pattern that we see in the first missionary journey. After Paul and Barnabas had preached in many places, they returned to each place and organized the new groups of believers into churches and ordained elders in each one (Acts 14:23).
A home Bible study, a home prayer meeting, a loose knit group of home schoolers, is not in itself a proper New Testament church and has no scriptural authority to replace such a church.
If Michael Pearl agrees with us on the importance of the New Testament church, he should be very careful to preach about this, as it is an essential part of “all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). He should also speak out plainly against the practice of many today who neglect and discount the value of the house of God (1 Tim. 3:16). We would expect to see such a warning prominently given at his web site, since his ministry is attractive to such people.
Such teaching and warning is lacking, though. In fact, in his article “Sanctuary” (March 2005) he refers sympathetically to “several families” who have “traded church attendance for a DVD player,” and he does not explain that this is unscriptural.
Pearl complains that “church today is not a sanctuary from the world nor is it a ‘holy’ place.”
While I agree that too many churches are worldly from top to bottom, meaning that even the leaders and workers are worldly, it is equally true that a scriptural New Testament church will never be completely holy. If a church is reaching the world for Christ as it should, there will always be unsaved and newly saved people in attendance who are not very holy, to say the least. In fact, if we were to be honest with our own hearts, we would admit that there is plenty of unholiness in the most mature of saints, as even the apostle Paul lamented in regard to his own life. “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not” (Rom. 7:1. And the apostle John added his Amen to this when he said, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:9).
The New Testament church can never be a complete sanctuary from the world or a perfectly holy place for the simple fact that it is made up of sinners who are in the business of reaching sinners. Paul referred to the unsaved who attended the meetings of the church at Corinth, and said nothing to discourage the church from having the unsaved in attendance but rather encouraged them to live in such a way that they would reach the unsaved for Christ (1 Cor. 14:23-25).
A church that is busy reaching the unsaved will not only have the unsaved in attendance at services and events but will have new believers in attendance, as well, and these will be far from “entirely sanctified” and separated from the world.
I remember when I was first saved and joined a fundamental Baptist church in central Florida. I was saved; I knew the Lord; I had truly repented; but I was still a mess! I still had hair down to my shoulders; I still smoked and listened to rock & roll and attended worldly movies. Yet the church members were so patient and kind to me, opening their homes to me, spending time with me, discipling me; and it was this that helped me to grow and to begin shedding the things of the flesh and the world and putting on Christ.
The man that led me to Jesus Christ had the same attitude. He was not ashamed to spend four or so days traveling with me, living with me, enduring my foul language and disgusting habits and vain arguments against the truth.
The apostolic churches that are described in the New Testament scriptures were far from sinlessly perfect. Consider the seven churches of Asia Minor addressed in Revelation 2-3. Most of these apostolic churches had serious problems. The church at Ephesus had left its first love. The church at Pergamos allowed false teachers in their midst, including the false doctrine of Balaam that was associated with idolatry and fornication. The church at Thyatira allowed a false prophetess to teach worldly heresies. The church at Sardis had a name that it lived but was dead. The church at Laodicea was so lukewarm that Christ warned them that He would spew them out of His mouth.
Consider the apostolic church at Corinth. This church was established by the apostle Paul himself, but it was a genuine mess! The members were carnal and divided (1 Cor. 1-3); they did not discipline even the most glaring sins (1 Cor. 5); they took one another to court (1 Cor. 6); they fellowshipped with idols (1 Cor. 10); they grossly misused the spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 14); they allowed false teachers in their midst, even those who preached false christs and gospels (2 Cor. 11:3-4) and denied the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:12).
The church at Philippi was an excellent church, but two women in the congregation were so at odds with one another that they had to be corrected by Paul in a public letter (Phil. 4:2).
The apostle Peter played the hypocrite and Paul had to rebuke him publicly (Gal. 2:11-14).
Even Paul and Barnabas had such a “sharp contention” that they could no longer work together (Acts 15:36-40).
None of this is an excuse to think that it does not matter what type of church we attend or how we live, but it is a fact of Christian living and church life that we must understand and learn to deal with.
This is not something that Michael Pearl preaches properly. In his article “Sanctuary” (March 2005) he does advise someone, “Don’t leave the church, anymore than a missionary would leave the field because there are sinners there,” but having read two of his books and dozens of his articles, I am convinced that the message to exchange the church for a DVD player and to look lightly upon one’s responsibility to the church is louder than the message to stay in the church and be a faithful, fruitful member thereof.
For more on this subject see “Seven Keys to Fruitful Church Membership” at http://www.wayoflife.org/fbns/sevenkeys.htm.
There's more to this article, but only posting what's relevant to this thread.
Questions About the Home Church Movement
Updated May 26, 2009 (first published December 19, 2005) (first published May 18, 2005) (David Cloud, Fundamental Baptist Information Service, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061, 866-295-4143, email@example.com; for instructions about subscribing and unsubscribing or changing addresses, see the information paragraph at the end of the article) -
Recently I received the following question from a reader:
How would one refute the home church movement that I see around me? I understand local church doctrine but some of their defense I have no answer for, such as the following:
-- Wherever 2 or 3 are gathered together I am in the midst.
-- You are the Temple of the Holy Ghost if saved.
-- No building is required.
-- Compromise and weakness in the churches.
-- Come out from them and be separate.
-- Didn’t the true church survive underground and in homes while under persecution?
I’m local church but when I come across a few of these people I have a hard time refuting some of these questions especially when they point out the mess the ‘church’ is in. In some ways it would be nice to not attend a local church. Church membership can be hard work especially when so many don’t help or when one must stand alone on convictions, even in the church. But I’m not at liberty to abandon my local church. I know families that have given up on the local church because of the poor influence of the people in the church, especially the youth. I am reminded that Hannah left Samuel at the temple even in the mess the temple was in with Eli’s son's wicked behavior. I’m sure she was aware of what was going on yet she trusted God to work it out and He certainly did. Samuel maintained a good testimony through all the sin that was around him. He was used of God to preserve Israel. My part as a parent is to keep my family in church and when things come up that we don’t agree with we simply use that as an opportunity to train the children. No doubt the world is in the church so I use it to show my family that this is not the way and don’t walk in it. Walk in truth even if others don’t. I don't believe God wants us to just blindly go along with all things in the church. We must prove all things. As David said, ‘Is there not a cause,’ so must the cause move us to stand.
REPLY FROM BROTHER CLOUD
Hello. It is good to hear from you. There is a great attack upon the New Testament church today, and it is coming from many different directions. One of those is the “house church” movement.
IN ADDRESSING THIS ISSUE WE MUST FIRST UNDERSTAND HOW IMPORTANT THE CHURCH IS FROM A BIBLICAL STANDPOINT. Even the most cursory study of the New Testament reveals that the church is God’s chosen means of accomplishing His purposes in this age. There are more than 100 references to the church in the New Testament. This shows the emphasis that the Holy Spirit has put upon the church, and the vast majority of those references are unquestionably to the local assembly, not to a general or prospective aspect of the church.
Men have corrupted churches, but the church is God’s plan. The Lord Jesus said, “I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Mat. 16:1. The church is Christ’s program.
The church is the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim. 3:16), and that is a church with elders and elders (1 Tim. 3:1, .
Most of the New Testament was written directly to churches. And even those portions not written directly to a particular church refer to the church. The theme of Acts is the planting and multiplication of the first churches. The Pastoral Epistles (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus) were written to instruct church planters in their work.
Even the General Epistles, which are not written to particular churches, always have the churches in mind. Hebrews refers to the church in chapters 10 and 13. Hebrews 10:25 exhorts God’s people not to forsake the assembling of themselves together. In Hebrews 13:7 and 17 Christians are exhorted to obey church rulers. The last chapter of James refers to the church. Those who are sick are to call for the “elders of the church.” The final chapter of 1 Peter also refers to the church, in exhorting elders in their duties. John refers to the church in his third epistle, when he mentions the proud Diotrephes. The book of Revelation, of course, is addressed to the seven churches that existed in that day.
Consider, too, that there is no Bible instruction about the discipline and watch care of Christians apart from the church. There is no instruction about leadership among Christians apart from the church. The entire life and work of God’s people for this age appears in the context of the assembly.
SECOND, WE MUST ALSO UNDERSTAND WHAT A CHURCH IS. A proper New Testament church has certain biblical ingredients. It is not merely a group of Christians meeting for prayer and Bible study. Paul wrote to Titus about church work in Crete. The gospel had been preached and there were believers who were meeting together, but that was not sufficient. Paul instructed Titus that certain things were lacking (Titus 1:5). What were those things? The thing that was lacking was proper qualified leadership and biblical organization, and these are the thing that Paul addresses in the book of Titus. The very first thing that Paul instructs Titus about is the ordination of elders. “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” (Titus 1:5).
We see the same thing in the book of Acts. When Paul and Barnabas raised up groups of believers in various towns, they were careful to “ordain elders in every church” (Acts 14:23).
A proper New Testament church, therefore, is a body of baptized believers who are congregated together under the oversight of qualified and ordained pastor-elders and who are following the pattern of government and accomplishing the work described in the apostolic epistles, which is Christ’s Great Commission.
It is clear from Scripture that it is God’s will that every believer be a faithful and fruitful member of a sound New Testament church. That is what we see in Acts 2. Those who were saved on the day of Pentecost “continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42)
If there is not such a church in the area, the establishment of such a church must be the highest priority. A believer should never be content merely to listen to preaching sermons on a cassette player or CD, or to read sermons from a book, or to listen to preaching on the radio or television, or to meet together with a loose-knit group of believers without proper biblical leadership and organization.
The reason I have remained a faithful member of a church for 33 years is not that I have found perfect pastors and perfect churches, but because I know that this is God’s will and anything less would displease Him. It is my understanding of the doctrine of the church that keeps me going in spite of grave imperfections I have found in churches.
Now, as to the specific questions you raised, the following is my answer:
1. “Wherever 2 or 3 are gathered together I am in the midst.” This is a reference to Christ’s statement in Matthew 18 -- “Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them (Mat. 18:19-20). In this passage, Christ was discussing church discipline. See Mat. 18:15-18. The passage does not support the idea that a loose-knit gathering of believers is a proper church when no effort is made to organize the gathering along biblical lines under the oversight of qualified pastor-elders. It is common for churches to start small, of course. There is usually an intermediate stage during which a new fellowship is growing towards become an established, properly organized New Testament assembly. That is the stage that we see in Crete before Titus was instructed as to how to organize the churches. During this intermediate stage, a fellowship might be composed of two or three people and Christ encourages that small, struggling body of believers that He is with them. But when we compare Scripture with Scripture, when we compare this passage in Matthew 18 with passages in Acts and Titus and elsewhere, we find that a proper New Testament will have duly ordained pastor-elders and will be organized along biblical lines and will not be a loose-knit group of believers who do not want anyone to rule over them.
2. “You are the Temple of the Holy Ghost if saved.” -- Truly, every born again child of God has the indwelling Holy Spirit, but this does not mean that such a believer is sufficient in himself to serve the Lord apart from the New Testament church that Christ has established. The Holy Spirit exhorted the readers of Hebrews as follows: “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), and, “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” (Heb. 13:17). Those exhortations are for every believer of every period in the church age.
3. “No building is required.” -- This statement is true. It doesn’t matter where a church meets. A New Testament church can meet in a home or in a rented facility or in its own facility. That is irrelevant. The important point is not where the church meets but whether it is organized along biblical lines.
4. “Compromise and weakness in the churches.” -- It is true that there is widespread compromise and weakness in churches today. In fact, it has always been true! It was true for many of the churches even in the first century. The church at Corinth was a mess! The members were carnal and divided. They refused to discipline one of their own although he was living in open fornication with his father’s wife! They were taking each other to court. They were getting drunk during the Lord’s Supper. They were misusing the spiritual gifts. They allowed false teachers to discredit the Apostle Paul. What a church! Yet Paul was thankful for the grace God had given them (1 Cor. 1:4). The seven churches mentioned in Revelation also had many serious problems, including spiritual coldness, false teachers, and immorality. There never has been a church that did not have problems, and the simple reason for this is that church members are sinners. As it has been said, “If you ever find a perfect church, don’t join it or you will mess it up!” It is crucial to find the best church possible and to seek to make it a better church by my presence. A question that I challenge God’s people to ask themselves is this: “If the entire church were like me, what would my church be?” If the church reflected my level of spirituality, faithfulness, service, prayer, zeal for the things of Christ, separation from the world, giving, etc., what would the church be?
5. “Come out from them and be separate.” -- Biblical separation is a command, and I preach much on this issue. I have never counseled a believer to remain in a church that has a false gospel or a false christ or a false spirit or that is given over to the world or that is yoked together with the ecumenical movement or such. There is definitely a time to leave a church, but we must be careful and learn how to weigh issues in the church. “Come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you” is from 2 Corinthians 6:17, and the context of this statement is separation from unbelievers and infidels and idolaters (2 Cor. 6:14-16). 2 Corinthians 6 is not describing separation from all churches just because they are imperfect.
6. “Didn’t the true church survive underground and in homes while under persecution?” -- Of course, true churches survived underground and in homes during persecution, and they still do so today in some parts of the world. But that has nothing to do with the fact that God’s Word instructs us to have churches and to organize them along biblical lines under the oversight of pastor-elders.
I commend you for staying with the church and for not giving in to temptations to abandon it. On the authority of God’s Word, I can say that you will not regret this at the judgment seat of Christ. There are always things that come up even in the best of churches that one will not necessarily agree with. If we reject the church on the basis of every imperfection, it will not be possible to be a fruitful church member.
At the same time, it is important to be in a godly church. When a church goes after the world, it becomes a spiritually dangerous place, and this is especially true when it comes to children. I don’t believe that the example of Hannah is a good one to follow today. In that day there was only one temple. There was only one place in the world where God was worshipped properly. That is no longer true. We live in a different age. If necessary, it would be better to move to a place that has a godly church than to stay in a place where one is forced to attend a worldly one. If I were a in such a position, I would rather relocate even if it meant taking a cut in pay in order to have my family in a spiritually-healthy church.
The solution to the problem of carnal and compromised churches is not to abandon the institution of the church but to support and to establish good ones.
May the Lord give you much wisdom and strength to deal with his important issue.
I also suggest that you read “Seven Keys to Fruitful Church Membership” and “I Am Not Your Pastor” at the Way of Life web site. There is a search engine.
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Will say this - loosely-knit bible study fellowship groups, without any oversight, do NOT work. What it all amounts to is everyone talking out of thin air over what they think of portions of scripture they're studying. And everyone is looking at the one talking with that "deer in the headlights" look. (and the vicious cycle goes on and on)
I've always wondered why I myself just couldn't understand what I myself was talking about, and by the time the study would conclude, it feels like I took a jog in the New Orleans sweltering humidity! Worn out!
This is What it Means to Make Disciples
Zane Pratt | September 26 2016
The term discipleship has made its rounds within churches for decades. Its use has encompassed everything from church programs or classes to one-one-one relationships between a mature believer and one who is new to the faith. It has involved Bible studies, hanging out over coffee, working together in ministry, and lengthy discussions over biblical ethics and morality.
That specific term, however, is not found in the Scriptures. It comes from a biblical phrase that’s the central command of the Great Commission: make disciples. If it’s principal to Christ’s commands, we need to understand fully and rightly what it means to make disciples. In this article, Zane Pratt fleshes out a biblical framework for disciple making.
As we look in the Bible at the teaching and examples of Jesus and his apostles, we discover that disciple making is the Christ-commanded, Spirit-empowered duty of every disciple of Jesus. We have the mandate to evangelize unbelievers, baptize believers, teach them the Word of Christ, train them to obey Christ as members of his church, and make disciples of all nations. Every element in this description is worth unpacking.
All Believers Make Disciples
First of all, the command to make disciples extends to every believer. This isn’t t reserved for a small spiritual elite. Everyone in the body of Christ is necessary for any disciple to grow to maturity in Christ. Not everyone will play the same role in the disciple-making process, but everyone in the body of Christ is irreplaceable. A local church is intended to be a group of disciples who make disciples, with no one excluded from the task. (1 Cor. 12:12–26; Eph. 4:11–16)
In the Power of the Spirit
The power to make disciples comes from the Holy Spirit. He is the one who takes people who are dead in their sin and makes them alive in Christ. He is the one who transforms believers into the image of Christ. He is the one who puts sin to death and clothes believers in the character of Christ, as perfectly described in the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23). He is the one who opens the minds of believers to the meaning of the Bible, and He’s the one who empowers ministry. No one should shy away from this task because they sense their own inadequacy. By ourselves, all of us are inadequate, but the Holy Spirit is more than sufficient for the task. (John 3:3–8, 14:16–18, 25–26, 15:26–27, 16:4–15; Rom. 8:1–17, 26–27; 1 Cor. 2:9–16, 12:1–31; 2 Cor. 3:17–18, 5:1–5; Gal. 5:16–26; Eph. 1:11–14; 2 Tim. 1:14; Titus 3:4–7; 1 John 3:24, 4:13)
Disciple Making Includes Evangelism
Disciple making includes sharing the gospel with the lost, then baptizing those who respond in repentance and faith as the public testimony of what has happened to them in salvation. Evangelism and disciple-making are not separate, disconnected activities. A church that simply helps existing believers become better Christians without also sharing the gospel with unbelievers is not a disciple making church. The beginning of the discipleship process is rebirth, and no one can be born again apart from hearing the gospel. Evangelism and baptism are the essential starting point of making disciples.(Matt. 28:16–20; John 3:1–18; Acts 2:37–47, 4:1–4, 12, 31, 5:14, 42, 6:7, 8:1–8, 9:1–19, 10:34–48, 11:19–24, 16:25–34; Rom. 6:1–4; 2 Cor. 5:11–21; Phil. 1:12–18; 1 Thess. 1:6; 2 Tim. 4:5)
Disciple Making Includes Teaching
Disciple making includes teaching believers to understand the content of the Bible. The task of making disciples involves more than teaching Bible knowledge, but it never involves less. The Bible is the incredible gift God has given to reshape the way we think, the things we love, and the way we live. It’s the only testimony that enables us to know God, and knowing God and Jesus Christ whom he sent is eternal life. Making disciples includes both teaching believers to know the Bible thoroughly and teaching them the disciplines of hearing, reading, studying, memorizing, and meditating on the Word of God. (Deut. 6:1–9, 32:44–47; Josh. 1:8; Ps. 19:7–4, 119:; Isa. 66:1; Matt. 4:4, 28:18–20; Acts 20:32; 1 Tim. 4:6–16; 2 Tim. 2:14–15, 3:14–17, 4:1–5; 2 Pet. 1:19–21)
Biblical disciple making includes training believers to obey all that the Bible teaches.
Along with teaching believers the content of the Bible, biblical disciple making also includes training those believers to obey all that the Bible teaches. Saving faith obeys the Word of God out of trust that everything God says in his word is true and good. Discipleship makes a holistic difference, and that difference is defined by what Scripture teaches and commands. The behavior, morality, ethics, relationships, stewardship of resources, and every other area of a disciple’s life are to be reshaped in obedience to God’s Word. We’re still sinners, and though no one attains perfect obedience in this life, the process of making disciples must include training to obey Scripture. (Matt. 7:21–27, 28:18–20; John 14:15, 21–24, 15:10–17; Acts 6:7; Rom. 6:1–23; Phil. 2:12–13; James 2:14–26; 1 John 1:8–10, 2:4–6, 3:24, 5:1–5)
Disciple Making Captures Affections
Disciple making also reshapes a believer’s relationships and affections. Disciples love God supremely, love other believers as Christ has loved us, love their neighbors as themselves, and even love their enemies. They also grow to love everything that God loves and to hate the evil that God hates. Therefore, the process of disciple making must take effect in every relationship of a disciple, and it must remake the disciple’s delights and desires. (Matt. 5:43–48, 6:19–34, 7:12, 10:37–39, 13:44–45, 22:36–40; John 15:12–17; Rom. 12:9–21; 1 Cor. 13:1–13, Gal. 5:13–15; Eph. 5:22–6:9; Phil. 3:7–17, 4:8; Col. 3:1–4:1; 1 John 2:15–17, 3:11–24, 4:7–21)
[size=15pt]Disciple Making Takes Place in Local Churches[/size]
Disciple making happens biblically in the context of a local church. One-on-one discipleship is useful, but it’s not sufficient. We all need each other in the body of Christ. We only grow to maturity in Christ as each member of the body does his or her part. Therefore, in order for a believer to grow as a disciple, that believer must be fully engaged and committed to a local church. In pioneer missionary settings where there are no churches, it’s necessary to plant new churches in order to obey the Great Commission command to make disciples. (Matt. 28:18–20; 1 Cor. 12:1–31; Eph. 4:1–16)
Disciples Make Disciples
Disciple making should result in disciples who make disciples who make disciples, in an ongoing process of reproduction. The Great Commission, which commands God’s people to make disciples, also commands those disciple-makers to teach the new believers to obey everything Jesus commanded. This includes the Great Commission itself, which commands making new disciples. Therefore, the process of disciple making should never end until Jesus comes back. Every disciple of Jesus should participate in making new disciples of Jesus.
All of this means that disciple making is far more than a church program or a study course. It is a lifelong process of growth toward conformity to the image of Christ and active work in the service of Christ. It happens in the rough and tumble of the life of a local church, as redeemed sinners spur one another on toward love and good deeds. It keeps going until Jesus comes back or the disciple goes to be with him through the valley of death. The biblical picture of what it means to be a Christian is a disciple who makes disciples in the fellowship of the church.
What Is The Bible Definition Of Church? What Is The Biblical View Of Church?
If you were to ask people what they think of when they hear the word church you would get many differing responses. Some responses may be accurate and some may not be accurate. However, most people are surprised to learn what is the Bible definition of church and what is the Biblical view of the church.
What is the common definition of church?
Church is commonly defined as a building used for public worship (1). However, many people refer to a church as an organization. Examples are the Catholic Church, the Church of England, and the Southern Baptist Church amongst many others.
What is the Bible definition of church?
The word church in the Bible comes from the Greek word ecclesia, which means a called out company or assembly. Wherever it is used in the Bible it refers to people. It can be a mob (Acts 19:30-41), the children of Israel (Acts 7:3, and the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22; Ephesians 5:25, 32).
We see the word church used three different ways: First, as the body of Christ, the church is often defined as a local assembly or group of believers (1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Galatians 1:1-2). Second, it is defined as the body of individual living believers (1 Corinthians 15:9; Galatians 1:13). Finally, it is defined as the universal group of all people who have trusted Christ through the ages (Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 5:23-27).
Bible Definition of Church
What the church is not
The church is not Jews or Gentiles
We see three distinct groups of people in the Bible: Jews, Gentiles, and the church (1 Corinthians 10:31-33; Galatians 3:26-29). Jews are all born as descendants of Abraham through Isaac (Romans 9:6-7). Gentiles are all other people born who are not Jews.
When a Jew or a Gentile trusts Christ as their Savior, they are born again into God’s family, become a child of God, and are part of the church. They are no longer a Jew or a Gentile (Galatians 3:26-29). The wall of separation between Jew and Gentile is torn down and they become one body (Ephesians 2:14-16).
The church is not a kingdom
Some people try to make the church the kingdom of Heaven that has already come. They ignore the following: The church inherits the kingdom (Matthew 25:34; 1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Corinthians 15:47-50). The church is here on earth, but the kingdom of Heaven is not here (Isaiah 9:7; Matthew 5:19-20; Matthew 8:11)
The church is not a physical building or business organization
Too often people describe a church building or organization as the church. This is because they emphasize the facility or organizational hierarchy as what constitutes a church. Most churches are organized in such a way that the public face of a church is seen as a business. However, since many people have a difficult time putting a label on a church, the term local church is often used to denote the local assembly of believers along with their meeting place and operations.
What is the Biblical view of church?
The church is the building or temple of God
Although the church is not a physical building, believers are referred to as the building or temple of God. Like a physical building, believers also have a Cornerstone; Jesus Christ. The foundation is the prophets and apostles. (Matthew 16:16; 1 Corinthians 3:9-17; 1 Corinthians 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:6; Ephesians 2:19-22).
The church is the bride of Christ
The Bible makes reference to the church being the bride of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:25-32). This also alluded to in John 14:1-3 when Jesus talked about making a place at His Father’s house for us. This is a direct reference to when a man proposes to a woman and they are engaged. The man goes back to his father’s house to build on an addition. When the addition is done and everything is ready, he comes to call for his bride, which symbolizes the resurrection (Matthew 25:1; Revelation 19:7-9).
The church has a Spiritual purpose
The local church or assembly of believers has different roles that God gave to specific believers for the purpose of perfecting or training the believers, doing the work of the ministry, and strengthening of the church body (Ephesians 4:11-14). The roles given in the Bible are apostles, prophets, [b]evangelists, pastors, and teachers. Deacons are also mentioned in Acts 6:1-7 and 1 Timothy 3:8-13 as servants to wait upon people with physical needs.[/b]
The church body also serves as a local group to resolve conflicts (Matthew 18:15-20) and serve as a court (1 Corinthians 6:1-. In addition, baptisms and the Lord’s Supper or communion are observed by the church body (Acts 2:37-40; 1 Corinthians 11:17-34). Depending on the size of the church body, other ministries are performed by the members of the church as God has gifted each person (Romans 12:3-13; Ephesians 4:1-.
When Jesus had dinner at Matthew’s house He was asked how He could spend time eating with sinners (Matthew 9:9-13). When Jesus heard this He answered with words that were very telling. He said, “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
With these words, Jesus described the church. Imperfect people who know they needed a Savior, working together to build relationships, help those in need, and to glorify God by striving to be like Christ and share His love with others.
What Is a Local Church?
A local church is a group of Christians who regularly gather in Christ’s name to officially affirm and oversee one another’s membership in Jesus Christ and his kingdom through gospel preaching and gospel ordinances. That’s a bit clunky, I know, but notice the five parts of this definition:
a group of Christians;
a regular gathering;
a congregation-wide exercise of affirmation and oversight;
the purpose of officially representing Christ and his rule on earth—they gather in his name;
the use of preaching and ordinances for these purposes.
Just as a pastor’s pronouncement transforms a man and a woman into a married couple, so the latter four bullet points transform an ordinary group of Christians spending time together at the park—presto!—into a local church.
The gathering is important for a number of reasons. One is that it’s where we Christians “go public” to declare our highest allegiance. It’s the outpost or embassy, giving a public face to our future nation. And it’s where we bow before our king, only we call it worship. The Pharaohs of the world may oppose us, but God draws his people out of the nations to worship him. He will form his mighty congregation.
The gathering is also where our king enacts his rule through preaching, the ordinances, and discipline. The gospel sermon explains the “law” of our nation. It declares the name of our king and explains the sacrifice he made to become our king. It teaches us of his ways and confronts us in our disobedience. And it assures us of his imminent return.
Through baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the church waves the flag and dons the army uniform of our nation. It makes us visible. To be baptized is to identify ourselves with the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, as well as to identify our union with Christ’s death and resurrection (Matt. 28:19; Rom. 6:3-5). To receive the Lord’s Supper is to proclaim his death and our membership in his body (1 Cor. 11:26-29; cf. Matt. 26:26-29). God wants his people to be known and marked off. He wants a line between the church and the world.
What is the local church? It’s the institution which Jesus created and authorized to pronounce the gospel of the kingdom, to affirm gospel professors, to oversee their discipleship, and to expose impostors. All this means, we don’t “join” churches like we join clubs. We submit to them.
Definition of a Local Church
Definition of a local church:
(1) purpose is the public worship of God, edification of the saints, and spread of the gospel.
(2) organization: planned meetings (Acts 20:7), corporate discipline (I Cor. 5), money raising projects (II Cor. 8-9), recognized leaders such as pastor, elders, deacons (Heb. 13:7, 17).
(3) ordinances practiced.
R. Lightner in “Truth for the Good Life, p. 115-6.
Profile of the Lone Ranger Christian
Sometimes you hear it said, “There’s no such thing as a Lone Ranger Christian.” That’s wrong – there is such a thing. Of course, he doesn’t wear a red bandana and a black mask. He doesn’t ride a white horse and have a sidekick calling him “Kimosabe.” So how do you recognize this spiritual masked man? Here is a profile of the Lone Ranger Christian:
1. The Lone Ranger Christian does not submit to any church authority.
The Lone Ranger Christian always rides solo. To be shepherded and led by pastors and elders is fine for the ordinary believer, but not for him. This renegade sheep is quite able lead himself beside still waters, thank you very much. He is a self-shepherd. He’s really not opposed to authority per se. It’s just that he himself is his own authority. He says he answers only to God. That sounds noble, but his refusal to submit to others for the sake of Christ (Ephesians 5:21; 1 Peter 5:5) means that in reality he answers only to himself.
2. The Lone Ranger Christian does not commit to any church body.
Belonging to a local church body not only means submission to church authority, but it also entails dedication and commitment to one group of believers over an extended period of time. The Lone Ranger Christian won’t have it. He may enjoy Christian gatherings and even be the gregarious type, but his fellowship with other believers is always on his terms.
The Lone Ranger Christian often enjoys hearing good preaching and teaching. And he will even come to church to worship. But he won’t commit to the church. If he tires of one preacher, or if he gets bored with one church’s worship service, or if too many people rub him the wrong way, it’s “Hi-yo Silver, Away!”, and off he rides.
Though he rejects the church in this way, strangely, he needs the church. It serves as the necessary backdrop to sharpen his profile as the self-made man of God, beholden to no institution. Rather than devoting his energies to serving the church, in a parasitical way he looks better as the church looks worse. Christians committed to their churches are engaged in the work of learning to love one another, and to worship and serve together, a messy and difficult business because of our sin and natural selfishness. But the Lone Ranger Christian strikes a pose of daring independence, ever above the fray, proclaiming his allegiance to Jesus alone. Though he is blissfully free from the heartache and stress that true Christian community often entails, the tragedy is he knows nothing of the joy of genuine Christian fellowship. His independence often brings in its wake a sad loneliness.
3. The Lone Ranger Christian values his personal experience and beliefs over church teaching.
Orthodox Christian doctrine has always been a communal affair. Christ entrusted his words to his apostles, who in turn taught others, including pastors and teachers, who in turn taught churches. These churches were formed around a common confession of faith in Christ. Church councils worked through difficult theological questions together. And the Reformed confessions of faith were penned by assemblies, or if written by individuals, they were adopted by churches. In other words, true doctrine is church doctrine – the Bible says the church is the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15).
But the Lone Ranger Christian, though he may hold orthodox views, will in the end appeal to his own understanding or his own experience as the final arbiter of Christian truth. In fact, he cherishes nothing so dearly as his own opinions. And what makes them right is not that they agree with Scripture, or with historic Christian orthodoxy, but that they are his.
4. The Lone Ranger Christian considers himself a teacher, not a student; a leader, not a follower.
The Lone Ranger Christian is naturally resistant to teaching, because to be taught demands a certain humility and willingness to submit to others. So he fancies himself a teacher. In the worst cases, he is the unique, self-appointed Teacher of Truth (you can often read his comments under internet articles dealing with religion). Likewise, the Lone Ranger Christian will not follow others. He imagines he would be a better leader than most of the pastors and elders he knows, but since he never learned to humbly follow others, he cannot be a true leader in Christ’s church.
Now, there are passages of Scripture you can show your Lone Ranger friend that indicate why all Christians should belong to a church (for example, Ephesians 4:1-16; Hebrews 10:25, 13:17; 1 Peter 5:1-5). But such talk will make him uneasy. He senses you are infringing on his cherished autonomy, and he doesn’t like it. Happily for him, just like the real Lone Ranger, he has a silver bullet to disarm any threats to his Christian independence. That silver bullet is one word: “legalism”. Speak of the need for church attendance, of commitment to the body of Christ, or of submitting to the authority Christ gave to his church, and he is likely to shoot them down with this one word.
What produces these Lone Ranger Christians? The root of the problem is pride. At heart we are all spiritual Lone Rangers. And so I suspect the above description may be fit us more than we like to admit.
But the next time you encounter the mysterious Christian who vanishes from your fellowship as quickly as he appeared (with the William Tell Overture playing in the background, of course), and you ask one another, “Who was that masked man, anyway?”, now you know – it was the Lone Ranger Christian.
The Offices of the Church
Another important and fundamental aspect of a local church are its various offices and roles. God established and directed these offices by His wisdom; therefore, it is essential that a local church understand and fill these positions with qualified men and women. A thorough study of the New Testament will reveal the following positions and roles, which we will seek to understand in this study: High Priest, King, Head, apostle, prophet, teacher, minister, evangelist, elder, pastor, bishop, deacon, saint, and Christian. As we will find, these labels serve more as a description of the work accomplished than as an actual title.
Christ's Gracious Gifts
As we observed in our study of the work of the church, Jesus provided the universal church with certain "gifts" to aid the completion of its work (Ephesians 4:7-16). This gift is partly comprised by the abilities that are graciously given to those who fulfill the offices and roles described in verse 11:
"And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers." Ephesians 4:11
However, as we read through the Bible, we run across other labels and special roles, such as; bishop, elder, minister, Christian, saint, prophet, High Priest, etc. What do all these titles mean?
As we investigate and compile these various references, we will find that many of the labels are used interchangeably. Many of the labels describe a unique facet of the office or role that they represent. For example, Christians are referenced by many different names, each describing an different aspect of their lives. Therefore, these titles serve more as labels, distinguishing the different works and roles rather than serving as a title. However, some of these labels are indeed made in reference to a special office. When we compile a complete list of the offices and roles found in the New Testament church, we discover the following list of offices in the church, along with the following synonyms:
Evangelist, minister,preacher, teacher
Elder, bishop, pastor, shepherd, presbyter
Christian, saint, priest, children of God
Of course, no study of the offices of the church would be complete without first examining the one who died for the church and by whose name it is called - Jesus Christ. He alone holds all authority over the church, filling many positions: Savior, High Priest, King, and Prophet.
The Head of the Church
The supreme office of the church belongs to Jesus Christ. He is the one from whom all authority and revelation flows (Ephesians 1:20-23; < span class="ref">John16:13-15). However, we see that Christ has submitted Himself to God the Father, and it is from the Father that Jesus received the message that He proclaimed (ICorinthians 15:24-28; John12:49-50; Hebrews1:1-2).
The Bible uses several different terms to describe Christ's supreme position, each term illustrating a unique facet of His role. The book of Hebrews speaks of Christ being our High Priest (Hebrews 7:26-8:6; 9:1-15) because He offered a sacrifice, Himself, for the sins of the whole world. His work in this regards is similar to that of the Old Testament high priests, who offered animal sacrifices for the whole nation of Israel (Leviticus 16:1-34; 21:10-17). This explains His unique role in offering a sacrifice for all people and entering the "Most Holy Place" (which is in heaven, before the Father's throne) to make atonement for our behalf.
Further illustrating His ultimate position, Jesus is also spoken of as a King and His people are referred to as citizens of His kingdom (Colossians 1:3; John 18:33-37). This reference denotes the authority of His position and office. He is the ultimate authority for us today, therefore; it is imperative that we never disobey His directives at the beckoning of any other man. Moreover, we must be vigilant to compare all human directives with the Bible - the words of Christ.
In the recordigns of Acts, Luke commended the people of Berea for their diligence in checking the teachings of the apostle Paul against that of the Old Testament scriptures (Acts 17:10-12). Therefore, in our effort to obey Christ, Who is the head of the church, let us likewise "Test all things; hold fast what is good" and be sure that we "do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world." (I Thessalonians 5:21; I John 4:1). As head of the church, He is the supreme authority on all matters. This calls upon us to diligently study the Bible and adhere to Jesus' will, while bewaring the traditions of men that are substituted for God's Word (Matthew 15:1-14).
It is vital that we understand the various roles and offices that are a part of God's design for the New Testament church. We must be careful that we do not become guilty of "adding to" God's pattern by adding creating more offices. However, we must also fill the appropriate positions with qualified people, lest we be part of church that still has things "wanting" before God (Titus 1:5). In addition to being disobedient to God's will, perversion of His pattern for the church generates additional temptation, pressures, and finally, corruption that would not be present if we would "build all things according to the pattern".
What is a "Church"?
The original word for "church" was an everyday Greek word, ekklesia, which merely meant a common assembly (Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words). The word is sometimes used to refer to common assemblies of government (Acts 19:39) or even to a riotous mob (Acts 19:32, 41). Other times it refers to the religious assembly, or group of God's people (Matthew 16:18, Ephesians 1:22). However, the same word is translated as "church" when it is used in a religious context and as "assembly" when used in a common sense.
The Local and Universal Church
The Bible speaks of the church in two different ways. Although it never uses the above references, it does speak of two distinct assemblies that are well characterized by the labels, local church and universal church. Understanding the distinctions between these two assemblies is essential to understanding and finding a local church that is patterned after God's Word.
The phrase, "universal church", refers to the entire church at large, all saints - past, present, and future. It is the body of all the saved, and it is always used in a generic sense. The identity of each person is lost in the use of this phrase. It always refers to the group as whole. Jesus Christ used it when He said, "I will build My church" (Matthew16:1.
Paul illustrated the universal church through the symbol of a body, where Christ was the head, and the entire church was the body:
"And He 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 who fills all in all." Ephesians 1:22,23
"There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling." Ephesians 4:4
"For the husband is the head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church, and He is the Savior of the body." Ephesians 5:23
The Bible never speaks of the universal church being organized to do anything. While it is given a work and mission, the work is not carried out by any other organization than the distributed and autonomous local churches. It has no committees, no overseeing boards, no organization - except what is seen in the passages above. Christ is the head of the entire church, and it answers solely to Him. It is merely the group of all saints, of which one must be a member to be saved (Ephesians1:3 ; Galatians 3:26-27). It is God who places people in this body as they are converted and enter a saved relationship with Him (Acts 2:37-38; 47).
The phrase, "local church", refers to members of the church that assemble together in a given location. Unlike the universal church, man has some control over who is a member of a local church. Churches are commanded to withdraw fellowship from those who do not follow God's Word (I Corinthians 5:1-13; IIJohn 9-11). This occurs on the local level, not the universal. Christians may erroneously withdraw fellowship from someone who is still approved by God and a member of the universal church (III John 9-10). Moreover, members of a local church may erroneously extend fellowship to someone who is excluded by God from the universal church (I Corinthians 5:1-13). Therefore, the local church is a collection of Christians, overseen by fallible men, who work together to worship God and be pleasing to Him.
Since the universal church is made up of individuals, it is therefore not made up of local churches. Local churches and denominations are not subsets of the universal church, neither are they saved as whole. The Bible nowhere speaks of such a structure or system. But, the Bible does speak of individuals being saved as members of the universal church (please read again Ephesians 1:3; Galatians 3:26-27). The local church is simply a collection of people who are working toward this final salvation, while the universal church consists of all Christians, whose membership is controlled by God.
Outline of the Essential Characteristics
It is within this study of the "local church" wherein lies the answer to our question. We should be asking ourselves, "What are the Biblical characteristics of a local church which will be approved by God?"
Using examples and commandments found in the NewTestament, we can establish a list of characteristics that are essential to a local church following God's pattern. Some characteristics would be:
The Work of the Church
Offices of the Church
Autonomy of the Local Church
The Organization of theChurch
The Name of the Church
Various TeachingsEndorsed by the Local Church
Although many characteristics could be used to make up this pattern, we will use this brief list to help us identify and differentiate between many practices which are taught as God's will, but are in practice the doctrines and traditions of men . Understanding the Bible teaching on these points will assist us in finding a local church that is in truth trying to follow God's pattern; however, it is by no means a complete or infallible list. God's word in its entirety is the only standard for determining His Will and the pattern for a local church that is striving to obey it.
The difficult task is determining which characteristics are essential and which are not. Obviously if we seek to please God, we must use the Bible as the standard to determine if a characteristic is essential. This demands a diligent effort to study the Bible, an open mind, and constant attention to prayer. Once we have established such a pattern, then we must compare the church that we now attend to the pattern. If it does not coincide with God's pattern for a local church, then we must do one of two things, if we seek to be pleasing to God: We must either seek a new local church that is following God's pattern, or we must try to reform the church with which we now attend. How can we do otherwise if we love God and love our brethren?
The Autonomy of the Local Church
One of the most influential and far-reaching characteristics of the local church is its organizational structure. Central to the Bible teaching on this organization is question of church rule. The Bible answer is that the local church should be autonomous. There is to be no earthly organization, oversight, or treasury beyond the autonomous local church. However, before we study such an issue, we must first recognize that there is indeed a pattern for the church that God expects us to follow, and we must also understand some basic concepts about the church.
What Is Meant by "Autonomy" ?
The term "autonomy of the local church" refers to a method of determining the rule of church activities. It is but one answer to the question of how local congregations should be governed. Studying this issue will address questions of having a central board, convention, or any other body, to determine the beliefs and practices of a local church. This article sets the foundation for answering other questions about the organization of the church, which includes cooperation among churches and the use of outside institutions.
A church is said to be "autonomous" if it is self-ruling, which is the literal meaning of the word. This means that it does not answer to another church or organization for any of its decision. Obviously, the church is not entirely autonomous because it answers to Jesus Christ who is its head (Ephesians 1:20-23). So, the refined questions that we must study is, "What does the Bible teach about the earthly rule over a local church?" "Does it include and allow denominational boards, conventions, etc.?"
The Heart of the Matter
Fundamental to this study is the proper understanding of New Testament examples in establishing authority. Since most of the Bible commentary on church rule and organization are the examples of New Testament churches operating under the approval of God, it is imperative that we determine the authority that is inherent in these examples. This article will adopt the conclusion that was reached in the writings on "Examples and the Pattern", which is that all examples are binding until sufficient reason is found for dismissal.
As we study the Bible to determine the nature of the church's organization, we will find the following reoccurring theme that is at the heart of this matter: Organization of the church begins and ends with the local church, and it should be entirely autonomous of all other organizations, including other local churches.
Biblical Basis for Autonomy
When we read through the pages of the Bible in search of passages about the church and its relation to other organizations, we find no instance of the church answering to any other congregation or organization. There is no reference to any kind of committees, boards, or conventions - not one. Moreover, these type of organizations and structures become specifically excluded by the distinct organizational structure that we find in the Bible:
"The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock" I Peter 5:1-3
"So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed." Acts 14:23
Although easy to overlook, these first two passages necessarily imply a specific structure and from which we can confidently draw definite conclusions. First, we can observe that elders, who "see over" the local church (symbolized here as the flock), were distributed or appointed per congregation. They were not appointed over a city, district, or diocea - but in every church. Consequently, each church is equal to the other. Moreover, these elders, or overseers, were instructed to tend "the flock of God which is among you". Therefore, not only was each church on an equal basis with the others, but elders were to only tend over those whom they had been appointed (Acts 20:2, which was a single local church (Acts 14:23). From this we can conclude that elders could not then, and cannot today rule over the affairs of other churches, because elders should be appointed in "every church" where possible, and each set of elders is to oversee the affairs of those that are "among" them.
Any boards, conventions, or even outside elders to which a congregation submits, either willingly or otherwise, is a violation of these teachings. Such additions place the congregational rule under someone or something beside the elders "among" them, and it will violate the autonomy that is to be enjoyed by "every church." Since each congregation should be under the oversight and rule of its own elders, then each church must consequently, be absolutely independent of any other church or organizations.
The Local Church Treasury
The idea of church autonomy and congregational independence can be observed in practice from passages about the church treasury. A congregation's oversight and control would have to extend at least as far as their oversight and control over their own treasury. But before we continue with this line of reason, let us first examine a verse about the control of personal contributions that are donated to the local church:
"But Peter said, 'Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.' " Acts 5:3-4
From this passage we learn that each person's contribution is their own and under their own control until it is contributed to the church fund. However, a necessary implication from this verse is that once it is given, then this is no longer the case. The gift comes under the control of the church. When each member of a church makes their contribution, then he or she surrenders their control to the unified will and direction of the church who assumes control of the donated funds.
Similarly, if the church were to contribute to some kind of central collecting agency, church, or institution, the funds would also be under the local church's control until given to the institution. At that point the institution would exert control and oversight and the local church's oversight and rule would end. But, when we read through the scriptures, what do we actually find?
"Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come. And when I come, whomever you approve by your letters I will send to bear your gift to Jerusalem. But if it is fitting that I go also, they will go with me." I Corinthians 16:1-4
Although the apostle Paul had the authority to order the Corinthian church to take up a collection, he did not exert control over their contribution. Please notice two of the phrases from this passage: "whomever you approve by your letters" and "to bear your gift to Jerusalem". At no point did Paul overtake ownership or control of the Corinthians funds. The Corinthians had complete control over the choice of messengers to carry "their gift" to Jerusalem. At no point did it become absorbed into a greater collective whole, nor did the Corinthians give up control or oversight of their contribution. Even the great apostle Paul did not violate their autonomy, but he specifically recognized their authority in determining their own messenger to carry their gift to its destination.
Since the Corinthian church had complete control of their funds through their own messenger all the way to its destination, then their rule extended at least that far. Each church had and has the authority, right, and organizational capacity to form their own contribution and have it delivered by the hands of their own selected messenger. The example of this organizational pattern and the absolute silence for authorizing any other type of church oversight excludes all other forms of church rule and oversight - conventions, boards, central church, etc.
The "Convention" of Acts 15 ?
Recorded in the fifteenth chapter of the book of Acts, a meeting, or convention of sorts, was held to determine a doctrinal matter. Some believe this to be a pattern for holding conventions today to also determine doctrines and creeds. However, there are many aspects of this "convention" that make it entirely unlike any conventions that are held today to vote upon creeds. Let's first examine the background of this meeting:
"And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved. Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question."
"So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, describing the conversion of the Gentiles; and they caused great joy to all the brethren. And when they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; and they reported all things that God had done with them.
"But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, "It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses."
"Now the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter." Acts 15:1-6
The issue of disagreement was whether the Gentile Christians should be circumcised and keep the other customs of the Old Testament. In regards to our question, we can learn at least two things from this passage: First and foremost, those attending this meeting were not representatives of many congregations who had come together to vote upon a creed or confession of belief, but it was made up the apostles, elders of the Jerusalem church, and Paul and Barnabas who had gone to learn why this false doctrine was coming out Jerusalem (vs. 4, 6). Secondly, the reason for this meeting was not to poll the church population and vote upon a creed or confession of belief, but it was to express God's will and teaching for the matter. The apostles were representatives of God who had come to express God's wishes. This was the nature of their office. The elders also had great need to be there, since it was their congregation that was at the heart of the trouble. Most if not all of these men were inspired which made it completely different from conventions today. Therefore, without having to progress further, we have already learned that this meeting is beyond application to us because of both its constituents and its mission.
If you continue to read the chapter, you will read of Peter's account of God's miraculous recognition of the Gentiles ability to be saved, and the numerous accounts of Paul and Barnabas working many miracles through them among the Gentiles, and finally of James' recognition of the prophecies which had foretold of the salvation of Gentiles. Based upon these miraculous, inspired, and scriptural arguments, the apostles and elders decided a letter should be circulated to stop the spread and influence of the false doctrine. From this letter and its circulation, we learn three more things that substantiate the previous statements and further separate it from the conventions of today that oversee church activities and beliefs:
"They wrote this letter by them: The apostles, the elders, and the brethren, To the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia: Greetings.
"Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, "You must be circumcised and keep the law" -- to whom we gave no such commandment -- it seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul," ...
"We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who will also report the same things by word of mouth. For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things:" ...
"So when they were sent off, they came to Antioch; and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the letter. When they had read it, they rejoiced over its encouragement.
"Now Judas and Silas, themselves being prophets also, exhorted and strengthened the brethren with many words." Acts 15:22-32
First, substantiating the earlier point, the authority of this "convention" was the apostles and prophets who represented God. Uninspired congregational representatives voting upon a creed or course of action are in no way parallel to this meeting that was guided by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Second, as mentioned earlier, the elders needed to be there since it was from their church that these false teachers went out spreading their doctrine. Apparently, the false teachers used the Jerusalem church as some kind of reference or support, since the letter specifically clarifies that the false teachers had taught such without endorsement (15:24). Thirdly, we again notice that it was the Holy Spirit who had inspired and endorsed the decision of this meeting. This is evidenced by the following phrase from verse 28, "For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit" , and it is further supported by the prophets who traveled with the letter for first-hand miraculous endorsement of its teaching (Acts 15:32).
Therefore, modern conventions are entirely different from this "convention" of Acts 15. It was different in its constituents - it was made up of inspired apostles and prophets who represented God and not congregations. Second, it was different in its mission - they came together to determine God's will and not to establish a creed. Consequently, Acts 15 is an example that should be dismissed and must not be considered as an authoritative example because of its limited application and the impossibility of its universal application. (There are no apostles or prophets alive today.)
The self-rule of each local congregation is one of the most important Bible teachings. The acceptance or rejection of this Bible doctrine will influence all other decisions that a congregation makes because rejection of this doctrine turns over decisions of a local congregation to the will of a higher, earthly body. This removes the congregations ability to pattern their local church after God's will and instead subjects it to the will of man.
The examples of New Testament churches are clear: Each congregation was equivalent in rule and was to have elders, who were to oversee the affairs of their local church. Moreover, each set of elders was limited to the oversight of the "flock among them". The Bible offers no other method of church oversight beyond that of the local church and its elders. Therefore, any form of governing body beside the authorized and approved autonomous local church constitutes an "adding to" God's Word and is wrong by God's condemnation of any form of "adding to" or "taking away" from God's Word. (Please see Doing All Things According to the Pattern for scriptures on this point.)
Based upon this study, we will continue our study and examine how New Testament churches cooperated while maintaining their authority and God's approval.
What About “Local” Church Membership?
“Is a person required to be a member of a local church?Can he not be just a Christian, without a ‘church’ affiliation?”
Before we address this question specifically, let us lay a broader foundation concerning the use of the term “church” in the New Testament.
The English word “church” is derived from the Greek kurikon, meaning “belonging to the Lord.”The actual word in the original New Testament text that stands behind the modern rendition, “church,” is ekklesia, signifying “called out.” It is now generally conceded that the basic sense of the term is “assembly” or “congregation,” while still retaining the suggestion of a “called out” assembly, i.e., God’s assembly.In a non-religious sense, the word was used of a public assembly (see Acts 19:32, 39-40).
In a spiritual sense, ekklesia is employed in the New Testament in three major ways, with serious responsibilities associated with each usage.
(1) “Church” is used of the people of God universally.This organism was equivalent to the “one body” (Mt. 16:18; Eph. 4:4; Col. 1:1 for which the Lord died (Acts 20:2. When one is immersed in water for the forgiveness of his sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16), he automatically is “added” to that body of saved people who constitute the “church” (Acts 2:47; 1 Cor. 12:13).There is no such thing in the Christian age as being “saved,” and not being a member of Christ’s spiritual body, the church. In Ephesians 5:26, Christ is described as the Savior of the body, which elsewhere is identified as the church (Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:18, 24).Some religionists refer to “the church invisible,” but that is a non-biblical concept.The church consists of people, and they are not invisible.
(2) In the New Testament ekklesia alsorefers to the Lord’s people in a certain locale, e.g., in Jerusalem (Acts 5:11), in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:2), or in some other city, such as the seven congregations mentioned in the early chapters of the book of Revelation (cf. 1:4,11).When Paul and his companions traveled about, preaching the good tidings regarding Jesus, wherever men and women surrendered to the truth in gospel obedience, local churches were established (cf. Acts 14:23).These new Christians banded together for the purpose of corporate worship and fellowship in serving their Master.This was not some optional plan improvised by the whims of the missionaries; it was a divinely orchestrated pattern of organization.
(3) The term “church” also may be employed of a body of people who have been brought together at a certain place and time for the purpose of worshipping God in the company of one another (1 Cor. 11:17ff; 14:34; 3 Jn. 10).Christians are admonished not to neglect these meetings if they would encourage one another toward love and good works (Heb. 10:24-25).
A Sharper Focus
In view of the question submitted, we must focus more closely upon the second usage of “church,” as sketched above.
It is a bit difficult to understand why the question would ever be raised – “Must I be a member of a local church?” – in light of the abundant information on this theme in the New Testament.Think about the following considerations relative to the local church.
(1) In the early chapters of Acts, following the establishment of the church, there are numerous references acknowledging the “togetherness” of the early saints (2:42,44,46; 4:23-24,31-32, etc.).God never intended for Christians to function as isolated “islands” in a sea of worldly-oriented people.The body is not “one member, but many” (1 Cor. 12:14).It would be very difficult to miss Paul’s point of emphasis when he spoke of the spiritual body of Christ as being “fitly framed and knit together through that which every member supplies.”He takes note of the cooperative efforts of individual Christians “according to the working in due measure of each several part” for the increase of the body “unto the building up of itself in love” (Eph. 4:16-17).This divine goal can hardly be achieved if children of God meander about with their congregational membership in their pocket!
It is not without significance that when Paul came to Jerusalem, following an escape from a dangerous circumstance in Damascus, he immediately attempted to “join himself to the disciples” of that city.And once their initial fear of him was alleviated, he was accepted (Acts 9:26ff).
(2) Various New Testament texts make it clear that the early disciples assembled together as a body of people for the purpose of worship on the Lord’s day (Acts 2:42; 20:7-12; 1 Cor. 11:17ff; 14:1-40; 16:1-2).How could a Christian ever be admonished for forsaking an assembly (Heb. 10:25), if he is not even obligated to be a part of a local church?
(3) God structured the individual congregation around an organization plan.Christ is the head of his church wherever it exists (Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:1, and so, ultimately, he is the head of his church in every city throughout the world.Further, however, in local churches, where qualified men exist (1 Tim. 3:1ff; Tit. 1:1ff), the group is supervised by “elders,” known also as bishops/overseers or pastors/shepherds.
The members are to submit to their overseers in matters of expediency (1 Thes. 5:12; Heb. 13:17), and regard them highly for their work’s sake.While these shepherds are prohibited from arrogating themselves to the position of “lords” over their flock (1 Pet. 5:3), their exemplary leadership is to be revered and followed.
Serving under these men, in special areas that implement other important tasks, are deacons, teachers, evangelists, etc.If Christ did not intend for his people to be a closely-bonded Christian family, why did he organize the local body in such a fashion?
Why Do Some Resist Local Membership?
Occasionally there are those who are not affiliated with any local group of saints.There may be, under unusual circumstances, some rationale for this. Frequently there is not.
(1) It may be the case that a Christian has moved into an area where there is no local congregation of the Lord’s people.In that event, where such is feasible, he may need to drive to a city of reasonable proximity where he is able to locate a good church.
If one is not able to pursue that procedure, he should worship on the Lord’s day in his home, and then seek to win others to the truth, thus establishing a new church in his town as soon as is possible.The same plan may have to be initiated if there is no faithful church nearby, i.e., one with whom he can worship and work conscientiously.
(2) Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to find maverick disciples who simply do not wish to identify with any local church.Reasons for this neglect may be varied.
Some folks are so inflexibly opinionated that they cannot tolerate being in proximity with any Christian who does not yield to their every dictum.Leave such to themselves; it is better that they are isolated.
Not infrequently is the reality that some do not wish to be held responsible for their conduct.They desire to come and go at will.They do not want to be accountable for faithful attendance, consistent giving, or any other responsibility.The do not intend to have their lifestyle monitored.They repudiate the idea that they should be under the oversight of elders.
In a word, they want the “name” of being a Christian, but without the commitment that goes with such.And perhaps most of all, they do not intend to be in an environment where they might be subject to the discipline of the local congregation.
Such folks may entertain the illusion that they are serving God; they are not, however. Such ones have failed to comprehend one of the most fundamental aspects of Christian service.
According to Scripture, why should every Christian join a church?
Every Christian should join a church because Scripture requires it. Granted, there is no direct command in Scripture that says, “Every Christian must join a local church,” but two factors in Scripture indicate that every Christian should be a member of a local church.
Jesus established the church to be a public, earthly institution that would mark out, affirm, and oversee those who profess to believe in him (Matt. 16:18-19, 18:15-20). Jesus established the church to publicly declare those who belong to him in order to give the world a display of the good news about himself (John 17:21, 23; see also Eph. 3:10). Jesus wants the world to know who belongs to him and who doesn’t. And how is the world to know who belongs to him and who doesn’t? They are to see which people publicly identify themselves with his people in the visible, public institution he established for this very purpose. They’re to look at the members of his church. And if some people claim to be part of the universal church even though they belong to no local church, they reject Jesus’ plan for them and his church. Jesus intends for his people to be marked out as a visible, public group, which means joining together in local churches.
Scripture repeatedly commands Christians to submit to their leaders (Heb. 13:17; 1 Thess. 5:12-13). The only way to do that is by publicly committing to be members of their flock, and saying in effect, “I commit to listening to your teaching, following your direction, and to submitting to your leadership.” There’s no way to obey the scriptural commands to submit to your leaders if you never actually submit to them by joining a local church.
I am not a member of a church building.
I dropt out years ago.
I AM part of the Church international, Jesus Church,
all saints, all believers, all followers of the Lamb of GOD.
The church - as a building - has failed .. its apostate.
The last pastor I heard preach said there is
- no difference between Hellary Clinton, a Satanic witch,
- and Donald Trump, a Christian man forgiven and chosen by God.
The very best pastors closest to scriptures
- are pushing the rapture escape HOAX