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Section 7. Living The Faith... The Biblical Christian/
Index To The Church... Then and Now

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The Church... Then and Now
Introduction and Index

The church has drifted so far from the original blueprint, that there is little resemblance between modern and first century practices. What happened to the pattern that the apostles designed for churches to follow?

Carol Brooks

Introduction... How We 'Do Church'
Every Sunday morning, Christians all over the world make their way to a local building to join other Christians in what is commonly known as a "worship service". Although some services take place in other settings, the majority are conducted in buildings designed specifically for that purpose.

Because church services usually follow a format laid out by the dictates of their particular denomination, they run the gamut from very basic to long and complex ceremonies. Most involve the reading of Bible verses, hymns by a choir and/or the congregation, a sermon and communion. Most churches take up a monetary collection during the service, or use a collection box set up near the entrance. Following the service, there will often be a "fellowship" time usually held in the church hall that provides the members of the congregation a chance to socialize with each other and to greet visitors or new members. 

This is the format that virtually all Christians are accustomed to, many having accompanied their parents to a similar service from a very young age. However, the question is whether this pattern has any roots in the first century church.

Unfortunately the answer to that question is a resounding and unqualified "no".

For the most part all the practices associated with what we call "church" find their origins not in the New Testament but in the post-apostolic years. In fact, the church has drifted so far from the original blueprint, that there is little resemblance between what takes place now, and what took place during the lifetime of the earliest apostles.

To begin with, there never was a building especially designed to be a "church" and the entire proceeding were not designed and led by the "clergy". As said by Steve Atkerson, graduate of Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, who resigned from the traditional pastorate to begin working with churches that wished to follow apostolic traditions in their church practice.

    The church meetings revealed in the NT were interactive, informal and small. Simplicity was the rule of the house-church meetings. Somewhere along the line (about the time of Roman Emperor Constantine's Edict of Milan) we moved out of homes and into awe-inspiring, majestic "sanctuaries". We exchanged interaction and mutual encouragement for monologue. Intimacy was lost as the masses gathered in huge lecture halls called cathedrals. Informality gave way to liturgy, pomp and ceremony. Church meetings became a spectator sport with the congregation watching a performance by the spiritually elite. In such an atmosphere, fulfilling 1 Corinthians 14:26 became increasingly difficult. About all that could still be fulfilled was Ephesians 5:19b and Col 3:16b, so "worship" became the primary focus of these performance shows. [01]

    Note: The verses quoted above speak about " singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God" and "singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord";

Additionally, if you consider that the New Testament Christians meetings were never called "worship services", simply because they did not gather together for corporate worship (nor to hear a sermon), one is forced to the conclusion that much of the modern church has little or no idea why it exists at all or what it is meant to do. Much less how the meetings are supposed to be structured and who they are supposed to be led by.

Index

 Chapter I - Who or What is "The Church"?
Most Christians assume "church" means the organization run by ordained clergy who conduct religious ceremonies in brick and mortar buildings down the road. In fact, should the ranked clergy and all the buildings disappear to morrow, most Christians would bemoan the loss of their "church". Nothing could be further from the truth. Virtually every time it occurred in the New Testament the English word church was translated from the Greek ekklesia - a noun that means "called out". HERE

 

Chapter II - Where Did The Early Church Meet?
We are so accustomed to 'doing church' in buildings that virtually have no other function, that we forget that the ekklesia, or early church met exclusively in people's homes. In support of this, there is a distinct lack of evidence for formal public church buildings before Constantine made public Christian worship legal. Additionally, the style of many of the grand churches he and others built (nave, apse etc.) were modeled on the Roman Basilica -  the architectural style of which can be traced back to the temple of the Egyptian God Amun-Re.. HERE

 

Chapter III - Why Did The Early Church Meet?
The two main reasons most Christians gather together for 'church' today are for corporate worship and to hear a sermon. In fact, the   sermon, has so taken over center stage, that the very meeting is judged by the quality of the message. Yet, neither by word or example does the New Testament ever give either of these as a reason for the church assembly.

Much to the contrary, the New Testament is very clear - the assembly was to encourage and edify believers something that doesn't happen in most modern church meeting in which few people even know the names of very many of their fellow believers, much less what encouragement or help they may need. Incidentally, there is not a single example in the NT that shows any church gathering was for the purpose of telling unbelievers the good news, or getting people to join their "church".  HERE

 

Chapter IV - Is The Church Supposed To Be a Largely Spectator Event?
 When most Christians think of church, a largely spectator event comes to mind. However, the church is not supposed to resemble a theater in which one or more paid actors dominate the stage, while every one else looks on and occasionally applauds. In fact, the concept of virtually inactive, mute believers would have been totally foreign to the early church. The New Testament teaches that gathering together with other Christians is to be a participatory and interactive event with each person using his God given spiritual gifts for the benefit, or building up, of the congregation as a whole.

Think about it. When was the last time you were able to use your spiritual gift in accordance with the pattern established in the New Testament? Tragically, a spirit led church that gave every member the freedom to contribute to the meeting, became a formal liturgical service, set in stone by the church hierarchy. And since then we have, as usual, accepted the status quo, never bothering to look any deeper HERE

 

Chapter V - Church Leaders... Then and Now
While the New Testament does speak of men appointed to look after the spiritual welfare of these different churches, we need to remember that only the original Hebrew and Greek Bible was infallible. Therefore, in order to accurately determine what role these men played in the local churches, we have to study the specific Greek words used by the inspired authors of the New Testament and what those words meant. Once we understand what the terms mean and how they were used , we will realize that although some of the designations find their roots in the New Testament, how these titles are used today is a million miles away from what was originally intended.

Somewhere along the line 1) a bunch of local extended families became a huge universal organization, with layer upon layer of rank, each subordinate to the one above. 2) A spirit led church changed into a vast organization with dozens of rules and regulations. 3) The God given freedom to contribute to the church meetings morphed into to a formal liturgical service, set in stone by the church hierarchy.  HERE

 

Chapter VI - Reinventing and Protecting The Man Made Institution Called "The Church"
It wasn't long after the death of the original apostles that the leaders of the church, apparently carried away by a sense of their own importance sought to establish their authority (with a little help from a Roman emperor) by claiming that they were the successors to the the apostles.

They got away with it simply because of our herd mentality (The Lord didn't call us "sheep" without reason). We tend to follow those who seem to have authority, rarely asking whether that authority was God-given, or self assumed. Apparently you can fool almost all of the people all of the time. HERE

 

Chapter VII - Two Ways of "Doing Church"
In spite of the fact that the New Testament clearly shows believers met in private homes, all too many modern Christians seem to believe that the institutional church is the only 'genuine' church. Contemporary Christians still seem to retain some residual overtones of the Old Testament, believing that the church building is 'the house of God' -  a sacred space.

House churches are often seen as, in some way, playing at being churches, and that they cannot provide the level or quality of ministry provided by churches housed in buildings - that they are radical alternative for those who dislike authority and like doing things their own way. But is this true? HERE


Chapter VIII - Is The Bible Our Ultimate And Final Authority - Or Not?
With the average human being's love of pomp and show, rituals and ceremonies, ranks and titles, the temptation to import some facets of the Old Testament priesthood must have been overwhelming to the early leaders, who imposed them on New Testament Christianity. But, doesn't it bother us that almost everything we associate with "church" has no basis in the New Testament? 

Don't we care that we have seriously departed from the teaching and pattern of the Scriptures. Or is the simple answer that, in spite of all claims to the contrary, we do not take the New Testament seriously, preferring to allow tradition (we have always done it this way) to overrule what the Bible shows by example.

Besides which, I doubt we have ever considered how the format of the traditional church has given free reign to heresy and apostasy.   HERE

 

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Also See Catholicism and The Councils HERE
Regardless of how esteemed we believe early church doctrines to be, the fact remains that as the apostles began to die out, the church began to stray farther and further away from the Gospel established by Christ and fought for by the first apostles.

Perhaps a good starting point to show just how far and how early the church had deviated from its roots are the first three of the seven Ecumenical councils held by the early church, the first two of which are held in great esteem, even by modern day evangelicals

Regardless of the torrent of words and the many Scriptural verses quoted, the decisions the various councils came to were made by democratic vote i.e. the aye's and the nay's. Not only did numerical superiority win the day, but the decisions made by every one of the seven Ecumenical Councils was based, not what they supposed Holy Scripture might mean, but on tradition. In describing various practices in the church, Tertullian (c. 155/160 - 220 A.D.) said "If no passage of Scripture has prescribed it, assuredly custom, which without doubt flowed from tradition, has confirmed it. For how can anything come into use, if it has not first been handed down?.... If, for these and other such rules, you insist upon having positive Scripture injunction, you will find none. Tradition will be held forth to you as the originator of them, custom as their strengthener, and faith as their observer".

    A Canon is an ecclesiastical law or code of laws established by a church council - and the ecumenical councils established plenty. For example, although it was the focus, the resolution reached regarding the Person of Christ was not all that was achieved at Nicaea. Various disciplinary issues that set an unfortunate precedent were also decided on. These decisions became canon law for the government of the Christian organization and its members. To put it another way, the body of Christ was well on its way to becoming something it was never intended to be... an enormous organization, governed by men who put dozens of man-made rules and regulations into place.


End Notes
[
00] Steve Atkerson. Worship at All Times, But Meet Primarily to Edify. http://www.ntrf.org/articles/article_detail.php?PRKey=4

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