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

Carol Brooks
Edited by Vicki Narlee

 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 ?

Introduction... How We 'Do Church'
Every Sunday morning, millions of Christians throughout the world, ride, drive, or walk down to a local building, to join other Christians in what is commonly known as a "worship service". (Saturday or Sunday evening services are also fairly common). Although some services take place in other settings, the majority are conducted in buildings designed specifically for that purpose.

 Church services are often planned and led by the pastor or a small group of elders, or follow a format laid out by the dictates of the particular denomination. Thus these meetings range from very long and complex ceremonies, which can involve a number of rituals such as the ringing of bells and burning of incense to, comparatively, very basic services. Most involve the reading of bible verses, hymns by a choir, the congregation, or both, a sermon and communion. Additionally, some churches offer Sunday school classes for younger children and/or adult Sunday school before, or after, the main service.

Following the service, there will often be a "fellowship" time in the church hall or other convenient place, which provides the members of the congregation a chance to socialize with each other and to greet visitors or new members. Finally, most churches take up a collection during the service, or use a box or plate set up near the entrance, into which voluntary and anonymous donations can be made.

This is the format that millions of Christians all over the world 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". Virtually all the practices associated with what we call "church" do not find their origins in the New Testament, but in the post-apostolic years.

The church has drifted so far from the original blueprint, that there is little resemblance between what takes place now, and what took place when James headed up the church in Jerusalem, and Paul was busy planting churches and training new believers. To start 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" (which formally belonged to pagan religions). 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. [00]

Additionally, if you consider that the New Testament Christians meetings were never called a "worship service", simply because they did not gather together for corporate worship (nor to hear a sermon), we are forced to the tragic 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.



Chapter I
The word "church" is usually assumed by most Christians to mean the organization run by ordained clergy who conducts religious ceremonies in brick and mortar buildings down the road. Nothing could be further from the truth. HERE


Chapter II - Where The Early Church Met
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. What makes it worse is the fact that they 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 - The Four Main Reasons Modern Christians 'Do Church'
The four main reasons most Christians gather together for 'church' today are for 1) corporate worship, 2) to hear a sermon, 3) evangelism, or 4) fellowship. Yet, by neither word or example does the New Testament ever give any of these as a reason for the church assembly. Furthermore, the modern church meeting is literally structured around the sermon, which seems to have become the pinnacle of the service, with all else leading up to it. This format too is without Biblical warrant. Finally, 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". So why, according to The Scriptures, did believers gather together? HERE


Chapter IV - Is The Church Supposed To Be a Largely Spectator Event?
 The church and its services should not resemble a theater in which one, or more, paid actors dominate the stage, while every one else looks on, and occasionally applauds. The church, is living, breathing, dynamic organism, and all believers, and the gifts imparted to them, are necessary to make the whole body function smoothly. 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. 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.  When we do, we will find that while many of the modern terms we use in reference to the leaders of the church find their roots in the New Testament, the concept behind the words has changed to a very large degree. In fact we have gone from a bunch of local extended families to a huge universal organization, with layer upon layer of ranks, each subordinate to the one above? From a spirit led church to a vast organization with dozens of rules and regulations. From a God given freedom to contribute to the church meetings 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"
In no time at all
the leaders, apparently carried away by a sense of their own importance, and with a little help from a Roman emperor sought to establish their authority 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 for no 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" HERE

Chapter VIII - Is The Bible Our Ultimate And Final Authority - Or Not?
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 or the "we have always done it this way" concept to overrule what the Bible shows by example. The High Cost of The "Priesthood"..  HERE



Chapter IX - How Quickly The Rot Set In - Catholicism and The Councils
Perhaps, a good starting point to show just how quickly the church deviated from its roots are the first four of the seven Ecumenical councils -, the first two of which are held in great esteem, even by modern day evangelicals. (I specify the first four because they are the only ones I have looked into. If they are any indication of what the others were like, then all seven were rotten to the core).

Regardless of the torrent of words and the many Scriptural verses quoted, the decisions the various councils came to were based on 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".

But none of this should be surprising. Although evangelicals are fond of telling us that the churches of the day did not have a papacy, or even tabernacles on the altars in their churches which signified their belief in transubstantiation and that they did not believe in the Immaculate Conception/Bodily Assumption of Mary, purgatory, indulgences etc. very little of this is true. Much to the contrary, most of these practices were well established in the church of the day, and taught by many of the so called "fathers". In fact, as early as 155 A.D., Justin Martyr described what is quite clearly an early version of the Catholic Mass. HERE

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


Living The Faith... The Biblical Christian