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

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The Church... Then and Now
Part IV -  Is The Church Supposed To Be a Spectator Event?

 Church services resemble a theater in which one or more paid actors dominate the stage, while every one else looks on and occasionally applauds. However, the concept of virtually inactive, mute believers would have been totally foreign to the early church

Carol Brooks



Is The Church Supposed To Be a Spectator Event?
When most Christians think of church, a largely spectator event comes to mind.

Other than join in a few hymns (usually pre-selected by the 'worship leader' or 'choir master') and the occasional "amen" the congregation stand and sit on cue and pass the offering plate while the pastor conducts the service and delivers the sermon. 

Theater or Living Organism?
We are so used to this format that I wonder how many believers realize that the concept of virtually inactive, mute believers would have been totally foreign to the early church. In complete contrast to modern church services, the New Testament amply demonstrates that gathering together with other Christians was a participatory and interactive event, where each person used his God given spiritual gifts for the benefit or building up of the congregation as a whole.  

Additionally, most have probably overlooked the fact that the almost complete passivity on the part of the laity has had some disastrous outcomes. Because far too many church attendees are conditioned to believe that the man behind the pulpit is very knowledgeable regarding the Scriptures (after all isn't that what he went to seminary for?) they take for granted that what is being expounded accurately reflects what the Scriptures teach. Unfortunately all too often this is not true. In fact,

Modern church services led by one man, our passiveness and often blind faith has allowed
heresy and false teachings to be freely propagated from the pulpit.

Church 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 a living, breathing, dynamic organism and all believers (and the gifts imparted to them) are necessary to make the whole body function smoothly.

Sadly, 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, as usual, we have accepted the status quo never bothering to look any deeper.

There are very many passages in the New Testament that give us an accurate idea of how the members of the church were supposed to relate to one another and how the New Testament church meetings were conducted. The most illuminating passages are the one that refer to the...

Gifts of The Spirit
Romans 12:1
Chapter 12 begins with the word "therefore" which indicates a transition from the doctrinal foundation in the first eleven chapters to how these doctrines are to be implemented in our daily lives. The "therefore" begins a section on right action based on the right belief outlined in chapters 1-11.

Paul begins the chapter by exhorting the Roman Christians to actively choose to present their bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God (Romans 12:1-2). After which, he pointed out that the human body has many parts, each of which performs a different function, yet is indispensable in it's contribution to the smooth working of the body. Similarly, each of the Roman Christians had a different role to play and needed to humbly use their God given various gifts for the good of all the members of the church, and the proper functioning of the body of Christ. 

    For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:4-8 NASB)

In other words, the first order of business was to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, and the second was to use our gifts for the benefit of others. There was no 'professional' ministry. Every member of the church had a role to play in the functioning of the body as a whole.

In speaking of the varieties of gifts given by the Spirit, Paul wrote (All Emphasis Added)

    So also you, since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church. Therefore let one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. (1 Corinthians 14:12-13 NASB)

    What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. (1 Corinthians 14:26 NASB)

However, it is also very important to note that although every member of the church could use his gift in the meetings, he was very clear that liberty did not mean confusion.

    Therefore if the whole church assembles together and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad? .... If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and one must interpret; but if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, the first one must keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted; and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets; for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. (1 Corinthians 14:23, 27-33 NASB)

In Ephesians 4 Paul wrote that the whole body is

    "fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love". (Ephesians 4:16 NASB)

And Peter echoed the message,

    As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. (1 Peter 4:10 NASB)

Relevant Questions
Although I have no idea what his other beliefs were the late Martyn Lloyd-Jones, minister of Westminster Chapel in London for some 30 years, said it well

    Are we giving the members of the church an adequate opportunity to exercise their gifts? Are our churches corresponding to the life of the New Testament church? Or is there too much concentration in the hands of ministers and clergy? You say, "We provide opportunity for the gifts of others in week night activities." But I still ask, Do we manifest the freedom of the New Testament church?

    When one looks at the New Testament church and contrasts the church today, even our churches, with that church, one is appalled at the difference. In the New Testament church one sees vigor and activity; one sees a living community, conscious of its glory and of its responsibility, with the whole church, as it were, an evangelistic force. The notion of people belonging to the church in order to come to sit down and fold their arms and listen, with just two or three doing everything, is quite foreign to the New Testament, and it seems to me it is foreign to what has always been the characteristic of the church in times of revival and of reawakening. [01]

When was the last time you were able to use your spiritual gift in compliance with the pattern established in the New Testament?

If you are largely unable to use your gift for the benefit of other believers, what exactly are you supposed to use them for? While a gift like the distinguishing of spirits may come in very useful for the individual, gifts such as healing, miracles, prophecy, the word of wisdom and the word of knowledge, etc are largely useless unless used to edify other believers.

 See Cessationism
Many orthodox Christians believe that the "miraculous" gifts such as tongues, miracles, word of knowledge, healing and prophecy were once given to support God's revelation, but were withdrawn once the church was established. The Holy Spirit still calls, convicts and regenerates sinners, but doesn't do much beyond that. Others maintain that effective evangelism can not take place without signs, wonders and miracles. Like most doctrinal debates, both sides use Scripture (in fact often the same verses) to support their positions.

 See Tongues
Tongues were a known language in the New Testament with absolutely no evidence to show that it was some form of ecstatic speech. Besides which, how does the  unintelligible gibberish, jerking, twitching, falling on the floor etc. fit in with Paulís instruction that everything was to be done decently and in order? Has the allure of receiving some form of deeper spiritual experience deceived countless millions into accepting this counterfeit?


001orange  CONTINUE ON TO CHAPTER V: Church Leaders... Then and Now
There is no question that the New Testament speaks of men appointed to look after the spiritual welfare of the churches.

With the exception of the word "clergy" most of the titles given the leaders of the modern church originated in the New Testament. However, all of them can be traced to two or three Greek words - the elders whose job it was to 'shepherd' the flock and the deacons who took care of more practical matters. There were no other church leaders.

The problem is that we have given mere men exalted titles (often accompanied by pretentious, showy finery) and authority that belongs only to God and His word, all of which seems to be designed to set them apart from us less elevated commoners. In other words, the church hierarchy and the various man-made functions assigned to them bear little or no resemblance to the leaders of the New Testament and the role they played.

Somewhere along the line, a group of local extended families became a huge universal organization with layer upon layer of rank, each subordinate to the one above. And a spirit led church, which gave every member the freedom to contribute to the meeting, became a formal liturgical service, set in stone by the church hierarchy. HERE


End Notes
[01] Martyn Lloyd-Jones Knowing the Times [Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1989] Pgs. 195-196


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