Over the past years I’ve had many conversations with people about church, how different churches are structured and how they function. The discussions usually cover various topics from A to Z. From church buildings to church programs, from money to music, from professional clergy to “preaching to the choir,” and ultimately to the results of it all. In the end, I always try to point out how what the church has become today does not resemble the church of the New Testament and how statistics show it is in decline.
Almost without exception those I’m talking with are surprised by the information I point out. Some even admit the disturbing results are very thought provoking. But the one thing that rings true for most of the people I have these conversations with, is they will make this profound statement: “But my church is different.” That usually ends the discussion.
What’s amazing is their claim is truer than they realize! The fact is, almost ALL churches are different! Different from the New Testament church. So when people say their church is different, they are right. The real question is, do they care that their church, by being different from the church of the first century, is actually UNBIBLICAL? Did I say unbiblical? Yes, I did. And that is the real issue here. Let me explain by using just one brief example.
We learn from the New Testament that when the early church gathered, they usually met in peoples homes. The following passages make it pretty clear:
“Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Likewise greet the church that is in their house” (Romans 16:5).
“The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Priscilla greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house” (1 Corinthians 16:19).
“Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea, and Nymphas and the church that is in his house” (Colossians 4:15).
“Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, to Philemon our beloved friend and fellow laborer, to the beloved Apphia, Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house” (Philemon 1-2).
Some may quickly respond, “Well, the church HAD to meet in homes. They were being persecuted!” While the church did experience SOME opposition, most persecution against the church was in random locations and very sporadic. If in fact the church was forced to meet secretly in homes or elsewhere to escape being discovered by persecutors, as many seem to think, how did they get enough followers to “turn the world upside down” (Acts 17:6)? Simply put, the home was the natural place for believers to meet and have fellowship.
In the Gospels we often see Jesus and the disciples ministering in houses. The book of Acts is replete with examples of ministry happening in homes (Acts 2:2, 2:46, 5:42, 8:3, 9:17, 10:22, 11:12, 12:12, 16:32-34, 16:40, 20:20, 28:30). The implication is that the home was the main venue for the church.
In 1 Corinthians 14:26-40 the Apostle Paul instructs believers concerning the pattern for them to follow in their church meetings. He points out that his admonitions for proper church practice are not merely recommendations, they are in fact the Lord’s commands (v.37). And as we’ve seen, the basic setting in which the church functioned was the home and nothing is ever said about changing that format.
Now, you may say, “But it doesn’t say we can’t meet in a larger church building.” Your right, it doesn’t. However, if you think it really doesn’t matter to God, don’t you think it would be important to know just where that practice came from? Let me give you a hint: It wasn’t from the New Testament!
Official church buildings didn’t come into existence until after the Roman Emperor Constantine made Christianity the state religion almost 300 years AFTER the church was born. At that time the temples of the Roman pagan gods were converted into churches and the church building as we know it began. So what pattern was being followed then? We are admonished to follow the teachings of the New Testament and one of those teachings is that we are not to conform to the ways of the world (Rom. 12:2). If adopting any practice of pagan god worship isn’t conforming to the ways of the world, then what is?
Some will still say they don’t see anything bad about meeting in a church building. Please let me make this very clear. I’m not saying it’s bad. I’m saying it’s unbiblical. God gave us a pattern to follow. When we don’t follow that pattern we’ve moved into unbiblical territory. God will do His work in spite of how the church meets. But what greater work might be done if we were to stay true to the pattern He has given us?
So I guess the real question is: Do you want your church to be different…or biblical? “Now to Him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” – Ephesians 3:20-21