Imagine with me the following scenario: You arrive at church next Sunday and instead of the usual order of service the Pastor takes the microphone and announces that the Lord has been dealing with him and that he believes that your church should become a true New Testament Church. He advises that some significant changes are going to take place:
1. The building is going to be put up for sale. In the future the church will meet at homes. He asks for suggestions for next weeks meeting place. He is meet with silence.
2. He and the entire staff are resigning. In the future there will be no paid staff or clergy/lay distinctions. Everyone is staying around but will be seeking employment outside the church. This will obviously require more participation from everyone. The congregation seems quite uncomfortable and folks begin shifting in their seats.
3. There will be no more clergy given sermons or worship leading. Everyone is asked to pray during the week and in the future come prepared to share a word, a testimony or a song. He, the former Pastor, is excited about learning as much about Jesus from everyone else as He has been expected to previously provide. Several people start looking toward the doors.
He further advises that there will be further changes as the Lord leads. He steps down, places the microphone on the pulpit and takes a seat. There seems to be a new glow in his face and a confidence in his step. He appears to be a man who, after many years of struggle, has finally done exactly the right thing.
What do you think would happen next? I don’t know either. I have been studying church history for a while and have been amazed at what I have discovered. We put up the church as described in the Book of Acts as the model for church life. We consider the first hundred years as the purest in church history. It certainly was a time of tremendous growth and blessing in the church. The church hasn’t been the same since. Over the centuries, the church has changed and adopted structures and traditions from the society in which it exists. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I fear in the process the message, the good news has been subtly changed.
There is no doubt from scripture and supported by history that the first century church did not know buildings, or paid staff or clergy/laity distinctions. Christians in the first century were unfamiliar with the order of service now common in churches, the practice of sermons given every week for years by one person, or traditions like altar calls. A New Testament Christian would not have recognized churches in which most of the attendees were spectators or in which the success of the meeting was measured by the quality of the sermon or the level of inspiration of the music.
I understand that it’s 2013 not the year 13. I know that it’s the message that matters. I’m certain that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. I know He is still changing lives and that He loves His people. I’m just not sure the entire message is coming through. I’m not convinced that if Jesus returned today He would be pleased with or even recognize His church.
Can we be faithful enough to look closely at all that we do in light of scripture? Are we willing to let Jesus be the head of his body? Can we separate tradition from bible centered truth? We insist that the church be faithful to the message of the gospel, but are willing to let it slide when our methods are unrecognizable from those described in Acts.
The scenario that begins these thoughts is not likely to happen. If it did, it would not likely end in success. The former pastor would probably end up as a greeter at Walmart and the next Sunday only a handful would show up at someone’s house. Changes that have occurred over 2000 years, can’t, and probably shouldn’t, be reversed over night. When Jesus returns, we will all see what church was meant to be, but shouldn’t we try to get it as close to right as possible before then?
I love the church. Like everyone and every thing that we love, we aren’t satisfied unless the object of our love is everything that it was meant to be.