Friday, August 04, 2006

LIVING STONES by Keith Giles

*DISCLAIMER- In the article below I am sharing insight on what the Scripture and Church History reveals about the way the first century Christians thought of Church.
This information reveals a contrast between the Church then and the Church now.
My hope to communicate the truth and to share my fascination with the genius of how God built our faith on the family from the very beginning. My desire is to encourage a restoration of this sense of family to the Church today. - kg

LIVING STONES by Keith Giles

The New Testament speaks a lot about the Church building. In context, however, the building is revealed to be the people of God, not a structure or a facility where believers gather to meet, and the process of building this Church is the work of God Himself.

Paul the Apostle refers to the Church as the “Body of Christ” which is made up of many parts. Each part of this Body of Christ is identified as an individual follower of Jesus with a diverse set of gifts and talents bestowed upon each by the Holy Spirit for the purpose of building up and encouraging the entire Body. (see 1 Cor 12:12)

Peter the Apostle also refers to the Church as being made up of living stones as he says in 1 Peter 2:5 “You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

The Church, then, as Paul and Peter describe it in their epistles, is made up only of people, not some structure built by human hands.

The early Christian Church, for the first 300 years of its history, never used property or land for a building where they could meet. Why is that? We do know from the book of Acts that the early church did receive property and land all the time. (Act 4:34-35) If they had wanted to use this land to build a large facility where people could meet, they certainly had the means and the material wealth to do so. At least we do know that they had the opportunity and the means, but apparently not the desire.

What we see instead, is that the early church consistently sold the property given to it and gave all of the money to the poor. Their focus was on drawing people to Jesus, not on drawing people to their facility, or to a place where they all could gather.

In 300 years of church history, beginning with the Biblical, New Testament Church itself, we never see the church using property, funds or resources for the building of their own empire. What they were interested in was continuing the compassionate ministry of Jesus, plain and simple. The Apostles were dedicated to building and advancing the Kingdom of God and in serving the least and the lost around them, not in building facilities and hoarding funds for themselves.

The only “building” ever referred to in Scripture, as it related to the Church, was used to refer to the people themselves. People, therefore, were more important than property or facilities. Land and property were quickly liquidated in order to care for people, first and foremost.

I believe that when the Disciples and the early Apostles set out to build the Church in those first, formative days, they took their cues from Jesus himself, and were guided by the Holy Spirit to pioneer a form of Church which had never been seen before.

If they had wanted to, Peter, James, John and the rest could easily have fallen back on the Jewish Temple system of worship, or they could have used the Tabernacle model as they built the Church of Jesus. To be honest, such a format would have made a lot of sense, being that they were all Jews themselves and most of them had grown up thinking of Church and worship in such a way.

My question is, “Why didn’t the Disciples, who were Jews, use the most familiar system of worship and gathering known to them?” or better yet ,”Why did they invent a form of worship which had never been known to anyone beforehand?”

I believe the answer is simple. The house church model was divinely inspired by God, and Jesus himself was the one who taught those first disciples how to go about planting such churches.

The Gospels reveal to us where the Disciples of Jesus came up with the concept of a church built upon people and centered in the home. It was Jesus himself, of course. As we see Jesus sending out the seventy-two in Luke 10:5-7 we notice that Jesus commanded them to go out two by two, but he commanded them not to go house to house. Instead, he specifically orders them to find a house where they are made welcome and to eat and drink whatever they are given and to proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom to that family and to heal the sick in that place.

Also, in Luke 9:3-5, when Jesus sends out the Twelve, we see a startling set of instructions. “Take nothing for the journey- no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town.” Here Jesus plants the concept in their minds that The Gospel of the Kingdom takes root in a home, within a community, and from there the message spreads outward.

The testimony of Scripture, and of History, is that this simple, humble and familial concept of Church was wildly successful in evangelizing the known world.

I recently heard a wonderful analogy about the nature of the Church.

“The Church that we have on Earth very much depends on the kind of God we have in Heaven. It’s a reflection on who we believe He is. If we believe God to be a Professor, then Church would be very much like a classroom, like an auditorium where we listen to a lecture for an hour and then go about our lives. If we believe God is like a Judge, Church would be very much like a Police Station or a Court Room. If God is like a Doctor, our Church would be like a Hospital. If we believe God to be like a General, then our Church would look very much like an Army. But, if God would be a Father, then Church would look very much like a family.” – Wolfgang Simson

This resonates in the deepest parts of my soul. Do I believe God to be a Father? If so, why isn’t our Church more like a family and less like a hospital, a court room or a lecture hall?

I believe it is no mistake, no accident, no arbitrary choice of metaphors that the first Disciples used language like “Family of God”, or referred to one another as “Brother’s and Sisters in Christ” or ate together daily in their homes, or shared all things in common. This is what a family does. This is what the early church took literally, and the fruit of this philosophy is seen in the Acts of the Apostles and the history of the early Church itself. It transformed the world.

Many modern opponents to the house church movement will usually argue that the house church model is too open to heretical doctrine and abhorrent teaching. We need the traditional form of church, it is argued, in order to preserve the orthodox Christian faith.

The truth is, the early and original New Testament Church met in homes for over three hundred years and, lead by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, they helped to preserve the orthodox Christian faith, creeds and doctrines which were later set down to paper under the rule of Constantine. The Councils of Nicea, Trent, etc. did not create the orthodox doctrines we hold so dear today, they simply put in writing what was already held in common by the Universal Church and Body of Christ. The humble, and divinely inspired, House Church triumphantly preserved the core doctrines we now call Orthodox Christian Faith.

In contrast, over the centuries, it is plainly evident that all major heretical doctrines and abhorrent, cultic teaching have originated from the individual, charismatic leader who stands up before his followers, proclaims his particular version of the Truth and allows no one to oppose his teaching.

In the house church, which is a peer-lead group of Christians where everyone shares leadership and ministry responsibility, such a person would be shouted down, or at least humbly corrected by all other members of the group as each member opened the scriptures and engaged in open dialog with such a teacher.

In the traditional form of church, however, only a few leaders are ever allowed to speak to the crowd, and after these messages are spoken, everyone stands up, goes to their vehicle and drives home, without ever questioning, or challenging or engaging anyone else in dialog about what has just been taught.

Of those two forms, it is the traditional form which invites the most opportunity for error and heretical doctrine to be preached without challenge.

If the early model of church, meeting in homes, breaking bread together, sharing all things in common, and living as a family, was able to “turn the world upside down” in just 300 years, given the intense persecution and opposition it faced, just imagine what a similar church could do today given modern technology, less hostility and a generation of people hungry for more of God?

Just imagine…

1 comment:

davetonn said...

hey man, i just read your post on on the latest update. i thought it was awesome and although its easy to say, "yah most Christians need to read this" in all reality "I" need to read this. thx. for taking the time.