Tuesday, April 28, 2009

THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH

The New Testament church did not collect money to be spent on salaries, programs, buildings or itself.

The New Testament church was primarily concerned with making disciples and caring for the poor, the orphan and the widow.

The New Testament church did not elect a separate “clergy class” to perform special religious duties, instead everyone was “in the ministry” by default.

The New Testament church did not attempt to follow an old testament code of worship.

The New Testament church affirmed the priesthood of the believer and allowed every member to share, participate and take an active part in the regular functioning of the church itself- including baptism, sharing communion, preaching the Gospel and making disciples.

The New Testament church did not keep a bank account, instead it gave away all the funds laid at the Apostles feet in order to plant churches and care for those in need- both within and without the church body.

The New Testament church leaders were humble servants who waited on tables, washed feet, served others, laid hands on the sick, encouraged the persecuted and understood that true greatness was found at the feet of men, rather than at the top of the ladder.

The New Testament church did not segregate the body based on age, sex, race, music preference, ethnic background, or any other criteria. Everyone who named the name of Christ, regardless of age, sex or race, was immediately a fully functional and valued member of the Body of Christ.

The New Testament church did not verbally, politically or physically oppose the oppressive Roman government or pagan religions of the day. Instead they simply lived extravagant lives of love among their neighbors and served anyone in their path as Jesus commanded.

The New Testament church was not in favor of violence, nor did it participate in armed conflict, not even in self-defense. Instead, the early followers of Jesus quietly imitated their Lord and gave up their property, submitted to prison and went to their deaths peacefully.

The New Testament church allowed every member, male or female, slave or free, Jew or Gentile, to preach the Gospel, plant churches, teach the Word, and lead worship every single day.

The New Testament church had no one single location where “Church” was located. Worship was not seen as something that happened in a particular location or on a particular day or with the assistance of particular people. Instead, worship was seen as a life continually submitted to Christ as a living sacrifice for the good of others, to the glory of God.

The New Testament church understood the Gospel of the Kingdom to be about God’s Kingdom (rule and reign) being released in the heart of every follower of Jesus, not something that would come one day after the death of the saints or the return of Christ.

The New Testament church did not consider the work of the Holy Spirit to be weird or strange. Instead they accepted the moving of the Holy Spirit within the Body as the natural and continual ministry of Jesus being released in the Body to heal, teach, instruct, correct, rebuke, inspire, encourage and empower the people of God to carry the Gospel of the Kingdom and live a life of love for others.

The New Testament church was always being taught to love one another and to imitate the love of Christ and to humbly serve others as Jesus did. They were not concerned in any way with amassing wealth, getting healed, gaining status in the community, becoming politically powerful, being respected, changing laws, picketing the funerals of homosexuals, speaking out against pagan practices, or selling products with their church name, cross, or scripture verse attached.

The New Testament church did not have a name.

The New Testament church did not brand itself.

The New Testament church did not provide a salary or ongoing stipend to those within the Body who acted as Elders, Teachers, Pastors or Facilitators. The people who performed these functions within the Body did so out of love and were only compensated by the Holy Spirit with joy.

The New Testament church did not have a Bible, or even a copy of the entire Old Testament, yet this Body managed to preserve the teachings of Jesus, the doctrines of the faith, the creeds and Gospel of the Kingdom with only the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit to guide them.

The New Testament church did not market itself or the Gospel. Instead the original followers of Jesus concentrated on loving as Jesus loved, giving and sharing as Jesus did, and concerned itself with the welfare of others in need; both inside and outside the Body.

Anyone else in favor of a return to a more New Testament form of church besides me?

-kg

14 comments:

Anthony said...

I'm game ... but what do we do with our Bibles?

Keith Giles said...

Haha, I think what I meant to suggest is that we should trust the Holy Spirit more, not throw out our Bibles.

Bess said...

I like these ideas you mentioned, too. What about having church on Sat. morning, instead of Sunday? I used to go to a 7th Day Adventist Church, which I enjoyed, until I was told not to have caffeine (perish the thought) and other no-nos. Just my thoughts.

Keith Giles said...

Why do we need to pick one day a week to worship God? Our calling is to live a life (not a day) for the Glory of God and the good of others.

If we continue to think of being a christian as attending one meeting a week, or think of worship as one hour when we all gather, then we'll never fully comprehend the idea of walking in the Spirit or being the Temple of the Holy Spirit, or living a life that is worship, 24/7.

Troy Hamby said...

Some would say that we don't live in N.T. times...we live in 21st century America. The culture and society are drastically different than that of 1st century Palestine (at least that's what they say to me.) So, how much do you think what happened in the book of Acts was limited to their culture and how much transcends societal and cultural bounds?

The reason I ask is because i have thought about many of the things you have listed here and contrasted it with the American church and it's shocking how different we are. And when I think of how we can possibly get back to the NT norms, I am left with doubts that it can happen on a large scale. Do you think our American church enterprise needs to die before we can see a current incarnation of God's church?

Keith Giles said...

Troy, Great questions. I'll offer my perspective.

If we read 1 Peter 2:5 we see that Peter, having learned from Jesus, understood that there was no need to build a temple because we were the Temple of God, there was no need to commission priests because every believer was a priest of God, and there was no need to return to the OT sacrifical/temple system because we were now living sacrifices to God.

If we read the OT prophecies about God's plan to fulfill the scriptures, build a house not made with human hands, place His law within our hearts and pour out His Spirit upon all flesh, then we can see how Jesus accomplished this on the cross:

Becoming the Lamb of God/Sacrifice

Destroying the Temple of His Body and the Temple veil at the same time

Performing the work of the High Priest of God

Why? So that you could become the Temple of the Holy Spirit, and so that you could become part of the priesthood of the believers, and so that you could become the living, daily sacrifice.

If you understand all of this from a Biblical perspective you can see that God's design for His Church was not based on culture, or custom, or in reaction to persecution, but on purpose and in fulfillment of God's plan from day one.

At least, that's my perspective.

As to your second question, I can't guess what God's plan is now for His Church, although I do see Him leading more and more people to seek out the simple, organic form of Church we see Jesus inspiring and the Apostles' promoting and planting in the New Testament.

If the traditional church is built on a business model and we see businesses choked out by the economy then perhaps many will discover that they can actually BE THE CHURCH without a paid clergy, a large building, a killer sound system, a rockin' worship band, or any of the other things we currently associate with the word "Church".

The Church is a living organism, not an organization/corporation. Biblically it is a family, a body, a community and a building made of living stones (people), not brick and mortar.

Ok, I'll get off my soapbox for now...

Dave said...

Keith, I'm with you! I think we can thank Constantine for much of our "format" for church today. When he made Christianity the State religion, I believe we began down the trail we know find ourselves at - with institutional "churches"; being the norm.

I think we have also overlaid our current structures into the Bible. We have taken the passages that say they met in the Temple court and house-to-house and preached that these are the equivelant to our Sunday Services (Temple courts) and Small Groups (house-to- house).

I may be wrong, but it seems to me it was a lot less formal than that. I believe they were simply living life together - therefore, they saw each other in the Temple and in each others homes. Scripture says this was a daily occurance - not once or twice a week.

I say all of that to make the point that I agree with your post and your response to comments. I believe we are beginning to return to BEING the church versus GOING to church.

Like a Mustard Seed said...

oh, hey Troy, that is such a great question, find myself bumping up against that same response all the time, so frustrating...

I'm still learning to articulate an answer myself, and Keith already has summed up so much in this awesome post, but I'll say this;

The conduct of the early church was no more natural to the culture at that time then it would be to ours... In the first century, it was not the cultural norm to be "one in heart and mind", or to "share everything they had"... No, it was just as bizarre and radical to the people around the early church as it would be to people today. It was just as counter to people's natural inclinations and customs as it would be today. It was the manifestation of a not-from-this-world kind of love, a love possible only through fellowship with Christ.

It's just as possible today as it was 2,000 years ago, because it's just as "impossible" now as it was then...

Keith Giles said...

yeah, I'd like to add that the conduct and practice of the early church was based 100% on the love of Christ and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit - not based on cultural norms or restrictions.

If the early church were following customs and culture they would have formed a church that looked like Judaism and/or Paganism of their day--which is what most of them were before they came to Christ.

Obviously loving in this radical way wasn't "normal" for anyone, anywhere, at any time...except for a people radically transformed by the love and power of Christ.

Jonathan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jonathan said...

I don't know how I did this, but I tried to delete a mis-formatted comment and resubmit it, and it apparently didn't work. Here it is again:

I agree wholeheartedly with the thrust of your post. I did want to question one of your statements, though:

The New Testament church did not provide a salary or ongoing stipend to those within the Body who acted as Elders, Teachers, Pastors or Facilitators. The people who performed these functions within the Body did so out of love and were only compensated by the Holy Spirit with joy.Don't the following passages indicate some kind of financial support for leaders of the church?

1 Tim 5.17-18: The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, "Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain," and "The worker deserves his wages."1 Cor 9.4-14 (only 14 cited here): In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.Of course, in the 1 Cor 9 passage, Paul is saying that he did in fact accept financial support from the church in Corinth, but his point is that if he had done so, it would have been within his rights and in accordance with the normal practice of the churches.

Keith Giles said...

Jonathan,

Excellent questions and I'll do my best to answer.

First, the passage about elders deserving double honor is, I believe, about showing honor to the elders in the church...not about salary.

How can I say this? Because according to the New Testament the early church only did 2 things with its money: 1) Gave it to the poor, the orphan and the widow and 2) supported the work of church-planting missionaries.

The second passage you quoted does indicate that Paul approves of financial support for church-planting missionaries. When he says "those who preach the gospel should make their living from the gospel" he's referring to these missionary activities. He is not speaking about the regular teaching that was going on within the house churches on a regular basis.

"Support" for these missionaries usually involved a place to sleep while you were in a strange town and perhaps a care package of bread, fruit, dates, water, etc. to get you to the next town. It did not involve $50k a year and a housing allowance, etc.

Another interesting fact to consider is that the christian church didn't institute a tithe until 700 ad. That's another 400 years after Constantine put the christian leaders on the payroll of the Roman government. Before Constantine the elders, pastors, teachers of the church did their work as Peter suggested "...not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock."
(see 1 Peter 5:1)

I've written an entire article on this subject here on this blog. The link is here:
http://subversive1.blogspot.com/search?q=pastoral+support

Thanks for your questions. This is an important discussion, I believe.

This is why I do not take any salary for pastoring our house church and I co-pastor and lead with many others in the Body. We give 100% of our offering to the poor in our community, just as the early new testament church did.

Peace,
Keith

Jonathan said...

Hmm, I guess I can't figure out what's wrong with the formatting of my comments. Don't use the italics tag, I guess.

I certainly agree that what Paul is talking about in 1 Cor 9 is support for itinerant missionary activity.

But I'm not so willing to drop the 1 Tim 5 passage as being irrelevant. If the honor being shown to elders and teachers (v 17) means only respect, why does v 18 cite Deut. 25.4 and Luke 10.7?

Deut 25.4 ("Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.") is only cited in one other place in Scripture, and that is the 1 Cor 9 passage, where it is clearly applied to financial support.

Luke 10.7 is from Jesus's instructions to the 72, which is therefore an itinerant missionary context. However, Luke 10.7 is definitely in context about financial support (granted, just the something-to-eat-and-somewhere-to-sleep kind), not only about respect.

These are the considerations that lead me to believe that "honor" in 1 Tim 5.17 means more than "respect".

All this said, I again wholeheartedly agree that "support" ought to mean basic physical needs being met, not extravagance. And I don't mean to argue that congregations must support elders and teachers financially in all cases.

Keith Giles said...

Jonathan,

I've benefitted greatly from studying the early church history and practice on this very issue.

Justo Gonzalez' book, "Faith and Wealth : A History of Early Christian Ideas on the Origin, Significance, and Use of Money" and also "Money, Possessions and Eternity" by Randy Alcorn are great places to start.

Alcorn covers the passages you mention and Gonzalez does an excellent job of revealing how the early church fathers understood money to belong to the poor and not to anyone else (and certainly not the church).

Another great resource for study is Steve Gregg. He's got a load of great resources online at his website (which I can't recall the link to right now but just Google him and you'll see him).

Gregg unpacks the whole "double honor" passage much better than I can.

Peace,
Keith