November 25, 2014.
Today as we approach the second to last part of our series on the churches of Christ, I would like to examine the true example of the New Testament church. One of the mottos amongst our fellowship is “we want to restore New Testament Christianity” or “we do bible things in bible ways.” Since this is in the core of our movement, thus giving the name (restoration movement), I think it would be beneficial to examine the early church once again and consider whether or not we have actually accomplished our goal. Some may be surprised, for restoring the New Testament church does not mean the same thing as restoring the church of the 1950’s and 60’s. Now, I am not one to believe that we must adhere to exactly how the New Testament church operated and not deviate in any manner (we live in a different time and a different culture, but this doesn’t change the foundation), but I do believe that if we did indeed restore some of the core concepts of the New Testament church we would be greatly blessed by it. Let us take a closer look at what New Testament Christians actually did.
1. A family.
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
I mentioned yesterday that this is perhaps one of the most ignored passages when it comes to drawing from an example laid our in the bible. Sure, we read this passage all the time, but for some reason it doesn’t seem to have much sway on what we do, not nearly as much sway as say Acts 20:7 has on us. When the church was started here on the day of Pentecost, there was a cost to becoming a Christian. It was not the popular thing to do, and there would be ramifications that came from it. We need to understand that at this time, the church was all Jewish, or at least almost made up completely of Jewish people. Peter and the other Apostles preached to a large gathering on the day of Pentecost, which was a Jewish feast. When they believed what Peter said and were baptized into Christ for the remission of their sins, receiving the Holy Spirit, they were making a firm decision. They would be kicked out of the synagog, they would probably be ostracized by their Jewish brethren that had not accepted Christ and they would have to turn to rely heavily on one another to survive. They were a true family. They even had to sell their possessions to help other members of this new Way out, because they were staying in Jerusalem much longer than they had planned to when they first came to the feast from all over the world.
Read the passage above again. Now ask yourself, “Does this look like a church service today?” I’m not really referencing the miracles that were being preformed, but rather the interactions that each had with one another. They were eating together, going to each other’s houses, spending a lot of time together and praising God day by day. Our worship services today are far from this spirit of community. Our daily lives are far from this spirit of fellowship and praise. The early church needed each other, but honestly, we don’t really need one another to live a “good” life physically. I believe this is why we don’t particularly act like the New Testament church- because we don’t have to. But we are missing something. We are missing the fact that we do in fact desperately need each other to survive spiritually. We are a family, and we need to start acting like it.
Did the early church only meet on Sundays and Wednesdays? Doesn’t seem like it from this verse at least. They met together daily. I find it kind of funny how we use certain scriptures like Hebrews 10:25 to try to get people not to miss Sunday services, when there is no mention of Sundays anywhere in the verse or the context (or even the book of Hebrews for that matter). The people that the Hebrew writer was addressing were distancing themselves from the church as a whole, because the church met together frequently! They were forsaking- turning their backs on their family, not just occasionally missing once in a while. It’s a much different concept because the way they met together was very different than the way we do it today. I believe that one of the reasons that churches fall apart is because we never really got together in the first place. Ask yourself this question: Who are you more likely to work something out with gently, a close family member/friend, or someone you really only see two or three times a week? I think the way we approach these two different people is very different, and we solve problems differently between the two.
2. The Lord’s supper: eating together.
“So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another— if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.”
(I Corinthians 11:33-34)
This is probably one of my biggest frustrations with the way we do things today, so I will try not to get into rant mode. The Lord’s Supper is held in very high regard amongst our fellowship, as it should be. We take part in communion every week on Sunday mornings (because Acts 20:7 allegedly commands this). But I think we have missed the whole point of the Lord’s Supper, and because of this we are weak. Since when did the word “supper” denote a small piece of cracker and a swig of grape juice? Honestly, and don’t stone me for this, this practice of a cracker and wine comes more from Catholicism than it does from the bible. It is a tradition that developed in the Catholic church and has been handed down ever since. I am convinced (due to research and history, as well as implication from biblical passages) that the Lord’s Supper that was instituted by Christ was so much more, and it was a meal, or at the very least during a meal.
The biggest argument against this idea is a misuse of I Corinthians 11 where Paul says “What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not. (verse 22)” Many will go to this verse and say that Paul was condemning them because they were eating a meal when they were taking the Lord’s Supper. But this is not at all what Paul was rebuking them for, as can be seen from the rest of the context. Look at verse 33, “When you come together to eat, wait for one another.” They were coming together to eat a meal. Paul doesn’t tell them to stop coming together to eat, but to wait for one another. Further, consider the rest of the passage:
“When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk.”
(I Corinthians 11:20-21)
“Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?”
They weren’t condemned because they were eating a meal, but rather because they were not eating together! Some families would have a lot of food, others would have very little. Some went ahead and ate while others had nothing. Some were even getting drunk, probably flaunting the material blessings the had. They were using the Lord’s Supper to establish rank and class, and this is the opposite of what communion was for. Communion- together!
If you do some research of what the Lord’s Supper actually was to the early church, you will find a very different picture than what we do today. Even in this passage we can see the meal aspect.
“For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
(I Corinthians 11:23-26)
Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper during the passover meal. Do you see what the text says? “In the same way also he too the cup, after supper…” It was during a meal. I am not one to argue with the way Jesus set it up. In the early church, there was a concept of “agape feasts” or love feasts, where Christians would come together to break bread and eat together. The Lord’s Supper was likely a part of these meals.
If we did the Lord’s Supper the way that it was set up, I think we would have much, much deeper relationships. There is something about eating together that brings us closer to one another, and it is hard to explain. But it works. I believe this is why Paul told them that some were sick and dying spiritually. They were doing the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner because they weren’t fellowshipping properly with one another. Do you think this could apply today?
3. Things that were done differently.
These are just a few of the things that were done differently in the New Testament church. There is no real concept of a full time, static preacher in the New Testament. Paul was a full time preacher, but he was a missionary, going from church to church. Timothy was a leader and a preacher, but there is no indication that he was the only speaker in the congregation. In I Corinthians 14 we get one of only pictures of what a gathering of Christians consisted of and Paul just talks about doing things in an orderly manner, taking turns in addressing the congregation. To take turns would imply more than one speaker. Now, I am not against full time preachers as I think they can be very beneficial and effective. I just think we need to recognize that this wasn’t really the norm in the New Testament church.
There also are no church buildings mentioned in the New Testament. Christians met together in the synagogs (Jewish synagogs) and eventually in different members houses. Does this make church buildings wrong? I don’t think so. But again, we just need to recognize that this wasn’t the style of worship in the New Testament. There were no pews, but probably a much more intimate seating arrangement (perhaps even on the floor). There were no song books, or projectors and they probably sung in chant (I think chant is absolutely beautiful) as opposed to the harmony we sing today (harmony like we know today had not been developed yet). And they had a multitude of miraculous gifts, which I don’t believe are still present today, for we are past the apostolic age and the word has been confirmed.
The point of all this is to say we really haven’t restored the style of worship of the New Testament church at all. And I think that’s okay. What we have tried to do, and what we should continue to try to do, however, is reestablish the concepts of the New Testament style of worship, though our culture may make the way we do things a bit different. I think we need to get back to being a close family. We need to get back to meeting together, not just in the church building three times a week, but in one another’s homes on a more regular basis. We need to start eating together and really taking more of a part in each other’s lives. We are the children of God, and we should be united in faith. It should be a joy to be with our spiritual family, not a burden. We need to get past the formalities of Sunday morning and into the intimate setting of the dinner table. When we do this, we will grow stronger indeed.
4. Understanding the true meaning of Christianity.
Perhaps one of the biggest differences in the church of the New Testament and the church of today is our understanding of the gospel. The New Testament church knew what it meant to be a Christian. They knew what they were giving up. They knew the persecution they were going to face. But most of all, they knew their mission.
“And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. … Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.”
Sometimes I feel as though we are more focused on maintaining our own membership and our children (both good things to do) and not on our mission of seeking and saving the lost of the world. I believe that if we are true to our mission and focus on seeking those outside the church, maintaining our own will not be a problem. Why? Because people will actually be converted, instead of just sitting on the pews. Our children will see us living the gospel as opposed to just hearing us teach it. There would be an aspect of genuineness that cannot come when we are not holding true to the great commission. The early church was heavily persecuted, but they scattered about preaching the word. Persecution didn’t stop them, because they had found the good news. Christianity was real to them. They understood it much better than I think we do today. I am trying to reach that point. I am trying to truly understand Christianity and what it means. Once we find that, then truly nothing else we do in this world will matter. In the end, God is not going to ask us how much money we made, how well we did on a certain test, or how many friend we had. If anything, He is going to asked how well we lived the gospel. That is what is going to matter. The church of the New Testament understood that. They understood that Christianity was not about what you did three hours a week when you were assembled with the church, but rather what you did all the time. I think we need to get back to this mindset.
I hope you are sticking with me through this series as I think it is a very important study. Tomorrow we will discuss what the future should hold and the direction that our movement should take. I think we need to revive our movement, and I hope that God can use me in some small way to spark this initiative. It is time to bring the gospel to the world with a unified front. Will you be part of the effort?
Suggested Daily Reading: Acts 2, 8, I Corinthians 11, 14.
The Lord use us to carry out His will.