Some Observations about the church from New Testament

I have started this article a few times and after two or three paragraphs, deleted the whole thing and started over. I want to share some thoughts without being critical of churches that think they have arrived at the ideal. Are there some local congregations of Christians who closely resemble those churches we read of in our Bibles. I believe so. I also believe they are few and far between. What are the characteristics of that church that is so intimately related to Jesus Christ that it is called in the Bible his bride? I’ll share some of my observations over the next few weeks. What has my attention will not be exhaustive, but will be at least a few of the most obvious ways to spot a local church that mirrors well the church of the first century. Maybe you see some others, I hope you will share them.

Emphasis on prayer, especially corporate prayer.

The very first thing that I notice is how much they valued prayer. Immediately after they had witnessed Jesus’ ascension the Bible tells us what they did.

12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. 13 And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. 14 All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. (Acts 1:12-14)

They had heard the words of Jesus. They had his marching orders. But the first order of business was to pray together! Jesus had told them to go to Jerusalem and wait for the power of the Spirit and they knew instinctively what “wait” meant. And so they prayed together. There is something very special, and I’ll say very powerful, about Christian believers praying “together”.

We don’t have to go very far to find them praying again. It was time to replace Judas, to select a new apostle. Did they poll the congregation? Did they appoint a committee? No, they simply prayed.

23 And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias.24 And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” (Acts 1:23-25)

Again and again we read about those earliest believers emulating their Lord of whom it is written again and again in the gospels “and he prayed”. Anyone who has read about the life of Jesus knows that he prayed early, all night, intensely, and often. Just prior to the great historic events of Pentecost we read about in Acts 2 the Bible says of the apostles and the others,

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. (Acts 2:1)

I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume what they were doing while they “were all together in one place”. Of course they were praying together! Later, in chapter four of Acts a crisis had arisen and their response was to pray. Both the church and the state were in opposition to what they were doing. They were preaching Jesus, folks were being healed, and by now their number had grown to about 5,000. This fist mega church caused the religious people and the politicians lots of grief. So, after the authorities had threatened them not to speak in the name of Jesus any more, this was their response and the results.

23 When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, 25 who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit,

“‘Why did the Gentiles rage,

and the peoples plot in vain?

26 The kings of the earth set themselves,

and the rulers were gathered together,

against the Lord and against his Anointed’—

27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. 29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.(Acts 4:23-31)

I love this story! Rather than cower to the wishes of the ministerial alliance or the local ordinances  they simply prayed together and the result was that they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and they spoke the Word of God with great boldness. Do we want our churches to grow, do we want our message to be powerful for God and for the people? Then we, like our ancient family of the faithful, must pray together.

It is a wonderful exercise to pray alone, in your private place. Every believer ought to be praying about everything. But there is something special about Christians praying together. Couples, families, small groups, and even large church gatherings are the right places to pray together.

The New Testament church was a praying church. How about yours? How about mine? How much do we emphasize prayer and specifically praying together? In my view, a local church will not be what God wants it to be unless prayer is a priority.

Will we pray together? I hope so.














Truth in easy to chew bites.

God is more concerned about  your holiness than your happiness.

I don’t remember God making any promises to believers about being happy. That is unless suffering and persecution make you happy. God’s purpose for his children is not to make us comfortable but to make us Christlike.

God is just as concerned about how you live Monday through Saturday as how you worship on Sunday.

Many people live as practical atheists except on Sunday when they go do some religious rituals, give a bit of spare change, listen to a homily, and then rush out to a local restaurant and soon forget about God until next week. Some people who are God conscious every day still live under the illusion that Sunday “worship” is more important than going to work on Monday in their walk with God. When God calls his people to deny self, to present their bodies as living sacrifices, and to bring glory to him alone, he does not say what day of the week to do it. If you are a great worshiper on Sunday, doing it all right, but are a jerk at work or a poor sport at the ball field, sorry but you just canceled out Sunday’s activities for all practical purposes.  Spiritual worship is done with complete openness and transparency, it is not a costume party.

Churches should not be in competition like businesses are.

Some people seem to believe that God’s will for their community or town is that their church, the one they attend, should be the largest, get the most attention, receive the most accolades from the media, and be the church in town. Nope, not so. God only has one people. There is only one body of Christ and likely some of them attend almost every church in your town and you are just not that special. It just might be that God, if he is able to favor one congregation over another, might just give the nod to the little group on the wrong side of the tracks that is more humble than the loudest bunch in town. Until we learn that every group of Christ followers are our brothers and sisters, and are just as valuable as we are, we have a lot to learn.

If we don’t love our forever family members we don’t love God.

Now we can pretend it an’t so, but it is. We can look down our self-righteous noses at people who claim Jesus as Lord because they have a different view of theology than we do, or because they have different worship styles, or God forbid because of their skin color…and when we do we have proven that we really don’t love God. We are in fact pretenders. Oh, we might be saved, but we are far from mature believers with those sorts of attitudes. Any group that makes the claim they are the only true church, an’t (that’s isn’t to those of you with earned degrees).

Living a life that pleases God is easy easier said than done.

When I give up God shows up. When I trust more than I try I just might be a disciple of Jesus. But oh how I want some credit! I don’t want the glory that is only due God. I just want you to think about what a good man I am, how devout, how humble, etc. to the point of nausea… What God has always wanted is people who just take him at his word and obey instantly, every time. That should be easy. But there is a part of me that rebels against that idea with a fury born of hell and the war in constantly on. That is except when I am in willing retreat, on leave, allowing my flesh to rule me. Have you ever been there? Are you now?

I am in no better position with God than the lowest, most rotten sinner, except for the worth and work of Jesus, and you are not either.

Jesus came to life a life I couldn’t live, die a death I should have died, pay a price I owed, and take the punishment I deserved. He met all of God’s demands for me, took all of God’s wrath against me, died for me freeing me from the law and its penalty, was raised for me so I can live a new life, and made me an adopted son of God with heirship, sonship, and relationship with the Creator God. Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe. Will I ever do everything right? No. Will I ever stop doing some things wrong? No, not on this side of the grave. Without Jesus Christ I am completely lost, alone, helpless and hopeless. But in Him I am a victor! I am destined to immortality and not to wrath and the second death. And though safe and secure I can only say with the song writer “Nothing in my hand I bring, only to the cross I cling”.

This is the way I see it, what about you?


A new look at an old institution – the Church

Brian Mashburn’s post today reminded me of something I needed to write. Brian’s post is titled “Change how you do church or watch your church die“.

The traditional way we build churches is sort of  a competition. Group “A” will locate a town with no church like their brand in it and they will plant a church there. Then they will try to grow that church, especially numerically. In truth, the goal, even if unspoken, is to be the largest church in town one day. I think its settled that the way success is measured is by Sunday a.m. attendance isn’t it?

Consider a new way.

A congregation wants to evangelize Yourtown, USA.  Three young couples who have been discipled and are mature believes are willing to move to the town to plant a church. So they move, find housing, get jobs, put the kids in school, and start meeting in the living room of one of the couples. The group grows, and soon outgrows the living room. Here is where the story changes.

(Back to Yourtown, USA for a moment. Lets suppose this town has 8 major apartment complexes, 4 large subdivisions, and a large trailer park. There are jobs, a favorable climate, acceptable tax structure, and people are moving in.)

The traditional way, is to begin trying to find a larger space, first to rent, until they get big enough to purchase land and build a building. And many thousands have done just that. In a few years they have lets say 200 solid members.

What if when Bob and Carol’s space becomes too small, they simply start a simultaneous group over at Ted and Alice’s apartment complex, and when that space gets to small they begin another at Bill and Susan’s trailer park meeting room, etc, etc, etc.

You tell me which is more Biblical and a more effective model.

Traditional: In five years there are two hundred members, two services on Sunday and one on Wednesday night. There are Bible classes, the church is supporting foreign missions, people are happy and things are going well. People are members from all over the town, there were 7 baptisms last year and some other families joined whose jobs brought them here. The young church has a full-time preacher, a youth minister, two elders, and a huge mortgage. Pretty typical huh?

Non-Traditional: In five years there are 12 cell churches. Each of them meets weekly for teaching, praying together, communion, worship, and mutual encouragement. Each member of each group lives in the apartment complex, subdivision, trailer park, etc. For instance, Ted and Alice have 9 couples in their group and are about to birth another in a nearby community where a member’s brother and his wife live. Ted and Alice and the other 8 families minister to the people who live in this complex, first, and then to others. When someone has a death in the family these Christians are there with food, a listening ear, baby sitting, money, or whatever help they can give. Ted and Alice and their group try desperately to love the people of that complex in Jesus stead. They will see people who have been loved open to the gospel and the Lord will add to his church.

Twelve small communities are being saturated with Christian love, concern, and modeling life as it should be lived to a watching world. Each of those complexes, subdivisions, and trailer parks are well aware of these good people who want nothing but to love them.

The leaders of the several groups meet once every few weeks to pray for each other and their people, to brainstorm, to plan large group community fairs, picnics, ect where the whole town (and all the groups) can be invited. Three men, who each lead a group, are elders. Any problems that cannot be sorted out by the people themselves is shared with these  three men who decide what is best and right.

Which model is better?

I contend that the very best traditional church, where most of what happens happens inside the “building” can never reach a community as well as the newer model. There is no competition between groups in the new model because when a group gets to about 9 or 10 families (or less) they have already been praying about where to begin a new church. (they are churches you know…) There is no salary to pay, there is no mortgage payment, so guess what? The people have more discretionary dollars to use to help others and support missions.

In my view the new model is an ego crusher. There is no big “I” and little “you”. There is just Christians being salt and light to the people who live near them. They are Christ’s ambassadors to the people they play ball with, bowl with, eat BBQ with, etc.

It might be a new way or the highway!

The attractional model of doing church once worked pretty well. No more in my view. If we don’t find a way, some way, to actually be involved in our neighbors lives with love, and help, and healing, and hope, we are a dying breed. There are some churches, even mega-churches, that are doing a great job of ministering to the communities they serve. They are meeting the needs of the people in tangible ways and making opportunities for gospel conversations. They are rare though, and I think becoming more rare.

I can imagine dozens of house churches all over a city sitting in living rooms, or on back porches, watching a live stream of a man of God teaching the Bible on a big screen TV patched to a computer. What does the future hold? Only God knows. I do know that where ever God’s sheep are that is where the church is, big or small, traditional or non-traditional. Jesus is still building it and until He comes for it, we get to work with him in his mission.



Got Worship?

Over the last several decades I have witnessed phenomena in the churches that I have been a part of, and ones I have observed through broadcast media and print. There has been a paradigm shift away from worship to a certain sort of activity passed off as worship.

Worship leaders”, “worship teams”, and “worship music” are fairly recent terms that are now as common as pews and pulpits. There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these. I question though, just how much they contribute to genuine worship of the Almighty God of the Bible.

In today’s Christian world, worship has been defined as some particular activity that takes place primarily on Sunday morning before the preacher delivers his message. That activity is singing. And, worship has been more narrowly defined as not only just singing, but singing only a certain kind of music, “worship music”, or “praise and worship” music. So the implication is that if you are singing “worship” music you are worshipping. That is foreign to the Bible. Am I to believe that none of Charles Wesley’s songs, Fanny Crosby’s songs, or any of the old hymns were ever used in worship? Christians were worshiping God many hundreds of years before “praise and worship” music and Powerpoint presentations were invented.

The dead give away that this so-called worship might be bogus, is the way most of the so-called worshippers critique the so-called worship. Comments usually follow along this line of thought. “We had a great worship service this morning. The music was so beautiful!” Or, some of our more uninhibited friends might say, “Worship was great today, you could really feel the Spirit in the service”. When worship is measured by the experience or the skill of the human participants, I promise you it is not Biblical worship.

Worship is not something to be experienced, but something given to God. Worship is not about me and you, but rather about God. Jesus said to the woman of Samaria that worship is to be done “in Spirit and in truth”. I fear that we as believers in modern times have not fared well in the “truth” department of worship.

Worship is first and foremost about surrender. I can be bold to say that a person who has hardly given God a thought all week is not likely to worship on Sunday morning. He or she might go through the motions, sing the songs, or even lead the songs, but in the end, not have worshipped. Paul in Romans 12:1-2 gives some great insight into the real meaning and method of true worship.

My paraphrase goes like this.

“I beg you brothers, in view of the fact that God did not condemn you to hell as you and I deserve, but has shown us mercy; Present the whole of who you are to God as a living sacrifice. Surrender yourselves completely to God for His pleasure and purpose. This dying to self in complete surrender to God for his use, is not unreasonable in view of His mercy, but is rather, “reasonable worship”. And, don’t be conformed to this culture, but rather be transformed by having your thinking made new by the word of God.”

Being “transformed by the renewing of your mind..” speaks again to the “truth” part of the equation of the elements of worship. It doesn’t matter how spiritual you might feel after doing a religious exercise, unless you have conformed your activity to the truth of the word of God you have not worshipped.

Not only is worship about surrender, it must be God centered and not people centered. Worship is akin to faith. Faith is vain and useless unless it is directed toward the right object. The strength or measure of faith is not nearly as important as the object of our faith, the Lord Jesus. Worship is exactly the same. Unless the object of our worship is God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, our worship isn’t worship, it is religion.