This Approach to Church?
A lot of church billboards and websites talk about being different
and offering something unique. The average home church gathering differs quite
a bit from an institutional or corporation-style church service. But not all home
churches are the same either.
what kind of real differences could someone expect to find if they visited our
home church? We’d like to take a few minutes to answer these questions by talking
about how an ideal New Testament church should operate and what steps we’ve taken
towards attaining that ideal.
significant differences – differences that really matter – can be divided into
five categories: teaching, leadership, finances, community interaction, and the
communion meal. It is in these areas that most people would find a significant
difference between our home church and institutional, corporation-style churches
(or even some other home churches). (For the sake of time, we’ll defer to our
articles for the biblical analysis concerning the ideal New Testament church.)
1.) The New
Testament church was a teaching church. The believers in Acts devoted themselves
daily to the apostles’ teaching of Jesus’ words. It was a requirement that the
elders in local churches had to be able to teach. They were counted worthy of
double honor (they were viewed as the apostles’ successors) if they labored well
in the word and doctrine. Paul instructed Timothy to take what he had learned
and pass it on to faithful men who would in turn be able to teach others also.
Everybody was taught. Everybody learned what they believed and why. Everyone wanted
to. There was no Sunday school for the few interested lay persons. There were
no seminaries or bible colleges.
in our home church, we teach. We study. And we learn. Probing questions and reliable,
thoroughly-tested answers. Free with no charge. We preach the Word in season and
out of season until we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge
of the Son of God, no longer tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind
of doctrine. From Genesis to Revelation, the origins of the universe to the last
things and the end of the age, we work to make sure that all of us, every person
in our church, is ready to give an answer to anyone who asks. Anyone who studies
has the opportunity to teach. Studies are presented each week in the context of
the whole group and must be thoroughly researched both biblically and historically
and with careful consideration of the alternative points of view. And there is
always an open opportunity to interrupt and ask sincere questions, test all things,
and add insights or comments of your own. This kind of teaching environment is
a hallmark of our weekly gatherings. Even many of our casual conversations throughout
the week center on the Word.
New Testament churches were not just lead by one man. They were led by several
men. On the local level, these men were called elders, overseers, bishops, and
sometimes shepherds (pastors). And they made decisions by submitting to one another.
Even the rest of the men in the church could participate in the discussions and
decisions. Whoever brought forward the best interpretation, idea, or insight,
the rest would submit to it. When questions were raised about whether Gentile
converts had to keep the Law of Moses, the decision was not rendered by just one
man. The apostles and elders came together to consider the matter. Both sides
presented their point of view. Peter spoke. Paul spoke. Barnabas spoke. In the
end, it was a proposal offered by James that seemed best to the entire church.
And they followed that proposal.
same thing happened locally in individual churches. In his epistle to Timothy,
Paul instructed that the local church was not to form opinions before the facts
were known. He instructed that they were to give deference to those elders whose
good labor was known among, regarding them as the apostles’ successors. The early
church reasoned together. They listened to the different points of view and considered
the facts. Then the entire church went with what was best. They didn't remain
of differing opinions. They were of the same mind. In our home church, we talk
about things. We listen. We consider. And we all follow the best idea. Mutual
submission, multiple leaders, basic accountability, and the ability for the men
to question, suggest, and participate in decision-making. We believe this is what
Jesus meant when He washed the apostles' feet and told them to serve one another
and what Paul meant when he told the Ephesians to submit to one another.
New Testament churches used their money exclusively to help meet each others’
financial needs. They didn’t spend money on mortgages for church buildings, utility
or maintenance bills, or building programs. They met in their homes. Although
apostles had the right to have all their needs supplied when they visited a community,
local elders and other leaders did not receive "full-time salaries."
They had to work to meet their own needs. Teachings were free. There was no charge
for ministry. When they gathered together, those who wanted to give would contribute.
Then the money would be distributed according to need. Elders could receive supplemental
help from this as well.
modern Americans and other westerners, this may sound like communism. But there
is one extremely significant difference. The New Testament system was voluntary.
It was not forced on anyone and it was not required. Similarly, the New Testament
churches did not practice the Old Testament tithe. It was entirely up to the individual
whether or not they gave and in what amount. The goal was to make sure everyone’s
needs were met. Quoting a passage from Exodus 16, Paul described this communal
living arrangement in 2 Corinthians 8.
I speak not by commandment, but by occasion of the forwardness of others,
and to prove the sincerity of your love. For ye know the grace of our Lord
Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that
ye through his poverty might be rich. And herein I give my advice: for this
is expedient for you, who have begun before, not only to do, but also to be forward
a year ago. Now therefore perform the doing of it; that as there was a readiness
to will, so there may be a performance also out of that which ye have. For
if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath,
and not according to that he hath not. For I mean not that other men be eased,
and ye burdened: But by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may
be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your
want: that there may be equality: As it is written, He that had gathered much
had nothing over; and he that had gathered little had no lack.
However, it is
also important to note that Paul also said, “if any would not work, neither should
he eat.” In order to receive from the communal distribution, each Christian had
to do what they could to provide for themselves and their families. We don’t believe
it’s possible for the church to improve on this New Testament system. We believe
a church’s finances should primarily serve to meet the needs of its members (who
are, in fact, the church). Oversight of this task should be given to trustworthy
men in the church, men who give to this fund but seldom take from it. And the
rest of the church should contribute to that fund as often as they want. This
takes Christians with a heart toward meeting others needs rather than their own.
This is the system we are working to build. Although not many needs have arisen
yet in our small home church, we do have a church bank account started by several
members. Over time we hope to continue depositing savings so that as we grow as
a church, money will be available to distribute (with discretion) if needs arise
in our community. It is our understanding that this is the sole purpose of any
and all church finances.
The New Testament churches were very involved in each other others’ lives.
They were highly interactive communities. It was more than just seeing each other
across the isle once or twice a week followed by the occasional Sunday after-service
brunch. In the book of Acts, we find the early Christians meeting daily to hear
the Word of God taught. They were not mere acquaintances. Of course, they also
had jobs and spent time with unbelievers. And they sought to build those relationships
as well for the purposes of sharing the gospel. But their closest friends were
their fellow Christians. Their closest family was their church. Early Christians
saw themselves as one big family. They thought of each other as brothers and sisters.
And that meant spending time with each other, both in church gatherings and in
a church started by a group of friends and family. We hang out at each others’
houses. We go out together. We eat meals together. Some of us even live together.
We spend a lot of time talking about the Word of God, but we also spent time just
relaxing and hanging out. It’s our goal to build this kind of close-friend, family
type of interaction into every relationship in our home church.
The New Testament communion meal was actually a full meal. While it involved
remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice, it was also meant to celebrate the place that
His sacrifice bought for us in the coming kingdom of God. It was meant to be a
family meal shared by brothers and sisters with a common value system, a common
goal, and a common inheritance. We believe that church gatherings should not only
involve time teaching the Word, but time interacting around a meal. When we get
together, there is a specific time set aside for teaching the Word. Learning the
Word is a central part, but so is just spending time together, joking around,
and talking. We hang out and talk while cooking. Then we eat and hang out some
more. It's not an hour and a half sitting next to each other silently early on
Sunday mornings. It's a whole evening for family and friends to relax and spend
time with each other.
are the kinds of real differences that we think people would notice about our
home church. We believe this is what churches were like in the New Testament.
And we believe this is how church should be today. We’re a small church, but we’ve
tried to use these ideals as our foundation so that as we grow we can continue
to build using the New Testament church as our defining example.
like to be part of a church that acts like the churches you read about in the
New Testament, we hope you will take some time to look around our website and
maybe drop us an email.