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Particulars of Christianity:
312 The Church Ethic


Survey of Post-Ascension Church Gatherings

Introduction & 3 Models of Church Gatherings and Leadership
Examining the Models
Examining the Models Conclusions and Study Expectations
Examining Church Gatherings in the Gospels
The First Supper, Jesus' Specific Instructions, Conclusions
Survey of Post-Ascension Church Gatherings
Apostolic and Eldership Functions in Acts and the Epistles
1 Corinthians 1-10 & Introduction to 1 Corinthians 11-14
1 Corinthians 11-13
1 Corinthians 14
1 Timothy 2:12, Conclusions on Women in Church Gatherings
Conclusions: 1 Corinthians 14, Church Gatherings & Leadership




Survey of Post-Ascension Church Gatherings: Early Meetings in the Book of Acts

 

Having completed our survey of the gospels, we now proceed to investigate the issue of church gatherings and leadership in the rest of the New Testament starting in the Book of Acts. And we will get a look at how the disciples implemented the “on-the-job training, which they had received from Jesus.

 

After Jesus’ ascension in Acts 1, we have the first instance of a gathering of Jesus’ followers without Jesus being physically present. Verse 13 indicates that they were gathered in an upper room. What is interesting to note is that both Mark 14:15 and Luke 22:12 note that the Last Supper took place in an upper room. In fact, both passages state that the upper room was large.

 

Mark 14:14 And wheresoever he shall go in, say ye to the goodman of the house, The Master saith, Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples? 15 And he will shew you a large upper room furnished and prepared: there make ready for us.

 

Luke 22:11 And ye shall say unto the goodman of the house, The Master saith unto thee, Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples? 12 And he shall shew you a large upper room furnished: there make ready.

 

Here in Acts 1, Jesus’ disciples are gathered together in a room large enough to accommodate all 120 of them. It is entirely possible that the disciples were, in fact, staying and meeting in that same upper room where they had shared their last Passover meal with Jesus. If this is true, it may constitute some peripheral confirmation that the disciples understood that the Last Supper had prescriptive significance for ongoing church gatherings.

 

With that in mind, we will now continue with our examination of the first post-ascension gathering of Jesus’ disciples. It is recorded for us in Acts 1:12-26.

 

Acts 1:12 Then returned they unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is from Jerusalem a sabbath day’s journey. 13 And when they were come in, they went up into an upper room, where abode both Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew, Philip, and Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon Zelotes, and Judas the brother of James. 14 These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren. 15 And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples, and said, (the number of names together were about an hundred and twenty,) 16 Men and brethren, this scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas, which was guide to them that took Jesus. 17 For he was numbered with us, and had obtained part of this ministry. 18 Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out. 19 And it was known unto all the dwellers at Jerusalem; insomuch as that field is called in their proper tongue, Aceldama, that is to say, The field of blood. 20 For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein: and his bishoprick let another take. 21 Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection. 23 And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. 24 And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen, 25 That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place. 26 And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.

 

In verses 13-14 of Acts 1 we are informed that Peter, James, John, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James (son of Alphaeus), Simon, and Judas (James’ brother) were together. With them were Jesus’ women followers, Jesus’ mother, and Jesus’ brothers. What follows in verse 15-26 is the only description we have of what occurred as these followers gathered together. Verse 15 informs us that there were about 120 people gathered there. This is the first post-ascension church gathering without Jesus. We can compare what we see here with the gatherings during Jesus’ ministry to determine whether this gathering exhibits some change of format.

 

We know from verse 14 that the gathering included prayer. Verse 15 then begins to describe the rest of what happened in that upper room. First we see Peter stand up to speak to the 120 people gathered there. As the passage continues, Peter continues to speak for 7 of the remaining 11 verses. In these verses, Peter uses scripture to instruct those gathered that they should find someone to take Judas Iscariot’s place. We notice that Peter is uninterrupted and that his speaking comprises the bulk of the interaction. After he finishes his statement we see that they select two candidates, pray, cast lots, and then appoint Matthias as Judas’ replacement.

 

Now, we can take notes about what is clear in this passage. Here, we have one man, Peter, being portrayed by Luke as dominating and directing the gathering. We also see that Peter is instructing them out of the scripture. In fact, it seems very much like Peter (and those with him) are simply following the pattern they had experienced and had been trained with during their time with Jesus. Some participation by others can be seen in response to Peter’s instruction. This participation can be seen in the selection of Joseph and Matthias and in the prayer, both of which involved more people than just Peter. Surely, some discussion followed. The group’s response is not featured in the text. However, those things that are recorded in the text do not deviate from what we’ve seen in pre-ascension gatherings: one person dominating and directing the meeting through teaching and instruction while the rest of those present are also allowed to interrupt and respond.

 

This first meeting of the church after Jesus’ ascension is consistent with the Elder-Leadership model for church gatherings. However, Acts 1 does not describe all who are present as equally participating or contributing to the gathering. Instead Peter dominates the meeting with teaching. Consequently, Acts 1 does not fit the Viola model. In addition, Acts 1 does not fit the Pseudo-traditional model because there is participation by others in response to Peter’s instruction and also because there is no musical worship. It also important to note that in Acts 1 the decision making authority does not lie solely with one man, such as can be seen in the Psuedo-traditional model in which the head pastor has the final word on all decisions. Instead, we see the involvement of at least all twelve apostles in the decision to appoint a successor for Judas. The collective nature of this decision is seen most prominently in verse 23, which begins with the phrase “And they appointed two.”

 

But perhaps the reason that the church gathering of Acts 1 does not exhibit a departure from earlier gatherings is that, although Jesus has ascended, the day of Pentecost had not yet arrived and the disciples have not yet received the Holy Spirit. Maybe this would explain why we don’t see either the Viola model or the Pseudo-traditional model (with its lengthy musical segment) in Acts 1. And perhaps a change of meeting format will occur as a result of Pentecost in Acts 2. But then again, we must consider that maybe what we see here in Acts 1 is not merely an interim solution that is only intended to suffice temporarily between Jesus’ departure and the coming of the Holy Spirit. We must at least consider the possibility that the reason this gathering seems to follow the model exemplified by Christ in the gospels is because Peter and the other disciples understood that they were supposed to maintain that speaker-dominant, audience-interaction model, which they experienced with Christ before his ascension.

 

Supporting this consideration are several statements that Jesus makes to his disciples prior to his ascension into heaven.

 

John 20:21 Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: 23 Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.

 

Matthew 28:18 And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. 19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

 

From these short passages at the end of Matthew and John’s gospels we can see that Jesus indicated to his disciples that he was sending them just as he had been sent by the Father and that they should teach all men all what he had commanded them. In fact, the Greek verb that is translated as “sent” in John 20:21 is “apostello” (Strong’s number 649) from which we get the noun “apostle,” which is from the Greek word “apostolos” (Strong’s number 652.) Hebrews 3:1 even calls Jesus “the Apostle” using the same Greek word that is applied in the New Testament to the apostles.

 

Hebrews 3: 1 Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle (652) and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus;

 

Though it is inconclusive, it is reasonable to consider that the disciples understood Jesus’ remarks here to indicate that their being sent as he had been sent and their teaching others as he had taught them included them conducting gatherings of his followers in the same speaker-dominant manner that he had used. Coupling Matthew 28 and John 20 with Acts 1’s description of the first post-ascension gathering of Jesus’ followers provides further warrant for this conclusion. It certainly seems more than plausible that Peter’s conduct here may have been based on his understanding of Jesus’ commands from John 20 and Matthew 28 in just this way.

 

However, we still cannot determine with certainty if John 20, Matthew 28, and what we see here in Acts 1 provide prescriptions for how church gatherings were to be conducted later. But we must be clear that in Acts 1 we still do not see a description involving equal participation by all present, a large segment musical worship, or short segments of skits, songs, poems, etc. So, if we make determinations simply from what the passage provides, we see that Acts 1 cannot be used as support or evidence of a departure from the speaker-dominant model established by Christ during His ministry. With that said we move on to Acts 2 and the day of Pentecost to see if we can detect any change in church gatherings thereafter.

 

Acts 2 begins by informing us that the 120 disciples were still gathered together in the upper room.

 

Acts 2:1 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

 

In verse 2, we are immediately informed of the coming of the Holy Spirit upon all present in the form of tongues of fire resting on each of them. They then begin to speak in tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Now, since the Viola model for church gatherings centers on mutual ministry and equal contribution by all, particularly as enabled by the Holy Spirit, some might suggest that in Acts 2 the disciples ministered to themselves by speaking in tongues prior to their engaging those gathered outside for the feast day. But such a notion is not drawn from the text. Instead it is obvious that Luke intended his audience to understand verse 4 as being explained by the verses that follow it. Verse 6 explains what happened quite well.

 

Acts 2:5 And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. 6 Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. 7 And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? 8 And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? 9 Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, 10 Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God. 12 And they were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this?

 

When the multitudes heard the loud sound (like a rushing wind) caused by the coming of the Holy Spirit, they came near and heard the disciples, empowered by the Holy Spirit, speaking in their own native languages. In fact, it is implicit from the text of Acts 1:8 as well as Luke 24:49 that the empowerment of the disciples by the Holy Spirit to speak in tongues, as we see here in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost, was explicitly for the purpose of communicating with the unbelievers who had come to Jerusalem for the feast. It would be an entirely outside notion to suggest that the Holy Spirit empowered the disciples to speak in tongues in order to minister to each other in the upper room.

 

Acts 1:8 But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.

 

Luke 24:46 And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: 47 And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 And ye are witnesses of these things. 49 And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.

 

So, it seems that what we have described here in Acts 2 is largely a record of the disciples ministering to the crowds on Pentecost. As we continue we see the familiar pattern re-emerge. In verses 14-40 of the chapter we again see Peter following in the model of what he had witnessed Jesus himself do and what Jesus had thereby trained him to do. In Acts 1 we saw Peter acting as Christ did when gathered together with the disciples. Now we see Peter acting as Christ did when evangelizing the crowds. It seems very clear that Peter had somehow come to understand that they were supposed to carry on the model of Christ’s pre-ascension interaction with them and the crowds even after Christ had ascended into heaven and the Holy Spirit had come upon them.

 

However, most of the people in the crowd were non-believers, though some of them are converted after Peter concludes his speaking. So, we must remain clear. Acts 2:5-40 is very much an instance of a public evangelism and not a description of a church gathering. While Acts 2 provides further indication that Peter and the disciples understood that they were supposed to continue Jesus’ speaker-dominant model of interaction after Jesus had ascended, this passage has not yet given us any direct indication pertaining to church gatherings specifically. For that we must keep reading in Acts 2.

 

In Acts 2:41 we see that as a result of Peter’s sermon about three thousand people repented and came to believe in Christ.

 

Acts 2:41 Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.

 

As we continue through the remaining verses of Acts 2 Luke informs us of the daily practices of the early church.

 

Acts 2:42 And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43 And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. 44 And all that believed were together, and had all things common; 45 And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. 46 And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, 47 Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.


What we learn from Acts 2:42-47 is helpful and informative for our study. What we see here in this passage tells us about the manner of the church’s gathering together after Pentecost. And what do we find? Well, first we see that verse 42 and verse 46 indicate that they were getting together for the breaking of bread. This is important for several reasons. First, the breaking of bread is a clear indication that what is being described here in verses 42-47 is a genuine church gathering. Second, because the breaking of bread is synonymous with the communion meal, we can confirm that post-Pentecost church gatherings took Jesus’ instructions at the Last Supper to be prescriptive for future church gatherings, including the continuation of a full meal for communion.

But we can also directly compare this gathering in Acts 2 to the Last Supper. We already know from the gospel that the Last Supper involved several portions. These included the communal meal, prayer, and a long segment where Jesus taught the disciples. Similarly, when we read here in Acts 2:42 that the early church gathered together to eat the communal meal, to pray, and that the apostle’s taught them, we are right to begin to draw some connections. What we have here then from Luke’s description in Acts 2:41-47 is strong corroboration that post-Pentecost church gatherings followed the format of the Last Supper involving at least a full meal, prayer, and a large teaching segment.

 

And what can we conclude about the teaching portion of these post-Pentecost meetings? Well, we have some further indication that teaching was not equally provided by all persons present. Verse 42 clearly indicates that the church continued in the apostle’s doctrine. But that doctrine, or teaching, did not belong to or originate with the apostles. It belonged to and originated with Jesus Christ. The doctrine was merely taught to the church by the apostles. After all that is what Christ sent them to do, to teach his teachings to others. As we have seen, the word “apostle” (Strong’s number 652, “apostolos” comes from the same Greek verb for “sent” that Jesus uses in John 20:21 (Strong’s number 649, “apostello.”) Apostle simply means “sent one. And, as we have seen, John 20:21 applies this term to Jesus himself. So, Acts 2:42 simply records the disciples fulfilling Jesus commands to them. In essence, the ones he sent to teach are now teaching the people Jesus’ teachings. (Here again are these passages shown side by side.)

John 20:21 Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: 23 Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.

 

Matthew 28:18 And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. 19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

 

Acts 2:42 And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.

Furthermore, we have already seen two instances of these “sent ones” teaching those gathered earlier in Acts. In chapter 1, we have the apostle, the “sent one,” Peter instructing the 120 disciples out of the scripture as they gathered together in the upper room. And in Acts 2, we again have the apostle Peter teaching the crowds. So, when we see Acts 2:42 say that the church “continued in the apostle’s teaching” we have a good reason to conclude that the church wasn’t teaching itself in an equal participation format, but we must understand that the apostles were the ones teaching the rest of the church just as Jesus had had done and just as he had commanded them to do.

 

In his book, Reimagining Church, Frank Viola concurs that the apostles dominated their meetings.

 

There are two chief characteristics of the apostolic meeting. One is that an apostolic worker does most of the ministry. – Frank Viola, Reimagining Church, Chapter 2, Reimagining the Church Meeting, pages 49-51

 

If this is the case, and we will see more evidence that it is as we continue in Acts, then we must conclude that even after Pentecost, the apostles continued to uphold a model of church gatherings, which was not equal participation by all. And, we will have to conclude that the format of church gatherings upheld by apostles after Pentecost was based upon a model in which the meetings were dominated by particular leaders teaching the rest of the assembly. And we have seen good reason to conclude that the apostles continued this teacher-dominant model as a fulfillment of Jesus’ instructions to them. This means that the apostles must have understood Jesus’ to have intended this model to be continued in church practice after Jesus’ ascension and after Pentecost. And, if this is the case, we would expect that the format of church gatherings will not be altered as we proceed through our survey. As we do, we will pay attention to see if this expectation is confirmed or overturned.

 

As we turn to Acts chapter 3 we find the account of Peter and John healing the lame man at the Temple. After the healing, from chapter 3:11 through the beginning of chapter 4 we see Peter following Jesus’ familiar pattern of interacting with the crowds. Peter dominates the gathered crowd and teaches them from God’s word about Jesus Christ. In chapter 4, we see that Peter and John are arrested by the religious leadership. Peter and John’s interaction with these men bears striking similarity to Jesus’ own confrontations with them prior to his death, resurrection, and ascension.

 

Neither of these instances from chapter 3 or chapter 4 involves a gathering of Jesus’ disciples. However, they do inform us that the apostles seemed very much to have put into practice the model they had learned from Jesus for interacting with gathered crowds and with groups of religious opposition. This being the case we might further expect that their interaction at church gatherings will also mimic the pattern they had experienced with Jesus. And indeed, what we have seen so far in Acts 1 and 2 does seem to fit with this expectation.

 

The remaining portion of Acts 4 transitions into Acts 5. Here Luke describes how Peter and John returned to the believers and explained what had happened in chapters 3 and earlier in chapter 4. As a result, all those who had gathered together joined in prayer and thanksgiving to God. Then a second event similar to the day of Pentecost took place as the house where they are gathered was shaken, they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they were enabled to speak the word with boldness. Now this enabling to speak the word of God boldly was not toward one another. Instead, the reason they were enabled to speak with boldness is provided clearly in the text’s description of their prayer. In verse 29, they ask for boldness to preach the word in contrast to the threatening words of the Jewish religious leaders. What specifically had the religious authorities threatened? Verse 17 records the words of the Jewish leadership, saying, “let us straitly threaten them, that they speak henceforth to no man in this name.” Since the apostles were told not to preach Jesus’ name anymore, we can conclude that the boldness they received to “speak God’s word” was not to one another in the form of mutual ministry at church gatherings. Instead, it was boldness to preach Jesus to the crowds, which the Jewish leadership had told them not to do.

Though we certainly have another instance of a church gathering here in Acts 4, we aren’t given much information about the format of that meeting other than that they joined together in prayer and were filled with the Holy Spirit. We might also note that the meeting began with Peter and John’s proclamation of the events the day before. So what we do know from this passage still fits with the Elder-Leadership model and does not lend support to the Pseudo-traditional or Viola models. Here we most likely have Peter (and perhaps to some extent John) explaining what had happened to those gathered. Then we have a corporate prayer. The only thing we don’t see is any mention of a communion meal taking place on this occasion.

 

As we proceed to the end of chapter 4 into chapter 5 we find Luke explaining how the early church lived in community with one another and shared their material possessions with one another so that there was no lack among them. Chapter 5 opens with the account of Ananias and Sapphira. It is followed by the apostles healing many people, the apostles subsequently being arrested by the religious leadership for this, their release from prison by the angel of the Lord, their preaching and teaching in the Temple, religious leadership’s outrage at the apostles, Gamaliel’s wise words, and the beating and release of the apostles. The final verse of chapter 5 is somewhat informative for the purpose of our study.

 

Acts 5:42 And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.

 

Here in verse 42, Luke explains to us the regular habits of the apostles. They went to the Temple each day and taught the people proclaiming Jesus Christ. And, more importantly we learn that the apostles taught in each house every day. Now, as people living in modern society, the significance of their teaching in each house may not be apparent to us at first glance because we are accustomed to church gatherings taking place within large church buildings. However, as Luke has already explained to us early in Acts, the location of the early church gatherings at this period was in their homes.

 

The Last Supper was in the upper room of someone’s home.

 

Mark 14:14 And wheresoever he shall go in, say ye to the goodman of the house, The Master saith, Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples? 15 And he will shew you a large upper room furnished and prepared: there make ready for us.

 

Luke 22:11 And ye shall say unto the goodman of the house, The Master saith unto thee, Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples? 12 And he shall shew you a large upper room furnished: there make ready.

                                                                                        

The first post-ascension church meeting in Acts 1 and the gathering on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 also took place in the upper room of someone’s home (perhaps even the same room as the Last Supper.)

 

Acts 1:13 And when they were come in, they went up into an upper room, where abode both Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew, Philip, and Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon Zelotes, and Judas the brother of James.

 

Acts 2:1 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.

 

Later in Acts 2, we see the church continuing to meet in their homes as the number of believers grew.

 

Acts 2:42 And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43 And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. 44 And all that believed were together, and had all things common; 45 And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. 46 And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,

 

In fact, the homes of the believing community remained the only (or at least the pre-dominant) place in which early church gatherings were held throughout the first century period (and well on into the second and third centuries.)

 

Acts 20:20 And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house.

 

Romans 16:5 Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Salute my wellbeloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia unto Christ.

 

1 Corinthians 16:19 The churches of Asia salute you. Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.

 

Colossians 4:15 Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church which is in his house.

 

Philemon 1:2 And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the church in thy house:

 

So, when we see again in Acts 5:42 (as well as Acts 2:42 and Acts 20:20) that the apostles were teaching the people each day in their homes, this informs us that the manner of their meetings was one in which the apostles taught them the word of God. It was not one where everyone (including the apostles) participated and spoke equally. Rather, even after Pentecost the role of speaking and teaching at the meetings continues to be limited in number and not something shared equally by all present.

 

However, it also seems that the number of persons who lead during the meetings was not limited solely to one person. As we have already seen, the evidence shows that the apostles shared this role with one another. It is true that the apostles’ preaching and teaching together often involved one of them taking a more dominant role. (Peter and John at the Temple in Acts 3 is one example of this trend. We will see other examples of this later as we continue our study through the rest of the New Testament.) However, just because one apostle dominates on a particular occasion that fact alone does not equivalent to the singular, head-pastor structure offered by the Psuedo-traditional model. In a shared leadership model, we would not expect all the leaders to speak simultaneously or that they would never “yield the floor” to one another. (Moreover, for Protestants and evangelicals, superimposing a single-leader model onto the apostles themselves would result inadvertently in backdoor admission of Roman Catholic papal claims.) In addition, shared participation by the apostles is also not equivalent to shared participation by all present. If the shared participation is limited exclusively to apostles this constitutes some manner of hierarchical leadership as well as specialized (rather than equal) function. In other words, shared participation by the apostles is not supportive of the Viola model.

 

Acts 6 provides further insight into the differentiated roles that were held in the New Testament church and practiced during their daily gatherings.

 

Acts 6:1 And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. 2 Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. 3 Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. 4 But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.

As the number of believers grew it became more difficult to ensure that everyone’s needs were being met from the sharing of possessions. In response to this need, the apostles take action. Their decision is that it is not appropriate for them to take time away from their teaching of the word of God in order to serve in the daily distribution of material needs. They then appoint seven other men to be responsible for this important task. However, we must take note of two relevant facts from this event. First, just like Acts 1 when the apostles collectively decided which two candidates to consider for Judas’ replacement, here we see the apostles’ collectively making a decision. The decision-making authority was shared equally by these twelve men, not by a single man. Second, we must take note that the apostles understood and upheld that it was their duty to minister the word.

 

This differentiation of duties, which associated the teaching of the word with the apostles and assigned the distribution service to others, is informative. In this distinction we see that the church meetings were characterized by the teaching role being conducted by certain persons and not others. Moreover, we see that this format was specifically upheld by the apostles after Pentecost. While other persons had different roles, not all persons present participated and functioned equally in the ministry and teaching of the word. Instead, the apostles alone continue to exhibit leadership through teaching at the church meetings. That is to say, the apostles had a special function at the church meetings, which distinguished them from everyone else.

 

One more point that might be relevant is how the apostles’ response to this situation relates to the instructions Jesus gave after washing his disciples’ feet in John 13:1-17. In that passage, Jesus provided an example that those who lead should serve others. Similarly, Jesus taught in Matthew 10:44 that those who would be the greatest must be the servant of all while at the same time saying that he himself came not be served, but to serve. Likewise, we saw that in Matthew 20, Mark 10, and Luke 22 Jesus instructed the apostles not to employ the Gentile manner of leadership. What is obvious from Acts 6:2 is that the disciples did not understand Jesus’ teachings in these passages to require real, physical service, as embodied here in physical service of “waiting on tables.” Or to put it another way, the apostles did not understand Jesus’ teaching about service and leadership to prohibit delegating more menial tasks to others while reserving for themselves those tasks, which required greater expertise and leadership experience. Nor did the apostles understand Jesus’ teaching in such passages as forbidding them to operate with hierarchical and specialized function. The disciples apparently kept the model offered by Jesus’ own service, which as we saw was teaching-dominant. Consequently, from this passage in Acts 6, we see additional confirmation that Viola’s denial of any hierarchical or specialized function is not consistent with the information presented in the New Testament.




Survey of Post-Ascension Church Gatherings: The Church Under Apostolic Leadership

 

At this point in our study and in our survey it is important to note that we have potentially crossed an important threshold regarding our main hypothesis. As we surveyed the gospels we saw that Jesus dominated the gatherings of his disciples through teaching and we also saw that at those pre-ascension gatherings the speaking was not equally shared by all who were present. However, during that early portion of our survey, we did not know whether the manner in which Jesus’ conducted such gatherings would be continued or was intended to continue after Jesus’ ascension into heaven. However, we have now progressed far enough past Jesus’ ascension and the day of Pentecost to make a more conclusive determination.

 

What we have seen fits with the projection we made at the end of our survey of the gospels. Earlier in Acts we noticed that the apostles certainly seemed to feel that Jesus had intended for them to carry on his model of teacher-dominance and not equal-participation at their meetings. There has been no notable or detectable departure from the model we saw established by Christ in the gospels. Christ’s example in the gospels established a model in which one person dominated the meetings as the speaker and teacher and in which there was also open, yet lesser participation from others present. It is also worth noting that we have seen a notable amount of correlation between the format of gatherings for public evangelism and the format of gatherings between Jesus’ followers. Both exhibited these two features of speaker-dominance and interruptive audience interaction with that speaker.

 

But even though we have seen this model exemplified by Christ prior to the ascension and continued by his apostles in the early decades of the churches life, at this point we still do not know whether this model was supposed to continue in church gatherings when the apostles were not present. It is possible that the apostles established some other format for church meetings when they were not present. They could even have established a meeting where everyone shared and spoke equally. But with strong conviction at this point we can confirm that when the apostles themselves were present church meetings were characterized by a speaker-dominant teaching model with open, but not equal participation by the rest of those present. To determine if this model was intended to continue or did continue in church gatherings in which the apostles were not present, we will have to wait until we cover such situations later in the New Testament narrative.

 

Likewise, in concluding that the apostles themselves practiced and conducted speaker or teacher-dominant church gatherings, it should be noted that we have not said anything which Frank Viola disagrees with. As indicated earlier, in his books Viola repeatedly points out that the meetings the apostles conducted were characterized by the apostles dominating the meetings and instructing the rest of those who had gathered.

 

There are two chief characteristics of the apostolic meeting. One is that an apostolic worker does most of the ministry. – Frank Viola, Reimagining Church, Chapter 2, Reimagining the Church Meeting, pages 49-51

 

In the following quote, notice that even though Viola clearly states that there was no hierarchy among local elders and that local elders were equal to one another, Viola does not believe that the local elders were equal to the apostles.

 

Among the flock were the elders (shepherds or overseers). These men all had equal standing. There was no hierarchy among them. Also present were extra-local workers who planted churches. These were called “sent ones” or apostles. But they did not take up residency in the churches for which they cared. – Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity, Chapter 5, The Pastor: Obstacle to Every-Member Functioning, page 110

 

In the following quote Viola explains why he is careful not to include the apostles in the “equal standing” and non-hierarchical status of the elders. According to Viola, the apostles had a unique role.

 

Church leadership began to formalize at about the time of the death of the itinerant apostolic workers (church planters). In the late first and early second centuries, local presbyters began to emerge as the resident “successors” to the unique leadership role played by the apostolic workers. This gave rise to a single leading figure in each church. Without the influence of the extra-local workers who had been mentored by the New Testament apostles, the church began to drift toward the organizational patterns of her surrounding culture. – Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity, Chapter 5, The Pastor: Obstacle to Every-Member Functioning, page 110

 

In describing the apostles as having a “unique role,” by contrasting this “unique role” to the role of elders who were all equal with one another, and by describing local elders who took on the apostolic role as deviating from the New Testament model, Viola affirms that in his view the apostles had a specialized function in church gatherings and a special place in church leadership. That means Viola acknowledges that Jesus did not actually abolish all hierarchy from the church. Rather, he established a hierarchy in the church, at least in the role of the apostles.

 

There are four points that we should note here about Viola’s view of the apostles. As already mentioned, the first point is that Viola himself recognizes that the apostles held a unique role in New Testament leadership and that this unique role involved their dominating the ministry of the church meetings.

 

The second point that we want to discuss about Viola’s view of the apostles is his identification of apostles as itinerant church planters. In these quotes Viola portrays the apostles as “leaving the churches on their own,” “not taking up residency in the churches for which they cared,” and only “revisiting that church after a period of time.”

 

There are two chief characteristics of the apostolic meeting. One is that an apostolic worker does most of the ministry. The other is that such meetings are never permanent. They are temporary and have a long-range goal. Namely, to equip a local body of believers to function under the headship of Jesus Christ without the presence of a human head (Eph. 4:11-16; 1 Corinthians 14:26). For this reason, an apostle always ends up leaving the church on its own. – Frank Viola, Reimagining Church, Chapter 2, Reimagining the Church Meeting, pages 49-51

 

Among the flock were the elders (shepherds or overseers). These men all had equal standing. There was no hierarchy among them. Also present were extra-local workers who planted churches. These were called “sent ones” or apostles. But they did not take up residency in the churches for which they cared. – Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity, Chapter 5, The Pastor: Obstacle to Every-Member Functioning, page 110

 

Church leadership began to formalize at about the time of the death of the itinerant apostolic workers (church planters). In the late first and early second centuries, local presbyters began to emerge as the resident “successors” to the unique leadership role played by the apostolic workers. This gave rise to a single leading figure in each church. Without the influence of the extra-local workers who had been mentored by the New Testament apostles, the church began to drift toward the organizational patterns of her surrounding culture. – Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity, Chapter 5, The Pastor: Obstacle to Every-Member Functioning, page 110

 

After beginning a church, the apostolic workers (church planters) of the first century would revisit that body after a period of time. – Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity, Chapter 5, The Pastor: Obstacle to Every-Member Functioning, pages 123-124

 

Are Viola’s descriptions of the apostles accurate portrayals of the New Testament record? Not at all. Consider that Paul, who definitely fit the description of an itinerant church planter, himself took up long periods of residence in several of the church communities that he started. For instance, Paul and Barnabas stayed in Antioch for over a year (Acts 11:26.) Likewise, Paul lived in Corinth for a year and a half (Acts 18:11.) He stayed in Ephesus for three years (Acts 19:8-10 and Acts 20:31-35.) And Paul spent the last two years of the Book of Acts’ chronology in Rome (Acts 28:30-31.) Paul’s actual stay in Rome continued through the end of his life several years later. So, is it accurate to say that Paul never took up residency in the churches that he cared for? Is it valid to conclude that Paul was an “extra-local” worker for those three years in Ephesus, or for that year and a half in Corinth, or for that year in Antioch, or for those years in Rome?

Likewise, consider the other apostles. It may be fair to describe Paul or Barnabas as itinerant church planters because they planted many new church communities on their missionary travels. But what about the other apostles?

 

As far as the New Testament record is concerned Peter, John, John’s brother James, and Jesus’ half-brother James all stayed in Jerusalem for fifteen years or more after Jesus’ ascension (Acts 15:22-23, Galatians 1:17-19, and Galatians 2:1, 9.) The same is true of the other apostles who remained in Jerusalem after the persecution that arose at the martyrdom of Stephen (Acts 8:14) at least through the council of Jerusalem (Acts 15.)  Later in their lives Peter and John went on to Rome and Ephesus respectively, but they remained there long term. We also know that earlier on Peter visited Samaria, Caesarea, and Antioch briefly (Acts 8:14, Acts 10:24, and Galatians 2:11.) Likewise, John went with Peter to Samaria (Acts 8:14) and spent some time in Patmos (Revelation 1:9.) And 1 Corinthians 9:5 may indicate that the apostles did at times visit the other churches, but nonetheless these men lived most of their lives in or near Jerusalem. They lived in the church community that they cared for there. From the scriptural depiction it seems that Paul and Barnabas were exceptions to the rule and in general apostles were not itinerant church planters.

 

In fact, the New Testament provides little to no indication that any of the other apostles planted many churches elsewhere. Instead, the planting of church communities is largely attributed to Paul, Barnabas, those who traveled with them, Philip the evangelist, and other believers who weren’t apostles (Acts 8:5, 8:39-40, and 11:19.)

 

Because of these New Testament facts it is difficult to agree with Viola’s identification of apostles as synonymous with itinerant church planters who never lived in the churches they cared for, but left them on their own. Certainly, to the church in Jerusalem, the apostles were permanent, local workers. As we have seen, Peter identifies himself as an elder in 1 Peter 5:1. Did the church in Antioch think Paul was just an outsider during the year and a half he spent living with them and teaching them (Acts 11:26)? Did the community of Christians in Corinth think Paul was an extra-local worker when he stayed and taught them for a year and a half (Acts 18:11)? Did the believers in Ephesus think Paul was an extra-local worker when he stayed and lived with them for three years teaching them (Acts 19:8-10, Acts 20:31-35)? What about those in Rome with whom Paul spent the remaining years of his life (Acts 28:30-31)? Did Paul leave the Roman church on its own? Clearly, Viola’s concept of the apostles is incompatible with these simple and obvious New Testament facts about Paul and the other apostles.

 

The third point is that it is Viola’s definition of apostles simply as itinerant church planters which allows him to apply the apostolic role to church planters of today, including himself. But is it valid for modern Christian church planters to claim the title and role of an apostle? As we have just seen, one reason that this is not valid is because the terms “apostle” and “church planter” are not synonymous in New Testament usage. Most of the apostles remained in, lead, and taught the Jerusalem church for most of their lives while church planting was carried out by others.

 

Another reason that modern church planters cannot validly claim the title or role of apostle is because that term is restricted in the New Testament to particular persons who were personally sent out by Jesus Christ to testify and teach. The word apostle is the Greek noun “apostolos” (Strong’s number 652) means “sent one.” It comes from the Greek verb “apostello” (Strong’s number 649), which means “send, send forth.” This term is given to the twelve apostles when Jesus first sends them out in Matthew 10 and Luke 9.

 

Matthew 10:1 And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease. 2 Now the names of the twelve apostles (652) are these; The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; 3 Philip, and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the publican; James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him. 5 These twelve Jesus sent forth (649), and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: 6 But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. 8 Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give.

 

Luke 9:1 Then he called his twelve disciples together, and gave them power and authority over all devils, and to cure diseases. 2 And he sent (649) them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick. 3 And he said unto them, Take nothing for your journey, neither staves, nor scrip, neither bread, neither money; neither have two coats apiece. 4 And whatsoever house ye enter into, there abide, and thence depart. 5 And whosoever will not receive you, when ye go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet for a testimony against them. 6 And they departed, and went through the towns, preaching the gospel, and healing every where. 7 Now Herod the tetrarch heard of all that was done by him: and he was perplexed, because that it was said of some, that John was risen from the dead; 8 And of some, that Elias had appeared; and of others, that one of the old prophets was risen again. 9 And Herod said, John have I beheadded: but who is this, of whom I hear such things? And he desired to see him. 10 And the apostles (652), when they were returned, told him all that they had done. And he took them, and went aside privately into a desert place belonging to the city called Bethsaida.

 

The same is true of Paul and Barnabas who were commissioned personally at the direction of the Holy Spirit in Acts 13.

 

Acts 13:1 Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. 3 And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. 4 So they, being sent forth (649) by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to Cyprus.

 

So, as a result of being sent forth by the Holy Spirit, Paul and Barnabas are called apostles or “sent ones” along with the other “sent ones” that Jesus had sent forth.

 

Acts 14:14 Which when the apostles (652), Barnabas and Paul, heard of, they rent their clothes, and ran in among the people, crying out,

 

Furthermore, all of those persons who are called apostles in the New Testament were able to validate their claim to that role through signs and wonders that were given to them (Matthew 10:2, 8 and Luke 9:2.)

 

Acts 2:43 And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles.

 

Acts 5:12 And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people; (and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch.

 

Acts 15:12 Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them.

 

2 Corinthians 12:12 Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds.

 

Since, the title and role of apostle is not accurately identified with church planting and since the apostles were those personally sent by the commissioning of Jesus Christ (and the Holy Spirit) and enabled to perform miraculous signs and wonders, it is not fair to call modern Christian church planters “apostles” as Viola’s model for church leadership requires.

 

In his book Reimagining Church, Viola rightly points out that elders did not appoint themselves in the New Testament.

 

(…In addition, elders never appointed themselves. – 1 Thess. 2:7-12. Afterward, the oversight shifted to the hands of the elders.) – Frank Viola, Reimagining Church, Chapter 9, Reimagining Oversight, page 176

 

However, neither did apostles appoint themselves. And yet, Viola’s church model requires unique leadership positions whose dominant role is justified through an invalid identification of such person as apostles. It is intriguing that while Viola seeks to deprive local elders of the ability to dominate their church gatherings, Viola retains that dominance with regard to modern church-planters, such as himself (as seen already in the quotes above). Given Viola’s denial of such dominance where local elders are concerned, obviously some justification is needed for the uniquely dominant leadership role these church-planters have over the rest of the church in Viola’s model. Viola attempts to provide that justification by connecting modern church planters to the apostolic leadership. However, no such validation can be made. As we have seen apostles in the New Testament weren’t typical or exclusively church planters, nor were they typically itinerant visitors to local church communities. Likewise, apostles were personally appointed and commissioned by Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit and their commissions were confirmed through the ability to perform miraculous signs. Because of these facts, it is not possible for people who were never appointed personally by Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit and who cannot perform miraculous signs to claim a uniquely apostolic leadership role merely on the basis that they themselves plant churches. Since a valid approach to the church leadership is absolutely vital to Viola’s view of local church structure and gatherings, without such a valid approach Viola’s model is obviously in serious jeopardy.

 

It becomes apparent that in Viola’s model, retaining the speaker-dominant function with regard to church-planters is merely self-serving just as much as his faulty connection between the apostles and church-planters is merely self-serving. Arguably the only reason that Viola tries to identify modern church-planters with apostles while distancing local elders from the apostles is because doing so allows him to simultaneously replace local church hierarchy with a demand for equal participation and mutual ministry while at the same time retaining apostolic hierarchy for church-planters.

 

The fourth point that we should make about Viola’s view of the apostles’ leadership role is how he contrasts it with the role of the elders. In the quote above, Viola is explaining what he views as a deviation in the model of church leadership that occurred at the time of the death of the apostles. As Viola sees it, the deviation or error isn’t in recognizing that the apostles themselves had a special function in church gatherings. Nor was the error in viewing the apostles as occupying a special place in church leadership. Instead, for Viola, the deviation was that after the deaths of the apostles the local elders began to see themselves as the “successors” to the apostles. As such, in their church meetings these elders took upon themselves the unique role, which should have only been reserved for the apostles.

 

In Viola’s mind, the local church elders mistakenly abandoned the equal-participation, equal-function model that God intended for regular church meetings and replaced it with the special-function and teacher-dominance of the apostolic meetings. For Viola, the elders took this incorrect course when they themselves acted as the “successors” to the apostolic role.

 

Even if Viola is correct that the elders erred in continuing the apostolic meeting format, is he correct to conclude that their doing so constitutes a “drift toward the organizational patterns of [the church’s] surrounding culture”? Wouldn’t continuing the format of apostolic meetings instead be continuing the organizational structure that Jesus established when He placed the apostles in a special position of leadership and when He gave them a special function in the church meetings? Even if the elders were in error to continue the apostolic model after the apostles had died, this error would not be a “drift toward the organizational patterns of the surrounding culture.” It would be a mistaken continuation of the organizational pattern that God himself had set up in the church.

 

Whichever is the case, a key question has emerged at this point in our study that will decide the matter of church gatherings and leadership and finally determine which model is the biblically intended model that was supposed to continue after the deaths of the apostles. That question is: were the elders to conduct church gatherings in the same way the apostles had done? Or, as Frank Viola argues, were church gatherings with the elders to have an entirely different format than the “apostolic meeting format” conducted by Jesus and his apostles in the gospels and the book of Acts?

 

More specifically, were the church gatherings under the elders to continue the same teacher-dominant format that characterized the gatherings of Jesus and the apostles? Or were church gatherings under the elders to exhibit an entirely new form of church gathering characterized by equal participation, equal function, and equal contribution from everyone present? Or, more succinctly, did the apostles intend for the local elders to be their successors in inheriting their special function and special position in the church community?

 

Lastly, as we also continue to assess the viability of the Pseudo-traditional model we might wonder if we will see church meetings begin to involve abbreviated communion meals, large segments of musical worship, and uninterruptible speaking by one person. As we proceed into the next segment of church history in the Book of Acts, we will look for answers to these questions.



Survey of Post-Ascension Church Gatherings: The Church Grows Beyond Jerusalem

 

The rest of Acts 6 and all of Acts 7 recount the story of Stephen, one of the men selected to serve as a deacon (in the daily distribution) earlier in Acts 6. In these chapters Stephen is confronted by some of the religious leadership. He boldly preaches the word to those gathered at the scene and then is stoned to death.

 

Chapter 8 tells of Paul’s persecution of the church which began at the death of Stephen. This is followed by several accounts of Philip’s work of evangelism in Samaria (particularly the Ethiopian eunuch), Azotus, and Caesarea. Acts 9 picks up the account of Paul and records his conversion. Then we are told of Paul’s time in Damascus where he preaches Jesus in the synagogues. Paul then goes to Jerusalem and, through Barnabas, meets the apostles. Chapter 9 concludes with the account of Peter in Joppa raising Tabitha from the dead. Acts 10 records Peter and the first Gentile conversions which took place at the house of Cornelius in Caesarea.

 

From these chapters no new information is presented about church meetings. And we still have not been given any information concerning what structure church meetings had when the apostles were not present. As we proceed into chapter 11 we will move towards material that is relevant to this question as the apostles themselves remain in Jerusalem while the gospel spreads further and further beyond Jerusalem.

 

The first portion of Acts 11 records Peter’s return to Jerusalem and his subsequent explanation of the conversion of the Gentiles at Cornelius’ house to people in the Jerusalem church who objected to the idea. The text records in verse 19 that at this point the word had only been proclaimed to Jews. With the conversion of Cornelius’ household things began to change. We also learn that believers from Jerusalem had scattered to other regions after Stephen’s death and we learn about the persecution that then ensued in Jerusalem (Acts 11:19.)

 

Through this historic development, questions can now be asked regarding the conduct and format of the church’s meetings in locations where the apostles were not present. The immediate passage does not tell us much. However, what we do know is that these believers now began to share with Gentiles, many of whom accepted and believed in Christ. News of this reached the church in Jerusalem who decided to send Barnabas to the believers in Antioch. (In contrast to the Pseudo-traditional model, it is noteworthy that Acts 11:22 once again indicates that decision-making authority was shared by many rather than being held by a single man.) Barnabas took Paul with him and the two men met with the church in Antioch for an entire year.

 

Because of these developments, Acts 8-11 represents the beginning of a pivotal period in the early church history, a period in which church communities began to exist in areas outside of Jerusalem. We have already seen the establishment of several of these communities. At this point, we now find communities of believers in Samaria (Acts 8), Damascus (Acts 9), Joppa (Acts 9), Caesarea (Acts 10), as well as Phenice, Cyprus, and Antioch (Acts 11). As we study the chapters that follow we will look for information on the format of the church gatherings that were held by these communities of faith which existed outside of Jerusalem.

 

Acts 12, however, returns to events in Jerusalem, where Herod killed the apostle James and put Peter in prison. The chapter describes Peter’s miraculous release by the angel of the Lord and ends with Herod’s death. In between we have the brief mention of Peter’s visit to the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, immediately after leaving the prison. Verse 12 informs us that the believers were gathered together in the home but the text provides us with very few details. We know that there were believers there at the house. We know that they were praying together. However, beyond these facts, we aren’t given any information about the nature of the church gatherings. We don’t know if they had a communion meal. We don’t know if someone taught for a while from the word. We don’t know if they all participated equally with short teachings, skits, poems, songs, prayers, words of encouragement, etc. We simply don’t have any information about what went on or how the meeting was conducted. As such, the lack of information makes it clear that Luke did not intend this account to inform us about church gatherings.

 

The beginning of Acts 13 marks the onset of Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary journey at the prompting of the Holy Spirit through the prophets at Antioch. According to verse 5 and verses 14-15, we learn that it was their custom to go to the synagogues on the Sabbath and proclaim the word of Jesus Christ. Verse 42 informs us that after the Jews had left the synagogue the Gentiles came and asked that Paul and Barnabas return the following Sabbath and preach the same words to them. In this passage, we can also notice that though both Paul and Barnabas are said to preach in the synagogues in verse 5 and 15, it is Paul who takes the lead and speaks, not both of them. This is similar to what we saw with Peter and John at the Temple or before the Jewish religious leaders earlier in Acts 3 and 4. And this is consistent with what the Elder-Leadership Model expects: multiple, equal leaders all capable of speaking, yielding the lead to one another on various occasions.

 

We might also note that Acts 13:43 indicates that some Jewish and Gentile persons were persuaded by Paul and Barnabas’ words. Notice again that though Paul is recorded as presenting the message in the synagogue, both he and Barnabas are described here as persuading these converts. Likewise, verses 46-48 do not indicate which of them spoke. So, here again we are seeing a model in which either of them could lead the presentation, but one did the bulk of the speaking. When Paul and Barnabas arrive in Lycaonia in Acts 14:12, we see similarly that Paul is the chief speaker although undoubtedly Barnabas could and perhaps did also speak given that at times  Luke attributes certain statements and generally spreading the word indiscriminately to both men. Once again, what we should note here is that this interplay and openness for a few men to share the speaking role is completely consistent with what we would expect based upon the Elder-Leadership model.

 

Verses 21-22 of chapter 14 indicate something else that is relevant to our study. With these passages of Acts we re-encounter our critical question. At this point, Luke has informed us that there were disciples in various cities (Acts 14:21--22). And Luke also tells us in verses 26-28 that Paul and Barnabas did not remain with these new disciples but returned to Antioch where they stayed. Therefore, there would be disciples in different localities without an apostle there among them to lead and conduct their church gatherings. So, what instructions would the apostles give to the Christians in these cities for how to conduct their gatherings without an apostle present to lead and teach them?

 

In a moment, we will actually delve into the scriptural record in order to answer this question. But first, let’s begin with an interesting question. Since Viola has suggested that the apostle's time with Jesus was their "on-the-job" training for how to conduct church gatherings, is it not equally reasonable to suggest that the local churches' time with the apostles was their "on-the-job" training for how to conduct church gatherings when the apostles were not present? Yet where do we see any indication that local churches experienced from the apostles a format of equal participation and mutual expression during church gatherings? So far, never. On the contrary, since the record in Acts (at least up to this point) is virtually a monolithic testimony that the apostles conducted speaker-dominant format for local church gatherings, it would appear that local churches were trained "on-the-job" to practice that same speaker-dominant structure in both leadership and church gatherings. We will continue to keep the issue of “on-the-job” training in mind as we move forward, but for now we return to the issue of specific instructions rather than experiential training. Again we ask the question: what instructions did the apostles give to local churches for how to conduct their gatherings without an apostle present to lead and teach them?

 

Acts 14:23 provides the first hint of an answer.

 

Acts 14:22 Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. 23 And when they had ordained (5500) them elders (4245) in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.

 

Here in Acts 14:23 we see that Paul and Barnabas appointed or ordained men to act as elders in these churches. This is the first instance we have recorded for us of the appointment of Christian elders in the New Testament. Prior to this we had apostles sent out by Jesus Christ. We had deacons appointed in Acts 6 to help with the distribution of food and meeting of the material needs of the community. And we have the mention of elders in Jerusalem who received the financial gift from Antioch that was delivered by Paul and Barnabas (Acts 11:29-30). But we were not informed about the appointment of elders or given any information about them until Acts 14:23.

 

We might also note that both here in Acts 14:24 and in Acts 11:29-30 there are multiple elders present in a given location, not just a single elder in each church community. This affirms the Viola model and the Elder-Leadership model and their assertion that church leadership in local church communities would be shared by a group of leaders rather than held by a single, head pastor as prescribed in the Pseudo-traditional model.

 

The existence of elders deserves further investigation and is of critical importance to one of the central remaining questions of this study – how were church gatherings conducted without an apostle present? What is significant and informative from this passage in Acts 14 is that Luke is covering the emergence of the very situation that we are in today, namely, churches meeting without the presence of an apostle to lead the meetings with teaching.

 

And we see that neither Luke nor apparently Paul and Barnabas provided any additional instructions to the elders they were ordaining in these cities concerning how their church gatherings should be conducted. This is somewhat telling because, as we have said, this is the first instance where we see the first elders ordained in locations where apostles were not present. As such, if church gatherings without apostles present were to have an entirely different format than apostolic meetings, we would expect that this would be an appropriate place to inform the elders (and us) about that new and different format.

 

Let’s sharpen the point with a short review. In the Book of Acts, Luke is chronicling for us the history and early development of the spread of the Christian church. Initially the gospel was proclaimed in Jerusalem only. The apostles and all the believers remained there until after the persecution which arose from Stephen’s martyrdom. After Stephen’s death, however, some believers left Jerusalem and in doing so spread the gospel to other areas. At this point, Philip also spread the gospel to other areas, evangelizing by the power of the Holy Spirit. All the while the apostles continued to live in Jerusalem. The result is that by Acts 13-14 we have pockets and groups of Christians living in different areas who would have no apostle living among them to lead their gatherings. Previously we have become accustomed to the apostles leading the church gatherings. But what would church communities do without an apostle present? How would their meetings be conducted?

 

It is at just this point that Luke informs us that as they left these new believers in their own cities, the apostles Paul and Barnabas ordained elders in each of the churches. The entire missionary journey took no longer than two years (46-48 AD). Prior to this we have no record of any believers in these specific cities that they visited on this journey. In fact, the nature and logic of Luke’s chronology indicates that this is the first time the gospel was spread to these towns. So within a short space of time, Paul and Barnabas visited each city, made converts there, spent a short amount of time with them, then departed for the next destination, and finally they returned to the same places on their way back to Antioch. The result would be that these pockets of disciples would be without an apostle to conduct and lead their gatherings. So, what do we see Paul and Barnabas do? What is their solution to the absence of an apostle and the impact such an absence would have on church gatherings? Is it to instruct the local churches in a brand new format that differed greatly from the apostolic meetings and introduced equal participation and contribution? No, in relation to the absence of apostles to conduct local church gatherings, the only action described by Acts is that the apostles ordained elders in each of the churches. So while these churches would not have apostles, each church would have elders.

 

And it is apparent from the text that Luke is intentionally connecting the impending absence of the apostles to the appointing of elders in each church. What we can be fairly certain about is that the elders where appointed in order to meet the need created by the apostles absence. It is not explicitly stated how the elders would fill this need. Instead, Luke simply presents it as if the mere appointment of elders would sufficiently account for the absence of apostles in the church gatherings without any new instructions about a new format for those gatherings.

 

At this point, it would be quite reasonable to interpret the lack of additional or new instructions being given to the elders about church gatherings as support for the conclusion that the elders were simply to continue the apostolic model for church meetings. After all, it could very well be the case that these elders had received the same “on-the-job” training from the apostles Paul and Barnabas during their ministry to them as the apostles had received from Jesus during His ministry. If this is the case, no further or new instructions for church meetings would be necessary because the elders would simply conduct the meetings just as the apostles had done. The contrary conclusion, that these new elders were supposed to adopt an entirely different kind of format for church gatherings, despite the total lack of any information to that effect, would be a highly dubious and unreasonable proposition.

 

In fact, Viola even acknowledges that Paul trained people after Jesus’ model of “on-the-job” training.

 

This is a very big topic. But, in short, the way that Jesus Christ trained Christian workers was to live with them for a period of years. It was “on the job” training. He mentored His disciples at close range. They also lived in community together. Jesus did the work, they watched, and then they went on a trial mission which He critiqued. He sent them out, and they carried on the work themselves. Paul of Tarsus followed the same pattern, training Christian workers in the city of Ephesus. They were part of the community in Ephesus, they watched Paul, and eventually, they were sent out to do the work. – Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity, Chapter 10, Education: Swelling of the Cranium, page 218

 

Jesus provided the initial model for this “on-the-job” training when He mentored the Twelve. Paul duplicated it when he trained young Gentile workers in Ephesus. – Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity, Chapter 12, A Second Glance at the Savior: Jesus, the Revolutionary, page 249

 

We must be careful though. What Viola means in these passages is that Paul trained up other “church planters” to follow in the apostolic model. He does not mean that Paul trained up local elders to follow in the apostolic model. But given what we have seen so far, how could Viola (or anyone who affirms that Paul trained up men to follow in the apostolic model of church leadership) not also recognize that we have as just as much indication that Paul provided “on-the-job” training to elders to follow the same apostolic model?

 

To be fair, Acts 14:23 is not itself absolutely conclusive on this point. It is nonetheless circumstantial support for the continuation of apostolic style meetings by the elders. If the elders weren’t to continue the apostolic format, we must wonder when we are finally going to get information on how non-apostolic meetings were to be conducting differently from apostolic meeting. At this point, in the absence of such information, we are forced to assume that the elders must have continued their meetings using the apostolic model that they had learned during their experience of the apostles’ ministry among them.

 

We will continue to examine how elders in the churches may relate to the absence of the apostles and the conducting of church gatherings as we gather more material on this subject in the New Testament. For now we will return to Acts and pick up with Acts 15, which is a record of a church gathering in Jerusalem.

 

In Acts 15:1-6, Luke informs us that men form Judaea went to Antioch and began to teach that they must be circumcised according to the Law of Moses in order to be saved. Paul and Barnabas, who were present in Antioch, strongly disagreed with them on this matter. As a result they decided to go to Jerusalem and consult with the apostles and elders in Jerusalem.

 

We might note again that Luke again indicates that there are elders in the church at Jerusalem. We might also ask why there are elders in Jerusalem if the apostles are present there. Does the presence of elders alongside apostles conflict with our assessment from Acts 14:23 that Paul and Barnabas appointed elders to fill the need created by the absence of apostles? Not at all.

 

We know from earlier in Acts that the Jerusalem church had grown quite large in number. Early accounts indicated that thousands and thousands were added and more every day. The Christian community was apparently so large that in Acts 6 the apostles were having difficulty managing it by themselves and appointed deacons to help with the daily distribution.

 

We must keep in mind that there were a very small number of apostles. Jesus appointed only twelve (and Judas was dead.) Matthias was chosen to replace Judas in Acts 1. Paul and Barnabas were sent by the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles in Acts 13, but they were in Antioch. (There were perhaps a few others who were considered apostles including Jesus’ half-brother James.) So, the dozen or so apostles in Jerusalem were in charge of thousands of Christians who didn’t meet in giant auditoriums or sanctuaries built for that purpose. Instead, each day in Jerusalem it was the custom of thousands of believers to gather together in homes to break bread. The largest meeting room we’ve seen accommodated 120 people. Even if we suppose that some of the venues were quite spacious that would still be a very large number of meetings for 12 apostles to attend each day and each week throughout Jerusalem.

 

If elders were indeed appointed to help conduct church meetings in the absence of the apostles it would make sense that we would find elders in Jerusalem despite the fact that the apostles were there as well. The elders in Jerusalem would be able to help the apostles by attending church gatherings among the thousands of Christians throughout the city. This makes complete sense and fits quite well with Luke’s clear intention in Acts 14:23 to describe the appointment of elders in response to the fact that the apostles Paul and Barnabas were leaving and returning to Antioch. In summary, both in Jerusalem and beyond, elders were appointed to serve in the place of the apostles when the apostles could no longer attend local church gatherings.

 

 

 

Survey of Post-Ascension Church Gatherings: Acts 15, Gathering of the Jerusalem Church

As we return to the activities of the Jerusalem Church in Acts 15, we find recorded for us an important church gathering that will further inform us about New Testament church meetings.

 

Acts 15:1 And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. 2 When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question. 3 And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren. 4 And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them. 5 But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses. 6 And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter. 7 And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. 8 And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; 9 And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. 10 Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? 11 But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they. 12 Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them. 13 And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me: 14 Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. 15 And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, 16 After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: 17 That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things. 18 Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world. 19 Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: 20 But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. 21 For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day. 22 Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren: 23 And they wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia: 24 Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment: 25 It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth. 28 For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; 29 That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well. 30 So when they were dismissed, they came to Antioch: and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the epistle: 31 Which when they had read, they rejoiced for the consolation.

 

There are many important facts to consider from Acts 15. First, this church gathering is conducted in much the same way that we have seen each time an official gathering of Christ’s disciples is described in detail so far in Acts. We have a gathering of believers. We have a few people speaking at the meeting and dominating the discussion. This includes Peter, Barnabas, Paul, James, as well as believers from the sect of Pharisees who argued that circumcision was required for salvation. So the meeting was open in the sense that more than one person could speak up and present their point of view from the scripture. However, the meeting was not one where everyone present contributed equally. Instead, a limited number of persons dominated the proceedings.

 

Second, we should also take note that every time Luke mentions how the matter was considered and decided he lists the elders right along with the apostles. This occurs five times in this passage beginning in Antioch in verse 2 with the decision to go to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. In verse 4, we are told that the apostles and elders receive the company from Antioch. In verse 6, it is the apostles and elders who come together to decide the matter. In verse 22, it is both the apostles and elders who decide the matter based upon and in agreement with the statements of Peter, Paul, Barnabas, and James. In verse 23, 25, and 28 the authority of the decision is attributed to the apostles and the elders. (Acts 16:4 also attributes the decision to the authority of not just the apostles, but to both the apostles and the elders.)

 

While it is true that Luke only records the statements of the apostles Peter, Barnabas, Paul, and James, we must note that not all of the other apostles spoke. And we must also note that the apostles weren’t the only ones allowed to speak at the gathering. The Christians who were from the Pharisaic tradition also spoke. These same men had been able to teach in Antioch (Acts 15:1). And from the verses highlighted above we can see that Luke is stressing the shared participation of the elders with the apostles in their authority to conduct the meeting and to decide the matter at hand. What we are beginning to see is a picture painted where the elders were persons who were not sent as apostles by Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit directly, but who participated along with the disciples in conducting and leading the church gatherings and overseeing doctrinal issues.

 

Significantly, Acts 15 presents the elders as sharing in the special position and authority that the apostles had over the church and in making important decisions for the church. Acts 15 does not contrast the apostles with the elders by assigning a special function or authority to the apostles that it withholds from the elders. Instead, whatever Acts 15 credits the apostles with, the elders are credited with also. This is an important point since Frank Viola’s model necessitates a very hard distinction between apostles and elders, particularly with regard to their function and authority in church gatherings. Such a distinction is not presented in Acts 15. In fact, such a distinction is contrary to any indications we have from the text itself. As such, Acts 15 provides serious indications that Viola’s model is in error with regard to its claim that the role of elders in the church was very different from the special function held by the apostles.

 

We might also draw attention to what happens in Antioch when the church there received the news about the decision from this church gathering in Jerusalem.

 

Acts 15:30 So when they were dismissed, they came to Antioch: and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the epistle: 31 Which when they had read, they rejoiced for the consolation. 32 And Judas and Silas, being prophets also themselves, exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed them. 33 And after they had tarried there a space, they were let go in peace from the brethren unto the apostles. 34 Notwithstanding it pleased Silas to abide there still. 35 Paul also and Barnabas continued in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also.

 

In Antioch the church gathers together to receive the news. And Judas (Barsabas) and Silas speak and exhort the gathering. Silas even remains in Antioch with Paul and Barnabas for teaching and preaching the word. Now, who were Judas and Silas? They were not apostles. And yet they addressed and spoke at the gathering in Antioch alongside the apostles Paul and Barnabas. Were they perhaps among the elders of Jerusalem? We cannot be sure, but this would fit with what we’d expect from what we’ve seen so far.

 

Continuing in the Book of Acts we next encounter Luke’s account of Paul’s second missionary journey. This begins in Acts 15:36 and continues through chapter 21:14. Throughout this longer series of chapters there is little mention of Christian church gatherings. There are several mentions of Paul and others, such as Apollos, going into the synagogues to persuade the Jews (Acts 17:1, 17:17, 18:4, 18:7, 18:19, 18:26, and 19:8).

 

In Acts 18:26, we find mention of Aquila and his wife Priscilla’s interaction with Apollos. After hearing Apollos speak in the synagogue, Aquila and Priscilla take him aside and explain the way of God to him more perfectly or completely. It is important to discuss this passage in relation to the idea of participation by women in church gatherings. First, it is important to remember that it is not our position that the scripture prohibits women from ever speaking or sharing with men in personal or private settings particularly when accompanied by their husband. Second, the very first thing we must note from this passage is that this event does not take place in a church gathering. Instead, this is a private exchange between three persons. As such, this text cannot inform us about whether women could speak in a church gathering.

 

But what about the issue of women teaching men? Is this an instance where a woman, in this case Priscilla, is teaching a man, namely Apollos? It would be difficult to draw any certain conclusions about this question from the text, which does not explain further or provide additional details on the nature of the conversation that took place here. It is true that Luke describes how Aquila and Priscilla took Apollos aside and expounded unto him the way of God more fully, but there is no indication that Priscilla herself spoke. As we have seen previously in the Book of Acts, Luke will at times attribute something to more than one person (Paul and Barnabas, Peter and John), when only one of those persons does all or most of the speaking. (Perhaps both Aquila and Priscilla are mentioned because they both invited Apollos to their home and acted as hosts while Aquila did most of the talking and Luke followed his familiar pattern of generally attributing the speaking.) Ultimately, given the fact that Luke has used such general attributions before, we cannot be sure whether Priscilla herself instructed Apollos or whether it was merely Aquila who did the instructing.  

 

But more significantly, we can be sure that in either case, this would not be an example of a woman teaching in a church gathering. As such, Acts 18 does not present any real difficulties for the Elder-Leadership model’s assertion that women could not speak, teach, or ask questions in a church gathering. Nor does it provide any real support for the Viola model’s assertion that women can speak, teach, and ask questions equally with men at church gatherings.

 

Next in Acts 21:26 through Acts 22:22 we have Luke’s account of Paul’s return to Jerusalem followed by the riot at the Temple, Paul’s arrest, and his trial before the Sanhedrin (Acts 22:23 through 23:30.) Acts 23:31-26:32 recounts Paul’s trials and hearings with Roman officials, courts, and kings. In Acts 27:1, Paul begins his journey to Rome and is shipwrecked on Melita. And finally in Acts 28:16-31, Paul at last arrives in Rome and meets with Jews there. Luke then goes on to inform us that after this meeting, Paul taught for two years in Rome at a home he rented there while awaiting his trial before Caesar. Thus concludes the Book of Acts.