Whatever happened to the small groups that met from house to house to form the early church? What became of the intimate, caring relationships that bound the early Christians together with gentle cords of love?
Many today have experienced the warmth and closeness of a Bible study held at the home of a friend or neighbor. Perhaps we’ve been touched by the informal and unrestrained flow of conversation, prayer or worship on these occasions. We may have thought, “Why can’t church meetings be more like this?” Or, “Why is it I get more out of these meetings than I do at church?”
Could it be we felt that way because it more closely resembled the church that Jesus built; the one that existed before man took control and refashioned it into his idea of a new, improved model? No one can fault man’s efforts. As men we’ve put a lot of time and energy into remodeling and revising it; we’ve changed it countless times, not to mention the expense. We’ve divided, subdivided and sub-subdivided it again and again. We’ve removed it from the spiritual realm where it was constructed of spiritual stones and given it real material substance of wood and brick.
We’ve changed the concept of church from being thought of as an assembly of believers to seeing it as a tall impressive structure where God lives. In the first century there was only one church and any group searching for truth and following Jesus was part of it. In those days, its headquarters was in heaven and it was ruled from there. Today, we’ve assumed much of the administrative duties; after all we don’t want to bother the Big Guy with small details, do we?
We are able today to offer a selection to our worshipping public. We have repackaged it and can now offer church in a variety of flavors with a whole range of brand names. It’s much more exciting than merely saying, I belong to THE CHURCH. Now, we can be a part of the chocolate church, the caramel church, the vanilla church or the custard cream church. Today, we can package it in an assortment of colorful packages each displaying its brand name proudly in large, easy to read letters. Imagine each brand competing to please your individual spiritual tastes. Don’t you think competition is wonderful; don’t you think it’s healthy?
In the beginning we had the tiresome responsibility of determining one to one, whether or not a particular individual was a true, spiritual brother or sister. We had to know them for awhile, examine their lives, both public and private. Today, thanks to the technology of labeling, much of this tedious task has been eliminated. If the individual in question wears the same label displaying the same brand name as ours, then they’re obviously saved; how simple. Isn’t this much easier? This method is not without some problems however; sometimes instead of finding brothers or sisters, we find cousins. These are among those who wear a different label but are more or less in the same general family.
In the new and improved version of church, costuming and professionalism is most important. Like any successful, well-run business, we must establish various levels of administration based on a good resume of experience and solid academic education. Just as Jacob saw angels ascending and descending the heavenly ladder, we must have a vision that permits the true professional to ascend and descend the corporate ladder. We must see that each administrative level carries a title worthy of respect and whenever possible, supply uniforms appropriate to the rank being honored. There is no better way to show our appreciation to these worthy administrators than with our financial resources. True success is measured in wealth. The bottom line on the paycheck really says it all, don’t you think? The better they live, the better we look. After all, we don’t want other churches to think we’re cheap.
Whenever the selection of a qualified leader, male or female, comes into conflict with the Bible, we must assume that the conflicting Scripture has been improperly translated or was meant for a particular ethnic group or generation long past.
In the face of all we’ve said on this subject there remain those who stubbornly cling to the old out-of-date, less-modern, Biblical ways. Can you believe it?
There are still a few who look back fondly to simpler times when the church was less formal, less complicated and less professional. As hard as it may be for some to accept, there is a remnant determined to revive and do the first works of the church, to recapture their first love. These hopelessly idealistic, romantics desire to once again experience the unity, love, power and miracles of the first generation church, even if it means accepting the hardship, persecution and death it may take to restore it.
[1.11]It is to this wonderful, steadfast, open, truth-seeking, radical group of faithful disciples that this book is written and for all those seeking to be like them and like Him.