Friday, 13 March 2009

What DOES the Bible say about the church? and how does that compare to "our church"?

July 10, 2008

Psalm 84: 1 How lovely are Your dwelling places, O LORD of hosts! 2. My soul longed and even yearned for the courts of the LORD; My heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God…. 4. How blessed are those who dwell in Your house! They are ever praising You… 10. For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand (outside). I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God Than dwell in the tents of wickedness. 11. For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD gives grace and glory; No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly. 12. O LORD of hosts, How blessed is the man who trusts in You!

Thank You, Lord, for speaking to me through this Psalm! I have been wondering and wondering – and asking You – what to do about the whole “going to/ being involved in church” thing – and even though I have many friends who have left, and I understand their “problems” with this church and with the whole “church structure/ system” and all – I have not, personally, been able to get away from the injunction of Hebrews 10:25 “not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging (one another); and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (NASB)

– and the example of the early church who were, as Acts 2:42-47 records, “42…. continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer (lit. the prayers) 43… many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. 44. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common. 45. … sharing them with all , as anyone might have need. 46. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house (in the various private homes), they were taking their meals (food) together with gladness and sincerity (simplicity) of heart, 47 praising … And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

Of course, we don’t meet “day by day”… and it seems most folks only want to eat together at the “church building” after service… where they can mostly “eat and run”… this “eating together from house to house, sharing all things in common, prayer/ teaching/ fellowship day-by-day” we do not seem to have! As for the temple, it was the Jewish place of prayer (but non-Jews had to stay in outer court yards… and maybe women too??)…. Jesus had used it as a place to teach, because it was the major gathering place… so it was a place of prayer, primarily, and also teaching/ preaching… but not so much fellowship for the church… and it also sounds like the temple teaching/ preaching was outreach-oriented, while the teaching and edifying of believers took place in homes primarily… not even in a specific home, but “from house to house” (which a great many of us would likely find quite “inconvenient” … “Sure, come to my place tomorrow!” “You need___? Here, use mine!” “No place to stay? Come on and spend awhile at our place!” hmnm…

Of course, with everyone sharing “all things in common” and even selling property etc to help buy food for the needy among them, etc, there really was no need for “set tithes”… because there was no “full-time, vocational priesthood” or “church buildings” or even “formal programs” (other than meeting the basic needs of fellow believers for food etc, and giving gifts to help out missionaries etc… who still also worked at their trades…). The Jewish priesthood/ temple pattern was finished. Jesus had opened the way for all mankind to (if they chose!) enter the Holy of Holies by the blood of the Lamb, and have direct personal access to God as their Father, through Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

Thinking of this church AGM and the questions raised there about the tithe and the budget and the “board” etc… it seems to me that 99 percent of that discussion would be moot if we truly followed the Biblical pattern of the church! (which is why the constant justification for some of the points of view presented, being “It’s Biblical!” really concerned me!) I wonder… how far are we actually willing to be Biblical?!?!?! How far are we willing to give up our “personal convenience” and “privacy” and our cherished traditions and our “positions in the church” if need be (to line up with scripture…)? Why do we preach the parts we agree with, and dismiss the rest as “cultural distinctives, not practical in our day and age” or whatever other “justifications” we come up with??? (hmmm... different folks have different ideas about which parts are justifiable!)

Going back to Psalm 84, though, it struck me (the Lord spoke to me!) that, at basis, we do need to meet together before the Lord! The Jewish temple system is gone; we now can meet with God directly because of the shed blood, death and resurrection of His Son Jesus, and the mediation and preparation of our hearts through the Holy Spirit (is that “right theology”?). However, the key point is that a day in God’s dwelling place – where His Presence is (in our hearts!) is better than a thousand outside His Presence! And is the source of our strength! And our joy! and puts us in the “place” to pray and to praise Him! We are to be “journeying” to that place – of our God, our Sun and Shield, who gives grace, glory, good things to those who walk uprightly, with integrity! (And it gives us a place, a dwelling, to keep us from the tents of wickedness). But notice: it is not “me” dwelling in that place of God’s presence: it is (v 4) “those who dwell in Your house!” v7 “They go from strength to strength [as they journey to] appear before God in Zion”

This goes with Hebrews 10:25 “not forsaking our own assembling… but encouraging one another”… keeping each other on the path, helping each other, so that we continue faithfully on our journey to “Zion” the “dwelling place of God.” Yes we are in His Presence already… but we want, we need more and more of His Presence… and He has planned that we will love and support and encourage “one another” to help that to happen!

That Hebrews passage (10:19-25) is all about (v 19) “enter(ing) the holy place by the blood of Jesus”… 21 “a great high priest over the house of God” (Jesus Himself!)… 22. “Let us draw near with a sincere heart..” 23 “… hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering”… 24. “…let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together… but encouraging one another” (even to the point of “32. sufferings… 3… reproaches and tribulations… becoming sharers with those so treated… 34. accepted joyfully the seizures of your property” …. We need the confidence and endurance that God gives us, yes, but we also, being in the physical here and now, need the confidence and endurance that comes through day-by-day fellowship and encouragement with each other.

I don’t know what this all means in detailed form regarding “our church” but I do know that we as believers need to fellowship and learn and pray and share together daily with other believers, in the “local church” (body of believers) where God places us, whatever “form” that gathering might take. I do think all our property and buildings and ecclesiastical “structure” probably makes it more complicated (and expensive) (and wasteful) than it needs to be, and I think it does divert our attention, as a body, from that basic premise of scripture, to “consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds” (Heb 10:24)

I do think that God, as He teaches us through His Word by the guidance of His Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, does often “call us out”… yes, out of the world;… but also, if necessary, out of “world structures/ systems” that have infected the church, His body. We each have to be in deep prayer, deep meditation in His Word… and together: in honest prayer, discussion, learning together from Him and His Word, fellowship, sharing, willingness to change (dramatically, if need be) – to become “the church,” the body of Christ, freed from any traditions of man (no matter how deeply entrenched they may be, no matter how “right” they may seem to us, no matter how comfortable and attached we may be to them) that distract from or mitigate against the church as Jesus desires it to be (which we can clearly discern from scripture).

About tithing, we are not in the Jewish temple system. We are not called therefore to support the Levites, who supported the priests, who supported the high priest’s family… or to support the physical maintenance of the tabernacle/temple building. (But with “church buildings” and various “ecclesiastical structures” are we not putting ourselves under that burden of the law?) We are, however, called to give generously, with a cheerful heart, setting aside some funds weekly (on the Lord’s day) as God provides for us… and yes, He will bless us… not so much for the money itself (which, Biblically, in the early church, went to such purposes as other believers starting or suffering, and to help out itinerant missionaries and evangelists, and those in prison for the gospel, etc... ) but for the attitude of our hearts in the giving generously and cheerfully. (At least, that is how I read it… am I wrong?) (Also note that the Jewish people had several “tithes” which actually added up to an average of about 33 percent and included everything God provided them… animals, garden produce, new wine... even down to the herbs in their garden… and their first born sons… who would be “redeemed” by a money offering… oh! And then on top of that there were free-will “offerings” ... which could be money... which were also to be given generously and joyfully….)

We do not read of the early church tithing… but oh my goodness, they gave generously and cheerfully… selling their excess, sharing all they had… eating together, sharing accommodations, etc. And collecting money when needs among the brethren arose, even “saving up” for those needs.

Finally, about “elders” (and “deacons”)… yes, they ARE Biblical… but they are NOT, in the New Testament, a group of elected people - or people appointed by "the pastor" - who gather around the “pastor” to support him with prayer, and who pray for the individuals in the church, and who provide/ suggest spiritual direction and vision for the church (though they would be involved in prayer and the Word themselves, as a group) … which it seems to me was the “job description” being given at the AGM… and which, yes, has become a “tradition” in many “churches.”

Yes, many of these activities were fulfilled by “elders” … but the manner of choosing elders, and their “relationship to the pastor” do not seem “Biblical”.. and yet, with our “ecclesiastical structure” (which was NOT 1st century church structure… there was “structure” but much more loosely defined, and with far more emphasis on the priesthood of all believers, including giftings, participation, etc) … with our “ecclesiastical structure” what are we to do? Dare we “dismantle” our man-made structural systems? Or try to squeeze New Testament teaching and principles into it as it stands now? Or ?? What would God have us do? (Bottom line!) Are we willing to risk going as far as He might lead/ guide/ direct us?

The question was quietly asked at the AGM about what does the New Testament even say about pastors and structure – and someone "of stature in the church" said, “It’s all in Thessalonians.” So what does Thessalonians say?

I Thess 1:1 Paul, Silvanus and Timothy:
- a “team” who preached Jesus in Gentile cities (s/a 2 Cor 1:19) and planted churches
- Paul: former Jewish Pharisee and persecutor of the church; then an “apostle” who met/saw Jesus on the road to Damascus (the other original “apostles” had lived with and followed Jesus as disciples)
- Silvanus: a believer and preacher of the gospel, possibly Greek (by name anyway?)
- Timothy: son of Jewish mother and grandmother who taught him the scriptures, and a Greek father: became a special protégé of Paul; traveled and preached with Paul; later became a kind of “head elder” mentoring others, appointing elders in churches, etc

1:1 “To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”
- “churches” were the body of believers in particular cities/ locations (see Rev 1-3). We are not told if they all met together at once; in Jerusalem, at first, they did meet in the temple for at least some activities; but mostly they met from home to home, day to day; since some cities had many believers, it is likely they may have met in a number of smaller grouping, though that could have been very flexible… but we do not see “local churches” as a number of discrete gatherings of particular member-groups (with various “beliefs/ emphases”) within a particular city (and when it seems that this was indeed happening, it was because some people were splitting off because of heretical beliefs, and Paul and the other writers of the epistles taught and worked strongly to overcome this result of false beliefs… or when “leaders” who claimed “special insights” or “talents of preaching" (which should be supported monetarily!) etc, they were admonished strongly against such behavior!

1:2 Paul et al started churches (first converting people, in the markets and other public gathering places, then teaching them daily in homes etc for a year or two); then went on to other places, and from time to time visited the former ones and/or sent letters or personal representatives to encourage and instruct them, but always, they kept on praying for them (note: these “ missionaries/ church planters” generally traveled as teams, not as individual “pastors” )

1:3 important, good characteristics of the Thessalonian church: work of faith, labor of love, steadfastness of hope in Jesus in the presence of God (are those central features of “churches” today?)

1:4 God, in His love, chose the believers…

1: 5 the gospel was presented not only in word, but in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction (including signs and wonders…)

1:6 Paul et al were the kind of men that could be counted on as Godly role models in every kind of situation – along with Jesus (God!) Himself as the ultimate role model

1:6 the believers received the word with much tribulation – with joy! of the Holy Spirit – and 1:7-8 themselves became examples to believers in surrounding areas – and also sounded forth the word of the Lord wherever they went (the gospel taught by both word and by example/ action, by every believer).

1: 9-10 they turned from idols to serve the true living God, and their hope was in the coming return of Jesus

2:1-8 The preaching of Paul et al:
- NOT: - from error, impunity, deceit – as pleasing man – with flattering speech – with a pretext for greed – seeking glory from men – asserting their own authority/ position
- BUT AS: - enduring suffering – boldness in God – speaking the gospel amid much opposition – approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel – God examined their hearts – gentle as a nursing mother tenderly caring for her children – imparted not only the gospel but their very own lives

2:9 How were Paul et al (as church planters and growers) supported financially? The worked day and night to support themselves so as not to be a burden to those to whom they were presenting the gospel (some churches previously planted would freely send them a gift to help them out)

2:10 How did they act toward new believers? - behaved devoutly, uprightly, blamelessly – exhorted, encouraged, implored each one as a father would his own children, so they would learn to walk worthy of God, and His kingdom and glory

2:13 How did the new believers receive the word? - not as the word of men, but as the word of God – proof: the word performed its work in the believers – they endured suffering (as earlier church in Judea had also done: followed their example) for the sake of the gospel (even unto death)

2:17 Did Paul et al stay and “pastor” the church permanently (or at least for a long period of time?) - They were “taken away” from them in person, but still longed to see them… their converts were their glory and joy – 3:2 eventually they were able to send Timothy to strengthen and encourage the believers as to their faith – and 3:6 Timothy then returned to Paul with good news of the believers’ faith and love, the news of which comforts Paul in his affliction (satan was doing all he could to stop the work of God!) – so he thanks God and rejoices, and keeps praying earnestly to be able to visit and “complete what is lacking” in their faith

3::11 1-3 What is Paul’s desire for all the believers? - That the Lord may cause them to: - increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people – establish their hearts without blame in holiness before the Father at the coming of Jesus and His saints …

4: 1-8 That they may excel in walking and pleasing God; and sanctification (holy living: such as: abstain from sexual immorality, lustful passion, impurity, defrauding others sexually etc) … 4:9-12 love the brethren (one another) and excel even more (in love); and lead a quiet life, attend to your own business, work with your hands, behave properly toward outsiders… 4:13-18 to know about the return of the Lord, and so have hope rather than grieving; and comfort one another with this knowledge…

5:1-10 be aware and prepared for the coming of the day of the Lord: be alert and sober, putting on faith, love, and the hope of salvation… 5:11-28 encourage one another and build up one another; appreciate those who labor among them and have charge over them in the Lord, those who give them instruction: esteem them highly in love; and live in peace with one another; and admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone, don’t let each other be vengeful, seek that which is good for one another and all people, rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks (which is the will of God!), not quench the Spirit, not despise prophetic utterances and gifts but examine everything carefully and hold fast to that which is good, abstain from every form of evil, be sanctified entirely by God Himself (their spirit, soul and body preserved complete without blame at the coming of Jesus: it is God who calls you, and HE will bring it to pass!), to pray for Paul and the others, to greet the brethren with a holy kiss, to read this letter to all the brethren…
And may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you!

2 Thessalonians:
1:1 likewise from Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy to the church of the Thessalonians:
Paul and the others pray for them:
1:3-12 giving thanks to God that their faith and love ever increases, and for their perseverance and faith in the midst of affliction; that they are worthy of the kingdom of God for which they are suffering; and that God will repay those who afflict them, and give relief to the believers when Jesus returns and eternally destroys the wicked (that is, the wicked will be permanently away from the presence of the Lord!); and that God will be glorified in His saints…. Also, that God will count them worthy of His calling and fulfill every desire for goodness and worth of faith with power; and that Jesus’ name will be glorified in them, and they in Jesus, by the grace of God and Jesus

Paul warns them:
2:1-2 – not to believe any message or letter that suggests that the day of the Lord has already come
- he tells them the “time line” : apostasy (non-true-believers will be deluded), man of lawlessness revealed (with deceptive power, signs, wonders), then the Lord will slay him with His breath, then Jesus will appear
- but 2:13-15 those whom God has called and saved must stand firm and hold to what they were taught by Paul and the others

Paul prays:
- 2: 16-17 that Jesus Himself and Father God will comfort and strengthen their hearts in every good work and word

What are Paul’s final instructions to this church?
3:1-4 – to pray for Paul and the others that the word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified, and that Paul and the others will be rescued from evil men – the Lord is faithful to strengthen and protect believers from the evil one!
- to continue to do what Paul and the others have commanded them

What does Paul say about their daily lives?
3:6-15 – prays that the Lord will direct their hearts into the love of God and the steadfastness of Christ
- to keep away from brethren who live unruly lives, and not according to the “tradition” (example, role model, right doctrine) of Paul and the others
- to be disciplined: pay for your food; work day and night so you won’t be a burden to others (as Paul and the others themselves have done)
- don’t be busy-bodies
- work in quiet fashion and eat your own bread (don’t be lazy and live off others)
- don’t weary of doing good
- don’t associate with disobedient believers; then they will become ashamed (and want to return to obedience); but at the same time don’t regard them as enemies but admonish them as brothers

Final words:
3:16-18 - may the Lord of peace grant you peace and be with you – in every circumstance
- the grace of Jesus be with you

Interesting - this is not about church buildings, programs, or even structures (though it does speak of how those who have charge over them in the Lord, and labor to teach the word, are to be esteemed highly in love. For the rest, everyone is to encourage each other, work to support themselves (even the leaders, according to Paul’s own example), live peaceably, love one another, live sanctified lives, be steadfast in the faith, spread the word of God wherever they go, endure suffering for Christ with joy, exhort each other, live joyfully with the hope of Jesus’ return, pray without ceasing, don’t quench the Spirit, pray for Paul and the others, live quiet lives, do good, admonish as brothers when believers do wrong - THAT is THE CHURCH!

Paul does elsewhere give Timothy some direct instruction regarding “church structure:"
! Timothy 3: 1-7 : the office of overseer (a.k.a. “bishop”) (a.k.a “elder!” see Titus 1:6ff) is a fine work to be aspired to, and the qualifications are: (verses 2 to 7)
- to be above reproach
- to be the husband of one wife
- to be temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money
- to manage his own household well, keep his children under control with all dignity
- to not be a new convert (thus to avoid the rise of pride, and with it, a fall)
- to have a good reputation with those outside the church (so as not to fall into reproach and the snare of the devil)
-( the “overseers” appear to have been men only)

3:8-13 Deacons (male and female)
- men (persons) of dignity, not double tongued, not addicted to much wine, not fond of sordid gain
- hold to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience
- to be tested first (spend extended time within the church, others observing their lives and faith) then can serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach
- women deacons must be dignified, not malicious gossips, temperate, faithful in all things.
- husbands of only one wife, managing well their children and households
- those who serve well as deacons obtain good standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Jesus

Why these particular qualifications?
- v 15 because they are in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth

Chapter 5:3-16 Qualifications of a Godly widow, who is worthy to be put on the widows list (this seems to be the only “paid” position... paid with food, presumably! And the qualifications are very stringent!)
- a widow indeed (ie not a divorced woman, or one who has left her husband etc)
- does not have children or grandchildren to care for her (believers are always required to care for their parents!)
- has fixed her hope on God and continues in entreaties and prayers night and day
- does not give herself to wanton pleasure
- at least 60 years old, having been the wife of one man
- has a reputation for good works, has brought up children, has shown hospitality to strangers, has washed the saints’ feet, has assisted those in distress, has devoted herself to every good work
- is not idle, a gossip, or a busy-body

Chapter 5:17-22 Elders:
- worthy of double honor for ruling well, especially those who work hard in word (preaching and teaching) – it sounds as if some elders may have been paid as well as being highly respected (those who “rule well” and preach and teach the word), though Paul encourages even elders to work, setting his own example – note that there are “elderS” (plural) and apparently, though a team, they do not all have exactly the same role or level of honor (but a "senior pastor" elder role is not apparent)
- elders should not be accused unless there are multiple witnesses: but if they do sin, they must be rebuked in the presence of all the believers so the rest of the believers will be fearful of sinning.
- apparently elders were appointed to their positions by the laying on of hands by what we might call “elder elders” … but Paul warns Timothy not to do this hastily: those who lay hands on men to appoint them as elders, will be personally responsible if the new elder then sins! (so the “elder elder” is then a kind of mentor…)

2 Timothy 1 (Note: Timothy, like Paul, who mentored him, was an evangelist, missionary and church planter)
1:6 Paul laid hands on Timothy, at which time Timothy received the “gift of God” which Paul reminds him to continue to kindle afresh
1:11 Paul himself was appointed a preacher and an apostle and teacher by Jesus
2:2 Paul taught Timothy, and Timothy is to pass on and entrust this teaching to faithful men who will be able to teach others also
2:15-19 As a workman for God, Timothy is to diligently present himself approved to God, with no need to be ashamed, to accurately handle the word of truth. to avoid worldly and empty chatter, to abstain from wickedness, v 21 to be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work v 22 fleeing youthful lusts, pursuing righteousness, faith, love, peace, calling on the Lord from a pure heart, refusing foolish and ignorant speculations and quarrels, being kind, able to teach, patient when wronged, gently correcting those in opposition (false teachers, etc) as they come to the truth (so these would also be qualifications for new elders!)
2:16 Scripture is basic: inspired by God, profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, training in righteousness – to equip the man of God (every believer – and especially, those who wish to take on these leadership positions…) for every good work

Chapter 4:1-5 Paul charges Timothy to:
- preach the word
- be ready in season and out of season
- reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction
- be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry
- and (v 7) like Paul, to fight the good fight, finish the course, keep the faith.

1:4 Paul refers to Titus as “my true child” in/ according to a common faith – Paul left Titus behind in Crete to set in order what was remaining of the church there (after something had caused it to have difficulties, possibly persecution?), and to appoint elders (plural!) in every city (v 5)

Verses 6:16 Elders are defined as:
- a man who is above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion
- also called an overseer in verse 6 (aka bishop)
- is God’s steward so must be above reproach, not self-willed, not quick tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain
- hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled
- holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching: so able to exhort in sound doctrine and refute those who contradict
- able to silence rebellious deceptive men, reprove them severely so they may be sound in the faith

Titus 2:1-15 In general, for all believers:
- older men are to be temperate, dignified, sensible, sound in faith, in love, in perseverance
- older women to behave reverently, not to maliciously gossip or to be enslaved to wine, teach what is good, encouraging young women to love their husbands and children, to be sensible and pure, workers at home, kind, subject to their own husbands – that God’s word won’t be dishonored
- young men to be sensible (sound), an example of good deeds, pure (not corrupt) in doctrine, dignified, sound in speech which is beyond reproach
- bond-slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, well pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, showing all good faith so as to adorn the doctrine of God (I suppose this would refer to "employees" today!)
- all believers to deny ungodliness and worldly desires, to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, and looking for the hope and appearing of Jesus; He gave Himself so we will be redeemed from every lawless deed, purified to be His own possession, zealous for good deeds

Titus 2:15 In his position, Titus was to be in authority (under Paul, under Jesus, under Father...) and not to allow others to disregard him – so this shows a hierarchy of authority: for example, in this specific case: Jesus - Paul (and he also respected the authority of the original apostles) - Titus -local church elders whom he appointed - other believers in the local churches … but how does that “authority” structure compare to our current “hierarchies”??? (see 1 Corinthians 10 to 14)

Titus 3:1-2, 8-10, 13-14
Other requirements of believers generally:
- subject to rulers and authorities (in the world – so long as they aren’t at the same time disobeying and denying Christ), obedient, ready for every good deed
- malign no one, be peaceable, gentle, show consideration for all men
- engage in good deeds, avoid foolish controversies and disputes
- factious (argumentative, disruptive, causing division) men are to be rejected after two warnings
- help out evangelists etc – learn to engage in good deeds to meet pressing needs, so that they will not be unfruitful (so: giving gifts and help as needed to fulfill the work of spreading the gospel)

1 Corinthians 14:26-40 When the church assembles:
- v 26 each one has a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, a tongue, an interpretation – all things done for edification and orderly – two or three prophets speak in turn and other prophets pass judgment (prophets not only told about the future, but gave God’s teaching/word… and that teaching/ word was to be lined up against the scriptures, the known Word of God, to be sure it was really from God and not just the ideas of the men themselves) – all these activities for the purpose of the believers to be learning and being exhorted…. Oh yes! And women are to keep silent and ask their husbands about things they don’t understand, when they get home… hmmmm… (cultural rules ... or??)

Romans 12 ff: One body in Christ, differing gifts, how to love one another in practical terms
1 Cor 13: “:the greatest of these is love”
Gal 5:22-25 fruit of the Spirit
Eph 5:22-6:8 subjection/ submission (s/a Col 3, 1 Pet)
Eph 6:10-17 The whole armor of God
Philippians – living the Christian life!
Colossians – Christ our head
1, 2, 3 John – love one another!

I Peter 5: elders:
v. 1 “elders among you”… Peter calls himself their fellow elder
v.2 to shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God, and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness
v. 3 nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock
v.4 and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will received the unfading crown of glory
v. 5 you younger men likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you (everyone! including elders etc), clothe yourselves with humility toward one another

Note: in 2 and 3 John, he (one of the original apostles) refers to himself as “the elder”

Acts 6: deacons:
v.3 seven men, selected by the congregation from among themselves – who were of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom. Their purpose was to “serve tables” (such as to distribute to the widows who were being fed by the church, making sure that there was equality and fairness in the distribution)
v. 4 “the twelve” devoted themselves to prayer and the ministry (service) of the word (in the notes above, it is seen that the twelve referred to themselves as elders… and that they appointed other elders according to certain qualifications)

Acts 11: scattered believers (from the persecution at Jerusalem) went to various other places. At first they only preached to Jews, but at Antioch some preached to the Greeks as well, and many believed. Barnabas was sent from Jerusalem to check it out, and he encouraged them to stay true to the Lord; then he went to Tarsus, got Paul, brought him back to Antioch, and they gathered together with the church and taught a crowd for the entire year. Antioch was where believers were first called Christians. When a famine was prophesied for Judea, the believers at Antioch, in proportion as each had means, sent a contribution for the relief of believers in Judea.

Acts 11: at the church in Antioch there were prophets and teachers:
Five are named, including Saul (Paul) and Barnabas. The Holy Spirit (after the church fasted and ministered to the Lord) told the church to set aside Paul and Barnabas for the work to which HE (the Lord!) was calling them. So they (the prophets and elders… by the context of the passage) fasted, prayed, laid hands on them and sent them away. They went to various cities, preaching, and sometimes staying for a period of time to preach and teach. They would return to cities and encourage the disciples (14:22ff)… and would appoint elders (plural) in every church, having prayed with fasting and commending them to the Lord ( note: then, obviously, these elders would shepherd that local church of that city… we do not read of individual “pastors” … though our word “pastor” does mean shepherd. Apparently also, all elders were to be highly esteemed, and the elders who specifically spent much time in teaching the word were worthy of “double honor” which some commentators have interpreted as referring to monetary payment… I cannot find any place in scripture that says explicitly that some or all elders were regularly paid for their work (salaried, like many pastors today), though of course we know that all the believers shared and no one ended up in need, etc…).

When issues came up (like circumcision) over which there was great dissension in the church, the issue would be taken to Jerusalem to the “apostles and elders” (15:2) who debated, looked into the whole issue, prayed about it (we know that prayer was one of their key duties, as well as teaching), and came up with a judgment on the issue. They sent letters with representatives who delivered the decision and encouraged the brethren.

When Paul came to Philippi, he and his team went outside to the riverside where they thought there would be a (Jewish) place of prayer (Acts 16:13) and began to speak to those who had gathered, about the gospel of Jesus Christ.

When Paul went to cities where there was a Jewish synagogue, he would first go there on the Sabbaths, and reason from the scriptures, with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles who gathered there (Acts 17:1-2ff). He would also reason in the marketplaces every day with whoever happened to be present and were willing to discuss with him (17:17) (The Greeks loved to discuss new ideas…)

At Corinth, Paul stayed with Aquila and his wife Priscilla (18:1ff) and worked with them, making tents. He reasoned with Jews and God-fearing Greeks in the synagogue every Sabbath. Once Silas and Timothy arrived, Paul began devoting himself completely to the word (Elsewhere, Paul tells us that he did not take pay when he was preaching and teaching, but he does thank the church at Colossae for sending him gifts to help him out when he was in prison etc). When the Jews resisted the message, he went to the Gentiles (even possibly staying with one? 18:7). He stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching the word. Then he moved on to other cities. (Aquila and Priscilla went with him as far as Ephesus).

When Apollos started preaching at Ephesus, Aquila and Priscilla took him aside and explained the way of God more accurately (18:24-26), then the brethren sent him on to Achaia to preach there.

Paul continued to go from church to church (city to city) exhorting them (20:1-3ff)

At Miletus (20:17ff) Paul sent for the elders (again, note, plural) of the church at Ephesus to tell them that he is going to Jerusalem, and to be alert and on guard for themselves and for all the flock, among whom the Holy Spirit had made them overseers, to shepherd the church of God which Jesus had purchased with his own blood…. Paul had spent three years, day and night, not ceasing to admonish each one with tears – now He commends them to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build them up and give them the inheritance among the sanctified. He tells them to work hard, with their own hands ministering to their own needs, as he had done – to help the weak, and because “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

******** And as soon as I finished all that study in the Word, I checked my email, and there was a letter from a friend asking about what the Bible says about Pastors… and the following is my response to that email:

I have gone over Thessalonians (and a lot more of the New Testament) with a fine-tooth comb… there are elders. Paul (and some others with him… he almost always worked in a “team”) planted a church in a city and spent some time there establishing it, teaching, etc… and then he appointed elders (plural) and he moved on to other cities…from time to time Paul would return to these churches (each city had A CHURCH not a bunch of them, though seeing as how they generally met “from house to house” there may well have been multiple gatherings and/or groups, but this is not explained!), anyway he’d return and encourage them, give them some deeper teaching, sort out any problems OR if he couldn’t get there, he’d write a letter, and/or send others that he had trained (like Timothy or Titus). If needed, they would stay for a period of time until things were settled. You can read about this in Acts where Paul left Titus to sort out problems in the churches on the island of Crete (in various cities), appoint elders, teach etc, for a period of time.

Paul himself (and actually, Timothy, Titus, Barnabas, Silas and others) were evangelists; The twelve disciples were apostles; the mature believers who were appointed as elders (aka overseers; aka bishops as the KJV translate it; that latter word "bishop" was an order from King James of England, as he wanted to ensure that the current ecclesiastical structure in England would not be challenged!) shepherded the local (city) flock, that is, the church, the body of believers in that city…

And at various points in the scriptural record, all these people - apostles (Paul was also called an apostle, in a special way...), evangelists, local church elders - were all called “elders!” And Jesus is the elder of the elders! Elders were expected to shepherd the flock, and some preached and/or taught, but not necessarily all to the same degree (prayer was also a key part of being an elder). They were expected to be full of the Holy Spirit, men of prayer, of high character and good reputation among believers and non-believers both…

The apostles were chosen by Jesus from among his followers (so theoretically, some people believe, “apostles” died out; others believe there are still people today who have the ministry of an “apostle”… also, there are various other “apostles” named in the New Testament besides the 12 main disciples; I have been told that the “apostles” were people who had spent time with Jesus, therefore were “eye-witnesses” of Him…. He did have many other disciples besides the 12 special ones… but to be honest, I am not sure about the exact meaning of “apostles”).

The original “twelve” stayed mostly in Jerusalem (as long as they could, considering political events which forced many of the believers to be scattered throughout the Roman empire and possibly beyond, and considering a number of them were martyred... but after all, Jesus had told them to go out into all the world!) and the believers in other locations turned to them for advice; also they would travel to other churches and check things out. Their key job was prayer and the ministry of the word.

The evangelists were church planters basically, and stayed long enough to get a church started (each city had "a church); then came back and checked them out and encouraged them from time to time, and always prayed for them. The evangelists trained others (Timothy, Titus, etc) who became evangelists also, and they trained others; they also appointed (by the leading of the Holy Spirit, after prayer and fasting) local elders to shepherd the local flocks, and trained them, and they in turn trained others, etc.

There was no formal paid clergy, but those who did a lot of preaching and teaching were accorded “double honor” which may mean that, in addition to being “highly esteemed” they may have at least some of the time been helped financially to continue their work, though it seems that everyone, pretty much, also continued to work and support themselves to some degree. (Note: The actual word translated “pastor” only appears once in the New Testament, and it does mean “shepherd.” )

…….. Now, about the “governing board” in “our church” … well, just let me say this… they do some of the jobs of the “deacons” (who in the New Testament took care of widows and the poor and practical things like that, and they were chosen by the whole church and had to also be men filled with the Spirit, of high character, etc. The first seven were men, but women also became deacons)…. So in the New Testament, a church would definitely have both deacons and elders; the former mostly concerned with “practical concerns” (physical/ temporal), and the latter with “spiritual” (preaching, teaching, prayer, etc). Each church had multiple elders and multiple deacons.

All believers shared in exhorting, encouraging, preaching, teaching, helps, administrations, etc according to their gifts and maturity etc. Both kinds of people, elders and deacons, would be chosen after fasting and prayer of the church; but the congregation of believers chose the deacons; it appears the elders where appointed by elder-elders (apostles, evangelists, longer-term elders) after fasting and prayer… in other words, according to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Evangelists/ church planters were sent out by their local church (even Paul was, from Antioch) after the Holy Spirit indicated whom He was calling out, after the elders fasted and prayed, then they laid hands on them and sent them out.

Anyway, there was NOT a “governing board” per se, because there were not buildings, nor formal paid clergy, nor constitutions and bylaws, nor formal programs etc etc etc. If something came up, like people starving, or an evangelist needing to really focus on the Word for a period of time because lots of people were being converted and needed to be taught, or whatever, then a collection would be taken and people would give in proportion to their ability and with a cheerful and generous heart (or else if they didn’t feel that way, they shouldn’t even give!) (that’s right… formal tithing is not mentioned)…. Even Paul worked as a tent-maker to support himself, and even to help support those who traveled with him, and he never wanted to be a financial burden to the church… but he also expected all believers to work hard, and to take care of each other, and he was very grateful when one of the churches sent him gifts (more than once) when he was in need (such as when he was imprisoned). With everyone sharing everything in common, including food, housing etc etc as needed…

…. The email asked “What if our church grows to 200 people or more?” … Maybe they’d do what happened in the New Testament church, take some of the mature believers, and drop them off in another place to take care of another baby church (like Aquila and Priscilla going with Paul or Ephesus, and then staying there to teach the believers, while Paul went on…)

And the email asks, What if a meeting went on for a long time (because there are a lot of people, and there is supposed to be body participation etc)? Well, it doesn’t seem to have been a concern in the New Testament. It sounds like the meeting at Jerusalem about what to do about the circumcision question must have been quite a long meeting. The point was to keep at the meeting, keep praying and fasting, until God gave the answer. (And as far as ordinary, day to day gatherings of the church, they also ate together, so people wouldn’t need to rush off to have lunch or whatever!)(and they were gatherings of a family that loved each other... so they were happy to be there!)… And what about when Paul stopped at that city, where he taught so long into the night (he only had one night to spend time there, so he needed to do a lot of teaching at once) that the young man fell asleep and fell out the window? Who says meetings have to be short? The disciples prayed for days and days until the Holy Spirit fell at Pentecost. We want everything to be short and sweet, though…. Hmmmm.

Or maybe if everyone was just meeting from house to house, you wouldn’t be able to have 200 or more people together, eh? Oh! They also met in the temple in Jerusalem (for awhile… to preach: outreach basically – and to pray… but it wasn’t long before it was no longer available to them); in other cities, they also preached in the markets, in the public gathering places, or sometimes, in a rented hall that belonged to others (even non-believers)… but this was to preach and discuss the gospel with non-believers, rather than a meeting of “the church.”

Yes, I too am concerned about the strong perspective of some of the “leaders” in “our church”, who, though I admire them as men who really believe in the Holy Spirit, and are really men of prayer, I am at the same time concerned that some of them, at least, are pretty strongly entrenched in “traditions” (including structures) which are not true to what we see of the church in the New Testament … and which are (it seems to me) traditions that actually bloat the church and can cause dysfunction.

I was talking about this to my husband. A girl once borrowed a beautiful size 5 dress of mine (without permission) and wore it out dancing. Unfortunately she was about size 15 or 16, and she SQUEEZED into it. It “gave” a bit as it was knit fabric, but it wasn’t long before the seams started to rip, and there started to be serious “runs” in the fabric… and needless to say, I could never wear it again. If she had first shed her excess weight (which it seems to me is kind of like a lot of the “traditions” the church has picked up along the way), she would have fit fine into that dress and both she and the dress would have looked lovely, and the dress could have been used over and over again. BUT! (Do you see my point?)

….. There is a reason why there are ELDERS (plural!) in the church. They must pray together, fast together, seek God together, share in the teaching… and if necessary, go to other elders (more mature, settled ones, hopefully) for advice… when you have one “elder” (aka pastor) who runs the “elder show” that is not God’s way. Only Jesus is the “elder above all elders” … the Word even refers to Him as our elder brother… and it is to Him, the head of the body, to whom we must go every time, ultimately!

As I was saying to my husband, it seems that people have so much money, time, resources, education, jobs, history, tradition, etc “invested” in what we have come to see as church… and it is so hard for us to be willing to shed those things… or even to see those things as what they maybe really are… It is easier perhaps for those who aren’t personally so heavily “invested” (those with so much seminary education, years of doing the “pastor job” etc)… but it does seem to me that God is moving on peoples’ hearts to really look closely at themselves and at how tightly they are holding onto things that are, perhaps, “Biblical” – but only to some degree, and for the rest, bloated with man’s ways, ideas, traditions, things that we so easily cherish and held close to our heart… even in the place of God, perhaps, sometimes…

I am coming to the point that if this is what the people want to do, to stay with “the building, the land, the vision, the governing board, the programs, the elders (by virtue of education and/or experience… I’m all for godly biblical elders however! And deacons, etc) … then I need to stand up, and kindly but firmly speak the truth as I believe God has been showing me through His Word and by His Spirit… and then let the results fall where they will… I am willing to go wherever God sends me… I DO believe if He wants me to leave the “structured, traditional church” He WILL NOT forsake me, and He WILL provide other believers for me to fellowship with, share with, be encouraged and edified by, and encourage and edify them… I can trust Him to do that, because He clearly says (Hebrews 10:25 and other) that we need each other, we need to be an integral part of the body, and we must not forsake the gathering together… but we DO have to follow Him and HIS ways, not the ways of men….

When the believers were scattered from Jerusalem, they went all over the Roman empire… and most of those places there was not a church family yet… but they each preached the word, and God sent out men like Paul and Silvanus and Timothy and Barnabas and Silas etc., and those lonely believers became part of a family, a church (and probably, being believers before the newly converted ones, often became “elders” in those churches – or deacons, or whatever God had in mind for them!).

If the vision of a “church” is off-track Biblically, you need to explain it to them,… once, twice, and if they won’t move, and you are still convinced after listening to their viewpoint, and praying and fasting… then maybe you HAVE to move on… At the same time, I believe if you ask God, HE WILL confirm His word to you by various means (circumstances, the Word, the Holy Spirit speaking to your heart, the advice of Godly people, etc etc).

By the way, Thessalonians is very much about what a Christian is… and not very much at all about church “structure” … and I don’t see “pastor” in there at all… unless you translate “elders” as “senior pastor, with a group of spiritual men gathered around him to pray for and support him, and to pray for the church and determine its vision and direction” which I also don’t see there, though that seemed to be the definition, pretty much, which was given at that meeting, and was said to be “Biblical”…. (You know, when people want to hang onto something, when they’ve “believed” it all their lives, they can almost always find ways to “justify it” in scripture… without seeing that that is what is happening... probably it's what they've been taught too).

There are “elders of elders” in the case of people like Titus at Crete (an evangelist, there for awhile, but not a “senior pastor” as we think of them today) being an elder (shepherd, mentor, spiritual guide, pray-er) for the elders he appointed, under the direction of the Holy Spirit… and in Jesus being the “elder broth”… the ultimate ELDER!!! (and the role model for all the other elders… first thing to ask about a potential elder: is he like Jesus?). There are also multiple elders, not single elders, in churches… and some of them end up getting sent out to do God’s work in others places, in whatever position God places them (as Paul and Barnabas were sent out from Antioch)…

So many things I wonder… Yet at the same time, I must first and last and always, turn to Jesus and trust Him, because He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life… I just want to TRUST AND OBEY GOD!!!

Oh, yes, I have thought of that (the other churches in this town being “structured” too).
Maybe there are people gathering in places that aren’t so structured. I suppose it might be harder to find them because they probably aren’t meeting in buildings with signs hung out front. In the “So You Don’t Go to Church Anymore” book, they just started calling up their friends and getting together for barbeques and such, and if they felt like it, they’d sing a song or two, and personal conversations just started drawing in the rest of the group, conversations about their life with Jesus, and that led them to study things in scripture, things they were wondering about, etc.

I still like your idea about a back porch barbeque, It’s fine, I think, to intend to look into Acts and the early church, because that is something you are needing to seek the Lord about right now. So you just do that. And if you want, invite a couple other people over to barbeque/ potluck too, people who might or might not be interested in the topic, and they could join in, or sit off to the side and visit or play with the kids or even go home… And when you’ve found out what you want to know from Acts, then you can just do someth8ing else, if you have another topic, or just take a break… but keep on gathering, eating together, and see where it takes you.

If anyone has a guitar they could bring it along and if people feel like it they can sing a couple songs or whatever, just as the “feel led” (or maybe there will be CD music going on in the background and people will just start singing along)… and if the course of conversation (which, it seems to me, if people are really serious about the Lord, will focus on Him quite naturally), people will be sharing testimony, scripture that’s touched them, etc…. It sure doesn’t have to be at one place all the time. It could more from “house to house” or even to local parks, etc. In public places like parks (and cafes or even the mall in the winter) you might start to pick up other people who are interested. The thing is, whatever happens, if it really is of the Lord, it will be good. If it falls flat, it is either of our own making… or the Lord has other plans and ways…

Maybe think of it as a “gathering” of the church, rather than thinking of it as “going to church” since that is so “loaded.” And maybe don’t do it Sunday mornings, because that is so “traditional” and then people come with “expectations”… besides, there might be people who still aren’t sure about the whole thing, and that way they are still free to “go to church” as well… The Bible does say that they met “on the Lord’s Day” (Sunday) which seems to have been when they had their more formal “prayer, singing, prophecy, teaching, word of wisdom, etc” gatherings (shall I say meetings?) with everyone sharing their gifts, but they also met day by day, house to house for fellowship, meals together, sharing all they had in common (and probably that “Sunday” stuff was also happening a lot of the time!)

It seems to me that if that day-to-day, meals together, fellowship, helping each other out, sharing things starts to happen, then you know it is of God, because it is His love in action… if it happens naturally, joyfully, not forced or terribly programmed… and I don’t think everybody has to go to every gathering, I think whoever makes it at any particular time is welcome… though probably it is good to have a time when most can get together?

Guess someone just has to start… or maybe there is some gathering like that already happening and someone has to just find it,… or ask the Lord to lead them to it…

Whatever happens, it should not be a heavy burden on anyone. For example, if it’s mostly happening at one home, then everyone brings food, and helps clean up before they leave! And don’t expect a beautifully clean and organized (and fancy and large) place! (Which is what makes home-to-home nice… nobody seems particularly burdened… but whatever works for the people involved, eh? God is creative! And we are made in His image…)

Or maybe God has another plan for you altogether! Ask HIM first!!!

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