|Like David of old, because of these
things, we are giving great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to
blaspheme. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.
Why is this happening? Many reasons have been proposed in the
Christian community; lack of Biblical exposition by clergy, lack of
commitment by laymen, lack of prayer by all, materialism, various
social ills such as public schools, the news media, Hollywood,
All of these are links in our chain of failure.
However, there is one primary link in the chain that has been largely
overlooked by the Christian community; how we "do" church. How
does our practice of church contribute to the failure of individual
Christians? Are we not all responsible to God individually?
Are we not all indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God as individuals?
Do we not all have a personal and individual relationship with God
through Jesus Christ? Yes to all! So, how do our activities
as a group cause the failure of individuals?
It is a basic truth of the New Testament that:
1. God has formed individual
believers into a functional unit. This unit is the church.
Paul compares the church to the human body in I Corinthians 12, Romans
12, and Ephesians 4. His analogy is that as our human body
consists of many parts, all necessary to healthy function; so also is
Christ. Individual believers have a unique and indispensable
function in the body of Christ and have been gifted by God
2. The body - the church - is
strengthened by that which each individual part or member
supplies. The church is God's method for the practical
sanctification of His children.
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and
some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the
perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the
edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the
unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a
perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of
Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to
and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight
of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to
deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into
him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From
whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which
every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the
measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of
itself in love. (Ephesians 4:11-16)
The way individual believers grow up into Him is by the
strengthening which comes through the effectual working of every
part. This is clearly a description of the mutual ministry for
which all the saints are prepared.
Not surprisingly the only detailed New Testament
description and instruction for a church meeting describes and
prescribes an open meeting with all present participating in ministry.
(I Cor 14) Not surprisingly the only command to meet together,
Hebrews 10:24-25, describes the purpose of meeting as the mutual
ministry of provoking one another to love and to good works and
exhorting one another. But, when does this one-another ministry
take place? Certainly not in an average Sunday morning service.
These are designed for one, or at most a few to minister. Yet this
is when the body is a body; when it is gathered. This is the only
time when all members have opportunity to minister to each individual
yet the standard service today has one individual ministering to all
members. The New Testament church is not designed to function
with only one minister any more than a V-8 is designed to function with
only one spark plug.
Our ecclesiastical system is largely inverted.
Rather than all parts ministering to each one, one ministers to
all. Rather than each part of the body actively supplying
strength, nearly the whole body sits still and watches the performance
of the one or few active body parts. The result: Much
of the body of Christ has become the world's largest couch
But, how can a church of 100, 1,000, 5,000 people all
participate individually, ministering their gifts to each person?
They cannot! This is the root of the problem. The New
Testament was written to and about churches who met in homes of the
members. The New Testament church, the type of church started by
Jesus Christ and His Apostles, was essentially a small group. As
such they were ideally suited to fulfil the instructions and commands
of the New Testament and thus to function as God intended.
What about the accountability groups, small group
ministries and cell groups that have become popular. Do these
programs of larger churches meet the need of mutual ministry as
outlined in the New Testament. In part, they do. Their
popularity is due to their effectiveness. They allow relational
"one another" ministry and the Holy Spirit will use these groups or any
opportunity to work through believers and function as God has designed
in the body. Most of these groups are, however, limited by their
classification as a mere program of the larger church. While they allow
more participation they remain more or less rigidly structured; in the
case of the cell group, controlled by a hierarchy of leaders in a chain
of command up to the Pastor. Many other small groups fall into
the category of a Bible study with no perceived authority and therefore
no perceived responsibility for the work of the ministry.
Why do so many believers of Jesus Christ settle for a
pale imitation of authentic church ministry at such a high cost in
human souls and suffering; ignorance of the Word, reverence for
denominational tradition, greed, pride, hypocrisy? The New
Testament church was a humble organism. In fact, we would not
recognize it as a church at all by today's standards. They owned
no spired halls and revered no career clergy. They met in homes
and were led by mature men of character from among the group.
They had no choir, Sunday school or order of service. They met on
the Lord's day for the Lord's supper as a fellowship meal and ministered
their gifts to one another as the Head of the body, Jesus Christ, led
through the Holy Spirit.
The church is God's method for the practical
sanctification of His children. If the way we "do" church hinders
the expressed purpose and function of the church His children are not
being sanctified as they should. We are living with the
devastating results. Let us repent and do the first works.