Does Church Work?

    - Christian husbands and wives are divorcing 
    - Christian teens are in rebellion 
    - Christian Pastors are burning out 
    - Christian people are in bondage to substance abuse, financial debt, 
       immorality, spiritual hucksters, etc. 

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, etc. 

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 accordingly. 

    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 potato. 

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. 

--Allen Blake 


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