Thursday, May 20, 2010
Let's Go To Church
A recent trend that I have observed in some churches has been over the issue of going to church. There is a movement that has stopped going to church. Now, right away I realize that we do not GO to church because we ARE the church (church means “called out ones,” not a building with a steeple), but that is not what I am referring to.
This new movement set its sights on the New Testament church, which did not own a building yet met together daily, and had all things common by selling what they owned and pooling their recourses. Some have wondered if we as American Christians are missing the mark by not doing church this way.
But there are several things that we must consider here before we put a for sale up sign in the foyer. First, it is important to remember that there are some things that the Bible contains, and there are other things that the Bible commands. For example, the Bible contains the story of David’s adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah, but it certainly does not command that we mirror those actions; it is simply recorded history. Next, consider where this record of the early church is written: the book of Acts (or “The Acts of the Apostles” according to the Septuagint). The book of Acts is a New Testament history book of the first days of the church and the apostles, just like Exodus is an Old Testament history book of the exodus of Israel. The book of Acts contains stories, but never commands this way of life. If, for example, this information were brought up in the epistles, which were the letters to the church, this would be a different story. But there is no record of Paul writing to the churches to tell them to have all things common or to stay away from building ownership, or to meet on a daily basis. This would be a command.
Next, we must also remember the context of the first church. Jesus’ Resurrection and the empty tomb caused a big problem for the enemies of Jesus, namely the religious leaders and those in government. This led to torture, imprisonment, and execution of the church. Stephen was stoned, Paul was whipped, Peter was jailed, and that list could be typed out a mile long. These people were not able to gather together in public to do anything, so they met secretly in houses. Christians today in many countries secretly meet in houses or underground in countries where they choose Christ at the risk of losing their lives.
We must also take history into account. It is not as if God hated buildings, or even elaborate buildings. God is not even opposed to His people assembling in public together. To go back to the Exodus we see that God set up a tabernacle, which was not permanent and was easily moveable for His people who were on the go. But once they were settled God commanded the establishment of a temple. King David gathered all the supplies, but God told David that his son Solomon would be the one to build it. And what a temple it was! No expense was spared, even down to the golden candlesticks. This temple was eventually destroyed, another was erected, and in AD 70 that temple was destroyed. That brings us back to the early church, whose temple had been destroyed. If a tornado came through this week and destroyed our sanctuary, we would meet in houses or a stadium or anything else we had to do until our building would be repaired. That was state of the first church.
Also, we see accounts of both Jesus and Paul preaching in synagogues (the Bible says that Jesus stood in the synagogue, which is a funny verse to use when an emergent lead pastor sits on a bar stool to give his talk and he says that Jesus sat down every time He preached), and we never see them condemn the use of a building.
And the early church did have all things in common, but this bit of information is contained, not commanded. Again, remember the situation. People were hiding out to save their lives against the brutal hand on the government, soldiers, and religious leaders. This put the church in a unique situation where they were doing all they could to make it, even selling all that they had to pool their resources for food. If we know of people who are in need today we do have a command to help them, but not a command to sell all that we have and equally divide everything up. I’m not trying to downplay loving our neighbors and being need meeters, but sometimes being good stewards means not giving away everything all at once, but giving away smaller amounts over a period of time. Don’t create a command out of something the Bible never commanded.
And the fact that the church met together daily is not a command for us to do the same. In II Corinthians 2:16-17 and Acts 2:20 we see Paul referring to their gatherings as being on the first day of the week, which is Sunday. Most Bible scholars agree that the early church quickly moved their church services to Sunday, which was the day of the Resurrection. This was especially true of the Gentile church that Paul wrote to, since they knew nothing of observing the Sabbath.
Many liberal Protestants have taken this information the opposite way and come to the conclusion that they don’t need to attend a church service, citing that the apostles had church in their homes so they can too. True, some people do have home churches, but these still contain fellowship with other people, preaching, and usually singing. This should not be a cop out for someone who wants to stay at home and watch a sermon on TV. The writer of Hebrews said we should not forsake meeting together (10:25), and if a person really loves Jesus he would want to be at a place where Jesus is praised.
I hope to see you at church on Sunday.