This rambling article probably profits little, but deals with something I heard a brother talking about recently. He was questioning the way his church operates.
The church, of course, is the spiritual body of Christ. It is a spiritual kingdom made up of believers all over the world. Period. They may be part of different denominations, but that is a man made thing. They may meet in homes, as they did in the first century, or they may meet in church buildings. They may have big exciting assemblies or they may have simple old country church assemblies. They may have wonderful, harmonious, growing congregations or they may have a lot of problems, as did the Corinthian church. They may have suffering from their governments, as in China and many Muslim countries, or they may have very little suffering, if any, like in our churches in the U.S.
But notice that we usually end up thinking about church as the congregations or assemblies that we attend. Church has become a business of sorts. As a matter of fact, it is officially a non-profit organization recognized by the government, with trustees and by-laws. Where do you read about the church being like that in the New Testament. It owns property, has a budget, pays FICA and does W2’s for employees, has paid staff and secretaries, etc. The New Testament church did none of those things.
So is that bad? I suppose not, but I wonder if it is really a good thing. More importantly, is it the way Jesus would want his church to operate? If we can borrow enough money to build multi-million dollar buildings, would He want us to do that? Or would He want us to use that money to dig wells for clean water in 3rd world countries, to take care of AIDS orphans, to rescue child soldiers and child prostitutes, to fight human trafficking, to take care of widows and orphans all over the world, to print Bibles in the major languages of the world so that everyone can read the Bible in their own language, etc. You get the idea. Did Jesus ever want His church to buy any property? Or hire full time local preachers? I know churches do a lot of good things and raise money for a lot of the things I mentioned above, but usually it is a small portion of their contribution.
Not only that, a lot of the churches aren’t even loyal to the teachings of the New Testament anymore. Many of them deny the miracles and Deity of Jesus. Many of them have homosexual priests and endorse homosexual marriages. Many of them no longer believe in the verbal plenary inspiration of the scriptures. Yet they have their hierarchy of paid professionals and collect millions of dollars to operate. The paid professional clergy system has led to many sex scandals among the clergy. If Jesus turned over the tables in the temple, I wonder what He would do if He visited some of these churches.
On the other hand, maybe I am just being too critical. Churches do a lot of good works. The main purpose of the assemblies was for edification, and churches do a lot of edification in their assemblies, their preaching and teaching, their small groups, etc. I mean, surely our Christian liberty would allow us to build a building in order to do the Lord’s work, wouldn’t it? I mean, many preachers are overpaid, but some of them teach and edify a lot of people. Paul did say in 1 Corinthians 9 11 If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? 12 If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things so that we will cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ. 13 Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share [g]from the altar? 14 So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel. Of course, in the first century that meant helping traveling evangelists with food and a place to stay, but they did not have paid local full time preachers. Of course, Paul also said that he would not take money from the congregation that he was working with even though he had a right to do so.
So is there a better way to do it? Maybe go back to house churches like in the New Testament? That certainly is a lot simpler and cheaper. Then those house churches could take their individual tithes and decide where to donate their money instead of paying for a building, utilities, staff, and secretaries! They could collect money for special causes among their members or those in need. Each house church would have one or more shepherds to care for that flock. They could have very good Bible study without a paid preacher preaching a sermon to them. They could teach their children in some little classes if they wanted to, or just make it a family type environment.
So why don’t we do it that way? I think that churches in church buildings is just the way we were raised and are accustomed to. Yes, in bigger churches you get to see a lot more people than in just a house church. You have a wider variety of gifts to be used for edification of the flock. But you can do both of those things without having churches like we have today. Also notice that most church growth is taking members from one church to another. We simply swap members for the most part.
Maybe we need to study the house churches in China. They suffer for their faith, just like in the first century. They are hungry for the word and for fellowship with other Christians. They meet in houses for the most part, in small groups. They use what little money they have to help each other and those in need. Sounds like the first century church doesn’t it? It has been estimated that 2/3 of Chinese Christians meet in house churches as opposed to the government controlled churches. Of course, many of those “house churches” have membership in the hundreds and rent space in commercial buildings, so that is more than a house church meeting in someone’s home. So maybe it is good to start as a house church in a home and then grow to hundreds of members and look for a place to rent.
So I don’t know the answer. It just seems like the “church business” is not what the Lord would want, but I don’t know for sure what the Lord wants. BTW I am involved hosting a house church on Wednesday nights and a shepherd in a church building church on Sundays, so I guess I can accept both types of “church”. Just some thoughts on a rainy day. I wonder who will even read them.