In these articles, I want to discuss some foundational issues concerning the church. As it has been my continued observation over a period of 45 years that a scriptural understanding of what the church is is missing from that which calls itself the church, this discussion is considered paramount to growth in Christ individually and corporately. Though I am not the first to wade into these muddied waters, I now choose to do so as it seems that no one that I have observed has done so without sacrificing some truth somewhere. The guiding principle behind any attempt at delving into church structure must be this basic tenet:
If it’s in the Word, let’s do it; if it’s not in the Word, let’s not do it.
If the Word can be taken literally at any given point, then we should receive it as such. There are obvious places where that cannot be done. Case in point:
John 6:53 (NKJV) Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.”
We obviously don’t physically eat his flesh or drink his blood.
And here is a case where it should be done and is rarely done; and most of the time when it is done, it is done incorrectly:
Titus 1:5 (NKJV) For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you.
(Emphasis mine. More about this later.)
I am well aware that as soon as I put to pen these words, those of a religious spirit will immediately rise up and use their theological degrees and superior intellect to explain why I’m incorrect. That’s fine. I’m not talking to those people anyway. I’m directing my words at those who have a love for the truth and want to ultimately come into a fully mature relationship with their God. If that does not describe you, please go read a comic book. It will do you more good and save me time and trouble. (I prefer DC comics myself…)
It has been said that it is often as important to know what is not the truth, what is not the Word of God, as to know what is. This is particularly apropos in 2018 as we have almost 2000 years of tradition (much more for those of you who copy the Levitical priesthood in the old covenant), often unfounded in the Word, that screams at the top of its extremely religious voice that it is the truth. As one brother pointed out, the truth is the truth whether you shriek it or squeak it. As a matter of fact, the louder and more forcibly an entity demands that it holds the truth, the more suspect it becomes. Jesus has never forced his will on anyone. He simply lays out the truth, drops it at your feet and leaves it with you to deal with.
The following is a cornucopia of concepts that have been traditionally accepted as what the church is (this is by no means an exhaustive list):
• There is one leader at the top of the heap with whom the buck stops. He/she may call himself/herself pastor, bishop, elder, father, etc.
• This man/woman is to be paid a regular (tax-free) salary, given a home and a car or, at minimum, a stipend to pay for said home and car.
• This one man/woman has the responsibility to feed the flock, to teach them what the will of God is.
• There is a group of men/women under this top leader (elders, deacons, etc.) whose responsibilities are described in various manners but the end-game is to make sure that the flock at large adheres to the words of the guy/gal at the top.
• There should be a group of highly talented professional or semi-professional musicians and singers who lead us in worship, preferably at a volume only slightly below the pain threshold.
• God demands 10% of our income (the tithe) and we should without fail deposit that on a regular basis into some sort of receptacle (basket, bag, box, plate) whereupon we are assured we have not defrauded the Almighty. (In a lot of the larger entities, we may demand a receipt at the end of the year so we can know how much to record on our income tax report as charitable contributions.)
• We should assemble at a minimum of once a week, and that preferably on Sunday morning (because it is without a doubt the most holy of days unless you are a Seventh Day Adventist); we should strongly consider a Wednesday night prayer meeting to keep the flames of hell even a bit further from our feet.
• The Holy Spirit is received absolutely and only at the time of salvation.
• The charismata (doesn’t that just sound so holy?) or gifts of the spirit were given only to the early church and are no longer viable. This is a different dispensation. (We are so mature now, how could we need those childish things that Paul speaks of in Corinthians?)
• The church is that physical building in which we gather to worship.
• Every successful church, every God-oriented church, will have either a Sunday School class for children (and often adults) and/or Children’s Church. (God forbid the little rascals should disrupt the man of God when he’s preaching! Honestly! Would Jesus tolerate some tattered waif climbing over his shoulders and poking sticky fingers in his ears?)
• We should without equivocation wear our finest clothes when we attend services. Only our best for the Almighty! (For men this includes a suit and tie, for women a dress – modest of course! – which can often be accompanied by hats, gloves, matching handbags and shoes.
• In charismatic circles, there is the widely-held concept of a covering or a father ministry or a shepherd to whom we have to give an account of our lives.
• And so much more! We’ll explore more of these delightful topics as we go along.
I encourage you to be good Bereans and dig through the Word to see whether these things be so. Be bold! Do you really want all that God has for you? You may find that you will have to shed some of these “grave clothes” if you want to grow into God’s ideal for your life.