Building Right: The Difference 2000 Years Make
Every house sits on a foundation. However, most people will confess the true appeal of a home is how its built. After all, even if a house sits upon a perfect and strong foundation, if it boasts poorly built walls, bad wiring and terrible paint will produce an uncomfortable, even unlivable, situation.
Jesus is the Foundation of the Church and that’s a good thing. But we, His People and particularly His leaders, may not have produced the best construction over the past two millennia. We often build in spite of a very clear biblical blueprint for “doing church.” We miss the mark. Create our own traditions. Wire our own rituals. Paint our own doctrines.
Previously, I stated the clear Original Desire and Design for God’s spiritual community was a DECENTRALIZED frame. The problem is, since the early fourth century, we’ve been building upon a centralized format or one that’s rooted to a central leader or leadership, to a place or a time (especially in the past 500 years). Now its time to compare the “house” we’ve built against the biblical blueprint. How is the way we “do” church different from the way the early church “did” church?
Ironically, one of the best biblical books to reveal the desire and design (Original DNA) of how to do church is Paul’s letter to a dysfunctional church in Corinth. In this epistle, Paul clearly shows how we have everything a bit backward, at least compared to the prevailing practice of the first-century Church. What we find is a decentralized practice of Christianity.
For example, worship (including preaching and teaching) was originally decentralized: What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up (I Cor 14:26). In contrast, the 21C church service is led by a few leaders who control the songs, the liturgy and sermon. Ironically, this is highly unattractive to postmodern seekers and sends a potentially hidden message to the church family that only a few are important or valuable.
Evangelism was originally decentralized: Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (I Cor 1:13). In contrast, the 21C church feature baptisms done by clergy. Why can’t the average Joe or Jane baptize their friend? We live in an experiential and participatory culture…and nothing is more experiential than a “new birth.”
Church gatherings were originally decentralized, meeting solely in houses (Acts 2:46; 8:3; Romans 16:5; I Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:15). The Body gathered outside, in public places, courts, river banks, meeting areas and later cemeteries (2nd century). There were no church buildings or centralized meeting places. God had already left the building (temple) in Jerusalem. Everything happened in homes. The “church” (Greek: ekklesia or “called out ones”) was the people. In contrast, the 21C congregation gathers in a building with a large auditorium (that sits empty most of the week). Tragically, most people–inside and outside the church–now define “church” as a place or time (“I went to church yesterday”).
Leadership was originally decentralized: I appeal to you, brothers and sisters,…that there be no divisions among you,…that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. …What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” (I Cor 1:10-12). The divisions followed leadership and the Original DNA was for multiple leaders to lead, not a single man. In contrast, the 21C church promotes a preacher or priest as the “face” of the congregation, and in some cases, a “celebrity pastor” to boot.
It’s hard to confess, but we simply do not resemble or look anything like the early church. This will become glaringly obvious as we address several sticky wicket issues in the 21C American church.
Now before I proceed, a moment of confession: I passionately love THE CHURCH. I want to see her move forward powerfully and productively in the 21st century, and believe Her best days are ahead IF we humbly and respectfully return to our Original DNA.
I just don’t believe She’ll look anything like what we see today in 50 years.
NEXT TIME: THE TWO INDIVIDUALS THAT PRODUCED 1700 YEARS OF CHRISTENDOM