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Session 10 ... transcript
The New Testament never uses the word "church" to describe a building. The word that we translate as "church", in the original text of the New Testament, is the Greek word "ecclesia". It means "the called-out ones".
In other words, the Bible identifies people who are trusting in Jesus Christ for salvation, as a community ... as all believers everywhere ... people called out of the world and into a Kingdom where the Spirit of Jesus reigns in their hearts.
The Bible knows nothing of denominations. The Apostle Paul rebuked believers for saying that they were followers of particular men. "Has Christ been divided?" he asked. (see 1 Cor 1:11-13)
Of course, millions of Christians love their local church. They assemble each week and are strengthened in their faith in Christ. They contribute to the life of the fellowship and extend the love of the Lord into the neighbourhood and the marketplace. No doubt, God is pleased.
Jesus loves His church. We are His people. Jesus died for us. He is fitting us together as He builds a temple of living stones.
The Bible calls us, "His body". He is the head. We are members of His body, each with different functions. Of course, there is diversity ... diversity of tasks, and diversity of thought.
That Christians are sometimes suspicious of one another, that there are squabbles and gossip and back-biting, tells us that in the minds of too many Christians, they don't see their unity in Christ Jesus alone. They want conformity to the way they think. Jesus Himself, and the simple truth of the gospel of His death and resurrection, is not enough for them.
Surely that is not right. Surely we can see a need for a move of the Holy Spirit to bond all believers together in love and with no agenda other than His glory.
The church has changed over time. How does the church of today differ from the church of New Testament writings?
The New Testament shows believers in Jesus meeting in small groups in homes. (Acts 2:2, Acts 5:42, Acts 20:20, Romans 16:5, 1 Corinthians 16:19, Colossians 4:15, Philemon 2). Believers in the groups were either learning or teaching or helping. There were no spectators.
All believers were considered to be priests.
Under the Old Covenant, a priest was a man from the tribe of Levi, who served the Lord, and blessed others in the name of the Lord (see Deut 10:8)
Under the New Covenant, all believers in Jesus are considered to be priests (see 1 Pet 2:5,9 and Rev 1:6 and 5:10) ... ministering reconciliation with God to a lost world. (see 2 Cor 5:18-19)
All believers are priests. Not some believers, who earn a credential from a denomination.
Of course, there were leaders in the New Testament church. God appoints certain people to be apostles (meaning those who are sent out to pioneer new areas). God appoints others to be prophets (meaning those who bring the word of the Lord into situations). God appoints others to be evangelists ... with special gifts to lead people to Christ ... and others to be pastors and teachers ... to guide Christians spiritually; particularly in the Word of God. (see Eph 4:11-12 and 1 Cor 12:28)
Those with such responsibilities are exhorted not to "lord it over others", but to lead by example (see 1 Peter 5:3)
Jesus said that leaders in the church shouldn't dominate others, but should be servants to everyone. (see Matt 20:25-26, Mark 10:42-43, Luke 22:25-26)
Jesus also said that leaders in the church shouldn't take titles (see Matt 23:8-10). Apostle or prophet or pastor wasn't intended to be a title ... they are job descriptions.
Paul said that when he went to Jerusalem to get certain questions settled, there was no particular regard for anyone who had "a reputation" (see Galatians 2:2,6). Even James, Peter and John were leaders "who were reputed to be pillars" in the church (see Galatians 2:9). In other words, Paul identified them because they seemed to lead. Obviously, they never had titles, and they must have been more in the background than up front.
There was no formal organisational structure in the early church. About 70 years after Jesus, Ignatius (a leader in the church in Antioch) instituted a hierarchy of leadership. He based the idea on the Roman system of city government.
Suddenly, leaders had status. And when there was position and title and status to be had then, inevitably, people started to compete. When there is competition, you get ambition and envy.
Surely, anyone reading Scripture can see that the Bible knows nothing of competition. The opposite. We are told to regard others as more important than ourselves (see Philippians 2:3)
The biggest change to Christian thinking came 300 years after Jesus, when the Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.
Instead of being a persecuted minority, humbly serving the outcasts of society, Christians became influential.
Impressive buildings came next. In the minds of church leaders, Christianity was now triumphant. And it was administered by a new class ... clergymen ... paid professionals. Centrally controlled through the issue of credentials, and titles.
It continues to this day. It's so much a part of the churchianity that people accept as "normal", that almost no-one stops to consider that it's not the model that's on view in the New Testament.
The change has come about with what are now hundreds of years of traditions.
The institutionalised, corporatised church has acquired power and influence, and access to an endless stream of untaxed income, and trillions of dollars of property. There are a few who have a vested interest in keeping things the way they are.
What's needed is not reformation ... it's not a re-forming of what's there, not shifting a few things around. What's needed is transformation ... the creation of a body that looks completely different
- in the image of Jesus,
- with love reigning
- and without competition and envy
What is needed is a move of the Holy Spirit.
God has given a condition for that renewal. In the next session, we'll examine what's coming.
Go now to: "Key to revival".