Christianity 201

September 19, 2013

Bible Study Shouldn’t (and Can’t) Replace Church

Sometimes a comment left here leads me to yet another source of material. Although today’s item doesn’t begin with a key text — there are several for you to look up toward the end of the article — it is important to have this here because it would be tragic to think that there are people reading this as a substitute for being part of a local Christian assembly.  It appeared on the blog A Parched Soul, under the title Your Bible Study is Not the Church (click through to read at source) and the author is Grayson Pope.


If you were to survey the landscape of Christian blogs and culture today, you might come away with two notions concerning the church:

  1. It is broken
  2. It is redefinable

The first of these is reasonable. Many churches seem very broken. Sex scandals, misuse of tithes, and condemnation are all too familiar tales these days, unfortunately.

worshiping togetherThere are always areas in which the church can be improved. This will be true as long as sinners are in charge of running them.

The second point, that the church is redefinable, is where we have gone seriously astray. A common headline or title of a post on a popular Christian site might well read like one of the following:

  • “Why I Left the Church”
  • “How I found God Outside the Church”
  • “Why I’m a Christian but I Don’t go to Church”

(Let me be very clear before moving on: I believe the church is in need of repair. I believe there are very real problems with her, or more appropriately, how we have chosen to engage her. But I also believe she is the hope of this world, indeed the only one it has.)

These pseudo-titles above give us insight into the heart of what Christians think about the church at this point in history. In short, they find it open to interpretation, as if it is Play-Doh which can be kneaded, molded, or reshaped in the hands of a man.

Some believe worship with the family in the living room replaces corporate worship with a congregation. Others believe social ministry or their Bible study group in a coffee shop is their church.

It is tempting, to be sure. The social ministry field is seen as alive and vibrant, compared to the stale pews and stiff suits so many think of when church comes to mind. Huddling around a Starbucks table seems culturally rebellious and gives a sense of thrill.

Those things are not bad, but they are not the church. They may be called church by those involved, but they undermine thousands of years of ecclesiology, whether they do so knowingly or not.

They are mistaken. And it is hurting their faith.

James Emery White, who has spent much of his life studying the church and leading one, says for many this,

…has led to a trivialization of the church; for a growing minority it has led to a hunger for a deeper sense of church…

This gives rise to,

…those who intimate that the idea of the church in the New Testament is either embryonic or ethereal that we have the freedom to define the church as we wish. This is simply not the case.

If then, the church is not open to interpretation as we thought, what is it that marks it? Again, we turn to the work of White on the subject. He details what he calls the “5 C’s” in his book, Christ Among the Dragons, that give clarity to the biblical and historical view of the church.

To be the church, the following must be present:

  1. Community: “To be a church, we must be a community of faith. This community should not be segmented in any way, whether by race, ethnicity, gender or age…(see Gal 3:28; 1 Tim 4:12)
  2. Confession: “If a Christian church is anything, it is foundationally confessional, for the earliest mark of the Christian movement was the clear confession that Jesus is the Christ (Mark 8:29) and the Lord (Romans 10:9).”
  3. Corporate: “The Bible speaks of defined organizational roles such as pastors/elders/bishops/deacons, as well as corporate roles related to spiritual gifts such as teachers, administers and leaders (Romans 12; 1 Cor 12; Eph 4; 1 Pet 4).”
  4. Celebration: “The church is to gather for public worship as a unified community of faith, which includes the stewarding of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, for these were not in the public domain.”
  5. Cause: “…this involves active evangelism with subsequent discipleship, coupled with strategic service to the needy. We are to be the body of Christ to the world, and the twin dynamics of evangelism and social concern reflect Christ’s ongoing mission.”

These 5 C’s are what mark the church and what make it the church. They cannot be achieved to the same level as Jesus would have them outside of the local church.

Do you think you church is open to interpretation? Have you seen someone try to replace their church experience with another of some kind?

September 28, 2012

First Century Church Growth

We tend to think that church growth has just been a concern in the last dozen or so years because there was an explosion of published books the subject, as ecclesiology became of interest to lay people as well as vocational ministers. So I was intrigued this week to discover a 1973 book — that’s about 40 years ago — titled How To Grow A Church: Conversations About Church Growth by Donald McGavran and Win Arn (Gospel Light). The book follows an interview format and the words which follow belong to McGavran.

The New Testament speaks of and demonstrates tremendous church growth. In fact, the church was born in an explosive series of conversations. Before the Day of Pentecost, only 120 were meeting in an upper room; then… 3000 people turned to the Lord. I marvel when I think of the courage of that little band of inexperienced apostles baptizing 3000 people in one day.

Those first ten wonderful chapters in the book of Acts tell of notable church growth, for example, in Acts 2:41, “And the same day there were added to them about three thousand souls.”  In 2:47 we read, “And the Lord added to the church daily such as were being saved.” In 4:4 we read, “and the number of them which believed was about five thousand men.” If you add 5000 women and 5000 women, there were 15,000 believers in Jerusalem in a relatively short period of time.

Later in that fourth chapter we read, “The multitude of them that believed were of one heart and one soul.” They counted them not by congregations, but by multitudes

…In Acts 5:41 we read, “And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.” … We’ve been talking about added to the Lord, but…Chapter 6 records, “And the Word of God increased; and the number of disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly.” (v.7) From addition to multiplication. Another important event was that “a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.”  Up to that time the Christians had been the common people, the rank and file, the poorer element. Then after a period of time — we don’t know exactly how long — a multitude of the priests became obedient to the faith…

In chapter after chapter we read of growth taking place… Acts 9:35, we read about two whole villages Lydda and Sharon…

Reasons for Growth

There were many reasons. A principle one was God’s purpose — His ongoing, unshakable, unchanging purpose — for the salvation of men. The growth and expansion of the church throughout the world does not take place in and of itself. It is God’s will…

…[T]his one unifying purpose motivated the apostles and the new Christians…

Another important reason for the New Testament church growth was the expectation of the Jews. They were looking for the Messiah, the Saviour of Israel. Peter and the other apostles proclaimed that He whom you have been expect has, in fact, come.

Then there was the Resurrection. Think what an impact the Resurrection made in Jerusalem! The man whom everybody knew had been crucified was alive and was seen…

…[A]nother reason: That the message was proclaimed by common people. The Pharisees…said of Peter and John and the other apostles that they were ignorant and unlearned me, just ordinary people; laymen. They didn’t have theological degrees. This factor no doubt gave their message added power. …3000 people were baptized and received the Holy Spirit, there were not just 12 apostles preaching but 3000 Christians preaching…

Foundations for Growth

First, we must realize that the growth of the church took place in the midst of the Jewish people… there had been prior preparation.

They were looking for the Messiah. They were accustomed to a God who speaks and acts righteously. The Jews were intended by God to be the seedbed of the church. The Holy Spirit encouraged the church to grow strong among the Jews so that it could break out to other people.

…[M]any who became Christians on the Day of Pentecost must in the preceding years have seen some of the miracles recorded in the gospels. In fact, some of them must have been directly involved. I wonder if Lazarus wasn’t there on the Day of Pentecost…

selections from page 17-24

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