The simplicity that characterized the New Testament church has been replaced with a monstrous complexity in today's institutional churches that is characterized by an unhealthy emphasis on the programmes, the pastors and the physical buildings of the church.
It has been argued that the Protestant Reformation was not far-reaching and comprehensive enough. It did not fully address significant aspects of Church life. This situation has led to the emergence of modern churches that are radically different from what was obtainable in the days of the Apostles and the Early Christians. The simplicity that characterized the New Testament church has been replaced with a monstrous complexity in today's institutional churches that is characterized by an unhealthy emphasis on the programmes, the pastors and the physical buildings of the church. Much of the problem besetting today's church stems from this three-fold emphasis with which it is now preoccupied.
Modern churches are weighed down by a multiplicity of programmes.
While we cannot idealise Early Christians, as groups had their own issues and limitations to contend with, we can draw many important and practical lessons from them in terms of church life and Christian living.
Church schedule and activities are so many, so concentrated, and so frequent that there is usually little or no room left for a spontaneous move of the Holy Spirit. We have literally 'programmed' the Holy Ghost out of church assemblies! This is the very antithesis of primitive church life which was characterized by a dependence on the Holy Spirit and was short on programming. No wonder they had so much of God's power and presence, while we have so little! Early Church leadership was more of a plurality than a singularity.
Repeatedly in scriptures, we see the church leadership coming together to take collective decisions concerning the church. Peter, James and John were the key leaders in the Jerusalem church (Galatians 2:9). It was not a one-man affair. Then there were the other apostles who were also mutually responsible for the work (Acts2:14;5:12;6:2). There were also other key elders who bore some responsibility within the central unit. (Acts 21:18). At the Antioch Church, it was not also a one pastor scenario. Paul the apostle, Barnabas an apostle, teachers and prophets such as Simeon, Lucius and Manaen constituted the leadership at Antioch. It was the same pattern Paul and Barnabas not only appointed elders (not pastors) in every city where they had planted churches but they also instructed Timothy, Titus and other leaders in the Gentile Churches to ordain ELDERS (a plurality of leadership) in every city (Acts 14:23, Titus 1:5). The situation that exists today is one in which church leadership is centred mainly on the pastor with other leaders playing a mere auxiliary role. Many of our pastors and overseers are like rock stars and demi-gods. The glorification of the pastoral office is so profound that many churches go as far as insisting on the possession of bible school credentials for all pastoral candidates. Increasingly we are veering off the biblical pattern.
The bastardization of the concept of 'church' plus the attendant obsession with physical church buildings is another major issue.
While Early Church believers associated the concept of a church with 'an assembly of 'called out ones', most believers today merely equate church with a physical building. This improper focus on church buildings is creating a whole new set of problems, some of which are tearing many Christian assemblies apart. Churches are taking on huge loans to acquire new buildings. Some of these facilities are being acquired out of a carnal competitive effort to outdo other Christian assemblies in terms of who owns the largest buildings! The need to service these loans leads to the application of all forms of manipulative pressure on members to donate funds. Church buildings are being repossessed, bringing reproach to the name of the Lord. In a particular year in the US, about 138 church buildings were repossessed and sold by banks they were indebted to. The pressures and stress created by this situation are destroying many church leaders, their ministries, families and members. A return to the simple house church pattern which was the norm in the primitive church is the key to restoring order and sanity to this very ugly situation. So, in subsequent messages, we shall have a look at the concept of the house church and explore the form, the function and the fun in this biblical pattern of church life.