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  • The Traditions of the Early Church Fathers - Part 1
    directly against it and with a vengeance too We need to understand though that unlike us today they didn t have the completed New Testament to tuck under their arms and constantly refer to They couldn t give people systematic teaching from the entire Word of God for the simple reason that they didn t have the entire Word of God from which to have systematic teaching themselves let alone to pass on to others Throughout most of the years that they led churches the New Testament only existed in the form of various and disparate letters and documents which were spread out all over the place As scripture it was complete and entire but it wasn t fully available as a whole book to any one person Only in the third and fourth centuries could the New Testament be said to have been compiled into one volume and therefore available in the way we understand it today And of course that was to put it mildly a bit of a handicap for them and I reckon they didn t do too badly considering After all imagine yourself as a church leader trying to ward off and counter the most complex heresies and false teachings about the Lord Jesus and His salvation with just the Old Testament scriptures a couple of Paul s writings maybe a gospel or two and perhaps John s third letter It s not really much to go on is it I shudder to think what a mess I would make of things without the entire New Testament at my disposal Come to think of it I shudder at the mess I ve made of things even though I always have had the entire New Testament at my disposal So I am actually quite a big fan of these guys and a coward like me can only tip my hat in awed respect to any who have risked death for the Lord every day of their lives So yes I actually think they did a pretty good job in many respects but I must nevertheless still show you what a total mess they made of the churches they had influence over and what wayward and unbiblical teachings and practices they developed and introduced I ought just to say here that there are those and better men among them than I will ever be who think I am way too soft on these guys and that I ought not to try and excuse them in the way I do They think that the Fathers should have known better and as far as they are concerned that is the end of it And maybe they re right I m really not too sure I just feel that I personally need to give the Fathers the benefit of the doubt After all the one thing I am in no doubt about whatsoever is that not only would I have done no better than them I would have almost certainly

    Original URL path: http://www.house-church.org/earlychurch_partone.htm (2016-05-02)
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  • The Traditions of the Early Church Fathers - Part 2
    blown Catholic Mass is here in germinal form as early as AD 250 And of course the supremacy of the Bishop over the priesthood soon led to even more layers of priestly hierarchy developing which culminated yes you guessed it in the very Bishop of Bishops himself Ladies and gentlemen may we please hear it for the Pope And so we see how little by little though I m actually more inclined to say lottle by lottle the Early Church Fathers took Christian churches from being a proliferation of little localised extended families and made them instead into an eventual worldwide hierarchical religious corporation It is evident too how this first error which I refer to as their foundational one made it inevitable that more errors would soon follow This wrong teaching about the very nature of the leadership and government of the church gave Christian leaders in the form of Priests and Bishops such authority that whatever else they ended up teaching was accepted virtually automatically as being from the Lord It was indeed a seed bed in which grew various other plants of error and deception and we will turn our attention to those in the next article However a question arises and it is simply this How on earth did they get away with it Here we have people redefining and changing indeed virtually completely re inventing the very nature and essence of the Christian Church and turning it into something utterly foreign to and totally at variance with the teaching of Jesus and His apostles So how could they have done something that monumentally and seriously mistaken and still get away with it And the answer and I ve hinted at it already is that they claimed to have a theological justification for what they were doing They introduced a concept that later came to be known as the Doctrine of the Apostolic Succession Remember the Christian Church was facing all manner of problems with heretical teachings about Jesus and salvation all of which claimed the inspiration of God The most ridiculous ideas were being put forward by varying heretics who were all vying for converts in the market place of religious dogma Some taught that Jesus was really an angel and therefore neither God nor man Others claimed Him to be truly God but taught that He only looked like a man and was really just a very solid looking Divine spectre Obviously as spectres cannot die His death on the cross was mere appearance too and therefore not actually or physically real Yet others claimed He was merely a man but one on whom the Divine Christ descended from Heaven at his baptism only to depart again at the crucifixion just before the merely human Jesus died The idea of salvation by faith was obviously under attack too with some postulating it was rather through secret knowledge and the revelations of particular prophets and men of special and unique spirituality And of course all this demonic deception came from people who were claiming to be led by the Spirit and therefore to therefore be speaking the inspired Word of God Remember as well that unlike us the believers were without the fully compiled and available New Testament We can do no better than to here return to Dr John Drane Lecturer in practical theology at Aberdeen University Adjunct Professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary California Visiting Professor at Morling College Sydney It is important to realise that the movement towards a more authoritarian church hierarchy originated in the fight against unacceptable beliefs At a time when Gnostics were claiming a special authority because of their alleged endowment with the Spirit it was important for the mainstream church to have it s own clear source of power It was of little practical use for the church s leaders to claim even if it may have been true that they rather than their opponents were truly inspired by the Spirit They needed something more than that and they found it in the apostles In the earliest period supreme authority had rested with them So they reasoned anyone with recognised authority in the church must be succeeding to the position held by the apostles They were the Apostle s successors and could trace their office back in a clear line of descent from the very earliest times They stood in an apostolic succession Introducing the New Testament Chapter 22 and the section on The Institutional Church on page 397 and a sub section entitled Authority Published by Lion Revised 1999 Edition The Early Church Fathers claimed in effect the same authority as had the original apostles and so they argued that what they taught was therefore necessarily correct Now this was arguably fine where they were right and they were right about a great many things but it was not so good where they were not In fact it was completely and unutterably disastrous We can see them actually argue this Clement of Rome The Apostles have received the gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ Christ was sent forth by God and the Apostles by Christ Both these appointments were made in an orderly way according to the will of God The Apostles appointed the first fruits of their labours to be bishops and deacons for those who would believe We must remind ourselves here that by bishop the apostles and the Fathers meant completely different things As far as the apostles were concerned bishop was simply one of the words used to describe the function of an elder pastor or shepherd whereas to the Fathers it denoted a high ranking religious figure in an organized ecclesiastical hierarchy Ignatius Bishop of Antioch To the Magnesians I advise you to always act in godly concord with the Bishop presiding as the counterpart of God and the presbyters as the counterpart of the council of the Apostles As the Lord did nothing without the Father

    Original URL path: http://www.house-church.org/earlychurch_parttwo.htm (2016-05-02)
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  • The Traditions of the Early Church Fathers - Part 3
    commit sexual sin Baptism is now so grave and serious that someone must be considered to be beyond the possibility of sexual sin before they can receive it But why on earth does he say that Well because of the following there are sins too ruinous and too serious to receive pardon Such are murder idolatry fraud denial of Christ blasphemy and of course adultery and fornication Christ will no more intercede for those he who has been born of God will never commit them if he has committed them he will not be a son of God Baptism is now seen only to cover and relate to past sins but not subsequent ones Tertullian is saying that in effect Christians will never do such things or at least will be lost if they do And of course the Bishop from whom permission had to be sought would apparently be the one who was able to make such judgements We have here if you think about it a rather novel definition of a Christian someone who is beyond serious sin It doesn t take much to see just how daft this all is Even if these guys didn t have the entire New Testament readily available to them they most certainly had the Old Testament and they knew full well for instance the story of King David s affair with Bathsheba and the subsequent murder of her husband Would Tertullian and his fellow church leaders have maintained that King David wasn t actually saved and that he isn t now with the Lord in Heaven There s no doubt that this irrational and dangerous stuff Tertullian has more to say though All waters after the invocation of God attain the sacramental power of sanctification for the Spirit straightway comes upon them from the heavens and is upon the waters sanctifying them by His own power and being thus sanctified they are imbued at the same time with the power of sanctifying We have here the explanation as to why they thought that someone is born again when they are baptized rather than when they actually turn to Jesus in faith Apparently the water in which the person is going to be baptised becomes holy because the Spirit comes on it at the invocation of whichever priest is doing the baptising and it is this holy water which not just causes the person to be cleansed from past sins but also causes them to be born again and be sanctified against future ones The water is therefore imbued with supernatural power through being blessed by a priest And what we have here is superstition pure and simple and if your hair still isn t standing on end then I can only conclude that you are either completely bald wearing a wig or aren t even a genuine believer Cyprian Bishop of Carthage AD 250 A man is not born by imposition of the hand when he receives the Holy Spirit but in baptism We see again this idea of baptismal regeneration plus the rather strange notion that someone might have received the Spirit through the laying on of hands yet still not be actually born again should they still not be baptised It really does get more and more daft However another innovation comes on the scene now which is the logical extension and conclusion of what they were so wrongly teaching about baptism If remission of sins is granted to even the worst offender and if no one is shut out from baptism how much less ought an infant to be shut out What we have here is the simple fact that when we come to the practice of infant baptism it has never had anything whatsoever to do with the New Testament and those who invented it never claimed that it had It was merely a practice that emerged as a logical extension and consequence of the most appalling false teaching and wrong understanding about baptism and the nature of conversion by men who didn t have at their disposal the New Testament scriptures in their entirety But even if we do allow them the luxury of the feeling that without the New Testament this was understandable we nevertheless can t offer the same excuse to anyone doing similarly from the third century onwards When people try and locate such a completely non biblical practice as infant baptism in the pages of the New Testament it should be clear to you now that they are doing so out of sheer ignorance and not realizing that its originators didn t even claim to have gotten it from the Bible in the first place We are seeing again and again and again that whether it s how churches ought to be set up and practice or the way in which baptism ought to be done these aberrations of the last 1800 years are not and never have been anything whatever to do with the teaching of the New Testament Further those who came up with it all never even claimed to have got it from the New Testament Indeed they didn t even have the entire New Testament available to them from which they could have gotten it anyhow Is it not ironic that when it comes to something as foundational and important as baptism the Christian Church has actually managed to get it completely wrong in both of the two possible ways available to it Think about it with infant baptism we baptize when we shouldn t and with baptismal preparation for new coverts we are not baptizing precisely when we should A double whammy indeed And for those who feel such preparation of new converts is important though at least believers are being baptized and not babies we must nevertheless realise that whatever reasons are cited for it they held just as true at the time of the apostles as well They were perfectly aware that for instance they

    Original URL path: http://www.house-church.org/earlychurch_partthree.htm (2016-05-02)
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  • The Traditions of the Early Church Fathers - Part 4
    or more informally from a table in front of where the Minister presides in a Baptist or Pentecostal church you have nevertheless still gone completely against what the apostles universally taught and instituted and replaced their tradition and practice with something entirely different And I am convinced with my whole heart and mind that what we have done in regards to all this is wrong and that repentance is in order and is the crying need of the day Some questions will suffice to make the point even clearer The Christian Church is well and truly in the dock over these matters and my questions will constitute as it were the case for the prosecution And the charges are serious ones too but admitting wrongdoing is surely if I am not mistaken something we do as Christians all the time After all being convicted by the Lord of what is yet wrong in our lives is the normal daily Christian life or at least it is mine and so it shouldn t therefore be too great a problem for us to look at these things with an open mind and with a humble attitude of being willing to come clean should they have the backing of God s Word Question What is the opposite of non hierarchical co equal home grown elders Answer Any system which creates a leadership hierarchy and which brings in someone whether Priest or Pastor from outside of the church in order to lead it and be in charge Verdict From the Catholic Church right down to Baptist Pentecostal and Free Churches we find the defendants guilty as charged Question What is the opposite of open worship with free and spontaneous sharing together with no one leading from the front and with all present being actively encouraged to take part Answer Any form of church service whether Catholic Anglican Baptist Pentecostal or whatever including so called house churches gathering in large numbers in hired halls for worship services led from the front by their respective big cheeses Verdict From Catholic to Baptist to house churches we find the defendants guilty as charged Question What is the opposite of having the Lord s Supper as a full meal Answer Not having the Lord s Supper as a full meal Verdict Again from Anglican to Pentecostal to house churches we find the defendants guilty as charged Are you getting the idea It s a bit scary isn t it Question What is the opposite of centring the corporate life of a church round people s homes and of being an extended family Answer Centring the corporate life of a church around public buildings whether religious or otherwise and the ministries of leaders and being an organisation Verdict From Presbyterian to Methodist to Episcopalian to Southern Baptist we find the defendants guilty as charged It s time for a list now and it s a list of things pertaining to church life and practice which most believers would take

    Original URL path: http://www.house-church.org/earlychurch_partfour.htm (2016-05-02)
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  • House-church.org - Thoroughly Biblical Church
    is unlikely that he would therefore be thinking in terms of the Jewish way of reckoning a day But let s move on now to the question of meeting in houses That the early church did meet in houses no one with an ounce of scriptural sense or Bible knowledge is going to deny and the nature and functioning of the meetings they had when believers came together as a church simply meant that there was never any need for them to do otherwise Numbers in each church were by definition supposed to be small and their interactive gatherings with no one leading from the front the New Testament church didn t have anything even vaguely resembling a church service and with a meal thrown in for good measure were just perfect for a house setting After all what better place could there possibly be And so once again we see form following function as it always does in the New Testament The eventual move from houses into specially sanctified religious buildings was as with all the other changes we are considering down to the Early Church Fathers It is interesting to note as well that this was the final change they made to the apostolic blueprint and that meeting in houses was actually the original apostolic practice that survived their reinvention of the Christian church the longest But let us now consider the plight of twenty Eskimos in a village somewhere near the North Pole who have just become Christians and who therefore want to become a church but whose largest igloo can only fit eight people in it Now if they therefore decided to hire a slightly larger igloo with the express purpose of using it for their gatherings as a church then assuming they still meet as the Bible describes and don t therefore change the nature of what their gathering together ought to be then I would see no problem Indeed I would rather be part of a biblical church that met outside of homes for their main gathering assuming though that the other biblical practices were in place than part of a church that met in homes but which was unbiblical in every other respect You can if you really have to maintain the nature and functioning of a church whilst meeting somewhere other than in a home Indeed the church of which I am a part used to sometimes utilize a rented hall for the bit of our gathering together that included the singing this being out of love for neighbors when we heard of their complaints about the noise But we sat in a circle just as if in a home and what we did in that hall was completely open with everyone free to spontaneously take part and without anyone leading from the front And when we were done we returned to one of our houses for the love feast Owing to now having more houses to rotate around this is no

    Original URL path: http://www.house-church.org/genart_one.htm (2016-05-02)
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  • house-church.org - in defence of Biblical churches
    worship But they didn t Why not Because they had been taught by the apostles that meeting in each others homes was actually what Jesus wanted them to do Far from this being merely out of some kind of necessity until some later time when changes could be made it was the actual Divine intention all along Indeed history tells us that they were thought by some to be atheists precisely for the reason that they had no special buildings in which their god lived So we see that the apostles established churches to be quite specifically located in people s houses And far from being merely some accident of history this was actually a part of the apostolic and therefore biblical blueprint Paul emphasises in his writings that apostolic tradition as passed on to the churches by them was from Jesus Himself and therefore binding as the command of the Lord 1 Corinthians 14v36 38 So why therefore would anyone want to do things differently Yet sadly and as early as the first century too church leaders came on the scene who for whatever reason did want to do things differently to the apostles and to this day the Church of Jesus Christ still hasn t corrected their mistakes And this of course is the real problem When the vast majority of churches come together on Sundays they are fashioning themselves and functioning albeit with an almost infinite number of variations according to the teachings of those pesky old Early Church Father fellows the ones who were responsible for making the changes and not according to the New Testament at all And the contrast is nothing short of amazing Existing churches aren t just different from the New Testament ones they are virtually the opposite Think about it The Bible shows us believers coming together as churches in people s houses on the Lord s Day for open and spontaneous worship and sharing together This involved all present being free to bring teachings and prayers and worship songs and revelations and the like 1 Corinthians 14v26 31 without any need whatever for someone to lead proceedings from the front Remember when a church meets in someone s lounge there isn t even a front to lead from Further they ate a meal together Indeed the very Lord s Meal And that as you know full well is what the Greek in the passage about the Lord s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11 literally refers to the main meal of the day towards evening So what do churches do instead They meet on Sundays at least we re still getting something right with those present sitting in rows attending a service in a public building whether sacred or not led from the front by someone who is paid to do it as their job Further contrast a leadership of plural co equal and locally grown raised up recognised elders such as we universally see in the New Testament churches with an imported professional one man pastor or priest type leadership and one begins to see should one be sufficiently prepared to be honest about it just how contradictory to the Bible s teachings our churches and church practices actually are In such a setting the notion of a shared main meal to say nothing of each person being free to participate with no need of anyone presiding from the front becomes little more than nonsensical Indeed we here have the reason why the Lord s Supper was eventually jettisoned by the Fathers in favour of ritualistic bread and wine services because it just didn t fit in any more with the hierarchical priestly leadership and worship services which they introduced into the life of the Christian churches So we see in the New Testament that churches were house based precisely because of what was supposed to happen when those believers who comprised them came together After all what better setting could there possibly be for a gathering of people who are engaged in open and participatory sharing and worship and the eating of a meal together And of course no one who really knows their biblical stuff would even dream of challenging me that such was indeed the blueprint upon which churches were shaped and formed in accordance with the teaching and practical care of the apostles in New Testament times As you are perfectly aware I could quote volumes from the very best evangelical biblical scholars of our time all confirming everything I am saying concerning what churches were like as planted by both the apostles and those who adhered to their teaching and practices This is no mere slant or subjective personal biblical interpretation on my part It is as anyone researching the biblical scholars and historians will have confirmed to them simply what New Testament churches were like So how then my old and good friend can you possibly go on to liken what I teach and practise in this regard as the virus of legalism creeping it s way into the bloodstream of even undoubtedly godly communities of Christians How on earth do you conclude that my contention that we ought to establish churches today in the same way the apostles did in New Testament times is a legalistic bondage On what possible basis do you consider that this must therefore be the pride of self assertiveness hidden behind supposed concerns for the truth My own understanding of the error of legalism and do correct me if I am wrong is that it is the imposition of teachings and practises on believers that cannot be established from the Word of God If the equal and opposite error of licence can be said to be the enforcing of too little of what scripture does teach then legalism would contrariwise be the enforcing of that which it doesn t and in what possible way am I doing that Biblical scholars of all shades are in agreement that the

    Original URL path: http://www.house-church.org/genart_two.htm (2016-05-02)
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  • house-church.org - in defence of Biblical churches
    to do so in such a way as to persuade people that what they are saying is actually biblical rather than to just expect them to unquestioningly accept it It helps minimise the danger whereby those who are taught are just expected to accept what their leaders teach as accepted church policy or something like that It brings about a situation in which people are much more likely to actively and questioningly understand things for themselves rather than just passively accepting leadership dictates and just agreeing with whatever is said or taught It creates in short what many leaders in many churches fear most people with open Bibles and free thinking minds who don t accept things merely on the authority of a leader s say so but who question and challenge until they are persuaded whether or not something is or isn t biblical It further releases the corporate insight and wisdom of all in the church and engenders an atmosphere of humility and willingness for everyone to learn from anyone It recognises the vitally important fact that the Lord is in all His people and can therefore speak through any of those in the church and not just some chosen and verbally gifted elite But I must deal now with what might in some people s minds be perceived as a real and biblically based objection to what I m saying here So let s turn to the Acts of the Apostles and take a look at a particular Sunday that Paul the apostle spent with the church in Troas Let s have a look at a verse as translated from the New International Version Yes I confess to being NIV positive and using the Nearly Inspired Version On the first day of the week we came together to break bread Paul spoke to the people and because he intended to leave the next day kept on talking until midnight Acts 20v7 Here we have the believers in Troas coming together for their main weekly gathering and we can note certain things By the way no Bible scholar would disagree with any of the following observations I am going to make They are a simple matter of textual fact The church is gathering on the first day of the week on Sunday They were gathering together in someone s house The Greek text here conveys that the main purpose given for their coming together was for the breaking of bread The phrase breaking of bread refers to eating a full meal here the Lord s Supper Now the thing I want to home in on here is that the New International Version says that Paul spoke to the people and kept on talking until midnight And that certainly makes it sound as if Paul is doing the talking and that everyone else is just listening So if that is the case then there isn t much open un led participatory stuff going on here as we might expect

    Original URL path: http://www.house-church.org/genart_three.htm (2016-05-02)
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  • house-church.org - The City-wide Church Problem!
    entity Remember Corinth was nowhere near the size of a modern day city such as London and neither is there anything in scripture to suggest that the believers there constituted anything more than a tiny percentage of the population It is highly unlikely that there were more than a small handful of individual churches in Corinth and idea prevalent amongst many Christians today that in New Testament times wherever believers went and evangelized large proportions of the populace became believers is complete myth And this I think explains why Paul would write to the believers in Corinth as though they constituted just one individual church when they may have been numerically too large for that to have actually been the case rather comprising more than one individual church Further it is also possible that the factiousness which Paul castigates them for in the early chapters of his first letter was taking the form of believers actually gathering into individual churches precisely on the basis of whomever their particular allegiance was grouping them around It is therefore quite possible that there was a Peter church meeting in one house a Paul assembly in another and an Apollos church somewhere else each having little to do with each other And so we can begin to grasp why even though the problems Paul deals with in his letters may well have involved a multiplicity of individual churches he nevertheless writes as if they were actually affecting just the one church which of course in the sense that all the individual churches constituted what I have termed the wider church they were Therefore whether teaching them the importance of meeting in such a way that all are free to take part or laying down the ground rules for using the gifts of the Holy Spirit or dealing with issues surrounding the meal he had taught them to eat together that is the Lord s Supper it would be unnecessary for him to distinguish between what applied to his readers as individual churches in individual houses and which of those individual churches and what applied to them as the corporate wider church Much of what applied to them on the individual church level also applied to them on the wider church or city wide church level and vice versa It is simply the way someone would think and therefore write having brought the gospel somewhere it had never been known before and then forming the converts together into a multiplicity of small churches that are the same in structure format and practice 2 but which are nevertheless seen as individual and smaller independent family units of a larger city wide area family unit What we have here then is the simple fact that in any one geographical area what I refer to as biblical churches should whilst remaining individual distinct and independent 3 churches nevertheless be able to relate together as one wider church when circumstances require The Jerusalem church was certainly able to do this as seen in how they both convened to sort out the problem of the widows who were being neglected in the distribution of funds to them 4 and then later on in the resolution of the problem surrounding the Circumcision Party and whether or not Gentiles should be circumcised when they became believers 5 However what we have to address now is how in seeking to apply these principles wherever a multiplicity of biblical churches come into existence in the same geographical area the independence autonomy and functioning and therefore individual identity of each church can be ensured to be preserved Failure here will result not in multiple independent biblical churches moving together as one wider church where appropriate but rather in one city wide mega church broken down into smaller units which far from being churches in their own individual right would end up more like the modern day cell church concept and not be biblical churches at all And the difference between these two concepts becomes abundantly clear when we look at the mechanism whereby multiple biblical churches can conceive of themselves and organize and mobilize together as one church whilst nevertheless retaining their individuality and autonomy before the Lord as a multiplicity of separate and distinct specific churches Nature furnishes us with the examples of both commensalistic relationships between different organisms and symbiotic ones In the latter the different species concerned cannot survive without each other whereas in the former they can yet nevertheless greatly benefit from the shared relationship each thriving as a direct result of it and with neither being quite everything it could be without the other And in the New Testament it is just this kind of commensalism which characterizes the relationship between individual churches in the same geographical location And what makes this possible without the whole caboodle just degenerating into a house church version of a mega cell church or equally dreadful a localized house church denomination is the understanding that church leadership in scripture is not seen to be positional or hierarchical but merely advisory and functional I remind the reader that in the early church decisions were made collectively either by the believers in any one individual church or by the sum total of believers in any multiple churches which the decisions necessarily affected The aforementioned examples of the crisis with the widows and the church council in Jerusalem about circumcision are examples of the latter Far from being through any supposed executive authority of leaders church decisions in the New Testament were rather taken by the gathered saints and the traditional and prevailing idea that church leadership whether local elders or traveling apostolic ministries had delegated authority as it gets called over the churches would have been alien to the New Testament believers In other words the governmental mechanism in the New Testament churches was that of collective and consensual decision making and not executive leadership mandate Now this leads me to a rather surprising observation It appears to be virtually impossible to ascertain for sure from the pages of the New Testament whether the plurality of elders which was the biblical norm was only recognized in the context of individual churches or groups of churches that is the wider church By which I mean the principle of the plurality of elders we see in scripture may well not only or indeed even have applied to individual churches but also to situations precisely where a multiplicity of such churches existed in one geographical location and which related to each other in significant ways Or to put it another way any individual church that has within itself someone who has a gifting that could benefit the wider body of believers ought to share out that person amongst those other churches in the local area that don t have anyone of their own with that particular gifting And of course this would apply concerning men who are recognized as elders by the particular church they are part of They would remain and function in their own assembly to be sure but should there be other churches around their area without anyone within them who was yet ready for eldership then there could be some sharing around whereby the elder s might occasionally rotate around the other local churches to help them out and strengthen them However these rotating elders for want of a better phrase would be part of those church gatherings they visit in the same way they would be part of the gatherings at their home church This is not leading a worship service for the early churches had no such thing and neither is it preaching a sermon or doing some big up front leadership thing The gathering remember we are talking here about biblical churches would as always be participatory and inter active Any input from this rotating brother would simply be to encourage those gathered and to build them up in the Lord and to do so through the established biblical format for a church gathering whereby all are free to take part and contribute He is not there to be in charge or to lead in any up front kind of way Rather he would be there purely to guide encourage advise and facilitate and to do so in such a way that the personal example of their own lives is paramount in all they do And of course the important thing to keep in mind about these men is that whether in regards to the particular church they are personally part of or the churches they rotate around in order to help out and this applies to all traveling ministries they are not in any way hierarchical or in a position of authority They have a function that is all They are there to serve the churches they are not there to rule over the churches In other words they are neither authorized nor responsible for making decisions on behalf of either their own churches or those they visit As we noted earlier decision making in the early church as taught by the apostles was both collective and consensual Though the Word of God is or ought to be our final authority it is always the gathered church and not the individuals who comprise them whether acknowledged leaders or not that has the responsibility of discerning and ascertaining what it requires of them by way of any decisions that need to be taken Even in regard to the ultimate and extreme responsibility of exercising church discipline that is the responsibility of deciding if and when someone should be put out of the church both the Lord Jesus and Paul laid the responsibility at the feet not of leaders but of the corporate and collectively gathered church to which the decision pertains 6 Any idea of recognized leaders being considered to be in authority over a group of churches even house churches is the foundational error introduced by the Early Church Fathers after the death of the apostles and is the self same false teaching which is at the root of the whole continuing tragedy of church life based on something other than the teaching of scripture It is salutary as well to remember that when Clement of Rome came up with the insidious notion of instituting priesthood over the churches it was precisely when only house churches existed and when the unbiblical idea of revolving church life around public religious buildings was an idea whose time had still not yet come So let s be very clear that house church in itself is absolutely no guarantee against the error of denominationalism and institutionalism I draw the readers attention to my preference of speaking in terms of biblical church as opposed to merely house church A biblical church will be a house church to be sure but the converse is far from being automatically the case There are churches that meet in homes but which are unbiblical in every other regard But let me make this even clearer for it is at the very heart of the question as to whether or not individual churches can safely relate and function together as one And I will do this by reminding us of what the very essence the very nature and definition of a church actually is an extended family of God In exactly the same way that a particular and individual church is comprised of particular and individual biological and nuclear families the wider church or city wide church if that is your preferred terminology is likewise comprised of particular and individual churches And in precisely the same way that the particular families which comprise a particular church never lose their individual family identities within that church the same is true of what we see in the New Testament concerning particular churches relating and functioning together as the wider church Similarly the fact of individual biological and nuclear families sharing the corporate oneness of constituting a particular church should obviously never override the already established authority structure of those individual families that is the husband as the head of the family and the wife and husband together exercising authority over their children And in exactly the same way the corporate aspect of individual churches moving together as one wider church should never undermine the already established structure of authority whereby each individual and particular church is collectively and consensually responsible for it s own self governing Or to put it another way the wider church aspect of things should never overrule or become preeminent over the individual identity and autonomy of each individual church which together makes it up The Lord Jesus though the head of the wider church in any given locality and of course of the church throughout time and space in its any and every possible manifestation is nevertheless still the head of each individual church and nothing must ever encroach upon the responsibility of each individual assembly of believers ascertaining for themselves His will for them That church decisions must be consistent with the teaching of scripture goes without saying but the point here is the protection and maintenance of the autonomy of each individual church within the parameters of a true and biblical interdependence in regards to the other churches in the general location When it comes to church life the very reason leaders do not have positional or hierarchical authority over people is precisely because whether pertaining to individual churches or a wider church scenario the only hierarchy we see in the pages of scripture is Jesus and everyone else Leadership whether in the form of local elders or apostolic ministries traveling much more widely 7 is simply there to teach and equip churches and to show them amongst other things how to actually do engage in collective decision making and to facilitate them in the process Leaders are themselves part of the process of course but they are not the process itself Remember decision making lies solely with the gathered church and never merely with a few individuals or even worse with one individual within it When families come together as a church the very experience of so doing enables them to become more and more the individual families the Lord wants them to be Individual family structure and life far from being diminished in any way is actually upheld and strengthened and individual family identity is enhanced and built up So too should it be with individual churches relating together As long as any shared leadership functions biblically and stays well clear of the false teaching that anyone other than Jesus has authority over the church whether individual and particular churches or the corporate manifestation of the wider church in any given area then all should be well The two keys for success in this regard are always this firstly understanding that a church is an extended family of the Lord s people and secondly understanding that leadership is functional and facilitatory rather than positional and hierarchical But there is another problem we have to look at now and I cannot sufficiently emphasize how important it is to understand and grasp it And it is the simple fact that no matter how much we might desire it no matter how much we might long for it or pray for it we can never again return to how things were in this regard in New Testament times Why do I say this It is crucial to realize what the most important fundamental difference is between us and the early church apart perhaps from the fact that we have the completed New Testament scriptures and they didn t and it is that back then when it came to their corporate lives together to their church structure set up and format that is how they went about things as churches every church was the same 8 Or to put it another way unbiblical churches hadn t been invented yet Indeed the process of changing church life into something virtually the opposite of what Jesus and the apostles taught didn t really begin to happen until the end of the first century after the apostles were all dead and the New Testament was fully complete And of course the point is that unbiblical church life is a bit like the Atom Bomb once invented you can t just make it go away It changes everything and nothing can ever be quite the same again In other words you can t un invent it Think about it When the early church grew and spread out and more and more individual churches came into being each one was pretty much the same Therefore for them to mobilize together didn t present any great problem They all recognized the same kind of traveling apostolic ministries and they all understood the non hierarchical nature of such leadership including that of local elders In short they would have had no trouble agreeing on what constituted a truly biblical church whereas we today have to make a distinction between those which are biblical in their set up and those which are not They never had to do that because they had only ever experienced one type of church and of course the point is that such a state of affairs can never be the case again in most parts of the world Unbiblical churches are to be found just about everywhere and there s absolutely nothing anyone can do to change that unfortunate state of affairs And this leads me to an absolutely crucial and inevitable conclusion Unlike their New Testament counterparts biblical churches in any given area today in most parts of the world can never claim to be the church of that area or function together as if they were And for the simple reason that they are not the church but merely a part of it alongside all the other unbiblical ones

    Original URL path: http://www.house-church.org/genart_four.htm (2016-05-02)
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