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GOING BACK TO THE EARLY CHURCH

 

By Dr. Richard Ing
 

April 24, 2004
 

THE NEED TO CHANGE OUR

STRUCTURE, PRACTICES AND IDEAS ABOUT CHURCH

 

 
God wants us to go back to the true church in both doctrinal truth and structure.  In the recent past, we have struggled to maintain truth in this local church and have discarded any recent doctrines there were not obviously taught by the early apostles (we are commanded not to accept any doctrines not taught by the early apostles).  This includes erroneous doctrines such as Pre-Tribulation Rapture, Once Saved Always Saved, the idea that Lucifer refers to Satan, etc., and practices and traditions such as Christmas and Easter.  However, we have not yet made the transition from our present church structure to one that is more consistent with God’s prescribed structure and practices as manifested in the original church.  By original church, we mean the church that existed during the first three hundred years after Jesus ascended back to heaven.  However, even this standard may have to be adjusted, since we are learning more and more that there were several structures that existed during different time periods and the church was already in a state of flux during that interlude.

 
GOD IS SPEAKING TO US

 
Several weeks ago, Pastor Ron was teaching about open church where the services consist of members sharing the Word or giving testimonies, prophecies or other comments.  The Sunday following, I made a few comments about sharing and then under the urging of the Holy Ghost, prophesied blessing and anointing over the members.  Becky burst out crying and others were weeping as the Holy Ghost manifested His presence.  After the service, I asked Becky why she was weeping and she replied, “I felt that God really wants an open church.”  I forgot about this episode until yesterday.

 
At first, I did not agree in my heart because we twice attempted to use an open church format and it did not work because the members did not share and what was shared was not edifying.  However, several things transpired in the last two weeks.  First, I was moved by God to start reading on church structure in the first century.  My library contains the three-volume work of Watchman Nee on the Work and Structure of the Church.  I glanced through portions of it several times in the past, but found it hard reading and quit, although my marking pen was active as attested to by the many markings.  This time, I went to my library and found the first two volumes but the third was missing.  I glanced through the first two and was unimpressed.  Something moved me to look all over for the third volume and finally found it.  As I was giving a fleeting look at it, a chapter heading suddenly caught my eye and my spirit jumped within me.  I began to read about how the early church had a quite different structure from ours.  Although Watchman Nee did not use the word “open,” it was obvious that the early church structure was more open than ours.

At our elder’s meeting last night, I found that Pastor Ron was going to preach on the history of the church.  In my spirit, I knew that the present concept of open church was a part of the early structure, but there was much more.  Becky became excited and stated that God did not really tell her that He wanted an open church per se, but a church structure that involved all the members.

 
I believe that God wants us to seek Him for a change in church structure and practices that will take us through the end times and allow us to attain what He has placed before us.  Perhaps we should say that we want to re-structure our church and our practices according to God’s will for us in this hour.  This is more accurate than claiming that we need to restore the early church, although many of the early church’s practices and structures will likely be part of the end product.  As a practical matter, we cannot restore all the structures and practices of the early church, such as not allowing women to teach and requiring that they keep long hair or wear hats when they pray or requiring that they sit away from the men.  The end result, however, should be a “true” church modeled after God’s will.  Obviously, the structure and practices of the early church reflected God‘s will for that time period and probably ours, at least in large part.  We note that worship to God and the size and shape of the temple changed considerably between Moses’ time and when Jesus walked the earth.

 
As Watchman Nee and other writers state, when Martin Luther took the Protestants out of the Roman Catholic Church, it was similar to when the Israelites came out of Babylon.  The difference is that we have not yet “restored” God’s temple.  (Naturally, the “restored” temple was not exactly the same as the one it replaced.) The Church that is in God’s heart is not the same as today’s Church.  For sure, denominational schisms and organizations will not allow the restoration of the five-fold ministry and bring great disunity not only through different structures, but varied doctrines and practices as well.

 
We need also to recognize that it is not the structure that makes a true church.  The structure is only an aid to pursuing maturity in Jesus Christ.  The aim is to have a church that encourages and facilitates a one-on-one fellowship with God, and dependence of each member on the Holy Spirit.  In short, our object is to mature each saint.  

 
GOD’S PURPOSES THWARTED BY TODAY’S STRUCTURES

 
As we have explained in the past, God never intended the priests to be entertainers and the saints to be a passive audience.  He intended that all would preach the Gospel and be one building.  Each member of the body is fitted in for a specific purpose that contributes to the whole body.  The five-fold ministry was given as a gift to the church to perfect the saints.  Eph. 4:11-13.  The Church was originally designed  by God to establish His kingdom on earth, mature the saints, push back and defeat the demonic kingdom, spread the gospel of salvation to all creatures and administer the body universal.  Unfortunately, carnal men have thwarted God’s purposes and turned the Church into a bunch of immature, selfish and lazy Christians more apt to turn to movies, TV and radio broadcasts to entice newcomers into the church.  Once in the church, these new-generation Christians remain carnal and unmotivated.  Perhaps that is why God spoke to me one morning on the way to Baguio.  He said, “I want My Church back.”  As it stands today, the Church is a monument to man and not to God.  It is more like man’s church than God’s.

 
NEW REQUIREMENTS

 
While the early church had all of the basic foundational truths and structures to enable it to be “true” to God’s purposes at the time, the “true” church today must by necessity be slightly different because of its “end time” environment and God’s goals in forming the army of God, the woman in the wilderness and the martyrs described in Revelation 12.  Although the persecutions of the first three centuries are similar to tribulation, this time the persecution and danger to the Church will be much more intense and final.  We also need to factor in elements such as spiritual warfare, deliverance and healing that the early church had but the modern church has not practiced for centuries.  Notwithstanding, circumstances may require slightly different modes and systems, but the  basic “open“ church structure, doctrines and practices must be restored and  retained until the end.

 
We have a tricky and slippery road ahead of us.  We are not justified in changing for change’s sake, and each of us must agree and support this new move of God in order for it to work in your life and the life of this church.  Let it be known that God is going to have His way, whether or not you or I are in it.  Let us therefore, bend our backs to the plough and move ahead together.

 
DEPENDENCE ON GOD AND THE BIBLE

 
Aside from the book of Acts, we know very little about early church structure and practices.  Books written by Tertullian and Eusebius came many years after the early church was formed and already indicated signs of change in the early practices and structure.  Many books on the early church and church history were written hundreds of years after Christ ascended back into heaven.  Besides, many books and articles are biased towards the denomination or church to which the writer belonged.  For instance, some of the writers slanted their opinions to justify Roman Catholic Church false practices and contended that the early church did it too.

 
Although we must continue to read about early church practices, we must be careful to not jump too quickly into change.  We need to pray and be sure of God’s will before we make sweeping modifications.  Also - we need to be prepared to make the transition when the time comes and one of the greatest problems is overcoming resistance to change because of both long-standing tradition and the false security of being passive.  We will encounter much static.

 
TWO BASIC AND PRELIMINARY MODELS

 
There are two forms of churches which writers are claiming are the early church:  (1) open church; and (2) home churches.   Both are right and both are wrong.  There are many forms of “open” churches and also kinds of home or cell churches.  In both cases, the basic open and home church structures are insufficient to accomplish all that we are called to do.  Having an open church or a home church speaks only to the form of Sunday service.  It does not address financial and administrative requirements, the need to preach the gospel to all nations and peoples, or other practices such as worship, intercessory prayer, leadership, women’s ministry, children’s ministry, foreign missions and the like.  Yes, it is unfair to make such a statement, but my intent is to show you that change must be more widespread than just merely changing the form of Sunday service or the place and size.  We need to take a more comprehensive look at God’s requirements.

 
There are larger questions such as: (1) Are Sunday meetings all “open” meetings?  (2) What is needed to have successful “open” meetings?  (3) What controls are needed in order to assure that some ambitious saints do not use open forums to show off their knowledge while boring everyone else, or to encourage people to participate?  After all, you could have an “open” forum during which only the same five or six people share or hog the show every Sunday.  (4) What about the other parts of church structure - five-fold ministry, administration, evangelism, spiritual warfare, etc? 

 
In connection with house churches, is there any prescribed method?  Who supervises?  Are there elders and deacons?  What about central leadership?  How do we train leaders?  What are the qualifications of a shepherd?  What is the format for a home meeting?  Do they also get together to pray, evangelize, etc.?  Obviously, change must be much more comprehensive than just changing the method of conducting Sunday service.  In fact, the common practice of pulpit preaching and music on Sundays may undergo drastic alteration.  As Watchman Nee stated, there was no such thing as pulpit preaching in the first three hundred years of Church history, although there were occasions when the people gathered for teachings by the apostles and others.

 
MORE LATER

 
We all need to begin to pray that God will direct our paths and show us what He wants.  This is just the beginning and the above was merely to inform the membership of our intent so as not to surprise anyone.  We desire your input and trust.  From time to time, I will publish thoughts on the subject so we know where we are in terms of planning and thinking.  These publications are not final and are subject to adjustments as we come closer to agreement.

 
God bless you!  Pastor loves you.


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