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
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.
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
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
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.
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.