“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25, NIV
We’re all in this building that we call a church, but it’s really just four walls and a roof. A church is the body of believers—-that invisible union of Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox Christians that have professed Jesus Christ as the Son of God, confessed and repented of their sins, and accepted Jesus as Lord of their redeemed lives.
But we use the word church to refer to this gathering of believers and we often ask others, “Where do you go to church?”, and they are referred to a physical address. And when asked about why people chose this church or that church, the response was interesting. Here are the three most key reasons:
- Quality of the sermons (83%). The primacy of the pulpit is the number one factor for those looking for a church home. If the preaching is not good the people won’t return.
- Feeling welcomed by the leaders of the church (79%). It is so important for pastors and elders to take the lead in welcoming guests. If we welcome and embrace others, they will come again.
- Style of services (74%). People choose churches by the styles of worship of the congregations. The numbers are overwhelming. Three out of four church seekers say worship style is a factor for the church they choose. Is the service organized, warm, God focused, orderly and Spirit filled? No one chooses a chaotic, dysfunctional fellowship.
But today, more urgently, what does the New Testament say a real church is? It might surprise you if you don’t read the Bible very much.
1. A real church includes at least two people that gather together in the name of Jesus. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20). This is not simply praying with some one, or eating a meal with a friend, or playing golf with a Christian brother. Church consists of believers coming together, in the same physical space, in the name of Jesus Christ for a purpose. That purpose is to worship, receive instruction, take part in corporate fellowship and prepare for evangelism. (WIFE).
2. A real church celebrates the Lord’s supper together. 1 Corinthians 11:23–26 says, “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
Jesus commanded his followers to regularly come together to remember and celebrate his death. This is a command, not an optional add-on for the Christian life. The Lord’s supper is a communal event in which the church publicly proclaims the death of Christ. And there isn’t a single place in scripture where a person celebrates the Lord’s supper by themselves. A biblical church celebrates the Lord’s supper routinely. And this might shock you, but I think it should happen each time we meet on Sunday. That’s not common in Baptist churches, but some do it. It’s a distinct ordinance and requirement of a Christian community.
3. A biblical church is led by qualified elders. In Titus 1:5–9, Paul said to Titus: “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”
Paul insisted that the churches he founded be led by qualified elders. This was so important to Paul that he left Titus behind in Crete for the express purpose of finding and appointing qualified elders for each church. In our post-modern, democratic society, the idea of eldership isn’t especially popular, but it is especially biblical. We have deacons that serve as deacons and elders, but the early church made a distinction that most Baptist churches ignore. The deacons served, look after the business, so to speak, of the church, but the elders were the ones that made decision Germaine to the spiritual life, outreach and focus of the church. It was the elders that exercised church discipline and even held the shepherd, or pastor, accountable.
4. A biblical church worships together. Ephesians 5:18–21 says, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Do we worship or simply come to be entertained. Worship was never intended to be a Christian version of “America’s Got Talent” or a time to simply fill space in our service with hymns we don’t understand or new songs of praise that are theologically in outer space. Worship is supposed to be about Him, for crying out loud, and not us. And quite frankly when you sing or lead in worship or partake in worship, you are supposed to be forgotten so that the others can behold, embrace and mediate upon the glory of God!
We are to be filled with the Spirit, making melody in our hearts to the Lord and yet we are also to address one another with our psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Singing isn’t just about you connecting to God or experiencing a particular emotional response. When the church gathers to sing we are also proclaiming truth to one another as well. God is concerned that we proclaim his goodness and glory to Him and to others listening through song. It is a witness! If you’re not singing to the Lord, and for the encouragement of another, you’re really not in a church, you’re in a talent show.
5. The true church of Jesus Christ maintains corporate holiness through church discipline. Read the book of Revelation, or consider Matthew 18:17 says, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” The church really is a place of spiritual protection. Jesus expects his followers to help one another pursue holiness. If a Christian begins to engage in a life of sin, Jesus expects the members of his Christian community to lovingly rebuke him. If the person refuses to repent of his sin, the entire church is expected to get involved.
This is where the modern church fails most miserably. The process presupposes that a Christian will be vitally connected to other Christians. We shirk from our responsibility to help point out the errors of those within our fellowship for fear of offending, or perhaps because we have a greater fear that folks might turn their attention to our sins, so we’re content to let a member not only hurt himself/herself, but also diminish or destroy the reputation of the fellowship and thus malign the bride of Christ. Where are our priorities and allegiances???
And to those that would argue that we should never pass moral judgment, Paul would say: “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.”
I Corinthians 5:12-13, NIV
The true church that Jesus Christ established is a place where Christians can use their spiritual gifts to bless one another. 1 Corinthians 14:26 says, “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.”
In writing this verse, Paul was clearly assuming that the Corinthians would be gathering together on a regular basis in the name of Jesus for the purpose of worshiping together. When they gathered together, they were to use their spiritual gifts to build one another up. It is impossible to build other Christians up if you’re not regularly gathering together with other Christians. If you’re not using your spiritual gifts to build other Christians up, we are not the church of the New Testament. Are we meeting together for the fellowship and to build each other up? Are we using our gifts to not only edify Jesus Christ but to also bless those within our church?
Now, what’s missing in the Biblical description of New Testament church and ours today? In the New Testament you will find no mention of a building committee, a finance committee, Sunday school, WMU, Brotherhood, a youth or college program, and even the ownership of an edifice such as this church….nor will you read about a Christian sports camp. The early church did not have these things. Should we therefore stop having Sunday School and sell the church’s property. No, of course not.The dominant things we are doing in our churches, and in Christian ministry, would not be considered essential in the early church….