There is a move of people to leave the confines of the structured modern church. It isn’t that they have decided to move to the competition across the street. Not that they have left the faith to serve other gods. And in most cases not due to an abusive situation. But that they have become uncomfortable with the whole system of an appointed leader talking down to them in a one-sided sermon monologue with his interpretation of what God is saying to them.
Another reason is that the modern churches seem more like a business than a place of worship. The environment is made enticing to the average person in hopes to gain the attractiveness of a rock concert. The band is uplifting, moving, and the stage design of a concert hall. Then the Pastor is announced and approaches the podium with a relative soothing message laced with entertainment and humor, that applies to a general audience, tickling ears careful not to offend. And the goal is to “grow grow grow.” The number of attendees measures the success of the program.
Then there are the small traditional churches that keep in line with the agreed order of service, holding to the same structured outline, timed perfectly to get all the segments fulfilled. The preacher, having the authority of a father, hammers home the message with a conviction of guilt. The congregates are guilted into participating in the many committees and have a role in the Sunday school. And God forbid a Sunday is missed. It would be like missing a family member’s funeral. In some cases the service may seem as gloomy.
But what we find is in each case, it is necessary to measure the numbers, keep the revenue flowing through tithes and offerings, keep up maintenance, and pay the many expenses, including the salary of the Pastor and his staff. Rather than caring for the people, the Pastor’s work is rewarded so he can continue giving the polished message, praying for the sick, and making hospital visitations. While those in the congregation in need get ignored and forgotten. One wonders if the livelihood of the Pastor is the only intent.
What we find is that he people are kept on the feeding of milk, never coming to the meat of the faith, and becoming dependent on the leader for their sustenance. A dependence is built on the professional clergy. And in turn he relies on the continued commitment of the membership of his congregation to come back for more so that he can pay the bills. He becomes their sustenance, even more than the Lord Himself, and the relationship between the congregates and the Pastor become a necessity.
The problem with this scenario is that it is not the intention of church. It was not meant as a community event or social country club. The focus has gone from the true intent of the meeting in the first place meant to guide each other in their relationship with holy God through His Son Jesus, to focusing on a community participation in which each builds a relationship with each other.
Since this is the modern of the traditional church, and the structure has caused a reluctance to search for something different, the “churches” are terminally ill and cannot be restored in its current state. A new wineskin is necessary, not just a patching as it would just expand and break.
Let us look at the premise of the origin of church. First off, the word “church” is NOT the correct translation of ekklesia in Greek that we find in such passages as Matt 16:18 (upon this rock I will build my church. That word “church” is a mistranslation of the Greek word ekklesia. Church is a building, or a temple in which people gather. It could include those outside who are not yet saved. But it was originally applied to pagan structures erected to worship gods. And Jesus made it clear in Acts 7:48 that He does NOT dwell in temples made with hands built as if He needs something to join His people (see Acts 7:48-51 for a convicting truth). The building is optional, but not the focus of those who are gathered. Many claim they know this, but still refer to the place they go to gather as “the church.”
The word translated “church” is ekklesia in the Greek. That word is strictly referring to the called-out ones (saints) gathered, not the place in which they gather. The community mix of saved and unsaved members in the same place is NOT the ekklesia. If one wants to argue for the usage of church that it is correct, and maintain that the facility have a mix of believers and unbelievers, then they may be correct with using the word, as a pagan term. But it is NOT the same as the ekklesia that Jesus would build as His body.
Some may mistaken the point to mean that we are arguing against a shelter under which we are to worship. They ask what we do with 10,000 people. But when it comes to necessity, we don’t need a facility or a church to gather. Of course they cannot all fit in a home, or even into a small chapel. However, we also don’t need a huge center in which to worship together. We don’t necessarily need a specific building, even though it is convenient to have a place in which we know is available. But do we need all the decor and presence of the commercialization? Why can’t groups gather in smaller facilities or even in several homes? The reason is simple. We are not accustomed to it. And we have grown into accepting that it is only legitimate if in a structured building, having a specific identity, with officers residing and leading. But is that the true intent of “church?” Yes and no.
Some have argued, “Then what is the function of church,” and “Without a church how do we save those who come in?” The premise itself is flawed. It is based on the false premise that the church as the institution is the proper structure, and that it is where people know to come to get saved. And that the church is what Jesus intended.
So how will those believers find the place to worship? We don’t have to make a big announcement to a community to make known its presence. Underground assemblies do well without a structured building, even having the additional task of keeping themselves secret from the government. As we go out, we meet people with the opportunity to invite them to join us. Most cases, the Holy Spirit (remember Him?) will lead us to them. So where does the evangelism happen if we don’t have a church? How about considering the model Jesus and the Apostle Paul taught and go OUT into the world to be a witness and testify of the faith. Evangelism is done in the world OUTSIDE the walls of the meeting, despite the modern “Outside/In” philosophy made popular by Purpose Driven Church. And as one evangelizes and disciples, they meet the other brethren. And the congregation is not mixed with the world as we have become with our current model.
Is this a petition not to assemble? Certainly not. We are healthy by assembling together for the reason to encourage, edify, teach, and remind one another of the approaching Day. The inside meeting is for the believer to be edified, encouraged, perhaps even rebuked if necessary by the rest of the congregation. And as we learn our gift or function, we use it for the sake of the rest. Each member having an importance. As recognizing those mature enough to be elected as guides and overseers of our meeting keeping us in unity of the Spirit.
God is setting a fire in some to separate his remnant to contrast the counter-Christianity recognized in our culture and bring it back to His intention. We have witnessed this from like-mindedness brethren as evidence it is not an isolated thought. Those receiving the message from God have similar experiences and revelation, hearing the same message and the same language. And coming closer to a truth that was once present in the early gathering of saints.
Perhaps the dynamics of “church” will have to change to prepare us for what is to come. And to bring us to a perfect body that was intended from our Lord Jesus Christ.
As a side note, William Tyndale of the 16th Century faced persecution when he translated the Bible into English (the first). He recognized the fallacy of the Institution, both held by the Catholics (Pope) and by the Protestants (King). Both dignitaries fought to keep their authority as head over the Church. Tyndale translated “ekklesia” as “congregation” to refer to the saints in a gathering rather than the institution as a whole. And further defined the meeting as a self-governing body of believers who surrendered to the Holy Spirit shepherded by Jesus Christ as its Head. For this he was found a heretic by the Authorities and was burned at the stake. Tyndale’s translation, released in 1535, was completed by John Rogers, aka Matthews, and influenced the Geneva Bible. The KJV scholars largely used Tyndale’s translation as a reference, only that the King ordered 15 precepts in the translation to return the emphasis of his authority over the Church. One order was to return the usage of the word “Church” back into the text, as he would maintain his title as Head over the Church of England.