While modern Christianity sometimes seems to only remotely resemble that which we read about in the scripture, we must remember that, when it comes to the area of human opinion and reasoning, “All things are lawful” (I Corinthians 6:12, 10:23, NASB). In other words, we need to keep in mind that, due to the “freedom of the new covenant,” the “ekklesia” is not prohibited from adapting to contemporary culture in order to remain relevant throughout the ages and to expedite the mission to which Christ has called us. We need to remember that any practice is permissible; so long as it does not invalidate the word of God or circumvent God’s expressed will for our lives. As long as a given practice or tradition does not endorse, permit, promote, or advocate that which God, through His divinely inspired written word—the Bible—says is sinful, the practice is permissible. Likewise, so long as the practice or tradition does not hinder, invalidate, repudiate, circumvent, or disavow a specific commandment of God—that which the written word of God has expressly enjoined upon us—the practice is permissible. And, so long as the practice or teaching is not inculcating the personal opinions, beliefs, traditions, interpretations, or doctrines of men as though they were the word of God, and then binding those practices or teachings upon others and holding them accountable, as though their personal relationship with God or fellowship with the body of Christ depended on it, the practice is permissible.
For example, if the “ekklesia” in a given location decides that it really is in their best interest that they organize, incorporate, open a bank account, purchase land, build a building, and engage in corporate programs, projects, ministries, worship activities, and all the other trappings that seem to define a modern “church” in today’s world, the terms of the new covenant do not condemn such activity because “all things are lawful”; even though God’s people in Bible days did not do these things and there is nothing in scripture that specifically “authorizes” any of these actions.
By the same token, if the “ekklesia” living in various locations determine that they want to cooperate with one another and work together to provide some structure beyond the local community level in order to accomplish foreign mission work, or to build hospitals and clinics, or to found schools and orphanages, or other goods works, the freedom of the new covenant allows for these activities because “all things are lawful”; even though we have no specific commands or examples in the Bible that would specifically “authorize” such cooperation.
If however, some men among the “ekklesia” began to assume ecclesiastical authority over others, resulting in a separate clergy or priesthood, as some “churches” have done—locally, regionally, globally—this would certainly amount to a violation of the expressed intent of the new covenant because it circumvents what the scriptures specifically teach in regard to the priesthood of all believers (See: I Peter 2:9, Revelation 1:6, 5:10).
When we look at the “ekklesia” back in the Bible days, we see a beautiful example of the simplicity and elegance of Christianity played out in the context of local, community fellowship—just people loving God, living for Him, meeting in their homes, sharing life and love, and trying to make some eternal difference in this world. Those of us who are, perhaps, a little more fundamental in our outlook may ask, “Why can’t we engage in that kind of local Christian community today; free from all the corporate structure and organization of the modern era? Why can’t we just get together with a few other Christians in our homes for study, prayer, and to celebrate the Lord’s Supper; and laugh, and sing, and enjoy one another’s fellowship, and just live life together to His glory?” And the fact is, there is no reason whatsoever why we cannot, or should not, do that. In fact, authentic Christianity begins right there—not with “joining a church,” or “attending church,” but with simply determining in our own hearts and minds that we will “be the church”; that is, that we ARE the “ekklesia”—the “called out” children of God—and that we are going to submit to Bible teaching and continually “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1, NBSB).
While I enjoy occasionally getting together with large groups of Christians for special events and activities, and usually find such experiences stimulating, I know that personal faith cannot be long sustained by those kinds of big events. We need the power of intimate fellowship on an ongoing basis if we are to experience “the priesthood of all believers” and truly minister to one another on a meaningful level. We need people in our lives who are more than “brothers” and “sisters” in an ecclesiastical sense. Rather, we need people who know us well and love us anyway; people who are really our “friends.”
I, for one, am a bit skeptical of the large, corporate structure. As a matter of personal preference, I would much rather see dozens of small community fellowships scattered all across town and meeting together in one another’s homes, perhaps under the shared stewardship of an area-wide eldership, than to have a single mega-church routinely meeting in some big fancy barn down at the corner of Broadway and Main. But that’s just me. However, if you, dear child of God, find yourself compelled to join rank and file with one of those big “mega-churches”—you know, one with, oh say, fifty or more members—please make sure that you go out of your way to find therein the intimate fellowship that you need, and to which God calls you. Remember, it’s not about simply “attending services” once or twice a week. Don’t wait for the professional church ministerial staff to facilitate some “program” and “assign” you to a small group. Rather, pray that God will lead you into meaningful relationships with people who need you in their lives; people with whom you can go places and do things and share life and love; people who will not only minister to you, but alongside you as, together, you seek to make a meaningful difference for the cause of Christ in this world—to God’s eternal glory.
In HIS love and by HIS grace,
~ Philip ~