Did early believers:
- Go to massive church cathedrals every Sunday or meet in houses daily?
- Take inspiring trips to Disney together and read spiritual philosophy books or proclaim the Gospel in public to the lost and study the Bible?
- Have multiple fun activities for youth and adults with tithe money or use it to take care of the financial needs of the brethren in need?
- Engage the lost in synagogues, houses, markets, tents, and theaters or invite them to their closed fellowship services at a cathedral?
- Enjoy lectures, concerts, and liturgy or search the Scriptures and train believers in how to evangelize and answer false teachers and unbelievers from the Word?
- Have multiple services such as Sunday School, prayer and revival services or meet only once on the Sabbath?
- Care for the saints financially and minister to the lost in direct correlation with the preaching of the Gospel to the lost? Or “feed the world” in a socialistic sense?
- Exalt their elder as a lord over the congregation at mega-church status? Or was he just a lowly shepherd protecting and caring for a small flock?
- Turn the world upside down by sharing the Gospel day and night or having hot dog socials in one of their cathedrals’ many adjunct buildings?
- Conform to the appearance of the lost world around them and their appetites or were they transformed into the image of Jesus?
- Wear ties and three-piece suits to large cathedrals or visit each others’ homes in professional casual dress or wear short-shorts to cathedrals while bopping to the tunes of enchanters?
- Are elders and deacons given specific duties and qualifications to fulfill?
Some pastors want to change everything today. Others think that change is not good. Some consider things today to be “good change”. The key is the Scriptural teachings on these matters. So what does the Bible say about early believers and the practices of Jesus, His apostles, and the early disciples?
As a boy, I remember my dad’s old vinyl record playing a funny song by a Southern Baptist minister of music who sang about the massive variety of ways they had tried to train their workers to “soul win”, but the members still wouldn’t do it. Let’s learn from Scripture how early believers turned the world upside down.
As a pastor’s son and also as a full-time worker in ministries and congregations for much of my early years of life, I never questioned many of these matters that I am about to address; however, after several life-changing events and with insight into the character of so-called “spiritual leaders” and actions that I witnessed in the “back corridors” of ministries, I began to research the Scriptures regarding what my responsibilities really are as a follower of Christ and to question much of what had been previously taught.
What I discovered is that much of what I was expected to do was not mandated in Scripture and much of what Scripture did mandate was not being performed by the typical congregation. This includes even the strictest or most conservative congregations in America. While many years ago in America, the believers in this land did follow much of New Testament theology, today’s congregations barely resemble the early believers in many of their traditions. How did the early believer’s model of Christianity compare or differ from today’s version? How is Christianity different from “church-ianity”? How is New Testament Biblical tradition different from Protestant or other traditions today?
Another reason that I have a difficult time letting this “sleeping dog lie” is because not only is the integrity of the Scriptural model at stake, but I also saw how believers have never fully rid themselves of the “remnants of Rome” after they left the spiritual and intellectual dungeons of Romanism.
Rome’s false traditions were so ingrained in even the early Reformers that it has taken centuries to see through some of her false practices. Even today, many more traditions continue in even the most conservative of denominations and congregations. Outside the fact that many Protestant Reformers taught another gospel in their Reformed theology by adding covenants or sacraments to the work of Christ as necessary for salvation under the guise of “means of grace” theology, a vast number of their traditions and their entire approach to Christianity differed from New Testament believers. While Baptists tended to retain more of the theology of the early Christian believers for the last couple of thousand years, even Baptists have strayed in the traditions that they have – many of which were borrowed from the Protestants who had borrowed many of their traditions from the Catholics (instead of the Bible).
Furthermore, I also see an excellent opportunity for the people of GOD to benefit from the Scriptural model because of the financial benefits. For example, I know of a congregation in another state who is building a “church campus” to the tune of nine million dollars in order to replace their perfectly fine three million dollar building. In my mind, three million dollars is about three million dollars more than I would want to spend on a building.
Even more disconcerting is the report of Pastor Robert Jeffress, who stood strong for the LORD during the entire “Tebow controversy“, who is reportedly spending $130 million on a new “church campus”. Imagine all the Gospel work that could be done with that much money.
Imagine how many scholarships to private Christian schools could be granted to children who have never heard the Gospel. Imagine how many community venues could have been created or how many movies could have been produced or how many Gospel efforts could have been funded through the same money such as ministries like the audio Bible ministry at this link which is seeking to get the Bible into every known language in the world within our generation, including those who may not be able to read. Then “Google” the net and you’ll see what most news outlets are saying about the extravagance displayed by Pastor Jeffress. Pastor Jeffress, who seems like a fairly conservative individual, is not alone. Many other pastors are doing the same.
Think of the billions and perhaps trillions of dollars that could be used for the true Mission of Christ.
Isn’t that the bottomline?
How about those fellow believers who are gunned down in their villages or burned alive? How about the story that I heard from someone I know who told how overseas believers were pushed out of their village into the woods to forage for food, because of their beliefs? Would you like to see your daughter or son foraging for food in the woods? Do we have compassion on these people with our money or should we spend our money on a beautiful cathedral, basketball team jerseys, trips to Disney, or church carnivals instead?
How about the recent reports of persecuted pastors in other countries who could receive advocacy through financial support if money was better spent in the United States by the believers who live lavishly and without conscience? Could we not have created more advocacy groups to work on their behalf? How many go without food, which we could provide, due to their faith?
One major key to believers in America turning back to the Scriptural model is a congregation who is so filled with the Spirit and prayer that they are able to love others in a sacrificial way (they go without their large cathedral, lavish housing or expensive car so they have the funds to help accomplish the Gospel mission, the financial aid of poor or disabled saints, and charity to those who they are trying to reach with the Gospel instead).
They live closely with one another and collaborate as brothers and sisters all week long (not just at the cathedral where they attend). Once the Spirit moves, we will easily reach the world for Christ; however, without the congregation of GOD living holy, praying together until the power of the Spirit rests upon them, and being filled with the Spirit of GOD, no mountain of “soul winning” programs or messages on the Mission will prevail.
Also, the early believers were organized and set out to reach the world in a methodical, geographical way.
Act 1:8 “But you shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and you shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”
Act 17:6 “And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also …”
So the Spirit is the essential key in how the early believers “turned the world upside down” without the wealth or technology that we have today. The Spirit brought holiness and sound doctrine; whereas, unity was the by-product, not vice-versa.
The Spirit’s work was not some week-long “revival” of emotion, likened unto a New Year’s resolution. Instead, it was daily … every second of every minute of every day, with their clothes, their habits, their books, their entertainment or lack thereof, their praying, and their studying, memorizing, and sharing the Word – all being impacted by the Holy Spirit to the point that many died as martyrs for Christ.
Many “revival services” today in congregations appear to be a more self-absorbed replacement for the evangelistic tent meetings used to win the unbelievers in early American history. Today, however, instead of trying to reach unbelievers through “tent meetings”, the people of GOD have retreated into their large cathedrals to “preach to the choir” through “revival services”. Satan must be extremely happy. Meanwhile, the Bible is seldom taught in many of these congregations except for a few verses coupled with the “thoughts” of the pastor.
As you read through this article, can you understand why many people have lost purpose for attending these large buildings full of lectures and traditions of men?
As a result of such man-made traditions of cathedrals, fun activities, revival services, and self-absorbed approaches, modern church goers have lost interest, so modern pastors now attempt to “unite” believers together by corrupting doctrine and lowering standards, but they are still struggling (and many are not even trying) to get the Gospel to the whole world with all their money and modern technology, but early believers reached much of the world in a small span of time. What did the early believers model look like? As stated previously, the filling of the Spirit was the main key.
Have you ever asked the Spirit to come within you? Jesus said the Father would freely give the Spirit to whomever asks. Are you able to win the war against your flesh each day without walking in the Spirit?
“This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” – Galatians 5:16
On the other hand, being filled by the Spirit is a command we are given by the LORD as we live daily and ongoing so that we might “walk in the Spirit”. Ask the LORD for His filling every day. Let Him convict you of sin and guide you into all Truth. If you have already repented of your sin and trusted Jesus for salvation by faith, and have received the Holy Spirit, you must continue to ask the Spirit for His filling, because being filled by the Spirit is a daily necessity since we’re “leaky vessels”. Ephesians 5:18 states:
“And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit” – Ephesians 5:18
One of the most amazing transformations that I ever saw in my life was when I prayed the following prayer. It was as though the Spirit completely pulled the scales from my eyes on many things in my life. Please pray this prayer to GOD yourself if you really want to know your Creator’s will for your life.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” – Psalm 139:23-24
The key to our salvation and our success as believers is totally found in the Spirit and the Word of GOD. Those two are essential for new birth in Christ and for obedience to Him thereafter. I truly wonder how many people in most congregations are there out of tradition and how many are truly children of the Most High through repentant faith in Jesus by a commitment they have made to Him in their hearts by which they gave ownership of their lives to Him and who thereby received the indwelling Spirit of GOD.
This is what is lacking in most congregations in my opinion, and it would be better for most elders or pastors (who are truly converted themselves to Christ) to start a house congregation with only the handful of people who really know Christ and to serve such true believers for little or no pay, while working a secular job like many of the apostles did.
After salvation and sanctification through the Word and the Spirit, organization is a very important component of a Christian congregation. Notice that the early elders were organized and spent time praying together about where GOD would have them serve (i.e. Macedonia, Philippe, etc), so there was little redundancy of “footprint”. They had virtually zero overhead, an organized “footprint” as to where believers lived and ministered, and they taught in local assembly buildings and marketplaces to unbelievers. This type of educational evangelism was more than just a gospel tract saying “Five Steps to Heaven” (although such tracts can be effective at times). These believers were supporting believers who would go out to every street on the globe to share the Gospel. Was this a better use of the congregation’s money or would a million dollar cathedral have been a better idea? I hope you see my point. Most congregations are too poor to do both. They must choose. Even the early believers had little money. Remember how Peter said that he had no silver and gold to the one man needing healing? Instead, Peter healing the man through the power of the Holy Spirit was the “currency” he used instead to help others.
This method of “preparing the way” was quite organized. In Luke 9, we see Jesus sends out his twelve throughout the region and these twelve spent time with families teaching them. Then in Luke 10, Jesus sends out seventy more disciples to prepare the way for him throughout the region with further instructions to reach people, and then he finally went Himself to minister after their preparation work.
This is a great model and it appears to have been used by later disciples as well. For example, the deacon Phillip went out as an evangelist, just like Timothy the evangelist, Paul, Barnabas, Luke, Silas, and others. All these men appeared to be unmarried evangelists as well and were known for planting communities at the global level. They went forth two by two, which was great for protection and discretion, just as Jesus sent out the “twelve” (some of whom were married) in a localized area in Luke 9 and the “seventy” in Luke 10. Also, it appears that one of the two men was a mentor while the other was a younger man being taught. Remember how Paul was mentoring Timothy and Barnabas was mentoring John Mark?
Early unmarried evangelists planted colonies or communities of believers at a more global level throughout multiple countries which worked effectively since they were “unattached” and could afford more time and danger, while the elders, married to one wife, appeared to work within each country at the local and regional level establishing and expanding these initial communities that the evangelists had begun. Mormon missionaries, who are teaching damnable heresies, seem to have adopted the evangelistic model of Scripture more than many Baptists. Mormons are known for sending out two young unmarried men at a time around the world to promote their false teaching, while many true believers today have forsaken such a model, letting the false teachers lead people to the flames of eternal fire.
Another interesting thing about the early evangelists is how they were told by Jesus in Luke 10 to eat and drink at the house where they were to minister, but to not go from door-to-door.
This command would help these early evangelists avoid being vagabond beggars looking for a handout (like welfare recipients). In this way, they were able to cover much ground going from house-to-house as they ministered the Gospel to those who opened their homes to the Word of GOD. In addition to ministry work, Paul also “made tents”. These godly men ministered to families in the Word and equipped them to disciple others while elders would then take over the newly formed colonies of believers and continue the work of mentoring and caring for the “flock” in each of their own communities.
These evangelists were able to plant a well-equipped family in the middle of many large major cities throughout the known world. These families were trained to not sit and enjoy traditional homecoming meals, revival meetings, and church activities, but were trained to reach out to the community around them and bring more people into the family of GOD. The heads of these additional families that were reached could then further evangelize their communities and an elder could be elected. Elders were appointed by the local council of elders or elected by their congregation (and according to the Bible it appears both) to shepherd each local community of believers. They were not appointed by a national denominational convention or a large influential university board or other top-down bureaucracies, but by the local elders who were already serving a small flock. These elders cared for their local flock and led them in reaching the outlying cities and regions with the good news of the Word.
“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.” – [Titus 1:5]
“And when they had ordained [literally “voted by stretched out hand”] them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed. – [Act 14:23]
The council of elders (the elders as a collective such as the Jerusalem Council) could work together to organize their “footprint” and to discuss any doctrinal questions while leading their many congregations. These elders did not appear to be administrators only, but actual elders from each community who were leading local flocks. These elders met together as a council to form strategic partnerships, organize, make executive decisions, and regroup. These men were not graduates from Bible colleges or seminaries, but were men who most likely were working an occupation as a fisherman, doctor, tent builder or some other occupation which they most likely learned as an apprentice or from their own fathers. They usually served with their time and money freely (if they even had money). They were not charging fifty dollars for conference tickets or demanding high salaries or graduating from large academic institutions and receiving appointments by universities due to their doctorate in philosophy or from their social networking skills or through nepotism.
Unlike the Catholic priests or today’s Protestant ministers, they were not being elected due to their charismatic personalities, their high educational marks, or ecclesiastical politics. The early elders were working in local communities, living as examples, and were usually elected directly from the local congregation’s people by the people of a local congregation and their local council of elders for living a life exemplary of Christ with a reputation for knowing GOD’s Word, rightly dividing and teaching it, being a godly influence and example, including a track record for showing GOD’s love through evangelism and good works.
Deacons could serve the community of believers with many administrative tasks such as serving food to disabled widows who had no family and orphans who couldn’t support themselves. Other members of the Body of Christ went around praying for the healing of individuals and ministering the good news of redemption, while some believers taught community classes to equip the saints and to educate unbelievers.
“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” – [Ephesians 4:11-12]
“Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.” – [1 Corinthians 12:27-31]
GOD used the prophets and the apostles to give us the Word of GOD. As prophets and apostles with this special task of being oracles of GOD, they were given abilities to do miracles and even raise people from the dead. These signs served as validation as to their being truly from Jehovah and validated their eye-witness of Christ.
In fact, the apostles had a special commission of being eyewitnesses of the resurrected Christ as seen in Acts 1 and I Corinthians 9. The apostles and prophets were foundational stones (i.e. Peter) who were used by Jehovah as a foundation to later generations; however, Jesus Christ was the chief cornerstone. These men were all sinful, but Jesus was sinless. He breathed His Word through these men and used them as a foundation for later generations of believers, but this did not make these men into gods or exalt them as anything more than holy men of GOD being used in His service in spite of their sinfulness.
“Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together grows unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are built together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” – [Ephesians 2:19-22]
When you hear someone speak of “the house of GOD”, please point them to this passage in Ephesians 2 where we are told that we are the “house of GOD” and the “temple of GOD”. Unbelievers were not invited or allowed. Imagine how this concept alone would have helped the believers in the United States avoid the awful plague of fleshly worship and pagan assimilation that took place since the 1960s as many of the pastors and congregants used the excuse of making their congregations “seeker-friendly”.
In fact, the Bible teaches that the unbelievers are to have no part of the congregation as will be shown later in this article. For evangelistic purposes, believers did go to secular outlets such as the “synagogue” (which was the Jew’s version of a local community center), the market, the local theater, the philosophical forums, and even to a school of Tyrannus (Acts 17:17; Acts 19:9; Acts 6:9; Acts 13:14; Acts 19; Acts 17) just as some believers today have done on college campuses.
They didn’t use “convincing words” or man-made philosophy, but rather the Word of GOD and the simple gospel of repentant faith as Paul the apostle made very clear. Today, the Jewish concept of the synagogue is still alive and well, as Jewish people still have Jewish community centers or synagogues where they interact with their community. The synagogues also served as town centers for governmental, education and other purposes in ancient times.
The Christians in the United States used to have a partial version of such community centers called the YMCAs or the YWCAs and their purpose was to serve as community activity centers with activities but with the ultimate goal of reaching people for Jesus Christ. Today, these ministries have fallen into the hands of those who care little for the original purpose of the founders of the Y.M.C.A. (Young Men’s Christian Association) and Y.W.C.A (Young Women’s Christian Association).. In fact, in recent years, these community centers have become known as breeding grounds for sodomites as was implied by a famous rock group of sodomites who sang the rock song “Y.M.C.A.”. GOD wasn’t pleased with Sodom. He most definitely isn’t pleased with His community centers becoming like Sodom. However, could their deterioration be due to the fact that believers have stopped using them for the Mission of the gospel? Is that why our nation is becoming like Sodom too?
Community centers are great places to exercise, learn crafts, vocations or reading, and to receive free assistance in finding employment. Instead of using such a means to reach the lost, many believers today throw their money into huge cathedrals where they sit and expect the world to visit them and ask for the Gospel. In truth, the lost community shouldn’t visit them or be a part of their congregation. In fact, the congregation should be going out into their community and interacting. Instead, their apathy towards those around them who have never heard the Gospel is monastical at best and astoundingly hateful at worst as they despise the lost for allowing national freedoms or financial stability to slip away rather than realizing it is their own lack of evangelistic fervor, justice, salt and light that has allowed their nation to sink to unprecedented levels. Ultimately, they blame the President and the lost unbelievers, but in reality, most of the believers have failed to share the Gospel in their communities and live holy lives as lights in their neighborhoods, schools, and businesses, and as a result, the nation has grown dark.
Is it money that believers today lack? Is that why they are struggling to perform the mission? No. The early believers were very modest in their means. I personally find that some of the most effective ministries are offered by laymen working full-time jobs to small groups of people here and there at no cost. The New Testament seems to have the same model. I see where these small congregations see many souls come to Christ, while mega-churches just steal members from these smaller congregations.
Never should someone complain about their “ministry salary”. The apostles had very little money and some had none; yet, oftentimes they were known to charge nothing for their ministry. In fact, I firmly believe the Gospel ministry should be free of charge to the lost and its teaching ministry should also be free to the believers in the congregation, although believers are encouraged to give money to assist the saints, the disabled, and in the spread of GOD’s Word as was seen in Acts where some believers sold their lands and gave the money to their congregational leaders. This was not socialism or communism which is basically forced theft, but this shared communal bucket that the early believers created by selling their property was a continuation of how the Jewish state had always operated under GOD’s direction for millennia. The temple had served as a storehouse of wealth for the people in the Old Testament and it was used to assist those who were without due to poverty, disability, or circumstances of life. It was also used for giving interest-free loans to Jewish brothers and sisters when they needed assistance. The Jewish people never needed insurance programs, banks, unemployment, disability, or other Roman inventions in their economy. They had everything they needed in the temple. The early believers were doing the same thing as they had always done as Jewish people. They created their own storehouse (which Paul mentions in I Corinthians 16) to assist the other early believers with interest-free loans, unemployment, disability, insurance needs, or other financial matters. If American congregations followed the same model instead of buying bigger and bigger cathedrals, they would save enormous sums of money on all their mortgages, loans, and insurance programs sold to them by the global banks and corporations, many of which are owned by enemies of Jesus Christ.”
Yet today, so many are making a dollar in the name of Jesus through their preaching, healing towels, books, radio broadcasts, TV shows, and multi-billion dollar music industries. Do you think the world doesn’t notice?
“Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.” – [Act 3:6]
Having been a pastor’s son and having worked in many ministries, I have been around many pastors and ministry workers. I have often heard people whine about “how much they make”, but it wasn’t until the last few years that I realized the Bible doesn’t command us to work in ministries that fail to pay us properly. The Bible actually says the opposite. You are worse than an infidel if you fail to provide for your family. The early apostles and believers also set a good example of working a flexible small business (i.e. tent-making) and giving their ministry away for free. In fact, we should see our ministry as a tithe of our time and money. For example, we work a portion of the week and we tithe a portion of our week to fulfill GOD’s services here on earth, and so forth. Another example might be someone who creates nine classical music albums and then creates a tenth music album that they give away as an MP3 download for free. Fanny Crosby was one of the most prolific poets and hymn writers of all time, but she actually wrote an enormous number of secular poetry as well. This type of philosophy could be followed in all businesses. Many only see a tithe as being money. Also, keep in mind that the New Testament principle isn’t as much about a tithe as it is about GOD owning everything you have. This is a higher standard than tithing.
If someone was “guilted” into ministering for a “beans and rice” salary and they are draining their finances for the “ministry”, it is their own fault and they are traveling a very foolish path. It is also wrong for those who “guilt” others into working for less-than-acceptable salaries. These same type of “ministry” leaders will usually treat you with the same value that they pay you.
“But if any provide not for his own, and especially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” – [1 Timothy 5:8]
When I worked in the financial arena many years ago, I once told someone, whose identity shall forever remain anonymous, that he needed to leave “the ministry” and get a job to pay down his debt which was approximately $80,000. Incurring a massive debt for “the ministry” is not spiritual. The standard modus operandi for early believers and apostles was to serve for free and earn money from their own secular jobs.
Paul, the maker of tents, said he was worthy of “double honor” (and the word ”honor” in the Greek was akin to ”wages”), but while he noted his service was worthy of such distinction and reward, you never see him anywhere in Scripture asking for it, though gifts were given. It is even possible that by “double honor” he meant that it was acceptable to get paid for one’s full-time vocation and also get paid for his ministry work (two salaries or “double honor”). You actually see Paul turning down his ministry salary oftentimes, remaining independent financially to ensure certain congregations knew he was working from pure motives.
This conduct also allowed the early apostles and elders to maintain independence financially, so they could preach the gospel without financial dependency on congregants or under the control of such dependency. Neither did Jesus or most of the other leaders in the early New Testament congregation ask for funds or demand salaries. We never see them “browbeat” people with the demand that more people need to “sacrifice for their ministry”. The apostles never told any congregants that in order to be “spiritual”, they must work for less-than-deserved salaries while their families grew poor and deprived. We only see this type of behavior from those who want to build millions and billions of dollars in assets, and a global “ministry” off the back of kind, godly people who are easily manipulated due to their innocence and naivety.
Beware that oftentimes these people who use others in such a manner for their own profit may not even be believers, but only great pretenders. You may see this behavior in charismatic circles, but beware that it’s also in traditional circles, including evangelicals and fundamentalists.
Never do you see the early disciples telling others to give their “tithe” to the “general fund” in order to build larger cathedrals and buy Greyhound buses for their trips to Dollywood. Never do you see early Christian leaders begging for “offerings” for purchasing art or procuring other valuable commodities for the “ministry”. You should never be surprised when after they have spent their lifetime using their “ministry” in such a way that they suddenly turn the “ministry” off the beaten path to a “leftist” position after having used the money of naive, godly people to build their organizations.
In the end, such men have been known to actually build an entire organization for the enemies of GOD off the backs of the hard-working people of GOD. Such men who provide “ministry” facilities, education, and other services to their followers in order to build their assets, organizations or institutes off the impoverished lives of its workers are also fully capable of forging art, laundering money, and playing the con game in an unprecedented manner. They’re the same type of people. They are deceivers who see ministry as a profit-making vehicle.
Some even promise retirement to all of their underpaid workers and then once the con game has been played, they run off with the money and leave the ministry aghast and its workers further impoverished. Beware there are many who infiltrate and purposefully run these types of operations century after century. That’s why an understanding of the early believers and the Scriptural model is absolutely essential. The Holy Spirit moved upon people to give for specific ventures or goals such as helping out the persecuted, poor saints in Jerusalem. Instead, we see that all the believer’s lives, houses, lands, and money were considered the property of Jesus Christ. They used all of these things for Jesus Christ to further His kingdom according to how much they could afford or, to quote I Corinthians 16:2, “as GOD has prospered”. This standard is higher than “the law”.
The early believers set money aside for use in the mission of the Word. They met in houses and used their money wisely instead of building large cathedrals. Many large wealthy corporations today also have seen the value of this concept and frugally save money by having their employees work from their homes.
I once knew a large international ministry who treated their workers without love when it came to money and even laid off a godly elderly man I knew just before he reached his “10 years of service” (at which time the stingy thieves would have had to pay him a meager, miserly retirement package of $10,000 or $1000/year). In other words, while some “ministries” have millions and sometimes billions of dollars of real estate, assets, and liquid deposits, they are robbing their workers. Some congregations are robbing their pastors.
1 Timothy 5:17-18 says “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of “double honor” [or “double wages” in the Greek], especially they who labor in the word and doctrine. For the scripture says, You shall not muzzle the ox that treads out the corn. And, ‘the laborer is worthy of his reward'”.
All of this said, the early elders were not as much into extracting the saint’s “tithe money” as they were into collecting money for specific purposes such as helping widows, orphans, and other believers who were experiencing difficulty. The money was paid only to those unable to work, but those who could work were expected to work or not eat. There was no socialism or unjust “social justice”. Only those who could do absolutely nothing, such as small children or very disabled elderly individuals, were assisted without having to work for their money.
Paul worked night and day to avoid needing a “ministry salary”, so he could provide his services for free to the Thessalonians. In addition to disability, other circumstances like distress, destitution, and legitimate need were the key factors related to the giving to brethren in Christ (as seen in these verses … Acts 2:44-45; Acts 4:34-35; Acts 11:27-30; Acts 20:35; Romans 12:13; Romans 15:26; 2 Corinthians 8:14-15; 2 Corinthians 9:6-8; 2 Corinthians 9:12; 2 Corinthians 11:9; Galatians 2:9-10; Philippians 4:10-16; Titus 3:14; James 1:27; James 2:15-16; 1 John 3:17). Examples might include those who were impacted by economic downturns, natural disasters, persecutions, or idol makers who upon conversion needed a new line of work. Since Paul’s principle was “no work, no food”, we can assume these people who had no work were given work or offered an interest-free loan or both when they were able to work (“a hand up”) as they transitioned into more permanent work, but otherwise the helpless were given assistance freely (“a hand out”).
Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw yourselves from every brother that walks disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us. For yourselves know how you ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; Neither did we eat any man’s bread for nothing; but wrought with labor and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you: Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an example unto you to follow us. For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread. – [2 Thessalonians 3:6-12]
No early apostles had massive building programs or large salaries from what we read in Scripture or even history. They kept the expense side of their “ledger” almost non-existent through low maintenance methods such as meeting in smaller groups and using houses. If their multiple house congregations met together, they may have resorted to the town assembly halls [also known as “synagogues” from the Greek tongue], but it’s more unlikely since persecution was so great. Forests or the catacombs may have been better options for any regional or city-wide gatherings.
They definitely were not buying stadiums for all the believers of Corinth to meet together at once. Never did they spend time building empires or massive operations, and they definitely did not burn through the saint’s money with fireworks displays or other such entertainment. They didn’t pay or charge money for tickets, books, videos, or rock concerts. What they had to offer in ministry helps, they gave away free of charge. This concept alone would transform the music and ministry culture today. I seem to remember Someone in the Bible who used a whip cord on those who were turning the “house of GOD” into a “den of thieves”.
There’s a great deal of business savvy and wisdom we can learn from the early apostles who managed to reach the whole world within a very small number of years with far less technology, transportation, and methodologies than we have today. To look at them, quite honestly, makes me feel guilty when I see how much they did with so little.
This concept of “shepherding groups” or “home congregations” is not new. All congregations are literally shepherding groups … or they should be. Jesus conducted the first real shepherding group with his twelve apostles; yet some pastors today have twelve thousand “lambs” in their fold. Can they truly mentor, care, and account for that many people?
“Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.” – [Hebrews 13:
How can one man mentor thousands? Have you ever been in a large assembly of believers and noticed that there are sometimes hundreds of men in the congregation who are just as qualified as the pastor to teach the Word of GOD, yet their gifts are going to waste?
Because the concept that “absolute power corrupts absolutely” has been ignored. The “many eggs in one basket” concept seems to be the model chosen by many in the mega-churches of America, and the result is one man “runs the show” (and literally it’s oftentimes a “show”). Meanwhile, others sit with no way to use their gifts in teaching. Instead of multiple elders with small house congregations, there is just one elder with masses and masses of people that he could never hope to mentor, even with a full-time staff assisting him.
Large congregations introduce problems in numerous ways such as corporate governance, corporate agreement, management challenges, and financial waste.
Imagine the detriment that a small house congregation would bring to those members who render their musical, dramatic, and other “performances” for their own glory if their audience was only a handful. The egos and vanity would almost vanish. Corporate agreement on standards of dress, music, and other matters would no more be needed if these house congregations become places for the reading of Scripture and “houses of prayer” as Jesus intended them to be and stopped being giant corporate one-stop shops for money, glory, and social networking which need massive lists of rules to manage the enormous throngs of people. The pastors of such mega-congregations wouldn’t need to dictate policies of dress, conduct, and more for the large corporate gatherings. Fathers are to take that role instead of dictating dress, conduct, and other applications of Biblical principles, while elders are to present to the fathers what the Word of GOD says on such matters, so that the fathers are challenged to form their own household standards since they will be accountable for their families on judgment day. All congregants must respect all other congregants’ standards to avoid violating their consciences, especially when visiting another’s house. This all makes sense, doesn’t it? Isn’t this what we are to do as common courtesy when we visit anyone’s house in respecting another’s beliefs?
Whether it is pride, greed, micro-management, hunger for power, or an ignorance of the small, mentoring, congregational house model, it appears that most “power preachers” today continue to grow their mega-churches in spite of the repercussions of such a less manageable, less accountable, less Biblical, and more dangerous model.
Can any pastor truly train you or mentor you with that many people? The small congregation model that Jesus chose with his twelve, and that the apostles evidently chose (since they met in houses) is a much more manageable model. It uses more men’s gifts. It allows for more mentorship. It allows for less “top down” control and absolute power. It allows for easier manageability and simpler organization. It creates a personal and intimate “family” environment. It creates many points throughout the city more integrated into the neighborhoods (rather than one big cathedral in the middle of town). It allows a better opportunity for intimacy, unity and congregational discipline. This list could continue. We also read there were many elders in a community of believers and not just one.
“Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord” – [James 5:14]
“The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed” – [ 1 Peter 5:1]
In the Bible, we read that there are only under-shepherds and Jesus is the only Chief Shepherd, so a desperate attempt for a pastor to say that his “associates” will ensure an “intimate atmosphere” and take care of the work is lame at best since there are no “associates” in the era of the apostles … only multiple elders of various congregations who would sometimes have their flocks meet together as one for their entire region. Also, “Sunday Schools” are not found in the early period either. I do not speak to discredit the work of the Sunday School movement, but I seek only to compare it to Scripture. After all, my own grandfather helped to birth a city-wide Sunday School movement in the northeastern segment of the United States out of his Christian bookstore. This movement turned into a state-wide Sunday School movement which eventually turned into a national movement (and perhaps international, but we lost track after my grandfather died many years ago). These Sunday School programs were recent in creation and were designed to win the lost to Jesus Christ by offering reading and schooling to those with less opportunities to learn (today there are public schools). They were not meant for the “regular members”. In fact, when the Sunday School movement was pulled into the congregational gatherings, the Bible was violated which insists on congregational fellowship consisting of “believers only”. These Sunday Schools were great for their purpose, being maintained outside of the congregational setting as a form of free, private education for non-Christian children in order to win them to Christ (many of whom have nobody who cares for them). Today, these lost children have been forgotten as the Sunday Schools were re-purposed as just another of many ever-increasing congregational activities.
Currently in fact, pastors attempt to use their Sunday Schools as a way of creating a more “personable environment”. To keep the house congregations under one pastor’s dominion as a mega-church is dangerous. In truth, this creates more temptation and pressure for this one pastor, and too many “eggs in one basket”.
Another pitfall of the mega-ministry mentality is that they are far less manageable, just like giant global corporations. Small businesses are much easier to manage. Shepherding groups feel far more like family and if someone needs help, they will more likely get it in such a close-knit, family atmosphere.
Elders, who choose twelve or so good men and their families to mentor, are wise. After all, they will have to give an account for their mentoring of them. Also, multiple “Sunday School teachers”, associate and youth pastors, and “children’s church pastors” are not recommended as too many teachers in a congregation can also be an issue.
“My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.” – [James 3:1]
At the same time, those with teaching skills in the congregation can offer Bible classes in town for unbelievers to bring them to Christ through an overview of Scripture and the Gospel.
In many ways, pastors seemed to be a lot like early American doctors who made house-to-house visits where they taught the people the Bible in each house. In this way, their teaching ministry was very personal and effective in mentoring each household. Early believers had multiple house congregations.
- “Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Salute my well-beloved Epaenetus, who is the first fruits of Achaia unto Christ.” – [Romans 16:5]
- “For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.” – [1 Corinthians 1:11]
- “I beseech you, brethren, (ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints,)” – [1 Corinthians 16:15]
- “The churches of Asia salute you. Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.” – [1 Corinthians 16:19]
- “Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church which is in his house.” – [Colossians 4:15]
- “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed” – [2 John 1:10]
- And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house, – [Act 20:20]
In fact,a strong argument could be made for elders being all about “house visits” as seen in the final verse above in Acts 20:20. Does it not appear that the congregants were taught in their homes and then assembled together on the Sabbath with their elder for only those most important things that the whole congregation needed to do together such as praying in one accord, fellowship, and such? Would the pastor have not already known the needs of each family if he was doing such house-calls and thus his time could be spent just making general announcements on matters such as how financial aid would be spent rather than spending time finding out such matters during the assembly time or spending time on other such more personal matters in the assembly? This seems to be the case. How could a mega-pastor ever do this? Just as doctors today hardly know your case history or your background as they diagnose patients in an assembly-line-styled fashion, a new trend of house doctors or medical concierge is emerging within the culture again as it once was due to poor care from doctors. The same principle of not being able to care for people physically could be applied to elders who are unable to care for people spiritually without personal house calls and one-on-one mentoring.
In fact, it is possible that households coming together (after his visits to them all week) could be what Paul meant by the Christians all coming together into one place. Regardless, it appears that there was such a “funneled approach” of discipleship too just like the “funneled approach” mentioned earlier in evangelism. In other words, in evangelism Christ had other prepare His way in a “funneled approach” by first John the Baptist, then the twelve, then the seventy, and then finally He Himself evangelized the people. In the same way, it appears the elder would use a “funneled approach” in discipleship and teaching of the Word to his congregants by first house-call Bible studies, then local assembly Bible studies, and finally the city-wide assemblies where perhaps elders spoke decently and in order on a rotation basis or even a tag-team styled approach.
Today, the average pastor of a traditional cathedral-attending congregation will tell you that house congregations hate authority or they will share a number of other issues that they have seen with such a meeting method; however, for every house congregation that hates authority, you will also find a cathedral-attending congregation that also hates authority. The Christians in China have proven that the house congregation model is far more effective. The truth is that, whether one meets in a house or a public building, congregations are always going to have problems. Also, with the Biblical model it appears to be “funneled” as mentioned above with several layers of fellowship from their house to assembled houses to city-wide assemblies. Such a model appears to have been the norm in the New Testament era of believers with house shepherds or “pastors” overseeing the equipping, care, service, and discipline of the saints at the house and local level, and then possibly meeting together as one city as well (although this final overall city meeting may or may not have occurred).
“If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?” – [1 Corinthians 14:23]
There was no “Senior Shepherd” or “Senior Pastor”. The only “senior’ element in being a shepherd was that of age. It appears that the elder or older men were preferred to be shepherds. Further reference can be found on this subject at the article at this link. Such a mindset comes from micro-management, desire for control and power, and tends toward corruption. As we all know, absolute power corrupts absolutely.
“The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fades not away. Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time” – [1 Peter 5:1-6]
As there was but one Chief Shepherd over these house congregation’s shepherds and that was Jesus Christ, we must recognize that all pastors are simply under-shepherds of Jesus who was an experienced, faithful Shepherd while He was here on earth. His twelve turned the world upside down more drastically than any mega-church today has even thought of doing.
Regarding governance, the early shepherds or elders met together as a collective group to make executive decisions from what we read in Scripture, and Scripture is our manual for the governance of the Body of Christ. There were no arch-diocese, conventions, or “connected” bureaucracies. We see this concept of the elders taking council together in the famous Jerusalem council. With this model, we have reason to suspect that such council meetings of the cities’ elders were just as common in the other regions and cities as well. Although the apostles, who were still alive at that time, were considered the eye-witnesses of Christ and vested with special authority, we do not see even them lording over the local elders, but instead they spent time addressing questions regarding the Scriptural truth through their letters as oracles of GOD (having been groomed firsthand by Christ) and they also assisted the elders with the planting of local house congregations.
Regarding “church discipline”, a large part of the “discipline” of a believer, which was led by the shepherd or pastor, had to do with the flock’s “separation” from this individual. Early believers were led by the elder to shun a believer who came under the authority and discipline of the congregation. The disciplined believer was not allowed to participate in the financial, social, and other aspects of the congregational fellowship until he or she was restored through humility, restitution, and true repentance.
The elder or overseer or pastor (another name for shepherd) were all the same individual. This term was translated by the King James translators as “bishop” in some instances, but this wording reflected the King James translator’s very Anglican understanding of Scripture and was not the best translation of the word “episcope” or “episcopo”, in my opinion, which meant “oversight” or “overseer”.
The qualifications and duties of both elders and deacons are clearly spelled out in the article at this link.
If more house congregations would build community centers and then use them to meet together as a whole group regularly, I believe we would see more integration with our communities and this would be a better use of our money as well. I also believe that such community centers should contain schools as well which allow those without Christ to have private education with an opportunity to be schooled in the Gospel.
Such a thought of integration with the community could stretch beyond just a community center to other methods as well, such as hotels, hospitals or other ways of community integration. In fact, American Christians used to own many hospitals, orphanages, and other organizations for ministry purposes. Such buildings would also be large enough facilities to provide a way for multiple house congregations to meet together as one large body at times.
“If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that you are mad?” – [1 Corinthians 14:23]
Although no prescribed schedule is given for these smaller house gatherings or the larger unified gatherings or the meeting of the council of elders, we see these concepts in Scripture. Therefore, while we should not be adamant regarding a particular frequency or day (weekly, Saturday, Sunday, etc), we should be adamant about gathering together. Also, an example does exist in both Testaments of Scripture regarding Saturday morning sacred assemblies for the reading of Scripture, but we will address that pattern later in this article.
America has many options for the unified meeting together of the shepherding groups. Believers, who really desire to use GOD’s money more for the Gospel and less for themselves, could use these options to save money; in fact, most of these options are free. At the same time, I am not pushing for small, isolated house congregations either, since such a mentality tends towards cults, and since house congregations and their elders should be connected with other Bible-obedient believers in their area and around the world.
Again the model of multiple lay-pastors working with the congregation in houses is accompanied by all the brethren meeting together “as one” as mentioned earlier in this article. To this point, while many mentors are needed for house congregations, too many can cause issues if they are not properly trained in the Word of GOD.
“My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.” – James 3:1
On the subject of attendance, some pastors look to I Corinthians 16:2 as justification for reprimanding their congregations for failure to come to the cathedral on Sunday, much like the Catholic religious system did. In truth, I Corinthians 16:2 is speaking of believers laying aside their money each week. It is not talking of a meeting here.
“Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come. And when I come, whomsoever ye shall approve by your letters, them will I send to bring your liberality unto Jerusalem. And if it be meet that I go also, they shall go with me.” – [1 Corinthians 16:1-4]
It’s probable that this “laying aside” was in connection with the weekly Sabbath meeting of their era. In this case in I Corinthians 16, it was for a one-time venture and did not appear to be part of a ‘tithe program’ or any frequent or regular giving schedule – a one-time venture specifically of helping the poor in Jerusalem (keep in mind that the Christians in Jerusalem were living in danger of their lives and livelihoods since Jesus had recently been killed and his followers were being hunted out). I personally set aside money in a separate savings account for Jesus Christ and His prescribed service such as assisting the poor and helpless saints, sharing the Gospel, and other commanded practices of His congregations (but not for empire building).
Granted, I do not lay money aside weekly, but rather every couple of weeks based upon my payday. In good conscience, I believe that Paul would approve and that his purpose was that of a regular setting aside of one’s money for the work of GOD on earth, specifically that of helping those who are busy evangelizing and discipling believers, here or abroad, and also for financially assisting other believers who need assistance (these were the two basic purposes of the funds in both the Old Testament tabernacle and temple models, as well as the New Testament model).
All of that said, Paul does not appear to be commanding believers to meet on this day, although “first day of the week” in this passage is not in the original language and “first of the sabbath” is the actual language in the Greek (check it out for yourself). More on this thought later in this article. Thus, Paul was telling them to set aside money on the Sabbath day when they met together. Once again though, this collection was for a specific purpose. Can you imagine what love and unity and intimacy you would experience if you were going through a tough time and suddenly all the believers decided to take up an offering and give it to help you? Why would a non-profit 501(c)3 even be needed if the congregation operated in this way? In other words, their organization was closer to a “venture” and their offerings were geared to ventures such as specific needs that needed to be addressed. Would the pastor have to fear speaking against sin or certain politicians if he no longer had to be worried about losing their tax-exempt status? Is a corporation (non-profit) even needed for believers to meet together? Isn’t that the first step to becoming just like Catholics and Protestants and state-approved churches? The early believers would never have had such an organization, because the Roman Empire would have thrown them to the lions upon their request for a cathedral or articles of incorporation (which didn’t even exist at the time).
If you view the widow’s mites being given in Mark 12 and Luke 21, you will also see that no particular day is mentioned. Paul does specify a day in I Corinthians 16, but it does not appear to be a regular practice. Instead, it appears to be a one-time endeavor to raise money for the poor saints in Jerusalem.
Have you ever heard pastors use passages to create fear in the congregation for “missing church”? Such passages might include John 20 where the disciples were assembled together. However, it was out of fear that the disciples were assembled together secretly in this chapter, but it was not fear of “missing church”, but rather fear for their lives since Jesus had just been crucified by the Jews and they might be next. Historians of the ancient era also noted that early Christian believers met together on Saturday, the Sabbath, as a continuation of Jewish practice until after Constantine devoted Sundays to the sun god in 321 A.D., after which the Catholic Roman Council of Laodicea began to outlaw the Sabbath of the Bible in 363 A.D. and replace it with the Sunday of Rome in their new Roman religion which mixed Baal paganism with a little Christianity with the pagan sun-worshiping emperor claiming to be the Substitute or Vicar of Jesus on earth, as well as ‘Head of the Church’.
“Then the same day at evening, being a singular Sabbath [the KJV translates this “first day of the week” which differs from the Greek, but is considered by some to be a possible rendering of the Greek], when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.” – [John 20:19]
The phrase “first day of the week” in this passage in John is actually the Greek words “mia” and “Sabbaton” meaning a “singular sabbath” in the Greek. Some believe that ‘mia’ can be changed to ‘first’ instead of ‘singular’ and that ‘Sabbaton’ can be changed to ‘week’ instead of Sabbath.
Catholicism did much to change so many of the practices and beliefs of true believers and they openly admit it. They believe they have that power. Their thousand year reign and control over historical narratives, libraries, media and information, known as the Dark Ages, is still being felt in the fact that many Protestant congregations (including the ‘fundamentalist’ variety who seem swelled with ‘papal authority’ and ‘super piety’ at times) are still clueless as to how “Roman” they still truly are in many of their practices. It has been considered that perhaps even some of the fundamentalist leaders were covert Roman agents who perhaps sought to split the Baptist movement, an ancient sect of believers dating back far before Constantine’s papal Romanism, by their authoritarian manners and emphasis on men’s ‘messages’ over the Bible, man-made rules not found in the Bible, and extra-Biblical reasons for separation. While the Bible does lay down rules and reasons for separation, as well as rules for holy music, dress, and lifestyle, the fundamentalists came across with almost a vehement authoritarian mandate upon believers that even GOD didn’t prescribe. During the forty years of the new nation of Israel’s wandering in the wilderness, GOD commanded in His Law that the nation was to respect the seventh day of the week as a Sabbath of rest from work and as a day of holy convocation or assembly.
Those who use their lexicons to study the word “holy convocation” in the Old Testament (i.e. the original Hebrew word for convocation is “miqra”) will find that “convocation” means “reading“, “sacred assembly” or “called together” while “holy” (i.e. Hebrew word “qodesh”) means “set apart” for GOD. Ironically, the Greek word “ekklesia” in the New Testament also means “called out” (i.e. called out of the world for GOD or set apart for Him) and “assembly” or “called forth“. For those who do not know, everywhere in the entire Bible that you see the word “church”, it is really the Greek word “ekklesia“. In other words, the holy convocation of the Old Testament was a time for the “calling together” or assembly of the “called out” or holy, set-apart people of GOD for the reading of GOD’s Law and Prophets to the people, and the New Testament assembly was basically the same thing using the term “ekklesia” which we will explore later in this article in more detail. In other words, reading aloud GOD’s Word was the focus of the holy assembly. The etymology of the word ‘Church’ appears to be derived from the name of a pagan Roman goddess (i.e. ‘Circe’ or ‘Kirche’ similar to the German’s word for ‘church’; English as a language is descended from German).
The Gospel of Luke chapter 4 verse 16 explains to us that Jesus also had a custom of assembling and reading the Old Testament on the Sabbath day. Thus, throughout the forty years of wandering and the eight hundred years of judges and kings in Israel, a holy convocation involving the assembly of GOD’s people and the reading of His Word took place. When? It took place on Saturday or the Sabbath. It involved Scripture reading.
Does your congregation read the Word aloud? Do the men in leadership take turns? Or does one man stand before the people like a Catholic priest and just lecture the people with his thoughts the entire time about two Bible verses or in many cases no verses at all?
II Chronicles 34:30 tells of how the Old Testament was read in the hearing of an assembly of Israelis after having been lost for some time, and of the great repentance that occurred. Perhaps if more sacred assemblies throughout America would read the Word of GOD instead of sharing “deep, important, spiritual thoughts”, repentance might take place once again in this land.
The Spirit of GOD works directly in connection with the Word. As you can tell from the above passages, Saturday or the Sabbath was the day of convocation or assembly throughout the Old Testament period and into the Gospels era. Nowhere in the New Testament do we read that this practice changed, and as you will see later in this article, even the translation of the word “Sabbath” was changed regarding the day that Jesus arose.
In other words, the original Greek suggests that Jesus, as one of His titles ‘Lord of the Sabbath” suggests, rose from the tomb at the Sabbath’s dawn. Sunday did not dominate the early believers meetings until the era of Constantine who was a sun-worshiper until his death (i.e. Sun-day). Is it possible Jesus arose on the first day of the week? Yes. However, this still does not refute the historical facts that Jewish believers in Yahweh in the Old Testament, and Gentile believers in the New Testament were all accustomed to meeting on the Sabbath, not Sunday, and that Constantine’s era and the Roman council saw the Sabbath meeting replaced by a Sunday meeting, which was not prescribed by the Bible, but the Romans. This is history.
Constantine combined pagan Baal sun worship with Christian and Jewish practices to form what later became the Catholic empire. While this act was politically expedient, it was not Scriptural, but rather a blasphemous disobedience and perversion of Scripture using the ways of Baal to worship the true GOD Jehovah, a practice that Jehovah has forbidden.
“When the LORD thy God shall cut off the nations from before you, whither you go to possess them, and you succeed them, and dwell in their land; Take heed to yourself that you be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before you; and that you inquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise. Thou shalt not do so unto the LORD thy God: for every abomination to the LORD, which he hates, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods. What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.” – [Deuteronomy 12:29-32]
In spite of Jehovah’s strict warnings to Israel about combining the ways of Baal worship or service with the ways of Jehovah worship or service, you can see Israel’s attempts to do that very thing. You see it in the golden calf that they worshiped as “Jehovah” and you see it all throughout their history when they began to backslide away from what GOD had taught them. Today, you see the same in congregations in the West. The enchantments of Baal shamans (i.e. rock music) are used, the Baal holidays (i.e. Christmas, Easter, etc) adopted by Catholics are used, and the various Baal religious practices such as the charismatic movement employs (i.e. divinations, shamanic healings, etc) are also used in many congregations across the West.
Instead of “trusting the clergy” as Catholics are admonished to do by their priests, true believers are to study the Scripture for themselves. If you go to the original Greek text to learn the truth about the phrase “first day of the week”, you will find that every time the New Testament uses the phrase “first day of the week”, it is the words “mia” meaning “singular or first” and “sabbaton” meaning “sabbath or seventh day“, and should be read “singular sabbath” or could be read “first of the Sabbath“. Instead, Catholic King James’ translators rendered this word “sabbaton”, which is of Hebrew origin, as meaning “week” and ‘mia Sabbaton” as meaning “first day of the week“. Keep in mind that the Hebrew language had another word for week “shabuwa“. The Greek also had a term for “first day” which was “protos hemera“. Also, the translators only translate the words “mia sabbaton” as “first day of the week” nine times. Everywhere else, they translate the word “Sabbaton” as “Sabbath“. Interestingly, eight of these nine passages help determine when Jesus arose and hint at when the believers met each week, and ironically it is these eight passages where the word “Sabbaton” is translated “week” unlike the rest of the New Testament where it is translated “Sabbath“. Constantine had established a day of worship to the Sun which he called “Sunday” in A.D. 321. The Catholic Council of Laodicea decided to adopt Sunday as their day of worship as well in A.D. 363. The meeting on Sunday was not about Scripture, but was all about pagan assimilation. Many believers died throughout history to avoid pagan assimilation and to be holy (a word which means separated and set apart from the world) for Yahweh. We even see believers in books like ‘Foxes’ Book of Martyrs’ who refuse to celebrate pagan days as the Catholics did. Today, even Baptist believers just rename the pagan days like the Catholics and celebrate them just like Baal-like Catholics. In ancient days, Baptists and Waldensians, who both pre-date Roman Catholicism and who date their sect’s lineage all the way back to the apostles’ time period, both stood separate from Rome in beliefs, culture, and observed holy days throughout history as representative sects of the true Christianity of the Bible (unlike Roman Catholicism which was closer to 75 to 90% pagan Baal beliefs, culture, and worship which the Romans re-labeled with Christian labels; such assimilation was anti-Biblical).
If you search the Scriptures, you will find that the word “sabbaton” (which literally means “sabbath) is translated fifty-nine times as “Sabbath” or “Sabbath day” or the seventh day of the week. It is translated only nine times as “week“. Only one of these nine times seems to even make sense as a weekly activity though. This is in Luke 18 when the Pharisee is seen fasting twice during the “Sabbaton“; however, while this could mean the Pharisee is fasting twice in the week, one could argue that even this word may be interpreted as “Sabbath” since someone could fast in the evening of the Sabbath and then in the morning of the Sabbath (since Biblical Jewish days and Sabbaths went from 6 PM to 6 PM). I also believe this would be the more sensible translation that a fast was held both in the evening and the next morning of the Sabbath, showing true dedication to the fast.
Outside of this one exception, the word “sabbaton” is only translated “week” in eight of the fifty-nine instances. The true irony is that by translating these eight passages differently, the Catholic King James’ translators were able to avoid “rocking the boat” for the King and the Catholic hierarchy. The question remaining is whether GOD was pleased. Of these eight instances when “Sabbaton” is translated “day of the week“, five of these times are in reference to the resurrection dawn. It is also translated three times when Scripture speaks of a possible collaboration of believers:
- A specific day for the laying aside of money in I Corinthians 16
- The assembling of the disciples for fear in John 20
- The breaking of bread by believers in Acts 20
Ironically, eight of these nine translations of “sabbaton” refer to a day rather than an actual week even though the translators say that “sabbaton” should be rendered “week”. Regardless of whether the translators were trying to appease Catholic King James or the Anglican church of their day who both believed that the “church” should meet on Sunday, it is really not a great issue since there are no commands throughout Scripture that believers must meet on any particular day or to keep any particular day “holy”. However, we do have the example throughout Scripture of a Sabbath weekly holy convocation or sacred assembly. Also, the Passover of the LORD’s Supper is commanded for us to observe (which takes place on the fourteenth of “Abib” close to the Roman month of “April”) and we are reminded about “not forsaking the assembly”. Paul also notes to the Gentile believers (who were newly grafted into the ‘olive tree’) in Colossians 2 that they must use their conscience when it comes to observing the Biblical Jewish new moons and feast days and Sabbaths.
“One man esteems one day above another: another esteems every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regards the day, regards it unto the Lord; and he that regards not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he that eats not, to the Lord he eats not, and gives God thanks.” – [Romans 14:5-6]
However, Paul also made it abundantly clear, as do many other Biblical prophets and apostles, that pagan assimilation was never acceptable (accepting pagan worship or feast days to the sun or idolatrous days of worship).
While GOD did strike down certain parts of His Law concerning the Jewish temple, the Levites, Jewish diet, and sacrificial laws, He did not strike out all of His laws. In fact, there are some who would argue that the traditions of the Jews such as tithes and sabbath convocations were not part of the Levitical and temple laws that were struck down and should be maintained. Others say the tithe was for the Levites who were no longer required (which seems to make sense), but that the money was to be given to the cause of the Gospel in the New Testament era. Others say that the Sabbath convocations were never struck down and were actually reaffirmed in Hebrews 10:25. This does seem to make sense. Far more can be learned on this subject by reading the articles at this link and this link and this link.
We do read in the Old Testament that the “Sabbath day” or the “seventh day of the week” was ordained by GOD at Creation long before He established it as a perpetual or everlasting covenant between the ethnic Jewish people and Himself. We also read in the Bible that in the future kingdom of Jesus that Sabbaths will be observed. Such points, such as this final one, are very stimulating and well-reasoned. They lead one to believe that GOD definitely wanted man to take one day each week to rest (instead of running through endless church activities) and assemble with other believers for the reading of GOD’s Word. The Sabbath day of rest was also the day when the convocation or assembly of Israel and the early believers was held. Therefore, Hebrews 10:25 does seem to correlate with the continued observance of the assembly on the Sabbath day.
Some pastors will use Hebrews 10:25 to state that believers must attend the local cathedral building in which they’ve invested millions of dollars (instead of in the temple of believers not made with hands) on Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening, but the Bible gives us the pattern of early Saturday or “the first of the Sabbath Day” as being the only tradition in the Old or New Testament period. What does the actual verse say?
“Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” – [Hebrews 10:25]
Hebrews is telling of how the system of ceremonial laws, priests, lamb sacrifices, and the temple have been replaced by Jesus the High Priest and Lamb, His people the “temple”, and the spiritual fulfillment of these physical implements. After saying this, the writer of Hebrews implies that, although the Temple is no longer where GOD dwells, He dwells now within us and we should still assemble together. If we follow the Old Testament pattern which was not changed in the New Testament anywhere that we have ever read, then we are only expected to meet on Saturday morning or the “first of the Sabbath” which was the time that Jesus rose from the dead, being “Lord of the Sabbath” which was one of His titles.
Hebrews 10:25 is not a push for “church membership”, a certain mandatory schedule of three or more services required per week, or anything more. Also, unlike what some pastors teach in saying we should assemble more and more as we “see the day approaching”, Paul is actually saying that we should exhort or encourage each other more as we see “the day” approaching.He does not say that we need to add more and more services to the calendar as you see “the day” approaching.
Where two or three are gathered in the name of Jesus, He is in their midst. That’s what Jesus said; therefore, if we examine the pattern of the Old Testament and Gospels, the sacred assembly took place on the Sabbath day. Many will continue to meet, as the pagan Romanists did, on Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday evening, and perhaps multiple other times. How there homes survive if they are married with children is fairly amazing with the little time they see each other (unless they are a pastor who doesn’t work a full-time secular job).
Those who hold such an opinion will have great difficulty using the Bible to support their preferences of mandatory attendance of three or more services. Is the real question “how are we going to get people to attend church this Sunday?” that pastors should be asking? Or is it “how are we going to get people to love GOD this week every second of every day, so that they love being with GOD’s people?” The former is much easier and can be financially beneficial to a pastor. The latter is the true priority.
Perhaps that is why so much angst goes into the attendance and tithing as opposed to the Mission of the Gospel? Some “hard-liner” pastors, when they see that they can’t find a proof text in Scripture to bully their members into “attendance” as a way of ensuring their job is secure, will go so far as to mimic Roman Catholics who use history as an addendum to Scripture in order to make their case for mandatory attendance on a prescribed day or frequency by brow-beating their congregants using the history of the Catholic “church fathers” who existed after the time of Constantine and the Council of Laodicea’s changes to the Truth of GOD’s Holy Word.
However, one thing we know for sure is that most of what takes place as “spiritual requirements” from the pulpit today is oftentimes more related to the cathedral club’s budget and its political needs than it is to Scripture. We also know that “barking at the flock” about mandatory attendance of three or more services is errant and is seen usually in mind control cults where the leader wants to bankroll their “ministry” off the backs of those working beneath them or play “lord of the flock” in a very papal way. In fact, it is within the papacy and its history that we see people told to be “faithful to church attendance” or face excommunication by the priest. Consider the article at this link which uses fear-mongering to persuade fathers to attend “church” more if they want to influence their children to become “worshipers”. Few articles are written about teaching children to be ‘worshipers’ every second of every day. It’s so easy to think that sitting one’s self or one’s family in the ‘magic pews’ during the prescribed times is somehow ‘worship’ or a ‘service’ to GOD. The more difficult and more truthful thing to do is to teach one’s family through example and through teaching how to read, study, interpret, apply, and think through the Bible on a daily basis.
First of all, worship is every second of every day, not a meeting. Secondly, the article at the previous link was written by an Anglican priest who preaches a false gospel of works through the sacraments. This priest has greater worries than “church attendance”. For example, he should read Paul the apostle’s statement regarding those who preach a false gospel of works which Paul reiterates twice in the Book of Galatians: “Let them be accursed [anathema or damned]”.
While the Bible encourages believers to not forsake the sacred assembly or convocation of believers, which in the Old and New Testament was said to be once each week on the Sabbath and which was evidently held in houses for the most part from what we read in the New Testament, I would rather fathers completely skip the weekly meeting if their only choice was an Anglican cathedral in town where damning doctrines are preached. In fact, Paul and John the apostles said the same in Scripture. I would say fathers are much better off skipping this particular priest’s church services altogether for life, and perhaps many others in town too if they teach abominations, heresies and pagan practices in their meetings. Where two or three are gathered in the name of Jesus, He is in their midst. That’s what Jesus said. It’s not in tradition that GOD is pleased, but in obedience. It’s not in quantity of attendees to the weekly assembly that GOD is pleased, but the quality of those who meet together to read His Word.
Today, some authoritative pastors act like Catholic priests in lording over their members and threatening them if they miss too many “services” with removal from “congregational membership” (a list that only GOD controls in heaven). While the membership lists of non-profit corporations may be many, “The Called Out” or “Ekklesia” is but one. There is but one list of its membership and it is controlled by GOD in heaven not a priest or pastor, and the Bible teaches that you are not even allowed to attend the convocation or assembly of believers unless you are a born-again follower of Jesus Christ. Paul said there is no fellowship between light and darkness. Pastors who maintain a membership list should instead just maintain a contact list of those who attend, since those who attend should only be believers.
Rigid pastors should learn from the Catholics who attempted to legislate morality during the Dark Ages through threat of “excommunication” from some earthly list. Only GOD maintains the Book of Life or the membership list of believers. The papists learned in the end that morality cannot be legislated. Catholics had numerous services in addition to their Masses and weekly Sunday services. There were prayer services and other canonical hours and services such as Third Hour, Sixth Hour, Ninth Hour, Typica, Vespers, Midnight Office, Matins, First Hour, and Great Compline … to name a few.
We need to focus on helping fathers and husbands take responsibility to mentor their families daily in the Word of GOD, but we can’t do this and we can’t create “good Christians” by increasing the number of required services, accountability duties, activities, and rules for Christians either. We can’t excite the believers in our area to get involved by creating “fun activities”, emotional dramas, and ecstatic music concerts which only serve as distractions from the true Mission of the Body of Christ and from the family unit and its time together, as well as the father’s ability to mentor his own house (a theme seen over and over in the Old and New Testament). We must kneel before GOD and pray for the Spirit’s anointing and let Him become our “law”. All of this said, we can agree that we must not forsake the assembling of ourselves together.
Wouldn’t you want to be a part of a group of individuals who treated each other like family and were there for each other in the tough times of life? Could you see your congregation helping you out during a time of unemployment by offering you work with sufficient wages to pay your mortgage and bills until you could find something more permanent? Could you see them taking care of your eighty-year old wife who can barely walk after you pass away? Could you see them taking care of your infant son if you and your spouse were to die, leaving no family behind? If so, you have a very compassionate congregation that follows Scripture.
The early believers helped poor saints from what the Book of James and many other passages teach. Early believers were known by their love. Their love didn’t consist of a lot of words, but of real money and actions that showed they cared. They watched out for “Sister Sally” the local widow or little “Tom Stout” the local orphan, and also they gave work to “Discouraged Joseph” who had lost his job and they paid him a fair salary for such work, without a lot of red tape, in addition to their prayers for him. They even helped out imperfect “Cranky Carl” who had a vehicle accident and was in a coma by paying his bills and helping out his sweet wife and children.
When people watch out for each other, the world around them notices. The early believers were known for their love, not for how many books they authored or spiritual events they attended. They sold their property and watched out for each other. They cared for the deaf, the disabled, the blind, the lame, the poor, and even for those non-Christians who were unable to care for themselves such as small children or those in hospital beds. In doing so, they won many to Christ through their love. We know of situations where a person is without employment or vehicles or both, and how the local congregation turns a “deaf ear” to the needs of the person. We know of cases where the congregation is so big that they don’t even know about the need. What a great justification for the intimacy of shepherding groups within a home environment.
I know of a situation in which a ministry laid off a loving Christian family with little warning just before the year-end holidays. Why? Because the father wouldn’t violate his conscience and turn ecumenical. This is the opposite of the early believers. Even more common are “ministry” employees who have to live on medicaid, medicare and welfare in order to survive. Meanwhile, the same ministry may have a list longer than the Pharisees of all the expectations, rules, and required activities that they have of these already overwhelmed families, while forbidding the husband to work “another job”; meanwhile, they ride him to work 24/7 for their so-called “ministry” at the neglect of his own family’s needs.
Forsaking one’s family emotionally and financially, and failing to spend time with them is not spiritual, no matter how many greedy “empire-building” leaders in clerical robes say it is. Could this be a reason why the world is not taking notice of today’s version of Christianity? They watch how believers treat their “own”. They see believers who are “down and out” and how other believers are more likely to push them “under the bus” than assist them. They know this isn’t love. They look for “good Samaritans” and they don’t see any in the throngs today that fill huge cathedrals. This does not give the lost an excuse. Instead, it serves as a rebuke to believers. While I disagree with one local congregation who acts as a kind of “give-away” non-profit supplies store [because the Bible teaches if a man doesn’t work, neither should he eat), at the same time, I also disagree with those congregations who have all the money in the world to throw at buildings, fun trips, sports leagues, coffee socials and programs but find every excuse in the world to avoid helping out their own members or those around them who are unable to feed themselves (i.e. small orphan children, those in a coma without family, completely disabled, etc).
They also fail to give work to those in their congregation who need help to avoid losing their homes or worse (in cases of medical assistance). The early believers loved. They were able to love others sacrificially at the level of financially helping others and they lived in one accord with the Holy Spirit and were therefore able to pray in one accord in the Spirit, and when they walked out of their prayer meeting filled with the Holy Spirit, they began to boldly speak to people about Jesus.
HOLINESS, PRAYER, AND BIBLE STUDY
The Holy Spirit was the key to their lives and how they reached the world so quickly. One of the first practices that the early believers did after receiving the Holy Spirit was to share His Word in various languages with all the different nationalities in Jerusalem. There were no policies that discriminated by race, language, financial class, appearance or nationality.
These early believers reached out to everyone. They wanted to share the Gospel with anyone who would listen and in a plethora of venues. When someone uses an expression like “on fire for the LORD”, we can’t help but think of the cloves of fire at Pentecost above the heads of those early believers. Their first action was sharing the good news with everyone they could find of how Jesus paid the price and is the Way to heaven.
Act 2:4-5 “And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other languages, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.”
The Holy Spirit also allows believers to live holy lives. Instead of an appetite for the unholy entertainment, pagan music, inappropriate fashion, and controlling substances of their day, the believers were filled with the Spirit and had an appetite for reaching the lost. Distractions were a stumbling block to reaching the lost for Jesus Christ. Only the filling of the Spirit through the Word, holiness and prayer can bring the world to Jesus Christ.
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” – [Matthew 5:16]
“And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the LORD.” – [Psalm 40:3]
Prayer is a huge factor. Prayer changes things, but only the prayer of fervent, godly people. GOD does not hear the prayer of those who regard sin in their hearts or who are not His children. That means many Christians need to repent of their carnal attitudes, rebellion, and disobedient imitation of the world around them, and begin to honor brother’s consciences and pray side-by-side with them until the Spirit rests upon His people once again.
The early believers didn’t assemble together in order to be entertained or lectured by the shepherd. They went to kneel beside one another in fervent prayer in one accord and to be equipped for the Mission of the Gospel through discussion with their elder and one another. They were looking to understand Christ’s teachings and to organize as believers to reach their city, then country, then state, then nation, and finally world for Jesus Christ. They were in fervent prayer and that is when the Spirit met with them. It was the Spirit who changed them.
It was the Spirit who changed their appetites and gave them a desire to reach the lost and the boldness to walk into the streets and to preach a forbidden message. It was the Spirit who helped them pray. It was the Spirit who guided them into all Truth. Through His anointing, believers could understand the Word at last with a spiritual mind instead of a natural mind. Unity occurred not from lowering standards or perverting theology, but through the Spirit’s change in the hearts of believers. They began to have their minds opened to the Word’s sound and true meaning. They had their lives transformed to be like Christ instead of the lost world around them. Their desires and focus were unified.
They were all in one accord with the Holy Spirit and as a result, they were in one accord with one another … not vice-versa. The Bible never states that early believers met once per week. However, it does state that they were studying the Bible for themselves in their homes daily, instead of depending upon others such as television, radio, or local clergy to tell them what to think. In fact the Berean believers were commended for checking the Scriptures out for themselves (instead of depending upon the local pontiff). We also know that they would also meet in their houses and also publicly as a region. They were ministering the Word to the lost daily and weekly throughout their communities in various venues.
“These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” – [Acts 17:11]
Many rigid, Stoic-like pastors attempt to legislate a state of Spirit-filled living, but the Bible does not support such Pharisee-like behavior and no amount of rules and “revival” meetings can replace the humble, contrite prayers of believers. The authoritarian, “pastor-ruled church” is sometimes more frightening than the alternative.
I’ve seen a pastor adamant about “church attendance” who allowed a top-level Freemason into the membership of his congregation, while telling a godly family (who weren’t even members) that they weren’t allowed to set foot on the church’s property, because of their “poor church attendance”. By “poor attendance”, this family had not attended all the services that this Pharisee-like pastor desired them to attend. Indeed, the irony … especially when you know that this same pastor also had a rebellious daughter who refused to even attend his church and another daughter who worked for the before-mentioned Freemason.
I Timothy 3 is clear about how an elder must rule his own house well before he can be expected to rule the local congregation. Also, Scripture clearly commands believers to have no communion or fellowship with darkness (i.e. Freemasons). This pastor was also high-handed, lording over his flock in small matters, instead of focusing on the larger issues. Not all conservative pastors are this way, but it is a reminder that we must not “lose sight of the trees for the forest”.
On the other hand, many carnal pastors seek to imitate the Spirit’s power using carnal means such as exciting entertainment which oftentimes includes the demonic music of the enchanters. They also pull every aspect of the culture of their congregation down to the lowest common denominator. Then these same pastors aggrandize their blasphemous methods by demonizing those filled with the Spirit who point out their error. To “save face”, these carnal pastors call the faithful members of Christ by the name of “legalist” or “Pharisee”. Ironically, many of these more worldly pastors practice true “legalism” by embracing the “means of grace” legalistic works salvation through baptism such as taught in the Confessional Statement of the Gospel Coalition and by pastors like Tim Keller and N.T. Wright as explained in this article and this article and this article. Tragically, few pastors perform the actual duties of a shepherd as detailed at this link.
On one hand, we cannot legislate what we perceive to be “right behavior” and we cannot use Old Testament laws that are no longer applicable to enforce such thinking upon others. On the other hand, this does not mean that all the laws of GOD in the Old Testament are no longer applicable either. GOD never changes and His morals and moral laws do not change either. We can only enforce those things in the Body of Christ that are clearly admonished and not what is financially beneficial or preferred or opinion.Also, we must apply Scripture and its principles to our lives in order to maintain ethics, to lead a life that is above reproach, and to avoid offending other brethren.
The truth is that only the Holy Spirit filling us and moving upon us can accomplish what the Law is unable to do. Only the Spirit can make us into what we should be. More congregations should gather together in homes or in local buildings together and get down upon their knees, and instead of following their weekly ritual or liturgy, perhaps they should pray and pray and pray and pray. They should also read and read and read from the Bible each week, instead of listening to a pastor lecture and lecture and lecture.
If the Spirit doesn’t move upon them, perhaps they should spend their next “service” in prayer and the public reading of the Word for another week and continue to do so until they receive power and quickening to walk out of their meeting places and begin to boldly proclaim the Gospel as did the early believers.
Perhaps they should study the Word in their homes daily until the Spirit begins to show them how inept their spiritual lives really are and how conformed they are to the image of the world instead of the image of Jesus Christ. Perhaps they should use their “tithe” money to offer work to those saints next door who can barely pay their mortgage in financially woeful times or perhaps they should gather their money together with other believers to the point of sacrifice in order to build a community center like the old YMCAs which were used to distribute the Gospel, instead of giving their “tithe” to their local religious club who will only build a bigger building or finance another monastic-like basketball league for “Christians only”.
Perhaps some pastors should use a weekly service as a field trip to teach their congregants how to befriend people in their community and win them to Jesus Christ. Or perhaps pastors should use a weekly service for helping out a lost family in their area in order to share the Gospel … then they would have a good reason to call it a “service”. Perhaps pastors should get their congregants out of a ritualistic rut by suddenly calling a prayer meeting in their main weekly service and have them pray until “the windows of heaven open”. What if a pastor and congregation were to sell their cathedral, purchase a community center, and start private schools and / or public Bible classes at the community center for unbelievers in the community? When the first soul was won through this method, do you think that prayer meeting would have new fervor? Or when congregants got to know lost people in their community and interacted with them, do you think they would finally have a more substantial reason for intercessory prayer?
Are a lot of rituals, traditions, and non-Biblical rules the way to go? Are we truly serving the lost around us by living in the flesh, being entertained, and enjoying sinful pleasure, comfort and materialism? And does the fact that most believers are either ritual-oriented or fleshly-oriented perhaps explain why the world is so adrift from GOD?
Is this all imaginative thinking upon my part? Or is this just the very blood and bone and sinew of the Gospel? Are these concepts the commandments of a holy and loving Almighty GOD Who wants us to be holy and loving too? Are these concepts and this model not shown throughout the Book of Acts and the entire New Testament? Are these the Words of our Creator Who wants us to sacrifice everything as He did in order to reach the lost? Or are these New Testament believers the only ones expected to live in the Spirit for the sake of the family unit and the lost around us? Did Jesus Christ come to earth so he could be horse-whipped to a pulp, spat upon, nailed to a tree, and crucified, just so that you and I could accept Him and then turn our heads away from our neighbor who is spiritually bleeding to death on the side of the road in grave need for the hope and eternal life that Jesus can provide? Did the ultimate “Good Samaritan” die so that we can have a comfortable life?
“Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.” – [John 15:20]
A Study on the words “Ekklesia”, “Synagogue”, “Church”, and “The Called Out”
The early believer assemblies were found in “one accord” and free of unbelievers as can be seen in Paul’s warning that light has no fellowship with darkness and a multitude of other such rules that he prescribed. Every time the word “ekklesia” appears, it refers to “believers only” in its context. I’ve actually done a complete walkthrough of the word “ekklesia” to verify. The only exception is in Acts 19 where it is used as a term for the Greek assembly in Ephesus. To understand this exception, you must understand three things: 1) this is the only chapter where the King James translators rendered the word “ekklesia” as “assembly” instead of “church”, 2) the early believers did not have a word for themselves, so they had to use the Greek language (their standard for the day) to call themselves something, and 3) in doing so, the early believers borrowed a Greek term “ekk-lesia” which was a term for “a Greek assembly” when combined, but when separated (i.e. “ekk-lesia” rather than “ekklesia”), it meant “called out”. In other words, it appears that the early believers were actually using this term “ekklesia” for its literal meaning “called out” rather than its combined meaning of “a Greek assembly”.
As mentioned before, the context of Acts 19 denotes that the combined meaning of “ekklesia” (that of a Greek public forum) is meant; whereas, the rest of Scripture appears to use the term “ekk-lesia” for it’s double-worded separated meaning of “the called out”. This truth is seen in that Acts 19 is the only place where “ekklesia” is translated “assembly” as mentioned previously. Everywhere else in the Bible it is used in reference to believers only. Another peculiar thing is that “ekklesia” is translated “church” by the King James translators. How is this peculiar? “Church” seems to have originated from a Roman term for pagan assemblies (i.e. church or kirche or Circe was the goddess of magic who had a house in the woods). Therefore, the best rendition of the term “ekklesia” in the New Testament (with the exception of Acts 19) in my opinion is “the called out”. This concept is reinforced in Scripture elsewhere as we see Abraham being “called out” of the Baal culture of Ur of the Chaldees in Babylon, and we see the apostle Peter also speaking of the early believers as being those “called out” of the darkness around them. “Ek” and “Kaleo” combined are “Ekklesia”, so why didn’t they just use the terms separately? Because, in my opinion, they were using these two terms not only to denote the literal meaning of “called out”, but also to invoke a proper noun – “the called out”.
“But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” – [1 Peter 2:9]
In I Corinthians 14, Paul speaks of unbelievers and ignorant men who might “enter upon” their assembly and think people were crazy for speaking in babbling languages. This would have been an exception in which unbelievers might walk into the meeting of believers who met in their houses and as family members or friends, they might see the believer’s fellowship as “weird” if believers were walking around babbling. Notice the wording here in this chapter in verses 23 and 24 implies that someone is passing through or entering into an already assembled group: The phrase here in verses 23 and 24 is “there come in“ meaning “go out and come in”; “enter”. It also seems this is connected to how the believers would come together in one place which might have even been a public assembly building (i.e. synagogue) as mentioned a few chapters previously in I Corinthians 11.
The subject matter of that chapter in I Corinthians 14 is “tongues” which is “glossa” and means “languages”. Paul was adamant that such languages did not sound like an “uncertain sound” in case unbelievers happened to see them and think they were “crazy as a loon”. Therefore, we do not see any verses in Scripture that present the believer’s assembly as a place where unbelievers should be invited or included; in fact, the opposite is seen in the exhortations of Paul who forbid fellowship between light and darkness:
“Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” – [2 Corinthians 6:14-18]
Does this mean we are to isolate ourselves away from unbelievers? No. The above is only in the context of fellowship or communion (i.e. believer’s assembly). Other passages denote that we should mingle with unbelievers for the sake of sharing the Gospel and befriending them, but we are not to be conformed or patterned after them.
“I pray not that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through Your truth: Your word is truth. As You have sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. And for their sake I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the Truth. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as You, Father, are in me, and I in You, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that You have sent me. And the glory which thou gave me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one” – [John 17:15-22]
I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not you judge them that are within? But them that are without God judges. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person. – [1 Corinthians 5:9-13]
This final list provides a perfect list for exercising congregational discipline. Fornication, coveting, idolatry, reviling, drunkenness, and extortion were all once crimes in America during her early years when Christianity reigned (1620 through 1776). Adultery is widespread in congregations today. Years ago, it was a crime. Therefore, in a sense, a criminal by Biblical standards was to be confronted by the initial person who found out and urged to repent. If unrepentant, the person was to be confronted by two or three witnesses, and finally the person was to be brought before the Body of Christ and urged to repent. If still unrepentant, they were to be publicly rebuked sharply that others may fear and then shunned if all efforts had failed and at last delivered to GOD in prayer for the destruction of their physical body by Satan, so that their eternal soul might be saved. The Body of Christ had no “membership list” except for the Book of Life in heaven which GOD maintains. Only GOD could send someone to hell or remove their name from His Book of Life (not some evil false teacher who claims to “excommunicate” people from a man-made membership list). Congregational discipline was shunning a wayward individual. It was not threatening to take them off a list which just might be laughable to some. In fact, Paul’s method was far more effective than some piece of paper, especially when members knew they would eventually be offered in prayer to GOD by the congregation for physical destruction by Satan for their eternal salvation.
In summary, let’s imagine how all of the above Biblical model would look in real life. Imagine an assembly that takes place on a Saturday using a more Biblical model.
HOW DOES THIS LOOK?
LOCATION: Local congregations meet in houses to save money on cathedral purchases which the Body of Christ never had in Biblical times and to also have a more intimate family connection. The pastor also has the ability to better mentor, disciple, love, train, financially assist, and know the needs of ten to twelve families much easier than a hundred families. The city-wide congregation comes together all in one place as well (as mentioned in the above article) from time-to-time on a regular basis such as quarterly, bi-annually, or annually. This would mean the use of a public assembly hall like the community building (Greek “synagoge”) early believers appeared to have frequented. The amount of money saved by all would be enormous even if the assembly hall had to be rented. Also, with the emphasis on only the true believers being allowed to take part in a service (instead of the unbelievers) coupled with proper Biblical discipline measures in place (i.e. no fornicators, railers, etc) as spoken by the Apostle Paul, the crowd would be much less than some might imagine. In some towns, the Body of Christ might be almost able to still meet in a house. The Council of Elders (which Biblically consisted of all the elders in one region) would also meet periodically to discuss evangelism “footprint”, challenges to Biblical teaching or pagan assimilation in their particular congregation, and matters such as which congregations need financial assistance from other congregations.
CHURCH STRUCTURE (POLITY): There would be no elders ruling over other elders as the Catholic and Protestant traditions denote (i.e. senior pastors, associate pastors, denominational heads, convention leaders, etc). National or even international assemblies could take place with each region’s council of elders electing some elders as representatives who are considered faithful to the Christ to attend for them and report to the other representatives of the international Body of Christ as well as bring back information or financial and evangelistic decisions for the Body of Christ in the regional and house congregations. Each local house congregation would be autonomous and independent but still connected with others as long as there was no need for separation due to doctrinal errors. Fathers would be expected to rule their own houses well without interference or fascist control by the house elders (unless discipline as described in the list of I Corinthians 5 was needed). The Biblical model prescribes that both the council of elders (or all the elders as a whole from that particular region) appoint new elders in conjunction with the election votes of the local congregation members (most likely all the congregations members from a region) as described from Scripture in the article above. In other words, while the elder would be given authority as an under-shepherd of Jesus for a particular flock of people, as far as control over a flock, he would be accountable to the other elders of the council and to his congregation and the other members of Christ’s Body in a sense. In this way, the elder would submit himself to the Body of Christ and the other regional elders of Christ, while his congregation would also submit to him. The regional elders would also submit to each other. In other words, only Jesus Christ rules the Body as Chief Shepherd (no denominational presidents, fascist elders, senior pastors, or such would exist). At the same time, everyone would have accountability to someone (i.e. elders to elders, members to elders, elders to members, etc). This would be the Biblical model as found in the New Testament as best as I can understand through the Spirit and my study of the Bible. For a start, the only assembly for believers would be on Saturday as was the tradition of Old Testament Israel and New Testament believers. The suggested time would be to start at noon to ensure a true day of rest. The suggested amount of time for assembly is just over three hours with additional time for evangelism needed either at the end of the assembly or at another time during the week for those whose evangelism methods, events, or such may not land on Saturday. For example, some may have Irish music festivals where they share their testimony. Some may read stories to children at a public location where they can also read Bible stories too to lost children. Others may go to malls, sports events, or other public forums to share the Gospel. Each may minister according to their gifts.
SABBATH CONVOCATION SCHEDULE (Saturday Assembly):
- 12 PM – Bible memory and knowledge games
- 1 PM – Scripture and summary – round robin
- 2:15 PM – Teaching of rules of interpretation, study techniques, and language
- 2:30 PM – Prayer-round robin and songs
- 3 PM – Planning and announcements
- 3:15 PM (or some other time during the week) – Evangelism
- MONTHLY: 5 pm food, fellowship, music, gifts/talents used/planned/ financials / ministry organize/plan
12 PM – BIBLE MEMORY AND BIBLE KNOWLEDGE GAMES: The Scripture reading from the previous week serves as the basis for families’ personal Bible studies and also for this Bible memory and knowledge time. The congregation is split into two halves and Bible questions are read from the previous week’s Scripture reading and Bible study summary and points are calculated. Select Bible memory verse(s) taken from the previous week’s Scripture reading will also quoted.
1 PM SCRIPTURE READING AND SUMMARY: Using a round-robin schedule, each believing male who is twelve years or older will take turns reading a chapter aloud to the congregation and then each one who reads will provide a summary of the chapter based upon their thorough study of the Greek and Hebrew within rules of interpretation and they will also apply the passage to life. In this way, each male member can hone their abilities to deep-dive into the ancient manuscripts and Biblical interpretation and application with the mentoring of the pastor. Fathers also will then be able to better mentor their families at home (in this way the congregation reads through the Bible in a couple of years; remember how Jesus read the Scriptures when He visited the congregation on the Sabbath and summarized the interpretation and application at the end).
2:15 pm – LESSONS ON RULES OF INTERPRETATION, STUDY TECHNIQUES, AND GREEK/HEBREW LANGUAGE: Each father of the Body of Christ is expected to research, document, and present a defense of all major doctrines, and a Biblical analysis of all major cults and relevant cultural topics to their elder privately to ensure they are prepared to defend the faith. This includes Bible memorization of all Scripture related to evangelism and major doctrines. Cultural topics can be addressed in homework workbooks through questions and Scripture passages that fathers can work with their families to complete in addition to their studies and memorization surrounding the weekly Scripture reading from the previous Sabbath. Such topics in workbooks can include defense of major doctrines, apologist understanding of cults, avoidance of pagan assimilation, music, external appearance, wine, fornication, addictions, government, family matters, and other major topics or current events … all of these homework workbooks should be sourced and backed by chapters and verses from Scripture and Biblical reasoning rather than personal opinion or human wisdom or desires. The avoidance of offending another brother should also be emphasized.
2:30 PM – CONGREGATIONAL SINGING AND PRAYER: About three songs are sung by the congregation with a different song being taken from each category of Hymns, Psalms, and Spiritual Songs. Hymns in the ancient world were usually songs in worship and praise of a deity. Thus, hymns would be worshipful songs to GOD, and not songs about our “great” love for Him. Psalms, which are actually found in the Bible, allow the memorization of Scripture through music. Spiritual Songs (‘pneumatikos’ as opposed to psychikos’ songs or fleshly songs) cover any Spirit-filled music that exhorts and reinforces doctrinal purity and the application of Scripture to one’s life. Songs of enchanters or charmers should never be allowed as they are forbidden by Yahweh. This is a time for congregational singing, not solos or “special music”. If someone has talent, they should use it during the evangelism time as mentioned below. The assembly is all about participation, not “showboating” or “solo performances” by the elder or certain individuals. I once saw a so-called “elder” (i.e. pastor) who turned the lights down low and played and sang for the first part of the congregation as though the whole purpose of his “church” was a self-glorifying concert and opportunity for himself to “shine” instead of letting Jesus shine forth. As a former minister of music and a voice performance major, I can tell you that it is tempting for us to turn the assembly into “Our Hour” and a “special music” concert featuring talent, but I believe Scripture teaches us that congregational singing is to be the emphasis. Again, look to the evangelism time-slot below for more information.
3 PM – ANNOUNCEMENTS AND PLANNING: The elder shares assignments and updates from his “footprint” plan to reach their city and region for Christ, including tried and true ways (i.e. single missionaries or evangelists sent globally “two by two”, etc), new venues and creative ways to reach the world with the Gospel according to each one’s gifts. Financial needs of believers are addressed to ensure everyone has work to do (i.e. unemployed are given ministry work and paid reasonable wages in their interim status and mentored by the elder, widows/orphans who are unable to work are covered with financial aid, etc). If extra time is available, testimonies could be shared by any who led others to Christ.
3:15 PM – CITY-WIDE EVANGELISM: In addition to collaboration on outreach efforts, city-wide and region-wide elders ensure the “footprint” in the city is not redundant. Evangelists (which we call missionaries today) are chosen from the unmarried men to be financed, so they can go out globally and plant colonies of believers from “scratch” through “tent-making” efforts and supplementary support from their congregation only as needed. While “services” were associated with Romanism, true service is that of evangelism and charity among the lost. As you can tell, the only real “worship service” is rescuing the perishing and living a life filled with love for GOD twenty-four hours per day, seven days per week as your life is lived in separated holiness, love, worship and full of service for the LORD. The Scripture is very clear that worship would no longer be in Jerusalem or Samaria, but in Spirit and in Truth. The assembly of believers is about fellowship, equipping and organizing the believers for the Mission. Worship is never connected to this assembly, except in the fact that worship requires obedience which in turn means “not forsaking” the assembly of believers. The Mission of sharing the good new or the Gospel with the lost of how Jesus lived sinless, died vicariously, and rose triumphantly so that we through repentant faith can receive His gift of salvation, forgiveness and the Holy Spirit is a mission of great importance. Every member, male and female, should partake since every member (of age) should be a Christian. Every member has gifts as Paul mentions, and these gifts should be examined and used for evangelism in order to bring more into the Body of Christ, whether it through writing children’s stories, radio programs, television programs, authoring books, or giving financial or other seminars in order to share one’s testimony of becoming a Christian and why they became a Christian. Another opportunity to share the Gospel would be in a concert format. Musicians could start a group such as an Irish, cowboy, Jewish or European folk song band. Other singers could form a civic choir singing classical music. The key is that all of these share the Gospel at some point during their performances rather than just focusing on music or aesthetics or instead of wallowing in their pride. Sharing the Gospel brings humility. This transforms believers from “pew-sitters without purpose” to a purposeful, driven priesthood of believers as the Bible proclaims.
FAMILY MINISTRY: Men and women should have ministries to their families first and foremost. While Paul speaks of women not speaking or having authority over the men in the public assembly in I Corinthians 14 and states they should learn from their husbands in private at home, women at home, however, have one of the most important ministries on earth. We can look around our nation and see how the lack of such a ministry has turned a nation once known as a Christian nation from 1620 to 1776 into a nation of godless thugs in the 21st century. Whether it be baking cookies for neighbors, assisting their husbands, or keeping their home and mentoring their children, mothers and ladies show forth Jesus Christ by not seeking attention, but rather following the Biblical prescription for their gender role. This displays humility and love for Christ. They should read Scripture to their children (which is good for even the babies to hear). They may use flannel graph lessons to educate their toddlers through the entire Bible while highlighting the top Bible stories such as Creation, the Flood, and other major historical Biblical stories for the first three years. For ages seven through nine, women can use a series of Bible Story books which walk children through the entire Bible in three years. My mother read such stories to me through almost the entire Bible when I was a child, and I believe that was the one major factor that prepared me to repent and trust Jesus Christ as my Savior later. Another more advanced Bible story series can walk the older children through the entire Bible in three years by allowing them to each take turns reading aloud. From the thirteen to fifteen years old, the fathers should begin mentoring the children in the major teachings of Scripture including salvation, the attributes of GOD, and other Scriptural imperatives and review such in workbook form, while completing a comprehensive study of all major doctrines of the Bible in three years. Finally, fathers should teach their children, after sixteen years of age, how to defend the faith from various cults and false teachers using role-playing and also helping them to understand the more difficult truths of Scripture such as answering skeptics and alleged ‘discrepancies’. They should help their children to understand the major differences between Biblical Christianity from religions such as Catholicism, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, and more, including a look into the history of Babylonian Baal worship and the resulting world religions.
SUMMARY: The chief emphasis is upon the Word of GOD alone. Are you not tired of a priest-like lecture by a clergyman who babbles endlessly about his feelings, his experiences, his stories, his pleas to the lost (who shouldn’t even be in the congregation)? GOD’s Word alone meets our hunger for His Truth. Instead of listening to someone who talks with wordy jargon, acronyms, alliterated outlines, and extra-Biblical additions all combined into a sermon with a catchy title, you learn GOD’s Word.
Instead of listening to someone who drops Greek and Hebrew words without any real purpose other than to show his intellect (or lack thereof), you will be able to hear someone dig into the Word of GOD and show you how to defend your faith by teaching you how to use Lexicons and discover the meaning of the Greek and Hebrew yourself in passages that are difficult to otherwise understand without language tools. Instead of being in a class where the teacher asks you “What does this mean to you?”, you can learn the tenses and syntax of the Greek and Hebrew languages and study rules of interpretation by which all literature is interpreted and learn how to apply these rules in your Bible study. Instead of hearing the same verse preached four hundred different ways, you will come to learn the entire Bible and see how it looks as a whole with its many interwoven inter-dependencies and the relationship between the Old and New Testaments. Instead of hearing someone embellish the Scripture for your entertainment and laughter by adding funny fictional details to the story of David and Goliath that do not exist (which is condemned by Scripture), you will hear the Word of GOD in its purity without additions or deletions or modifications (aka heresies). Instead of hearing someone who focuses on stories about his family, his experiences, himself, or other clever, suspenseful stories, you will learn about the prophets, the Jews, the apostles, the early believers, and most importantly your LORD and Savior Jesus Christ and His Father. Instead of hearing someone rant on and on about his favorite man-made theological system, you will be able to hear stories of your fellow believers who led people to Jesus Christ.
Is it worth the effort to write this long article? Absolutely!