According to the scriptures, the church came into existence on the first day of Pentecost after the Lord’s resurrection from the dead (Acts 2:1-41). The church grew and spread across the globe as first the apostles and then ordinary Christians proclaimed the good news wherever they went. Over the course of several centuries the church began to change as more and more human ideas took root within it. In time it was so far removed from its first century antecedent that sincere men sought to reform it. Their efforts, though noble and well-intended, did not result in a return to the first century model.
The protestant denominations which arose from these efforts, while closer to the first century model, were still marked by more human ideas than the original church. In the early 1800s in America a renewed effort began whose stated goal was to restore first century Christianity. The focus was on doing Bible things in Bible ways, and calling Bible things by Bible names. Their motto was, “Where the Bible speaks, we speak. Where the Bible is silent, we are silent.” This mantra sought to complete the work the reformers of the 1500s had begun by going back to the biblical model alone as a guide for what the church should believe and practice.
Now in the second decade of the new millennium, it appears that this noble effort, like the reformation before it, has begun to drift on the tide of human opinion and desires. There are perhaps many manifestations of this drift, but a significant element in it is the way we “do” church. A drive through any major city reveals countless multi-million-dollar church facilities. Large, beautiful buildings replete with every creature comfort are the norm. Amenities, including family-life centers, day-care facilities, and K-12 schools are commonplace. Recovery programs and other social services, conducted by credentialed or licensed staff, are more and more frequently offered. Worship assemblies are multi-media events, even if not accompanied by a worship band or praise team. In short, many churches are doing everything they can to appeal to every conceivable human interest. The question, however, is if this is what the Lord meant the church to be.
When we examine the New Testament, we find none of the things that seem so necessary today. First century churches did not own property or buildings. They met in rented rooms or in homes. Their worship was simple and focused on commemorating the Lord’s death each Lord’s day by the observance of the Lord’s Supper. The sang, prayed, read scripture, and exhorted each other to walk in the light. Each Christian understood that he or she bore responsibility for the overall welfare of the church, as passages such as Eph. 4:11-16 instruct. They saw their primary task as proclaiming the gospel to the lost, and encouraging each other to remain faithful. They often did this daily and from house to house (Acts 2:46-47).
Too many churches today are consumed with keeping up with the amenities offered by their religious neighbors. They fret over the money needed to equip themselves to do church like everyone around them, and consequently run the risk of not being the church the Lord meant them to be. Members and leaders alike fall into a check-list mentality that seems to equate facilities, amenities, and programs with being the Lord’s church.
Is it wrong to have a comfortable building in which to meet, or to show concern for the issues so many face today? No, but when so much of our attention is focused on these things, and the money it takes to maintain them, we have lost sight of our true mission. We have become so busy doing church that we have ceased being the church. Perhaps it is time, once again, for a call to restore simple New Testament Christianity.