What God says about Church

St Marks Church Target of Klan in 1967

By guest blogger Bobbie Sawyer:

“Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near.”  Hebrews 10:19-25

For the past several years, although I have sought this assembling together for much needed encouragement, I have found myself in “church wilderness.”  When comparing how church is done today versus what Scripture teaches us about the church, there seems to be a huge disconnect.  Even churches who claim to be Biblical and following the pattern of the New Testament seem to be steeped in the traditions of man.

In going to the Word of God to find out what He says about church, I am beginning to see clearly what church is and what it is not.

Contrary to what most churches seem to strive for, the Bible does not instruct us to meet in a building with a steeple, a stage, or a sound system.  Nothing is said about where to meet, but it is clear that there is a definite purpose for why we come together as the body of Christ and what we should do when we are together.  The Bible teaches that the purpose of coming together is for edification of the body  (1 Cor. 14:12, 26, and Heb. 10:24).  It is for believers.  The Biblical purpose of coming together is not to reach unbelievers, although if an unbeliever would come to the meeting, 1 Cor:14: 23-25 tells us that as he observes the church declaring God’s truths, he will be convicted and fall on his face and worship.   Matthew 28:18-20 teaches us that we are to go to unbelievers, not design our meetings for them to come to us.  “And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.'”

Acts 2:42  tells us, “And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship in the breaking of bread and to prayer.”  They discussed the apostles’ teaching.  They broke bread in the context of a full meal (1 Cor.11: 20-34).  They prayed together.   You will never find the term “worship service” used to describe the church.

Worship in the Old Testament involved going to the temple and offering animal sacrifices.  When Christ died, He was our perfect sacrifice.  The veil in the temple was torn in two, making direct access to God for every believer.  We no longer go to a temple to worship.  The Bible tells us we are the temple of God.   “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”  1 Cor. 3:16.  Eph. 2:19-22 says,  “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.”  We are not required to offer animal sacrifices.  Jesus Christ is our perfect and holy sacrifice.  Romans 12:1 teaches that we are to offer ourselves as a living and holy sacrifice, which is our spiritual service of worship.  Spiritual, since we don’t actually lay our physical bodies on an alter.   To be a holy sacrifice, we must begin by not being conformed to the world, but being transformed by renewing our minds with truth.  The rest of the chapter spells out how are to function as members of the body of Christ, which is the church.

Remember the Samaritan woman at the well?

“The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.’  Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall you worship the Father.  You worship that which you do not know; we worship that which we know, for salvation is from the Jews.  But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.  God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.'”  John 4: 19-24.  Again, worship is not about a place but about the correct spirit and about truth.

I often hear questions like, “Where would a Christian go to worship?” and, “A huge part of church to me is worship.”  Again, not according to the Biblical definition of worship.  I cringe when I hear the term “worship pastor” used to describe the person who leads the singing.  On the heals of that will be the term “worship practice” to mean rehearsal for singing.  How does the “worship pastor” oversee the worship of believers everyday?  How does one practice worship?  Have we reduced worship to mean singing some songs together on Sunday morning?  The word worship in the Bible means to lie on your face on the ground, even in the verse mentioned above in 1 Cor. 14, “But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all;  the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you.”

In the days of Nehemiah, after the wall was rebuilt and the remnant came together to hear God’s word they worshiped.  Nehemiah 8 tells the story:

“Then Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly of men, women and all who could listen with understanding, on the first day of the seventh month. He read from it before the square which was in front of the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of men and women, those who could understand; and all the people were attentive to the book of the law. Ezra the scribe stood at a wooden podium which they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand; and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam on his left hand.  Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up.  Then Ezra blessed the LORD the great God. And all the people answered, “Amen, Amen!” while lifting up their hands; then they bowed low and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.”   They stood up when God’s word was read, out or respect and honor, even more so than when we stand for a judge entering court.  Most people in churches today are not invited to stand when God’s word is read and sit passively.  But then we are told to stand up and “worship” as we sing.  The remnant in Nehemiah’s day fell on their faces and worshiped.  Try that the next time you are with the church!

I’ve heard it said that the appeal of home churches is based upon dissatisfaction with the local body for whatever reason and the case of false teaching, good reason.  Yet some believe that the only way to fight the good fight is to stay in the ranks.  I strongly disagree with this statement.  Pure and simple, the appeal to the home church is it’s BIBLICAL!!  What we see outlined in 1 Cor. 14 would not work well with hundreds or thousands of people.
“What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and one must interpret; but if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God.  Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment.  But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, the first one must keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted; and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets;  for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.  The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says.  If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.  Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? Or has it come to you only?  If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment.  But if anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.  Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues.  But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner. “

Picture this kind of meeting.  All of the men come prepared with something they have learned from God’s word.  There is no program, no format, no bulletin.  The Holy Spirit leads and directs the meeting as the people prayerfully come together.  Each one has a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, a tongue, an interpretation.  Is that what happens when your church gathers?  Or does everyone sit facing the front and one man has a teaching and another man decides on all the songs?

In the 1 Cor. 14 meeting, there is order, there is purpose.  Did you see verse 37?   “If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment.  But if anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.”  This is commanded by the Lord!  I have been in this kind of meeting although it’s not perfect, but there have been times at the end of the meeting when I was just in awe at the thread that ran through everyone’s sharing and the songs that were song.  There was a definite theme and message for the body and it was all directed by the Holy Spirit!  Now that is powerful.  If our children grew up in a gathering such as this, where the men took the spiritual leadership that they are given by God and lead their families, lead the body of Christ, do you think our children would fall away so quickly when they leave home?  Do you think people would be so easily swayed by some charming “pastor” on a stage that says what people want to hear?   The verse in 1 Cor. 14 says “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment.”  In this smaller setting, if someone teaches heresy, the others are responsible to call it out and speak truth.  We have elevated the role of the teaching pastor in a way that is not seen in Scripture.  All of the elders are to be equally responsible.  Haven’t we been guilty of what Paul speaks of in 1 Cor. 12 by putting one gift above all others?

Most believers think the most important meeting of the church is the Sunday morning “worship service.”  If this is the most important meeting, let me ask you this:  How do you exercise your God given gifts of the Holy Spirit in this main meeting?  How do you encourage someone else?  How do you edify someone else?  If you have the gift of teaching or prophecy or word of knowledge how do you use that for the body in this meeting?  You don’t, and you also do not even have the opportunity to get to know the other members of the body.  So most churches have small groups where you can do that, and I say that is backwards. The small groups are where real church happens, not in the big church meetings.  Even Andy Stanley says that church doesn’t happen in rows, it happens in circles, referring to small groups.

The question I have for believers is can we be like the people of old, who when they saw how far they had strayed from Scripture had the courage to get back on course?  Most people question and push back on the Biblical model because they are ingrained with tradition.  They respond with “what about this?” and “what about that?” and “how will this work?”  Why not step out in obedience and obey God’s word, then leave the rest up to Him?

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11 Responses to What God says about Church

  1. Michelle says:

    The word that you have translated as "women" in your quote from Scripture above can also be translated as "wives." This makes more sense than requiring Christian women to be silent whenever two or more Christians gather (isn't that the church?) With your interpretation, women's Bible study groups would also have to be silent. There are far too many places in the New Testament where women are called "fellow workers" in the Gospel to think that women were silent in the early church.

    Scripture does not contradict Scripture. At Pentecost, Peter quoted from Joel, "your sons and your daughters will prophesy." The word "prophesy" means to speak for the word of God – the gospel.

    It is most likely that the "wives" referred to in the Corinthians passage were the unbelieving wives who came with their husbands in compliance with the Greco-Roman household laws that required wives, slaves, and children to follow the faith of the head of the family (hence the reference to "the law" that would have been very out of character for Paul if it meant the Law of Moses!) There are two articles about this topic on our website, given above. I would be interested in your reaction to them.

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  2. Bobbie Sawyer says:

    Hi Michelle,
    The passages were quoted from the New American Standard 1977 translation. The intent of my blog was to address what I perceive to be misunderstandings of the purpose of the church gathering, but you do bring up a good point.

    You are right, the word can be translated "wife" or "woman." The word is used 43 times in 1 Corinthians and 20 times it is translated "wife." See 5:1, 7:3, 7:12, 14, 16, 27, 29, 33 for examples. It is the same throughout the New Testament, sometimes translated as "wife" and sometimes as "woman."

    I did read your articles on this subject and would agree with your explanation regarding the culture of that time and the implications of what was happening in Corinth when the believers gathered together. Given the new freedom and high regard for women from the Christian community, it seems probable that pagan women would perhaps go to the meetings with their Christian husbands so they could express this new freedom.

    ~Bobbie

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  3. Sharon W. says:

    The role of women in ministry is definitely a much debated topic, but with sincerity of heart, study and prayer, God can give us wisdom & understanding. [Proverbs 2:1-10]

    A good place to start is defining our terms. If one interprets the 1COR 14 meeting as
    any time or anywhere the believers assemble together, I, personally, have no standing to discuss the topic. If one interprets the 1COR 14:26 mtg. as a separate, distinct type of meeting (typically, Sunday, the Lord's Day), apart from weeklly Bible study mtgs, or gathering with several believers at a coffee shop, it may be easier to understand with no contradiction of scripture.

    As a woman, I would remain silent during the the 1COR 14:26 part/segment of the meeting, which is addressed to the brothers [greek-'adelphos']. During the sharing of the full meal / fellowship time, I'm free to speak. I have the gift of prophecy. There are several different forms of "prophecy"…..are all believers prophets or prophetesses? Even having that gift, it is always to be done being lead by and filled with the Holy Spirit, as all gifts should….not the flesh. Yes, we women, do have scriptural limitations or qualifications on when, where and how we employ our giftings… but so do men.

    Quite frankly, the way most church gatherings are done on Sundays, the men in the congregation can't use whatever gifts they have been given…they also remain silent, because just a few men control the gathering while everyone else is pretty much a spectator…..talk about "atrophy of spiritual muscles"? The adversary would love to keep God's children in this condition.

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  4. Sharon W. says:

    I'll add a correction to my last comment……."apart from weekly WOMEN'S bible study meetings".
    1Timothy 2:12, "A woman is not to teach or have authority over a man; she must be silent." (public teaching in the church body meetings when men are present)

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  5. Carl Funk says:

    I think some important passage regarding "Church" are being over-looked. Part of "Church", is having Deacons and Elders appointed; a plurality of leadership needed to help with administration and teaching; "Shepherding" the body. To me this does seem to support a large group of believers operating like a Sunday Church along with the house meetings. See I and II Timothy, Titus, etc.

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  6. Larry says:

    Paul said, 'I do not allow a woman to teach or have authority over men'. His justification was not cultural but rather, 'because the man was not deceived, but the woman was deceived.' In other words he references the Fall of Mankind as his justification for the subordinate role of women in the church. Therefore there can be no such thing as a female pastor or other leader in a role that places them over men in the church. This of course does not mean that anyone has the right to look down on a woman, and certainly it does not give any man the right to disrespect or Lord himself over a woman. Women can and should contribute to the life of the Body through sharing their gifts. Women of good repute can teach the young women the way of Christ by example in biblical womanhood. As for the many female heroes of the Bible, Deborah, Mary, Mary Magdelene, Elizabeth, Lydia, Priscilla all come to mind. And for teachings, Proverbs 31 hardly describes a passive weak-willed woman. In fact Paul clearly says that false teachers prey upon weak-willed women. Be strong in The Lord sisters, but walk in that place he has called you to, as your brothers also are called to a role in the story of redemption.

    Maranatha!

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    • Amy Spreeman says:

      Larry, a lot of men and women who listen to our program may be offended by what you have shared, but not me. I agree with what you've written. And I do see much of the false teachings of our day being promoted among women's groups, Bible studies, etc. Perhaps because we are such social, sharing people! I say this as a woman who is neither weak nor a doormat. –Amy

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    • Sharon W. says:

      Thanks Larry for some words of encouragement and instruction. And as a woman, God has directed my steps to make some bold choices in His name according to His purposes….Those were not times to be weak-willed. He is my Rock. Could it be that if more of God's people would choose the "high road" of learning how to relate to God and others on His terms, that we would see more edification in the body of Christ?

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  7. Bobbie Sawyer says:

    Thank you for all of the replies. The blog wasn't meant to address women's roles in the church or the function of elders and deacons. It was meant to encourage believers to take a look at scripture and find answers to the questions, "What is the purpose of the church?" and "What should the church be doing when we come together?"

    I think the model that most churches use today is based on going to the temple and a high priest being the mediator between God and man. In the days before we all had Bibles, the church looked to the educated ones to teach them the word of God. We now have wonderful opportunities to learn God's word ourselves and access sound Biblical teaching through many sources. But the one thing we cannot get on our own is community with other believers to live out all of the "one anothers" in the Bible. We can't be the body of Christ by ourselves. A hand is not the body. Neither is a mouth. We cannot have fellowship around the Lord's supper by ourselves.

    We need each other to walk this narrow path and encourage one another, pray for one another, confess our sins to one another, be devoted to one another, give preference to one another, admonish one another, serve one another, be subject to one another, bear with one another, comfort one another, build up one another and love one another. Just to name a few!

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