“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…Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment…For you can all prophesy one by one so that all may learn, and all may be exhorted.” (1 Cor. 14:26-32)
“To Philemon our beloved brother and fellow worker…and to the church in your house.” (Philem. 1-3)
I have written often about how our modern event-driven model of Christianity is doing more to harm the cause of Christian community than to help it. False models of anything are often more damaging than no model at all, because they lead the person practicing them to think they are engaging in proper obedience when they’re not. Those who do ignore any more demanding alternatives, while the person who has not yet embraced a model will be open to giving a fair hearing to alternatives. In Matthew 6 Jesus said, “If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” I believe what He was saying was there would be more hope for those who had not come to the light, yet but would be open to it, than for someone who had come to a false light and now embraced the darkness thinking it was the light. Same concept.
Our modern church model includes the following roadblocks to true community:
- Establishes an event-driven mindset that falsely leads us to believe we’ve satisfied our spiritual responsibilities in small, scheduled, not too inconvenient time slots we can go to, stay at, or leave at our discretion and still please God,
- Features a top-down hierarchal teaching and learning model that excuses us from responsibilities to learn personally, mature and become teachers ourselves.
- Keeps us comfortably segregated from other believers so we don’t have to face, learn, or accept the challenges of living in real community,
- Keeps the world from “knowing we are His disciples” through being a largely invisible gathering rather than an open witness of community,
- Makes our spiritual walk an adjunct to real life rather than life itself,
- Excuses us from the full-time pursuit of the kingdom of heaven on earth, which is the only way to find, and afterwards live, in it.
It is almost impossible to find true Christian community today because our church model is, at a foundational level, flawed. No matter how hard well-meaning pastors try they can’t make it work. We’re making lots of converts, but without community we’re producing pitifully few kingdom saints and that’s the only standard of the Great Commission: “Disciples who observe all Jesus commands.”
Jesus lived with a community that came to be known as the Apostles. The Gospels tell us that was never an easy process, even with Jesus in charge! How much more challenging will it be for us? There were, no doubt, many similar hurdles for the community the Spirit fostered at Pentecost to overcome. Community is not easy, and it certainly isn’t convenient. The rewards are tremendous, but at a cost of personal privacy and the selfishness living in affluence inevitably produces in each and every one of us. But the fact remains, difficult or not, community was the top priority for both Jesus and the Spirit, it being the first thing both established before they began their ministries, so we need to make a much better attempt than we are making now.
Community is difficult because it requires people from all walks of life, with various baggage, false perceptions and doctrines in tow, to work together to find a way to cooperate, show grace, and present a witness of “Christ in us, the hope of glory” to the world. Jesus did not say, “They will know you are my disciples by the love you have for them,” as noble as that is. No, He said, “They will know you are My disciples by the love you have for one another.” That is only done through community, not being holed-up in buildings a couple of hours a week most won’t darken the door of. Jesus said we were to be the light of the world, a city set on a hill (Matt. 5)! We are to be out in the open in the community, visible to all.
As the verse from Philemon above and others indicate, most from Pentecost became involved in house churches. Nowhere in the NT will you find the concept of “church in the temple…church in the synagogue” mentioned. No, only “the church that is in your house,” which is mentioned several times. Church was to be done openly in the community by the people who lived in the community, so others in the community could bear witness to “the light in the city” and respond.
Within the community lifestyle there were times set apart for the gathering of the members for fellowship, learning and teaching, or what we would call church services today. The model for these apostolic fellowships, according to Paul, is found in the books of the Bible dedicated to fellowship: Corinthians. Let’s unpack the one above from 1st Corinthians:
- Paul begins by saying, “What is the outcome then? Whenever you come together…” He is saying, “Here it is all summarized for you. Here’s the smashing point. Every time you come together as the Ekkleesia, the church, here is how it is to be.”
- Paul then commands everyone who came was, to the extent God had gifted them, to be a part of the teaching community. If a person wasn’t gifted with a specific revelation from God to share, he could bring a Psalm. But the bottom line was each was to contribute, and what was contributed was to be for the edification of the entire group.
- In verse 29, Paul instructs two or three teach while the others judge. This was an extremely important part of the fellowship because it meant all were involved, all the time! Would anyone stand up in today’s churches and challenge the pastor? If there’s nothing to contribute because the one teaching [always teaching] knows and sees all, and those listening are just to listen, why remain engaged? Ever watched the vast majority of men in our modern services engaging in what’s going on? The only time they get interested is when the service is nearing an end. Then they’re engaging their watches to see how much longer they must wait to get this over with, so they can re-engage life in their real world where they play a role in what’s going on. In the Ekkleesia you are either sharing or actively judging and discussing what is being taught. Either way you are an interactive participant in the session.
- In verse 31, Paul repeats this theme where the operative word is “all.” We are to all prophesy, that all may learn, and all may be encouraged.
Under the current model of pastors and students, there is only one truly challenged to dig in to the Word and grow. There is only one challenged to learn discernment through engagement, and that is the pastor, a word used only once in the entire Bible? Once? And yet we have made them the gods of modern Christendom. They preach, they teach, they administer, they counsel, and they minister while the “all” of Paul’s teaching sit passively listening and watching. They are never challenged to contribute to the teaching, never encouraged to lend their revelations, and never grow because they are baby-sat in the comfortable pews of modern Christendom’s lavish temples rather than challenged to contribute.
The Bible tells us overseeing of the apostolic church fell to elders, a position mentioned over 40 times in the Bible. It was overseen by elders, not run by a single pastor. When it came to the Ekkleesia gathering, there is no mention of them being any different than anyone else, other than a maturity everyone acknowledged and wanted to follow. Everyone contributed, therefore everyone grew and matured.
And wasn’t that what Jesus was all about? Remember, when He was about to leave this earth He told the disciples it was good that He depart because if He didn’t the Holy Spirit would not come to take them further on their journey. I believe this was partly due to the fact that He didn’t want to be “the pastor.” He knew if He stayed the disciples would cling to Him as the sole leader of the group, and that wasn’t why He came. He “did not come to be served, but to serve.” Jesus wanted all of them to grow individually, and to challenge others to grow.
Finally, Paul sets the example of this concept in two passages in his Epistles to the Thessalonians. In 1st Thessalonians 2 Paul asks, “For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? For you are our glory and joy!” Then, in 1st Thessalonians 3 he states, “For now we really live if you stand firm in the Lord.” Whenever a man asks me to disciple him, I tell him the goal is for me to do my job so well I eventually choke on his dust! It’s my job to deny myself, and my desires, and help make him a better Christian man than I’ll ever be.
The love of God demands the goal of the Gospel is not to exalt the already exalted, but to lift up the lowly and exalt them! Jesus said the true shepherd would abandon the 99 safely in the pen to go out and restore the one that was lost (Luke 15). Why would the mature be the ones doing all the studying and teaching, rather than challenging their apprentices to do so? The structure provided by Paul in 1st Corinthians offers this opportunity.
In true Christian community, everyone is constantly challenged to be in the process of moving from wherever they are to the next step Jesus wants them to take. According to Hebrews 5 there is only one way to do this: PRACTICE. According to Jesus in John 15, practice [keeping His commands] was the way to mature from being slaves who do not know what He is doing, to friends to whom He discloses Himself. Under Paul’s instructions for the Ekkleesia in 1st Corinthians 14, that is exactly what happens: “all teach, all learn, and all are encouraged.”
Seek out true fellowship. Find brothers who gather not to be led, but to challenge one another to share the mantle of leadership. That is how we grow from being “babes” who exist on milk, to meat-eaters “who, through practice, have learned to discern good and evil.” This is Christian community, and we must embrace new models of what we call “church” if we are ever to revive it. The Lighthouse Communities of the Marketplace Saints proposes just such a model which you will find on our website, www.Marketplacesaints.net.