by Leland M. Haines
2. Public Worship Services
3. What to Teach?
6. Women Not to Speak in Services
7. House Churches and Meetinghouses
8. Separate Church Seating Arrangement
9. Meeting Times
10. Church Finances
11. The Great Commission
12. The Early Church Model Witness to Us
Jesus taught, "You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve" (Luke 4:8; cf. Matthew 4:10). The disciples worshiped the Lord Jesus. When Peter walked on the water to meet Jesus, "those in the boat worshiped him, saying, 'Truly you are the Son of God'" (Matthew 14:33). After the resurrection, "they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him" (28:9). "And when they saw him they worshiped him" (v. 17). Some of those Jesus helped "worshiped him" (John 9:38).
The worship Jesus taught is different from that carried out under the Old Testament Law. When Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well, she asked about the proper place to worship. He answered, "The hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him" (John 4:23). The Samaritans worshiped on the Mount Gerizim, while the Jews worshiped in Jerusalem. But neither place was to be the central place to worship in the future. The time was coming when the place of worship was unimportant. The important thing was that worship was to be in spirit and truth. These two things alone make worship genuine.
Paul told the Roman governor "that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers" (Acts 24:14). He also wrote, "For we are the true circumcision, who worship God in spirit, and glory in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:3). Worship under the new covenant involved worshiping the same God but in a different way than prescribed under the Law. It is according to the Way taught by Jesus and the apostles, and it is done "in spirit."
When Paul wrote to the Corinthians about problems in their meetings, he told them to be mature in their thinking. They were misusing foreign languages and had to remember what the Old Testament Law told them, "By men of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people" (Isaiah 28:11, 12). These "tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers." They were signs for the unbelieving Jews. Paul noted that if tongues (languages) were misused and "the whole church assembles and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so, falling on his face, he will worship God, and declare that God is really among you" (I Corinthians 14:20-25). A little later he wrote that the church service is to be orderly, "for God is not a God of confusion but of peace" (I Corinthians 14:32).
Public Worship Services
As mentioned earlier, the worship of the early church was patterned after the synagogue. The synagogue apparently developed during the Babylonian captivity, when it was not possible to worship in the temple. The synagogue worship was different from that of the temple in that synagogues were located in each community and had no sacrificial system. They were widely accepted among God's people. Luke wrote, "From early generations Moses has had in every city those who preach him, for he is read every sabbath in the synagogues" (Acts 15:21). The synagogue was accepted by Jesus, "teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom" (Matthew 4:23), "he taught them in their synagogue" (Matthew 13:54), "on the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue" (Mark 6:2), and "he went to the synagogue, as his custom was, on the sabbath" (Luke 4:16).
When the early church patterned her basic worship service after the synagogue, this was not a matter of copying their service, but a matter of God making both similar. The disciples followed Jesus' will in this; they did not adopt the synagogue pattern on their own. As John Davis noted, "The public worship of the church was engrafted upon the synagogue service."
The synagogue service involved the reading of Scripture as the following examples show. Jesus "stood up to read, and there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah. . . . And he closed the book. . . . And he began to say" (Luke 4:16-22). Paul and his company "on the sabbath day went into the synagogue. After the reading of the law and the prophets," they were asked if they had "any work of exhortation" (Acts 13:15). We find New Testament evidence for Scripture reading being a part of the early church services. Paul wrote, "Attend to the public reading of scripture, to preaching, to teaching" (I Timothy 4:13), "And when this letter has been read among you, have it read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you read also the letter from Laodicea" (Colossians 4:16), and "I adjure you by the Lord that this letter be read to all the brethren" (I Thessalonians 5:27). The emphasis in the New Testament is for disciples to "be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves" (James 1:22). To do this the disciples had to hear and be taught the Word.
After the reading of Scripture, a brother would expound upon it. In the Book of Acts Luke gave an example of the synagogue's service. He wrote that "after the reading of the law and the prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent to them, saying, 'Brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say it.'" Luke then summarized Paul's sermon. He noted that this sermon brought a strong response from those who heard it: "The people begged that these things might be told them the next sabbath. . . . many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who spoke to them and urged them to continue in the grace of God. The next sabbath almost the whole city gathered together to hear the word of God" (Acts 13:15-44).
There are two methods of teaching, teaching through example and through words. It goes without saying that the elders are to be examples to their flocks. As to the style of sermons, it needs to be emphasized again that many problems could be avoided if the church would follow the biblical methods of teaching the Word and relying on the working of the Holy Spirit. Many problems exist today because past generations have sinned in not following God's way but have followed man-made methods of preaching and teaching.
When we look at Jesus' preaching, we find He spoke in a simple, straightforward manner and used simple illustrations from everyday life. He spoke of baking, catching fish, housecleaning, leaven, pruning vines, sowing seed, weeds, etc. Read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and the Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6), and you will find God's timeless truths expressed in very simple, straightforward words.
There are two general types of preaching, expositional and topical. The speaker in expositional preaching seeks to explain the meaning of a biblical passage. In topical preaching he seeks to bring together Scriptures that speak on one subject. Both should be carried out in simple, everyday language that is not chosen to demonstrate one's degree of learning, but if anything, to hide it. The purpose is to explain the revealed Word and not to produce a show of human learning. As Paul emphasized to the Corinthians, he "did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God in lofty words or wisdom. . . . my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God" (I Corinthians 2:1-5). Thus the message should be expressed in simple words, yet it can be precise and "in the power of God."
Rhetoric should be held to a minimum, and speaking does not need to be dazzling, witty, or a play on words that appeals to the mind and not to the spiritual man. Teaching should be in the natural voice, not in a flamboyant or showmanship way, with a fast-fire, emotion-packed buildup. It does not seem proper for church leaders to play on emotions when both Paul and Peter admonished Christians to be sober. As Thayer pointed out, the Greek term nepho translated sober is "in the New Testament everywhere tropology to be calm and collected in spirit; to be temperate, dispassionate, circumspect." We see this meaning in Paul writing to the Thessalonians, "Let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober." We are not to act like those who are of the night and sleep or are drunk. We are to be in complete control of our senses, which is the opposite of drowsiness that comes from drink or sleep. "Let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love" (I Thessalonians 5:6-8). Paul used the same Greek term when he admonished Timothy to "continue to be sober in every respect" (Lenski), or "keep your head in all situations" (II Timothy 4:5 NIV). Lenski wrote that to be sober "denotes the clarity of mind and of sound judgement." Peter, after writing about those "who preached the good news to you through the Holy Spirit," told his readers to "gird up your minds, be sober, set your hope fully upon the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (I Peter 1:10-13). He later wrote, "The end of all things is at hand; therefore keep sane and sober for your prayers," and "Be sober, be watchful" (I Peter 4:7, 5:8). In light of these admonishments to be sober, meaning as Thayer wrote, "to be calm and collected in spirit," it would hardly be proper for church leaders to play on emotions.
This does not mean presentations have to be dry or dull. It must be one that impresses the mind so that the Spirit can work. Teaching should be clear and frank, and the use of harsh or condemning language should be avoided.
The speaker should avoid making a show of Greek, Hebrew, but should speak the Word in the language of the common person. There may be times where a brief mention of the original Bible language is required, but when this is done it should be done very modestly. Do not parade your knowledge in these areas in order to impress the listener. One may wish to use these resources frequently in private study, but their use should not be done to impress the hearer in the assembly. The use of other uncommon languages such as the use of Latin phrases and quotes from the classical writings, such as Shakespeare, should be left out. They can disturb the hearer's train of thought and draw the mind away from understanding the Word being spoken to them. The hearer may not understand them and think about them instead of the Word of God as it is being expounded. The speaker should remember the listener and communicate with him in his own language.
As mentioned earlier, it is not necessary to rely on man's ingenuity to work an emotional experience in a person nor to rely on psychological mechanisms or emotional aids to bring a person to repentance. We should follow Jesus' method of teaching, where He expressed spiritual truths in everyday, common language supported by common everyday observations. Generally, He did not center His discussion on the theological ideas and issues of His day. His main emphasis was not on presenting heretical ideas so He could tear them down. Instead, He centered His messages on clear and straightforward teaching.
When speaking on a passage or subject, points about disputable subjects or views relating to another subject should not be carelessly made because this is often a distraction.
What to Teach?
The goal of the church's teaching should be to help carry out the great commission to "make disciples of all nations . . . teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19, 20). As Luke wrote, "He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that he is the one ordained by God to be judge of the living and the dead" (Acts 10:42). Paul asked, "How are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? And how can men preach unless they are sent? As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news!'" (Romans 10:14, 15).
About his own calling, Paul wrote, "Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. . . . we preach to save those who believe" (I Corinthians 1:17-21) and "we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who possess the Spirit" (I Corinthians 2:13). His desire was to preach the gospel and spiritual truths, to give a balanced presentation of God's Word.
First, the church leaders should teach as Paul did; he "decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (I Corinthians 2:2). They should teach the good news about Jesus, and His life and ministry.
The church's leadership should teach the meaning of Jesus' words, "deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Matthew 16:24). This should include "teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:20), as mentioned earlier. They should teach that men "may learn by us to live according to scriptures" (I Corinthians 4:6 RSV, 1952 edition). They should teach men so they learn how they "ought to live and to please God" (I Thessalonians 4:1). They should remember their goal is to make disciples; discipleship, that is, following Christ, must be the end goal of the church's preaching.
To know Christ also means to know His doctrine, so it is important to teach doctrine as Paul and the other apostles did. In Paul's pastoral epistles to Timothy and Titus, Paul wrote about what makes a good minister. To Timothy he wrote, "If you put these instructions before the brethren, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the words of the faith and of good doctrine which you have followed. Have nothing to do with godless and silly myths. Train yourself in godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God. . . . Command and teach these things" (I Timothy 4:6-11), and "Preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching" (II Timothy 4:2, 3). To Titus he wrote, "Hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it" (Titus 1:9), and "Teach what befits sound doctrine" (Titus 2:1).
In teaching we must always remember that "the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power" (I Corinthians 4:20). This preaching and teaching in the end will have a powerful effect on the hearers, but as emphasized earlier this preaching and teaching should not involve playing on emotions. The goal should be clear teaching, done in a natural voice, leaving the convicting to the Holy Spirit. This will avoid many problems that develop when preaching plays on emotions.
In Ecclesiastes, writing about Solomon, it is written, "The Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging proverbs with great care. The Preacher sought to find pleasing words, and uprightly he wrote words of truth. The sayings of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings which are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh" (Ecclesiastes 12:9-12). The preacher today may not seek to make proverbs, but his goal in preaching and teaching should be the same. They should teach the people knowledge and words of truth.
The reader may wish to read the early church's sermons recorded in the Book of Acts. He will find these sermons directed towards adults. Below is a list of these sermons:
- Peter's Sermon at the Temple Acts 3:12-26
- Stephen's Sermon before the Jerusalem Council Acts 7:2-53
- Paul's Sermon at Antioch Acts 13:16-43, 46, 47
- Peter's Sermon at the Jerusalem Conference Acts 15:7-21
- Paul's Sermon at Athens Acts 17:22-31
- Paul's Sermon at the Temple Acts 22:1-21
- Paul's Sermon at the Jerusalem Council Acts 23:1-5
The preceding paragraphs emphasize that the elders should carry on a strong preaching and teaching program in the local church. Their teaching activities are to be carried out in the local church and cannot be assigned to other institutions. With this biblical emphasis there should be no need to create additional institutions to carry out the church's teaching responsibility, be it Sunday schools (which have no biblical basis and takes time away from God's ordained brethren preaching and teaching in the assembly), elementary schools, high schools, colleges, or seminaries.
There is strong evidence that music in the early church consisted only of a cappella congregational singing. There are many reasons to believe this. We find as far as music is concerned, the New Testament emphasis is upon singing. Jesus and His disciples sang together, "And when they had sung a hymn . . ." (Matthew 26:30; cf. Mark 14:26). Paul wrote, "I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also" (I Corinthians 14:15), "Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father" (Ephesians 5:18-20), and "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God" (Colossians 3:16). The writer of the Book of Hebrews wrote, "I will proclaim thy name to my brethren, in the midst of the congregation I will praise thee" (Hebrews 2:12), apparently referring to singing.
Singing is mentioned in the above passages without even a hint of musical instruments. And from church history we know they were not used. Musical instruments were a later development in the church and were brought in without biblical authority. The church for several hundred years rejected these man- made, mechanical means to make music. Musical instruments were used in the Old Testament (I Samuel 18:6; II Samuel 6:5; I Chronicles 13:8; 15:16, 18; 25:6; II Chronicles 5:12, 13; 20:28; 23:13; 29:25, 27; Nehemiah 12:27; Psalms 33:2; 68:25; 81:2; 92:1-3; 95:1; 104:33; 105:2; 149:1; Daniel 3:5; Amos 6:5), but we have no record of their use in the New Testament church. If instruments were to be used in the church, they surely would have been mentioned in the New Testament.
The law was fulfilled in Christ, therefore temple use of musical instruments was rejected by the church. They were rejected along with the burnt offerings, dancing, incenses, sacrifices, etc. This was based on the fact that "the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:23, 24; cf. Philippians 3:3). Mechanical machines are not of the Spirit. The aesthetic and entertainment value of musical instruments is well known, but this is not desired in true worship. This goal is "singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart" (Ephesians 5:19). "In spirit" and "your heart" is a spiritual work. In commenting on being cheerful, James wrote, "Let him sing praise" (James 5:13). The aesthetic and entertainment "spirit of the world" (I Corinthians 2:12) must be rejected. This was one of the reasons the early church sang a cappella. It should be noted that the synagogues too rejected musical instruments ("singing was unaccompanied" ).
Many church members want to use aids in worship to create a spirit of awe in the listener, and herein lies the danger of musical instruments. They can subvert the worshiper. Man-made experiences can replace God's Spirit and create a false impression in the hearer.
There are other practical reasons for a cappella singing. This form of worship established by the apostles improves singing. The congregation must learn to sing because the melody is not carried by a piano or an organ. Furthermore, musical instruments can be are expensive to buy and maintain. There are more important uses of money in the church than spending it on musical instruments.
Worship services should begin and end with prayer. These need not be lengthy. As a matter of fact, Jesus warned against long prayer, performed to be seen and heard by men:
He did give an example of prayer:
This example shows that man's prayers need not to be long.
Prayer need not be eloquent by men's standards to be acceptable to God. As Paul wrote, "The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words" (Romans 8:26).
Disciples should pray to their Father often, as several Scriptures clearly teach. Jesus "told them a parable, to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. . . . And will not God vindicate his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will vindicate them speedily'" (Luke 18:1-8). Paul wrote to "continue steadfastly in prayer" (Colossians 4:2), to "pray constantly" (I Thessalonians 5:17), and "that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling" (I Timothy 2:8). So prayer is to be continuous and need not be done only in the church assembly. In the New Testament age men can pray "in every place."
As to the position of prayer, there are examples in the Book of Acts showing that the brethren and sisters knelt in prayer. Luke wrote that when Peter was called to help Dorcus, he entered the upper room and "knelt down and prayed" (Acts 9:40). At the end of an elder meeting, Paul, after speaking, "knelt down and prayed" (Acts 20:36). When Paul left Tyre after a seven-day visit, the whole church went with them a short distance, "and kneeling down on the beach we prayed and bade one another farewell" (Acts 21:5). These examples showed kneeling was a common practice. But no position is of any avail if the heart is not right and humbled before God.
Women Not to Speak in Services
Paul taught clearly that "in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home" (I Corinthians 14:33-35). "Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent" (I Timothy 2:11). Therefore, as mentioned earlier, sisters are not to preach or teach in the church assembly.
House Churches and Meetinghouses
At the very beginning of the New Testament era, we read about the disciples "breaking bread in their homes" (Acts 2:46). Later Luke wrote that "many were gathered together and were praying" at the house of Mary (12:12). Paul wrote, "Greet also the church in their house" (Romans 16:5), "and the church in her house . . . have it read also in the church of the Laodiceans" (Colossians 4:15, 16), "give my greeting to . . . the church in her house" (Colossians 4:15), and about "the church in your house" (Philemon 2). There is a possibility that Romans 16:14 and 15 might refer to other churches in homes.
These Scriptures teach us that the early church met in homes. Special "church" buildings were unknown in the early church. Apparently the early church did not adapt this feature of the synagogue. They followed Jesus' teaching that it was not the place but worshiping in "spirit and truth" that was important, so they avoided building man-made temples (John 4:23, 24).
They knew nothing of special buildings to assemble in. The earliest special church buildings were "meeting houses." "The earliest known church building is usually thought to be at Dura-Europos on the River Euphrates, where a house dating from AD 232-3 was adapted soon after its construction to make a larger hall suitable for about a hundred people to assemble for worship." But use of this type of meetinghouse did not last long. "After Constantine the picture changed completely . . . large, impressive churches were built in many places."
We would be wise to follow this early church practice today. At most, if a special building is needed and used for assembly, it should be only a simple meetinghouse.
The "church" is not a building but an assembly of disciples (Matthew 18:20), whether they meet in homes, in simple meetinghouses. Hopefully "friends, i.e. non-members" also should be present as visitors. Men can build large "church" structures and cathedrals, but these do not make a church or bring one closer to God. Man should realize also that "God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything" (Acts 17:24, 25). God doesn't need costly man-made structures; they do not impress Him. We are promised that "where two or three are gathered in my [Jesus'] name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20). The modern church believes that two or three hundred -- even thousands -- are required to be gathered together to have a satisfactory service.
In the Old Testament period the center of national worship was the tabernacle or the temple. Solomon's temple was a large building and court complex built on Ornan's threshing floor, which is now a part of Jerusalem (I Chronicles 21:28-22:1; 22:5; 29:1; II Chronicles 3:1-5:1). In the New Testament the body of believers in Jesus Christ (the members) is the temple of God; the temple is not a building. Paul wrote, "Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's spirit dwells in you?" (I Corinthians 3:16), and "your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit" (I Corinthians 6:19). Thus under the new covenant there is no need of large, expensive temple buildings. The temple was a part of the old covenant that was done away with when the new covenant came. All that is needed today is a place to gather together, be it in a home or a simple meetinghouse.
The danger of assembling in large, fancy, impressive structures is that they may foster pride and create a false sense of awe that is not brought about by the working of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, they can be a waste of resources that should be devoted to taking care of the needy within the brotherhood and carrying the Gospel to the lost.
Separate Church Seating Arrangement
The historical practice established by the apostles is for the men and women to be seated separately in the service. This practice was followed in the church until recent times when it became fashionable to throw out the historical practice and sit as families. This modern custom should be rejected for the following reasons:
2. It creates greater fellowship within the church. After the service, less attention is directed to the other family members and more to other brethren and sisters and friends.
3. Separated seating makes it easier for widows, widowers, and singles to feel a part of the brotherhood. They do not feel isolated because they do not have their own family to sit with. This gives them a greater feeling of fellowship with others.
4. The ministers can speak more directly to brethren or sisters when required.
5. It improves congregational singing. The soprano and alto sisters are together, and the tenor and bass brethren are together, creating greater harmony.
6. It lessens distractions between husband and wife and romance between the unmarried within the service, thus creating a better spiritual atmosphere.
7. When seated separately in the assembly, visitors and friends, as well as brethren and sisters, pay more attention to spiritual matters in the service. When the minister speaks a word that is convicting, these cannot avoid it as easily by switching their attention to a partner. This creates a better atmosphere for the Holy Spirit to work in.
8. Separate seating also provides for a quieter service. Children are separated and under the control of one parent, and when a mother has to leave the service with a small child, there is less distraction.
9. The holy kiss is less likely to be practiced in mixed seating assemblies.
Paul wrote to "hold fast to what is good" (Romans 12:9). This practice was established by Jesus working through His apostles and is one of the good things that needs to be retained in the churches that still practice it and reestablished in the others. Separate seating has been the main practice in the church throughout the ages and is still practiced by many. Thus it should be considered an important apostolic practice and never an oddity.
Let us comment here about visitors to church services. Friends are welcomed at church services (I Corinthians 14:23, 24), and no partiality is to be shown to them. James wrote, "My brethren, show no partiality as you hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . For if a man with gold rings and in fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and you pay attention to clothing, and say, 'Have a seat here, please', while you say to the poor man, 'Stand there', or, 'Sit at my feet', have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?" (James 2:1-4). The use of the term man, and his gold ring and fine clothing showed friends attended the services. James would not have addressed a brother by the term man. And a brother would not wear a gold rings or fine clothing (a brother would not wear these worldly items that sisters were forbidden to wear, I Timothy 2:9 and I Peter 3:3).
The disciples should assemble together to worship, pray, to hear the Word preached and taught, to have fellowship together, etc. The writer of Hebrews wrote, "not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near" (Hebrews 10:25). This is only a natural desire among brethren; "if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another" (I John 1:7).
As to the time of the services, we should follow the example of the early church who held her worship services on the first day of the week, the Lord's Day. This day was set aside to commemorate the Lord's resurrection. As the Gospels report, the Lord arose from the dead "after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week" (Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:1, Luke 24:1, John 20:1).
Worship on this day was begun by Jesus when He met with His disciples "on the evening of that day, the first day of the week" (John 20:1, 19). He met again with the disciples on the next Sunday night (John 20:26). This practice of meeting on the first day of the week was continued throughout church history. We have evidence of this in three New Testament Scriptures. Luke wrote that some early Christians "On the first day of the week . . . were gathered together to break bread" and to hear Paul preach to them (Acts 20:7). Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside" (I Corinthians 16:2). And John wrote that he "was in the Spirit on the Lord's day" (Revelation 1:10). These all suggest that Christians should meet together on the Lord's Day, i.e., the first day of the week.
Although there is no New Testament commandment that Christians must meet on the first day of the week and not on the Jewish Sabbath, the Scriptures mentioned strongly suggest this was the early church's practice. And there are ample early church writings that show this day, and not the Jewish Sabbath, was used throughout the early church.
Justin Martyr (114-165), in the First Apology of Justin, wrote, "On the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the county gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits. . . . But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His disciples . . . . "
Ignatius (30-107) wrote to the Magnesians that "those who were brought up in the ancient order of things have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord's Day." Elsewhere he wrote that "they no longer observe Jewish Sabbaths, but keep holy the Lord's Day, on which, through Him and through His death, our life arose." The author of the Epistle of Barnabas (about 100) wrote as speaking for God that "your present Sabbaths are not acceptable to Me, but that [Sabbath] which I made, when giving rest to all things, I shall make a beginning the eighth day, that is, a beginning of another world. Wherefore, also we keep the eighth day with joyfulness, the day also on which Jesus rose again from the dead."
The Didache (120-180) contains the statement that "on the Lord's Day, after you have come together, break bread and offer the Eucharist."
These early writings show that the early church met on the Lord's Day. Philip Schaff summed this evidence up by writing, "The celebration of the Lord's Day in memory of the resurrection of Christ dates undoubtedly from the apostolic age. Nothing short of apostolic precedent can account for the universal religious observance in the churches in the second century. There is no dissenting voice." He later wrote, "The fathers did not regard the Christian Sunday as a continuation of, but as a substitute for, the Jewish Sabbath, and based it not so much on the fourth commandment, and the primitive rest of God in creation, to which the commandment expressly refers, as upon the resurrection of Christ and the apostolic tradition . . . Sunday was always regarded in the ancient church as a divine institution." Thus we can be see the justification for the church to keep Sunday as the day for worship and rest, and not Saturday. Why would the early Christians change the day for worship from Sabbath (Saturday) to Sunday? Some of the reasons for this change were:
Paul wrote to the Colossians that they should "see to it that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition . . . not according to Christ." It was Christ who "canceled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross." Because of the Christian's standing in Christ, "no one [should] pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are only a shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ" (Colossians 2:8-17). Jesus Christ is the Messiah, and the Law was a preparation for Him, and He is now to be the center of focus by having the day of worship on the day of the week His resurrection occurred.
2. The Sabbath was a special day given to Israel and was not given to men in general, to the church, or to Christians. Moses was told, "Say to the people of Israel" (Exodus 31:12). And Moses stated, "It is a sign for ever between me and the people of Israel" (Exodus 31:16). The Sabbath was given that Israel would "remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out . . . therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day" (Deuteronomy 5:15).
3. All the Ten Commandments are quoted or reaffirmed in the New Testament except the fourth one, the Sabbath commandment. Therefore it is not a part of the New Covenant, but only of the Old. God does have commandments He expects men to follow today, but these are not the Mosaic Law found in the Old Testament, but those found in the New Testament.
4. Many think of the Sabbath in terms of the Ten Commandments' "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy" (Exodus 20:8f.; 23:12; 31:12f.). But those who insist on keeping the Sabbath do not do so. Moses wrote that "whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death" (Exodus 31:15). No Christian would ever think of carrying out this aspect of the Old Testament law. The grace and truth brought by Jesus Christ (John 1) leaves no room for such harsh attitudes and action. The Christian is to love his enemies (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27-36).
5. Although it is a good practice, and it is almost necessary to have a special day set aside for worship, under the New Covenant no special Sabbath is prescribed. There is no mention of keeping a Sabbath in the New Testament, nor is it listed in any list of sins. If God wanted Christians to keep a Sabbath, Paul, being an apostle to the Gentiles, surely would had mentioned it to them.
Paul wrote that "all days are alike" (Romans 14:5). They are all holy. As for the weak brother, we are to welcome him "but not for disputes over opinions" (Romans 14:1). "One esteems one day better than another, while another esteems all days alike." They should both seek to honor the Lord. Paul asks a question, "Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother?" Neither should be done because one has different opinions (Romans 14:10).
6. Paul repeated this in another book. He wrote, "Let no one pass judgment on you in questions of. . . a sabbath" (Colossians 2:16). As mentioned earlier, these are "only a shadow . . . the substance belongs to Christ" (v 17).
Because some churches teach that Christians must keep the Jewish Sabbath, let us answer a couple points they make. They frequently state that because Jesus and Paul kept the Sabbath, Christians should too.
Yes, Christ kept the Sabbath; He kept the Law perfectly. Because He lived under the Law, He went frequently to the synagogue on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:9-12; Luke 6:1-5; Mark 2:27). But this is no reason for Christians to keep it. He lived under the Old Covenant, having not yet brought in the New.
And yes, Paul went to synagogues on his missionary journeys to teach the Jews about Christ. The reason is that they met on the Sabbath, so he went there on that day (Acts 13:14, 44; 14:1; 17:2; 18:4, 19; 19:8). But this does not show he kept the Sabbath as a Christian day. He only went there because he did everything possible to win the Jews to Christ.
In summary, there are indications from the New Testament that Christians met on the first day of the week for worship, and we know from church history and writings that this was the practice. There is no proof at all that the Sabbath law is a command of God for Christians. Thus Christians should keep the Lord's Day.
There are times when other special meetings can be held. We read of one of these in Acts, where Luke wrote about Paul prolonging "his speech until midnight" (Acts 20:7). Thus worship need not be limited to the Lord's day.
The emphasis on giving of money and goods in the early church is quite different from that found in today's churches. The early church's giving was an outgrowth of Jesus' views that the greatest commandment was to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. . . . And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets" (Matthew 22:37-40; cf. Mark 12:29-31).
These commandments to love were emphasized by the apostles. Paul wrote, "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2). Earlier in this letter he wrote, "Through love be servants of one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (Galatians 5:13, 14). He wrote the Thessalonians, "Concerning love of the brethren you have no need to have one write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another" (I Thessalonians 4:9). The writer of the Book of Hebrews wrote, "Let brotherly love continue" (Hebrews 13:1). Peter, too, emphasized these commandments. He wrote in his first general epistle: "Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere love of the brethren, love one another earnestly from the heart" (I Peter 1:22). Later he wrote, "Finally, all of you have unity of spirit, sympathy, love of the brethren, a tender heart and a humble mind" (I Peter 3:8), and "Above all hold unfailing your love for one another. . . . As each has received a gift, employ it for one another" (I Peter 4:8-10), showing this love was to be a reality in the church.
John emphasized this several times in his first epistle. "We should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another" (I John 3:23). "Let us love one another; for love is of God. . . . Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. . . . if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us" (I John 4:7, 11, 12). "And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also" (I John 4:21). In his second letter, John wrote that he was writing an old commandment that was from the beginning, "that you follow love" (II John 6).
The type of giving mentioned in the New Testament is based on these two commandments. The main emphasis in the New Testament is giving to those in need, first to those within the church, and secondly to others as the opportunity is available ("Let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith," Galatians 6:10). A secondary emphasis in giving was for local churches voluntarily supporting the apostles or close associates on their missionary journeys. Let us look at these areas in more detail.
Love results in sharing in the church. Those who have share with those who are in want. Jesus told His disciples, "Do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on." As God takes care of the birds, He will take care of His disciples (Matthew 6:25-32; cf. Luke 12:22-31). God's primary way to supply their needs was through the church. It would be cruel for brethren to trust in the Lord and have to suffer because the church did not fulfill her God-given role. To prevent this from happening, the top priority in giving in every local church should be to help those in need within the congregation. The church should never grow cold in this just because the government today fulfills many needs through the social security program, welfare programs, etc.
The New Testament writers gave several examples of how this sharing was practiced in the early church. Luke wrote in detail about the first example. They "had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as they had need" (Acts 2:44-46). A little later in this book Luke expands in this, writing that these early Christians "were one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things he possessed was his own, but had everything in common. . . . There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet; and distribution was made to each as any had need" (4:32-35).
Soon after this, the Hellenist Christians "murmured against the Hebrews because their widows were neglected in their daily distribution" (Acts 6:1). Later "the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brethren who lived in Judea, and they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul" (11:29, 30). This shows that sharing was practiced locally toward individuals and between churches separated by great distances.
Paul wrote that on his and Barnabas' visit to Jerusalem, they were asked to "remember the poor" (Galatians 2:10). Paul wrote about "contributions for the saints" (I Corinthians 16:1). The church of Macedonia practiced "wealth of liberality on their part. For they gave according to their means . . . and beyond their means, of their own free will, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints" (II Corinthians 8:2-4). Later Paul noted about "this gracious work which we are carrying on, for the glory of the Lord . . . this liberal gift which we are administering" (vs. 19, 20) and "about the offering for the saints . . . arrange in advance for this gift you have promised, so that it may be ready not as an exaction but as a willing gift" (9:1, 5). Later, in his trial before Felix, Paul remembered this work. He stated, "I came to bring to my nation alms and offerings" (Acts 24:17).
In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul reminded them, "God loves a cheerful giver." When Christians give, they need not fear being left short, because "God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything. . . . He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your resources and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for great generosity." Their "service not only supplies the wants of the saints but also overflowed in many thanksgivings to God. . . . you will glorify God by your obedience . . . and by the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others" (II Corinthians 9:7-13).
Brethren that love their brothers in Christ look beyond themselves. Paul admonished the Philippian brethren that if there was any affection and sympathy, they should "do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others." The Christian is to follow Christ's example and be a servant and help others any way possible, both spiritually and materially (Philippians 2:1-7).
The writer of Hebrews wrote that through Christ "let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God," but we are to go beyond lip service. "Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God" (Hebrews 13:15, 16). Charitable contributions to one's brother are pleasing to God.
This sharing is to be a continuous effort. "Let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith" (Galatians 6:9, 10).
The brethren are to be ready to share, and the amount one can share is unimportant. "For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a man has, not according to what he has not" (II Corinthians 8:12). Jesus gave us an example of this when He told about the poor widow who put the two copper coins into the treasury. Jesus said, "I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all the living that she had" (Luke 21:1-4; cf. Mark 12:41-44).
Paul wrote to the Romans about the different gifts of grace that existed in the church. "Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them . . . he who contributes, in liberality; he who gives aid, with zeal" (Romans 12:6, 8). Sharing is making use of the gifts that God gave, and should be done liberally and with zeal. Brethren who have wealth should not live "high" on it but be willing to help others. As to the rich, Paul wrote that they should "not be haughty. . . . They are to do good, to be rich in good deeds, liberal and generous." By doing this they lay a good foundation "that they may take hold of the life which is life indeed" (I Timothy 6:17-19).
This was not a matter of making life easy for some and a burden for others, "but that as a matter of equality your abundance at the present time should supply their want, so that their abundance may supply your want, that there may be equality. As it is written, 'He who gathered much had nothing over, and he who gathered little had no lack'" (II Corinthians 8:14, 15). If Christians would practice equality today, it would make a radical change in the church.
The believers are to "be careful to apply themselves to good deeds. . . . let our people learn to apply themselves to good deeds, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not to be unfruitful" (Titus 3:8, 14). The Book of Hebrews states, "Let brotherly love continue. . . . Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God" (Hebrews 13:1, 16).
John asked a pointed question, "If any one has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth" (I John 3:17, 18). "Beloved, it is a loyal thing you do when you render any service to the brethren, especially to strangers, who testified to your love before the church" (III John 5, 6). Thus love must bring about the sharing of one's goods and home to traveling brethren.
Disciples are instructed in their attitude today toward material possessions and money, in case they begin to develop a "give me, give me" attitude. Hebrews states, "Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have" (Hebrews 13:5). Paul wrote to the Corinthians that their eating together in church was not a Lord's supper, "For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal, and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?" (I Corinthians 11:20-22).
Those who share are blessed and enriched. Paul wrote that the Lord mentioned this. "In all things I have shown you that by so toiling one must help the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive'" (Acts 20:35). Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "The point is this: he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." This sharing would never leave anyone short. "God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work. As it is written, 'He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures for ever.'" God will "supply and multiply your resources. . . . You will be enriched in every way for great generosity . . . for rendering of this service not only supplies the wants of the saints but also overflows in many thanksgivings to God. . . . by the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others" (II Corinthians 9:6-12). As James put it, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction" (James 1:27). Love for these will result in visits, and where there is need, the sharing of material goods. The orphans and widows are not abandoned in their afflictions and left alone.
The second major area of giving in the New Testament was to support apostles and in some cases their assistants on the missionary field. These servants, as Paul explained in I Corinthians 9, had an indisputable right to church support, but because support might hinder the Gospel, he on occasions himself did not accept it. His attitude was that "we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ." His example of working to support himself is a fine example that needs to be followed today. The world views the church and ministers as those who are out to take your money. What is needed is those who would serve to "make the gospel free of charge, not making full use of my [their] right in the gospel." Such devotion to the free gospel should show onlookers that the church and her leaders are not greedy for money but are concerned for men's souls and thereby make them more open to the gospel message (I Corinthians 9:3-23).
But the above does not mean that Paul did not occasionally accept support. He accepted support only from one church. He wrote, "No church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving except you only; for even in Thessalonica you sent me help once and again." When he did accept help, he did not seek it from those who sent it nor did he accept it from those he was serving, but from another church (Philippians 4:15-17). He wrote to the Corinthians about accepting this help, stating, "When I was with you and was in want, I did not burden any one, for my needs were supplied by the brethren who came from Macedonia" (II Corinthians 11:9).
Paul wrote the Philippian Christians that when they wanted to help him, "you were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity." Later when they did help, Paul wrote, "Not that I seek the gift; but I seek the fruit which increases to your credit. I have received full payment, and more; I am filled, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God" (Philippians 4:10, 16-18).
Writing about rendering service "to the brethren, especially strangers," John stated, they "testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey as befits God's service. For they have set out for his sake and have accepted nothing from the heathen. So we ought to support such men, that we may be fellow workers in the truth" (III John 6-8). So there was some support for those who traveled in the Lord's work, but this support did not come from unbelievers. The church does not need their monies.
In the early church the elders received no support from the church. The minister's work was divided among several brethren, and because of this division, they had time to serve out of love. Thus the New Testament church had no need for paid or salaried ministries, and there is no record elders were ever paid. As Lenski wrote, "It is generally assumed that the elders were paid for their services in the apostolic churches. We are convinced that this assumption is not tenable. The probability is that none of them was paid. The elders of the synagogue were not paid or salaried. Each synagogue had a number of elders, too many to have a payroll that would be large enough to support them. The apostolic congregations imitated the synagogue in this respect."
It should be mentioned here that Paul did write to the Galatian churches, "Let him who is taught the word share all good things with him who teaches" (Galatians 6:6). Those who are taught receive many good things from the Word and should be willing to share these things with their teachers. They receive many spiritual blessings and should tell their teachers about them. And as the need arises, they should be willing to share material things. Paul was not writing to them that they should support their elders full time or give them a salary. One would not expect such a request from Paul because he never requested support for himself (I Corinthians 9:15; II Corinthians 11:9; Philippians 4:17). "Good things" does not refer only to money and material sharing; as mentioned, there are other good spiritual things to share.
Jesus asked that all sharing be done quietly. Jesus said, "When you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. . . . so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you" (Matthew 6:2-4). There is no room for boasting as some organizations (mentioning them here does not mean that they have a place in biblical giving) do when they acclaim to the world that they have done such and such.
The New Testament emphasis on financial sharing stands out in sharp contrast to 19th and 20th century practices. Today the emphasis is on giving toward church buildings and institutions (please refer back to the earlier sections on these subjects, and you will see that these approaches are not based on biblical teachings), and helping the needy within the church is often forgotten. Appeals are made for funds to operate colleges, elementary and high schools, mission boards, publishing houses, foreign relief, radio programs, etc., but the brothers and sisters and families have to make it on their own if they fall into hard times. The first priority is to operate the institutions, and funds just are not available for the brothers who do not look after their own welfare by joining a "legalist" mutual aid or insurance program. Perhaps many of these think Jesus made a mistake when He said, "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you posses and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, and come, follow me" (Matthew 19:16-22). Give to the poor? Should He not have said, "Give to the institutions and professionally operated church programs?" Hardly. This approach developed in the 19th century has no place in a biblically structured church.
In summary, the top priority every local church should have is giving to support those in need within the congregation. The church should never grow careless in this because the government today fulfills many needs through their social security program, welfare programs, etc. The church should fulfill her God-given role and be the Lord's hand in helping those in need, seeking first of all to help those in the local church, and their others as the opportunity arises.
The Great Commission
Christians are commissioned to carry the message of God's grace and the need for repentance and discipleship to all men. This commission was first given to the disciples when Jesus sent the twelve apostles out two by two to preach "the kingdom of heaven is at hand." He gave them instruction on whom to approach, to "give without pay," where to stay, etc. (Matthew 10:1-15; cf. Mark 3:13-19; 6:7-13; Luke 9:1-6). As the result of this sending out, they "went through the villages, preaching the gospel" (Luke 9:6). These apostles were given special healing power so they could confirm their apostleship (Matthew 10:8; Mark 3:15; 6:7, 13; Luke 9:1; Acts 3:7; 5:12; 14:3). Later Jesus appointed seventy and sent them out two by two (Luke 10:1-12).
Jesus, just before His ascension, told the eleven, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Matthew 28:18-20; cf. Mark 16:16). Later, speaking to the eleven disciples, Jesus said, "Repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in my name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things" (Luke 24:46-48). Earlier He told them the Holy Spirit "will bear witness to me; and you also are witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning" (John 15:26, 27). After the resurrection, in relation to this promise, Jesus told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem "until you are clothed with power from on high" (Luke 24:49; cf. Acts 1:4). These disciples knew for sometime that they were to be sent into the world with the good news (John 4:38; 13:16; 17:18). Jesus told His disciples, "As the Father has sent me, even so I send you" (John 20:21; cf. 17:18), indicating the great importance of their mission work.
At Jesus' ascension, He confirmed the disciples' mission by stating, "You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8). Thus the apostles were commissioned to be witnesses of Jesus Christ. Later Peter summed up the great commission by stating that Jesus Christ said they "were chosen by God as witnesses. . . . And he commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that he is the one ordained by God to be judge of the living and the dead" (Acts 10:41, 42).
The great commission applies to all disciples. Luke emphasizes throughout Acts that all disciples, not just the apostles, carried out the great commission. He wrote that Steven, one of the seven deacons in Jerusalem, preached to unbelievers (Acts 6:5, 6), that when a persecution scattered the disciples they "went about preaching the word" (8:4), and that Philip "preached good news about the kingdom of God" (vs 12, 26-40).
In the latter part of Acts, Luke concentrated on Paul's ministry. He wrote how the church at Antioch set apart Barnabas and Paul and sent them out on a missionary journey (Acts 13:1-3). These two apparently had other helpers because he wrote about "Paul and his company" (v. 13). There are many references to these others throughout Acts and the New Testament epistles. This gives strong evidence that all the disciples in the early church took the great commission seriously and carried it out.
When Jesus spoke, "I send you" (John 20:21), He was speaking not just to the eleven but to other disciples too. And Paul wrote that "Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us" (II Corinthians 5:18-20). This was not addressed to the apostles but to all disciples in general, thus the great commission applies to all Christians. And Peter wrote that Christians are always to "be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls [them] to account for [their] hope" (I Peter 3:15). All disciples are ambassadors and they need to accept this mission in life.
The great commission is carried out in various ways. First, in the New Testament there is a strong emphasis on how the disciple's life has a strong influence on the outreach of the church. Jesus said, "You are the light of the world" (Matthew 5:14; cf. John 8:12; Ephesians 5:8). Jesus stated, "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35). When men see the good works and the love the disciples display, they too will become interested in Jesus. The disciples were told, "By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples" (John 15:8). Fruit (good works) prove an individual is a disciple, and this fruit will influence even men of the world. Jesus prayed for His disciples, "that they may be one . . . so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me" (John 17:21). The love and oneness that exists among the disciples has a big influence and can cause men to believe in Jesus. Natural men do not exhibit the love and unity found among true disciples.
Paul wrote similarly about light, that the disciples "may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights" (Philippians 2:15). Peter emphasized that one should "maintain good conduct among the Gentiles, so that in case they speak against you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation" (I Peter 2:12). The reason they will glorify God on the day of visitation is that the disciples' good works show the unbelievers they have a need to repent and become disciples too. Disciples have something that others can see, and which is attractive to non-Christians.
Secondly, the disciples should always be ready with words to explain their faith. Peter wrote, "Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence; and keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are abused, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame" (I Peter 3:15, 16). Paul wrote, "Conduct yourselves wisely towards outsiders, making the most of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer every one" (Colossians 4:5). Good conduct is important when the time comes to answer outsiders. But Paul and Peter is to do more than let his light shine; he is to be ready to speak and answer everyone who asks about Jesus. Both Paul and Peter emphasized the spirit in which these words are to be given: "with gentleness and reverence" and to "always be gracious, seasoned with salt."
Jesus told His disciples, "You will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles." When this happens, He said, "Do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you" (Matthew 10:19, 20). So we are not to worry about what to speak when brought before government officials, because the Holy Spirit can direct us at such times, and He can speak through us when we have these opportunities to witness. But this does not mean we should not study and be well versed in Scripture. We are always to "be prepared to make a defense" of our faith (I Peter 3:15).
When it comes to mission methods, the church and disciples should use methods firmly grounded in the Word. In the New Testament the strongest leaders were sent out two by two, following the example set by Jesus (Mark 6:7; Luke 10:1; 19:29). After the founding of the church, those who were called were sent out two by two by the local church. They did not go on their own, nor were they sent out by a professionally run "mission" organization. The church sent them out with the Holy Spirit's leading.
This sending of brethren two by two is exemplified by the church at Antioch. This church had several teachers, and "While they were worshiping the Lord . . . the Holy Spirit said, 'Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.'" After prayer, "they laid their hands on them and sent them" (Acts 13:1-4). The laying on of hands signified they were specially set apart for this ministry. Later Luke wrote that "they had been commended to the grace of God for the work which they had fulfilled" (Acts 14:26). This sending out of Paul came fourteen years after his conversion and call to be a "chosen instrument of my [God's] name to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel" (Acts 9:15). It started Paul on a series of very successful missionary journeys. After their first journey, Luke wrote that before they were sent out from Antioch, "they had been commended to the grace of God for the work which they had fulfilled." Now upon returning to the Antioch church, they "declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles" (Acts 14:26-28). Their success was due to the grace of God using their faithful presentation of the Word.
Other examples of sending disciples out two by two are Barnabas and Mark being sent to Cyprus, and Paul and Silas to Syria (Acts 15:39-41), Silas and Timothy to Thessalonica (Acts 17:14; 18:5), Paul and Aquila (with Priscilla, his wife) to Syria (Acts 18:18), Timothy and Erastus (Acts 19:22), Paul and Sopater, Aristarchus and Secundus, Gaius and Timothy, Tychicus and Trophimus, (Acts 20:4), Paul and Luke (II Timothy 4:11), and Tryphaena and Tryphosa (Romans 16:12). Thus this method was used widely in the early church, and surely is a good example that should be followed today. This is not to imply that people were never sent individually, because we know they were occasionally (Acts 8:26f.; 9:32f.; 19:1).
Missionaries in the early church stayed only a few months (Acts 19:8; 20:3) or a year or so (Acts 11:26; 18:11; 19:10) at a given location. After teaching and preaching in the area, they established a local church with elders to carry on the work and then moved on. These local elders were better equipped to carry the Word further into the local community. They had more in common with their neighbors, having a common cultural and community experience. They knew the people and the people knew them. The local people could see the radical changes that occurred in these disciples' lives and the orderly church they were a part of. These neighbors often would inquire about the cause of the change, and the new disciples were ready to tell them about the source of their new life.
These neighbors were more willing to listen because they knew these Christians were speaking personally to them on their own and were not paid by or employed by foreigners to speak. These local disciples could speak straightforward about the evils in their non-Christian neighbors and their need for repentance, much more than any foreigner could ever expect to. By doing this they established a clearer need for the Gospel and then could present the Good News.
A method Paul often used was to go to the local synagogues or other local religious assemblies (as done at Athens) to establish an initial contact with the people in the community (Acts 9:20; 17:1, 2, 17; 18:4; 19:8). Many of these Jews were expecting the Messiah and were willing to listen to news about Him. The other religious communities were searching, and he made attempts to begin where they were and to bring them to Christ.
The early missionaries did not abandon the new churches but kept in contact with the new Christians and churches by letter. Many of the New Testament writings are letters written to answer questions about doctrine and to help to solve problems that arose in these new churches. The apostles and other early church leaders knew it was important that brethren continue in discipleship. They knew that after people had "escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overpowered, the last state has become worse for them that the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandments delivered to them" (II Peter 2:20, 21). As the writer of Hebrews wrote, brethren can so firmly turn from the truth that "it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gifts, and have become partakes of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they commit apostasy, since they crucify the Son of God on there own account and hold him up to contempt" (Hebrews 6:4-6; cf. 10:26ff.).
Therefore it is very important to provide for all brethren sound teaching and instructions. By clear teaching it is possible to prevent brethren from falling into licentiousness, etc. and to pull back some that have started in that direction. Jude wrote, "You, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith. . . . And convince some, who doubt; save some, by snatching them out of the fire" (Jude 22, 23).
The early church's Holy Spirit directed method worked very successfully. She grew very rapidly. These disciples quickly took this commission seriously and carried it out. Luke wrote in the Book of Acts that once when "speaking to the people," the Jewish leaders were "annoyed because [the disciple] were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead," so they were arrested. But this did not affect their outreach. Their teaching was fruitful: "many of those who heard the word believed" (Acts 4:1-4).
Soon after this we read that "every day in the temple and at home they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ" (Acts 5:42). Again this preaching brought results. "The disciples were increasing in number. . . . and the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith" (Acts 6:1, 7). Luke wrote that even in the face of strong opposition, "the word of God grew and multiplied" (12:24). At Corinth, Paul argued and pleaded about the kingdom of God in the synagogue and later in a local hall, and "the word of the Lord grew and prevailed mightily" (19:20). At Antioch, Paul preached at the local synagogue in the city, and from there "the word of the Lord spread throughout all the region" (13:49).
In the New Testament we find mention of churches in Judea, Samaria, Galatia, Asia, Rome, and beyond. Within about thirty-five years of the founding of the church, Paul and Peter both took the Word to Rome. Writing to the Christians in Rome, Paul stated that since he had no longer any room for work in these regions, he hoped to go on to Spain after he visited them (Romans 15:23, 24; cf. 28). On his three missionary journeys he had preached the gospel and established core churches from Jerusalem to Greece. He was now eager to bring the good news to a whole new area, western Europe. He knew it was not necessary for him to keep going over the same territory; this was now the work of the Holy Spirit and the local churches to build up what he had established.
Walter Oetting described their success: "By the year 250 Christianity had spread to the limits of the known world. . . . Two facts, however become clear. First the church spread rapidly over a wide geographical area increasing phenomenally in numbers at the same time. Second, this work was done by ordinary Christians. We know of no missionary societies, we hear nothing of organized effort." Their success was not due to professional missionaries or to an institutional approach. In the last 100 years or so, great claims have been made for the institutional approach, but this approach has not produced the results its promoters have claimed would be produced. There are a couple reasons for this. First, no organized missionary effort or program could ever send out the number of missionaries needed to have the necessary outreach. Secondly, when one considers the nationalistic feelings against foreigners that exists in most countries, professionally paid missionaries who are sent and want to live on an American standard of living will not have the required communications with the local population for the gospel to have even a moderate acceptance.
How can these negative factors be overcome? The only way is to follow biblical methods. A few doctrinally strong missionaries who are sent out two by two should work to establish new churches patterned after the biblical model. They should place well-trained, doctrinally strong, local leadership in charge. After these churches are established in a relatively short time, the missionaries can then move on to another community and repeat the process. This is the successful method, the biblical method.
It should go without saying, missionaries must not be dissatisfied "old-line believers" who wish to get away from the home church and accommodate themselves to the larger culture. This type of missionary cannot produce strong results and sometimes may bring the same results the scribes and Pharisees had. Jesus told them, "You traverse sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell" (Matthew 23:15).
The great commission must be a central activity of the church and disciples. Jesus told the disciples, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work." Men often want to delay doing work, and Jesus knew this. He asked them, "Do you not say, 'There are yet four months, then comes the harvest?' I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see how the fields are already white for harvest" (John 4:34, 35). There is no need to delay. Men are ready for the good news. Later Jesus pointed out, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest" (Matthew 9:37; cf. Luke 10:2). Our response to the need for a harvest is to pray for laborers. Most Christians will labor in their own local areas. We should always be ready to speak at home when the opportunity arises and go as the Lord calls. And as the Holy Spirit calls through the church, some may be sent out to other areas, but when they are, they should follow biblical methods.
The Great Commission is: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations . . . teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19, 20). Every Christian, and especially the would- be missionary, must remember this. Their goal must be to make disciples and teach "the all things" of the Word. They must do as Paul did; he "did not shrink from declaring . . . the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27). Anything less than this is not carrying out the great commission.
The Early Church Model Witness to Us
Jesus told the disciples they had to bear fruit. He told them about the vine and vinedresser. Jesus is the vine and the Father is the vinedresser. "Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit." The disciples "are already made clean by the word," and he who abides in Christ, "he it is that bears much fruit." Jesus also told them, "If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love." The results of these teachings is "that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full" (John 15:1-11).
Later in His prayer for the disciples, Jesus spoke, "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; thy word is truth" (John 17:16, 17). The disciples are not sent out into the world without help and the means to strengthen and build them up. The church, as we have seen, plays an important part in this. Jesus said, "I will build my church," and He has, and will in the future as He continues to work through the Holy Spirit and His disciples.
The early church was close to Jesus and His apostles' influence, and therefore, they more fully understood what Jesus meant by "I will build my church." Even though the early church had problems, it is still our model of the true church. This includes church organization and methods of solving problems. This must become our vision, and we must make their model of the church a reality today.
The question is, "Will this be our vision only or become a reality?" If we seek to be faithful disciples and followers of Christ, we must make this a reality and build churches based on the Bible as our Lord wanted.
22. Joseph Henry Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1901, 1977, p 425.
23. R. C. H. Lenski, Interpretations of St. Paul's Epistles to the Colossians, to the Thessalonians, to Timothy, to Titus and to Philemon, Columbus, Ohio: Wartburg, 1946, p 856.
24. Robert H. Gundry, A Survey of the New Testament, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, p 41.
25. Tim Dowley, Editor, The History of Christianity, Balvania, Ill.: Lion Book, 1990.
26. Some of these reason come from Perry A. Klopfenstein's booklet, Separated Seating, Gridley, IL 61744
27. J. G. Davies, The Early Christian Church, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1980, p 210.
28. Alexander Robert and James Donaldson, Editors, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1956, 1:186.
29. Alexander Robert and James Donaldson, Editors, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1956, 1:62; cf p 63.
30. The Fathers of the Church, 1:99 quoted by J. C. Wenger, Introduction to Theology, p 254.
31. Alexander Robert and James Donaldson, Editors, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1956, 1:147.
32. Joseph Cullen Ayer, A Source Book for Ancient Church History, Scribner, New York 1913, reprinted 1933, p 284-5, quoted by J. C. Wenger, Introduction to Theology, p 253.
33. Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, volume 2, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1910, reprinted 1989, pp 201-2.
34. R. C. H. Lenski, Interpretations of St. Paul's Epistles to the Colossians, to the Thessalonians, to Timothy, to Titus and to Philemon, Columus, Ohio: Wartburg, 1946, p 683.
35. Walter Oetting, The Church of the Catacombs, St. Louis, Mo.: Concordia Publishing House, p 24.
The Biblical Concept of the Church by Leland M. Haines
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June 22, 2000
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