Thoughts to Ponder

Church - What should it be?

In the past two articles I addressed what I thought were some serious flaws in today's churches. Churches meaning local bodies of believers who meet together. In this article I want to address what the biblical example of a church should be. As with anything else these principles can be taken to extremes and that is not good, but we can find some very definite guidelines to follow.

If we look at Acts chapters 2 and 4 we see what the first church was like:

(Acts 2:42 NIV) They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

(Acts 2:44-47 NIV) [44] All the believers were together and had everything in common. [45] Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. [46] Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, [47] praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

(Acts 4:31-35 NIV) [31] After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
[32] All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. [33] With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. [34] There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales [35] and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.

The early church celebrated their salvation and their common faith. They made sure that no one was in need. Now this has been taken too far in the past by cult leaders who have told people they have to sell everything and live in communes. This is not the case, but it is wrong when a person can go to a church where there are people in desperate need and yet nothing is done for them.

They prayed together, they ate together, they were a community of believers. They were one in heart and mind. This does not mean there were never disagreements among them, but their minds and hearts were on Christ and in that they were united together.

There is a flip side to those in need too. Paul tells us what the requirement is for help:

(2 Thessalonians 3:6-10 NIV) [6] In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. [7] For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, [8] nor did we eat anyone's food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. [9] We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. [10] For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat."

If a person is lazy and not willing to work then they should not be helped, but for those who are willing but unable, whether physically or just can't find work, there should be help. All too often this is not the case in our churches. People fail to make connections to those around them, often it is not that they don't care, they just don't know about those in need. But again this is the responsibility of those in the church. If we are truly a community of believers then we will know when some adversity happens to one of us.

It is a shame, but often in churches with attendance in the thousands, people will lose their job and not be able to find another. These churches are full of movers and shakers who are professionals, business owners, and executives. These people have the ability to hire, and yet a person can attend these churches and be unemployed for several years. Oh, people will offer to pray for a person in this condition, but that won't put food on the table.

(James 2:14-17 NIV) [14] What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? [15] Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. [16] If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? [17] In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

Why is it that we see in the early church the willingness to sell their property to make sure everyone had enough to eat and in today's church, we can't even offer a job to a hurting brother or sister? I am not talking about creating an executive position, I am speaking about finding something for the person to do to earn money until they can find a permanent job.

Could it be a difference in focus? Could it be that the early church was focused on Christ's return? And could it be that Christians today are more worried about retirement and bottom lines then on when Christ will return?

It is easy for believers today to look back at the first century church and smugly think that they were so wrong about the timing of Christ's return. Why were they apparently just waiting for it to happen at any time? Because that is what Jesus told them:

(Matthew 25:13 NIV) Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.

(Mark 13:32-33 NIV) [32] "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. [33] Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come."

The church is no longer alert, it is fast asleep. This is part of forgetting its first love. When the church lost its focus on Christ, it started to focus on worldly things. Very soon it became just a social gathering and every man for himself. Let's look at what reward there is for those who are waiting on Christ's return:

(Hebrews 9:27-28 NIV) [27] Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, [28] so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

Salvation. That's right, we are waiting for our salvation. The Bible is very consistent on this point, which many people deny. They claim that we already have all that we are going to get as far as salvation is concerned. They forget passages like the one above and like this one:

(Romans 13:8-14 NIV) [8] Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. [9] The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." [10] Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
[11] And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. [12] The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. [13] Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. [14] Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

What am I trying to say? I am saying that our salvation is not a one time event that we can then forget and go on with life. It is a life changing event and is reserved for those who long for the return of Jesus Christ. Those who are wake and alert and watching, who are not caught up in the cares of this world to the extent that they have lost their focus on Christ.

When we are focused on the right things we will naturally do what God wants us to do. We will naturally think of others and reach out to help them, even if it means a little inconvenience to us. Even it means that we have to wait to put that down payment on a new house in order to help a brother or sister in need. It means that we will realize that the material things of this world will all pass away but what we do in the service of the King will last forever.

When we are focused on the wrong things, we will often think we are doing what we should be, but will miss the mark. Let me give you an example of what I mean. In churches today, when a person comes to a pastor and tells them that they are struggling with suicidal thoughts, for example, they are most often referred to a professional counselor. Now most churches would not think to send a person such as this to a secular psychologist, but they will send them to a "Christian" psychologist. As if there is a difference. But back to my point. The church feels like they are reaching out to this person and helping them. Most churches will even make sure that the Christian psychologist is willing to work on a sliding payment scale for those believers who can't afford the full price.

The church feels good, they have helped a poor suffering soul. The problem is that because their focus is wrong, they don't see what they just did. They don't realize that they just sent a person who is hurting and in need to a paid counselor. This person needs Christian counseling from the Bible and that is what ministry is all about. There is no way they should have to pay a dime for such help. Nor should they be sent to a person who practices the worldly, godless pseudo-science of psychology, no matter how many Christian terms are used to cover the true origin of the counseling.

We as Christians mouth the words that Jesus Christ is the answer to the world's problems, but by our actions we show we don't truly believe that. We make a mockery of His death and His resurrection every time we do this. We make a mockery of the word of God too.

(Psalms 19:7-11 NIV) The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. [8] The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes. [9] The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. [10] They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. [11] By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

Making wise the simple, giving joy to the heart, and giving light to the eyes. Aren't those things that the person who is burdened by this world is in need of? Oh, how simplistic of me to believe that the Creator of this body, mind and soul, can cure us of our woes without man's help.

Yes, God has given us medical science, but psychology is neither medicine or science. It is a religion and it is in direct competition for the souls of men. Let me give you an example of what I mean. In one of his many books a well known Christian psychologist made the statement that if he could write a prescription for everyone woman on the face of the earth, he would write one for a dose of self-esteem. Why? Because he believes, as psychology teaches, that man's greatest need is for self-esteem. Yet the Bible clearly teaches that self must die and that our greatest need is for a savior and the only one who will fit the bill is Jesus Christ!

Let me give you a quote from a local church bulletin. This statement was under the heading of counseling:

We use psychological principles and techniques that are under the authority of and consistent with Biblical Scriptures.

Is this possible? Is it possible to use psychological principles and techniques that are under the authority of and consistent with Biblical Scriptures? Well first, I have no idea what it means that they are under the authority of Biblical Scriptures, so I will bypass that one and go straight to the consistent with Biblical Scriptures idea.

Psychology claims to know the heart of man and deals with it directly, so we need to see what the Bible has to say about that:

(Jeremiah 17:5-9 NIV) [5] This is what the LORD says: "Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD. [6] He will be like a bush in the wastelands; he will not see prosperity when it comes. He will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives. [7] "But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. [8] He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit." [9] The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?

There you have it, God says that no one can know the heart of man other than Him. Psychology and the Bible are at odds. They are incompatible. I have often heard churches say that they integrate the best principles of psychology and the best of the Bible. I have a real problem with that. The best of the Bible is Jesus Christ and the best of man (psychology) is filthy rags, so what these churches are saying is that they dress Jesus in filthy rags and say that is better than Him alone!

Here is what the Bible has to say about us needing anything added to Jesus Christ:

(2 Peter 1:3 NIV) His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.

Everything we need... We don't need the godless views of men who denied the very existence of God. We don't need to embrace an alterative religion and add it to what God has already given us. What we need is to get our focus back on Christ and Him alone.

Getting back to what church should be, it should be a place where the physical needs of the people are met. A place where the spiritual needs of the people are met. And a place where even the emotional needs of the people are met. It should be a place where people's focus is brought back to Jesus Christ.

Until our collective focus is placed back on our Savior's face, we as a church will stumble and fumble around. We may try to do what is right and to help each other, but we will be doing so by our own means and that is not good enough. Either Jesus Christ is all we need or we are in serious trouble.

Jesus gave us the two greatest commandments:

(Matthew 22:37-40 NIV) [37] Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' [38] This is the first and greatest commandment. [39] And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' [40] All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

If we will just follow those two commandments we will have the kind of church we read about in Acts 2 and 4. We would not allow someone to lose faith or hope because they lost their job, or their spouse ran away, or a fire destroyed everything they own. Look at this statement that Jesus made:

(Mark 10:29-30 NIV) [29] "I tell you the truth," Jesus replied, "no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel [30] will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields-and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life."

People twist passages like these to try to claim that God will give us all million dollar mansions and expensive cars, but those ideas are wrong. Yet, just like every word of God, this is a rock solid promise that we can stand on. When a person leaves the world behind and becomes part of the body of Christ, he has gained all these things. Or at least he will have, if the body of Christ, the local church, is acting as it should.

If my home is burned to the ground tonight, as a believer, I should be able to call any other believer and know that I will be invited to stay with them. I have truly gained a hundred fold in houses. If my family disowns me because of my stand for Christ, I still have thousands of other brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers and even children in Christ. If I am physically unable to support myself, I should have hundreds of other salaries to help support me. If I lose my job, I should have many other opportunities because I have friends and family in the business, no matter what the business is. If I am hungry and unable to help myself I should have more food offered than I could possibly need or want. If I am alone or discouraged, I should be able to call a hundred phones and hear a hundred compassionate voices offering comfort and support.

If I am not able to get this kind of help and support, then the church is not focused and functioning as it should. It is time we (because we are the church) started acting like we should. It is time we started taking time to know each other and support each other and yes, even hold each other accountable before God.

I would rather attend a church with just two people who are committed to being the believers Christ has called us to be, then a church full of thousands of people who are going through the motions without the love of Christ. Often the most lonely people are those who are surrounded by thousands of uninterested individuals.

E-Mail Ralph

These devotionals are written by Ralph Dettwiler, and reflect his views.

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May 2003