Archive for: August, 2005
Churches are not planted, nor are they started, nor are they birthed, etc. The moment we endeavor to plant or start a church we enter again into the realm of insitutionalism. Christians simply meet as the church.
A church, we have observed, simply means a gathering, group, or an assembly. A church of Christ, we learn from the Scriptures, consists of believers statedly assembling together to enjoy the benefits of association. These benefits are not limited to any number. Even two can associate together. They can mutually assist, admonish, or reprove each other. When the Lord commands his disciples not to forsake the assembling of themselves together, he requires that they should associate as far as they have opportunity, and no farther. The precept is as binding on two as upon two hundred. These can co-operate, and continue steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayers; and the abundance of the one may be a supply for the other’s want. It is, I believe, generally admitted, that two or three disciples residing in the same place should meet together, and observe every ordinance, except the Lord’s supper.
But we find no limitation as to the number of a church in the Scriptures; nor any thing to countenance the stated association of the disciples in any other form. Besides, what is there peculiar in the ordinance of the Lord’s supper, that the churches, while attending to every thing else in their power, should delay the observance of this till they obtain elders to administer it? This idea of administration is very consistent in the church of Rome, or of England, where each individual receives the elements from the Priest; but in this country, both in the Establishment and among Independents, each member administers it to his neighbor; that is, puts the bread and the cup into his hand. If the elder administers it to those nearest him, they, in their turn, administer it to him; so that the idea of laying any stress on an administrator is utterly inconsistent, besides leading to the unfounded supposition, that the administrator represents the Lord Jesus Christ, in which case he ought not himself to partake.
The plea for the necessity of an elder or officer being present at the Lord’s supper, surely originates in some mistake respecting its nature. It must be supposed that it is similar to the sacrifices under the law, which could only be offered by a Priest, or that it contains a mystery still unexplained; and if transubstantiation be given up, something analogous is substituted in its place. Let the reader compare and consider with attention the passages in which this institution is described, and he will be convinced that this view has no foundation.
No good reason then can be given why two or three believers, who have not an opportunity of meeting with a greater number, should not statedly assemble as a church of Christ, to observe the Lord’s supper, as well as to continue in the apostles’ doctrine and in prayers. Indeed it is their bounden duty to do so. It certainly cannot be shown that elders or deacons are essential to the existence of a church, while we find the apostles returning to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, and ordaining elders (i.e. appointing elders or older ones to be the shepherds or pastors) in every church, Acts 14:21,23, which they had previously gathered. Indeed, from the very nature of the case, churches must exist before elders, out of which they arise.
The apprehensions that the consequence of two or three observing the ordinances of Jesus, will be their remaining at home, and not assembling in any considerable number, nearly resemble those of the consequences of eating the Lord’s supper without elders, which, it is alleged, sets aside the elder’s office. But as long as men regard the authority of Jesus, they will consider themselves bound, after the example of the first churches, to assemble statedly with as many of their brethren as local circumstances might permit. And if ever His will, so plainly signified, loses its effect upon their minds, it is a matter of little consequence whether they have them (i.e. officers) or not. Their eating the Lord’s supper at all, must in that case, arise from superstition, and not from Christian principle.
Observations on Various Subjects, J.A. Haldane, published by John Ritchie, 1808. pp. 12 – 15.
I see the basis of house churches as being derived from the words of Jesus who mandated that worship was a spiritual act and that location didn’t matter.
Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem. Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” John 4:20-24
More importantly, the true church is concerned with the empowerment of each of its members. John Milton had very strong feelings about this point.
And this all Christians ought to know, that the title of ‘clergy’ St. Peter gave to all God’s people, till Pope Higinus and the succeeding prelates took it from them, appropriating that name to themselves and their priests only; and condemning the rest of God’s inheritance to an injurious and alienate condition of laity, they separated from them by local partitions in churches, through their gross ignorance and pride imitating the old temple, and excluded the members of Christ.
For we have learned that the scornful term of laic, the consecrating of temples, carpets, and tablecloths, the railing in of a repugnant and contradictive mount Sinai in the gospel, as if the touch of a lay Christian, who is nevertheless God’s living temple, could profane dead Judaisms, the exclusion of Christ’s people from the offices of holy discipline through the pride of a usurping clergy causes the rest to have an unworthy and abject opinion of themselves, to approach to holy duties with a slavish fear and to unholy doings with a familiar boldness. For seeing such a wide and terrible distance between religious things and themselves, and that in respect of a wooden table and the perimeter of holy ground about it, a flagon pot and a linen corporal, the priest esteems their layships unhallowed and unclean, they fear religion with such a fear as loves not, and think the purity of the gospel too pure for them, and that any uncleanness is more suitable to their unconsecrated estate. But when every good Christian, thoroughly acquainted with all those glorious privileges of sanctification and adoption which render him more sacred than any dedicated altar or element, shall be restored to his right in the church, and not excluded from such place of spiritual governments his Christian abilities and his approved good life in the eye and testimony of the church shall prefer him to, this and nothing sooner will open his eyes to a wise and true valuation of himself, which is so requisite and high a point of Christianity, and will stir him up to walk worthy the honorable and grave employment wherewith God and the church hath dignified him; not fearing lest he should meet with some outward holy thing in religion which his lay touch or presence might profane, but lest something unholy from within his own heart should dishonor and profane in himself that priestly unction and clergy-right whereto Christ hath entitled him.
Then would the congregation of the Lord soon recover the true likeness and visage of what she is indeed, a holy generation, a royal priesthood, a saintly communion, the household and city of God. And this I hold to be another considerable reason why the functions of church government ought to be free and open to any Christian man, though never so laic, if his capacity, his faith, and prudent demeanor commend him. And this the apostles warrant us to do. But the Prelates object that this will bring profaneness into the church; to whom may be replied that none have brought that in more than their own irreligious courses, nor more driven holiness out of living into lifeless things.
From The Reason of Church Government, 1642. Milton, you know, was an English poet and scholar who is best known for the epic poem Paradise Lost (1667).