Ask Your Preacher
THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH
I have been attending a United Methodist church for about two years now and really enjoyed the teaching of the Bible from my clergy; recently, he told me the Bishop was transferring him to another church, one that in distance would prevent me from attending. I feel I have lost a good teacher, one that had and could capture all my attention and others’ when we would hear his words on the teachings of the Bible. Why would a church replace a man that meant so much to the people he ministered to? I have tried to listen to the new appointed minister, but somehow, it’s just not giving the blessings of the Word of God that were there for me with my last clergy. I am a bit disappointed, and we are now looking for new church… again.
Dear Left Behind,
The reason the United Methodist church did this was because they haven’t been following the Bible – they’ve been following their own traditions. Your frustrating situation is a great example of what has gone wrong with the religious world. God never intended for congregations to take orders from some regional archbishop or governing council. The Bible pattern for local churches is much simpler – and it avoids the sort of congregational disruption you experienced.
Every congregation of the New Testament had independence. Only local elders were over them (1 Pet 5:1-2, Acts 14:23). They were bound to follow Christ as their only head (Eph 5:23)… no boards or committees, no headquarters in some other state, no popes or potentates. If a congregation was happy with their preacher, he stayed. If they were unhappy, they stopped supporting him. Simple as that.
What you are looking for is a local body of believers who are accountable to Christ and His Word, not some district office or United Methodist jurisdiction. Congregations like this exist all over America and the world. If you’d like, we’d be happy to get you in touch with a congregation that plays by God’s rules, not their own. E-mail us at email@example.com if we can be of service.
I was recently reading Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, specifically the chapters involving the first few hundred years of Christian history. I attend a local autonomous congregation whose structure seems entirely different than the hierarchical structure of the church described in the book. They use terms like the bishop’s “see” which, when I looked up the definition, is the official seat of a bishop. The bishop's seat is the earliest symbol of a bishop's authority. During periods of Roman persecution, they list bishops of Rome and other cities and mention their successors. They also describe bishops as being “appointed” and “governing the church”. The book states that a man named Ignatius was appointed to the bishopric of Antioch next after Peter in succession. (The same term “bishopric” in Acts 1:20 KJV describes the office of Judas). The book also alludes to a hierarchy amongst the clergy (bishops, presbyters and deacons). In over a dozen historical examples of Roman persecution, it is the bishop of Rome (singular) that seems to be targeted for execution. All of this hierarchical structure pre-dated Constantine and future state involvement in the Christian Church by up to hundreds of years. Our local congregation just has a few elders, who say they are equals, and take turns leading worship and preaching a message. Why such a difference in church structure?
Dear History Student,
The reason you see the difference is because Foxe’s Book of Martyrs covers all those who called themselves christians while the Bible specifically only follows the pattern for the church laid down by God. Paul warned that the church would quickly be attacked by false teachers (2 Pet 2:1), and as early as the end of the first century, we see the seven churches of Asia being exhorted and rebuked by Jesus to hold to the truth in Revelation 2 and 3. Paul told the church at Ephesus that wolves would arise from amongst their eldership to try and devour the church (Acts 20:28-31). Your congregation is right to stick to the Bible pattern – after all, the Bible is the book that we are saved by (Rom 1:16).
In my area, there are churches that have a Wednesday night service. Where is this in the Bible? Acts 2:46 seems to suggest the early christians met everyday. Does you congregation meet everyday?
Our congregation doesn’t meet every day, but we do have classes throughout the week. The Bible only mandates that the church meet on Sundays to take the Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:7) and make their contribution to the work of the church (1 Cor 16:1-2). Don’t get us wrong; the church is also told to pray together (Acts 12:5), study together (Acts 2:42), and sing together (Col 3:16)… but we can do those things whenever we want. The church is told to make a habit of meeting together (Heb 10:25), but every day isn’t a requirement. Wednesday classes are one way that congregations attempt to keep that routine and habit of meeting.
What scriptures can we look at to show us that pastors, elders, and bishops have all the same meanings and duties?
Dear Name Nomenclature,
Pastors, elders, and bishops are all referring to the same job in the church. We see this by looking at multiple passages that show that these titles are used interchangeably. Tit 1:5-7 uses the terms ‘elder’ and ‘bishop’ as synonyms. Acts 20:28 refers to bishops shepherding the local church (the word ‘pastor’ means ‘shepherd’). 1 Pet 5:1-3 also refers to elders as those who pastor/shepherd the church. When you see that these three terms (pastor, elder, and bishop) are all used interchangeably, it means they are synonyms.
Hi, I have a question about leaving our church. We have attended this church for almost four years. The whole time we have been at this church, there have been various problems caused by one person (the Pastor's daughter). She continuously acts in ways opposite of the Bible; she gossips about people to others in our church and then turns around and acts as if she loves the person. In the last four years, she has consistently changed for the worse. She dresses in ways that can make a brother stumble. During this time, her dad and mom (Pastor and Pastor's wife) have lowered their standards and changed their views on many things because of their daughter. My husband and I (and many others) have gone to the Pastor on several occasions concerning issues we have had with his daughter. All of these times, the blame has been turned around on the person coming to the Pastor. There seems to be a pull to this woman, almost like a spirit. It affects our children and women. We have tried to stick it out in this church, but it is really hindering our children and us. There are other issues as well, but this is the main issue. There has never been anything done openly to address this sin; wouldn't this be overdue? I really want to do what God wants, but this is really affecting our family and many other families in our church. The situation is hard to explain and hard for you to get the complete feel of if you’re not in it, so I hope I have explained it well enough. I am looking for Scripture and advice. Thank you.
When To Leave?
Dear When To Leave,
I have no doubt that we aren't clearly seeing the total picture from what you have described, but truthfully, we don't have to. It is always more important to care for your own spiritual health than to remain with a church (Php 2:12). In the end, your family's spiritual health must come first. This congregation is not helping you grow, and your souls are more important. One of the issues you are facing is simply the fact that the congregation is led by a single pastor – the Bible teaches that congregations should have multiple elders guiding the church. A multiplicity of pastors avoids situations like this where one man's blindness leads to strife and destruction. Read "Pastors" for specific verses on that issue.
For the sake of your family, you should look for a church that is trying to follow the New Testament pattern as closely as possible. A congregation doesn’t need to be full of perfect people, but they need to be trying to faithfully follow God’s Word and not their own ideologies. The following are a few markers of what you should find in every church that is faithful to Christ’s Word:
- Their name should be Biblical. Church of Christ (Rom 16:16), the church (Acts 14:27), church of God (1 Cor 1:2), the Way (Acts 24:14) – all of these are Biblical names given to a local congregation. Having the right name on the front of the building doesn’t mean they are the right church, but if they can’t even get their name from the Bible, they probably aren’t worth wasting your time on.
- Their doctrine should be a copy of the New Testament (Acts 2:42). Any creeds, ‘statements of faith’, articles of belief, manuals, or handbooks are from man and not from God. You want a congregation that uses the Bible to decide their practices.
- They are autonomous. Every congregation of the New Testament had independence. Only local elders were over them (1 Pet 5:1-2, Acts 14:23).They were bound to follow Christ as their only head (Eph 5:23). No boards or committees, no headquarters in some other state, no popes or potentates – what you are looking for is a local body of believers which is accountable to Christ and His Word.
- The church’s work should be simple. The church of the first century wasn’t involved in every community and political arena. Their work was focused on three things – caring for needy christians (Acts 4:34), preaching to the lost, and teaching the saved (Acts 15:35). Find a congregation who is committed to being about Christ’s work.
- They should be open to examination. Any congregation that is serving Christ should be willing to explain why they do what they do. They should be willing to be examined because they are constantly examining themselves (2 Cor 13:5). There is nothing wrong with asking a congregation where their practices can be found in the New Testament.Ask questions and expect Bible answers for them.
These five things are by no means all of the characteristics of Christ’s church, but this should help narrow down your options significantly. Most people accept mediocrity from their church; don’t do that. It is unfair to expect the people of a congregation to be perfect… you will never find perfect humans. However, you should demand intellectual honesty and Biblical faithfulness from any congregation you want to be a member of. If you would like additional help as you look for a faithful congregation in your area, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we would be happy to help you look.