Ask Your Preacher
THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH
I don't belong to a church. I grew up in church but stopped going, but I still seek God every day; I always look for Him. And sometimes I dream, and He's in my dreams, guiding me, telling me He's taking care of me from this day forward. And in my most recent dream, He let me into heaven, but I never really saw His face. Is He talking to me?
Dear Hearing Voices,
If we want to know God’s desire for our life, we must use the Bible to get our instructions. Faith comes from the Word (Rom 10:17), and the Bible contains all the information we need for life and godliness (2 Pet 1:3). If we want to understand what God wants for us, we can find the truth in the sum of His Word (Ps 119:160). Prophecies and visions are no longer given to people directly (1 Cor 13:8). Instead, God speaks to us through the teachings of His Son (Heb 1:1). It is normal for our emotions and desires to send us conflicting messages; that is exactly why God tells us to not trust ourselves (Pr 3:5).
Now let’s address the issue of not belonging to a church. The Bible teaches that we shouldn’t forsake the assembly (Heb 10:24-25). God designed the church so that each individual would be strengthened by the power of the whole (Eph 4:16). God never wanted christians to try and serve Him without the support of a local church; that is why He commanded the church to assemble. It is impossible to do God’s work without being a part of a local church. If you would like help finding a faithful congregation in your area, e-mail us at email@example.com or read “Finding A Church” for biblical parameters for finding a congregation.
We are a small congregation with no deacons or elders. Recently, several issues have been raised in the men’s meetings:
Issue #1: Different men are assigned to the Lord's table each Sunday, ages seventeen and up. One of the men who regularly serves on the table obtained approval to use his two young sons (ages seven and nine) to help pass the plates. They do not participate with the men at the table, only stand at the end of the rows and hand the plate from row to row. They take this duty very seriously and do a very good job. Yet, some members feel that no one should be helping serve on the Lord's table unless they have been baptized.
Issue #2: The offering has always been returned to the front table after collection (although the Lord's Supper plates are taken to the back room) and, after services, is counted by two of whoever served on the table that week, which changes weekly, and therein lies the problem. Several members are upset about the lack of confidentiality (at times, children and other family members have observed while their fathers count the offering), and, in fact, one family has withheld their offering as a result. The decision was made to take the offering plate to a side room to count which does not completely resolve the problem of confidentiality since any two of fifteen different people are counting the money each Sunday.
Issue #3 involves allowing men whose regular attendance is lacking, or were baptized less than a year ago, to deliver Sunday evening sermons. More than a few members are uncomfortable with this, mostly because of the lack of Bible knowledge and potentially false impressions left with visitors.
Issue #4: Allowing AA meetings to be held in the building (although made available to them at no cost).
I appreciate your Bible answers and words of wisdom.
Counting My Concerns
Dear Counting My Concerns,
Your first three concerns are all issues of wisdom – there is no hard and fast line of right and wrong; the congregation must decide what they think is best and wisest because God gives us freedom in these areas.
There is nothing wrong with those young boys helping pass the plates. This isn’t any different than when people sitting in the pews help pass the plate from one person to another. The same goes with counting the collection; the Bible never says we need to guarantee people’s anonymity in giving. In fact, there were times when Paul openly bragged about how much a congregation was prepared to give (2 Cor 8:1-2, 2 Cor 9:2). As for men preaching, the Bible never gives a specific maturity level needed for a man to preach a lesson. Wisdom would dictate that the younger in the faith someone is, the more cautious we should be, but once again, that isn’t a prohibition, just a concern. In the end, with all of these issues, God tells us to do that which makes for peace and edification (Rom 14:19). If an expediency stops being helpful, it is no longer expedient. Typically, an eldership would handle such matters because they are qualified to watch over the souls of the congregation and delicate matters like this (Heb 13:17), and the fact that your congregation doesn’t have elders yet is a big part of what is making these issues so painful. These are exactly the kinds of growing pains that congregations go through until they are able to appoint elders. The only thing you can do is try and strive for unity and submission to one another in these sorts of situations (Eph 5:21, Eph 4:3).
Your fourth concern is a different matter; a congregation has no authority to use its assets (and the church building is part of its assets) to support things other than the Lord’s work. As positive an influence as Alcoholics Anonymous can be, it isn’t the church, and it isn’t the church’s work, therefore, the church shouldn’t be using the Lord’s funds to support it. Read “Purpose Driven Church” for further details on the church’s purpose and responsibilities.
Should a preacher be allowed to be both an elder and preacher in the church?
Dear Double Duty,
If a preacher also meets the qualifications to be an elder (those qualifications can be found in 1 Tim 3:1-7 and Tit 1:5-9), then he can serve as both an elder and a preacher. In fact, we have an example of this in the apostle Peter. Peter was an evangelist (we see him preaching boldly in Acts 2), he was an apostle (Matt 10:2), and Peter says that he was also an elder (1 Pet 5:1)! Peter held all three jobs at once because he was qualified for all three jobs. It doesn't matter whether someone is a preacher or not, if he is qualified to serve as an elder, the congregation should appoint him.
I attend two different churches on a regular basis. I'm not a member of either one and don't plan on joining anytime soon. It's not that I don't want to; I just don't see the point of joining since I am still an active-goer. Do I have to join a church? Or is it okay since I'm still getting the Word either way?
Being a member of a congregation is about more than just hearing God’s Word; it is about being a committed, active participant in supporting and encouraging God’s people. There are no examples of christians in the Bible who weren’t members of a local church. Even the apostle Paul, with all of his traveling, was a member of the church in Antioch (Acts 11:25-26). God tells us that part of the purpose of the church assembly is to stimulate and encourage one another to love and good works (Heb 10:24-25). Is it enough to just stay at home and watch sermons on television or listen to ones you have downloaded from the internet? If the only purpose of church attendance is to hear the Word, then those would be acceptable alternatives to going to church. We are supposed to get together each Sunday and partake of the Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:7, 1 Cor 11:20), and God intended for christians to be a part of a local congregation with elders and deacons to help shepherd them (1 Pet 5:2). God knows what is best for us, and it is in our best interest to assemble with other christians in a local church. We are all different, and our differences help to strengthen us, protect us, and better serve Christ (Eph 4:14-16). If all you do is “church hop”, then you don’t have the blessings of the local eldership, interwoven lives with other local saints, and participating fully in the growth of the church’s work. Church membership isn’t just about what you get; it is about what you are able to give.
I love church, and I love being part of God’s family, but I really dislike being a certain type of christian. I don't understand why there are so many different beliefs for one religion (like Catholic, Methodist, and so on); is it possible to just be a christian and not any thing specific? Is there a special church that's just christian?
No Party Affiliation
Dear No Party Affiliation,
All we should ever be is just christians… you are absolutely right for being frustrated. The denominational world is confusing… exactly the opposite of God’s church (1 Cor 14:33). The term ‘denomination’ comes from the idea that a church believes that it is a subgroup of a larger religious body. Lutherans worship and teach differently than Episcopalians, Catholics, Presbyterians, etc., but they all believe themselves to be christians – this is wrong. Jesus said that there is only one path to heaven (Matt 7:14). Denominationalism teaches that how you act and worship are matters of opinion, but Jesus said that how you act and worship are matters of truth (Jhn 4:24). The only way to avoid denominationalism is to find a congregation that simply teaches what the Bible says – no creeds, no opinions, no personal agendas. If we truly love Christ, we will follow His commandments (1 Jn 5:2).
Everything a church does (worship, membership, how they teach to be saved, how they spend their money, even their name) needs to have Bible verses backing them up (1 Tim 3:15). A church needs to be able to explain the reasons for why they do what they do (1 Pet 3:15).
Our congregation here in Monroe goes by the name ‘Monroe Valley church of Christ’ because ‘church of Christ’ is a Biblical name for a congregation (Rom 16:16). We worship by singing (Col 3:16), studying the Bible (1 Tim 4:13), praying (2 Thess 3:1), taking communion (only on Sundays – Acts 20:7), and taking up a collection (also only on Sundays – 1 Cor 16:1-2). We teach that you must hear God’s Word (Rom 10:17), believe God’s Word (Jhn 3:16), repent of your sins (Mk 6:12), confess Jesus as your Savior (Lk 12:8), and be baptized to be saved (Acts 2:38, 1 Pet 3:21). We do all these things because they are practices found in the Bible. As you said, you don’t want to go to a church that offers their own thoughts – you want God’s thoughts.
There are other congregations like ours scattered across the country and the world. Most of them use the name ‘church of Christ’, but then again, many churches that use that name aren’t faithful. A Bible name for a church isn’t enough to make it faithful. We have helped others, like yourself, looking for New Testament Christianity find faithful congregations in their area by contacting other preachers and christians that we know. We’d be happy to do the same for you. If you feel comfortable, just let us know what general area you live in, and we will try and get you in touch with a congregation that lives like your Bible reads (our e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org). It is frustrating, confusing, and exasperating to deal with denominationalism. Thanks be to God that there is a better option!