Monday, September 17, 2012

Don't Forsake the Assembly

The church of Jesus Christ is under considerable pressure these days. The type of pressure is different depending on where you're at around the world. Here in America, the whole concept of "church" is being debated again—namely, how we as individual members of the Body (or Bride) of Christ relate to one another, and what is the relationship of the individual believer to the church corporate. 

Because of apostasy, or abusiveness in some church fellowships, more and more are turning to house churches or home fellowships. That in and of itself is not necessarily unbiblical. The picture to your right is a ruin of an early "house" church from a time where believers met in homes instead of cathedrals or church buildings as we know them today. 

From my study of Scripture, I don't believe that "going to a local church building" per se is necessary—IF no local, Bible-preaching, Bible-teaching church body was around. That "IF" is a pretty significant qualifier. Obviously, new church plants or very small bodies of believers that meet together have no building typically until they are large enough to either rent or put up their own building to meet. I have no problem with house churches, as again, those were the norm in New Testament times. We may end up back in those if apostasy continues to spread, or persecution of the church intensifies. 

Be Careful Not to Throw Accountability Out the Window!
Having said the above, I would caution that the New Testament pattern is pretty clear that bodies of believers ARE expected to gather together in local churches (assemblies), and those local churches are to have appointed leaders/elders in them after they are formed. Scripture tells us that the Apostle Paul sent Titus to "appoint elders in every city." The reason we have buildings today is largely for convenience, as a church grows and needs a place large enough to accommodate people. As an aside, there is also an inherent suspicion culturally of any group that meets without any obvious tie to a known church or Christian fellowship. But don't get hung up on the building. Accountability and authority are the chief concern. We're not supposed to be "lone rangers." 

A growing problem in the American church is an increasing tendency to "go it alone" (especially if someone has gotten in trouble for some reason within a local fellowship). There is a real reluctance to truly be accountable to pastors and elders in a local church, and in my view, that is a completely unbiblical attitude. Those who have a rebellious attitude toward leadership will often refer to the church as being "cult-like and controlling." People who have come out of true cults often react that way in a knee-jerk fashion. True biblical leadership is not like that at all, and isn't supposed to be, although there will be times it is necessary to exercise authority, especially with those in unrepentant sin or those who are causing division in the body. There must be biblical balance. 
Paul's letters to Timothy and Titus (the pastoral epistles), as well as the Apostle Peter - model the type of godly leadership that should exist in a church. But even these godly models in the church will still have to exercise authority and discipline as the occasion warrants, as was the case in Corinth. In recent years, I have actually heard of people suing the church if the church dares to be biblical and exercises discipline in any way. Because of these types of occurrances, many churches are willing to overlook sin in their midst instead of dealing with it as Scripture commands. 

Things to Remember About Discipline
Sometimes, church discipline is necessary. But there is a biblical truth about church discipline often lost these days. The main purpose of ANY church discipline is to be restorative both to God and to fellowship in the church. It's to be redemptive and corrective, if it is indeed biblical church discipline. However, if a church uses discipline to be abusive and controlling, that is sin on the church leadership's part. The Bible lays out the clear pattern to be followed. 

These are difficult days for Bible-believing Christians who love the Lord, love the church, and love the Word of God. Lots of congregations have fallen away from their first love, while others have fallen into total, outright apostasy. But we have to remember that the church - our brothers and sisters - is the Bride of Christ. Christ's Bride is precious to Him, and He has promised to present her without spot or blemish. We need to seek to build the body up, not tear it down. 

None of us are - or will be - perfect in this life. That includes church "office holders" as well as the so-called "laity." But we must strive humbly and prayerfully to organize our lives around the biblical pattern God has left us. If we depart from it, trouble surely awaits. And the church risks having the Lord "remove its lampstand." (Revelation 2:5)

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