By Brian Anderson
If the longing of your heart is to experience church-life New
Testament style, then this booklet is written for you. It describes
some of the exciting discoveries that the people of Milpitas Bible
Fellowship made in the summer of 1996, that radically changed
their whole perspective on what it means to be the church. We
don't believe that we have arrived in our understanding of New
Testament church-life. In fact, we are constantly reforming our
church life to become more and more consistent with the teaching
of Scripture. However, we do believe that God has given us some
light on the Scriptures that may be of help to others. It is in
this spirit of humility and willingness to be further instructed
in the things of God that these words are written.
What Is The Church, Anyway?
The word "church" conjures up all kinds of different
images in people's minds. Many of us picture a building with a
steeple, pews, and stained glass. In fact Webster's Dictionary
lists as its first definition, "a building for Christian
worship." For others, the picture of a group of people attending
a religious service in a special building on Sunday morning at
11:00 a.m. comes to mind. But I submit to you, that our popular
conceptions of what church is are radically different from that
of the New Testament. In fact, I would go so far as to say that
our perspective of church actually blinds us to the truth of the
Scriptures on this important subject. To illustrate this point,
how do you suppose the average man on the street would answer
the following questions -- true or false?
1. Church usually happens on Sunday.
2. Church is a meeting you attend.
3. Church is a place where you go and meet God.
4. A good church is a place with good preaching, programs, and
5. You can experience church without meeting anyone .
6. Being a good church member means attending the services regularly
and giving faithfully.
The average man on the street would say "true" to all
of these assertions, whereas the New Testament scriptures would
say, "false"! All of the assertions mentioned above
come out of a program mindset of church life. This way of looking
at church says that if we attend the planned programs at the particular
place and time we have "gone to church. This perspective
of church life, however, is foreign to the scripture. Almost all
of us have grown up with this perspective of church, because that's
about the only model that we have ever seen. But I submit to you
that this perspective on church will quench real church life rather
than promote it. I'm convinced that the believers in the early
church would be dumbstruck at our modern concept of church life.
Instead of a program perspective, the Bible presents to us a community
perspective on church life.
How is the word "church" used in the New Testament?
The Greek word for church, "ekklesia" is found 108 times
in the New Testament. It is used in two different ways:
1. All Christians Everywhere: About 10% of the time "ekklesia"
refers to the universal body of Christ. In these passages, the
word refers to the whole number of regenerated persons from Pentecost
to the second coming of Christ who are savingly related to Jesus
Christ. The following are examples of this kind of usage of the
Ephesians 5:25 "Christ also loved the church and gave
Himself up for her"
Colossians 1:18 "He is also head of the body, the
2. A Local Body of Christians: About 90% of the
time the word "ekklesia" refers to a local expression
of the universal body of Christ. Examples of this kind of usage
of "church" include the following:
Matthew 18:17 "and if he refuses to listen to them,
tell it to the church"
Acts 14:23 "and when they had appointed elders for
them in every church"
Romans 16:5 "greet the church that is in their house"
1 Corinthians 14:4 "One who speaks in a tongue edifies
himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church"
Please notice something very important. In all of the biblical
usages of the word "church", it never refers to a building
or to a program. It always refers to people! The word refers to
people Jesus loved and gave Himself for. The local church is a
specific group of people who have a certain relationship together.
For Christians in the early church, the word "church"
probably conjured up the image of a small group of believers who
knew each other, were together often and loved each other to the
point of laying down their lives for one another.
To see what the early church was like, let's look at Acts 2:42-47
"And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles'
teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
And everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and
signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who
had believed were together, and had all things in common; and
they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing
them with all, as anyone might have need. And day by day continuing
with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to
house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and
sincerity of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the
people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those
who were being saved."
Notice several things from this passage. These early believers
were continually devoted to the apostles' teaching. They were
feeding regularly on their teaching of Christ. They were growing
in their knowledge of Jesus rapidly. They were also devoted to
fellowship. Fellowship means "a sharing in common with."
What did these believers share with each other? Everything, including
their material possessions! They sold their possessions and shared
the proceeds with anyone who had need. It's important to note
that this sharing of possessions wasn't legislated from the top
down. It came from within their hearts, being birthed by the Holy
Spirit. They were also continually devoted to sharing the Lord's
Supper with one another. In fact we read in vs.46 that "day
by day they were breaking bread from house to house, sharing their
meals together with gladness." They were with each other
all the time. They ate meals together. In fact when they ate their
meals with one another, they would pause and remember Christ in
the breaking of bread and the passing of the cup. They were also
continually devoted to prayer. They were praying constantly, seeking
God's direction and will for their lives. Notice also that God's
blessing was upon them. He was working great signs and wonders
through the apostles, giving them favor with all the unbelievers,
and adding to the church day after day. Notice additionally where
they met -- the temple and homes. They would meet in large groups
at Solomon's porch at the temple to hear the apostles' teaching,
and would then get together in homes to break bread, pray, and
praise God together. Notice also, that this community didn't depend
on any special buildings. What do you suppose would have happened
if the temple grounds were closed off to the early Christians?
Would the church be shut down? Not on your life! This group of
people was too vibrant and alive for their existence to depend
on a special building. If the temple grounds were closed down,
they would just continue to meet in an open field, at a riverside,
or in homes. It's impossible to define these people in terms of
programs. You can't define them as the ones who meet at the temple
and from house to house. No, there's something much more dynamic
and alive here. This was a community of people who shared their
very lives with one another. Church was not just a part of their
life, it was their life. For them, church was a seven day a week,
Now, compare that early church to what we observe in the church
today. There's not much to compare is there?! If our church buildings
were shut down, I wonder if our churches would fold as well. If
the programs were shut down, would the church also collapse?
Perhaps it would help to compare the New Testament church to the
church today. This comparison is only intended to be a broad generalization,
not an indictment of any particular church.
| ||NT Church ||Today's Church
Moved from house to house
Meets in large buildings
Size of Groups
Small, intimate groups
Large, impersonal groups
Weekly worship service
Building up one another
See the Pastor
Intimate, personal, loving
Remote, little transparency
Primary task of Leaders
Equipping every believer to do the work of ministry
Directing of programs
Perspective Home groups a primary focus Congregation the primary
The early church was a thing of beauty. It was a vibrant, exciting,
body of people living in community with one another. How far we
have drifted in 2,000 years! Oh, that God would restore us to
our rightful heritage!
I believe one of the primary hindrances to vibrant New Testament
church life has been that the church has held tenaciously to man-made
traditions, and have rejected apostolic traditions. Jesus taught
clearly that the tradition of man was to be spurned whenever it
came into conflict with the Word of God. "And the Pharisees
and the scribes asked Him, 'Why do Your disciples not walk according
to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure
hands?' And He said to them, 'Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you
hypocrites, as it is written, 'This people honors Me with their
lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they
worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.' 'Neglecting
the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.' He
was also saying to them, 'You nicely set aside the commandment
of God in order to keep your tradition'" (Mark 7:5-9).
However, it is just as clear that the apostles of Christ developed
traditions which they expected the churches to keep. Consider
the following passages:
"Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ. Now I praise
you because you remember me in everything, and hold firmly
to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you" (1
"So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions
which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from
us" (2 Thess. 2:15).
Additionally, the Scriptures show us that the apostles expected
all the churches to follow the same patterns that they had established.
For example, when Paul dealt with the issue of head coverings
he wrote, "But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have
no other practice, nor have the churches of God" (1 Cor.
11:16). When Paul was establishing guidelines for orderly church
gatherings he wrote, "... as in all the churches of the saints"
(1 Cor. 14:33). In this way he referred to a universally practiced
apostolic tradition to justify his guidelines. If a church broke
with established apostolic tradition, it received a rebuke, "Was
it from you that the word of God first went forth? Or has it come
to you only?" (1 Cor. 14:36). Paul is saying, "If you
think that God gave you some new revelation that it's all right
to change the practices of the church, guess again! If so, you
are the only ones He gave it to, because none of the other churches
are practicing that!"
There are many apostolic patterns of church life that are widely
embraced today including the freedom of the local church to govern
itself, a plurality of elders, meeting on Sunday as the "Lord's
Day", believer's baptism, and the sending out of missionaries.
However, there are other apostolic traditions that are not widely
embraced including church gatherings designed for mutual edification
of every member, the love feast, one cup and one loaf used in
the Lord's Supper, meetings held in homes rather than specially
designed religious buildings, and church discipline. It is my
conviction that these apostolic traditions need to be recovered
and applied to church life today as well as these others! As we
at Milpitas Bible Fellowship have begun to do so, we have experienced
great blessing from God. It is my prayer that God may use them
in your own life to be a means for you to experience something
of the vitality and life that the early church experienced.
The Setting For The Gatherings Of The
What was the normal setting for the wonderful life of the early
church? Where did they meet? The answer may surprise you. The
early believers met primarily in homes! This can be easily substantiated
from the Scriptures.
Acts 2:46 "And day by day continuing with one mind
in the temple and breaking bread from house to house they
were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of
Acts 5:42 "And every day, in the temple and from
house to house they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus
as the Christ."
Acts 8:3 "But Saul began ravaging the church, entering
house after house and dragging off men and women, he would
put them in prison." Saul knew where to find the gatherings
of the church -- in homes!
Acts 16:40 "And they went out of the prison and entered
the house of Lydia, and when they saw the brethren, they
encouraged them and departed." Even at this early date, the
church had already found a meeting place in Lydia's home.
Acts 17:5 "But the Jews, becoming jealous and taking
along some wicked men from the market place, formed a mob and
set the city in an uproar; and coming upon the house of Jason,
they were seeking to bring them out to the people." It appears
that the Jews knew that the church met in Jason's home, and thus
began there in their quest to find them and run them out of town.
Acts 20:20 "how I did not shrink from declaring to
you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and
from house to house."
Romans 16:5 "...also greet the church that is in
1 Corinthians 16:19 "The churches of Asia greet you.
Aquila nad Prisca greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church
that is in their house."
Philemon 2 "...and to Apphia our sister, and to Archippus
our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house."
Col. 4:15 "Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea
and also Nympha and the church that is in her house."
2 John 10 "If anyone comes to you and does not bring
this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and
do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting
participates in his evil deeds." Here we have a warning to
the church not to receive false teachers into their house. This
doesn't refer to individual believers allowing non-Christians
into their homes for social or evangelistic purposes, but rather
is a warning to the church not to allow false teachers to participate
in their meetings. Since involvement in the meetings meant an
opportunity to speak, it would have meant possible harm to the
church if a false teacher were allowed into the meeting.
Thus, there is much evidence from the Scriptures that houses were
the primary meeting places in the early church.
A little research into church history will reveal another very
interesting fact -- the church of Jesus Christ had no special
buildings for worship for the first 200 years of its existence!
Even then, church buildings were very rare until the time of Constantine
in the 4th century. How could these early Christians possibly
advance the cause of Christ in the world without church buildings?
The answer is that they did so very well. In fact the enemies
of the Christian faith said that they had turned the world upside
down. They made their mark for Christ in the first century, without
special buildings, seminaries, mission boards, denominations or
programs. When is the last time you heard a non-Christian say
that about the church today?
How did it happen that believers left living rooms to gather in
large cathedrals? The change came primarily in the 4th century
through Constantine, the Roman emperor. When he wedded church
and state together, making Christianity the official religion
of Rome, he authorized the construction of special buildings designed
for Christian worship. A great influx of new buildings sprouted
up across the empire. It was at the same time that multitudes
of people were coming into the church out of paganism following
the example of their emperor. In order to accommodate them, the
church began introducing ritual, ceremony, and pomp into the meetings
of the church -- things very familiar to ex-pagans. Soon the clergy
began to wear vestments to set themselves apart from the laity.
The informal, interactive, vibrant meetings of believers in living
rooms were replaced with formality and passivity, in large, impersonal
buildings. And for the next 1,700 years this has been the rule
in the church of Christ. Even the reformation, though bringing
back to the church an orthodox understanding of theology, never
really dealt with restoring orthodox apostolic practices to the
church. The reformation replaced the priest with the pastor, and
the altar with the pulpit, but many New Testament distinctives
of church life were still buried under hundreds of years of tradition.
Could it be that there was good reason for the church to meet
in homes from the very beginning? Could it be that rather than
being a step up, it actually became a step down when the church
decided to forsake homes entirely for large building-centered
worship? I believe the answer is "yes." I need to make
it plain that I am not stating that I believe it is wrong for
a body of believers to meet in a special building for worship
and teaching. We at Milpitas Bible Fellowship do that ourselves.
We see a Biblical pattern for the assembling of larger gatherings
of believers for the purpose of being taught the Word of God.
In Acts 2:46 we find the early church gathering in large numbers
at the temple (probably Solomon's Portico (Acts 3:11). Undoubtedly,
this was where the early believers were taught by the apostles
(Acts 2:42). We also find Paul and Silas teaching large numbers
of Christians at Antioch for a year (Acts 11:21, 26). Where did
these believers meet to be instructed in the things of God? Well,
it's obvious that "considerable numbers" can not be
instructed in a house! Perhaps these believers met outdoors, or
in a rented facility (Acts 19:9). In Acts 20:20 the apostle Paul
states to the Ephesian elders that he had taught publicly and
from house to house. Evidently, Paul not only taught in homes,
but also in a public setting of some kind. Therefore, the Scriptures
provide the pattern of the early church meeting in large gatherings
to be instructed. If there is a Biblical pattern for the church
meeting in these larger gatherings, and if there is access to
a building large enough to a ccommodate them in a comfortable
setting, I see nothing wrong in utilizing these buildings, especially
if exorbitant amounts of money are not needed to secure them.
But if the gatherings of the church take place only in
large buildings, then I believe that the church will miss out
on some vital aspects of Biblical church-life.
In the large building-centered gatherings it becomes extremely
difficult to practice using one loaf and one cup in the Lord's
Supper to symbolize our unity together in Christ (1 Cor. 10:16-17);
enjoy a Love Feast in conjunction with the Lord's Supper (1 Cor.
11:20-22, 33-34; Jude 12); participate in meetings where each
one is allowed opportunity to minister to the saints (1 Cor. 14:26);
develop deep and intimate relationships with one another so that
when one member suffers all the members suffer (1 Cor. 12:26);
and obey all the "one-another" commands of the New Testament.
These were all essential elements of church life in the first
century, but have been largely abandoned because with our present
structures they cease to be functional. For these reasons I believe
it is important that we return to the New Testament norm of the
church meeting in homes. These "house churches" may
choose to cluster together in a larger setting at certain times,
but New Testament church-life will not be reserved only for these
"public" gatherings, but will be experienced and lived
out with other believers during the week as they meet together
The Goal Of The Gatherings Of The Early
When the early church met together, what was its goal? What were
these early believers seeking to accomplish? Today we usually
understand the goal of our gatherings to be either evangelism
or worship. It is interesting to note, however, that neither of
these were ever stated in the New Testament to be the primary
objective of the gathering of the saints.
Popular Misconceptions Of The Goal
Evangelism: Many churches design their meetings to evangelize
unbelievers. Church members are exhorted to bring the lost to
the servicea, and the pastor preaches a steady diet of evangelistic
sermons in the hope of seeing the unconverted saved. It is interesting,
however, that evangelism in the early church was almost always
carried on outside of the church gatherings. Jesus told his disciples,
"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy
Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and
lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Mt.
28:19-20). Again He instructed the eleven, not to get the world
to come into the church, but for the church to go out to the unconverted.
"Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation"
(Mark 16:15). In the book of Acts we see this principle applied
again and again. In Acts 3 we find Peter and John walking along
together on their way to the temple to pray when they had the
encounter with the lame man. After the man was healed, God gave
Peter a wonderful opportunity to speak forth the gospel of Christ.
Take note that his evangelistic preaching did not come in a gathering
of the saints, but as he went along his way in the ordinary routine
of life. In Acts 8:4 we find the early Christians who fled Jerusalem
because of the heavy persecution, going on their way preaching
the word. In Acts 8:5-8 we find Philip in the city of Samaria
preaching Christ and healing the sick, not in the context of a
church meeting, but simply among the lost of the city. Later in
the same chapter, we find him joining himself to the chariot of
an Ethiopian eunuch as he is traveling back to his homeland and
preaching Jesus to him from Isaiah 53. In Acts 10 we find Peter
in the home of Cornelius preaching Christ to an entire household.
In all of these examples, we find that evangelism was carried
on in the ordinary course of life, rather than in the special
gatherings of the church.
We do find Paul addressing the possibility of unbelievers being
converted in a church meeting in 1 Cor. 14:24-25. There he says,
"But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man
enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all;
the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on
his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among
you." However, this appears to be the exception rather than
the rule. It is also interesting to note that even here the man's
conversion results not from the preaching of the gospel (which
is God's ordinary means of saving the lost - 1 Corinthians 1:21),
but the gift of prophecy being manifested in a meeting. The Scriptures
indicate that "preaching" was primarily to the lost,
while "teaching" was employed in the church (Acts 11:20-21,
Worship: Others believe that worship is the goal of the
church gathering. In fact, their gatherings are called "worship
services." They get this understanding chiefly from the Old
Testament. Under the Old Covenant the Jews were required to make
several pilgrimages each year to Jerusalem to the temple, in order
to worship God by offering certain prescribed animal sacrifices.
God's worship was to be done on particular days, at a particular
place, in a particular way. Under the New Covenant, though, a
radical shift in our worship of God has taken place. In fact,
Heb. 8:13 tells us that the Old Covenant is obsolete and ready
to disappear. According to Jesus, worship under the New Covenant
has nothing to do with certain places or times. In John 4:20-24
we have the most full and comprehensive teaching in the New Testament
on worship. There we read of the Samaritan woman's desire to have
a nagging question straightened out. She wanted to know where
the correct place for worship was -- Mt. Gerazim or Jerusalem.
To this Jesus replied, that an hour was coming and then was, when
the true worshippers would worship the Father in spirit and truth,
not a particular time or place. What a difference from Old Covenant
worship! Instead of worshipping at a particular place, time and
way, Jesus told us that worship under the New Covenant would take
place all the time in any place! Christ's emphasis was not where
and when, but how. His concern was that worship be done in spirit
The New Testament never refers to a church meeting as a worship
service. In Romans 12:1 Paul says, "I urge you therefore,
brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living
and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual
service of worship." Here the Scripture does refer
to a service of worship, but it refers to the offering of the
body to God as a living sacrifice, not with believers gathering
to pray and sing to God. Worship, then, has more to do with an
obedient life, than with certain religious rituals to be performed
with other Christians. Furthermore, worship performed by presenting
ourselves as living and holy sacrifices is to be done twenty-four
hours a day, seven days a week, as we continually give ourselves
in obedience to the will of God. A dead sacrifice can only be
offered once, but a living sacrifice must be offered continually.
Now, all this is not to say that we should not praise, thank,
and adore God when we meet together (Ephesians 5:19b). It is to
say, however, that the New Testament Scriptures never state that
these activities are the primary objective of our gatherings.
The Biblical Teaching On The Goal
In two passages of Scripture we are told what the goal of the
church is to be when it gathers. Let's look at each in turn.
1 Corinthians 14:26: "What is the outcome then, brethren?
When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching,
has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all
things be done for edification." Notice that Paul
describes a scene when the church assembles. In that setting,
he says that each one has a contribution to make. One has
a teaching, another has a song, another has a revelation. Paul's
point in all of this is that no matter what the contributions
are, they must all be done for the edification of the whole. The
goal of the gatherings according to the apostle Paul is mutual
edification! Now, it must be admitted that this is a far cry from
our traditional church meetings where the Pastor speaks and the
rest listen passively. In these settings, the Pastor is the only
one given an opportunity to use his spiritual gift to edify the
church. In 1 Corinthians 12:20-25 though, we are told that every
member is important and vital to the proper functioning of the
whole body. We must provide opportunities in our church life for
every member to be able to participate and contribute to the edification
of the whole. If that kind of meeting can not take place in our
larger gatherings, then smaller, intimate, house gatherings should
be utilized to provide an opportunity for them.
Hebrews 10:24-25: "and let us consider how to stimulate
one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling
together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another;
and all the more, as you see the day drawing near." In this
passage, what were believers to do when they assembled together?
According to the text, they were to encourage one another. Notice,
that it does not say that the Pastor is to encourage the congregation.
It says that they are to encourage one another. Each member is
to seek to stimulate others to love and good deeds, and to encourage
them to live out their Christian lives every day all day long.
It appears that the meetings of the church were not designed to
evangelize or worship, but rather to build up, edify, and encourage
believers so that they would evangelize, worship, and serve God
outside of the meetings!
If these texts can be taken as describing normative church life
in the first century, then some observations are in order. It
would appear that church life could be characterized by being
interactive, informal, small and intimate. Furthermore, simplicity
seems to be the rule. When Constantine endorsed Christianity throughout
the Roman empire and believers moved out of homes into great,
awe-inspiring buildings some big changes were made in the church.
Interaction and mutual encouragement were exchanged for monologue.
Mutual participation was exchanged for passive spectating. The
congregation began to watch the performance of the spiritually
elite. The clergy/laity structure came into prominence. And in
all of this, mutual participation became increasingly difficult
to implement, if not down right impossible. About the only thing
left that the congregation could participate in was singing. Thus,
to this day, in many churches the extent of our participation
in a "church meeting" has been relegated to singing,
while the Pastor and the song leader do everything else. In the
Old Testament there was only one tribe out of twelve given the
wonderful privilege of serving God in "full-time ministry"
-- the Levites. All the other tribes had to make their living
through other "secular" work. The Levites alone, were
given the wondrous opportunity of offering sacrifices on behalf
of sinners, entering within the holy place, and being near to
the manifest presence of God. Under the New Covenant, all that
has been changed. The Scripture declares, "you are a chosen
race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's
own possession." Now, there is not just a small segment of
the church which is given the privilege of ministry, but the entire
church is called a "royal priesthood." We all have sacred
ministry to perform. The leadership of any local church is not
there to do the ministry for everyone else, but to equip them
to do the ministry on behalf of the rest of the church (Eph.4:11-12).
It is my conviction that this ministry is to be done within as
well as outside of the gatherings of the church. Therefore, if
a particular local church has designed their Sunday meetings for
worship and the teaching of the Word, then there needs to be other
gatherings when these same people are given opportunities to serve
and minister to one another. At Milpitas Bible Fellowship, this
is done primarily in house churches.
In order for every-member ministry to become a reality, a death
blow must be struck at the whole clergy/laity distinction. The
word "laity" grew out of the Greek word "laos",
meaning people. According to the Word of God, every believer,
pastors included, are part of the one people of God. In that sense,
all of us are "laity" and there is no clergy! As long
as believers in our churches see the Pastor as a "professional
holy man", part of the spiritually elite, and somehow closer
to God than the rest of the church, there is little hope that
every-member ministry will take place. Our churches will naturally
become spectator arenas, where the Pastor does it all. However,
if the pastors/elders of the local church teach the church that
the only real difference between them is that the elders have
been given different gifts, responsibilities, and functions in
the body, the whole church can begin to take up their God-given
responsibility to minister faithfully to one another. In my opinion,
this means that pastors would do well to get rid of their honorific
titles. Instead of having church members address someone as Pastor
Smith, or Pastor Dave, wouldn't it be much more consistent with
Scripture for the church just to call him by his first name as
he does to them? In this way a separation in their minds is not
being created between himself and them. Jesus, in Matthew 23:8-12
put it this way, "But do not be called Rabbi; for One is
your Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone
on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven.
And do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is
Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. And
whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself
shall be exalted." In this passage, Jesus names three titles
that the Pharisees loved to be called by, "Rabbi, Father,
and Leader." Instead, Jesus said that we are all brothers.
No one is on a higher spiritual plane by virtue of their function
in the body of Christ than anyone else. This is not to say that
pastors/elders do not have spiritual authority delegated to them
by Christ in order to shepherd the flock. It is to say, though,
that this authority is given to them to serve and build up others,
not to lord it over others. These leaders can best build up and
serve others as they minister among them, not standing apart from
them and above them.
In my opinion it would also be beneficial for the pastors/elders
of a local church to dress in a way that identifies them with
their people, rather than setting themselves apart from their
people. We as Protestants have a distaste for the vestments and
"holy garb" of Roman Catholic priests, which to us seem
to create a clear separation between priest and people. However,
isn't it possible that we are doing the same thing when we dress
in a suit and tie, while our people dress more casually?
Perhaps it would also do us pastors good to grant much ministry
that we have traditionally accepted to our people. For example,
where in Scripture are we told that it is the responsibility of
pastors to conduct weddings, funerals, and visit people in the
hospital? This isn't ever laid down in Scripture as one of the
duties of an elder. We never read of Jesus, Peter, Paul or John
performing weddings or funerals. Each particular denomination
or local church must decide who qualifies as a "minister",
and is thus authorized by the State to perform weddings. The only
injunction in Scripture regarding elders visiting the sick is
in James 5:14 where we are told, "Is anyone among you sick?
Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over
him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord." Notice
that it is not the Pastor who is to pray for the sick, but the
elders. (In the Bible the terms "pastor", "elder",
and "overseer", are interchangeable -- they are all
used to describe the same persons; Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 5:1-2,
Titus 1:5-7). And notice also, that this is to happen only after
the sick one has called for the elders to come and pray for him.
Does this eliminate others in the body of Christ from visiting
and ministering to the sick person? I don't think so, especially
in light of the fact that many non-pastors are given the spiritual
gifts of mercy, and healings! If the elders do all of the visiting,
how will those with these gifts have opportunity to use them?
Perhaps there are areas of ministry traditionally only performed
by so-called "clergy" which may be effectively done
by others in Christ's church.
The point to be made here is that in Scripture the goal of the
gatherings of believers was not to be passive, but to be active.
It was not to listen, but to participate in encouraging. It was
not to receive from the gifts of one man, but for each person
to use their gifts for the edifying of all. If our Sunday gatherings
can not have that as the goal, then we need to provide a structure
in which this can take place. The New Testament over and over
reveals this place as the house church.
The Focus Of The Gatherings Of The
Having seen in chapter 3 that the goal of the gatherings of the
early church was mutual edification, let us now turn our attention
to the question, "What was the focus of the gatherings of
the early church?" The answer from Scripture may again surprise
you. The Scriptures again and again declare to us that the focus
of the gathering of the church is to partake of the Lord's Supper.
Acts 2:46 "And day by, continuing with one mind in
the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they
were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of
Acts 20:7 "And on the first day of the week, when
we were gathered together to break bread..."
1 Corinthians 11:33 "So then, brethren, when you come
together to eat, wait for one another."
1 Corinthians 11:20 "Therefore when you meet together,
it is not to eat the Lord's Supper, for in your eating
each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another
In each one of these passages we see that the central focus of
the meetings of the early church was not the sermon, worship,
the offering, or the youth group. It was the Lord's Supper. In
the passage in 1 Corinthians 11:20 Paul is rebuking them when
he says, "when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord's
Supper." It should have been their purpose in gathering,
but instead of eating the Lord's Supper, they were eating
their own supper (11:21). Now, doubtless there were other
gatherings of the church in which the Lord's Supper was not observed
(apostolic teaching in the temple - Acts 2:46; public teaching
settings - Acts 11:26; Acts 20:20), but the norm for the early
church was to gather to break bread. In fact, in Acts 2:42 we
read, "And they were continually devoting themselves to the
apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread
and to prayer." Here we see that the breaking of bread was
included in the same class with apostolic teaching, fellowship
and prayer. We also see that the early disciples were continually
devoting themselves to it. In Acts 20:7, the implication is that
the early church observed the Lord's Supper as the focus of their
gatherings at least on a weekly basis. All of this leads us to
the conclusion that the Lord's Supper was meant to be observed
on a frequent and regular basis. This concept brings to mind a
slew of questions. Let's take each in turn.
What Is Represented In The Lord's Supper?
The Lord's Supper is a visible illustration of several truths.
First, it pictures for us the death of Christ. Paul reminds
us in 1 Corinthians 11:26, "For as often as you eat this
bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death
until He comes." When the bread is broken in the sight of
all the people, it visibly portrays Christ's body which was violently
cut off in death on the cross. In the broken bread we are also
reminded of His body which was bruised, scourged, pierced, and
lacerated in the scourging and crucifixion. The poured out wine
is a fitting illustration of the blood of Christ that was poured
out for many for the remission of sins.
Secondly, the Lord's Supper illustrates for us the truth of our
participation in the benefits of the death of Christ. Jesus
told His disciples, "Take eat; this is My body. And when
He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying,
"Drink from it, all of you" (Mt. 26:2627).
Incidentally, this verse proves that the cup should be distributed
to all, and not just the priests, as the Catholic church practices.
Now, if the bread and the cup represent the body and blood of
Christ given for us in His sacrificial death, then our taking
and eating represents our appropriation of His sacrifice by faith.
As we eat and drink, we are illustrating the truth that we must
personally take in Christ and His work, making it ours by faith.
As we eat and drink, in effect we are saying, "What He did,
He did for me. I claim the benefits of the cross of Christ."
Well, what are those benefits that come to us through the death
of Christ? In Matthew 26:28 we read, "for this is My blood
of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness
of sins." In Luke 22:20 this covenant is referred to as the
"New Covenant". What is this New Covenant, and what
benefits come to those included in it? Well, to understand the
New Covenant we must first understand the Old Covenant. The Old
Covenant was the covenant that God made with the Jews. It is sometimes
referred to as the "Mosaic Covenant" because God gave
the covenant to Moses on behalf of all the Jewish people. The
New Covenant, on the other hand, is that covenant which was sealed
in the blood of Christ, and made on behalf of all the elect. Jesus
said that His blood of the covenant was poured out for many
for forgiveness of sins. These "many" are the elect
of God, chosen in Christ unto eternal life from the foundation
of the world. Now to this New Covenant community, God has made
great and precious promises which can be found in Jeremiah 31:31-34.
There the prophet declares, "'Behold, days are coming,' declares
the LORD, 'when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel
and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made
with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring
them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although
I was a husband to them,' declares the LORD. 'But this is the
covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those
days,' declares the LORD, 'I will put My law within them, and
on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they
shall be My people. And they shall not teach again, each man his
neighbor and each man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for
they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest
of them,' declares the LORD, 'for I will forgive their iniquity,
and their sin I will remember no more.' There is a four-fold blessing
to those who share in this New Covenant: 1) They shall have a
new relationship to the law of God -- it will be written in their
hearts. 2) They shall have a new relationship to the person of
God -- He shall be their God and they shall be His people. 3)
They shall have a new knowledge of God -- they shall all know
God, from the least to the greatest of them. 4) They shall have
a new standing before God -- they shall have all their sins forgiven.
All of these blessings are received by those who enter into and
receive the mercies of this New Covenant which was sealed in the
blood of Christ at Calvary.
The Lord's Supper was instituted on the eve of Passover, and there
is a very good reason for that. The Lord's Supper takes the place
of the Passover for God's people. The Passover relates to the
Old Covenant. It is a memorial of God's deliverance of all the
firstborn Jews who had applied the blood of a lamb to the doorposts
and lintel of their houses. In this way they were saved out of
a cruel bondage to Pharaoh and his slavemasters in Egypt. Likewise,
the Lord's Supper is a memorial of a deliverance as well. But
the deliverance that Christ brings is far greater than the deliverance
the children of Israel received. We are delivered from sin, Satan,
death, and hell by Christ's shed blood. When we partake of the
Lord's Supper we symbolize the fact that we appropriate these
blessings by faith.
Thirdly, the Lord's Supper represents the spiritual nourishment
of believers. Bread and juice are foods which nourish the
body. They maintain our lives and give us strength. In the Lord's
Supper we are reminded that Jesus Christ and Him crucified is
that by which our souls are nourished and strengthened day by
day. Christ Himself is the support and maintenance of our spiritual
life. It was this truth that Jesus emphasized in John 6:53-57
when He declared, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you
eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have
no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood
has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For
My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats
My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the
living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he
who eats Me, he also shall live because of Me." Christ is
pointing out here that His substitutionary atonement is the food
our souls need to live day by day. Truly, the cross of Christ
is God's refreshing, strengthening, and invigorating remedy for
our spiritual lives!
Fourthly, the Lord's Supper represents the unity of all believers.
We find this truth spelled out for us in 1 Corinthians 10:17
where Paul writes, "Since there is one bread, we who are
many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread."
Just as we only use one loaf when celebrating communion, even
though that one loaf is divided into many pieces, so too there
is only one body of Christ though it is made up of many members.
The one loaf is intended to portray the truth that we are all
one in Jesus Christ. One of the purposes of the Lord's Supper
is to depict the unity that we possess in Christ. For this reason,
it would be best to use a single loaf, instead of many different
crackers, to depict this unity that we share in Jesus.
Fifthly, the Lord's Supper represents the future Messianic
banquet we will enjoy when Christ returns. Notice carefully
Jesus' words in Matthew 26:29 directly after He had instituted
the Supper, "But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit
of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with
you in My Father's kingdom." Just as there is a backward
look in the Lord's Supper to our Lord's death to inaugurate the
New Covenant, so there is a forward look to that day when Christ
will return and we shall sit down to sup with Him again in His
Father's kingdom. This may have been what Jesus was speaking of
in Matthew 8:11 when He stated, "And I say to you, that many
shall come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham,
and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven." Again, we
have the Apostle Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 11:26 "For
as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim
the Lord's death until He comes." There is in the observance
of the Lord's Supper an eager looking forward to that day when
Jesus will return and we shall sit down with Him to sup in His
Father's kingdom. That's why a thimble full of grape juice and
a tiny cracker are not fit symbols to be employed. Only a full
meal can adequately represent the Messianic banquet held out for
our future enjoyment.
How Is The Lord's Supper To Be Observed?
It Should Be Celebrated With Other Believers: Since one
of the purposes of the Lord's Supper is to signify the unity that
Christians possess one with another, they ought to partake of
it together. Therefore, it would not be appropriate for Christians
to partake of this sacrament privately and alone.
It Should Be Celebrated During A Common Meal Together: It
seems clear from Scripture that the early church celebrated the
Lord's Supper in conjunction with a fellowship meal of the church.
Consider Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 11:20-22, "Therefore
when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord's Supper, for
in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is
hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses in which
to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God, and shame
those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise
you? In this I will not praise you." It is obvious that these
Christians were not simply eating a small piece of bread and drinking
a thimble of wine. If that were the case, how could some of them
be drunk? Or again, how could some of them have their hunger assuaged
while others are famished? It seems obvious that what was taking
place was what we have described in Jude 12 as a "love feast."
From all the data that we can gather, it would appear that these
meals were similar to our "pot-luck" meals today. All
brought some food to share with others. The purpose was to promote
fellowship, love and unity within the body. When Jesus instituted
the Lord's Supper, it was during the meal when he broke bread
and gave it to His disciples (Mt. 26:26), and it was after they
had eaten that He distributed the cup (Luke 22:20). Now it is
important to keep in mind that this fellowship meal is nowhere
commanded in Scripture. The most that we can say is that
we see it modeled in Scripture. I find it interesting that the
Apostle Paul never tells the Corinthians to stop the practice.
He simply tells them to correct the abuses that were going on.
At Milpitas Bible Fellowship we observe the Lord's Supper in conjunction
with a special fellowship meal after the example of the early
It Should Be Celebrated With One Loaf And One Cup: as we
have seen earlier, the Lord's Supper was intended to symbolize
the unity that we share in Christ. In 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 we
read, "Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a
sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the loaf which we
break a sharing in the body of Christ? Since there is one loaf,
we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one loaf."
Here we are emphatically told that there is one loaf and one cup
to represent the fact that all believers are one in Christ. The
loaf and the cup represent the entire body, and the portion of
the loaf and the cup that we eat and drink show forth ourselves
as members of the whole. Thus, it is important that the loaf and
the cup are presented undivided before the people. If we divide
the loaf or the cup ahead of time, we lose the picture of unity
that Paul portrays here. Each member must see the loaf as one
loaf, not many pieces, for many pieces signify division instead
of unity. It would appear that each believer, himself is to pour
his part from the cup, and break his piece from the loaf. As he
partakes of his portion, he sees himself as one part of the whole
body. This is just one more indication that the Lord's Supper
was designed to be held in small, intimate settings. It becomes
very difficult to implement these patterns in a church of 5,000
or even 500.
It Should Be Celebrated With The Blessing Of The Bread and
the Cup: 1 Corinthians 10:16 says, "Is not the cup of
blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ?"
Again in Matthew 26:26 we read, "And while they were eating,
Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it
and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this
is My body." No doubt, this blessing is a time of prayer
in which the church separates the bread and the cup from their
common use to this sacred use.
It Should Be Celebrated By Breaking the Loaf in the Presence
of the People: Because the "breaking of bread" is
mentioned so often in the New Testament it appears that it was
an important part of the symbolism of the celebration (1 Cor.
11:24; 10:16; Acts 20:17; Mt. 26:26). The public breaking of the
bread by the one officiating at the service, ought to be solemnly
done in the presence of all the people. It was given to show us
a picture of Christ's violent death. If this is not done, part
of the rich imagery of Christ's bodily death will be lost.
It Should Be Celebrated With Believing Affection: Partaking
of the Lord's Supper without faith and love will not do anyone
any good. To remember, for a Hebrew, meant more than just calling
up some facts to mind. It meant to re-enact an event and participate
in it. That's what the Jews did on Passover. They retold the whole
story so that each person relived the whole event. In the Lord's
Supper we are to recall the passion and sufferings of our Lord
as well as the benefits that accrue to us by virtue of the New
Covenant that He inaugurated so that these things are powerfully
present to our minds. The Apostle Paul could say to the Galatians,
"You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose
eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?" (Gal.
3:1). Similarly as we partake of the Lord's Supper we ought to
strive to publicly portray Christ as crucified through our reading
of Scripture, prayers, and eating and drinking. It should be our
desire that Christ's death would become so vivid that it would
be as if we were standing beneath His cross, watching the whole
In this connection I think the words of the Puritan pastor, John
Flavel are appropriate: "Suppose you were justly condemned
to the torture of the rack, and that your dearest friend, preferring
your life to his own, became your ransomer by undergoing the torments
for you. Now suppose that you are now standing by that torture
chamber and beholding the members of your dear friend distorted,
and all out of joint; hearing his doleful groans, extorted by
the extremity of anguish; and under all these torments, still
maintaining a constant love to you, not once repenting of these
torments for you. Could you stand there with dry eyes? Could your
heart be unaffected, and stupid at such a sight? He must be rather
a beast or a stone than a man that could do so."
Brothers and sisters, we are not to go through the observance
of the Lord's Supper in some kind of unemotional, stoical manner.
Rather, let us mourn over our sin, and burn with love as we see
the great Lamb of God who died to take away our sins!
It Should Be Celebrated With Joy And Praise: some churches
believe that the Lord's Supper is to be observed in a general
mood of sober and solemn reflection. But in Acts 2:46 Luke recounts
the practice of the early church in that they were "breaking
bread from house to house and eating their meals together with
gladness and sincerity of heart." The Greek word here
used for gladness elsewhere is translated as "jubilation"
or "exultation." It refers to ecstatic joy. One would
hardly expect Luke to use this word if the general mood was supposed
to be soberness and solemnity. We celebrate the Lord's Supper
with gladness because we reflect on the fact that though we were
dead in our sins and headed for eternal punishment in the lake
of fire, Christ died to pay the penalty for our sins, and has
brought us into all the blessings and privileges of the New Covenant.
In What Setting Should The Lord's Supper
In what kind of setting should we celebrate the Lord's Supper.
Without being overly dogmatic on this point, it seems that the
Bible describes a small, intimate, house setting as the normal
place where the Lord's Supper was observed. Jesus celebrated the
first Supper in the upper room of a home. Acts 2:46 tells us that
the early church was breaking bread from house to house. Acts
20:7 describes a church meeting on the first day of the week to
break bread on the third floor of a house. Furthermore, we are
told in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 that we are to use one loaf and
one cup to symbolize our unity in Christ. This of necessity must
limit the size of the groups observing the Lord's Supper. The
early church did meet in larger gatherings, but it appears that
the purpose of these gatherings was that the church be taught
the Word (Acts 2:46; 11:26; 20:20). When it came to observing
the Lord's Supper, the uniform model of Scripture is a small,
intimate, home setting.
For more detailed information on the Lord's Supper, please see
our pamphlet entitled, Observing The Lord's Supper.
The Biblical Teaching On The Lord's Supper
| ||Frequent or Infrequent ||Central or Peripheral ||Small or Large Setting
|Acts 2:42 ||Frequent (continually devoting) ||
|Acts 2:46 ||Frequent (day by day) ||Central (only activity mentioned) ||Small - met in homes
|Acts 20:7 ||Frequent (implies weekly) ||Central (to break bread) ||Small - met in upper room of home
|1 Cor. 10:16-17|| || ||Small enough for 1 loaf & 1 cup
|1 Cor. 11:17-34 || ||Central (come together to eat) ||
|Gospels || || ||Small (13 met in upper room of home
Conclusion: The Biblical data seems to lead to the conclusion
that the Lord's Supper was seen as part of a Love Feast (Jude
12), partaken of frequently (at least weekly), the central focus
of the gatherings, and celebrated in small home settings.
The Activities Of The Gathering Of
The Early Church
When the early church gathered together, what did they do apart
from observing the Lord's Supper. Well, that answer is not difficult
to figure out. It is spelled out clearly in God's Word in all
of the "one-another" commands that the apostles urged
the believers to obey. Since these are "one-another"
commands, they can, by definition, only be obeyed in the context
of the gathering of the saints. Let's examine together some of
Greet One Another
"Greet one another with a holy kiss." Though
this particular "one-another" command sounds very mundane,
it happens to be repeated five times in the New Testament (Romans
16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Thessalonians
5:26; 1 Peter 5:14). The principle here seems to be that believers
should express their loving affection for one another with a physical
greeting. In the first century the cultural practice was for this
greeting to be given in a kiss. In our own cultural setting, the
kiss would be seen as bizarre and out of place. Nevertheless,
the principle of warm and loving affectionate greetings should
be applied in our churches. Here at Milpitas Bible Fellowship,
hugs, embraces, and backslaps are very common in our greeting
of each other. It is important to note that this was to be a "holy"
kiss. Applied today, this means that this physical affection must
be shown in a way that never compromises personal holiness. This
is especially relevant when it comes to men and women greeting
one another. Let all God's people remember that God's all-seeing
eye is ever upon them. Thus, our "holy hugs" towards
members of the opposite sex must be given in an appropriate way.
One rule of thumb is that if the individual's spouse is not comfortable
with the way you are greeting them, then it is not appropriate
for you to do so.
Love One Another
This, by far, is the most oft repeated "one-another"
command in the New Testament. Indeed, it is the hallmark of Christian
community. The importance of this command cannot be overstated.
Love fulfills God's law (Matthew 22:34-40; Romans 13:8-10); convinces
the world that we are Christ's disciples (John 13:34-35); is the
perfect bond of our unity (Colossians 3:12-14); and brings us
assurance of our salvation (1 John 3:14). The intensity of the
love we are to have for one another is arresting. Jesus teaches
us first, that we are to love one another as we love ourselves
(Mark 12:31). Here Christ quotes from Leviticus 19:18. This is
the minimum level of love. It was the level of love demanded under
the Old Covenant. Most of us do not even love with this intensity.
But Jesus took it beyond this. He told His disciples, "A
new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even
as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all
men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for
one another" (John 13:34-35). Here, Jesus takes us beyond
loving one another as much as we love ourselves, to loving one
another more than we love ourselves. This kind of love had never
been demanded before. That's why Jesus said that He was giving
them a "new" commandment. In this kind of love, we are
not to simply love others as much as we love ourselves. In this
kind of love, self disappears. When Jesus loved us, He put His
own comfort, ease, and pleasure aside, and willingly took upon
Himself the blazing fury of God's wrath for our everlasting salvation.
Likewise, if we are love like He did, we must set aside our desires,
rights, or needs, and minister to the needs of others.
What will this kind of love look like in real life? Well, for
starters, it will meet real needs in other peoples' lives. Notice
how the apostle John describes this love, "We know love by
this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down
our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world's goods,
and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him,
how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us
not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth"
(1 John 3:16-18). This kind of love means getting your hands dirty.
It means giving up a Saturday afternoon to watch someone's children.
It means digging deep to help another brother buy a car after
his has been hauled off to the wrecking yard. It means cleaning
house for a sister who is sick and can't do it herself. This kind
of love can't be done without getting to know the real needs in
peoples' lives. This kind of love requires that we get involved
at a deep level in each other's lives.
This love will also be manifested as we forgive one another. Peter
wrote, "Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another,
because love covers a multitude of sins" (1 Peter 4:8). What
happens when a community of believers starts to get involved in
each other's lives on a deep level? You can be that conflict is
right around the corner! As we begin to spend a lot of time with
one another, our own sin will surface, and sparks are bound to
fly. But if we love one another, we will quietly forgive these
offenses. Interestingly enough, the word forgive in Greek has
the meaning of "to let go." Biblical love means a willingness
to let go and not hold onto petty resentments and offenses.
Furthermore, this love will at other times mean restoring one
another from a sinful pattern. There will be times when the nature
and frequency of the sin in a brother or sister will require more
of us than to quietly forgive it. When a brother or sister is
caught in a sinful pattern, it is our duty to them to restore
them in love. Paul expresses this in Galatians 6:1-2 by saying,
"Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who
are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each
one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's
burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ." Notice here
that bearing one another's burdens is linked contextually with
restoring a brother. The brother's burden that we must bear is
the trespass that he is caught in. When one of our community is
tripped up by a trespass, some spiritually minded brethren need
to surround him, and together shoulder the burden he is groaning
under. By doing this we will fulfill the law of Christ. What is
that? It is the new commandment to love one another even as Christ
has loved us (John 13:34-35). Love means we must be willing to
confront a sinning brother in love, when we know that this sin
has "caught him". It is not the occasional sin that
is immediately confessed and repented of that is being spoken
of here, but the sin that trips up and lays a brother low. It
is at this point that we have the hardest time, for all of us
hate to confront each other. But confront we must, if we really
love one another. "Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but
deceitful are the kisses of an enemy" (Proverbs 27:6).
Be Hospitable To One Another
In 1 Peter 4:9 we find this oft-neglected "one-another"
command, "Be hospitable to one another without complaint."
In spite of the fact that few of us actively seek to be hospitable
to one another, the Scriptures urges it upon us.
Hebrews 13:2 "Do not neglect to show hospitality
to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without
Romans 12:13 "...contributing to the needs of the
saints, practicing hospitality"
1 Timothy 3:2 "An overseer, then, must be above reproach,
the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable,
able to teach..."
The Scriptures admonish us that we are not to neglect hospitality,
we are to practice hospitality, and that a man must not be considered
for the office of elder if he is not given to hospitality. These
passages alone should place beyond doubt the importance of the
practice of hospitality in our lives.
It's also interesting to notice that every place the subject of
hospitality comes up in the Scriptures it is in the context of
love. Go back and look up the previous verses in their context,
and you will see that in every one of them except the 1 Timothy
passage, they are given in the surrounding context of brotherly
love. What this should tell us is that if we want to know how
to show true love to one another, a good place to begin is with
The word hospitality comes from a Greek compound word meaning
"the love of guests." In the passage in 1 Peter we are
to told to be hospitable to one another. This indicates
that this hospitality is not just to be exercised toward traveling
missionaries and pastors every six months to a year, but rather
to all of God's people in our local church on a regular basis.
Furthermore, we are told that we are to do it without complaint.
How easy it is to slip into complaining when it comes to opening
up our homes to have others over. It is not easy to practice hospitality.
It demands old-fashioned hard work. It will be costly, inconvenient,
time-consuming, and may place a strain on our families. Nevertheless,
it is a test of our fervent love for God and His people. The opposite
of doing something with complaint is to do something with gladness.
God's will is that all of us open our homes to others with a glad
and cheerful spirit.
One of the ways we practice hospitality toward one another at
Milpitas Bible Fellowship is to rotate the location of our house
churches so that everyone gets an opportunity to have a gathering
in their home. The application, however, can be much broader than
this. How wonderful it would be if all of us had others into our
homes to share a meal and fellowship with one another on a regular
Accept One Another
Romans 15:7 says, "Wherefore, accept one another, just as
Christ also accepted us to the glory of God." How are we
to accept one another? As Christ also has accepted us to the glory
of God. How did Christ accept us? With all our sins, shortcomings,
warts and all. He took us in exactly as we were. He loved us in
spite of ourselves. He did this all for God's glory. This is exactly
the way we are commanded to accept one another. We must be willing
to accept others, receive them into our hearts and lives with
all their faults, shortcomings and sins. Now, this does not mean
that we must approve of a brother's sins. God accepts us, but
He never approves of our sin. Acceptance of another person means
that we are committed to love and receive them again and again
in the midst of their struggles with sin. We must refuse to reject
them from our fellowship, until or unless it becomes apparent
that they are unwilling to repent of sin any longer. At that point
we must begin the process of church discipline in order to restore
them to the grace of God.
In our churches we will have many opportunities to learn to accept
one another. In a church there will be all types thrown in together
-- married, single, divorced, elderly, young, families who home
school, families who send their children to public school, ex-atheists,
ex-homosexuals, straights, and people who differ on political
or theological issues. Love for others means we must learn to
accept people just as they are while God is in the process of
conforming them to the image of Christ. Even with all of our differences
we can experience deep unity because all of us have been united
to Jesus Christ. He's the unifying factor in our lives.
Live In Peace With One Another
Paul gives us this command in 1 Thessalonians 5:13. In view of
our great differences mentioned above, how can we possibly live
in peace? Ephesians 4:2-3 gives us some help, "...with all
humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to
one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the
Spirit in the bond of peace." This bond of peace can only
be maintained as long as we are seeking the graces of humility,
gentleness, patience, and forbearance. Paul further elaborates
on this area of our corporate lives in Ephesians 4:29-32, where
he states that living in peace with one another will mean that
we refuse to speak unwholesome words, that we put away all bitterness,
wrath, anger, clamor, and slander along with all malice, and that
we are kind to one another, tender-hearted, and forgiving of each
other. In order to live in peace with one another, it will be
necessary that we refuse to nurse a grudge or resentment. It will
mean that we deal with conflict Biblically, by going to the person
who has offended us privately and speaking to them in love. It
will mean a readiness to confess our faults to each other when
we have offended someone.
Conflicts will inevitably arise in any church setting where believers
are developing deep relationships with one another. It is not
necessarily bad. In fact, these conflicts are God's way of sanctifying
us! Normally, when conflicts arise between brethren, we either
avoid or explode. God's will is that we learn to resolve these
conflicts by humbling ourselves and loving one another. In this
way we will live in peace with one another.
Be Of The Same Mind Toward One Another
Romans 12:16 says, "Be of the same mind toward one another;
do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not
be wise in your own estimation." What does it mean to be
of the same mind toward one another? Paul defines it succinctly
in the rest of this verse by saying that it is to not be haughty
in mind, but to associate with the lowly. In other words, it means
that we will have the same attitude toward all of God's people.
We will not only associate with a few of our middle or upper class
friends who are just like us, but will show the same love, care,
and concern for all of God's people, no matter what station in
life they happen to be in. To be of the same mind toward one another
is the opposite of having a cliquish or snobbish attitude toward
others. It is a refusal to look down on anyone. Paul gives us
another angle of this truth in 1 Corinthians 12:24-26 where
he says, "God has so composed the body, giving more abundant
honor to that member which lacked, that there should be no division
in the body, but that the members should have the same care
for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members
suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice
with it." We are not to have great care for this brother
because we like him and have much in common with him, but hardly
notice another brother's need because we don't have much in common
with him. Every believer is of the highest importance in God's
heart, and should be in ours. We must care as much for the elderly
as for the younger members of our church, as much for the poor
as for the rich, as much for the dark-skinned as for the light-skinned,
as much for the uneducated as for the highly educated. When we
love each other like that, there will be no divisions because
there will be no difference in how we care for one another.
One of the concerns that some voiced when we first started the
house churches at Milpitas Bible Fellowship was the possibility
that cliques would develop. Now, it is important for us to understand
just what a clique is. A clique is not a group of people who have
developed deep relationships with one another. That is exactly
what the Scripture encourages us to do. It's obvious that we will
not be able to have these kinds of relationships with 100 people
or even 50 people. It is not wrong to focus your energies on developing
deep relationships with a more manageable group, say 15 or 20
people. If those people happen to be the ones that are in your
house church, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with that.
Rather, a clique according to Webster's Dictionary is "a
small, exclusive group of friends." Whenever your
group becomes exclusive, you have developed a clique, and are
beginning to act contrary to the spirit of the Scriptures. The
Bible encourages us to have the same care toward one another.
We must show great care not to become exclusive, but always have
open arms to reach out and receive anyone the Lord brings into
Serve One Another
According to 1 Peter 4:10, "As each one has received a special
gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the
manifold grace of God." The Scriptures teach us here, that
we serve each other by employing our spiritual gifts on their
behalf. Verse 11 goes on to tell us that there are two different
kinds of gifts -- speaking gifts and serving gifts. "Whoever
speaks, let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God; whoever
serves, let him do so as by the strength which God supplies; so
that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ,
to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen."
Romans 12:6-8 and 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 mention many different
gifts including prophecy, service, teaching, exhortation, giving,
leading, mercy, word of wisdom, word of knowledge, faith, gifts
of healing, effecting of miracles, distinguishing of spirits,
various kinds of tongues, and interpretation of tongues. The important
thing to note is that if we are to serve one another, we must
"employ" these gifts. That is, we must put them to work
on the behalf of others. We are told in 1 Corinthians 12:7 that
each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common
good. 1 Corinthians 14:12 reveals that these spiritual gifts are
to be used for the edification of the church. From these passages
we learn that every believer has one or more spiritual gifts,
and they are to be used not for his own benefit, but for the common
good and edification of the whole body.
If you are not sure what gifts God has given you, the best way
to find out is by serving others in whatever way comes naturally
to you. In the context of caring relationships our gifts just
seem to surface naturally. As others affirm that you have helped
them spiritually, your particular gift will become clear to you.
The main thing we must keep in mind, however, is that in order
for us to use our spiritual gifts, we must get involved. We will
never use our spiritual gifts as long as we sit silently on the
sidelines allowing somebody else to minister. Jump in! Get out
on the playing field! See someone in need, and in Jesus' name,
bring His healing touch. In the context of house church gatherings,
there is ample opportunity for everyone to use their gifts. One
brother may bring a song he has written. Another may read a passage
of Scripture the Lord has laid on his heart during a season of
prayer. Another sister may take another sister alone after the
meeting and pray for her about a particular struggle she is going
through. Someone else may bring an exhortation to the whole group
to apply a particular truth to their lives. Another may serve
by setting the table, setting out chairs, and doing the dishes
later. But again, the important point is that all of us must take
responsibility for getting involved in ministering to one another!
Build Up One Another
Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:11, "Therefore, encourage
one another, and build up one another, just as you also are doing."
Interestingly enough, this is exactly what Paul tells us in Ephesians
4 is what all the saints are to be doing. In verse 11 Paul says,
"And He (Christ) gave some as apostles, and some as prophets,
and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for
the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building
up of the body of Christ. Who is supposed to do the work of service?
The saints! What is this work of service? The building
up of the body of Christ! The body is built up in two different
ways. It is built up numerically when non-Christians are won to
Christ and added to the body, and it is built up spiritually when
believers mature in their faith. This two-fold work of evangelism
and discipleship is the work of all of God's people. Furthermore,
Paul goes on to say in verses 15 & 16, "but speaking
the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into
Him, who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being
fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according
to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth
of the body for the building up of itself in love."
Notice in this passage the emphasis on growth. The body cannot
grow properly without the proper working of each individual part.
How will this bodily growth take place? Only as the body builds
up itself in love. Notice that the whole body is to build up the
whole body in love. We, as believers, must learn to build up one
another in order for the body to grow and mature together in Christ.
This same truth is brought out in slightly different language
in Hebrews 3:12-14. There we are told, "Take care, brethren,
lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart,
in falling away from the living God. But encourage one
another day after day, as long as it is still called 'Today,'
lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For
we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning
of our assurance firm until the end." Here we are told explicitly
that one of the means that God uses in our lives to persevere
in faith to the end, is the faithful encouragement of our brothers
and sisters in Christ. We are exhorted to encourage one another
"day after day." It does not say that the Pastor is
to encourage the church on Sunday mornings at 11:00 a.m. It says
that all of us are to encourage one another day after day. In
order for this to happen, we've got to know one another and be
willing to get involved in one another's lives, difficulties and
struggles. But as we encourage one another day after day, we can
make sure that no one becomes hardened by the deceitfulness of
sin, but instead holds fast the beginning of their assurance firm
until the end. Do you see in this passage that final perseverance
is a group project. It's not a do-it-yourself operation! As we
learn to build up one another day after day, God enables us to
persevere to the end.
Admonish One Another
In Romans 15:14 Paul instructs the church, "And concerning
you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves
are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able also
to admonish one another." Here the apostle assures the church
in Rome that he is convinced that they are able to admonish one
another. The word "admonish" has the meaning of teaching
in order to change behavior, not just to impart information. The
idea behind admonishing is that of seeking to correct wrong thinking,
putting right what is wrong, or improving a wrong attitude. Webster's
defines admonish as "to reprove gently but earnestly, to
counsel against something to be avoided; to caution."
Now, it might be supposed at first glance that building up one
another and admonishing one another are opposites, but this would
be a wrong conclusion indeed. Building up and admonishing are
not opposed to each other at all. In fact, building up one another
includes admonishing one another. Sometimes the most loving thing
a person can do to build up another person is to admonish them.
Recently at an Agape Feast at Milpitas Bible Fellowship in which
my youngest son was baptized, my own heart was struck with the
goodness of God in saving my entire family. Great waves of emotion
swept over me as I read Ephesians 2:1-10 during our gathering.
I openly wept out of sheer gratitude at God's great goodness in
reaching down in sovereign mercy and showing mercy to my wife
and children. Afterwards a good friend took me aside and told
me that though he was happy for me and shared in my joy, that
I needed now more than ever to guard my heart. He reinforced his
admonition with several examples from the Scriptures where after
great blessing, the devil came in and caught someone in a trespass.
This was a needed and effective word of admonition. It illustrates
the exhortation to "speak the truth in love." This kind
of admonition should be shared freely and frequently in the body
In Hebrews 10:24-25 we are urged to consider how to stimulate
one another to love and good deeds. The word stimulate has the
meaning of "to incite." We sometimes speak of troublemakers
who incite a riot, or someone inciting workers to strike. Usually
it is used in a negative way, but here the word is used in a very
positive way. It is calling on all of us to incite one another
or to put something in motion. It carries the force of "challenging"
This kind of "inciting" can happen in many different
ways. It may take place as someone challenges the entire house
church to go in a certain direction. On another occasion it may
take place as a quiet word is spoken in prayer which God uses
as an arrow to pierce someone's heart and correct a sin problem
in their lives. Or perhaps it may take place as one brother speaks
to another brother in private about an area in his life that needs
to be addressed. All of us must be depend on God to show us how
to minister these words of admonition to one another.
Be Subject To One Another
Ephesians 5:21 tells us to "be subject to one another in
the fear of Christ." This principle is taken up and expounded
on in much greater detail in the succeeding paragraphs. Wives
are told to submit to their husbands as the church submits to
Christ. Husbands are told to submit to the needs of their wives
by loving them as Christ loved the church. Children are told to
submit to their parents by obeying and honoring them. And parents
are told to submit to the needs of their children by not provoking
them to anger but bringing them up in the discipline and instruction
of the Lord. But in Ephesians 5:21 Paul is addressing all believers,
and declaring that all of us must learn mutual submission to one
another. How is this worked out in our corporate lives? Only by
all of us loving one another so much that we are willing to set
aside our own desires, interests, and agendas for the good of
others. It boils down to being willing to put others' needs before
our own. In Philippians 2:3 Paul exhorts all of us to "regard
one another as more important than ourselves."
Oh, how much conflict arises within Christ's church when everyone
wants their own way! There will be many occasions when the interests
of members of the church will collide. Without much humility and
a willingness to submit to the needs of others, conflict, hurt
feelings, and possible division are just around the corner. Hear
Peter's exhortation in 1 Peter 5:5, "You younger men, likewise,
be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with
humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud,
but gives grace to the humble." Instead of all of us going
around insisting on our rights, how much better when God's people
willingly lay down their rights to serve one another!
Be Devoted To One Another
In Romans 12:10 Paul states, "Be devoted to one another in
brotherly love." The word devotion is a strong word. It can
be defined as "to give or apply one's time, attention, or
self entirely to a particular activity, pursuit, cause or person."
It's almost a religious word. We speak of having our "devotions",
or being "devoted" to the Lord. Inherent in the word
are the ideas of commitment and permanence. We are to have this
kind of commitment to one another in the body of Christ.
The devotion the apostle Paul is speaking about is not to an institution,
but to specific people. It is not devotion to First Baptist Church,
but to Joe, Mary, Tom, Larry, and Sally. What will this devotion
look like? It will mean we don't run away at the first sign of
a problem. It will mean a commitment to stay and resolve a difficulty
until reconciliation is reached. It will mean being there for
someone when they are in need. It will mean a willingness to meet
the needs of others at our own personal cost, time or expense.
These then, are the activities that the church is to be about
when they gather together. They are to greet one another, love
one another, be hospitable to one another, accept one another,
live in peace with one another, be of the same mind toward one
another, serve one another, build up one another, admonish one
another, be subject to one another, and be devoted to one another.
In most churches these activities will not take place at a Sunday
morning "worship service." Here, at Milpitas Bible Fellowship,
we realized that a new structure was necessary in order for these
activities to happen. The house church is an ideal setting in
which to practice these Biblical "one-another" commands.
These commands can only be obeyed within the context of close,
caring relationships. It is imperative that the church be committed
to the development of these kinds of relationships so that we
might live out the kind of Christianity we read of in the pages
of our New Testament. For us, this has meant developing small,
intimate groups of believers meeting in homes. May God help us
all to live out His Word!
Where Do We Go From Here?
I hope you have seen by now that the concept of a "house
church" is not just a cultural oddity of the first century,
but a necessary form if the church is to live out the kind of
Christianity God requires in Scripture. It's not just a nice idea
that we can take or leave. It's a vital part of our entire church
life. In fact, I would go so far as to say, that we could fulfill
all of the Biblical aspects of church life in homes alone,
without ever meeting in large buildings at all. The church in
China is a modern day proof of this assertion. In 1949, the church
was driven underground because of communist persecution. The only
way the church could survive was to meet in homes. At that time
there were 800,000 believers. Today, in 1996, there are over 75,000,000
believers! The church as grown to be nearly 100 times larger in
less than 50 years without any large public meetings, evangelistic
crusades, or denominations to speak of! In home settings we can
be taught the Word, administer the ordinances of Baptism and the
Lord's Supper, exercise church discipline, edify one another,
worship, pray, and give. However, the church which only meets
in large, impersonal gatherings, will find it extremely difficult
if not impossible to live out the kind of Christianity described
in Scripture. In that kind of setting, the love feast, one-another
commands, and meetings designed so that every member can use their
spiritual gifts will probably just not happen, and the entire
church will be the loser for it.
Therefore, if we want to structure our churches so that we can
obey the New Testament commands, certain principles must be addressed.
We need to structure church life so that we can be God's witness
in the world together (John 17:21-23; Act 2:46-47). According
to Jesus, it is as the world sees the unity of the people of God
that they come to believe that the Father sent the Son. Most of
the world will never behold the tremendous unity believers share
with one another, because they don't come to our meetings in our
church buildings on Sundays. Therefore, we've got to find ways
to be out in the world, so that the world can see what it means
to be a genuine follower of Christ. This can take place as we
meet together in homes, parks, the beach, or work settings. In
all of these places, unbelievers will often be found.
We need to structure church life so that we can all minister
to one another (1 Corinthians 14:26; Hebrews 10:24-25; Ephesians
4:16). Wouldn't it be kind of strange if when a family sat down
at the dinner table, only the father ever spoke? That's certainly
not how it works at my home! When we sit down to dinner, everyone
speaks (too often, all at once!). Well, the church is the family
of God. All of us have a job to do and a function to perform.
Every gift is vital to the proper functioning of the whole (1
Cor. 12:20-25). Thus, every person is needed to bring health and
vitality to the whole body.
We need to structure church life so that we can have significant
relationships with one another (1 Corinthians 12:26; Romans
12:10). If the apostle Paul were to reappear today in San Jose
and was on the hunt for church-life, where would he find it? Would
he look for a religious looking building, or large numbers of
people listening to a sermon? I don't think so. Rather, I believe
he would be looking for a group of people who loved each other
fervently, and were serious about following Jesus Christ wherever
He would lead them.
We need to structure church life so that we can all be equipped
for ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12). Our large gatherings on
Sundays for the teaching of the Word are like a football team
that meets in the locker room before the game. The team suits
up, and then listens to the pep talk by the coach. The coach thunders,
"Football is my life and here's how we are going to win today!"
As he speaks passionately, he scribbles some plays down on the
board as the players look on. When his talk is concluded, the
team huddles together and they all yell, "Ready - break!"
We, like that football team gather together in the locker room
of our church buildings on Sunday mornings. We wear our uniforms.
We hear our Pastor give us a pep talk (his sermon). He speaks
passionately and forcefully. When he is all through we all get
in our cars and drive home. We say, "Wasn't that a great
meeting?! I just loved the message our Pastor gave. That point
in his sermon really moved me!" But we never play the game!
We've forgotten that there is a difference between being in the
locker room and playing on the field. The teaching of the word
is only to prepare us for the game all week long. It is to equip
us for real life situations in which we will need to be ministering
to one another.
We need to structure church life so that we can implement the
Biblical teaching on the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 10:16-17;
11:17-34; Acts 2:46; Acts 20:7). In order to be able to share
a full meal in conjunction with the Lord's Supper, and use one
cup and one loaf to represent our unity in Christ, there are some
definite size limitations that must be placed on the group. In
my opinion, the house church is the most Biblical setting in which
to celebrate this blessed ordinance.
If you are new to the concept of the "house church",
my advice to you is to study it thoroughly in Scripture. If you
become convinced that it has a solid Biblical basis, get involved
in one here at Milpitas Bible Fellowship. Be committed to the
others in that house church. Come prepared to give. Be praying
all week long for the people in your group. Come prepared to ask
for help in a personal struggle or a Biblical issue you are dealing
with. Look for ways that you can use your spiritual gifts and
be a blessing to others. Outside of the weekly meeting, deepen
your relationship with others by phone calls, drop by visits,
or doing activities together. Seek for ways to evangelize the
lost together. Remember that one of the primary purposes of the
church in the world is to be God's instrument to gather in His
elect. Let the twin purposes of discipleship of believers and
evangelism of the lost propel you to greater works for Jesus Christ.