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The church in the First Century was much more the real possession of the ordinary Christian. (W. Barclay)

January 28, 2011 Leave a comment

IT IS TRUE TO SAY that there is no more interesting section in the whole letter of 1 Corinthians than chapter 14, for it sheds a flood of light on what a church service was like in the early church.

There was obviously a freedom and informality about it which is completely strange to our ideas.

There was obviously a flexibility about the order of service in the early church which is now totally lacking.

There was clearly no settled order at all. Everything was informal enough to allow any man who felt he had a message to give, to give it.

It may well be that we set far too much store on dignity and order nowadays. It may well be that we have become slaves of service. The really notable thing about an early church service must have been that almost everyone came feeling that he had both the privilege and the obligation of contributing something to it.

A man did not come with the sole intention of being a passive listener. He did not come only to receive, he came also to give. Obviously this had its dangers for it is clear that at Corinth there were those who were too fond of the sound of their own voices; but nonetheless the church must have been in those days much more the real possession of the ordinary Christian.

It may well be that the church lost something when she delegated so much to the professional ministry and left so little to the ordinary church member; and it may well be that the blame lies not with the ministry for annexing those rights, but with the laity for abandoning them, because it is all too true that there are many church members whose attitude is that they think far more of what the church can do for them than of what they can do for the church, and who are very ready to criticize what is done but very unready to take any share in doing the church’s work themselves.

William Barclay (1907-1978)

Read the book.

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The awesome power of “informal missionaries”.

January 21, 2011 1 comment

We cannot hesitate to believe that the great mission of Christianity [in the First Three Centuries] was in reality accomplished by means of informal missionaries.

Adolf Harnack, The Mission and Expansion of Christianity, 1902

The chief agents in the expansion of Christianity appear not to have been those who made it a profession or a major part of their occupation, but men and women who earned their livelihood in some purely secular manner and spoke of their faith to those whom they met in this natural fashion.

Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of the Expansion of Christianity

The view that witnessing is “every Christian’s job” was certainly the belief of the early Christians. Their acceptance of this task was perhaps the single most important factor in the astounding outreach and expansion of the early church. It was not simply that Peter, Paul, Stephen, and others spread the good news of salvation in Christ. It was rather that all Christians—small and great, rich and poor, slaves and freedmen—made it their consuming passion to tell others about the Lord.

David J. MacLeod, The Witness of John the Baptist to the Word

But as early as Acts 8 we find that it is not the apostles but the “amateur” missionaries, the men evicted from Jerusalem as a result of the persecution which followed Stephen’s martyrdom, who took the gospel with them wherever they went. It was they who traveled along the coastal plain to Phoenicia, over the sea to Cyprus, or struck up north to Antioch. They were evangelists, just as much as any apostle was.

It was an unselfconscious effort. They were scattered from their base in Jerusalem and they went everywhere spreading the good news which had brought joy, release and a new life to themselves. This must often have not been formal preaching, but the informal chattering to friends and chance acquaintances, in homes. . . on walks, and around market stalls. They went everywhere gossiping the gospel; they did it naturally, enthusiastically, and with the conviction of those who are not paid to say that sort of thing. Consequently, they were taken seriously, and the movement spread, notably among the lower classes.

Michael Green, Evangelism in the Early Church

Witnessing is the whole work of the whole church for the whole age. A light that does not shine, a spring that does not flow, a germ that does not grow, is no more of an anomaly than a life in Christ which does not witness to Christ.

A. T. Pierson

In the beginning the Church was a missionary society: it added to its numbers mainly by the life and speech of its members attracting to it those who were outside.

Roland Allen, The Ministry of the Spirit

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The “assembling together” of believers.

January 17, 2011 7 comments

Recently I heard an exhortation over the radio for believers in Jesus Christ to remember the biblical directive to “not forsake the assembling together of ourselves…” from Heb. 10:25. The radio announcer was using a very common motivational verse (tool) to basically get people to “go to church” every Sunday. As if the embodiment of my spiritual life in Christ is meeting in a building on Sunday 10 a.m. with other believers.

Please don’t misunderstand me here. I am not wanting to promote sloth or unfaithfulness. Not by any means! What I do want to promote is to search deeper into this famous verse.

“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.” Heb 10:25

At first glance it does seem to be the main point of the verse: “don’t forget to go to church every Sunday”. It even goes on to say that it was the habit of some, evidently, to not go to church: “not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some.”

At a second and third glance, one does wonder what those little words mean “assembling together”. Here is where I believe we settle for too little in our spiritual journey with God.

Assembling together is more than sitting in a pew for 2 hours a week and singing hymns or listening to the preacher.

Assembling together means just what it says: we “assemble”, each one using his or her own unique spiritual gift and discernment, so that “together” we can bring about the results and change God is intending for that gathering.

Long ago I read about this “assembling together” where the author said it is like “putting together a puzzle”. Each person has one piece of the puzzle. You don’t know what the picture will be until you assemble all the pieces, one at a time.

Assembling together is more than meeting once a week. Period.

The biggest case against Christ that the unsaved people of this world have, I believe, is that His disciples can justify a Christianity that says: “See you next week” Sunday after Sunday, year after year.

What? Is there not more to being a follower of the King of Kings than “see you next week”? Even the pagans are committed to their “gods” as little as that! The Free Masons in my town pack out their building once or twice a month with extreme regularity and great attendance. So do Weight Watchers and the Lion’s Club. You know what I mean. Add up your own list – 4 H, Boys and Girls Club, Fitness Club, Scouts, Fishing Club, Book Club…

Assembling together as the early church did it.

Would you take a few moments and reflect with me on a few verses that express how the church assembled together?

They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Acts 2:42

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. Acts 2:46

On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight. Acts 20:7

What I take away from these verses and the whole tenor of the New Testament is that this is more than a once-a-week-meeting-club. Discipleship in “the way” was costly. They did not say “see you next week”; the early church said “see you tomorrow!”

Here is one more look at what it meant for the First Century church to assemble together:

“But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Heb 3:13

In Him,

Jeff Gilbertson

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