When Christianity came to America it became a business.
“In the first century in Palestine, Christianity was a community of believers. Then Christianity moved to Greece and became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome and became an institution. Then it moved to Europe and became a culture. And then it moved to America and became a business.” Priscilla Shirer
Focus in on that last line again: “It moved to America and became a business.”
Gone forever are the simple days of a shepherd with a small flock. Gone forever are the simple days, meetings in homes and enjoying a big meal, where each one had something to offer to the assembly using his or her spiritual gift for the edification of all. Gone forever are the simple days when elders who led the meeting, also worked side by side with the townspeople with their hands.
“For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.” (I Thess 2:9)
Think I’m being too nostalgic? Early Christians met in homes, their leaders were working elders, for at least the first 300 years! No bright lights, no loud speakers, no choirs, no sermons, no pulpits and pews, no bells and whistles. (Before you get too upset with me, please notice that I did not say no worship and no teaching!)
The church that meets at their house.
Take a moment and read the NT again to see where they actually met:
“Greet also the church that meets at their house.” (Rom. 16:5)
“Aquila and Prisca greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.” (I Cor 16:19)
“Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea and also Nympha and the church that is in her house.” (Col 4:15)
“To Philemon our beloved brother and fellow worker, and to Apphia our sister, and to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house. (Philemon 1-2)
Everybody has a home, so the early church could grow exponentially not waiting for a building project and then a salary for the pastor, etc. The home expressed the intimacy the 12 had with Jesus for 3 1/2 years. Can you imagine getting back to this basic NT practice?
What’s in a meal you ask?
Because they met in homes they could eat together (where families still eat!) what we sometimes call an “Agape” or “Love-Feast”. If this sounds strange to you read this quote from the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology:
“Certainly by the time of Paul’s writing to the Corinthians (ca. AD 55) it is evident that that church observed the practice of meeting together for a common meal before partaking of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:17-34).
These weren’t just went empty words with Paul. He practiced what he preached!
“When he [Paul] had gone back up and had broken the bread and eaten, he talked with them a long while until daybreak, and then left.” (Acts 20:17)
What’s in a meal you ask? Does it really matter 2000 years later if we “come together” in a hall with pews and pulpits and a sip and a cracker? The main point is that we are gathering ourselves together. I can’t argue with you on that BUT I do point out what Jesus, who often “broke bread” in homes, said of the practice: “Do this in remembrance of Me”. Also, we know that it was the practice of the apostles and the first century church.
“The meal had the double purpose of satisfying hunger and thirst and giving expression to the sense of Christian brotherhood. At the end of this feast, bread and wine were taken according to the Lord’s command, and after thanksgiving to God, were eaten and drunk in remembrance of Christ as a special means of communion with the Lord Himself and, through Him, with one another.” (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia)
How I long to be part of a community of believers who stress what the NT stresses: who meet in homes, with little to no paid leaders, everyone sitting EQUAL around the table, eating and drinking, and letting the Spirit have His way.
Each one had something to give.
You see when the early Christians assembled, each one had something to give. Meeting in homes around the dinner table the setting was intimate enough for everyone to participate. Could we be further from the truth and practice of this then we are today?
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. (1 Corinthians 14:26 NASB)
Can anything stifle the assembling and functioning of ALL believers more that a “paid professional” who does all the stuff? The pastor preaches, leads worship, prays, exhorts, reads the announcements, takes the offering, jokes, teaches the children… My job is to sit and listen (and to stand on cue).
To his credit, the size of the building and the intent of the gathering are all focused on one person. The congregation has waited a whole week to “hear what the pastor has to say”. The man/woman in the pew says: “I’ve been busy all week with work, kids, school… This is my time to sit back and receive.”
Truth be told, this is so ingrained in the average Joe Christian that I don’t think we can ever get back to the simplicity of the home, the Love Feast and each one using their spiritual gifts for the edification of all. Forget what the Bible says and what the apostles practiced.
Still, that is my quest and I won’t settle for anything less.
“We need to get back to being a healthy, vibrant community of true followers of Jesus.” Priscilla Shirer