The Church We See in the New Testament…
…defines how we structure the churches we’re part of today.
What do I mean by that? If you see a church in the New Testament as a missionary movement that planted simple house churches that reproduced themselves, you’ll build the church differently than if your picture of the church in the New Testament is more like a Methodist or even Pentecostal church service you can visit down the street. This forces us to ask the question, what am I reading into the New Testament?
Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the area of elders*. I once read a blog by a leader within the body of Christ who had planted a church and assumed the role of an elder there. He was writing about elders and it was clear that much of what he was writing on was founded on a fairly traditional church view and based on his understanding of 1 Timothy and Titus. I (slightly) disagreed with this writer’s take on the subject and part of the reason was I’ve spent so much time trying to understand the church from the perspective of the book of Acts. I sat down to write a comment and in the midst of writing, I had an “ah ha” moment.
This may not seem like such a big deal to you, but think about it for a moment. Acts was written to show the missionary movement of the Gospel which largely involves Paul. And when we read it, we see very little structure and we see an expanding, multiplying church brought forth by the power of the Holy Spirit. Flip over a few pages to the book of First Timothy or Titus and you see established churches that Paul is asking Timothy and Titus to structure and raise up leaders within.
The problem that we have as believers is we often believe these are two different stories and the church remains divided along those lines. Many of our traditional churches have built structures and latch on to certain verses in 1 Timothy and Titus for their support. My house church friends think we have made things too complicated. We’ve slowed the spread of the Gospel down by our need for so much structure. These friends cling to the book of Acts in their reasoning. But friends, these are not two different stories. They are the same story.
There are profound implications to that thought. The ever expanding, simple, multiplying church movement we see birthed in the book of Acts needed the structural strengthening instructions that Paul laid out in 1 Timothy and Titus for the movement to continue. And the instructions and structure that Paul gave in 1 Timothy and Titus have to be interpreted in the light of the movement of the Gospel and the Holy Spirit that we see in the book of Acts. We cannot understand one without the other.
I say all of this to make this point: The church can again become the simple, multiplying movement of the New Testament once again, but it will need to learn from the wisdom of Paul. Paul knew from experience what it would take to sustain such a movement and some of his later writings were his attempt to strengthen the multiplying church movement he birthed. This included roles within each locality of elders and servants.
But if we can hold these two different examples that God gives us (Acts and the “Pastoral Epistles”) together and try to see the church in the light of them both informing each other, we’ll get a much closer idea of how God sustains the Gospel going forth through the ministry of elders and servants.
We’ll get into those details tomorrow…
*I keep promising to get into the discussion about elders. It’s coming. This post is part of a larger exploration on that topic that flows out of our larger discussions about pastors, shepherds, and the place of titles in the body of Christ.