Aug 6, 2001 Vol 01 : 047[New Testament Church Proliferation] Our Recent Church Planting
[New Testament Church Proliferation] Re: Ancient House Churches
Re: [New Testament Church Proliferation] Our Recent Church Planting
Date: Mon, 6 Aug 2001 00:45:18 -0400 From: forwarded <home church> Subject: [New Testament Church Proliferation] Our Recent Church Planting
from Sam B, aom_canada*hotmail.com
A Funny Thing Happened On My Way From The Secret Place - I Discovered House Church - by Sam Buick
When I was a teenager I once asked my dear dad (a pastor) why the church did not look much like the church in the book of Acts. He sat up in the lazy-boy and looked at me and simply said, "I know what you mean, but son, you have to understand, the church today has matured and developed over time, and what you see today is the end result of almost 2000 years of church history." At the time the answer seemed to suffice, or at least explain the devolution of the church to its present state, but it did not sit right with me or satisfy my curiosity.
Periodically through the ages there have been the occasional alarm and wake up call that "stirred" a few people. The stirring did not usually last too long. Either the individual in question was absorbed into the fold, such as St. Francis, and St. Dominic, and his activities controlled, as in the case of Franky and Dom, they had monastic orders created "under the auspices of the Papacy" of course. In other cases, such as John Huss, and William Tyndale, they were hunted down, tried as heretics, and done away with in the name of God, truth and the purity of the faith, which usually meant death by "fire"! Come to think of it, there were quite a few women who suffered the same fate as well as children, such as Joan of Arc, and many Protestant Reformers during the reign of "Bloody Mary".
Persecution back then as well as in our own day, against those seeking God does not discriminate based on sex, age, or gender. If you are "different" from what has been understood to be "normative" (read here, "the way it's always been understood and done around here") then you are a threat to their established order (read here,"those persons who hold 'authority' and call the shots and make all decisions and hold all the power"), well then, they either wear you down and you cave in to their "system", and they absorb you (control and manipulate) in their minuscule understanding of the universe, or they demonize you in the eyes of others so that you will be viewed as extreme and unorthodox.
These noble and kind "defenders of God and truth" will do all they can to stop anything revelatory or "new" into their sphere of influence, and this is why what has been coined as the "house church movement" is what I believe the largest threat to the institutional church since the Reformation in the 16'th century. I would venture and say boldly that not since the early church, has there been such a fundamental shift and counter-revolution to the established religious order (read here "institutional church").
For those of us who have dared to believe God for a more genuine expression of New Testament Christianity, like all those before us, we too have been labeled, for all those who go against the grain always get "demonized" with adjectives like "rebellious", "unteachable", "edgy", "self-serving", and "self-righteous". I know. I have been called these and much worse, by those who once knew me and those whose identity, and ministry is directly challenged by my current understanding of the church, its nature, mission and function in the earth. When others label those they do not understand, and refuse to even contemplate what is being proposed, they do so to protect what they "own". Well, we all know, the ministries and the church are all Jesus, and expressions of His grace and mercy in the earth, and none of it is "our own"!
I will say up front here that I am on a journey. I am simply stating that as a committed Christian who loves Jesus and His church, that the word of God clearly says that we are being transformed from glory to glory into the image of Jesus. Part of that process, dare I use that word, is an ongoing change in my biblical and theological understanding. Over time, and within the crucible of experience our beliefs become refined, reformed, and in some cases outright rejected.
My own personal journey began as I was seeking the Lord for a life transforming face to face encounter in the "secret place". Much of my life in Christ has be characterized by what I call "combatant convergence", where like Jacob, I wrestle God, knowing I will lose the "fight", but I will not let go until the Lord "blesses" me and touches me, forever changing my life. The clash of wills and vision conflict and explode and then when the dust settles converge into what the Lord wanted all along. I have had such incidents throughout my life which have always become "stones of memorial" on my faith journey. I can look back across time, and I can see the stones and remember my encounters with the Lord and how He transformed me in each particular place.
Two years ago, this very week, the first week of August in 1999, the Lord "wrecked" my life through Tommy Tenney's book, THE GOD CHASERS. I realized then that the foundation to my life was a life of pure adoration and intimacy with Jesus. I had always attempted to balance a life of love and service within my relationship, but always leaned more toward service. Like Martha, I was much more comfortable with the "work" than sitting at the Master's feet, like Mary did. I read the book in eight hours. It wrecked me! It totally destroyed all the props that held up my belief system and how I operated in my ministry responsibilities. Suffice it to say, that through a series of events, some within my control, and some without, I resigned from my assistant pastor position of our church plant. I just could not "do" church the way I was raised to believe in anymore. Something had changed my understanding of my relationship with Jesus and how the church should be and look and feel and minister in the world.
Basically, I had understood my own calling as a pastor, to be one of serving the body, and equipping and releasing the body for the work of the ministry, and that usually meant I was the man up front, teaching, preaching, organizing, and the others just followed the vision "the Lord" had given me. That day, when I read Tenney's book, I came to realize the importance of the leading of the Spirit, and how important body life and ministry were to the Lord, and that my chief function as a "leader" was to model intimacy to the people and call the people into a walk of intimacy and grace with the Lord Jesus. I realized that the foundation, the bottom rock, the layer upon which everything stands or falls, is a life of intimacy and adoration with the Lord. All things, all ministry, all that matters to me, all that I cherish, flows out of my "love relationship" with Jesus. Jesus is looking for lovers more than He is looking for doers. Did you hear me? Jesus is looking for lovers and not what you can do for Him. How is your love life? The love life is cultivated in the "secret place", in the one on one with Jesus, where He pours His love upon us and renews us and moulds us into His image. It is in that place where revelation from His heart brings transformation in our own hearts and lives.
For a season we gathered with other disenchanted people who were wandering in the "wilderness" trying to understand what had happened to their broken and shattered dreams of church and ministry. There was a time of healing that took about a year of our lives. We met and worshipped and prayed and sought the Lord in a friends home. After a year I was getting restless and frustrated. We seemed to be spinning our wheels.
During my days in Bible college and seminary I had studied a variety of sources on house churches, namely Watchmen Nee, James Rutz and Gene Edwards. I knew enough about it that it appealed to me. But at this present time, a time of desperation in which I was truly frustrated, I re-read some of my material. At the same time, I received an email with some material from two independent sources telling me of the current trends in house churches developing around the world. I received an audio tape from another friend, and some free books in the mail. All this poured in a time when I was uncertain about my future and uncertain if I wanted to go on with the people I was in fellowship with. All I knew was that if God did not give me a revelation, one that really grabbed a hold of me, then I was content to remain at home and never darken the door of church, any kind of church!
The Lord deeply touched me between November 2000 and February 2001. In November, after a month of fasting the Lord confirmed to all of us that we should continue meeting, and that we were a church, whether we acknowledge it or not, and that we needed to be committed to the Lord and the revelation He was giving to us and to love one another and embrace the destinies we were being called into.
Between November and February there was progressive revelation through times of intercession and prophetic ministry in which the Lord redefined my understanding of "church", and began to not only reform my belief system, but to also transform my mind, my heart and my love for the church, as Jesus saw the church. By the end of February, the Lord had given me a revelation of house churches and a missionary heart to see a house church on every street of Kitchener Waterloo. As I shared my vision with others within our fellowship, people got excited because much of their own understanding and pieces of revelation "fit" the picture that I "drew" for the people.
One revelation at that time was concerning our Sunday gathering. We had met together on Sundays for about a year, and about 15 months on Friday nights. We had gathered regularly in different homes, seeking direction from the Lord and celebrating the Lord together. I prayed and sought the Lord, and He asked me, " Who told you to meet on Sundays?" I was stunned. I replied that I thought it would be good to gather with other believers. The Lord said, "I never asked you to meet on Sundays. Return to Bethel, and you shall prosper." I knew what this meant. I had taught on Abram/Abraham, and when he received revelation from the Lord, there was a time of testing. In the first case, where Abram received the promise from the Lord, there came a test in the form of a famine. Instead of asking the Lord what to do about the famine, Abram, relying on his own wisdom went to Egypt, where he deceived Pharaoh about his wife Sarai and was almost killed. He picked up more trouble by bringing Hagar with him out of Egypt (and we all know what that led to, don't we?). He asked the Lord what to do, and the Lord said, "Return to Bethel, where you first encountered me." I understood immediately. In my own desire for fellowship, I went ahead and arranged Sunday gatherings, but had not truly consulted the Lord about that. The Lord always met us in a substantial way on Fridays. The Lord was simply saying, "You never asked me about Sundays. I meet you on Fridays. Return to Fridays, and see what I do." As soon as we embraced Fridays only, our attendance went from 12 to 25 - 30 depending on the week! His presence in our gatherings intensified. People got saved, people got healed, and people were delivered and set free! The issue is not on which day of the week to gather together for worship, but on obedience and submission to the will of God. I realized the Lord was doing something new, and it flowed out of the "secret place", the life of intimacy and adoration.
Shortly after, I was exposed to the writings of Robert Fitts and Wolfgang Simpson. It was as if these brothers knew me from the inside out. I was overwhelmed by the common threads we all shared.
I contacted Robert Fitts and thanked him for his book. Two days later Robert offered to come to Canada to minister to us. We said we had no cash to bring him over from Hawaii. Robert said he had intercessors who would pray the money in. That was the first week of March. Three months later, in June 2001, Robert Fitts was the keynote speaker at CHURCH IN THE HOUSE CONFERENCE 2001 in Kitchener, Ontario.
Robert really affirmed our fellowship and saw the commonality we had with him. We had sought the Lord, and the Lord had ministered to us prophetically that He would send His apostle to us. Robert was that man. We had specific issues and questions and he addressed them without prior knowledge. The Lord met us and touched us and transformed us. Again that was in the secret place.
Robert loved being with us. He loved the worship and adoration that he experienced in our midst. He always said, and still does, that in the place of true worship, what I call the "secret place", God moves in response to our love and desire for Him.
Before Robert came, we had a handle on what we believed and why and on a lot of the practical ministry of the church experience. Our worship is contemporary. We have many gifted musicians, but instead of using musicians, we use audio tapes of worship songs from a variety of CD's that are recorded in a particular order, and song sheets are printed off for the people. This does two things. It allows all of us to worship together in unity and without distraction, and it does not bring undue focus on up front worship leaders. Our worship is continuous for about 45 minutes. The worship becomes the vehicle through which we are ushered into the secret place of intimacy with the Lord. There is a flow of ministry to the Lord through worship where He meets us and changes us and sets us up for what He desire to do in our midst.
We also had a handle on personal ministry. Some of our folks have been equipped and released to minister at the TACF [Toronto Blessing] conferences in Toronto. Many have had teaching through the Sandford's and other Christian counselors. So, we have had very effective personal ministry, namely because we see ourselves as conduits of grace, and ask the Holy Spirit to do all the work. We simply soak people in prayer, and prophetically speak into their lives. We regularly anoint people with oil and pray for their healing as well.
We have had meals together and wonderful fellowship. We always have refreshments and people can move about freely in our gatherings and get food and snacks and drinks during our gatherings. We also always celebrate the Lord's table together at every gathering. The Lord's Table is very important and significant in our times together.
Our major concerns were in the area of bible teaching and in reproducing or multiplying house churches. How do you encourage body life where no one person dominates and allows for as much edification and interaction possible? Robert Fitts addressed both of these areas at the conference. He introduced us to the Discussion Bible Study, where everyone interactively participates in the Bible time. What usually happens in this case is that you use ONE Bible for the entire group, and you either read a entire chapter or if it is one of the epistles in the New Testament, you might read the whole letter to get a flavor of what it would have been like to receive a letter of this magnitude. People are encouraged to read, but if you do want to, you just pass the Bible along to the next person. People are reminded that they do not have to try and speak out difficult place or people names. They can skip over those. People read a few verses (usually around 3) and offer their own comments on what they just read or throw out a question they have about what they read, and then anyone can either answer the question or add their own comments. Comments and questions are to be on the text. The facilitator keeps the discussion on the text rather than subjective experiences non related to the text. And then pass the Bible to the next person. This is the process that takes place until all the verses are read. This allows for interactive discussion and full participation by everyone in the gathering. We end up learning from one another and encouraging each other. I usually summarize what has been discussed. By the way, this is not a forum for one particular teacher or preacher. This method includes everyone and encourages "body ministry". We have other gatherings for particular subjects and teaching which we designate as different from our weekly gathering.
On the subject of reproduction, Robert Fitts introduced us to the ABC (Alpha-Omega Bible Colleges) which are home based bible colleges, in which a committed group of people gather for one year in a home and learn by doing, the following; (1) prayer (Korean Prayer - loud fervent united prayer - everyone one praying together at the same time); (2) praise (worship); (3) personal ministry; (4) refreshments; (5) reports (prayer for divine appointments and testimonies); (6) reading (Discussion Bible Studies). We were doing most of these type of activities in our weekly gatherings. What Robert showed us is the importance of modeling, and equipping and releasing people in these ministry activities that many of us take for granted in our church gatherings. These are the "what" and "how" of practical ministry that no Bible college or seminary adequately prepares people for ministry. And here was a method of equipping the body of Christ to do the work of the ministry in homes. You can be the church anywhere and anytime and you can be effective as the church no matter your geographical location. In this way the Kingdom advances by leaps and bounds!
Robert's goal is that within a year, that each person within the ABC will participate in the planting of a house church or the establishment of another ABC. The idea is to reproduce house churches. If people are meeting together and relating and functioning as the church while they learn how to lead and minister, then they are prepared to serve and lead in the establishment of other house churches. This type of church planting then expands the Kingdom exponentially and can have amazing results in evangelism, discipleship, and the planting of churches. I realized that once Robert explained this, he had given us the "tools" on how to strategically plant a house church on each street of our city. It became an achievable vision and goal.
The lasting impact of Robert's visit was the vision that he has for the city church. The Lord had given us a similar vision about our city and in particular how believers need to tear down walls that divide us from one another. We were kindred spirits when it came to the city church. Our conference was unique in that we held our conference in a traditional church building but it was all about house church. Most of the leadership of the local ministerial is either indifferent toward us as a house church and in some cases suspicious and in others hostile.
I believe the house church movement can transform the church in the world. It can be a vehicle that brings in the Kingdom as never before. I also believe that the house church movement should seek to develop relationships with all believers across the spectrum, but that there will be increased hostility from two sectors, and these cannot be ignored.
The greatest danger I believe lies in the established order and leadership in the institutional church attempting to latch unto and harness the passion, energy, vision, body ministry that is exploding in house churches and try to replicate it in their own forms and structures of church. These leaders who attempt such things will be sorely disappointed, and in turn they will wound and hurt those with whom they have relationship within the house church movement. What house churches are cannot be reproduced within the old wineskin of traditional church. It needs a new wineskin, and part of the new wineskin includes new paradigms of leadership and ministry. The old wineskin cannot contain this "new wine".
The other danger lies in the house church movement itself. It is a twin danger. There are those within the movement who are more radical that even I am willing to be! And I believe I am quite radical! There are those whose theology is very dispensational and I believe erroneous. I would say they have been heavily influenced by Watchman Nee. Some house church people are calling on all true believers to leave the institutional church and to become separate from what they call "Babylon". I will never go so far as to call the church of Jesus Christ "Babylon". There are problems with the institution, and how it has evolved, but Jesus is still the Lord and head of His church. He is building it, not us. I am called to love the brethren. This is our vision as the city church, to love the church and all believers in the city. These radicals bring in confusion and dissension in public meetings and disrupt services, all in the name of Christ. They come in and challenge the leadership in a public worship service and call on people to leave the institutional church! I am disturbed by this trend and do not support such methods. It is I believe brazenly sinful and self righteous. While these people appear to be zealous, bold and vigilant for the purity of the church, their very action condemns the house church movement and brings it in disrepute amongst other believers.
The other danger, the flip side of this twin danger, is I believe in the area of insecurity. There are many in the body of Christ who would embrace the house church, but it appears to them to be against "authority " and against much of what they have known and understood as the church. I believe this insecurity brings paralysis and fear to believers and shackles them to the institution for fear of risking leaving and losing everything. I believe this fear is rooted in these believers not knowing who they are individually in Christ (lover's relationship through intimacy/adoration) and who they are as part of the corporate expression of the church (body ministry and mission). If you do not truly know who you are, how on earth can you truly know how to be, how to function, how to relate?
This is my conviction, that if we press into God and discover afresh who we are as lovers of God, and are transformed in the secret place through worship and adoration, we will then gain a fresh vision of what the church has always been meant to be as the body of Christ in a hurting world. Funny things happen when you seek after God. Even funnier and stranger things happen on our way from the secret place. Funny things that impact our lives together as the church here and and now and for eternity.
Sam Buick Waterloo, Ontario 3 August, 2001
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Date: Mon, 6 Aug 2001 10:09:57 +0200 From: "Deborah" <deborah.millier*juccampus.org>
Subject: [New Testament Church Proliferation] Re: Ancient House Churches
I recently came across a goldmine of fairly recent scholarship, a book series entitled THE BOOK OF ACTS IN ITS FIRST CENTURY SETTING, which should be of potential interest to the members of this list. As its name suggests, the series deals with the various backdrops (literary, Palestinian [Jewish], Diaspora [Jewish], Graeco-Roman) of our only inspired record of the early church. One volume through which I was browsing (eds. Gill, David J.W. and Conrad Gempt. THE BOOK OF ACTS IN ITS GRAECO-ROMAN SETTING. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1994) had its entire 6th chapter dedicated to "Acts and the House Church". It was written by Bradley Blue. Though there are a few gaps in the information provided, Blue nevertheless provides tons of historical analyses and archaeological goodies which supplement and help clarify what we already knew from the biblical text itself-- that the early church grew primarily, but not exclusively, by being a house church movement. Let me give you a taste of the chapter: 1) "... the ostensible function of Acts is to give a selective account of mission to Jews and Gentiles from Jerusalem to Rome while indicating the _modus operandi_ for the expansion, i.e. house-to-house, as the Christian community defined itself in reference to Judaism and the pagan world.?
New Testament scholars readily agree that the infant Church was seen as a sect within Judaism. Although the first Christians had distinct views about Jesus, the religion of the first believers was the religion of the Jews. Nonetheless, the first Christians affirmed their autonomy and distinctiveness as a religious group" (p. 120, emphasis his).
2) "The once popular and romantic notion that the early Christians met in catacombs (particularly in Rome) cannot be substantiated and neither explains where Christians outside of Rome would have gathered nor where Christians (living in Rome or otherwise) would have met during the first and second century. The Christian presence 'under ground' was no more than a concern for decent burial procedures" (p 123).?
3) "Rather than meeting underground, recent archaeological evidence suggests that the early Christian groups gathered in domestic residences which could accommodate their needs, sometimes renovating these private homes _so that they no longer served the needs for which they were originally constructed_" (p. 123, emphasis mine).
4) "The first stage in the development of the pre-Constantinian setting for the Christian assembly covers the years c. 50-150. During this period of rapid expansion, the Christians would have met in private homes belonging to individual members. The second stage covers the years c. 150-250. During this time private domestic residences were renovated and used _exclusively for the purposes of the assembled Christian communities_ (emphasis mine). The last stage, c. 250-313, saw the introduction of larger buildings and halls (both private and public) before the introduction of basilical architecture by Constantine. ... the development was _not consistently felt in all areas_. The amassed evidence ... indicates that while in later periods certain communities were meeting in public halls, believers elsewhere were still meeting in house churches" (pp. 124-25, emphasis his).
5) "The archaeological excavations at Capernaum (Galilee) suggest that the former house of St. Peter was later transformed into a "domus eccelsiae" [church meeting house-- MICHAEL] and may very well be the most ancient evidence of a house church. ... The earliest remains testify to a common insula [walled-in complex-- MICHAEL] of domestic habitations, characteristic of the small fishing community at Capernaum. Within this complex, dating to the first century A.D., is a large hall (7.0 m. by 6.5 m. ? c. 45.5 sq.m. ...) which was venerated by Christians as the house of St. Peter. This hall was likely used by the local community of Jewish Christians while the other rooms of the insula continued to function as part of the domestic residence" (pp. 138-39). ?
A couple of related side comments to stir discussion: First, the evidence from all sides _strongly_ supports the early tradition that the aforementioned house was indeed the residence of Peter, the disciple of Jesus. I went to this site back in 1998 with some professional archaeologists-- not to do excavations; I was simply taking a historical geography class-- and I can vouch that this isn't just "holy land hocus pocus". It's legit. No one in biblical scholarship/archaeology that I have read or studied with seriously doubts this was Peter's house since there is, in fact, no good reason to do so. For an example of a cautious, but still open approach, see McRay, John. ARCHAEOLOGY AND THE NEW TESTAMENT. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1991, pp. 80-81; 164-66.
Second, notice that, according to historical and excavation evidence, this house, Peter's house-- originally built during the Maccabean period-- became (some time around 150 A.D.) a hall set aside _only_ for Christian meetings, with the rest of the insula available for the normal domestic activities of, presumably, Peter's descendants. Or disciples. ?
Bearing this data in mind, I pose the following questions to help us clarify our thinking and strategies in light of biblical and pre-Nicene historical examples:?
1) How might modern home church people define a house church?
2) Remembering the the fact which we all know-- that the church is really people, not buildings-- would a home that has been structurally modified, with a room set aside _just_ for meetings, qualify as a proper gathering place under some home church people's current definitions?
3) Should it?
4) How far is it from the modification of a room in the house in order to accommodate the numbers of people attending, to the sanctification of such a room(s) for exclusive meeting purposes, to the sanctifying of an entire house, to the renting of a meeting hall outside of the home, to the renovating of a pagan temple, to the buying of an existing edifice, to the construction of a building as the communal property of the church?
5) Where is the line?
6) When has it been crossed??
I have some more historical and archaeological discoveries from this book (and others) to share in the near future. But I'm interested to hear what people have to say on these questions.
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Date: Mon, 06 Aug 2001 06:55:04 -0700 From: jferris <jferris154*mac.com>
Subject: Re: [New Testament Church Proliferation] Our Recent Church Planting
Thank you for your heart felt testimony. Also in my box this morning is the following perspective sent into another list:
I think you will find it quite relevant to some of what you have expressed. It's author, Vlatko is a very dear brother, also living in Canada, but originally from Checkoslavakia.
Plurality of Elders - the Right and Biblical Way for the Local Church Leadership
Synagogue and the Place of Elders
Before the coming of Messiah, Judaism started bringing religion close to ordinary people. When the Temple was destroyed by Babylonians and the priests and Levites were killed or exiled, the people searched for means to help them retain their knowledge and worship of God. That's how the synagogue was born. It represented the manifestation of the biblical kingdom of priests. Every man could rightly approach the bema or the "Bible stand" of the synagogue to read Torah and Prophets and to expound upon them. Religion was exercised and manifested in the context of community. This community mostly functioned with a plurality of leaders, with various functions fulfilled by men of different gifting and training. When teaching elders emerged they were considered to be the first among equals in the community.
The synagogue in times of Jesus and the Apostles was structured in several ways:
a) The synagogue ruler/leader at the head of the congregation called nasi or president was often a member of a priestly family and frequently a patron of the synagogue. He would control the services, judge over disputes, and represent the congregation outside the local community. Around him were "elders" (presbyteroi, gerontes) or "notables" (dynatoi), who served as an advisory panel and assisted in administration and teaching. Besides them, one or more trained scribes - most frequently a Levite or priest maintained the archives and assisted in the reading and teaching of the Scriptures. Finally, a synagogue assistant (hypertes or nekoros) would oversee the maintenance of the facilities and assist the synagogue ruler in various servile tasks during assemblies.
b) Leader of the synagogue taking care of the religious services called chazan or malach tzibor who prayed, preached, and took care of the general oversight of the reading of Torah and order of the service; and the ruler of the synagogue, nasi specialized in temporary affairs.
c) Several synagogue rulers/leaders or elders rather than just one covering different areas, or aspects of synagogual life.
Whatever the structure of the synagogue was, there were several different functions in every of them covered by people with different talents and gifts. Usually, there were three men known as parnasin or almoners who cared for the poor and distributed alms. They were expected to be scholars of the Scripture with thorough knowledge of the Law. Than, schaliach was announcer, or apostle, one who is sent forth to perform a specific task or announce a specific message. Magid was a migratory preacher who spoke to various congregations. Batlanim were scholarly teachers available to provide accurate academics and answers to the congregation. There had to be at least ten of them in every congregation of one hundred and twenty members. Zakenim or "old ones" were counsellors providing pastoral care as shepherds of the congregation. Nabi or a prophet was replaced in post-exilic period by rabbi. He carried responsibility of reading the Scriptures and preaching, exhorting and edifying people. Meturganim or interpreters skilled in languages staying by one reading Torah or preaching to interpret into the language of the day the Hebrew which was being spoken.
Every Sabbath seven people randomly chosen would step forward to take their place behind the Bible stand to read Torah and the Prophets. Every male in age of responsibility, over thirteen, was expected to freely participate in the service whether in preaching, teaching, discussing or expounding on the Scriptures, asking questions, or adding to the meaning. Preaching or teaching was often interrupted with questions or comments, which was considered absolutely normal, if not desirable. Services ranged depending on the group or sect, from very formal and quiet to very dynamic with lively singing and dancing lasting for several hours.
Priests and Levites frequently functioned among the various leadership roles, though synagogue positions were not restricted to the priests or Levites. No woman synagogue rulers or leaders are attested during this time.
When Jesus and the apostles established the Church it was just another branch of Judaism among the many Judaisms of their day, they appropriated the model for community life and worship that they had inherited from their forefathers. They didn't either look to Gentile models for leadership to build any kind of pyramidal hierarchy, nor adopted Jewish single synagogue ruler system. They continued to function under a plurality of elders, structure that goes back to the times when only elders judged and governed Israel locally and nationally, in which decisions were made collectively for communal affairs (Acts 6:1-4), doctrine (Acts 15:6), and recognition of divine appointment (Galatians 2:9). Each member was encouraged and expected to develop his or her own gift to full flower. Everyone in the community was to be submitted to one another in the fear of God. Each believer was responsible for his own spiritual growth by engaging in a very personal relationship with the living God in which he could receive guidance for himself. He assumed control for his life, took responsibility for his personal growth, and thereby came to maturity in Christ.
Pagan Influences and Development in the Early Church
Greek philosophy and Roman concept of power and rule corrupted the organization and life of the early churches. Ideas contrary to the Gospel interpenetrated the church primarily after Greek philosophers converted to Christianity. Because of the anti- Semitic stance taken by the Church in the second and third centuries, many of the Church's Hebraic foundations and practices were discarded and heathen policies adapted. History tells us that the functioning of clergy was adapted from the pagan practices of the Greeks and Romans who depended on priests to stand between them and their gods. There are three easily observable steps in spiritual decline and Apostasy that affected the Early Church:
First - In the beginning, the apostolic Church structure was plurality of equal elders-shepherds who were overseers and as servant- leaders took care of a local congregation and its affairs. The earliest church knew nothing of leadership styles in its later Gentile counterpart. Early church documents can attest plurality of elders in local churches even during the first half of the second century.
Second - Around the end of the first and at the beginning of the second century AD, as Greek philosophy and Roman organizational structures started creeping into the Church here and there, seed of corruption could be seen in development of unbiblical division of the church government that claimed a bishop as the head of a local assembly assisted by elders and deacons. This is how monarchical bishopric was born.
Third - From the second half of the second century AD and on independent churches started to form lose federations having councils together and issuing statements that were not binding to anyone. Latter this development took another turn when local bishops assumed responsibility over other local less prominent bishops that were now considered priests, becoming archbishops. Monarchical bishopric was finally defined in geographical terms. Even the New Catholic Encyclopedia confirms this as alien to the practice of the Early Church, which had structure of only elders/bishops and deacons in every congregation.
The tragic result of this deception and departure from our original faith was creation of a new non-biblical religion that has become known as "Christianity." If we are honest, we can see that much of was not based on the Bible and did not build the Kingdom of God. These "kings" did everything to protect their "kingdoms" that were not serving purposes of the King of kings anymore. This was part of the price that the Gentile church paid for abandoning its Hebraic foundations in favor of Greek philosophy and Roman organizational structure. The low point of this leadership pattern was achieved in the Dark Ages with consequences well know to all of us.
(to be continued)
In Him, Vlatko Dir