But My Church Is Different!

Over the past years I’ve had many conversations with people about church, how different churches are structured and how they function. The discussions usually cover various topics from A to Z. From church buildings to church programs, from money to music, from professional clergy to “preaching to the choir,” and ultimately to the results of it all. In the end, I always try to point out how what the church has become today does not resemble the church of the New Testament and how statistics show it is in decline.

Almost without exception those I’m talking with are surprised by the information I point out. Some even admit the disturbing results are very thought provoking.  But the one thing that rings true for most of the people I have these conversations with, is they will make this profound statement: “But my church is different.” That usually ends the discussion.

What’s amazing is their claim is truer than they realize! The fact is, almost ALL churches are different!  Different from the New Testament church. So when people say their church is different, they are right.  The real question is, do they care that their church, by being different from the church of the first century, is actually UNBIBLICAL? Did I say unbiblical? Yes, I did. And that is the real issue here. Let me explain by using just one brief example.

We learn from the New Testament that when the early church gathered, they usually met in peoples homes. The following passages make it pretty clear:

  • “Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Likewise greet the church that is in their house” (Romans 16:5).
  • “The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Priscilla greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house” (1 Corinthians 16:19).
  • “Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea, and Nymphas and the church that is in his house” (Colossians 4:15).
  • “Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, to Philemon our beloved friend and fellow laborer, to the beloved Apphia, Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house” (Philemon 1-2).  (NKJV emphasis added.)

Some may quickly respond, “Well, the church HAD to meet in homes. They were being persecuted!” While the church did experience SOME opposition, most persecution against the church was in random locations and very sporadic. If in fact the church was forced to meet secretly in homes or elsewhere to escape being discovered by persecutors, as many seem to think, how did they get enough followers to “turn the world upside down” (Acts 17:6)? Simply put, the home was the natural place for believers to meet and have fellowship.

In the Gospels we often see Jesus and the disciples ministering in houses. The book of Acts is replete with examples of ministry happening in homes (Acts 2:2, 2:46, 5:42, 8:3, 9:17, 10:22, 11:12, 12:12, 16:32-34, 16:40, 20:20, 28:30). The implication is that the home was the main venue for the church.

In 1 Corinthians 14:26-40 the Apostle Paul instructs believers concerning the pattern for them to follow in their church meetings. He points out that his admonitions for proper church practice are not merely recommendations, they are in fact the Lord’s commands (v.37). And as we’ve seen, the basic setting in which the church functioned was the home and nothing is ever said about changing that format.

Now, you may say, “But it doesn’t say we can’t meet in a larger church building.” Your right, it doesn’t. However, if you think it really doesn’t matter to God, don’t you think it would be important to know just where that practice came from? Let me give you a hint: It wasn’t from the New Testament!

Official church buildings didn’t come into existence until after the Roman Emperor Constantine made Christianity the state religion almost 300 years AFTER the church was born. At that time the temples of the Roman pagan gods were converted into churches and the church building as we know it began. So what pattern was being followed then? We are admonished to follow the teachings of the New Testament and one of those teachings is that we are not to conform to the ways of the world (Rom. 12:2). If adopting any practice of pagan god worship isn’t conforming to the ways of the world, then what is?

Some will still say they don’t see anything bad about meeting in a church building. Please let me make this very clear. I’m not saying it’s bad. I’m saying it’s unbiblical. God gave us a pattern to follow. When we don’t follow that pattern we’ve moved into unbiblical territory. God will do His work in spite of how the church meets. But what greater work might be done if we were to stay true to the pattern He has given us?

So I guess the real question is: Do you want your church to be different…or biblical? “Now to Him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” – Ephesians 3:20-21

5 thoughts on “But My Church Is Different!

  1. Very informative. Curious about how you grow and reach your communities only meeting in houses? Also, What do you see as the roll of the apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher, spoken of in Ephesians 4:11. In our circles generally referred to as the five fold.

    From what I can see you love God and I don’t disagree with your approach if that’s what God called you to do. It seems to be a great way to build strong relationship. I’ve always believed that large churches should be broken down into home groups on a weekly basis so that people aren’t allowed to ‘hide’ without accountability and the opportunity to get to know more of their family in Christ.

    I would only question your reason for doing what your doing. If you feel that this is the only way to ‘do’ church I believe you are mistaken. I think that there is a fundamental misunderstanding on your part about why Paul gave the instructions he gave to the Corinthians. The fact is that Paul was ministering t o a culture just as we should be. To say that other styles of ‘doing’ church are unbiblical because they don’t meet in a house is incorrect. When we study the life of Jesus and Paul we find that they were always culturally correct in the way they did things. Not conforming to the world, but ministering to a culture. The reality is that the church is not a building or a house… we are the Church.

    “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” – 1 Cor 9:19-23

    Are you winning the lost?

    Just a thought.

    • Alex,
      Thank you for your thoughtful and considerate comments. It is a blessing to have members in the Body of Christ communicate with each other, and in doing so “to spur one another on to love and good deeds.” I hope my response will be an encouragement to you also. I know it will be tough to cover all the details that could be discussed, but I pray this may be helpful.

      In regard to your question about reaching our communities, I guess the simplest answer is that we pray for our community in general, and, in keeping our faith the priority in life, specifically nurturing our relationships and loving those the Lord has brought into our lives. “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 4:10-11). We leave the results to Him. Perhaps if all believers did this we wouldn’t need “outreach programs” that give people the option of whether or not to participate.

      As far as the “five fold” ministries in Ephesians 4:11, I see them for what Paul calls them: Gifts (v.8) to the church, not “offices” per se. And these “gifts” are for the equipping of all believers so they may do the work of the ministry. “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Eph. 4:11-13)

      Concerning “doing” church and ministering in our culture, I don’t believe Paul or Jesus would approve of the Church adopting practices that clearly have come out of the world or try to obtain the worlds acceptance. Man’s unbiblical pragmatism has clearly contributed to divisions in the Church, the “doing church” mentality, and a lost world (at least in the USA), that for now, puts up with it all, just to name a few. Yes, as we reach out to those in our modern day culture we are to adapt (moving to the South, I now follow the Braves, instead of the Cubs, and I eat more Southern food), but we don’t have to adopt the ways of the world. “Do not love the world or the things that belong to the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For everything that belongs to the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s lifestyle—is not from the Father, but is from the world. And the world with its lust is passing away, but the one who does God’s will remains forever” (1 John 2:15-17). And I hope it’s clear, I don’t condone “doing church” in any venue! Your comment that “we are the Church” is absolutely right. I often ask, “How can we “do” what we are?” “Doing” church puts what we are supposed to be in a box that we open when we want. I don’t see that in the New Testament.

      Finally, are we winning the lost? We ARE seeing the “fruit of our labor.” People are coming to Christ and lives are being transformed. It may not be in the “numbers” that many seem to think is what’s important, but we will leave that to God. Above all, we are learning what it means to “love one another” and pray the Lord will use it. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).

      • Thanks for the feedback… if I never meet you in person on the earth the cool thing is we still get to spend eternity together. Blessings to you and your family!

  2. Amen to your article! Church buildings are an attempt to re-create The Temple. At Christ’s death the temple veil was torn from top to bottom. This enabled the believer to approach God Himself. No longer was it forbidden for anyone but a high priest to enter the Holy of Holies, because of what Christ did on that cross! Also, He caused The Temple itself to be razed some 40 years after His death, to even further the message. I could go on about the scriptures about our body being the temple, and us being priests as we minister The Gospel, etc, but you know them better than I .

    Rome started the recreation of The Temple, with all their ornate opulent trappings, and today it is even worse, with huge mega churches with their gigantic screens etc. All this effort goes to glorify themselves. Here in Maine, I see the tiny churches, so sweet in their tradition, but it is the same error. One pastor raised above the congregation, feeding them pre-digested Word at best. And so much need outside that church.

    Like you, I do not find fault with the people, wish to ever offend anyone on this matter. But I wish they understood who they are, believers among believers every day, at home, work, whatever and charged to minister to this world who so needs to know Christ. And ministering to each other, as believers. We need nothing more than a willing heart to do His will. We need no temple.

    • I think there are too many programs for kids. After a ceatirn age kids should be with their parents in church. Youth groups are cool and my daughter will probably be involved in one. However, she will sit with us every Sunday as soon as she is able… like 3 or 4 years old. Also, I wonder how much the church is really to blame for all of these kids leaving. The majority of spiritual instruction and a living EXAMPLE is to come from the parents… NOT the church. I think far too many parents aren’t focused like they should be and then can’t figure out why their kids don’t want any part of church. If they don’t see a REAL faith in you then they probably won’t want faith at all.

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