Is My Church Really A
New Testament Church?
Many churches claim to base all that they do upon the New
Testament, but the sad fact is that most churches claiming to be
"evangelical" practice very little of what the Scriptures have patterned for
local assemblies. To mention just a few, please consider the following and
ask yourself, "Is my church practicing this?"
1. The New Testament teaches that the local church is to
be pastored and taught by a plurality of scripturally qualified men known as
elders (Acts 20:17,28; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13; 1 Timothy 5:17; Hebrews
13:17; James 5:14; 1 Peter 5:1-4). This being true, why are most of our
churches only pastored by one man (i.e., "the pastor")? Why do so many
churches today divide their leadership into a hierarchy of "senior pastor,"
"associate pastor," and "board of elders" – particularly when the New
Testament makes no such distinctions among congregational leaders?
"Despite all the New Testament says about church elders,
the subject has been deeply misunderstood or ignored. Many evangelical
churches that sincerely claim to base their church structure on holy
Scripture do not even have a body of elders. These churches have ignored the
pastoral oversight of the church by a plurality of elders – a concept
plainly set forth in Scripture – and replaced it with a one-man pastor,
which is inadequately defensible by Scripture. Even most Presbyterian
churches (and others that claim to be governed by a scriptural plurality of
elders) have redefined church eldership so that its original purpose and
noble standing have, in practice, been eclipsed by the ordained minister and
his staff" (Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership [Littleton, CO: Lewis &
Roth Publishers, 1986] p.12).
2. The New Testament teaches that church shepherds are to
arise from the church’s own rank and assembly (Acts 14:23; 2 Timothy 2:2;
Titus 1:5). This being true, why do our churches always look for potential
pastors outside of their present congregations? Why aren’t our churches
raising and training their own men for pastoral leadership? Is our current
practice of forming a "pastoral search committee" based on Scripture or the
traditions of men?
"In New Testament days, local ministry consisted of
people called to serve and lead in their own locality. Ministry used to be
performed by ministers who came from within the community, rather than by
those who came from the outside and who stayed for only a few years before
moving on to the next church. Today the church looks to a school or agency
hundreds of miles away for its ‘pastor.’ Further, the turnover rate among
pastors is tremendous with many remaining in a church for less than five
years" (Carl B. Hoch, Jr., All Things New [Grand Rapids: Baker Book House,
3. The New Testament teaches that the congregational
meeting is to be a place where Christians exercise their spiritual gifts and
encourage one another to love and good deeds (Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians
12:4-14; 14:12,26; Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 10:24-25; 1 Peter 4:10-11). This
being true, why do most of us not say or do anything within the church
service? Why is coming to church primarily a spectator event instead of a
participating event? Why have we placed our responsibility of mutual
edification and ministry into the hands of professional clergymen?
"Are we giving the members of the church an adequate
opportunity to exercise their gifts? Are our churches corresponding to the
life of the New Testament church? Or is there too much concentration in the
hands of ministers and clergy? You say, ‘We provide opportunity for the
gifts of others in week-night activities.’ But I still ask, Do we manifest
the freedom of the New Testament church? . . . When one looks at the New
Testament church and contrasts the church today, even our churches, with
that church, one is appalled at the difference. In the New Testament church
one sees vigor and activity; one sees a living community, conscious of its
glory and of its responsibility, with the whole church, as it were, an
evangelistic force. The notion of people belonging to the church in order to
come to sit down and fold their arms and listen, with just two or three
doing everything, is quite foreign to the New Testament, and it seems to me
it is foreign to what has always been the characteristic of the church in
times of revival and of reawakening" (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Knowing the
Times [Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1989] pp.195-196).
4. The New Testament teaches that the local church is to
be edified and ministered to by all the members present – "for the body is
not one member, but many" (1 Corinthians 12:14; cf. 14:12,26-31; Ephesians
4:16). This being true, why do our church services focus on only one part of
the body (i.e., "the pastor")? Where, in the New Testament, is it taught
that one’s man ministry or sermon is to be the focal-point of church
5. The New Testament teaches that every Christian is a
minister and priest before God (1Peter 2:5,9; Revelation 1:6). This being
true, why do we continue to make such distinctions as "clergy" and "laity"?
On what scriptural basis do we divide the body of Christ into two classes of
people: "clergy" and "laity"? Moreover, if every Christian is a minister,
why are we not allowed to minister to one another within the church service?
"The New Testament simply does not speak in terms of two
classes of Christians – ‘minister’ and ‘laymen’ – as we do today. According
to the Bible, the people (laos, ‘laity’) of God comprise all Christians, and
all Christians through the exercise of spiritual gifts have some ‘work of
ministry.’ So if we wish to be biblical, we will have to say that all
Christians are laymen (God’s people) and all are ministers. The clergy-laity
dichotomy is unbiblical and therefore invalid. It grew up as an accident of
church history and actually marked a drift away from biblical faithfulness.
A professional, distinct priesthood did exist in Old Testament days. But in
the New Testament this priesthood is replaced by two truths: Jesus Christ is
our great high priest, and the Church is a kingdom of priests (Hebrews 4:14;
8:1; 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6). The New Testament doctrine of ministry
rests therefore not on the clergy-laity distinction but on the twin and
complementary pillars of the priesthood of all believers and the gifts of
the Spirit. Today, four centuries after the Reformation, the full
implications of this Protestant affirmation have yet to be worked out. The
clergy-laity dichotomy is a direct carry-over from pre-Reformation Roman
Catholicism and a throwback to the Old Testament priesthood. It is one of
the principle obstacles to the Church effectively being God’s agent of the
Kingdom today because it creates the false idea that only ‘holy men,’
namely, ordained ministers, are really qualified and responsible for
leadership and significant ministry. In the New Testament there are
functional distinctions between various kinds of ministries but no
hierarchical division between clergy and laity" (Howard A. Snyder, The
Community of the King [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1977]
6. The New Testament teaches that the Lord’s Supper is a
full-on meal within the context of joyous, brotherly fellowship (Acts 2:46;
1 Corinthians 10:16-22; 11:18-34). This being true, why have we turned the
Lord’s Supper into an elaborate and even mystical ritual? Why is our current
practice of the Lord’s Supper more like a funeral than a festival? Why do we
believe that only the "ordained" clergy have the right to "administer the
sacraments" when the New Testament does not teach this?
"Still more significant is the fact that what Paul calls
the Lord’s Supper in this passage [1 Corinthians 11:20-22] is in fact a full
meal – not simply the ‘elements.’ That Paul has in mind an entire meal is
evident from his statement ‘one is hungry, another is drunk.’ It would make
little sense for Paul to speak this way about the ‘elements’ (bread and
wine), for obviously one’s hunger could never be satisfied with a small
broken piece of bread, nor could one become ‘drunk’ on a shot-glass of wine.
There can be no question that the Lord’s Supper consisted of an actual meal
and that the rich Christians were partaking of it before the poor arrived
(perhaps due to employment constraints on the part of the poor)"
("Rethinking the Lord’s Supper," Part 3, New Testament Restoration
Newsletter [July 1992/Vol.2, No.3] p.2).
"There is a common assumption among God’s people that as
a result of their calling, pastors have conferred on them the sacramental
presence of Christ. The ordained are donned with a holy aura not attainable
by ordinary, common believers. This myth has created a priesthood within a
priesthood . . . In other words, we have created a fiction that people of
the cloth carry with them the mantle of Christ because of the holy order
that they enter . . . Unless we shift the priestly role from an elite core
to the entire body of believers, the ministry cannot be returned to the
people of God. The New Testament nowhere emphasizes a group of gifted people
who uniquely mediate the presence of Christ. The focus is on a sacramental
people, not a sacramental pastor . . . It is noteworthy that nowhere in the
New Testament is a special group set apart to protect and administer the
sacraments. Leadership does not have an exclusive role in liturgy and
worship . . . The Lord’s Supper is a community meal, and Paul expects the
community to act consistent with the sacrificial death of Jesus displayed in
these elements as the purchase price of the new community. To put the meal
into the hands of a few would destroy the community sense that all
participate in the sacrifice of Christ" (Greg Ogden, The New Reformation
[Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990] pp.76-81).
7. Jesus taught that His people were not to give or take
upon themselves honorific titles which set them apart from the rest of the
Christian brotherhood (Matthew 23:6-12; Mark 10:35-45). This being true, why
do so many church leaders today give themselves such lofty titles as
"Reverend," "Minister," "Bishop," "Pastor," and "Senior Pastor"? Why do they
feel it necessary to preface their names with such titles – particularly
when the New Testament forbids it?
"There were prophets, teachers, apostles, pastors,
evangelists, leaders, elders, and deacons within the early church, but these
terms were not used as formal titles. For example, all Christians are
saints, but there is no ‘Saint John.’ All are priests, but there is no
‘Priest Philip.’ Some are elders, but there is no ‘Elder Paul.’ Some are
pastors, but there is no ‘Pastor James.’ Some are deacons, but there is no
‘Deacon Peter.’ Some are apostles, but there is no ‘Apostle Andrew.’ Rather
than gaining honor through titles and position, New Testament believers
received honor primarily for their service and work (Acts 15:26; Romans
16:1,2,4,12; 1 Corinthians 16:15,16,18; 2 Corinthians 8:18; Philippians
2:29,30; Colossians 1:7; 4:12,13; 1 Thessalonians 5:12; 1 Timothy 3:1). The
early Christians referred to each other by personal names – Timothy, Paul,
Titus, etc. – or referred to an individual’s spiritual character and work: ‘
. . . Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit . . .’ (Acts 6:5);
Barnabus, ‘ . . . a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith . .
.’ (Acts 11:24); ‘ . . . . Philip the evangelist . . . ‘ (Acts 21:8); ‘Greet
Prisca and Aquila, my fellow-workers in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 16:3); ‘Greet
Mary, who has worked hard for you’ (Romans 16:6); etc. The array of
ecclesiastical titles accompanying the names of Christian leaders today is
completely missing from the New Testament, and would have appalled the
apostles and early believers" (Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership
[Littleton, CO: Lewis & Roth Publishers, 1986) p.259).
8. The New Testament teaches that Christians are to
practice hospitality towards both fellow believers and outsiders (Matthew
25:34-40; Romans 12:13; 1 Timothy 6:18; Titus 3:8,14; Hebrews 13:2; 1 Peter
4:9). This being true, why do most of us rarely open our homes to others?
Why do so many Christians ignore the physical needs of one another? Why is
hospitality a forgotten virtue in most churches? With such an evident lack
of love and concern towards others, is it any wonder why so many of our
churches are cold and dying?
9. The early church met almost exclusively in homes as
opposed to large, religious edifices (Acts 20:20; Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians
16:19; Colossians 4:15; Philemon v.2; 2 John v.10). This being true, why do
we feel it necessary to spend large sums of the Lord’s money on church
buildings and cathedrals which might only be used once or twice a week? Is
this being a good steward of the financial resources which God provides? Why
do so many churches have a larger budget for building projects, staff
salaries, and maintenance than for missions, the poor, and people-oriented
ministries? What does this reveal about our priorities?
The truth is, we have inherited traditions and practices
within our churches which simply have no basis in the New Testament. Sadly,
most of us have never bothered to question or investigate these traditions.
But if we are to see genuine church renewal, we must rethink this whole
thing called "church" and seek to conform all that we say and do in light of
New Testament patterns and principles.
Are you ready for the challenge and willing to "put
everything to the test and hold fast to that which is true" (1 Thessalonians
5:21; cf. Acts 17:11)? . . . There is a better way!
Written by Darryl M. Erkel (1994)