What is a Church? | The Traditions of the Early Church Fathers

Part 4 - A Summation


We have seen how for the last 1800 years or so the way in which churches have been set up - that is, their structure and functioning - has actually been based on the teachings of men who came on the scene after the apostles of Jesus died. They changed what churches should have been like beyond recognition, and into something totally different from what they were originally conceived to be. We have seen too that this assertion is a simple matter of historical fact, and have found confirmation from universally acknowledged Bible and church history scholars, all of whom being recognized as top men in their respective fields. I have thereby demonstrated that what we are up against here is actually an extreme example of what Jesus scathingly described as being the traditions of men making void the Word of God.

And we must understand that the issue is not, as I hinted at earlier, how far into all these anti-biblical teachings and practices any particular church might be, but rather that any particular church is into any of them at all. At one end of the spectrum is the Catholic Church, which is in as deep as you can go, followed closely by the Anglican Church and numerous sundry and similar variations on their particular ecclesiastical theme. Then there are the likes of Methodist churches, Baptist churches, Pentecostal churches, Free churches, and some few thousand other denominational variants. And what we must grasp is that regardless how deeply into it all any particular church might, it is still nevertheless in completely the wrong swimming pool. We must realize that whether it’s the Catholic Church at one end of the spectrum, or Baptist, Pentecostal or Free churches and the like at the other, the same fundamental errors are all in place; and biblical practices, and at the deepest level too, have been replaced by the practices of mere men. All such churches, as the reader should now clearly see, are based on the teaching and practices of the Early Church Fathers and not on those of the apostles and therefore the New Testament. The point is not how churches go against God‘s Word, it is that they go against it at all.

Think of it like this! We have seen, for instance, that the apostles established churches to be led by a plurality of non-hierarchical, co-equal, home grown, male elders and, as I have amply demonstrated,  the scholars concur with me entirely on this - as indeed they do with all the other apostolic church practices I have highlighted! Now there are obviously differing ways of going against that particular type of leadership and coming up with something else. You can do it by having a priesthood, or by having a church led by a ‘Pastor’ or ‘Minister’ who, although not considered to be a Priest, is nevertheless still the big cheese and seen to be in charge. Yet in either case it is exactly the same error, and church leadership and government is something other than what the New Testament establishes it as being. The problem is not therefore what our particular alternative to God’s will is; it’s that we think it’s alright to have one in the first place. If what the New Testament reveals isn’t being implemented, then something else is; and the issue is not what that alternative happens to be, but rather that we dare to have an alternative at all.

Consider what we have seen regarding how New Testament churches conducted themselves when the believers who comprised them came together on the Lord’s Day. They practiced completely open worship and sharing together, with no-one leading ‘from the front’, and with everyone being free to take part. Further, proceedings were in someone’s house where numbers were therefore kept small enough so as to both allow and facilitate such a gathering. And of course you can go against this in lots of different ways and replace it with varying and differing things. You can have a liturgical and priestly ‘service’ led from the front in a religious building, or a much more simple non-priestly and non-liturgical ‘service’ led from the front in a hired public building. But once more, what matters is not how you go against the Word of God in that regard, it is that you go against it, and therefore made it void, in any way at all.

There’s more too in this regard because we have seen as well how, when the New Testament believers came together on the Lord’s Day as churches, they shared a common loaf of bread and cup of wine together as part of a full meal. This communal meal which they shared in the Lord’s honour is variously referred to in scripture as the Lord’s Supper, the Lord’s Table, breaking bread or the love-feast; and of course the point is that whether you do away with it and replace it with bread and wine handed out from an altar by a priest in a liturgical ‘service’, or more informally from a table in front of where the ‘Minister’ presides in a Baptist or Pentecostal church, you have nevertheless still gone completely against what the apostles universally taught and instituted, and replaced their tradition and practice with something entirely different. And I am convinced, with my whole heart and mind, that what we have done in regards to all this is wrong and that repentance is in order and is the crying need of the day.

Some questions will suffice to make the point even clearer. The Christian Church is well and truly in the dock over these matters, and my questions will constitute, as it were, the case for the prosecution. And the charges are serious ones too, but admitting wrongdoing is surely, if I am not mistaken, something we do as Christians all the time. After all, being convicted by the Lord of what is yet wrong in our lives is the normal daily Christian life (or at least, it is mine), and so it shouldn’t therefore be too great a problem for us to look at these things with an open mind and with a humble attitude of being willing to come clean should they have the backing of God‘s Word.

Question: What is the opposite of non-hierarchical, co-equal, home grown elders?

Answer: Any system which creates a leadership hierarchy, and which brings in someone, whether Priest or Pastor, from outside of the church in order to lead it and be in charge!

Verdict: From the Catholic Church right down to Baptist, Pentecostal and Free Churches, we find the defendants guilty as charged!

Question: What is the opposite of open worship with free and spontaneous sharing together, with no-one leading ‘from the front’ and with all present being actively encouraged to take part?

Answer: Any form of church service, whether Catholic, Anglican, Baptist, Pentecostal or whatever - including so-called ‘house churches’ - gathering in large numbers in hired halls for worship ‘services’ led from the front by their respective ‘big cheeses’!

Verdict: From Catholic to Baptist to ‘house churches’, we find the defendants guilty as charged!

Question: What is the opposite of having the Lord’s Supper as a full meal?

Answer: Not having the Lord’s Supper as a full meal!

Verdict: Again, from Anglican to Pentecostal to ‘house churches’, we find the defendants guilty as charged!

Are you getting the idea? It’s a bit scary, isn’t it?

Question: What is the opposite of centring the corporate life of a church round people’s homes, and of being an extended family?

Answer: Centring the corporate life of a church around public buildings (whether religious or otherwise) and the ‘ministries’ of ‘leaders’, and being an organisation!

Verdict: From Presbyterian to Methodist to Episcopalian to Southern Baptist, we find the defendants guilty as charged!

It’s time for a list now, and it’s a list of things pertaining to church life and practice which most believers would take absolutely for granted and accept as being alright without a second thought, but which nevertheless all go completely against the teaching of the New Testament. It isn’t an exhaustive list but it does make the point. As you read it bear in mind that, at the time of Jesus, Israel had its own practices and teachings, referred to in the New Testament as the tradition of the elders (Mark 7v3), which not only didn‘t come from the Old Testament, but which actually went directly against it. I therefore give you a list of the Traditions of the Early Church Fathers which likewise go directly against the New Testament. Of such unbiblical practices Jesus has long since given His own verdict, “So, for the sake of your tradition you have made void the Word of God.” (Matthew 15v6 Revised Standard Version)

  • Priesthood and any form of clergy/laity divide, including Bishop, Archbishop, Pope, Cardinal, Vicar, Rector and the like.
  • Special titles such as Reverend so and so, Right Reverend so and so, Pastor so and so, Apostle so and so, Prophet so and so, Evangelist so and so, Elder so and so, and so on and so forth.
  • Dog collars, clerical vestments or special religious dress of any kind.
  • Leadership structures that put one man at the top, either locally, nationally or internationally, and which include the notion of hierarchy in any form.
  • Any permanent local church leadership which has not risen from within the church and which brings in an ‘expert’ from the outside.
  • Sacred buildings or holy places.
  • Hired publics buildings for the Lord’s day gathering of a church.
  • Sunday ‘services’ or any form of worship led from the front.
  • Pulpits and the sermons that go with them.
  • Bread and wine ‘communion services’.
  • Infant baptism or pre-baptismal instruction involving a period of delay.
  • Any form of church membership or ‘signing on dotted line’.
  • Denominationalism in its every form; by which I mean any organisational and hierarchical networking of either individual churches, or groups of churches together, whether on a local, national or international level.

The axe is indeed here being laid to the root of the tree, and the challenge is for us to respond obediently to what the Lord wants of us. For centuries churches have been based on the ways of man instead of the ways of the Lord, and just as the Reformation rediscovered the very gospel of justification by faith in Jesus alone, and as Pentecostalism retrieved the gifts of the Holy Spirit, let us now proceed to put the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle in it’s rightful place and bring into being churches that are as the Lord intended them to be by way of how they are set up and function. That, and nothing less, is challenge before us: to form, plant, build and be part of biblical churches. It is to retrieve that corporate life in the Spirit of being the little extended families of God He wants individual and particular churches to be, and to live, practice and function as such according to the design He has revealed in the pages of scripture.

Over the coming months and years more will be added to this website. Other sections will eventually cover different aspects of church life and we will endeavour to provide teaching from the Bible that is both clear and practical. Having seen in great detail what churches shouldn’t be like we will move on to describe, and in much greater detail than we have thus far done, just what they should be like. Indeed, we plan to cover subjects much wider than just the issue of biblical church life, and there is, for instance, a book available for download on the life of Elijah. Further, we would also draw your attention to the extensive range of nearly three hundred teaching talks which are available to be ordered from us, so do log on every now and then in order to keep up to date with our progress.

(STOP PRESS: A new book is now available which outlines all this - plus a lot more - in far greater detail. “Biblical Church: a Challenge to Unscriptural Traditions And Practice!” can be ordered here.)

May we dare to start being, as churches, what we actually are – little extended families of God! May we realise afresh that to be a family is to live and function as a family, and that to live and function as an extended family of God is a totally different thing to being in a religious organisation of some kind, whether it calls itself a church or not.

I’m no prophet and make no claim to being very good at hearing the Lord’s voice, but I do have a word from Him which I believe He would have me share far and wide. It has become pivotal to my own personal life and discipleship and I am convinced that every believer needs to hear it. It is quite simply this: Jesus is saying, “Give me back my church!”
So let’s just respond in unison, “Yes, Lord! Amen! You‘ve got it!” Just imagine, the Lord getting His church back! Now that would be something, wouldn’t it?

 

 

 

Top of page

© 2008 Chigwell Christian Fellowship. All rights reserved.