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10 things many institutional churches miss

church building, steeple
Unsplash/Chris Liverani

The following are my general observations to aid the Church in its quest to restore New Testament patterns. (The quest for first century apostolicity is sometimes referred to as “primitivism” or “the restoration movement.”) I realize that the following are broad categories based on my opinion that may or may not precisely fit with each church or denomination.

1. The early church leaders did not matriculate through a formal ordination process

In the Old Testament, there is a formal ceremony depicting the placement of the priesthood (Exodus 28-29). In the New Testament, we see that the original 12 were commissioned by Jesus to serve as His Apostles. (A formal ceremony commissioning them is not indicated (Mark 3:13-15, Luke 6:12-13)). I would assume that Jesus laid His hands upon them after they functioned for a time in their calling while walking with Him and receiving His correction and mentoring (Luke 10:17-20). We also see that the elders of the church of Antioch laying their hands upon Paul and Barnabas, setting them apart for the work of apostolic ministry (Acts 13:1-2). The Pauline pattern of establishing churches also involved the laying on of hands, setting people apart for ministry (Acts 14:22-35, 1 Timothy 4:14).

In all these instances, the most important aspect of their ordination involved walking with a spiritual leader in the context of a Jesus-centered community. This organically culminated in their commissioning after they proved their calling both in practice and by a witness of the Spirit (Acts 20:28). Consequently, the current practice of matriculating clergy, (through an extra local seminary, followed by an elaborate ceremony), as the prerequisite to serve as a church overseer, is not the norm of early primitivism.

2. There was no separation between clergy and laity

In the first century Church, all Christ-followers participated in the priesthood (1 Peter 2:8-9). There was no separation between the church place and workplace and the so-called clergy and laity. Also, most overseers were married and vetted based upon their ability to manage their biological household (1 Timothy 3:1-12). As a spiritual leader, Paul was bi-vocational and even used a lecture hall to launch a church (Acts 18:3, Acts 19:9).

3. The Spirit was poured out upon all flesh for ministry

On the Day of Pentecost, Peter equated the Jesus movement with Joel's last days' prophecy when the Spirit would be poured out upon all flesh to release all people, male, female, young, and old, to prophesy and experience visions and dreams (Acts 2:17-18). Hence, the focus was on the spontaneous empowerment by the Spirit to advance Gospel proliferation (Acts 1:8-9). Today, church services are entrenched in predictable liturgy and routines that exclude all from ministry, except ordained clergy. It should instead release Spirit inspired ministry irrespective of formal training, gender and age.

4. Each successive generation of church movement should be apostolic

For the Church to remain an ever-expanding missional movement, apostolically gifted leaders should serve at the helm of denominations and networks. This is the reason why Jesus chose 12 apostles and not 12 pastors to initiate His movement. Historically, many movements appoint gifted administrators as their leaders in their second generation. This bottlenecks expansion which then results in routinization.

5. All people were to read and interpret the Scriptures

In the New Testament, the apostolic writers wrote letters to their congregations and church collectives, and not just to other apostles and elders (1 Corinthians 1:1-2). Hence, they expected all believers to understand and interpret the sacred writings with the help of the Spirit and church teachings (Hebrews 5:11-14, 1 John 2:20-27). Unfortunately, some historic denominations (like Roman Catholicism) discouraged the so-called laity from reading the Bible to prevent church schisms. Even some historic protestant Christians and evangelicals often depend solely upon their pastor to study and expound the Scriptures, as if they are excluded from devotion to the Scriptures because they are not full-time ministers. This goes against the plain teachings of scripture (Psalm 1, 1 Timothy 3:15-16).

6. We are to confess our sins to one another

Some historic churches only allow confession of sins to their assigned priest. The New Testament encourages all believers to confess their sins to one another so they can be healed (James 5:16).

7. Christianity is a way of life, not a routine

Jesus said that He was the Way (John 14:6). The early church was initially described as a way of life (Acts 5:20, Acts 9:2, Acts 19:23). Unfortunately, many Christians view Christianity as a religion defined merely by church attendance on Sundays and special holidays. Unfortunately, it has become a routine that is often not integrated into their daily life.

8. Christianity is not defined and confined to a building

The original Church was persecuted and often forced to meet secretly in homes and catacombs. Now, Christianity is so marginalized in a culture where buildings that hold Christian services are now synonymous with “churches.” Hence, the faith has been relegated to a one-hour service in a building on Sundays.

9. The office of Bishop should encompass apostolicity

Today, many historic churches believe that the office of the bishop is the successor of the original apostles. Despite this, many churches pick bishops who are great administrators, but they often lack the missional zeal and ability that's befitting to apostolic ministry. This limits the level of equipping grace believers need for evangelistic zeal and ministry capacity (Ephesians 4:7-12).

10. God has no grandchildren

In the New Testament, every person had to be born from above and personally receive Jesus to be a true Christian (John 1:12-13, John 3:3-8). Often, in institutional churches, a person is born in a Christian family, baptized as an infant, and grows up as a cultural Christian without personally encountering Jesus. Unfortunately for them, God has no grandchildren. He demands that every individual become His son (Romans 8:14-16).

I believe that by holding to these biblical principles, our churches can become healthier in the future. We owe this to our people, and to Christ who is the head of the Church.

Dr. Joseph Mattera is an internationally-known author, consultant, and theologian whose mission is to influence leaders who influence culture. He is the founding pastor of Resurrection Church, and leads several organizations, including The U.S. Coalition of Apostolic Leaders and Christ Covenant Coalition.

To order his books or to join the many thousands who subscribe to his newsletter, go to josephmattera.org

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