It sometimes takes many years but eventually one fact becomes clear: God’s plan for the church cannot be improved upon! At the beginning of a work for God, things seem to go along well and there is no lack of support for the expression “Use what works.” Much that is questionable can be overlooked when there is growth and excitement in any venture including the church. But in time, flaws become apparent in areas where man’s ideas compromise or set aside Biblical principles.
Spiritually minded believers and those who serve the Lord may become uneasy with practices and explanations that are clearly based more on tradition than on Scripture. How often we have listened to the lament of professional church leaders as they complain about the lack of involvement on the part of the “laity” while the “Pastor” can hardly keep up with all the work. Thankfully, there is a growing interest today in the church as described in the New Testament. People from all sorts of Christian backgrounds are becoming tired of the traditions of men; disillusioned with the failure of professionalism to promote spiritual maturity, and informed about the thriving state of NT churches in countries where the formal religious structures of western Christianity could never survive.
Why Plant Them? Seven Good Reasons:
1. NT churches are the best tool for discipling and equipping believers
NT Churches do not have the conventional division between clergy and laity, so those in fellowship cannot excuse lack of involvement by saying “We pay a professional to do these things; why can’t he just do them and let us volunteer for small supporting roles as we have time and feel led?” Instead, the work of the church must be carried on by all those in fellowship. Those with equipping gifts (see Eph. 4:11,12) help train ordinary people so that they (the people) can carry on the work of the ministry which edifies (builds up) the body (Eph. 4:16).
2. NT churches employ a leadership style that follows the NT pattern
Churches in the NT were led by a plurality of men called elders. None had a “Pastor.” The elders have final authority but are exhorted to lead from among the people, that is, allowing and utilizing the gifts and energies of the ordinary people in the church. Emphasis on leadership falls primarily on the men since God requires them to learn to lead in the church and in their families. When the comment is made “Oh you’re the church without a pastor,” the reply must be: “thank the Lord we have many pastors!” But such pastors are men and women with a special ability to care for and shepherd people; public speaking or administrative leadership responsibilities are not necessarily part of the NT gift of pastor. There is safety in plurality as it encourages decision making through multiple viewpoints, and helps protect against unaccountable mavericks.
3. Denominationalism has no future
The goal of the Christian faith is to break down walls that sin has erected and bring together all those who have been redeemed by precious blood. There will be no denominations in heaven as all agree, so those who pray “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…” ought to practice what they pray and reject what God cannot bless. In His great prayer of John 17, our Lord prays specifically for the unity of His people, and twice in that prayer links effective outreach to the world with the oneness of the saints. Knowing this, the devil has probably put more time and energy into dividing God’s people than into any other strategy with the resulting thousands of “Christian denominations” and sects, not one of which is alluded to in the Bible.
4. NT churches allow full autonomy in church government
Autonomy is not independence! NT churches value both the right to full self government, and the blessings of fellowship with other Christians and Christian groups. Certainly those in leadership will use wisdom in the exercise of local church interrelatedness, because truth must not be sacrificed for either opportunity or enjoyment. When the Lord Jesus spoke about settling disputes in Matthew 18, once the matter was brought before the local church, there was no higher court of appeal. In addressing the seven churches in Revelation, each lampstand is seen to be standing on its own base answering directly to the Lord in the midst. Even given the severe problems of some of those churches, there is no suggestion that one church might disfellowship another.
5. NT churches promote the full expression of the priesthood of all believers
It is crucial that every child of God embrace the truth that he or she is a priest to God (Rev. 1:6) with direct access to God and absolutely no need for spiritual intermediaries beside the Lord Jesus Christ (I Tim. 2:5). Some religious groups provide specially ordained “priests” who by virtue of special training and titles seem to have a more intimate connection with the Lord. Other groups reject these terms but still promote the problem by providing a professional clergy to whom those in need may come. This point is sometimes dismissed as unimportant, but ask a child in the average denominational church this question: “Who is the head of your church?” and see what answer you get!
6. NT churches are most conducive to Christ centered worship
Many things found in religious services today are called worship, but they are not. Worship is the overflow of the heart of one who is occupied with the worth of the Lord Jesus. The church today is filled with well intentioned “worship leaders,” but they do not seem to consider that this is the role God gives to the Holy Spirit (John 4:24) alone. A simple circle of believers with bread and the cup on the table in the midst speak volumes about an unseen guest in the center as long as no man takes up that place to himself. But even a simple order of meeting would have no value if the priesthood of the believer was not functioning. Without a professional to fill the place of leadership, the Holy Spirit can move in different hearts according to His will and bring out the many different glories of the person and work of the Lord Who is in the midst of the church (Matt. 18:20).
7. NT churches can survive in hostile settings where denominational churches cannot
This point needs no demonstration for anyone who is familiar with the history of the Christian church, or to anyone who is aware of what is happening in countries like India and China today. Repressive governments quickly close down religious institutions and outlaw their societies and denominations. Those who are in such connections and survive, do so by laying aside the official parts of their heritage, and clinging to the Biblical parts i.e., the fellowship of saints, the simplicity of worship, and the recognition of individuals with a shepherd heart and work rather than those who may be professionals. By contrast, NT churches flourish even though persecuted, not because they are composed of better people, but because they have a better design. Spiritual principles that are not focused on matters of official membership roles, voting, organizing etc.are of little concern to repressive regimes.