1) Embracing the building – Regardless of the fact that the New Testament emphasizes a Church made “not by human hands” but composed of people (who are themselves the Temple of the Holy Spirit), many churches in America today get very distracted by the need for a building. In fact, most Christians couldn’t imagine the possibility of church without one.
2) Misrepresenting the tithe – Nearly everyone who finds out we lead a house church asks me if we at least make sure everyone tithes. When I say we don’t they usually begin to cock their heads to one side and look at me funny. However, the Biblical mandate for tithing is purely an Old Testament concept intended to maintain the Jewsish Temple system and support the Levitical Priesthood. The New Testament church neither taught it, nor practiced it. In fact, the Christian Church didn’t mandate a tithe until the 7th Century. Imagine, over 700 years with no tithe? How could that be? To begin with, offerings in the early, New Testament church were voluntary and freely given out of love. In fact, most gave more than a tithe, they sold everything they had and shared it with those around them who had need. Still, this offering wasn’t a law or a command of the Church, it was freely shared out of love. Tertullian, in his “Apology” (2nd Century) affirms that no offering was taken out of compulsion but says:
“Even if there is a treasury of a sort, it is not made up of money paid in initiation fees, as if religion were a matter of contract. Every man once a month brings some modest contribution- or whatever he wishes, and only if he does wish, and if he can; for nobody is compelled; it is a voluntary offering…to feed the poor and to bury them, for boys and girls who lack property and parents, and then for slaves grown old.”
Under Constantine, the clergy were paid for their services (for the first time in Church history), but that payment was provided by the Roman Government, not by the Christians themselves.
3) Ignoring the poor – There are over 2,000 verses of scripture in the Bible about God’s heart for the poor and His expectation that we, the people of God, should also love and bless their poor among us. The strongest verse, in my opinion, comes in Matthew 25 where Jesus tells us that, at the Judgment, He Himself will separate the sheep and the goats based on how much they cared for the poor and the outcast they encountered in their life. A few other verses include:
“There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.”
– Deut. 15:11
“All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.” (Paul being sent out as the first missionary by Peter, James and John in Galatians 2:10)
God is speaking of King Josiah and says: “He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?” (Jeremiah 22:16)
4) Over-emphasizing the role of the pastor – Contrary to popular opinion, and American culture, the pastor was not the head of the church in the New Testament. The word “Pastor” only appears once and none of the epistles to the churches are addressed to the pastors, they are addressed to the church; the people themselves.
In the New Testament Church, no one could point to a single man and say, “There is my Pastor” even as none of them could say, “There is my priest”. Why? Because everyone understood from Peter, Paul and the rest of the Apostles that THEY THEMSELVES were the Priesthood.
No Christian today would think it was Biblical to start offering lambs for sacrifice as part of Sunday morning worship, would they? Why not? Because Christ fulfilled that upon the cross and became the sacrificial lamb once and for all. Why then do we so easily embrace a priest and a temple? Didn’t Jesus offer the sacrifice as our High Priest? Didn’t Paul and Peter tell us that we were the Temple of the Holy Spirit?
Certainly, the temple and the priesthood and the sacrifice are all important to the worship of God, however in the New Testament Christian Church the people themselves are the temple, the priesthood and the daily sacrifice.
5) Yearning for political power – Nothing underscores the frustration of the American Church more than the current lust for political influence and power. Because “Plan A” has failed to create the result we desired, we have now reverted to “Plan B” which is to attempt to Christianize the society around us and to legislate our Christian values.
The New Testament Christians lived under an oppressive pagan government. They were killed for sport and persecuted horribly. Instead of attempting to reform their government, they obeyed Jesus and loved their oppressors. They did not take up the sword and fight back. They did not verbally abuse the pagans for their sinful lifestyle. They did not attempt to form a coalition or a lobby group to force legislation that aligned with their views. Instead, they simply loved the people around them, shared all that they had with others and, in time, they turned the world upside down by imitating Christ Jesus our Lord. We should do the same.
6) Business-minded ecclesiology – Nothing has gotten me in more trouble than this topic, but it is something I feel passionate about. The New Testament never refers to the Church as a business. That’s not my opinion, it’s just the plain fact of the matter. The Church is described as a Body, a Bride, a Family, a Spiritual House, and an Organism where Christ is the head.
7) Conversion-focus instead of disciple-making – So many Christian Churches today are focused on making converts with elaborate Easter dramas and Christmas Pageants and Outreach events that gather large crowds, ask for a show of hands from those who do not wish to burn in hell forever. Ask them to repeat a prayer and then count raised hands of those who repeated it.
One Church I visited recently did this exactly and cheered on Sunday morning that 500 people had surrendered their lives to Christ. This same church spent over $40,000 just to produce this event. Yet absolutely zero time, money, energy or thought was placed into making disciples of those 500 people.
For me, and I believe for those who follow Jesus, conversion isn’t the touchdown, it’s the whistle that starts the game. Jesus commanded us to go and preach the Gospel of the Kingdom and to make disciples and to teach them to obey all that He commanded. He didn’t tell us to go out and make converts and count hands.
My sincere prayer and hope is that every Christian Church in America would repent of these seven failures and return to a more Biblical, New Testament form of Christian life.
Many of these practices above involve repairing the veil that was torn at the crucifixion and returning to an Old Testament form of religious worship where an elected priesthood offers spiritual guidance within an elaborate temple on behalf of the common people.
This is why the church we read about in the New Testament bears little to no resemblance to the church on the street corner, or the one we attend.
Can we hope to return to a Christianity based on freedom? Can we hope for the day that every believer is a priest of God? Can we pray that followers of Jesus begin to embrace the idea that they are actually the temple of the Holy Spirit, and that they are the ambassadors of Christ to the world?
Yes, we can hope, and we can pray. And I do…