The New Testament Church
Peter Eggleton believes that today's disciples of Christ need to restore the patterns of 'gathering together' adopted by the early church and set out for us in the pages of God's Word.
by Peter Eggleton
The restoration of the New Testament Church would be guaranteed by following the simple principles and practices of the Early Church as recorded in the New Testament. The first Christians met together, mainly in houses, to exercise the spiritual gifts described in 1 Cor. Ch. 12 and to have a meal together to remember their Lord (Acts 2:46).
Servants not 'Leaders'
If you walked into a meeting in early church times you would be hard pressed to find who the leaders were. The leaders were actually the servants of the Church. They were the ones who enabled the others to function. It is no accident that most of the epistles were addressed to the Church as a whole and not to so called leaders. All decisions in the Church were made by the Church as a whole and not by a few men calling themselves leaders. The servant/leaders had no title as Jesus had forbidden them to have one (Matt. 23:1-12).
The apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, (note: not The Pastor ), and teachers, were simply there to make sure that every believer was fulfilling their ministry (Eph. 4 :11-12) not to do their ministry for them! Under the new covenant the Bible states that all believers are priests, 1 Peter 2 vs 5,9. Revelation 1:4-6. 1 Peter 5 :1-4 describes how leaders are to behave and Jesus sets an example for us all in John 13:1-15. Elsewhere Luke 9:46-48 and Luke 22:24-27 describe how we can be great in the Kingdom of God!
Biblical models abandoned
Over the centuries these Biblical principles were abandoned and a system was introduced whereby leaders in the Church became known as the clergy and the rest were called the laity. The same meaning applies to Pastor and flock, Minister and congregation, Leading Elder and believers etc. The title may change but the same principle remains - the leaders are active the rest of the church are passive. The faithful roll up for services or meetings to hear a message or sermon, sing hymns, say prayers. Some may even be privileged to take part in some way, or to take turns with the ministry.
All this is a far cry from what happened in the New Testament Church as recorded in the Bible. In 1 Corinthians Ch.12 the church is described as a body with every member having a function. Each function is of equal importance, in fact Paul states that those who seem to be weaker members are indispensable (1 Cor 12:22). God has given greater honour to those who lack honour so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other, (1 Cor 12:24-25).
In order to have a strong Church everyone must take part (1 Cor. 14:26). When every part of a human body is functioning much can be accomplished. How much more could be accomplished if every member of the church were to use the gift God has given them! Satan would be defeated in no time! The Church would be restored immediately! Miracles, as in the early Church would be normal! There would be no lack anywhere! Instead of spending millions on the upkeep of buildings money could be channelled towards people!
A plea from the heart
I appeal to those who are now calling themselves Pastor, Reverend, Father, Minister, Leading Elder or some other title, LET GODS' PEOPLE GO! Remember you will have to answer to your Lord for holding Gods' people back. You may not have been aware that you have been holding the Church back, but now it should be abundantly clear.
These views are not new and have been held to some degree by George Fox and the first Quakers, John Wesley and the first Methodists, the Plymouth Brethren and more recently Watchman Nee, the Pentecostal Movement and the House Church Movement. None of these however have expressed the full function of 1 Corinthians ch. 12 and in these last days the Lord is returning for a Church without spot or wrinkle; every member fully functioning.
I can honestly say that over the 40 years of stating these things nobody has disagreed with me. If they had disagreed they would have had to disagree with the Bible. I have heard many excuses. Amongst them, "things are different nowadays"; or "it's impossible"; and "there is no perfect church".
Godly Love is the 'oil' and the 'glue'
It is no accident that 1 Cor. ch. 13, the great love chapter, follows on from the great body-ministry in Ch. 12. These things can only work by 'being devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honouring one another above yourselves' (Rom.12:10). 'Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love' (Eph. 4:2). 'From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work' (Eph. 4:16).
Something else that was introduced along with the pastoral system was the dedication of buildings to God. These became known as churches. The Bible clearly states that Christians are God's dwelling place (Eph. 2:22). They are God's building, the temple of God's Spirit (1 Cor.3:9;16). Paul preaching at Athens states that God does not dwell in temples built by hands (Acts 17:24).
Today we still accept the Devil's lie, we even use his terminology. We talk about 'going to church' and 'at church we did this or that'. Satan will do anything to make us think it all happens in a building and probably only on a Sunday! Jesus was clear as to where we should worship (John 4:1-24). The first Christians met together mainly in houses (Rom. 16:5; 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15, Phil. 1:2. The apostles taught from house to house and used larger houses and places when necessary (Acts 20:7-9; Acts 5:42).
Family in a family setting
In the house meetings they would share their spiritual gifts and perhaps have a love meal together (Jude 1:12), hold a prayer meeting (Acts 12:12), or break bread together (Acts 2:46). The house is a place for family. Are not Christians God's family? Something else that has changed from New Testament times is the introduction of denominations. Denominations, or as they are called in the Bible, factions, are listed amongst the most foul sins of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21).
Jesus prayed that His followers might be one (John 17:20-23). The Apostles recognised only ONE Church in ONE place. Paul did not address letters to the Churches in Corinth or the Churches in Ephesus. He did however write to the Churches in Galatia because that was a region composed of different places. In fact Paul wrote a very strong letter to the Corinthians because divisions were beginning to form (1 Cor.1:10-17). He asked them the question, 'Is Christ divided'? We have mentioned already that the Bible describes the Church as Christ's body (1 Cor.12:12-31). See also Rom 12:4-5; 1 Cor. 10:17; Eph 1:22,23; Eph 3:6; Eph 4:25; Eph 5:30; Col. 1:18,24; Col. 3:15).
Christ cannot be divided
Satan will do anything to try to destroy the unity of the body. However he can only do this outwardly as Christ cannot be divided even as our own bodies cannot. We cannot bring denominations together to create unity without recognising that this unity already exists. If we attempt to do so we only create a large organisation when Christ's body is in fact an organism.
Christ's body is NOT divided and never can be! This is the only basis on which we can meet together as a Church; recognising we are His body. The way in which we treat our brothers and sisters is the way in which we treat Christ.
Whole body ministry
I recognise that in the present denominational set up there are good people with leadership and teaching gifts. In fact many of them have helped me greatly in my walk with the Lord. I appeal to such people to bring God's people to a recognition of their oneness in Christ and to encourage, enable, and release them to fulfil the ministry the Lord has gifted them for. After all, one person, or even a few people, cannot take the stresses and strains of leadership and ministry even as one part of the human body cannot do the work of the other parts.
Jesus burden is light and His yoke is easy! There have been many books written on the New Testament, House or Simple Church and I have read most of them. Also there are many websites on the same subject and over the past 40 years I have seen house church movements come and go.
These are the conclusions I have come to:
Most house churches are simply copies of the traditional denominations with traditional leadership, traditional ministry and traditional function. I ask myself what is the point of leaving a so called church to start a copy of the one you have just left? Christ is certainly not the head/leader of this type!
Most house churches are formed by people who have been upset by the Christians in a traditional church and are resentful and have decided to do their own thing. Again this is the wrong reason for starting a house church as the Bible is clear that we shouldn't fall out with our fellow Christians. The New Testament Church had only one church in one place and ALL were members of the same church so how can you leave the church when you are still part of it? However there is a way to start a house church and still recognise the whole church.
Most house churches have been started by Christians who have their OWN ideas as to how a church should be run and completely ignore how churches functioned in the New Testament. All churches in the New Testament were started by apostles (travelling workers). In God's economy there are very good reasons for this. For many reasons New Testament house churches have to be started by somebody independent from the house church otherwise they cannot function properly.
Above all there should be freedom to speak and function even if you make mistakes. Remember our Lord put up with Judas even though He knew he was from Satan. Paul rebuked the Galatians for going into bondage but the Corinthians who were worse in their actions he let off.
There are an increasing number of committed Christian believers meeting in small-group/house-church format in the Inverness and surrounding area (and probably many more beyond). If you would like more information or 'sign-posting' please be in touch by e-mail.
Peter Eggleton is a Yorkshire youngster aged 70. He became a believer at the age of 12 after his single-parent mother with four children and very little money sent him and his siblings to a town mission. In his late teens he was part of a revival through the ministry of Duncan Cambell (of the Faith Mission/Lewis Revival). This work of God had a great influence on his Christian life and it has stayed with him through to the present day.
Following a career as a teacher, university lecturer and external examiner he retired 20 years ago because of chronic illness (M.E.). Of his Christian life's journey he has written:
"In my early twenties I was introduced to books by Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life, The Normal Christian Church etc. Previous to this I had been in denominations such as, The Methodists (my late brother became a Methodist minister), Independent Churches, The Brethren, Pentecostal and Baptist. I realise now I was searching for that spiritual freedom and move I had seen in the Duncan Campbell revival.
The Watchman Nee books spoke of a Church which was far removed from what I had seen. I would say his vision was so radical that it was scriptural! Since then I have read nearly every book about New Testament Churches, House Churches, Home Churches, Simple Churches as well as visited every website on the subject. I searched for such a church and found many that were similar but I still wasn't satisfied. I started churches on similar lines in various places but they all seemed to fail for one reason or another."
Having gone through these experiences and reached his present age he feels that he would like to share the picture which he believes God has given him "with as many people as will listen including pastors, people on websites and others who are interested".