Discover What the Bible Teaches About Church
While considering a better New Testament approach to church, we talked about the three key perspectives that Jesus changed: meeting in homes, serving as priests, and helping those in need.
Then we looked at ten more New Testament practices: relying on the Holy Spirit, worship, prayer, fasting, community, eating together, caring for our people, valuing one another, helping others, and informal leadership.
Now we’ll look at five more tangible ideas of church and meeting together from the pages of the New Testament.
1. The Acts 2 Church
Just days after Pentecost, the people who follow Jesus are hanging out. This is the first church. What do they do?
Luke records their activities:
- They learn about Jesus. Think of this as a new believer’s class. Remember, they’re mostly all new to their faith in Jesus. This is teaching.
- They spend time with each other. This is fellowship.
- They share meals. This is community.
- They pray. This is connecting with God.
- They meet every day at the temple were people outside their group are. This is outreach.
- They also meet in homes. This is fellowship.
- They share all their possessions. This is generosity.
- They praise God. This is worship.
As a result, more people join them every day. This is what the early church does and how God blesses them (Acts 2:42–47).
What significant is what they don’t do. There’s no mention of weekly meetings, sermons, music, or offerings. If we’re serious about church in its purest form, the early church in Acts 2 gives us much to contemplate when we consider how our church should function today.
2. The Acts 4 Example
As the book of Acts unfolds with its historical narrative of the early church, Luke notes two more characteristics of that church: unity and sharing everything (Acts 4:32).
First, the church is of one heart and mind, just as Jesus prayed (John 17:21). Their actions are consistent with his prayer that they would be one then, just as we would be one today. Jesus prayed it, and the early church does it.
Unity describes what everyone of us should pursue and what every church should be. Jesus yearns for us to be united. Over the centuries Jesus’s followers in his church have done a poor job living in unity, as one.
Second, no one claims their possessions as their own. This isn’t a mine-versus-yours mentality. Everything is ours. They have a group perspective and act in the community’s best interest. They do it out of love for each other. They share everything they have. Not some, not half, but all.
This example is hard for many in our first-world churches to follow today, though not as much for congregations in developing countries. Regardless, while we might do well to hold our possessions loosely, this isn’t a command. Later Peter confirms that sharing resources is optional (Acts 5:4).
From Acts 4 we see an example of unity and generosity. This complete generosity, however, is a practice that happens at this snapshot of time for the early church. We will do well to consider how we can apply it today.
3. Paul’s Perspective
Now let’s look at a third passage. In it, Paul instructs the church in Corinth of how their meetings should proceed (1 Corinthians 14:26–31). While Paul writes to the Corinthian church, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t follow his directives as well today.
Paul opens by saying “each of you.” This means everyone should participate. The idea of all those present taking part suggests an egalitarian community gathering, where everyone contributes, and everyone ministers to each other.
This removes the divide between leader and follower, which happens in today’s church services. During a typical church service today a few people lead, while most people watch.
This means that only some are active during the service, while most sit as passive observers, as if going to a concert or attending a lecture.
Instead Paul wants everyone involved, where each person can minister to one another. He lists five activities that should take place.
Sing a Song
First, when we meet, we should sing a hymn or share a song. This could mean playing a musical instrument so that others can sing along. For those who can’t play an instrument or lead others in singing, a modern-day option might be to play a recording of a song.
Anyone can do that. Our singing could also mean—it probably means—launching into a song or chorus a cappella as the Holy Spirit leads.
Teach a Lesson
Second, the same approach applies for giving a word of instruction. We don’t need to preach a half-hour to an hour-long sermon. In this case less is more.
We can often communicate much by speaking little. Saying something concisely in thirty seconds may be more meaningful than droning on for thirty minutes. Again, no preparation required. Everyone who’s present can do this.
All we need is a willingness to share something God taught us or that we learned through studying Scripture. In addition, we can rely on the Holy Spirit to tell us what to share during our meeting. It can build off what someone else has already said, or it may be a new topic.
Share a Revelation
Third, the idea of having a revelation to share will seem normal to some and mystical to others. Think of a revelation as special knowledge that God has given to us. He can do this through what we read or things we see. And it can be through Holy Spirit insight.
Regardless of the source of our revelation, Paul wants us to share our insights with those gathered.
Speak in Tongues
The last two items on the list may, or may not, be a comfortable activity. Speaking in tongues is the first of these two items. The Bible talks about speaking in tongues, and Paul instructs the people in Corinth how to do it. It’s biblical, and we should consider this for our church community.
But it may be optional, because Paul later says, if anyone speaks in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:27). This implies speaking in tongues is not a requirement. But he does give guidelines for when people do speak in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:27–30). We will do well to follow Paul’s words.
Interpret the Tongue
Fifth, after someone speaks in an unknown language, someone must interpret it. Implicitly, if no one can interpret the message, then the person shouldn’t share it (1 Corinthians 14:28). After all, how can words that no one understands build up the church? (1 Corinthians 14:8-9).
The Holy Spirit’s Role
These five items require no preparation, just a willingness to notice the direction of God’s Spirit. This means listening to the Holy Spirit and responding as he directs. Implicit in this, we will encounter times of silence as we wait and listen. Silence unnerves some people today. But listening to and obeying the Holy Spirit is central to the gatherings of the early church.
Paul says everything we do at our meetings must be for the purpose of building up the church, to strengthen the faith and community of those present. This means not doing or saying anything to elevate ourselves or draw attention to our abilities.
Instead we should humble ourselves and do things for the common good of Jesus’s church. This will best advance the kingdom of God and the good news of Jesus.
4. Don’t Forget Meeting Together
Note that Paul’s instructions to the Corinthian church, says when you come together, not if you come together. This reminds us that gathering with other followers of Jesus should be a regular occurrence, not optional (1 Corinthians 14:26).
The book of Hebrews confirms this idea of regular interaction when it warns to not give up meeting together. We do this to encourage others to better love and help each other (Hebrews 10:24–25).
This idea of coming together, of meeting with others, can occur on Sunday morning, or it can happen at any other day or time. The Bible doesn’t tell us when to meet. Gathering Sunday morning is merely a practice that developed over time.
Though many people interpret this instruction to not give up meeting together as a command to attend church, it isn’t. Not really. While meeting together can include going to church on Sunday, it should encompass much more.
It’s a call for intentional interaction with other followers of Jesus. Jesus says anywhere two or three people gather in his name—that is, they get together and place their focus on him—he will join them (Matthew 18:20).
Here are some ideas of how and where we can meet in Jesus’s name.
Most people enjoy meals with others, and most Christians pray before they eat. Isn’t this gathering in Jesus’s name? While we may eat some meals alone, we potentially have three times each day to connect with others and include Jesus when we eat. But do we make the most of these opportunities?
People often meet at coffee shops to hang out. If we include God in our meeting, either explicitly or implicitly, we assemble in his name.
Do you invite people into your home or see others in theirs? If we both love Jesus, doesn’t this become a get together which includes him? It should.
What about going on a picnic, to the game, the gym, or shopping? With intentionality, each of these can be another opportunity to meet with others in his name.
Many churches provide opportunities for attendees to form intentional gatherings with a small number of people. This facilitates connection and draws us to God. But this doesn’t need to be the result of a formal small group program in our church.
We can make our own small group whenever we wish, meeting in the name of Jesus.
Yes, church is on this list of places where we can gather in the name of Jesus. I list it last because it might be the least important. This is because when we go to church, we usually do it wrong. Consider the rest of the verse to find out why.
People tend to skip that part. The reason we are to meet is so that we may encourage one another. The Bible says so, but how often do we do this at our church meetings?
If we leave church discouraged or fail to encourage others while we’re there, then we’ve missed the point of meeting together. While some people make a big deal out of going to church, they’re quick to miss that the reason is to provide encouragement. If we’re not doing that, then we might as well stay home.
5. What Jesus Says
Let’s return our discussion to Jesus.
Recall that after Jesus rises from the dead, he tells his followers to stay in Jerusalem, waiting for a surprise Father God has planned for them: the gift of the Holy Spirit to come upon them and give them supernatural power (Acts 1:4–5).
They wait in Jerusalem as instructed, and they receive the gift of Holy Spirit power as promised. But after all that, they remain in Jerusalem. Instead they’re supposed to spread out and share Jesus’s good news around the world. He told them to do that too (Matthew 28:19–20). But they don’t. They stay put.
They don’t realize that God’s instructions to wait in Jerusalem doesn’t mean they’re supposed to stay there forever. Sometimes what God tells us to do is only for a season.
Then there’s something else for us to do. But if we don’t make that transition, we end up being in the wrong place, doing the wrong thing. Instead of staying in Jerusalem—something they’re used to and comfortable with—their mission is to go into the world and make disciples (Matthew 28:19–20).
How well are we doing at going into the world and making disciples today? Are we staying put in our church—what we’re used to doing and where we’re comfortable—or are we looking outside of our church to do what Jesus said to do?
I suspect you know the answer.
Today’s church falls short of being witnesses and making disciples. To do so requires an outward perspective, yet most all churches have an inward focus. They care for their own to the peril of others. Many churches ignore outsiders completely, sometimes even shunning them.
Yes, God values community and wants us to meet (Hebrews 10:25). And the Bible is packed with commands and examples of worshiping God.
Most churches do the meeting together part, albeit with varying degrees of success. Many of those churches have a time of worship as they meet, though perhaps not always “in the Spirit” or “in truth” as Jesus said to do (John 4:23–24).
Yet few churches look outside their walls to go into their community—let alone the world—to witness and make disciples. Though Jesus said to wait for the Holy Spirit, he didn’t say to wait for people to come to us, to enter our churches so we could witness and disciple them.
No, we’re supposed to leave our Sunday sanctuary to take this Jesus-mandated work to them. We can’t do that in a church building on Sunday morning, safely snug behind closed doors.
If we want to make disciples, we need to go out and find them. This brings us to the second part.
Go into the World
There is a time to come together and a time to worship, but there is also a time to go. And we need to give more attention to the going part.
I know of two churches that sent their congregations out into their community on Sunday mornings, foregoing the church service so they can be a church that serves. One church did it a few times and stopped after they saw little results and received much grumbling.
The other church regularly plans this a few times each year and receives a positive reception from their community.
These were both service initiatives, not outright evangelism. But the best—and easiest—way to talk to people about Jesus is to first serve them in his name.
Every church should make a positive impact on their community. They do this best by entering it. Yet so few do. They’re too focused on meeting together and worshiping instead of going out into the world to make disciples.We will do well to reform our church practices to conform to these five biblical concepts. Click To Tweet
We will do well to reform our church practices to conform to these five biblical concepts.
- Follow the early church’s example to learn about Jesus, pursue fellowship and community, pray and worship, meet daily in public and in homes, and practice kindness.
- Pursue unity and generosity.
- Be ready to rely on the Holy Spirit to sing, teach, share a revelation, speak in tongues, and interpret a tongue.
- Refresh our idea of what meeting together means.
- Balance our inward efforts on church meetings and worship with an outward focus on going into the world to make disciples.
Pick one change to make and then pursue it.
Read more about this in Peter’s new book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.
Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.