Visiting Churches

The Next Steps

Another exploration of visiting churches has wrapped up, producing memories and insights. These can serve to move us forward in our spiritual journey, better prepared to worship God, serve others, and experience community. Where do we go from here? What are the next steps?

Consider these three discussion questions about the next steps.

1. Church means different things to different people, with our understanding of it evolving over time. The same applies to faith. Review your answers in this workbook.

How has your view of church grown? What changes should we make in how we put our faith into action?

2. I hope the questions in this book have spurred a lot of great ideas. But without action, great ideas amount to nothing.

What are the top three things we want to start doing differently?

3. When visiting churches, one person often made the difference between us feeling accepted and rejected.

In addition to changes we want to make in our own interactions with visitors, how can we encourage others to follow our example?

[Read about How to Go to Church or start at the beginning of our journey.]

Get your copy of More Than 52 Churches today, available in e-book, 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.

Bible Insights

How Do We React to the Glory of the Lord?

We Should Fall on Our Faces in the Presence of God’s Glory

A man brings Ezekiel to the temple. The glory of the Lord fills the place. Overwhelmed, Ezekiel falls facedown, worshiping the Almighty.

How often do we encounter the glory of the Lord? How often do we fall facedown in reverent worship of our all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-present creator? Not often enough, I fear.

Though some people may encounter the glory of the Lord at church on Sunday, it’s been sadly lacking from my church experiences. And I’ve visited a lot of churches: 52 Churches, More Than 52 Churches, and counting.

Yes, I’ve experienced this awe-inspiring spiritual reality at times, but it’s never happened at a Sunday service. Why?

Most of today’s scripted and timed church services leave no room for the glory of the Lord to reveal itself. We have a schedule to keep. We have expectations to leave on time so we can have time for what happens next.

Too often church attendance is something we squeeze into an already packed day. We check it off our list and go on to the next thing. In doing so, we miss the glory of the Lord. In doing so, we miss the opportunity to fall on our face in holy reverent worship.

Experience the Presence of the Glory of the Lord

Seldom have I encountered the presence of the glory of the Lord at a church service. Yet I can’t say never. I do remember one time. It was an unusual service in an atypical setting. Hardly anyone showed up.

The minister launched into her prepared message, but a few minutes later the Holy Spirit sent her in a different direction. She talked for near on an hour about a different topic—one she hadn’t expected to give, but was fully prepared to do so—engaging us in the process and teaching us what God wanted us to hear.

Thank you, Papa.

She wrapped up her message, gave the benediction, and we stood. I expected the service was over and prepared to leave. Not so fast. “Do you want to stay and worship God?” Most certainly.

Moving to a different space, we sang two songs, lasting forty-five minutes. The glory of the Lord filled the place. We basked in his presence. Overwhelmed by this supernatural encounter with Almighty God, my only response was to drop to my knees and bow down in worship of him.

It’s a church experience I will never forget.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Ezekiel 43-45, and today’s post is on Ezekiel 44:4.

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.

Christian Living

What Are Your Sunday Practices?

Keep the Sabbath Holy and Don’t Do Any Work

In my post God Rested, I talked about the Old Testament command to keep the Sabbath holy and not do any work (Exodus 20:8-11). Yet Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament law, so it doesn’t apply anymore (Matthew 5:17).

However, God rested on the seventh day of creation and declared it holy (Genesis 2:2-3). So, what should our Sunday practices be?

Our Conscience and Our Freedom

My parents taught me not to work on Sunday. It’s a Sunday practice that has stayed with me. Even though I no longer believe I must adhere to it with legalistic zeal, I still mostly do.

I let my conscience guide me. Like Paul, I want to keep my conscience clear (Acts 23:1). And later, in Paul’s teaching about food sacrificed to idols, we get a principle about following our consciences (1 Corinthians 8:1-13). That is what I do.

Yet, I don’t judge anyone whose conscience gives them a different path to follow for their Sunday practices (1 Corinthians 10:29). After all, Jesus gives us freedom (Galatians 5:1).

My key guide in my Sunday practices comes from Jesus. He said the Sabbath—which most people now apply to Sunday—was made for us, not the other way around (Mark 2:27).

Sunday Examples to Consider

For my Sunday practices, which I share only for consideration, I treat it as a set apart day. A holy day, if you will. I want it to be different than the other six days of the week. It’s a special day, that I get to experience once a week.

On this set-apart-day, I go to church with family, enjoy time with them afterward, and do things that give me joy. I don’t do any regular work, but I do pursue activities that relax me. These activities give me a Sabbath rest.

I might watch a limited amount of TV, take a short nap, go for a walk, listen to a podcast, or work on a crossword puzzle. I also look for a project to do, that although it may look like work, will fill me with joy and provide a sense of accomplishment, fulfilling a personal need I have.

I especially relish when I can immerse myself in God’s creation and worship him through nature. This is often when we connect at the deepest level.

A friend enjoys a Sunday afternoon of weeding in her garden; it is a holy time that draws her to God. A pastor likes to go fishing after Sunday dinner; it gives him rest and helps prepare him for the week ahead. Though neither of these Sunday practices would work for me, I’m happy it does for them.

Pursue a Sunday Practice

It’s worthwhile for us to consider our creator’s blessing on the seventh day to make it holy, along with his example of rest. Yet it is up to us to figure out the best way to do it as we develop our own Sunday practices.

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.

Visiting Churches

Anglican Catholic: Discussion Questions for Church #74

Another church is Anglican Catholic. They’re also on my mental list of churches to visit. I know nothing about them or their faith practices. I expect their service to be much like Roman Catholic, but I’m not sure. 

Consider these three discussion questions about Church 74.

1. I’m curious and intrigued. I’m sure I can gather much to contemplate about our common faith and our varied worship practices.

What steps can we take to expand our understanding of worshiping God and embrace the faith journey of others? 

2. Unlike other streams of Christianity and other Protestant denominations, I’ve never met anyone who was Anglican Catholic—at least not that I’m aware of.

What do our friends know about our faith and which church we go to?

3. Lacking information about their practices, this Anglican Catholic church emerges for me with a mystical aura, but I doubt that’s accurate.

What uninformed assumptions might we hold about others that we should seek to verify or correct?

[Read about Church 74 or start at the beginning of our journey.]

If you feel it’s time to move from the sidelines and get into the game, The More Than 52 Churches Workbook provides the plan to get you there.

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.

Christian Living

10 More New Testament Practices, Part 1

Consider the Example of the Early Church and Then Follow It

We’ve already talked about the three main ways Jesus changed our perspectives for following him when he fulfilled the Old Testament prophets. The early church applied this by meeting in homes, serving as priests, and helping those in need.

As Jesus’s priests they minister to those in the church, tell others about Jesus, and worship him.

That’s a great foundation for how our church today should function, but there’s more. Consider these New Testament practices that we will do well to follow today.

1. Holy Spirit Power and Direction

The Old Testament focuses on God the Father and looks forward to the coming Messiah, Jesus. In the New Testament, Jesus shows up as a central figure in the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).

Then the Holy Spirit takes over for the rest of the New Testament, amplifying what Jesus set in motion.

Even so, Jesus is the central figure of the Bible—with God the Father pointing to him and God the Holy Spirit building on what he accomplished. Aside from being the key figure in the Bible, many say Jesus is the most important person in all of history. I agree.

Jesus does all his work on earth in about three years. He spends that time teaching his disciples and preparing them to take over when he returns to heaven.

Despite this, however, they aren’t fully ready to assume their critical role when he is ready to leave Earth. Instead, Jesus tells them to wait, wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Holy Spirit power is the missing element they need before they move forward and advance the kingdom of God. In this, the Holy Spirit plays a leading role. He’s prominent in the book of Acts, guiding the early church and empowering its members.

The book of Acts mentions the Holy Spirit fifty-five times, with close to a hundred references. It’s clear that the Holy Spirit acts in Jesus’s place to lead his church.

In one instance, Jesus’s followers debate a theological issue about circumcision for new converts. After they reach a consensus, they write that “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15:28).

Listing the Holy Spirit first suggests he took a lead role and the people aligned with his perspective. I wonder how often we do just the opposite, where we decide and then try to manufacture Holy Spirit support.

Another time, as the church worships and fasts, the Holy Spirit tells them to send out Barnabas and Saul on a missionary journey (Acts 13:2). The Holy Spirit also speaks to Philip (Acts 8:29), Peter (Acts 10:19), Agabus (Acts 11:28), and Paul (Acts 20:22).

But the Holy Spirit isn’t just in the book of Acts. He appears in nearly every book of the New Testament, including Revelation.

For Jesus’s church, the Holy Spirit is in charge. He leads their meetings and directs all that they do. This is the first of our New Testament practices to follow.

2. Worship

We’ve already talked a lot about worship. The appropriate worship of God is a central tenet of our faith. The Old Testament mentions worship in 179 verses. The New Testament continues this theme with seventy-five more.

Many come from the Gospels as well as Acts. The book of Revelation mentions worship more than any New Testament book and comes in second overall, just behind Deuteronomy.

This makes it clear that worshiping God is in our history, our present, and our eternal future. Worship is the second of our New Testament practices,

In the most profound verse about worship, John reminds us that God is spirit. Therefore, those who worship him must worship him in the Spirit and in truth (John 4:24).

But what exactly is this verse telling us? There are two elements: Spirit and truth.

First, we have the Spirit, with a capital S. This means Holy Spirit. To fully worship, we must worship through the Holy Spirit. He will direct our worship and guide us. We must follow his lead and do what he says.

Though we often think of our worship as a physical act, there must also be a spiritual element to it. And the spiritual aspect is the more important one.

Second, we must worship God in truth. This means our worship must be honest, pure. To worship God in truth suggests integrity.

This means that we don’t make a show of our worship to impress others or gain their attention. That makes for disingenuous worship and doesn’t honor God. It doesn’t matter what others think of our worship, it only matters what God thinks.

The opposite of not making our worship a display for other people is holding back our worship for fear of what others may think or say. We must feel free to worship God as the Holy Spirit leads us.

This is how we worship God in Spirit and truth.

3. Prayer

In addition to worship occurring throughout the Bible, we also have prayer. Half of the books in the Old Testament talk about prayer, and most of the books in the New Testament address the subject. Prayer is the third of our New Testament practices.

James writes that the prayers from a righteous person are powerful and effective (James 5:16). Paul tells us to pray in all situations (Ephesians 6:18) and confirms that everyone should pray (1 Timothy 2:1).

The book of Revelation gives us some insight into our prayers. Three times John connects prayers with incense, which God receives from his people. First, we see golden bowls of incense which represent our prayers (Revelation 5:8).

Then we have an angel who offers the incense and our prayers before God’s throne (Revelation 8:3). And last, we see the smoke of the incense mingling with our prayers, rising to God (Revelation 8:4).

Whether we use incense or not in our spiritual practices, these passages in Revelation gives us a powerful image of how God receives the prayers of his people.

When it comes to praying, however, many people think of the Lord’s Prayer. Though a better label might be the Disciple’s Prayer. This is because Jesus gives the prayer to his disciples as an example of how the pray. It is their prayer, not his.

The Lord’s Prayer—sometimes called the Our Father, after its opening line—occurs twice in the Bible. People are familiar with Matthew’s version, with many having memorized it and with some churches reciting it as part of their worship practices (Matthew 6:19-13).

The version in Luke is far less familiar. It’s shorter and more concise (Luke 11:1-4).

Neither of these prayers are for us to memorize or recite as much as a model to follow. Here’s an interpretation of how we can apply it to inform our prayers.

  • We open the prayer by reverencing God.
  • Then we ask that his kingdom will come—implicitly with us helping to advance it—and that we will accomplish God’s will here on earth.
  • In the one personal, tangible request, we ask for our daily bread. That is, we ask God to provide for us each day what we need to live. It may be food or something else that’s essential.
  • Then we pray that God will forgive us, just as we forgive others. And if we withhold our forgiveness this implicitly allows God to withhold it from us. Hopefully neither will happen.
  • We end with a request that God will steer us away from temptation and give us victory over Satan’s attacks.
  • And some versions of the Bible tack on one more phrase. In this we celebrate his kingdom, his power, and his eternal glory.

But this is just one example of how the pray. The key is that prayer is an essential part of our faith journey and another of our New Testament practices.

4. Fasting

Another concept that occurs throughout the Bible is fasting. To fast is to go without food for a time. This isn’t an act of mortification to abase ourselves before God or try to gain his attention.

Instead it’s to focus our thoughts on God, seeking to better connect with him and align our thinking with his. When fasting, one recommendation is to take the time normally spent eating and use it to pray and listen to the Holy Spirit.

There are two key teachings in the Bible about fasting.

When Jesus instructs the people in his epic message that we call the Sermon on the Mount, he talks about this practice. He says “When you fast . . .” Not “If you fast . . . ” (Matthew 6:16-17).

From Jesus’s perspective, fasting is not an optional activity but an expectation.

Second, Jesus fasted (Matthew 4:2). He serves as an example to us all. Since he fasted, is there any reason why we shouldn’t?

Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t require that his disciples fast, but this is a short-term reprieve because he is with them. He adds that once he leaves, it’s time to resume fasting (Luke 5:33-35). Since he has returned to heaven and is no longer here on earth, it’s again a time for us to fast.

Fasting is the fourth of our New Testament practices. Jesus wants us to fast, and so we should.

5. Community

The early church also spends a lot of time with each other. This isn’t a once-a-week meeting for an hour or two. It may be an everyday occurrence (Acts 2:46, Acts 6:1, and Hebrews 3:13).

They don’t live their faith in isolation. They need each other. They thrive on community.

Just as the godhead of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit function as one, so too do Jesus’s followers (John 17:20-21, 2 Corinthians 13:14, and 1 John 1:3). Through mutual support they edify one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

This is how they grow in faith, with iron sharpening iron (Proverbs 27:17). It’s two—or more—people traveling down the road together, keeping each other on the right path and headed in the right direction. It’s picking up another when they stumble (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).

Living in community is the fifth of our New Testament practices. It is central to who they are and what they do. Without the encouragement and support of each other, they’ll certainly falter in their faith. Together they are better.

Together they can remain focused on Jesus and all he calls them to become. Community is key in making this happen. Think of this as true biblical fellowship (Acts 2:42 and 1 John 1:3-7).

What do they do when they hang out? They spend time in prayer (Acts 1:14, Ephesians 6:18, Colossians 4:2, and James 5:16). They worship (Acts 13:2 and Romans 12:1). They also sing (Ephesians 5:18-20, Colossians 3:16, and James 5:13).

The more established disciples of Jesus teach the newer followers about the basics of faith. Think of this as a new members class (Acts 2:42). And we’ve already covered how they share their material blessings with each other and listen to the Holy Spirit’s prompting.

Come back next week to learn five more things the early church did, five more New Testament practices.

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.

Visiting Churches

Urban on a Mission: Church #68

Candy and I live in a homogenous area of mostly white, middle-class families residing in a suburban setting, sitting on the edge of rural. Our community has minimal diversity and our area churches, even less.

Most of my life I’ve lived in settings with people like me. Our current home is like our others. The neighborhood, both comfortable and stable, stands as a safe place sheltered from the world around it.

We chose this general location to be near family and this setting for its amenities and ambiance. We didn’t intentionally set out to segregate ourselves. It just happened. However, we weren’t deliberate about seeking a more diverse environment, either.

Even though we couldn’t have achieved this goal along with our other objectives, it still pains me. What hurts me more is to know that if we visit an area church, it will be a mostly white experience. 

A Nearby Urban Church

When a friend mentions an urban church in a nearby city, I’m excited. I can’t experience much diversity where I live without moving, but I can experience it through my church selection.

Based on this church’s location and its desire to serve the inner city, I anticipate meeting people of other races and expect a service style relevant to its neighborhood.

It takes some effort, but I eventually find their website. They’re an evangelical community of Christians committed to “intentional discipleship.”

I have no idea why they put intentional discipleship in quotes, but it calls attention to the phrase, though in a curious way. The phrase appears multiple times on their home page. It must be important.

I also know to expect “verse-by-verse Bible teaching.” Next I learn they’re “a multi-racial and multi-socio-economic relational community,” a “true urban church,” where “the homeless worship side-by-side and support one another in Christ.” 

Their website also talks about community outreach, including serving at the community kitchen, inner city street events, and downtown student fellowship—the campus of a Christian college is only a couple of blocks away.

Surely their urban setting allows for these things to happen. I’m excited for what we’ll encounter when we visit. 

What About Parking?

I tell Candy it’s a thirty-minute drive and she accepts this, even though online resources put it at twenty-four. We add a ten-minute buffer and plan to leave forty minutes early, but I doubt we will. I wonder about parking.

In truth, I worry about parking. I know there’s limited street parking in the area, and I have no clue about parking lots in the vicinity. The church’s website doesn’t help, giving only a street number.

As we head out, thirty minutes early, we pray for God’s blessing during our time at this church, that we will be an encouragement to those we meet, and God will show us what he wants us to learn.

Silently, I add my request that we’ll find a place to park, one that is both close and safe.

After my prayer, I breathe a bit easier and my shoulders relax—just a little. Whatever happens will happen, and worrying about it won’t change a thing.

We once attended an urban church. Ironically, back then it was Candy who had concerns about safety when walking from our parked car to the church and then back again.

This church meets in an old warehouse, which they just started using. I like the idea of churches meeting in reclaimed spaces, as opposed to going to the expense of constructing a huge church building that they’ll only use a few hours a week.

For them to meet in a downtown area, using existing space is their only option.

I navigate the one-way streets, needing to overshoot our destination and approach it from the other side.

As we get closer, my pulse quickens with apprehension about the parking situation and for the unknown that awaits us inside. With one block to go, I wipe my sweaty hands on my jeans. My heart pounds. I strive to keep my fears to myself.

Ahead, I spot a sign for the church on the sidewalk, with a few people mingling around the entrance. To my left is a city parking lot. I thank God and pull in.

There are empty spots awaiting us and, as a bonus, we don’t need to pay because it’s the weekend. I worried for nothing, but then, most of the things we worry about never happen anyway. Still, I give credit to Papa for answered prayer and a place to park.

Anticipating a Potluck

The surrounding area is nice. It’s well-kept and clean. We feel safe. As we walk from the parking lot to the building, another family approaches from the opposite direction and others walk from across the street. Both groups wear smiles and carry crockpots. I groan. 

“Looks like there’s a potluck,” I whisper to Candy. A time around a shared meal is a great way to connect with others and build community, but I regret coming emptyhanded.

Once more on our adventure of visiting churches, we’ll be freeloaders. They’ll surely welcome us generously and invite us to stay, insisting there will be plenty of food. Nonetheless, I’ll feel a tad guilty for receiving what they’ll share, offering nothing in return.

I also know that instead of a two-hour church meeting, we’ll have a three-hour church community experience.

Since we have no other plans for this afternoon, this isn’t a problem, but I do need to mentally adjust my thinking for how long we will be here. I don’t do well with handling the unexpected, but God graciously enables me to accept this twist as an adventure. 

Navigating the Facility

Two people welcome us before we enter the building of this urban church and more folks greet us inside. They share two important pieces of information.

The first is the location of the sanctuary and the other is directions to the restrooms, which are on another floor and not close by. Good to know. 

The worship space is a large banquet hall, reclaimed from what was once a warehouse. Along one side of the rectangular space sits a slightly-raised stage, the focal point of the service, with musical instruments and gear for the worship team.

In front of it is a communion table, an altar of sorts. On the opposite wall, a row of tables lines the other side, already filling with the food we’ll enjoy in a couple of hours. In the space between stand fifteen round tables, with seven chairs each. That calculates to 105 seats.

So that we won’t need to contort our necks or pivot our chairs to participate in the service, I look for a table that has open seats facing the front. Few people are sitting, but others have claimed most of the forward-facing chairs, marked with Bibles, purses, and coffee mugs.

At the far end of the room, I spot one open table and scoot toward it, grabbing the two forward-facing spots. As we settle down, another couple joins us, and we spend time getting to know each other.

The Worship Team

They’re friendly, and we make a quick connection. Then the wife of this couple excuses herself to join the worship team as it assembles in the front.

Six people lead us in singing. The lead vocalist also plays keyboard. Our new friend plays violin. Joining them are a bass guitar player and a drummer, along with two backup vocalists.

For the next forty-five minutes we sing, mostly modern choruses and one updated hymn. 

We stand as we sing. Some of the seventy or so people present raise their hands in praise as they sing to God, while a few gently move their bodies in a subtle form of physical worship.

With plenty of space, I can freely raise my arms without bumping into people—a common occurrence given the tight seating at most churches.

The crowd is mostly older, fifty plus if I’m being generous, but over sixty is more likely. There are few kids, one set with their grandparents and another set who we later find out are visiting. The crowd is white and not the amalgamation of races I had anticipated. 

I don’t spot anyone who looks—or smells—homeless. Having been part of an urban church for eight years, one which attracted a large contingency of homeless, I’m used to being around them. Could the homeless in this area be a more upscale version than what I know?

Ones who enjoy regular access to showers and washing machines, who have clothes that match. Aside from the urban setting, this doesn’t look much like an urban church. We don’t ask, and no one explains the lack of diversity that their website promised.

We have a reading from Psalm 148, followed by a meditation. Next is the offertory prayer and the offering. After this we move into a time of prayer.

They share specific concerns—mostly health and work related—for the people present. Some people gather around those near them who need prayer and pray for them. Next is a ministry update and more prayer.

People in the congregation take an active part in all of this. At this point, we’ve only heard from the teaching pastor two brief times. This is more how a church gathering should function, with people ministering to one another.

An Intermission

Now at an hour into the service, we take a fifteen-minute break. This allows us time to meet more people. We don’t need to mingle to do this. They come up to us.

Most everyone asks where we live and are amazed at how far we traveled to visit them.

When I ask them the same question, I’m surprised to learn that not one of them lives in the downtown area. Everyone we talked to drove from suburbia or the country to reach this urban setting. Curious.

During this interlude, a prayer team is available to pray for people. A line never forms, but they keep busy as people approach them for prayer.

The Message

The sermon is “Let the Church be the Church” and the text is Philippians 1:1–2. The interior of the bulletin offers a two-page spread, packed with sermon notes, complete with over fifty blanks for us to fill in.

I skip this, knowing I’ll become so fixated on filling in every blank that I’ll miss the actual message. Candy, however, is up for the challenge and fills in most of them.

For forty-five minutes, the pastor tells us about elders and deacons, about God’s grace and peace. In doing so, he pulls in much related teaching from other passages in the Bible, adding much to the text.

This isn’t the verse-by-verse Bible teaching that the website promised, but a springboard text that serves as a preface for expanded instruction.

His informed teaching is interesting, but I don’t grasp a central point or purpose in what he shares. As he concludes, his message takes an evangelical turn, reminding us to pray for one person to lead to Jesus.

We then quickly move into the potluck, with a bounty of food—much of it left over from a wedding reception the day before. Many people invite us to stay, almost relieved when we say “yes.”

Plenty to Eat

With so many who reach out to us, we’re among the last to get in line to select our food. Even lining up late, there’s still plenty to eat, at least twice the amount needed.

In true potluck style, I take a little bit of most everything and end up with a plate heaped full of more than I should eat. It tastes so good. Good food, good fellowship, and good times. This is more of what church should be.

We interact with more people. All are friendly and engaging. Through it all, we suffer through no awkward moments that too often happen at churches where people don’t welcome well or don’t welcome at all.

This, however, is an engaging group. They’re intentional about their faith and their life. 

I’m glad we experienced community with this urban church. God, bless them and their work for your kingdom.

[See the discussion questions for Church 68, read about Church 67, Church 69, or start at the beginning of our journey.]

Get your copy of More Than 52 Churches today, available in e-book, 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.

Christian Living

The New Testament Approach to Church

Consider the Example of Jesus’s Followers in the Bible

The commands in the Old Testament about the tabernacle/temple, priesthood, and tithe are clear. The New Testament, however, lacks specific instructions for us to follow. But this doesn’t mean we should adhere to the Old Testament model as a default.

Instead we look at the practices of the early church to guide us in our interactions with God, to worship, serve, and tell the world about Jesus. We need to be a New Testament church.

Let’s start with Stephen. In his lengthy message before the Sanhedrin, he reminds those gathered that God does not live in the temple, in a house built by people (Acts 7:48-50).

But Stephen isn’t spouting a new idea. He quotes Isaiah (Isaiah 66:1-2). This verse finds support from other Old Testament passages (1 Kings 8:27 and 2 Chronicles 2:6).

Even in the Old Testament God is already countering his people’s idea that he lives in the temple, and that they must go there to engage with him.

Remember that God didn’t issue his commands about the temple, priests, and tithes until after the people refused to let him speak to them directly and insisted that Moses stand in for them (Exodus 19:6).

Could it be that God gave his people the temple, priests, and tithes as a concession to their desire to keep him at a distance?


Regardless, Jesus fulfills this Old Testament way to approach God.

What does this mean for us? What should change? Let’s look at the New Testament narrative to gather insight in how to adapt God’s Old Testament model of temple, priests, and tithes into a New Testament approach to church.

They Meet in Homes

The first place Jesus’s followers meet after he returns to heaven is in the upper room, a part of someone’s home (Acts 1:13).

They spend time at the temple (Acts 2:46, Acts 3:1, and Acts 5:20) and visit synagogues on the Sabbath (Acts 9:20, Acts 13:14, and Acts 14:1)—until they’re no longer welcome (Acts 18:7). They also meet in public spaces (Acts 16:13 and Acts 19:9).

Mostly they meet in people’s homes (Acts 2:46, Romans 16:5, 1 Corinthians 16:19, Colossians 4:15, and Philemon 1:2). But this isn’t a once-a-week occurrence. They meet daily to eat together (Acts 6:1) and encourage one another (Hebrews 3:13).

The early church continues in their practice of meeting in people’s homes for about three centuries.

At this time, Constantine legalizes Christianity and begins building churches. This starts a shift from gathering in people’s homes—as the early church practiced—back to going to dedicated worship spaces—as the Old Testament did.

The book of Hebrews confirms this transition. It states that the Old Testament tabernacle is an earthly, manmade sanctuary and part of the first covenant—the Old testament way (Hebrews 9:1-2). Whereas Jesus, as our high priest, gives us a more perfect tabernacle, one not manmade (Hebrews 9:11).

They Serve as Priests

We’ve already covered that as Jesus’s followers we are his holy and royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). John also confirms that Jesus made us to be his priests (Revelation 1:6, Revelation 5:10, and Revelation 20:6).

In Hebrews we read that just as the priesthood changed—through Jesus—the law must change as well (Hebrews 7:12). In one grand stroke, God’s law of the Old Testament becomes Jesus’s love in the New Testament. (Not only does the priesthood change in this transition, but so do the accompanying practices of temple and tithe.)

The book of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus is our high priest (Hebrews 3:1). This makes him the ultimate priest, with us looking to him as an example of how to be priests serving under him.

As followers of Jesus we are his priests, a holy priesthood, a nation of priests. Are we doing this? No. Instead we hire clergy to work as our modern-day priests, serving as our intermediary between God and us.

We’re not functioning as we should as God’s priests. We delegate this holy responsibility to a select few who have put in their time at seminary and received their ordination papers.

Yet God expects us to obey his call to serve as his holy nation of priests. What are we waiting for? What must we do? There are three elements to address in serving our Lord as priests: minister to those in his church, tell others about him, and worship him.

1. Minister to Those in the Church: God intends all those in his family to serve as priests. We’re all priests. This means there are none in our group who aren’t. Within our church—where everyone is a priest—there’s no longer a role to represent God to his people.

As priests we can all approach him directly, without the need for an intermediary.

Within the church body, as priests we minister to each other. As Jesus’s priests we need to love one another and treat each other as the New Testament tells us to.

2. Tell Others about Jesus: In the Old Testament, the priests have an inward focus on God’s chosen people. They do little to reach out to those outside their group.

This is one of the things Jesus changes when he fulfills the Old Testament. No longer are we to have an inward focus as his followers, as his priests. Instead he wants us to look outward.

The resurrected Jesus makes this clear before he returns to heaven. He tells his disciples to go throughout the world and make disciples. This includes baptizing them and teaching them about him (Matthew 28:19-20).

Paul—who God sends to tell the Gentiles about Jesus—acknowledges this is his priestly duty (Romans 15:15-16). As Jesus’s priest, Paul tells the Gentiles—that is, non-Jews, which means the rest of the world—the good news of salvation. This is so they can be made right with God.

Peter also touches on this in his writing about us being Jesus’s priests. He says we are to declare our adoration of Jesus to others. Implicitly this is to address those living in darkness so we can bring them into his light (1 Peter 2:9).

Jesus instructs us to tell others about him. Paul and Peter say that we do so as his priests.

3. Worship Him: Much of what God establishes in the Old Testament about the tabernacle/temple, priest, and tithes relate to worshiping him. Does this Old Testament worship have a place in the New Testament church?


But whereas worship was the goal in the Old Testament, it might more so be the means to reach the goal in the New Testament. It is as Jesus’s church worships him and fasts that the Holy Spirit tells them what to do (Acts 13:2).

Note that they are doing two things when God speaks to them. It isn’t just worship. They also fast. Don’t lose sight of this.

Let’s consider some other mentions of worship in the New Testament.

We’ll start with Jesus and his conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well. She asks about the appropriate place to worship God. Jesus dismisses the discussion about location and says that his followers will worship Father God in the Spirit and in truth (John 4:20-24).

This means we can worship God anywhere and don’t need to go to a dedicated space. What matters is our attitude toward worship, to do so honestly under the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Just as Peter talks about us offering spiritual sacrifices as our worship (1 Peter 2:5), Paul uses the phrase living sacrifice. It’s holy and pleasing to our Lord, serving as honest and right worship (Romans 12:1).

Paul also testifies that as a part of his faith journey he continues to worship God (Acts 24:11 and 14). Furthermore, in his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul goes into much detail about having orderly worship (1 Corinthians 14).

The author of Hebrews talks about us being thankful for the eternal salvation we received as worshiping God in reverence and awe (Hebrews 12:28-29).

And remember that John’s Revelation overflows with worship. This suggests that not only is worshiping God a New Testament act, but it will also be an end times and everlasting practice (Revelation 4:10, 5:14, 7:11, 9:20, 11:16, 14:7, 15:4, 19:4, 19:10, and 22:8-9).

Yes, we will continue to worship God. But it should look much different than the Old Testament way.

They Give Generously

Not only do Jesus’s followers meet in homes and minister to one another, they also have a fresh perspective on giving. Instead of tithing, which isn’t a New Testament command, they practice generosity.

The New Testament doesn’t mention Jesus’s followers taking collections to support the church infrastructure. Instead they receive offerings to help other disciples in need (Acts 24:17, Romans 15:26, 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, and 2 Corinthians 8).

Notice that the focus of their generosity is to those within the church.

The only time the New Testament mentions a weekly collection (1 Corinthians 16:2) is simply to set aside money to help the struggling believers in Jerusalem, not to support a minister.

They also share what they have with one another (Acts 2:44-45 and Acts 4:32). This is significant, but it isn’t a command. Instead it’s an example.

In his letter to the church in Galatia, Paul confirms the importance of helping the poor. In this case, however, he seems to be talking about all who are poor, both those within the church and those outside (Galatians 2:10).

Jesus talks a lot about money and generosity. He says that there will always be poor people among us (Matthew 26:11, Mark 14:7, and John 12:8), but this isn’t a reason to not help them. On several occasions Jesus tells people to give money to the poor.

He says this to the rich man seeking eternal life (Matthew 19:21, Mark 10:21, and Luke 18:22), the Pharisees (Luke 11:41), and his disciples, which we can rightly apply to ourselves as his present-day disciples (Luke 12:33).

There is evidence in the New Testament that the church provides financial support to missionary efforts, though Paul holds up himself as an example of paying for his own expenses as the ideal. This happens even though he feels he has a right to receive financial support as God’s messenger (1 Corinthians 9:4-18).

Regardless, this financial support is for those who travel to tell the good news of Jesus to those who don’t know him, not for local ministers at various city churches.

The New Testament churches practice of generosity is to help the poor and support missionary efforts, not to pay the salaries of local ministers or build and maintain church buildings.

A New Testament Church

This is the New Testament model for church, Jesus’s church. We have much to do.

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.

Visiting Churches

A Normal Service: Church #66, Part 2

Several months later we have a chance for a return visit to this same church. Again, we’ll attend church with our friends and spend the afternoon together sharing our lives and faith. I expect the service will be led by the Holy Spirit.

I look forward to both, though the time with friends outshines the chance to revisit this church. Still, the opportunity to experience a normal service with their regular pastor and new worship leader stands as a nice bonus. 

Not only do we have a chance to experience one of their services with a different speaker and song leader, but they also moved since our first visit.

Instead of meeting in a public-school facility, they now rent office space in a reclaimed school building in another town, about nine miles from their prior location. In most respects it will be like visiting a different church. Therefore, I view it as such.

A Holiday Weekend

Then I realize that it’s a holiday weekend, the Sunday before Memorial Day. Many churches scale back their service and simplify their approach on holiday Sundays, especially during the summer.

I wonder if we’ll experience one of their typical services. Oh well. The main point of the day is a time of community with our dear friends.

Candy and I have our typical discussion about when we should leave, how long the drive will take, and when we expect to arrive. With bad weather behind us, at least we won’t have road conditions to contend with. 

To make our deliberations more complicated, she asks to stop at the coffee shop along the way to pick up a brew. This should add ten minutes to our trip, so we make the needed time adjustment, but when I pull into the coffee shop’s parking lot I groan. There are a dozen or so cars lined up at the drive-through window. 

Candy tells me not to worry. She’ll go inside. That will be much faster. I want to believe her, but I don’t think it will be fast enough. As it turns out, it’s not. By the time we’re back on the road our GPS tells us we’ll arrive four minutes early and not the extra ten to fifteen minutes we’d planned on.

Preparing for the Service

With the hour drive, we have a lot of time to talk, and we cover a variety of topics. This might be more time than we spent talking all week. That’s something to ponder.

Candy prays for the time with our friends, but I’m not sure if her prayer included church. I don’t bother to ask or to tack on my own prayer for the service. The main reason for our trip is to see our friends. Going to church is a secondary goal—at least for me.

The last few minutes of our drive grow a bit harried when I realize my GPS isn’t taking us to the correct location. I don’t have the exact address of the church and we’ve forgotten its name, but Candy conducts a creative internet search to find the needed information.

Ignoring the misdirection of our GPS, we drive straight to the correct place and get there four minutes early, just as our adjusted ETA predicted.

Again, an exterior sign tells us we’re in the right place and indicates which entrance to use. However, once inside there are no more signs. We walk down a long corridor and eventually find an open door with the church’s name on it.

We exchange nervous glances and stifle our apprehension. Candy scowls at me as I graciously gesture for her to enter first. Inside is a small space, converted from a former classroom, which serves as both lobby and office. 

First Impressions

A handful of people scurry about, each one exchanging a friendly greeting with us but nothing more. One man, however, gives me a quizzical look. We both remember each other from our prior visit, though neither can recall names.

We have a brief conversation to reconnect, but, knowing that the service is about to start, Candy and I move on into a connected classroom, which serves as their worship space.

The room is square, about 30’ by 30’, a small fraction of the space they used to occupy. It still has fifty chairs—five rows of ten with a center aisle—but they’re packed in, closer together and with little margin on the sides. Along the back wall sits the A/V equipment.

On the opposite side, and on our level, is the cramped space for the worship team and minister. In the corner stand the same three banners: Grace, Kingdom, and Power.

We slide into the back row, expecting to meet our friends in that general area, even though there’s little room for them to wave their worship flags.

The service starts a few minutes late with a dozen or so people present. We’re well into the first song when our friends arrive. We exchange hugs, and they sit in the row in front of us. Others trickle in and eventually our numbers swell to about thirty.

I could count, but I’m tired of counting the number of church attendees and merely make an educated estimate. The crowd is mostly female, skewing older, as are all the couples. I see no men by themselves.

The Worship Set

The worship leader is the same one we had last time, which I later learn was his first time leading worship at this church. Again, he plays guitar as he leads. An idle keyboard sits next to him, and he serves as our only musician and singer.

He has an easy, smooth style, without being slickly polished. It’s hard to tell how much he rehearsed and how much happens as he feels led by the Holy Spirit.

The singing goes on longer than I would like, and I know Candy must be fidgeting on the inside. I’m not sure how many songs we sing because they’re interwoven with each other, and we keep looping back to repeat choruses.

She later tells me there were only four songs, which filled up most of an hour. Through it all, I try to worship God, but we don’t really connect. I guess I should’ve made a better effort at praying for this service beforehand.

My friend turns around and whispers that they have open communion, and we can go up anytime we want—if we wish to—during the singing. I nod, even though I’ve already decided not to. I share this information with Candy, and she agrees.

I may have missed it, but I only see four or five people go forward for communion. Curious.

About half an hour into the music set, several people ease their way forward and surround a young man sitting alone in the front row, who I guess is the pastor.

They place their hands on him and their lips move in quiet prayer. Then they sit down. I assume the message is about to begin, but it doesn’t. We have more singing to do.

By the time he finally moves to the front, we’ve been singing for over an hour. He gives several announcements. Then he shares some news. The worship leader guiding us in song this service is no longer their backup, fill-in musician.

Effective today he’s their new worship pastor. The minister explains what the worship pastor’s role will entail and confirms they didn’t force out the prior worship leaders. They’ll still help lead worship when their busy schedules allow. This meets everyone’s approval.

Then we have the offering.

The Sermon

Before the sermon the pastor has a time of prayer, which includes prophecies, words of encouragement, and prayers for healing as the Holy Spirit directs him.

He feels led to pray for the needs of a woman in the congregation and invites other women to gather around her in support, if they wish. This subtle distinction keeps men at a distance, a wise action to foster a safe environment.

Then he moves into his sermon, starting with a lengthy review of last week’s message based on Luke 5:17–26. It’s hard to know where the review ends and today’s sermon begins, especially since he says he interjected new material into last week’s review.

By my reckoning, he spent more time on the review than on today’s lesson. 

Today’s starting text is Mark 5:24–34. His style is fluid as he jumps from one passage to the next. After a while I stop noting the Scripture references, but I do write down two thought-provoking one-liners. 

First, “Don’t preach against other religions. Preach Jesus and the Gospel.” Over the years, I’ve heard too many preachers who didn’t follow this advice. They were so quick to condemn the practices and ideas of others that they forgot about the good news of Jesus.

This might be a contributing factor as to why the public has such a negative view of Christians: we rant about what we’re against and don’t celebrate what we’re for.

In the other one he states, “The Law was given to the Jews, not the Gentiles.” This one merits serious contemplation. It could change how I understand and apply the Old Testament.

He says he spends most of his week in prayer and Bible study, admitting he prefers that over meeting with people and attending to congregational needs. Our friends later confirmed his deep dedication to his relationship with God and God’s Word. 

Indeed, his teaching flows as one who spends much time with God and immerses himself in the Bible. When he shares a verse, I never see him glancing at his notes first. The text and the reference gush forth as regular speech.

I wonder how many of his words are something he planned to say and how many come to him from the Holy Spirit just before they leave his mouth. I suspect the latter.

Unfortunately, I’m tired and stifle yawns throughout the sermon. It’s not that I’m bored. I just didn’t sleep well last night. Had I been more alert, I would have gotten much more out of his message.

At 12:30, two hours after the service began, he stops preaching. He’s not at a stopping point that I can tell, and he has no conclusion or call to action. He merely says he’ll pick up next week.

As he’s doing this, the worship leader slides up to the front. He picks up his guitar and begins playing softly. We sing a song, and the pastor prays.

As he wraps up his prayer, he turns his attention to Candy. He perceives she has a physical need for healing or restoration, a need she may not even know exists. He prays for her as the Holy Spirit leads him.

Then he wraps up the service, and we leave. Anticipated time with friends around a delicious meal beckons us.

Our Impressions

It’s several hours before Candy and I can discuss our experience at this church. In all our many church visits, few, if any, have been this spirit-led.

Though, unlike our other Pentecostal and charismatic experiences, I feel the Holy Spirit powerfully directed our time together through both the teaching pastor and the worship leader.

As for Candy, she’s upset over the prophetic words of healing the pastor directed to her. She doesn’t know of any physical issue. I point out that this was a draining week for her, emotionally and mentally. I suggest he was just a bit off when he said she had a physical need. She doesn’t buy this.

Then I share the concept of performance anxiety. It could be he so wanted to hear a word from God to give to the visitors that he overstretched, that he perceived something that wasn’t there. I get this.

Sometimes people who follow the Holy Spirit’s leading don’t bat 1,000. Sometimes they hit a home run, sometimes they get a single, and other times they strike out. I’m okay with this, but it’s hard for Candy to accept.

Regardless, going to church with our friends was a great experience. It showed us a way to worship God and function in community that I don’t see at many churches.

[See the discussion questions for Church 66, part 2, read more about about Church 66. part 1, or start at the beginning of our journey.]

Get your copy of More Than 52 Churches today, available in e-book, 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.

Visiting Churches

Evidence of the Holy Spirit: Church #66, part 1

Valued friends invite us to visit their church, which “operates in the gifts of the Spirit.” My background is not charismatic, but I relish the opportunity to experience Holy Spirit power and bask in God’s presence. 

Consider these seven discussion questions about Church 66 and evidence of the Holy Spirit.

1. Many churches talk about the Holy Spirit, but their services leave little room for him to act. They keep him at a safe distance.

What role does the Holy Spirit play in our church services? In our daily lives?

2. I’m hungry for God, thirsty for more. I can’t wait for Sunday, counting down the days. Sadly, this attitude of church anticipation is mostly missing from my recent reality.

How much do we anticipate worshiping God? What needs to change?

3. Their website mentions the baptism of the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, the gifts of the Spirit, and supernatural manifestations. I’m terrified and excited. I expect God will stretch me.

How willing are we to let God work in us?

4. I still struggle visiting churches. Apprehension over the unknown roils in my gut. A dozen worries assault my mind. I suspect others also arrive at church filled with apprehension.

How can we help anxious people feel at ease?

5. Many raise their arms in praise, others sway gently with the melody, one respectfully dances her worship of God, and some wave worship flags.

How open are we to worship God through movement? Are we willing to be uncomfortable when others praise him?

6. After about twenty minutes of singing, I think we’re still on the first song. The endless iterations weary Candy, whereas I grow bored.

Does our worship of God push people away or draw us closer?

7. With their minister gone, their service wasn’t typical. I saw little evidence of the Holy Spirit. I’m disappointed. My experience didn’t match what their website proclaims.

Do our church services align with what our marketing promises?

[Read about Church 66, part 2, read about Church 66, part 1, or start at the beginning of our journey.]

If you feel it’s time to move from the sidelines and get into the game, The More Than 52 Churches Workbook provides the plan to get you there.

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.

Christian Living

The Old Testament Approach to Church and Worshiping God

Moses Presents a Model for Connecting with God

When God gives Moses the Law, he sets three key expectations for worship, along with a lengthy set of mind-numbing details to guide the practices he wants his people to follow. God addresses this throughout Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

These three main elements relate to the worship space, the worship team, and their financial support: tithes and offerings. Much of the Law of Moses relates directly to these trio of items.

The rest of God’s instructions support these three tenants indirectly by guiding the people into right living as a daily way of worshiping God through their personal practices and interpersonal interactions.

These prepare them to move into relationship with him and worship him more fully through their many annual feasts, festivals, and celebrations.

A Place

In the Old Testament God is most particular about the place where his people are to worship him. And he gives detailed instructions in how they are to do it.

First, God sets specific parameters for the tabernacle and surrounding worship space. He gives exact instructions for its size, materials, and construction methods. In some cases, he even specifies who is to oversee the work. (See Exodus 26-27 and 35-36.)

The tabernacle and adjacent area function as a home for the various objects used in the people’s religious practices. God gives detailed directions for these implements of worship too.

He specifies dimensions, base components, and fabrication instructions. Again, he sometimes names who is to head up the construction. (See Exodus 28-31, 33-34, and 37-40.)

Later the people get situated in the land God promised for them. In doing so they transition from a roaming people to a nation with borders. They no longer need a portable tabernacle that they can set up and tear down as they roam about the desert.

Years later King David has a God-approved inspiration to build a temple to honor him. Although prohibited from erecting this grand edifice himself—because he was a warring military leader with blood on his hands—the king sets aside provisions for its construction (2 Samuel 7:1-17). It’s David’s son Solomon who builds this permanent worship space for God’s people (1 Kings 6).

In doing so the tabernacle built by Moses transitions to the temple built by Solomon. The portable tabernacle of the desert as the focal point of worship shifts to the permanent temple in Jerusalem.

With little exception, the people must go to this house of worship, the tabernacle—and later the temple—to approach the Almighty. His people see the tabernacle/temple as God’s dwelling place here on earth. They must go there to experience a divine encounter with him.


But the people won’t connect with God directly. They refuse. They’re afraid of him. Here’s what happened.

In the Old Testament we see Moses on Mount Sinai, hanging out with God. They’re having a spiritual confab of the highest order. God has some words—many words, in fact—for Moses to give to the people.

In one instance God says they will serve as his kingdom of priests, a holy nation (Exodus 19:6). Really? Did you catch that?

God intends for a whole nation of priests. And who will they be priests to? Implicitly other nations. But this doesn’t happen. I’ve not found any evidence in the Bible of them as a nation serving as priests. What happened? It could be the people were afraid of God.

Just one chapter later in the book of Exodus, the people see a display of God’s awe-inspiring power. They pull back in terror. They keep their distance. God’s magnificent display of power terrifies them.

Because of their immense fear, they don’t want to hear what he has to say. Instead they beg Moses to function as their intermediary between them and God.

They ask Moses to do what they’re afraid of doing: hear from God. Moses serves as their first liaison with God (Exodus 20:18-21). In effect this makes Moses the people’s first priest, though the duty officially goes to Moses’s brother, Aaron.

After this, God seems to switch to plan B.

Instead of his people being a kingdom of priests, he sets some of them aside—descendants of Aaron—to serve as ministers, functioning as the middleman between God and his people. This is something far different than what he originally wanted with everyone being a priest.

Recall that God talks with Adam in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:8-10). And after sin forces Adam and Eve’s exile from their paradise, God speaks directly to Cain, confronting him for his sinful murder of his brother, Abel (Genesis 4:6-9).

Then once sin fills God’s creation with evil, he approaches Noah with a solution (Genesis 6:11-22). Much later God has multiple interactions with Father Abraham (such as in Genesis 17:9), as well as his wife Sarah (Genesis 18:10-15).

God then meets Moses through the burning bush (Exodus 3) and later talks with him face to face (Exodus 33:11). And God speaks to many other people in the time between Adam and Moses.

This shows a consistent history of direct communication from God to his people. Now he wants to talk to his chosen tribe (Exodus 19:9), but they’re afraid of him and don’t want to listen.

They demand an intermediary, someone to reveal the Almighty to them. They want an ambassador to represent God to them. To address this, God sets up the priesthood. These priests will serve God in his temple and be his representatives to his people.

They’ll serve as the liaison between the people and God.

Though this begins with Moses, the religious infrastructure God sets up requires many people. We have the priests: Aaron and his descendants (who are Levites). And the entire tribe of Levi plays a supporting role in God’s plan to connect with his people.


Of course, this religious structure is vast. The priests lead the people in their worship of the Almighty God, and the entire Levite tribe supports this effort. Accomplishing this requires financial support.

To address this God institutes a temple tax of sorts: the annual tithe (Numbers 18:21). This is a mandated obligation to give 10 percent to support the maintenance of the tabernacle and the needs of the staff.

But it’s not just one annual tithe. There’s another one too (Deuteronomy 14:22-27). In addition, a third tithe for the poor occurs every three years (Deuteronomy 14:28-29).

This means that each year God’s people give between 20 and 30 percent to him in support of the tabernacle/temple, all the people who work there, and those in need. This averages out to 23.3%, approaching one quarter.

Take a moment to imagine giving one fourth.

In addition to the mandated tithes are various required offerings and sacrifices that relate to annual events (such as Exodus 12 and Exodus 30:10). God commands his people to adhere to all these obligations. On top of these are voluntary offerings and gifts (such as in Leviticus 22:21). God expects a lot financially from his people.

The Old Testament religious institution is expensive to sustain. And God expects each one of his people to do their part.

This is the Old Testament model for church: a place (tabernacle and then temple), clergy (priests and Levites), and financial support (tithes and offerings). We still follow this model today.

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.