As I travel around the country, I see a lot of Christian churches – and they all seem to me to be pretty much the same – people go to a particular building on a particular day (or two) of the week, sing a few songs (about 30 minutes or so of music) where everyone is encouraged to participate by at least standing and clapping their hands in time to the music, then 30 seconds or so of prayer and 45 minutes of listening to a pastor speak at the assembled people, then 30 more seconds of prayer and a couple of songs at the end as the offering basket is passed, then it’s “see ya next Sunday!” as they leave and go back to their “other life”, the 9-to-5 workday and a day off on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. This church pattern is known in Christian leadership and pastoral circles as “The Program”, a structured approach to what we call worship today that is designed to “maximize the experience for the Christian believer” – in short, to maximize the entertainment value so that the believer will come back next week for more. This is also sometimes referred to somewhat irreverently as “feel-good Christianity”.
There are, of course, minor variations to this pattern – an occasional altar call, communion every month or so, and maybe even a few minutes worth of prayer for the sick or those in need in the church – but those are just small changes, and there are a growing number of people that, in my personal experience, are growing dissatisfied with this form of corporate and highly structured approach to the Christian worship life, a life that would seen completely out of character to Paul, Stephen, Barnabas – or Brother Lawrence, Watchman Nee, or Aiden Tozer.
Contrast this to the way the early first century church was organized and operated as described in the book of Acts. They met in the homes of believers, they ate together, their main activity consisted of praying for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in all things, they laid hands on the sick and they were healed, they raised the dead, they shared their troubles and helped those believers in need, and even sold their possessions and helped those who had need during a famine, among other things – in short, they behaved like a big family. No one person was in charge or led anything as far as I can tell from a careful reading and re-reading of Acts. There was no singing, no formal taking of an offering or money, no agenda, no buildings, little or no self-focused activity – the focus of the church was on prayer, first and foremost, then taking care of believers, then taking care of and healing non-believers, then proselytizing.
In short, the church described in Acts was a very different sort of church than we see today – no computers, huge flat-screen displays, expensive clothes, staffs, budgets, multi-million dollar buildings or building plans, fund-raising drives, or collection plates – and even though Paul (and probably by example Peter, Stephen, and the rest of the apostles) could take an income (money, food, or whatever else the body of believers offered), he did not, correctly believing that taking money from the church would prove to be an impediment to the spreading of the beliefs of Jesus, that people would think that Paul was in it for the money rather than to spread the gospel. And for those who think that Paul, sometimes incorrectly looked at as the leader of the early apostles, came up with all of this on his own, remember that he had been taught by his mentor, Barnabas!
So, what is the point of all of this? What I see in the early church has nothing to do with how the church is conducted today. I believe that a particular body of believers ought to worship according to the book of Acts – centered on food, fellowship, helping others in and out of the Body of Christ, prayer, the exercise of the gifts of the Spirit, and completely submitting to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Anything else is probably unscriptural! Where in the bible does it say that the pastor is the only one to speak or to lead – those are the jobs of the entire body of Christ and the Holy Spirit! Where in the bible does it say that worship is to follow a particular pattern, or corporate song is required? Where in the bible does it say it’s OK to have, in an hour’s service, 60 seconds of prayer? Most church services I’ve seen are a way for the pastor or the leadership to self-aggrandize and ask for money instead of following the clear pattern of the first century church as laid out in Acts.
What I am suggesting that there be a true revival of the church – that is, the body of Christ – starting in the hearts of believers, and spreading to every member. Let’s reform the church to what it was in the first century – a body of believers who would raise people from the dead, would heal believers and non-believers alike, would see signs and wonders and miracles that were so commonplace that practically every page of Acts would mention them, where literally thousands of people were saved at a time, led by evangelism led by the Holy Spirit instead of the customs and traditions and motivations and agenda of men seeking their own aggrandizement or money.
I would pray that *you* reading this would honestly and sincerely get on your knees in your prayer closet and spend some serious time praying about what I have written here – and then, as Jesus said, “go and do likewise”. Let’s raise up a true church of real Christians, who live their faith 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – who display all the fruits of the Spirit, who heal the sick, raise the dead, and are filled with the power of the Holy Spirit – the body of believers that Jesus truly intended.