Finding the Church

Note: To properly understand the position of the writer please read the author's message "To The Reader".

[17.1]

When I Say "Church"

When I say "church" what comes to mind? Do you think of steeples, stained glass, rows of pews, sermons or Sunday morning meetings? By definition, a church, known in Greek as the Ekklesia, is a calling out.

In 2 Corinthians 6:17-18 Paul writes: "Wherefore come out from among them and be ye separate saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you and will be a Father unto you and you shall be my sons and daughters saith the Lord almighty."

[17.2]

Come out from among who? In John 17:16, Jesus answers this question when He says, "they are not of the world even as I am not of the world." Things of the world are man created; things of God are God created. The New Testament church is the church that Jesus and His apostles designed and built. The pseudo church is a counterfeit created by man and therefore of the world.

[17.3]

From His Church To Ours

How did we get from the simple, loving church of the apostles to the self absorbed, prideful, divided imitation of church we see today? How? By not following the teachings and traditions handed down by the apostles of Christ. By listening to false prophets, false apostles and false teachers who, to further their selfish ambitions, have led us into a man made church.

Acts 2:46
46 And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,

2 Thessalonians 2:15
15 Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.

2 Peter 2:1
1 But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.

1 Timothy 4:1,2
1 Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;
2 Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;

2 Timothy 3:1-5
1 This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.
2 For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,
3 Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,
4 Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;
5 Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.

1 John 4:1
1 Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.

[17.4]

A Better Idea

How could anyone believe they could improve upon the perfection of God? It would take a mountain of pride to believe that we could build a better church than Christ. In the first place, it isn't ours to change; it doesn't belong to us; it was purchased with His precious, sinless blood at Calvary. To assume such authority, one would have to believe themself wiser than Christ.

1 Corinthians 1:25-26
25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
26 For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:

[17.5]

Have no fear though, what we lack in submission, we more than make up for in pride. Though Christ is perfect and man corrupt, we had confidence that we could improve the church that Jesus built. Is there anything in the New Testament that gives us this authority? No! To the contrary. The apostle Paul echoing the prophet Isaiah writes:

Acts 7:48-50 "Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the prophet, Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool: What house will ye build me saith the Lord: or what is the place of my rest? Hath not my hand made all these things?

[17.6]

Like the slogan for the Ford automotive company, we had a "better idea". Our so-called improvements have only succeeded in changing it from His church to ours. What concerns me now is, that He never promised to return for our church, He only promised to return for His.

[17.7]

A House Divided

The rebellion, dissension and division that we see today didn't suddenly begin in our age. It didn't even begin in the so-called dark ages with Roman emperor Constantine. It began in the first century, the apostolic age. Before the ink was even dry on the New Testament scriptures, the enemy had already scattered the weeds of division in the form of denominationalism.

1 Corinthians 1:10-13
10 Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.
11 For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.
12 Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.
13 Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?

Some examples:

Jude 4
4 For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 John 2:18-19
18 Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.
19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.

[17.8]

Jesus prayed that His people would be one (John 17:21) but denominational division remains as man's monument to the successful division of God's holy people, those called by His name.

[17.9]

In Matthew 12:25, Jesus said, "Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand". Brethren, we live in perilous times; the enemy is looking for strays to devour (1 Peter 5:8). First, he deceives us into believing that Jesus can be our savior even if we haven't made Him our Lord. After this, he convinces us that we are part of the church when we occupy a temple made with hands or join some sect trying to imitate a church as constructed in the imagination of man and we become a man made organization. Denominationalism is a synonym for division. It exists to divide. It sets up an "us and them" mentality. It clings to a set of doctrines and man made rules with a death grip.

[17.10]

Since becoming a Christian, have you ever had to change a belief in the face of a greater truth? Most of us have. Have you even seen a denomination change any doctrine? I haven't. Most denominations develop schools and seminaries designed to continue their hand-me-down doctrinal traditions from one generation to another. The church was given the responsibility to equip the saints for the work of the ministry that's why God gave the church apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4:11-12). There are three levels in which the church is biblically seen. The church is seen universally as one, this encompasses all the redeemed brethren past, present and future. The apostles revealed the church as parts of one body. Each part represented by a city or town where brethren gather for church as they did in the first century hence the letter to the church at Rome, Corinth and Ephesus, etc. Last we come to the individual assemblies that meet in various houses in and around a city or town; these individually are also known as a church, like those that met in the homes of Aquilla, Nymphes or Archippus (Romans 16:5, 1 Corinthians 16:19, Colossians 4:15, Philemon 2).

[17.11]

The church or Ekklesia is commonly referred to as "the body of Christ" (1 Corinthians 12:27). Each assembly is regarded as a member of that same body (Romans 12:5). As individuals we are members of an assembly which is part of the body. Why a body? Why not an organization? What's the difference? Webster's dictionary defines an organization as" The act or process of organizing or of being organized. A body as an organism is quite different than an organization. How is it different? An organism has life of its own while an organization is administrated together and contains no life at all. An organization establishes multi-levels of authority whereas the body receives its authority exclusively from its head.

[17.12]

Webster's dictionary defines an organism as: A complex structure of interdependent and subordinate elements whose relations and properties are largely determined by their function in the whole. The church that Jesus designed and built with His apostles is an organism not an organization and functions like one.

[17.13]

Denominations

A denomination is an organization not an organism; there is no life in it. It is fashioned as a corporation or company with:

A. Multi-level management

B. Man-made policies and benefits

C. Enforced contract laws

D. Employer and employee relationships

E. Promotion by management

F. Rewards for aggressive ambition

G. Success measured by size, influence and profits

[17.14]

The church as an organism has a head and heart like the human body and functions like a natural family with all family members reporting to the head. The church family is held together by loving relationships, relationships strong enough to withstand the storms of adversity that often come to test it. It is motivated by love and loyalty and its success is measured by its unity and obedience (1 Corinthians 1:10, 1 John 2:3-4).

[17.15]

Authority

In an organism, all authority flows directly from the head to all parts of the body seen or unseen. All parts must submit to the will of the head, and the head of the body known as the church, is Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:18).

[17.16]

Life

An organism is given initial life, by its creator but the continued life of its members, i.e. its arms and legs, is supplied by its fellow members who continue to supply it with a continuous flow of life (blood).

Ephesians 4:16
16 From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.

1 Corinthians 12:25-27
25 That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.
26 And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.
27 Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.

[17.17]

As with body members, the life of each cell is carried from one cell to another. The life of the fruit on a tree depends on the secondary branches which receive their life from the main branches who, in turn, receive it from the trunk or vine. Have you ever noticed that apple, pear or peach trees, like most other fruit bearing trees, do not have fruit attached directly to any of its main branches? The trunk or vine of the tree bears no fruit. The main branches bear no fruit but the smaller tributary branches; the smallest and weakest of the branches bear all the fruit. In John 15:1-8, Jesus tells us that He is the vine, we are the branches. The branches bear the fruit. As He says (in verse eight) that we glorify the Father when we, as disciples, bear much fruit. Note that the word “disciples” is in the plural. Let's think of the tree in its entirety as the church universal, the secondary branches as the location, i.e. the cities and towns to which God has sent His message of good news. Finally, the smallest branches, those fruit bearing branches, represent the small assemblies of disciples we refer to here as house churches. It is these small, fragile assemblies that God has chosen to use in the reproductive and growth process necessary to expand His church on earth. Without the life supplied by the trunk or central vine (Jesus), the branches, small or great, would yield nothing.

John 15:5
5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.

[17.18]

The spiritual life we have must flow from one member (person) to another and from one assembly to another or we die. We are dependent upon Christ alone for authority but on each other for spiritual life.

[17.19]

If I were to ask you to wiggle your finger and tell me where the authority came from that allowed you to do it, you would answer, "The head". The same would hold true for the hand or arm. If I suggested that the hand initiated the finger movement, I'd be wrong. What if I said to squeeze your finger as hard as you can, what would eventually happen? The finger would change color and after enough time it would die. You see, all authority comes from the head but life is maintained and supplied by adjoining members. The same holds true for the church.

[17.20]

What is a denomination? A denomination is: Two or more church assemblies that share a common earthly leadership or a leader or leadership that holds authority over more than one assembly. A group of assemblies that share the same name and hold to an imposed or unchangeable system of beliefs. A conference of assemblies that agree to submit and unite under a number of unchangeable and specified doctrines.

[17.21]

Change

If you've ever had to change your position on a doctrine, it can be like tearing roots from your heart. How many of you have had to do this? Have you ever tried to change a doctrine within a denomination? It's almost impossible. I've never seen it happen. The institutional church, mainline or independent, doesn't change. Not only don't they surrender in the face of greater truth, but they, as previously stated, continue to pass down their heretical hand-me-down doctrine to the next generation of leaders through their bible schools and seminaries. When did God give the church permission to abdicate its responsibility to "teach others to teach others" or to cease preparing disciples for the work of the ministry? Where in the New Testament do we find this responsibility being given to schools or colleges?

2 Timothy 2:2
2 And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.

Ephesians 4:11-12
11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:

[17.22]

When did God give us permission to professionalize His anointed teachers? When did He change from selecting leaders by their integrity to selecting them by their educational qualifications? Did I misunderstand 1 Corinthians 1:17-31 and 2:10-11? It’s a sad commentary but in most of today’s institutional churches, neither Jesus nor His original apostles could qualify to pastor a church or preach to the unsaved as evangelists or missionaries.

1 Corinthians 1:17-26
17 For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.
18 For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.
19 For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.
20 Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?
21 For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
22 For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:
23 But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;
24 But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.
25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
26 For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:

1 Corinthians 2:12-14
12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.
13 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.
14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

[17.23]

Speaking the Same Thing

1 Corinthians 1:10
10 Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.

[17.24]

Unity is our goal but we must all work together to obtain it. It's obtainable but we must be free to contribute to the understanding of others and be persuaded and corrected when faced with new and greater light. It must be our choice to come together, agree together and work together; it must not be accomplished by the efforts of man's organizational wisdom but rather through the teacher of all truth, our guide and comforter, the Holy Spirit. The true church is made up of small cells (assemblies). Assemblies of the body of Christ that agree to dwell together and bond together in love and unity. Not dwell or cling together under the same roof or name, holding onto some common doctrinal statement but under the same Lord, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3).  

[17.25]

Every cell has a nucleus at its center and the nucleus of the small, independent house church is Jesus Christ. He is the head and the genetic reproductive force behind the character and growth of each house church assembly.

[17.26]

How Is A Nucleus Defined?

Webster's dictionary defines it this way:
1 A nucleus is a central or essential part around which other parts are grouped or collected; core.
2 (Biological) A structure within a living cell that contains the cell's hereditary material and controls metabolism, growth and reproduction.
3 (Physics) The central, positively charged core of an atom, composed of protons and neutrons and containing almost all the mass of the atom.

[17.27]

What is an atom? An atom is the smallest particle. What is a cell? The smallest structural unit of an organism that is capable of independent functioning. What is a house church? A house church is the smallest member of the church organism that is capable of independent functioning. No wonder the church is called the body of Christ. Nature itself has been the model for it.

[17.28]

House Church

How big does an assembly have to be in order to be considered a church according to Matthew 18:20? It need be no bigger than two or three.

Matthew 18:20
20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

[17.29]

The house church is fragile perhaps, small, most likely but remember, if we're faithful to minister to others, God will give the increase.

1 Corinthians 3:7
7 So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.

Acts 2:47
47 Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.

[17.30]

Many today think that those of us who have chosen to return to the New Testament church have centered our focus on meeting in houses. You know, like the Baptists believe in full immersion or eternal security or the Methodists in a prescribed system of study. We see others like the Assemblies of God promoting spiritual gifts or the Seventh Day Adventists, the sabbath day and so we think those returning to meet in homes have just erected a new issue, a new excuse to be different. Not true! Meeting in a house models the New Testament church. It brings to the church the family setting because it is this system of operation that God has chosen for it to be. God wants His church to be a family. This is the model He has selected, the reason we call Him Father and each other brother and sister. We are first and foremost the family of God (Romans 8:14-17). When we think of belonging to the house of God we must not think of it as a building but in the same way that we recognize the house of David. We are the children of God. How many times have you heard brethren say they get more from the home bible study they attend than the traditional Sunday morning church meeting? Why? Because this type of intimate, in home meeting is what God intended from the beginning. Romans 16:5, 1 Corinthians 16:19, Colossians 4:15, Philemon 2, Act 5:42, Act 20:20 and Act 7:48-49.

[17.31]

What A House Church Doesn't Do

Meeting in homes as independent assemblies has a great deal to say about what we don't do. We realize that many brethren are still attending denominational institutions so we don't spend our time attacking specific denominations. We realize that within the institutional system many are those who share our love for Christ and many who are deceived into thinking their testimony alone can save them. The result is some attending the institutional church will enter into God's kingdom and some won't. You can't tell them apart by their label so we don't try. Instead, we identify them by their fruit. They either bear fruit or they don't (Matthew 7:20) and we recognize them by that fruit (Matthew 12:33). True believers teach and keep His commandments while false brethren don't (1 John 2:3-4) and this applies equally to the house church. We shouldn’t elevate God's servants or their teachings to an exclusive position. We don't need to become the church of Paul, Apollos, Cephas, Christ, Luther, Wesley, Williams, Simmons, Graham, Copeland, Roberts, Viola, Ruts, Edwards or James. It's wrong to use these men or their teachings to divide the body of Christ and if these men allow themselves to be elevated to this position and used in this way they should be shunned; avoid them (Romans 16:17).

[17.32]

By meeting in the simple way we do, as a house church, we are able to make our material resources serve the needs of others without needless waste. We don't need to buy a million dollar edifice to meet in. We don't buy altars, pews or stained glass. We don't print church programs. We don't need to purchase an organ or choir robes. We don't pay pastors, assistant pastors, youth pastors, evangelists, prophets or apostles. We don't pay choir directors, organ players, singers or other musicians. We don't need to pay secretaries, janitors or grounds keepers. We don't buy houses for our leaders or cars. We don't reimburse them for gas mileage spent to visit the sick or shut in. We don't pay for building repairs or maintenance. We don't pay for electricity, gas, trash removal, phones, printing costs or tithes to our denominational headquarters to support their administrative staff. We don’t pay for our pastor’s retirement plan, medical plan, dental plan or paid vacation. Instead, we are free to live by faith and use the resources of God in the way He intended them to be used (Matthew 25:31-46). We are free to support the poor, blind, deaf, crippled, orphaned or widowed.

[17.33]

Be Careful

House churches should never form around one special charismatic leader or his private interpretation of God's word.  When this occurs, division follows, God’s flock is scattered and God does not want His church abused or divided (1 Corinthians 12).

1 Corinthians 1:10
10 Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.

Ephesians 4:1-3
1 I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,
2 With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love;
3 Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Philippians 2:1-4
1 If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies,
2 Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.
3 Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.
4 Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.

[17.34]

Accountability

Those who have returned to the church that Jesus built believe He watches over that which He alone leads. Each member is accountable to Him and His word. If one claims that being accountable only to Christ is the same as no accountability at all then, that one has denied Christ. The servant sent out by Christ represents His authority and His authority only, for His servant has no inherent authority of his own (Matthew 21:33-40). Wives are instructed to obey their husbands as unto the Lord. Children to obey their parents in the Lord. Servants are not to obey men but rather God through men (1 Corinthians 7:23).

2 Corinthians 4:5
5 For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake.

Ephesians 6:5-6
5 Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ;
6 Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart;

1 Peter 2:13-16
13 Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme;
14 Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.
15 For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men:
16 As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.

[17.35]

Jude 9
9 Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee.

If we, as God's children, are not accountable to God in the secret, private places of our life then how shall we become accountable to men? Our personal accountability to God makes us accountable to each other. A flock beaten down with pseudo-spiritual authority, those poorly educated in God's word, are ready meat for any wolf. A flock well equipped in the word and trained to be strong leaders, as good disciples should be, will provide all the encouragement needed to keep a good leader on course. For a time, it is easy for a man to hide his sin from other men but it's never possible to hide it from God. If a man is not accountable to God, he won't be accountable to men either. We can, with all assurance, believe that unlike the various levels of management found in the organizational structures of denominations, all members of the body of Christ are responsible directly to God and not to the archbishop. Remember; if we ever forget what a denomination is we'll soon become one! In the New Testament house church, pride of leadership is greatly minimized. Why? How prideful can a leader get over leading a church that's smaller than many bible study groups? If you're the leader of hundreds or thousands it’s easy to slip and become a Jimmy (Jimmy Jones, Jimmy Baker or Jimmy Swaggert). For those who don’t recognize these names, these men were once respected, American, mega-church leaders that surrendered to the pleasures of this world.

[17.36]

Empires And Kingdoms

Spiritual empires are developed in the name of Christ to feed the selfish ambitions of those who create them. They produce and promote an 'us and them' mentality among their blinded followers. It's the old game of the few controlling the many for gain, glory and power. Those who build kingdom, Christ's kingdom, need no worldly recognition and seek none. Their appetite is to do God's will. They search only for His lost, wounded and confused sheep and their concern is to minister to their needs not shear them.

[17.37]

House Church Denominations

Is there such a thing as a house church denomination? The answer, to our sorrow, is yes. You ask, what is a house church denomination and the answer is the same today as it was in the days of the early church (1 Corinthians 1:11-13). A house church denomination is two or more assemblies united under the same human leadership. Paul's ministry was that of planting new churches among the gentiles. He also advised them and offered his help when needed. He appointed elders to oversee each assembly, care for the flock and prepare its members for the work of the ministry. Though one house church met in the home of Aquilla and Pricilla and another in the home of Nymphas and yet a third in the house of Archippus, it is extremely doubtful that any of these faithful overseers had charge or responsibility for any but those with whom they met, those who gathered in their respective homes. Another reason for believing they met under separate and distinct leadership is the fact that each lived in a different place. If I’m a leader in a house church, functioning as a bishop, i.e. an elder, I should be working with anther elder or elders and/or other teachers, to oversee the flock of God. If I oversee two or more assemblies each having its own bishop, I become an archbishop and there are none of these to be found in the New Testament. If I lead two hundred assemblies I have become a corporate executive, a denominational leader. If I lead one hundred, I remain a denominational leader. The same holds true for fifty churches, ten or even two. If it's difficult for us to change when confronted with the light of truth, then change becomes almost impossible for an entire denomination. Jesus tried to change the religious system of His day and they killed Him for it. Some of this same attitude exists among the institutional leaders of today.

[17.38]

If the seeds of denominationalism were being spread in the first century (1 Corinthians 1:11-13) then what would make you think they're not being spread today? The fact is these seeds of division are being spread by those more interested in developing their own empire than building God's kingdom. These are the same seeds that spawned the tree of evil and separated man from God. These same seeds that produced the fruit of Cain's hatred for his brother. You'll find these same seeds today scattered about in God's harvest, growing up as choking weeds that resemble God's true fruit, weeds that separate and destroy the harvest of His angels and as a result will be destroyed by them. They grow up around us now even in this precious movement back to the simplicity and love of the early church. It is these that Christ speaks of in Matthew 7:22-23, Matthew 25:41 and Luke 6:46.

Matthew 7:22-23
22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

Matthew 25:41
41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:

Luke 6:46
46 And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?

[17.39]

Looking Like Us

The apostle John writes about these same corrupting weeds in 1 John 2:18-19. Just like us, they meet in houses and advocate returning to first century church practices while they herd God’s sheep into their private corals where they can lord it over them. Meeting in a house doesn't mean you've escaped the denominational trap. There are many today hard at work building house church denominations like: “The Local Church” begun by Witness Lee or other house church clusters that focus on the teachings of one man who also leads them as their corporate head. Beware of these wolves dressed in sheep's clothing.

House church denominations are already springing up among us. If we don't recognize the mistakes of the past, we're doomed to repeat them. We were seduced once by the denominational whore, let's not be found sleeping with her again.

[17.40]

This Is A Special Moment

At this moment in time, the house church movement is a toddling baby. We sit here in the midst of a miracle. We who gather together here are free and independent. Like the early church, we have chosen to reach out to each other. We have chosen only one leader to lead us, to be our authority. Jesus is the only one that is the head of the church. God has given us some very special men to guide us through this critical period. If we don't get this one thing straight now and forever, we'll pay a heavy price. We must now affirm and agree that every assembly must have their own leadership and the leadership must not accept oversight over more than one assembly. Apostles and prophets don't lead assemblies. Apostles plant new churches and appoint overseers to lead them. Prophets give words of comfort and revelation to them but elders, once appointed, maintain the oversight of them.

[17.41]

Understanding Church Planters

Fathers don't create life only God can do that, but they do carry living seed. Apostles, as church planters, don't create Christians, God does, but apostles, i.e. missionaries carry the seed, the word of God. These church planters spread this seed, encourage growth and rake the yield into small bundles. These bundles are bound tightly together so that none will shake loose and we call these bundles local churches.

[17.42]

Like fathers, these church planters teach, train, protect and provide everything necessary to bring each spiritual family to maturity. What then? Here is where we, as apostolic workers, must make a critical decision. At the point of church maturity, we must decide if we, as good parents, will set our spiritual children free to be guided and taught by the Holy Spirit or place ourselves as a buffer between the children and the world. Will we attempt to halt their growth by coming along side to guide and protect them from the temptations and evils that wait to snare them? Should we usurp the work of the Spirit by placing ourselves in this position? At the point of their maturity, shouldn't we, as responsible Christian parents, move from the position of care providers to that of care advisors? Shouldn't we, at this point, surrender our parental authority and assume a different posture, that of being a gentle and loving counselor? When should we make this transition? When does any good parent move from provider to advisor? Isn't it when our children are mature enough to stand and provide for themselves?

[17.43]

Is it the apostle's job to pastor and oversee the churches he's begun or is it his job to recognize and equip others for this ministry? If he remains the overseer, how can he continue to move and plant? If he continues to move and plant, what kind of oversight can he offer to those churches left behind? At this point you're likely thinking, that's why we appoint bishops and elders. If bishops and elders oversee things when the apostle is planting new churches, then why not all the time? Why would any apostle choose to work in each service part time? It is apparent however, that Peter and John were not only apostles but elders as well. These two key figures and close friends of Jesus not only established new churches but retained their position as elders in their home church until the great persecution in 70-80AD. At this point or perhaps before, we find John exiled to the Isle of Patmos while Peter was most likely, crucified. We have no record beyond this point of any apostle holding both ministries especially those apostles, i.e. missionaries called out by the Holy Spirit. Remember the twelve were called by Jesus and held unique authority given to them alone. Today's apostles must learn to recognize the moving and gifting of the Spirit in others. They must prepare others for their eventual absence, knowing that each assembly belongs to God and must be prepared to stand on its own and walk on its own long after the parenting apostle has moved on.

[17.44]

It's hard for parents to let go but as servants of God we must let go and let God. The relationship between church planter and the churches they foster is a special one but, like all good parents, those blessed with this trust must learn to let go and release their disciples into the hands of the Holy Spirit who Christ has sent to teach and guide them into all truth.

[17.45]

Apostle, Title Or Ministry

Many confuse the apostles of Jesus with the church planters of today. Though the apostolic work remains the same in that new churches are planted, those who fulfill this calling today and those referred to in scripture as “the twelve” are not the same. Jesus was the first apostle and the only apostle sent by the Father. The twelve, personally picked by Jesus face to face, were His only apostles. Today's apostles are set aside for “the work” by the Holy Spirit but “the twelve” established the Spirit inspired apostolic teachings and traditions which formed the foundation of God's spiritual house, that which we now call the church.

Acts 2:42
42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.

2 Thessalonians 2:15
15 Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.

[17.46]

These twelve apostles clearly occupied a unique position, one that was not passed on after their death. Why? First, their work for Christ was complete. Second, they were the only ones empowered to forgive or deny forgiveness of sin and a few of them were even allowed to contribute to the New Testament text. Church planters, i.e. missionaries today have no such authority. There will be only twelve names etched on the foundations of the New Jerusalem and today's church planters will not be among them. These twelve have been given exclusive right to judge Israel; they have built the foundation upon which the church rests and we can build on no other.

[17.47]

Apostles are sent out…to “the work”. Out to the highways and byways. Out to places and lands near and far, but always out, not in! Apostles are not sent into the church but out to the work. Once they've appointed elders, the work ceases to be a work and becomes a church. It is no longer a work and the apostle is no longer its overseer. Its oversight passes from the apostle, the overseer of “the work” to the bishop or elder, the overseer of “the church”. We use this term bishop in the biblical sense and not in the hierarchical sense. When an apostle (church planter) visits a completed work, i.e. a church with established leadership, he comes as a father visiting his married son and family. He is no longer the spiritual leader of that house, his spiritual son is. The church planter and his former disciples move into a new and more mature relationship. They relate now as friends and brothers equally accountable to the Lord for the ministry God has given them. Together they serve the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ.

[17.48]

If, in the natural sense, a father made any attempt to exercise his paternal authority in his son's house or usurp his son’s authority over his family, their relationship would undoubtedly suffer serious harm. Families gather together to share their joy or sorrow because they choose to. Each unit of the extended family is complete within itself yet they gather. Why? Because they have the liberty and trust that love gives them, they may celebrate their family relationship if they choose or not. When a father or grandfather attends a family gathering, they come as part of the whole, not as its head, they’re received for who they are, not what they are.

[17.49]

There are two phases in a relationship between a father and his children, the adolescent phase and the adult phase. The first requires the father's attentive oversight in the nurturing and training of each child. In the second, the father must learn to trust the teaching and discipline he has implanted in his children allowing his grown children the freedom and independence necessary to apply the knowledge and preparation he instilled in them. Releasing these reigns should be a gradual process, taking place in the transition between phase one and phase two. At the point of adulthood, each child should assume full responsibility for the decisions that will ultimately determine the course they take in life and the character they achieve.

[17.50]

In His infinite wisdom, God has provided oversight for these same two phases as they apply to His church. God has provided apostles (church planters) to attend His fledgling church as it struggles through the growing pains of youth but once it has the ability to stand and walk on its own, God provides bishops and teachers to assist in its continued growth and ministry.

[17.51]

When an apostle (church planter) visits any completed church, he comes as a brother. When an evangelist or prophet comes to the assembly, they too come as brothers and when an elder comes from any other assembly he also attends as a brother. Without doubt, the twelve apostles hand picked by Christ had unique authority that exceeded the church planters sent out by the Holy Spirit; those working in apostolic ministries today. Paul threatened to use this authority if certain results were not forthcoming within a certain church but we have no record that he ever had to use this power. True apostolic power today is not measured by the authority to punish but in the service given to others.

[17.52]

Every mature Christian is endowed with the authority to rebuke. It is not that apostles are without this ability but rather that all brethren are equally empowered with it and are responsible to shun evil and expose sin, especially when it threatens the church. It then becomes the responsibility of all true believers to protect the flock of God from wolves, rebellion, backbiting, gossip or sin of any kind. Each disciple has a responsibility to guard the church that God has called him to.

[17.53]

With responsibility comes authority and this authority may be exercised within the limits of ones calling. Our authority must never reach beyond our calling into the calling of another. We must never assume we have the right to usurp authority belonging to another. God has set limits over the work that he has entrusted to us, we must respect these limits and not attempt to expand them. God is no respecter of persons. He trusts and loves the deacon as much as the elder and the elder as much as the apostle. If being accountable requires one brother to report to another, it would suggest that a church planter is more trustworthy than a deacon and this is not true; we are all accountable as disciples to each other and to God. Apostles have oversight authority over apostolic work. Bishops and elders have oversight authority over a completed church and deacons have oversight authority over each practical task appointed them.

[17.54]

I believe the doctrine of the Nicolatians was that of teaching others to establish various levels of authority, an accountability system that has led to the hierarchical cancer that pumps pride into church leadership today. Such a system imitated the government of Rome and is now modeled by the Roman Catholic sect, among others.

[17.55]

Ephesians four states apostles are first. Why? When any structure is erected, the first thing done is to send men and equipment to the site to prepare it for building. After the site work is done, the foundation is laid; this is likely why the church planter is listed first. The site work and foundation must always proceed the erection of the stones used to complete the structure, and we brethren are those living stones used to build up the spiritual house of God which we now call the church and the spirit of God inhabits every stone in its spiritual structure.

Ephesians 2:20
20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;

1 Peter 2:5
5 Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 3:7
7 So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.

[17.56]

As leaders, let us continually remind ourselves that even our righteousness is as filthy rags in the sight of God (Isaiah 64:6). May we never forget whose church it is.