About Jesus     Steve Sweetman

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The Evolutionary Nature Of The Church


Some Christians today want to implement New Testament teaching into their church experience.  Others don’t see the need, suggesting that returning to New Testament thinking isn’t practical today.  They say church must evolve from generation to generation in order to address the issues of each generation.  


I’ve wrestled with this issue for 3 decades and now in the last few years I’ve found a resting place in New Testament thinking.  This is the fundamental question we need to ask.  “Is church evolutionary in nature, or should church be patterned after New Testament teaching”?  How you answer this important question will determine how you experience church.   


If you think that church should evolve, then go ahead and experience church the way you think you should, but don’t call it a New Testament church.  But if  you think church should be patterned after New Testament thinking, then you need to know what the New Testament teaches and implement it.     


Many people say their church is patterned after New Testament thinking but in reality most churches aren’t so patterned.  A minimal understanding of church history shows that the church has evolved into something way different than what it was meant to be. Over the centuries we’ve systematically slipped away from our Biblical roots, and now we’re so far removed from these roots that it doesn’t occur to us that church should be or even could be based on New Testament thinking.         


When I say we should return to New Testament teaching, many people ask why we’d even want to do such a thing.  They remind me that the first generation church had its problems too.  They’re right on that count, but they’re wrong in thinking I prefer to copy New Testament churches.  I suggest we implement New Testament teaching, not copy New Testament churches.  There’s a major difference between the two ideas.  What the first generation church practiced in some cases wasn’t what it was taught.  As in many aspects of life, there’s a disparity between our preaching and our practice. 


The next question that is asked is, “how on earth can we do church the way the New Testament teaches in our modern society”.  This shouldn’t be an objection if you understand what the New Testament teaches about church.  Church is all about Jesus, His disciples, and working relationships, none of which have changed over the centuries.   


I’ve written extensively on what I understand the New Testament to teach about church and it’s too much to repeat in one paragraph.  I’ll boil it down to this.  Paul taught that church is the Body of Christ on earth.  This means that each Christian is a body part in Jesus’ Body.  Each person has a job to do for the good of  the Body.  We do our jobs by working as individuals and by working with a few other body parts Jesus has joined us to.  I call working with other body parts “functional relationships”.   These relationships aren’t just for mutual edification.  They are to be working relationships.         


Beyond “functional relationships”, everything else is secondary, including buildings, programs, salaries, and whatever else we do in church.  The fact of the matter is that we have evolved into being busy with these secondary things, and we’ve lost the functional aspects of personal relationships.  We tend to relate more to an organization or these secondary things than we do to Jesus and to those He has joined us to.  You don’t really need many of these secondary things to function in New Testament terms.     


The New Testament lays out the skeleton for the church  that works in every generation.  The foundation of this skeleton is functional relationships.  From this foundation the rest of the skeleton is set in place with the addition of the New Testament pattern. One part of this skeletal pattern is the format for community worship as found in 1 Corinthians 14.  1 Corinthians 14 is the skeleton that we implement into our gatherings.  We put flesh on the skeleton with things from our day and age. Paul never had a guitar to play in worship. We do. The guitar could be seen as part of the flesh we add to the Scriptural skeleton.  The important thing here is to know the skeletal pattern and implement it before we add anything else.  We tend to put flesh on a skeleton of our own invention.    


This is just one example of part of the New Testament skeleton. There are many more skeletal teachings.   I’d suggest you pull the skeleton out of your church closet. Maybe you didn’t even know that you had a skeleton in your church closet.


I’ve suggested that the basic question to this issue concerns the evolutionary nature of the church.  Yet for those who believe in church evolution I’ve got another question.   “What place does Biblical teaching have in your life, and to be more specific, in your church life”?  If the Bible is God’s Word to live by, shouldn’t we do as it teaches in all respects?  Why would we want to follow Biblical teaching in our personal lives and not follow Biblical teaching in our church lives?

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