A Few Thoughts about the Early Church in the Bible
The New Testament pattern is for churches to meet in homes (Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19; Acts 2:46; Philemon 2; Colossians 4:15) and and for the Lord's Supper to be observed as a full meal. What can we learn from these and other teachings of the Bible to strengthen our churches?
The Lord's Supper - A Full Fellowship Meal
Interactive Church Meetings (1 Corinthians 14)
Apostolic Traditions Given in the Bible
Heresy in House Churches
The Lord's Supper: A Full Fellowship Meal
The Lord's Supper described in the Bible was a full meal. The "last supper" that the Lord Jesus Christ ate with His disciples was the annual Passover meal. The Passover was a full meal. When the Lord said "Do this (break the bread and share the cup) in remembrance of Me", it was in the context of a full meal. All the New Testament passages we have relating to how we should keep the Lord's supper are consistent with it being a full meal. (Luke 24:30, Acts 2:42-46, 1 Corinthians 11) The term "breaking of bread" is best understood to be a meal, not a token.
Many people have expressed that adopting the practice of the early church in how they celebrated the Lord's Supper has made more of an edifying impact upon their fellowship than any other single change they made as a body of believers. It has the tremendous advantage of helping to build relationships between the people of the church. They really get to know one another. We can find biblical support for the idea that early believers ate meals together often - either daily (Acts 2:42-46) or weekly (Acts 20:7). This helps build healthy church relationships.
Interactive Church Meetings
You may be familiar with the typical Sunday morning "worship service." Amazingly though, if one compares a New Testament church meeting (1 Cor. 14) to what goes on today, very little resemblance will be seen between the two. In 1 Corinthians 14 we see that we should allow for multiple men to speak in church. The idea that only one man should do all the teaching, preaching, praying, and biblical exhortation is not not biblical. The idea that the elders should monitor the content (test the spirits) and make sure the sheep are not led astray is. We should be gracious concerning if, when, and how a mistaken teaching is corrected. Some mistaken ideas are minor and can be corrected in private, showing kindness and not publically embarrassing anyone. Some bad teaching needs to be promptly and publically dismissed.
All the men, especially the younger ones, need to be encouraged to study and share each week. This brings life to indvidual men, their families, and the whole church. It provides opportunity for the Spirit to work in all the men, rather than just through one man. Interactive, participatory church meetings are the New Testament pattern we are commanded to follow.
Related to how we conduct our meetings, Paul wrote, "If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lords command. If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored" (1 Cor. 14:37-38). Obviously, what we do when we assemble is very important! Is worship the only purpose for a church service? What kinds of things are to go on in such a meeting? Who is allowed to speak? Who can teach? How many different people can address the church? What about the kids: are they to be in children's church or with their parents? What size meeting was typical in the New Testament?
Church Government In Acts 20, the New Testament (NT) refers to the same group of men in leadership by three different words (elders - presbuterous 20:17, overseers - episkopous 20:19, shepherd - poimainein 20:19) Having multiple elders in a church, not a single authority figure who is the "pastor", is the New Testament pattern. The NT never speaks of "the pastor" of any church. The only time it speaks of "the Pastor" (singular) is when it is referring to the Lord as the Chief Shepherd. All other mentions suggest that having a plurality of elders is the preferred pattern. We must recognize that sometimes there is only one man who is qualified, and in those cases, there will be only one elder or pastor.
In Acts 20:17, Paul called for the "elders" (plural) of the church at Ephesus. In Titus 1:5 Paul commanded Titus to appoint "elders" (plural) in every city.
We suggest that the NT pattern is more for elder-led churches than elder-ruled churches (See Acts 15:6-23). This passages suggests government that prefers consensus to commands. Of course, we must follow the commands of Jesus Christ! We suggest that an elder's "authority" is, in some measure, earned more by servant leadership than merely conferred.
Suppose a new church in first century Alexandria, Egypt, wrote asking the apostle Peter for direction concerning the proper way to organize their fledging congregation. How would Peter have responded? Could a church legitimately deviate from the apostolic example? Or, were all NT churches to obey the commands of Jesus as delivered through His apostles? Some 2,000 years later, how are we to view the way the apostles did things? Is the NT way of doing things merely interesting history, or did God intend for it to be normative for all churches in every age? Examine the various Biblical commendations and commands to churches with respect to the tradition of the apostles. We conclude that the question is not, Do we have to do things the way they did? Rather, the question to be asked is, Why would you want to do things any other way?! Respect for our Lord who hand picked the apostles and for the Holy Spirit who led them should induce us to prefer their way of doing things to whatever our inferior wisdom might suggest.
Heresy in House Church
One great fear people have about house churches is that they might be hotbeds for heresy. Heresy is a danger in any church or believer. False teaching is widespread among the Christian denonminations today. Jesus said that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. So the key to avoiding heresy is a relationship with Jesus. Jesus said "If you continue in My word, you are My disciples indeed, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free." To avoid heresy we should cultivate a close relationship with Jesus through Bible reading, prayer, obedience, and fellowship with the believers.