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Saturday, January 31, 2015
TWO PATTERNS FOR THE ASSEMBLY AND CHRISTIAN MINISTRY Which do you follow?
For most of my life, my experience of and participation in “Christian ministry” was patterned after divinely ordained principles of ministry given to
under the Old Covenant. That pattern has been passed down through the centuries
by church fathers to present day gatherings of believers. Sadly, the Old Covenant
was designed for and can only produce bondage in the lives and ministries of
those who serve under it. (See Galatians 4:21-31) But it has only been in the
last 15 years that I have come to appreciate the “Better way” of ministry under
the New Covenant which the Lord Jesus dedicated with His own blood at Calvary.
I simply ask you, my brothers and sisters in Christ, to consider the stark contrasts between the two. If you conclude that your experience of ministry has so far been patterned after the Old, I would implore you to step into the liberty of gatherings and ministry patterned after the New!
THE OLD COVENANT PATTERN
Is exemplified by the Pharisees who were a sect and were, by definition, "SEPARATISTS"! The Greek word PHARASAIOS "Pharisee" (Strongs' #5330) is derived from the Hebrew word PARASH, "to separate". (Strongs' #6567) This is the word translated "scattered" in Ezek. 34:12 "As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day."
Assemblies of God’s people which are patterned after the Old Covenant, expressing the example of the Pharisees, are marked by a pervasive DICHOTOMY by which every area of life is separated into two distinct spheres: There are things SACRED or HOLY and there are things SECULAR or COMMON.
THE NEW COVENANT PATTERN
Is exemplified by the Lord Jesus who prayed that we might be one. John 17:11,21,22 Caiaphas, a Pharisee, prophesied in John 11:45 ...that Jesus should die for that nation and not for that nation only, but that also He should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.
Assemblies of God’s people which are patterned after the New covenant, express the Lord's desire for UNITY by living life as a unified whole…i.e. believers know that, for them in Christ, the COMMON ismade HOLY!
This Old Covenant Dichotomy or distinction between things holy and things common and the
contrasting New Covenant unity(common things made holy in Christ) is seen in at least the following ten practices:
(1) Since Old Covenant ministry clearly distinguished a priestly, ministerial class of people from the common people, assemblies of God’s people which are patterned after the Old Covenant also recognize a class of people called the "CLERGY" and a class of people called the "LAITY", or those who are "THE SERVANTS OF THE LORD" and those who are simply "secular employers and employees", those who are the "MINISTERS" and those who are "MINISTERED TO", those who are "FULL-TIME CHRISTIAN WORKERS" and those who are "PART-TIME CHRISTIAN WORKERS" , those who do not earn a living by "working with their hands" who are distinguished from those who are expected to have employment and earn wages out of which they can "support" the others! Some of the early apostles, who disdained to follow the lowly example of the Lord Jesus in menial service, claimed, “It is not reason that we should leave the word of God and serve tables…But we will give our selves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the Word.” (Acts 6:2-4) But thankfully none of them ever taught others to follow such a poor example!!!!
But the New Covenant scriptures teach that KLEROS (Clergy) &
(Laity), “heritage” & “people” are one and the same group of people (I Peter 5:3 and 2:10), that all saints are servants of the Lord, Rom 12:11), that all
are gifted for ministry (I Peter
4:10,11), that all are to live
"unto Him" all the time (IICor.5:14) and that
all new covenant men including elders/overseers/pastors are
to labor working with their hands.
The apostle Paul consistently did this as a Gospel preacher and taught assembly
elders to follow his own example. (Acts
20:33-35; II Cor.12:13-19; II Thess 3:6-15) This is why the apostle Paul never
had any difficulty speaking to saints about giving! He never relied on them for
his supply but on Lord! (He looked to His Master (Ps.123:2) for two things: (1) for his assignments
(Acts 9:15) and (2) for the supply of his needs.(Phil.4:19) LAOS
All believers are called to full-time service for Christ and none are called to part-time positions! (IICor.5:14,15) Every Gospel preacher who follows Paul’s instructions and example...Laboring with his own hands (Acts 20:33-35), preaching and ministering without charge (Matt.10:8; I Cor.9:18), owing no man anything by staying out of debt (Romans 13:8), refusing to save/lay up for himself treasures on earth(Matt.6:19,20) and giving generously to the poor (Gal.2:10; I Cor.16:1- 3 & II Cor.8) can boldly and confidently teach the saints about giving just as Paul did! He had no “conflict of interests” and neither will they as they follow his example! (If it’s God’s will, it’s God’s bill! But if it’s not His assignment, don’t expect His supply!)
(2) Since under the Old Covenant the Lord prescribed a class of buildings (tabernacles and temples) for sacred use and worship which were distinct from the peoples' common dwellings or places of work, so too assemblies of God’s people patterned after the Old Covenant require specially dedicated buildings which they call "sanctuaries", "houses of God" or "assembly halls" which are distinct from the ordinary homes of the people.
The New Covenant scriptures teach that God dwells not in temples made with hands (Acts 7:48 & 17:24) but that the saints themselves are the habitation of God. (Ephesians 2:20-22) Believers who recognize their New Covenant liberties in Christ have no church buildings but rather meet in each others' homes. (Matt.26:6,18; Mark 1:29; 2:1,15; 3;19; 6:10; 7:17,24; 9:28,33; 10:10; 14:3,14; Luke 4:38; 7:36,37; 8:51; 9:4; 10:5,7,38; 19:5,9; 22:10,11; John 12:3; Acts 2:2,46; 5:42; 8:3; 12:12; 16:32,34,40; 20:20; Romans 16:15; I Cor.16:19; Col.4:15; Philemon 1:2) Thus no financial resources need be wasted on salaries or church buildings but can be invested in poor saints, getting the Word of God into people and people into the Word of God!
(3) Since Old Covenant ministry, by God's command, observed specific weekly and annual "holy days" for "spiritual" exercises which were distinct from common days used for common enterprises, so too assemblies of God’s people today which are patterned after the Old Covenant distinguish a specific day of the week and specific annual days for observance of "holy services".
But the New Covenant scriptures do not teach in any way that Christians are to regard certain days as holy or separate from others or that they are to take part in any holy rituals or assemblies on such particular days. Rather, New Covenant believers are instructed to live holy lives every day of the week and all the time. In Romans 14:5,6 , Paul instructs the saints that one believer may regard one day above another and other believers may regard every day alike, but that they are not to judge one another in such matters! If God had truly intended all believers to "observe a certain day of the week", or to "assemble on a certain day of the week" Paul could not have written what He did in Romans 14 under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit!
(4) Ministry under the Old Covenant included distinctions between holy food and common food, food which could only be eaten by the priests and their families and food which could be eaten by the common people. Thus assemblies of God’s people which are patterned after the Old Covenant consider that the Lord's Supper is a "holy ordinance" that can only be “administered” by “credentialled clergyman”, in a recognized holy "house of God" on a holy day!
However, New Covenant believers remember their Lord as often as they eat and drink, as they
partake of their ordinary meals on a daily basis in their own homes apart from the "administration" of a clergyman! (Acts 2:42,46) Distinctions between "holy" and "common" breaking of bread are absolutely foreign to the New Covenant scriptures! Just as no one would recognize quarterly, monthly or weekly praying as “steadfast continuance in prayer”, neither can quarterly, monthly or weekly “communion” ever be construed as “steadfast continuance in breaking of bread” ! (Acts 2:42)
(5) During the time of Old Covenant ministry which lasted approximately 1500 years (from the
giving of the Ten Commandments at Sinai to the death of Christ at
Calvary) there is ONE AND
ONLY ONE REFERENCE to the reading and teaching of scripture FROM A PULPIT. (Nehemiah 8:4) And yet, regardless of denomination, monologue preaching called "pulpit ministry" has become the one central and indispensible feature of assemblies of God’s people today which are patterned after Old Covenant ministry! For this reason, many prospective "ministers" are trained in seminaries and Bible colleges in the "art" of "homiletics". During my Bible school days, I took a number of "homiletics" classes and we were told that "homiletics" was the preparation and delivery of monologue "sermons" or "homilies". But one thing we were not trained to do in those courses was to do word studies in scripture using such a tool as a "Strong's Concordance". If we had simply done a word study on the Greek word "HOMILEO", we would have discovered that our "homiletics professors" had lied to us!!!! The word HOMILEO is found 4 times in the New Covenant scriptures and in every case a "homily" is a CONVERSATION AMONG A NUMBER OF PEOPLE. It was NEVER a monologue sermon!!!(Luke 24:14,15; Acts 20:11; 24:26)
But among New Covenant believers of the first century and among those of this century who have come to recognize their liberty in Christ, homilies, conversations, discussions and dialogues are the ways in which divine truth was and still is most effectively communicated! (Which do you remember best…sermons to which you have passively listened, OR conversations in which you have actively participated?)When New Covenant saints gathered together in the first century, there is not a single example of a monologue sermon being delivered to edify the people of God, but many examples of dialogues, discussions, homilies, conversations! This is in total harmony with New Covenant instructions that when the saints assemble together there is to be a ministry of "one anothering" (Hebrews 10:24,25) because every believer has been given a spiritual gift that is to be used for the edification of others. (I Peter 4:10,11) There is no such gifting as "spectator"!!! Rather than communication of divine truth being centred in and restricted to "pulpit ministry" from a "sacred desk", God's intention is that His truth be communicated in the normal activities and conversations of life across ordinary coffee tables, desks, work tables, kitchen tables, restaurant tables etc.
(6) Since Old Covenant ministry was primarily centered in holy buildings (the tabernacle and temple) and the ministry was committed to a distinct group of men (priests and Levites) God ordained that tithes (one tenth of people's increase) and offerings be given by the people. The tithes were for the support of the priests and Levites and the offerings were for the building and maintenance of the holy buildings. Thus in assemblies of God’s people which are patterned after the Old Covenant system, great emphasis is placed upon "tithes and offerings" given in corporate collections. The vast majority of the financial resources amassed in these corporate collections (nearly 90% for many churches) is spent on staff salaries, mortgages, building maintenance, utilities, insurance etc on a building which is usually used only for a few hours each week! When thousands of people groups in our world today are still waiting to hear the Gospel in their own language such squandering of the financial resources of the Lord's people is horrible stewardship for which we will soon have to give account! But even so, only a very small percentage of "church going people" even give 10%! Those who do often think, "I've given my 10% to the Lord so now I can do what I like with the 90% that's left.” So again there is a dichotomy between what is the Lord's (the tithe) and what is mine (to be used to pay bills, buy groceries, spend on luxuries or save "for a rainy day"). “Corporate collections” always flow upward from the “secular workers” in the pew to the “Full-time Christian workers” in the pulpit.
But the New Covenant scriptures never once teach believers that just "the tithe is the Lord's"!
Rather the whole emphasis of the New Covenant scriptures is that the believer has been bought by another, we are not our own! When we belong to the Lord, all of our possessions do too and thus THE TOTAL IS THE LORD'S! We do not have the right to spend money or use possessions as if we "owned " them. Rather we are simply stewards into whose trust Another has committed His property. Therefore, we will give account to Him for how we have invested His goods! From this perspective, New Covenant believers are never commanded to contribute to a corporate "church collection"! The scriptural instruction regarding collections is found in I Corinthians 16:1,2. There we do not find a corporate collection but rather a personal and proportionate collection, "Let every one of you lay by him in store as God has prospered him." This giving is also to be purposeful...it is for "saints". It is also an action that is to take priority...it is to be done "on the first day of the week". Thus in gatherings of saints which follow the New Covenant pattern of ministry and giving, there is no need of corporate collections, "passing the offering plate" or pleading for contributions to keep the corporate ship "afloat"!
Instead, believers who have been constrained by the love of Christ (II Corinthians 5:14,15) make it a
regular priority to personally, privately and proportionately lay by (in a special place in their purse or wallet, in a special drawer or bank account) resources with which God has prospered them. And then, as God brings needs to their mind, and speaks to their hearts they experience the joy of giving to other people in need and to faithful workers who are taking the Gospel to others or investing their lives in teaching the Word of God freely to others. As there are no dedicated buildings to be built, bought or maintained and no staff salaries to be paid, 100% of their resources can be invested for eternity, i.e. getting the Word of God into people and people into the Word of God! Personal collections …(each one lays by himself in store I Cor.16:1,2) always flow downward…. from saints who currently have plenty to those who are currently in need.(II Cor.8:12-15)
(7)Since distinct "holy garments" were divinely prescribed to be worn by the priests while they
served in the tabernacle or temple, assemblies of God’s people which are patterned after the Old Covenant place great emphasis on "dressing up for church"! Ministers are expected to dress in a distinctive manner while they are "doing public ministry". And believers are taught to "dress up" when they "go to church". Such “dressing up” is supposed to show reverence for God in a “holy place” for a few hours each week! But in their homes and on their jobs throughout the week they dress in ordinary or casual clothes. So this holy versus common dichotomy affects every area of one's life when they seek to live by the Old Covenant!
The New Covenant scriptures clearly teach saints to dress modestly and unpretentiously as good stewards and that their adornment is to be an inner adornment for the eye of God and not men. But when New Covenant believers recognize that they ARE the church and cannot GO TO CHURCH, that they are called to live lives of holiness to the Lord 24/7, they begin to shed the idea of a dichotomy between holy and common dress! They seek to dress modestly at all times, in ways which are appropriate to meet the needs of those whom they serve. You don't wear a three piece suit in a cow barn nor do you wear rubber boots and coveralls in a corporate business office! Clothing was never designed or intended to show reverence for God! He sees us all the time where ever we are and in whatever we are clothed! Rather reverence for Him is demonstrated by our obedience to His instructions and commands revealed in His Word..
(8) Under the Old Covenant, genealogical records were of utmost importance to "the ministry".
Since only sons of Levi could be priests or ministers, if a man could not show his genealogy proving that he was a Levite, he was disqualified from the priesthood. In similar fashion today, assemblies of God’s people which are patterned after the Old Covenant way of ministry put great stock in "credentials". Whether they are called "licenses to preach", "ordination papers", "workers' letters of commendation" etc some sort of "official document" is required as a "passport" into what is called "full-time Christian ministry"! But another kind of document is used and required of "ordinary Christians" or "laity" as they are known. If someone is travelling or moving to become associated with an assembly in another place, a "layperson" may take "membership papers", a "transfer of membership", or a "letter of commendation" depending on the denomination with which he is associated. But there are always two distinct kinds of credentialing documents provided to "clergy" and "laity"!
But when we search the New Covenant scriptures, we find a total absence of any such dichotomy regarding "credentials"! New Covenant believers often wrote for others and carried "letters of commendation" when they travelled. These simply introduced them to saints in the places to which they were travelling. These told something of their faithfulness and of the kind of ministries to which they were given. Such letters were not some sort of document that one carried around for years or framed and hung on their office wall! Each was rather a simple and practical letter of introduction that was used once and left in the hand of those to whom it was written! While there are about a dozen different examples of such letters in the new covenant scriptures, there are not TWO DIFFERENT KINDS FOR TWO DIFFERENT CLASSES OF PEOPLE! Some examples of scriptural letters of commendation are found in Acts 15:22-29; 18:27; Romans 16:1,2; II Cor.3:1,2; II Cor.8:16-24; Philippians 2:19-22; Philippians 2:25-30; and Philemon 1:1-21.
(9) Under the Old Covenant there were “holy times” when and “holy places” where certain activities were to be done. Among those who teach the principles of headship, most teach that women are to cover their heads either IN ASSEMBLY MEETINGS or ALL THE TIME! (Both ideas are foreign to scripture.) Men who are part of such assemblies usually uncover their heads in ANY situation when they are praying or prophesying, but most of the women do not cover theirs whenever they are praying or prophesying.
But New covenant saints who acknowledge the truths of headship (I Cor.11:1-16) know there is no dichotomy between being "in meetings" or “out” of them! Men uncover their heads and women cover theirs whenever and wherever they, themselves, pray or prophesy. (I Cor.11:4,5,13)
(10) Under the Old Covenant, people who were not Israelites by birth but wanted to follow Israel’s God, had to come to the place (the Tabernacle or temple) where Israel met with God; to participate in Israel’s Passover – their males all had to be circumcised like Israelites etc. In like manner, assemblies of God’s people which are patterned after the Old Covenant expect “outsiders” to “come to their buildings/meetings”, “listen to their preaching”, “conform to their doctrines” etc in order to “become members” or to be “received into their fellowship”. All such practices are foreign to the New Covenant scriptures!
But believers who enjoy New Covenant liberties realize that they are never called to “gather outsiders in” but rather to “go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature”. First century Christians did not invite unsaved people to “Gospel meetings” in their own buildings but rather went out to meet them on their own turf and told them the “Good News” where they were!
New converts were not taught to “go to church” but rather their own homes were used as bases of new operations where new believers were taught how to live their new lives in Christ and bear testimony to others in their own communities and circles of influence. So too Christians today who enjoy new Covenant liberties are NOT seeking to gather unsaved friends and neighbors into their own gatherings but rather look for opportunities to serve and speak the “Good News” to them right where they are, where they live, where they work.
When such respond in faith to Christ, they are taught how to live unto the One who died for them and rose again (II Cor.5:14,15) right in their own homes, their own work places among their own friends. See Mark 5:18-20 And when he was come into the ship, he that had been possessed with the devil prayed him that he might be with him. Howbeit Jesus suffered him not, but saith unto him, Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee. And he departed, and began to publish in
how great things Jesus had done for him: and all men did marvel.
They are not enlisted as “members” of an already existing gathering to which they must now “commute” but are taught that God has already made them members in the Body of Christ and that they are “new creatures in Christ” who can now tell others right in their own community. Being part of one of God’s assemblies is not about commuting, i.e. travelling to the nearest building of a particular denomination, but is all about community, i.e. meeting with other brothers and sisters in Christ who live down the block or around the corner) Your own home could become the next “outpost of the Kingdom” in your community if you were to host an assembly of Christians there!
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