It is becoming increasingly apparent in these days that the modern churches are losing their ability to gain and hold believers as they function in this time. There are some sound scriptural reasons for the profound apostasies we are seeing in this time. To begin to understand it is necessary to compare the modern churches to the Apostolic Body of the first century.
The word 'church' is derived from the Greek word kuriakos which means of, or belonging to, the Lord. Also used frequently is the word ecclesia derived from the Greek ekklesia (ek-out, kalein-to call) meaning simply an assembly the purpose of which can only be determined in the context in which it is used. The word 'church' in the New Testament is used to identify the Body of believers both visible and invisible, the visible being all believers and their children and the invisible being the whole number sealed who have been, are or shall be gathered unto Christ.
Acts 2:39 For the promise is to and for you and your children, and to and for all that are far away, to and for as many as Yahweh our Elohim (God) invites and bids to come to Himself.
Isaiah 57:19 Peace, peace to him who is far off and to him who is near! Says Yahweh; I create the fruit of his lips and I will heal him.
In the early days of the messianic community (church) there was no mention of huge church buildings or formal services like are seen today. You find descriptions of small, interactive gatherings, usually in people's homes, where everyone ministered to the body according to the gifts they were given. Here we will explore the scriptural descriptions of the characteristics, functions and structure of the early assembly.
We will find the assembly to be described as a kind of theocratic democracy, with the members free but fully cognizant that said freedom comes from obedience to Elohim (God).
The first and defining characteristic of the early assembly was its believer's faith. They were believers, not thinkers. Faith is the primary and most important tenet the messianic community was, and still is, supposed to be built on.
Romans 3:26 It was to demonstrate and prove at the present time that He Himself is righteous and the He justifies and accepts as righteous him who has faith in Yah'shua (Jesus).
Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life I now live in the body I live by faith in the Son of Elohim (God). Who loved me and gave Himself up for me.
Philippians 3:9 And that I may be found and known as in Him, not having any righteousness that can be called my own, based on my obedience to the Laws demands but possessing that which comes through faith in Christ, the right standing with Elohim (God) which comes from Elohim (God) by faith.
Revelations 14:12 Here is the steadfastness of the saints, those who keep Elohim's (God's) commandments and their faith in Yah'shua (Jesus).
This is just a sampling but very explanatory of the crucial relevance of faith in the Messiah in the early assemblies. Everything else is built from that foundation. The entire Pauline epistles emphasize this relationship between faith and salvation.
A common theme as well is the fellowship of believers. It was demonstrated that all believers stood in relation to one another and what occurred with one occurred with all. Intertwined in this enjoinder to fellowship and minister to each other is the underlying spirit of unity found in the early messianic community.
1 Corinthians 12:12 For just as the body is a unity and yet has many parts, and all the parts, though many, form one body, so it is with Christ.
Ephesians 4:4 There is one body and one Spirit just as there is also one hope to the calling you receive.
John 17:21 That they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be one in Us, so that the world may believe and be convinced that You have sent me.
Colossians 1:24 Now I rejoice in the midst of my sufferings on your behalf. And in my own person I am making up whatever is still lacking and remains to be completed of Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of His body, which is the messianic community (church).
Colossians 1:18 He also is the Head of the body, the messianic community (church); seeing He is the Beginning, the Firstborn from among the dead, so that He alone in everything and in every respect might occupy the chief place.
1 John 1:7 But if we are living and walking in the Light, as He is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) His Son.
In keeping with the early assemblies' spirit of unity, it is demonstrated that the members held resources in common to be distributed to individuals as the need arose from the community stores.
Acts 2:44 And all who believed were united, and they had everything in common.
Acts 4:332 Now the company of believers was of one heart and soul, and not one of them claimed that anything which he possessed was his own, but everything they had was in common and for the use of all.
Now we will explore the function of the individuals and the practical ministrations and day to day activities of the early assemblies. We will find a fully integrated body with each practicing and ministering to the others according to their gifts in an ongoing fashion. The early messianic assemblies are found to have separated itself into its own community out of the world with the members taking care of and providing for its own internally.
1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a dedicated nation, Elohim's (God’s) own purchased, special people, that you may set forth the wonderful deeds and display the virtues and perfections of Him Who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.
Exodus 19:5 Now therefore, if you will keep My voice in truth and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own peculiar possession and treasure from among and above all peoples; for all the earth is Mine.
It is made plain in scripture that the primary focus of the messianic community and the absolute head of the assemblies is Yah'shua (Jesus).
Matthew 18:20 For wherever two or three are gathered in My name, there I Am in the midst of them.
Colossians 1:18 He also is the Head of His body, the messianic community (church); seeing He is the Beginning, the Firstborn from among the dead, so that He alone in everything and in every respect might occupy the chief place.
An overview of the assemblies' function is found in 1 Corinthians 12:25-31:
So that there should be no division or discord or lack of adaptation but the members all like should have a mutual interest in and care for one another. Ane if one member suffers, all the parts share the suffering; if one member is honored, all the members share in the enjoyment of it. Now you are Christ’s body and you are members of it, each part severally and distinct. So Elohim (God) has appointed some in the assemblies; first apostles; second prophets; third teachers; then wonder-workers; then those with ability to heal the sick; helpers; administrators; speakers in different languages. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all have the power of performing miracles? Do all possess extraordinary powers of healing? Do all speak supernaturally in languages? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire and zealously cultivate the greatest and best gifts and graces. And yet I will show you a still more excellent way, one that is better by far and the highest of the all-love.
The bishops and elders' duties were predominantly spiritual in nature as evidenced in the following.
Acts 20:28 Take care and be on guard for yourselves and the whole flock over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you bishops and guardians, to shepherd the assembly of the Master which He obtained for Himself with His own blood.
James 5:14 Is anyone among you sick? He should call in the assembly elders. And they should pray over him, anointing him with oil in the Master’s name.
1 Peter 5:2-4 Tend the flock of Elohim (God) that is your responsibility, not by coercion or constraint, but willingly; not dishonorably, motivated by the advantages and profits, but eagerly and cheerfully. Not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd is revealed, you will win the conqueror’s crown of glory.
Throughout all the previous scriptural explorations a few things become glaringly apparent. The early messianic community ('church') was not a place. It was not something believers did once or twice a week for a couple of hours. Nor was it a place where believers went to be entertained and lectured. The early assemblies were a culture and a way of life that encouraged and expected every member to interact and minister to everyone else as they were gifted of Elohim (God) to do. The members were free and they were aware that said freedom was only to be found through their faith in and obedience to the Master. They sought not credit or worldly riches, but they sought to minister to and expand the Kingdom of Elohim (God). It was an all-day, everyday journey.
In contrast let us look at some of the common practices of the modern churches. Most churches in this day are oriented around a building. The members go to services then go separately to their homes and about their lives, frequently with little or no contact with other members except at “church”. In most mainstream churches you will find less than 10 percent of the body participating in worship or ministry activities of the church. Members are not encouraged and in some churches are actively discouraged in interacting, particularly in the area of discerning scriptural truths. Members are expected to accept the church’s particular doctrinal creeds without question. Gone is the Berean spirit which should lead us all to test all things against the scripture. Frequently, especially in churches with larger congregations, the pastoral staff does not even know the majority of the congregation by name, much less do they personally minister to them. The emphasis has been placed on production, money and numbers almost exclusively.
In most churches today, the big push is to get people in the door. Now please don’t misunderstand, it is vital that the Gospel be spread. But once new converts come in there are in most churches no ministry of discipling for the new converts. They just fall through the cracks. Consequently statistics show that up to 75 percent of new members in a given church are not still attending in a year’s time. Our churches are failing in their most critical duty, ministering to the body. Contrary to what modern thought seems to be, the assembly’s primary duty is not evangelism. That is the pervue of the missionaries and evangelists. The messianic community is to exist to minister to and edify the body.
The most glaring failure of modern churches though is the loss of sight on the Head of the Assemblies, our Lord and Savior. Gone is the teaching and exhortation from scripture. In its place are productions and emotional gimmicks designed to entertain without substance or content. Is it any wonder the body is falling away in epidemic proportions? In this time it is critical that the body return to the practice and lifestyle of the early messianic community and release the world’s hold on it. Brothers and sisters it is time to work out our salvation with fear and trembling and turn away from the cheap sensationalism and impersonality of what the church offers today.