How Do You Know if You've Been to Church?


   How do you know if you've been to church?

   Is it when you go to a meeting in a building with a pointy top? When a preacher gives a sermon? When there is a choir/worship team that sings? When you get dressed up in your Sunday clothes? When there is a bulletin and an order of service?

   Perhaps it is an indication of how far we have come (or strayed?) when we realize that none of these things is even mentioned in New Testament descriptions of church.

   So, how would someone know if they had been to New Testament church?

   The longest teaching about actual church gatherings is found in 1 Corinthians 11:2 through 14:40. Seven times in this section (11:17, 11:18, 11:20, 11:33, 11:34, 14:23, 14:26) Paul uses the word "sunerchomai" which means "to come together, to assemble." "When you come together for church, here's what it should look like…"

   There are a number of behaviors that Paul expected would happen when church occurred. For now, I want to focus on the two that are found in 12:26. "If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it."

   "Every part suffers with it."

   The word literally means, "to feel pain with". Paul is comparing the church (the Body of Christ) with our physical bodies. If our toe hurts, the rest of our body feels the pain. If one person in the church is hurting (physically, emotionally, relationally, etc.) then every (not some, not most) other part hurts with it. In a parallel verse (Rom. 12:15) Paul commands the members of the Body to "weep with those who weep". The word used here means "to sob or wail" and implies a loud and public expression of grief (see Matt. 2:18; Mark 5:38,39; 16:10; Luke 7:13; 8:52).

   "Every part rejoices with it."

   Exactly the same idea is conveyed regarding a member that is honored. Every (not some, not most) other part of the body (Body) rejoices with it. That is, they "feel joy with them". Same word in 1 Cor. 12:26 and Romans 12:15. The Hebraic meaning wrapped up in the word for joy "is not so much a private emotion as it is the enthusiastic response of a feasting company…This joy is an expressed joy: it is expressed in glad shouts, in praise, in laughter, and in enthusiastic commitment to God's ways." (Richards, p. 361)

   How do you know if you've been to church? The answer depends on whether you define church according to American culture or according to the Bible (which we say is "our authoritative standard for faith and practice"). How much do you suppose God cares about how we define "church"?

   One last thought. These two verses (1 Cor. 12:26 and Romans 12:15) force us again to the conclusion that church in the Bible was almost certainly a small group of 10-20 people. (This is consistent with the fact that there are no churches mentioned in the Bible that do not meet in homes. That's a double negative which means that every church mentioned in the Bible met in someone's home.)

   God, who is the ultimate family man, sees church as an extended family, not a large mass of people. Sure, there are times when several house churches get together but the essence of church was one extended family meeting together. How can we say this? Because the Father clearly expected that everyone who was suffering/weeping would be suffered with/wept with. And everyone who was honored in a given week would be rejoiced with.

   What if a church really was a family (Going to Family). And what if that family really was safe and every member could be honest and open their heart? Out of a group of, say twelve people, how many would need to be "wept with" in a given week? How many would need to be "rejoiced with"? When a group gets so big (more than 20? more than 12?) that this can't be done, doesn't it cease being church?

   Every Sunday morning millions of people go to a meeting that we call church. How many of them are weeping or rejoicing inside? How many of them leave "church" and no one has wept with them or rejoiced with them? How must the Father feel about this?

   What do you think?

A Response

   I think you'd have a tough time organizing a youth group that affected your town. I think you'd be hard put to support world missions in any substantial way.

   I think your neighborhood, like many have, would outlaw your church in a residential neighborhood.

   I think other traditional churches would do all the hard work of evangelism while you sat home reaching few people.

   I think the Jehovah Witness Kingdom Hall would have more people in its clutches, as would the Mormons and the drug pushers.

   I think you won't open a school.

   I think you won't open a college.

   I think you won't feed the poor beyond your own paycheck's reach.

   I think people in need won't find you in the phone book.

   I think you would have to rent my church for your weddings and funerals.

The Discussion

   I think you'd have a tough time organizing a youth group that affected your town.

   I met a group of kids in one group who have not been to church in years. They said to us we love God, but we hate church! They have been strengthened and are out ministering to their friends and school. Something that did not happen when they were in the church

   I think you'd be hard put to support world missions in any substantial way.

   Not at all! all the monies taken in our not wasted on buildings, programs and salaries. We have the option of deciding how to spend that money.

   Ed: In fact, the money that my wife and I were previously giving at the local church, almost half of which went to salaries and buildings, now goes exclusively to the poor locally and to world missions.

   I think your neighborhood, like many have, would outlaw your church in a residential neighborhood.

   I have not seen it happen yet. The house we are meeting in is owned by a lady who was the womens pastor of a large church. She has had large meetings of all kinds in her home for 30 years and never had one complaint! Also, I don't think they can stop me from inviting people to my home. They can't seem to do it in Muslim countries overseas.

   I think other traditional churches would do all the hard work of evangelism while you sat home reaching few people.

   It has been shown overseas that much evangelism is done when the church is small and meeting in a home. It is when it becomes large and overburdened with programs and buildings that evangelism stops.

   Ed: I hate to be blunt but this is really an out of touch comment. The research shows exactly the opposite, and I point you to the recent work of Christian Schwarz. Here is some info from his book titled "Natural Church Development." Page 46-47

   "In order to define "large" and "small" more precisely, we examind sets of churches of specific sizes: those with 1-100 worshippers, 100-200, 200-300, 300-400 and so on. The result? The growth rate of churches decreased with increasing size. This fact came as a surprise, because in large churches the percentages represent many more people. But when we converted the percentages into raw numbers, we were astonished. Churches in the smallest size category had won an average of 32 new people (converts) over the past five years. Churches with 100-200 in worship also won 32. Churches between 200 and 300 averaged 39 new people; churches between 300 and 400 won 25. So a "small" church wins as many people for Christ as a large one, and what's more, two churches with 200 in attendance on Sunday will win twice as many new people as one church with 400 in attendance.

   But couldn't it be that the picture is different for REALLY large churches? While the smallest churches (average attendance 51) typically won 32 people in five years, the megachurches (average 2856) won 112 persons in the same period. In raw numbers, a single megachurch won more converts, but the small church won 16x more per person! The evangelistic effect of minichurches is 16x greater than megachurches!"

   I think the Jehovah Witness Kingdom Hall would have more people in its clutches, as would the Mormons and the drug pushers.

   I have no idea WHY anyone would think that. If people are going out and talking to the people they know and bringing them in. If people are reaching those in their neighborhoods, and schools and being a part of the community, why would it be any different? This comment is baseless.

   Ed: It also implies that traditional churches are impacting these groups. Sadly, they are not.

   I think you won't open a school.

   Again, totally baseless! Why not? I just read a testimony of one church of about 200 that "converted" to a house church network. Taking most of the people who were just sitting in pews and putting them out in their neighborhoods. Now the building is a school and a bible school supported by the home churches.

   I think you won't feed the poor beyond your own paycheck's reach.

   Again, I can't see why you would say that. I will repeat! When we don't have a building or salaries we have the money to do those things!

   Ed: In fact, I know a local group who are outside the walls of the IC who have organized a good closet for the poor. Better still, they are finding it quite easy to build relationship with some who come, since they are meeting face to face.

   I think people in need won't find you in the phone book.

   I have never waited for people in need to find me anyway. I DO NOT believe that the church should wait for "people in need" to find them in the phone book!!! That is one of the things I hate about most traditional churches! They sit in the four walls and wait for people to come to them. Look at America today do you see it happening? Not according to George Barna. I think that most people don't look in the phone book anyway. Most people will reach out to the people they know. That's when christians should respond.

   I think you would have to rent my church for your weddings and funerals.

   LOL that's funny. First of all, we have funeral homes. Secondly, In the "Mega church" that I served at for five years I saw the members have to pay $300.00 to rent the chapel anyway. Tithing faithful members still had to pay big bucks to rent their own building! So, no sweat! We are used to that.

For more discussion visit http://www.safechurch.com



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• © 1999-2002 Len Hjalmarson.• Last Updated on May 31, 2001