[Before I launch into my answer, let me say that I seem to remember reading something you wrote somewhere about the incorrect use of quotation marks. Risking your wrath
, I will “use” quotation marks fairly liberally in places besides direct quotations.
. [Ooooh—double smiley!]]
Several of your questions are hard ones for two reasons. First, because when looking at the New Testament evidence, one must always decide whether a passage is descriptive or normative. Second, for all the issues you ask about there is a gap between the biblical text and the next available historical evidence of the practices of the early church. Sometimes this gap is 100+ years and sometimes several times that. When we look back over 2,000 years, 100 years may seem insignificant, but think of how much our society has changed in 100 years. Yet people tend to read the “early Church” practices back onto the New Testament Church.
As for the first problem, the book of Acts describes the selection of the first deacons. Is the lesson to be learned that churches must have deacons? I don’t think so. I think this is a descriptive passage, not a normative one, and I think the lesson to be learned is that there is no ONE, RIGHT form of church administration or government. Rather, I think the lesson to be learned is that church structures and polity should evolve as new needs arise. Implicitly, that means old ways can be abandoned.
As for the second problem, the New Testament in several places speaks of “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” Many commentaries point out these are likely to be 3 different things (and not mere surplusage). Interestingly, psalms, i.e., the psalms of the Old Testament and hymns (largely a technical term of art in Greek) were VERY frequently accompanied with instruments. Yet from relatively early on (~150 AD) there are extant texts of the Church Fathers that IMPLY instruments were not used. Then, very shortly after that, other extant texts FORBID the use of instruments. Or at least that is what is usually claimed. I have not looked at these sources myself (and wouldn’t trust my Greek without a translation to check against), but one important secondary work, Christian Hymns of the First Three Centuries, by Ruth Ellis Messenger is more precise:
“Many statements about Christian practice, inspired by biblical precedent, are found in patristic literature. The traditions both of Hebrew music and of the early Church are well known. It seems clear that melody only was employed and that it was, FOR THE MOST PART, unaccompanied. Instrumentation was opposed and forbidden IN PUBLIC WORSHIP OF A LITURGICAL NATURE.” (emphasis added).
But since there is a gap between the NT Church and the Fathers, the question arises, were the Fathers following the earlier practice or deviating from it? “Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” may be a thin reed to lean on in determining the practice of the NT Church, but so is the writing of the Fathers after several hundred years (especially in light of Dr. Messenger’s precise statements).
Note, that everything I written so far is by way of illustrating problems one encounters in attempting to answer your questions and either kind or both kinds can crop up in answering any of them. In other words, the problems are not limited to the areas I used as illustrations.
Now, for my direct answers/opinions.
I think the basic components of early Church meetings can be seen in the Acts 2 passage (the Apostle's teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer) combined with various passages in the Epistle’s where (as mentioned above) we read of “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs,” as well as the free operation of the “spiritual gifts.” (Paul addressed abuses of these gifts, but his answer never was to shut them down in public worship.)
As for hierarchy and structure, I already mentioned that some positions, such as deacon, are not necessarily normative. As for what positions ought to exist and what the hierarchy ought to look like, I think it is important to answer this question in a broader context. I do believe that CERTAIN other offices (i.e., other than those mentioned in descriptive passages) are permanently established in the Church. However, these “offices” are actually “gifts” and they are only sub-set of spiritual gifts that ought to exist in the Church.
Implicit in my last statement is my belief that all of the “spiritual gifts” are to be permanently operating in the Church. Arguments for the gifts ceasing 1) are completely unavailing under normal principles of exegesis, and 2) prove too much.
I won’t deal with the first problem—the arguments for and against the cessationist view are well know.
However, as to the second point, the “spiritual gifts” are sometimes all (sloppily) called “the gifts of the Holy Spirit.” In reality, there are three groups of gifts: Gifts of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 12:7-11); gifts of the Son (Eph. 4:1-3); and gifts of Father (Ro. 12:3-8). And the reason I say that the cessationist view proves too much is because the “gifts” of the Son, are best seen as permanently established “offices” in the Church: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers. (This post is already too long for me to go into this idea of gift as office). Yet the cessationists do not argue that these offices have ceased (with the exception of some who argue the office of apostle has ceased). Yet the basis for pick-and-choose-cessationism is even weaker than would be the case for full-blown cessationism.
All of this is very important to your question. Recognizing that the church “offices” are “only” a sub-set of gifts, i.e., recognizing that God speaks to and moves through ALL His people, serves to prevent many abuses at the hands of (traditional) church “leaders”—whether too much control, too little effort (which no one can successfully challenge), tyranny, or some other malady. When only the “office gifts” are recognized and not the other gifts, the clergy-laity distinction rears its ugly head as in many mainline churches. And when the “office gifts” are given too much prominence, as in many restorationist churches, you end up with control freak churches like many in the shepherding movement. Of course, if a church is cessationist—or if it might as well be because the non-office gifts are not operating—there will be problems no matter what.
So, bottom line, a church’s hierarchy should have the following:
1) the permanent offices: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers.
2) operating along with all the other spiritual gifts, and with
3) any other offices/positions that have been created over the years out of need (if they are still needed).
I believe—and I’m just going to have to assert this (I just don’t have time to make the case)—that there should be both plurality of leadership (i.e., across offices) and specifically plurality of eldership.
These principles implicate some downstream questions that I will raise, but not answer. (Again, I just don’t have time.)
A. Are there 5 or 4 permanent offices? I.e., is it 1) apostles, 2) prophets, 3) evangelists, 4) pastors, and 5) teachers; or is it 1) apostles, 2) prophets, 3) evangelists, and 4) pastors-teachers? The arguments have been made both ways based on the texts.
B. Do all the offices and/or other gifts have to be present in a given local body or do they just need to be present within the larger denominational structure? Or within a given geographical area across denominational lines?
C. If all offices are not found (or to be found) in a given local church, what biblical or prudential or commonsense principles ought to govern inter-congregational relations within denominations, across denominations, and/or between independent churches and other independent churches and/or denominational churches?
D. How does true plurality of leadership work, given that some leaders will be paid for full-time ministry and others will not?
If you look at what was happening in the New Testament Church, it seems to me it’s pretty similar to what happens in a modern day church, especially a Charismatic or Pentecostal one. At least the COMPONENTS are largely the same, if not the FORM: teaching, worship, prayer, fellowship, the Lord’s Supper, spiritual gifts.
As to the FORM, that has changed immensely over the years, for good and for ill, and much (all?) of the good/bad evaluation is an opinion question.
Two things that go back pretty far have fallen out of most churches are of interest. First, the Lord’s Supper was part of a full-blown meal (as is recorded in Scripture and continued for a while after that—but see some of the links below re: whether and when the Lord’s Supper and the “love feast” were separate events). Second, the rise and (and later fall) of the “catechumens”—people who were not officially part of the church yet, and who could attend most of the public worship services, but could not participate in the Lord’s Supper (which is also addressed in the links below)
Well, OK, three things: baptizing people naked! (So here’s a question for those who use early Church practice to argue against 1) musical instruments and/or 2) singing harmony: Do you baptize your converts naked like the early Church did?)
Even though I’ve said that I think the New Testament Church “service” and the modern church service have most of the same components, there is no doubt that some particulars have changed, and those may not be limited only to form. The problem with your “when” question (re: change), is that it would take BOOKS to answer. However, I will try to give a few links to articles that do partial justice to the first several centuries. Unfortunately, I am limited to sources 1) that are available on the Internet and 2) with which I am familiar. Remembering what I said about how much time a 100+ years is, one interesting thing to do is to review the New Testament Scriptures, then read what developed in the first 300 or so years, then think of the modern church.
A few interesting, helpful links to SHORT articles are here
; or you can download all these articles plus others as on pdf here
. While I could point out a few interesting points from each of these, I will limit myself to one about hierarchy. Note that Justin Martyr (in the first article), talks about the key officer, the President. This is a title unknown to the New Testament Church and one which I am unfamiliar with in modern orthodox Christianity (although it is used by Mormons and Unitarian Universalists), so this is an example of offices coming and going as needed.
If you want to move into the next phase of Church history, you can check out Philip Schaff’s history here
. On this page, click on the Table of Contents icon at the left end of the gray bar above the word “Preface.” Once you get to the Table of Contents, you can expand the Chapters to see individual sections. There is much that might interest you. Of particular interest might be § 90. Public Worship of the Lord’s Day. Scripture-Reading and Preaching”
, § 98. The Liturgies. Their Origin and Contents
, and many of the sections in the chapter on Christian Art (especially those dealing with poetry, music, and hymns, which begin with § 102. Religion and Art
. (You can just hit the next button to advance through them.) This last suggestion may seem a bit counterintuitive compared to some of the other section titles, but I think they will be of interest , and some of the other may not be (but then again they may
I won’t go any further through Church history than this! But you can easily find primary and secondary sources on the Internet for the Post-Nicene era and every era after that.
Moving on to other questions, about 20 years ago, my wife and I helped plant a church that was based on cell groups. This was then all the rage in certain quarters (and my still be). Our particular model originated in Asia and about the time it was catching on in the States, people were beginning to realize that some components were actually more culturally-based than initially understood. Some of what worked in the Asian culture did not work as well in the States.
Nonetheless, this church had many wonderful qualities. One in particular was that your cell group leader was your front-line pastor. In other words, this was not a church WITH cells (or home groups); it was a church BASED on cells. If you were in the hospital, suffered a death in the family, had a child, needed counseling, it was often the cell leader that met that need. This was not 100% the case because some cell leaders were not equipped, but often the cell leader and the cell leader’s supervisor would do these things. But lines of communication were open were open and flowing from cell leader to cell leader supervisor to elders to what we called “senior elders”; and other folks were available when needed.
One interesting insight comes from my church experiences both prior to and subsequent this church plant: In many churches, people would be offended if the senior pastor (or at least some member of the pastoral “staff”) did not perform these functions. It is possible that some cell-based churches overcome this prejudice through teaching & there’s no doubt we did teach on this. However, I think this practice went down relatively smoothly for another reason that had nothing to do with the church being cell-based. Rather it had to do with how we were created. (And this point also relates to your question about non-traditional churches. (OK, I’m fudging—you asked about non-traditional FORMATS. But forgive me; I really want to tell this story.))
This church was started when one gentleman felt called to plant a new church in our area. First, he gathered a church planting team around him, maybe 60 folks, including children. We met for about 6-9 months before we launched the church publicly. In the weeks before the launch, we rented a phone bank and made 10’s of thousands of phone calls. We asked one question: Do you currently have a church home? If the person said “yes”, we said “thank you.” If they said “no,” we invited them to our first public service.
For our first public service (held in a public school), we had our 60 church planting folks present with about 190 unchurched (and largely unsaved) folks. What a glorious time! Folks were getting saved, getting filled with the Spirit, getting healed, getting freed from demonic oppression! We were having church!
As for you final question about the “performance” issue, I don’t have any thoughts as to how to avoid this. But it has been a pet peeve of mine for a long time (read “decades”). I think most people associate this problem with “worship bands” (maybe I’m projecting); but I have a real problem within in churches without bands, too. It has been my experience, for example, that in churches without a band, anytime anyone other than the regular choir(s) provide(s) music, people tend to see it as a performance; and there is applause. Now I don’t mind clapping/applause that is directed towards God as an act of worship (see, e.g., Psalm 47:1), but I do have a problem applauding what is supposed to be an act of worship and/or worship-leading.
So, I don’t clap. I know: I’m only one person, and my silence will not make a difference in the response of others; but at least that way I got to explain to my children why I never clapped for their children’s and youth choirs. I was able to explain to them what worship is supposed to be all about (and I did this multiple times per child). I got to what a privilege it is to lead the congregation in worship and the kind of things they ought to think about and pray about while leading worship.
I have (less consistently, I’m afraid) done a few other things over the years. I try not to tell someone they “did a good/great job.” “Job” speaks of performance. Instead, I try to tell them how they helped me worship God.
So, I guess this will not be helpful in finding a church that avoids the performance problem. But it is my take on how we can try to attack the problem at its source—by stopping the bad signals we send each new generation about performance vs. worship.
Jan, your children are grown, and so are mine (well, accept the youngest!). You are a grandparent, and I am about to be one. All I can tell you is that I don’t intend to clap for my grandchildren or tell them they did a “good job” any more than I did those things with my children. Instead, I intend to try to explain worship vs. performance to them. (Not saying you have to go my route
“Th-th-th-that’s all folks!”