August 12, 2009

Close Those Doors

Back in the early 1980s when I was a new believer I remember something a local church used to do but now is just a memory. They used to have a closed door gathering once a week they called “believers’ meetings.” That was not open to the public; it was just for committed Christians - a chance to get together without the general public. I think they were onto something. It seems today, more than ever, that needs to be looked at again.

Many Evangelical churches today end their services with an altar call, assuming there are many uncommitted seekers in the congregation. After all, they are advertised in the Yellow Pages and have billboards out in front of their buildings inviting in the neighborhood for fellowship, communion, and friendship.

One minister wrote:

“When unbelievers attend the main gatherings of the church, they should expect to hear deep, challenging, doctrinal teaching rather than simplistic messages designed only for immature Christians or lost people. The gatherings of the church are primarily meetings for believers. Therefore the teaching in this setting should be geared toward spiritual growth and increasing Christian maturity. The idea that these gatherings should be primarily focused on evangelism and numerical church growth is foreign to the New Testament. Most of the evangelism described in the New Testament occurred in other contexts (e.g., synagogues, market places, public discussion forums, etc.).” 

In Hebrews 10:25 we’re admonished, “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”

Certainly we see the Day approaching and I don’t believe for a minute that the writer of Hebrews was admonishing us to not forsake going over to the local “church” and watch the speaker from the pulpit around the backs of the people’s heads in front of us. This idea that the “pastor” is the man in which all the gift of the Spirit reside on behalf of the church is a modern invention.

No, on the contrary, not forsaking the assembling together as we see the Day approach tells me that as the coming of Christ draws near we’re going to need each other just as they did in the first century. We’re going to need to help one another to see through various deceptions, to assist each other in emergencies, to share our finances with other believers in need and to actually be the body of Christ with each member doing their part. We sure don’t witness that going on in today’s pastor-centered churches.

I hear from so many people that they can’t find a good church in their area and some have even compromised by going to churches that have a mixture of true and false teaching just so as not to forsake assembling together. We do have a deep need for other members of the body of Christ without whom we are merely amputated members. But at gatherings where unbelievers are welcomed as participating members the body becomes a dysfunctional mutant. Outreach to unbelievers is vital to church life and to the spread of the Gospel, but that should never be at the expense of the building up of the saints. When the saints gather together then they can work side-by-side in evangelistic efforts to convert the lost. Inviting the lost into the assembly of the saints, as all churches who advertise to the lost do, opens up the body of Christ to corruption.

My advice to those who will not compromise by going to a church that does not rightly divide the Word is to start a Virtual Church in their home. “Virtual” meaning that their teaching will be by gifted teachers via the Internet or DVD. They can invite other believers over to listen to a solid message -- one that is biblical and then break bread together with a New Testament love feast, praying together and helping each other meet needs.

As I monitor Christian television I have seen a lot of false and true programs on the same networks. I have recently been watching the new Jim Bakker show that is seen on our local Christian television station. I may not agree with Bakker on many things but one thing I believe he is doing right is trying to build a Christian community. He quotes from the same verse in Hebrews to show that as the Lord’s coming draws near, we will need one another more than ever and that the assembling together has nothing to do with what “church” we attend once a week. He is building homes and condos in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri as a place where believers can assist each other in difficult times. My hat is off to him in his efforts. The only problem is his affiliation with false teachers such as Rick Joyner and his own son Jay Bakker makes this a community I could not be a part of. 

But he does have the right idea - the assembling together is exclusive to born-again believers and unbelievers should not share our believers’ meetings, but should be the ones we go out to the highways and biways with the Gospel, inviting them in after they have become one of us.

“Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” 
-- Ephesians 1:19-22

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