Updated: Apr 8
Many have for a long time participated in "church" each week, but have had no understanding of where the practices have come from. The heart of the book is not to tear down the church but to instead bring the church back to its biblical roots. There has been a huge range of responses from people, including incredible criticism to people having freedom to ask deep questions about common church practices and test them against the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. The desire of the writer is for believers to experience the body of Christ and what it means to gather under the headship of Jesus. Some pagan practices are not bad but some need to be reviewed and changed as we receive revelation from the Word and the Spirit.
This is s very brief summary of the ideas presented in the book. Please get a copy and read the full story yourself and seek God to live in the Body of Christ as He has called you to , not as you have been doing through tradition or because of how your church has taught you to function.
It is important that we do not dilute the Word of God by adding or removing things. Ignoring principles and human traditions can both cause harm. Being like the first century church which was spontaneous, naturally expressed the divine live that was in each Christian and which was grounded in the teaching of the Bible is something we all should be seeking.
There is a huge move away from the old, accepted ways of "doing church" for something more rewarding, life changing and fulfilling. Christians are desiring to return to the Lord with authenticity and fullness. Things we have in our culture can be important to bring to the church, but we need to be discerning with what practices we include and what we leave out because they detract from worship.
Chapter 1: Have We Really Been Doing It By The Book?
Do we do everything by the Word of God? Is the New Testament our guide for faith and practice? When we look closely at what we do in our modern churches nearly everything done has no basis in the Bible. We learn to read our Bibles with the lens handed to us by the Christian traditions we have been handed and we are taught to blindly follow what our denomination or movement teaches.
Chapter 2: The Church Building: Inheriting The Edifice Complex.
Many Christians believe our faith centres around a building. When we start a "church" we must have a building to call our own. In our culture a church MUST have a building! When Jesus came, He ended all three elements of ancient Judaism, one of them being the temple. Jesus is the temple now who embodies a new living house made of living stones without hands. In the new testament the ekklesia (church) was the people NOT a building. First century Christians went to private homes to meet, not a purpose built building. In the 4th to 9th centuries the Roman Catholic Church absorbed many of the religious practices of both paganism and Judaism, and make the Lord's Supper a mysterious sacrifice. Initially, Christianity stood out from other religions as it had not religious items, no sacred persons and no sacred spaces. The emperor Constantine is remembered for granting Christians freedom of worship, but he also had thinking dominated by pagan magic and superstition. He kept pagan practices, encouraged sun worship and built a statue of the mother-goddess Cybele. He was a practicing high priest of paganism. Church buildings were named after saints and the larger buildings were constructed over the tombs of martyrs. These martyrs were believed to have the same powers as were ascribed to the gods of paganism.
The first buildings were spacious and imitated the structure of pagan temples and included art. They were designed to seat passive and a docile crowd that came to watch a performance. There is considerable information on buildings including art, steeples, coloured glass and bells to call people to worship. A major concern is the high cost of building and maintaining the structure and stops the money being used to grow the body of Christ. 50 to 80% of the budget is used to maintain the buildings.
Chapter 3: The Order of Worship: Sunday Mornings Set In Concrete.
For every church, there is a similar order of service. Where did this order originate from. There is the scripture reading, announcements, the offering, the sermon and benediction. This is the liturgy most churches observe. In the early church meetings were characterised by every member contributing, spontaneity, freedom vibrancy in a group that was constantly changing.
The original order of service has its basic roots in the medieval Catholic Mass. This came from partly the Judaic Temple service and paganism. The mass was a blend of pagan and judaism ritual which was sprinkled with catholic theology and Christian vocabulary. When Luther cam he set out to purify the one already being used. Even though he taught about the "Priesthood of all believers" he still encouraged the system of paid clergymen. The sermon became centre stage with the American Puritans, but there would be time for the congregation to have questions answered at the end of the service. With the Methodists and the Frontier-Revivalists came the alter call, the inviting of people to the front to receive prayer and later, Christ. With Moody came preaching which was dominated by an individual's salvation and leading people to the "sinners prayer". When you look at the pentecostal movement, their liturgy was similar to the Baptists. In the end, the protestant traditions all have a clergyman run the service, the sermonis central and the people in general are passive and not permitted to minister
What is wrong with this practice? It represses mutual participation and the growth of Christian community. It chokes members and silences them as the minister and a select few are able to contribute. The headship of Jesus Christ is also strangled as the knowledge, gifting and experience is limited to the one paid person. It is also quite boring as it is without variety or spontaneity and people participate in the structure which becomes routine. Another issue is spiritual transformation is hindered as this model encourages passivity, limits functioning and teaches one hour a week is what needed for people to function as a victorious Christian.
Chapter 4: The Sermon: Protestantism's Most Sacred Cow.
Many pagan practices were not destroyed by Christianity but adopted by the churches. With the sermon, if this is removed then many churches just have a songfest and they would lose their congregations very quickly. It is the bedrock of the Protestant liturgy. Every Sunday morning a passive audience warms the pews and listens to the sermon. A majority attend just for the sermon, the most important spiritual nourishment for countless numbers of Christians. If you look closely, it has no root in scripture, but the practice was copied from pagan practices. Yes there was preaching in the Bible, but there was:-
Prophets and priests spoke from the Spirit Not from a script.
Preaching was not done weekly but as needed and had active audience participation.
When Jesus preached and taught he did this sporadically, on special occasions, had no clear rhetorical structure and was a conversation not a monologue. In Romans 12:6-8, 15:14,1, 1 Corinthians 14:26 and Colossians 3:16 we read that meeting included teaching, exhortation, prophecy, singing and admonishment. Every member contributed and it was led by the Spirit and did not conform to a script.
So where did the Christian sermon come from? It was actually borrowed from the pagan pool of Greek culture. In this culture, there was a wandering group of teachers called sophists who where credited for inventing the rhetoric (art of persuasive speaking) and had disciples and demanded payments for speaking. They used emotional appeals, physical appearance and language to sell their arguments. Their skill at presenting became even more important than the truth, and they spoke truths that they did not practice themselves.
In the third century the travelling Christian workers started to die out and in their place paid clergy emerged. A hierarchical structure emerged with religious specialists who replaced the functioning Christians who could no longer use their gifts. The church meeting started to devolve into a "service". Many pagan orators and philosophers became Christian and brought their ways of doing things. Thus the pagan idea of paying trained professional speakers came into being. This Greek idea was different to the Jewish Rabbis who had the custom of taking up a trade so they did not have to charge a fee for their teaching.
This new style of Christian oration emphasized polished rhetoric, sophisticated grammar, flowery eloquence and monologue. It showed off the speaker's oratorical skills and only those trained in this way of speaking were invited to speak. The Christian message moved from a two way conversation to a one way oration. This sermon replaced prophesying, open sharing and Spirit inspired teaching. Nowadays, Christians are taught the skills of preaching. Homiletics is considered a "science applying rules of rhetoric, which go back to Greece and Rome".
Does sermonizing harm the church? Over the last five centuries there have been a number of ways it has negatively impacted the church. If turns church into a place one person performs and dominates and the rest become a group of mute spectators who watch the performance. Secondly, the sermon causes a nosedive for people in their spiritual growth as they are encouraged or forced to become passive as the church is no longer a place ministry is shared and participation is smothered or greatly discouraged. We should encourage all to participate in ministry when we gather. Thirdly, the sermon gives us a dependence on the clergy, the religious specialist, who is the only one who has anything worthy to say. Learning is seen as a one way process. The church experience is both impersonal and distance as we are not able to nourish one another. Fourth, the sermon deskills the people, but addicts them to hearing sermons and causes them to depend on one person to feed them and for them to passively learn. Fifth, the sermon is often impractical as the person speaking are not experts on something they have not experienced. It is the giving of information not equipping believers to use what they have heard. It may warm the heart, inspire the will and stimulate the will BUT not empower them to go and live and act as Christ is calling them to. Transformation comes through regular encounters with Jesus and having the revelation of how to experience, know, follow and serve Jesus.
Chapter 5: The Pastor: The Obstacle To Every Member Functioning
The pastor is the central figure in the protestant church, and is often better known, more highly praised and more heavily relied upon than Jesus himself. Without the pastor the church would die. When you look closely in the New Testament, there is not a single verse that supports the existence of a modern pastor.
There is one verse in the entire New Testament where the word "pastor" is used and this is plural. In the greek it was poimenas which means shepherd. This person, then, cares for and nurtures the sheep. It is not a term for a "professional office" in the church. Why do we have pastors? With the fall came a desire for a physical leader to bring us to God. We have as people always created a caste of religious leaders that are revered. This person always has special training, clothes, vocabulary and a way of life. With the fall, also came the desire for hierarchical structures and forms of leadership.
Up to the second century the church had no official leadership. The leaders had no office or position to fill. The groups were operating without priest, temple or sacrifice, and so the church was led by Christians under the headship of Christ. Leaders had no title, were organic and were recognised by their spiritual maturity not by a title or office.
With the rising of the pastor and official leaders came the unbiblical doctrine of "coverying. Cyprian was a man that taught that the bishop had no superior but God and was accountable to God alone. If you separated yourself from the bishop you separated yourself from God. Priests were given the central role in the life of the church and stood in God's place and controlled the sacrament. In the Bible, elders were recognized by virtue of their seniority and spiritual service to the church, where priests were put through a formalized Christian rite called ordination into a service no matter what they had done in the past. This process took the very words used by the Romans to appoint men to civil office. These leaders, through ordination, became a guide, a president, a teacher of righteousness and an instructor in hidden mysteries.
With John Calvin came the change from priest to pastor. He liked the word as the Bible referred to Jesus Christ "the great Shepherd of the sheep" (Hebrews 13:20). The terms preacher, minister and pastor were also used. Sadly, even though he spoke against the Roman Catholic church because of it practices based on human tradition and not the Bible, he continued to operate outside the teaching of the Bible. Luther said the church was only a place for people to listen, and called the church a "Mundhaus" which means a mouth-house. He also said "The ears are the only organs of a Christian". These are the roots of Protestantism.
The pastor were given three essential functions by Calvin, Luther and Bucer. They were proclaiming the Word (preaching) and the celebration of the Eucharist (Communion) and caring for and bringing healing to the congregations. The changes they made to the practices of the Roman Catholic Church were to do with semantics and not actual practice.
What damage has this done to the body of Christ? It has taken the body of Christ from being able to work as God intended to creating one big mouth, the pastor, and one big ear, the congregation. Instead of each member being a functioning priest (1 Peter: 2) this has been delegated on one man. The headship is no longer Christ, but one central person in the church. We are called to have every member functioning freely, openly and mutually participating to grow and build each other up in Christ. Not only is this pastor role damaging to the congregation, but it is incredibly damaging to the person appointed as pastor. They are given a role and then expected to function as a Christian way above the rest of the congregation. It is a a lonely and difficult, if not impossible position to be in.
Chapter 6: Sunday Morning Costumes: Covering Up The Problem
A tradition that has been established with going to church on Sunday is the wearing of our best clothes. Why do we do this? This practice started fairly recently and with the well to do aristocrats of society. With the invention of mass textile manufacturing came the birth of the middle class who then started dressing up to go out as well. This was frowned upon by some Christian groups including John Wesley who wrote against wearing expensive or flashy clothing, and their early groups even turned away people dressed in fancy clothes. This finally was an accepted practice when in 1843 a Congregational minister, Horace Bushnell, wrote an essay called "Taste and Fashion" which taught sophistication and refinement were attributes of God and Christians should emulate them. Therefore we dress up for church because 19th century middle class decided they wanted to show off their improved social status by the status of their clothes.
Why is this wrong? The main reason it shows a false division between the secular and the sacred. Does God care if we dress up to come into his presence. In the New Covenant we actually have access to God's presence at all times and in all circumstances. Also, flashy clothes cover or hide who the Christians really are. We create a false image of who we are through what we wear. Finally, dressing up creates social classes that were erased by Jesus and the new Christians.
For the clergy, they wore the same dress of the common people until Constantine. The priestly garments came from the secular dress of the Greco-Roman world. The simple and white dress code came from Plato who wrote that "white was the colour of the gods.". After the reformation the clergy adopted a black gown which was taken from the dress of the secular scholar. This symbolises spiritual authority. The Lutheran pastor wore this gown into the streets and wore a round "ruff" around his neck. Even now many pastors wear the clerical vestments when administering the Lord's Supper. A clergy collar was also developed as a symbol to let people know the person wearing it is a clergyman.
Is this special clothing harmful? It can be seen as an affront to the spiritual principles that govern the house of God. People are separated into professional and non professional. Both dressing up for church and the wearing of clerical clothing is deeply rooted in worldly culture. Wearing special religious garb was a characteristic of the Scribes and Pharisees. who loved to walk around in flowing robes and loved to be greeted and have the places of honour wherever they went.
Chapter 7: Ministers Of Music: Clergy Set To Music
When we go to any Christian church service you will find one person (or team) leading and directing a set of song that they have selected for the service. Often songs are to promote what his being taught in the sermon. The audience are just led in the singing where the New Testament church the leading of worship and singing was corporately led by all people. The origins of choirs in church can be found in the pagan Greek temples and Greek dramas. The choirs took over the singing in church and the leaders felt that the singing of songs was in their control it would stop the spread of heresy. (But was rooted in the increased control of the clergy in the Christian service) When Gregory the Great became Pope towards the end of the 6th century he established professional singers who trained Christian choirs all throughout the Roman empire. This wiped out all congregational singing as they believed music was a clerical function and the exclusive right of trained singers.
With the Reformation cam the restoration of congregational singing and the use of instruments. With the Wesleyan revival in England congregational singing reached its peak and 150 years after the Reformation, congregational singing became a generally accepted practice. By the 18th century the organ started taking over choirs in leading the singing.
In many modern churches the choir has been replaced by the worship team. Worship means following the band's prescribed songs and the parise and worship time lasts from around twenty to forty minutes.
There are many Christians who are happy with this arrangement. Others, though, feel robbed of being able to select and lead their own singing in their own meetings. They would like to have divine worship in their own hands and to allow Jesus to direct the singing instead of a human facilitator.
Can our meetings together work where members are trained to start sing a song spontaneously. They ar free to lead songs under the headship of Jesus and where they can also write songs and bring them to the group for all to learn.
Chapter 8: Tithing and Clergy Salaries: Sore Spots On The Wallet.
There is much teaching in the Christian church about tithing. Malachi 3:8-10 is a great example of a passage that is used extensively. We are taught that if we do not tighe we rob God and put ourselves under a curse. Often God's work is paying the pastoral staff and keeping the organisation afloat. So it tithing a biblical concept?
The concept of tithing is definitely biblical but not Christian. The tithe was done in ancient Israel and was their income tax. Tithing was not done by first century christians. Tithes was used to support Levites, sponsor religious festivals in Jerusalem and for the orphans, strangers and widows. It was the produce of the land not money. It is similar to our modern taxation system in our country. It was exclusively done under the Law, which was done away with on the cross when Jesus was crucified.
The history of Christian tithing is fascinating. When it is presented as God's command then it becomes a problem. When it is presented as a freedom to support the Lord's work and give generously to the poor it is empowering to the believer. Believers who are struggling financially can be thrown into deeper poverty through pressure from the church to give. Those who are rich it is a paltry sum and makes it easy for them to give. When we look at the parable of the widow's mite, Jesus was able to show our giving in a different light. Tithing is not a litmus test for discipleship and sometimes the maintenance of a building and salary of people may not be the best way to spend the money God gives us. Giving a tithe to a pastor elevates them above the rest of the congregation and can cause the rest of the church to be passively dependent on these people.
It is time to be able to freely give and not be burdened by a law pushed by the need to maintain an institution called "church".
Chapter 9: Baptism And The Lord's Supper: Diluting The Sacraments.
Most churches that are evangelical believe in a believer's baptism as opposed to infant baptism. As part of the modern church's theology, there is quite a gap between conversion and baptism. This ideas was unheard of in the first century church. The initial confession of faith in Jesus was baptism. This, today, has been replaced by the role of the sinner's prayer. In Acts 16:30-32 we read:
This is a great example of the early Christian's baptism occurring as soon as they are saved. In the early second century, come influential Christians taught that new believers should have a period of instruction, prayer and fasting before baptism. This trend became worse in the third century when they had to wait three years for baptism. It became an rigid and embellished ritual that brought in many aspects of Jewish and Greek culture. Baptism also brought in legalism that taught that only baptism forgives sins. so the longer the wait the greater the benefits.
The sinner's prayer is a model of prayer Moody used when training his evangelistic coworkers, but was not used extensively until Billy Graham and Campus Crusaders for Christ published the Four Spiritual Laws. The prayer is sound, but had the danger that people use it instead of water baptism.
The Lord's Supper has caused a huge rift in the Protestant and Catholic churches. When it was originally celebrated it was a festive communal meal taken with celebration and joy. It was a Christian banquet. Sadly, today it is a thimble of grape juice and a tiny, tasteless cracker and officiated through an ordained clergyman. How it moved to this formal ceremony inside a service is unclear, but some point to the clash between the non religious and free nature of the banquet and the formalising of sacred pagan religious ritual. A new doctrine was established that caused fear as people were scared to approach the "elements" that turned into Jesus' body and blood. Jeremiah 6:16 is a great verse to finish up on...
Chapter 11: Christian Education: Swelling The Cranium.
In the Christian church there is an understanding that if a Christian has graduated from a Bible college or seminary he or she is equipped for ministry. Until formal training has been completed then a Christian cannot preach, teach, baptize or administer the Lord's Supper. If you feel God's call it means to hunt for a Bible college or seminary to attend. With the early church, through , there were no such places of training and training was hands on and not academic as it is today. It was aimed at the frontal lobe and not the spirit. Sadly, today the training is rational, objective and abstract, with very little being practical, experiential or spiritual.
There have been four stages of theological education.
Episcopal- The training was for bishops and priests on how to perform the rituals and liturgies of the church.
Monastic - This stage was taught by monks living in monastic communities and later cathedral schools. These schools sent missionaries to uncharted territories after the fourth century. Platonic thought led teachers to push a more philosophical approach and was seen as God's revelation to the Greeks. The gap between philosophy and religion was closing quickly in this time.
Scholastic - Cathedral schools turned into universities and in these institutions thinking was based on an Aristotelian model that centered on rational knowledge and logic. Theology that was formed that assimilated communicated knowledge. This logical disputation of truth was called the art of dialectic.
Seminarian - Seminary theology grew out of the scholastic theology that was taught in the universities. This theology was aimed to equip the professionally "qualified" minister. This theology prevails in the contemporary seminary today. The push was to know God through human reason, so the more highly trained people's reason and intellect, the better they will know God. With the New Testament we find, however, God is Spirit and therefore we know him through revelation to one's spirit. Reason and intellect only cause us to know about God. It does not allow us to know Jesus Christ profoundly and through this knowing impart a life giving revelation of Him to others.
With the training of protestant ministers came a new profession which was the theologically trained pastors. These people, as the best educated citizens held tremendous influence through their university obtained doctorates.
Sunday school was born around 1700 years after Christ. It started as a place where poor children could learn the basics of education as they were often victims of social and employer abuse due to the inability to read. Over time Sunday School moved from helping the poor to being institutionalised and just being an evangelical mechanism. In 1905 G Stanley Hall made a distinction between the adult and older child, calling them an adolescent. In 1940 the term "teenager" was born and with this came a new subculture. After World War II there was a huge concern in America for the young people of America and the churches in response employed a "youth pastor" to meet the spiritual needs of young people who often lived in a totally different culture. With this movement came a segregation between the mainline church and the young people.
What is the heart of the problem? With the underlying root of Christian education being build to the Platonic idea moral character is knowledge our whole system of education is flawed. Plato and Aristotle are the fathers of contemporary Christian education, and their teaching has led to current Christian education serving food from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil rather than the tree of life. Our education is cerebral and to do with pouring in knowledge or transfering data so the person can parrot what the teacher says. This theological knowledge, however, does not prepare a person for ministry, and the premise that a formal education equips a person for the challenges of ministry. Theological school does not offer to cure the ills of the church but defends and encourages the following of all the practices.
In conclusion, teaching our leaders that giving people information is enough has caused huge damage to the body of Christ. Being a Christian is so much more. Lets stop eating the fruit of the wrong tree!
Chapter 11: Reapproaching The New Testament: The Bible Is Not A Jigsaw Puzzle.
The power of tradition has a huge hold over our churches. How can we read the New Testament and then go to church and follow rituals that are at odds with how the New Testament church lived. A major issue is not what the New Testament actually says, but how we approach it. The original Protestant scholars held that we could use the Aristotelian logic to understand the Bible. This process was called "proof texting". The ideas was every part of scriptures was the Word of God and context was not important. This allowed scholars to take any verse from the Bible and claim it was true in its own rite no matter the context in which it was written. As a result, the Bible is rarely seen as a whole, but is taught and read as segmented parts. This has meant the church has been divided on many issues as the contradictions that occur in the texts have not been seen in light of the context but as an individual part. Paul, for example, wrote many letters and documents at different times to groups of people with a wide range if issues or problems. His letters and writing in the Bible have loosely been assembled by length and not by when they were written and often the purpose for writing has been very unclear.
Instead, we need to approach the Bible starting with the big picture and after understanding the historical context then moving to what the writer was saying to the people at the time. Taking what was said out of context is very dangerous. When we read the Bible as a manual we are blinded to its real message. We have been taught to see the Bible as a jigsaw puzzle, but would be greatly blessed if we were told the entire story behind the books of the Bible so we could understand what they really mean. The books have chapters and verses, but this actually distracts us from reading the Bible the right way. Moving from the cuta and paste sermon to understanding the whole context would bring about a real depth of understanding of what is being said by the different authors.
An example of a New Testament church could be just having "two or three" gather and open the Bible at someone's home. Or you could have a meeting where people are able to follow the living, breathing headship of Jesus Christ in a meeting. People write and bring their own songs and people will minister out of what Christ has shown them with no human leader present. Elders, in the accounts in the second century were only appointed after 14 years of the house churches running and only when the people had matured and displayed the ability to give oversight. The new church of Jesus is something that is birthed by the Holy Spirit, not started.
How do we then get over this clipboard approach to the New Testament? By stepping back and understanding the metanarrative is a good start. Knowing the New Testament panoramically not microscopically is a great start. This will lay bare the spiritual principals that underlie the New Testament.Then the verses will not be taken out of context, and we will understand the passion and unity which the first church lived as they faithfully followed and represented Jesus.
Chapter 12: A Second Glance At The Saviour: Jesus, The Revolutionary
One problem with the modern church structures is that we have forgot who Jesus actually was in history. He was a revolutionary teacher, a radical prophet, provocative preacher and against the religious establishment. He loves his people passionately and is jealous over His bride. Jesus came to radically change the old order of things and establish a new order. This came with a new covenant and a new Kingdom. Jesus often healed on the Sabbath just to shatter tradition. Jesus came to put you and me at God's eternal purpose. This purpose was why everything was created.
Like the first New Testament church, God is calling us to be totally different to the religious structures that have been constructed on man made models. God is calling the church to once again rethink how we are the body of Christ. God is calling us to:-
Be Christ centred.
Allow all believers to exercise their gifts and seek to edify each other.
Become a face-to-face community.
Stop our reliance on ritual, clergy and sacred buildings.
Look at the titles and offices given by the denominational churches. How biblical are they?
Become the bride of Christ which is a heaven man organisation.
Use the tithes to support itinerant church planters and the poor among them as well as the world's poor.
Baptise new followers of Christ when they become believers and celebrate the Lord's Supper as a full meal as Christ intended.
Have newer workers trained by older workers which is on the job.
Drop the different denominations and live as one body.
Every church needs to work under the centrality, supremacy and headship of Christ in HIs church. Many are now recognizing that a revolution is needed. The church needs to start again, but this time on the right foundation.
Each believer needs to ask questions about church as they currently know it and how biblical it truly is. After reading the message we also need to seek God on the response He is calling us to have to this message. Reading Acts again, we may be able to re-discover what or even who the church actually is.