What many of the churches I have attended have in common is that they all want to be a “New Testament” church or meet in the “New Testament” way. For some that means that they believe their style of service is as the early church met. Among the Brethren that means that the service I call the “Holy of Holies” service, but what is ordinarily known as the “Breaking of the Bread” meeting, is entirely directed by the men of the congregation. One will begin the service exactly on time by calling out a hymn (from the black book) which will be sung a capella. Another will stand after varying periods of silence and pray aloud, or direct the congregation to consider a passage of scripture which they will read and explain what that means. The service alternates as the men “feel led” to give their offerings of song, scripture, teaching and prayer, until the time appointed for communion, or the breaking of the bread. It is fairly common practice to use the common cup, passed around, and the bread, a torn loaf, from which a piece is torn by each partaking individual. There is usually a song between the bread and wine and then a song at the end as the bag is passed (if there isn’t a designated offering box in the rear for the purpose of discreet offerings.)
Another church means something entirely different when they try to be the “New Testament” church. They mean that they make a point of inspiring loving generosity toward each other and their community.
Others mean that they believe they sing the songs, follow the service structure and say the same prayers as the first church. Strange how much those things can differ when people believe they are doing the same thing, or are being the same thing–the New Testament church. People have this odd idea that the New Testament church was filled with love…(well, it was, and it wasn’t.) They seem to think that the New Testament church missed out on the problems that plague us today. They think that people didn’t have huge differences of opinion, didn’t have scandals… It puzzles me. The epistles were written addressing the very problems that people are surprised to encounter in the church today.
What I don’t see in scripture (perhaps because I am unlearned) is anything remotely approaching the divisions within the church today. What is this?
What I can tell you from my understanding of Scripture is that the early church had problems with selfishness, drunkenness, debauchery, fornication, pride, arguments…you name it. Does any of that sound familiar? It does to me.
So what, perhaps, we are all looking for and calling the “New Testament Church” is some idea, some recognition that we are worshiping as the Apostle Paul would have, as Peter, James, John did. There was a time when a “worship” band played for a special monthly service at a church I was attending. They led us in a rousing (and worshipful) version of Mustang Sally. I kid you not. They played it well. I enjoyed it. At the same time, though…there was a disquiet in my spirit, like a precursor to an earthquake. I wanted it to be okay, but it was NOT okay. I’m ashamed that I went along with it. I tried to be okay with it, to be COOL. Have mercy.
That rumbling earthquake feeling has never gone away. I get it when I hear certain preachers preach. I get it while watching a taped Queen concert and seeing the audience in the sway of Freddie Mercury and his power over them and realize that there is something…religious, or spiritual happening there. There is a worship there, and we weak, foolish people throw our worship at musicians but would never express such utterly devout worship toward Almighty God.
Can we find the New Testament church that is not just New Testament, but knows that they are the completion of the Old Testament promise…whose worship does resemble the worship prescribed by God, carried out by Moses and Aaron and Miriam, and by those who built the tabernacle to such strict plans… Who today wants that? Well…I do, for one. Even if it doesn’t sound like Mustang Sally.