Monday, March 20, 2017

When the Church is Not a Building But People (Small-Group In the New Testament)

In Acts 20:20, the apostle Paul said to the Ephesus’ Christians, “I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house.” The early church followed Jesus’ pattern of discipleship and spiritual family life. They broke bread from “house to house” and had large corporate meetings:

All the believers devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper) and to prayer. A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshipped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity – all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-47).

God’s people gathered at the temple and met in small groups in homes. Hey, all of this happened in homes! Peter evangelized Cornelius by meeting him and his family and friends at home (see Acts 10:22-48). Some met in the house of Mary, John Mark’s mother, and experienced small-group life (see Acts 12:12). The believers in Philippi met in homes such Lydia’s (see Acts 16:30-34 and 16:15, 40). The believers in Rome met in Priscilla’s and Aquila’s home (see Romans 16:3-5). Apostle Paul sent his greetings to the household of Aristobulus and Narcissus (see Romans 16:10-11). Paul also once wrote to his friend Philemon and sent his greetings to “the church that meets in your house” (Philemon 1:2). All of these references are from my past studies, all give the evident that the early church met in small groups in homes.

Reading church history, I found out that in A.D. 323, almost 300 years after the birth of the early church, Christians first met in a church building. That was when many problem arises. We should probably ask ourselves this question: Has our focus on buildings and church programs caused us to lose the simplicity and the power experienced by the New Testament church?

Around A.D. 312, it was Constantine, the emperor of Rome that made Christianity an official religion by institutionalized and professionalized it (in my own words). Faith become cheap, forgiveness can be bought, leaderships for sale! The small-group lifestyle and all-serve-one-another ministry that was taking place in people’s homes was replaced by respectable groups that met weekly and led by ordained ministers only. Average believers sat passively while elite church leaders running the show, sometime solo.

In my observations, the church more or less lost this New Testament component of meeting in small groups and give more (or only) attention on the physical building churches. Sure, “temple” ministry is important when it comes to corporate worship, united witness and celebration. But perhaps more than ever the Lord wants us to see the Church as people – you and me – and not as a place where believers meet. Could it be, in the midst of shallow Christianity even in Malaysia today, the Spirit desires us to focus on small-group again? The church meet in smaller groups – at homes, schools, campuses and universities, offices – and led by everyone, average believers with each unique kind of spiritual gifts. As each small group love and obey our Lord Jesus and His Word, the entire church will have a powerful effect on our communities! Oh yes!

In the end of the day,
each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved

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