Paul's Passing Thoughts

TANC Strategic Plan: From Identification to Solution; a Thesis on the New Testament Church Model

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on August 23, 2013

TANC (Truth About New Calvinism) is a research organization that seeks to thoroughly understand Reformed theology and its effect on the church and culture.  We believe that enough information has been accumulated to draw conclusions, and there are enough conclusions to begin the formulation of solutions.

It is our conclusion that Reformed theology is an ill-advised doctrinal construct for the church and has had a detrimental effect on culture in general. Currently, American church culture is in upheaval (note innumerable discernment/abuse blogs); yet, the new resurgence of Reformed theology began in 1970 and has dominated the American church for the past twenty years. Where are the results that supposedly always spring forth from the Reformation’s  Post Tenebras Lux (After darkness….light)?

Though research will continue on the WHAT, there is enough information on the WHY to begin setting the solution in motion. The solution is the New Testament church model. The assumption has always been that the New Testament model was transitional, informal, and deliberately ambiguous to allow morphing for changing times. We now think that this is not the case at all. We think the Bible sets forth a specific model in detail. We think this model is the answer for the present condition of the American church.

1. The general form.

The New Testament church was made up of home fellowships and each church was designated by a geographical area, usually a city. Perhaps the clearest example of this is Acts 20:

17 Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. 18 And when they came to him, he said to them:

“You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. 22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. 25 And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. 26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. 28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33 I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. 34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. 35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

It was ONE “church” in Ephesus made up of several households. Paul taught the Ephesian church (singular) from “house to house.” “Public” doesn’t necessarily mean a building where they met corporately. In fact, in all cases where epistles are addressed, it would have to assume that each geography or city only had one church building—this is unlikely.

There were a group of elders who led the home churches in a particular city. This is who Paul calls together to give his last charge before his departure. One of the qualifications of an elder is “given to hospitality,” probably because many of the house fellowships were the homes of elders.

While many point to the seven letters in Revelation for proof regarding one pastor/ one church, again, this assumes there was only one place of gathering in each city. The “messenger” of each city was probably just that: a messenger responsible for delivering letters and other correspondence to each home fellowship in a given geography or city. In the case of Revelation, this could have been an actual angel assigned to each city church as well given the apocalyptic nature of the book.

Remember also that Titus was given the responsibility of appointing elders in “every town.”

2. Leadership structure and purpose.

The New Testament model combines strong structure with free fellowship. It rejects institutional authority while implementing strong planning and order. It focuses on the gifts of believers in order to execute the Lord’s strategic plan for the ages. We see this in Ephesians 4:

11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

I am not sure what could be clearer. There is equipping gifts and ministry gifts given to every believer for the building up of Christ’s body. Institutions, by virtue of their very nature begin to devalue individual gifts. Posit the idea if you will, that an institution can function like a body, but it has never been done. That is because caste systems and a body of believers are mutually exclusive concepts. The fellowship of the saints is focused on a purpose that requires all parts to be well equipped and functioning properly while building each other up in love.

Teachers equip an army of ministers with innumerable categories of ministry, love and good works. The floodgates of possibllity are opened. Administration and organization would be the focus of deacons and deaconesses. One must get past the present cultural conditioning that dichotomizes structure and fellowship. It is the same mentality that sets different standards for the church and homes. We act different in each setting; e.g., many would not attend a church that functions like their own home. But in contrast, “an elder must order his household well, for if he cannot manage his own household, how will he manage the household of God?” Homes are as informal as you get, but they need order. Instead of keeping homes separate from church, the New Testament model brings church to the home. In the book of Ephesians, Paul starts with the fellowship in 4:1, addresses the home, and then behavior in the secular realm.

This is not some weird communal concept; it merely puts strong emphasis on planning and order for the informal fellowship of the church. The unique concept is the fusion of informal fellowship with strong planning while eliminating the caste system inherent in institutions.

3. Expected problems.

Where humans are involved in any model, even born again creatures in mortal bodies, problems will arise. That is exactly what the letters to Corinth are about. When you have numerous fellowships led by teachers, the whole FAVORITE TEACHER thing arises followed by competition between the households. In a Reformed church where I was one of the pastors, we had midweek home fellowships as a replacement for Wednesday night services. I saw these Corinth-like problems develop firsthand.  The congregants would gravitate to the households where the charismatic teachers taught, leaving the rest of the fellowships to their humble little huddles.

Of course, being ignorant Protestants, we fixed the problem through authority. Rather than not being jaded by tradition and correcting the problem by example and a study of Paul’s letters to Corinth, we implemented a rule that each congregant had to attend the home group in their vicinity. That is not how Paul dealt with the same exact problem at Corinth. By the way, note that the baptisms Paul mentions were unique to the home fellowships where their favorite teachers taught. These epistles shouldn’t be read as if the church at Corinth met together corporately. The problems were inherent throughout many of the home fellowships save a few. Apparently, a fellowship in the home of a woman named Chloe (literally, “them of Chloe”) sent word to Paul about what was going on in the other fellowships at Corinth. The following has also been suggested:

There are three interesting names to consider that come up in the closing of Paul’s letter:  Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus were from Corinth and visiting Paul (who was in Ephesus at the time) when he wrote this letter containing Chloe’s name.  It seems very plausible that Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus were “Chloe’s people.”  It is also possible that these three returned to Corinth to deliver Paul’s letter to the Christians there (Theresa Doyle Nelson: Chloe and the Corinthians).

At any rate, the letters to the church at Corinth supply a painstaking detailed account concerning Christian living within the church and the procedure of it as well.

4. Authority and Fellowship

The only authority is Christ and His word recorded in the Bible. This guides the fellowship of believers whose unity is determined by the “one mind in Christ” found in the Bible. Churches have been given authority as Christ’s ambassadors on earth. We represent the kingdom that is presently in heaven and we have been given authority to make disciples on behalf of that kingdom. However, there is no authority among the ambassadors, only fellowship. The assemblies function in a fellowship construct. Elders are to lead by example and equip. The purpose of this treatise is to lay a basic thesis, so I am not going to take room here to build this case, but will touch on the most popular argument for authority in the church:

Hebrews 13:17 – Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

The word for “obey” in this verse is πείθω (peithō) which means to persuade by argument. The word “submit” is ὑπείκω hypeikō which means “to surrender.”  Here is the best rendering according to a heavy paraphrase:

Be persuaded by your leaders’ arguments from Scripture and don’t be stubborn in regard to the truth for this is no advantage to your own spiritual wellbeing. Besides, they have to give an account for how they led you, and let that account be a joyful recital to the Lord rather than a sorrowful report.

There is no authority, but rather fellowship modification in specified instances; for example,

A. We can’t hang out with you if you won’t let us help you with this problem.

B. You’re my brother in Christ, but I can’t have you over for dinner if you won’t work.

There would be no formal membership role. You either fellowship with the group or you don’t. You either recognize your gift and apply it within the body or you don’t. You identify with the group by fellowship, service, and obedience to the word of God, not church leaders.

I might add that almost all of the New Testament epistles are addressed to the church as a whole and not just the elders. Apostolic authority was a charge mandated to the whole assembly—that’s where the authority is, not with the elders.

5. Gatherings

The examples are consistent throughout the New Testament. The saints met in homes for a meal, general fellowship, a time of teaching, a time of encouraging others unto good works, the singing of hymn’s, and an informal breaking of bread and drinking of the cup to remember the Lord’s return. In the house churches of Corinth, the aristocracy that didn’t work were eating all of the food before the slaves got there. So, the salves were showing up hungry and tired after work and there was no food left. This is one of the issues Paul addressed.

6. Practical Considerations

The Protestant Reformation was predicated on a false gospel with a Gnostic application and has no authority. No Protestant linage of authority can be traced back to the apostolic church. Moreover, the father of the Reformation, St. Augustine, never repented of being a Catholic and never vacated the Catholic Church’s spiritual idolatry or murderous ways. The tyranny of Catholicism and Protestantism is only tempered by the rule of law spawned by the Enlightenment Era. The remnants of its tyranny in our day only has use for threatening to withhold absolution. Its authority model mires the so-called church in all sorts of legal red tape required of institutions in a secular society. In church state societies, its construct does little more than spawn civil wars and inquisitions.

The fellowship model focuses on strong sanctification and wise living. Practically, this New Testament model could begin with one fellowship in a city. This is what we have done here at the Potter’s House. The church is “The Fellowship in Xenia,” and we consider the Potter’s House the first household of faith thereof. Others who would like to join this movement could simply begin by joining us here, or start their own fellowship. The two groups would then work together to refine the movement’s  mode of operation moving forward. The applications are without end.

There is no room here to list all of the controversies in the formal church that would become non-issues in the fellowship model. Controversy among fellowships would be resolved within each city. The successful model would then be duplicated in other cities, but issues within those fellowships would be resolved within that geographical fellowship. Of course, the evangelism angle here has deep ramifications.

7. Conclusion

This model is based on the authority of God’s word and fellowship. The authority is vertical, not horizontal. Its focus is aggressive sanctification leading to a natural outflow of evangelism, and a strong emphasis on individual gifts.

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14 Responses

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  1. paulspassingthoughts said, on August 23, 2013 at 10:26 AM

    Reblogged this on Clearcreek Chapel Watch.

    Like

  2. freegracefull said, on August 23, 2013 at 11:49 AM

    And that pretty much covers it. Best post you have ever written.

    Like

    • paulspassingthoughts said, on August 24, 2013 at 8:38 PM

      Thanks.

      Like

  3. trust4himonly said, on August 23, 2013 at 4:57 PM

    Really good post Paul…….

    While I agree with the NT church model, some of the home fellowships here in America have turned out to be cults; so how to get this solved? Also, many have started out in homes then turn into big mega churches; and then so goes the same hamster wheel.

    I guess maybe it shows that these people still are ingrained with that Reformational/Protestant mindset?

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    • paulspassingthoughts said, on August 23, 2013 at 9:39 PM

      T4H,
      Almost every home church that grows goes back to the authority model with the central building etc. From there, it either turns into a cult or fails. Right, the Protestant mindset dies hard.

      Like

  4. james jordan said, on August 23, 2013 at 8:44 PM

    Do you have to wear a suit or tie to a house fellowship?

    Like

  5. james jordan said, on August 23, 2013 at 10:35 PM

    I’m not so sure its the Protestant mindset and not the Christian mindset. Salvation is by dogma in Christianity, so you always end up with an authority figure who enforces the thought crime legislation that is domgatics. Because it has to be by dogma, not works. And unlike what constitutes good clean living, domga isn’t obvious to everyone.

    Like

  6. lydiasellerofpurple said, on August 23, 2013 at 11:44 PM

    I am not a big fan of Viola but he did some interesting research on this and you might find some of the information interesting concerning the NT church:

    https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:gZ7ZAb3obpYJ:frankviola.org/elders.htm+&hl=en&gl=us&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESjFZYRFPHtfipF9LLHr5rMVCtt5-NuZVz8FVhWVnBPUUqaWrxdb4xrw9H9QGGCB3g8xqQa2hWf867iskLkkTNA3fNJuElLprv_54sGNFQoSsYDtXIYF4vdtNc1nVc3Uyl_IhF7W&sig=AHIEtbT07sgqvOKnR-8RjBOYHbPyyxKpOg

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  7. trust4himonly said, on August 24, 2013 at 12:22 AM

    Paul I go to a very small church right now that actually does not want to grow. It is made up of only elders and thinks that membership is not Biblical. The church has been around for twenty years and many of the members are third generational families. I told them they are a rare church. It is one of the best churches I have ever been to.

    Like

    • paulspassingthoughts said, on August 24, 2013 at 7:11 AM

      Well, I don’t know about the not growing part, but the rest sounds good. Doesn’t seem like official membership really carries any water.

      Like

  8. trust4himonly said, on August 24, 2013 at 8:59 PM

    Well what I meant about the “not growing” is that they do not try to use any methods on getting their church big- there is no push to do so; but they are very welcoming when someone does visit.

    Is the thanks for stating that your chain looked like cheerios as James had mentioned? Sorry if I offended you. : (

    Like

    • paulspassingthoughts said, on August 25, 2013 at 6:16 AM

      No, no, the sincere thanks was to FG. The Cheerios thing is on me as I knew I should have made the links thinner, but I was busy. I think in your church they are not interested in growing an institution. That’s good, but I do think we should grow the body. I do think we should grow the gifts.

      Like

  9. trust4himonly said, on August 25, 2013 at 5:32 PM

    Oh never mind the cheerio thing that was just in jest. 🙂

    No the church is very much into using the gifts- in fact, a real pleasant program they have just started was a youth vocal and instrumental choir. One thing I never saw in the church was young people being able to utilize their talents in front of the body; Here there is a mix of youth and adults using their musical talents.
    It is has been refreshing.

    Like


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