It could be quite possible that the church today, so-called, meets Biblical definitions only by eisegesis. That is, our current general church system seeks to legitimize itself by attaching labels from scripture to already entrenched hierarchies.
Theologians, scholars, and other churchy-sounding people will turn to Paul’s first letter to Timothy and also his letter to Titus to make claims bolstering one position or another in regard to today’s modern church. Some even go as far as to say that today’s church needs restructuring based on a particular viewpoint.
Whatever viewpoint is taken one underlying premise is always present. Whether a church-model of elder leadership, Purpose driven©, seeker-friendly, or liturgical is undertaken, all have a point of commonality. It matters not whether a congregation meets in a stadium, specifically designed church buildings, or rented schools. They all share a presupposition. Though they each may say something differently while insisting on the validity of their existence as a church, none can find a claim, a rightfully true claim, for their existence and governing in scripture.
After Pentecost, the church in Jerusalem was huge in numbers. They often gathered in the temple complex and increased in number daily. This is arguably the largest New Testament (NT) church. It was not to last, however, as the church soon became complacent, often arguing amongst themselves, and failed to carry out the charge of Jesus to spread the gospel (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8). Persecution soon followed and the believers were scattered, never to meet again in the same strength of numbers.
The Biblical data points to other congregations, Antioch-Syria being primary. The numbers seem to be small, however, in comparison to the immediate Post-Pentecost Jerusalem church. In the light of the Saul (later known as Paul) led persecution the church as a body left Jerusalem and separated into numerous parts that were not easily identified by would-be persecutors. It seems quite likely as well that the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD was certainly mark of the end of any large numbered churches if they existed up to that point.
Paul went on what we call missionary journeys. On these trips he met in synagogues to present the gospel. Those that believed formed groups of believers in those cities – churches. These churches networked with each other across Asia Minor, Macedonia, Greece, all the way to Rome.
As Paul took the good news to the Roman Empire, he trained people in the understanding of Jesus Christ and Christ’s purpose. These newly trained leaders would have to be resilient, intelligent, discerning, and highly motivated. They could ill-afford to undertake overt action in the political climate of Rome. To do so would jeopardize the safety of the church.
It is evident that the churches did convene councils to discuss points of contention, theology, and doctrines. Any authority to which may be ascribed to these councils seems to disappear after Paul and Barnabas separate (see Acts 15).
How then was the church led in the NT? How does that impact what church has become today? (to be continued)