Summary: Part 3 in series The Shape of Things to Come. The question isn’t whether we make commitments, it’s what kind of commitments we make.
Introduction to Rhythm
The Shape of Things to Come, prt. 3
Wildwind Community Church
September 20, 2008
You will sometimes hear about churches that pride themselves on being “New Testament churches.” I’m not against using that title, necessarily, but there is a minor problem with it. The problem is that no one really knows exactly how New Testament churches were run. Therefore there probably isn’t a single church on the planet right now that is being run just like any church we read of in the Bible. Now, if it had been an overwhelming concern in the mind of God to make sure that churches today were structured and run exactly as they were structured and run 2000 years ago, do you think God would have been pretty capable of communicating that to us clearly? I think so. The fact that he didn’t leads me to conclude that God is not interested in whether or not our church runs like the churches in the New Testament.
Now don’t get me wrong. There are some characteristics of the New Testament church that if we miss them, I’m convinced we’re not doing church right. For example:
Colossians 3:12-14 (NIV)
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
This is just a tiny sample. The New Testament is filled with passages like this. Overwhelmingly, the Bible speaks of how the church should look in terms of the character of the people in the church. The Bible does not address church government. Except in an indirect way:
1 Timothy 3:1-7 (NLT)
1 This is a trustworthy saying: “If someone aspires to be an elder, he desires an honorable position.”
2 So an elder must be a man whose life is above reproach. He must be faithful to his wife. He must exercise self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation. He must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must be able to teach. 3 He must not be a heavy drinker or be violent. He must be gentle, not quarrelsome, and not love money.
4 He must manage his own family well, having children who respect and obey him. 5 For if a man cannot manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church? 6 An elder must not be a new believer, because he might become proud, and the devil would cause him to fall. 7 Also, people outside the church must speak well of him so that he will not be disgraced and fall into the devil’s trap.
In this passage on those who serve the church as leaders, what does the Bible address? Character. This is the goal of every Biblical passage I can think of that addresses the church.
And so I say again: God is not interested in whether or not our church runs exactly like the churches in the New Testament. What God is interested in is that people in his churches are being formed in faith, growing in that faith, and learning to respond to the rhythms of God’s grace in their lives.
Why do I bring this up? It’s simple. I bring it up because I want you to know that since God didn’t lay down a set of rules for how every church is to be run – there’s no handbook – no manual of church government – it is then left to the leadership of every church to determine how this work of forming people in faith, growing them in that faith, and helping them learn to respond to the rhythms of God’s grace in their lives can best be done.
How many Christian denominations are there in the world? First, let’s get terminology clear. Often when someone says, “What religion are you?” what they really want to know is “What is your denomination?” Religions are systems of belief, such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Taoism, Shinto, and Hindu. Denominations are the various branches or subgroups contained in each religion. Jews are Hasidic, Orthodox, etc. Muslims are Shiite and Sunni. Christians are Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, Free Methodist (that’s us!), Evangelical Free, Nazarene, Wesleyan – well, how many do you think there are in Christianity worldwide? The correct answer is roughly 38,000. I kid you not.
Each of these denominations claims, to some extent, to be following the Bible. Each believes it has a more accurate take on scripture than most of the others. Add to this the fact that some denominational systems (such as the Free Methodist system we are part of) allow wide latitude in how their local churches are run, and you have a huge variety of belief systems that have sprung from Christianity, and a far greater variety still of church governmental structures that have sprung up – each believing, I’m sure, that their way of running their church is at least as good as, if not better than, everybody else’s.