Arminian Today

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The Errors of Multisite Churches

What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.
– 1 Corinthians 14:26

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.
– Hebrews 13:7

I could write an entire series on the errors of the modern clergy-laity driven church.  We could discuss so many aspects of modern church life that is foreign to the Bible but nonetheless, we are so entrenched into our traditions that we believe them to be found in the Bible.  Sort of like the first time someone challenged me to find the “sinner’s prayer” for salvation in the Bible.  I answered about begin saved by faith, justified through faith, believing the gospel, etc.  but they challenged me further to show one person who prayed to receive Christ or who was instructed to pray for salvation.  I was dumfounded trying to find one person in the book of Acts who was saved by simply praying a prayer.

One of the fads in the modern evangelical church in the West are multisite churches.  This has become the new desire, to be large enough to meet on various “campuses” around a city.  One multisite church I looked at on the Internet has 19 “campuses” for people to meet.  Most of these sites are not even in the same states.  I know of a church in my area that is sucking the smaller churches dry with a new site that features a church that is nearly 100 miles away.  At a multisite church, you come in and you watch a screen of the Bible teacher who could be hundreds of miles away.  They count you as being in their church despite never even knowing your name.  I know of a man who died while attending one of these multisite churches and a representative from the mega church showed up to tell the grieving family that the superstar pastor would not be able to be there with them but he was thinking about them in their suffering and trials.  Yeah right.

I honestly don’t get the point of multisite churches other than pride.  Why not just plant another church?

In reality, multisite churches are just another reflection of the error of modern church gatherings in the first place.  Christians today believe that the reason we show up on the Lord’s day is to hear preaching.  This is not true.  Others believe we meet on the Lord’s day to worship God.  This is not true.  Some say that we meet on the Lord’s day to be trained through Sunday school or discipleship classes how to live for the Lord.  Again, not true.

In reality, the Lord’s day was to be a day to meet and eat (1 Corinthians 11:20).  For most disciples of Jesus in the early church, the Lord’s day was a work day.  Most would have worked all day and so they would meet in the evening around a meal with the Lord’s supper being the main focus (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).  Jesus was the Passover Lamb and He was the focus (1 Corinthians 5:7).  The Lord’s supper (as part of the meal and not the Lord’s tiny snack) would focus the disciples upon the Lord Jesus as their hope (1 Peter 1:3).  The focus of the Lords’ supper would be a gospel focus (Mark 14:22-25).

Acts 20:7 speaks of these gatherings.  Notice the verse says, “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.”  Notice that the disciples gathered to “break bread” which is to eat.  The eating would have been probably on a floor and not around a table.  The custom was to eat with your legs behind you and you facing the others.  In this context, people would have been a family, close-knit, and one in Christ.  You would have people from various ethnic backgrounds and cultures coming together to eat and to fellowship around the Lord’s table.  Rich people would have been on equal footing with the poor (James 2:1-7).

In this context, of eating around the Lord’s table, true fellowship and discipleship would have taken place (Hebrews 3:13; 10:24-25).

What about preaching?  In the book of Acts, we find preaching only toward the lost.  In fact, the closest thing we have to church gatherings and preaching is Acts 20:7 and here Paul uses this time because he knows that he will not see these saints again.  It also appears that Paul is not preaching here but simply talking.  To preach is to raise ones voice (see Acts 2:14).  I have no problem with bringing the church together for teaching times but one teacher should not take up the Lord’s day.  I find nothing of this in the New Testament.

In 1 Corinthians 14:26 the Bible is clear that one speaker did not dominate the early church.  The idea of one professional Christian telling other Christians is not found in the Bible.  1 Corinthians 14:26 says that each one can offer a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation but the point is to be for the edification of the church or as the ESV says, “building up.”

Now to return to my issue with multisite churches.  First of all, they don’t obey 1 Corinthians 14:26 at all.  Most evangelical churches don’t.  House churches can offer the best place for this to take place.  Small groups (or cell groups) offer the closest thing we have of this biblical practice in the Bible.  However, cell groups often are an extension of the clergy driven church and often are tightly controlled by the traditional church.

Secondly, how can multisite churches (or even large churches for that matter) obey Hebrews 13:7?  How can I imitate the faith of my elders who live 500 miles from me?  How can I see their prayer lives?  How can I imitate their marriage?  How can I learn how they evangelize or study the Bible?  How can I even submit to my elders (Hebrews 13:17)?

This can happen in smaller groups only.  I know that multisite churches would claim this.  But this is not the same as what we find in 1 Corinthians 11 or 1 Corinthians 14.  According to multisite churches, we meet to hear the professional Bible teacher who lives miles from me and doesn’t know me or my name.  We meet to hear him teach and then we meet in small groups to apply what we learn.  Where is this in the New Testament?  How can we take this approach to church meetings and apply this to 1 Corinthians 11 or 14?  We simply cannot.

For more information on this issue, I highly recommend two books.  One is Paul’s Idea of Community: The Early House Churches in Their Cultural Setting by Robert Banks.  The other is  Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity by Frank Viola.  Both are excellent books.

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Written by The Seeking Disciple

11/10/2013 at 1:31 PM

5 Responses

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  1. You seem to be assuming some questionable things: 1) What happened in the early church should be normative, even if it merely reflected the culture of the time; 2) What happens in the contemporary church is illegitimate unless one can point to specific biblical warrant; and 3) What is referred to in the Bible, even if only once, and even if it’s to correct an error, was a standard and a norm (e.g., James 2 doesn’t say that rich and poor were on equal footing in the church–it says that they weren’t, but should have been. Same thing with “various ethnic backgrounds and cultures”–in fact, the church had tremendous trouble working this out, according to Acts 12 and 15 and Galatians 2).

    It’s unwarranted to say that preaching was only toward the lost and that “The idea of one professional Christian telling other Christians is not found in the Bible.” One of the things that the early church devoted itself to was the “Apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42) and already on the day of Pentecost there were 3000 believers, with more being added daily,” so it’s impossible to imagine that the Apostles had a close, personal, house-church relationship with each individual believer. And Paul defends the idea that those who share the gospel should be able to make their living through the gospel (1 Cor. 9). Much has been made over Paul being a tentmaker, but when he had the opportunity to minister full-time, he did so (Acts 18:5). Yes, Paul’s primary work was that of a missionary–i.e., reaching the lost–but his epistles make abundantly clear that he had an important teaching role within the believing community as it developed. By the time Paul met with the Ephesian elders in Acts 20, he had spent three years in Ephesus, and had spent much of that time, not reaching out to unbelievers, but warning the believers of the false teachers that would come in after he left (Acts 20:27-31).

    I’m not sure that 1 Cor 14:26 is a prescription for how church gatherings are supposed to work. It seems more to be a description of what the Corinthians were already doing (and doing badly); the real admonition was for the Corinthians to control what was being done and make sure that it was being done to build up the church.

    I’m not a fan of multisite churches, but your post uses the multisite phenomenon to pillory the practice of evangelical churches in general. I think it’s incorrect to throw out 2000 years of technological development and cultural change, just because things are described differently in the Bible. After all, blogging isn’t in the Bible either….

    • Thanks Keith for the reply. Obviously, I would disagree with you on many of these issues. I was myself in “full time” ministry for over 10 years before studying the Bible with an open mind and was convinced that the house church movement was the biblical form and that full time professional clergy does not come from the Bible but from an Old Testament Levitical system that was carried over into the Roman Catholic Church and was not abandoned by the Protestant Reformation though Luther did teach on the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:5-6).

      I would encourage you to read Frank Viola’s book that I link to. I actually purchased this book (it was under another name then) to discredit the book but his views got me wrestling with Scripture and with traditions. We Protestants like to say that we are “biblical” but many of our practices have nothing to do with the Bible from our buildings to our pastors. We like to say that we are a people who preach the Bible and stand on the Bible but then we turn to traditions to approve our notions about clergy and about how we do church. You might not agree with the house churches but they appeal to Scripture form their leadership form (elders who serve with the saints and not over them or professionally) to their meeting formats (an appeal to 1 Corinthians 12:7 and 14:26 to use their gifts to edify the saints).

      I don’t know your situation, if you are a clergymen or not but I know that I have had the most reactions from clergy because, after all, if the house churches are correct, clergy have no jobs as a professional Christian. In reality, house churches are refreshing to this former preacher because the house of God is His house. I am no longer looked at a the spiritual CEO who must come up with programs, build attendance, be blamed for lack, and must look to the church for my living. I now work for a company and fellowship with saints and the stress of ministry is gone (to this day, the largest burnout is among clergy). I understand the reservations traditional pastors have toward house churches but I would ask them to read house church books, visit a biblical house church, and learn. I believe house churches will someday be the norm in the West. They will be places where worship, prayer, evangelism, and organic Christianity can be found. The traditional churches are dying.

      Lastly, I don’t think traditional churches are evil so please don’t misunderstand me. I attend a traditional church often and work with their boys ministry on Wednesday nights. While I don’t agree with many aspects of the traditional church, I know that God saves sinners in spite of us and despite us. I believe there is more in the house churches than in the traditional churches in terms of spiritual growth and depth but this does not mean that I detest the traditional churches. I enjoy Bible teaching from men such as Dr. Vic Reasoner or Terry Roberts while disagreeing with them over their view regarding traditional pastoring and clergy.

  2. Thx. for the shout out! Great article.

    fv

    Psalm 115:1

    http://www.frankviola.net

  3. I think we can assume that when Paul was at the various church plants and gatherings of community/elders on his three missionary journeys, that not unlike Acts 20:7 he was breaking bread and sharing/teaching/preaching to them. Not in the formal way it’s done today…but certainly that was part of what he did.

    I observe that the first group of believers were 120. I really like that number. It may be the ideal church/community size. It’s the size of my congregation. And…we have opportunity for for the I Cor 14:26 experience. Not simply in the classic Pentecostal prophecy/tongues motif but reading of Psalms and teaching.

    I was at a ‘small church’ pastors conference over the weekend. One of the speakers asked us what is the current symbol of the church? He remarked that the Catholics made the altar and communion central. The protestants came along and made the pulpit central. So what’s central today? His answer: The screen.

    Even small churches have spent thousands on screens so we can see words to songs and way-to-close-up views of the pastor preaching. The ‘screen’ has become the church icon of multi-campus and single site ministries. If you don’t have a screen you are not post-modern hip.

    Mike Bayer

    11/11/2013 at 12:14 PM

    • The screen. Wow. How true. I agree with you, that smaller churches can offer the chance to obey the 52 “one another” passages of the NT. How can a large church even begin to obey the one another passages? I like to say that a church is too large when the elders do not know the names of the people. How can elders begin to help people in their walk with Christ if they do not know their names?

      Great thoughts.


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