How Many Believers Does it Take to Light a Lamp Post?
24 August, 2015 § Leave a comment
Discipleship precedes Church Structure. You might think that this an anti-authoritarian model for church growth, especially in light of such ministry philosophies as, “Churches plant Churches,” and the like, but I’m here to tell you that the scriptures are clear on this point. I am going to cite 2 biblical principles that we are currently ignoring and what I believe to be the gospel approach to making disciples and lighting another lamp post. Let’s start with the principles.
- Priesthood of the Believer
This is a classic Baptist distinctive and I use this principle namely because I believe that the Church does ultimately plant other churches, but the distinction that I am going to make is that most people don’t agree on the identity of the church. I believe that each individual believer is possessed by the Holy Spirit to an equal degree and is made a priest of God of the order of Melchizedek. Now, if I was a good baptist I would take this doctrine to its ultimate end and claim Congregational Rule but there isn’t a C in baptist and neither is there sufficient proof in scripture, besides for the choosing of the deacons in Acts, that would make me believe that the normal rules of submission to the Elders who watch over your souls doesn’t apply in a church business meeting (we’ll get to that). Quite apart from this, we are never told how many believers it takes to light a lamp post, but we are also never given a model for Church growth besides for what Paul, Silas, Barnabas, Mark and Peter did, which sounds like a lot, but basically they all did the same thing–disciple complete strangers and set them free to make other disciples shortly thereafter sending a more mature disciple to implement church structure i.e. Timothy or Titus. The bottom line of this doctrine is that we are the church, individually and collectively and therefore each and all of us bears the whole weight of the great commission to make disciples, baptize sed disciples and teach them everything Jesus commanded us. Take note that nowhere in the great commission are we told to “Go therefore unto all the world and implement church structure”. That brings us to our next Biblical Principle.
- The Church is a People, not a Building (or a Business)
It is well established that the church is not the building, which is true, but the mindset that we have replaced it with is equally false. The church that exists today resembles the world in its structures and divisions. We look to the business world instead of the Bible to see how we ought to think about ourselves and those around us and then how to govern ourselves. Consider two companies in the same market. For familiarities sake, take Apple and Microsoft. Both make much of the same products, both are very successful in their model for growth and self governance but they are distinct in their practices and ultimately their products are very little alike each other. This is exactly the way that we have approached Church planting. We say that the church is the people, but unfortunately this has turned into much the same as a business being the people, in the same way Apple or Microsoft would exist without the people we refer to the church as some sort of a corporate body that exists quite apart from its people. An organism that can be interacted with via the law of the land yet protect the people inside it, that it is bigger than each individual member in that it is made up of brilliant minds that differentiate in function. We are so steeped in this view of the church that even as I am writing this, I am asking myself, “Isn’t that the way that is supposed to be?” no. We put business philosophies into christian terms and accept it hook, line and sinker as biblical principles this is the epitome of heresy. At a church business meeting (why do they even exist!?), we throw submission to the Elders and to one another out the window (along with other widely held doctrines). Sadly, instead of seeing the problem as a gospel problem we see it as a church (read: business) model problem and become more authoritarian in nature, and thereby throw out equal submission to every member of the body.
A Gospel Centered Approach
I believe that in order to regain our footing as distinct from the world we have to return to the basics of Christianity. Each of these next points could be an article in and of themselves so I will address them briefly. But before that I will give an introduction..
When Jesus ascended into heaven He did not leave His disciples without a model for the Church. He gave them a gospel centered model with three facets: 1. One Foundation 2.One Feast 3.One Function.
- One Foundation
This is in reference to Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ the Son of the Living God in Mark 8 which Jesus cites as the rock on which He will build His Church against which the gates of Hell will not prevail. This one is pretty straight forward so I won’t expand on it for the sake of space because it is so widely held. Let’s move on to the food.
- One Feast
At the time of the ascension of Jesus the Jews had amassed a load of feasts and festivals that were both divine and man made but much in the same way as Jesus ends all sacrifices with His sacrifice Jesus implements communion at the last supper fulfilling all of those feasts including the passover and institutes a single feast for His church that covers everything. We’re talking Christmas, Good Friday and Easter all rolled into one and Jesus says “Do this in remembrance of me.”
- One Function
This is where we get caught up in our business model fiasco. Matthew 28:18-20 lays out the great commission quite clearly,
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
There it is, plain and simple. The only thing I will say is that I was sharing this with a brother one time and he flatly denied that the great commission was our one function as the Church and opted instead for the great commandment which is to love God and love others. He has a fair point here, but in light of the teaching of 1 John I think that it can be said that if the great commandment isn’t being met then you don’t have God anyway which, if you read the great commission and 1 John, is a prerequisite for obedience.
This is all that the disciples had to go on to build the church. It was everything. People hem and haw over what the disciples teaching was that they were devoting themselves to, but I’m inclined to believe that they obeyed Jesus and taught them “everything that I (Jesus) have commanded you,”! They stuck to their foundation–Jesus, they broke bread in each other’s houses which is the term that they used for taking part in communion which reminded them of their foundation and they made disciples adding daily to their numbers and started the process over and over and over again lighting more and more lamp posts that gave light to all who were in the house. Until they needed people to devote themselves to solving practical problems with the gospel so that the apostles could continue solving people problems with the gospel. Church structure was born out of obedience to their founder Jesus Christ who showed them for 3 ½ years how to make disciples. Then due to persecution and love the normal everyday believer was dispersed into the whole world and lit more lamp posts just for people seeing their light and hearing the gospel as the reason for why they shine so brightly.
And what do we do? We buy into a franchise, rent a building, spend money on advertising, appoint a CEO, CFO and managers and wait for the customers to come to us.
But how many believers does it take to light a lamp post? One–because discipleship precedes Church Structure.