Church Services – Are We Doing It Right?
Throughout the course of church history, from the reformation and advent of Protestantism, the order of church services have remained relatively unchanged. Slight alterations have occurred but the overall structure has remained untouched. It is considered by all the standard and in no need of change or improvement. Being accepted by the majority as the only way and acceptable before God, then there is no need to re-examine its structure or its function, or is there? As a result, this form factor has been duplicated and repeated throughout the world wherever the gospel of Jesus Christ is preached.
A leader is selected. This leader carries the full load and responsibility to raise up his followers, the congregation, with all that he possesses in both anointing, understanding and knowledge. The congregation is expected to receive all that he says from the pulpit, regardless of what he may say or how balanced or imbalanced it may be. They are expected to agree. Once this ‘service’ is over, the little time the congregation chooses to interact between each other is usually in the form of greetings and casual talk and not necessarily in discussion of the pros or cons of the message they just heard or the exchange of revelation and insights given by the Holy Spirit to each of them during the message.
During these brief encounters, they all go to their respective places or as today, they may meet in a restaurant for further ‘fellowship’. In the church service, hymns may be sung, an offering taken up, announcements may be made, a message preached, an altar call may be made to allow some to respond to the message and then the service is closed. This format of church service has become universal everywhere the gospel of Jesus Christ is preached. Now for the ultimate question…Are we doing it right? Does it matter? If not, then why not? Is there another way? What does God have to say about this in His word? Does He say anything at all? If He does, then where is it and why aren’t we doing it His way? It is this question and others we will be examining in this message. Does it matter, can there be any difference if what we are doing is NOT right or NOT in accordance with what is shown in scripture? What difference will ANY change make anyway? Let’s see if these and other questions can be answered.
All too often, when we gather together, we come to listen to one person speak the word and if that church has home groups, then that message is supported with short discussions but not based on examining it as the Bereans did, to see if all that was said were truth. Nor was it a concern whether those that heard the message received the truths of that message. Although it is vital that any word of God be tested in the hearts of all that hear it, to see how they heard and understood the word preached.
Since everyone is not at the same place in their understanding and walk with The Lord, having all started their journey from a different place than others, it is important to check to see how they hear and from what understanding or perspective did they hear, in order to confirm that word of God in them. This is a necessary part of discipleship. Just as in training a new hire for a complicated and intricate job, they must be shown, allowed to do what they witnessed and be under close supervision to ensure the job they are doing is to the exacting standards required for their position.
None of this can be done from the pulpit in today’s church and very little is done in this regard among its members, even in home cell groups. The body of Christ, as individuals are not being trained in discernment. We are not being taught how to tell the difference between what is holy or unholy or to discern between what is clean or unclean.
Even children growing up in a home environment are given a greater emphasis on learning the difference between right and wrong. If we raise our children without their being able to distinguish between the good and the bad, then we are dooming them to a life of failure for they will not be able to tell the difference of who is a bad friend versus who is a good friend; a bad decision versus a good decision, except on the basis of selfish gain. As adults, we all must know how to discern, for without it, we cannot tell when the evil one has infiltrated our ranks and confusion will reign supreme instead of the peace of God, and we all will begin to wonder how things got so bad.
James 3:16 (NKJV)
For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.
Therefore, if we seek to train up a disciple in the fear and admonition of The Lord, it is necessary, even vital, they have their faith and their understanding confirmed as they grow up into all things in Christ. If we did not have this in our own lives, then how can we give of that which we do not know? What about the messages from the pulpit? Are they always right? Should they, too, be examined in the light of scripture? Who will do this? Does today’s format support this kind of interaction required to accomplish this examination? If not, then why not? Through this one man delivery of the word of God, are we getting ALL that God is saying? Is it possible that one man CAN have sufficient revelation, understanding, knowledge and experience to give all that God wants to give or is there a way that, because we have not experienced it, God may have a different way to express His truth to us?
The format of gatherings in the early church allowed for these kinds of checks and balances, to ensure that everything that was being shared by others was truth and proven. Where in today’s church can this take place? Why isn’t this prevalent in today’s order of worship when the church comes together? What happens if the preacher is NOT the only one hearing God? If someone in the congregation receives revelation while the preacher is speaking, are they given a chance to share what they received? Why not? Are they not qualified seeing as how they too are sons of the Most High? Then why is the format so prohibitive? Even in the synagogues during Jesus’ time, others in the group are allowed, even encouraged to ask questions for further clarification or offer their view or understanding in order to ‘flesh’ out the truth. This produces a lively discussion which can lead to either disagreements or full agreements as the subject is thoroughly examined by all in attendance. Sure there will be those who disagree but in their disagreement, points missed can be offered that can aid them in understanding the truth. The modern church service simply is not geared for such dialog among its members. Why isn’t this so?
Today’s church service falls far short of the biblical example of 1 Cor. 14.
1 Corinthians 14:26-27, 29 Well then, my brothers, whenever you meet let EVERYONE be ready to contribute a psalm, a piece of teaching, a spiritual truth, or a “tongue” with an interpreter. Everything should be done to make your church strong in the faith. If the question of speaking with a “tongue” arises, confine the speaking to two or three at the most and have someone to interpret what is said. If you have no interpreter then let the speaker with a “tongue” keep silent in the church and speak only to himself and God. Don’t have more than two or three preachers either, while the others think over what has been said. But should a message of truth come to one who is seated, then the original speaker should stop talking. For in this way you can ALL HAVE OPPORTUNITY to give a message, one after the other, and EVERYONE will learn something and EVERYONE will have his faith stimulated. The spirit of a true preacher is under that preacher’s control, for God is not a God of disorder but of harmony, as is plain in all the churches.
In this example, everyone is given an opportunity to give their portion of that which Holy Spirit has given them. We each have a uniqueness given to each of us by our Creator so that as a whole, each one contributing, we may all see and understand the nature of the Godhead as He is revealing Himself through us all. In the Old Testament, God required that through the mouths of two or three witnesses, let every word of accusation be established. In this requirement, the truth of a matter can be firmly established before judgment is meted out. In similar fashion, God has established the uncovering of His truth through the mouths of two or three witnesses. In the case of His truth, we often find that it has been established throughout the bible by three witnesses.
Consider the first establishment of truth. The Godhead said, “Let US make man in OUR image, according to OUR likeness.” Man then became a triune being after the pattern in heaven…body, soul and spirit…reflecting the true Godhead of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When God established His covenant, He chose three to represent Him in Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In this we also see the Godhead….Abraham, the father of many nations….Isaac, his only son who was offered up as a sacrifice….Jacob who wrestled with the messenger of God and would not let go until he received God’s blessings with the result of God changing his name to “Prince with God”–Israel. So even in this testimony, God uses three witnesses representing Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
This example of the three witnesses to establish the truth even appears in the gospels. For example:
In these passages, the first witness says two blind men cried out to Jesus and the “crowd” quieted them. In the second passage, the second witness, says a “certain” blind man and those who quieted them were those who went “before” Jesus. In the third witness, that certain blind man had a name, “Bartimaeus” and that before he went to Jesus, he cast away his garment.
The first witness established the story, the second added some clarification to the story while the third witness gave a greater look at the details. Through the three witnesses, all facts of the truth were revealed. In like manner, Paul is teaching the Corinthians to follow that same pattern. Let two or three speak in tongues and one interpret. Let two or three prophets speak and let the others judge. In this way, all may be edified as the truth will be fully revealed.
Brethren, we have set before us a pattern of the revelation of the truth as set by God Himself after the pattern revealed in Heaven. In order for us to reach our full potential, it requires us to walk IN that pattern set by God. The church, for centuries, has followed her own course without regard to the pattern that God has established in His word.
Throughout church history, God has been at work restoring lost truths, starting with Jesus. Jesus came and revealed the heart of the law where corrupt men have changed understanding of the law through their vain traditions. Likewise today, God’s pattern has been severely compromised through the actions of vainglorious men who have sought preeminence in lifting themselves up and establishing a system that supports and protects themselves from all challenge.
This is the handiwork of the evil one in order to rob the church of that which has given her its greatest power and effectiveness. PRIDE is at the heart of this model and sets men and women in such a manner to entrap them in its grip while depriving the body of its ability to grow and mature into all things in Christ. All other gifts of the Holy Spirit and the foundational truths have so far been established, restored by God through the various men and women throughout our church history. Now, the next move of God will be to restore this model of the three witnesses in our midst in order to bring about the final stages of maturity within the body of Christ. In doing this, we know that this age is coming to a close as God is ready to present to His Son a victorious Bride who has made herself ready.
Soon, as He is now working in the hearts of those of whom He has called and has prepared, He will release His Spirit upon all flesh as He has done before but this time, He will do it in an unprecedented way. In similar fashion as He had done at the first, He will pour out of His Spirit on all flesh but this time, He will pour out His Spirit to a much larger portion of mankind which will set the stage for the greatest harvest of souls the earth will ever see. Prior to this great move of God, He will re-establish that final piece that will usher in the level of maturity He has been working towards in the church as well as bringing into the sheepfold others that will be needed as workers in the field to harvest this great company of new believers. Then this age will come its close as Jesus will return, not as Savior but as Judge and Executioner of the wrath of God upon all flesh.
Matthew 13:41-43 (NKJV)
The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, 42 and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!
The wicked will be gathered together and thrown into the fire while we, which remain, will shine as the Sun in its strength. Then, we shall see the resurrection of the dead in Christ, who will rise to meet Him in the clouds and we which are alive, shall join them. From this point on, forever, we shall remain with Him. This is the first resurrection. Blessed are all those who are participants in the first resurrection! To Him of Whom belongs all honor and power and might and glory forever and ever do we give Him praise!
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PS: Here are some notable differences pointed out by another brother in Christ who shares this view of changes that must be made in our current format of church services:
What is wrong with a ‘Service’.
1-Congregations are (or were in the past) too large. Note that originally believers met in homes. Synagogues as mentioned earlier probably numbered in the hundreds in Jerusalem before the Romans destroyed it in 70AD. So the numbers attending the synagogues would not be huge in number.
2-Interaction was the rule in New Testament times, whereas now it is a rare exception.
3-Preaching (with a suggestion of formality, gravity, and an authority that must be listened to) is a must in a service today, while in New Testament times it would have been the exception. Interruptions today are rare and unwelcome; while in New Testament times, if anything, they were encouraged.
4-People meeting in services today face one direction, the front. At the time of the Apostles in the synagogue they focused on the middle, and I imagine in the homes where the Christians met they faced each other.
5-‘Singing’ is communal in services today and a relatively large proportion of the time is taken up by this congregational singing. However, there is little evidence of this in the New Testament, yet that is not to say it didn’t exist. People who wanted to sing in NT times were encouraged to do so; the rest of the people could then listen and contemplate on what was sung, particularly the words.
6-Services today are time periods of strict adherence to a regular routine, such as two hymns, one sermonette, announcements, one hymn, sit-down, stand-up…etc. However in NT times there was much greater spontaneity, such that instructions to be orderly and not to be confusing were necessary.
7-Services these days rarely involve the active participation of women. It appears that women participated fully in the meetings that the Christians took part in, they certainly prayed and prophesied freely.
8-The action or influence of the Holy Spirit is limited in services today, due to the regimented format of it and its preplanned schedule. In NT times because of the spontaneity and the ability of any or all to speak, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit would be present and be recognized as such, if it was or wasn’t.
9-Services today give you the impression that the only ones that possess the gifts of the Holy Spirit are the ‘minister’ and the individuals ‘he promotes’. However we are to ‘try’ the spirits: – IJohn:4v1 ‘Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God.’(NLT) Therefore meetings should be open for others to speak, certainly this was the case in the New Testament; Acts:13v15 and ICor:14v30.
10-A meeting of Christians should be a lively interactive organism of spontaneity, one of give and take; Prov:27v17. God’s Spirit is one of power; a meeting where this only emanates from one person while everyone else is deadly quiet week after week is not what is constructive to the body of Christ.