I'm almost finished reading Pagan Christianity and I'm amazed at how much of what is done in the institutional church is rooted in pagan traditions. While reading, my emotions have gone from anger over what the church has now become to sadness over what the church could have been. The description the authors give of the New Testament church is electrifying.
"The New Testament church had no fixed order of worship. The early Christians gathered in open-participatory meetings where all believers shared their experience of Christ, exercised their gifts, and sought to edify one another. No one was a spectator. All were given the privilege and the responsibility to participate. The purpose of these church meetings were twofold. It was the mutual edification of the body. The early church meetings were not religious "services." They were informal gatherings that were permeated with an atmosphere of freedom, spontaneity, and joy. The meetings belonged to Jesus Christ and to the church; they did not serve as a platform for any particular ministry or gifted person."
When I read that I got excited and began to envision how wonderful it would be to be part of a gathering like that. As I continued to dream, I remembered that I had been involved in a group like that at one time. A number of years ago, after I left the abusive group that I had been part of for 3 years, several of us began gathering in a home. Even though we had all suffered in an abusive situation, we didn't gather licking our wounds. We ate together, took the Lord's supper together without a pastor and a few of us came ready to share what Father had given us while we were apart. There was no program and nothing was planned. There was total freedom.
Looking back on it now, I remember it fondly. However, at that point in my life, I was frustrated because of the lack of structure. I wanted structure. I wanted a set lesson . . . maybe with me as one of the teachers. I wanted the meeting planned so that it would move along smoothly. As my frustration increased, I finally stopped going. So, did a lot of other people so the group finally disbanded.
I've often wondered what would have happened if I had stayed and encouraged others to stay. Maybe, in time, it would have grown and someone might have gotten the idea to start another church. Or maybe, just maybe, we would have continued on as a group of New Testament believers who gathered in freedom. Perhaps our meetings today would truly picture what the scriptures describe as the life of the church.
Well, those are things that I'll never know since the past is gone and I can't change it. Apparently, I wasn't ready at that time but now I've grown to a place where that type of gathering seems very appealing. It wasn't perfect but looking back it had a lot of life in comparison to the static routine church services I've since experienced. At times, I wonder if I'll ever experience anything like that again. At this point, it doesn't seem likely but Father has a way of changing things in a most unexpected way.
Kent Burgess, a dear brother in the Lord, has helped me to learn the difference between living with expectations and living in expectancy. Giving up my expectations that Father has to work in my life the way I want him to has been very difficult but I'm now learning to live in expectancy knowing that he is working and whatever he does will turn out for my good.
I don't know if I'll ever be involved in another group like that but I do know that Jesus is building his church and, in the end, it will be a church without spot or wrinkle or blemish.