A few years ago, I was a Part-Time Gospel Preacher for a small group near us. During our study and my teaching there, we began to discover some things in scripture that did not match up with our traditions and teachings in the Church of Christ church.
After studying several things and coming to some nontraditional conclusions, my family and I, along with a couple of other families were asked to conform or to leave. The congregation did not "withdraw fellowship" from us. They simply gave us no choice but to go away. So, we did. We had trouble with that. We were almost to the point of despair. What would we do without a place to worship? How could we please God and face the rest of our lives if we were not members of a local church?
We decided that we would invite those invited to leave with us to assemble in our living room temporarily until we could decide what we were going to do in the future. Little did we realize at that time that we had reached a major turning point in our spiritual relationship with God and with each other. Our previous near despair has turned to joy. To freedom in Christ. The reasons are, we believe we have finally found what our God wants us to do, and we have found many more Christians in very similar circumstances.
Some are in traditional, organized churches. Many have simply been "asked to leave," as we were. Some have been "withdrawn from." Others have gotten upset or disturbed with what is being taught and practiced by the organized church and have simply walked away.
The "Lost" Sheep
Some of the organized churches haven't even noticed, but through recent years many Christians have simply "dropped through the cracks." Some have just vanished. No one knows where. At least no one that I was around even went looking for them. Oh, occasionally we talked about them. Even "withdrew(?)" from some of them for Forsaking the Assembly (compare Jesus searching for the single, lost sheep).
Lately, I'm beginning to find some of them. They are meeting from house to house. What a concept!
Since I want very much to be like Christ, I've asked myself, "How do I do that?" I have accepted the fact that the church where I spent many years made me more than (or less than-I'm not sure which) a Christian. I was a Christian and a member of the church!
I couldn't understand why members of other denominational bodies could not see that it took more to become a member of their church than it took to be a simple Christian. At the same time I was too blind to see that I believed the same thing.
When I decided that I wanted to be a simple Christian, and nothing else, I needed to know how to change my practice, now that I had changed my purpose.
Be An Examiner
First, I re-studied my Bible to see if I could find out what the early disciples did. As nearly as I possibly could, I wanted to do everything I found them doing. I have tried to "re-look" and "re-think" everything that I have ever known or believed. I have attempted to look at everything though fresh eyes, as though seeing it for the first time.
It's hard to give up the beliefs and traditions of a lifetime and to start over. But believe me, once you've started over and are being totally honest with yourself, you'll see a major difference.
If you are not already doing this, then try pretending you've never read these scriptures before. Try to forget Commands, Approved Apostolic Examples and Necessary Inferences. Instead, just ask yourself, "What does the text say?" When you begin to do that, your study will become much like a snowball, rolling downhill. Not only do you gather momentum in what you now can see, but that enlightenment grows in geometric-not straight line-proportions. Understanding a seemingly small thought will clear up many larger ones as you "meditate on it day and night." If it has not already been in the past, you may find now that, truly your "delight will be in the Law of the Lord. And in His Law you will meditate day and night."
What Did "They" Do
When I started my study, I began by looking for two basic things. What God's people were called and what they did. What I found really surprised me. Not what they were called-I knew all about brothers, saints, the family of God, children- and all the other descriptive terms which describe our relationships with God and with each other. What really got my attention was what they did together.
My method of study was to start at the second chapter of Acts when the good news was first proclaimed, and went completely through the New Testament. I suggest that you do the same thing. I will summarize it for you here. However, such a summary will never have the impact on your mind and your life that your own careful, paragraph by paragraph study will have. Let me suggest that as you search through the New Testament-make a list. List the noun/verb pairs that you find. That's not as technical as it sounds. Just make a list of "Who?" "Did What?" Start with Acts and end with Revelation. You should find something like this:
Who? Did What?
Believing ones, or The believing multitude:
Supplied each other's needs; Shared food with each other; Met daily from house to house and in the Temple; Praised God; Converted others; Shared one mind, shared one purpose; Were added to the Lord; Assembled in the synagogue, listened to Paul; Heard Peter and John; Prayed; Spoke the word of God; Were helped by Apollos; Confessed their sins; Burned books.
Assembly (all the assembly):
Feared; Assembled with one mind; Were persecuted; Were scattered; Were ravaged by Saul of Tarsus; Went preaching; Had peace; Edified (built up, strengthened) each other; Went about in the Lord's Spirit; Multiplied; Heard the good news of other's conversions; Sent Barnabas; Were called "Christians;" Prayed at Mary's house, heard a young woman speak; Quietly heard Peter; Had prophets and teachers; Had elders appointed; Assembled to hear the report of a preaching trip; Went out together to meet Paul and Barnabas; Welcomed Paul and Barnabas; Heard Paul and Barnabas; Escorted Paul and Barnabas out of the city, gave them provisions (food, clothing, etc.); Met to welcome Paul and Barnabas; Heard James; Approved what they heard; Decided to send letters to other Christians; Had their faith strengthened; Were greeted by Paul.
Multitude of disciples, Numbers of disciples, Disciples of the Lord, or Disciples:
Were called together by apostles; (As a group) expressed their approval (made decisions); Chose men as messengers; Selected men and set them before the apostles; Multiplied; Were threatened and murdered; Feared Saul; Sent for Peter; Were led to a room upstairs; Wept; Were called Christians; Were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit; Tended Paul's wounds; Had their souls strengthened; Were taken in to the synagogue; Were exhorted; Were encouraged by Paul; Were searched for by Paul; Brought Paul out of the city; Prayed together on the beach.
Brought Saul; Went with Peter; Heard Peter; Heard apostles; Had a letter sent to them; Sent Paul & Silas; Took Paul & Silas to Athens; Encourage Apollos; Wrote letters; Were greeted by Paul; Greeted Paul's party; Were found by Paul; Came to meet Paul (outside the city).
The faithful ones, The ones hearing, Those gathered:
Were amazed; Kept silence; Gathered to break bread; Heard Paul discourse with them; Were comforted.
I hope this is enough to convince you of the value of this study. These are some of the examples I found in the book of Acts. There is something to note, however. The book of Acts is a history. It is a straightforward narrative, making it easy to find these instances. As we get into the letters, we encounter a totally different writing style. It makes our verb/noun pairs a little more difficult to find.
In the letters, some of these things are not directly stated, but are strongly implied. For example in Romans 15:22-29, Paul does not state that the disciples in Rome had already "speeded him" on his trip to Spain. But he anticipated that they would in the future and thus approved it. I believe that this means to readily supply anything and everything needed for the trip.
The Corinthian church also was expected to sit as a court in disputes among children of God. They were expected to wait ("tarry") for each other when they assembled; to strengthen (edify) each other; when assembled, each had a Psalm, a teaching, a revelation.
What Do We Learn?
A really good question, isn't it? Just what have we learned from all of this?
Did we see the disciples assembled on Sunday? In Acts 20:7 on the first of the week, they gathered to break bread. Do we see them assembling on other days? Do we see them getting together in a building which they own? Do they assemble and sing? Did they pass the collection plate, expecting each to contribute regularly? Cheerfully? Liberally? Mid-week Bible Study? Surely we found them having Bible Classes, didn't we?
How many times do they assemble to do the five items of worship? They don't? Then why do we?
Do you see professional preachers? Full-Time Gospel Preachers? Gospel Preachers? Do you see a group of elders making all their decisions? Do you honestly see only the men in a "Business Meeting?" Or do you see all the disciples as a group deciding (they sent, they approved, they chose, they wrote) things together?
I beg you to think about that. I believe that we should "do Bible things in Bible ways." Now I am re-examining the way I live and the things I do. I have found that most of the things that I have been doing are not Bible things but men's traditional things!!
What Should We Be Doing?
I have been asked to make a few suggestions. Whether you are meeting with an organized church, have been asked to leave, been dismembered, or whatever, take them for whatever benefit you can derive from them.
-Continue to ask questions. Please do not let it deter you that someone else is discomforted by having to answer questions for which there is no apparent answer from scripture. My own recent study path was strongly influenced by someone asking me a question. When I tried to answer it, it was apparent to me that my practice and tradition did not agree with scripture. It is vitally important to ask and answer the question, "What does God want me to be and do?"
-If you can, find others in your geographic area who are of the same mind. This does not mean to try to find someone with whom you agree 100%. You are not likely to find that person. But try to find someone who is a searcher-one who asks, seeks, and knocks. You can be a strength to each other and study together whether or not you even live in the same town. I know several who are now spending more time on the telephone and writing and exchanging articles and letters than they ever did before. They do this because they found someone like I am suggesting.
-Lacking the above contact, begin to correspond with some of the writers you see in the Examiner. Whether you agree 100% or not, write. Ask questions. Share what you have studied. (I know several of the writers who have had their knowledge broadened or their minds changed, because someone wrote or called after an article had appeared.)
-Start a home "Bible study." Whether you find other like-minded or not, set up a night or two and invite others to your home or go to theirs to examine what God would have us to be.
-Don't be afraid of where your Bible study will take you. Pray for guidance. Don't change your mind quickly. Examine each topic thoroughly, but if you do find evidence for changing your ideas, please don't be afraid to do so. "But, we've always done it this way," will be the wrong answer at the judgement. Why use that answer now?
-Begin to do what our first century brothers and sisters did. Lay aside some of your goods (money, clothing, groceries-whatever you have). When you find someone in need-and you will-share it with them. Don't ask for anything in return. When we do this, suddenly we find that we have less and less to drop into the collection plate to spruce up the landscaping around the building.
-Send some names of people you know (whole directories if you have them) to The Examiner so they can have the opportunity you have had. Try not to have a preconceived notion about who will appreciate it and who will not. Don't worry about offending anyone by sending them this paper. Remember we are talking about the priceless souls of people, not the time of day. Give everyone you know a chance to make up their own minds.
-Talk about your changed life with everyone every time you get a chance. You may be surprised how many people you will find who have "dropped out" of "restoration churches" and for whom you will have an immediate affinity. You may also be surprised about the large number of people in other denominations (including the Catholic churches) who are reaching the same point you are. You will find that you now have many things in common to talk about. You won't have to worry about going out and doing "personal work." The work will come to you. Use every precious opportunity. If you pray for additional ones, you may be surprised-as I was-at how many opportunities the Lord can lay before you.
-When you assemble, do something more or less than the "five items of worship" that have become tradition. I know of a group which has been having home meetings for a long time. But they have essentially moved the organized church out of a church building and into someone's living room. Don't do that. You might get together several nights a week. On one night, just pray. Pray several prayers or just one. It's important first to discuss what needs to be prayed about. Following that, each can put a part of the prayer into words, or only one can. Usually, I've found it to cover more of the things we need to talk with God about if each one in the group adds their own part of the collective prayer. At another time, just sing. Let each suggest a song-or several songs. Select songs that "teach and admonish," or that "edify." Sing songs for and with the children, if any are present. Get them involved. Read scripture. Let each select and read while the rest listen. Another time, just sing and pray. Another time, just talk about what the Lord means to you, then observe the Lord's Supper. Another time, get together for a meal. Variety keeps it fresh. Once a group gets settled into a "program" or a set way of doing things every time, the meaning gets lost. Let each person contribute what they want to share. (Remember 1 Cor. 14:26?)
You may have other suggestions. These may be enough to encourage you and to help "get started" doing things the way our Lord and older brother would want it.