The good news of Jesus Christ was to be preached by the early disciples of the first-century world. It was an offering of peace from God. The death and resurrection of this Jewish Messiah made possible the forgiveness of sins and direct access to the Creator through reconciliation mediated by Christ. God’s just requirement for a perfect death was in justification for the sin committed by a perfect man (Adam). This demand for justice was met by His son, Jesus. This made access to God possible for all people who accepted the sacrificial death of Christ. All things that were important to God in reclaiming a lost relationship with mankind were restored in this relationship with Christ. His kingdom was once again established on earth but in a spiritual mode of operation, not physical as in the days of the Mosaic economy. The church that Jesus built is a spiritual dwelling for God.
With this good news came the growth of congregations of people who had this redemption in common. What we call churches today were loosely organized assemblies of people who believed in the sacrifice of Christ and they believed their lives could be free of guilt and shame for their misdeeds. Jesus’ disciples taught that all believers represented a kingdom and a temple in which the living God both ruled and lived in the spirit. These communities sprang up all over the ancient world following the teachings of the Apostles, whether by letter or tradition. The congregations of God did not represent an organized institution as we see today in Catholicism or Protestantism. No single church at that time could have accumulated all of the letters that we refer to as the New Testament today. Yet the churches survived and flourished even under terrible persecutions from both Jewish and Roman powers.
Today, two thousand years removed from the primitive church, the gospel message has been changed by many organizations. Instead of the redeeming qualities of Jesus’ sacrifice, a gospel of church organization has become the gospel of God. The idea that an organized approach to worship was the message of the early disciples is just not true. An organization was never the purpose of Christ’s coming. The gospel was always about Jesus’ life, His teachings, His death, and resurrection. For any entity to place its particular form of organization as the gospel message betrays the will of the one who established God’s kingdom on earth. The church that Jesus built had no formal organization. The early disciples recognized in Jesus, “… Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.” Hebrews 7:26 and this brought them together.
Imagine an inventor who created a machine that perpetually created energy and this solved the world’s energy crisis. To render praise to the machine and place the value of the inventor’s genius as a secondary consideration would be absurd. But this is what many churches do with the message of Jesus Christ. He said to his followers, “Go into the entire world and preach the gospel to everyone. He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” And he said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Jesus did not teach them to preach an organization.
He did not tell them to preach on how to perform a worship service. Even the apostles did not teach the followers when, where, or how often to meet in fellowship. The Apostles taught that when the disciples met as a congregation, they were to remember the God who loved them and the people who were now brothers in the faith. They asked that things be done to encourage all the followers by reading out loud the Bible and the new letters from the apostles and to sing hymns of praise. They were taught that when possible, they were to collect money for those of the membership who were in need. A meal was often shared and a moment taken for remembrance of the “inventor” (the Savior). It was He who had made this community possible and promised this way to eternal life. Of course, these were incidental to the gospel message. The acceptance of this message was the point of their collaboration in such fellowship. The fellowship was never the message. They understood that ” God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” 1 Corinthians 1:9 Christ was the message. The fellowship was the result of that message.
Today, with so many divisions by organizations that claim the Christ as savior, the fellowship meetings have become formalized into worship services and these have replaced the message of the Savior. “Do this worship our way,” has become the cry of many churches. “Our way of worship service will save you.” Since the revivals of the early 1800s, many attempts have been advanced to reorganize church assemblies. This is not surprising since the prevailing Christian organizations had asserted a monopoly on God and his kingdom. And how, when, why, and where to meet replaced the message that, “God so loved the world that he sent his son to save it.“ From these early attempts to restore the simplicity of church life many new organizations have sprung up with claims of distinction from ‘false churches’ and this continues to be the battle cry for many of these denominations. Defining a better way to worship in this age has become a scheme to win proselytes. It is a boast and not the gospel message. “As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil.” James 4:16
While many churches maintain their efforts to feed the hungry, and teach Jesus’ message of salvation, clothe the naked and follow the opportunities to do good to all men, wherever and with anyone willing to reach out to meet human needs, the restoration churches have become isolated and internalized with their teaching of a gospel of worship. They miss the point of the mission Jesus gave to his disciples, Romans 4:7 “Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.” It was never about how often communion was to be taken or how often to meet as a congregation. It was never about what kind of music to render in the gathering. It was never about screening candidates for baptism and making decisions on who was truly penitent. But for many, these are the things that make for salvation. These are believed to be the things that make for pleasing the Lord in this new age. This, according to the Bible, is nonsense! It was the same problem Jesus faced in his day. To those wrapped up in the organized approach to religion, Jesus said, “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” Mark 7:8 Later Paul wrote, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.” Colossians 2:8
There is one reason Jesus died on the cross. It is about forgiveness of sins. When this event occurs in a sinner’s life, in God’s mind it is sufficient to guarantee the penitent believer a place in the kingdom of heaven. The Apostles taught the disciples of Christ that the purity of their thoughts was important to God. “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8 The point of Christian living was not how or when or where to meet but following the commandment to love God and all men with divine commitment and to sacrifice in service to others for “The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” 1 Timothy 1:5 Understanding the love of God through the life of Christ allowed the early followers to ” …draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” Hebrews 10:22
The New Testament letters taught the disciples how to treat others with honor and respect; to seek out the broken hearted and the lost and to give them hope through the preaching of Christ. It was not about church organization. Only the simplest directions for order were given. The inspired writers dealt with issues of their culture and of their day. They gave principles by which to live with a clear mind and a sacrificial heart. Every moral law given by God was wrapped up in this one phrase, “love your neighbor as yourself.” For this kind of love is what fulfills the requirement of law. With that requirement fulfilled, all things were made new. This was the only intent of the Saviors’ life and death. To substitute for the gospel an organizational approach to worship God neglects the greatest message ever heard. It was never the message of Jesus or of his apostles. It should not be the message today. Once it had relevance to illuminate the false piety of external trappings in church services. These indeed were alien to the Bible message. But today it has become the chief battle cry in converting people to a particular organization of church worship. It does nothing to convert the sinful soul to the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
The gospel message was about the salvation of every human being through Christ. The better way was following Jesus in a life of purity and charity and sacrifice. The restoration movements that occurred in the past, if they have been successful, no longer denominate themselves by their unique methods of worship, but continue to preach and to teach the Christ as redeemer and a life of holiness as the way. Creating distinctions about how and when and where to honor God has nothing to do with living a holy life. It only adds to the confusion in Christian living. We are free to worship God in any honorable way that serves to acknowledge Him as Lord of all.
We are free from man-made designations of lawful worship so long as we do not live lawlessly towards Christ and men.