By Jesse Halsey
The word Church is given nine meanings in Webster. The first is church as a building. That usage does not appear in the New Testament and it is doubtful if a Christian church as building existed anywhere in the first century, though there were numerous “churches” all over the Roman world.
The New Testament Church was a fellowship of believers professing a common faith in one Lord, following His example and teaching, observing ‘the breaking of bread’ as a token of fellowship with HIM and with one another and recognizing baptism as a seal of that faith. Their worship was simple, readings from the ancient Scriptures, the singing of psalms and spiritual songs, prayer, and exhortation. Those Christians were evangelists preaching and living the Gospel. They had their disagreements but they were a brotherhood.
The Church of today with its plant, its budget, its staff, unless with all it has that underlying fraternity and mutual help is not ‘successful’ in the New Testament sense. The Spirit may pervade a wayside chapel or a cathedral housed congregation or it may be absent from either or both. If any church has not the spirit of Christ it is none of His.
Forms change and circumstances, but underlying all change in externals that burden bearing that is called “the law of Christ” is essential to “success.”
Accepting the Apostolic Norm, the modern church has in addition a building (few modern congregations long survive without) in which the Lord’s Table, a symbol of fellowship has a conspicuous place, a pulpit from which The Word is proclaimed, and seats for the congregation. These with a tight roof and adequate heat constitute the essentials, organ, stained glass, and much else can be added. The Church must be kept clean and in repair and it will be as elegant and lovely as the devotion of its worshipers can make it. Like David, its people will be restive if they “live in cedar and the Lord in curtains.”
A successful congregation will be considerate of its youth; its teaching ministry will go on and its recreational concern will extend to its neighborhood.
It will be an evangelistic church, not only in its preaching ministry but in its welcoming.