Church Your Way
Despite the fact that our society is becoming increasingly secular, new churches spring up with regularity. Frequently these startups feature some new slant or emphasis: cowboy church, rock church, etc. Existing churches are also changing, expanding the services they offer or reconfiguring their assemblies to broaden their appeal. Some survey the “unchurched” to find out what they would like, then draw up a plan to accommodate them.
All these changes rest on the premise that we are free to devise a church’s doctrine, organization, worship, and activities to suit ourselves, much like the well-known hamburger ad campaign, “Have it your way.” Where did we get the notion that we are free to have church our way? Have you read that in the Bible?
Emphasis on Sameness
The New Testament emphasizes sameness in churches. They had the same organization: “elders in every church” (Acts 14:23; cf. Titus 1:5). They had the same fund-raising plan: first day of the week contributions by their members (1 Corinthians 16:1-2). Paul gave the same instruction “everywhere in every church” (1 Corinthians 4:17). Acceptable worship is in spirit and truth (John 4:24): that means worshiping as God directs, not as man elects.
Whenever New Testament churches departed from God’s plan, they were condemned for doing so. Jesus denounced the churches at Pergamum and Thyatira for preaching a compromising moral standard (Revelation 2:14-15, 20-23). Likewise, the churches of Galatia were rebuked for changing the gospel’s requirements (Galatians 1:6-9). Paul reprimanded the church at Corinth for its disorderly worship assemblies (1 Corinthians 14:26-40), asking if they had some revelation from God that others did not (v. 36).
The instructions that the apostles gave these churches were not unique to one local situation. Paul directed the Colossians, “When this letter is read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and you, for your part read my letter that is coming from Laodicea” (Colossians 4:16). He told the Corinthians, “. . . As I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also” (1 Corinthians 16:1). 1 Corinthians is addressed “to the church of God which is at Corinth . . ., with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours” (1:2).
The New Testament is a pattern of sound words that God expects us to follow (2 Timothy 1:13). There is no reason to think “church your way” is any more acceptable to Him than King Jeroboam’s innovations to Judaism were (1 Kings 12:25ff).