I recently read an article entitled “10 Things the Church Has That the Bible Doesn’t“. It lists 10 things that the church does that do not have direct support in scripture. My question is, “why?” Why do we choose to “do church” in a way that is not supported in scripture?
One of the things that is not listed is the existence of professional clergy. While Judaism has its priest class, there is no provision for this in Christianity. While there were offices within the church, such as pastor, apostle, or prophet, there is no indication that, for the most part, they were full-time, paid positions. An itinerant prophet should expect to be paid in food, lodging, and perhaps some extra, but there is not biblical evidence that this was the case with offices within a local church.
I think that there are probably a few reasons. Feel free to add more of your own in the comments.
- We, as humans, seem to have a desire for a priest. Many religious systems involve priesthood, which is an intermediary between God and man. In a way, it allows man to answer not to God, but to another person. It also allows us to second-guess the priest, since (s)he is only another person.
- At some point we decided that “normal” people were not qualified to teach from the Bible. While the initial leaders were, for the most part, normal, uneducated men, we thought it would be better to have professional, educated men to teach the Bible. Saul/Paul was likely the only “qualified” person in the entire Bible.
- Since we only want “professional” preachers, it only stands to reason that we need to pay them. We moved the office of teacher to the job of teacher (and called it pastor). Then, since we were paying him/her anyway, we added to the job. Administrator, counselor, accountant, etc.
- If we have one full-time job within the church, we will soon have more paid employees, so we need a larger congregation to pay them. Because of this larger congregation, meeting in a person’s home is no longer viable. Most do not have room in their home for 10, 20, or more families to meet on a regular basis.
- Related to #2 and #4, I have heard more than one pastor say that at pastor’s conferences two of the questions are:
- “How big is your church?”, and
- “Where did you go to school?”
- If we are going to have congregations larger than will fit in a house, we need to meet somewhere. Some sort of room or building that has enough space to hold everyone who comes, and room for a few more. This necessitates a still larger congregation. If it takes 10-20 families to pay a full time preacher, it will take even more to pay for a room to meet, as well.
- In Canada and the USA, there are tax breaks for churches. This may be the case in other areas, as well. I suspect this came about partly because the Catholic Church was at one time a major political entity. There may also have been a sense that the presence of a church was seen as a positive thing in a community because of the charitable works that were done by the church. Because of the tax status, a charitable non-profit society needed to be set up. In many jurisdictions such a society requires a membership.
- Memberships could be seen as useful by the congregations, too. If you have members, then obviously many people will not be members. You could also have a test of some sort to only allow people who meet certain criteria. The existence of membership allows for the possibility of excommunication. Now we can kick people out of the church.
- Once the congregation gets over a certain size, it is no longer really possible to have teaching with discussion. The only practical way to teach is to lecture.
- While children may be able to engage in a give-and-take discussion, it is almost impossible for them to learn from lectures. Adults are a bit better at it. That means that in order to teach them, they need their own space.
- We have been taught that professionals should be ministering to us. While most pastors are paid, the worship bands are often volunteer. Even so, many churches limit access to a few musicians. Even if you feel that you have been given a song for the congregation, most times you will not be allowed to share it. Depending on who and where you are, you may be allowed if you schedule it in advance.
- Somehow we got the idea that worship=music=a professional or semi-professional band on a stage singing songs to god? To the congregation? While music may be used as a means of worship, worship does not in any way require music. If worship=music, then worship must need its own place within a christian gathering. Right?
- What about service times? I don’t know that the bible explicitly states a time for a meeting. It seems to be silent on the matter. People may very well have had regular meetings. Or they may not have. That said, daytime work is, and has always been, more common than evening or night work. It stands to reason that most meetings were in the evening, when people had more time. In a society that hated Christianity, it is unlikely that many employers or masters would allow workers or slaves time during the day to go to a Christian meeting. As far as a scheduled time to end, I understand, but this is the one thing on the list I believe is WRONG. “Let’s get together at sunset to hear from God. But he better be done before the end of the first watch. We can’t listen to Him any later than that.”
- Offertories. Hmm. The church has always had opportunities to give. There are a number listed in the Book of Acts. Throughout history, Christians have been encouraged to give selflessly to the benefit of others. However, when there is a pastor, a mortgage, utilities, Sunday School supplies, and other miscellaneous things to pay, there is a real need to strongly encourage people to give. The offertory helps to encourage.
OK. I did absolutely no research for this post. However, it all seems to make sense. Almost everything on the list flows from the idea of a professional pastor. That said, in most cases other choices could be made even if you decide that a paid pastor is the way to go. For example, if you are paying a pastor full-time wages, there is no reason (s)he could not go to multiple house congregations a week. (S)he could have teaching sessions that were interactive. (S)he could have teaching that reaches all ages. If you don’t have a large building, you also don’t likely have a band.
Different churches already have different approaches to membership. However, doing away with a church building means the advantages of a non-profit society are diminished. An added benefit of not having a non-profit society is that it is harder for governments to control how your church operates.
In reading this, it may seem that I am against many or all of these practices. I am not, really. I am, however, against the ideas that:
- This is how it should be done,
- This is the only way to do church, or
- This is how it has always been done.
None of these things are true. I would strongly encourage every church congregation to really think about WHY they operate a certain way and if it is truly the best way for them to operate. This question MUST be asked in particular before a property is purchased or a building built or expanded.