We are in the middle of a wonderful trip to see family and friends in North Carolina and Virginia. This past weekend we spent a couple of great days with friends from Messiah Baptist Church in Wake Forest, NC. A special "thank you" goes out to Alan and Margaret Knox, our great friends who let us stay at their home.
Messiah Baptist does things differently than most churches in the USA. Messiah has no paid pastor, no senior pastor, does not own a building, and has no Sunday School. Spending time with this church family got me thinking about what a church would be like if it was exactly the way I wanted it. Hmmmmm....
If a church existed that was exactly how I wanted it to be, the primary focus would be proclaiming the glory of God inside and outside the church. The church would be about relationships, and have few programs. Personal responsibility to live out the Christian walk would be emphasized. Correct belief and correct action would be stressed in equal measure.
This church would hold to strong convictions, never compromising on the truth of the gospel. The church would also try to be as biblical as possible on other issues not directly related to the basics of the gospel message. However, we would also stress unity to the point of not being dogmatic over those issues.
Christians (those who accept Jesus Christ alone as Lord and Savior) would be welcome to join with us. We would strive to include all those who call upon Christ as Lord. For example, all visiting believers would be welcome to participate in the Lord's Supper with us.
Baptism would be performed for believers only, although other types of baptism would be accepted for membership. The meaning of the Lord's Supper would fall somewhere between Luther's view and Zwingli's. We will take Calvin's position.
As for structure, this church (exactly the way I want it) would meet regularly as a body - probably twice a week. Meetings could only take place in a home. Smaller groups could also meet at other times during the week. Personal discipleship would be a primary focus at all times.
Whenever the church size reached thirty people, it would immediately split into two smaller bodies. This would keep things intimate, and also would lead to churches planting churches, which is a great way to reach the lost.
This church would be completely family integrated - no splitting out into age-related groupings. Members would all help care for the little ones so that the mothers would have some time to listen to what was happening.
As for leadership, everyone would be responsible for helping everyone else grow to maturity in Christ. The body would select elders from among themselves. The elders would be called "elders," not "pastors." Jesus Christ would be seen as the only senior elder/pastor. The elders would strive to be servant leaders, serving the body with no one but Christ as the head. One of the elders might be paid in order to give him additional time to put together sermons, but I could go either way on this. I would be one of the elders.
The church would never go into debt of more than 1% of the total value of what it owns/has in the bank.
As for giving, the church (exactly the way I want it) should give away, in total, 50% of whatever comes in. Of this money, one-half of it will go straight to the International Mission Board of the SBC. The remainder of the money will go toward helping those who have need inside and outside the body.
Regarding evangelism, there would be no program directly for this. Instead, the members of the body would share their faith as they went about their lives.
Home-schooling would be encouraged, but not demanded, of course.
The music would be a mix of classic hymns and solid praise choruses.
Finally, regarding eschatology, the church would hold to a post-tribulation, pre-millennial view.
The problem with this particular church, which is exactly the way I would want it, is that it doesn't exist. In fact, if I tried to plant a church like this, I would probably end up the only member (I do hope my family would join, so I guess that would make five of us).
Because people make up the church, we will have differences of opinion, different comfort levels, and different preferences. If you even put ten people together, you will get hundreds of different combinations of desires about the issues raised above.
So what are we to do? What did Christ want for His church? In John 17:20-21, Jesus prayed, "I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me."
How do we do this? How can we all be "one" when we have different desires about how things should go in the church?
The only conclusion I can come to is that we be dogmatic about the heart of the gospel. In all other issues, let's be humble about what we teach, let's strive for unity whenever possible, and let's be willing to sacrifice our own desires for the good of the body.