Memphis Belle

What is the "Perfect Church"?
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4.               All the various interpretations of prophecy.  [I will make a serious point here.  This website considers the "amillennial" interpretation of prophecy to be in total error, because this interpretation has created fertile ground for anti-Semitism throughout European history from the 300's AD onward.  See http://www.unityinchrist.com/prophecies/2ndcoming_1.htm .]

In this non-essential area, understand, no matter how you interpret prophecy, it will not hinder your walk with Jesus or your spiritual growth, just so long as you are majoring in the majors of Christian growth.  I will say this, there are two major divisions of the body of Christ, both within the Gentile and Messianic branches, that take a major stand between two pre-millennial interpretations of prophecy, the Classic/Historic Pre-Millennial interpretation and the Dispensational Pre-Millennial interpretation (pre-trib. RAPTURE).  By doing this, they are making a NON-ESSENTIAL into an ESSENTIAL belief within their churches and setting up an artificial barrier that Satan just loves.  This is an area where Augustine and the apostle Paul said there should be LIBERTY and FREEDOM to believe as one chooses.  [see also http://www.unityinchrist.com/prophecies/definitions.htm .]  Paul said it himself, that when we look into the prophecies in the Bible, we are looking into a darkened glass.  So many churches and denominations are setting themselves up for some major hurts and potential collapse by taking too dogmatic a stance on their pre-millennial interpretations of prophecy.  It would be far better for them to allow more freedom in these areas, while sending their biblical scholars to prophecy conferences set up for both groups of pre-millennial's to attend.  And there, with prayer and fasting, implore the Lord to reveal to them a more accurate understanding that will help unify all, while still allowing local members to maintain their own interpretations, because, remember this is a NON-ESSENTIAL.  I won't back down on this issue, because the churches and denominations are being just plain stupid and pig-headed on this matter, at the future spiritual expense of their local members when they are forced to admit they were wrong on a particular interpretation they were pounding the pulpit on, which turned out to be wrong.  I know what happens to a denomination and churches within it that have come to admit doctrinal error and have to teach a different and more valid interpretation of what they were teaching before, and it wasn't pretty.  Divided churches, a divided denomination (into three separate ones), divided friends, divided families (divorces) all were the nasty fruit that was borne of having to admit "doctrinal error".  Prophecy in these end-times will march on and become fulfilled (as it always has and always will), and those taking a dogmatic stance and then learn they are wrong about what they have been teaching will cause major disruption and division within their denomination and congregations.  I wouldn't be hammering so hard on this issue, except that I lived in a denomination that had to admit doctrinal error, and saw churches, the denomination, friendships, and yes many marriages break up as either an indirect or a direct result (mine included).  So count this as a warning.  I'm not taking sides in the Classic Pre-millennial/Dispensational "argument".   I want to see this issue handled properly and responsibly through neutral prophecy conferences, attended by all the biblical scholars and teachers from each side of this "doctrinal fence."  Nothing else, in my opinion, is acceptable.  Taking pot-shots from the pulpit at the "other side" is totally unacceptable.  This site is all about spiritual unity, not disunity. 

5.               Exercise of "spiritual gifts", such as "tongues" or non-exercise of them (and there is way too much of pastor's taking pulpit pot-shots at other congregations and denominations that don't agree with their beliefs in this totally non-essential area--on both sides of the fence.  It must stop.)

6.   Forms of church government (I will explain this later)

7.               Styles of Praise & Worship

8.               Varying customs associated with the Lord's supper, taking communion.  [Again, two major styles for taking the Lord's supper are held by the two major divisions within the body of Christ, Jewish and Gentile (and a third type of custom is held by the Sabbatarian Churches of God going back to the early customs held by Polycarp, Policrates and the apostle John).

9.               Varying beliefs about heaven, hell, the Millennium and the "unsaved dead".  [see http://www.unityinchrist.com/plaintruth/battle.htm and http://www.unityinchrist.com/destiny/DestinyOfMankind1.htm   just to get an idea of how varied the secondary beliefs can get in this area.  And every single denomination thinks they're right and everybody else is wrong.  Somebody must be wrong-- but who?  When it comes to your salvation, it just doesn't matter what you believe in this area--it's all NON-ESSENTIAL doctrine.  Chose the interpretation you think is most biblically accurate and go with it!  Have fun (your pastor might not), do some research. 

 

And the list could go on and on.but Romans 14 basically touches on all these non-essentials by showing us how we should deal with them.  If you're in a group that tends to believe one way, and you believe another, "have faith to yourself" on such a matter is what Paul says in verses 14-23 of Romans 14.  Paul also brings out the seriousness of going against one's Christian conscience in verse 23.  He's basically addressing the issue of a Gentile Christian convincing a Torah-observant Messianic Jewish believer it's ok to eat pork or break the Sabbath command.  He's saying "Don't do it!  You're causing that believer to sin."

 

Again, in the "non-essential" area of prophecy, this site must soundly reject the teaching of amillennialism which spiritualizes Scripture and denies the literal 1000 year reign of Jesus Christ on earth as described in Revelation 20 and numerous Old Testament prophecies.  This site does so for two major reasons.  1) Amillennialism and Replacement theology are two doctrines that have historically provided fertile ground from which 1700 years worth of anti-Semitism have grown.  [see http://www.unityinchrist.com/messianicmovement/twodoctrines.htm .]  2) The first reason is backed up by the recent work of the Holy Spirit, Who has very effectively restored the Jewish branch of the body of Christ--with some estimates placing the number of Jewish believers in Yeshua being as high as half a million people (while other more conservative estimates put the figure somewhat smaller, the lowest being between 50,000 and 75,000, which I believe it too low).  This is a very significant work of the Holy Spirit that has gone almost totally unnoticed over the past 35 years.  But, nonetheless, Christians that do hold the amillennial/replacement theology interpretation are still indeed Christians--if the Spirit of God indwells them (cf. Romans 8:9,16).  Remember, salvation is an act of God, where He places his Holy Spirit within an individual who has come to believe in Jesus and has called out to Jesus for salvation.  God the Father is the one who usually draws a person to Jesus and this belief in Jesus as Messiah (John 6:44,65).  Then how that person is nourished depends on what spiritual source (church denomination) he chooses to attend.  That church will then tend to mold or determine this new-believer's secondary or non-essential beliefs.  Many Christian churches are right in their understanding of the "essentials", but differ in one or another particular non-essential belief (say a prophetic belief, for example, or new-earth vs. old-earth creationism). 

        The biggest essential for a church and its pastor, again, is that once a person is born-again, indwelt by the Holy Spirit,   that church must nourish (disciple) the new-believer in the Word of God until he or she starts bearing spiritual fruit.  Let's read about these fruits and what good works they lead us to perform.  First turn to Galatians 5:22-23, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Against such things there is no law."  Now let's see what kind of lifestyle these fruits of God's Holy Spirit  lead to.  Matthew 25:31-40, "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne [cf. Zechariah 14:9] in heavenly glory.  All nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.  Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'  Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'  The king will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it for me.'"  When a Christian has the good works described in those passages of Scripture, he or she is bearing spiritual fruit, no matter what their secondary non-essential beliefs are.  That is the core of Christianity, and what all Christian church denominations and congregations ought to be leading their members toward, true spiritual maturity.  The congregation or church you belong to should be steadily nourishing you until you reach that level of spiritual maturity.  If you find that's not happening, then you need to do something about it.  Now let's look at another aspect of what might make up our imaginary "perfect church", church government. 

 

church governments

 

First, let's take a quick survey of the three major styles of government found within the differing denominations.  And then we'll look at a form of church government that may be even better. 

 

The Congregational form of government:  "The congregational form of church government is an American invention and appeals to our American sense of democracy.  Basically, the congregation as a whole makes all decisions in these churches by voting on matters of importance and appointing committees from its ranks to run the daily operation of the church.  Most Congregational, Baptist, Pentecostal, Brethren, and non-denominational churches are organized in this fashion.  The congregation votes on hiring a pastor, votes on how to spend the money, and on anything else of importance.  Although democratic people like the idea, congregational forms of church government often wind up at best causing the pastor to be directed by the sheep he is supposed to lead, and at worst reducing the pastor to a hireling." (excerpted from the booklet "What Calvary Chapel Teaches", p. 6, by Larry Taylor.)

 

The Episcopal form of church government:  "The Episcopal form of church government, used by Episcopal, Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox, and Methodist churches (to name a few) is controlled by a church hierarchy which may have differing names.  Basically, there is a bishop, or someone of similar stature if called by a different name, who oversees the churches, appoints pastors to pulpits, sets policy, and guides the vision of the local congregations.  Unfortunately, this style of government, which grew out of European monarchies, leaves little freedom for the local pastor or congregation to follow the leading of the [Holy] Spirit." (ditto, p. 7)

 

The Presbyterian form of church government:  "The Presbyterian form of church government, which is typical in Presbyterian and Reformed churches, puts the decisions of church polity in the hands of a select group of elders (the "presbytery") who are appointed in various different ways, depending on the church.  These elders are over the pastor, who in turn is over the congregation.  The problem here too is that this system puts the God-appointed leader, the pastor, under some of those he is supposed to lead." (ditto, p. 7)

 

Affiliated Semi-Autonomous church government:  "This is a very simple form of government, not a complex bureaucracy; committees and sub-committees are essentially non-existent.  The pastor is responsible for the church, responsible to hear from God, and responsible to feed and love God's people faithfully.  Elders are appointed in the larger churches to help the pastor care for the spiritual needs of the congregation, as are deacons to help the pastor care for material needs of the church.  [This is the biblical form of church government that apparently the early Christian congregations followed, although they did answer to a HQ church, located in Jerusalem, when questions of major church doctrine and vision arose.  That is why I use the term "semi-autonomous" and not "autonomous" to describe this form of government.]

        In addition, this form of church government on the local level has church boards as required by most states, which vary in size depending on the size of the church, and which usually are made up of mature Christian businessmen who can advise the pastor with respect to the business operations and decisions of the church, such as property management and investments.  Church organization is de-emphasized, and only the organization that is needed to run the church is instituted.  The pastor guides the church as he is led by the Holy Spirit, and in this form of church government God is trusted to put pastors where He wants them to be."  (this description adapted from the form of government described for Calvary Chapel's in Larry Taylor's booklet "What Calvary Chapel Teaches", pp. 7-8.)  In this form of church government, the HQ church congregation maintains a watch over the major doctrinal integrity of its affiliated congregations and lends a central "vision and focus" (spiritual "cohesiveness") to the affiliated congregations.  This form of church government is very simple, not a complex bureaucracy, which places the local pastor at the head of the congregation he leads, under God's direction and guidance through the Holy Spirit.  This gives the local congregation flexibility in how it can meet the spiritual needs and evangelistic outreaches to the local community it finds itself in.  This is something best handled on a local level, which the other forms of church government don't really allow for.

 

Let's Come Together and Celebrate a Birthday!

The actual birthday of the Church is on the day of Pentecost.  In the Old Testament book of Leviticus chapter 23, verses 15-17 we find the Holy Day of Pentecost described.  There is a tremendous spiritual significance to these Holy Days, as Messianic believers already understand [see http://www.unityinchrist.com/messianicmovement/Holydayshadows.htm .]  But in Leviticus 23:15-17 we find not only how to count to the day of Pentecost [it always falls on a Sunday if you use the biblical method of counting], we find a very interesting offering described.  If you know anything about the law of offerings, you know that no leavened bread was ever to be brought to the temple or tabernacle for an offering at any other time except Pentecost (the Feast of Weeks).  It always had to be unleavened.  All the lambs, goats, birds that were sacrificed pointed to Jesus, Yeshua, and his sinless life and sacrifice.  So even the bread had to be unleavened, since leaven in all places but one in the Bible represented sin.  But here in verse 17 it says "From wherever you live, bring two loaves made of two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour, baked with yeast, as a wave offering of firstfruits to the Lord."  Now go to Acts 2:1-47 and see what God did on that particular day of Pentecost.  He poured out his Holy Spirit on 120 people, and then on 3,000 more, giving birth to the Church of God [as its biblical name was in the early days of the church].  The Church (during the Church Age [i.e. 31AD to Jesus' 2nd Coming]) is the "firstfruits of God".  Now if you study a good church history, such as Oskar Skarsaune's In the Shadow of the Temple you will find that there were essentially two major branches of the Church, Messianic Jewish, and Gentile.  At one point, the Messianic Jewish was the only church, then through the evangelism of Paul and Silas, the Gentile branch of the church grew and grew.  From the 60's AD to the early 300's AD, the two branches could have been equal in size, since a lot of Asia Minor under John, Polycarp and then Policrates, was clearly Messianic Jewish in days of worship.  Now through a divine miracle of the Holy Spirit, the Messianic Jewish branch has been restored, all within the past 35 years in a massive growth spurt. 

        So now lets put the two passages together.  Leavened loaves cannot represent Jesus or Yeshua.  What else can they represent?  One of the few logical choices would be that they represent the two branches of the body of Christ, the Jewish and Gentile branches!  So on the first Pentecost, God gave the Law to Israel, and on the second major Pentecost, God wrote his laws in the hearts and minds of his people, the church he just gave birth to through the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 2:1-47; Hebrews 8:6-10).

So let me propose an idea.  It would really be something if pastors from the Gentile side of the body of Christ would each look up a Messianic congregation near them and invite them to celebrate the day of Pentecost with their congregation (say a service accompanied with a meal).  For an easy listing of Messianic congregations that may be in your area, log onto http://www.yashanet.com/messcon1.htm .  It has a pretty complete listing.  Let me tell you, you will really shock and surprise them in a very pleasant way if you do this.  There ought to be one Holy Day, the birthday of the Church, when it's two major sides come together and get to know each other.  Jesus, Yeshua, would simply be overjoyed to see this happen.  Pentecost this year falls on Sunday, June 12, 2005. 

 

For a nice expository study on the birth of the church, log onto http://www.unityinchrist.com/history2/index4.htm .  If you are not a pastor and are just looking for a church congregation to attend, log onto http://www.unityinchrist.com/history2/choosingachurch.htm , keeping in mind some of the things you've learned from this article.  And remember, since there are no perfect people on earth (Jesus isn't back yet), there are no perfect churches.  You just have to find the one that is the perfect church for you.  Don't be afraid to shop around until you find that perfect match which emphasizes and majors in the ESSENTIALS and minor's in the NON-ESSENTIALS.    

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Content Editor Peter Benson -- no copyright, except where noted.  Please feel free to use this material for instruction and edification
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