A gracEmailsubscriber in Australia writes: “There’s a movement afoot (house churches are part of it) that claims that preaching and teaching to Christians in a congregation is to be done by the elders, and that any paid full-time evangelist ought to be evangelizing the lost. These folk say the idea of a located pulpit minister was a second century invention of men.” [Today’s questioner serves within the Churches of Christ, one part of a larger movement to achieve Christian unity through a “restoration” of “the New Testament church.]
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If we view Timothy and Titus as models for a paid ministry and use Paul’s letters to them to write a job description, we see that job as one of proclaiming the gospel but also of equipping believers of all ages and genders to serve God, training them in godliness, encouraging and exhorting them to good works and standing against genuine heresies from outside and from within. The Apostle Paul had assigned Timothy and Titus to their posts in Ephesus and Crete respectively. Almost certainly, once their churches were established and well-ordered, Timothy and Titus moved on and started the process over again. In that sense, if we look in the New Testament we will not find today’s full-time pulpit minister employed long-term by the church — but neither will we find today’s “church” or any reference to a pulpit.
If we really were required to “restore” the external forms of the first-century church, I think we would need to return to informal house-church fellowships without paid staff, budgets, buildings or programs. As a general rule, most believers would earn a secular living and volunteer their Spirit-gifted ministry of whatever sort, although Jesus and his follower Paul both recognized the propriety of financially supporting those who forego normal livelihoods to devote themselves to spiritual service. However, the fact is that we are never told to imitate the first-century externals and our whole tradition of patternism needs to be rethought. We should rather look to the New Testament (and to a lesser extent the Old Testament as well) for the gospel message, for specific instructions with universal intent, for general principles and for illustrative applications. Equipped with that biblical guidance, we should then look to the Spirit to help us apply scriptural truth to our own circumstances, trusting God to enable us to be his gospel people in our own time and place.
The house-church scenario laid out in the first paragraph above is an admirable model — perhaps even the best and most “scriptural” one — but it is not intended to be an exclusive pattern. The point is not our size, our structure or our labels. It is our character, our mission and our relationships with God and each other. However we “do church,” we should do it as kingdom people with kingdom agendas, which calls into question our stewardship of God’s resources as commonly used today (mostly for our own convenience, comfort and pleasure). Of course, we ought not to deceive ourselves and to fib to others by claiming that we are “restoring the New Testament church” if we are merely tinkering with externals while ignoring our very reason for being. To help us avoid that, we ought always to be repeating to ourselves the words: “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory.” God knows that the Enemy is constantly enticing us (whether we meet in a home or a cathedral) to think and live by the dreadful counter-statement to that: “For mine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory.