The Function of the Church (guest post by James Quiggle)

The Function of the Church (guest post by James Quiggle)

This question was asked: “Is online Christianity an assembly of God?”

The answer is, “What are the functions of a church?”

If the functions of a NT church may only be met by people meeting daily in the Jerusalem temple and in many houses, the earliest form of the NT church, Acts 2:46, then when the NT church began meeting in fields, and later in graveyards and catacombs filled with graves, and in prisons, and then later in buildings dedicated to the purpose, then very shortly after the beginning the NT church has failed and continued to fail to be a church.

But thank God the NT church is not defined by where it meets, but by what it does.

If the functions of a NT church may be performed in a house, a field, graveyards, a catacomb, a prison, a building, then there are no limits to where and how a NT church may meet, as it adapts to times, cultures, and circumstances—as long as the functions of a NT church are performed.

What, then,  are the functions of a New Testament church? It is a small list.
— Preach the Word, 2 Timothy 4:2.
— Teach the word, 2 Timothy 2:2
— Assemble together, regularly, Hebrews 10:25.
— Baptize new believers, Matthew 28:19; Acts 10:47.
— Communion, Luke 22:17–20; 1 Corinthians 11:24–25
— Financial support to ministers of the gospel, 1 Corinthians 9:14.
— Minister to one another, 1 Peter 4:10.
Which of these require a building?
— Preaching and teaching maybe done online.
— An online community is assembling together.
— Financial support may be given online
— Ministering to one another maybe done online.
What about baptism? Answer: the New Testament church does not have a priesthood, and water in sufficient quantity for dunking is required. If a sufficient amount of water is not available, if baptism may be done only by pouring or sprinkling, the New Testament church has done that too, in its long history (see the Didache). A river, a stream, a bathtub, a shower, a pitcher of water will do. Is it the quantity of water that counts, or the obedience of the believer?
What about communion? Answer: the New Testament church does not have a priesthood. The elements may be self-administered. If an online community has gathered for that purpose, then have they not shared in that experience? Communion is a remembrance of the Lord, not one another.
Brethren, my preference is the assembly of the saints meet in person. But that preference is based on decades of personal experience reinforced by centuries of Christian tradition.
Times have changed, and the New Testament church must be willing to adapt. The early church regularly met in homes, and when under persecution met in graveyards, catacombs and open areas in small groups of a few individual believers. They also met as a congregation from time to time, when it was allowed (see governor Pliny’s letter to emperor Trajan), or when it was safe.
Traditions are wonderful servants, but terrible masters. Every hallowed tradition of today was at one time a new practice, to which many objected, because it was not tradition. So also meeting in buildings weekly to do “church.” There is no place in the scriptures requiring we meet in a building.

I believe the New Testament church must adapt. I believe that in some places in the world, the USA for example, the Holy Spirit has in fact begun that process of creating new traditions to meet current circumstances. We should—we must—with the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit, continue to find ways to meet as a congregation in person, as did the early, persecuted church. But we must not object to new ways of meeting just because “we never did it that way before.”

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