This post is a slightly edited version of chapter 7 and the Conclusion of my eBook about traditions taught in church that aren’t actually mentioned in Scripture. I wanted a blog post I could point people to in order to discuss the topic of what Scripture teaches about the ecclesia (another word for “church”), so I’ve created this post for that reason. Please be sure to click the links for the Scripture references, as well as for supporting articles that go more into depth on the topic:
As you almost certainly already know, religious leaders don’t only tell us that certain things are forbidden. They also try to convince us that certain things are required. If you do attend traditional church services and become a member of a particular assembly, you’ll likely sit through a number of sermons meant to make you feel guilty if you don’t give them a percentage of your money on a regular basis, sermons that completely ignore the fact that the tithe was meant solely for followers of the Mosaic law. Members of the body of Christ (Jewish or otherwise) are not supposed to follow the law of Moses, and those who do try to follow any of it are under a curse of being obligated to follow all of it, according to Paul (that means no more bacon or shrimp, or clothes with mixed fabrics, or doing chores or running errands on Saturday).
Of course, a true biblical tithe is actually in the form of food, drink, or livestock, and only goes to the Levitical priests and to the poor (with the exception of the tithe that wasn’t given away at all, but was rather consumed by the tithers themselves). Unless your pastors are Levites who perform animal sacrifices, they have no scriptural basis for demanding it from anyone (no, not even Abraham’s tithe to Melchizedek helps their case, unless perhaps one’s pastor is the king of Salem and they’re tithing of the spoils they took from their enemies in battle). There’s absolutely nothing in the Bible about the body of Christ having to give a tenth (or any amount) of their money to their religious leaders or organizations.
While tithing isn’t a biblical idea for today’s believers, what is recorded as having apparently happened among the body of Christ is people giving financial gifts to those in financial need. They didn’t, however, just give money to pastors who simply wanted to live off church members’ hard-earned money or keep the power running in a church building.
Those church buildings and pastors themselves, by the way, are also a big problem, since modern church services and the buildings they take place in don’t have any biblical justification for existing in the first place. The ecclesia known as the body of Christ in Paul’s time didn’t gather in chapels or temples. Instead, they met in homes. And a gathering wasn’t a few songs and then a sermon by a pastor. There might have been songs, and even a speech or two, but the early church gatherings apparently included a meal and discussions, not just a bite of bread, a sip of wine (or grape juice), and a sermon.
“The Lord’s Supper” for example, appears to have been a part of a real dinner meant to demonstrate the communion or unity of the body of Christ; it wasn’t just a little snack. To quote Aaron Welch, “there is no indication that Paul considered this an ordinance that had to be kept, a ‘sacrament’ that had to be ‘administered,’ or a ceremonial ritual that had to be periodically observed by the saints to whom he wrote.” This should be obvious since our administration has no elements or ordinances because we are complete in Christ, who is the end of all religion for those in His body, and returning to the shadows and types of rituals and rites in any way whatsoever would rob us of the full enjoyment of both our possessions and freedom in Christ. In fact, very few members of the body of Christ actually do partake of this meal anymore, partly due to the fact that many actually believe (for reasons that I won’t get into right here) that it was meant to end around the time of Paul’s imprisonment, and partly due to the fact that there are so few members of the body of Christ alive today that it’s difficult to actually gather together in person anymore anyway. Still, while practicing the Lord’s Supper as a ceremony would not be at all scriptural, choosing to share a meal together in a manner that demonstrates our communion with one another (so long as it isn’t a practice that’s enforced upon us, and we’re actually sharing the meal with everyone in the ecclesia rather than selfishly consuming it all before everyone has arrived), meaning that it helps us recognize that we’re all members of the same body, seems like the exact opposite of a religious ritual to me, and I see no problem with doing just that when gathering as a local ecclesia in one’s home (if one is able to find such an ecclesia) if the group so desires.
As far as the rest of the “church service” goes, it appears they had actual conversations and dialogue rather than just a monologue by one preacher. That’s not to say the occasional lesson or presentation isn’t helpful sometimes, but it isn’t the point of the gathering and can easily be done without.
Just remember that church buildings and the current structure of the Institutional Church’s weekend “services” didn’t exist until some time later. To be fair, though, it’s not the buildings themselves that are the real problem; it’s the “organization” and lack of real, spontaneous, Spirit-led fellowship. Yes, you will almost certainly hear the word “fellowship” in most traditional church meetings, but you also almost as certainly won’t experience much (if any) there, despite how much so many pastors seem to love the word (it’s hard to fellowship with the back of someone’s head while sitting in pews listening to a sermon). But you can technically meet in a home and still be an Institutional Church, or rent a room in a building other than a home and be a relational, Open Church (as church gatherings that follow the pattern of the first assemblies are sometimes called). As nice as a home gathering is, it’s really the openness and fellowship that are the important factors. That said, if a local assembly owns a whole building that they meet in — even if they just call it a chapel or a hall — you should probably stay far away. Perhaps there’s a slim possibility of the rare exception existing, but in general, owning a building for worship and sermons seems to be a good litmus test for a local church, demonstrating that they likely know extremely little about biblical theology and what Scripture actually says. In fact, you’d be much better off spiritually (and even physically) in a strip club than in a so-called “house of God” (as many mistakenly call these buildings). At least in a strip club nobody is deceiving you about what Scripture teaches when they try to take a percentage of your money.
Speaking of teaching, the idea of a pastor or priest or any professional preacher who rules over a church (a word which simply refers to the “group” or “assembly” of believers in an area, by the way; it never referred to a building) isn’t in the Bible either. Local churches were overseen by a group of unpaid elders or overseers (or “bishops,” depending on your translation), not run by one paid man (that’s not to say that evangelists shouldn’t be paid to evangelize, but elders and evangelists aren’t necessarily always the same people). If you have one person leading (and basically performing the entire ministry in) a local gathering of believers, I would suggest not having much of anything to do with their gatherings if you value your spiritual wellbeing (and while not all clergy are dangerous or are con-artists [many are just confused], I’d suggest you do play it safe and be cautious when interacting with them, just in case, since a lot still are).
Also, just as a quick aside on the topic of spiritual things, the “charismatic” spiritual gifts that some pastors say one should have really aren’t meant for those in the dispensation of Grace today either (meaning for those in the body of Christ; they might still be active for some saved under the Gospel of the Circumcision, since they were basically meant as a sign for Jews anyway — even those in the body of Christ were mostly “speaking in tongues,” for example, as a sign for unbelieving Jews [who often required a sign to accept Jesus as their Messiah] — but for those under the Gospel of the Uncircumcision, they appear to have come to an end as Israel as a whole fully rejected the Messiah, quite possibly around the time recorded in Acts 28 [although, for the record, I should state here that I’m a Mid-Acts Hyperdispensationalist, not an Acts 28 Ultradispensationalist], as as evidenced by the fact that even Paul, whose simple handkerchiefs could heal those who touched them at one time, could no longer heal people by the time he wrote the final book of the Bible, and even suggested that Timothy take some wine for his stomach and other ailments rather than seek the gift of healing as those saved under the Gospel of the Circumcision were instructed to do). That’s not to say God can’t or doesn’t ever do miracles anymore (and it definitely doesn’t mean that God doesn’t still guide us through His Spirit), just that they’re the exception rather than the rule while the reason for the sign gifts has been temporarily paused (so, until the final Gentile meant to enter the body of Christ does so and God’s focus returns to Israel and the Gospel of the Circumcision becomes the preeminent [and, eventually, only] Evangel to be proclaimed on Earth once again [which means that if you’re reading this after the snatching away has occurred and the final heptad — meaning the seven year period often called the tribulation — has begun, then Paul’s epistles weren’t written to you and it’s time to focus on the circumcision writings instead]).
Aside from tithing (and “speaking in tongues,” depending on one’s denomination), there’s one more unbiblical tradition that religious leaders will condemn you for if you don’t do it on a regular basis, and that is regularly attending their gatherings, particularly on the day they believe to be the Sabbath.
Almost anybody who has ever threatened to stop “going to church” for any length of time has been given a guilt trip and has been told that we aren’t supposed to forsake the assembling of ourselves together, completely misrepresenting the meaning of the passage in Hebrews they use for this purpose (while also ignoring the fact that this book wasn’t written to the body of Christ anyway). The word translated as “assembling” (episynagōgē [ἐπισυναγωγή] in Greek) here, just like its cognate (episynagō [ἐπισυνάγω] in Greek) in other passages, is never used to refer to “gathering” in the sense one would use when speaking of “going to church.” The only other place in Scripture where episynagōgē is used is when Paul was talking about the gathering of the saints to Christ at the snatching away when he wrote his second epistle to the Thessalonians. Combine that fact with the actual context of the rest of that chapter in Hebrews, and it’s clear that the writer is warning against forsaking the hope of being assembled together to Christ after He returns, and wasn’t speaking of “going to church” at all (although gathering with like minded believers, if you can find them, is still extremely beneficial, so please don’t think I’m saying that one shouldn’t gather with the body if one can find other members nearby), be it on the Sabbath or on any other day.
As far as what day the Sabbath is goes, this is one where various sabbatarian denominations are partially correct, while also being quite wrong about it at the same time. The Sabbath is indeed Saturday as they claim; it was never changed to Sunday (and Sunday is not the Lord’s Day either; the Lord’s Day, also known as the Day of the Lord, is an event that hasn’t happened yet, at least not as of the time this was written). But since those saved under the Gospel of the Uncircumcision are not under the Mosaic law in any way whatsoever, it doesn’t really matter to them what day the Sabbath is. In the very beginning of the church, believers didn’t pick one specific day to gather together when they did get together for fellowship; they could meet any day of the week (possibly doing so more than one day a week, and very likely often happening later in the afternoon or evening after work rather than first thing in the morning based on the fact that some were eating all the food and getting drunk before the poor could arrive at their gatherings). That said, there’s nothing technically wrong with meeting on a Sunday. In fact it’s often the most convenient day to do so on at this point in history since the Institutional Church has managed to convince most people that it is the new Sabbath thanks to the influence it’s had over our society, but it’s really not any different from any other day of the week so don’t feel any obligation to treat it like a special day.
And on the topic of esteeming certain days above others, be they new holidays invented by (or pagan holidays that were “Christianized” by) the Institutional Church (such as Lent, such as Easter, and such as Christmas, to name just three) or days that are observed by Jewish followers of the Mosaic law, while it might not always be a great idea, it’s not necessarily wrong to celebrate a specific day if it’s something one enjoys doing just for the fun of it (or if it’s something one who is weak in faith still feels they need to do). Just realize that none of these days are required for the body of Christ any more than the Sabbath is (you won’t find any commandments or even exhortations in Scripture for the body of Christ to celebrate any of these days), and that nobody should be looked down upon for not participating in these “holy days.” And, of course, please be aware of the fact that Jesus didn’t actually die on a Friday, wasn’t resurrected on the day we call Easter on our modern calendars (which should be more obvious than it seems to be to most since it’s on a different day each year), and wasn’t born on December 25th either (while it doesn’t really matter when He was born since we aren’t told to celebrate His birthday in Scripture, there’s good reason to believe it was actually in September or October on our modern calendar). That said, if you’re going to celebrate Christmas or Easter, consider doing so mostly from a secular perspective, focusing on the chocolates and eggs and gifts and such. To do otherwise (meaning, to celebrate them as remembrances of Jesus’ birth and death) is to know Christ after the flesh, which is something the body of Christ is called to move past.
If you happen to be one of the chosen few who have accepted the truths of Paul’s Gospel and have realized that you need to reject organized religion and the teachings and practices of Churchianity, you’ll be left wondering what you should do instead. Well, first of all, it means that you get to sleep in on Sunday (or Saturday) mornings if you want to. Beyond that, however, if you can find a nearby ecclesia that actually believes what Scripture says, it might be a good group to check out. That said, many, if not most, of the members of the body of Christ have to go it fairly alone, or at least without a regular ecclesia to fellowship with, since it seems there are very few members of the body of Christ in any particular area. I should say that this is not a new problem; the ecclesia made up of the body of Christ has been extremely small from almost the beginning, and I’d be surprised to see this change before the snatching away occurs (it fell into apostasy and people separated from it very early on — some of these divisions and separations from Paul’s Gospel and the actual body of Christ becoming the so-called Orthodox and Catholic denominations we know today [a number of the so-called “Early Church Fathers” of these denominations, Polycarp and Irenaeus for example, were from the very province that Paul said “all” had turned away from him in during his imprisonment, which makes any of their teachings, and then any of the later teachings by those who accepted their teachings, suspect to begin with] — and it seems to have never regained its original size). So, if you can’t find any fellow members to fellowship with where you live, just keep studying the Scriptures. You’re far better off not participating in any church gathering than you are participating in Churchianity, so I’d suggest leaving the Institutional Church behind completely. Yes, it’s beneficial to fellowship with likeminded believers if you can find them, but you won’t find many of them in the traditional denominations, at least not if you happen to agree with the conclusions I’ve come to.