|Volume 21 Number 11 November 2019||
Louis Rushmore, Editor
The early church did not own church property and had no meetinghouses of its own apart from the homes of members and public places. The birthday of the Lord’s church in Acts 2 found the church and the other disciples in a public place, probably on the Temple grounds, whereupon about 3,000 souls were able to respond favorably to the preaching of the Gospel of Christ. The church frequented the meeting area of Solomon’s Porch thereafter (Acts 3:11; 5:12); the apostles had been there previously with Jesus Christ (John 10:23). Later, some disciples had gathered for prayers in the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark (Acts 12:12). It was also customary for followers of God to assemble in quiet places outdoors, such as among trees and near a river (Acts 16:13).
The New Testament epistles show that the church often met in the homes of fellow Christians. “Likewise greet the church that is in their house…” (Romans 16:5 NKJV). “…Aquila and Priscilla greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house” (1 Corinthians 16:19). “Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea, and Nymphas and the church that is in his house” (Colossians 4:15). “To the beloved Apphia, Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house” (Philemon 2).
Perhaps the first church building of sorts, and it was in a cave, devoted to the assembly of the church is dated about 200 years after the establishment of the Lord’s church.
Archaeologists have unearthed what they believe to be the first Christian church ever built. It’s located in a cave underneath the Saint Georgeous Church in Rihab in northern Jordan – where it’s thought early Christians fled to escape persecution. Built in 230 AD, Saint Georgeous is believed to be the oldest “proper” church in the world. (“World’s First Christian Church”)
It is no wonder, then, that the New Testament does not contain any information and reveals no instructions governing the acquisition, maintenance and use of church buildings. It is especially remarkable, therefore, that sometimes our brethren have developed doctrines regarding the use of meetinghouses among us. Imagine the devastating effect on any first century family who allowed the local church to assemble in its home, if it were doctrinally impermissible to eat a meal where Christians worship. First century Christians were wholly unaware of such a so-called doctrine, and with apostolic approval, they ate in the same place where they had just worshipped.
Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight. There were many lamps in the upper room where they were gathered together. And in a window sat a certain young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep. He was overcome by sleep; and as Paul continued speaking, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. But Paul went down, fell on him, and embracing him said, “Do not trouble yourselves, for his life is in him.” Now when he had come up, had broken bread and eaten, and talked a long while, even till daybreak, he departed. (Acts 20:7-11)
Acts 20:7 shows that the church in Troas assembled to observe the Lord’s Supper, and Paul also preached to them. In verse 11, these brethren returned from the resurrection of Eutychus to where they had been worshipping to eat a meal together.
I am amazed at the amount of money that Christians customarily expend on church buildings (i.e., acquisition and maintenance) with little thought that church buildings are not in the New Testament. Of course, the requirement to assemble (Hebrews 10:25) implies the necessity of a place to assemble, and contemporary brethren have opted in their opinion and human judgment to rent or purchase church property. No less astonishing, then, are the divisive doctrines that fellow Christians have adopted to regulate not only the use of their meetinghouses, but they also attempt to regulate the use of the meetinghouses of other congregations.
A church building is a tool to aid in providing a regular place for Christians to worship. It may also be a base from which Christians may launch into the surrounding community to present the Gospel of Christ (Mark 16:15-16). Usually, meetinghouses are also a place in which Christians edify each other with the Word of God (e.g., Bible classes, Gospel meetings, lectureships, ladies’ inspiration days, vacation Bible School, etc.). A church building may also serve as a tool from which benevolence may be extended to Christians and non-Christians alike (Galatians 6:10). Sometimes, church buildings serve as a place in which Christians and non-Christian guests may gather to further fellowship and congregational interaction outside of worship.
We need to remember that a church building is a tool, much like any other, existing and used at the discretion of human judgment. It exists as an outgrowth of the implication that Christians need to assemble somewhere and of the human inference that a church building will satisfy that need. It may be that a particular meetinghouse exists also for other reasons that further the maintenance of (edification, fellowship) and the expansion of Christianity (evangelism) locally. How a local congregation uses its building or whether it owns church property at all is the sole discretion of those church members. They may not overstep their authority regarding their local membership to interfere with another congregation’s decision regarding its meetinghouse, and neither ought other congregations interfere with the decisions of the former church. The Bible is silent about acquisition, maintenance and use of church buildings, and we ought to be as silent about how congregations other than the one of which we are members use their meetinghouses. Let’s not make laws where the New Testament does not.
“World’s First Christian Church Found in Jordan.” Question More. 10 Jun 2008. 13 Oct 2019. <https://www.rt.com/news/worlds-first-christian-church-found-in-jordan/>.
Is My Name Written There?
Rodney Nulph, Associate Editor
One the great hymns often sung for “teaching and admonishing one another” (Colossians 3:16) is a song entitled, “I Know My Name Is Written There.” This song was written by Daniel Sidney Warner, a denominational preacher in the Church of God in the late 1800’s. This song centers around the “Book of Life.” The Book of Life is a very special book that God revealed throughout the pages of inspiration. The things that God revealed about this wonderful book are comforting to those who have obeyed the Gospel and are remaining true to it.
The Book of Life—Past The first mention of the Book of Life came from the pen of Moses. In fact, Moses offered to have his name erased from this book for the sake of Israel. “And Moses returned unto the Lord, and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written” (Exodus 32:31-32). As noble as Moses’ intentions were, thankfully, for Moses’ sake, God does not operate in such a way. David went to the other extreme and asked God to remove the names of David’s enemies from the Book of Life. “Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous” (Psalm 69:28; cf., Isaiah 4:3; Daniel 12:1; Malachi 3:16). From various other Old Testament passages, it appears that the Jews kept a register of their citizens, which was known as the Book of the Living (Ezekiel 13:9; Nehemiah 12:22ff). From this register, they would add names of those born and remove names of those who died each year.
The Book of Life—Present When we turn to the pages of the New Testament, we see the Book of Life again, but now it does not deal with physical Israel but rather with spiritual Israel, the church of our Lord. Upon returning from the Limited Commission, the disciples, excited about their God-given powers, were told to not rejoice in miracles, “but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20b). Paul, by inspiration’s pen, affirmed that the names of many of those who labored with him from the church in Philippi “are in the book of life” (Philippians 4:3). How comforting it must have been for the persecuted saints during John’s time to know that faithfulness would ensure that their names would not be blotted out of the Book of Life (Revelation 3:5). Writing of Heaven itself, John penned, “And there shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 21:27).
The Book of Life—Personally Is your name written in the Lamb’s Book of Life? Only those whose names are written there are going to Heaven (Revelation 21:27). Therefore, it is imperative that our names are inscribed upon the Book of Life’s pages. How does one get his name written there? For God to record our names in the Book of Life, we must become spiritually alive to God. When we die to sin and are born again (John 3:3-5; Romans 6:1-5), our names are written in the book of the living. If we continue faithfully and never quit, our names will continue to be chiseled upon the scared pages of God’s Book of Life (Revelation 3:5). However, our names can be removed from this book as well. If we become unfaithful to our Lord and His church, “God shall take away his part from the book of life“ (Revelation 22:19).
Have you obeyed Jesus? Are you currently faithful to Him and His kingdom? There are only two groups of people—those whose names are written in the Book of Life and those whose names are not written therein (Revelation 13:8; 17:8). Eternity is at stake; make sure your name is written there! For what a comfort it is to honestly sing, “I know, I know my name is written there”!