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Open Church

Restoring The Exciting Worship Of The
Early Church

By

Neil Armstrong B.A., M.Div.



Open church is one of the most exciting developments in the church of Jesus Christ since the days of the New Testament. Although openness does not solve all of the Church's problems, it is a good place to begin. It is one way to develop Christians who are strong in their faith and eager to share Jesus Christ with other people. Open church represents the kind of fellowship that Jesus Christ began two thousand years ago. It is a concept whose time has come as the church struggles to remain relevant in a world that is changing every day.

Is the church institutionalized?

Modern day traditional churches face difficulties that in some cases are threatening their very viability. What are the problems? Have you ever heard of the institutionalized church? It has been organized, programmed, and structured until it is hardly recognizable as the church that existed in the first century. And institutionalization is just the beginning of the problems.

 What are the problems in the church?

Problems in the church today range from apathy to spiritual immaturity. Often these problems result in a lack of motivation and participation. Over the last several decades people have been leaving the church at an alarming rate. Most denominations are actually shrinking at a time when the population is growing. Churches must deal with these problems. Implementing open worship is one way in which churches can overcome these problems and experience renewed vibrancy.

 Is Jesus Christ irrelevant?

A majority of those who are surveyed still say they believe in Jesus Christ. But they remain uninvolved in the Body of Christ. They remain uninvolved because they feel the church does not meet their spiritual needs. We keep hearing about the same issues over and over again. They say the church is too impersonal, unfriendly and out of touch with what is really going on in people's lives. Many people believe the church is irrelevant and for the most part they are right! When they feel this way they tend to remain uninvolved in the church. However, those surveyed still believe Jesus Christ is relevant to them personally.

 What is the problem that an increasing number of people feel this way?

The problem is that the central activity that should draw all aspects of the church together as one Body is actually closed to the participation of most people. This activity is the weekly worship service. It is the one time when the whole Body of Christ gathers together to worship Him. It is the time when people are supposed to feel appreciated, loved and built up in the Lord. Instead they often go home feeling that something is missing from their experience of worship.

 What is the average worship service missing?

The reality is that people are feeling the worship service is missing something. They feel this way because there is very little participation and they remain uninvolved, unused and often unappreciated. Each week thousands of Christians go to church, are greeted by an usher, take a seat in a pew, sing, listen to the sermon and shake the hand of the Pastor at the door. Sometimes they actually leave the service without having a meaningful conversation with anyone! The thing that is missing in most churches is Spirit-filled worship that draws people into a relationship with Jesus Christ and with one another in a meaningful way.

 What was worship in the early church like?

The way the early church worshiped was very different from the way we meet together today. Christians in the first century did not worship in buildings called churches. They did not have pews, pulpits and stained glass windows. The church for the first three hundred years was almost exclusively a house church movement. They met in homes or outdoors in places where they were safe from persecution. Public worship in large auditoriums was out of the question.

• Was their fellowship a time when most people were spectators?
• Did they leave the fellowship feeling lonely and apathetic?
• What did they do when they came together as a body?
• Were their services anything like ours today?

 Participation in worship was expected from everyone.

In 1 Corinthians 14 we are given one of the few glimpses of how New Testament Christians actually worshiped. When they gathered together everyone was expected to participate. "What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church." 1 Corinthians 14:26 In this verse we see a church where people not only attended a worship service but were expected to contribute in some way. The worship service was not the place to be if someone wanted to be a spectator! It is no wonder the New Testament church experienced tremendous growth. This kind of participation is very different from what we have in most churches today.

 Today we have minimal participation.

• Almost everything is lead by the worship leader.
• Participation is often discouraged or viewed with suspicion.
• Because some fear things may not be orderly they want everything planned.
• Some people consider sharing what the Lord is doing in one's life too personal.

Although minimal participation avoids potential problems, there is a far greater danger. This danger is when the Body of Christ is not allowed to function in the way that God has intended it to work. When this happens the mission and the ministry of church becomes frustrated. Although there are risks in opening up participation in the worship service, the advantages far outweigh the potential dangers.

 What happened to cause the church to abandon participation in worship?

Unfortunately, something went terribly wrong and much of the freedom that Christians enjoyed for the first three centuries was lost. The event that caused this great tragedy was the rise of Constantine as Emperor of Rome. After Constantine rose to power he made Christianity the state religion. He began to erect buildings in which Christians could gather and worship. When they built these buildings they borrowed heavily from established pagan temples and religious practices. Unfortunately, at this point in the history all kinds of practices were incorporated into the Christian church. Within a few decades the church changed drastically. The most unfortunate aspect of all this change was the loss of open worship as people were no longer allowed active participation and were forced to became spectators.

 We need to complete the Reformation.

Today as followers of Jesus Christ we desire to see the church complete the Reformation and return to the model of the church that we read about in the New Testament. We need the great doctrines of the Word of God, salvation by faith alone, justification... We also need to allow the people of God to experience Spirit lead worship, meaningful sharing and loving ministry.

 We need to discover the principles on which the Body of Christ is intended to function.

In Ephesians 4 we see several verses that describe how the body functions spiritually. "We will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is Christ. From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work." Ephesians 4:15-16 In this passage we see the priority that is placed on the person of Jesus Christ. He is the Head and He holds the Body together. Consequently there is a very special relationship between the Body and Christ. This unique relationship is expressed in the church by the way Christians have fellowship with one another. This fellowship is the basis for a very special spiritual bond. The presence of this bond means it is very important that the principles on which the church functions are Biblical.

 Open Church helps build relationships.

Christianity is not an individualistic endeavor but a corporate spiritual experience. We are joined together as one body. 1 Corinthians 12:12 "The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body." Since this is the case, each person in the Body is to be relating to all the other parts spiritually. The way this is done is for Christians to be given the freedom to share how the Lord is leading as they contribute to the Body. This includes having the freedom to share the Scriptures, give testimonies, lead in singing and to pray for one another. When these things are being done on a regular basis, they contribute to the building of strong Christ-centered fellowship.

Conclusion

Returning the church to an open church model is a challenge because most Christians are insecure about expressing their faith. This can change over time but it involves growing pains and taking risks. However, the risks are worth the cost. When everything is considered there is no other real alternative then to proceed with implementing the New Testament concept of the church.


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