We were studying this morning in our worship service about the church without a pastor. I mentioned that the majority of churches in the world, of God's people, do not have pastors, not regular pastors. A number of questions arise when we think of the very short time that we have to work for Jesus before the work is finished and the fact that many, many historic Seventh-day Adventist churches need to be started, in many places. There are not going to be pastors for all of these churches, but that does not mean that they cannot be functional and they cannot grow and that they cannot do everything that a church is supposed to do for its members and for the world. So, we are going to continue studying this subject tonight, "The Church Without a Pastor."
Let us start by asking this question; How do you start a church? Have you ever asked that question? Now, I am not talking about the church universal as it is called. I am talking about a local church. In the New Testament, sometimes the apostles described the church around the world, that was founded by Jesus Christ.
We cannot found a church, but we can extend the boundaries of the church by starting local churches in many places. Did the apostle Paul start local churches in the many places he traveled? Many, many places and those churches started other churches and those churches started other churches and it went so fast that in Colossians, chapter 1, Paul says that the gospel has been preached to every creature under heaven. That is how fast it went. Now, friends, there were people living in China in those days; there were a lot of people living a long way from Palestine in those days, so it is interesting that without radio or television or automobiles, trains, airplanes, diesel engines, and the modern communications that we have, rapidly the gospel went to all the world. How did that happen? You will never understand how that happened until you understand about the New Testament concept of the church.
How do you start a church? Not the church universal, Jesus founded the church, we cannot found any other church, but we can extend the boundaries of the gospel by starting local churches in many places. How do you start a church? Let us look at that for a few minutes to begin with.
We studied this morning how many people you need to have to start a church. How many do you need to have? Two. You need to have two people. Those two people need to be agreed on a few things. Let us put it in as few words as possible. Would those two people need to be agreed that the Bible is the authority for faith and practice? Would they need to be agreed on that? Yes. Would they need to be agreed that they need to keep the commandments? Yes. Would they need to be agreed on the faith of Jesus spoken of in Revelation 14:12? Would they need to be agreed on that? The three angels' messages? Yes, they would need to be agreed upon that. Would they need to have the testimony of Jesus or the spirit of prophecy written about in Revelation 12:17 and 19:10? Would they need to agree on that?
Now listen, that is not very many things, but if you can agree on those things, you can start a church. I am not talking about the church universal, Jesus founded the church, but I am talking about a local church.
You can start it with two people if you can agree on those things. If you and I can agree that the Bible is the rule of faith and practice, that we will keep the commandments written in here, we can agree on the faith of Jesus and we agree in Revelation 12:17 and 19:10 that God's people, in the last days, are to have the testimony of Jesus which is the spirit of prophecy and if we agree, that if we have a difference of opinion among ourselves that anything that a prophet says, whether it is Ellen White or Paul or Moses does not make any difference because God has just as much authority now as He did three thousand years ago. If we can agree that if we have a disagreement about anything a prophet says that that will be the end of our controversy and we will mutually agree that we will follow the inspired writings--you can start a church. Two people.
Now immediately, some questions arise when two or three or four people are going to start or begin a church. Obviously, if you have two people starting a church they are not going to have money generally to hire a preacher or a pastor. They might be starting a church, by the way, in jail. There might be a lot of Christian churches in jail before the Lord comes. Ellen White specifically speaks of churches in jail in Upward Look, 315.
There are some considerations that arise when we decide that we want to begin a church and one of the first ones is: Should the church be organized? How should the church be organized? Let me read to you a couple of statements on church organization. This is what the pioneer Adventists did after 1844, you can find this in Testimonies to Ministers, 26. "We sought the Lord with earnest prayer that we might understand His will and light was given by His Spirit that there must be order and thorough discipline in the church, that organization was essential. System and order are manifest in all the works of God throughout the universe. Order is the law of heaven and it should be the law of God's people on earth."
Is order, is organization essential? Oh, yes, it is absolutely vital. You cannot start a church unless you believe in order and organization and want it to be organized, that is even if you have two people. Now, if you have two or three people you do not have to have as much organization as if you had a hundred people. Obviously the bigger the church gets, the more organization you have to have. That is one of the reasons, by the way, for not allowing the local churches to get too large. They operate much more efficiently if they are not too large.
But suppose that there were two or three people that were going to start a church. Let us just think of a few things that they would have to decide on in relation to organization. They would have to decide on a place. Now, if you are starting a church in jail, you do not have to decide on a place, your place has been decided for you by somebody else. But if you are free, if you are not in jail, you are going to have to decide on a place where you are going to meet.
Now, it could be somebody's home, it could be any other kind of shelter. In the part of the world in which we are living you will generally want to find some type of shelter. Now there are churches, by the way, that have been organized where they had no building or shelter of any kind, in tropical areas where they actually met out in the open and that is the only place they had to meet, often under a tree. But in our part of the world, generally, because of the climate, we seek some type of a shelter or building and that can be a home. Churches have been organized in barns. Have you heard of the Barn Church out in Lodi, California. Danny Vierra calls it the Barn Church because their church is in a building that used to be a barn. Churches have been organized in garages and in many, many different types of structures, but you are going to have to decide where.
Then a second thing that you will have to decide on is a time. Now the general time has already been decided for you. The Lord has set the time. When is the time? The time is on the Sabbath day. You are going to meet together for worship on the Sabbath day, but do you still have to make some decisions? Oh, yes, you will still have to decide what time you will meet for worship. Not all churches meet at the same time. There are churches that have church service at 8:00 in the morning and 9:00 and 9:30 and 11:00 and there are churches that for various reasons have met in the afternoon. The time on Sabbath that you are going to meet is going to have to be decided.
Then the order or type of worship service and we need to spend just a little bit of time on this. If you are going to start a church, should you know something about what you are going to do when you get together? Well, that is not difficult, the Lord has given us instructions on that and in a moment we will look at those instructions. But first of all, let us look at the type of organization that the church is to have. First of all, it is not a hierarchy. We have preached about that many times and studied it on many different occasions. Neither is it a democracy.
Now you all know what a democracy is. A democracy is the idea that there is one vote apiece and you get together and vote on what you are going to do and then you do it. Now the church is not a democracy. Some people are confused on that because they consider the United States a democracy.
Incidentally, when the United States was originally made into a country it was not a democracy, it was a republic and there is a difference. There is a big difference between a republic and a democracy. The Christian church was organized, if you look in the New Testament, along republican principles not a democracy. There is a big difference. Now we are not going to study that in detail tonight because that is not our subject. But you can study that yourself in Acts 15.
When there was a dispute that arose among the churches, and it talks about this dispute in Acts 15, they did not say, "Let us get a ballot and send it to every Christian and have them vote which way it is and that is the way it is." Is that what they did? Now that would be like a democracy, but they did not do that. There is a very good reason they did not do that. Let us think through how that dispute or that controversy was solved in Acts 15. To do that we need to think through a little bit about church organization.
What is the requirement for being a leader? Now, let us suppose that you organized a home church and you have grown now, you have more than two. Now you have six or eight members and now you need some leadership. How does a person become a leader in a Christian church?
There are three kinds of leaders, well you could say there are more. Some people are splitters and some people are lumpers. Some people split everything up into categories and other people lump everything into a few categories. So some people say there are two types of leaders and others say there are three or more. But we know for sure there are deacons, we read about them. We know for sure there are elders and then you might have others as described in 1 Corinthians 12 or Romans 12 or Ephesians 4, other types of leaders.
How are these leaders chosen? What is the prerequisite, the number one, most important prerequisite for being a leader in the Christian church? Now, you can read about this in Acts 6 when they first chose the deacons. When they were deciding who they should choose for deacons, what kind of people did they want? Did they want people that were wealthy? Not necessarily. You could be wealthy or not wealthy. That was not a prerequisite. Did they want people who had a high education? That was not a prerequisite. You could have or you could not have. It did not matter. Well, what was the prerequisite? They said we want everybody who is going to be a deacon to have this. What was it? They wanted people who had been filled with the Holy Spirit.
Now, if you always keep that in mind, every local church should keep that in mind when it is time to select officers. The number one prerequisite for being a leader in the Christian church is to be filled with the Holy Spirit. A person that gives evidence that they are filled with the Holy Spirit, (that is another subject we are not going to get into tonight. But if you study your Bible there is plenty of evidence in the Bible so you could tell if a person is filled with the Holy Spirit or not. The Bible describes what kind of people they are.)is a person filled with the Holy Spirit. That is the number one question that should be on the mind of every church member when elections are being held and when officers are being chosen, when deacons and elders are being chosen for the church--Is this person filled with the Holy Spirit?
Let me tell you something, that one question that I just mentioned is the question, is the bottom line, that split things up at the South Wichita Church a few years ago. It was a question that needed to be asked and it is still a question that needs to be asked every time officers are elected. The bottom line, the primary prerequisite for being an officer in any Christian church is not how much money, how much education, how much of anything else you have, it is are you filled with the Holy Spirit? If you do not give evidence that you are, you are not really qualified to be an officer in a church--a leader in a church. You are not qualified. That is the prerequisite and if you are a sincere Christian, that should be your heart-burning desire day by day that you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. Do you want to be filled with the Holy Spirit?
By the way, just so we do not get it all mixed up in our thinking, do not think that there are to be two kinds of Christians, those that are filled with the spirit and those that are not? Do not think that. If you are not filled with the Holy Spirit, you are not saved and you are not going to be saved unless you are filled with the Holy Spirit. Is that a prerequisite for salvation? Yes. Do not ever think that that is just for the leaders of the church. That is a prerequisite for being a leader, but that is something everyone is supposed to be filled with--the Holy Spirit. That is not some harsh or high requirement, everyone is supposed to be filled with the Holy Spirit, but they should give evidence that they are filled with the Holy Spirit before they are chosen as an officer or a leader in any church.
Now, when the churches come together and they have elected officers that they believe, and the majority of the people in that church have confidence that these people that they have selected are filled with the Holy Spirit, what then? If we really believe that the people we have chosen as officers are filled with the Holy Spirit, when a trouble or controversy arises in the church, we are not just going to get together and say, "Let us just vote on it." Oh no, we are not a democracy.
People that have been elected as officers of the church and are filled with the Holy Spirit do have authority. Have you ever thought about that? They do have authority. Now they do not have authority to tell you to keep Sunday. Do not misunderstand. They do not have authority to tell you to do something that is contrary to the Bible. But an officer, a deacon, or an elder in the church that gives evidence that they are filled with the Spirit, what is it that gives them the authority? Now listen, the thing that gives them the authority is that the majority of the church have believed that this person is filled with the Holy Spirit.
If I am filled with the Holy Spirit, the advice or counsel that comes from a person that is filled with the Holy Spirit, should that counsel or advise have some weight with people? Well, of course. It is not the person, it is the fact that they are filled with the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit is leading in the operation of this church. In the New Testament church when a dispute arose, they did not send ballots around to everybody and say let us vote on what to do. They did not do that at all. They had already selected elders and deacons for the church.
You can read about this in Acts 15. People, it says, that had hazarded their lives for Jesus Christ and they believed these men were filled with the Holy Spirit sent these people to a council and said we want you to discuss this. They came together and prayed and talked about it. The Holy Spirit led them to a solution and they came back and announced it to the church. It is an interesting thing that even in the New Testament church the most godly people among them, the apostles of Jesus Christ, those who had been with Him during His lifetime in this world and Paul, Barnabas, and Silas, when they had all agreed, did you know that in the New Testament church there were still some people who did not go along with it? They were called Judaizers and they complicated the life of the apostle Paul for his entire ministry by stirring up trouble at churches all over the country. After the church leaders had gotten together and prayed the great majority of the church agreed and were in harmony.
Well, we need not be discouraged if there are some people that even after historic Adventists have agreed on the principles of the Bible that they go around and stir up trouble and dissension and strife on certain doctrines. It happened in the New Testament church and as long as the devil is around there will be some of that.
The church is a government where Christ is the head. The Holy Spirit is the king. The leaders of the church, what are the leaders of the church called? A deacon. The word deacon comes from the Greek word diaconos which means a servant. The deacon is a servant of the church. Do you like that? If you are a leader in the Christian church you are not a lord, we only have one Lord, you are a servant. Then there are elders or overseers, from the Greek word episcopos from where we get the English word episcopal or overseer, bishop, or elder. They are all the same.
What is an elder? The apostle Peter called himself an elder. The apostle Paul said that he was a doulos. Now do you know what a doulos is? That is a Greek word. A diaconos, or a deacon, is a servant. By the way, in the Roman Empire they had a servant society. It was not a free society like we have in America, so they had many words for servants because there were servants on different levels. They had a huparetase, which is a high class servant who was what we would call today a superintendent or a supervisor or a foreman or a manager. That was a servant that was managing, like in business this would be a supervisor or manager. Then they had the diaconos which was the lower level of servant. That is the deacon.
The lowest level of servant-hood was called a doulos. Now a doulos is often translated as a slave or a bond-servant. The apostle Paul never referred to himself as a deacon, even though he had a "higher office". He referred to himself as a doulos, that is the lowest level of servant. The higher your position in the Christian church, the lower is your level of servant-hood. Did Christ demonstrate that?
Who is the head of the church? Jesus Christ. What did He do when He came? He said He did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. He came as the servant of servants. Have you ever tried to think that through? Jesus came as the servant of servants. Do you understand that? Now, He is the Lord of Lords. It says He came to this world as the servant of servants. The very highest came to the very lowest. That is the way the Christian church is organized. It is not a hierarchy where you have this tier shape, it is the higher your position the lower is your level of servant-hood. The head of the church is Christ, the prerequisite for being a leader is to be filled with the Holy Spirit and if we are leaders, we are servants, servants of all.
Let us look for just a minute or two, if the Lord wills, we would like to produce a video sometime on this subject, but we will look at it for just a minute or two. If you are selected as an elder of a church, what is the work and duty of an elder? Suppose you have a home church, you have no pastor, but you are selected to be an elder, what is the work of an elder? We could look up Scripture texts for all of these, but I think we will not take time to look up all the Scripture texts, but I will just give some references to you. Here is a very brief synopsis of the work of a church elder.
1)An elder is responsible for the spiritual food of the flock. An elder is responsible for what is taught in that church, what is preached. Therefore, (now get this point), since the elders are responsible, this is one reason they have to have some authority because they are responsible that no heresy is taught in that church. Therefore, who do you suppose needs to be in charge of who speaks in the pulpit? The elders. The elders are responsible and will have to give an answer at the bar of God someday if they allow heresy to be spoken in the pulpit. So they are responsible for who speaks in that pulpit. They are responsible for church services and other church meetings. If you have a home church and have no pastor, nobody should be able to speak, or preach or teach in that church without the permission of the elders. That is gospel order.
2)A second responsibility of the elders, and this is a really heavy one. When I get through reading this you will be scared to be an elder, but if you are asked remember the Lord can help you and give you grace to do it. The elder is responsible to see that every member in the church is ready for the Second Coming of Christ. That is heavy, is it not? How do we know that? You read Colossians 1, the apostle Paul speaks of his ministry and he says that he is to present everyone to Jesus Christ, to present them faultless and blameless. To present them perfect in Christ Jesus. The elder has the responsibility; he has the moral responsibility to do everything in his power so that every member in that church is ready for the Second Coming of Christ.
By the way, would you like to go to a church where every elder in the church has determined that they were going to do everything possible to help you to be ready for heaven? That is the second responsibility of the elders. This is closely related to that. The elders are responsible to help every member of the church to be sanctified, to experience sanctification. You can read that also in Colossians 1. You can also read it in the book of Ephesians.
3)The elders are responsible to keep heresy out of the church. They are responsible. If somebody comes along and is teaching a new doctrine that is not in harmony with the Bible, the elder has the responsibility to stand up right in the service and say that it is not in harmony with what we believe. That is perfectly appropriate, that is not out of order. An elder has authority to say that in the church where is he an elder. He has the authority to do that.
4)Now you can see by what we have said in number 3 why number 4 would be the case. An elder must be a mature Christian brother, not somebody who has just been converted. They need to be mature enough in their Christian faith that they understand the difference between truth and error and heresy and the truth of God's Word, that God's people have agreed upon now for hundreds of years. A person who understands the gospel and the doctrines of the New Testament.
Let us look now for a minute or two at the work of a deacon. A deacon is also responsible for the welfare of the flock, not just spiritually, but physically. Read your Bible in Acts 6. A deacon is responsible, not just for the spiritual welfare of the church, but the physical welfare of the church and, friends, we are in dire need today of getting back to New Testament religion.
In the New Testament as long as there was any food among the Christians, there was no Christian who went hungry because the deacons looked after the physical condition of the people. There were poor people in those days just like there are today, but they were very careful. Read your Bible to see people that were widows, that were destitute, people that were in various financial problems. The deacons could not make them wealthy, but they could see that they had something to eat. We need to get back to New Testament religion.
The deacons looked after the physical welfare of everyone in the church. They were organized. Now although this was their primary responsibility, to look after everyone in the church, that would involve some visitation, involve knowing. Although that was their primary responsibility, in the New Testament you will find that the deacons were also evangelists and doing a great deal of evangelistic work. In fact, if you are a deacon, you belong to that class of men, that class of persons from whom came the very first Christian martyr. If you are faithful in your service, you will be associated with Him one of these days in a great and glorious time that the Lord is preparing for those who love Him.
Well, we could talk a good deal more about church organization. Let us just think a couple of minutes about how you do it if you are just two or three. Remember, just as soon as you organize a church you are not a proprietor anymore, you are not just answerable to yourself.
So, now I belong to a church. It may be a church in a jail or it may be a church out in the wilderness some place with just three or four people, but if I belong to a church and I discover some new Bible truth, remember I am not a proprietor anymore, what must I do now if I belong to a church of three or four people and I have found some new light in the Bible, what must I do? Well I need to talk to the other people in the church about it and if there is an elder or a deacon, I need to talk to them and see if they see light in it.
Now if I belong to a church where there are three or four members and I talked to an elder or a deacon about some truth or new light that I have found, what will they probably do, especially if it appeals to them and they think maybe this is true? What will they probably do? They will probably go and talk to some elders and deacons in other churches. That is what they did in New Testament times. If we would always do this, before we started Xeroxing and sending some interpretation of Scripture all over the world, if we would always talk to the elders and deacons in the local churches and they conferred with some other elders and deacons in the churches around there that they knew, do you think that the Lord would help us to move together harmoniously and as a body and if there was new truth that He wanted His people to accept, Ellen White says, He will show it to more than one. If there is new truth that God wants His people to accept, God will show it to more than one person.
I am always afraid of new light that is only coming through one person. Because if it is really new light, they should have gone to the elder or deacon in their church or some church leader and there should be a group of people that agree they believe and they want to investigate this. So church organization is very, very important and it can work in the smallest church as well as the largest church. And you can see how it works, if I am not a proprietor anymore if I belong to the church, if I found something new I go and talk about it to the other people in the church and to the elders and deacons. If there are elders and deacons in that church and they will probably want to talk to some other elders and deacons in some other churches. If it is really the truth and really new light, God will lead His people as a body to accept it. That is always the way it has been. You can see that as an example in Acts 1 or Acts 15 .
Now, I want to talk briefly about a subject that is a great concern to a lot of people when they are thinking about organizing a home church, a church that does not have a pastor. They are going to organize a small church and one of the things that people are very concerned about, (in fact I have wondered how many times churches should have been organized and were not organized because the people did not understand a few simple things and for some reason this is on the mind of a lot of people) is they think to themselves that they are used to going to a church and just sitting and listening to somebody preach and now what has happened is, either because of an apostate pastor or other problems, they know they cannot go back there anymore. Now what are they going to do? They are afraid to start a church because they say, "What am I going to do, I can not preach?" They think they cannot start a church because they cannot preach.
Now remember, if you were with us this morning, we showed that you do not have to be able to preach to start a church, do you? No, you do not have to be able to preach to start a church. But we should answer the question, if you are going to start a church, what are you going to do when you get together? One of the purposes of the church is so that the saints, the holy people, (the word saint means a holy person and all the Christians in New Testament times were called holy people) can have the fellowship of the saints so you can get together and worship. That is one of the purposes of the church. And so what are you going to do when you get together? Well, we will try to answer that question very briefly this evening.
We already read a statement from Ellen White, this morning, where she described a small home church of twelve members and when they got together they had Sabbath school and she said they did one of two things, they had a Bible reading or a prayer and a social meeting. So, let us look at that. Now she said they were doing the right thing, so let us look at the Sabbath school.
What is a Sabbath school and what is the purpose of Sabbath school? What do we do at Sabbath school? Well, if you are watching this on video and you are thinking about starting a home church get your pencil out right now. I am going to show you in just a few minutes what to do and it is simple and it is right out of the Bible. It is wonderful.
When God's people get together on the Sabbath day for Sabbath school they greet each other. When we come together we do not just act like we are a bunch of strangers and come into a room and have a meeting. We greet each other. Do we get this from the Bible? We get it right out of the Bible. We could look at many, many, many examples. On the resurrection morning there were women that Jesus met, you can read this in Matthew 28, and when Jesus met them, it says in the Greek New Testament, He said, Chirah. That is a word that means greetings. Jesus gave them greetings. When Jesus meets someone that He knows He greets them. We should never come together in the home church or any church and just walk in the door like we are a bunch of strangers and sit down and have a formal meeting. When we come together as Christians the first thing we should do is to greet each other.
Read the New Testament and you will find lots of instruction on this. It talks about greeting each other. It even talks about greeting each other with a holy kiss. So the first thing that we do when we come together, we greet each other in the name of the Lord because it is a wonderful experience to get together with other Christians who believe in the Bible and believe in worship. Jesus gave a greeting on the resurrection morning to those who met Him. He greeted them. We greet each other. That is generally what we do at the beginning of the Sabbath school, do we not? We have a greeting. We usually call it what today? A welcome. That is a public greeting. That is appropriate and that is right out of the Bible. That is what they did in Bible times. You can read about it in the New Testament epistles. We give a greeting. That is number 1.
I think I'd better get a Bible. I do not want anybody to think I made up anything. I am going to read this to you right out of the Bible. Our worship service, our Sabbath school, our services come right out of the Bible. When we get together, we get together and sing. Now we do not sing as a matter of tradition or custom. We sing praise to the Lord because this is part of worship. This is part of Sabbath school. Let us read this in Ephesians 5 and see what it says about singing. Ephesians 5:19, 20, it says, "Speaking to one another in psalms. . ." What is a psalm? It is a song. "and hymns and spiritual songs. . ." By the way, if you look at this in the Greek, it is given in the imperative. This is not advice, this is something we are told to do. I hope that does not bother you. "Singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord." Christians do not just go through a form of words, they sing from their heart. "Giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." So when we meet together for Sabbath school, singing and giving praise to the Lord is a vital part of our service. That is from the Bible. We got that idea right out of the New Testament.
Then we pray. Now there is no exact order. You do not have to do everything in the exact order that we are going through them, but prayer is a vital part of a Christian service. There are many, many texts that we could read on that also. But look in Acts 4:24. Now this is the early Christian church and they are meeting together. "So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said Lord you are God who made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them." They had public prayer. You can read in a number of places throughout the New Testament about public prayer.
Then when we come together in addition to singing and praying, we open the Bible and then read it. Let us look at an example of that in Luke 4:16, "So He came to Nazareth where He had been brought up and as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and stood up to read and He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah and when He had opened the book He found a place where it was written. . ." and then it shows there in the next verses what Jesus read. He went to church on that day, it was the Sabbath day, and He stood up and He took the Bible and He opened it and He read it. Is that part of the worship service? It is. That is part of the worship service. That is part of Sabbath school.
Then in Sabbath school, and this is one of the most exciting parts of a Sabbath school-- mission reports and a mission offering. Did you know that this comes right out of the New Testament? Turn in your Bible to Acts 11:19-23, first of all. It says, "Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch preaching the word to no one but the Jews only. But some of them were men from Cyprus and Syrene who, when they had come to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists preaching the Lord Jesus. The hand of the Lord was with them and a great number believed and turned to the Lord. Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem."
Now notice, at the church in Jerusalem, somebody gave a mission report and they said that up in Antioch there are some people who are preaching to the Greeks and there are a lot of them being baptized. This is a mission report. It says, "That they," that is the church in Jerusalem, "sent out Barnabas to go out as far as Antioch when he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart that they should continue with the Lord."
Now, look up to verses 28 and 29, they not only had mission reports, they took mission offerings. Notice, it says, "Then one of them named Agabus stood up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar, then the disciples each according to his ability determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea." That is not the only record, by the way, in the New Testament of mission offerings. That is just one. So they had mission reports and they had mission offerings in the New Testament church.
They also had what we call Sabbath school classes. Now what is a Sabbath school class? Now in a worship service we get up and do what is called preaching. But in a Sabbath school class we do not preach, what do we do? We teach. Now what is the difference? The person who is preaching is giving a proclamation, he is telling you something, but when a person is teaching, there is an interchange. There are questions and answers and the person that is teaching is doing some of the talking, but the people are doing some of the talking, too. Is that right? Did they do that in the New Testament church? Yes they did.
If you still have your Bible opened to Acts 11:26, it says, "And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch," he was bringing Saul who was later called Paul, "so it was that for a whole year, they assembled with the church," that was Paul and Barnabas, "and taught a great many people." So what did Paul and Barnabas do when they went to church? They taught people. That is what we do in Sabbath school. Sabbath school classes are a teaching experience, where there are questions and answers and not one person does all the talking at the front but you can ask questions and there is an interchange, there is a dialogue; you study the Bible together. That is what Paul and Barnabas were doing here in the Antioch church, as you read in verse 26. So they had teaching, or what we call Sabbath school classes.
Then at the close of Sabbath school, after we have done all of these things, we have what we call a benediction or a closing prayer. Now you will find that this practice also comes directly from the New Testament. I will read to you one example, look in Acts 20. This was a meeting that Paul had with some church members and look what it says in verse 36, "And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all." Then it says how he left and they were sad because he had told them he was not going to meet them again. So in New Testament times when the church came together and they had a meeting, at the close of the meeting before they all dispersed what did they do? They prayed together. Do you see that every single thing that we do in Sabbath school we get it right out of the New Testament?
Now, many of those things that we do in Sabbath school, we also do in church. We sing and we pray and we read the Scripture and we have a welcome and we take up an offering. We could read many Scriptures, and not just in the New Testament, but in the Old Testament also, about taking offering at a worship service. We preach the Word, we have a benediction and Ellen White has given us some very interesting counsel about our church services and this is something you will want to remember if you develop a church and have a home church with just a few people. This is very important for a home church. Ellen White says that in every preaching service, in every worship service, there should be some part of that service that is especially for the children. That is something that we must always remember. Jesus taught that religion was not just for big people, it was also for little people. It was also for children. You can read about that in Matthew 19.
Now you can see that you do not have to be a preacher, you do not have to be highly educated or be rich to start a church, you do need to be filled with the Holy Spirit, but every Christian should be filled with the Holy Spirit. At this point, when a person has studied this through and they see, well, I am just a common, ordinary person, but I can see now that I could start a church if the Lord wanted me to, the Lord could use me and I could start a church. But a question always keeps arising, "If I start a church, what are we going to study about? If I am in charge of Sabbath school for the Sabbath school lesson study or for the church service, what are we going to study about?" Now we went over a little bit of that this morning. But I would like to cover that subject in somewhat more detail this evening. In Sabbath school and in church services, if you do not have a pastor, what are you going to study? Let us look first of all at Sabbath school and then we will look at the church service itself.
There are a number of groups, at the present time, that are working to develop materials for Sabbath school lesson studies. Jan Marcussen is one, but there are others. However, let me mention some very wonderful Sabbath school lesson materials that you probably already have. They have used some of these, by the way, in the Winfield church and they work wonderfully well. Do you like the book The Desire of Ages? What if you decided in Sabbath school class that you were going to start studying a chapter every week, now that would take you about a year and a half? You would have all your Sabbath school lessons for a year and a half if you studied a chapter a week. Believe me, you would be studying a lot of Bible. Those chapters have a lot of Bible verses in them to memorize. You would be studying a lot of Bible.
And what if you decided that during the time that you are studying The Desire of Ages, that everybody in your Sabbath school class is going to try to memorize the "Sermon on the Mount?" Do you suppose that would do some good for our spiritual growth to memorize Matthew 5, 6, and 7, during the time we are studying The Desire of Ages? That would not be that hard, it would be a little over a verse a week. It would be between one and two verses per week. Do you think you could handle that? If during the time you were studying The Desire of Ages, a chapter a week in Sabbath school class in your home church, if you memorize one to two verses per week from Matthew 5-7, by the time you got through studying the Desire of Ages you would have the "Sermon on the Mount" memorized. Some people can memorize three or four verses per week and then they could memorize the last part of Jesus' life in either the gospel of John or the gospel of Matthew and that would be very stimulating, would it not? Like John 14-17, for instance. By the way, John 14-17 Ellen White says those are chapters that we should especially study. That was conversation that Jesus had with His disciples the night that He was betrayed. Very important instruction.
Or if you are just organizing a home church and there are questions about church organization, do you suppose you might find some answers to those questions if you studied a chapter a week from the book The Acts of the Apostles in your Sabbath school class? Do you suppose that would help you as you are organizing a church? Friends, that would be a marvelous help. When questions come up about church organization, that have come up in the last few years, over and over again, I have searched and found answers in the book The Acts of the Apostles. A wonderful book that you could study for Sabbath school class. Or how about the book Patriarchs and Prophets or Prophets and Kings or The Great Controversy?
You see, right there you have enough material, if you studied one chapter a week, you would have enough material for the next four or five years easy. Would that help you get started? There is other material, by the way, when you get done with that you could go through the Steps to Life Bible studies. There are 34, that would be 34 weeks. There are Sabbath schools that have taken those Bible studies and studied one of those each week. Or a Bible doctrines textbook and study one chapter a week to understand what are the teachings of the Bible. All of those things are appropriate for Sabbath school. So do you see, even if you did not have a Sabbath school quarterly, you would have plenty of materials and you do not need to be afraid, you have plenty of materials and it is exciting to study?
Let us look now at the worship service. Somebody says now that they will have to get up and have to preach. Remember, that is not true. Do not let the devil tell you that. You do not have to be a preacher to take charge of a worship service. Instead of preaching, what did we say this morning? Ellen White said that our preachers preach too much or too little? They preach too much. They ought to preach less, and instead of preaching so much, what should they do? They should have a Bible class during the worship service.
Now, what are some of the subjects that you could cover in a Bible class? Let us just go over a few that are recommended to us from the Spirit of Prophecy. The thing that she says that we need more instruction about in our worship services than any other one thing is what must we do to be saved? Ellen White says we need instruction in this more than any one thing. The plan of salvation--what must I do to inherit eternal life. That question is worded correctly, too, because you must do something to inherit eternal life? You cannot earn it, but you must do something.
Here are some other themes that Ellen White recommends that we study in our worship services: the mercy of Christ; the glory of Christ. I do not know if any of you remember. Some of you that were here about three or four years ago and we were meeting over at the church on Mt. Vernon, I was starting to memorize the book of Ephesians and I got so enthralled that I thought I would preach on the grace of Christ. I had so many things to preach about I do not know how many sermons I preached on the grace of Christ. It is one of my favorite subjects and it is a subject that any Christian can have a Bible class about--what is the glory of Christ? What is the grace of Christ? Christ, the wisdom of God; Christ the power of God; the fullness of Christ; the free gift of Christ's righteousness, often called righteousness by faith. Oh and here is an interesting one if you are wanting to know what you can study about at worship services.
Jesus said in Matthew 28:20, He said, "Teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you." So, look through the gospels, find out what did Jesus teach. Are there a lot of things in the gospels that Jesus taught? Every lesson that Jesus taught is appropriate for you to study in your worship service. There is a lot of material there. By the way, if you are going to study in your worship services what Jesus taught, different preachers have figured out different formulas, my brother Marshall used to explain to our Bible worker students about having a preaching calendar and he used to tell them how he would like to have approximately one third of his sermons in church to be on the life and teachings of Christ every year. That is not a magic number, that is just a number he chose. You can decide how much you want, if you are in charge of worship services, how often your preaching or Bible class should be on the lessons and the life of Christ.
Now I am going to give you three things that Ellen White says that we should study. Whatever we are studying about, it should include these three things. 1)The sacrifice of Christ or the meaning of the cross. Now that is such a big subject that we will be studying it all through eternity. You think that if we will be studying it throughout eternity that it is worth some study now? It is. Part of every worship service should be related to the cross of Christ. 2)In every worship service there should be something about practical godliness. We talked about that this morning. 3)In every worship service there should be instruction or preaching or teaching about the Holy Spirit because no one can be saved without the Holy Spirit.
I have a whole list of things here on practical godliness, but we will not go over those now. The plan of salvation, can you explain to someone the meaning of the plan of salvation so they can answer the question, "What must I do to be saved?" That is something that we should cover over and over again in our worship services.
What does it mean to repent? What does that mean? How do you get repentance? You get it, by the way, by spending time at the cross in your mind. Confession is such an important subject that I constantly receive letters and telephone calls about it. I must have spent the better part of an hour just this last week talking to a lady on the subject of confession. God's people need instruction on that. What does it mean to have faith in Christ and to surrender my life, my will to Him? There is plenty of material and some of the material is so important we need to keep going over it again and again because it has to do with eternal life.
Now, when we organize as a church we need to be properly organized, knowing how to conduct services like the New Testament teaches.
A prayer meeting is similar to a church service. We come together, we have a greeting, we sing, we pray and we study the Word and we can also give opportunity for testimony or confession of Christ. The custom of having testimony services has fallen out of custom in Christian churches. Do you know why? It is embarrassing to tell you why. When people in a home church are out witnessing for the Lord, they have so much to testify about that you have to let them speak because they are just not willing to be quiet. But, friends, when a church is dying, the closer it gets to spiritual death, the less people have to testify about and so you can conduct a service and everybody can just sit there and nobody says anything.
Friends, we need to pray that the Lord will help us to be active enough in evangelism so that every time we come together with God's people we have something to say that will encourage somebody else. Because one of the main reasons that the church was organized is not just so we can meet together.
Now, we have talked about that because that is what everybody is worried about. They are scared to know what to do. But that is not the only reason the church is organized. It is organized for service, see Education 268, it is organized to take the gospel to the world. And in a home church, one of the primary things that we do when we meet together is ask the question, "What can we do to help the people in our community?" If we are in jail, well then it is the fellow prisoners; if we are out in the country, it is the people who live in that area; if we are in the city, it is the people that live in that area. If we are having a living, Christian experience and we are doing evangelism in a church, churches that do not have any pastors can actually be growing faster than most churches that have pastors.
One of the interesting things I have learned studying evangelism is that evangelism in general is not dependent on pastors. Did you know that? It is not dependent on pastors. It is dependent on people in the church that are filled with the Holy Spirit and they have a fire within to let their friends and relatives and neighbors know the truth. In fact, friends, unless we do have that fire to let our friends, our relatives, our neighbors, the people around us know the truth, eventually we will lose our own Christian experience and our church. If everybody does that in the church, the church will die because in order for a church to be living, it must be working.
I want to appeal to each one of us that if we are a member of a church that we have a God-given obligation to ask ourselves the question, "What am I doing to help other people that do not know what I know, learn about Jesus and His love?" Now, there are many ways of doing this and that is not our subject tonight, but it is something that everyone of us should ask ourselves the question and pray about.
Some years ago, I was going to a very large church. One of the large churches where you can just walk in and sit down and do nothing. Oh, I was doing things, I was working for the Lord, I was teaching students, teaching physiology and nutrition and teaching a Sabbath school class and participating in many different things, but I became convicted that I was not doing enough for people on the outside.
So I started looking around for something more to do and I became convicted as I studied Matthew 25 that I needed to be involved working for people in prison and I got involved in the prison ministry. I was so excited. I do not know how many people were baptized because in the prison where I was working there were people going in and out, but I know of one person in particular that we spoke the gospel to in that prison and he sent word to a friend of mind that he had been baptized and had become a Seventh-day Adventist. So I know about one. And in that prison we spoke the gospel to people who were accused of all kinds of crimes. I will never be sorry as long as I live that I participated in that. I want to appeal to you, friend, that if you have not found yet, (I am not here to tell you what type of missionary work you should do) but if you have not found just the place where God wants you to work, will not you pray and say, "Lord, what do You want me to do in Your vineyard?" God wants you to be involved in evangelism, because if you are not, eventually you will lose your Christian experience, you will lose that first love that is talked about in Revelation 2.
I want to appeal to you, friend, pray about it. I am not here to tell you, but the Holy Spirit will tell you, if you will pray and say, "Lord, in what area of Your vineyard do You want me to work? What kind of work do You want me to be doing?" It is very interesting when people start praying like that, I have seen this happen over and over again and I think it is perfectly appropriate for different groups of people in this church to get together and decide to pray about what their missionary activity should be, that is perfectly appropriate.
I have seen God work some marvelous things when Christians get together and say, "Lord, what do You want us to do?" That is one of the reasons the church is organized and the time is coming very soon, friends, there are not going to be enough pastors.
Almost all the churches will have no regular pastors. The churches will be springing up so fast all over the world, there are just going to be little pockets of groups all over and that is the way, friends, the work is going to be finished. Some of them will be in jail, some of them probably in concentration camps, some of them will be out in the woods, some will be all over the world in various places and the work will go forward quickly and it will be finished when we understand the New Testament and that you can have a church even if you do not have a pastor, even if you do not have a building. You can have a New Testament church.
Do you want to be a part of this great evangelistic explosion that is about ready to happen? Do you want to be part of it? I want to tell you friends, there is no greater privilege that God could give you in these last closing days in this world's history than to be a part of the great explosion in evangelistic activity that is about ready to happen right now. And I want to be part of it. If you want to be part of it too, let us kneel and dedicate our lives to the Lord to be part of this great closing work.