Biblical and unbiblical churches

Book 8 - Introduction

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The title of this book is Biblical and unbiblical churches. The question therefore is what exactly do we mean by ‘biblical’ as opposed to ‘unbiblical’? My argument is that what the Christians of the first century knew as church, i.e. the way it was organised, structured and led, as set out for us in the book of Acts and the New Testament letters, was the way God intended church to be. By stark contrast, what the vast majority of churches now do is pretty much the exact opposite in every respect of what the Bible describes. I shall seek to demonstrate and justify that claim below.

In the table below I will set out, on the left, what God intended. By that I mean what the apostles taught and what the first century Christians did. Then, on the right, I will set out what the vast majority of churches today actually do, as per the traditions which virtually all the denominational churches follow. They inherited these from the Roman Catholic church, not from the first century church. However, very few of them know that:

  The biblical model of church:   What most churches do:
a) Small in size, i.e. perhaps 20 – 70 people.   Large in size, i.e. 100 – 500 people or even thousands.
b) Meeting in people’s homes or perhaps in barns or outbuildings.   Meeting in special and elaborate buildings.
c) The people themselves are the church.   The building is the church and the people attend it.
d) The leaders have ordinary jobs. They support themselves from their own wages. They are not paid anything for their roles in the church, unless they are sent away as missionaries to other countries where they cannot initially get jobs. If so, the sending church supports them.  Even then, such missionaries would try to support themselves, as Paul did, by a part-time trade such as tent-making.   The leaders work full time within the church and are paid. Many have never worked in any ordinary job and have no trade, career or profession to which they can return. Even those who once had a job lose their skills and become unemployable in their previous job after a number of years, such that they cannot return to it anyway. Such men can often end up feeling trapped in ministry work. They have no alternative but to carry on, even if they have lost all their enthusiasm or have become burnt out. This affects many men in their forties and fifties, such that the final 20 or more years of their ministry are ineffectual and miserable for all concerned.  
e) Each local church is led by a number of mature men called elders or bishops.   Each church is led by one man called a pastor or minister.  In larger churches he will be accompanied by ‘assistant ministers’ who are, likewise, full time and paid.
f) All the tasks of the church, including teaching, preaching, music, evangelism, children’s work, administration, pastoral work, etc is shared between all of the people so that everybody is active and all have the ministries and roles for which they are best suited/gifted.   One man, or perhaps a few men, irrespective of their giftings or lack of giftings, do all the work on behalf of the people.  Therefore that man, or small group of men, do many things for which they are not suited, even when there are several people in the congregation,  sitting idly by, who would be far more capable of doing those tasks. If anything is ever done by people in the congregation it will only be menial work, behind the scenes. Any visible work which attracts public attention is reserved for the paid leader(s).
g) The people sit in groups or circles within a house/barn/outbuilding and they all participate in a two-way dialogue during times of teaching and preaching so that it is fully interactive.  All can contribute to, comment on, and even disagree with, whatever is being taught.  Also a variety of people take turns to lead/teach/preach   The same man speaks every week or most weeks, irrespective of whether he has anything fresh or interesting to say, or about which he feels passionate. The people sit in rows, facing him and never interrupt or participate in any way while he speaks.  Indeed, it would be considered unthinkable for them to do so.
h) The people eat a proper meal together each week, like a family, which includes bread and wine.  They do so to have fellowship with each other and also to commemorate Jesus’ death on our behalf   There is no meal and very little meaningful fellowship or intimacy and the people just have bread and wine as a pure ritual with nothing else to accompany it.
i) The leaders serve the people.   The people serve the leaders.
j) The members of the church make all major decisions collectively as a group.   The leader (or small group of leaders) make all the decisions on behalf of the church.
k) Nobody rules over the people of the church.   The leader rules over the people.
l) Every member of the church submits to, honours, cooperates with, and defers to every other member equally.  It is mutual submission and goes in all directions, vertically and horizontally.   The direction of submission is entirely one way.  The people all submit to the leader and he submits to nobody, other than the regional or national hierarchy of the denomination.
m) Each church is free and independent and is led by its own elders/bishops, albeit that all important decisions are made by the membership of the church as a whole   Most churches are part of a national or international denomination with very senior leaders who rule over all the churches in that area or country.  The men known to us today as bishops have a regional or national role, ruling over many churches, rather than being one of the leaders within a single local church, as they were in the New Testament.
n) A leader of a church is an ordinary man and is not seen as anything exalted or special.  There is no distinction between any of the people and no such thing as ‘clergy’ or ‘lay’ members. Neither is there any such thing as ‘priests’. All Christians are equal.   The leaders belong to a special group called ‘clergy’ which is separate from the people and seen as higher than them. They are ‘ordained’ because they are seen as having been called by God to an enhanced status, or even ‘priesthood’ which makes them quite unlike the ordinary people, who are referred to as ‘lay’ members.
o) Meetings are different each week in their form, content and mood, depending on who is leading that week and on who else chooses to contribute. It also varies according to what each of the rest of the people, led by the promptings of the Holy Spirit, choose to say, do or focus upon.   Meetings are exactly the same every week. They follow a rigid pattern and timetable known as ‘liturgy’.  This is done according to long-established traditions and customs.  The Holy Spirit is not involved and would not be permitted to alter anything if it went against the church’s traditions.
p) The leaders are not paid and do not depend on the church as a whole, or on any individuals within it, for their livelihood.  Therefore they are secure, relaxed and confident.  They are not afraid of anybody and can teach the Bible faithfully and without compromise, even if the truth is unpopular and causes some members to leave.   The leader(s) depend solely on the church for their salary, pension and even their home. Unsurprisingly, they tend, therefore, to become very insecure.  They will frequently compromise over doctrine or avoid teaching on certain controversial issues. They do so to avoid upsetting anybody who might leave the church and/or stop giving financially and/or give less. As a result, in many churches, 50- 75 per cent of the Bible is never spoken about, given that the Bible is an inherently controversial book.
q) Because the leaders are relaxed and secure, they do not feel threatened by each other, or by up and coming young men who have potential to become future leaders, or indeed by anybody else whose personal talents or spiritual gifts are different from, or greater than, their own. Therefore each leader is happy to help to develop other Christians and to see them grow them into mature disciples who can look after themselves and others and are not dependent upon him.   It is very common for paid leaders to be deeply insecure and even paranoid. They will then seek to protect themselves from real or imagined threats or from potential rivals who might preach better than them or have greater gifts.  Anyone like that will be frozen out or driven away.  At any rate, they will not be given opportunities to teach, preach or lead. The leader’s fear is that they might do a better job than him and cause unflattering comparisons to be made. Therefore such leaders don’t develop mature disciples within the church. Instead they hold them back.
r) The leaders will teach the whole Bible fearlessly.   The leader(s) will limit themselves to only a small proportion of the Bible and avoid any topic, theme or book which might create disagreement or cause people to be offended or to leave the church.

I could have made the above list a lot longer but you will see the general pattern and the contrast, right across the board, between what churches are meant to be and what they have actually become for most of us. Within this book I shall address other areas of divergence as well, because the list above is far from comprehensive.

The question is how and why did all of this divergence happen? How did we stray so far away from the biblical model for how church should be? Did it happen by accident, or did some person or group deliberately cause the church to go down this unbiblical route? You will presumably agree that the misalignment is much too consistent for it to be a coincidence.

For example, imagine you were to go to a car dealership and order a brand new car and you wrote out a long list of 30 or 40 different specifications. What would you think if you were then to find, when the car arrived some weeks later, that it was the exact opposite in every respect of what you had asked for? Imagine you’d asked for a saloon but they sent an estate/station wagon. What if you’d asked for diesel and it was a petrol engine? What if you’d asked for it to be black, but it was white? In fact, what if all 30 or 40 items on your specification list were not only wrong, but the direct opposite of what you had specified?

You would surely conclude that somebody was altering things intentionally because if they were just entering the data into their computer randomly, then at least some of the options would be correct. However, if every single factor was the reverse of your instructions you would feel sure that it was either a practical joke or deliberate sabotage.

My suggestion to you, in the context of church, is that the specifications laid down by God have been reversed on purpose. I do not suggest that any single man, or even group of men, did this. That would be impossible, because the pattern is so consistent, right across the world. It seems clear to me that this divergence has arisen as a result of satanic/demonic sabotage throughout the centuries, in particular since the fourth century AD.

That was when the Roman Emperor, Constantine, effectively took over the churches throughout the empire and created the hierarchical organization known to us as the Roman Catholic church. This then degenerated further into a toxic mixture of Christianity, paganism and man-made philosophy. I shall return to that theme below as a separate issue, but see also Book Three in this series in which I go into some detail about the errors of Catholicism, including their authoritarian, top-down leadership model. Quite a lot of their approach to leadership has been retained by the Protestant churches, notwithstanding the Reformation.

The Devil was well aware of how important it was for each local church to operate in the ways that God ordained, with lots of built-in safeguards, as per the way in which the apostles operated. Therefore the demons set about distorting and diverting every one of these specifications to prevent God’s instructions being implemented. They wanted to make churches less effective and less healthy than they were meant to be, and would have been, if we had kept the biblical model.

How then did I get interested in this subject, i.e. how did I notice the problem of unbiblical churches and work out what was going on? It began for me in the 1980s and 1990s when I was becoming increasingly frustrated at the way churches operated and how ineffectual they tended to be, especially their leaders. Then, from about 1999 onwards, I found, time and time again, that certain church leaders that I knew were behaving dishonestly, carnally and manipulatively. In particular, they were seeking to dominate and control their churches.

This wasn’t happening just once or twice, here and there. I noticed it again and again, all over the country. Eventually I concluded that it was the norm rather than the exception. I found that an alarmingly high percentage of church leaders (though by no means all) are what the Bible calls ‘hirelings’ rather than genuine shepherds. Hirelings are men who have no true sense of vocation and view what they do as a paid job rather than as a service to God or His people.

They are not necessarily seeking to cause any deliberate harm. It is more that they care more about themselves than they do about the people they lead. So, they are not willing to lay down their lives, or take risks, or even tolerate inconvenience, for the sake of the sheep. By contrast, a real shepherd willingly does all those things.

Even worse, I saw that a significant minority of leaders were wolves. That means men who enter into church leadership because they see it as a position which they can use and exploit, either to get money or power or to build an empire for themselves. They are often men who have not got enough talent or imagination to succeed in a career or profession and they see the church as an easier route. They will then intentionally deceive, control, manipulate and abuse people to whatever extent is necessary, either for personal gain or to indulge their own egos.

This gradual series of discoveries about the real nature of British churches was both bewildering and depressing. There were times when I also found it traumatic, because I was one of the very few people who tried to tackle such leaders, directly and openly. I found that when I did, they were quick to close ranks and to band together with other leaders to attack and undermine anybody who was challenging them, or whom they perceived as a threat. I found that such men are vastly more skilled at the art of self-preservation, and at looking after each other, than they are at teaching, preaching or caring for their people.

I then made another substantial step forward in my understanding when I came across the teaching of a remarkable man called Beresford Job. He is a Bible teacher based in Essex and has been a true pioneer in this area of advocating biblical church. Beresford Job’s teaching about the nature, scale and origin of these problems of unbiblical church came as a breath of fresh air. He really helped me to make sense of how and why the churches went so badly wrong by adopting, and then clinging on to, these man-made traditions in place of what God had specified for us.

Beresford has a set of teaching CDs entitled ‘The Traditions Series’ and he has also written a book which is also entitled ‘Biblical Church’. I strongly recommend that you buy his CDs and/or his book. (You can do this via his website which is www.house-church.org . His teaching and materials do a great job in explaining where these unbiblical traditions came from, why they were adopted and why they then became so entrenched. They also explain why it suits institutions to organise themselves in a hierarchical way and why they resist any suggestion of reform.

In my own book, I cover some of the same ground which Beresford Job has pioneered. However, I have attempted to cover the whole subject of church more broadly and to address several issues which Beresford has not covered. I also give accounts of some of my own personal experiences, and those of people I know, in tackling some carnal and worldly leaders.

In this book I describe how those leaders sought to defend themselves and how their hierarchical institutions joined with them to resist correction and to undermine anybody daring to expose or challenge them. I hope the details of those experiences may be of use to readers who have faced, or are now facing, similar problems.

You might ask whether I am saying that if a church is not biblical in terms of its structure, organization and leadership then it isn’t a church at all. Or, am I at least saying that it is not a valid church, such that God would not bless or use them? No, I am not saying any of that. Many such churches have been, and are still being, both blessed and used by God. In one sense, God has quite limited options available to Him because virtually all churches, especially denominational ones, are organised and led in an unbiblical and hierarchical way.

So, I am not saying that an unbiblical church is not a real church, or that God does not use or recognise such churches. On the contrary, I know that He does use many of them, despite their faults. What I am saying, however, is that if such churches were to alter their structure, approach and leadership style, so as to be biblical rather than unbiblical, then God would bless and use them far more than He has been able to do hitherto.

Moreover, if we were to have a twenty first century reformation whereby we again learn how to do church in a biblical way, then a great many unnecessary and self-inflicted problems would be avoided. Vast numbers of Christians today are obstructed, wounded and damaged by leaders and their talents are wasted. Much of that is done to them within the very churches which God had intended to be a haven of protection, support and fellowship. He meant the local church to be a safe place where every one of us can grow, fulfil our potential and be active in doing the work of the ministry.

Instead, at present, countless millions of people are attending churches as mere spectators, where there is very little for them to do other than watch the minister perform as a one man band. That state of affairs is especially frustrating for men, whose very nature recoils from being passive. That is one reason why so many men abandon church. They see it as an essentially female institution, led by inadequate but manipulative weaklings, which provides nothing meaningful or constructive to do.

I believe that God greatly desires to change all of this and to see a return to biblical church, and especially to biblical leadership. I would therefore urge you to consider whether and how you could play a part, in your local area, in starting to effect that change.

Sean Kehoe
8 May 2014

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