New believers are usually told in follow-up talks to attend a "spiritual" church. What the preacher means and what the people understand may be quite different from each other. If the evangelistic programme is an united effort of various Churches, the preachers would be apprehensive of clearly explaining how to identify a "spiritual" church. This delicate issue should however be addressed.
Churches can be broadly divided as Pentecostal and non-Pentecostal. The main difference is on how one understands the experience of the Baptism with the Holy Spirit. It is wrong to say that the Pentecostal churches are all "spiritual" and others are not. In the Biblical sense, the word "spiritual" is the opposite of "carnal" or "natural." It is not the style of worship, the form of government, the mode of baptism or the method of breadbreaking that decides whether or not a church is "spiritual." The deciding factor is its character as a group and the lifestyle of its members. The Corinthian church was Pentecostal in every sense. It had all the gifts of the Holy Spirit in operation (1 Cor 1:7; 14:12a). But according to apostle Paul it was not a "spiritual" church but "carnal" (1 Cor 3:1-3).
If we honestly analyse todayís situation, an unbiased assessment would be that no church is 100% spiritual or 100% carnal. There is always a mixture of spirituality and carnality. The percentage of course varies. Some Pentecostal churches are more carnal than non-Pentecostal churches; and some non-Pentecostal churches are more spiritual than Pentecostal churches. I might upset some of my Pentecostal friends here, but truth must be faced (Gal 4:16). I have also observed that some of the so-called "spiritual" churches have more unscriptural traditions than some of the so-called "traditional" Churches.
After rebirth one should choose a local church where he can really "grow" into maturity. Thatís Godís desire concerning each of His children. Ask the following questions before choosing a churchó
1. Does it believe the Bible as the Word of God ? Our growth depends on the intake of the "milk" of Godís Word (1 Pet 2:2). Members of churches where thereís solid Bible teaching grow fast and strong. Though minor doctrinal differences may be tolerated, there can be no compromise on major issues (Eph 4:4-6). Go to a church where the pastor makes you fall in love with the Bible and does not misuse the pulpit.
2. Is true worship encouraged there ? According to Jesus, "true" worship is whatís offered in "spirit and truth" (Jn 4:23,24). Some churches are rich in the "truth" content of their worship, whereas others are jubilant and enthusiastic in "spirit" while worshipping. There must be a balance (1 Cor 14:15).
3. Is there real fellowship ? Thereís no "fellowship" in many of our fellowships. People come to the services simply to be ministered unto and not to minister to one another. Singing "to the Lord" is there; but speaking "to one another" in Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs is absent (Eph 5:19). Thereís nothing more than a formal greeting or a handshake. Smaller churches seem to be stronger in this horizontal dimension. Sharing material blessings with the needy was the most attractive feature of the early church (Acts 4:32,33). Christianity is charity! (Js 1:27).
4. Do its leaders equip the believers for ministry ? One cannot expect to grow in a church where the pastor is the main actor and the members are simply an audience. Feeling of insecurity cripples many pastors and they would not trust others with responsibilities. The fivefold ministry in the church is chiefly to "equip the saints for the work of the ministry" (Eph 4:11,12). In other words, the ministry of each minister is to make every believer a minister. Though ideal conditions may not exist, look for a church where all the members function as "kings and priests" unto God (1 Pet 2:5,9). Also it is safe to be part of an assembly where thereís shared leadership.
5. Does it reach out to the lost ? Dr. Oswald J. Smith (1890-1986) the founder pastor of the Peopleís Church, Canada, used to say, "The church that does not evangelize shall fossilize!" Make sure that the church you choose keeps missions and evangelism its top priority. You will suffocate if you are in a church which does not send out and support missionaries or if the pastor speaks against parachurch missionary organisations (Acts 13:1-3). Members should have the freedom to associate themselves with evangelistic agencies of their choice. The Church must not become a clutch.
There are several other characteristics one should look for in a spiritual church, but these five are the basic. Aim for the ideal but accept and work with the actual and optimize your expectations. Because no single local church has it all, do visit other churches for enlarging your vision and expanding your knowledge. Oneís strength will help the other in his weakness.
The highest form of Christian service is the worship of the Almighty. The chief end of all evangelistic labour and missionary endeavour is to raise worshipping congregations to the praise of Godís glory (Rom 10:14; 15:9-11). In order to teach the new congregations how to make worship rich and regular, prayers of praise and thanksgiving were written down by Church leaders to be read out in worship services. But in course of time such readings became a meaningless routine and an empty ritual. This led Prophets like A.W. Tozer to call worship as the "missing jewel of evangelical Christianity!" But in the recent years there is a worldwide outpouring of the spirit of praise and worship as a fresh breeze into an otherwise suffocating situation. Over-excited Christians in response have totally abandoned the old forms or the liturgical pattern of worship and adopted the free style. This has created a tension between the older people and the younger generation as well as between the mainline churches and newer congregations. How to ease the situation?
It was under the anointing of the Holy Spirit that the Church leaders of the yester years wrote down prayers for public worship. It is the same Holy Spirit who has raised numerous worship leaders these days to lead congregations into rapturous worship. Maturity therefore demands that both are accepted as complementing each other rather than contradicting.
In His discourse with the Samaritan woman Jesus insisted how worship must be offered both "in spirit and in truth" (Jn 4:24). While writing down regulations for the operation of gifts in public, apostle Paul mentioned that praying and singing must be both "with the spirit and with the understanding" (1 Cor 14:15). Liturgical prayers are unquestionably rich in content whereas free style praise and worship often tends to be repetitive and of limited coverage of Biblical revelation. At the same time liturgical prayers limit the free expression of the worshipperís inner feelings. One needs the other. Each group must add a little bit from the other for a healthy balance. No form is superior or inferior to the other. As much as many who had been used to only liturgical worship find the new wave quite refreshing, several people grow tired of the sameness and leanness of the content of the free style of worship and begin to feel that "the old is better!" (Lk 5:39).
Physical posture in worship is another factor to be considered. Except standing, bowing and kneeling no other posture is generally encouraged in churches which follow liturgical order. But the other expressions sanctioned in the Bible namely lifting up of hands (Psa 134:2; 1 Tim 2:8), clapping of hands (Psa 47:1) and dancing (Psa 149:3; 150:4) are freely practised in the other group. The first group must come out of its apprehensions if partiality to the Scripture is to be avoided. Of course culture has a role to play here. The Bible was written in the middle-eastern culture. No form of expression mentioned here seems to be totally objectionable to any culture. Emotionalism is unedifying but emotions are God-given to be expressed in our love for Him and our fellowmen (Mt 22:37-39).
Some of those who can intensely enjoy the singing of a thousand voice choir cannot tolerate the noisy worship of charismatics. They criticize it as disorderliness inappropriate for a divine service. Here again the Bible teaches both. Psalm 46 says, "Be still, and know that I am God" (v10), whereas the very next Psalm calls us to "shout to God with the voice of triumph" (Psa 47:1). Zechariah 2:10 calls us to "sing and rejoice" whereas the 13th verse exhorts all people to "be silent before the Lord!" I call upon Pentecostals to do things more "decently and in order" (1 Cor 14:40). I encourage non-Pentecostals to add more enthusiasm and excitement to worship to make it livelier. I remind sober worshippers that silence is rather rare in Heaven! (Rev 8:1). Pentecostals at the same time must stop condemning non-Pentecostal worship as dead. Noise alone is not proof of life. Donít take out of context the verse 2 Corinthians 3:17, "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." The context is liberty from the law of Moses (vv 14-16) and it does not mean license to behave as we please in Godís presence. Reverential fear can never be forsaken in worship (Eccl 5:1,2; Heb 12:28,29).
A word about music: Old timers do not relish jarring music and fast beats. The feelings of elders must be respected to maintain harmony in congregations. At the same time, in order that we may not lose the younger and future generations, the elders must become more tolerant and not resist all change.
The old hymns have no par for their theological content (Eph 5:18,19; Col 3:16). They cover a huge variety of subjects whereas most of the modern choruses repeat just a few thoughts and are not doctrinally sound enough. I would urge composers to sit with Bible teachers before releasing their songs and choruses. Worship that lacks theology (= knowledge of God) is undesirable to God (Hos 6:3,6). Even in Heaven we will be using the ancient song of Moses (Rev 15:3,4; Dt 32).
I come from high Anglican tradition, but I am comfortable with both Pentecostal and non-Pentecostal forms of worship as long as worship stems from the "heart" and is not merely the sound of "lips" or motion of "hands!" (Isa 29:13; 1:15).
When the Church lost its "first love," it had a form of godliness but no power. The backslidden Church went into total apostasy and that was the "dark ages" of its history. Lest the Church would have become like Sodom and Gomorrah, the Lord had left a "very small remnant" of true believers (Isa 1:8,9). The Reformation of the 15th century set the stage for the restoration of the lost truths and power to the Church. With Martin Luther came the restoration of the truth of Justification by Faith. God used John Wesley, Charles Finney and several others to restore the truths of Sanctification by the Spirit, and Gifts of the Spirit. Reformation is not complete yet. As such no single Church or denomination has it all. Each has its strengths and weaknesses. When Christians are not satisfied with one Church, they join the other. Some Churches are strong in structure but not fervent enough in Spirit, whereas others are aflame in the Spirit but weak in structure. Therefore several believers tend to hold dual membership, one in a well-structured Church and the other in a live spiritual one. Is it right?
It is difficult to find a direct Biblical answer to this question, because in the New Testament times there was only one Church in each town (1 Cor 1:2; 1 Thess 1:1; Rev 2:1,8,12, etc.). If it was a province like Galatia, there was more than one Church (Gal 1:2). Today even in a single street or locality we have so many Churches. We cannot say whether this is Godís perfect will or simply His permissive will. As such an answer to our question cannot be dogmatic but has to be just pragmatic.
A good percentage of members in the Pentecostal and other free Churches is from mainline and orthodox Churches. Some of these Christians have left their "mother" Churches for good, whereas others would like to take advantage of the plus points of both the old and the new Churches. When children, because of their education in English medium, prefer English services to vernaculars, parents have to strike a compromise. Some Churches may be very spiritual but they donít have systematic and specialised ministries for children and youth. Young people would prefer an enthusiastic youth pastor who addresses their issues openly and practically. They will suffocate in a Church dominated by older people who resist change.
Thereís another situation where dual membership is thought about. Suppose a Pentecostal man goes on job transfer to a place where there is only a Baptist Church. As long as he is there, he must happily function as a member of that Church. Marriage is another factor. Should a bride be forced to give up her Methodist membership when she marries a Lutheran groom?
Some believers who join new Churches for their spiritual growth would like to retain their membership in the old churches for the blessing of the members of the latter. Paul and the other apostles did not sever their links totally with the Jewish congregations, eventhough they started house Churches (Acts 2:46; 3:1; 13:14-16; 14:1; 17:1-3; 18:4). They worked in the existing structures to reach the masses. Once an angel himself told the apostles, "Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life" (Acts 5:19,20). On one occasion Paul even performed certain rites like purification in the temple (Acts 21:26). He got Timothy circumcised (Acts 16:3). He knew that circumcision had no place in Christian life, but he acted with practical wisdom. To the Jew he became as a Jew. This he did "for the gospelís sake" so that he might "by all means save some" (1 Cor 9:19-23).
Under ideal conditions, believers should devote themselves to one local church, and maintain cordial relationship with the members of other churches. But in todayís context, if there are legitimate reasons like the ones mentioned above, it is not wrong to hold dual membership if thatís permissible. Single membership or dual membership does not affect or alter our position as members of "One Body" and as sheep under "One Shepherd" (1 Cor 12:12,13,20,27; 1 Pet 2:25; Heb 13:20,21; Jn 10:16). However what I have written here should not be used as a cloak for indiscipline and unaccountability.
A major portion of Paulís first Epistle to the Corinthians deals with problems which existed in their church. He gives his "frank answers" to more than ten of their questions. God in His Sovereign wisdom has included this Epistle in the canon of the Scriptures because the issues dealt with by the apostle are timeless. The first half of the eleventh chapter of the Epistle discusses the matter of head covering. I urge you to go through verses 1 to 16 atleast thrice without prejudice before reading the comments below.
"Womenís hair was a common object of lust in antiquity. To fail to cover their hair was thought to provoke male lust. Head covering prevailed in Jewish Palestine and elsewhere, but upper-class women eager to show off their fashionable hairstyles did not practise it. Therefore Paul had to address a clash in the church between upper-class fashion and lower-class concern" (The IVP Bible Background Commentary).
It is beyond doubt that the apostle took a positive stand in favour of head covering. He gave atleast four reasons for his conclusion. First, the headship of God, of Christ and of man (1 Cor 11:3-8). Secondly, he presents Godís purpose of creation of man and woman (v 9). Thirdly, he speaks of the angels who observe our worship and are concerned about Godís order of administration in the Church (v 10). Remember, the archangel who rebelled against Godís headship became Satan? Lastly, Paul reminds us of" nature" (v15). This verse implies that for a woman to have a head covering in addition to her long hair is to say amen to the divine ordination.
It is unwise to totally set aside the matter of head covering as merely cultural. Such an approach will ultimately discard so many precious New Testament passages as irrelevant. For example, the Lordís Supper, which is discussed in the second half of the same chapter, is essentially symbolic and it was also instituted in the Jewish cultural context! We must guard ourselves against losing the power of symbolism in Christian life.
Modern hairstyles and dress fashions are erasing the sex distinctions. Keeping the apostolic "traditions" will save us from a cataclysmic collapse (v 2). Anyone who understands the trend of the age with the mind of the Lord will only urge for a conservative conduct in the house of God where men and women gather for worship (Jer 6:16; 1 Tim 3:14,15).
Moreover, covering of head by women in the Church generally offends no one whereas if they donít cover, it does offend atleast some. What do we lose by embracing an ancient symbolic custom upheld by the apostles? Eighty percent of Indian population is rural and this is the most unevangelised sector. Head covering by women in villages as a mark of respect and reverence is deep-rooted in culture. Letís preserve it while planting churches here.
There are many sincere believers who hold an exactly opposite view in this matter of head covering. The conclusion of Paul to his argument will help us maintain a spiritual unity in spite of such differences: "If anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God" (v 16).
Apostle Paul, while writing to Timothy instructions on how men and women should conduct themselves in the Church, said, "I desire that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting" (1 Tim 2:8). In the very next verse he exhorted women to dress modestly and concentrate on inner virtues rather than on outward appearance (v 9). This has given rise to the question whether women can lift hands in worship like men.
The passage does not suggest that Paul would not allow women folks lift hands in worship. In fact the 9th verse begins with the phrase, "in like manner also!" He did not begin his exhortation to women with the conjuction, "but!" Paulís intention here was not to say that lifting up of hands was allowed for men only.
Lifting up of hands for praise and prayer was normal in Hebrew practice. Moses told Pharaoh, "I will spread out my hands to the Lord" (Ex 9:29). David prayed, "Let my prayer be set before you as incense; the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice" (Psa 141:2). Solomon "spread out his hands toward heaven" while offering the prayer of dedication of the temple (1 Ki 8:22). The grief-stricken Ezra fell on his knees with fasting and spread out his hands to the Lord God (Ezr 9:5). God in His anger over the wickedness of Judah said, "When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you" (Isa 1:15).
Obviously the practice of lifting up of hands as a normal posture in prayer was not limited to the male members. "Miriam took the timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances" (Ex 15:20). How is dancing with timbrel possible without lifting up hands ever? Similarly the women who came to greet King Saul in appreciation of the new champion David were "singing and dancing... with tambourines, with joy, and with musical instruments" (1 Sam 18:6). Imagine such a hilarious expression with hands hanging down or folded! Were there not women folks in the great crowd which came out with palm branches in their hands to meet Jesus and sing hosanna? (Jn 12:12,13).
In tribal culture, men play the instruments and women dance. Itís an accepted fact that women in general are more graceful in dancing than their male counterparts especially in fine movements. In our mission fields we encourage tribal dance in worship. It's beautiful!
Those who oppose women worshipping with uplifted hands belong mostly to the section in which women wear sarees, and have to use one end of the saree to cover their heads. Those who wear salwar kameez or frocks or similar dresses have no problem. In any case, during worship men are supposed to keep their eyes closed in such conservative culture!
Some women are less expressive in physical postures of worship. They must not be pressurised directly or indirectly to lift up their hands or dance. Those women who find lifting up of hands in worship very natural and relaxing should not be criticized or discouraged. This is not a doctrinal issue at all. "Let all things be done decently and in order" (1 Cor 14:40).
Itís a delicate question to be answered by a leader of an interdenominational Mission which enjoys the support of all types of Churches. However, I am supposed to be "frank" while answering questions for a book of Frank Answers!
In the Old Testament there was a distinction between the members of the congregation and the ministers. Only the prophets, priests and kings were anointed. But under the New Covenant, the Holy Spirit comes on "all flesh"ó that is, all the people of Godó "sons, daughters, young men, old men, menservants, maidservants" (Acts 2:16-18). All believers in Christ are kings and priests to God now and in eternity (1 Pet 2:9; Rev 1:4-6). There are no two groups called clergy and laity. All of Godís people are clergy. Each believer is a minister to God and to the people with varying responsibilities and various gifts.
Even before the New Covenant was actually established, Jesus spoke against the Jewish synagogue practice of using special titles and wearing special dresses (Mt 23:1-10). His twofold argument was: "One is your Father who is in heaven... You are all brothers." In any matter, the words of Christ are final and we dare not modify it.
The apostles followed Christís teaching closely in the Church. We donít read of Rev. Paul or Rt. Rev. Peter or Father John in Acts or the Epistles. Peter addressed Paul simply as "Brother Paul" (2 Pet 3:15). One of the outstanding Indian apostles, Bakht Singh (1903-2000), never let anyone call him Rev. Bakht Singh. Pastor G. Sundaram of Chennai (1908-1989), one of the great pastors of India, had his name printed anywhere as Bro. G. Sundaram only. Once upon a time the Pentecostal pastors were making fun of the ministers of the mainline Churches for using clerical titles. But now they themselves are hunting for the same. What a shame! If we change anything it must be to get closer to the Scriptures and not another man-made tradition. Even the angel, who brought the Revelation to John, introduced himself as a brother (Rev 19:10; 22:9).
The introduction of clerical titles was made in latter years when the Church went drifting away from the simple New Testament Church pattern to hierarchial systems. The great Protestant Reformation was not a total restoration of the New Testament Christianity. In fact the reformation is not complete yet. Every step of restoration is both costly and painful. But that is the call of the Head of the Church: "Remember from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else..." (Rev 2:5).
The act of ordination is only for appointing a person for a specific function and not for awarding any "title" (Acts 13:2,3; Tit 1:5). For example, Paul and Barnabas, who were prophets and teachers in the local Church at Antioch, came to be known as apostles after they were ordained and released for a translocal ministry (Acts 13:1; 14:14). We can say Apostle Paul, Evangelist Philip or Pastor Timothy, because these are ministerial or functional titles with Biblical approval. But not Reverend or Father. "Holy and Reverend is HIS Name!" (Psa 111:9).
The present craze among Indian preachers is for honorary Doctorates. Titles don't make one great. Some of these doctorates are two a penny these days.
One may argue that there were many great men mightily used of God in Church history who had used clerical titles. This is no reason for continuing the practices of the "times of ignorance." Godís tolerance does not mean His sanction. The earlier we discard the old wineskins, the more we can drink the blessings of the new wine!
The numerical strength of congregations has become the status symbol for many pastors. Thereís a rat race among them, especially in cities and towns, as to who would have the biggest Church. Undeniably itís Godís will that every congregation experiences a phenomenal growth. But pastors must count the cost of shepherding huge congregations and beware of the associated problems when "the number of disciples multiplies!" (Acts 6:1).
Godís will in general is that we get scattered everywhere. Following the deluge God said to Noah and his sons, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth" (Gen 9:1). But the people launched the Babel project lest they be scattered. They worked diametrically opposite to Godís plan because they wanted to make "a name for themselves" (Gen 11:4). We know how God interfered and "scattered" them all over the earth (vv 7,8). The early Church in Jerusalem made a similar mistake. The programme given to the disciples by the Head of the Church was that beginning at Jerusalem they should go out as witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). But they got stuck in Jerusalem being lost in the "spiritual enjoyment" of daily gathering, daily growth and daily breadbreaking (Acts 2:46,47). God allowed severe persecution to the Church over there because that was the only way He could get them out to go everywhere! (Acts 8:1).
Already in most of our fellowships thereís no fellowship. When the number increases too much, interaction between believers and mutual ministry to one another become almost impossible. Exalting the Lord together in worship is there, but edifying one another is usually absent (Eph 5:18-20). We sacrifice the horizontal dimension of fellowship and get satisfied with the vertical. Members may feel good but they donít grow (Eph 4:16). People become impersonal in their relationships.
Many pastors suffer burn-out because their ministries outgrow their capacity. They fail to consciously work within the "measure of faith" God has granted them and exceed "the limits" He has set for them (Rom 12:3; 2 Cor 10:13). No doubt some pastors are exceptionally gifted to handle huge congregations, but their successors usually do not have the same level of anointing and they struggle even to maintain status quo. The sheep suffer malnutrition. Also pastors who have enjoyed leading big congregations usually hesitate to hand them over to anyone other than their sons eventhough some of their fellow-elders might be more experienced and gifted. This sad trend is frequently observed in Pentecostal circles.
When the strength of a congregation exceeds a few hundreds, it is advisable to split it into smaller units and plant them in various localities. This would give opportunity to the secondliners to grow in leadership and there will be room for variety and creativity. The "chief" pastor should not be in the Sunday Service of the "headquarters" assembly all weeks. Rather he must participate in the "branch" church services by turn and as far as possible without the prior knowledge of the people.
David Wilkerson, the author of The Cross and the Switchblade, is the senior founder-pastor of the multinational Times Square Church in the city of New York, USA. He decides with his associate pastors as to who would preach in the next Sunday Service, but this is kept a secret until the last hymn before the sermon is sung! Pastor Wilkerson does not want people come to the Church just to hear him.
Neighbourhood evangelism will be more effective with the visible presence of churches in various localities. Salt is useless until it is shaken out of the salt-cellar. Unless we decentralise our gatherings, several communities cannot be penetrated. The secret of the amazing growth of the early Church was the numerous house churches (Acts 2:46,47).
If congregations are not split into smaller units, too much of time, energy and money will have to be spent for construction and maintenance of buildings. Having come to the end of the age, more and more of our resources must be invested on people rather than on properties. We should be content with simple structures. Persecution is becoming widespread in India. It is easier to attack one mammoth structure than ten smaller units. Besides the hand of the Lord, "the favour of the people" of various localities will be an added strength (Acts 2:46). In military strategy all the Generals do not travel in the same vehicle!
World evangelisation is the top priority in Godís agenda for the endtimes (Mt 24:14; Acts 1:7,8; 2 Pet 3:9). If this is so in our Church budget, we will not sink millions of rupees in church buildings in the South Indian towns and cities but spend them in the States like Rajasthan and Bihar where the percentage of Christians is much less than the national average (Rom 15:20-22). This will also end secret competitions between pastors.
Paul Yongi Cho is known as the pastor of the worldís largest church. Truly he is an inspiration to ministers but he is not the universal pattern to follow. Church history presents different models. This is not to decay mega-churches but to promote Biblical principles of church growth.
Not only churches but also missionary organisations should not go on increasing their size. Better to have five agencies with two hundred missionaries each than one organisation with one thousand workers. We must "lengthen" only to the extent we are able to "strengthen" (Isa 54:2). Otherwise it is presumption and not faith or vision.