Our practices follow from our principles. After searching the Scriptures carefully, examining each passage in Acts and the epistles that has any reference to the meeting and activities of the early church, we’ve adopted the following primary practices as a local church. (It is not the purpose of this document to exhaustively explain all valid practices, or identify invalid practices, based on the above principles. We recognize that there may be other valid applications of the principles stated above that differ from these):
- One Regular Meeting – Although there is the notable exception of the early church in Jerusalem during the formation of the church, it seems that the normative pattern of the early church in Scripture and historical documents indicate that they had one regular meeting each week held on the first day of the week (1 Cor 16:2, Acts 20:7). It also seems that they came together for four primary activities, the Christians’ necessary spiritual diet (Acts 2:42–apostolic doctrine, fellowship, breaking of bread, prayers). Other meetings were seemingly irregular as needed: to pray brothers out of jail, to hear a missionary report, etc. We plan to only have one regular meeting each week. We attempt to model that meeting based on what we see as examples in passages of Scripture such as Acts 2:42; 20:7; Eph. 5:18-19; 1 Tim. 2:8ff; 1 Cor. 14:26ff, etc. [Reg], and believe that the practices described in Scripture are primarily transcultural [Trans]. The major implications for us are as follows:
- Preeminence of Breaking of Bread – Of the four primary activities, the preeminent purpose for the regular meeting seemed to be remembering the Lord Jesus Christ in the breaking of bread–they met “to (purpose) break bread” (Acts 20:7; cf. 1 Cor. 11:20). Therefore, almost every meeting includes remembering the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ through sharing the Lord’s Supper.
- Men’s Leadership Role in the Church – 1 Cor. 14 is the clearest description of the meeting of the church, revealing that each person can participate in some way in the body. All can share in singing, praying and speaking during the ‘edification’ time as long as it builds up the congregation and does not disrupt the assembly (1 Timothy 6:3-5; Romans 16:17). However, authoritative instruction is reserved for those men who have received the laying-on-of hands for teaching responsibilities (elders and teachers). Our understanding of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is that women must not act like Eve who pulled her husband off of his original godly course (Genesis 3:3). Thus when women speak, whether in the time of ‘edification’ or the prayer time, they must not be disruptive but remain under the guidance of their husband, the head of house (1 Corinthians 11:3), and of the elders in the congregation (1 Timothy 3:11; 1 Corinthians 14:40; Hebrews 13:17). God’s purpose here seems to be to maintain proper roles of headship and fellowship by men and women in the corporate worship.
- Family-Integrated – This is not meant to imply that a child is never allowed to leave a parent’s side [Family], but rather that we encourage the family to stay together during the activities of the church.
- New Testament Worship Practice – Each brother is free and encouraged to bring worship (what Christ is “worth” to him) through testimonies, a hymn or spiritual song, prayer, Scripture, commentary, etc. for the edification of the saints through the praise of Our Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:18-19; 1 Tim. 2:8ff; 1 Cor. 14:26ff). Fathers are encouraged to have their sons take an active role in bringing worship once they have become a young adult (around the age of 12-13). Teachers bring more systematic teaching of the Scriptures (Titus 1:9, 2 Tim 4:2) which includes interaction with the men so they will be better able to answer their wives and children’s questions at home (1 Cor. 14:35; Acts 20:11). Fellowship is also part of the worship service.
- Music – We are told to “speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with [our hearts] to the Lord” (Eph. 5:18-19). Although instruments are not explicitly mentioned in the New Testament, they are prominent in the Old Testament especially in Psalms which mentions many of them including “loud” and “resounding” cymbals (Psalm 150:5). Therefore we will worship using psalms, hymns and “spiritual songs” that include “contemporary music”. We encourage all of our members who have skills with a musical instrument to share them in our worship service (decently and in order, of course). We hold to the following priorities in choosing our music selections and worship:
- Worship is more important than music style
- Great theology is more important than music style
- Content is more important than music style
- Great passion for God from the heart is more important than music style
- Multigenerational ministry is more important than music style
- Others are more important than I am
- One Anothers – Scripture commands us to be devoted to one another, love one another, accept one another, admonish one another, encourage one another, serve one another, bear one another’s burdens, etc.(Rom 12:10, 13:8, 15:7, 15:14; 1 Thes 5:11; Gal 5:13, 6:2, etc.). During the week, we therefore encourage each family to be in close association with the others through various means such as phone, email and personal association in order to follow these commands. Various resources are shared. Otherwise, we are not really a connected, caring family, just “Sunday Christians.” We practice and promote separation from defiling influences (1 Cor. 15:33; 2 Tim. 2:22, 1 Pet 2:11) and encourage our families to hold each other accountable to the call to holiness (Mark 12:28-31, 1 Peter 2:1-10), while being mindful of our own condition (Gal 6:1, 1 Pet 3:15). In order to maintain the purity of the church, we follow the steps of restoration/discipline outlined in Matthew 18:15-18 (and overseen by the elders) when necessary, always respecting the authority structure of the family unit and keeping within the proper jurisdiction.
- Family Reformation – We will equip families by: becoming a standard bearer of the marriage covenant; equipping fathers for spiritual leadership; encouraging and training for Biblical manhood and womanhood; providing resources and relationships to single parents and their children (Gen 1-3; Deut 6:4-9; Prov 1-31; Eph 5:21-6:4; 1 Tim 1-5; 1 Peter 3:1-7).
- Ministry to Widows & Fatherless – As a church, we seek ways to support widows and the fatherless (1Tim 5:3-16, James 1:27, Deut 14:28-29, 24:19-22, Psalm 82:3). For example, if a godly woman without a husband desires to be a keeper at home and train up their children at home, we will work with them to determine a reasonable standard of living that we can support. This may include becoming part of another family’s household temporarily or various other means determined on a case-by-case basis. We do not believe support of the woman is the job of the government. However, the church is not expected to support widows or fatherless who are not supported by their own Christian families or who do not lead godly lives. We also encourage widows to be industrious from their home as we see in the case of Lydia (Acts 16:14-15) and the godly woman described in Proverbs 31 among others, but do not necessarily expect them to be self-sufficient.
- Outreach – We are commanded to sacrificially use our gifts to practice hospitality (Rom 12:1-21, 1 Pet 4:7-10, Heb 13:1-3, 3 John 5-8, 1 Tim 3:2, Titus 1:7-8, 1 Tim 5:9-10) and to do good works (Eph 2:10, 1 Tim 2:10, 1 Tim 6:17-18), fulfilling the Great Commission (Mark 16:15, Matt 28:19-20) as we train up our children (Deut. 6:7, Deut 32:45-47, Eph 6:4, Prov 22:6, etc.). The primary way we encourage the body of believers to accomplish this is by ministering together as a family to open our homes and do good works together (which may or may not be outside the home and can often include a family business/ministry). Teaching is not just in word, but also by example. We must keep our behavior excellent as we go into the world (1 Pet 2:12, 3:15). Although there are certainly times that evangelism and “missions work” are done without one’s family, we encourage these activities to be done as a family as a general rule. We will also use our financial and material resources to help meet the needs of those in the ministry of the advancement of the gospel (Phil 4:10-16) or brothers outside of our assembly in need (1 Cor 16:1-4).
- Church-Based Leadership Training – We train leaders in the context of the local church to minister to the local church via a discipleship model and leading by example (John 13:15, 1 John 2:6, Acts 20:18-35, Phil 3:17, Heb 6:11-12) being tested by the local church as faithful men (2 Tim 2:2).
- Multiplication – The format and size of a local church must not restrict its ability to function as a spiritual family, sharing our common life. (The only clear exception to a “limited size assembly” in Scripture is in Jerusalem at Pentecost and shortly thereafter when the Holy Spirit was first poured out and the Apostles were all present in one place… after they were scattered we see no indication of large regular assemblies). A church that is too big for people to deeply know one another well will have a difficult time functioning as a family. A large assembly cannot encourage interactive discussions and sharing by all men in worship. Based on our practices of worship and discipleship and the call for deep relationship within a local body, we believe corporate growth can be an enemy of personal growth. Although it is not clear how many families per assembly there might be, we suspect that the maximum size is greater than 10 families but significantly less than 50. Therefore, we will strive to spawn other similar assemblies as the size of our assembly grows and leaders are developed.
- Like-minded Interdependence – Our assembly exercises interdependence and mutual accountability and fellowship with other like-minded believers and assemblies. I.e. we do not have any hierarchy of churches – we only have one Head, our Lord Jesus Christ – yet we are ready to consider the input and admonitions of those who share our principles in general, and especially that of Sola Scriptura. If we are dealing with difficult situations, we will seek input from those through whom God has demonstrated to be faithful as the church at Antioch did over the issue of circumcision in Acts 15 . We are ready to share what the Lord has taught us and encourage others in the restoration of biblical churches and homes, and work side by side with others to follow God’s call to His church on this earth.
The Scriptures clearly teach several principles that do not appear to have a prescribed or even implied form. For example older men are to teach younger men, older women to teach younger women (Titus 2, 1 Tim 5:1-2), the church is to care for the fatherless and widows and others in need, but the form(s) for doing so are generally not described. The following are some practices we’ve adopted in support of these principles and the primary practices stated above. We believe the forms discussed below may change over time as we learn other practical ways to put these principles into practice:
- No Paid Full-Time Staff – We certainly believe there is freedom to pay those who faithfully serve among us and biblical examples of the same (1 Tim 5:17-18). We have found that some modern churches elevate paid staff (which is not required by Scripture) as a priority over other commands of Scripture (such as caring for the fatherless & widows). Some modern churches tend to rely too heavily on paid staff to provide spiritual food to families rather than expecting men to both lead their families and participate in corporate praise & worship. Therefore we will refrain from paying elders or administrative staff for anything other than reimbursement of legitimate expenses and small stipends until we have firmly established the opposite patterns (caring well for fatherless and widows and men actively participating in corporate praise and worship). Offerings can be designated as gifts to the elders, which the deacons will distribute as they deem appropriate. After eleven years, we believe we have firmly established this pattern, and we often discuss whether providing funds to make it easier to provide for overseers and teachers is something we should do. One of the key issues for us is that we do not believe we should be “filling a position” but rather “supporting someone who is clearly qualified and ministering (or prepared to minister) in a way we want to encourage by lightening their financial burden”.
- No Special Building to Maintain – For the same basic reasons as listed above regarding paid staff we prefer not to own or maintain a special building for the church. We expect that any buildings used will be well cared for by their owners and respected by the church as we use it. We will meet in homes when possible, or seek to use other available buildings when not.
- Sunday Schedule – Practically speaking, our “formal church meeting” begins at 10:00 am on Sunday mornings and continues until somewhere between 12:00 and 12:30 pm. We then enjoy a fellowship meal together following the “more formal” part of the service. (Depending upon space available, we may stray from this rule, in which case we would encourage families to invite other families into their homes on Sunday afternoons for more intimate fellowship). We typically start the “more formal” part of the service with a short call to worship, usually in the form of song. We then move into systematic teaching & discussion, a mix of praise via song and whatever the men bring to share which leads to the Lord’s Supper, shared prayer requests, and prayer. We may switch the order of these components from time to time.
- Ministry Partners – We intend to support and promote non-government organizations and activities that protect and provide godly Christian training and support of widows and the fatherless as well as those focused on making disciples of all nations. Whenever possible, we will work with these partners with our time and build deep relationships.
- Family Businesses and Ministries – We encourage the creation and establishment of family businesses and ministries in order to train children up to maturity through discipleship and reinforce family as a primary economic system established by God and set an excellent example to the community at large (Col 3:23, 1 Pet 2:12, 2 Thes 3:7-14, 1 Thes 4:11-12). We also encourage sharing of resources (money, time, tools, skills, etc.) between families (2 Cor 8:13-15).
- Occasional Special Gatherings – We may also have other times where we gather for some special purpose. We try to avoid regularly scheduled meetings during the week that encourage “being at church” rather than ministering with and through families. However, there are times that we may invite all of the church together for special activities. Examples include (but are not limited to):
- Diligent Workmen – Men’s meetings to discuss topics or sections of Scripture. Occasionally (1-4 times per year), we will have extended sessions of deeper study, often facilitated by a teacher from outside our assembly. The men are the primary focus of this activity that may last the better part of 1-3 days. Men are encouraged to bring their sons with them, using their judgment as to the level of participation appropriate to their maturity. These meetings are expected to encourage men as leaders (or future leaders) of their home and other leadership roles as well as to prepare elders of new churches as we grow and sub-divide.
- Occasional Father-Son Outings – In addition to direct spiritual training, other life-skills may be taught to enable men (older and younger) to be good providers and protectors of their current and future families.
- Women of God – Women’s meeting approximately once/month to encourage each other to grow as godly women. Women are encouraged to bring their daughters with them, using their judgment as to the level of participation appropriate to their maturity.
- Occasional Mother-Daughter Outings – Special women’s gatherings or Mother-Daughter outings where the older women encourage each other and the younger women primarily in their roles as keepers at home. These may also be facilitated by others outside our assembly.