The New Testament is mostly silent regarding church patterns. As a result, churches usually imitate Old Testament - era forms — tabernacle, temple, and synagogue — and the ministries of priests, prophets, kings, and rabbis.
Humans are imperfect — sinful — and as a result are separated from God. The Old Testament dealt with that separation in several ways. There were sacrifices to pay for sins. There were strict rules to follow (“The Law”). There was a promise of a future Messiah (the “Anointed One,” or the “Christ”) who would set things straight. God chose the nation Israel to someday birth the Messiah, and to preserve the detailed prophetic writings about the Messiah's future life and ministry. Until the Messiah came, Israel was expected to tend to their sacrifices and follow their Law, and to maintain purity by isolating themselves from their pagan neighbors.
Beyond all logical possibility of doubt, Jesus proved Himself to be the long-awaited Messiah. Giving Himself up to die by crucifixion, He became the one sacrifice for sin, for all time. By His resurrection from the dead, He defeated death itself. By giving us access to His Holy Spirit, He made it possible for each of us to be miraculously and supernaturally changed into the person God wants us to be. The old external rules of the Law are replaced by a constant internal Guide and Counselor, the Holy Spirit. Our terrible separation from God no longer exists, if we submit ourselves to Him.
The Old Testament is the very foundation of our faith, because it thoroughly, long in advance, and in minute detail describes the identity of the coming Messiah/Christ/Savior/God, so that one must conclude that Jesus is that Person, He lives outside the constraints of time, and is available to us personally right now. The Old Testament's detailed rules for religious life no longer apply. The reason for their existence is finished. Protection for God's chosen Messianic line and methodical documentation of the Messiah's identity were accomplished. Jesus is our Rabbi (Teacher), Prophet, Priest, and King forever.
The Old Testament deals with two types of outside pressures. First, Israel was to turn away from the ungodly external world. Second, they were to take shelter within a godly system of external rules administered by a national and religious hierarchy. The New Testament works in reverse, from the inside out. Starting from the innermost inside, our spirits are to be born again, remade in God's image. Rather than human guides, we receive the constant presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit living within us. The Holy Spirit provides us an arsenal of supernatural gifts, and wisdom to deal with experiences which infinitely vary among individuals. Our Bible is a perfect guide by which we can judge the authenticity of our internal inspiration. We are transformed to be like Jesus, rather than conformed to be like our human peers or to match a specific cultural setting. We are empowered and sent out into all the world, rather than gathered into long-term groups. Our leaders are servants, not the served. They are recognized by their good fruit of the Spirit, harvested over a long period of time and resulting from their applied wisdom and faithfulness, rather than being elevated for academic achievement or as an inherited position.
An inner conflict occurs if we choose church forms and leadership, no matter how well-intentioned, but which are designed in the Old Way for dealing with separation and in-gathering. Jesus' New Way calls us to an intimate personal fellowship with Him, and a life of going-out in ministry. If we select the Old Way, we are likely to experience a sense of failure. Sadly, we may also unnecessarily feel the separation from God that was the whole reason for the Old Way.
The actual New Testament model is without specific design, intentionally, so that the Church can invade, redeem, and transcend all human cultures — and at the same time utilize the infinite riches of human ability, miraculous giftedness, and experience which the Lord is building into us as a body of believers. Therefore the emphasis is on communion and communication with the Lord, not separation; on being perfected and equipped, rather than needing sacrifices for sin; and on providing encouragement and edification to each other, every single scattered one of us, rather than preserving a group identity and a priestly lineage.
Copyright © 2015 Henry H. Mitchell. All free distribution of this article is permitted, as long as the source is properly credited to Henry H. Mitchell, MitchellsPublications.com, 2015. Any inclusion of all or part of this article in a paid publication requires advance written permission from the author.