by Ralph W. Neighbour, Jr.
((Like I have been saying, today’s church is missing the fellowship seen in the early churches. I believe we seriously need to think about this and put it back in place as the world grows more sinful. Brian)
The American church is unhealthy because it has an unbiblical structure. By denying this and continuing to live under the illusion that the basic problem of the church is something other than ecclesiology (the study of churches, especially church building and decoration.2. theology as applied to the nature and structure of the Christian Church.), we have a chronic condition.
If we look into the New Testament, we recognize that, apart from community, the body of Christ cannot effectively present itself. Yet the need for community is something that we avoid, and that makes us unhealthy. Jesus lived in a community of twelve disciples. The 12 became 120, then 1,200 in a day’s time, and the first thing they did was to break the crowd up into communities that went from house to house.
Around the world today—far more so overseas—healthy church life is built around cells, basic Christian communities that allow the people of God to join together, responsible to and for each other. The true cell church does not see the cell as a small group attached to a larger blob of protoplasm called church membership. The true cell church is a community of Christians numbering usually no more than fifteen who are the body of Jesus Christ.
Here we find people who care about each other, accepting accountability and responsibility to and for one another, exercising the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In the New Testament, the church is called the oikos, the household of God. The early church was composed of household churches.
Then, by breaking into the broken lives of unbelievers around them, these cells show the presence of Christ. In that context, just like in Acts 2, the unbeliever says, “Wow, God is certainly among you,” and he falls on his face and is saved.
The individualism that pervades American society perceives the world in relation to “me” rather than to “us.” Evangelical Christians have a great concern for personal salvation, but we’ve been particularly prone to lose sight of the corporate dimensions of New Testament Christianity. Pure, basic faith never ends up as rugged individualism. Rather, it ends up living in a community where I am responsible to and for my brother and where I recognize I can never have salvation from the power of sin in this world if I live apart from the community of God’s people.
Ralph W. Neighbour, Jr., recently retired as president of Touch Outreach Ministries in Houston, Texas.