For many centuries established Christian churches have attempted to assume the status and function of ancient Israel's Temple worship. From massive buildings erected to inspire, to stained glass windows or elaborate decor intended to tell stories, from the priesthood of authoritative pastors/leaders who separate themselves from 'laity,' to injunctions to tithe into the storehouse of the church or risk being devoured by the devil, the modern church looks more like Old Testament Israel than early followers of Christ. The crystallization of the institutional church into Jewish modes of worship is not limited to Roman Catholicism or even unorthodox Mormonism. Baptist churches, though shouting loudly 'no creed but the Bible,' have ignored the New Testament teaching on the nature of the true church and have replicated Israel's hierarchy of priestly authority (pastors), Israel's emphasis on worship at a specific place (the sanctuary), and Israel's obligation to an 'if-then' covenant with God ('if we will obey God, then God will bless us'). The freedom of a sinner who personally, intimately and spiritually trusts Christ and experiences the power of God at work within is substituted for a form of behavioral control imposed by a spiritual authoritarian (usually a pastor) who uses Old Testament passages of Scripture to bind believers. The pastor who operates in this manner may not realize that God abolished the Old Covenant system of worship and that the early Christians were known for their radical departure from dependence on a worship place, authoritarian priests, and any religious performance through ceremony, holy days or sacrifical 'offerings.' As Adolph Safir reminds us in his brilliant work on Hebrews: “The Greeks and the Romans were not merely astonished at, but felt irritated by the worship of the early Christians, who without image and altar, without priests and vestments, appeared to them as atheists, men and women ‘without gods’ and at times felt threated by the mysterious power Christians possessed as they rejoiced in suffering and met with calm courage the tortures of death itself” Adolph Saphir.
The simplicity of New Covenant worship 'in spirit and in truth' has been overwhelmed by the desires and the demands of leaders within the institutional church. We pastors, often in an attempt to protect our jobs and salaries (or future job and salary), spiritualize everything about the church. Mega-church pastors are often the worst because the financial needs are the greatest. Tom Rainer's recent poll of Southern Baptist churches in Oklahoma reveals Emmanuel Enid, the church I pastor, is the third largest Southern Baptist church in the Oklahoma in terms of attendance. The greatest danger I face at Emmanuel is the temptation to forget that what is done at the building on Sundays and Wednesdays is just a part--a small part--of who we are as a people. Whether it is giving, serving, or attending other places of worship, our people should have the liberty and freedom to give, serve, and attend where the Spirit leads. On Sunday at 12:00 noon. the church leaves the building, and whatever I do Sunday morning or Wednesday night should be designed to empower and encourage believers to worship in spirit and truth every day of the week. My job, in the role our church consitution calls "the lead pastor," is to lead people in such a manner that they cheerfully give to the Lord through Emmanuel, joyfully serve the Lord through Emmanuel, and willingly worship the Lord by attending corporate worship services at Emmanuel. However, a good lead pastor will always remind God's people that His church extends far beyond the membership rolls of any one church, and worship, giving and serving in other places is just as biblically sound and Spirit-led as that which is done through Emmanuel.
If the Spirit leads our people to give less, attend less, and serve less at Emmanuel, then our budget, our ministries, and our organizational mission efforts will shrink. If the Spirit leads our people to give more, attend more, and serve more, then our organizational ministries will expand. Regardless, the New Testament is quite clear that our church is NOT a new Temple, our pastors are NOT a new priesthood, and our religious activities are NOT prescribed by any law. God's people should give, should serve and should worship as the Spirit leads, where the Spirit leads, and as long as the Spirit leads. It is not the Law that constrains us but the Spirit who compels us. Unfortunately, many modern Baptist churches have taken promises and laws of the Old Testament and attempted to force them into the New Covenant church. The result is a dysfunctional gathering of law worshippers who are more concerned with conformity than a gathering of strong, individual believers who are empowered by the Spirit. I can almost hear objections from some pastors who say, "But the Word of God prescribes bringing the tithe into the storehouse! The Word of God demands that God's people 'touch not the anointed' in the church! The Word of God dictates everything we do at our church!" My response is simple: Which portion of the Word? The Word pertaining to Israel in the Old Covenant or the Scriptures pertaining to followers of Christ in the New Covenant? Read carefully the following verse in Hebrews 8:13:
"When He said, 'A new covenant,' He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear."
The book of Hebrews was written around AD 65, thirty five years after the death of Christ. The writer of Hebrews says in this verse that God’s old agreement with Israel was made obsolete by God, is growing old and will shortly be abolished (disappear). The old agreement God had with Israel is called "The Old Covenant" and it is found within the Old Testament. Old Covenant worship revolved around the Tabernacle/Temple, the priesthood, and the festivals and sacrificial rituals (collectively called "The Law" in the OT). The Law was an "if/then" agreement where God promised to Israel His blessings "if" Israel obeyed the Law. The writer of Hebrews tells us three explicit things about this Old Covenant and the "if/then" promises of God that came with it. (1). The Old Covenant has been made obsolete.' (2). It is 'growing old,' and (3). It will soon be abolished. This biblical truth leads us to ask three questions:
When did God’s covenant with Israel become obsolete? In AD 30 Jesus the Anointed One died on a hill called Golgatha. The night before He was crucified He took a cup of wine and declared, "This cup is New Covenant of my blood shed for the remission of your sins." The next day, on the cross, Jesus cried “It is finished!” Everything about the Old Covenant-- all the laws, the rituals, the sacrifices and the types--were all fulfilled in Christ. The Old Covenant had served its purpose (as a schoolmaster that points the sinner to Christ) and is now fulfilled. God made it obsolete in the death/burial/resurrection of Christ. Just like your old television set is made obsolete by the new wave of communication called HDTV, so too, the old pattern of worship in ancient Israel was made obsolete by the new pattern of worship opened up at the cross. The veil was ripped, so the sinner has direct access to God through Christ. And the good news about this new way is that the sinner who comes to God by Christ is guaranteed that he will 'never be cut off from the goodness of God' (Hebrews 7:25). No longer is worship about Temples, priests and rituals. In the New Covenant, those who truly worship God worship Him in "spirit and truth" (John 3:23).
When did God’s covenant with Israel grow old? For forty years (a Jewish ‘generation’) after the cross, from AD 30 to AD 70, the Temple remained standing. For those forty years the early followers of Jesus Christ came to the Temple to pray, worship, and proclaim the new way to God through faith in Jesus Christ. It was on the steps of the Temple that Peter healed the lame man by saying, "Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I to you. In the name of Jesus Christ arise and walk." The disciples preached Christ in and around the Temple grounds, but the Old Covenant Temple way of worship was 'growing old.' So too, when the Apostle Paul was converted on the road to Damascus, he eventually came back to Jerusalem and Acts 9 says he "preached Christ boldly at the Temple." The Jews were so furious with this former Old Covenant Hebrew who now advocated the new way to approach God that they sought to have him killed,. The disciples thwarted the Jews plan for Paul by secretly escorting the Apostle out of Jersualem for his own safety. Old Covenant worship was growing old. The phrase 'growing old' must be interpreted within the context and time of the writer of Hebrews. He was living in the mid-60's AD, and for over three decades since the death of Christ, Temple worship among the Jews continued --but it was growing old and would "soon disappear" (be abolished).
When was God’s covenant with Israel abolished? In AD 70 God used the Roman army to utterly destroy the Temple. Just as Jesus prophesied forty years earlier (Matthew 24), the Romans did not leave one stone standing upon another. This destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple and the Old Covenant way of worship was prophesied by the prophets and Jesus for centuries. Israel had been unfaithful to the covenant they had with God, and God therefore abolished it and instituted a new covenant. Again, it is not as if there was no good purpose for the Old Covenant. If it were not for the Law (the biblical way of describing the Old Covenant), Paul would not have known sin. The Law acted as a mirror, reflecting back to the Hebrews their sinfulness and God's holiness. In addition, the Law, particularly through its festivals, rituals and symbols, portrayed a coming Anointed One (Messiah) who Himself would take away the sins of the world. When the Messiah came and fulfilled the Law, the Old Covenant was made obsolete by God, grew old in time, and was eventually abolished (disappeared) in AD 70. The Temple was gone.
The dwelling place of God in the new agreement that He has made with sinners, called the New Covenant, is the life of the individual believer. It is the life of God in the soul of man that is the true miracle of the New Covenant. The power of the Spirit of God changes the sinner from the inside/out. We are the Temple of the Living God. For this reason, any institutional church that tries to substitute itself as the old Temple, its pastors/priests as the Old priesthood, and operate by Old Testament "if/then" principles and promises, is denying the truth of the New Testament.
The New Covenant changes the way we worship God every day of our lives. The Old Covenant agreement between God and Israel was a come see religion. Come see the Temple. Come see the rituals. Come see the festivals. The New Covenant is a go tell religion. Go tell sinners of the Savior who has guaranteed the Creator’s goodness to those who trust Him. Christianity is radically spiritual, internal, personal, and trans-cultural (all people). Some of the best worship you can have is with family or a small group of believers around a camp fire at a lake, or at home around the dinner table, or at a backyard barb-e-que. Believers are the church. God dwells in us. Where we are, there He is. We don't behave one way 'at church' and another way everywhere else. We can't do this because we ARE the church. Further, since the life of God is in the invidual sinner who trusts Christ, there is no hierarchical authority in the church. Every believer is a priest unto God.The New Covenant changes the way we apply Scriptures from the Old Testament. The “If … then” Scriptures are seen as part of God’s promises to the people of Israel. Let me give you three examples of “if/then” promises that Christian people use wrongly.
(Example 1): If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (II Chronicles 7:14). That is a great Old Covenant promise. Israel often failed this condition of humble repentance, and as a result, they were often taken captive by foreigners and there land was destroyed. This verse, often quoted by Christians, is not a New Covenant promise.
In the New Covenant God says that He "is able to do far more abundantly beyond all we even ask or think, according to the power that works within us" (Eph. 3:20). Here is the New Covenant promise. When you come to God by faith in Christ, God resides within you and has begun a work in you that He will carry to completion. Do you find yourself pulled toward addictive sins as a believer? He will eventually break you of them for your good and for His glory. The alcoholic who comes to God by faith in Christ need not worry that a relapse into drunkenness will cause the favor and goodness of God to withdraw from Him. In the old agreement he would have worried, because in the old agreement it was his obedience that ensured God's goodness, but in the New Covenant it is God's goodness to Him in Christ that ensures the sinners' eventual obedience. God is conforming, and He will continue to conform, every sinner who trusts Christ into the image of His Son. It is a guarantee dependent upon His fidelity and strength not your own.
(Example 2)“If you bring the tithe … then I will rebuke the devourer for you” (Malachi 3:10).
This is an often quoted Old Covenant promise by pastors, used as an enticement (and/or threat) for the New Testament believer to give to his or her local church. This promise, given to Old Covenant Israel, is another if/then promise. The rebuke of the devourer is given IF Israel brings their tithes to the Temple. If the people of Israel do not bring their tithe to the Temple, then the devourer is free to reign and destory their possessions.
In the New Covenant, Jesus died and in His death He “destroyed the devil” (Hebrews 2:14). In the New Covenant, the devil will seek to devour you as a 'roaring lion,' but as Bunyan so eloquently pictured in Pilgrim's Progress, the lion is chained. Naturalists also tell us that only teethless lions roar. The truth of the New Testament is quite clear. The "strong man" (Satan) who was once at peace in his home (your life) and was well armed, was disarmed and dislodged by One "stronger than he" (Jesus Christ) who has now taken up residence within you (Luke 11:21-22). As a New Covenant believer in Christ you don't give money to your local church in order for God to rebuke the devourer. Malachi 3:10 is an Old Covenant promise. The devourer is already REMOVED from your life. Jesus is now your Lord. You give as you follow the leadership of the Holy Spirit. The more you comprehend the work of Christ on your behalf the more you cheerfully give, the more you joyfully serve, and the more you radically worship! In other words, in the New Covenant, giving is a matter of the heart, not the Law. As the Spirit leads you to give to ministries that proclaim the good news of Christ, care for the needs of fellow man, and work hard to do kingdom work--then give!
(Example 3): “If you call upon me in the day of trouble; then I will deliver you” (Psalm 50:15).
Again, that is a great Old Covenant promise, but it is nowhere close to the incredible truth of the New Covenant Scriptures. In the New Covenant, God delivers His people even when they find themselves emotionally, spiritually and personally “dead in our trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1). His amazing and agressive love for His people through Christ ensures that He will "never, no never, no never" (five negatives in the original) leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). It is interesting that in the first portion of Hebrews 13:5 says that we should have "the kind of character that is free from the love of money BECAUSE God will never leave us or forsake." We do not live this way IN ORDER for God to never leave us or forsake us. Words are important. In the New Covenant our lives are a response to God's goodness to us in Christ. In the Old Covenant, people lived their lives in order to obtain God's goodness. If you ever find yourself being motivated to do something in order to get God to do something in return, you are living under the principles of the Old Covenant. Unfortunately, the Old Covenant, and Old Covenant churches, and Old Covenant promises will always let you down. However, the new agreement that God has with sinners will never let you down. "He is able to save forever (i.e. guarantee that they will never be cut off from God's goodness) those who draw near to God through Him” (Hebrews 7:25).
The church is changing. There is a reformation taking place. The church has left the building(s). And any pastor who tries to reinvigorate the institutional church through Old Covenant principles is destined to fail.