How should biblical principles form the structure of church?

How should biblical principles form the structure of church?

There are a number of places in the New Testament where it is assumed that people are meeting in a house or a small group.

For instance look at Paul’s message to the Corinthians about what we call communion.

1cor 11:33 NRSV “So then, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34 If you are hungry, eat at home, so that when you come together, it will not be for your condemnation. About the other things I will give instructions when I come.”

How did the church meetings go?

1cor 14:26 NRSV “What should be done then, my friends? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.”

If everyone is participating then it is pretty obvious that this is a small group.

There is no explicit command to organize church activity as it was in these two examples. Many people today would say that the church has evolved from this point. What worked 2000 years ago won’t necessarily work today. I accept these points.

What then are the biblical principles that should guide our understanding and structure our church?

Paul understood the church as many things but his most extensive analogy is a body. In 1Cor 12 he sees everyone being participants in the church. Each has a spiritual gift that should be exercised for the common good of all. Each person is a necessary and vital part of the body. No part can say to another I don’t need you. Some parts are more “presentable” but some others receive more “honor”. He sees the whole body fitted together, working together for the common good.

One of the most common themes in the New Testament is ministry to one another or as the NIV renders it each other.

Here is a quick list of the “one anothers”.

Be at peace

Do not accept glory

Wash one feet

Do not pass judgment




Wait to eat for one another


Do not compare

Agree with

Be slaves to

Bear with


Be Kind

Be subject

Be honest



Do Good

Provoke good works

Meet with

Confess sins


Be hospitable with


Be clothed in humility to


Lay do your lives

Have concern

And of course LOVE ONE ANOTHER

More and more I’m growing convinced that most ministry happens when one person ministers to another rather than one person ministering to everyone else at one time. If the primary expression of church should be where everyone has a role and everyone participates why would have structure church in the opposite direction. Today most churches assume that the bulk of ministry happens from one really gifted person to everyone else.

I’m not saying there isn’t room for large group ministry. Jesus occasionally taught large crowds. He didn’t generally preach as we know it. There was no introduction, 3 points and a conclusion. For the most part he told stories and had question and answer sessions. Usually when he was talking to a large crowd it wasn’t to those who had decided to follow him but to interested listeners.

Paul taught groups of people as well. In the very early days of the church people gathered in the temple to hear the apostles teaching. In both of these examples it is safe to assume there was still a healthy amount of interaction among people. Large group ministry was effective in the process of establishing new believers in a new church. If you have one or two people in a new town with no church they are going to have to do the bulk of ministry. I don’t see how this pattern has to crossover in to an established church.

The traditional concept of church as a gathering in a building with a handful of professional ministers leading congregational singing and preaching a sermon is hard to find in scripture.

I agree with the point that we are different from the first century context so we don’t necessarily need to return to go back to their way of doing church. However we are also very different from the 16th century context which is where we get our dominant approach to church. Luther and Calvin didn’t rebuild a concept of church from scripture. They just took over the old system in certain geographic areas and revised it. Today things are different. In terms of media, education, communication, literacy, pluralism, and democracy the ground has shifted.

Which approach fits our culture and context better? Which one is more faithful to the strongest themes in scripture which speak to how we should structure our churches?

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