By Gene Edwards
His name is Nathaniel, but everyone calls him Nat. He has just finished high school and is planning to enter college in the Fall.
Right after graduation, to his own surprise, Nat was converted to Christ. It was a new experience for him; in fact, it was a whole new world. Nat had not been raised in a religious home and had never been around Christians. He had no idea what a Christian was supposed to do, but he had a vague notion he should “go to church.” So the very first Sunday after his conversion, Nat decided to give it a try. He got up early, earlier than he ever had on Sunday, walked over to his closet and began looking for his best tie and suit.
In that simple and innocent act, Nat joined something called the Christian religion. Unknowingly he had taken his first step into a 1,700-year-old tradition and had set his course, not toward knowing Jesus Christ, but toward tradition. Nat had unwittingly set his course 180 degrees in the opposite direction from the life and experience which was known by the first century believer.
By now you may have asked yourself, “If the early church was totally different from today’s church, where did all these present day practices come from?”
To find the answer to this question, we will have to follow a day in the life of a twentieth century Christian. Let’s watch Nat. He is about to be introduced to Christianity’s ways. Keep score as we go along. List all the things he runs into that came from the first century church, and then list the things that are only traditions.
You may get a shock.
Let’s begin with Nat’s first act: putting on a coat and tie. This is the practice of getting dressed up to “go to church.” First century? Did first century believers get dressed up to “go to church?” Of course not. In the first place, they knew that men can’t go to church. In the second place, who needs to dress up to sit on the floor in someone’s living room?
Then where did “getting dressed up to go to church” get started? In the Middle Ages! Mark one up for the customs of men.
Nat leaves home and in a few minutes arrives at “church.” It is 9:45 a.m.; he is just in time for Sunday School.
“Don’t tell me you are about to question Sunday School?!”
The Sunday School movement was born in the late 1800’s It’s clearest origin can be traced to D.L. Moody and the slums of Chicago, Illinois. The Sunday School building, sometimes called the Christian education plant, came even later. Attaching education buildings got started in this century.
Mark two for the traditions of men.
Sunday School is over. Now Nat leaves the Sunday School building and starts over to the church building.
Church buildings! Is there Scriptural basis for church buildings?
The Church was born in 30 A.D., and for the next 300 years it always met in homes. In 324 A.D. that changed. In that year the Roman Emperor, Constantine, along with his mother, Empress Helena, invented the church building. Constantine and Helena had been born and raised as pagans. They were a part of the elite of the empire.
In keeping with their position and customs of the day, they had often erected pagan temples in honor of various gods. After Constantine was converted, he continued this custom , with only the slightest variation. Now he erected “Christian” temples. The “Christian” buildings looked exactly like the pagan ones, the only difference being that the new temples commemorated dead saints instead of pagan gods.
Let’s take a moment and talk about Constantine.
It was during this period, the age of Constantine, that the church was made part of the world system. The church was literally ordered to become part of the Roman Empire’s department of religion. This age saw politicians become ministers … for one reason: their property was exempt from taxation if they were clergymen. (Even the term clergy was taken from pagan temple priests.)
This was the age when the early church slipped quietly off the pages of church history and something called “Christendom,” patterned in structure and in practice after the Roman Empire, took the center of the stage. This was the age when the church building was invented or, to be more exact, was adopted from pagan temples.
Look at the score card.
The traditions of men: three. The Scripture: zero.
As Nat stepped out of the Sunday School building and started toward the beautiful sanctuary, he gazed upward to take in the sublimity of the building’s stained glass windows. Stained glass windows were first used extensively in church buildings in the Basilica of St. Denis in France in the middle of the 12th century.
Four to nothing.
As Nat neared the building he also noticed the church steeple.That was invented shortly after the stained glass windows, also in France.
For the first time in his life, Nat enters a church building.
He walks down the aisle a few feet and slips into a pew. He can thank the Reformation of the 1500s for his seating accommodation.
It is now 11:00 a.m. Nat gets very quiet. “Church” is about to begin.
Nat, of course, doesn’t know this, but “church” starts at about 11:00 a.m. almost everywhere on earth. Why? Nat can probably thank Martin Luther for that. Luther didn’t like getting up every Sunday at 4:30 a.m. for early morning mass and, consequently, Protestant meetings start much later in the morning.
Oh! Now Nat sees the choir coming in … singing. Where did church choirs come from? We are back to Constantine again. The choir came into the church during the mid 300’s. It was taken straight out of the Roman pagan temple rituals which included choirs and choral chants.
(Of course after Christianity had adopted this pagan practice, somebody had to find a Scripture verse somewhere to justify it. If you can believe it, dozens of Scriptures were found! Of course they were all taken out of the Old Testament …..)
Nat now looks at the printed bulletin to see what the order of worship will be.
Now who invented this? (Peter maybe?)
Probably this universal ritual started in Wittenburg, Germany in the 1500’s. It stuck like flypaper ever since and is about as exciting as the white pages of the telephone book.
Nat opens the hymn book.
Hymn books: probably about 400 years old.
After the songs, etc. there is a second’s pause. Nat looks up at the pulpit.
The pulpit was invented during the Reformation. Actually, Roman Catholic cathedrals contained small wooden buckets attached to one of the interior pillars. The Catholics used this box mostly for making announcements. During the Reformation, many of those cathedrals were taken from the Roman Catholics by the Protestants. The wooden bucket turned into the modern day pulpit. (And, believe it or not, the Protestants found a verse of Scripture to justify even the pulpit. In the Old Testament again, of course.)
(You can throw your score card away if you wish. It’s obvious who is winning).
Nat watches as the pastor stands up and walks up to the pulpit.
Ah ha! The pastor! At last, something right out of the New Testament and the early church ….
Don’t be too sure.
True, the word “pastor” does appear in the New Testament. One time! But never, anywhere, is that office clearly explained. It is not defined, and there is no illustration of it anywhere in first century literature. Certainly the Scripture contains nothing similar to this modern day thing called “our pastor.”
Today “the pastor” is literally the cornerstone of Christianity. He holds Christianity together.
But is the present day position of pastor Scriptural?
Of course not! The present day concept of the pastor originated no further back than the Reformation. A pastor has less Scriptural foundation than the pulpit he leans on.
Martin Luther unwittingly invented the modern pastor. Soon after Luther broke with the Pope he turned his ex-Roman Catholic cathedral into a place to expound the Bible. Many priests and nuns left the Roman Catholic church after he did and literally came pouring into his town by the oxcart load.
These priests turned Lutherans wanted to remain in religious service. They, along with others who sat under Luther, picked up his way of doing things. Many of these men later left Wittenburg and began taking charge of other Roman Catholic cathedrals turned Lutheran cathedrals in other cities. They just naturally continued the practices they had learned from Luther.
So was born something that later acquired the handle of “pastor.” It would be nice if someone told Nat this. It would be even nicer if someone would tell the “pastor!”
Let’s get back to Nat.
The week after he was saved, Nat heard about several Christian conferences being held during the summer. He decided to go to one of them.
Nat will go to this conference asking for bread, and he will be given a synthetic vitamin pill. He will be given a formula for success and he will probably believe it and seek to build his whole Christian life on it. If it doesn’t work, and it won’t, Nat will blame himself, not the formula.
Outside the experience of the church there is no secret to the Christian life. There is no spiritual depth in the religious system. God will not share His deepest secrets with that system. He never has. He never will.
Nat, Jesus Christ alone is the secret of the Christian life. May the day come when you know the overwhelming depths of that simple statement.
And church life alone makes Him relevant. May the day come when you experience that fact.
Well, by the time the summer is half or, Nat is pretty well entangled in the paraphernalia of the religious system. He thinks he is entering into the Lord’s answer to the Christian life. But the fact is, if Nat continues on his present course, one of two things will happen to him: he will not find enough strength in the “secrets” he has been given and he will go back to the world; or he will close his eyes to the desperate needs of his own soul, convince himself he is doing great, and level off on a very shallow spiritual plane. And if Nat is not careful, you will soon meet him at another conference, only this time he will be one of the speakers. It will be Nat who is standing up front telling other young people about the “deeper life!”
What else is out there waiting for Nat?
Summer is over. Nat will soon be going off to college. He plans to join the denominational church nearest him and to get into some fiery inter-denominational organization while on campus.
What is ultimately going to come of all this? What will happen to Nat?
Perhaps at another time we can pursue Nat’s life as a Christian a little bit further … and see all that lies ahead for him.
For now, let’s hope he doesn’t get any further into the religious system than he is now. Let’s hope, by the merciful providence of God, that early in his Christian life he is awakened to an interest in God’s eternal desires. And let us hope Nat some way gets into a genuine experience of Church life, soon, while in his late teens or early twenties, while he is still new in Christ.
There are some questions to be asked at this point. If the recovery of church life is a lifetime project, maybe two or three lifetimes, would it really be worth the venture? After all, a whole lifetime … gambled on the unknown!
Besides, can God really restore church life? Can men ever hope to see again an experience similar to what was once known, but lost so long ago?
Dear reader, if you are desiring to know the Lord on a higher plane, these are good questions. They demand an answer. And there is an answer! It is a very ancient answer, one that every seeking heart burns to hear, longs to respond to. It is a word once spoken by a man named Philip to a fellow seeker. And what is that word?
“Nathaniel, Come and See!”