You asked me about financial “giving” and church, you asked, “Is this what churches do?” You said, “I haven’t been around many churches so I don’t know.”
I’ve been thinking about your question for a few days, I’ve been thinking about my own pilgrimage, and I’ve been thinking about the Bible and church history.
I want to begin by saying, “Read the New Testament book of Acts and then read the rest of the New Testament – make it a priority.” The book of Acts is about God living and breathing in His people. The letters of Paul, Peter, John, James, and Jude were all either written to churches or were written to individuals who were in churches. Even the book of Revelation was written to churches. So we can learn about church, what it should be and shouldn’t be, its highs and lows, as we read and ponder the New Testament.
Now I can hear you saying to me, “But I’m so busy.” Well, I can’t think of anything more important than knowing Jesus better and better as each day unfolds and in learning what it means to live in relationship with His people – and that means investing ourselves in the Scriptures. Nothing I can tell you can take the place of knowing the Bible yourself and in knowing it as you explore it in fellowship with others who desire to know Jesus.
I confess that I wish I could read the book of Acts with your eyes, with eyes that have never read it before. I’d love to experience it for the first time, I’d love to experience it as an older person, I’d love to experience it having had no church experience. In short, I’d love to experience it before an external template was overlaid on my reading by extra-Biblical experience.
On the other hand, I’m thankful that Acts and the Letters have been my home during my pilgrimage – I don’t necessarily understand them, other than that Jesus is ever their focus. I suppose it’s like living in our home, I have a basic understanding of plumbing and electrical and structural principles, but I’m no plumber or electrician – I don’t understand everything about my home. The important thing about my home is that in it I share life with my wife; the important thing about the Bible is that in it Jesus shares His life with me. There are many things about the Bible I don’t understand, but I do understand that Jesus is there.
But back to the church. A question that has been asked by more than one person is, “If we removed everything the Bible says about prayer and the Holy Spirit would it make any difference in the way we “do” church?” In other words, have we become so self-reliant, and so reliant on the world’s way of doing things, that we no longer depend on God’s leading and God’s provision? Do we really need God anymore in the church, other than as a figurehead? As you read the New Testament you might consider the contrasts between the early Christians and what we see today in North America and in the kind of Christianity which we export to other countries. Focus on the principles, focus on the relationships; focus on the Trinity, what do you see?