"Neither "going to church" nor "church service" appears in the New Testament," states Viola.
There are, however four types of meetings found in the New Testament....Apostolic, Evangelistic, Decision-making and church meetings.
Apostolic Meetings- When an apostle is planting a new church. The Apostle speaks to an audience who is interact with him. These meetings are temporary and are meant to teach believers how to function under the headship of Christ.
Evangelistic Meetings- these were also held by an apostle (someone sent out to plant churches) in public areas where non-believers frequented. These were also for the purpose of planting a church or adding numerically to existing churches in the area. This meeting is also temporary and irregular.
Decision-making Meetings- Occasional meetings held to make important decisions in the church. These are open-participatory meetings with the help of elders. All believers gathered there would come to a decision together under the headship of Jesus.
Church Meetings- regular gatherings, at least once a week of a local body of believers. This is the meeting that is discussed in this chapter. These meetings look incredibly different from the present day church services that many attend, normally on Sunday morning or Saturday evening.To begin with, these meetings are not held in buildings, there is no pastor at the center of things, there is no sermon, no worship leaders, no 'professionals' at all. No paid position is held in the church. In this chapter viola focuses mostly on the reality of no human officiation.
The purpose of the church meeting is mutual edification. Mutual being key. The meeting is marked by everyone in the gathering participating in the mutual edification of everyone in the gathering. This contrasts with the institutional styled church where one person (pastor, bishop, father, whatever) is primarily responsible for the edification of the entire passive audience sitting in the pews, facing the leader standing on the pulpit.
To see the beautiful picture of the New Testament gathering read 1 Corinthians 11-14. Viola comments, "Freedom, openness, and spontaneity are the chief marks of this meeting. "One-anothering" is its dominant feature--mutual edification its primary goal." Taking from Paul's explanation, the picture is of each and every person in the gathering bringing a song, a teaching, a word of knowledge, etc. Believers in the early church frequently even wrote and sang songs for the edification of the Body.
Although the meeting is not officiated by a human, nor is it necessarily planned out, it is not marked by disorderliness either. Respect for one another, attention to each other, and speaking in order is the ideal. But most importantly, following the leading of Jesus through the Spirit will lead to the orderliness of the meeting.
Christ as the head of the church and the head of the church meeting is free to use whomever he chooses in the gathering to say whatever He (Christ) wants to say. Without this feature, viola points out, you may never know whether Christ is present or not. In a church that is being handed over to Spirit for leading, you know if the Spirit is present. In an institutional church, whether Christ is present or not, the service steams ahead forward. The worship leader leads songs as usual, the sermon is preached as usual, the benediction and offering are still done. The point is that in an institutional church does not need Jesus' presence in order to function. The New testament model of the church meeting does, or else it does not function.
There is NO biblical precedent for one man to dominate the church meeting (as does the pastor, etc.) Nor is there precedent therefore for anyone to forbid the use of a believers gifts in the body. I personally have heard pastors call the people in the church, "my congregation" or "my flock." This is not the picture we find in the New Testament. The believers are Gods People, we are all His flock and he is our shepherd, our pastor. Furthermore we are all called Priests, a part of a royal priesthood. There is not one man who offers up prayer to God on behalf of the rest and tells everyone what they ought to do. We are all priests, enabled to speak to God and minister to one another.
There are a lot more points i wanted to hit, but i will leave it at that. At the end of the chapter Viola admits that he cannot simply put into words exactly what its supposed to look like, but does tell a story about a personal experience he had with a house church having no leader and being lead by Jesus. I recommend reading it.
Food for thought. tell me what you think.
Next chapter is entitled, Reimagining the Lord's Supper. sounds good. peace be with you.