Last December, I wrote a post called “Old Testament Structures and the Church“. Many modern church practices are justified from Old Testament practices. Notice what I said: these practices are justified from the Old Testament. I do not think they originally arose from a study of the OT. Instead, I think they were brought into the church from the cultural context of the time, and then justified by the OT. But, is it valid to justify new covenant age practices from the old covenant era? I don’t think so.
Often, when I’m talking to people about church structures and organizations, they usually point me to Old Testament structure to defend hierarchies, authorities, buildings, positions, etc. After a discussion with Lew from “The Pursuit” and his Question of the Week #17, I’ve been thinking about the trend of associating Old Testament priests, temples, tithes, etc. to New Testament practices.
The conversations tend to go something like this (in a condensed form, of course):
Person #1: “The pastor has authority over the local church.”
Me: “I can’t find anything in Scripture that gives the pastors authority over anyone.”
Person #1: “Well, you have to go back to the priest system of the Old Testament.”
Person #2: “You should give tithes to the local church.”
Me: “I can’t find any teaching in Scripture that tells us to give money to a local church.”
Person #2: “Well, you have to go back to the tithe system of the Old Testament.”
Person #3: “You need someone trained in music to lead your worship.”
Me: “I’m sorry but I don’t see that in Scripture. Nor do I see music called worship.”
Person #3: “Well, you have to go back to the Levites of the Old Testament.”
Person #4: “Why are you not saving money to build a church (meaning, ‘church building’).”
Me: “I don’t see a requirement for having a church building in the new testament.”
Person #4: “Well, you have to go back to the temple in the Old Testament.”
Here’s my concern: I don’t see the New Testament authors making these connections. Instead, I see the New Testament writers calling all believers “priests” (Rom 15:16; 1 Pet 2:5,9; Rev 1:6; Heb 10:19-22 – notice the resemblance to the sanctification of priests). But, pastors/elders/overseers are never specifically referred to as “priests”.
Once again, all believers are taught to share generously with those who are in need, with those who are travelling away from home in order to proclaim the gospel, and with those who teach and lead them well (Acts 2:45; 4:34-35; James 2:15-16; Gal 6:6; 1 Thess 5:12-13; 1 Tim 5:17; 3 John 3-6). But, I do not see the New Testament authors comparing this to the tithe of the Old Testament, nor requiring a tithe to be given to the “local church”.
Similarly, all believers are encouraged to exhort one another with songs, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph 5:19; Col 3:16; 1 Cor 14:26). However, I don’t see where training, practice, or even talent is a prerequisite for this singing (although, it does seem that being filled with the Spirit is a prerequisite). Also, I can’t find any connection between singing in the New Testament and the Levites of the Old Testament.
Finally, I also see that all followers of Jesus Christ are compared to the “temple” (1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:21). But, as far as I can tell, “temple” is never associated with a designated meeting place for Christians.
So, where did this contemporary practices come from? When did we start going back to the Old Testament to find systems of organization and leadership and finances? When did the Book of Nehemiah start teaching how to have a successful church building campaign? The exact details of how and when and why these interpretations of the Old Testament filtered into the church continue to be debated among church historians today. I think they all started when the church ceased to be the people of God and started to become an institution. In order to justify the institution, the leaders had to go back to the Old Testament system – the very system that the author of Hebrews calls a “shadow” of the reality that we have in Jesus Christ.