Ever wondered what would happen if the apostle Paul or any of the first century Christians were somehow able to visit one of our modern twentieth century churches. Would they even recognize what they see?
Imagine Paul at your house on a Sunday morning. He puts on his everyday robe and then comes out of his room. He asks why you put on such fancy clothes for the assembly. You answer, "God deserves our Sunday best". Paul replies, "God deserves our best everyday, but what do clothes have to do with our best or even with Christianity? Peter wrote that adornment shouldn't be the wearing of gold or braided hair or the putting on of fine clothes. (I Peter chapter 3) What strange notions you have in this era!"
You sit down to breakfast with Paul. After he finishes his plate you offer him seconds. He declines and says, "I want to save room for the meal with the brethren."
You respond, "We're not having a church supper today." Paul tries not to show his surprise as he says, "Oh, we used to have communion most every time the brethren met to proclaim the Lord's death until he comes."
You then have to explain to Paul that we don't really eat a supper when we have the Lord's supper today. After some conversation he says, "Well, I guess it will work. Could I have those seconds I just turned down?"
You and your family get into your car with Paul and start off down the road. Paul remarks what an excellent form of transportation you have. As you park in the church parking lot and start to get out of your car, Paul asks why you came here instead of going to meet with the brethren. You proudly tell Paul that this magnificent structure is your church. Paul says, "In my day, people were the church. How can a building be the church?
You answer, "Oh, I know what you mean. Yes, we are the church too, it's just that we meet in a church building." Paul exclaims, "What? You meet in a special building called by the same name as the body of Christ? This is very strange."
You try to explain, "We just call it a church because it's God's house." Paul is even more startled and exclaims, "It's God's house!? Don't you know that the scripture says that God doesn't live in a building made with hands? God lives in you! Ye are the temple of the Holy Spirit."
"Oh, we believe all that." You say.
"Not like I do." Declares Paul.
You try to smooth things out and say, "Come inside. You'll feel more at home once you're inside."
You walk inside with Paul and an usher hands him a bulletin and says, "So good to see you today. I hope you enjoy the sermon." Paul just looks puzzled. As you walk down the aisle he says, "I don't feel more at home. What's a sermon? Who was the man? And what is this piece of paper he gave me?"
You tell him, "That man was an usher and he gave you our church bulletin. It's our order of service."
Paul can hardly contain himself as he says, "Your order of service. Aren't you quenching the Spirit? What if God wants to speak through me and I'm not included in your order of service?" You answer, "Well Paul, I'm certain our pastor would make an exception for you."
"An exception for me," declares Paul. He continues, "How can you have a church of this size and only have one person with the gift of pastor? And he'll make an exception for me. Who put him in charge of the assembly? Have you elevated this man above your elders?"
"Paul!" You try to explain, "We don't have elders, we have a board. Paul, I think we better sit down. You'll be better after the sermon starts."
As you go to sit down Paul remarks, "You still haven't told me what a sermon is. And why is everyone facing the same direction? How will they hear if the Lord gives a message to me or someone else?"
You reply, "Don't worry our pastor will preach the sermon, it's a teaching. And don't worry, if the Lord gives you a message, I'm certain it would be okay if you went up to the altar and turned around to face us."
"An altar! You need faith in His sacrifice. Do away with your altar! The blood of goats and bulls is no longer necessary."
"Oh, we don't offer animal sacrifices," you reply.
"Then why do you have an altar?" Asks Paul.
Rather puzzled you reply, "Well, I guess I don't really know why we have an altar area. We do need a place for people to go to indicate that they want to follow Jesus when an invitation is given. They come forward to the altar."
"In my day," said Paul, "We invited people to repent and be baptized. We baptized them right there on the spot."
Just then the choir proceeds to march in. "Who are those people in maroon robes? Are they from my day?" Asks Paul.
"No, no, that's our choir," you reply.
"Your what?" Asks Paul.
"Paul," you say, "Don't talk out loud. You really need to be quiet in the sanctuary. If you must talk, whisper."
"Sanctuary," exclaims Paul, "I know what the sanctuary is, but this sure doesn't look like it. It seems to me as though you've gone backward instead of forward. Are you trying to recreate the temple?"
Very embarrassed, you say, "Paul please be quiet,we're about to begin."
Paul sits quietly observing the first song, the second song, the third song, the announcements, the offering and the sermon. At the end of the sermon Paul rises to his feet and says "Sir, you obviously appear to be the priest for these people, may I ask a question?"
The minister can barely believe someone would interrupt his service. He sees Paul's robe and determines that he must come from a foreign land. He answers Paul, "I'm not His people's priest. The Catholics and Episcopals have priests. We have pastors, but go ahead and ask your question."
Paul responds, "Whatever happened to the priesthood of all believers? And furthermore, whatever happened to Christianity?"