Prechurch Christianity! There’s never been anything like it unleashed on earth! It came before organized Christianity and prechurch Christianity “turned the world upside down!” (See Acts 17:6) It can still “turn the world upside down.” Let’s re-experience it.
Prechurch Christianity met as Spirit-controlled assemblies, which over the first three centuries gradually turned into tightly organized performances called church. First century Christians didn’t “go to church.” They experienced prechurch ekklesia. For the most part, church has expunged the memory of prechurch ekklesia. We need to rediscover it in the New Testament.
Prechurch Christianity was designed to sail in the Spirit, but church eventually dry docked it. It was a Spirit-directed, grassroots movement, which was eventually institutionalized into what we now know as church.
The focus of prechurch Christianity wasn’t on organization and hierarchy; but on the direct leadership of the living Jesus. Prechurch Christianity was modeled on the participatory city council of ancient Greek city-states–ekklesia. See 1 Corinthians 14:26.
Before there was church, there was prechurch — what Jesus and the apostles called ekklesia. Let’s get back to it! Prechurch, ekklesia, can’t function without God’s power. First came ekklesia; then came church. It’s not too late to go back to the days of prechurch Christianity.
Prechurch ekklesia, was overflowing with the power of Pentecost; but gradually morphed into postekklesia church. Even in the New Testament you can see the beginnings of the process by which prechurch Christianity slowly drifted into postekklesia church.
Church wants organizational growth and member allegiance. Ekklesia wants individuals to grow closer to and to obey the risen Jesus. Prechurch ekklesia doesn’t need programs because Jesus is the way — the program! When men assumed power over postekklesia churches, much of the Spirit’s influence was removed and replaced with programs & policies.
An organization needs hierarchy because the head of it can’t be everywhere; but the body of Christ doesn’t because Jesus is everywhere! Because Jesus is omnipresent, there’s no need for religious hierarchy. In an organization there’s a chain of command; but in the body of Christ everyone is directly connected to Jesus, the Head.
Prechurch Christianity reveals the living God to human hearts. Without that inner vision, we’re left with outward religion.
Church enforces formal order. Prechurch ekklesia releases Spirit-led sharing.
Church tries to keep the Spirit out of the driver’s seat. Prechurch ekklesia lets the Spirit put the pedal to the metal. Prechurch ekklesia is a Spirit-animated organism, not an organization.
Most Christian denominations began as spontaneous, ekklesia-style revival movements, but soon morphed into postekklesia church. Prechurch ekklesia was built on experiencing Jesus. Postekklesia church is based on religious activities of remembering Jesus.
Postekklesia, church, depends on men’s programs, rituals, tradition. “Back to the Bible” means back to ekklesia and prechurch Christianity. In Matthew 16, Jesus said that He would build His “ekklesia” but Christians have tended to build our own churches. Now there are more than 70,000 Christian denominations in the world.
Church evolved into existence as ekklesia slowly faded in the first three centuries of Christianity. Then Roman Emperor Constantine solidified it as the “normal” way of doing Christianity.
Postekklesia Christianity settled into what Paul called; “having a form of godliness but denying its power.” (2 Timothy 3:5) The postekklesia enterprise of church changed Christianity from discipleship to spectatorship.
Megachurch turns church from a small-scale program into an extravaganza. Ekklesia returns church into a prechurch support group.
To gather with a group of Christians and wait to be directed by the Holy Spirit is prechurch Christianity. It means to let a meeting be directed by Jesus, rather than by a man, a program, an agenda, a liturgy, or a tradition. Everybody should try it! The Spirit’s a great conductor, organizer, choreographer, navigator, maestro, pilot, guide, arranger; if we will listen and obey.
The monastic movement began as an attempt to rediscover prechurch Christianity. Perhaps modern parachurch groups are part of God’s attempt to lead us beyond church and back to prechurch ekklesia. The past two millennia there have been pockets of prechurch Christianity, but church has usually resisted it. Jesus said to go and make disciples, but church has tended to stay and make permanent spectators.
When church dominates, God sometimes allows persecution to come and restore prechurch ekklesia (like in China during the 20th century). Rather than church reformation, Christianity needs a return to prechurch ekklesia. God wants to reverse the evolution from prechurch ekklesia to post ekklesia church.
God miraculously opened a door for a group to practice prechurch ekklesia in The Salvation Army Nashville for 9 1/2 years. Since church evolved from prechurch ekklesia it can return to ekklesia. (Those 9 1/2 years’ ekklesia in The Salvation Army proved that!) I’ve written a book, Beyond Church, about those years.
Attention: “Dones” (Christians who are done with church). Your dissatisfaction is God calling you back to prechurch ekklesia. The millennials are the generation who will go beyond church and rediscover prechurch ekklesia on a large scale! It’s time!
When I first read Acts as a new believer, it put a fire in my heart for prechurch Christianity. That fire is still burning in me! Is it burning in you?