What Is A New Testament Church?
Part 2. Offerings Of Fire
August 27, 2007
Ron and Karen Schwartz
As we stated in Part 1, there is a definite and serious misunderstanding
as to what it means to have a New Testament church. Many in the Home
Church, Apostolic, Prophetic, and Five-Fold Ministry groups examine
intellectually the structure of what they understand a New Testament
church to be and then try to mimic it. Some groups meet in homes, as did
many New Testament groups, while others create ministry structures by
appointing elders and deacons or apostles and prophets, and some employ
the use of spiritual gifts.
Most of these various practices are based on the events found in the
Book of Acts. But the Book of Acts is a description of what they did,
not who they were. The overriding question in all these practices is:
would the church structure created by our modern movements have evolved
on its own if they hadn’t first read about them? In other words, are the
current practices of home meetings, classes of ministry, and spiritual
gifts the native work of the Holy Spirit, or have we created it by
copying what we think the first generation of Christians did?
The answer is apparent. The prevailing structure we find in most of our
modern Christian groups – house church, apostolic, prophetic, five-fold
ministry, end-time, etc. - is merely an attempt to “copy” what the first
generation of believers did.
Imitating a New Testament Church format and structure is not what
makes a New Testament church. The New Testament church was not the
result of a certain structure or format but rather the reverse. Both
their structure and format resulted from “being” a New Testament church.
This is why so many who emulate the New Testament format appear to be
just a show. They lack substance. It’s like creating a wax image of a
person. The wax image may have all the characteristics and color of the
actual person but they lack life.
What we find today is an overabundance of churches and groups that claim
to be New Testament but are simply empty copies. They lack life and
substance. If you want a New Testament church, you must set aside your
preconceived notions as to what structure and format you will follow.
You must first become what they were, and the structure and format,
which developed through the work of Holy Spirit, will follow.
The true New Testament church was built by people of virtue and
substance. They did not set out to create a church and leadership
structure. They set out to change the world. Their goal was to yield
their lives to the work of the Holy Spirit and to serve one another. The
true essence of the New Testament church was, therefore, not the result
of education and research but of the power of the Holy Spirit to which
“Power To Become…”
The Old Testament gave to us as individuals, the power to save ourselves
(even though all failed). In the New Testament, however, we do not have
the power to save ourselves. We are totally dependent upon God’s power
in order to become His children. A New Testament life is the spontaneous
and sovereign creation of the Holy Spirit. John described it as follows:
John 1:12-13 KJV
12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons
of God, even to them that believe on his name:
13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of
the will of man, but of God.
The Old Testament gave men the ability to manufacture worship and
service to God. For instance, Moses built a tabernacle for service and
worship, and both Solomon and Herod built temples. Men performed the
practice of circumcision (which distinguished God’s people as Jews). The
Old Testament (church) was driven by the will of the flesh and the will
In contrast, we are born into the New Testament through a spiritual
birth. Jesus told Nicodemus, “Verily, verily, I
say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of
God (John 3:3).” Our New Testament spiritual birth is the
sovereign act of the Holy Spirit that cannot be manufactured or
duplicated by men. Paul described this sovereign work of the Holy Spirit
when he wrote that, unlike the Old Testament, in the New Testament we “are
circumcised with the circumcision made without hands (Colossians 2:11).”
Additionally, in the New Testament, God “dwelleth
not in temples made with hands (Acts 7:48)” but in the hearts of
His people. The idea here is that, in the New Testament, nothing is left
to “the will of the flesh… [or] the will of man
(John 1:13).” We can no longer build a temple and expect God to
dwell in it. In the New Testament, if God does not create it, then it is
not of God.
In the New Testament, everything about our spiritual lives and our
service to God is the spontaneous and sovereign act of the Holy Spirit.
Given that, why, then, do we choose to believe that we can create a New
Testament church simply because we want one?
Just before Jesus left this earth, He told His disciples, “Behold,
I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of
Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high (Luke 24:49).”
Jesus did not tell them to go to Jerusalem and begin setting up the
church. He did not leave them with instructions to begin ordaining
elders and deacons, nor did He send out some of the disciples to find a
building where they could meet. Jesus did not even encourage His
disciples to pursue education (academics). Jesus’ instruction was
simple: tarry, (that is, wait for the power of God). Don’t do anything
without the power. Don’t go anywhere, don’t teach anyone, and don’t try
to figure things out. Just wait. Why? Because anything they would have
done would have been their own creation, the creation of men, and
therefore would have lent itself to the structure of the Old Testament
The New Testament church was birthed on the Day of Pentecost out of a
sovereign move of the Holy Spirit. While the disciples “tarr[ied]
in Jerusalem,” “suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing
mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And
there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon
each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to
speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:2-4).”
This event was “noised abroad,
[and] the multitude
came together (Acts 2:6)” to see. A miracle had taken place. The
miracle wasn’t simply that people were speaking in tongues. What “confounded
[the crowd was that]…
every man heard them speak in his own language (Acts 2:6).” There
were “Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the
dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and
Asia, [and] Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in
Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome,
Jews and proselytes, [and] Cretes and
Arabians (Acts 2:9-11)” who were present. Each person heard the
whole group “speak in his own language (Acts 2:6).”
Men could not have engineered this.
Missing from most churches, especially those that claim to be New
Testament, is the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit. You cannot create a
New Testament church by setting in place elders and deacons, by being
accountable to an apostle, by developing ministries, by giving or
listening to anointed sermons, or by seeking spiritual gifts. If you
want a New Testament church, you must do what the first generation of
Christians did: wait for the power!
The First Century Christians were determined NOT to do anything out of “the
will of the flesh… [or] the will of man (John 1:13).” Not one
brick was laid, not one sermon was preached, no elders were set in
place, and no decisions were made. When the Holy Spirit finally
established the New Testament church, it did not come first to the
leaders (as we find and come to expect in the Old Testament). No, it
came to ALL who were there: “there appeared unto
them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And
they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other
tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:3-4).”
Do you want to experience a New Testament church? Then stop trying to
create one. All we can create is an Old Testament church, a church
produced out of human will and effort. If a New Testament church is the
sovereign move of the Holy Spirit, how can we cause the Spirit to move?
Can we make ourselves attractive? Is there anything that we can do to
cause the Holy Spirit to move on us and create in us a New Testament
church? Ah! Now that is the question isn’t it?!
Offering Of Fire…
Leviticus 3:3 KJV
And he [the priest]
shall offer of the sacrifice of the peace offering an offering made
by fire unto the LORD.
Over forty times in Leviticus alone, God explains that He can be
satisfied by nothing less than “an offering made by fire.” Therefore, if
we want to draw God’s approval, we must offer a sacrifice that is
acceptable to Him.
Most Christians have a conversion experience that is nothing less
than an offering of fire. They are passionate and motivated; no cost is
too great for them. For most Christians, this is the closest they will
ever come to experiencing a New Testament life.
Many older Christians look at such passion and zeal as a sign of
immaturity. These older Christians often explain to the new zealous
Christians that they will eventually “grow out” of their immature fire
to become as they are. But most of these older Christians are not living
a New Testament life.
The Old Testament is always waiting to draw Christians back into form,
structure, and dependence on men. For the First Century believers, it
was their greatest threat, and almost every institutional church (and
home church as well) today has been swallowed up by it. The Old
Testament simply “feels right.” It is dependent upon people for ministry
services. It satisfies our lust for knowledge (answers) by providing an
intellectual approach to serving God. It provides us with many rules and
laws to keep. It is based on structures like tithing, church meetings,
sermons, how-to’s of worship, discipline, and appearance. It gives us a
recipe and method for how to serve God. These “things” are not how New
Testament believers worship God. Rather, God is worshipped through
offerings of fire.
Older Christians who lack passion and serve God intellectually are
living Old Testament lives. They are often disturbed by the zeal and
passion of new converts because it doesn’t fit their intellectual
approach. The new converts must, therefore, be wrong. So the older
Christians mentor them, and it isn’t long before the new converts are
just as dry and fake as everyone else in the institutional churches they
Nicodemus tried to get Jesus to give him a recipe for the New Testament,
but Jesus told him:
John 3:6-9 KJV
6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of
the Spirit is spirit.
7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.
8 The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof,
but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every
one that is born of the Spirit.
Almost all the self-help books, the discipleship classes, the leadership
seminars, the prophetic conferences, etc. are little more than men
trying to provide other Nicodemus’s with intellectual methods to live
New Testament lives. They all go away feeling good but actually
Older Christians don’t want to hear this. They respond like Nicodemus: “How
can these things be (John 3:9)?” They want to serve God through a
process that is under their control. They don’t want to have to wait on
the power or to serve God out of passion and zeal. Yet when you read
through the Book of Acts, this exactly what they did. Remember, an
offering of fire…
…Brings An Answer Of Fire
Many Christians are proud of Western Christianity. They point to all the
Christian broadcasts, the overabundance of churches, Christian
literature, and Christian education and colleges as examples of how
Christianity is succeeding in the West. It is true that even the
smallest town has an average of forty Christian organizations. It is
true that Christian material is found just about everywhere. It is also
true that no society in the history of Christianity has enjoyed more
religious freedom and experienced so great an infusion of Christian
material than our society today.
Yet, for all the proliferation of Christianity, why is God’s power so
rarely seen? Why is it that whole congregations pray for needs and only
see an occasional answer? Why is the power of darkness eroding our
nations at such an unprecedented rate of decline to depths not seen
Few Christians have ever experienced a real move of God’s Spirit in
their churches. They are so used to attending a lifeless church that any
small event they can attribute to God is counted as a major endorsement
of their church. They are like people who live in darkness and therefore
have become so used to darkness that they have developed the ability to
see somewhat in the dark. Any small ray of direct sunlight is blinding.
Even the light from a candle seems brilliant. But this is only because
they don’t know what living in the light is like.
challenged the prophets of Baal to prove whether they indeed served God.
He said, “Call ye on the name of your gods, and I
will call on the name of the LORD: and the God that answereth by fire,
let him be God (1 Kings 18:24).” So they “took
the bullock which was given them, and they dressed it, and called on the
name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us. But
there was no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped upon the
altar which was made. …And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after
their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon
them (1 Kings 18:26-28).”
The prophets of Baal were very active and worked very hard. But their
effort and dedication were not enough to obtain an answer from God. Most
Christians point to the dedication and hard work of their pastors as
proof of his calling. But where is God’s answer of fire within their
church? Like the prophets of Baal, they can be very active and work very
hard but not achieve any real success in the Spirit.
Eventually, “Elijah said unto all the people, Come
near unto me. And all the people came near unto him (1 Kings 18:30).”
Where were all the people? They were enjoying the show. The prophets of
Baal were entertaining them. This is exactly the condition of God’s
people today. They sit in their powerless Old Testament-style churches
believing that they are watching God’s ministers operate. But it’s just
lots of effort, great entertainment, and little to actually show for it.
If you want to find the prophets of Baal today, then look no further
than those places where God’s people go for entertainment. You will find
them there every Sunday.
When Elijah offered his sacrifice, “the fire of
the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the
stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench (1
Kings 18:38).” And what happened to the people of God? “When
all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The
LORD, he is the God; the LORD, he is the God (1 Kings 18:39).” A
true manifestation of God draws His people to sacrifice for themselves “offerings
On the Day of Pentecost, the people had sacrificed their lives for ten
days, singing and praying. What happened? God answered with fire. “Cloven
tongues like as of fire… sat upon each of them.”
In the beginning, we asked this question:
Would the church structure created by our modern movements have
evolved on its own if they hadn’t first read about them? In other words,
are the current practices of home meetings, classes of ministry, and
spiritual gifts the native work of the Holy Spirit, or have we created
it by copying what we think the first generation of Christians did?
The structure and form of contemporary churches, whether institutional
or not, is a creation of men. It is based either on their understanding
of what people like or what they believe the First Century Christians
did. So just what is the native work of the Holy Spirit? How would we
recognize a New Testament church? The church would have begun informally
by Christians meeting together to pray and worship God. Time would not
be a factor. They would be people who are willing to wait for the
Over the past two thousand years, we have heard about many of these
movements. We call them revivals. Each one was begun by people who were
willing to give to God an offering of fire: passion and zeal. When they
did this, God responded as He did on the Day of Pentecost and a New
Testament church was born. But because the leaders did not usually
understand the difference between a New and an Old Testament church, it
was only a matter of time before that revival was brought under control
and a denomination was born.
Each documented occurrence [of what we call] “true” revival is
nothing more than another Day of Pentecost. It is God’s answer by fire
to an offering of fire by His people. Any church can experience a Day of
Pentecost if they are willing to offer a sacrifice of passion and zeal.
Scheduling a 24/7 prayer vigil is not the same. These are usually
performed out of duty and with little enthusiasm. They lack the
expectation of the original believers.
Contrary to popular consensus, God does not need apostles and prophets,
spiritual gifts, or the New Testament church structure in order to
change the world. God does not need traditional pastors or their
programs in our churches. The form of church and the ministry structure
they provide has done little to affect the people, communities, or the
nations of this world. What God needs from us is something that church
form and ministry structure cannot provide. God needs each of us to
offer Him our lives as “an offering made by fire.”
If serving God could be found in what we do, then no one could top the
church at Ephesus. Jesus recognized and regarded this church. He said,
“I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy
patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast
tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them
liars: And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast
laboured, and hast not fainted (Revelation 2:2-3).” Nevertheless,
there was something wrong. Jesus went on to said, “I
have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.
Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the
first works (Revelation 2:4-5).”
Jesus wanted them to go back to the passion and zeal they had in the
beginning. He wanted them to “remember”
what it was like when they were first saved. He wanted them to
rediscover the fire of their “first love”
that once burned within them. He wanted them to set aside their efforts
to create a New Testament church, and He wanted them to once again
This message is as true for us today as it was for them.
Your efforts to create a New Testament church will be in vain. It, like
your salvation, must be the sovereign act of the Holy Spirit. Anything
short of that is just Old Testament form and structure. Do what Jesus
commanded and try to remember…