Why Doesn't Xenos Look Like a Church?

Xenos is highly regarded as an innovative, teaching, first-century-style church by renowned Christian leaders like Os Guinness, Grant Osborne, Hugh Ross, J.P. Moreland and many others. We are happy to see Christians who have been looking for a new church home find fellowship here at Xenos, get involved in a home group, and become equipped and active in ministry.

However, our Central Teachings are designed to support the efforts of Christians sharing their faith, by creating an environment that primarily reaches non-Christians and unchurched Christians. We hope to reach people who are willing to give the message of Christ a serious hearing on its own merits in a setting free from cultural barriers. Many people have unpleasant memories from childhood of "going to church." Almost all church decorations, traditions and rituals are extra-biblical, meaning they have been added in over time by religious institutions, including the cross on the building or steeple.

Christ died on the cross to fulfill all the Old Testament rituals, end the need for priests and liturgical ceremonies, and usher in a new way of relating to God through a personal relationship and a deepening understanding of the Bible. Only two biblical rituals remain today—baptism and communion, both of which are practiced in Xenos within our home groups.

A Common Misconception

A common misconception is that the church building is holier than any other building. Many people also are confused by differences between the Old Testament temple and the New Testament church. 

Old Testament Temple

It sounds like God was confined to this place during Old Testament times, when in fact, God was never confined to the temple. Many passages in the Old Testament state he was omnipresent, meaning he wasn't limited by space and time in any way. (See most of Job and Psalm 139:7-10 for examples.)

The reason only the high priest could enter the temple in the Old Testament is because the sins of mankind had not yet been paid for by Christ. The veil was a symbol of the separation between the sinfulness of men and the holiness of God. A blood sacrifice was necessary for the priest to enter into the holy of holies on the one day of the year in which it was permitted, namely the Day of Atonement after the Passover.

New Testament Temple

When Christ was crucified on the Day of Atonement, the veil in the temple tore (Matthew 27:51), at the very moment of Christ's death when he cried "it is finished; it is paid in full." Christ's proclamation signifies that in the New Testament, the new temple is in people's hearts. We can have direct access to Christ through his Spirit because he has paid for our sins.

Jesus taught that his church goes wherever his people go. "For where two or three have gathered together in My name, there I am in their midst" (Matthew 18:20).

The apostle Peter affirmed Christ's words in his teachings, saying that all Christians are "living stones being built up as a spiritual house" (1 Peter 2:5).

Also, Why doesn't Xenos insist on special religious seasons? and What about the Sabbath?

Large portions of this article are extracted from Chapter 27 of Xenos Lead Pastor Dennis McCallum's book, The Summons.

How Old and New Testament "Forms" Differ

The Old Testament is rich in outward forms: highlighted by the sacred space in the temple, and surrounded with the detailed structural elements of the tabernacle and outer court.

In the New Testament, we find this level of outward formality ("formalism") radically reduced. For instance, there is no provision in the New Testament Era (beginning at Pentecost in Acts 2) for any form of sacred space. What we find is that Paul, Christ, Peter and the author of Hebrews reinterpret the provision for sacred space in the Old Testament. They all teach the temple now corresponds to the assembly of true believers in Christ. (Paul did so frequently, but most clearly in 1 Corinthians 3:16; Jesus did so in John 2:19-21; and Peter in 1 Peter 2:5, where he calls believers "living stones being built into a spiritual house.")

The early Christians met in the temple court, and although they may also have continued to relate to the temple ritual for some time, this is condemned in Hebrews and elsewhere. (See Hebrews 8:13; 13:10-14; Acts 7:48-50.)

Likewise, there was no claim made in the area of sacred time, or a religious calendar. On the contrary, in Colossians 2:16-17, Paul directly declares the idea of a sacred calendar obsolete, including the Sabbath day. He warns, "therefore do not let anyone judge you" by such things because "these are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ."

In Galatians 4:9-10, he says a sacred calendar is among the "weak and worthless elemental things," and the Galatians observance of these things is proof they have not understood Christianity correctly. Even though Paul allows "weaker brethren" to observe "one day greater than another," such as the Sabbath, he clearly views this outlook as unnecessary. (See Romans 14.)

Human priesthood was also abolished in the New Testament period. Priesthood is attributed primarily to Christ as our high priest, and secondarily, to all believers, making a formal priesthood obsolete. (See Hebrews 5-8 which decisively limits the intercession of this role to Christ, as does 1 Timothy 2:5. Peter refers to all believers as a nation of priests in 1 Peter 2:9, because we are able to intercede for others.)

From the time of Pentecost on, the Bible teaches that the universal indwelling of the Holy Spirit enables people to remain faithful without many outward forms like in the Old Testament period. In place of outward forms, God provided for a more personal avenue of relationship. This is why he dispensed with the "shadows" or "elemental things" that had served as a tutor before. (See Hebrews 7:18, Colossians 2:18.)

The only two remaining specific outward forms in New Testament Christianity are water baptism and the Lord's Supper (communion). However, these ordinances are very simple in comparison with the elaborate ritual of the Old Testament.

Baptism is only practiced once in a person's life, and the New Testament gives no instruction on how often to celebrate communion. (It only says "as often as you do it…") This is a striking contrast to the Old Testament forms that were spelled out in exacting detail.

In Xenos, baptism and communion are practiced within the more intimate setting of our home groups with other Christians.

Outward Forms Today

One of the warnings God makes throughout the Bible is that people tend to look to the symbols and outward forms as goals in and of themselves, rather than to the reality they are intended to express. (See Amos 4:4-5, 5:21-26; and Isaiah 29:13).

We find very little in common between the simplicity of early Christian church life and the heavily formalized rituals of many modern churches. Sadly, formalistic thinking has led to the exclusion of the laity from ministry, and from access to the Scriptures, despite the fact that the New Testament authors address their letters to the rank and file of the church, not just to the leadership.

The overall effect of formalism usually has been to create a role for clergy beyond that prescribed in the New Testament. Formalism also tends to the replace the high level of understanding of the truth claims of Christianity that the apostles called for at the grassroots level with an oversimplified knowledge of some formal observance.

In Xenos, our building layouts reflect our stance against formalism. We want people to be comfortable and seek to have the facility serve the people. This is why we encourage food and drink in the auditorium, why our teachers wear jeans just like everybody else, and why our auditorium looks a lot like a college assembly hall.

While we enjoy Christmas and Easter as cultural holidays, we do not treat them as spiritually special seasons—we simply recognize them as special opportunities to communicate the message of God's grace to people seeking a relationship with God.