It should not be a surprise to anyone who reads this blog that I believe we have gone far astray from the Biblical meaning and practice of the gathered church. There are two primary reasons this has happened. First many of the practices that we assume in the church are a hybrid of what we see in the Bible and Roman Catholic traditions that were protestantized. If you take a traditional evangelical "worship service" and change "pastor" to "priest", "pulpit" to "altar" and "Lord's Supper" to "Euchatrist" and, voila!, you have a Roman Mass. Certainly and I can't overemphasize this, the meanings are very different but the practice looks very similar, although teachings like "the sacraments as a means of grace" are far too close to Roman sacramental doctrine for my tastes.
Anyway, I followed a link from Tim Challies to a post by Mike Leake, Borrowed Light: Should We Baptize Upon Profession?. Mike looks at the issue of withholding baptism from those that profess faith until an examination of some sort can be done. In this post Mike admits he struggles with the contradiction between what we see in Scripture (baptism immediately following profession of faith) versus how we practice traditionally in much of the church (baptism after a series of examinations). This was my comment on his post.....
This seems to be one of those circumstances where we allow the pragmatic considerations to override the Scriptural considerations. We see one thing in the Bible but have a hard time making it work in practice so we make something up. The same goes with "church membership". We don't see it in the Bible but we can't figure out how to do accountability and discipline without it so we canonize an extra-biblical tradition.
That kind of captures it. We read the Bible but we can't (or won't) make it work in "real life" so we create some artificial replacement. Real community and fellowship are hard and messy so we reduce life in the church to a weekly ritual. No wonder so many churches have small groups to try to meet the need for fellowship among Christians that they cannot and do not get on Sunday.
I understand that it is foolhardy to try to perfectly replicate every aspect of the first century church. We live in a vast land where believers are often spread out over wide distances (although most of that has to do with us driving great distances to meet with the "right" kind of Christian instead of our neighbor). We have no hint of real persecution. We have technology was undreamt of in the first century. We have of course a complete New Testament, something unavailable to anyone in the earliest days of the church. We have thousands of years of thinkers and theologians working through the big issues.
That doesn't mean that we should feel free to "fill in the blanks", especially when doing so compromises the very principles that are clearly expressed in Scripture. Being a disciple isn't easy but that should lead to us seeking to be more faithful and removing the traditions of man rather than making it up as we go.