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   Chapter 5 THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH.

To Infidelity and Back By Henry F. Lutz Characters: 24610

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


"See that thou make all things according to the pattern that was showed thee."-Heb. 8: 5.

Introduction. My early ideas of the church, its doctrines, and of the teachings of Christ as revealed in the New Testament, were rather general and vague. As is usual, it was chiefly a matter of hereditary traditions. After I found my way back to Christ and to belief in the Word of God, the question naturally arose, which church shall I join, if any? Sectarian divisions had a hand in driving me into infidelity and confusion, and I was now compelled to investigate more closely this strange puzzle. As I have already intimated, what I learned at Meadville about baptism and the teachings of the various religious bodies, had directed my attention to the people generally known as "Disciples of Christ" or "Christians," who are working for Christian union through the restoration of the primitive church. I will now give the result of my study of the model church as revealed in the New Testament.

NOTE.-Most of this and the following chapter are taken from my booklet on "The Church of Christ: What It Is, and Why It Exists."

THE CHURCH OF CHRIST.

The primary meaning of the word church is a local body of Christians organized for work and worship (Acts 14:27). From this its meaning enlarged so as to apply to the members of all the churches (Eph. 3:10), and finally to all the saints in heaven and on earth (Heb. 12:23).

Of Christ expresses the church's relationship to Christ. It is Christ's church. He bought it (Eph. 5:25), built it (Matt. 16:18), and is its foundation (1 Cor. 3:11). It is his body (Rom. 12:5), of which he is head (Col. 1:18) and which is so identified with him that it is called Christ (1 Cor. 12:12); it is his kingdom over which he is king (Matt. 16:19); it is a fold of which he is the shepherd (John 10:16); he is a vine of which the members are branches (John 15:5); it is his house (Heb. 3:6); it is his dearly beloved wife (Eph. 5:25; 2 Cor. 11:2). Christ so loves the church and identifies himself with it because of the sweet, loving, spiritual fellowship there is between himself and it; and because it is his visible representative here on earth, and the instrument through which the Holy Spirit's work in the conversion of the world and the sanctification of believers, is carried on.

Other names given to the church are "church of God" (I Cor. 1:2), "churches of God" (I Thess. 2:14), "churches of saints" (I Cor. 14: 33), "temple of God and of the Holy Spirit" (I Cor. 3:16), and "the pillar and ground of the truth" (I Tim. 3:15). All these names are Scriptural and proper when used in the proper way.

Church-members.

The members of the church or churches of Christ are called "Christians" (Acts 11:26; I Pet. 4:14, 16), "disciples" (Acts 9:1), "saints" (Rom. 1:7), "brethren" (I Cor. 15:6), "members" (Rom. 12:5), etc., all of which names are right when used to express the proper idea or relationship.

The Greek word for church is ekkleesia and comes from ekkaleoo, which means to call out or summon forth; and members of the church are the ones who have been called of God (2 Tim. 1:9) through the gospel (2 Thess. 2:14) from a life of sin to a life of holy service (Acts 26:16-18). Church-members or Christians are said to be "saved," "elected," "washed," "sanctified," "redeemed," "recreated," "regenerated," "translated," "espoused," "converted," "reconciled," "adopted," "quickened," "resurrected," etc. This gives us an idea of the radical change that must take place before a person can become a true church-member. It will be noticed that the change expressed by these terms is twofold. The one is subjective, and the other objective. The one is a change of heart or character, and the other is a change of state or relationship to God. The heart is changed by the Holy Spirit (John 3:5), through the preached gospel (1 Pet. 1:23), which leads to faith (Rom. 10:17; Acts 15:9) and repentance (Acts 2:38); while the attitude toward God is changed by confession (Rom. 10:9), obedience in baptism (Acts 2:38) and by God's pardon to the sinner (Acts 2:38). The necessity of this twofold change is manifest from Christ's teaching when he says, "Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them" (Matt. 28:19), "Preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16), and "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). Also by the teaching of the Apostles when they say, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost" (Acts 2:38), "And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16), "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Ghost" (Tit. 3: 5), "For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Gal. 3:26, 27), "For by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body…and have been all made to drink into one Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:13), "The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), by the resurrection of Jesus Christ" (1 Pet. 3:21), "Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life" (Rom. 6:3, 4).

If it were God's purpose to simply save individuals, privately and without human agency, the subjective change of heart is all that would be necessary. But a home must be provided for the nurture of the new-born spiritual babes and a church organized to herald the gospel to every creature; therefore, a definite act of open committal or enlistment is required in baptism. When this becomes thoroughly understood, the emphasis the New Testament puts on baptism will be appreciated, and people will no longer avoid the passages that refer to it, or try to explain them away. Neither faith, repentance nor baptism have any saving virtue in themselves. They are important only because of their relation to Christ and the sinner. As Christ has made them conditions of salvation to those who have heard the gospel, they must either obey or be rejected because of a rebellious heart (Luke 7:29, 30).

We learn that to be qualified for membership in Christ's church a person must know the Lord (Heb. 8:11), must believe in him (Acts 8:37), must repent of his sins (Acts 2:38), must confess him as Christ (Rom. 10:9), and must obey him from the heart in baptism (Rom. 6:17). All these are conscious, personal acts that must be performed by the person becoming a member. No one can become a member by purchase, fleshly birth, or the obedience of parents or other persons. It will also be noticed that according to the teaching of the New Testament the conditions of salvation and church membership are the same. The New Testament never speaks of persons as saved or Christians who are not members of the church of Christ where they live.

Church Officers.

On the divine side the church of Christ is a kingdom with a constitution and an absolute ruler. But the administration of this kingdom, as it comes in contact with the varying conditions that confront it in the world, is left to the local church with its officers. Officers are elected to increase the efficiency of the church in service (Acts 6:1-7). In Eph. 4:11, 12, we learn what the officers of the church of Christ are and why they are appointed. "And he gave some apostles; and some prophets; and some evangelists; and some pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ." Deacons were also appointed to serve tables and assist in other ways (Acts 6:1-7; Phil, 1:1). The Apostles were personally commissioned by Christ (John 20:21-23; Acts 26: 16), miraculously inspired to teach (1 Cor. 2:12, 13; 1 Pet. 1:12) and endowed to perform miracles (2 Cor. 12: 12) and to confer miracle-working power on others (Acts 8:17, 18). After the church was thoroughly established and the New Testament written the apostolic office with its miraculous accompaniments ceased (Heb. 2:3, 4; 1 Cor. 13:8). Prophets were appointed by miraculous endowment and ended with the same. Evangelists, elders and deacons are the permanent officers of the church of Christ. The special work of evangelists or preachers is to make disciples and to organize and strengthen churches. Elders, or bishops, or pastors are local church officers, a plurality of which was appointed in each church (Acts 14:23). Their function is concerned with the spiritual welfare of the church. The work of deacons has already been indicated. The qualifications of evangelists, elders or bishops and deacons are given in the epistles to Timothy and Titus. The church officers are selected by the members (Acts 6: 1-7), and important matters of discipline are decided by a majority vote of the church (2 Cor. 2:6, see Greek). The local church government then is administered by a majority vote of its members and by the officers authorized by such a majority. Outside of Christ and the Apostles the New Testament does not recognize any authority higher than that vested in the local churches. General ecclesiastical organizations and church dignitaries with high-sounding titles are human inventions that were added later. Where there is no organized church to act, individual Christians have authority to administer the affairs of the church or kingdom (Acts 8: 4; 9: 10-18; ii: 19-21). The only apostolic succession endorsed in the Bible is that which results from following the example of the Apostles in teaching and practice.

A Christian's work in the local church is obligatory under Christ. In addition to the local church work, early Christians co-operated in work covering a large territory and scope; and formed a simple organization for this purpose (1 Cor. 16:3; 2 Cor. 8:18, 19, 23). This example shows that voluntary organization of individual Christians for general co-operative work is proper and Scriptural. Of this nature are missionary societies and benevolent associations which are formed to carry on general work, but have no ecclesiastical authority.

The Mission of the Church.

The mission of the church is to perpetuate and perfect itself and to add to its membership, through evangelization, the entire world as far and as fast as possible. The fundamental means adopted to carry out this mission is the church service. Our word church is not derived from the New Testament word used in speaking of the body of believers, and it has a tendency to hide the real idea of the New Testament. It primarily refers to a church building, then to the body of believers worshiping in the building, and finally to believers in general. The inspired writers use the word ekkleesia, which means a gathering of people called from their homes into some public place. A correct translation would be "assembly" or "congregation," as it has reference primarily to a local body of Christians assembled for work and worship. If this primary idea were restored, it would make mightily for the strengthening of Christ's kingdom. We usually put the emphasis on the church in general, universal and invisible, while the Holy Spirit puts the emphasis on the local, visible and tangible church. Our practical duties are connected almost entirely with the local church to which we belong and through which we chiefly help to build up the general and invisible church. The church is the assembled Christians first of all, and the first duty of Christians is to assemble (Heb. 10:25). For people to say that they belong to the church (assembly), who do not assemble or attend the church services, is an anomaly, strictly speaking.

The purpose of the assembly or church services is revealed to us in Acts 2:42, where we have a record of the practic

e of the first church of Christ. We read, "And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' teaching and in fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers." Here are four things mentioned as belonging to the service of the church. The first has reference to teaching the Word of God or, more especially, the teachings of Christ as revealed through his Apostles in the New Testament. The Apostles received their teaching through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit who revealed in the New Testament all things necessary for our guidance and edification (2 Pet. 1:3; Jude 3). Christ gave his Apostles commandments before his ascension (Acts 1:2), which they were to teach to the church (Matt. 28:20), and the church is exhorted to give heed to these commandments (2 Pet. 3:2). Not all the commandments that Christ gave while on earth are for the church, but only those he instructed the Apostles to teach after the descent of the Holy Spirit and the establishment of the church on Pentecost. Paul exhorts Timothy to commit unto faithful men, who are able to teach others, the things he had heard from him (2 Tim. 2:2), and further exhorts him, "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15); "I charge thee therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; preach the word, be instant in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine" (2 Tim. 4:1, 2). Alas! how often this last solemn charge of Paul goes unheeded. We preach in season and out of season, but do we preach the Word of God as we ought? The emphasis the New Testament puts on the Word of God can scarcely be overestimated. It is the incorruptible seed (1 Pet. 1:23) employed by the Holy Spirit to beget the Christian (Jas. 1:18; 1 Cor. 4:15); it is the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17) by which he pierces the sinner's hard heart (Heb. 4:12) and brings conviction to his soul (John 16:8,9); it is the nourishment for the new-born spiritual babe (1 Pet. 2:2); it is the means used by the Spirit to strengthen, sanctify and build up the members of the church (1 Thess. 2:13; John 17:17; Acts 20:32); it "is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Tim. 3:16,17). No other books were used in the early church as authoritative and all efforts to replace it or to supplement it with human creeds, catechisms or disciplines is an unwarranted effort to steady the ark of the Lord.

The second item of the public services is fellowship. The original word here is koinoonia, which, according to Dr. Thayer, means "joint participation," "a benefaction jointly contributed, a collection." The word sometimes refers to joint participation in religious privileges and sometimes to joint collections or contributions made for gospel work. It seems to have the latter meaning here, as spiritual communion is embodied in the next item. That this was a feature of the public service is apparent from the words of Paul in I Cor. 16:2, "Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him." The Emphatic Diaglott translates thus, "Every first day of the week let each of you lay something by itself, depositing as he may be prospered." While Paul gives these directions in reference to a particular collection taken for the poor saints in Judea, it is evidently given because it embodies the divine wisdom as to the best way of raising church money. It teaches that each church-member is to give weekly, according to his ability. When this precept is practiced and we restore the liberality of the primitive church (Acts 2:44, 45; 4:32, 35), there will be no financial problem in the church.

The third item in church worship, according to Acts 2: 42, is the "breaking of bread," or the Lord's Supper. This was the most important thing in the early church service. It was to commemorate the death of Christ and to point forward to his second coming (I Cor. 11:26). Every Christian is under obligation to partake of the Lord's Supper (I Cor. 11:24), but each must examine himself before eating lest he eat condemnation to his soul (I Cor. 11:28, 29). The greatest thing in the Lord's Supper is a spiritual eating or communion (John 6:32-58), and this is needed frequently. The primitive churches of Christ observed the Lord's Supper whenever they met for worship (I Cor. 11:20), and this we learn was every first day of the week. "Upon the first day of the week when the disciples came together to break bread" (Acts 20:7). The Greek article "tee" here indicates that it was on every first day of the week that they met to break bread and this is confirmed by I Cor. 16:2. The early churches never met for worship on the seventh day of the week or on the Sabbath, but always on the first day of the week, or on the Lord's Day, in commemoration of Christ's resurrection from the dead. It was the practice at first to have a meal in connection with the Lord's Supper, but as this led to abuse it was abolished by Paul (1 Cor. 11:20-22, 34). The feet-washing which is commonly supposed to have taken place at the time Christ first broke bread with his disciples, was simply a custom in vogue in that country, which Christ used to teach a lesson on humility. We have no record that the Apostles ever washed feet as a church ordinance or desired others to do so. When Christ washed feet it was not at a public church meeting, but at a private feast.

The fourth item in church worship, as mentioned in Acts 2:42, is "prayers." The primitive church believed profoundly in prayer. In fact, the entire New Testament is the record of a prolonged prayer-meeting. Paul, in writing to Timothy, says, "I exhort therefore that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions and giving of thanks be made for all men" (1 Tim. 2:1), and Christ admonishes his disciples to "watch and pray" (Matt. 26:41).

Self-preservation is the first duty, upon which all our helpfulness to others depends. So it is with the church. Its first duty is to perpetuate and strengthen itself through the means of grace God has provided; but it will become sick and soon die, if it does not reach out in loving services to others. It is commissioned to "make disciples of all nations" (Matt. 28:18), but it cannot do this by merely proclaiming the gospel to all people. Paul preached the gospel in many lands, and a few missionaries could soon evangelize the entire world if this were all that is necessary. God spent thousands of years to prepare the soil for Paul's preaching and confirmed his message with miracles. We cannot evangelize the world by giving a few dollars to send a few missionaries to preach a few sermons. Most of the work of missionaries is educational and philanthropic, or, in other words, preparatory. It will require the best and united efforts of all Christians to entirely open the door of faith among the heathen. Christ says, "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 5:16). Peter exhorts Christians, "Having your behavior seemly among the Gentiles, that, wherein they speak against you as evil-doers, they may by your good works which they behold, glorify God" (I Pet. 2: 12). The churches need the miracle of good works, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to confirm the message of our missionaries. The acts that emanate from so-called Christian nations and people do more to hinder than to help the missionaries. If Christians will, by the power of the Spirit, live the life of Christ in the home, in business, in politics and everywhere, the heathen will soon glorify God in Christ because of the good works which they behold. "Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit" (John 15:8).

It is the mission of the church to bring heaven down to earth. If this is the high and holy calling of the church, is it a wonder that Christ so loved it as to give his life for it? The church is the "pillar and ground of the truth" or the material organization through which heaven is bearing its message of love to this sin-cursed world. Speaking of the church, Paul says, "If any man destroyeth the temple of God, him shall God destroy" (1 Cor. 3:17). All who attain unto the mind of Christ will love the church and give themselves for it.

The Unity of the Church.

It was God's eternal purpose to unite all things in Christ (Eph. 1:9, 10). Christ declared that he would establish but one fold (John 10: 16); he prayed that all his followers might be perfectly united and put that union as a necessary condition for the conversion of the world (John 17:20-23); he died to unite all in one body (Eph. 2: 14-16), of which he is the head (Col. 1: 18).

If we turn to the book of Acts, we discover that the Holy Spirit, through the Apostles, did establish but one church, and that it was thoroughly united in love, teaching and practice.

If there ever was an excuse for different Christian denominations, it was for a Jewish Christian denomination and a Gentile Christian denomination; but the Holy Spirit did not establish such denominations and Paul put forth the effort of his life to prevent such a breach. Where in all history can you find twelve men more radically different mentally and temperamentally than the Apostles? Yet the Holy Spirit did not establish separate churches to cater to and further develop these temperamental eccentricities. All were united in one church so they could counterbalance and complement each other and thus perfect their own character and give greater symmetry to the church. "And when the day of Pentecost was fully come they were all with one accord in one place" (Acts 2:1). After three thousand were added unto them we read, "They continued daily with one accord in the temple" (Acts 2: 46), while farther on we read, "And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul" (Acts 4: 32). From the Epistles of Paul we learn that there was but one church in each community. Christ's relation to the church makes it impossible for Christians to be loyal to him and at the same time divided. All must be perfectly united in allegiance to him as king, lie is the head of the body of which his followers are members. All the members of the body are perfectly united to each other and to the head; and, although the members may differ in function, they are all directed by the same commandments, motives and purposes. As soon as a tendency toward division became manifest it was severely rebuked and ascribed to the carnal nature. Paul, in writing to the Corinthians, says, "Now, I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same things, and that there be no division among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment" … "For ye are yet carnal; for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal and walk as men?" (I Cor. 1: 10; 3:3).

The seven landmarks of Christian union are revealed by Paul in the first six verses of the fourth chapter of Ephesians: "I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beseech you to walk worthily of the calling wherewith you were called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as also ye were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all."

As long as these seven unities-one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism and one Father-are maintained, it will be impossible for a divided church to exist.

On the other hand, divisions will speedily disappear as soon as these seven unities are restored.

I add the following chart of the New Testament church, which will serve as a summary and as a guide in the further study of this important subject:

[Illustration: THE CHURCH THAT JESUS ESTABLISHED]

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