Make your own! Study the Scriptures and list the basic ingredients of the churches described in the Bible.
Be sure to include truths that you find in the Acts and in all the epistles. Then check your findings against the rest of the Bible for faithfulness to types, foreshadowings, and timeless spiritual principles of the things of God.
Finally compare your results with what godly students of the Word have taught through generations. You’ll learn a lot, and you’ll likely discover several things:
- There is a pattern for the church.
- The pattern is reasonable and possible to imitate in our day.
- You can know when you (or others) depart from it.
- It is reasonable to recognize churches that seek to follow that pattern as NT churches.
Let me add a few comments to each of the items listed above.
There is a pattern for the church.
It is interesting to examine the pattern for the tabernacle shown to Moses in the mount, along with the solemn command of the Lord to be certain that he make all things according to the pattern shown to him. Nothing was left to human creativity or imagination. All was carefully specified by the Lord. Later, Moses is credited with being faithful in all God’s house, because God inspected the work and found it a faithful representation of the divine design. Someone has observed that if God was that careful about a tent in the desert that has long ago perished into dust, would He not be at least as concerned about the bride of His Son, the church, which is eternal? It is true that the tabernacle was only an elaborate tent; the church a diversity of living beings, but we learn from nature that all of God’s creation is characterized by order; an order implied in the promise:
“I will build my church…..” (Matt. 16:18), and clearly identifiable in the resulting churches described in Scripture.
The pattern is reasonable and possible to imitate in our day.
One writer refers to “the beautiful lost Corinthian order.” But it has not been lost at all, just buried under centuries of the rubble of tradition! Anyone with a Bible willing to examine the average Christian church today will find much that differs from the Biblical blueprint, and not just trifling differences, but traditions and practices that are in direct opposition to the principles for the church as set forth in the beginning. Of course we must be careful not to confuse local customs or historical notations with timeless principles. The former are stated in the Acts as simple historical record; ‘this is what they did next…..’ but there is no associated instruction or command, and there is no recorded attempt to duplicate the practice in other places. The latter are taught in the epistles, and encouraged in other churches.
You can know when you (or others) depart from it.
Throughout the Christian life, the believer must grow in discernment yet avoid judging his brother. Pride has no value in the work of God. And certainly we must live at peace with our brethren. Still, the intelligent Christian soon learns that God’s way is best, and that there is no surer way to get the job done than to “trust and obey.”
I have known men who, after becoming Christians, have undertaken a personal study of the subject of the church having no other book to guide them than the Bible, and no knowledge of examples to imitate. The resulting fellowship of believers has turned out to be a very pleasant replica of the church described in the New Testament.
The Holy Spirit as the author of Scripture, is able to guide a group of sincere believers who are willing to set aside all human tradition and depend on the Word alone. No wonder that a thinking person will be perplexed at the differences between what is written and what is being built in the name of “church” today. One need not judge but one can certainly discern a vast discrepancy. What comfort then, in the promise of the Lord that
“where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matt. 18:20). Nor will it do as some have tried, to protest that the context of this promise is limited to matters of church discipline.
For one thing, discipline is really just facing and dealing with what is not right, which is exactly our subject, and for another, spiritual minds for hundreds of years have seen in this promise a principle that extends far beyond the complaints of brother against brother to the assembling of like minded souls who love the Lord and desire to function in simple obedience to His word.
It is reasonable to recognize churches that seek to follow that pattern as NT churches.
At the outset, it must be understood that being described as a New Testament church, will bring no special honor in the world, no legal or financial benefit, and may even – in some places – result in persecution.
The goal then, is not an official designation (which would only repeat the process and start a new denomination!), but a non-formal way to describe any local Christian fellowships that embrace and seek to practice those basic principles that are distinctive of churches described in Scripture. Certainly such groups would reject the names of great men or movements or doctrines and meet in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, for the church is His bride. This in itself creates an immediate contrast, for the world is filled with denominations that proudly carry these other names as that which sets them apart, and into which one may only come by “joining.” There will be a functioning priesthood that includes all believers without professionals or any class distinction such as between “clergy” and “laity.” Church meetings will still continue steadfastly “in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (Acts 2:42).
What then is the value of such recognition?
It is a tremendous help to those who work with young believers as they seek to guide them into a place where they can grow in the Lord. It is a help to those who travel, to be able to identify places in which they might find fellowship with those of like mind. It is a help to all who take the stewardship of giving seriously, for we want to build on the foreign field what we are also building at home, and we want to avoid investing our resources in those things that are certain to fail because they are built on man’s traditions rather than on the Word which abides forever. It is a help to servants doing pioneer work if they can be commended and supported by those of like convictions. It is a help to local churches as they seek to invite visiting speakers and missionaries who will minister to the flock of God along Biblical lines…….. The list of benefits is endless. But in the end, there can be no greater blessing than that of bringing glory to the Lord Jesus by laying aside our own designs, and accepting His as best. Who can measure the pleasure He must find in such companies regardless of size or fame?
In conclusion, what prevents unity on this subject?