God established the New Testament churches to be a vital part of the life of the believer therefore, it is important for Christians to have a proper understanding about what a true New Testament church is and what is its function. Most Christians learned what they believe about the church from the practices and teachings of the churches they attended.
The question is this: "Can we rely on what we have been taught as being Biblical? Are the beliefs and practices of our churches what God established them to be in the New Testament?" It should be every believer's responsibility to know "what saith the Lord" on the matter of Christ's church. We need to scripturally determine what a true biblical church is, how it began, what is its importance and function, what is its organization, who is its Head, and who are its leaders and members?
An initial question we must ask ourselves is, "what is the authority for what we believe about the church?" The problem is that you can go to ten denominations and you will get ten different answers. How then can you know if the beliefs of your church are correct and what God intended them to be?
What is the answer? In a world in which there is so much confusion and difference of opinion, can we know for sure? The answer is yes, a resounding yes! We have a way, a sure and absolute way. That way is the Bible, God's Word. The problem is not that we cannot know what is correct. The problem is that some have declined to accept the Bible as the absolute authority and others have confused what it says because of not "rightly dividing the Word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15).
The Bible is God's Holy Word and it tells us that the institution of the "ekklesia" meaning local church was established by Christ Himself. (Matt. 16:18) He did not leave the matter of establishing His church to human wisdom nor did He leave us in the dark about what the church should be. He left His Word and complete instructions to deal with every aspect of establishing His church
Many of the practices of churches today come from a mixture of the Bible and their traditions. What they believe has been passed down through time and developed over their history. Infant baptism is a good example. You do not find the practice of infant baptism in the Bible. Yet, Catholics and many Protestant denominations practice infant baptism. Why? In their past some of their church leaders established it based on their misunderstanding of Bible passages such as Acts 16:33. In Acts 16:33, the verse says the jailer (who had received Christ) was baptized, "he and all his, straightway." They incorrectly concluded that this meant adults and children alike, or all his household including children. Acts 16:33 does not say infants were baptized. In truth we do not even know if the jailer had children.
Biblically then, is it proper to teach infant baptism using this verse? Do we find other places in the Bible that says infants were baptized? Do we find other places in the Bible that say infants were baptized? The answer is no as there is no reference in the Bible of infants being baptized. It is incorrect to practice infant baptism based on assumptions that are not supported by Scripture. These churches further their error by believing the church is the means of salvation and one must be a member of their church to be saved. Baptism to them is a sacrament, which places them in the church and therefore is necessary for salvation. They falsely conclude that baptizing an infant puts it under the protection of the church and assures that the infant will go to heaven. Their doctrine is based on a clear misinterpretation of Scripture and upon falsely applied logic. Today these denominations do not even question such teaching! Their "church fathers" established the practice as doctrine . . . so today it is accepted without question. Therefore, their "church fathers" are their authority for what they believe and practice, and not the Bible.
The mode of baptism as practiced by many churches is another example of following man's opinion instead of literally complying with God's Word. The Greek word used in the New Testament for baptism is "baptisma" (bap'-tis-mah). The word means, "to immerse" or dip under the water. There is no record of any church "sprinkling" or "pouring" in the New Testament. Those who use these methods get their practice from the opinions of man, not from what God has clearly stated in the Bible. This author's library contains a booklet written by a Protestant preacher who states the reasons why his denomination sprinkles and calls it baptism. He stated that he believed the early church sprinkled even though he admitted that the New Testament always refers to the mode of baptism as being immersion. One reason he gave for sprinkling was that there was not enough water in Jerusalem to have baptized five thousand people on the day of Pentecost. He said water in Jerusalem was too scarce and too precious to be used for baptism. Therefore he concluded that in Jerusalem they sprinkled instead of immersed. He also falsely concluded that Philip could not have immersed the eunuch because there was no water in the desert (Acts 8:26-39). So, he concluded, if there was not enough water they must have sprinkled the converts. This Protestant pastor has a poor understanding of God's ability to communicate what happened and properly instruct the early church. This Protestant preacher fails to understand that if they sprinkled those saved at Pentecost, God made a mistake and used the wrong word in recording the event; that God, who inspired the writing of the Book of Acts, mistakenly used the Greek word "baptizo" which means to immerse. Since God does not make mistakes, what does this Protestant preacher base this practice on? Clearly, the practice of sprinkling is man's opinion or human reasoning, and not what the Bible says. Therefore, are those that sprinkle or pour for baptism, biblical? They certainly are not obeying God's Word.
The matter is settled when we accept that God, the Holy Spirit, inspired the writers of the New Testament to use the Greek word that meant to immerse. There are other Greek words that mean to sprinkle or to pour, that God would have had the writers use if that had been what HE wanted them to convey. For churches that sprinkle, the Word of God is not their final authority and therefore God, by his Word, condemns their false practices.
The Bible is the Sole Authority for the Faith and Practice
of a True New Testament Church
What does God say, in the Bible, about His Word being the sole authority for the faith and practice of the New Testament church? There are two scriptures in the New Testament which affirm that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant word of God.
"Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost" (2 Peter 1:20-21).
In all matters of faith and practice the New Testament church has but one authority and that authority is the Bible, the very word of God. The Bible is free from error, this doctrine is called, "verbal plenary inspiration" meaning, every word God used was inspired of Him and is without error (2 Timothy 3:16). Some might conclude that since we do not have the original copies of the Books of the Bible that this makes today's Bible suspect. Nothing can be further from the truth. Note that God says He preserves His Word: "For verily, I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled" (Matthew 5:18). God not only gave us His Word He promised to preserve it for all eternity. God absolutely keeps His Word and we have His complete Word today. His Word is preserved in the Traditional Text (Byzantine or Majority Text) as represented by the "Textus Receptus" and translated into our King James Bible.
Note the warning to those who would attempt to add or subtract from the Bible.
The Bible says it is the Source of Salvation Pointing to Jesus.
"For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek" (Romans 1:16).
"So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17).
". . .and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 3:15).
"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, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables." (2 Timothy 4:1-4).
In order for a church to call itself a church in the true Biblical sense it must base its faith and practice solely on God's Word, the Bible. No mortal man founded the New Testament church; it was Christ who instituted the church.
Although a church is organized and administered by an assembly of believers the church is not their possession. Believers established a church based on Christ's instruction. It is Christ who owns the church and is the Head of the church. ". . . he hath purchased with his own blood." (Acts 20:28).
God cannot bless error or be party to false teaching. A church that is based on false doctrine is not a biblical church and God will have no part in it. Paul, in Galatians 1:7-9, twice says that anyone who would pervert the Gospel, "let him be accursed." No man, or congregation that claims to be a church of God, has the right to change anything God has said for any reason. A biblical church is one in whom Christ is the Head, and follows the Word of God. If a church does not follow the Bible, then it is not a church that belongs to God, because in refusing to obey the scriptures they separate themselves from God.
In Matthew 16:18, Jesus said He would build His church. How then did Christ proceed in establishing His church? He began to instruct His disciples and entrusted them with carrying out His instructions. The New Testament is clear that they followed His instructions to the letter. Christ has not changed His instructions to His church. The way He left it is the way He intended it to remain. Any man, church or denomination who establishes a church on any other basis is not a biblical church. If a church allows traditions or the opinions of men to establish its doctrine and practice it is in grave error and is not establishing a true New Testament church. Jesus said, "For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Christ Jesus" (1 Corinthians 3:10-11). A church that is established that does not follow the New Testament example does not have God's approval, blessing, or presence.
In Revelation 2:5-6, Jesus warned the church at Ephesus that it should repent and return to its first love. Jesus said plainly that if they did not repent he would come quickly and remove their candlestick which means the light on which the church was founded. In other words, if the church did not repent God's presence and power would be removed and they would be left in darkness. It is interesting that Jesus commended them on hating the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which He said He also hated. The Nicolaitans were a heretical sect of people in the church. The word means, "Niko" to conquer and "Laos" the people. It means simply this: Their philosophy was to put a difference between the "laity" (the people) and the clergy (the pastors). This was an attempt to reestablish the Old Testament priesthood in the churches which led to a group of leaders which were above the common people. This hateful practice later led to the establishment of a hierarchy in which the local church was ruled by an outside organization. Their idea is that the spiritual work of a church can only be done by the elite leaders in the church. They falsely teach that only to these special persons does God speak and these people have the authority to control and dictate to the congregation. Thus, only an elite little group has access to God and the people must come through them in order to worship and serve God. Ultimately the Nicolaitan philosophy is to enslave the congregation by controlling its access to God. The Roman, Orthodox and Protestant churches are the result of success of the Nicolaitan's efforts.
Jesus said "the gates of hell shall not prevail against" the church (Matthew 16:18). This applies to the church He founded and assures us that there are sound biblical churches today. Our responsibility to the Lord is to make sure that we are part of a church that follows the Bible.
What Does the Word Church Mean?
In order to establish a New Testament church we must first know what the word "church" means in Scripture. In the world it means different things to different people. The word, in English usage, is commonly used to refer to a building or a denomination. Today the word is commonly used to refer to the whole of all Christians of all time or what is referred to as the "universal church." Further the term "the church" is used to refer to any Christian assembly regardless of doctrine or practice. In establishing the biblical definition of the word it is essential that we understand its original meaning as established by Christ in the New Testament. It biblically always refers to a local group of believers meeting in a particular geographical location. There is no basis in the New Testament for the idea of a universal church.
The Greek word, "ekklesia" is translated in most places in the New Testament "church." The word "ekklesia" is found in one hundred and fifteen places in the New Testament. It is translated in English one hundred and twelve times as "church." Three times it is translated as "assembly." In Greek, which is the language in which our New Testament was written, the word "ekkleisa" simply meant "an assembly of citizens summoned by the crier, the legislative assembly."1
The word as used in the New Testament is taken from the root of this word, which simply means to simply, "call out." The New Testament uses the word exclusively to represent a group of people assembled or "called out" to meet together for a particular cause. It is never used to refer to a universal or catholic church.
A careful examination of the word "ekklesia" reveals that English translation means "assembly" or "congregation". It is used in regard to a group of persons that are organized and meet together for a common purpose. The normal usage of the Greek word in New Testament times was understood by all to mean simply "an assembly." The word, in normal usage, could refer to different kinds of assemblies. A town meeting would be called an "ekklesia." The word "ekklesia," is used in Acts 19:39-41 to refer to a civil assembly of local townspeople of Ephesus, which included idol makers. Verse 19, states, "And when he had thus spoken, he dismissed the assembly (ekklesia)" (Acts 19:41). Further, the modern English word "church" cannot be translated back into Greek because there is no word in New Testament Greek that has the equivalent English definition. More will be said on this later.
"Ekklesia", used by itself, does not tell you who is meeting, but only that a group is to assemble. As Acts 19:41 shows, the context of the passage tells you who is meeting. In most places in the New Testament, it refers to a local assembly of believers in Jesus Christ. These believers met in rented halls and in the homes of people. They had "elders" or bishops which were called of God and given the oversight of the local congregation (Acts 20:28).
In the New Testament the word "ekklesia" is normally used to refer to an assembly of believers. For example: "the assemblies (ekklesia) of Asia" (1 Corinthians 16:19). The KJV translates this passage, "the churches of Asia." However in Acts 7:38 the word refers to the nation of Israel that was camped at Mt. Sinai, in Moses' day.
"This is he, that was in the church (ekklesia) in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us" (Acts 7:38)
The local church was not known in the Old Testament and Israel was definitely not a church, or assembly of Church Age saints. This is evidence that the word was not used exclusively to indicate an assembly of New Testament believers, therefore only the context can tell you who was meeting. The context of the passage the word is found in determines who was meeting together. In Acts 19:32, 39, 41 we know that the "ekklesia" or assembly was a group of idol makers. Acts 19:24-25 states that a man named Demetruis, a silversmith, who made idols, called all workman of like occupation together for a meeting. In verse 39, it says "But if ye inquire any thing concerning other matters, it shall be determined in a lawful assembly (ekklesia)." (Acts 19:39)" The word "assembly" is the Greek word "ekklesia." This is the same word that is translated "church" in other places.
There is no grammatical reason to translate the word "assembly" found here, and in other places, as the word "church." The context of each usage of the word tells us what kind of assembly was meeting. The Bible does not make a distinction in the use of the word. Thus the definition of the word is absolute proof the word does not refer to a universal "church."
Today few know why the word "church" was used in the King James Bible instead of the word "assembly" or "congregation." When King James authorized the translation of the Bible in 1611 he made a number of rules which the translators were required to follow. The were not allowed any choice and the following two rules were imposed on the KJV translators that dealt with this matter:
3. The old Ecclesiastical Words to be kept, viz. the Word Church not to be translated Congregation etc.2
The King James Bible translators were under obligation to use the English word "church" even though it was not a proper translation. The reason for this is apparent. The word "assembly" or "congregation" did not support the founding of a hierarchical form of church government such as the Roman Catholic, Anglican and Protestant churches had set up. King James was a theologian and fully understood the ramifications of properly translating the word "ekklesia" into assembly or congregation. If the word "ekklesia" was translated "assembly or congregation" it would show that God's institution was to be a local congregation or assembly of believers. This would expose the unbiblical hierarchy of the Church of England and undermine its authority. Historically, during this time, Baptist churches were being established and the hierarchal system of church government was being attacked as being unbiblical.
The Bishops Bible was used as the immediate foundation for the King James Bible and it used the word "church" instead of "congregation." King James or the officials of the Church of England (1604) had required these translators also to use the word "church" instead of congregation or assembly.
A look at any English dictionary will reveal the English word church is taken from a late Greek word "kyridakon", not "ekklesia." The word "kyridakon" is not found in the New Testament and came into being in the 16th Century long after New Testament times.
The term "church" was first used by Theodore Beza, a Protestant, in 1556, who followed John Calvin at Geneva. It would be normal for a Protestant, who followed a hierarchical "Presbyterian" (elder rule) form of church government to use the word "church" instead of "assembly."3 The use of the word "congregation" or "assembly" would not support his church's hierarchical government. 4 William Whittingham's Testament of 1557 followed Beza's usage of "church."5 This was actually the first edition of the Geneva Bible and was a revision of the Tyndale New Testament. The Tyndale (1526) translation had properly used the term "congregation."
The Matthew's Bible (1537), translated by John Rogers who used the pen name of Thomas Matthew, correctly used the word "congregation." He was an assistant and friend of William Tyndale. The Matthew's Bible was the first entire Tyndale Bible. Tyndale completed the New Testament, and part of the Old Testament before he was martyred. Matthew completed the translation of the Old Testament (using some work from Coverdale) and published the first entire Tyndale Bible under the name "Thomas Matthew." The Great Bible (1539) also used the term "congregation." The Geneva New Testament of 1557, produced by William Whittingham, was the first to use the word "church" (note the Protestant source of the translation). The Bishop's Bible (1568) was a revision of the Geneva Bible and continued the use of the term "church." (For an article addressing the translation of the word "ekklesia" as "church" click here.)
This shows that the use of the word "church", instead of "assembly" or "congregation", came from those who had a hierarchical and unscriptural form of church government. To have translated the word "ekklesia" accurately into "assembly" or "congregation" would have exposed their form of church government as being in error. They knew the truth that God had not set up a hierarchical form of church government and deliberately used the word "church" to confuse and support their false doctrine.
What then does the biblical word, translated in our English Bibles as church, really mean? It simply means an assembly of people. The New Testament knows nothing of using any formal word to refer exclusively to the assembly of believers. Further the concept of a universal church is not found in God's word.
What is the Significance of the New Testament's use of the word Ekklesia?
The correct definition of the word "church" has great and far reaching implications. First it means there is no biblical basis for a church hierarchy outside the local church or local assembly of believers. The only "ekklesia" the New Testament knows is a local assembly of believers. The word "ekklesia" cannot be correctly used in a universal sense referring to all believers everywhere or what some call the "universal" or "invisible" church. . A universal church cannot meet in one place together and assemble; therefore, the word cannot be used to refer to all believers of all time, all over the world.
Only once in the New Testament are believers referred to universally. This reference is to the Second Coming of Christ. In Revelation 21:9, New Testament believers are not called a church, but "the bride of Christ." At the Second Coming, there are no assemblies on earth. They will all have been raptured, at the beginning of the Seven Year Tribulation, and judged during the following seven years preceding the Second Coming. At this point in time, in Revelation 21:9, we see the body of Christ coming to earth with the Bridegroom to reign with Him.
Some conclude that the term "body of Christ" (1 Cor. 12:27, Eph. 4:12) refers to a universal church. However, "the body of Christ" and the "ekklesia" are two different bodies. The "body of Christ" is made up of all believers of all times from Pentecost to the Rapture. The word "ekklesia", on the other hand, only refers to those alive and assembled together in a particular locality. In 1 Corinthians 12, the whole of the chapter is referring to the makeup and relationship of individual members of a local assembly using the analogy of the human body.
In 1 Corinthians 12:13, the verse reads, "For by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body." This is referring to water baptism and is not referring to the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. The Baptism of the Holy Spirit is an individual matter in which the believer receives the indwelling of the Holy Spirit at conversion. Water baptism is another matter. It is a public declaration of a born-again Christian obeying the Lord and by baptism identifying with Christ and the local assembly of believers. Clearly, when a believer was baptized he was baptized into a local assembly (Acts 2:41, 47). A believer becomes a member of the local church when he identifies with Christ and the local church through his baptism. No believer is baptized into all churches worldwide. In 1 Corinthians 12: 24-25, Paul says the reason for this instruction was that there not be any "schism in the body" and "that the members should have the same care one for another." This phrase limits the body to a local church and precludes it referring to a "universal" or "invisible" church. It is beyond human ability to govern a world wide church; the overseeing of all believers on earth is the sole responsibility of Christ Himself. Even if you ignored the context surrounding 1 Corinthians 12: 24-25 and conclude that this passage is referring to all believers, you must also equally conclude that the application of these verses can only be done on a local level. Therefore this verse is not teaching the concept of a universal church.
1 Corinthians 12:26 reads: "And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it". Clearly this statement can not apply to a universal, world wide church. Churches in Africa are at this moment suffering gross persecution, but the effects of it are not known in America or other parts of the world. Yet, when a member of a local assembly suffers, others of that assembly know and share the burden of that brother(s) in the Lord.
If there is a "universal" church then why didn't God give clear instructions as to its government. In the Bible, God always gave some degree of organization to everything he created. There is no reference or even a hint of an organization of a "universal" church. God clearly did not establish a hierarchical system of government collectively over the all churches (plural). Each church rules itself following the New Testament example and principles. God in Revelation 2:6, 15, said he "hated" the Nicolaitans who sought to set up a hierarchy to rule over the people. It would be against God's very nature to sanction human government over a universal church. This would violate the autonomy of the local assembly of believers which He clearly established and said He hated (Rev. 2:5, 15). The "ekklesia" that Christ established had organization. It met together, had pastors (bishops), it took the Lord's Supper, it baptized new converts into its assembly, it supported missions, administered and edified the members of the church. A so called "universal" or "invisible" church can do none of these things.
Another important truth in the New Testament is the early churches did not have a pope or any central leader over all the assemblies. Popery is foreign to God's word. None of the Apostles claimed that distinction and no early assembly recognized any authority outside its congregation. Even when the dispute arose at Antioch, this church sent Paul, Barnabas, and certain men of that assembly to Jerusalem to see their counsel. The result was that the those at Jerusalem made a recommendation to their sister congregation at Antioch. (Acts 15:1-31)
It is Christ who established the local church and He has said to us that the scriptures are given by God to instruct us. They teach us doctrine, reproof, correction and righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16). Why? That we might be fully equipped to do the works of God. Christ established the church for His disciples or those who trust in Him as their Lord and Savior. There are many reasons why Christ established the local church. Believers are edified (built up) in the faith by the leaders and teachers of the local assembly (Eph. 4:11-13). God uses the local church as a training ground to teach others the word of God. (2 Tim. 2:2) It is a place where the child of God gives his tithes and offerings to the Lord for the support of local church and missions (Acts 4:32-37; 1 Cor. 8:1-6; 9:6-15; Phil. 4:15-19). The local church provides a place where believers come together to pray for one another and work for the Lord (2 Cor. 1:11). The local church sends out missionaries (Acts 11:19-30, 13:1-3, 14:27).
One thing is clear; if Christ established the local church then no believer should ignore it or refuse to be a part of it. The local church is a vital and necessary part of a disciple's life. A believer outside the church would be like a fish out of water. Christ established the "ekkleisa" for individual believers to band together in carrying out God's purposes.
All Believers are Placed in the Local Church upon their Baptism.
The Bible says that after Pentecost those who were saved by faith in Jesus Christ were added to the assembly of the original one hundred and twenty believers gathered in the upper room (Acts 1:15). In Acts 2:47, the New Testament says that those who were saved were "added to the church daily." The Bible knows nothing of believers who are not a part of the local church. The word "added" in the verse is the Greek word 'pros-tith'-ay-mee'; it means "to place additionally", i.e. lay beside, annex, repeat: -add, again, give more, increase, lay unto, proceed further."6
Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words gives the following information on this word:
Acts 2:47 is saying that God added to or increased the local church each time a person received Christ. In addition to being saved, the believer became a member of the church in Jerusalem when he was baptized. We have seen in this study that the word "church" never refers to a "universal church" but always to a "local assembly of believers." These new believers were added to the church in Jerusalem. Later when believers returned to their cities, they became members of the local churches in the town in which they lived. For example:
When a person is saved he should immediately submit to Scriptural baptism and become a member of a local church. The "Church Covenant" accepted by Baptist churches recognizes this Biblical Truth and makes this statement in the last paragraph:
"We moreover purpose that when we remove from this place we will as soon as possible unite with some other church of like faith in order where we can carry out the spirit of this covenant and the principles of God's Word. If there is no such church, we shall seek, with the Lord's help, to establish one."
Believers are to Learn Doctrine in the Local Church.
The Bible says doctrine is to be taught in the local church. Note what Paul says in Ephesians 4:11-16: "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: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love." (Eph. 4:11-16)
In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul, in giving instruction on the local church, says, "But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased." (V18) Note in V28, the same truth is presented; that God set believers in the local assembly and gave all the spiritual gifts in the context of the local church. "And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues." (1 Corinthians 12:28) The gifts that are given to believers are to be used in relation to the local church. Nowhere in the New Testament do you find believers serving God apart from the local church. Never do you find believers who are not a part of a local assembly of believers.
Believers are Instructed Not to Forsake the Assembling of Themselves Together.
In Hebrews 10:24-25, the Bible commands us to: ". . . consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching." God clearly instructs us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together. When the church meets we should be there and support the work and worship of the local church.
Believers are to be Under the Leadership of the Pastor and Church.
Pastors are called of God to oversee the local assembly of believers. "Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood." (Acts 20:28) Further God states, "As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, "Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." (Acts 13:2)
Believers should be members of a local church and under the care of the pastor called by God to shepherd that local church. God's plan is that they be under the supervision (overseeing) of God's under-shepherd. God says in Hebrews 13:17 that the members of a local church should be submissive and follow the local pastor as he follows the Lord.
Believers who are not a part of a local church are not obeying God by putting themselves under the leadership of God's pastor and the local church. (For an article titled "What is so important about attending church?" Click here.)
The pastor is the leader of the church not the "lord" of the assembly. The New Testament instructs pastors to, "Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock." (1 Pet. 5:2-3) "Feeding the flock," means to teach them the Word of God. "Taking the oversight," refers to providing spiritual and administrative leadership or oversight. The pastor has no authority other than that given to him by the New Testament. He is the Lord's servant doing the Lord's work. His first responsibility is to the Lord, and he is to preach, teach and live by the Bible, God's word. He, and the congregation alike, are to obey the Word of God so that there will be unity in the assembly.
The Pastor has the responsibility to: "Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine" (2 Timothy 4:2). He is not to "lord" over the congregation in the sense of acting as the boss, master or dictator of the people. (1 Pet. 5:3) He is to lead by example and by the Word of God. He does have the responsibility to reprove and rebuke false teaching and actions in accordance with what the Bible teaches and to make sure his congregation is pure in doctrine and deed. The basis of his authority is the Word of God which he is called to uphold without compromise. Pastors and congregations who follow the word of God will be in harmony.
The pastor is to do this willingly which refers to his calling to the position and his responsibility to God. He is not to choose being a pastor as a vocation because of its financial benefits, position, or any other reason. A man does not choose to be a pastor as one chooses an occupation, but is chosen by God. The pastor is to serve the church because God called him to shepherd the Lord's flock and he wants to do God's will in his life. It does not mean he is not to live by the ministry and receive financial support. "Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward." (1 Tim. 5:17-18) Double honor refers to respect and also to be supported by those he serves. (Also see 1 Thess. 5:12-17, 1 Cor. 9:14, 2 Cor. 11:7-9)
A believer ought to be a part of supporting missions through their local church. The clear New Testament example is that it was the local church which sent forth missionaries. In the New Testament there are no para-church organizations or mission boards. Further no church has the authority to delegate this responsibility to anyone else which would include mission boards, conventions, or any agency outside the local congregation. Mission boards can only function biblically when they are under the direct supervision and direction of a local church and function as a missions support agency. The Bible teaches that missionaries are to be supported spiritually and materially by the assembly of believers, both on an individual basis and collectively. (Acts 15:3, 20:38, 21:5, Rom. 15:24, 1 Cor. 16:6,11, 2 Cor. 1:16, Titus 3:13, 3 John 6) Missionaries were ordained and sent out by the local church. (Acts 13:2-3) Mission boards have no authority to call missionaries or to send missionaries. To be a part of God's plan for the propagation of the Gospel it is important that the local church follow the biblical example. Christ himself commissioned His disciples and commanded them to: "Go ye therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, `teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the age" (Matt. 28:19-20).
That responsibility is clearly given though the ministry of the local congregation as the collectively carry out the Great Commission.
God's instructions concerning the believer's responsibility to support the work of God is given to the local church. In Corinthians, he tells them, "Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come" (1 Cor. 16:1-2, 2 Cor. 8-9). Paul is commanding the Corinthians, as well as the Galatians, to take the collections for the saints at Jerusalem, in the church on Sunday (the day they met). The use of God's tithe and offerings was a matter for the local church. An individual believer can support any ministry or cause he desires. However, he is not to do it with God's tithes or offerings. A local church collectively has that responsibility. Tithes and offerings were commanded by God and are His plan to carry on His work. The individual believers is given a special privilege to be a part of God's plan and is rewarded for their faithfulness.
Believers have a Responsibility in Helping Govern the Local Church.
Christ, in establishing His church, was instituting order and organization by which believers would carry on His work. Government of the local church was by simple limited democracy, based on obeying God's instructions and under the direction of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 6:5, 13:1-3, 15:22) Democracy in a local church is strictly limited to following the guidelines and principles in the New Testament. No hierarchal system of church government was established, in which popes or prophets or anyone operating outside the local congregation ruled over an individual or collection of churches. More will be said about this later.
Believers who Need Discipline are Disciplined Under the Authority of the Local Church.
The disciplining of believers (unruly believers , and those in open sin) is to be done by the local church. (Matt. 18:15-17, 2 Thess 3:6, Titus 3:10, 1 Cor. 5:1-13) The Bible lists many "public offenses:"
False doctrine. Gal. 1:9, 2 John 10
Disregard of authority. Matt. 18:17
Contention and strife. Rom. 16:17, 1 Cor. 11:16
Immoral conduct. 1 Cor. 5:11
Disorderly walk. 2 Thess. 3:6, 11
A covetous walk. Eph. 5:5, 1 Cor. 5:11
Arrogant deportment. 3 John 9-10
Going to law. 1 Cor. 6:5-7
Clearly what Jesus said in regard to correcting an erring brother "tell it unto the church (ekklesia)" (Matthew 18:17). He was giving the ultimate responsibility to the local assembly of believers.
Believers who need Healing are to Call the Elders of Their Local Church for Prayer.
The prayer for the sick was also clearly a function of the local church. James says "Is any sick among you ? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him." (James 5:14, 15)
After the institution of the local church began in Acts 2, those who received the miracle gift of healing were always a part of the local church. Peter and John, who performed the first miracles after the church began, were Apostles and elders in the church at Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas were missionaries ordained and sent out by the church at Antioch. Everywhere you find miracle healings, after Pentecost, the miracles were always related to the ministry of a local church.
Clearly, God's plan is that born again Christians be a part of a local church. Nowhere in the New Testament, after the institution of the local church was established, do you find believers serving God outside the authority or rule of the local church. Those who served the Lord were sent out, and supported in prayer and materially, by the local churches. The New Testament gives no example of any ministry outside the local church. This is an important and vital truth everyone who professes Christ should understand. Present day ministries should be directed from and under the authority of a local congregation. The biblical example is that God always organizes everything He begins; and He establishes clear lines of responsibility. For example in the first missionary work, the church at Jerusalem sent Barnabas to organize the believers at Antioch into a church (Acts 11:19-24). Later Paul and Barnabas were sent from the church at Antioch as missionaries. (Act 13:1-3) They reported the results of their missionary travels back to Antioch. The biblical principle is that a ministry approved by God should be under the care and supervision of a local church.
The church is at the very center of Christ's plan for each believer. Christ is to have absolute first place in the believer's life.(Col. 1:18) Christ, through the Holy Spirit, administers to His sheep through the local church. It is where believers gather, fellowship, worship, serve, and grow in the Lord.
THE DISTINCTIVES OF A NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH
These are the distinctives of true Baptist churches. Traditionally it has been Baptist churches that practiced all these Bible principles. A church must believe and practice all of these distinctives to establish that it is truly a New Testament church. If it fails to accept even one of these principles, it is not a New Testament church and certainly not a Baptist church.
I. THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH ACCEPTS ONLY THE NEW TESTAMENT AS ITS SOLE AUTHORITY IN ALL MATTERS OF FAITH AND PRACTICE.
This means that a true Biblical church does not accept any authority for its faith and practice, outside the New Testament Scriptures. This in no way lessens the importance of the Old Testament Scriptures. The church is not found in the Old Testament because it is the record of God's dealing with Israel. Only in the New Testament do you find the pattern and instructions from God concerning the church. It also means that the true New Testament church does not accept for doctrine or practice the councils of men, dominations or tradition.
The New Testament church believes the Word of God, that the Bible is complete, and it is, solely: "... given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished (equipped) unto all good works." (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
The New Testament church rejects the idea that God is giving supposed "new revelations", believing that HE forbids any adding to, or taking away of the canon of Scriptures (John 14:26, 16:13, I Cor. 13:8-10; Heb. 1:1-2, Jude 3, Rev. 22:18-19) We do not accept any authority over the local New Testament Church, but Christ Himself. Any hierarchy including popes, councils of churches, priests or any other group of men, outside the local church, is unscriptural. Christ is our Head, and the New Testament Scriptures are the true churches sole authority.
II. THE AUTONOMY OF THE LOCAL CHURCH
"Autonomy" means: self-governing and independent from its other parts. The autonomy of the local church means that the church governs itself. The Biblical example of a New Testament church is one that is not ruled by any outside board, hierarchical system or another church. A church following God's word has no need for any outside authority. The local congregation with God's word can fully rule itself in accordance with God's will.
FORMS OF CHURCH GOVERNMENT IN PRACTICE TODAY:
2. Episcopalian: The word means "bishop." The authority of the church as a denomination rests with bishops. This is a hierarchal system of church government. The bishops make up a board which rules over the churches which are under them. Episcopal and Methodist churches use this system.
3. Presbyterian: The word means "elder." A board of elders elected by the congregation rule the church as well as over the denomination. These elders may or may not be preachers.
4. Congregational: This is the biblical form of church government. The final authority in a church rests with the congregation. Each member has a vote and the rule is democratic. The church does not answer to any authority outside of itself. The Pastor is the administrative and spiritual leader of the congregation, having been called and appointed by God to the position. The membership, after seeking the leading of the Holy Spirit, issue a call to the pastor. The church recognizes that Christ is the Head of the local church and the Bible is God's instruction and authority. It owns its property. It appoints committees and individuals to take certain responsibilities. The Book of Acts gives two clear examples of congregational government. In Acts. 6:1-7, the appointment of the first deacons was by done by the apostles who presented the chosen men to the whole church to be elected. In Acts 15, there arose a dispute over whether Gentile believers should required to keep the Law of Moses and be circumcised. The two churches involved were the assembly at Antioch and Jerusalem. The pastors from Antioch were sent to Jerusalem and held a council with the church there. The pastors, apostles and the whole church met together and made the recommendation (Acts 15:7, 12, 22, 25).
Acts 6:1-7, records that the early church elected special men to do a particular task. These men were the first deacons. They were not officers or leaders in the church, but men chosen by the congregation to perform a particular administrative menial task that needed to be done. The apostles and pastors were the leaders of the church. (Click here for to read my article, "The Biblical Role of Deacons")
IV. THE LOCAL CHURCH IS THE FINAL AUTHORITY IN DISCIPLINE.
In Matthew 18:15-17 the Lord Jesus taught that the local church had the final authority in disciplining an erring member. 1 Corinthians 5:1-5, and 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15, teach that it is the local church that has the responsibility to discipline members.
V. THE LOCAL CHURCH HAS THE ABSOLUTE RIGHT OF SELF-GOVERNMENT.
The New Testament plainly teaches that churches are to be governed by congregational rule strictly following biblical guidelines. That means the church as a form of democracy that is exercised and restricted by teachings and examples of the New Testament. A biblical church is led by a pastor or bishop, but that person can only govern in accordance with biblical principles. The ultimate authority in a biblical church is the New Testament. A biblical church has no pope, prophet, or hierarchal ruler or authority inside or outside the local assembly that dictates polity or practice. One of the many examples in the New Testament of this principle is found in Acts 1:23. Jesus' disciples collectively chose two men from among them, Barsabas and Matthias to replace Judas who betrayed Christ. The Greek word used for "appointed" is "histemi." It means to put forward or "to propose."
They proposed two men for this responsibility and then sought God's choice by casting lots. We do not cast lots today for two reasons. First, we have the complete Bible with instructions as to how we are to choose men for service. Second, they were choosing an apostle. We do not have apostles today; Christ called each apostle. There is no record of the assemblies, after the death of the apostles, appointing men to replace them. God gave Paul instructions as to the qualifications of pastors and deacons in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, 3:8-13, and Titus 1:5-9.
They did began the procedure of choosing men from among themselves. In Acts 6:1-7 the local church chose seven men as special servants (deacons). The assembly was instructed to choose from among them seven men of good report, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom to elect to the position of administering over the distribution of food to the widows. The assembly chose seven men and set them before the Apostles who laid hands on them, as a sign of appointment.
In Acts 15:2, the Antioch assembly elected Paul and Barnabas with several other men to go to Jerusalem and question the apostles about the matter of the Gentiles. After the matter was decided, the Jerusalem church sent men of their assembly with Paul and Barnabas, to convey the message. The message was that the Holy Spirit had directed them in their decision and the local church agreed. It was not a command. It was a recommendation.
The local church is to discipline its members (1 Cor. 6:13. 2 Thess. 3:6,14-15). It is scriptural for local churches to associate with each other for fellowship and the propagation of the Gospel (Romans 16:1-2, 1 Cor. 16:1-2, Acts 15:2-4, 22-27, 30-33, 18:27). The local church sends out missionaries. In Acts 13:1-4, the local church at Antioch under the direction of the Holy Spirit commissioned and sponsored the first missionaries. In Acts 14:26-27, they returned and reported to the church what God had done. The local church is pictured in Scripture as autonomous, meaning it governs itself under the direction of the scriptures and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The local congregation rules itself led by the Holy Spirit with no hierarchy of individuals or organization over it in or out of the local assembly.
VI. THE PRIESTHOOD OF BELIEVERS
The New Testament church is made up of individual born-again believers who can go directly to God in prayer without the intercession any man. Christ is our only Intercessor and is our High Priest.
In 1 Tim. 2:1, Paul instructs individuals to pray, and describes various subjects of prayer. In Verse 5, he states, "For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim. 2:5). There is both private (Matt. 6:6) and public prayer (Acts 4:24-31).
Hebrews 4:14-16, states that Christ is our High Priest who personally knows our every need and emotion. We are to boldly go to the throne of Grace (God the Father), to find help in time of need. In the Jesus' model prayer, Luke 11:1-4, Christ instructed us to pray to the Father. All prayer in the Bible is addressed to God the Father. When we pray to God the Father we are praying through Jesus Christ and being led by the Holy Spirit. We address our prayer to the Father because He is the Head of the Trinity.
Nowhere in Scripture are we instructed to pray to a "saint", Mary, or anyone else but God the Father. Christ is our sole Intercessor, no other exists. We are to confess our sins directly to God and personally ask Him for forgiveness (1 John 1:9).
In the Old Testament the priests offered sacrifices and interceded for the Children of Israel. Everything they did was a picture of the coming Messiah and Intercessor Christ Jesus. After Christ had come believers no longer needed the picture or symbol, we have the reality of Christ as our personal Intercessor. Every believer is a priest in that he can boldly go to the throne of grace. (See Heb. 4:16) God says:
The Holy Spirit's ministry is lead us in our prayers to the Lord. "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints" (Eph. 6:18).
"But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit" (Jude 20).
Every believer has the Holy Spirit, who leads him and enables him to know the things of God. 1 Corinthians 2:1-16 tells us we can know nothing of God apart from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Romans 8:26 tells us that the Holy Spirit helps us in our weaknesses. The Holy Spirit himself makes intercession for us for things we do not know how to express. You may not know exactly how to pray or what to pray for, yet the Holy Spirit knows and intercedes for us. Note the phrase, "groanings which cannot be uttered." This groaning is not verbal prayer (speaking in tongues), it is not our own prayer; this is the interceding of the Holy Spirit that goes on without our knowledge. We are told this (in Rom. 8:26) to help us understand that we are to pray as best we can and the Holy Spirit, who knows our hearts, will intercede for our inadequacies. Even our prayers are purified and corrected by the Spirit. This has nothing to do with ecstatic speech or the false teaching and practice of praying in the spirit being practiced today. The Bible knows nothing of praying without understanding what we are praying. We pray the best we can with our understanding and the Spirit intercedes.
VII. THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH HAS ONLY TWO ORDINANCES
Baptism and the Lord's Supper are the only two ordinances given to the local church. "Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers" (Acts 2:41-42)
Baptism and the Lord's Supper are not "sacraments" having saving properties or necessary for salvation. These are ordinances, or acts, ordained and commanded by God to believes in a local church. There is not mention or hint that these two practices had saving properties, were necessary for salvation.
In Acts 2:41, the three thousand souls who received Christ withdrew from the crowd and were baptized. In doing so they identified themselves with the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. They believed Peter's sermon and received "his word." Peter's word was the Gospel, the Good News that Christ was the Messiah and that He had died for the sins of the world; that He was buried and rose on the third day from the grave.
They were baptized which was a public dedication of their belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, the Messiah. They showed, by their submission to baptism, that they believed in His death, burial and resurrection. Baptism always follows salvation. It is never presented as salvation or as a sacrament. A sacrament is defined as a religious act which has saving properties. In other words, an act which helps in saving a person. The Bible knows nothing of any sacrament. Men are saved by faith in Jesus Christ and salvation is the free gift of God. "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9). (For further reading go to http://bible-truth.org/baptism.htm "What Does the Bible Say About Baptism?" )
In Hebrews 11, the Old Testament saints are presented as being saved because of their faith in what God told them to do. They trusted God and obeyed. The Old Testament sacrifices were understood as being a picture that was symbolic of looking forward till the day the Messiah would come and make atonement for sin. The Bible knows nothing of infant baptism. Only those who trusted in Christ were baptized. An infant can not understand and receive the Gospel by believing. Therefore an infant should not be baptized.
THE MODE OF BAPTISM
The word baptism means to immerse. Actually the Greek word is transliterated into an English spelling. If it was translated, it would mean to dip, bury, submerge or to immerse. There are other Greek words which mean to sprinkle or pour, but they are not used in reference to baptism. Romans 6:3, makes baptism a picture of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Sprinkling or pouring does not symbolize this.
History records that all churches practiced immersion until about 250 AD. After that time, for the sake of convenience at a time of sickness, clinical baptism was practiced. Once allowed, others began to ask for sprinkling, including old people and later on it was allowed for any who asked for it. Most Protestant denominations will immerse if requested, however it is not taught or encouraged. The Roman Catholic Church did not make sprinkling its mode of baptism until 1311. Those who sprinkle do so as a means of convenience and ignore the biblical teaching of the mode of baptism!
THE LORD'S SUPPER
Christ instituted the Lord's Supper the night before He died. (Matt. 26:26-30) The Lord's Supper was a memorial act for believers. It was given to bring to remembrance, Christ's sufferings and death for our sins (1 Corinthians 11:26). When an assembly takes the Lord's Supper they show or proclaim their belief in Christ's death for the remission of sin, looking forward to the day when Christ will return.
The Lord's Supper is only for believers. It is mockery for an unbeliever to take the Lord's Supper. An unbeliever has not believed or received Christ as their Savior and thus has no part in salvation. In verse 28, a person is admonished to examine himself before he takes the Lord's Supper. It warns that one who eats and drinks unworthily eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's body.
The Lord's Supper is a picture of Christ's suffering and death for our sin. For a man to take the Supper and not to believe and receive Christ by faith, is blatant sin. To have knowledge of Christ's suffering for one's sins and then to reject Christ as one's Savior is tantamount to belittling and mocking Christ. It mocks Christ and belittles His suffering, for a believer to have unconfessed sin in his life and still take the Lord's Suffer which is a memorial remembering Christ's suffering. The believer is to examine himself first, confess sin and then take the Lord's Supper. No one is "worthy" in himself to take the Lord's Supper. But it honors Christ when we confess our sins and receive His free gift of forgiveness. It shows a deep respect and regard for Christ's suffering when we repent of sin and turn from it. "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? . . .Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid." (Romans 6:1-2,12-15)
The elements of the Supper, the bread and the cup are only symbolic of the body and blood of Christ. They do not, as practiced by Catholicism, magically become the actual body and blood of Christ. Nor do those who take the Lord's Supper become spiritually "blessed," as some believe, thus affording the taker some spiritual benefit. Taking the Lord's Supper is an act of worship that is directed in thanksgiving to the Lord. This ordinance is not directed to the believer, but towards God. The bread and the wine are only symbolic, and the value in taking the Lord's Supper is in the honoring and the revering of Christ for His suffering for us, and for self-examination to judge sin in our own lives.
THE RELATIONSHIP OF THE ORDINANCES TO THE LOCAL CHURCH
We call these two symbolic acts "ordinances" because the Lord ordained or appointed them. They are not sacraments or a means of dispensing grace. Grace is only obtained by faith in Christ Jesus. Believers follow the ordinances because Christ commanded us too (Matthew 28:19-20). When Christ commissioned the disciples to baptize and observe all things that He had taught He also told them to wait until they were indwelt and empowered by the Holy Spirit. (See Acts 1:4-5) The institution of the local church began when it was empowered by the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Christ forbade them to go before they received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Christ commissioned the church to practice the ordinances, not individuals, schools, Christian youth groups, camps, etc. 1 Corinthians 11:20 states that this local church was to "come together" for the purpose of taking the Lord's Supper. Note that in verses 17, 18, and 33 the context and setting is clear; it was the local assembly which had come together. A memorial is a public declaration or remembrance. Eph. 5:25, states Christ died for the "ekklesia" the local assembly or church. The Lord's Supper was taken with all of Christ's disciples present. The Lord's Supper is an act of public worship (1 Cor. 11). There is no record in the Bible of an individual, or anyone apart from a local church, taking the Lord's Supper.
How often it is to be done is left up to the church. The only instruction is "For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come." (1 Corinthians 11:26)" The charge and instructions are given to the "whole church." Individual ministers are not given the authority to conduct the Lord's Supper at their discretion, but as the assembly desires.
VIII. THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH PRACTICES SOUL LIBERTY"
"But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him." (1 John 2:27)
Every believer has the responsibility and right to interpret the Scriptures, to hold and profess and to worship God as the Bible teaches. No church or religious organization has God's authority to direct believers to obey it or recognize it as their authority to any further degree other than directing them to follow the scriptures. The word of God is one's authority, not the church organization. A true New Testament church carefully teaches its members that God deals with believers personally as individuals. "But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift" (Ephesians 4:7). The gifts of God are given to us as individuals, being used in the context of the local assembly. "But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all." (1 Corinthians 12:7) [Also reference Romans 12:3-8.]
Believers are taught of the Holy Spirit as individuals. "But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him." (1 John 2:27)
Christians will be individually judged at the BEMA judgment of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10). Romans 14:10, says we shall all stand before judgment seat of Christ. 1 Corinthians 3:13-15, shows the examination of Christians is based on one's individual work.
2 Peter 1:20, states that ". . .no prophecy of Scripture is on any private interpretation." As believers we have the personal responsibility to God to know what the Bible teaches and to follow it alone. We can not, at the judgment, plead that we were mislead by our church, pastor or anyone else. We have the right to believe the Bible without regard for the creeds or traditions of churches.
IX. THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH IS MADE UP ONLY OF SAVED INDIVIDUALS
"Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. . . praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved" (Acts 2:41, 47). The church is an assembly of people who have received Christ as their Lord and Savior. It is made up of those who have made a public declaration of their faith in Christ by being baptized.
The Bible teaches one should be a member of a local assembly of believers. This is demonstrated in the definite step the first Christian followed. This order is always the same.
2. Following salvation the believer gives a public declaration of his faith by submitting to baptism. Jesus said He would be ashamed before His Father of those who were ashamed of Him and His word before this adulterous and sinful generation (Mark 8:38). Many other verses in the New Testament speak of the fact that believers are not to be ashamed of Christ before men. (See Rom. 1:16, 5:5, 9:33, 10:11, 2 Tim. 1:8, 12, 2:15)
3. Following conversion and baptism the believers were "added" to the church. The fact that Christ died for the church (Eph. 5:25) shows the importance of the local church. The gifts were given in the context of the local church and are never shown as existing apart from the local church (1 Corinthians 12:7, 11, 18, 28).
*All Rights Reserved. Cooper P. Abrams, III, March 1992; Revised September 2001; October 2007, June 2011.
The author grants copying for individual personal use only. This document may not be: 1. Distributed in multiple copies without my permission. 2. It must not be sold. Permission to re-publish is readily offered if I am contacted. Thank you.
1. Scott, and H. G. Liddell, A Greek-English Lexicon, p206.
2. James Baikie, The English Bible Its Story,Lippincott: Philadelphia, 1928, pp. 273-74.
3.The Bible in Its Ancient and English Versions, H. W. Robinson, Oxford Press, 1940, p199.
4. It should be well to note that this is the same church that murdered the Ana-baptists for refusing to practice infant baptism and preaching without a license from the Swiss church.
5. Ibid, p. 183
6. Strong's Exhaustive Concordance, James Strong, MacDonald Publishing Company, McLean, VA, p4369.
7. Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, W.E. Vines, MacDonald Publishing Company, McLean, VA, p31.