God established the New Testament churches to be a vital part of the life of the believer, therefore it is an important for Christians to have a proper understanding as to what is a true New Testament church 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 is a true biblical church; how it began; what is its importance and function; what is its organization; who is its Head, 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 ask ten denominations and you will get ten different answers. How then can you know that the beliefs of your church are correct, what God intended them to be?
What then is the answer? In a world where 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 and that way is the Bible, God's Word. The problem is not that we cannot know what is correct. The problem is some have declined to accept the Bible as the absolute authority, ignored what the New Testament teaches, and others have confused what it says because they did not, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
The Bible is God's Holy Word and it tells us the church was established by Christ Himself. (See Matt. 16:18) He did not leave the matter of establishing His church with human wisdom nor did He leave us in the dark as to 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. Let's look at the example of churches that practice infant baptism.
You do not find the practice of infant baptism mentioned 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 concluded this would mean adults and children alike or all his household including children. But the verse does not say infants were baptized. In truth, we do not even know if the jailer had children.
Is is biblically proper to teach infant baptism using this verse? Do we find other places in the Bible that says infants were baptized? The answer is no, as there is no reference in the Bible of infants being baptized. So is it correct to practice infant baptism based on assumptions that are not supported by Scripture? These churches further their error in 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. With no biblical support, they falsely conclude that baptizing an infant puts it under the protection of the church and assures it 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, therefore today it is accepted without question. In truth 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 complying literally with what God's Word says. 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 cleared stated in the Bible.
In the author's library is a booklet entitled "Why Baptize by Sprinking," written by a Protestant preacher who states the reasons why his denomination sprinkles and calls it baptism. He states he believes the early church sprinkled even though he admitted 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. On a trip to Israel in 2002, I saw many huge cisterns which could be used for baptizing. However, the Pool of Sholoam discovered in 2004 and 2007 on the west side of Jerusalem was probably the site. The pool was a large reservoir constantly fed fresh water from the Gihon Spring, through Hezekiah's tunnel, from the Kidron Valley. The pool was a mikveh for ritual bathing prior to entering the Temple Mound and the pool was at least 225 feet wide and believed to be the same in length. There was plenty of water to baptize thousands of people as Luke recorded.
The preacher 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 preacher has a poor understanding of God's ability to communicate what happened or instruct the early church properly. He failed to understand that if they sprinkled those saved at Pentecost, God made a mistake and used the wrong word in recording the event because God who inspired the writing of the Book of Acts used the Greek word "baptizo" which means to immerse. What does he then base the practice on? Clearly, the practice of sprinkling is man's opinion or human reasoning, and not what the Bible clearly says. So are those that sprinkle or pour for baptism biblical? Certainly they are not obeying what God has said.
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 means to immerse. There are other Greek words that mean to sprinkle or to pour that the writers could have used if that had been what they wanted to convey. For the churches who sprinkle, the word of God is not their final authority and therefore God, by his Word, condemns their false practices.
What does the Bible say is 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.
"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:” (2 Timothy 3:15-16)
"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 and this doctrine is called, "verbal plenary inspiration" meaning every word God used was inspired by 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 completed word today. His Word is preserved in the Traditional Text (Byzantine or Majority Text) as represented by the "Textus Receptus" and translated in our King James Bibles.
Note the warning to those who would attempt to add or subtract from the Bible.
“For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” (Revelation 22:18-19)
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 unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16)
"So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans 10:17)
“And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:15)
"These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:14-15)
"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.
"And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)
Christ says He built the church and Ephesians 5:25 clearly states that Jesus died for the local church, "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;”
Although an assembly 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 its Head. He purchased it with His blood (See Acts 20:28).
God cannot bless error or be a party to false teaching. A church that is based on false doctrine is not a biblical church and God cannot have any 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 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 disciple and entrusted them with carrying out His instructions. The New Testament is clear that they followed His instructions to the letter. Christ's 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, it is not a biblical church. If a church allows tradition 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 other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ." (1 Corinthians 3:10-11) A church that is established and does not follow the New Testament example, does not have God's approval, blessings or presence.
In Revelation 2:5, 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 worth noting that Jesus commended them for hating the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which He said He also hated. The Nicolaitans were a heretical sect of people in 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 that 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 God only speaks to these special persons and they have the authority to control and dictate to the congregation. Only thus 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 access to God. The Roman, Orthodox and Protestant churches are the result of the success of the Nicolaitans efforts.
Jesus said the "gates of hell would not prevail against" His church. This applies to the churches 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.
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 expose the unbiblical hierarchy of the Church of England and under mind its authority. Historically, during this time Baptist churches were being established and the hierarchal system of church government was being attacked as being unbiblical.
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 definition refers to a building, "Old English cir(i)ce, cyr(i)ce, related to Dutch kerk and German Kirche, based on medieval Greek kurikon, from Greek kuriakon (doma) 'Lord's (house)', from kurios 'master or lord'.
The Bishops Bible was used as the immediate foundation for the KJV, and it had used the term “church” instead of “congregation.” King James or the officials of the Church of England (1604) had required the translators to use the word "church" instead of congregation or assembly.
The word church was not used in Tyndale's, Coverdale's and Crammer's Bible (Great Bible). The congregation was the only rending in the English Bibles. 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." The use of the word "congregation" or "assembly" would not support his church's hierarchical government. William Whittingham's Testament of 1557 followed Beza's usage of "church." This was actually the first edition of the Geneva Bible and was a revision of the Tyndale New Testament. The Tyndale (1526) translation used the word "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 go to http://bible-truth.org/Ekklesia.html)
This shows that the use of the word "church" instead of "assembly" or "congregation" came from those who had a hierarchy and an 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 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.
The correct definition of the word "church" has great and far reaching implications. The question is not what the word can be made to mean, but what does it mean; and the witness of its usage elsewhere, its form and mode of composition, and the sense given it by its readers. First, it means there is no biblical basis for a universal or catholic church. Further, it precludes that there is no church hierarchy outside the local church or local assembly of believers. The only ekklesia the New Testament uses is of a local assembly of believers. It can not be 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 in referring to all believers of all time all over the world.
The New Testament refers to believers universally only once and this will occur at 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 Church Age assemblies on earth. They all will have been raptured, at the beginning of the Seven Year Tribulation and judged at the BEMA in the seven year interval preceding the Second Coming. At this point in time of Revelation 21:9, we see the body of Christ, coming with the Bridegroom to earth to reign with Him. Tribulation saints are not part of the "body" or "bride" of Christ.
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 ekklesia 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 the 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" and the body is the local church. This is referring to water baptism and is not referring to the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. The Baptism of the Holy Spirit occurs when the individual 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 by baptism, identifying with Christ and joining with 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 Verse 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 the other." 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 worldwide church. The overseeing of all believers on earth is an individual action done on a local level and is the sole responsibility of Christ Himself through His undershepherds. Even if you ignored the context and preclude this is referring to all believers, you must also equally conclude that the application of these verses can only be done on a local level and this verse is not teaching the concept of a universal church.
In Verse 26, it reads, "And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.” (1 Corinthians 12:26) Clearly this statement can not apply to a universal worldwide church. Churches in Africa and around the world, at this moment are 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, other of that assembly know and share the burden for a brother in the Lord.
If there is a "universal" church, then why did God not give clear instruction as to its government. In the Bible, God always gave some degree of organization to everything he created. There is no reference or even hint of an organization of a "universal" church. God clearly did not establish a hierarchical system of government over all the churches (plural). Each church rules itself following the New Testament example and principles. God in Revelation 2:6, 15, said he "hated" the Nicolaitanes 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 organized, 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. "so called "universal" or "invisible" church cannot do any of these things and biblically it does not exit.
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 (See 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 the 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 one for the other and do the work of the Lord (See2 Cor. 1:11). The local church sends 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 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.
The Bible says that after Pentecost, those who were saved 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 New Testament never refers to believers who are not a part of a 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."
Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words gives this information about this word:
The verse 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:
". . . the church which was at Jerusalem" (Acts 8:1) "the church which was at Antioch" (Acts 13:1) "the church which is at Cenchrea" (Rom. 16:1) "the church that is in their house" (1 Cor. 16:19), (speaking of the church which met in the home of Aquila and Priscilla) "Nyumphas, and the church which is in his house" (Col. 4:15).
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 not such church, we shall seek, with the Lord's help, to establish one."
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 fulness 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.” (Ephesians 4:11-16)
In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul giving instruction on the local church says, (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 hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities 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.
Hebrews 10:24-25, the Bible commands us to, “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; And having an high priest over the house of God; Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:19-25) 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.
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) "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 are 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.
"Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.” (Hebrews 13:17) 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?" go to http://bible-truth.org/whyatten.htm.)
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, not 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, to preach, to teach and live by the Bible, God's word. He and the congregation alike are to obey the Word of God and if so there will be unity in the assembly.
;He 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. He leads by example and by the word of God. He does have the responsibility to reprove and rebuke false teaching and practices 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 responsibility from God. He is not to choose being a pastor as having a vocation because of its financial benefits or position. 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 flock and he wants to do God's will for his life. It does not mean he is not to live by the ministry and receive financial support. (See 1 Tim. 5:17-18, 1 Thess. 5:12-17, 1 Cor. 9:14, 2 Cor. 11:7-9)
A believer ought to be a part in 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. Missionaries were supported spiritually and materially by the assembly of believers, both individually and collectively. (See 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 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).
God's instructions concerning the believer's responsibility to support the work of God are given to the local church. In Corinthians, Paul says, "Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.” (1 Corinthians 16:1-2) (See 2 Cor. 8-9) Paul is commanding the Corinthians, as well as the Galatians, to take on Sunday (the day they met) the collections for the saints at Jerusalem. 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 tithe or offerings. The church collectively has that responsibility. Tithes and offerings were commanded by God to carry on the work of God.
Christ in establishing the church instituted order and organization by which believers would carry on His work. This government of the local church was by simple democracy under the direction of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 6:5, 13:1-3, 15:22) 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.
The disciplining of the unruly or believers in open sin is to be done by a local church. (Matt. 18:15-17, 2 Thess 3:6, Titus 3:10, 1 Cor. 5:1-13) The Bible lists many "public offenses:"
Jesus said in regard to trying to correct an erring brother, to "tell it to the church." He was giving this responsibility to the local assembly of believers.
The prayer for the sick was also clearly a function of the local church. James says, "Is anyone among you sick? 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 will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven." (James 5:14-15) After the church was begun in Acts 2, those who received the miracle healings were always a part of the local church. Peter and John, who performed the first miracles after the church was begun 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, it was 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 and that 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 church. The biblical example is that God always organizes everything he begins and establishes clear lines of responsibility. For example, in the first missionary work the church at Jerusalem sent Barnabas to organize the believers at Antioch in a church (Acts 11:19-24). Later, Paul and Barnabas were sent from the church at Antioch (Act 13:1-3). They reported back to Antioch the results of their missionary travels. The biblical principle is that any ministry 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 an absolute first place in the believer's life. (Col. 1:18) Christ, through the Holy Spirit administers to His sheep through the local church.
These are the distinctives of true Baptist churches. Traditionally it has been Baptist churches who practiced all these Bible principles. A church must believe and practice all of these distinctives to truly be 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 IT 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, the Bible is complete and is the sole authority. God says “All scripture is 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, throughly furnished 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 God 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, including any hierarchy to include popes, councils of churches, priests or any other group of men outside the local church. 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 of 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 board, hierarchical system or another church.
The local church has been defined as a body of believers immersed based upon their credible profession of faith in Jesus Christ. It has two ministry positions that being a pastor(s) and deacon(s) (appointed servants). The local assembly is sovereign in polity, and banded together for work, worship, the observance of the ordinances and the worldwide proclamation of the Gospel."
2. Episcopalian: The word means "bishop." The authority of the church as a denomination rests with the 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 rules over the church as well as the denomination. These elders may or may not be preachers.
4. Congregational: The Biblical form of church government. The authority in a true New Testament church is God's word and it is absolute. The final human authority in a church rests with the congregation as they follow God's word. 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 being called and appointed by God to the position. The membership after consulting God’s word, and seeking the leading of the Holy Spirit, issues 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 and 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 appointed servants (English Bibles: deacons) was done by the whole church following the apostle's recommendation. In Acts 15, there arose a dispute over whether Gentile believers should be required to keep the Law of Moses and be circumcised. The two churches involved were the assemblies 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).
First, we must understand that a church is an organization instituted by God as Acts 2 records on the Day of Pentecost. Any organization must have leadership, and in a local church that calling and position of God has been divinely given to the pastor. God has given us clear instructions as to how His assembly is to be governed. If a church follows God's plan, He will bless and guide them in accomplishing His will for the church and for its members.
The word "pastor" is poimen which refers to a shepherd who takes care of sheep or flocks. It means more than one who feeds them, but who protects, looks out for, and will give his life for them. The pastor is to guide and set the example as well as feed the flock. (See 1 Tim. 4:12)
Ephesians 4:11 gives the New Testament lists of leading servants or ministers in the churches. The last position stated as given by the Lord to the churches is "pastors and teachers." Note that the wording of the verse reads, “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;” (Ephesians 4:11)
In referring to the apostles, prophets, and evangelists, the verse states that God “gave some” followed by the name. However, the verse omits the word “some” in referring to “pastors and teachers.” Most believe the reason for the omission is that pastor and teacher are the same position of "pastor-teacher." The pastor is a shepherd to the Lord's flock and also their teacher. True pastors refer to themselves as "under shepherds" because they recognize that Jesus is the True Shepherd and the flock, the local assembly of believers, a church belongs to him.
The concept is that the pastor, as shepherd, is the overseer who feeds the church members that the Lord has placed him to lead. Peter, to whom the Lord commanded to "feed His sheep" (John 21:15-17) wrote this in his 1st Epistle.
"The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: 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 Peter 5:1-3)
Paul also addressed the calling of a pastor as an overseer of Christ's flock.
"Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood." (Acts 20:28)
He is literally to pay close attention to himself, and his congregation that God has given him charge of. It means he is to vigilantly superintend the group. The position of pastor is referred to by several titles and each denotes the traits and responsibilities of the calling. The terms used to refer to God's leader are the titles Pastor, Elder and Bishop, which all refer to the same office.
Bishop is the Greek word episkopos and means an overseer as Acts 20:28 shows. The word episkopos Means: epi = over and skpeo = to look or watch. Philippians 1:1, 1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:7, 1 Peter 2:25 all use this title.
In many churches the position of a bishop is an official over the local church. Our English New Testaments read, "This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work." (1 Timothy 3:1) In our English Bibles the single word episkope is translated “the office of a bishop.” However, the Greek phrase literally translated reads “If a man ei tis desire oregomai bishop epithumeo ." This is important to understand because it defines the position of a pastor as being a minister and servant to the congregation. The verse says if a man desires to be a epithumeo it means to be a superintendent or overseer, he desires a good work.
The word “office” is not in the text. The English word office means a position of authority or holding an official position. However, the New Testament presents the pastor or bishop as being a minister, one who serves the congregation and does not hold a ruling office or position.
Paul repeatedly referred to himself as a "bond servant" of the Lord. The pastor is the overseer, and does not hold the office of being a boss or authority over the assembly. Peter instructed the overseers saying, "Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock." (1 Peter 5:3) The overseer is not to control, subjugate, or exercise dominion over the local congregation. He is to lead and oversee in accordance with the instructions of the New Testament. His calling is to serve God’s flock as their servant.
There was no hierarchy among the New Testament churches and certainly no popes, or prophets leading a universal body. No reference in scripture indicates apostolic session of authority. When the apostle died, his authority ended. Paul was used to lay the foundation of the church and wrote most of our New Testament under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Once the scriptures were complete, the scripture inspired of God became the authority. (See 2 Tim. 3:14-15) On a subject as important as the organization of His church, surely the Lord would have given some instructions on the make-up or hierarchy if He desired one to exist.
The title "elder" presbuteros is not a noun, but an adjective, referring to age, as an older man, an elder. (See Luke 15:25, John 8:9, Acts 2:17) The word "elder" refers to the experience and spiritual insight of a pastor, rather than the office. When the position is referred to by the word "bishop," is refers to an overseer. Elder refers most often to the spiritual maturity of a pastor. The word "bishop" refers to the work they do, whereas "elder" refers to the maturity of their spiritual experience.
What should be the title of a leader of a church? The proper and biblical title is "pastor" as Ephesians 4:11 states. It is improper to use the title "Reverend" and never in God's word is a preacher called "Reverend." Psalm 111:9 is the only time that title is used in God's word, and it refers to Almighty God. "He sent redemption unto his people: he hath commanded his covenant for ever: holy and reverend is his name." (Psalms 111:9) This title had its origins in Roman Catholicism, which perverted God's word and set a hierarchy over God's people. It was a title given to the "clergy" to distinguish their authority and high position over the "laity" or the common people. This author always corrects those who use that title in addressing him. Only God is to be called Reverend.
III. THE EARLY CHURCH ELECTED ITS OWN MINISTERS.
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. (For further reference you might like 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 the local church has 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.
In Acts 1:23, Jesus's disciples 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 and then sought God's choice by casting lots. We do not cast lots today for two reasons. First, we have the complete New Testament with instructions as to how we are to chose men for service. Second, they were choosing an apostle and 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 qualifications of pastors and deacons. (See1 Tim. 3:1-7, 3:8-13, Titus 1:5-9) John was the last apostle.
But they did begin the procedure of choosing men from among their congregation. In Acts 1:6 they chose seven men as special servants (diakoneo deacon). The assembly was instructed to chose 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.
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, but was a recommendation.
It is scriptural for local churches to associate with each other for fellowship and the propagation of the Gospel as seen in Romans 16:1-2, 1 Corinthians 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 THE BELIEVER
The New Testament church is made up of individual born-again believers who can go directly to God in prayer without the intercession of any man or institution. Christ is our only Intercessor and is our High Priest. (See Heb. 2:17; 3:1; 4:14-15; 5:1,5,10; 6:20; 7:1,26; 8:1,3; 9:7,11,25; 10:21; 13:11)
In 1 Tim. 1:20, 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 Christ is our High Priest who knows our every emotion and need personally. We are boldly going to the throne of Grace (God the Father), to find help in a time of need. In Jesus's 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. . It is not correct for a believers to pray to Jesus, or the Holy Spirit. When we pray to God the Father, we are praying through Jesus Christ, being led by the Holy Spirit. We address our prayer to the Father because He is the Head of the Trinity
Nowhere in the Scriptures are we instructed to pray to a "saint" or anyone but 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). It is unbiblical, degrading, and disrespectful for a person to pray to anyone, but directly to God the Father through our Intercessor Jesus Christ, who is the Savior.
In the Old Testament the priest 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 has come we no longer need the picture or symbol, we have the reality of Christ as Intercessor. Every believer is a priest. "
"Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. . . . But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:” (1 Pet. 2:5,9)
The Holy Spirit leads us in prayer. “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;” (Ephesians 6:18)
“But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.” (Jude 20-21)
Every believer has the indwelling of 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. John wrote, “But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things.” (1 John 2:20) Believers have a special endowment that means 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, "groaning which cannot be uttered." This is not verbal prayer, it is not our own prayer, this is the interceding of the Holy Spirit that we are not aware of. We are told this to help us to understand we are to pray as best we can, but it is the Spirit who knows our hearts. Even our prayers are purified and corrected by the Spirit. This has nothing to do with ecstatic speech or “praying in the spirit” as the modern Charismatic movement practices. Praying in the spirit simply means praying with discernment and understanding. The Bible never presents praying without one understanding what he is praying. We pray the best we can 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 they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (Acts 2:41-42)
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, and that He was buried and arose 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.
Baptism is never presented as salvation or as a sacrament. A sacrament is defined as a religious act done by men, 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 only and salvation is the free gift of God. Christ suffered and died atoning for the sin. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) No act or ritual of man has saving properties.
In Hebrews 11, the Old Testament saints are presented as saved because of their faith in what God told them to do. They trusted God and obeyed. The acts of the Old Testament sacrifices were understood as being a picture and a symbolic looking forward until the day the Messiah would come and make the atonement for sin. The Bible knows nothing of infant baptism. Only those who trusted in Christ were baptized. An infant cannot understand and receive the Gospel by believing. Therefore an infant should not be baptized.
The word baptism means to immerse. Actually the Greek word baptisma or baptizo is transliterated into an English spelling. If it was to be 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 makes it plain that baptism is a picture of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Sprinkling or pouring does not symbolize this. “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. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.” (Romans 6:3-6)
History records that all churches immersed 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 ask for it. Most Protestant denominations will immerse if it is 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?
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 the believer to bring to remembrance Christ's sufferings and death for our sins. (See 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 and is an ordinance of the local church. It is never to be given to individuals and not to be practiced outside the local congregation. It is not a sacrament with saving properties. 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. Because of a lost person’s unbelief, their sins have not been forgiven and Christ’s sacrifice for sins does not apply to them. 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 receive Christ's is blatant sin. To have a knowledge of Christ's suffering for one's sins and then to reject Christ as one's Savior is belittling and mocking Christ.
It also 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 His 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 6:12-15)
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 they become spiritually "blessed," as some believe, thus affording the taker some spiritual benefit. The bread and wine (grape juice) are only symbolic and the value in taking the Lord's Supper is in honoring and revering Christ in His suffering for us and for self-examination to judge sin in our own lives.
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 are to follow the ordinances because Christ commanded us to. (See 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 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 and etc. 1 Corinthians 11:20, states that this local church "came together" for the purpose of taking the Lord's Supper. Note V17, 18, 33. The context is clear in the setting of the local assembly which had come together. A memorial is a public declaration or remembrance. Ephesians 5:25, states Christ died for the ekklesia the local assembly or church. The Lord's Supper was taken with all Christ's disciples present. The Lord's Supper is an act of public worship. Note 1 Cor. 11. There is no record in the Bible of an individual or anyone apart from the church taking the Lord's Supper.
How often it is to be done is left up to the church. The only instruction is in 1 Corinthians 11:26, as "For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come.” The charge and instructions are given to the "whole church." Ministers are not given the authority to give the Lord's Supper at their discretion outside of the gathering of the local assembly.
VIII. THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH PRACTICES SOUL LIBERTY.
"But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall 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 will carefully teach its members God’s word.
The Holy Spirit deals with and teaches the believer as an individual. "But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:7) The gift of God is given to believers as individuals, being used in the context of the local assembly. "But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.” (1 Corinthians 12:7) [See Romans 12:3-8.]
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. 1 Corinthians 3:13-15, shows the examination of Christians is based on one's individual work.
2 Peter 1:20 states, “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.“ (2 Peter 1:20) As believers, we have the personal responsibility to God to know what the Bible teaches and to follow it alone. We cannot 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 they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. . . . Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” (Acts 2:41-42, 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 Christians 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 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) Baptism a God’s assigned way believers can show they are saved, not ashamed of Christ, and are in agreement and fellowship with the local assembly.
3. Following conversion and baptism the believers were "added" to the church. The fact that Christ died for the church as Ephesian 5:25 states, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;”. This reveals 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 ministry of the assembly. (1 Corinthians 12:7,11,18,28).
Each believer has a great responsibility to know what God's will is and what He wants His ekklesia His local congregation, to believe and practice. Even though Christ said the gates of hell would not prevail against His church, the fact is Satan has made great inroads among those who have not been vigilant. Yet, in spite of the Devil’s cunning devises there have always been believers who joined themselves together in local assemblies to honor and serve the Lord.
It is imperative that each pastor and church member be vigilant in protecting, with the Lord's help, the purity of his local church. That means the word of God must be studied and following and applied without spot or blemish to the Lord's flock. God’s plan and desire are stated in Ephesian 5:25-27.
"Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish." (Ephesians 5:25-27)
May God grant His saints, the diligence and the fortitude to “. . . exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.”(Jude 1:3) Paul wrote "That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God." (1 Corinthians 2:5)