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 Vol. 3, No. 8 

Page 17

August, 2001

Whole Counsel/Whole World Icon Whole Counsel of God

For the Whole World


How can one Identify the
 New Testament Church?

By Basil Overton

One of my former students many years ago was in a tourist group that visited the site of the imprisonment of the beloved apostle John on the Isle of Patmos in the Aegean Sea. The lady custodian was explaining the shrine there that was erected in memory of John. He introduced himself to her as a minister. She asked him of which church he was a minister. He sincerely and innocently answered that he was a minister of the same church of which the apostle John was a minister. The lady was angered by his answer and hastily told him that the shrine was holy and sacred and she would not tolerate him or anyone else making a joke about it. She was going to have him arrested, but he made haste and left the scene! Every preacher of the church of Christ in the world is a minister of the same church of which the apostle John was a preacher! That is no joke!

Many times I have asked individuals who were not members of the church of Christ if they would like to be a member of the same church of which Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, James, Jude, Timothy and all other Christians mentioned in the New Testament were members. Through the centuries since these lived, there have been so many complex and confusing departures from the simplicity of New Testament teaching concerning Christ and his church that it is evidently very difficult for people to think about the simplicity of just having, and being in, the undenominational church we can all read about in the Bible!

The departures from the ancient order of God's immutable declarations in the New Testament concerning his Son, Jesus Christ, and his church have brought into being many denominational churches and a mass of religious confusion. No doubt this has caused many to take little or no interest in true Christianity.

The apostles of our Lord did not have to deal with this conglomeration of religious confusion and contradictions, but by the infinite power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, they wrote in the New Testament all that we need to know to deal with it.

The divisions of modern "Christendom" have generated the attitude that we are blessed with being able to find "the church of your choice," and relatively few realize that all who are not in the church we read about in the Bible should be searching for it in order to be in the church of the Lord's choice! In the rest of this article are identifying marks of this church. Please study them carefully and try to get others to do the same.

Where and When the New
Testament Church Began

The church of the Lord was established by him in the city of Jerusalem on the first day of Pentecost following his resurrection. This is a very vital identifying mark of the New Testament church because any church that did not have its origin there and on that day cannot be the church we read about in the New Testament.

Jesus said he would build his church (Matthew 16:18). In the next verse, he called his church the kingdom of heaven. He told some they would not die before the kingdom came (Mark 9:1). He told his apostles after he was resurrected that the kingdom would come with power, and that the power would come after they were baptized with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). They were baptized with the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem (Acts 1:4-5; 2:1-4). This all means that the Lord built or established his church or kingdom on that day of Pentecost.

I have heard men argue in debates that the Lord's church was started by John the Baptist. However there are compelling New Testament reasons why this is not true. The word Baptist in the New Testament is the Anglicized form of Greek baptistes which the lexicons say means "one who baptizes." John was called John the baptistes because he baptized people. Baptist (baptistes) was not his name. His name was John (John 1:6). Before he was born, the angel Gabriel said to Zacharias his father, "thou shalt call his name John" (Luke 1:13). Neighbors and relatives called him Zacharias, but Elizabeth his mother said, "Not so, but he shall be called John" (Luke 1:60). Zacharias his father said, "His name is John" (Luke 1:63). In view of these testimonies, it does not take a scholar to know what his name was!

The word Baptist is in the New Testament 15 times and in every case it refers to John. Nowhere in the New Testament are the ones John baptized called Baptists. Instead, they are called "John's disciples."

Jesus declared he would build his church (Matthew 16:18). John the baptizer was slain before Jesus was crucified. Jesus did not build his church before he died on a cross. There are several scriptural reasons for believing he built it after he was raised from the dead.

If Jesus built his church before his death, the following nine statements would be true.

  1. He built it before his will or testament was in force (Hebrew 9:17).

  2. He built it on a foundation that was not tried or tested or proven (Isaiah 28:16; Hebrew 2:10).

  3. He built it before it could have a perfect or fully qualified high priest (Hebrew 5:7-8).

  4. He built it before his apostles believed in his resurrection (Mark 9:10; Luke 24:11).

  5. He built it before he made the atonement for our sins (Matthew 20:28).

  6. He built it before he paid the purchase price of it (Acts 20:28).

  7. He built it before he could be its head (Colossians 1:18; Ephesians 1:22-23; Acts 2:30).

  8. The church would have existed before Jesus gave the Great Commission and would have been under the limited commission (Matthew 10:5-6).

  9. The church would have existed before the full Gospel could be preached (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

The Terms of Entrance

If one finds a church whose terms of entrance into it are not the same as what the New Testament says were the terms of entrance into the church we read about in that book, he can know he has not found the New Testament church! People got into the church we read about in the Bible by hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ and believing it, and then they repented of their sins, confessed their faith in Christ and were baptized into him, which is his church. This is how they entered the church we read about in the New Testament (Acts 2:36-47; Galatians 3:27; Romans 6:3-5; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Colossians 1:18; 3:15).

By these same terms or conditions they became Christians. In the New Testament, becoming a Christian is equated with becoming a member of the body of Christ, which is his church. If one finds a church that teaches people to become Christians and then decide to get into a church, he has not found the New Testament church.

The Worship of the Church

The New Testament church is also identified by the way it worships. While talking with the Samaritan woman, Jesus told her his Father in heaven seeks true worshipers, and he identified them as those who worship in spirit and in truth, and added, "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth" (John 4:23-24). The word seeks in this text is the translation of zetei, a strong Greek word the lexicons define as: to seek for, look for, search after, watch for, endeavor to obtain, strive for, and to long for.

Jesus pictured his Father in heaven as longing for, and endeavoring to obtain and searching for people who will be true worshipers and truly worship him in spirit and in truth. Beloved, true worship is no light matter! We should all take it very seriously with a strong sense of the awesomeness of the Father who seeks it!

By reading and studying the New Testament, we can know that worshipping God in spirit and in truth means that true worshipers worship God with their hearts or with their inner beings, or their spirits, and they do in worship only what the Father tells them to do in his truth, the Gospel!

Jesus prayed for his apostles and asked the Father to "Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth" (John 17:17). Paul equated "the word of truth" with "the gospel of your salvation" (Ephesians 1:13). The Christians in Colosse had heard "the word of the truth of the gospel" (Colossians 1:5). This all means that if worship is not limited to doing what God's truth tells his church to do in worship, it is a vain worship!

God's truth tells us that the New Testament church ate the Lord's Supper upon the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). They sang praises to God and did not play on mechanical instruments of music in worship (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). They prayed, they preached and taught and studied the Word of God, and they gave as they were prospered (1 Corinthians 16:11-3). They were told, "And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him" (Colossians 3:16). In the New Testament, "in the name of the Lord Jesus" means by his authority. For worship to be true worship and in spirit and in truth, only what the Lord authorizes in the truth can be done in it!

To worship God in spirit and in truth surely means that the immortal spirit of the child of God who worships is sincerely involved in adoration of "the Father of spirits" (Hebrew 12:9) as he honors and praises the Almighty eternal Spirit, the true and living God!

The Government of the Church

Christ is the head of the New Testament Church (Colossians 1:18; Ephesians 5:23). In the New Testament, each congregation had a plurality of elders if there were in the congregation men who were qualified according to the qualifications given by the Holy Spirit in 1 Timothy Chapter Three and Titus Chapter One. In the New Testament, these elders are also called presbyters, bishops and pastors. There were also servants or deacons who served under the elders or bishops (Philippians 1:1).

There is no case in the New Testament where one man served as the elder or the bishop or the pastor over one congregation. Nor is there a case where one man served as the elder or the bishop or the pastor over a group of congregations. There is no case in the New Testament where a group of elders (presbyters) or bishops or pastors was over a plurality of churches. If you find either of the foregoing situations of the church government in a church, you will know you have not found the New Testament church.

The departures from the New Testament concerning church government were so extended that the church fell away from the Gospel and became another kind of church, and in 606 A.D Boniface III, the bishop or patriarch of the apostate church in Rome, became its first universal head and was called the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. This is one of many reasons why that church is not the New Testament church.

If One Does Not Have To Be In It

Here are some questions for those who are not members of the New Testament church, but are members of other churches.

  1. Do you have to be in the church you are in to receive forgiveness of your sins? Likely, most would answer no, and say they would not be narrow enough to answer yes.

  2. Do you have to be in the church you are in to live the Christian life? I am confident most would answer no, and say they would not be that narrow.

  3. Do you have to be in the church you are in to go to heaven? Undoubtedly the answer wound be no, and they would say they wound not be that narrow.

  4. Is there anything more, spiritually, that you could want or need than (1) the forgiveness of your sins, (2) to live the Christian life, and (3) to go to heaven when you die? The answer wound undoubtedly be no.

  5. If you do not have to be in the church you are in to have all that you need or could want spiritually, why are you in it? Think about that!

The New Testament church is identified by the New Testament teaching that one has to be in it to receive forgiveness of sins because redemption by the blood of Christ is in him or in his body, which is the church we read about in the New Testament (Colossians 1:18, 24). The New Testament church is identified by the New Testament teaching that you have to be in it to live the Christian life, because the New Testament teaches that being a Christian is the same as being in the church you read about in that book. The New Testament church is identified by the teaching of the New Testament that the church is the house or family of God (1 Timothy 3:15), and that you have to be in God's family to go to heaven.

Perhaps all this helps us to see why our blessed Savior gave himself for the church (Ephesians 5:25). Thank God he did! No wonder he told us to put it first (Matthew 6:33). He certainly put it first!

Copyright 2001 Louis Rushmore. All Rights Reserved.
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