Vol. 3, No. 11
Unlike many contemporary churches, the New Testament church has no chain of command through which newly formed dogma filters down to the masses. It has no clergy, earthly headquarters or human creed. Each congregation is autonomous and independent from every other congregation. The New Testament church is governed in matters of doctrine solely by God's Word, overseen by elders, served by deacons, taught by preachers and teachers, and supported morally and financially by all its members.
Instead of an earthly head or a select group of men heading the church, the Lord's church is headed by Jesus Christ alone. Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18, ASV). Further, the Lord is the head of the body, the church (Ephesians 1:22-23). Jesus Christ has not surrendered his throne, but is ruling now (1 Corinthians 15:24-28). Not on earth, but from a heavenly headquarters, Jesus exercises his headship over the church (Ephesians 1:3; Philippians 2:9-11; 20-23; Hebrews 8:1; Acts 7:55). The degree of and place from which Jesus Christ demonstrates his authority is concisely noted in Ephesians 1:20-23.
"Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all."
Two or more elders were appointed over each fully organized church in New Testament times (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5). Scripture always refers to a plurality of elders serving a single congregation and only the church over which they were appointed. Appointment of elders was not regarded lightly, but men were carefully chosen to oversee a church only after the congregation ensured those candidates complied with divinely mandated qualifications (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-11). Noting Christ is the head of the church and the qualifications for elders enumerated in Holy Writ, elders may not legislate doctrine, only see that the New Testament is faithfully practiced in their congregation. In matters not addressed by Scripture, elders and the church may exercise liberty. Inspiration also calls these men "bishops" (1 Timothy 3:1), "the presbytery" (1 Timothy 4:14), "pastors" (Ephesians 4:11), "overseers" (Acts 20:28), and shepherds (1 Peter 5:1-4).
Though every member of the church may and should minister to the needs of brethren and non-members alike, deacons are special servants of the church. Unlike the elders, their degree of responsibility is departmental and lies in service areas. For instance, different deacons may direct benevolence, the treasury, maintenance of facilities, evangelism, the Bible school or some other area of concern requiring special attention. Deacons also are chosen after determination they meet divinely given qualifications (Acts 6:1-6; 1 Timothy 3:8-13).
Gospel preachers (Romans 10:14-15), also called evangelists (Ephesians 4:11; 2 Timothy 4:5) and ministers (1 Corinthians 3:5), are charged to "Preach the word; be instant ["urgent," ASV] in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine" (2 Timothy 4:2). Preaching is a serious undertaking because a preacher affects not only his own soul, but the souls of his auditors as well. Therefore, the Bible urges preachers and teachers to be cautious (James 3:1) and prescribes a remedy to remove impenitent false teachers from their sphere of influence (Romans 16:17-18).
The infant church of the first century was armed with an array of miraculously inspired religious instructors (Ephesians 4:11-12).
"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."
The apostles no longer walk the face of the earth. The temporary, miraculous, but partial knowledge has been replaced with written revelation (1 Corinthians 13:8-13; James 1:25), and inspired prophets are extinct today. However, pastors (elders), preachers and teachers equipped with the Bible are still charged with ". . . the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ."
The differences in organization between the church about which one can read in the Bible and contemporary churches are striking. Yet, few souls seem aware of these vivid contrasts. Divine name, divine origin and divine organization are each crucial, identifying marks of the blood bought divine church (Acts 20:28). Divine worship and divine doctrine are two more key fingerprints of the church Jesus built. The churches of Christ today practice first century Christianity in the present century by imitating the divine characteristics of the early church.
The divine origin of the New Testament church is evident since: (1) its conception was first in the mind of God, and (2) the church was established by the power and authority of God. After the careful Bible student learns these truths, he will have no difficulty identifying the church of the Bible, despite much denominational confusion.
While explaining God's plan of salvation to the Ephesian church, the apostle Paul wrote that God always planned to save mankind through the church. Therefore, according to Acts 2:47, the Lord adds the saved to the church. The church was God's idea, not man's idea.
"And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Ephesians 3:9-11) (emphasis added)
The establishment of the church or kingdom in complete fulfillment of numerous Old Testament prophecies is remarkable testimony of the establishment of the church by God. The apostles made no distinction between the church and the kingdom. Paul addressed the "church" at Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:2) and used the word "kingdom" referring to the church in Colosse (Colossians 1:13). John also referred to the church as the kingdom (Revelation 1:9). Jesus, too, used the words church and kingdom interchangeably (Matthew 16:18-19).
Isaiah 2:1-5, Joel 2:28-3:2 and Micah 4:1-3 identify the city of Jerusalem as the beginning place of the kingdom or church -- which it was. Daniel 2:31-45 teaches the Lord's kingdom would be established during the time of the Roman Empire -- which it was. Mark 9:1 states the kingdom was to come with power during the lifetime of those to whom Jesus spoke on that occasion -- which it did.
Churches of human origin were begun without the power of the Holy Spirit and later than the generation to whom Jesus spoke. Neither were denominational churches begun during the reign of the Roman Empire. Further, manmade churches were begun in other cities than Jerusalem. Human churches do not fulfill kingdom or church prophecies and are unacceptable to God. ". . . Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up" (Matthew 15:13).
According to Luke 8:11, the Word of God is the "seed" of the kingdom. Therefore, when the Word of God is planted in honest hearts it produces Christians -- which comprise the New Testament church. In this way, souls today can become members of the one church that is divine in origin. Friend, is the religion of which you are a member divine in origin? Or, will your religion "be rooted up" by God someday?