Vol. 3, No. 11
True unity is an identifying mark of the New Testament church (John 17:20-23). Divine unity results from agreement on and practice of the Gospel alone as the final and absolute standard of religious authority today (Romans 1:16; Luke 6:46; John 6:68). Biblical unity is not companion to the motto of at least one ministerial association: "We have agreed to disagree." The prophet Amos established a principle that applies to such agreements (facades of unity), "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" (Amos 3:3). The implied answer to this rhetorical question is a resounding, "No!" The unity that should characterize the New Testament church is more than a mere union, as one contemporary proverb well illustrates. "Tying the tails of two cats together and tossing them over a clothesline is union, but it is not unity."
The New Testament is the sole doctrine by which the church Jesus built must be guided (John 12:48; Jude 3). There is no basis for unity wherein something less than, additional to or instead of the New Testament is the premise for religious cohesion (Revelation 22:18-19; Galatians 1:6-9). Sandwiched between the verses, "Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3) and "Till we all come in the unity of the faith . . ." (Ephesians 4:13) are seven ones upon which unity in the Christian faith is predicated. "There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all" (Ephesians 4:4-6). One of the results of the attainment of biblical unity is stated in verse fourteen of this same context: "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."
Among those whose religious beliefs are nearly the same, a wholly different approach to Bible authority still divides them into separate fellowships. As long as each group maintains its perspective of hermeneutics, unity is impossible (1 Kings 18:21; John 4:20). True unity would still be an impossibility even were all parties agreed to overlook their differences. God refuses to endorse such covenants; he already gave man his covenant for today, and it is this covenant alone to which all men must conform.
Two verbal banners lead sincere religious people apart, rather than together. Those who rally to the verbal banner, "the spirit of Christianity" view Scripture oppositely from others who hoist their verbal banner, "Speak where the Bible speaks, be silent where the Bible is silent; call Bible things by Bible names; do Bible things in Bible ways" (cf., 1 Peter 4:11). The former verbalization of hermeneutics views God's Word as relative and more subjective than absolute; whereas, the latter expression recognizes God's patterns, types, shadows, figures, principles, statements and commands as insoluble by contemporary sentiment toward them.
A case in point, over which hermeneutical controversy contributed to division between what are now known as the Christian Church and the churches of Christ, is "What kind of music is permissible in Christian worship?" The latter group tenaciously defends singing as the only authorized music in worship from statements in passages like Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16.
"Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord."
"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord."
The Christian Church plays and sings in worship. Its hermeneutic for this music practice appears to postdate the introduction of instrumental music into the churches. Further, various defenses are used by this group simultaneously to offset the apparent affect of teaching contained in Ephesians and Colossians. Also, the Christian Church hermeneutic regarding the music question is ever undergoing refabrication and adjustment in attempts to bolster them. Summarized, the Christian Church uses a form of music that is both additional to and different from what God did specify. The employment of instrumental music in worship ignores what God did say (Bible authority) in favor of what God did not say (no Bible authority).
However, God's Word (and application today) is unchanging. "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 3:17). The very next verse following Colossians 3:16 which teaches singing exhorts Christians to do everything by the authority of Christ. Is it right, by the spirit of Christianity, to add playing instruments of music to the worship of God? Or, did God mean what he said by specifying singing in Christian worship? If something can be added to the music God specified for worship, might other things (e.g., steak and eggs) be added also to another part of worship, the communion? God did not command music in worship. God did not, through his Word, teach men to sing and/or play in worship. God, though, did cause Paul by inspiration to twice record singing, a certain kind of music, for Christian worship. The hermeneutical principle that leads men to practice in worship the kind of music authorized by God also leads Christians to view the entire New Testament with similar gravity.
God cannot be subdivided like a piece of property. God is not idly watching with disinterest as religious people attempt to denominate themselves into various sects (and in the process denominate to themselves a piece of God). The prayer that Jesus prayed for unity is the will of the triune Godhead.
"Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me" (John 17:20-21).
Jesus built one church that is also called the kingdom and body (Matthew 16:18-19; Acts 2:47; Colossians 1:13, 18). The way into the eternal kingdom is specific and narrow, and unfortunately, many will miss the kingdom to their eternal dismay (Matthew 7:13-14). Contrary to popular thought, not even every sincere religious person will be in heaven (Matthew 7:21-23). Religious groups foreign to that over which Jesus is head and which he founded will be rooted up (Matthew 15:13). When the Corinthian church harbored the seeds of sectarianism (denominationalism), the apostle Paul rebuked Christians there.
"Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?" (1 Corinthians 1:10-13).
As the apostle Paul called for unity among believers at Corinth, unity can only exist today among those who "speak the same thing," 'spurn division' and are "perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment." Sectarianism and denominationalism represent division and are contrary to biblical unity.
Unity based on the adoption of the Gospel alone as the final and absolute standard of authority in religion is one divine characteristic of the Lord's church. Left to his ingenuity, man devises divisive creeds that are not only extrabiblical, but denominate people into sectarianism. The New Testament is the only premise for religious cohesion in this age (Galatians 1:6-9; Jude 3). There is only one church (body), one God, one faith (doctrine or teaching) and one Lord (head of his church), among additional ones enumerated in Ephesians 4:4-6. Faithful Christians are forbidden from fellowshipping additional churches, gods, faiths, lords or anything contrary to New Testament prescription (2 John 9-11). Furthermore, Christians are exhorted to fellowship those who also are in fellowship with God (1 John 1:7).
If the Bible means anything to anyone, it means something for what it says, not for what it does not say. The concept of Bible authority demands adherence to the Bible (in our age, the New Testament). Otherwise, there is no authority. The so-called spirit of Christianity approach to religion is at its heart subjective and only nominally aware of any authority in religion. However, in reality, authority is binding, or it is not authority!
Jesus did not pray for sectarianism or denominationalism, which are names for religious division. Jesus prayed for unity. Further, is it strange that Jesus would expect this unity to be characteristic of the church for which he died, which he built and to which he adds the saved (Acts 20:28; Matthew 16:18, 19; Acts 2:47)? Also, is it strange that the churches of men, directed by the creeds of men, lack biblical unity? The New Testament church is divine in unity!
The New Testament contains a divine pattern for worshipping God. At the inauguration of Judaism, God gave patterns to his people for the construction of the Tabernacle, its furniture and instruments and their worship (Exodus 25:9; Ezekiel 43:10; Hebrews 8:5; 9:23). There is no less direction for worshipping God under the New Covenant than there was under the Old Covenant. John 4:24 says, "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." Whereas worshipping God in spirit pertains to a proper attitude, worshipping God in truth corresponds to adhering to the pattern for worship of the divine law now in effect. The New Testament has superseded the Old Testament and is the religious law to which all people today are amenable (Hebrews 8:6-13; Ephesians 2:15).
There are similarities and dissimilarities between Old and New Testament worship practices. For instance, the New Testament neither requires nor authorizes the worship of God with sacrificial animal offerings, lighted candles or burning incense. One must turn to the New Testament alone to identify how God desires people living in the Gospel Age to worship him. There are five avenues of worship prescribed in the New Testament through which God desires to be worshipped today. Each of these must comprise Christian worship each first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2).
The most obvious contrast between worshipful music employed by churches of Christ versus other churches is the absence of mechanical instrumental music among churches of Christ. This difference results from a sincere effort to practice precisely what the New Testament authorizes. Of the two possible types of music, vocal and instrumental, the New Testament commands vocal music or singing (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). Every example of worshipful music employed by the New Testament church is void of instrumental music (Matthew 26:30 [church not begun yet]; Acts 16:25; Romans 15:9; 1 Corinthians 14:15; Hebrews 2:12; James 5:13).
What God may have allowed under the Old Testament or what God may permit in heaven does not affect worshippers amenable to the New Testament. The New Testament is the law of God now in effect; man has been released from the Old Law (Romans 7:6-7; Colossians 2:14) and living on earth does not come under the scope of some future heavenly legislation. The commandment to sing in worship (Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:19) specifies a type of music to the exclusion of everything else or any combination with something else. Had God not specified what kind of music he wants, man could make his own choice, but God made the choice himself, much the same way he chose unleavened bread and fruit of the vine for the communion (to the exclusion of everything else).
Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper or communion following his observance of that year's Passover meal (Matthew 26:17-30). The Lord stated the latter supper of which he said "this is my body" and "this is my blood" was to be repeated for "remembrance" of him (Luke 22:19). The apostle Paul called this supper "the communion" (1 Corinthians 10:16). In correcting abuses of the communion by the Corinthian church, Paul urged the Lord's Supper not be observed lightly, but remembering "the Lord's death" as often as (or each time) they observed it. Acts 20:7 indicates the frequency with which the early church observed the communion, and that with apostolic approval. There is no more doubt the early church observed communion weekly (on the first day of the week) than faithful Jews observed the Sabbath weekly (on the seventh day of the week, Exodus 20:8-1). There is no more doubt the early church observed communion weekly (on the first day of the week) than the early church observed (and contemporary churches observe) collecting a contribution weekly (on the first day of the week, 1 Corinthians 16:1-2).
Though God required Old Testament people to give of their means for the support and progress of Judaism, there is a fundamental difference between then and how God desires New Testament people to support Christianity. Free will offerings were welcome under Judaism (Deuteronomy 12:6; Exodus 25:2; 35:29), but God also commanded the people to tithe or give ten percent of their increase to God (Leviticus 27:30-34). The tithe has not been reinstated by God in the New Testament. Instead, New Testament giving is: (1) always a freewill offering (2 Corinthians 8:12), (2) regulated in part by what one purposes in his heart to give cheerfully (2 Corinthians 9:7) and (3) regulated in part by one's prosperity (1 Corinthians 16:1-2). The last Scripture reference also details the first day of the week (implying the first day of each week) as the day on which the collection should occur.
Praying to God has always been basic to worshipping God, and this is the case in the Gospel Age as well. Several passages attest the regularity with which the early church prayed and further was exhorted to pray (Acts 2:42; 1 Timothy 2:1-3; 1 Peter 3:12).
"And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him" (1 John 5:14-15).
Preaching and teaching was essential to the establishment and maintenance of Judaism and they are equally essential to the establishment and maintenance of Christianity. Judaism was not just the religion of the Jews, it was their way of life, at home, in public, as well as when they worshipped God. The Jews were taught from childhood through adulthood God's Word (Nehemiah 8:1-8).
". . . he read the words of the law, the blessings and cursings, according to all that is written in the book of the law. There was not a word of all that Moses commanded, which Joshua read not before all the congregation of Israel, with the women, and the little ones, and the strangers that were conversant among them" (Joshua 8:34-35).
Edification of the children of God is one of the three divine missions of the Lord's church (1 Corinthians 14:12; Ephesians 4:11-12). Evangelism is also one the missions of the church (Matthew 28:18-20; 2 Timothy 2:2). Both of these holy commissions require preaching and teaching. This teaching and preaching can be accomplished privately from house to house or publicly, such as in the public worship (Acts 20:20). The context of Acts 20:7 not only indicates the frequency with which the early church observed communion, it also notes preaching comprises part of the Lord's Day worship. "And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight."
Often contemporary churches derive their worship practices from a confusion of formerly authorized practices under Judaism combined with selected avenues of New Testament worship, well stirred with the seasoning of personal preference. All living souls are amenable to the New Testament and will be judged one day by it (John 12:48). Therefore, each soul should worship God "in spirit and truth" (John 4:24). The worship practices of the churches of Christ, then, are not intended to be different, but identical to what God through the New Testament requires.