Vol. 11 No. 11 November 2009
Synonyms for the word “template” include “pattern,” “example,” “stencil,” “cut-out,” “guide,” “model” and “outline.” The purpose of a template is to ensure conformity in reproduction of something, such as using a pattern to make a dress of a certain style and size each time that pattern is used. The Bible uses this principle respecting conformity in the reproduction of the Tabernacle as well as its instruments and furniture (Exodus 25:9; Hebrews 8:5). The Bible itself, especially the New Testament, is the template for reproduction of the church for which Jesus Christ died to establish, over which He is the Head and for which He will return one day to take back with Him to heaven. The words of the apostle Paul cause us to understand that Christianity in every generation is supposed to resemble the Christianity authorized by God in the first century. “Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:13). Furthermore, Christians can only bask in the divine approval of God when they turn exclusively to the authority of Jesus Christ for authorization of their religious practices (e.g., salvation, worship, Christian living, Christian service, doctrine). “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17). There is a pattern or template for New Testament Christianity (versus variations thereof such as denominations masquerading as Christian).
Dear Brethren, standing back somewhat and taking an objective look at the churches of Christ, is it the case that we have bent some of the templates for pure, primitive Christianity? Are we using bent templates especially in the areas of (1) the preacher/minister/evangelist, (2) church ownership of property and (3) the mission of the church? Have we in each of these areas borrowed as much from Catholicism and its corrupt offspring, denominationalism, as we have gleaned from the pages of inspiration in the New Testament? If in some respects we have, we did so in “good conscience” (Acts 23:1) because our intent was to practice 1 Peter 4:11: “If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God…” Despite our intent, have we partly done differently (Romans 7:15)?
First, have the churches of Christ adopted the Catholic and Protestant emphasis on the preacher or minister in a local, congregational setting? Without doubt, Scripture plainly promotes preaching as the chief vehicle for the transmission of God’s message from Himself to mortal man (Romans 10:14). Typically, though, do we not send our preachers (Romans 10:15) little farther than the church office where we tie them to a desk and a phone? Must their cars be in the church parking lot so that the community and the church members can know that they are doing their jobs, as we perceive their job description? Further, do preachers often feel that they have performed their jobs well on the weekdays when they have guarded the church office desk and phone, as well as made some hospital visits, etc.? Is it then that with satisfaction and to relieve themselves from these rigors, many resort to the recreation of the golf course?
This model of the preacher or minister reveals itself in a number of unfruitful ways: (1) Elders and church members assume that they have hired it done respecting broadcasting the Word of God to themselves and to those outside of the Lord’s church, and therefore, their personal responsibilities are minimized or eliminated altogether. (2) Stateside and foreign congregations assume that they are complete as churches of Christ when they respectively have obtained the preacher or minister working for them. Universally, foreign brethren who are trained for greater service as preachers or ministers for Christ want to be put on payroll so that they, too, can command an office desk and a phone. (3) Despite loudly saying that we do not believe in the Catholic and Protestant model of an appointed, specially skilled clergy versus an unappointed, unskilled laity (people) does not mask the reality of the fact that the churches of Christ have succumbed largely in a practical way to such professionalism. (4) The preacher/minister model that we have adopted is ill fated as an effective tool of fulfilling the Great Commission (Mark 16:15-16) locally or internationally because it does not recognize that the biblical reference to the evangelist is applicable to preachers/ministers. The preacher of Romans 10:14-15 was sent (apostello), meaning to set apart and send out on a mission. Besides, there are not enough Christians were everyone a preacher/minister (but not an evangelist) to effectively take the Great Commission to the world through the model of the preacher/minister model we have adopted; the churches of Christ are not getting the job done, and if we do not evangelize the world with the pure Gospel, it simply will not be done.
Second, correct biblical hermeneutics or interpretation permits the ownership of church property on the basis of ensuring an adequate place to obey the commands (1 Corinthians 16:1-2) and examples (Acts 20:7) for weekly worship by the local, corporate body. We would say that a meeting place is implied in Scripture, and since how to comply with biblical instruction to worship or where to worship (i.e., these specifics are not specified in the New Testament), we can legitimately or correctly infer that a congregation can purchase real estate to provide such a meeting place. Yet, at this point we commonly err by heaping most of the Lord’s Day contributions into what we have inferred (though we could have correctly inferred as well that assemblies would convene in public places, homes, outdoors or in rented halls). Sadly, we will more nearly spend the available church funds on parking lots, meetinghouse roofs and meetinghouse amenities before we will consent to spend the Lord’s money on the only job that Jesus Christ assigned His followers immediately preceding His Ascension (Mark 16:15-16). How will we Christians attempt to explain that scenario to our Lord in the Last Day before the Final Judgment Bar? In this, too, we have aped Catholicism and Protestantism.
Third, have the churches of Christ modeled their concept and practice of mission work or evangelism after Catholic and Protestant models, rather than turning to the New Testament for insight into effective evangelism? The procedure of sending one or more persons to a foreign country or city to establish a lone congregation, with its church office, desk and phone, supposing that if we build it they will come, is a failure looking for a place to happen. Again, if this were an effective model for evangelizing the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ (and it is not!), there are not enough Christians were everyone an evangelist to broadcast the Gospel to the world’s masses by establishing a compound, church house, office, desk and phone.
Isn’t each of the foregoing a bent template whereby we have been unduly influenced by Catholicism and Protestantism? Yes, we had good intentions, but we are using templates that are non-biblical as well as counterproductive to the duplication of pure, primitive Christianity in our day. If the churches of Christ really care about the authority of the New Testament, they can replace these bent templates with biblical models that will lead to not only a better conformity to primitive Christianity, but prove to be more effective for the cause of Christ. First, DEMAND that every preacher/minister working with a particular congregation is first and foremost an evangelist, whose primary daily duty is to reach non-Christians with the Gospel of Christ. Let him preach and minister in the Word on the Lord’s Day to the local congregation and on other occasions as decided by the local church. As part of his duties as an evangelist/preacher/minister he ought to prod fellow Christians to share the responsibilities of preaching, teaching, evangelizing, hospitality, visiting the sick and homebound, etc. (This suggestion is not a promotion of a mutual edification doctrine that displaces the role of the minister/preacher/evangelist, but an acknowledgement of the members of the spiritual body doctrine of the New Testament, Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27. The point is not that every Christian has the same job to do, but rather that every Christian has a job to do.) True Christianity in action is not compartmentalized into the distinct roles of professional preacher and lay members (by any name we choose to call it, it is the same thing).
Second, church ownership of property (if that is the local decision of any congregation) ought to be tempered with primarily attending to the lone job that Jesus Christ gave His people to perform (Matthew 28:19-20). Fertilizing the lawn should never become more important and more deserving of effort and financial outlay than sowing the seed of the kingdom (Luke 8:11)! What is wrong with us? Who do we think that we are? Whom do we serve? Where do we think we are going? Do we plan on taking anyone with us?
Finally, have we have failed to properly identify the true mission of the churches of Christ? We do not have four God-given missions; we do not have three missions, and we do not have two missions of the church. The churches of Christ have only one mission! The only job or mission that Jesus Christ gave His followers immediately preceding His Ascension is to evangelize the world with the Gospel. Read the passages and see that it is so; you know the passages in the Gospel records and Acts. Yes, we must worship God in His own appointed way, and we are responsible for practicing Christian living and Christian service, but these are not the mission our Lord assigned His followers as He was preparing to return to heaven. Evangelizing the world is supposed to be the paramount focus of the Lord’s church, by which both local communities in which a congregation assembles and international communities become familiar with the Word of God. Not only the preacher/minister/evangelist and other congregational leaders but every child of God needs to embrace the personal responsibility of telling someone about the plan of salvation and the Lord’s church, giving away or laying out Gospel literature, or arranging Bible studies for more experienced brethren to conduct.
Only then will the churches of Christ begin to live up to their potential of turning the world upside down for Christ (Acts 17:6). Shouldn’t we dispense with bent templates obtained from Catholicism and denominationalism, innocently but without divine authorization. God will bless our meager efforts beyond our imagination if we will do things His way!