SUBJ: The composite picture of a
New Testament Church as derived from the principles displayed in the
various Churches of the New Testament.
AIM: That we should discover and
seek compliance with the identifying characteristics of the New
Testament Church our Lord designed, indwelt, empowered and commissioned.
INTR: There must be no departure
from the basic characteristics of the early Jerusalem Church. They are
essential as to requirement, identity and purpose. Nothing with regard
to Church mission and polity expresses any contrary principle. We
consider some questions:
1. At what point do we considered the
definition completed in the absence of a concise statement from the
2. Do we recognize the period of the Apostles to be an
exclusive time of inspired revelation and thus stop at what we find in
the Word of God?
3. How do we account for cultural differences?
Must we account that the silence of the scriptures is a mandate against
certain practices or do we look for the absence of essential principles?
THESIS: We must never become so
concerned with the outward form that we neglect the essentially
Spiritual and organic entity that is a New Testament Church.
From Thomas Armitage: “The true historian must [and all true worshipers]
must fix his eye steadfastly at the beginning of his work, upon the New
Testament pattern, and never remove; because it is the only guide to
truth in every age, and the only authority of ultimate appeal. An exact
likeness, therefore, of the Apostolic Churches should be sought at the
outset, as the test to which every position and fact in the whole
investigation, must be brought back and tried. We can never be wrong in
following the pattern found in the constitution of the Apostolic
Churches, for here we find and imperious shield for the true
ecclesiastical rights of all Christian men. If we make the Apostolic
Churches the mere stepping-stone to the investigation, instead of
finding in them the standard of all true fact, how can we measure our
way through the centuries, or exhibit their wide differences, without
confounding all their real distinctions?”
1. The implication here is
that many of the principles and practices that have come to be held
sacred have evolved and then been justified by the historian as proper
or of necessary consequence.
2. History displays the many forms of
departure from the Apostolic model and yet, many of those departures
find their way into our churches today.
3. It would seem that the
appearance of human expediency has led us through a tortuous path to a
place where it is demanded of us that we return to the original faith
and practice as it was taught by the Apostles. Do we dare go further in
looking for justification?
4. Can we, at any point in history,
determine that the model we find there has followed such guidelines as
5. Can we find our way back to that pure model in the search
for the power they possessed?
6. As a matter of personal observation
and opinion, it would seem that the many of things retained by the
reformers from the Roman Church have carried over into common acceptance
II. Distinctives and principles
1. We are all
familiar with that set of precepts that distinguish Baptists from others
and we see them in faith and practice at Jerusalem.
1) They followed
the Apostles’ Doctrine – looked solely to the Word of God.
acknowledged Jesus as Lord and Christ and therefore as their Head.
A body of Baptized Believers committed to each other.
worshiped, they learned, they obeyed and they witnessed.
experienced true fellowship as a body. They diligently practiced the
ordinances – not sacraments.
6) They submitted to called leaders and
under their guidance developed outward structure that facilitated the
spiritual practice. They voted. There was autonomy!
7) From the
Pastoral Epistles we learn about the leaders.
8) Paul ordained elders
in every place – Galatian churches.
9) They prayed, evangelized,
stood solid against opposition and rejoiced at the opportunity to suffer
for Christ’s sake.
10) They exhibited many things that are absent in
our churches today.
2. Churches came into existence in various ways.
Philip the Evangelist goes to Samaria, Peter is dispatched to Cornelius,
Jews and Gentiles find themselves together in Antioch and so on.
The Spiritual identity of a New Testament Church is discovered at
Antioch in that the Holy Spirit spoke directly to them. This is of
course in keeping with the metaphor Paul uses in For as the body is one,
and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many,
are one body: so also is Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:12 AND But speaking
the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the
head, even Christ: 16 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 4:15-16
consistently and persistently guarded unity in the churches. And
insisted on proper order – note the Corinthian abuse of the Lord’s Table
and the issue of discipline.
III. What of today?
1. That which
seemed pragmatic was not that at all.
1) The reason of the deacons –
preeminence to the Word of God.
2) What of immediate Baptism?
Of necessity then and now – again the question of distinction to be made
from the Apostolic Era.
2. Historic Pragmatism – developing theory
from practice and then imposing it on practice again – in other words,
if it works if must be ok.
3. The pragmatism of today
“results” oriented religion that appeals to the sensual side of men –
2) Ornate buildings – no scriptural record of owning
4. There is no substitute for the true worship of God
We must believe that the Lord’s design was conducive to True Worship
2) In that sense we are certainly bound to the practices as we see them
in His model Churches.
3) If then we are inventors of methods to
improve that model – we are amiss!
4) We must be held to the standard
of that which glorifies God, exalts Christ and promotes true faith. –
Therefore we must begin with the mandate of Christ (repent ye and
believe the Gospel) and follow the progress through its expression in
the New Testament -- to ask, “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?”