by Kenneth E. Thomas
July 11, 2001
The plea of faithful local churches of Christ and every faithful Christian is simple to understand. It is simply a desire and intent to "go back to the Bible" for our authority in all matters as a guide for all we say and do. This is a Biblical plea that was heralded by faithful prophets in the Old Testament as well as by inspired men in the New Testament dispensation. Six hundred years B.C. Jeremiah said, "Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls" (Jeremiah 6:16).
In every age God has desired that men follow His way. In the beginning of the human race when God placed man whom he had created in the garden of Eden, to the present, and on until the end of time until Jesus comes again, it is God's desire and will that all who are pleasing to Him are content to limit their beliefs and practices to that which He has authorized (Genesis 2:15-17; 3:4-11,22-24; Genesis 4:1-4; Leviticus 10:1-3; Galatians 1:6-10; 2 John 9-11; Revelation 22:18-19).
In this, the "gospel dispensation," men must limit their beliefs and practices to that which Jesus has authorized. Jesus said. "He that rejecteth Me, and receiveth not My words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day" (John 12:48; Revelation 20:12). These words are found in the New Testament. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit who guided His chosen men into writing "all truth" (John 16:12-13; 2 Peter 1:3; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). This is only possible when men lay aside all human creeds, disciplines, catechisms, articles of faith and every tenet of denominationalism then with freedom from traditions and doctrines of men, go back, all the way back, to the New Testament and learn to "speak as the oracles of God" (1 Peter 4:11). This plea demands....
A RETURN TO THE NEW TESTAMENT FOR CHURCH ORGANIZATION
Although difficult for folks to believe, there was a time when the religion of Christ, made up of those who were Christians only and members of Christ's blood bought church, were the only existing collective or church on earth. It was as Edward T. Hiscox wrote in the Manual for Southern Baptist churches. "It is most likely that in the Apostolic age when there was but "one Lord, one faith, and one baptism," and no differing denominations existed,.....now it is different..." (Standard Manual Chapter IV Church Membership Edward T. Hiscox D.D., Page 22). Members of faithful churches of Christ have been asking for years now, "who made it different?" Has God's will changed? Is Christ now pleased with denominationalism with its many "faiths"- "baptisms"- "Names" and "Organizations" etc., etc.? Has the New Testament been rewritten so as to accommodate all of the differing sects all of which are contrary to the prayer of Christ and the teachings of His chosen apostles? Has it? We say no!
The organization of the church we read about in the Bible gives no room for a hierarchy with a head and headquarters on earth. The church in its "universal" sense has only Christ as its head (Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:18; Matthew 28:18; Ephesians 5:23-25). The headquarters are in heaven where the head, Jesus Christ, is seated on David's throne at God's right hand and from which He has been reigning and ruling in His church, His kingdom for over nineteen hundred years and shall so reign and rule until the end ( Daniel 7:13-14; Acts 2:29-36; 1 Corinthians 15:23-28). Too, there is nothing akin to a "clergy/laity" system known to the New Testament scriptures. Jesus said such would not be so in His church/kingdom (Matthew 20:20-28; Matthew 23:1-12).
Simplicity characterized the New Testament church in its local sense also. No congregation had any authority over another in arrangements such as a "sponsoring eldership" or association, etc. Each local church was self governed or autonomous under the oversight of a plurality of men in each congregations who were known as elders (also called bishops and pastors) whose qualifications are found in (1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1). See (Acts 14:23; Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Peter 5:1-4). Under the oversight of the elders there was a plurality of younger men known as deacons to serve in each local church of Christ (Acts 6:1-6; 1 Timothy 3:8-13). Then there were the other members where were all penitent baptized believers and all worked and served the Lord under the oversight of the elders (Acts 2:22-38,40-41,47; 1 Corinthians 12:20; Hebrews 13:7,17; 1 Thessalonians 5:11-17). While they were not a part of the organization of each local church's organization, there were men who served as evangelist, preachers, or ministers who served the churches in this capacity (Acts 9:7-14; Ephesians 4:11). As evangelist, both Timothy and Titus were charged with "setting things in order" in local churches and appointing elders in each. To these men were originally written the qualifications for bishops (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1). There was (an is to be) no organization larger, smaller, or other than the local congregation authorized for church worship, work, etc. This is Christ's arrangement and mere men must not change it in any particular. To make changes is to go beyond the teaching of Christ and is to be without God (2 John 9-11).
When I reached the ago to be able to comprehend what faithful preachers of the ancient gospel of Christ were saying as they gave the identifying characteristics of the New Testament church and told graphically just how folks became a part of this body of the redeemed, it impressed me very deeply and it wasn't long before I yielded my life to King Jesus as I repented and was baptized upon my confession of faith to have all past sins remitted, knowing that the Lord would add me to the number of redeemed souls washed in His own blood (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 13:3; Rom. 10:9-10; Acts 8:37; Acts 2:22-38,40-41,47). It is difficult for me to understand why folks who hear this ancient plea today will not respond in larger numbers? Will you?
by Kenneth E. Thomas
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