Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 6, 1952
NUMBER 43, PAGE 5,10b

Identifying The New Testament Church

Jesse M. Kelley, Jacksboro, Texas

In the preceding article under the above caption we began a study of the distinguishing characteristics of the New Testament church, in which we learned that: (1) Christ built his church. (2) He built it upon the fact or truth that he is "Christ the Son of God." (8) That the "rock" mentioned in Matt. 16:18 is, "Thou art the Christ the Son of the Living God." (4) That Jesus is the Foundation and not Peter. (5) That Christ is the Head of the church, which is his body, and not the Pope, and (6) That religious history confirms the fact that there are churches claiming to be the true church of Christ which were built by men. It is our purpose now to emphasize the "oneness" of the New Testament church. Certainly this is one of its most outstanding characteristics, for wherever you find the church in the first century it is identical with all other churches of Christ. There were no differences at all in their work and worship with reference to things to be done and practiced in their service to God. Even though each congregation was independent and free from any centralized governing body, they all preached, taught and practiced the same things in their work and worship. Thus it is today. Wherever you find a true church of Christ, upon investigation it will be found that it is identical with all other churches of Christ in its every aspect. The unity or oneness of the New Testament church is wonderful to behold, and indeed it is a living refutation to the idea that "men cannot be united religiously."

First, we would call your attention to the teaching of inspiration through the apostle Paul. "There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hoped of your calling." (Eph. 4:5) Contrary to some prominent notions today, Jesus built but one church. The Bible being true there is "but one body" (1 Cor. 12:20), which is "the church." (Col. 1:18) It is the unity of this one body or church with which we are concerned now, for indeed it is only in that "one body" that such unity may be realized. It was then and is now, the only religious organization on earth holding to the only true basis upon which unity of faith can be perpetuated; for men lay aside God's word as the standard for work and worship in favor of creeds and disciplines by which they purpose to be governed, they have cast off that upon which the New Testament church was and is united. The New Testament sets forth several major distinguishing characteristics of the church which, when grouped together set forth the unity and harmony of the church of Christ.

First, wherever churches were established in the first century they all were identified by the same God-given name. There was no such thing as a multiplicity of names by which believers in Christ were identified and denominated. The church in Rome wore the same name as the church in Corinth, Ephesus or Sardis. The "church of God" is frequently used by the Holy Spirit. We find such statements as "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood." (Acts 20:28) It is the "church of God" in the sense that God is the originating source of the church. He created it by and through Jesus Christ. They were co-laborers together in spiritual creation, as in the beginning when they were co-laborers in physical creation. The revised edition has it "church of our Lord" in the above passage. It is the church belonging to the Lord for he "purchased it with his own blood," but God is the originator, and Christ the purchaser. Thus Paul calls it the "church of Christ" in Rom. 16:16. But here Paul is referring to several congregations of the same people and he says the "churches of Christ." Thus it was known by this name, and there was perfect unity among the several congregations in this respect. But it is also called the "body of Christ." But the body is the church (Eph. 1:22, 28), thus he called it again the church of Christ. Again, the writer of the Hebrew letter calls it the "church of the first born." (Heb. 12:28) Christ is the first born from the dead. (Col. 1:18) The scriptures are not exhausted that confirm the fact that the church was known and identified by the God-given name, but these are sufficient to convince any honest seeker after truth that to wear any other name is not scriptural and therefore would be displeasing to God. But the churches of the first century wore this name will not be denied by anyone who has any respect for the truth. They were united under this name and identified by it.

Churches of Christ are united under, and identified by this name today. Wherever a New Testament church is found, whether it be in Maine or California, Africa or Italy, It will wear this God-given name. Why? Because its creed is the Christ and its discipline is the New Testament! There is no other basis for unity. If the church of which you are a member does not wear this name it is not the New Testament church, and none of God's blessings may be had in it for "all spiritual blessings are in Christ" his body, his church. It is true that a church may wear this name and at the same time bear no resemblance to the New Testament church. Many are doing this today that have apostatized to the fullest extent. Thus we need to know the other characteristics of the New Testament church that we may distinguish it from the counterfeit.

But what of the name the members of the New Testament church wore as individuals? "The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch." (Acts 11:26) They were simply Christians, nothing more nor less. This name honors Christ and gives the Glory to God through him, for God gave the name. Peter said, "if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf." (1 Pet. 4:15) There were not "kinds" of Christians then as some would have you believe today. Those people believed in baptism, but that did not make them Baptist Christians. A "baptist" is one who baptizes. Paul, Peter and the rest of the apostles and evangelists of the first century baptized people, but that did not make them Baptist Christians. They also believed and practiced church government by a presbytery, but that did not make them Presbyterian Christians. They also believed and practiced congregational autonomy, but that did not make them congregationalist Christians. The churches of Christ today believe and practice these various things but the members are still simply Christians.

The names "church of Christ" and "Christian" are Bible names which distinguished and identified the church and its members in the first century. For a person to attempt to set aside, add to or take from these names in any way is to be guilty of the sin of presumption which is equivalent to the sin of witchcraft and idolatry.

If the church of which you are a member does not wear the God-given name, or you as an individual are not content to be known simply as a Christian, then in all kindness you nor your church can be identified with the New Testament church. 'Would it not be better and far safer to be content with the names the Holy Spirit gave; to glorify God through his church, than to embrace and aid an organization of which the Bible knows nothing about, and which is displeasing and dishonoring to God?