Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 10, 1953
NUMBER 18, PAGE 2,3b

Identity Of The New Testament Church

Ernest A. Finley, Wichita, Kansas

In a previous article we began a discussion of the identity of the New Testament church. In that lesson we suggested to you that it is possible to determine which of the religious organizations of our day is the church of the Lord by a thorough study of the identifying features of the church of the New Testament. Whenever one thoroughly understands what the church of Christ was in apostolic days, he will have no difficulty in finding that church today. The Lord's church today is that church that is striving earnestly to be identical with the church of the New Testament. It does not hold back from anything which the Lord has authorized, nor does it add to those things which our Saviour has commanded.

As our next point of identification, we point you to the disciples of the Lord's church. In the early days of the church's existence there was no discipline or manual formulated by the authority of men. The law set forth by Christ, the Word or scripture inspired of God was considered all-sufficient. "Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness: that the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work." (2 Tim. 3:16,17) There is no truth which God made known to His disciples in the early days of the existence of Christ's kingdom that you and I do not have today. The Holy Spirit came to inspire the Lord's disciples that they might be guided into all truth, that they might declare all things.

This discipline, which is so designed that it perfectly sets forth all of our duties toward God, is the means which God uses for man's salvation today. Paul wrote to the Romans, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is revealed a righteousness of God from faith unto faith: as it is written, But the righteous shall live by faith." (Romans 1:16,17) This gospel is to be preached to man in order that they thereby can be saved. "For seeing that in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom knew not God, it was God's good pleasure through the foolishness of the preaching to save them that believe." (1 Corinthians 1:21) God's grace is made evident to all sinners when His Truth is known.

Another identifying mark of the Lord's church is its organization. The church of the Lord is a monarchy, a kingdom. Christ is the King. Those who compose the church are His subjects. He has all authority. "All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth." (Matthew 28:18) "And he (that is God) put all things in subjection under his (Christ's) feet, and gave him to be head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all." (Ephesians 1:22,23) Final, ultimate and supreme authority rests in Christ with regard to His church. There is no earthly head. Christ is the only head of the church. However, Christ has delegated authority to certain individuals in His church to oversee it and watch in behalf of the souls of His children. Paul, in speaking to the elders from Ephesus, said, "Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit hath made you bishops, to feed the church of the Lord which he purchased with his own blood. (Acts 20:28) Elders, or bishops as they are also called, are to tend the flock, watch after the sheep, and feed their souls by nurturing them in the sound doctrine. The church is to submit to the elders of the church as they rule in harmony with the will of Christ. "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit to them: for they watch in behalf of your souls, as they that shall give account; that they may do this with joy, and not with grief: for this were unprofitable for you." (Hebrews 13:17) While bishops, or pastors as they are also called, are to rule over the church, they are not to act like lords or dictators. Peter wrote to the elders in his day, "Tend the flock of God which is among you, exercising the oversight, not of constraint, but willingly, according to the will of God; nor yet for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as lording it over the charge allotted to you, but making yourselves ensamples to the flock." (1 Peter 5:2-3) Elders must be men who love the truth, love the cause of the Lord and are willing to give unstintingly of their time and energy in work for the Lord's church and the souls of men.

The worship of the church of the Lord is well defined with the word "simplicity." There is nothing ritualistic or formalistic about it. Their religious services consisted of teaching, giving of their means, praying, singing, and the Lord's Supper. "And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers." (Acts 2:42) The "apostles' teaching" referred to their instruction of the Word of God or the Will of the Lord to the Jews in Jerusalem. "Fellowship" was not mere association in brotherly love but it also involved the matter of giving of their means to supply others needs. "They had all things common; and they sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all, according as any man had need." (Acts 2:44,45) It was necessary for them to demonstrate such liberality because there were many in Jerusalem whose funds had run out and being away from home and their work, they had no source of income. The "breaking of bread," by reason of the context or setting of the expression, undoubtedly referred to the Lord's Supper which they sometimes referred to as "breaking of bread." Numerous passages refer to their giving themselves to prayer, so we will not unnecessarily burden you with proof. At the time when men were content with simply those things which the Lord had commanded, there was no use of mechanical instruments. Vocal music only was heard. Vocal music only was authorized. "Speaking one to another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord." (Ephesians 5:19) The Lord desired that they sing. If he had wanted mechanical instruments of music in His worship it would have been a simple matter for Him to have given the command. But no such command is to be found.

Admission into the Lord's church was secured when men believed on Christ, repented of their sins and were baptized unto or for the remission of their sins. Turn to the second chapter of Acts and notice that Peter spent the bulk of his effort on establishing faith in the hearts of those who such a short time before had caused the death of the Lord. Notice especially verse 36 as Peter endeavors to establish their faith in Christ. That his efforts were effective is seen in verse 37 as they "were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and the rest of the apostles, Brethren, what shall we do?" He gives the answer to these believers in the next verse. "And Peter said unto them, Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:38) The record indicates that if they had believed Peter's words and obeyed the commands which he gave that they became members of the Lord's church. "They then that received his word were baptized: and there were added unto them in that day about three thousand souls." (Acts 2:41) The last verse of this chapter tells us that it was the Lord who added them to His church. This is the only way that one can become a member of the Lord's body: faith, repentance and baptism. Nobody has ever become a member of it in any other way. To be baptized into Christ is to be baptized into His church, for to be in Him is to be in His church.