Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
December 1, 1955

Is God's Pattern For The Church Binding?

George P. Estes, Maplewood, Missouri

The word "kingdom" in most verses in the Bible means the reign God will establish, or has established, on earth. A kingdom involves and includes a king, a throne, laws, subjects, and a territory. (cp. Dan. 2:44; 7:13, 14; Heb. 12:28; Col. 1:13.) In most verses and contexts in which the kingdom is discussed, the predominant idea is the rule or will of God. Christ's word in the kingdom carries absolute authority. The subjects of the kingdom are to obey implicitly the commands of the king. The word is seldom used to denote the activity of God's people, but rather the "sovereignty" of God. (Dan. 2:44.) Exceptions to this general usage of the word may be found in Matthew 20:1-16 (laborers in the vineyard) and Matthew 13:3-9 (the parable of the sower).

The Holy Spirit inspired the apostles to select and use the word "church" to designate the people of God both in their assembly (Heb. 2:12) and in their work (Acts 9:31.) The consistent use of the word "ekklesia" (church), then, is "the called out" or the people of God's own possession, during the Christian age — from Pentecost (Acts 2) until the second coming of Christ. Hence, "church" is used most frequently in the Acts and in the epistles, while "kingdom" is used more often in the gospels. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus uses both words in such a way and context that the church can only be the kingdom and the kingdom the church. The people of God as a "house" is used for both the kingdom (Zech. 6:12) and for the church (Eph. 2:20).

Peter opened the door of the kingdom (Acts 2) by preaching the gospel of Christ. The "all authority" given to Christ (Matthew 28:18), he passed on to his apostles to the extent of enabling them to "bind" and "loose" the sins of men. Whatever they bound on earth was to be bound in heaven (actually, was to have been bound), and whatever they loosed on earth was to be (have been) loosed in heaven. The message they preached and the church they organized was by the command of God, for they were inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit. The largest unit set up by these inspired men was the local church; therefore, this is the only organization that is given by God's sanction and command.

Thus, the eternal Christ built an eternal church. The power to "loose" sins is transferred to the apostles, and authority is given them to set forth for all time to come the organization and structure of the church. Both Christ and his apostles are unique in world history. The foundation was laid once for all (for all time) with abiding significance. The offering of the body of Christ was done only once (Heb. 10:12); the faith was delivered only "once for all." (Jude 3.) There is no idea of succession or change here. There will be no other "Peter" to receive the keys of the kingdom; neither will the foundation that was once laid be ever removed. By the immutable and eternal word of God, the church that Jesus built is transmitted and continued to baptized believers in every age and of every race. As to its form, features, and structure it is perfect.

The ones who change or pervert the organization and work of God's church fall under the anathemas of heaven. God, who gave the gospel, gave also the plan for the church. To change either the gospel or the organization of the church is to rebel against the authority of God. The one who changes or perverts the gospel is to be cut off from the mercy of God, and set aside to be cursed. (Gal. 1:6-10.) Will not the same anathema be called also upon those who change the divinely decreed order for the organization of the church?

Some brethren, today, seemingly without reverence or fear, change the organization of the church to suit their own designs and schemes. The Herald of Truth type of cooperative work, the "sponsoring churches," and big cooperative movements destroy congregational independence and polity; one church or eldership assumes authority (usurps it, actually) over many churches, and set themselves up to do a work for the whole brotherhood, and in a sense to dictate the policies of the whole church. Such actions are a flagrant violation of the God-given organization in the New Testament — the local church.

Paul and Barnabas appointed elders in every church they established in Asia Minor. (Acts 14:23.) The church at Philippi had its bishops and deacons. (Phil. 1:1.) Peter clearly defines the limit of authority of one eldership. (I Peter 5:2.) They are to oversee one church. Do brethren today who change the order of the divine economy in such a highhanded way feel that they can escape the wrath of God? Surely, it is time for them to stop and consider, then reconsider the course they are pursuing. If any man can change the form of the church and its function, by the same authority that one could change the gospel plan of salvation.

The church that Jesus built, the house of God, rests on a sure and safe foundation — Jesus Christ. There are those who act as if they thought the church might fall unless supported with braces or props — the many human organizations and adjuncts which they organize.

The church can stand alone, in all its glory, without the aid of colleges, orphan homes, or any other organization built by man. It did so in the first century and preached the gospel to every creature. (Col. 1:23.)

Those who sought to pervert the right way of the Lord were rebuked and condemned by the apostles. The local church, having congregational independence and administering its own affairs under its own eldership, being guided by the scriptures, is the divinely approved way. Let us proceed in organizing and carrying on the work of the Lord "according to the pattern" — the divine Pattern.