If you had the choice of being a member of the church of which Paul was a member or some church that had its beginning since Paul’s time, which would you choose? Actually you have just that choice! People could identify the religion taught and practiced by Paul; and as a result, much evil was spoken of it. In Acts 16:20-21, 17:6, and 18:13 Paul was accused of exceedingly troubling the city, teaching customs that were not lawful to receive or observe, turning the world upside down and persuading men to worship God contrary to the law. But in the sight of God this was the only right church, for He never authorized the existence of any other. To this I believe all will agree. Surely, no one would say that God authorized the existence of the Sadducees, Essenes, or Pharisees with their corrupt teachings!
God had not at that time authorized the existence of any other religious body, and in the absence of any authorization from God for the existence of any other since that time, we are forced to conclude that IT was and is the only church that exists by the power and with the approval of God.
Paul wrote several letters to local churches. He instructed them relative to spiritual work and worship. He never gave instructions for any other organization to function in spiritual matters. Thus, the local church is the only organization in the New Testament for spiritual work and worship. Stated another way, there is no organization in the New Testament larger than, smaller than, or other than an independent congregation. The local church is God’s arrangement for the saved in a locality to have fellowship in the things Christ has authorized them to do jointly.
The local church in the New Testament has very definite characteristics by which it can be identified. To distinguish between two different kinds of local churches one must determine certain things about each, namely:
- The source of authority by which it acts.
- The name by which it is identified.
- The plan of salvation it teaches.
- The order of worship in which it engages.
- The kind of church work it does.
- The kind of church government through which it works.
Gentle reader, these are the very things you would have to list to describe the church of which you are a member. Now, we beg you to go to the New Testament and find what God wants a local church to be in each of these points.
1. Source of Authority.
In searching for the source of authority to which local churches in the New Testament subscribed, we must of necessity put aside all creeds that have been written since the life of Paul. Some of the most popular creeds in the religious world today are the Nicene Creed (325 A.D.), the Apostles’ Creed (500 A.D.), the Augsburg Confession of Faith (1530 A.D.), the Westminster Confession of Faith (1643-49 A.D.), and the Hiscox Manual (1890 A.D.). None of these, nor any other creed written by Conferences, Synods or Conventions of men, could have been the source of authority for local churches in Paul’s day, for the simple reason that they came into existence hundreds of years too late. Gentle reader, the New Testament plainly tells us that local churches that are approved by God accept the scriptures as their complete authority and faith. "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 Timothy 3:16-17) "His divine power hath granted unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness." (2 Peter 1:3) We are not to add to nor take away from the inspired scriptures. (Revelation 22:18-19) To do so is to have not God. (2 John 9) Can you, my dear friend, find every teaching and practice of the local church of which you are a member in the inspired scriptures?
2. Descriptive Phrases or Name By Which Identified.
The church has not been given an exclusive name. Local churches in the New Testament were called by different phrases. Paul wrote to "The church of God which is at Corinth." (1 Corinthians 1:2) He told the elders of the church in Ephesus "To feed the church of the Lord, which he purchased with His own blood." (Acts 20:28) He sent salutations to the saints in Rome from "Churches of Christ." (Romans 16:16) Any descriptive phrase used in the New Testament to designate the Lord’s church always points ownership to heaven. What answer do you give when someone asks: "To what church do you belong?" Is the name you give found in the New Testament? Does it point ownership to heaven?
Individually, saved men were called "saints" (Ephesians 1:1), "brethren" (Galatians 6:1), "disciples" (Acts 11:26), and "Christians" (Acts 11:26, 1 Peter 4:16). "Saints" signified that they were set apart from the world and into the service of Christ. "Brethren" emphasized their relationship with one another. "Disciples" indicated that they were learners of Christ, the Master Teacher. "Christians" identified them as belonging to Christ. How do you reply when someone asks: "What are you religiously?" If one had said in Paul’s hearing: "I want to talk to a ________" (supply the answer you give to the above question), would Paul have known what he was talking about? But if one had said in Paul’s hearing "I want to talk to a Christian," Paul would have answered: "Here am I." For that is what he was.
Saved men will always give Christ preeminence (Colossians 1:18) by identifying themselves by His great name.
3. Plan of Salvation.
Paul taught that "Without faith it is impossible to please God." (Hebrews 11:6) He taught that this "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans 10:17) He taught that God "Commands all men everywhere to repent." (Acts 17:30) He taught that "With the mouth confession is made unto salvation." (Romans 10:10) That which one must confess with the mouth is that Jesus is Lord. (Romans 10:9) Paul taught men to be "Baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 19:5) to "Wash away sins" (Acts 22:16) and to get "Into Christ" (Galatians 3:26-27). The people in the Church at Rome had obeyed this form of doctrine, and it had made them free from sin and the servants of righteousness. (Romans 6:13-18) If obeyed from the heart, it will do the same for one today; and nothing less than this will free from sin. Does the church of which you are a member teach these things?
4. Items of Worship.
In Paul’s day individuals who comprised a local church came together from time to time to sing praises to God (Colossians 3:16), pray (Acts 2:42), teach the word (Acts 5:42); and on the first day of the week they came together to take the Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:7) and give of their prosperity that the work of the local church might be done (1 Corinthians 16:1-2).
These local churches did not use mechanical instruments in worship to God. They praised Him with "Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in their hearts to the Lord." (Colossians 3:16, Ephesians 5:19, Romans 15:9)
These local churches did not partake of the Lord’s Supper quarterly, nor on Thursday before "Easter." "Upon the first day of the week the disciples came together to break bread." (Acts 20:7) They "Ate the bread and drank the cup to show the Lord’s death till He come." (1 Corinthians 11:26)
These local churches did not raise money to finance church work by business ventures or recreational activities. "Upon the first day of the week every one gave as God had prospered him: that the work could be done. (1 Corinthians 16:1-2)
Does the church of which you are a member measure up to this standard in worship?
5. The Work of the Local Church.
Paul taught a local church to meet for worship. (See scriptures in previous point.) The local church preached the gospel to edify the saved (Acts 20:28,32) and to save the lost (Philippians 4:15,16). The local church did benevolent work under very restricted circumstances. (Acts 2:42-44, 4:32-34, 6:1-6, 11:27-30, Romans 15:25-31, 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, 2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9, 1 Timothy 5:16)
A local church did not engage in business enterprises such as farming or running a school that taught secular subjects. It did not support human institutions whether for worship, preaching, or benevolence. A local church endeavored to make new converts only by preaching the gospel; for it, and it alone was and is God’s power to save. (Romans 1:16) Does the church of which you are a member restrict itself to these authorized activities?
The only organization known to the New Testament for spiritual work and worship is the local church, when fully developed, with elders, deacons, and saints. (Philippians 1:1) And all activities of the local church were overseen by the bishops, who were also called elders. (Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 5:1-3) There was no centralized agency that told local churches what they were to do. And there was no centralized agency, whether an outside board of directors or a sponsoring church, to which local churches voluntarily relinquished the oversight of their work. These local churches were independent, autonomous and equal. Does the church of which you are a member do any of its work through a centralized agency?
In Paul’s day all local churches that were of Christ taught and practiced the same things. Paul wrote to the "churches of Galatia." He told them that some "Would pervert the gospel of Christ." But he warned them that "Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you then that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed." (Galatians 1:6-8) Friend, this is serious; in fact, it is the most serious matter you will ever face.
Finally, we beg you to take the church of which you are a member and see if it will measure up to the characteristics of the church of the New Testament. A local church with different characteristics does not exist by the power of God. A number of the most popular churches do not have even one of these characteristics! Some have part but are lacking in others. Surely, Paul would not recognize these churches. And more importantly, God will not recognize them; for the "Teach as their doctrines the precepts of men." And you have Jesus’s word for it that this makes their worship "vain." (Matthew 15:9) If the church of which you are a member is identified by the right name, but does different works, such as providing recreational activities or secular schooling; or if it does its work, all or a part, through a different organization, just to that degree it is different from the local church of Paul’s day. A church has to measure up in all these characteristics to be the church of the New Testament.
Not all churches that call themselves by Christ’s name measure up in all these characteristics. But when you find one that has the right source of authority, the right name, the right plan of salvation, the right worship, the right work and the right organization, you will have found a local church that belongs to Christ.
Gentle reader, if you still agree that you had rather be a member of the church of which Paul was a member than some church that had its beginning since Paul’s time, you can obey the plan of salvation taught by Paul and then join yourself to a local church that measures up in all these characteristics. With eternity before you, can you afford to do otherwise?“The Church That Paul Was A Member Of” by Jesse G. Jenkins