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Can we be the church of the New Testament?
Yes, if we hold fast the New-Testament pattern of sound words
Continual shelling during the First World War
reduced the countryside in West Flanders, Belgium to a sea of mud.
More than a million men died.
The beautiful Weaver’s Guild-Hall at Ieper,
built in the 12th century, was reduced to rubble. After the war,
the British wanted to leave the whole city of Ieper in ruins as a
memorial to the war! Understandably, the people of Ieper thought
otherwise! Some wanted to replace the Guild Hall with a modern
structure. But city architect Jules Coomans insisted that the
Weaver’s Hall be rebuilt.
And with the help of fellow architect, P.A.
Pauwels, the building was restored to its original grandeur. When
the restoration was complete in 1959, the building looked exactly
as it did before. This was possible because they used the original
building plans and the same type of stones.
Jesus built His church in the first century
(Matthew 16:18). Two millennia later the world is full of
denominations that are very different from the church Jesus built.
People have used their own plans and their own stones
to establish thousands of denominations according to their
own liking and for their own glory.
Churches of Christ exist in all parts of the
world because certain people want to be nothing more and nothing
less than the church of the New Testament. They must endure much
criticism, however, from those who call this an impossible dream,
an unattainable objective, an impracticable ideal.
Can we be the church of the New Testament? Why
not, if we use the original building plans and the same stones, if
we follow the pattern of the New Testament?
The question is: Do we really want to be
the church of the New Testament? Or do we prefer something else,
something modern or something medieval? Do we want to serve God
His way or our way?
Many, if not most people in Christendom do not
even try to be the church of the New Testament. Is that
acceptable to God?
Jesus said about religious groups in His time:
“Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be
uprooted. Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And
if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch”
(Matthew 15:13, 14).
If we belong to some religious group other than
the church Jesus built, we will be uprooted. If we blindly follow
blind guides, we will fall into a pit. We must be the church
of the New Testament if we want to be saved.
People in denominations -- which are
conspicuously different from the New Testament church -- often try
to justify the difference by claiming that it is not possible to be
the church of the New Testament.
Can we be the church of the New Testament? Can we
be the same church we read about in the Scriptures? Certainly, if
we use the original plans, if we follow the original
Is the New Testament a pattern for the
People who want to do their own thing, do not
like patterns. Thus, they simply declare that the New Testament
does not provide a pattern for the church. What does the New
Testament itself say?
Does the New Testament claim to be a
Paul told Timothy: “Hold fast the pattern
of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love
which are in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:13). Paul told Titus
to “speak the things which are proper for sound
doctrine” (Titus 2:1).
An elder must hold “fast the faithful word
as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both
to exhort and convict those who contradict” (Titus 1:9). The
law is for anything “contrary to sound doctrine” (1
Timothy 1:8-11). Apostate Christians “will not endure sound
doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:3, 4). Thus, these ‘sound
words,’ this ‘sound doctrine’ is a pattern that
is to be held fast by preachers and elders, and this pattern will
be rejected by people with itching ears who want to please
themselves rather than God.
Paul wrote to the Romans: “But God be
thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed
from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were
delivered” (Romans 6:17). ‘Form of doctrine’ can
be translated ‘pattern of doctrine’. Notice that it
does not say that this pattern of doctrine has been delivered to
us, but that we have been delivered to a pattern of doctrine!
Rather than being subservient to sin, we are now subservient to a
pattern of doctrine that we must obey from the
The New Testament is our pattern. Only false
teachers claim otherwise.
We certainly can be the church of the New
Testament if we hold fast the New-Testament pattern of sound
To follow the New-Testament pattern, our speech
must be pure. We must avoid theological formulations, and use
Scriptural words to express our faith.
These words are not accidental. They are from
God. Paul wrote: “These things we also speak, not in words
which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit
teaches” (1 Corinthians 2:13). Peter wrote: “If anyone
speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God” (1
Peter 4:11). “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not
speak according to this word, it is because there
is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20). To be the church
of the New Testament we must use the language of the New Testament
in our teaching and preaching.
Human interpretation of these Spirit-taught words
is not allowed. We must observe their true meaning. “And so
we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as
a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the
morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no
prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for
prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke
as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter
These Spirit-taught words come from Christ. We
can be the church of the New Testament if we abide in the word of
Christ. Jesus tells His followers: “If you abide in My word,
you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the
truth shall make you free” (John 8:31, 32). His word will
judge us: “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words,
has that which judges him -- the word that I have spoken will judge
him in the last day” (John 12:48).
Jesus has given us His word through the apostles
and the Scriptures.
The first church “continued steadfastly in
the apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42). The church is
“built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus
Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20).
If we continue steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine, we will
be the same church.
The holy Scriptures, inspired by God, provide all
the information we need to be the church of the New Testament. In
his first letter to Timothy, Paul said: “These things I write
to you, though I hope to come to you shortly; but if I am delayed,
I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in
the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar
and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:14,
In his second letter Paul admonishes Timothy
further: “But as for you, continue in the things which you
have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have
learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy
Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through
faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by
inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof,
for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of
God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work”
(2 Timothy 3:14-17).
This pattern is normative and must be followed
accurately. Paul told the Corinthians not to go beyond what is
written (1 Corinthians 4:6). John warned: “Whoever
transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not
have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the
Father and the Son” (2 John 9).
Yes, we can be the church of the New Testament,
but only if we have the same faith and obey the same gospel
contained in the New Testament. Jude wrote: “Beloved, while I
was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation,
I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend
earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the
saints” (Jude 3). Paul wrote to the Galatians: “But
even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you
than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed”
The New Covenant must be kept.
In Greek, the word for testament and for covenant
is the same [διαθήκη]. A
covenant is a formal, solemn and binding agreement relative to the
performance of certain actions. A confirmed covenant cannot be
annulled or changed (Galatians 3:15).
The New Testament is a God-given covenant! It was
ratified when Jesus died on the cross (Hebrews 9:16, 17). Through
this covenant God grants blessings on specified conditions. This
new covenant lays down the requirements for being a Christian and a
church of Christ. These specifications cannot be changed. God, as
sovereign Lord, has defined the conditions. We can be the church of
the New Testament, but only if we comply with the provisions of the
covenant God has given us.
Under the old covenant, God told Moses exactly
how the tabernacle was to be made: “According to all that I
show you, that is, the pattern of the tabernacle and the
pattern of all its furnishings, just so you shall make it”
(Exodus 25:9). “And you shall raise up the tabernacle
according to its pattern which you were shown on the
mountain” (Exodus 26:30).
The necessity of following this pattern is
mentioned twice in the New Testament. Stephen said: “Our
fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as He
appointed, instructing Moses to make it according to the pattern
that he had seen” (Acts 7:44). In Hebrews it is explained
that the tabernacle was a “copy and shadow of the heavenly
things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make
the tabernacle. For He said, ‘See that you make all
things according to the pattern shown you on the
mountain’” (Hebrews 8:5).
God foretold that the old covenant would be
replaced: “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I
will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the
house of Judah -- not according to the covenant that I made with
their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to
lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they
broke” (Jeremiah 31:31, 32).
Can we be the church of the New Testament?
Yes, certainly. If we follow the pattern of the New Testament, if we comply with the conditions and provisions of the new covenant, if we abide in the word of Christ, if we continue steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine, if we hold fast the pattern of sound words, if we use the Scriptures for doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction, if we obey from the heart that form of doctrine to which we have been delivered, if we do not go beyond what is written, if we hold fast the faithful word, if we have the same faith and obey the same gospel, if we abide in the doctrine of Christ... we can be the church of the New Testament.
The Scripture quotations in this article are from
The New King James Version. ©1979,1980,1982, Thomas Nelson
Permission for reference use has been granted.
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