Landmarks of the Lord's Church (No. 2)
In the East where neighboring properties were not divided by fences, landmarks were used to identify one person's land from another's. Frequently low stones served as landmarks and it was an easy matter for these to be moved so, as to change the identity of the land. The law prohibited with a curse the removal of such landmarks. "Cursed he he that moveth his neighbor's landmark" (Deut. 27:17). God not only is displeased when men tamper with theier neighbor's landmarks, he is also displeased when men tamper with divine landmarks. "Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God" (2 John 9).
The church of our Lord can continue to exist today only so long as those who comprise its membership adhere to the divine landmarks which God established for the church. When the divine landmarks of the church are moved, the church loses its identitv and apostasy is the inevitable result. The Catholic Church came into existence for this very reason. As men in the early church gradually changed the divine landmarks, the true church lost its identity, and an apostate church emerged from its ruins. The Christian Church of our day is another living monument to the same kind of disregard for divine landmarks. If the church of Christ today follows this example and seeks God "not after the due order," it too will wind up as just another denomination.
The first landmark of the church with which men tamper is the authority of Christ. It is, of course, the authority of Christ that establishes the landmarks of the church. Therefore men must disregard the authority of Christ before they can proceed to remove the landmarks which it establishes. Every departure from the truth begins with a disregard for the authority of Christ. Paul warned of false teachers who would arise in the church "speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them" (Acts 20:30). "Perverse" means distorted, twisted, corrupted. This departure was to begin with a distortion of the truth, or a corruption of the authorltv of Christ. So it is with all such departures.
After perverting the authority of Christ, it seems that the next step in the march toward apostasy is to set aside the divine organization of the church. At least this was the case in the development of Catholicism and the Digression of the Christian Church. There are two reasons why false teachers seek to set aside the divine organization of the church. (1) It stands in the way of the doctrines which they are interested in promoting. And (2) it stands in the way of their personal ambitions for preeminence in the church. As long as the church is organized as God intends that it should be, the efforts of unscrupulous men in the church will be thwarted. It seems only natural, therefore, that false teachers should as one of their first acts seek to rearrange the organization of the church to suit their own designs.
The head of the church is Christ and its headquarters are in heaven where the head is. The church has neither head nor headquarters on earth. It has not universal, national, state, or district organiations. No man or group of men on earth today are authorized to speak for the church universal. There are no official publications that can set policies and determine actions for the church. The only official organization of the church on earth is the organization of local, independent, autonomous churches. There are no organizations larger than the local church. It is in its congregational capacity alone that the church as such moves.
A local church consists of all the saints in a given locality. For instance, "the church of God which is at Corinth" (I Cor. 1:2) consisted of all the saints in that city. "The church of the Thessalonians" (I Thess. 1:1) was made up of the saints in Thessalonica. Christ is not only the head of the church universal, but he is also the head of each local church. His law, the New Testament, governs each church so that the same rule of faith and practice applies to each one. Each local church, therefore, is an independent body under Christ and governed by his word.
Each local church, when fully developed, is overseen by elders. The pattern is elders (plural) over each church (singular) (Acts 14:23). The elders of each church are charged with the oversight thereof (Acts 20:28). Their authority as overseers is restricted to "the flock of God among you" (I Pet. 5:1, 2), or to "the flock over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers" (Acts 20:28). This simply means that the elders of one church have no business over any other church, nor over the work of any other church. Neither does the divine limitation of their oversight permit them to become a super-eldership through whoin a number of churches work. The qualifications of the office of an elder are laid down by the Holy Spirit in I Timothy 3 and in Titus 1. When each church as an independent body is ruled by qualified elders who are held in respect and honor by the flock they oversee, then it is organized "after the due order."
The local church as divinely organized is simply able to do evervthing God requires of it. It can do all of the evangelizing, edification and benevolence God requires it to do. Any intimation that the church as divinely organized cannot accomplish its mission is a reflection upon the wisdom of God and a demonstration of "the wisdom of this world." While the church is sufficient to do all that God intends for it to do, it is obvious that it is not sufficient for preeminence-loving teachers and worldly-minded members who desire the applause of the masses.
Because the divine organization of the church does not allow enough latitude for the operation of promotional schemes that rival those hatched out on Madison Avenue, some set about to change the organization. Of course they will not admit that they advocate something different from the New Testament pattern. They boldly assert that they believe in the divine organization of the church; nevertheless, their actions speak louder than their words. It may be that they are so blinded by their zeal for statistics that they really do not see their departure from Bible ground. But the departure is there and it is obvious to rnany faithful and devoted Christians.
There are three ways that the organization of the church may be changed to suit the purposes of ambitious men. First, it may be changed by, the creation of societies or organizations separate and apart from the church to do the work of the church. Second, it mav be changed by the creation of super-elderships which operate beyond the limitation which God's word gives an eldership. And third, the organization of the church may be changed within the local church by substituting majority rule for the rule of elders. Often when elders will not "string along" with certain hobbies, rnajority rule is declared and the elders are ruled out. This has become all too common in recent years.
Elders, preachers and members of the church in general should be more vitally concerned with maintaining the identity and purity of the church than with schemes that will proinote them personally and put the church in an appealing light before the world. After all, "what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"
Truth Magazine II:9, pp. 16-17