The Ancient Church In A Modern World
The Lord's church had its beginning more than 1900 years ago in the city of Jerusalem (Ac. 2:41, 47). Saved souls were added to it then, which clearly indicates that it was, when they are said to have added to it, an existing body. The church had actually come with the giving of the Holy Spirit (Ac. 2:4) on that same day. Thereafter it was reproduced in all parts of the world by the preaching and teaching of the gospel of Christ. Today, in this modern world it must be reproduced by the very same means. If any other means is used, that which is produced will not be the true church for which Jesus died. Furthermore, if those who are added to that one body today do not work and worship as the Christians did 1900 years ago, they will make that religion which they profess something more or less than the religion of Jesus Christ.
We hear much talk of "Twentieth Century Christianity" as though the religion of our day would be something distinctive and different from the religion of other centuries. However, it needs to be remembered that if today's religion is not indeed First Century Christianity, then it is not Christianity at all. If the preaching and teaching that produced our religion was not the ancient gospel without addition, subtraction or substitution, then we are not members of that ancient church purchased on Golgotha's hill, and we are yet in our sins. If the worship and working which we engage in today is not identical in its nature to that practiced by the Apostles and their contemporaries then we have departed from the faith and are again lost as erring children of God. We cannot harmonize truth with modern ways and means and principles, but instead we must harmonize ways and means and principles with the ancient gospel so perfectly and fully revealed in the New Testament.
I shall list here just a few of the things we see "advertised" in church bulletins today that will show the nature of departures which have come. Remember the following things are not practiced by a denominational body but by those who wear the name of Christ and who claim membership in "the one body." These are practices of some of the "churches of Christ," and in most cases are churches that are respected as the ones that are most active in the Lord's work.
1. From one bulletin we copy the following: "Both Basketball Teams Doing Well. We have a Jr. and Sr. high team playing in the league at the Boys' Club. The Jr. boys have dropped only one game and the Sr. boys have won all their games. Both teams have excellent chances of winning the league." A few years ago this would have been very unusual, but today it is getting to be almost commonplace among churches of Christ. But when the church involves itself in the support and/or promotion of such things as athletics, it has certainly departed from the ancient principles of truth that guided God's people. There is absolutely no way to justify the church in such activity except to admit that the denominations do it and we want it regardless of authority or lack of such. In a similar bulletin we read, "The girls will be glad to know that the Boys' Club pool . . . has been reserved for them from 6:30 to 8:30 . The mothers and ladies of the church may also swim on this night.
2. Other activities announced include "Christmas Party," "Annual Holiday Banquet," etc. Remember these are the things that are announced in church bulletins and are sponsored by churches, even to the extent in some places that a "minister" is hired to take care of just such affairs. He may be called "Educational Director" but he is expected to arrange and manage parties, banquets and other such affairs -as well as teach a few classes each week. One bulletin announced the following: "THIS IS YOUR LIFE, a 40 minute first-puppet play, will be presented tonight after worship services in the fellowship hall Imagine now the Lord's church sponsoring a puppet show and hiring a director for it. While we are at it, we may as well ask: What is a fellowship hall? I know we have fellowship one with another when we come together to worship, and the place of assembly could thus be described as a fellowship hall, but to designate another hall which is used for banqueting, parties, plays, etc. as a fellowship hall is certainly about like calling a building the church!
3. Another trend seen is the promotion of what is evidently destined to become the "Youth Church," just like denominations have. One church already announces "Children's Prayer Meeting." It is not my purpose to object to separate classes for children, but rather it is my purpose to warn that we may become so obsessed with special features for them that they will not learn to be satisfied with the simple worship that is to be in spirit and in truth. We may be about to grow up a generation that will have to see a show of some kind every time they go to a church building!
4. One church recently conducted an affair called in the bulletin a Teacher's Dinner. It too was in the "Fellowship Hall." Harmonica music was featured as part of the entertainment! To actually show the trend of thinking on these things, notice that one church lists "Regular Schedule of Services For The Week," and after listing assemblies on Sunday, Wednesday, etc., with Bible classes, worship, devotionals, etc., the list is concluded with "Friday: 12:00 Noon Men's Luncheon." Notice that this is featured is a "regular service for the week."
The foregoing have only been examples of trends and departures seen today. if they may each seem little and innocent, put them all together and see that they add up to something big and evil. Let us remember that each little departure leads to another and that in reality nothing that is wrong can be considered as innocent. The only right and safe course to follow is to "Call Bible things by Bible names and do Bible things in Bible ways." The old-fashioned way of the Bible is not only right forever, but it is the only way that is right now or forever.
The things given as examples of departures cannot be excused on the basis that they are simply new ways of doing old things. That is not so. These and many other practices of churches today involve unauthorized activity for the Lord's church, not just new methods in authorized activity. Step by step we may depart from the old, old pattern, so gradually that we hardly realize we are thus departing. Now, before we go too far, let us turn back to Bible authority and to Bible principles and to Bible practices.
Truth Magazine III:10, pp. 8-9