Landmarks of the Church (1)
Landmarks are signs by which the boundaries of one's land are identified. They serve to distinguish one person's property from another's. The removal of landmarks so as to include more land than one was entitled to seems to have been a common practice in Old Testament times. The law, however, placed a curse upon any who tampered with established landmarks. "Cursed be he that removeth his neighbor's landmark" (Deut. 27:17). "Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set" (Prov. 22:28).
The church of our Lord was built according to a divine pattern (Heb. 8:1-5). That pattern is set forth in the New Testament. Its boundaries are clearly defined by landmarks which the Lord established. These landmarks are not transient. Thev need not be altered to suit changing times or conditions. As they were at the beginning, so they are today. These landmarks serve at least three important purposes. (1) They identify the true church and distinguish it from churches of human origin. (2) They warn us when there is danger of going beyond the will of God. And (3) they expose those who have already transgressed his will.
The most important landmark of the Lord's church is its standard of authorltv. This is the most important because it is by it that all landmarks are determined. If there is no standard of authority, there are no landmarks. If there are no landmarks, it is impossible to identify the true church or to know what its organization, work and worship should be. If there is no standard of authority, then anything and everything in the realm of religion would be acceptable. But such is not the case for there definitely is a standard of authority.
A standard is "That which is set up and established by authority as a rule for the measure of quantity, weight, extent, value, or quality." Before we inquire what the standard is, let us first see where the authority lies. Jesus said, "All power (authority) is given unto me in heaven and in earth" (Matt. 28:18). Complete and final authoritv therefore resides in Christ. He alone has the divine right to set up and establish the standard by which the church is to be measured. To this agree all the writers of the New Testament. For instance, "God hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son" (Heb. 1:1, 2).
The standard of authority which Christ set up and established is the New Testament. This is the only standard of authority the church has. This is the sole rule for determining all landmarks of the church. All matters that pertain to doctrine, faith and practice must be measured by this divine rule. The Holy Spirit declares that this standard (1) "is given by inspiration of God" (2 Tim. 3:16) ; (2) furnishes us complete1y "unto every good work" (v.17); (3) contains "all things that pertain unto life and godliness" (2 Pet. 1:3); (4) was once (for all) delivered unto the saints" (Jude 3) ; and (5) is that by which "whatsoever ye do in word or deed" must he done (Col. 3:17).
Paul knew that apostasy would come and he knew how it would come. He knew that it would come through a corruption of the divine standard. To the Ephesian elders lie said, "Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them" (Acts 20:30). The word "perverse" means "distorted, twisted, corrupted." This drawing away was to begin with a distortion of the divine standard. So it is with all departures from the once-delivered faith. Paul spoke of a time when some would "not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned aside unto fables" (2 Tim. 4:3, 4). There is no combination more dangerous to the truth of God than church members with "Itching ears" and preachers (and elders) who are ready to supply the tickling they desire. With this combination, the on1y standard is "their own lusts." If what they want is not authorized by Christ, they very craftily re-arrange this landmark so as to include what they want. They disregard the divine standard whenever it happens to get in their way.
Paul sought to head off the apostasy which he knew was to come. He did so, not by an appeal to human tradition, but by insisting that the word of God be respected and by condemning any tampering therewith. He commended the Ephesian elders, in view of approaching apostasy, "to God, and to the word of his grace." He admonished Timothy, as a preface to his remarks about some who would turn away from the truth, to "Preach the word." And when the Galatians were being troubled by those who would pervert the gospel of Christ, Paul wrote unto them, "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed" (Gal. 1:8).
In spite of all the warnings given in the New Testament, men have proceeded to follow "their own lusts" and pervert the word of God. However, few perverters of the truth will admit their perversions. They want men to believe that thev have not perverted the truth. To accomplish this, various and subtle methods of perversion have been devised. Some seek to prove the Bible is we have it is incomplete and needs something in addition. Oddly enough that "something in addition" happens to be the doctrines they desire to append to God's word. Others say the Bible must have an official interpretation or man cannot understand it. Again, oddly enough, they claim to have such an "official" interpretation. There are still others who say that it doesn't really make any difference what a person believes and practices in religion "Just so long as you are honest and sincere." Some will assert that whatever interpretation a person places on the Bible is all right and his interpretation of the Bible is his standard of authority. Some, who would not for a moment tolerate any of the above methods of perversion, will turn around and seek to justify some pet hobby that doesn't fall within the realm of divine authority by more profound (?) methods. They fill the the house with "constituent elements," "component parts," "principles eternal," etc. seeking to give an air of logic and reason to their unscriptural practices.
But regardless of the method employed, the end result is the same-the authority landmark is moved just enough to allow the things they want to get in. The man who moves the landinark a mile has as much right to do so as the man who moves it one foot. Neither of them has any right to move it at all! The time is not so modern, nor have we become so "smart" that we no longer need a "Thus saith the Lord." The standard of authority is still the New Testament. We have no right to add to it, to subtract from it, or to modify it in any way. If our ambitious projects cannot be justified bv New Testament precept, example or necessary inference, then they are too ambitious to be pleasing to God.
Truth Magazine II:2, pp. 13, 17