Is Authority Needed for Everything
In the fourth chapter of the book of John we find Jesus speaking with a woman from Samaria. In the course of this discussion Jesus informs this woman that "true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth" (Jn. 4:23). We can deduce from this that those who do not worship in spirit and in truth are false worshipers, The idea that God will accept any and every form or activity that is offered as worship is entirely foreign to the Scriptures.
God seeks people to worship him who will do so in spirit and in truth. Jesus promised his apostles that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth (Jn. 4:24; 16:13). The New Testament is the complete will of God and it contains all that pertains to life and godliness (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:3). The only place that we can find worship that is pleasing and acceptable to God is going to be in the New Testament. Anything that is added to the worship that is found in the New Testament cannot be according to truth.
God Does Not Accept All That Is Offered As Worship
The fact that God does not accept everything that is offered as worship is forcefully demonstrated in the Bible. Nadab and Abihu are two men who took it upon themselves to after the form of worship which God had delivered and "fire went out from the Lord" and devoured these two men as a lesson that he is to be sanctified by those who come near him (Lev. 10:1-3). The worship of the Pharisees was in vain because the traditions and commandments of men had perverted the true worship which God would accept (Matt. 15:1-9). The worship of the woman at the well in Samaria was in ignorance and the Lord pointed her in the right direction (Jn. 4:21-24). These are enough examples to prove the point that all worship is not acceptable with God, but only worship which conforms to the pattern given by him in his word. We must have authority from God for everything that we do in worship and it must be offered from a willing heart (Jn. 4:24).
We find authority in the Bible for five specific acts of worship: singing (Eph. 5:19), partaking of the Lord's Supper each Lord's day (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:23-26), giving on the first day of every week as prospered (I Cor. 16:1-2), teaching God's word and praying (Acts 2:42). Those who are familiar with the Lord's church know that instrumental music is not part of the worship of the church which we read about in our New Testament; therefore, we do not use instrumental music because such would pervert the worship which God has authorized and cause it to be unacceptable in his sight. Just as we could not acceptably add honey butter to the Lord's Supper to make the bread more desirable to our taste, we cannot add instrumental music to our singing to make it more pleasing to our ears. We honor and obey God by obeying his will in our worship services.
This same appeal to the Scriptures must be followed when teaching someone the plan of salvation. God has revealed in very clear and distinct language the conditions we must meet in order to be saved. We are not saved and added to the Lord's body until we meet each and every condition which God has given in the gospel. We must believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God and that God raised him from the dead, confess our faith in Christ, repent of our sins, and be baptized for the remission of our sins (Rom. 10:9-10; Acts 2:38). When we are obedient to these conditions the Lords adds us to his body (Acts 2:47). These conditions are absolute and we either have obeyed them or we have not. We are either saved or lost, there is no middle ground. After obedience to these conditions we either worship God according to his will or we do not. Just as the acts of worship of the first century church are specific, the conditions of salvation are specific and we either obey our Lord in these matters or we do not. Obedience is absolutely necessary in order to please God (Heb. 5:9).
A Pattern for All Things
Just as God has given a pattern for the worship of the church and a pattern for entrance into the church, he has given a pattern for the work of the church. The church falls into apostasy when it violates the pattern which God has given. There is authority for the local church to help needy saints and support the teaching of the gospel from its treasury (Acts 6:1-7; 11:27-30; 2 Cor. 11:8-9; Phil. 4:14-16). Another part of the work of the local church which does not concern the treasury is that of corrective discipline. The church is commanded to withdraw from those members who are walking disorderly (2 Thess. 3:6-15).
There are numerous congregations in this country, state, county, and even this city which are in apostasy because they have added to the work of the church things which God has not authorized. We call churches which handle God's word in such an irreverent manner apostate, liberal, or digressive. There are congregations which have not burdened the church down with unscriptural works, but are guilty of treating the word of God in an unholy or unsanctified manner by avoiding or ignoring God's teaching on corrective discipline, allowing worldliness to take over the flock, disregarding the qualifications laid down in the Scriptures concerning the elders, or some other such departure from the truth. If all the members of a church such as this are content and not working to bring about repentance, then this church would be as digressive as those which have added unscriptural practices to the work. We must be obedient to God in all things (Jas. 2:10).
Fairlane Day Care Center
The Fairlane Church of Christ owns and operates the Fairlane Christian School as a separate corporation from the church. Their recent bulletin (10-18-90) states that "the elders have the final say in matters pertaining to the school" and the church provides the building without charge to the school. This seems like such a good work since there are many families in which both parents must work that quality day care is needed for their children. There are so many good things that can be said about a day care program such as the one run by the Fairlane Church of Christ, but where is the Scripture that gives the authority for the Lord's church to own and operate a day care center _________? Just fill in the blank if such a Scripture exists.
Authority From God for All That We Do
The church has authority to build a building to teach the gospel because Jesus commands that we assemble to edify one another (Heb. 10:25). But, where is the command for the church to own and operate any business? Someone says, "Well they are not charging for the building and it would just sit there empty all week, so what's the harm?" Could the church allow one of the deacons to operate a "Christian" car business out of one of the classrooms? How about one of the ladies operating a "Christian" travel agency out of another? Well, we could have a "Christian" minimall on the church property during the week. What's missing in all of this is authority! We must have authority for everything that we do. "And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him" (Col. 3:17).
Should One Leave an Apostate Church?
The question might come to mind, "Can I serve God acceptably in an apostate church, even though I don't agree with the unscriptural practices that are going on?" We might ask, "What is the reason that one would stay in a church that is going beyond what is written in the New Testament?" Is an active effort being made to correct and bring to repentance those who are in error? We are to "prove all things" and to "hold fast that which is good" (1 Thess. 5:21). Are we searching the Scriptures daily as did the Bereans in Acts 17:11 to verify everything that we are taught and are practicing as a body? As Christians, we are to study to show ourselves approved unto God and we are to be ready at all times to give those who ask an answer for the hope that lies within us (2 Tim. 2:15; 1 Pet. 3:15).
Every Christian in every congregation is to study for himself to make sure that he is in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5). If a congregation decides to add to the worship some form of entertainment, such as choirs or instrumental music, then those who are loyal to God must stand in opposition to these unauthorized practices. If they drift along with the crowd and blame the elders or preacher for these innovations but do nothing to prevent them from being added, they are in sin as much as the elders or preacher who brought them in. Apathy is the cause for many people remaining in a local congregation when they know that it is engaged in practices which are unknown to the New Testament. Ignorance is another cause but if we are obedient to God's command to grow in knowledge then we will study our way out of error. Those who are faithfully following God cannot remain silent in a digressive church.
In Revelation 2 and 3 there are admonitions by our Lord to the seven churches of Asia to be zealous and repent (Rev. 2:5,16,22; 3:3,19). He said to the church of Ephesus, "Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent." This was a church with many good qualities for which Christ commended them, but they were in danger of losing their candlestick unless they repented.
If we are in an apostate church and doing nothing to bring about its repentance then we are in sin and danger of condemnation. If we attempt to teach the truth to bring about repentance and are silenced or commanded not to speak on these matters then there is only one recourse and that is to leave and serve God in a congregation that respects the authority of the Scriptures. If a congregation cannot be found in a given area, then a new work should be established so that others may hear the gospel and be able to meet with those of like precious faith to serve God.
Why Don't Some Who Know Better Speak Out Against Apostasy?
We have already noticed apathy and ignorance as reasons why some Christians do not oppose sinful practices in the local church. But, another reason that may keep us from going to the elders or men of the congregation and calling for repentance is sin in our own life. We know that we are not living as we ought to live and that if we point to some problem that needs correction and urge repentance, others may well point to us and say, "Who are you to tell us we need to repent?" Possibly we have allowed worldliness to infiltrate into our lives or we do not faithfully assemble with the saints as we are commanded to do or some other sin that is apparent and we know that we cannot be the one to lead others to repentance. The solution to this sin is to repent and admit the error or errors that we have been guilty of and then press on in the battle for truth (1 Jn. 1:9; Acts 8:22).
God will not overlook sin in our private life or the sins we commit or participate in as a congregation. Repentance is necessary in both cases if we are to be saved. Those in the first century who were commanded not to speak prayed to God for courage and then went out and taught the world the gospel (Acts 4:29-31). Let us do exactly what God commands in every facet of our service to him, both individually and as a congregation of the Lord.
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 5, pp. 134-135