By Jimmy Tuten, Jr.
There are over three hundred religious bodies in America. Out of this vast number of churches only one can lie identified as the New Testament church. How one goes about identifying the church is the purpose of this writing.
The dictionary defines “identify” in the following manner: “sameness of essential character . . . The condition of being the same with something described or asserted; as to establish the identity of stolen goods”. This means that if we want to identify something, we have to point out the distinguishing marks or characteristics of the thing to be identified. To illustrate: suppose you were seeking to identify a stolen 1974 auto. To simply give the style and color would not be sufficient. There are many models bearing the same style and color. If you give the serial number, the license and title number you have properly identified it. No other auto will bear these marks of identity.
So it is with the church. If we want to identify it we must present the identifying characteristics. We do not look for one that simply worships. All churches worship. We do not look for one that loves the Lord. All but Satanic churches love Him. We have to be more specific and definite. We turn to the New Testament for definite marks of identity and compare the church with those marks. What does the New Testament say about the church?
It Recognizes the Authority of the Scriptures
The New ‘Testament church accepts the inspiration of the Scriptures, recognizing that all Scripture is given by the inspiration of God (2 Tim. 3:16-17). It accepts the fact that all that. God has given has been revealed by the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:10); that the scriptures are inspired in word and thought (1 Cor. 2:13). It is certified as having been given by the revelation of Jesus Christ (Gal, 1:11-12). The New Testament church therefore speaks as the oracles of God (1 Pet, 4:11). It knows that “whosoever transgresseth and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son” (2 Jn. 9). The church appeals to the Scripture for authorization for its practices. It believes in having book, chapter, and verse for all that it does, What is not authorized by general or specific authority is not of God. The New Testament church believes and accepts this fact. This is what makes it a New Testament church, Friend, does the church to which you belong believe in the all-sufficiency of the Word in things religious? Let it be remembered that the approved and universal practices of the first churches (i.e., The New Testament churches) are recorded in Scripture for our learning. These New Testament practices constitute a complete system, adapted to every age and to all circumstances. To be a New Testament church we must be regulated by these principles, We must speak as the oracles of God.
It Is Autonomous In Organization
In Matt, 16:18 Jesus promised to build His church. Following the metaphor of a “building,” Jesus is an architect with blueprints for His church. The church is to be structured or built according to the divine pattern (Heb. 8:1-5).
The divine organization of the church is demonstrated in Phil. 1:1, where reference is made to “the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons.” Qualifications for bishops and deacons are given in Tit. 1:5-9 and 1 Tim. 3:1-13. The local church is made up of saints with its bishops and deacons, This is the only organization known to the church, There is no arrangement larger or smaller. The collective of saints in any location is the only unit of function. As such it is independent and autonomous. Elders are to be appointed in every church (Acts 14:23). They have the oversight only over the flock over which they have been appointed (Acts 20:17-28; 1 Pet. 5:2). Arrangements such as conferences and synods are unscriptural in nature. Each local collective is to be independent and self-governing. This is an important identifying mark of the church.
Its Name Is “Church of Christ”
Another identifying mark of the New Testament church is its designation. It is called “Church of Christ,” While other names are attached to the church, this name alone shows identity and ownership Jesus Christ built the church (Matt. 16:18), He gave Himself for it (Eph. 5:25-26). lie purchased the church with His own blood (Acts 20:28). It belongs to Him. The fact that First Century churches wore the name of Christ is demonstrated in Romans 16:16 – “the churches of Christ salute you,” We can know whether a church belongs to Christ or not by observing the name it wears. Human names are carnal and cause one to glory in men, We are to glory in the Lord (1 Cor, 1:31). We wear the name of Christ in order that we might glorify Him on earth. Every time the expression “church of Christ” is used, honor is given to Jesus Christ.
Its Worship is in Spirit And Truth
Another way to establish the identity of the church is to look at its worship. Concerning worship, Jesus said: “God is spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in Spirit and in truth” (Jn. 4:24). “In spirit” refers to ones’ manner of worship, “In truth” has reference to the application of truth. Does our worship conform to the truth? Worship must be in the right frame of mind, but it must also conform to truth. What is worship in truth? To determine this we need only to observe what First Century christians did when they worshipped God. When we observe in this respect what they observed we are identified with them. When we study the Scriptures relating to New Testament worship we find that worship involves five acts: the Lord’s Supper, the contribution (called fellowship), preaching, prayer and singing (Acts 2:42; Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:19). These acts were done in the assembly and the assembly was on the Lord’s Day (1 Cor. 16:1-2; Acts 20:7). We can identify the church by observing whether they engage in the five acts each Lord’s Day.
It Performs Its God-Given Work
The church has a definite function to perform. We can know what the church is to do by observing the New Testament church’s function. This helps us to identify it. What is the work of the church? It is, first of all, preaching and teaching the gospel. The church is to do this at home and to the extent of its ability abroad (Phil. 1:3-5; 4:15-48). Secondly, it is to edify the saints among its number (Acts 13:1; Eph. 4:11-16; Rom. 1:8-17). Thirdly, it is to relieve the needs of its own needy members (Acts 6:1-6; 1 Tim. 5:9-10,16). It is not the work of the church to provide entertainment and things of like nature. Also, the church is all-sufficient to perform these tasks. It can, to the extent of its ability, do all that God has assigned to it.
These features identify the church. They tell us what the church is and what it is like. Are you a member of the New Testament church? You can be added to it (Acts 2:47), if you are willing to repent and be baptized (Acts 2:38).
Truth Magazine XX: 29, pp. 458-459
July 22, 1976