By Cecil Willis
(NOTE: From 1953-1957 I lived in Indianapolis, and preached upon radio stations WISH and WIBC, both of whom required that a manuscript be prepared. Thus in those four years, I wrote about 1600 pages of manuscripts, none of which has ever been published, except for about 250 mimeographed copies which were mailed out weekly as requested by radio listeners. As time necessitates, and as space permits, I intend to print a few of these radio lessons. Luther Blackmon says that “originality is the art of forgetting where you got it.” 1 am sure that I borrowed material from many sources. If 1 now could identify the sources, I would cite them. Occasionally I used someone else’s manuscript, with very little change. These 1 have sought to delete from the ones I intend to publish. However, I might let one slip through inadvertently. Thus, brother, if I used one of your radio sermon manuscripts, it would be appreciated if you would not sue me for plagiarism. Just write me, and an apology will be forthcoming. There are several quite long series on first principle type lessons. Having received much help from many sources, perhaps these lessons might be useful to some young preacher somewhere who is now and then pressed for a radio manuscript. If so, I feel quite sure that the brethren from whom 1 borrowed them will not mind if you also use them. I think I wrote all of the ones that I will print but if I should let one that I borrowed slip through, 1 ask your apology in advance.-Cecil Willis)
In this lesson, we are to study “The Church In Sacred History.”. By sacred history, we mean the Bible. The Biblical record of church history is the only infallible record we have. There can be no mistake in the record in the Bible, for this was written by the Spirit of the living God. He who in the beginning brought order out of chaos is speaking to us today in the Inspired Record. To reject His Record is to reject God. To question or doubt the wisdom revealed in the Bible is to question the wisdom of God.
The stream of Christianity has been corrupted by theological speculations for almost twenty centuries. We should never judge a fountain by the stream flowing from it, if the stream has gone through trashy places and has been defiled. So in studying Christianity one should never be content to drink of all the corruption that has been added through the years. We should all go back to the fountainhead and drink of its undefiled purity. Let us notice the church as it appears in sacred history.
The church of the first century was a Spirit-guided institution. In determining the matter and form of the Gospel proclamation the apostles could have made no mistakes, for they spoke “as the Spirit gave them utterance.” Through the wisdom given them by the Holy Spirit, they were able to settle the differences between the Jew and Gentile, edify the church through spiritual gifts, interpret the Scriptures, direct the movements of the evangelists, and disclose the future. Their views on any one subject did not contradict their views on any other subject, for the Holy Spirit does not contradict Himself. The apostles went forth confirming the great salvation which Jesus began to speak in the great commission. God accompanied them with gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will. Their words were confirmed by miraculous demonstrations. By the Holy Spirit which was given them in the baptismal power, they cast out demons, raised the dead, and did many other wonders to confirm their message. It should also be remembered that the miraculous presence and power of the Holy Spirit were peculiar to the Apostolic age. The only Divine testimony we have that such supernatural phenomena ever existed is in the New Testament. In later years facts and fables were so mixed in the tales about miraculous demonstrations that human wisdom must turn back to the inspired record to separate them. As nature began in a miracle, and now stands in the clear light of science, so did Christianity begin in these superhuman phenomena, and moves under the guidance of the Divine law. If anyone should claim miraculous power now, he must show his supernatural credentials. The modern claims to miraculous powers, if the Bible be true, originated with a diabolical instead of a Divine power.
Because the Holy Spirit guided the early church, it was a well organized church. Of greatest importance in this consideration was its organic simplicity. All Christians were kings and priests unto God. The work of the church was divided among the servants of Christ, but there was no ecclesiastical ladder of prominence to tempt an unholy ambition. The only New Testament prototype of modern ambitious ecclesiastics was Diotrephes, who loved to have the pre-eminence. Each local congregation of the Lord had its elders and deacons. There was no elder or bishop over many congregations, but many elders or bishops in each congregation. each congregation was independent. They were not formed together in an unholy alliance to usurp the authority of the Son of God. The wisdom of the Holy Spirit in such an arrangement is easily seen. If trouble arose in one congregation, it would in no way affect the order and peace of another congregation.
No Speculative Theology
Then it is easy to notice the absence of speculative theology in the first century preaching. These men were so busy preaching Christ and Him crucified that they had no time to write out a system of Divinity. They obeyed Paul’s admonition to Timothy to preach the word. They did not give themselves to foolish questions, and words that engendered strife. Paul, Peter, Silas, Philip, and John had one sermon-Christ and his kingdom. No reader of the New Testament is so dull or negligent as to fail to see that this is true. The oppositions of science (falsely so-called) gave these gospel preachers no worry at all. They condemned even the slightest tendency for Christians to be divided into different camps, wearing different human names. These men preached, indeed, the Gospel.
A United Church
Further it is easy to see that sacred history discloses a united church. “The multitude of them that believed were of one heart and one soul.” Such marvelous unity brought immeasurable results. The world about the New Testament church was convinced that such religion was worthwhile. Even the untold persecutions which fell upon the Apostolic church failed to split the ‘ranks of Christians. Their allegiance to the Captain of their salvation is unsurpassed. There was no discrepancy between their faith and their practice. What they believed, they did and taught. We should try to follow them in this principle. When the world sees a great variance between what the church preaches and what its members practice, there must be many evil effects on the Lord’s cause. Let us not see a letdown of this doctrinal and moral purity in the practice of church members. In denominational churches, one not only sees a disparity between their doctrinal and moral practice, but one sees both a moral and a doctrinal letdown. Such a letdown can only produce evil. Too many sinners are using the lukewarm or immoral members of the church as an excuse for their not obeying the Gospel. The early church was one in faith and in practice.
Growth of the Church
For several years the Apostles remained in the city of Jerusalem preaching the Gospel there alone. After the persecution that arose upon the stoning of Stephen, the members of the church numbering thousands were all scattered abroad, except the Apostles. Where they went, they preached the word. Congregations were established in nearby and in distant cities. With the reception of the Gentiles into tie fold in Acts the tenth chapter, there began a concerted effort to carry the Gospel to earth’s remotest bounds. Paul and Barnabas, later ‘Silas and John Mark; were sent on evangelistic journeys. The church went forward from conquest to ‘conquest. Converts multiplied with amazing rapidity. The early church was evangelistic-minded. Three thousand, five thousand, a great company of the priests, and millions of others were reached by the close of the first century. “Country after country fell before it-Judea, Samaria, Phoenicia, Cyprus, Asia Minor, Macedonia, Greece, the Roman Empire, Babylon, Arabia, and Ethiopia. Before the death of the last apostle, the whole world had heard the wonderful proclamation; and all this without armies, without steamships and railroads, without printing presses and libraries, without colleges and favoring Christian governments-all this in the midst of heathenism and against the bloodiest opposition” (Everest). The apostles and early preachers established churches and then revisited them either in person or in their epistles. Truly their line went “out through all the earth; and their words to the end of the world” (Psa. 19:4). They were uniform in their preaching on the first principles of the oracles of Christ. They all taught the same answer to the question: “What must I do to be saved?” Their teaching on the laws of induction into the kingdom was uniform. They all claimed to be members of the church of Jesus Christ upon the earth, and living in hope of eternal life beyond. “Could we but reproduce the church of the first century in spirit and power; with our millions of money an& millions of men, and with our peaceable access to almost all tribes and nations of the earth, how soon would all the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (Everest).
The picture of the New Testament church in sacred history closes with inspired warnings against a great falling away from the faith. According to the prophetic announcements, the departure would begin among the elders of the church. During the declining years of John, the last living apostle, the leaven of iniquity was already at work. Certain men such as Diotrephes were ambitiously seeking preeminence. John was making a last heroic stand against the oncoming forces of apostasy. The aged apostle’s remonstrations against the doctrines of the Nicolaitans, Gnostics, and Balaamites were barely heard in a world filled with the sounds of false prophets. This is the true picture of the church in sacred history.
Truth Magazine XVIII: 4, pp. 51-53
November 28, 1974