By Mike Willis
We have noticed the other items of New Testament worship which made Christianity unique and distinguished it from Judaism and paganism. Even as the other items of worship were distinctive to Christianity, so was its worship through the delivery of a sermon. We see that the sermon was a distinctive part of the first century worship even as it is today. The early church continued in the apostles’ doctrine (Acts 2:42). When Paul visited with the brethren from Troas, he preached to them in their first-day-of-the-week assembly; Luke recorded the following: “And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight” (Acts 20:7). First Corinthians 14 shows that the delivery of a sermon was a prominent part of the worship of the first century church.
The Distinctive Message
The synagogue worship differed from the worship of the early church in one important respect – the message which was delivered. On the Sabbath day, Jews assembled to hear the law of Moses read and expounded. Hence, in some respects the outward forms of worship of the synagogue and the church were similar. Yet, one important difference existed between the two groups. The message which was preached in the synagogue was the law of Moses; the message which was preached in the church was the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Hence, the early church continued in the “apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42). This phrase shows that the message of the early church was unique. The apostles had no authority in Jewish circles; their authority was in the church. Hence, the early church taught and disseminated the doctrine taught to them by the apostles. The words which they taught were the inspired words of God (2 Thess. 2:15); they were taught and passed down from generation to generation (1 Cor. 11:2; 2 Thess. 3:6). The apostles had been commissioned by Christ to reveal His will to mankind (Matt. 28:18-20; Jn. 14:26; 16:13).
This was a distinctive break with Judaism. The apostles revealed that men no longer were obligated to obey the law of Moses. That law had been abrogated and nailed to the cross (Col. 2:14-17; Eph. 2:14-16; Heb. 8:7, 13). The Old Law was not able to make a man just in the sight of God (Gal. 3:21). Furthermore, the apostles revealed that the man who reverted to the Mosaical law for justification or authority for any religious practice was obligated to obey all of the Old Law, was severed from Christ, and fallen from grace (Gal. 5:1-4).
In contrast to the exposition of the law of Moses, the early church preached the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. Their early sermons featured the message that Jesus Christ had come into this world, died on the cross for our, sins, and was raised from the dead on the third day. The good news was that whoever believed in Him could have everlasting life. Certainly this message was unique to the Lord’s church.
The Sole Authority of the New Revelation
This new revelation through the apostles occupied in the minds of first century Christianity exactly the same place that the Old Testament revelation had occupied in the minds of the Jews. The revelation of God through the apostles was as binding as was anything that Moses had ever written. What the apostles revealed was the word of God. Paul wrote, “If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that 1 write unto you are the commandments of the Lord” (I Cor. 14:37). The words which they preached were considered the words of God, not the mere words of men (I Thess. 2:13).
The revelation which God gave through the apostles was the gospel. Through it, one could learn and receive righteousness. Paul said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:16, 17). These New Testament scriptures were capable of furnishing a man unto every good work (2 Tim. 3:16, 17); they contained all truth (Jn. 16:13); they furnished men with all things that pertained to life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3, 4). They were the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).
Consequently, anything which was not authorized in the pages of this new revelation was without the authority of God and, therefore, condemned. To teach for doctrine the commandments of men rendered worship vain (Matt. 15:9). The man who stepped outside the revelation of God was without God (2 Jn. 9-11). He had perverted the gospel of Christ and was under the anathema of God (Gal. 1:8-9). Departures from the revelation of Jesus Christ through the apostles were considered to be departures from Christ (Matt. 10:40). The elevation of the writings of the apostles as Scripture (2 Pet. 3:15-16) was a unique characteristic of the early church. Their revelation of the message of God was authoritative for the first century church; no one who refused to accept that authority could be considered to be a Christian.
Attitude Toward False Teaching
Coupled with this new respect for the revelation of God through Christ as done through the apostles was the rejection of any doctrine which did not have this apostolic authority behind it. The apostles were taught to beware of the leaven (i.e., the doctrine of) of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matt. 16:7-12). They warned Christians to watch out for false prophets. Paul wrote as follows: “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works” (2 Cor. 11:13-15).
The man who did not abide in the “traditions” received from the apostles could not abide in the fellowship of the local church (2 Thess. 3:6, 14). Those who caused divisions contrary to the doctrine which had been received from the apostles were to be marked and shunned (Rom. 16:17-18). The man who went ahead and extended the right hand of fellowship to any individual who did not abide in the doctrine of Christ was guilty of participating in the false teaching with the false teacher (2 Jn. 9-11).
Understanding that the message delivered by the apostles was the final divine revelation of God (it was the “faith once for all delivered unto the saints” – Jude 3), we can perceive that message delivered by such people as Muhammed, Joseph Smith, Mary Baker Eddy, and Ellen G. White are nothing but the uninspired writings of men. As such, they are not appropriate for preaching in the pulpits. The person who turns to these new “revelations” has departed from the faith. They can never be accepted as part of New Testament Christianity. They are the works of false prophets -apostates from the faith!
The New Message Had To Be Taught
Having shown the uniqueness of the new revelation given to mankind through the apostles of Jesus Christ, we must perceive the necessity of spreading that message. Hence, the Great Commission charged the disciples with taking this new message of Jesus Christ to the entire world (Matt. 28:18-20; Mk. 16:15-16). This shows us another feature of the Christian religion: Christianity is a taught religion. No one can become a disciple of Jesus Christ without being taught about Jesus Christ.
Jesus said, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me” (Jn. 6:44-45). The Manner in which Jesus draws men to Him is through teaching. We take the message of Jesus Christ into the world to draw men to Christ. As men are told how He who existed in the form of God became like a man, sacrificed His life on the cross for the sins of the world, and was raised from the dead, they are drawn to Jesus Christ.
The teaching of the word of God is what produces saving faith. Paul said, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). Similarly, the written word is designed to produce faith. John said, “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples which are not written in this book: but these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (Jn. 20:30-31). The necessity of gospel preaching as a part of the worship of the New Testament church should be apparent; this is the process through which faith comes and through which men are brought to salvation in Christ.
Any church which has its pulpit filled by someone who gives little emphasis to the word of God is in trouble. When the presentation of the gospel is replaced by the telling of jokes and anecdotes, inspiration stories, etc., the worship of the New Testament church has been perverted. The method through which faith is established and strengthened is perverted; lack of faith, weak faith, and no faith will be the eventual results from following this course. A good singing group, coffee and donuts, jokes, inspiration stories, etc. cannot produce faith! As a people, we must learn to look upon the preaching in the pulpit as a part of worship which can be perverted as easily as can any other part of our worship. When prayer is perverted by someone praying in the name of Mary, we become alarmed; when the Lord’s Supper is perverted by failing to observe it upon the first day of every week, we charge those with sin who fail to properly observe the Lord’s Supper; when the singing is perverted by the addition of mechanical instruments of music, we demand that it cease before we began to sing. Similarly, we must realize that when the pulpit is perverted in order to use it to entertain, expound political ideas, or press private opinions not revealed in God’s word, our worship has been perverted. For the sake of the purity of New Testament worship, we must call a halt to such practices and re-establish the preaching of the word of God.
As New Testament Christians, let us develop a high appreciation for the presentation of God’s word as a part of revealed worship. God has ordained that this be used as a means of convicting sinners of sin (1 Cor. 14:24) and edifying the saints (1 Cor. 14:26). Hence, we need to develop an attitude which considers this part of the worship of the New Testament church as a means of edifying us to maturity and of reaching the lost with the gospel. In our next lesson, we shall examine our obligations as the gospel is being preached even as we have considered the preacher’s obligations to preach that gospel in this lesson.
Questions – Lesson XII
- What important difference existed between what was preached in the synagogue and what is preached in the church?
- What is meant by “apostles’ doctrine”?
- What place did the apostles’ teaching hold in the early church?
- Is the New Testament all-sufficient for our spiritual needs? Prove your answer.
- Does the church need later day revelations?
- Cite some scriptures that show that the law was nail ed to the cross.
- What did the apostles reveal about the man who reverted to the Mosaical law for justification of any religious practice?
- What was the’message featured in the sermons of the early church?
- What did Paul say about the gospel in Romans 1:16, 17?
- Explain why it is necessary to spread the gospel to the whole world.
- Name some things that are being used to entertain people in place of preaching the word of God.
- What attitude should Christians have toward false teachers?
- Why would people prefer a twenty minute sermon packed full of anecdotes to a 40-50 minute sermon which examines a Bible passage or doctrine?
Truth Magazine XXIII: 45, pp. 724-726
November 15, 1979