The Form and Freedom of the New Testament Church
Near the end of the Twentieth Century, a pastor of a Bible Presbyterian Church, the late Dr. FRANCIS SCHAEFFER, wrote to warn Bible- believing Christians concerning what a church should be. He recognized that as the world was rushing headlong into a global new world order for a one world ruler to control, that churches would be tempted to compromise and become allies with, and support, the anti-Christ system of Revelation 13; or stand as co-belligerents against it.
Dr. Greg Dixon, of the Indianapolis Baptist Temple, soon recognized the governmental encroachment for control of American churches to this end (come shekels: come shackles), and soon called for Fundamentalist churches to un-incorporate their assemblies and return to a Biblical position of the Lordship of Christ over His church. However, church leaders such as Tim LaHaye, and JERRY FALWELL were then secretly receiving major financial donations from Sun Myung Moon and other questionable groups, causing them to be quick to answer, “The Internal Revenue Service is our friend!” This has caused major tensions for so many ministries as more and more they are asked to “amen” and become cheerleaders for government “public policy” issues such as evolution, abortion, and homosexual marriage.
I believe that God had raised up Dr. SCHAEFFER as a prophetic voice who was the first to call my attention to understanding just what the New Testament teaches is the proper form and freedom, of a true church of Jesus Christ. Dr. SCHAEFFER recognized the Bible teaches the proper norms that make up the formation of a New Testament church are:
- Churches are made up of Christians.
- They meet on the first day of the week (where singing and a collection take place).
- Elders lead the church.
- Deacons assist the Elders in serving the church.
- The church disciplines erring members.
- Elders and deacons have qualifications.
- Churches are autonomous, yet elders are ordained.
- The two ordinances are Baptism and the Lord’s Table.
I must now elaborate on Dr. Schaeffer’s first norm: Churches are made up of Christians.
Every argument is based upon presuppositions that are foundational to arrive at the proper conclusions. One will have no difficulty proving Biblically that a church should be made up of Christians. However, what if we were to compose a group of unsaved individuals and incorporate the name “Church” on their meeting place, how would such an organization conduct itself? Such a body would not have the Holy Spirit residing within to give direction aligned with the scriptures, so, how would we keep them honest? Immediately, it would be necessary to secure the aid of insurance agents, certified public accountants, and attorneys so that state statutes could be enforced, as all charitable organizations do that must deal with spiritually lost individuals! All business would have to be run by “Roberts’ Rules of Order” to avoid confusion. But all these are unnecessary in the organism of the church of Jesus Christ, because He is a living and active Savior, and the Head of His body, the church. This is why colonial America with the established state Church of England collected a clergy tax from all citizens to support their ministers. A man that knows not the Grace of God is not nearly so gracious with his finances. Other state benefit$ soon caused carnal church-men to insist that even legitimate Baptist churches should enlist state incorporation, but in doing so, they removed themselves from the providence of God, trading it for the providence of the state!
Today, because of this blatant compromise, the United States Government officially claims jurisdiction over every Independent Baptist Church, Corporate Sole, Corporation, Unincorporated Association and Trust. God’s true church, as witnessed throughout all church history, can be none of these. Incorporated churches being creations of the state must abide by the business statutes of the state and have, therefore, removed themselves from the benefit of the first amendment.
As an Anabaptist Pastor for many years now, I have taught in our Bible Institute of young ministers and missionaries, and in our church, that Christ is the Lord of His church as my first point of my “Seven Norms of a New Testament Church.”
- Christ is Lord of His church (not the state or any pope). Matthew 16:18; 1 Cor. 12:13; Colossians 1:18; 1 John 5:21; Revelation 17 & 18:4; 22:16
- They meet on the first day of the week (Sunday is the Lord’s Day). 1 Cor. 16:2; Heb. 12:2; I Corinthians 9:14; I John 3:17; John 13:29; Luke 3:11; 6:30; Matthew 6:1; Acts 9:36; 10:2, 4; Luke 14:13; Acts 20:35; Galatians 2:10; Romans 15:25-27; I Corinthians 16:1-4; Acts 11:29; 24:17; II Corinthians 9:12
- The officers of the church are Pastors and Deacons with qualifications. Acts 6:1-7; 20:28; Philippians 1:1; I Timothy3:1-13; Titus 1:6-9; I Peter 5:1-4
- Salvation is by Grace through faith in Christ alone. Acts 2:41, 47; 5:14; 11:24; 16:5; Romans 14:1; I Corinthians 5:1-13; Ephesians 2:21; I Peter 2:5
- The Bible is the only rule of faith and practice so members can be disciplined by it. Joshua 1:8; II Samuel 23:1-2; Psalm 19:1-14; 33:11; Psalm 119; Isaiah 55:11; Matthew 4:4-11; 5:18; I Corinthians 2:4-5; II Timothy 3:15-17; I Peter 2:21; II Peter 2: 16-21
- The church is commissioned to go into all the world and preach the gospel. Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Acts 5:42
- The two ordinances of the church are Believers’ Baptism and the Lord’s Table. Matthew 3:6, 16; 26:26-29; 28:16-20; Mark 1:5, 9-10; 14:22-25; Luke 22:17-20; John 3:23; Acts 2:41; 8:38-39; Romans 6:1-5; I Corinthians 11:23-26
These are the New Testament boundaries commanded by God. These norms are not arbitrary –they are God’s form for His church and they are to be present in the twenty-first century, as well as any century. Yet, notice there are vast areas which are left free to the church, so that the church can be effective in any culture (culture being dress and language), in any place in the world, at any time or place in history.
Notice that within these boundaries that God has set; there is freedom for the church to act as the Spirit of God leads. For example, at what time of day should such Sunday services be maintained? Can the church meet for worship only at 11:00 AM? May the church meet at 2:00 PM or 7:00 PM? Should preaching be first followed by singing later, or preaching last with singing first? What God has left ambiguous cannot be insisted on as an absolute. To do so would be a sin.