- Written by Kenneth E. Thomas
A given group of Christians living in a particular community does not necessarily constitute a “local church of Christ” until and unless they decide to become such and then set about seeking to fulfill the Biblical requirements of a local congregation in that area. Meaning they accept the responsibility of carrying out the mission of a local congregation, establish a treasury and schedule the services required to engage in collective worship each Lord’s day (Acts 20:6-7; 1Cor. 16:1-2; Phil. 4:13-20; 2Cor. 11:8). They must also begin the process of “setting in order the things that are lacking” so they may eventually come to full organization with elders, deacons, and saints (Titus 1:5; Phil. 1:1; Acts 14:23; 1Pet. 5:1-4; Heb. 13:17).
A local church (congregation) is defined by four things.
The Plan of Salvation: One doesn’t become a member of a particular local congregation when as a penitent believer one is baptized into Christ for the remission of past sins and is reconciled unto God in one body by the cross (Rom. 6:3-6; Gal. 3:26-29; Acts 2:22-38, 41,47; Eph. 2:13-16), still the conditions for membership in the church universal as just cited must be that which is taught on the local level and that which we have a right to expect before we extend fellowship to anyone in the local congregation. (1John 1:1-7; 2John 8-11) We have not the right to accept one into our local fellowship who has done less than the Lord required for citizenship in His kingdom. By the same token, we dare not demand more than He demands of one to come into His church universal. Only His apostles were given “binding and loosing powers” (Mt. 16:13-19; Mt. 18:18; Acts 2:42; 15:24; Gal. 1:6-11; Rom. 16:16-18).
The Work of the Congregation: To engage in functions as a local church differing from that which was assigned to each local congregation under apostolic oversight, becomes a departure from the faith once delivered (Jude 3). Such departures are serious matters which displease our Lord (Gal. 1:6-9; 2John 9-11; Rom. 16:16-18; Rev. 22:18-19). The sum total of what local congregations engaged in and supported from the weekly contribution when the apostles lived and worked among them, forms the pattern for what each local church is authorized to do today with Christ’s approval. The reason this is so, is because the apostles were “guided into all truth” (John 16:12-13; 12:48; James 1:25; 2Tim. 3;16-17).
Only congregations that continued in “the apostle’s teachings” were considered faithful to Christ (Acts 2:42; 15:24; Phil. 4:8-9; 1Cor. 11:1).
According to the New Testament pattern, each local church of the New Testament order is authorized to engage in three activities: 1). Preach and teach the word (1Tim. 3:15; 1Cor. 1:21; 2Cor. 11:8; Phil. 4:13-20). 2). Edify themselves (Heb. 10:23-25; 1Thess. 5:11-21). 3). Relieve needy saints (1Cor. 16:1-2; Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-37; 6:1-6; 11:26-30; 1Tim. 5:16; Rom. 15:25-31; 2Cor. 8:1-4; 9:1-5,12).
Local churches of Christ who have chosen to announce and engage in purely social or recreational activities and support such from the collective treasury have departed from the divine pattern and are not abiding in the teaching of Christ. So called “fellowship halls” which necessitate so called, “church kitchens” are not identified with apostolic practices for local congregations of the Lord’s faithful disciples. Local churches which provide “recreational facilities” either on campus or elsewhere and announce or support such from the local treasury, are not to be identified with true congregations of the New Testament order. Churches which confuse “individual activities” with “collective church activities” are not being true to the New Testament teachings (1Tim. 5:16; Mt. 18:15-17; 1Cor. 11:22, 34).
The Worship of the Congregation: Collective worship simply means things we do congregationally, or when assembled as a church on the Lord’s day. Each Lord’s day under apostolic instruction or by approved apostolic examples, local congregations of the New Testament order engaged in certain practices which did not characterize their worship on other days of the week. They came together to observe communion (Acts 20:6-7). Each disciple gave into a common treasury to support the authorized functions of the collective (1Cor. 16:1-2). Prayers and singing and teaching were engaged in each Lord’s day (Acts 12:5; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16; 1Tim. 3:15), but these were not limited to the Lord’s day assemblies as were the Lord’s supper and taking up of a collection. An individual or a group of individuals may sing and pray and teach any day of the week (James 5:13; 1Thess. 5:17; 2Tim. 2:2; Heb. 5:12). All worship must be “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-24). Everything we do must be done by Christ’s authority (Col. 3:17).
Congregational Autonomy: Maintaining their autonomy (“elders in every church” Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5) and “feeding the flock among you,”(1Pet. 5:1-4), is another mark of faithful New Testament congregations. When brethren set up “human institutions” and so called “sponsoring elderships” through which churches make contributions and surrender their oversight to either a “board of directors” or a “super eldership”, they have left the divine pattern as given by apostolic command, approved apostolic examples or necessary inferences, and are not “abiding in the apostles’ doctrine” and this constitutes sin.(1John 3:4; 2John 9-10; Rom. 16:16-18).
Is the congregation with which you are associated truly a New Testament congregation when viewed in the light of the things we have considered in this lesson? If you would like to study further with us, please know that we are eager to do so. If we are wrong in our conclusions we need to know it, conversely, if what we have set forth is right and you are a member of a congregation which differs from these biblical principles and examples then you are wrong for doing so and need to make adjustments in your thinking and in that which you are presently supporting and engaging in for which no biblical authority exists. Souls are too precious for either of us to take chances with.
- Written by Dee Bowman
One of the most neglected things in the lives of many Christians is personal worship. Most of us find the time to attend the public assemblies, but how many of us find the time for private communications with God? We are seemingly so busy with our goings-on that we have not the time to stop and extend to Him the kind of reverential respect He deserves. And when we have time to do so, we are very often so tired from our mundane pursuits that our effort dies for a want of energy.
- Written by Larsen Plyler
A Biblical Response to Misunderstanding
I write this with the full recognition that many of those to whom I am responding (who may never know I am writing it to them) are older and wiser than I am. I write this with that knowledge and respect for their age and experience. However, God has revealed His will. We all have access to it. That way I don’t have to worry who is wise in this world. I can just trust in God and His will made known by the Holy Spirit.
There has been some discussion lately on the nature of salvation.
- Written by Jerry Crolius
Webster's defines hope as "desire accompanied by expectation of or belief in fulfillment" and uses the words trust and reliance as synonyms. The hope of heaven isn't just wishful thinking, Paul assures us, because this "hope does not disappoint" (Rom. 5:5). We're like Abraham when he was promised a son in his old age, who "in hope against hope he believed, in order that he might become a father of many nations, according to that which had been spoken, 'So shall your descendants be'" (Rom. 4:18). As Abraham's spiritual children, we believe, in hope against hope, that "the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ" (Tit. 2:13). We desire and expect heaven to be our eternal home, and with reverence and awe we exclaim, "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and unfathomable His ways!" (Rom. 11:33).
- Written by Greg Litmer
There have been times in my life when I have struggled personally with prayer. But the truth is that given the nature of the world in which we live and the things that happen, there should be no more important daily part of our lives than prayer. We live in a world full of uncertainty and confusion. Today's friends may turn out to be tomorrow's enemies, and the stresses of today may very well spill over into tomorrow and mar another day with which God has blessed us.