Ask Your Preacher
THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH
(This question is in response to “Legal Council”.)
You said, "No congregation has the right to impose their decisions on another local church." But in Acts 15, James, the bishop of Jerusalem (not an apostle) sends a letter of decree to the local congregation that was circumcising Gentile believers. This became binding on that local congregation (and the practice obviously stopped). Also, you said, "The only difference would be that the council in Acts 15 affected the entire universal church because the apostles were there, and the apostles had authority over all the church." Where in the Bible does it specifically say that the authority of the apostles ended when they passed on? Is that just an assumption?
Make A Decision
Dear Make A Decision,
James wasn’t the only one who sent that letter – he was one of the elders from Jerusalem, but the letter was sent by the apostles and the elders (Acts 15:23). The apostles were the ones with the authority to lay the decree down for all the churches. Paul points out that as an apostle, he had that authority and responsibility in 1 Cor 7:17 and 2 Cor 11:28.
It isn’t an assumption that the apostolic authority ended with these first apostles. In order to be an apostle, a man had to be specifically sent forth by Christ (the word ‘apostle’ means ‘one sent forth’) and have witnessed His resurrection (Acts 1:21-26). Elders only have the authority to shepherd the local congregation they are at (1 Pet 5:2). Universal church authority ended with the apostles.
If christians of all different denominations are bound for heaven if they accept Jesus, why is there so much division? If there aren't different levels to heaven and varied eternal rewards based on your denominational allegiance, then why the need for so much variation?
Too Many Choices
Dear Too Many Choices,
The denominational world is confusing… exactly the opposite of God’s church (1 Cor 14:33). The term ‘denomination’ comes from the idea that a church believes that it is a subgroup of a larger religious body. Lutherans worship and teach differently than Episcopalians, Catholics, Presbyterians, etc., but they all believe themselves to be christians – this is wrong. Jesus said that there is only one path to heaven (Matt 7:14). The apostle Paul said that there is only one church (Eph 4:3-6). Denominationalism teaches that how you act and worship are matters of opinion, but Jesus said that how you act and worship are matters of truth (Jhn 4:24) and the Bible condemns the division we see in the religious world today (1 Cor 1:13). The only way to avoid denominationalism is to find a congregation that simply teaches what the Bible says – no creeds, no opinions, no personal agendas. If we truly love Christ, we will follow His commandments (1 Jn 5:2).
Everything a church does (worship, membership, how they teach to be saved, how they spend their money, even their name) needs to have Bible verses backing them up (1 Tim 3:15). A church needs to be able to explain the reasons for why they do what they do (1 Pet 3:15).
Our congregation here in Monroe goes by the name ‘Monroe Valley church of Christ’ because ‘church of Christ’ is a Biblical name for a congregation (Rom 16:16). We worship by singing (Col 3:16), studying the Bible (1 Tim 4:13), praying (2 Thess 3:1), taking communion (only on Sundays – Acts 20:7), and taking up a collection (also only on Sundays – 1 Cor 16:1-2). We teach that you must hear God’s Word (Rom 10:17), believe God’s Word (Jhn 3:16), repent of your sins (Mk 6:12), confess Jesus as your Savior (Lk 12:8), and be baptized to be saved (Acts 2:38, 1 Pet 3:21). We do all these things because they are practices found in the Bible. As you said, you don’t want to go to a church that offers their own thoughts – you want God’s thoughts.
There are other congregations like ours scattered across the country and the world. Most of them use the name ‘church of Christ’, but then again, many churches that use that name aren’t faithful. A Bible name for a church isn’t enough to make it faithful. We have helped others, like yourself, looking for New Testament Christianity find faithful congregations in their area by contacting other preachers and christians that we know. We’d be happy to do the same for you. If you feel comfortable, just let us know what general area you live in, and we will try and get you in touch with a congregation that lives like your Bible reads (our e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org). It is frustrating, confusing, and exasperating to deal with denominationalism. Thanks be to God that there is a better option!
Hello. I was curious to know from the Bible's standpoint, is it mandatory for the believer to work in their church? (Like sing, usher, handle the money, help with lighting and audio, things like that?) I'm sure it's a good idea, but if a believer wanted to just sit, is it his or her right? Or is it a biblical duty to do something in the church?
Ready To Rest
Dear Ready To Rest,
What you are describing is the church assembly, not the church. The Bible describes the church as the people who make up a local congregation. For example, Acts 14:27 talks about gathering the church together because the church is the people, and they needed to gather to have a meeting. God designed the church to always be working, and every christian must be someone who works and bears fruit for God (Eph 4:16, Jhn 15:8). It is impossible to be a faithful member of Christ’s church and not be actively serving Him in some way.
However, what you are describing is working in the worship service. There are some parts of worship that every member must do (i.e. sing to the Lord – Eph 5:19 and take the Lord’s Supper – 1 Cor 11:33), but there are other tasks that aren’t group activities. For example, women are specifically prohibited from preaching or leading during services (1 Cor 14:34). Christians are expected to worship and not forsake the assembly (Heb 10:24), but that doesn’t mean someone needs to take a leadership role in the assembly in order to be faithful. We must all be active participants in worship, but participation isn’t the same as having a specific leadership role.
With no religious upbringing, I was baptized in 2008 according to Matthew 28:19 at a conservative evangelical church. I moved and attended an apostolic church. I was told I had to be re-baptized in Jesus' name because I was not saved. And then the whole tongues thing. I made the decision to leave because I could not embrace their doctrine of Oneness, Jesus' name only, speaking in tongues… forget all the holiness issues. How do you suppose the Lord looks upon me for leaving? Should I have stayed to be a light of truth? Thank you.
Fleet Of Foot
Dear Fleet Of Foot,
You can only do so much to help others, but in the end, it is more important that you seek the truth and be part of a faithful congregation than it is that you stay and try and be the lone voice for a church that isn’t interested in changing. Your own salvation comes first (Php 2:12). Furthermore, it isn’t like the congregation showed an interest in studying or changing. In such cases, God tells us not to “cast your pearls before swine” (Matt 7:6).
As far as the doctrinal issues, you may find the articles “Just Gibberish” and “Gifts That Stop Giving” useful for future reference, but you are right to not embrace the doctrines you mentioned. Christianity is meant to be simple. If we take what the Bible says and follow its pattern, we will have the truth. All the religious division is wrong and completely unnecessary. Read “Down With Denominationalism” for an in-depth look at how denominationalism has strayed from the Bible. All we have to do is follow the Bible like an instruction manual, and we will be fine. We congratulate you on your stand for the truth, and we would be happy to help you get in touch with a congregation that has your same love for truth. We know of many simple, honest, Bible-patterned congregations; e-mail us at email@example.com if we can be of service.
If a church has money, as in a treasury, but the church is the people… if a congregation experienced 100% turnover in members, whose money is it? Suppose a small group of twelve members had a treasury of $30,000 and owned a building. If two families moved, but a new family moved into town about the same time, could they just inherit the church's treasury as their own? How can a treasury of money be stored for generations and generations where the same members weren't there who gave to it in the first place? It seems like we have created an idea that the local church is an organization in and of itself apart from the people that define it. We then give money to the organization, like giving to the Rotary club, and it doesn't matter who the people are; the "club" still possesses the money. Is this the biblical example?
Dear Membership Required,
The local church is greater than the individuals that comprise it. The local church is made up of the christians that meet in that particular location (like the saints that met in Corinth – 1 Cor 1:2 or the saints that met in Thessalonica – Php 1:1). When a christian leaves that local area and attends elsewhere, they cease to be a member of that local congregation. Over time, almost every congregation sees a complete (or near complete) turnover of its membership. Christians have, and always will, be moving away because of jobs, life changes, retirement, etc.
This isn’t a problem because the church’s treasury doesn’t belong to the members – when new members come in, they don’t inherit anything because it belongs to the Lord, not us. When churches take up a collection on the first day of the week (1 Cor 16:1-2), it is money that is collected from the christians and dedicated to the Lord’s work.