Ask Your Preacher
THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH
How can you tell if a church’s teachings are false? What must I look for? Thank you for your time and help.
On The Alert
Dear On The Alert,
Look for a church that is trying to follow the New Testament pattern as closely as possible. A congregation doesn’t need to be full of perfect people, but they need to be trying to faithfully follow God’s Word and not their own ideologies. The following are a few markers of what you should find in every church that is faithful to Christ’s Word:
- Their name should be Biblical. Church of Christ (Rom 16:16), the church (Acts 14:27), church of God (1 Cor 1:2), the Way (Acts 24:14) – all of these are Biblical names given to a local congregation. Having the right name on the front of the building doesn’t mean they are the right church, but if they can’t even get their name from the Bible, they probably aren’t worth wasting your time on.
- Their doctrine should be a copy of the New Testament (Acts 2:42). Any creeds, ‘statements of faith’, articles of belief, manuals, or handbooks are from man and not from God. You want a congregation that uses the Bible to decide their practices.
- They are autonomous. Every congregation of the New Testament had independence. Only local elders were over them (1 Pet 5:1-2, Acts 14:23). They were bound to follow Christ as their only head (Eph 5:23). No boards or committees, no headquarters in some other state, no popes or potentates – what you are looking for is a local body of believers which is accountable to Christ and His Word.
- The church’s work should be simple. The church of the first century wasn’t involved in every community and political arena. Their work was focused on three things – caring for needy christians (Acts 4:34), preaching to the lost, and teaching the saved (Acts 15:35). Find a congregation who is committed to being about Christ’s work.
- They should be open to examination. Any congregation that is serving Christ should be willing to explain why they do what they do. They should be willing to be examined because they are constantly examining themselves (2 Cor 13:5). There is nothing wrong with asking a congregation where their practices can be found in the New Testament. Ask questions and expect Bible answers for them.
These five things are by no means all of the characteristics of Christ’s church, but this should help narrow down your options significantly. Most people accept mediocrity from their church; don’t do that. It is unfair to expect the people of a congregation to be perfect… you will never find perfect humans. However, you should demand intellectual honesty and Biblical faithfulness from any congregation you want to be a member of. If you would like additional help as you look for a faithful congregation in your area, please email us at email@example.com and we would be happy to help you look.
Where is the command, example, or necessary inference for a church owning property?
Book, Chapter, Verse
Dear Book, Chapter, Verse,
Every command that you find in the Bible has specific and general qualities to it. For example, when God told Noah to build the ark, He told Noah to use a specific kind of wood (gopher wood – Gen 6:14) and build the ark to specific dimensions (Gen 6:15-16), but He left the details of how to cut, fasten, and construct the ark up to Noah. It would have been wrong for Noah to use oak or birch, and it would have been wrong for Noah to change the dimensions of the ark, but aside from that, Noah had freedom to use his own wisdom in the engineering of the ark. The things that God was specific on, Noah had to be specific on to… but the things God was general about, Noah had freedom to decide for himself.
Another way of saying this is that anything required to fulfill a command is inherent within the command. This means that if I ask someone to fill my car with gasoline, by default, I have given them permission to drive my car and take it to a gas station of their choosing. Why? Because driving my car and going to a gas station are necessary to fulfill that command, and I didn’t tell them which gas station I wanted, so I’ve left that to their discretion.
Both of these examples lead us back to your question. The command that gives a congregation the authority to own property can be found in Heb 10:24-25 and 1 Cor 14:26. In both those verses, the church is commanded to assemble. We are told that we must assemble, or we will be displeasing to God… but we aren’t told where to assemble; that detail is left to our discretion. We could meet in homes (if we had ones that were big enough), we could meet in a park (if it were legal and weather permitting), or we could buy some property and a building to use. All of those options would be permissible, and each congregation has the freedom to decide where they wish to assemble because God has commanded us to meet regularly, but He left the details to us.
What are the duties of deaconesses that serve in the church?
Lady In Waiting
Dear Lady In Waiting,
There is no official position within the church of ‘deaconess’. The only time the word ‘deaconess’ is used is in Rom 16:1… and that is only in a couple of translations. Most translations simply translate the word ‘servant’ because that is what it means. A ‘deacon’ is a ‘servant’. The word is used numerous times throughout the New Testament and shouldn’t be viewed as a special position unless the text specifically declares it as such. For example, 1 Tim 3:8-13 discusses a type of servant (deacon) that has specific qualifications and authorities within the church. The context of that passage shows us that it is a specific type of servant/deacon. In Rom 16:1, we don’t have that sort of distinction. Phoebe is simply a christian that served others with what talents and strengths she had; it wasn’t an office within the church.
I have been struggling with something lately. I grew up in the Catholic church and left it because there were many things I couldn't find biblical (purgatory, papal infallibility, unmarried priests, and so on). I became Baptist and have bounced between various churches, but all of them were churches that believed in grace and being saved versus earning heaven through works. I did miss the history and tradition of Catholicism but still didn't agree with the doctrines. I have been reading/listening to podcasts on Orthodox Christianity (Greek, Russian, etc.), and it seems like everything I like about Catholicism but none of the things I saw as made up. According to their history, they are the original church, and Catholics broke off about one thousand years after Christ, basically as a power grab in Rome. (Papal infallibility came in handy with that.) I have been reading about Martin Luther and the reformation also. Sooo, what I am trying to get at is... if the churches I am going to are the grace-based evangelical/protestant/whatever-you-call-them churches didn't really come around until over 1500 years after Christ, I am led to believe this is not the church of the New Testament that the apostles established. My next logical assumption would be to seek out the true church that still performs church the way Jesus taught them… if that exists. Any thoughts or guidance would be much appreciated.
Searching For The Original
Dear Searching For The Original,
We absolutely love your attitude! If only everyone wanted to be a part of God’s original church. You are on the right track by seeking to find a church that performs what Jesus taught – the question is: how do we do that? Almost every church professes to be the right church, and almost every church professes that God wrote the Bible… so the way to tell which church is really God’s church is to compare their behavior to what the Bible says. The Bible is the pattern that every sound congregation should follow (2 Tim 1:13). The Catholic church is one of the oldest churches, but as you mentioned, their behavior doesn’t match the Bible’s teachings. Greek Orthodox churches also have a lot of history behind them, but it is a history of tradition, not a history of biblical purity. What you want to do is find a group of people that are dead-set on doing only what the Bible says, no more, no less.
Everything a church does (worship, membership, the steps they teach for salvation, 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).
As an example, 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... but it is a beginning. 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).
Is it unsound for members of a congregation to have a potluck in their building, if it's not intermingled with the Lord's Supper, is provided by individual members, and not funded by the collection of the saints?
I know in 1 Cor 11:17-34, Paul gives instructions regarding the Lord's Supper, on how christians should conduct themselves, admonishing what was apparently a common practice of combining the Lord's Supper with a common meal. His final instruction was that if anyone was hungry, they should eat at home. Of course, this was within the context of their worship. What about if worship is over? I've always had the understanding that this was prohibited, but I'm currently in a congregation that practices this, yet they seem to desire to glorify the Lord in all things. I need to find an answer, so I can either participate with a clear conscience or kindly decline and hope to not become ostracized.
Dear Not Hungry,
The key to the whole issue is to remember what the work of the church is. The Bible specifically outlines three things that the church has a responsibility to do: care for needy christians (Acts 4:34), preach to the lost, and teach the saved (Acts 15:35). Anything that a church does with its financial assets needs to fit into one of those three categories. A congregation’s building is part of its financial assets, and that is why what happens in a church’s building has to be limited to those three areas.
Bible classes, worship services, etc. all easily fit into the work of the church… but what about a social gathering? The problem is that socializing is never shown to be part of the church’s work. It certainly is important for individual christians to spend time with one another… but that is a command to individuals – not the church. Individuals have a lot more freedom in what they do than the church does. Social gatherings in the church building simply don’t fit the Bible pattern of the church’s work. We aren’t condemning the attitude of these kind folks, but zeal isn’t the same as Bible accuracy (Rom 10:2). We here at AYP cannot find Bible authority for the church’s building, which is part of the church’s assets, to be used for a purely social gathering. Once we begin to do small things that don’t have Bible authority for them, we’ve cracked the door to more and more behavior that goes beyond what God has written (1 Cor 4:6).