Originally published in Today Magazine
Bob Buchanon, editor
Identifying the New Testament Church
By Mark Moseley
The Hebrew writer warned in Hebrews 4:1, “Therefore, let us fear lest, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you should seem to come short of it.” As we read through the Bible we are impressed with the numerous warnings of about “coming short” of God’s rest. Why? Because we tend to come short of being and doing what God wants while in this world.
There is a great need for brethren everywhere to stop and consider the question, “Have we come short of being the church of Jesus Christ that is revealed in the Bible?”
Without a doubt I am convinced that in general we have taught the truth concerning the outward identifying characteristics of the church (i.e., its worship, work, organization, terms of admission, etc.). But there are some other identifying marks of the New Testament church that I fear we have overlooked and ignored. Yet these characteristics are every bit as essential as those mentioned above. In fact we may even say they are “Weightier matters.”
In Matthew 23 Jesus rebuked the scribes and Pharisees saying, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law; justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.” Notice two things: 1. Jesus said of their tithing, “these are things you should have done”. We must recognize that there are no unimportant requirements of Christianity. There are no commands or patterns imposed by the Lord that we can afford to ignore. Thus in saying that I believe that we have ignored some “weightier” aspects of the Lord’s church I am in no way minimizing the importance of following the distinct pattern God has laid down for the church. 2. Jesus pointed out that the “weightier” provisions of the law to do with spiritual principles and attitudes of the heart. There are aspects of Christianity which must be stressed that are spiritual in nature. These deal more with the inner man (though certainly a right heart will demonstrate itself in concrete service and activity in harmony with God’s law)
WHAT ARE THE “WEIGHTIER” ASPECTS OF THE CHURCH?
1. UNITY-Jesus prayed for His disciples, “...that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us; that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me” (Jn. 17:21). A church might outwardly appear to be the Lord’s church, but if the members are filled with strife and division they are coming short of the divine plan of God for His people.
And it is very significant that we recognize that we give the world a reason for rejecting Christ as the Son of God by our lack of unity! Jesus never said that the world would recognize Him as the Christ because we worship without instruments, are autonomous in government, or baptize for the remission of sins. The world will not be impressed by our doctrinal purity (essential as it is) if it is coupled with division. But the Lord Himself has declared that the UNITY of the church, the peace that exists among Christians, the harmony among brethren, would cause the world to believe God has sent Him.
2. LOVE-Again Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples if you have love for one another” (Jn. 13:35). How is it that we will convince all men that we are genuinely the Lord’s disciples? IF YOU HAVE LOVE FOR ONE ANOTHER! Of course we understand that genuine love for Christ manifests itself in obedience to the commandments of Christ (Jn. 14:15). But we also recognize the possibility of being “commandment keepers” in whom love is absent. The mere appearance of orthodoxy in basic areas of obedience does not guarantee that we are loving disciples of Christ.
And again I would suggest that we might find it hard to prove to the world that we are the disciples of Christ because we don’t take money out of the treasury to support human institutions if there is a lack of love. Church supported institutions are nowhere authorized in the Bible. But Jesus did not say the world would identify as the New Testament church by our stringent obedience. We know strict obedience to the will of Christ is necessary (Jn. 8:31-32). But I doubt seriously that we will ever open the eyes of the world to the necessity of strict adherence to the commands of Christ if they do not observe our love for one another.
Examine the church at Jerusalem in Acts 2:44-46. Who can doubt that their grand display of love and concern for each other was directly responsible for the positive reaction found in verse 47, “praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
3. SERVICE-Jesus in Mark 10:43-45 taught that He came not to be served but to serve and that the greatest in His kingdom would be the slaves of all. If Jesus saved the world through serving can His disciples expect to do any differently? Paul said, “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more” (1 Cor. 9:19).
Brethren are we trying to take the cheap way out? We cannot absolve our responsibility to the world merely by “speaking” the word. The word must be preached (Romans 1:15-16; 10:13ff). But the word must also be LIVED! How effective would the gospel of Christ be without the life of Christ empowering it? Even so, Christ must be living in me before I can be an effective sower of the seed.
4. EVANGELISTIC-Do not suppose that we are going to say it is unimportant that we preach the gospel. If there is anything that stands out about the church of the Bible it is their willingness to “go everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:4).
The New Testament church labored diligently to carry out the Great Commission. They took the command of Christ to carry the gospel into all the world PERSONALLY. I fear that we often look upon the Great Commission as only a CORPORATE responsibility rather than an individual one. That is, we separate ourselves from the church body and excuse ourselves from any obligation to win souls. We think, “If the church fails to take the gospel into all the world it is not my fault”, as though we are not a part of the church.
Oh but we are part of the body! And it is our responsibility to preach the gospel into all the world. The New Testament church believed the Lord meant what He said about the gospel being carried unto every creature. And they got busy and did what He said to do (Col. 1:18)!
Brethren, hear me well. We charge our denominational friends with not loving the Lord because they do not keep all His commandments (Jn. 14:13). We claim to be the New Testament church because we follow the pattern of the Bible in worship, work, organization, etc. But brethren, in all the generations from the restoration movement we have NOT carried the gospel into all the world!
Let there be no excuses. We just have not done it. Something is wrong. We have yet to carry out the greatest responsibility that we have upon the earth as the church of Jesus Christ, the pillar and support of the truth.
5. SACRIFICIAL- (Romans 12:1-2; 1 Peter 2:5). When you read this, I pray that it hurts you as much as it hurts me to write it. It indicts me and I believe it will many an honest soul in the church.
How many of us are willing to say that we are living “sacrificial lives” for the sake of the gospel? A great sacrifice for me is to have to tape the U.K. basketball game on the VCR in order to go to worship on Wednesday night. Some other poor souls have to miss it entirely! Or instead of T-bone steak we have to eat hamburger. Truly a sacrifice.
Take time to read the description of another man’s life who had sacrificed himself for the cause of Christ (1 Cor. 4; 2 Cor. 11). Do those passages adequately describe your life? Do they fairly depict your willingness to sacrifice for Jesus Christ? We say it in our hearts, “Sure it would, if it were NECESSARY for me to life. If I were called upon to make such a sacrifice”. Brethren how can we say it is not necessary when our feeble efforts are failing on every hand to accomplish the will of God? We deceive ourselves by being confident that our nice church building and full auditorium is evidence that we are “doing all we can”. Maybe the REST of the church is failing but we are “rich and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing” when in reality we are “wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Rev. 3:18).
Looking back over this article it seems a bit harsh. I did not intend for it to be harsh, bitter, or pessimistic. But I pray it will stir up your heart and cause each one of us to examine ourselves carefully. May God help us to be His in thought, word and deed, and to love Him with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength.