INDEX TO ALL NINE SECTIONS
The Bible... The Ultimate And Final Authority? - Our Rule Of Faith And Practice?
The question does arise as to whether we, in the 21st century, are obliged to follow the the New Testament's example of how church meetings are conducted. I guess the answer depends on whether or not we truly and unquestioningly accept the Bible as the as the ultimate and final authority on all matters pertaining to our spiritual beliefs and practices, which virtually all Christians say they do. The Scriptures are, as some express it, our 'rule of faith and practice'.. (All Emphasis Added)
The Westminster Confession Of Faith was drawn up in 1646 to be a confession of the Church of England, and has remained influential in Presbyterian churches worldwide. Chapter 1 names the books of the Old and New Testament, then says "All which are given by inspiration of God, to be the rule of faith and life'. 
The Baptists say they believe that "the Bible is the only rule of faith and practice". 
Leith Anderson, president of The National Association of Evangelicals, speaks of "evangelical Protestant pastors who are committed to the Bible as our rule of faith and practice" 
Reformed Christians say "Authority in the church is not based upon creeds or councils or clerics, not common sense, logic, intuition, science or even new revelation. Scripture alone - the infallible, inerrant, completely sufficient written word of God is our only rule of faith and practice. 
The Seventh-day Adventists say they "hold the Protestant position that the Bible and the Bible only is the sole rule of faith and practice for Christians" 
Yet, the New Testament clearly shows that New Testament Church was
Held in private homes, not buildings especially designed for the purpose.
Tended by at least two elders, plus deacons... Godly men, elected by the members, to "shepherd" the flock.
Centered around interactive participation by all members, not run by paid professionals.
Focused on mutual edification and encouragement, not a sermon (however illustrious) given by one man.
Shared the Lord's Supper weekly... as a meal, not a token wafer.
What then is the reason for the huge discrepancy? Are we fools, hypocrites or simply ignorant? Doesn't it bother us that almost everything we associate with "church" has no basis in the New Testament. Don't we care that we have seriously departed from the teaching and pattern of the Scriptures.
Or is the simple answer that, in spite of all claims to the contrary, we do not take the New Testament seriously, preferring to allow tradition, or the "we have always done it this way" concept to overrule what the Bible shows by example. This of course, renders null and void any claim that we believe the Bible to be "the only rule of faith and practice".
Perhaps we should be honest and admit that we do not really care what the New Testament says, or what the people in it did.
Was The Pattern of The Early Church A God Given Blueprint For all Time?
There are those that argue that since the New Testament doesn't issue any direct commands about how a church is to be organized and run, it is not necessary to strictly adhere to the early church pattern. The traditions set in place by the apostles were for another time and another place and, while it makes interesting history, their pattern does not have to be considered a God-given blue print for our church today.
But, is this true?
The apostles were hand picked by our Lord. They spent three years being taught by Him then, after His resurrection, a further forty days during which time Jesus spoke to them of things concerning the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:3 NASB). Finally, after Jesus' ascension, He sent the Holy Sprit to continue to teach and guide them. After all the lessons and instruction by the Savior Himself and the continued ministration of the Holy Spirit, it seems logical to assume that the apostles did not structure the early church based on any bright ideas of their own, but on what they had been taught.
And there are passages that unequivocally tell us the apostles wanted things done a certain way.
1) When Paul wrote to Titus, he told him that the reason he (Paul) had left Titus in Crete was to "set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you" (Titus 1:5 NASB).
The Greek term translated 'remains' means 'left undone'. Obviously it was not left to the church in Crete to decide how they wanted to do things, but Paul had a certain end pattern in mind which he had been unable to complete therefore, instructed Titus to set the rest in order.
2) In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul dealt with the issues that needed to be corrected immediately, but added that there were other matters that he would set in order, when he got there. (1 Corinthians 11:34). Obviously some things were not arranged in the manner he wanted them.
Paul also urged the Corinthians to be imitators of him, just as he was of Christ, and praised them for remembering him in everything, holding firmly to the traditions (paradosis), just as he delivered them. (1 Corinthians 11:1-2 NASB). Virtually every time the word paradosis occurs in the New Testament it refers to a "tradition" or something that people do. It is derived from the verb paralambano, which is something passed on by one person or generation, and received by the next. It may or may not be commanded by God.
From God: For I received (paralambano) from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; (1 Corinthians 11:23 NASB)
So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions (paradosis) which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us. (2 Thessalonians 2:15 NASB)
If Paul had meant that they needed to hold on to his teachings, he would have used the Greek didaskalia.
Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings (Gr. didaskalia); for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited. (Hebrews 13:9 NASB)
But to the married I give instructions (Gr. didaskalia), not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband (1 Corinthians 7:10 NASB
In fact, Jesus blasted the Pharisees for holding on to the traditions of men because they did so at the expense of the commandments of God (Mark 7:8). On the other hand, apostolic tradition is consistent with God's instructions, which is why Paul told them to hold on to the traditions they had been taught.
For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, thus observing the traditions (paradosis) of the elders; (Mark 7:3 NASB)
Uniformity of Practice In The Early Church
If Paul was appointed a "teacher of the Gentiles" (1 Timothy 2:7), it is logical to believe that surely everything he taught was to be observed, and continued.
Although the contexts were entirely different, the underlying principle in all the following examples was that there was uniformity of both belief and practice, i.e all the churches were expected to do the same thing.
When Paul sent Timothy to Corinth, he told the Corinthians to become imitators of him, and that Timothy was coming to them to remind them of his ways, which were "in Christ", just as he taught "everywhere in every church". (1 Corinthians 4:15-17 NASB).
In the third chapter of 1 Timothy, Paul gave Timothy very precise instructions regarding the qualifications any man who aspired to the office of overseer or deacon was to have. He concluded that part of the letter by telling Timothy that he hoped to come to him before long, but in case he was delayed, he was writing so that Timothy would know how they were to conduct themselves in the household of God. When the qualifications necessary for a man to become an elder or deacon were not negotiable, why would we possibly imagine that a subject as important as how they conducted their church meetings would be?
Although it is beyond the scope of this article to discuss the following, less consequential, issues that Paul spoke about (the length of a person's hair and women speaking in the church etc.), he clearly indicated that there was one practice to be observed in all the churches. When Paul asked the Corinthians (in the second quote below) whether they imagined that the word of God originated with them, or had exclusively come to them, he was admonishing them for doing things differently from the other churches.
1) On the issue of hair, Paul said... "But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God. (1 Corinthians 11:16 NASB)
2) On the subject of women talking in the church.... "The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church. Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? Or has it come to you only? (1 Corinthians 14:34-36 NASB)
The book of Thessalonians makes it very clear that adherence to the traditions is not suggested... it is commanded. In short, we have the liberty to do things our way (guided by the Holy Spirit) only when the Bible is completely silent, giving neither command nor pattern that we can follow.
On the subject of being idle vs. having gainful occupation, he said... Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition (paradosis) which you received from us. (2 Thessalonians 3:6 NASB).
In any case, why would we not want to do things the way the apostles did them? Surely we should take pride in walking in the footsteps of the men who walked so closely with the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Why would we want to discard their traditions in favor of ones invented much later by nameless face-less individuals who had not a shred of apostolic authority but, all too often, were building their own kingdoms.
And, there is little question that no two churches will be exactly alike. There is freedom, provided the basics are observed. What those basics are can be answered by asking yourself a few questions...
Ask Yourself This
Let us imagine for a moment that the original apostles are still alive and well and that you, wishing to plant and run a church, were seeking their guidance. If you were to ask them some very basic questions, such as
Where and when you should gather,
What you should do when you assemble together,
Who you should pick to lead your church,
What form the Lord's Supper should take, and how often it should be observed
Is it likely that they would tell you that you are free to do whatever seemed right to you or that it was okay to follow the instructions of other far less qualified, people, or would they give you very specific instructions? Do you think Paul would be visiting your church, with a very definite agenda in mind... 'to set things in order'?
If we believe that only those practices that are directly commanded by Scripture have to be implemented in modern churches, then we are walking a very slippery slope simply because the New Testament never tells us that we are to meet weekly, how often the Lord's Supper is to be celebrated. It does not advocate any particular form of church government - much less command us to have any leaders at all. Come to think of it, the NT never specifically states that we should even form churches.
So, apparently, most churches have cherry picked which of the early church patterns they will follow, and which ones they will leave by the wayside.
It is an unarguable fact that any number of Godly men and women have come out of the traditional church. The question then is not whether the traditional church has anything positive to offer, but that one has to wonder how many more disciples would have emerged had the structure and practices of the institutional church been more conducive to achieving the goals of the church...
Sadly the traditional church structure is often more of a hindrance than a help.
But what is particularly repulsive is the fact that every single aspect of the New Testament gatherings that has been altered, has to do with the leadership keeping control over the flock. In order to assemble together, believers have to go to a building owned and run by the organization. There are no Godly elders elected by the flock, instead the entire proceedings are prescribed and run by the 'clergy' put in place by the higher ups. Any active participation by individual members in the meeting itself is strictly limited to things that conform to set procedure (singing hymns etc).
And yes, I understand that the local pastor down the road is not trying to "control" you, however the lure of power, the lure of being part of an elite group set apart from and, in some way, superior to the average believer, proved too strong for the men who came after the original apostles. They managed to convince themselves and the rest of the church that, since they were successors to the apostles, everything they taught was to be considered as coming from the Lord Himself.
The rightful place of God's Holy Spirit as the driving force of the church, has been usurped by the unauthorized rule of His subjects.
A living, breathing, spirit led organism, has been turned into a letter dependent institution. A genuinely Spirit-led church is almost non existent. In fact, if the truth be told, should the Holy Sprit completely depart this planet tomorrow, 99% of the average church's service would not change one iota.
That's a alarming thought.
Even more alarming is the fact that we have done nothing about it.
CONTINUE ON TO PART IX. How Quickly The Rot Set In... Catholicism and The Councils
Perhaps, a good starting point to show just how far and how early the church had deviated from its roots are the first four of the seven Ecumenical councils held by the early church, the first two of which are held in great esteem, even by modern day evangelicals. (I specify the first four because they are the only ones I have looked into. If they are any indication of what the others were like, then all seven were rotten to the core).
Regardless of the torrent of words and the Scriptural verses quoted, the decisions the various councils came to were based on the aye's and the nay's. Not only did numerical superiority win the day, but the decisions made by every one of the seven Ecumenical Councils was based, not what they supposed Holy Scripture might mean, but on tradition. In describing various practices in the church, Tertullian (c. 155/160 - 220 A.D.) said "If no passage of Scripture has prescribed it, assuredly custom, which without doubt flowed from tradition, has confirmed it. For how can anything come into use, if it has not first been handed down?.... If, for these and other such rules, you insist upon having positive Scripture injunction, you will find none. Tradition will be held forth to you as the originator of them, custom as their strengthener, and faith as their observer". 
But none of this should be surprising. Although evangelical scholars are fond of telling us that the churches of the day did not have a papacy, or even tabernacles on the altars in their churches that signified their belief in transubstantiation. Also that they did not believe in the Immaculate Conception/Bodily Assumption of Mary, purgatory, indulgences etc .etc. etc. very little of this is true. Much to the contrary, most of these practices were well established in the church of the day, and taught by many of the so called "fathers". In fact, as early as 155 A.D., Justin Martyr described what is, quite clearly, an early version of the Catholic Mass. HERE
 What We Believe. http://hbdoctrine.webs.com/. Also see http://www.baptistpillar.com/article_597.html
 Leith Anderson. Pastoral Letter on Marriage Relationships Ministry.
 Terry Johnson. An Evangelical and Reformed Faith http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/evenreform.html
 The Bible, Only Rule of Faith and Practice. http://www.sdanet.org/atissue/books/qod/q02.htm
 The Sacred Writings of Tertullian: Extended Annotated Edition. Jul 21, 2012. Chapter 3.
https://goo.gl/SpPPiO. Also http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/ecf/003/0030118.htm