Section 7. Living The Faith... The Biblical Christian/
The Church... Then and Now

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The Church... Then and Now. Chapter VIII -
 The Bible Our Ultimate And Final Authority?

Doesn't it bother us that we have seriously departed from the teaching and pattern of the Scriptures inasmuch as almost everything we associate with "church" has no basis in the New Testament.. 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 to overrule what the Bible shows by example

Carol Brooks



The Bible... The Ultimate And Final Authority? - Our Rule Of Faith And Practice?
The previous seven chapters all demonstrate the extent to which the structure of the modern church and the services it conducts has deviated from the pattern established in the New Testament. This raises a very important question  - Are we in the 21st century obliged to follow the the New Testament's example of how church meetings are conducted.

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. This 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'. [01]

    The Baptists say they believe that "the Bible is the only rule of faith and practice". [02]

    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" [03]

    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. [04]

    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" [05]

Yet, the New Testament clearly shows that early Church established by the apostles was

     Held in private homes, not buildings especially designed for the purpose.

     Tended by elders who were Godly laymen appointed to "shepherd" the flock (there were at least two) and deacons who took care of the more practical matters.

     Centered around interactive participation by all members, not run by paid professionals. 

     Focused on mutual edification and encouragement, not a sermon delivered by one man.

     Believers shared the Lord's Supper weekly as a meal, not a token wafer.

What then is the reason for the many discrepancies?

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 allowtradition 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?
Some might 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. Thus it seems logical to assume that the apostles did not structured the early church based on what they had been taught not on any bright ideas of their own.

Additionally, there are passages in the New Testament that quite clearly demonstrate that 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).

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. However, he 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 how he wanted them.

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).

    For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, thus observing the traditions (Gr. 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 what he taught was to be observed,and continued. In fact, there was uniformity of both belief and practice. Paul told the Corinthians to become imitators of him, and that ...

    For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church.  (1 Corinthians 4:17 NASB)

The next chapter was devoted Paul's very precise instructions regarding the qualifications required of any man who aspired to the office of overseer or deacon.

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?

In any case, why would we not want to do things the way the apostles did them? Surely we should take pride in following 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, all too often, were were only building their own kingdoms.

Unquestionably no two churches will be exactly alike. There is freedom, provided the basics are observed - determined by a hypothetical question and answer session with the original apostles. 

Ask Then 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 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'?

To repeat the questions asked in an earlier chapter

    How did a bunch of local extended families become a huge universal organization, with layer upon layer of ranks, each subordinate to the one above?

    How did a spirit led church, become an vast organization with dozens of rules and regulations that governed every conceivable aspect of the Christian's belief system?

    How did a God given freedom to contribute to the church meetings become a formal liturgical service, set in stone by the church hierarchy?

    In short, how did man managed to reinvent the entire church system

The answer is relatively simple.

The lure of power - of being part of an elite group set apart from and, in some way, superior to the average believer, proved too strong for many of 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.

With the average human being's love of pomp and show, rituals and ceremonies, ranks and titles, the temptation to import some facets of the Old Testament priesthood must have been overwhelming to the early leaders, who imposed them on New Testament Christianity.

Over time every aspect of the New Testament gatherings was altered - In order to assemble together, believers have to go to a building owned and run by the organization, the entire proceedings prescribed and run by the 'clergy' who were put in place by the higher ups. Any active participation by individual members in the meeting is strictly limited to things that conform to set procedure (singing hymns etc).

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 an alarming thought.

Even more alarming is the fact that we have done nothing about it.

     001orange 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 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.

    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". [73]

    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 nor tabernacles on the altars that signified their belief in transubstantiation - 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

    End Notes
    [01] The Westminster Confession Of Faith (1646)

    [02] David A. West, Sr. The Historic Baptist Distinctives. The Reformed Reader. http://www.reformedreader.org/histb.htm

    [03] Leith Anderson. President Emeritus of National Association of Evangelicals  Pastoral Letter on Marriage Relationships Ministry. https://www.nae.net/pastoral-letter-on-marriage-relationships-ministry/

    [04] Terry Johnson. An Evangelical and Reformed Faith http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/evenreform.html

    [05] The Bible, Only Rule of Faith and Practice. http://www.sdanet.org/atissue/books/qod/q02.htm


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