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Can we be the church of the New Testament?

Yes, if church leadership complies with the New Testament

“Christ is head of the church” (Ephesians 5:23). To be the church of the New Testament, we must be led by Christ.
“Speaking the truth in love,” we must “grow up in all things into Him who is the head -- Christ -- from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:15, 16).

The head directs the body. It is not enough to have Christ as figurehead, He must be our real Head, He must be the captain. We must submit to His authority. We can be the church of the New Testament if our congregation is directed by Christ.

We must be led by the one Shepherd. Jesus said, referring to Gentiles, “Other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd” (John 10:16). “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27).

To be the church of the New Testament we must follow Christ and obey His voice. “He who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers” (John 10:2-5).

Can we be the church of the New Testament? Yes, if Christ is our Head, if He is the Shepherd we follow, if we refuse to follow ‘strangers’.

Christ leads us via His apostles and prophets who were inspired by the Holy Spirit in the first century to put the new covenant into written form. Paul explains this at the end of his letter to the Romans. “Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began -- but now made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith” (Romans 16:25, 26). Thus, God commanded the apostles to make the gospel known to all nations through prophetic Scriptures.

Before He died, Jesus told His apostles: “He who hears you hears Me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me” (Luke 10:16).

The first-century apostles and prophets, together with Christ, are the foundation of the new-covenant church, “having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20). A foundation is laid only once.
Our apostles and prophets today are the apostles and prophets of the first-century church (Revelation 21:14). Now we “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3), we continue “steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42).

We can be the church of the New Testament if we are led by Christ. He leads through His apostles and prophets who were inspired to put the new covenant in writing.

For edification Christ has also given evangelists, elders, teachers and deacons to build up and serve the church. “He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11, 12). The Philippian letter is addressed, “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons” (Philippians 1:1).

Unscriptural leadership is one of the most distinguishing marks of counterfeit churches. They have offices and leadership positions which are not found in the New Testament. To be the church of the New Testament, we may only have leaders who are designated in the New Testament and who meet the New-Testament qualifications.

Executive leadership under the new covenant resides in the local congregation. Central leadership is supplied by Christ from heaven. The next level of leadership is the local congregation. Regional, national or international forms of leadership are foreign to the New Testament. All congregations that participate in such forms of leadership are not new-covenant churches, but are in rebellion to the leadership of Christ.

Elders provide leadership.

According to the New Testament, local congregations are led by a group of older men called ‘elders’ [Greek: πρεσβύτερος]. They are also called ‘shepherds’ (Greek: ποιμήν - the word ‘pastor’ also comes from this) and ‘overseers’ (Greek: ἐπίσκοπος - The word ‘bishop’ also comes from this).
A careful comparison of the various passages shows that these are all names for the same group of leaders in the local congregation. In Titus 1:5 we find elders and in verse 7, bishops. In Acts 20:17 we find elders and in verse 28, overseers and shepherds. In 1 Peter 5:1 we find elders and in verse 2, shepherds and overseers.
These men must meet strict qualifications. Paul wrote to Titus: “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you -- if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination.
For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict” (Titus 1:5-9; see also 1 Timothy 3:2-7).
The task of the elders is to “take care of the church of God” (1 Timothy 3:5); “to shepherd the church of God” (Acts 20:28); to “shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers” (1 Peter 5:2).

New and small congregations, without men who are qualified to be elders, are led by the men of the congregation. At Antioch, where no mention is made of elders, we read “the brethren ... determined” (Acts 15:1-3). Women are excluded from leadership since they are not permitted to have authority over men in the church (1 Timothy 2:12).

In most false churches, one person functions as head of the local congregation, or the group is led in some other unscriptural way.

We can be the church of the New Testament if our elders are appointed and provide leadership in compliance with the New Testament.

Deacons serve.

The word ‘deacon’ is a transliteration of the Greek word διάκονος which means ‘servant’. The context indicates whether it refers to a servant in general or to a servant appointed by the church.

Deacons serve in the local congregation under the oversight of the elders. In the church at Jerusalem, seven men were appointed to take care of the daily assistance given to needy widows (Acts 6:1-4).

Appointed servants must meet specific qualifications: “Likewise deacons must be reverent, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy for money, holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience. But let these also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons, being found blameless. ...”
“Let deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a good standing and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 3:8-10, 12, 13).

The wives of elders and deacons must also meet qualifications: “Likewise, their wives must be reverent, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things” (1 Timothy 3:11).

To be the church of the New Testament, the servants in the local congregation must be appointed and must serve according to the New Testament.

Evangelists (also called preachers) proclaim the gospel.

The task of an evangelist is to “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2), to “give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine” (1 Timothy 4:13).

In the New Testament, the words ‘evangelist’ and ‘preacher’ refer to the same task. An ‘evangelist’ is one who preaches good news. A ‘preacher’ is one who proclaims a message in public.

In the New Testament, a preacher is not the leader of a local congregation. The common practice of calling a preacher a ‘pastor’ is contrary to the New Testament. Only elders are ‘pastors’ (shepherds) in the New Testament. Churches which are led by the “pastor system” where a preacher is the head of a congregation, are not New Testament churches. This also applies to churches that are led by a priest, since the new covenant does not have a separate priest class; all Christians are priests (1 Peter 2:9). The use of distinctive clothing and religious titles, such as reverend and father, is specifically forbidden by Jesus (Luke 20:46; Matthew 23:8-11).

We can be the church of the New Testament if our evangelists preach and serve in compliance with the New Testament.

Teachers give instruction in the word.

For edification, Christ also gave teachers to His church (Ephesians 4:11). Whereas ‘to preach’ is to proclaim in public, the word ‘teach’ refers to the transfer of knowledge. Both elders and preachers must be able to teach. But a teacher does not have to be an elder or a preacher. Teachers are important in the church. To be the church of the New Testament, we need teachers who give instruction in the doctrine of Christ.

Women give instruction to women (Titus 2:3-5) and to children (2 Timothy 1:5; 3:14, 15) but do not teach or lead men in the church (1 Timothy 2:12).

Can we be the church of the New Testament? Certainly, if our leadership complies with the New Testament: if we are guided by Christ through the Scriptures, if our congregations are led and served by qualified elders and deacons, and if our preachers and teachers faithfully proclaim and teach the New Testament of Christ.

We can be the church of the New Testament.
Roy Davison

The Scripture quotations in this article are from
The New King James Version. ©1979,1980,1982, Thomas Nelson Inc., Publishers.
Permission for reference use has been granted.

Published in The Old Paths Archive
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