Chapter 5 – Practical Aspects Of The “Churches Of Jesus Christ”
“Let all things be done decently and in order.”
(I Corinthians 14:40)
The first thing we wish to note under this heading is that we refer to that group of the “baptized Churches of Christ” of the Predestinarian faith and Old School orders that are independent of the corresponding associations. They have a freedom to speak their minds as the Spirit gives them utterance, a freedom to go anywhere the Spirit leads them without the fear or favor of man, and a freeness to live according the order of the gospel as close as they are given to understand it.
When our Lord first began His ministry, we find Him often in the synagogue teaching “as was His custom” (Matthew 12:9; and 13:54). He was often found in the temple as well. There are two words that the Holy Spirit left to the Lord Jesus to introduce to His people. One was the word “born again,” or “born from above.”
God’s people throughout all ages had the experience of a new birth, but it went unnamed until our Lord introduced it to Nicodemus. The other was the word “ekklesia” in the Greek language, which the King James translators rendered “Church.”
“Upon this rock I will build my Church”(ekklesia, or ecclesia)
Why might the Lord change the Hebrew word for an assemblage and place of divine worship from the customary usage of the Jews, synagogue, to the Greek word for “assemblage” (ekklesia) only?
We wish particularly for the reader to note this answer, for it has great bearing upon our topic. The answer to this question will involve a definition of the Church unknown by modern religious enterprises, primarily because it destroys the power of priestcraft over the Lord’s Church and congregations. Because it is so unique, it is difficult to explain to others. It is better understood seen and felt than told.
The Lord used the Greek word rather than the Hebrew word. We offer a possible explanation that the Hebrew word did not adequately expressed the concept He would convey than the Hebrew word “synagogue.”
The Hebrew word means both the assemblage of people as well as the place of that assemblage. The Greek word does not express the place of the assemblage, but the assemblage only. Not only is this so, it is even more restrictive than that. Immediately one ought to see what is wrong with the modern concept of the “church.” How often do they call the place or building in which people meet to worship, the “Church.”
In no wise is the Greek “ekklesia” a Church building!
If speaking of the place of worship, one should use the word “synagogue” or, as our forefathers, the “Meeting House.”
We said the word “ekklesia” was even more restrictive than an assemblage of people. Why? because the ancient ekklesia of a Greek city-state was their ruling body!
All Greeks were not citizens. All Greeks in a city-state were not citizens. All citizens were not members of the “ekklesia,” or “church.” The “ekklesia,” or “church” were people chosen or appointed from among that limited number of “citizens” to govern the body-politic. By now one may begin to grasp the concept we are presenting. Of the congregation God brings together regularly to worship Him in a given place and time, He “adds to the church daily such as should be saved.”
They are found in the congregation first, and some of that congregation is added to the church to preserve the doctrine, faith, order, and commandments given to the church. This “church” has no divine commandment or authority to modify, invent new practices, doctrines, or policies. It already has all the statutes of God’s kingdom in its Code (the New Testament as canonized) by which it is to govern God’s kingdom on earth.
To summarize: God’s people are collected together by the Holy Spirit through grace and providence into one place, in a congregation, to worship Him and keep up the gospel of free grace until He shall come again. Out of this congregation, the Lord selects some to add to the Church by baptism. The Church is an assembly of baptized believers who are gathered together to maintain the true worship of God in a given locality. Therefore, there is an interstitial relationship between the congregation and its church in such a manner that one cannot exit without the other. The congregation has its ruling assembly (the Church), and the ruling assembly has its constitute body-politic (the congregation). If one ceases to exist, there is no further utility for the other’s continued existence.
The ekklesia (Church) and its congregation were set up by Christ while here on earth during His first advent. The two combined, is the Kingdom Of God prophesied by Daniel that the Messiah would set up and its dominion would “never end.” It was to be given to the “Saints of the Most High God,” and these Saints are such by effectual calling. All such that meet together by God’s grace and providence in one place, being born of the Spirit of God, are the “household” servants of the “King of Zion.” Each Church and congregation stands alone as a “City” of God, and each such Church and Congregation following the same understanding of the doctrines, rules, and order are to keep up a lively communion one with the other, yet respecting the internal affairs of each one separately. [See London Confession, Articles XXXV through XLVI.]
Everyone in the congregation is not a “leader.” All are not qualified to serve on the ekklesia (Church). God alone can qualify them, and God alone can legitimately add them to the Church. Hence, true Churches do not give “altar calls,” “appeals in solicitation for members,” “invitations for membership,” or “offers of salvation nor for membership” on the “ekklesia” or Church.
MEMBERSHIP IS NOT AN HONORARY POSITION.
It has its own function, and every member is bound to know the limitation and duties that are required to preserve the gospel of Christ and feed and serve its God-assigned congregation. The congregation also has its roles to support its Church in every way Scriptural and provide for the general welfare of all members of the Church, the congregation, and believers within their community.
By God’s appointment, He has assigned their habitation, to the end that all things work together to the glory of God and the benefit of the whole body of Christ.
There are multiple ways to classify the New Testament Church. It is rightly called a “theocracy”, because it is set up by Christ, governed by Christ via the New Testament scriptures, and by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and it is perpetuated by the Spirit adding to it members thereof from the Congregation.
Nothing is left to the carnal wisdom of the flesh. The congregation does not select its members, but God in His divine providence and graces delivers whomsoever He pleases to find comfort in that specific congregation. The members of the congregation do not elect, select, nor appoint the members of the church. God Himself impresses upon the minds and hearts of some in the congregation to follow Him in obedience and baptism, and impresses the Church to receive such that He has qualified for baptism, and reject those that are not.
Rejection from membership in the Church is in no wise to be interpreted as rejection from His congregation. The Church’s members conduct all the Church’s affairs by unanimous consent.
In this way, the Church receives all its members, and can reject baptized individuals they perceive are not qualified for membership. The fact that it is somewhat self-perpetuating makes it an “oligarchy.” The voting by unanimous consent is a “democratic” rule. They can also exclude members that walk contrary to the principles of righteous conduct as set forth in the scriptures.
In all this, the Church is always to do things decently and in order according to the Golden Rule to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The Church is never to do anything before its time, i.e., “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the heart: and then shall every man have praise of God” (1 Corinthians 4:5). Attempting to enter into judgment of matters the Church is not faced with stirs up more strife than it placates.
Another aspect of the “baptized Church of Christ” is the relationship between ordained ministers and the Church and congregation. In America, a Church perceives that one of its members has a call to the ministry, and is qualified for the office according to the instructions found for bishops in Timothy and Titus. The Church asked qualified ordained ministers of the gospel to examine the man and if found suitable, to ordain him by the laying on of the hands of a presbytery.
(A “presbytery” is an official council of ordained ministers). The presbytery examines the brother, and if nothing is contrary to the written qualifications given by the Holy Ghost, ordains him. He is thereby fully authorized to go wherever God in His Providence directs him, and preach the gospel, and administer all ordinances of that gospel. He is ALWAYS subject to his Church for his doctrine and conduct. They can, if he is found heterodox in doctrine, or unchristian-like in deportment “seat” him (refuse to allow him to preach until satisfaction is made), make void his credentials, or if unrepentant, exclude him. If excluded, he is no longer a minister of the gospel, and all pretended functions of the gospel that he performs is null and void for every other gospel Church. As a minister of God to the Church, He is accountable to His God as to whom, where, and what Biblical activities he is directed to perform. He is not a free-lance, fly-by-night preacher. He can go forth and serve as many other churches as he feels called to.
If he presents a problem, any such church has recourse to approach his membership church for redress, and His church is required to judge the issue(s) between him and the church offended. But in all cases, both he and the churches must follow the Scriptural order found in Matthew 18 given by our Lord and Head of the Church.
No individual may rebuke an elder, and any elder needing rebuke is to be rebuked in public. “Rebuke not an elder, but entreat him as a father, and the younger men as brethren” (I Timothy 1:1).
And, “Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses. Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear” (I Timothy 5:17).
It seems needless to add, but expedient, that elders have a charge to “rebuke with all longsuffering and gentleness,” and in their fulfilling this charge, no member of the Church has gospel right to become offended for having to suffer such rebuke. “These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority” (Titus 2:15.)
Such an aggrieved individual is out of gospel order. The Church may hear his case, but if he is indeed guilty of an offense that needed rebuking, the Church is to deal with him, and not with the elder.
To be very specific: He can go forth and preach the gospel wherever God opens a door of utterance. If such labor produces a believer desiring to be baptized, and he determines that individual is qualified for membership in an orderly gospel Church, he has full authority to baptize the believer, whether there is a church near him or not. He is not compelled to drag the individual back to his church in order to receive permission to baptize him He already has that authority by virtue of his ordination. If sufficient numbers of such baptized believers are collected together, and desire to maintain the worship of God in their community, he is fully authorized to pronounce them to be “a Church.”
If, as a Church, they desire fellowship with other churches of like faith, they may ask for a presbytery from such churches, if such think it needful, to examine them in their faith and practice, and make recommendation to the churches at large.
However, this is NOT necessary to be a church, and some fellowships require no more. This falls under the term “customary,” and not found in the New Testament. It can, however, be a case of doing things “decently and in order.”
We have labored to show the relationship between “members” of the ekklesia, or Church, and members of its congregation. They do go together interstitially. However, we do not wish to be unclear in one major point: The New Testament charge, given to the apostles, and carried on by ministers of the gospel throughout all ages, is to “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:19-20).
No one can deny that one of these “all things” is to baptize these believers. That, however, requires the permission of the “believer.” They are not to be coerced, tricked, and otherwise gouged into doing what is commanded of them. They are not to be discouraged from following the Lord’s commandment either. One cannot read the New Testament and fail to see, time after time, that an immediate response to the gospel was a desire to be baptized by the believer. “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized” (Acts 2:41).
“But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the Kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.”
“And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?”
Relative to Paul being led blind to Ananias, “And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.” (Acts 9:18).
“Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?”
“And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us.”
Or the jailer, “And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and his, straightway.” (Acts 16:33).
“And Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue believed on the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing, believed, and were baptized.”
And we could go on and on. This is sufficient to the point. Believers are commanded to be baptized. While baptism is not the “door of the Church,” it is necessary in the transition from the congregation into the Church. We are aware that many a poor believer has difficulty determining in themselves what their own status is: “am I His or am I not?” Nevertheless, if they do “gladly receive” the word of the Gospel, they ought to give earnest heed to whether they are in obedience, or disobedience, to the command of our precious Lord.
Again, I must also stress that the congregation is a vital part of the Church’s life and faith. Believers in the congregation are as much an encouragement to the Church as the members of the Church. The Church suffers the lose of members of the congregation as much as that of a member of the Church, and absenteeism in the congregation is as hurtful to the Church as in its own membership. It is true, the Church may have rules for the attendance of its members, but they have no say over the same in the congregation.
It has been this writer’s experience that the members in both, are faithful in letting each other know if there is an occasion when one is to be absent.
Oftentimes, members in a congregation see things needful or beneficial, and suggest to members of the church what they have in mind. The Church can act upon these suggestions or forebear. The communication between them is one of mutual relationship and fellowship. We have seen no less love and affection among them both. It is true of both, that “by this shall all men know you are My disciples, if you have love one for the other.”