What saith the word?
Many passages in the New Testament command Christians to adhere to a pattern for the church, of which I will list only a few. The early church is described as “continuing steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine,” (Acts 2:42). Because of their steadfastness they were described as being in unity, “the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and soul”(Acts 4:32, KJV).
Paul reminded the church in Rome that they had been made “free from sin” because they had been obedient to a certain “form or pattern of teaching” (Rom. 6:17, KJV). Contrary to modern beliefs, Paul both taught and believed in “pattern theology”. The inspired Paul taught the church at Corinth that they were not to go “beyond the things which are written” (1 Cor. 4:6, ASV). This clearly shows that all activity is restricted by the Word. As Christians, we are not to modify the inspired instructions which were given through Jesus Christ and the inspired Apostles. Again, this is confirmed through the warnings not to “add to” or “take away” from the scriptures (Deut 4:22, Prov. 30:6, and Rev. 22:18-19).
Paul warned of a “falling away” from to Timothy and the church at Thessalonica (2 Thes. 2:3; 1 Tim. 4:1-3; 2 Tim. 4:3-4). The expression “the faith” demonstrated a set doctrine proclaimed by inspired teachers (Gal. 1:23; Jude 1:3). If the church has the option of continually modifying biblical truth, how could one ever fall away from the faith? The Apostle Paul also informed Timothy that there is a “pattern of sound words” in which we should adhere (2 Tim. 1:13), and the young Timothy was to abide in the things he had learned from Paul (2 Tim. 3:14). Timothy was also to commit that same truth to other faithful brethren (2 Tim. 2:2), and was to charge men not to teach a “different doctrine” (1 Tim. 1:3). Paul states that those who leave the “sound words” are merely “puffed up, knowing nothing” (1 Tim. 6:3-4).
In view of the above listed verses, the idea of an “evolutionary church” or a church with “no boundaries” is demonstrated to be totally false. The plea for a restoration of first-century religion is commanded, necessary, and needed. Those who believe otherwise are “puffed up and know nothing”.
2 Corinthians 4:7 (KJV) But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.
Paul made the declaration that “we have this treasure in earthen vessels…”. Obviously, Paul is not referring to physical containers like clay pots, but rather to the physical, human bodies of the Apostles. The gospel needed a transport system to allow the spread of Christianity. Therefore, the Lord sent the gospel through His servants the Apostles, which were His earthen vessels. In essence, there were 12 inspired translations of the Gospel which were being preached by these “vessels”. This phrase “earthen vessels” only applies to the Inspired Apostles. Even though we are not inspired like the Apostles, we are also expected to carry forth the Gospel.
In the same manner as the early disciples, we are expected to go about preaching the word (Acts 8:4). It is necessary to present the Word of God to as many as possible because that is how faith comes (Rom 10:17). We are instructed to go and preach (Mark 16:15) in order that we may enlarge the kingdom of God. The world is full of those who are afflicted with the problem of sin (Rom 3:23), and without our carrying of the Gospel to them, they will suffer the consequence of an eternal separation from God (Rom 6:23). I mentioned earlier that this phrase “earthen vessels” does not apply to us today. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:7 “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us”. The “we” Paul is speaking of is the Apostles. He then states that the “excellency of the power” or this “inspiration” which they possess is of God and not of them. Neither Paul nor the Apostles could Glory because they had the inspired message in them. The message did not originate with them, they were simply the “vessels” which were presenting the inspired message from God given through the Holy Spirit.
The task of “revealing” this inspired message was found in the twelve “earthen vessels” or the Apostles. Now that this message has been revealed, we are given the responsibility to promote it and grow God’s kingdom!
Acts 11:26 And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.
The name Christian brings honor and glory to Christ and shows that one is a follower of Him and His word. Why are followers of Christ called Christians, and from where did this name come? Seven hundred years before the name was given, God promised He would one day call His people by another name (Isaiah 65:15). This new name was to be given by the Lord Himself (Isaiah 62:2). Additionally, Isaiah 62:2 shows that this new name was to be given by the Lord after "the Gentiles shall see your righteousness". By Acts chapter 10 the gospel had been taught to both Jew and Gentile and the church consisted of both. Then we read in Acts 11:26 "And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch." The name "Christian" was the new name the Lord gave after the Gentiles were included in His church as was prophesied. Paul further describes Christians in the first century as belonging to the “churches of Christ” (Rom 16:16). Christian is the only name by which an individual glorifies God and Christ. Even king Agrippa recognized this. Acts 26:28 (KJV) Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian. This was not a name, which Christians assumed for themselves, nor was it given as a derogatory name by the enemies of Christ. God gave this name to distinguish his followers which make up the church.
God’s word says, "Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter" (1 Peter 4:16). We glorify God when we wear the name Christian. Why should anyone wear a name that does not glorify God and meet His approval? Why would anyone, who "claims" to be a follower of Christ, want to give glory and honor to Luther, John the Baptist, Rome, Nazareth, Catholic which means universal, and the list goes on and on. Why can’t we give glory and honor to God and Christ where the honor belongs? Many, even by their names do not claim to belong to the Lord, but rather to some man-made religious group. They seem to be ashamed of the name Christian, or at the very least involved in division. Jesus says, Mark 8:38 (KJV) Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. We must never be ashamed of being a Christian. It is an honor to wear the name. According to the New Testament, not everyone who is referred to as a Christian is a Christian. One is not a Christian just because he believes Jesus Christ is the Son of God. As the Bible says, "Even the devils believe and tremble" (James 2:19). The name Christian is used loosely today which brings shame and reproach upon the Lord and His name simply because many want to do things their way and not the Lord’s. By this they, "blaspheme that noble name by which you are called" (James 2:7). The many differing religious groups today do not exist by the authority of the Lord, and their existence is contrary to the doctrine of Christ by wearing these different religious names (1 Corinthians 1:10-13). We should simply be a Christian, a member of the Lord’s one true church as revealed in the New Testament. We must speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent. We must call things by Bible names and do things in Bible ways, if we expect to go to Heaven.
Romans 12:2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
Many people today in the Lord’s church want to be more like the “other churches” in the community in hopes of drawing new people to the congregation. There is a big difference between updating the carpet, walls, pews, and classrooms, and modifying the worship style or watering down sermons. Once the Lord’s church begins to conform, and has rejected the truth by not addressing certain topics such as alcohol, divorce and remarriage, or others biblical topics, they have conformed to the standards of the world. When a congregation no longer offers a scriptural invitation, has started “children’s” church or worship, or brought in praise teams or instruments, they have left the pattern of the early church and the commandments which direct the steps of both the individual and the congregation as a whole. These individuals and congregations have conformed, and in the process they have ceased to be the Lord’s church. Many once faithful congregations are nothing more than a “community church” with a name above their door which no longer describes the congregation’s beliefs or practices. It is possible to use technology and be modern without violating the scriptures. We must evolve, but not at the expense of “doing anything” to save the lost. Otherwise, we will become the lost we are trying to save.
Once a congregation takes that first step of leaving book, chapter and verse teaching and practice, the foundation is laid for false doctrines such as faith-only and baptism as an outward sign. I have read many accounts this year of congregations adding an instrumental service in addition to their “normal” acapella service in order to bring in the younger generation as a form of outreach. If a congregation is willing to do this, before you know it Christmas and Easter are being celebrated during worship, drama skits and entertainment replace a portion of the sermon, and small groups (like the other churches!) are started to “meet the needs” of the congregation. Why? Many call it progress, church-involvement, growth, or evangelistic outreach. In reality it is conforming to the world while leaving God’s pattern and commands. Let’s not forget 1 Sam 8:5 where God’s people wanted to be like the nations around them, and this led to numerous problems for Israel. We are a distinct group of people, God’s people, and we do not need to conform to save the lost. Those who are looking for the truth are not looking for another congregation like the one they just left. If we conform to draw the lost, our loss of distinctiveness in the Portage/Kalamazoo area will be the slow erosion of a congregation. How can we save others when we have allowed ourselves to become the lost? I am thankful that this congregation desires to always be in alignment with God’s word.