Sunday, May 21, 2017 am                                                    NT Church Index 2017


How to Identify the New Testament Church


Having discussed what the church is and how authority is established for who we are and what we do, we now want to begin addressing various elements of the NT church.  Today we begin by answering the question, How do Identify the New Testament church? 

In America alone there are hundreds of different denominations and churches claiming to be the one true church.  Because of conflicting teaching and organization they CANNOT all be correct.  1 Corinthians 14:33 tells us God is not the author of confusion.  Ephesians 3:10-11 tells us that the church reveals the manifold wisdom of God and that it was a part of God’s eternal purpose.  The church we read about in the New Testament was established in the first century.  THAT church hasn’t changed.    And whether we are talking about the church universal or the design and organization of a local church – we need to acknowledge that it is God’s pattern.

Recall that as we began our study we noted that the term church is used in a universal sense to describe all who are saved and in a local sense to describe a group of the saved who have joined together in an ordered, arranged and organized way to do the work God has prescribed for us to do.

ALSO, if one is looking for the true church, how do you find it?  The answer is to look to the pattern established in God’s word and find a congregation that is striving to follow that pattern.  Ask questions and look for various characteristics that show its focus – are they based upon what the Bible teaches, or are they the innovations of men?  In this lesson we are going to summarize how to identify a LOCAL church of God’s people.    NOTE: This lesson serves as an introduction to some of the things we are going to address as this study moves forward. 

 I.                     Christ is its only source of authority

a.       Matthew 28:18-20 – “All authority has been given to Me, in heaven and on earth…

b.       Ephesians 1:22-23 – He is head of the church, and it is His body.  As head of the church, He governs what we are and what we do. 

c.        Colossians 3:17 – whatever you do in word or deed, do all with His authority.  The New Testament church recognizes and respects the authority of scriptures. 

 II.                   Its membership

a.       The NT church will only accept into its membership those who are saved.  And while we may not be perfect in our efforts, we should try and respect God’s word as to how one is saved.

b.       We must obey the gospel!

                                                   i.      Romans 10:17 – we need to hear that word

                                                 ii.      Mark 16:16, John 3:16, Romans 10:9-10 – believe (not just believe in, but actually believe what God’s word says)

                                                iii.      Acts 2:38, 3:19, Luke 13:3 – repent of our sins

                                                iv.      Romans 10:9-10, Acts 8:37 – confess Jesus as the son of God, and Lord

                                                  v.      Acts 2:38, Mark 16:16, Acts 22:16, 1 Peter 3:20-21, etc. – be immersed for the remission of your sins.

                                                vi.      Live faithful – Revelation 2:10, 14:13, Hebrews 10:25-29, etc.   Christians are those trying to live according to God’s pattern.

c.        Christians are called upon to join the church – cf. Acts 9:26-27 – as Paul sought to join the brethren in Jerusalem.  The word “join” means to attach oneself to, to begin an association with (L&N 34.22), etc.

 III.                 Its identification

a.       What one calls themselves is important.  Names identify who we are.  We understand that with our own names.  We can mention someone by name, and others who know them know what you are talking about. 

b.       Romans 16:16 – we ARE the church of Christ.  Paul here describing congregations that belong to Christ.  Why do we call ourselves the “church of Christ”?  Because we are!  Philippians 2:9-11

c.        Other designations – church of God 1 Corinthians 1:2, 10:32
1 Thessalonians 1:1 – church of the Thessalonians (one of many local designations)
Hebrews 12:23 – the church of the firstborn (a reference to Christ)

d.       Since a name is an identifier, when congregations use unscriptural names – they are identifying as something different than what the Bible says – consider churches named after men (Lutheran), or doctrines (Baptist), or organizational structure (Catholic, Methodist, Episcopalian, etc.)  By their very name they are distinguishing themselves for something other than belonging to Christ.

e.       How are its members identified? Christians - Acts 11:26. This was a divine calling.
We are also designated as brethren, saints, disciples, children (of God), etc.   Again, each of these is descriptive of relationship.

 IV.                 It’s organization –

a.       Local churches are autonomous and independent.  A study of the New Testament will show that congregations were self-governing (autonomous) and independent of each other.  Each congregation existed as if it were the only one on earth.  Acts 9:31, 16:4-5 – by describing individual congregations, we see distinction (not in belief, but in organizational structure); 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 – Paul gave instructions directly to each congregation; see also 4:17.
In the Bible you do not find earthly headquarters, congregations surrendering their autonomy in work or organization to another congregation. 
You do find cooperation, but it is always done while maintain this autonomy (i.e. their cooperation was concurrent – more than one assisting in a work – 1 Cor. 16:1-2 – several congregations helped needy brethren in Jerusalem, several churches supported Paul – 2 Corinthians 11:8, etc; but not collective – pooling resources into a single treasury overseen by a congregation).

b.       Elders, deacons and saints – Philippians 1:1. 
Elders were appointed based upon a high standard (1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9).  Their authority was limited to their local work – Acts 14:23 – in every church; 20:28, 1 Peter 5:2. 
Deacons were appointed, based upon qualifications and designed to serve – 1 Timothy 3:8-13, etc.
Then there are the saints – the members of a local body

 V.                   It’s work

a.       God has given the church specific works to do.  Many denominations, in the name of doing good, are engaged in all different types of works and activities.  But as we have briefly addressed, God’s work for the church is specified and limited.

b.       Evangelism and teaching – churches (congregations) helped in spreading the word of God – 1 Thessalonians 1:8 – from you, the word of God has spread…  Acts 13:2-3 – the church helped to send Paul and Barnabas to preach elsewhere.  Churches supported preachers in preaching the gospel 2 Corinthians 11:8, Philippians 4:15-16

c.        Edification – building up the members individually.  Ephesians 4:11-12, 16; 1 Corinthians 14:26

d.       Benevolence – the church can help its needy saints – 1 Timothy 5:16.  Also we read of congregations helping brethren in other places – Acts 11:27-30, and locally – Acts 6:1-6

e.       Worship – sometimes grouped together with edification (because true worship edifies), one purpose for the church is to worship God. 

 VI.                 It’s worship

a.       We are to worship in spirit and in truth – John 4:24, Acts 2:42, etc. 

b.       There are 5 acts of worship that God has designated and with each of them we specific instructions and boundaries to be respected.   We are to sing praises to God (Colossians 3:16, Ephesians 5:19), offer prayers to Him (Acts 2:42, 1 Corinthians 14:15), study His word (Acts 2:42, as declared to Timothy and Titus, etc.), and on Sundays we partake of the Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:7) and give (1 Corinthians 16:2)

c.        A good way to identify a church as untrue is to look at its focus in worship – is it about entertaining the audience, attracting larger crowds, appealing to emotions OR is it about praising God according to the pattern He has prescribed.

 VII.               It’s expectation of its members –

a.       Purity – Christians are to strive to live pure lives and it will be a reflection of the Lord’s church. 
A true church will deal demand purity of life in its members – and deal with ungodliness. 
1 Corinthians 5:6-8 – leaven will destroy the character of the church.  1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Paul specifies how we associate with brethren given over to immorality.

b.       The true church will teach the truth on godly living – Romans 12:1-2 – calling for transformed lives.   Matthew 6:33-34, etc.

c.        Every part does its share – Ephesians 4:16, 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, etc.

d.       Unity – continually scriptures call for us to strive for unity – Ephesians 4:1-3, Philippians 2:1-2, 1 Corinthians 1:10, etc.  


These are some things we ought to consider as we strive to be the church we read about in the Bible, and as we seek to find the one true church therein.  What are we doing to ensure that we truly are THE church of Christ?