|"A GREAT RETURN TO THE BIBLE" by Dr Pence Dacus|
(Church History Correspondence Course)
RESTORING THE ORIGINAL PATTERN FOR THE CHURCH
The Great Return finds its application today among men who are seeking to restore New Testament Christianity by going back to the Bible.
ONE ONE ONE ONE ONE ONE
"There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in all." (Eph. 4:4-6)
You will recall that Bible history is divided into three ages or dispensations -- the Patriarchal, the Mosaical, and the Christian. In each of these dispensations of time God has set forth certain specific requirements for His people in worship and service to Him. In other words, God has not left man without instructions, but in every age has provided a pattern whereby man might worship and serve acceptably.
Also, the requirements for worship and service were different in each of the ages. For example, God's commandments to the Jews under the law of Moses were not the same as to the Patriarchs under the Patriarchal Age. Neither were God's commands the same to those under Moses' law as they were to those of us under Christ. Furthermore, we note in our study of the Bible that God has always shown a very definite concern that man worship and serve according to the specific requirements of the respective ages. Those who deviated from the prescribed pattern, or those who altered the procedures outlined by God were punished for their disobedience. This shows the seriousness of the matter of following God's pattern.
In the Patriarchal Age, God required men to sacrifice animals to atone for sin. The grave consequences of ignoring and changing God's pattern is first seen in the story of Cain and Abel (Gen. 4:1-15). In verse 3, the text says that Cain brought fruit to offer for sacrifice while Abel (verse 4) brought of the firstlings of the flock. God accepted Abel's offering, but rejected Cain's. Why? In Hebrews 11:4 in the New Testament, we are told that "by faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain." If Abel offered his sacrifice, which was more excellent, by faith, how does faith come? Romans 10:17 tells us that "faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God." Therefore, we see that before faith comes, the word of God must be heard. Since there was no Bible written at the time, how did God's word come to Cain and Abel? The answer is: God must have spoken directly to them telling them what was required of them. The point is this: Abel believed (had faith in) God and offered an acceptable sacrifice. Cain offered something of his own choosing -- which was unacceptable. What were the results? The text says that Cain was jealous and killed his brother. His last comment before being driven out to become a fugitive and a vagabond was: "My punishment is greater than I can bear." Those who obeyed God received rich rewards -- those who disobeyed Him were punished swift and certain.
Noah is an inspiring example of obedience in the Patriarchal Age, in following God's instructions even to the last minute detail. God's pattern for building the ark by which the righteous of Noah's day were to be saved, is found in Gen. 6:14-22. It was to be made of gopher wood; it was to have rooms; it was to be put together with pitch; it was to be 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide, and 30 cubits high; it was to have a window; it was to have a door in the side; and it was to be three stories high. Noah could have reasoned -- "I don't see why the ark should be made of gopher wood, since other kinds of wood are better. Furthermore, black slime would be better than pitch. And, it should be 200 cubits long instead of 300 cubits." He could have thought of any number of things that could have been done to "improve" God's pattern. But, he did not. Verse 22 says, "Thus did Noah according to all that God commanded him.'' Perhaps, this is why Noah is referred to as a just and perfect (upright) man in God's sight. He followed God's pattern, never wavering, never deviating, never "improving", only following. Abel did this and he pleased God. Cain followed his own way and displeased God.
In the second dispensation of Bible history, the Mosaical, we find that God required that the pattern of the age be followed. For in Lev. 10:1-3 is the tragic story of two priests of God, Nadab and Abihu, sons of Aaron, who changed God's pattern for the burning of incense in the worship. God commanded that a certain kind of fire be used in burning the incense, but these two men put "strange fire" in the censers and verse 2 says that they were devoured by fire and died before God. This terrible example should sober every sincere and earnest person to remember that God's pattern is to be kept, that no deviations, regardless of how seemingly insignificant, are to be made.
In the New Testament Age, the Christian dispensation, there is a fearful example of the willful violation of God's command for giving. Ananias and Sapphira, two Christians in Jerusalem, lied to the Holy Spirit about the money they gave to the church. They were both killed (Acts 5:1-11).
What has been the pattern for work and worship in each of the three ages? Under the Patriarchal Age, men were required to sacrifice animals for sin. Singing and playing of instruments of music were also features of their worship. Under Moses' law, animal sacrifices were still required but in a much more elaborate worship pattern. Singing and the playing of musical instruments also characterized their worship.
In the Christian Age, there are noticeable changes. Does the fact that God has changed His requirements for worship in each age imply that God is constantly changing his mind? No. God never changes? Neither does Christ (Heb. 13:8). And, although some of His commands from age to age have varied, the basic principles remain unchanged. In every age God has required Faith and Obedience -- these two are indispensable with God. (See Heb. 11:6 and I Sam. 15:22.) Remember that patterns are important. For example, in making a garment like a shirt, a tailor must follow a pattern. To try to make a shirt without a pattern would prove to be a frustrating experience and the results would probably be disastrous. Furthermore, after the garment is made, if it does not fit the body or look good, the tailor immediately goes back to the original pattern to see where he made his mistake. When he finds the mistake or mistakes (from the original pattern) he can then make the necessary corrections in order to sew the garment together properly.
In the religious world today, much confusion and division exists. Many different churches teaching diverse and contradictory doctrines present a sadly divided state of Christianity to the world. It was the prayer of Jesus that his followers "all may be one... that the world may believe that thou hast sent me" (John 17:21). The world is going to have to see a united Christianity before it will be converted to Christ. As long as Jesus is ignored and Christendom remains divided into sects and denominations, the world will not "believe that thou hast sent me". This being true, what can be done to unify Christianity? How can we have that oneness and unity for which Christ prayed and which characterized the original church of Christ? Perhaps, the lesson of the tailor and his pattern is the answer to the problem. If all men in all churches, regardless of their religious affiliation, would go back to the original pattern for the church there would be unity and harmony. The skeptic would say, "It is not possible." But, ask yourself the question, "Why not?" The original church of Christ was united and worked in harmony. There were no denominations then and all churches were called "churches of Christ" (Rom. 16:16). Therefore, since the pure New Testament church existed once, without denominations, it can be done again, if all religious persons will abandon present practices and doctrines contrary to the Bible and begin to teach and practice their religion after the pattern of the New Testament.
Back to Original Pattern
The religious world is divided because the original pattern has been ignored and discarded. Roman Catholics left the New Testament pattern, falling away into error. This initial departure was followed in the 16th century with the introduction of the Reformation and modern denominationalism which resulted in still further departures from the pattern. Thus, just as the tailor who makes mistakes and errors in his work must go back to the original pattern in order to make a garment properly, we must return to the original pattern in order to carry on the work and worship of the church properly.
If we were to take each denomination in the world and compare it to the original pattern of Christ's church in the New Testament, what would we find? Regardless of the results, we could be certain of two things if it and the original pattern for the church are not the same: (1) Something is wrong (2) It, or the original is wrong. Since the original was founded by God's son (Matt. 16:18), the original is perfect; therefore, the only possible conclusion is: If any church is different from the original pattern, it has not followed the pattern properly and therefore must discard any teachings and practices which are contrary to the Bible, while going back to the original pattern outlined therein.
Objection: Someone might say, "Whenever any church is started after the original church, it must be a new church." But why? Football is a popular sport around the world. It is played according to certain rules and regulations. Let us pretend that the interest in this sport were to gradually stop over a period of 1000 years until no one played the game any longer. Furthermore, everyone had forgotten how to play it. Then one day, someone discovered an old rule book and starts to play the game again. Is it a new game, or an old game restored? In the same way those who desire, if they follow the rule book (the Bible), may restore the original pattern for the church -- nothing new -- only a return to the original.
The simplest way would be just to follow the original pattern, and thereby be relieved of the problem. What, then, is God's divine pattern of the church for men to follow in this, the Christian Age?
What Was the Creed of the Original Church?
What a man believes is his creed. The members of the early church believed that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. This was their one and only creed. Peter confessed in Matt. 16:16, 'Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." The eunuch followed the same creed in Acts 8:36-37, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." The early church never asked the members to make any pledge or confession other than this. Furthermore, you will notice that nothing was asked of the eunuch before his baptism than this simple statement. It was not a matter to be voted upon by members of a church, or for some church council to ratify. Any other arrangement than this simple practice is a change from the original pattern. But, what denomination exists today which does not in one way or another deviate from this simple step. An illustration of these alterations is found within the Baptist denomination. In The Standard Manual for Baptist Churches by Hiscox, we read, "It is most likely that in the Apostolic Age when there was but one Lord, one faith and one baptism, and no differing denominations existed, the baptism of a convert by that very act constituted him a member of the church, ... In that sense, 'baptism was the door into the church'. Now it is different..."(p. 22). It is true that changes have been made, but who authorized the changes? God has not; therefore, they must have come from men.
Ever since the Apostles Creed and then the creed which came out of the Council of Nicea in 325 (Nicean Creed), men have somehow felt the necessity for written creeds, confessions, manuals, disciplines, etc., by which those who subscribe to a certain belief may be identified or measured. A return to the original, necessitates the removal of these standards of faith invented by men.
Who is Its Head?
Christ is the only head of the church (Col. 1:18 and Eph. 1:22-23). Any church having a head other than Christ is obviously different from the original church of Christ in the New Testament.
When Was It Established?
The church was established on Pentecost, 33 A.D. (Acts 2). If a church exists today that started at some other date than this, it is different from the original. For example, in 1521 the first Protestant denomination was founded, the Lutheran Church. We know it was founded and started then because there is not one historical reference that has ever been found by anyone which speaks of a Lutheran Church before than year. Thus, the Lutheran Church is different from the original church inasmuch as there is a difference of 1488 years between the dates of their founding. Further, investigation will show that there is not a single Protestant denomination in existence today that had its foundation before 1521 A.D.
Where Was It Established?
The original church of Christ was established in the city of Jerusalem, Palestine. A church established in any other place is unlike the original to that extent. The Lutheran Church started in Germany, the Methodist-Episcopal in England, the Presbyterian in Switzerland, then Scotland, and many denominations were established in America. But, the true church of our Lord Jesus Christ had its beginning much earlier and at another location.
What Was Its Discipline?
The early church followed the inspired teachings of Christ and His apostles. Any other standard, or law than the New Testament is a variation from the original pattern. Furthermore, God has said that any addition to, or subtraction from, the inspired pages of the New Testament will result in the condemnation of those who follow (Rev. 22:18-19). This is also the reason for not requiring that people submit to a creed, or confession in addition to the Word of God -- the Bible.
What Was the Organization of the Original New Testament Church?
As we have already noted, Christ is the only head of the church. No earthly head was designated by Christ. The apostles were appointed as His ambassadors (II Cor. 5:20) and as such could speak with authority to the congregations. Christ and the apostles are still exercising their authority in these same capacities -- Christ as the head, seated on the right hand of God, and the apostles as ambassadors, speaking through the inspired word of the New Testament (Luke 22:30).
Each local congregation, when fully developed has its own elders (Acts 14:23). These elders (also called bishops, shepherds, presbyters, etc.) governed the congregations and were assisted by the deacons. In Phil. 1:1, we read "To all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Phillipi, with the bishops and deacons." Each congregation was independent of, and separate from, every other congregation or group of congregations. No other authority than Christ and apostles was held over the churches. There were no such persons as popes, archbishops, or cardinals in the church. The New Testament knows nothing of these strange titles and positions. There were no legislative bodies, assemblies, conventions, or conferences which came together periodically to govern the churches. The ecclesiastical machinery and denominational systems of today were unknown.
The preachers or evangelists in the original church were not a ruling class (II Tim. 4:2). The idea of a clergy and laity in the church, with titles such as "Reverend", "Father", "Rector", etc. for the preachers was not a part of the original pattern. Churches today which allow their preachers to wear such titles lack that much being the church of the New Testament.
What Name Did the Early Church Wear?
One of the names of the original church was "church of Christ", or "Christ's Church". In Matt. 16:18, Jesus said, "Upon this rock I will build my church." It was to be Christ's church. If I were to say, "This is my pencil, my watch, my shirt, etc", everyone would clearly understand that they were mine, and that they belong to me. When Jesus said, "my church" it means that it belongs to Him. Therefore, one would expect to find His name on the institution. If a man owns a prosperous business, he will have his name on the shop. He will not allow his friend, no matter how close he may be, to put his name on his shop, unless, of course, he owns part of it.
In Rom. 16:16, Paul, speaking to the church in Rome and from the congregations near where he was located, said, "The churches of Christ salute you." There was only the church of Christ and the different congregations were called simply "churches of Christ".
The church is also referred to as the "church of the firstborn" (Heb. 12:23) inasmuch as Christ was the first born from the dead (Col. 1:18). Thus, the church of the firstborn is the church of Christ. It is called the "church of the Lord" in Acts 20:28 and is spoken of as the "church of God" in I Cor. 1:2. But, these terms all refer to the same thing. In John 17:10, Christ said, "All mine are thine and thine are mine." Therefore, what belongs to God belongs to Christ and vice versa. This is why it is immaterial whether it is called the church of God, or the church of Christ. Note, however, that when the ownership is designated, it is either "of God", or "of Christ".
Names are not insignificant as some would infer. All churches wear names which have come from some person or some peculiarity of the group. The Lutheran Church, for Martin Luther, is an example of the former. The Presbyterian Church for the form of church government, or the Baptist Church for the practice of immersion are examples of the latter. Any church with a special name other than Bible names is necessarily that far from the point of returning to the original pattern. The only solution, then would be to cast all party names aside because these things came after the original name.
What Was the Worship of the New Testament Church?
The Bible reveals that the original pattern for worship in the early church consisted of the following five items: observing the Lord's Supper, contribution of money, singing, teaching the Word of God, and praying.
1. Observing the Lord's Supper Acts 20:7 says, "And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them..." This shows that weekly observance of the Lord's Supper was a practice of the early church and explains why the Hebrew writer said, "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is: but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching" (Heb. 10:25). Most churches refer to this scripture to insist that their members attend worship services regularly, but while they authorize weekly attendance at worship services they should also authorize weekly observance of the Lord's Supper if the original pattern is to be followed. Observing the Lord's Supper monthly, quarterly or annually was not the practice of the New Testament church.
2. Contribution of money Weekly contribution of money with which to carry on the Lord's work is authorized in I Cor. 16:1-2, "Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come." The New Testament, however, does not bind the law of tithing (giving one-tenth of the income) upon Christians. Many Christians gave far more than one-tenth because they were told to give as they had been prospered and as they had purposed in their hearts (II Cor. 9:7). Members were not taxed nor did they have special events such as suppers, rummage sales, and parties to raise money for the church. Community begging and selling of flags to raise funds were never practiced. Any church which allows these types of money-making schemes is far removed from the original pattern. Early Christians were willing to finance their own work-not being content to beg from those who had no interest in what they were doing (III John 7).
3. Teaching the Word of God The preaching and teaching of God's word was practiced (Acts 2:42).
4. Praying This was also a part of their worship (Acts 2:42 and I Thess. 5:17).
5. Singing The original church believed in singing, without the accompaniment of instruments of music. Eph. 5:19 says, "Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord." Their singing was of the "fruit of their lips" and became a sacrifice with which God was pleased (Heb. 13:15). A church today which uses the organ, piano or any other instrument has departed just that far from the original pattern.
What Did the Early Church Teach About How to Become a Christian?
They instructed unbelievers to believe (John 8:23). Belief was to come by the Word of God (Rom. 10:17). Repentance was the step following belief (Acts 2:38). Their belief and repentance led them to the point of confession (Rom. 10:10). And, the final step which was to take away their sins and place them in the body of Christ, was baptism (Acts 2:38 and I Cor. 12:13). Those who completed these initial steps were then warned to be "faithful unto death" (Rev. 2:10) and to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ (II Peter 3:18).
Conclusion: The original pattern is not difficult to recognize when the Bible is followed and all of the traditions and innovations of 1900 years of ecclesiastical history are stripped from it. Is the church you attend following the original pattern? If not, how can it be the true church of Christ. Can Christ's pattern be ignored and/ or amended to fit the whims and fancies of men as they choose? God's Bible says, "He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or, three witnesses. Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, (which purchased His church, Acts 20:28), wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the spirit of grace?" (Heb. 10:28-29).
Hiscox, Edward T., The Standard Manual for Baptist Churches, The American Baptist Publication Society, Philadelphia, 1890.
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