It is estimated that there are more than 2,000 different religious groups in the United States. Yet, the New Testament speaks of only one church. “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were 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 you all” (Ephesians 4:4-6). What was this one church like? Does it exist today? If so, can we find it, and how? Let’s consider the following points.
First, the New Testament church was built according to a pattern. A pattern is something to be duplicated, or copied. Just as God provided a pattern for the ark of Noah’s day and the tabernacle of Moses’ day, he has provided a pattern for the church. Notice Paul’s words from Romans 6:17, “But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered.” Also notice from II Timothy 1:13, “Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.”
Second, the New Testament church was built according to prophecy. Joel prophesied that it would be built in the last days when the Spirit was poured out. Joel wrote, “And it shall come to pass afterward That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your old men shall dream dreams, Your young men shall see visions; And also on my menservants and on My maid servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days. And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: Blood and fire and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the Lord Shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be deliverance, As the Lord has said, Among the remnant whom the Lord calls” (Joel 2:28-32). Daniel prophesied that Christ’s kingdom, the church, would be built during the days of the Roman kings (Daniel 2:44). Isaiah also prophesied concerning the time when the church would be built. “Now it shall come to pass in the latter days That the mountain of the Lord’s house Shall be established on the top of the mountains, And shall be exalted above the hills; And all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, To the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, And we shall walk in His paths, For out of Zion shall go forth the law, And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:1-4). We read in Acts 2:1-47 that all this came about, just as the prophets had prophesied. Notice Acts 2:16, where Peter speaks, “This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel.”
Third, the New Testament church was a part of God’s eternal purpose. Paul wrote, “To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all people see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ephesians 3:8-11). Some, such as those who teach the doctrine of premillenialism, perceive the church to be an afterthought, a “Plan B” if you will, that was concocted after Jesus was rejected by the Jews. But this idea is contrary to what Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus.
Fourth, the New Testament church was built by Jesus Christ. Jesus promised, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). Jesus is the church’s foundation and chief cornerstone (I Corinthians 3:11; Ephesians 2:19-22). Jesus shed his blood for the church. Notice Paul’s exhortation to the elders at Ephesus, recorded in Acts 20:28. “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which he purchased with His own blood.”
Fifth, the New Testament church had a specific organization. Jesus Christ is the head of the New Testament church (Ephesians 1:22-23). A plurality of elders, or pastors, are appointed to oversee local congregations (Acts 14:23; Acts 20:17; Acts 20:28; Titus 1:5-7). They are required to meet specific qualifications (I Timothy 3:1-7). Deacons are to be appointed as servants of the church (Philippians 1:1; I Timothy 3:8-13).
Sixth, the New Testament church had a specific pattern of worship. They met on the first day of the week (I Corinthians 16:1-2). They observed the Lord’s Supper on a weekly basis (Acts 20:7). They worshipped in prayer (Acts 2:42). They sang praises to God (Ephesians 5:18; Colossians 3:16-17). This was done without the accompaniment of mechanical instruments of music. The New Testament church was edified by the preaching of the gospel (II Timothy 4:2-4). Those persons who were members of the New Testament church gave of their means financially on the first day of every week (I Corinthians 16:1-2). This giving by the members of the church made it possible for the church to carry out its work.
Seventh, the New Testament church had a work to do. They had a responsibility to preach the gospel to the whole world. Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20.) Also notice Jesus’ words in Mark 16:15, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” The church served as the pillar and ground of the truth (I Timothy 3:15). The church had a role in helping to edify those who are saved (Ephesians 4:12). The church had a responsibility to help the needy, both those who were Christians and those who were not. Paul wrote, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10.) Notice James’ words James 1:27, “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”
Eighth, the New Testament church was united. There were no different denominations, there was simply one church. Can you imagine Peter being a Catholic, Paul a Methodist, John a Presbyterian, James a Baptist, Mark a Lutheran, and, well, you get the idea. But the current situation of our day is no more acceptable to Christ than it would have been in the days of James, Paul, or Peter. The phrase “churches of Christ” in Romans 16:16 simply refers to individual congregations of the Lord’s church, not a variety of different denominations, each going by a different name and teaching a different doctrine. The Bible condemns the division that exists in the religious world today. Paul wrote, “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you are perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, I am of Paul, or I am of Apollos, of I am of Cephas, or I am of Christ. Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (I Corinthians 1:10-13). Jesus prayed that all those who believed in him would be united. “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that you sent Me” (John 17:20-21). How were Jesus and the Father united? How were they one? By simply agreeing to disagree? By agreeing to recognize their doctrinal differences? Not hardly. They were one in their thought and in their teaching.
False teachers in the early church were marked. “Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple” (Romans 16:17-18).
Ninth, the New Testament church maintained the divine standard of morality. Works of the flesh were condemned. Paul wrote, “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21).
Those who walked disorderly were withdrawn from. Paul wrote, “But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us” (II Thessalonians 3:6). To the church at Corinth, Paul wrote, “But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner – not even to eat with such a person” (I Corinthians 5:11).
Members of the New Testament church were known by their love for one another. “Now all who believe were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:44-47).
Tenth, those who were in the New Testament church had a common hope. They realized they were “strangers and pilgrims on this earth” (I Peter 2:11). Their citizenship was in heaven. Paul wrote, “For our citizenship is in heaven, form which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself” (Philippians 3:20-21).
Eleventh, the New Testament church had specific conditions of membership. Prior to becoming a member of the New Testament church, a person had to hear the gospel. “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). He had to believe the gospel (Mark 16:16). He had to repent of his sins (Acts 2:38). He had to confess his belief that Jesus is the Son of God (Matthew 10:32-33). A person became a member of the New Testament church when he, or she, was baptized into the body of Christ (I Corinthians 12:13). This baptism we read about in the New Testament was an immersion in water (Romans 6:4-5). This baptism was for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38). It was through baptism that a person was placed into Christ, where all spiritual blessings are located (Ephesians 1:3). Paul wrote, “For you are all Sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:26-27).
Twelfth, members of the New Testament church continued to have Christ as their Advocate, High Priest, and Mediator (I John 2:1-2; I Timothy 2:5). “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
What do we learn from all of this? In the Bible, we read of only one church. All those who were saved were members of that one church. Christ’s one church was built according to the pattern. In order for the New Testament church to exist today, we must adhere to the patter given in the New Testament.