Seeking Old Paths --- (III.)
Seeking The Old Church
When Jesus was on earth, He taught the parable of the sower. In His explanation of the parable He said that the word of God is the seed of the kingdom. As the apostles and evangelists and members of the early church went forth preaching, their message was nothing other than the word of God. It was, therefore, the seed of the kingdom; and wherever this seed was sown and an increase given, it produced the kingdom of God or the church. The church of the first century was the model church for all ages to come. Those of us who believe that God has given a sufficient pattern for all ages seek to restore the old church — that is, the church as it was builded by the Lord. Those who have another attitude toward the New Testament have no desire to restore the church as it was in early days. A. W. Fortune in his Disciples in Kentucky sets forth these two attitudes:
The controversies through which the Disciples have passed from the beginning to the present time have been the result of two different interpretations of their mission. There have been those who believed it is the spirit of the New Testament Church that should be restored, and in our method of working the church must adapt itself to changing conditions. There have been those who regarded the New Testament Church as a fixed pattern for all time, and our business is to hold rigidly to that pattern regardless of consequences. Because of these two attitudes conflicts were inevitable. p. 383)
Since I fall into the category of "those who regarded the New Testament Church as a fixed pattern for all time, and our business is to hold rigidly to that pattern", I am vitally interested in seeking the old church. We must completely restore the church. How can this be done? The answer is expressed in the Lord's explanation of the parable of the sower: "The seed is the word of God." If we desire to restore the church, we must plant the seed — that and nothing more.
To restore the church simply means to go back to the church as it was before men departed from the faith by planting other seed than God's word. When men began to sow new seed, they produced a great monstrosity of a plant that had no resemblance to the Lord's plant. Roman Catholicism is another plant entirely. Men allowed heathen philosophies to replace simple faith, and pagan pageantry to be substituted for simple worship. Men with the lust for power turned from spiritual overseers to Bishops and Patriarchs over, several congregations, exercising temporal and spiritual power. Creeds were substituted for the divine word, and Christianity began to go into an eclipse that hid the beauty and purity of its worship and service.
Many noble men arose seeking to cut away the unsightly branches of this ugly plant in noble and far-reaching efforts at reformation. The results of their work was simply that other plants were planted because other seed was sown. The reason there are so many denominations today is because such a variety of seed has been sown.
In the nineteenth century, however, we see proper efforts being made at restoration. They were made by men's sowing the pure word of God — "speaking where the Bible speaks and being silent where the Bible is silent." This restored the old church, and if we today want the old church, we must plant only the word of God. It will never fail to produce the kingdom of God. Alexander Campbell expressed the proper idea when he said:
The Bible alone must always decide every question involving the nature, the character or the designs of the Christian institution. Outside of the apostolic canon, there is not, as it appears to me, one solid foot of ten-a firma on which to raise the superstructure ecclesiastic. (Richardson, Me-moat! of Alexander Campbell, Vol. II, p. 495)
Hence, to restore the church, one simply must return to the New Testament. What do we find by looking back to the Bible? What kind of a church was it? What were its marks of identity? What will it look like today?
In the first place let us observe that when the seed was sown, congregations were planted. The seed did not produce a super organization or an earthly headquarters. It simply produced local congregations. There was no other organization produced. Thus local congregations had a plurality of elders, bishops, or pastors to oversee. Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2.) The seed never produced one-man-rule over one or more churches. Such was produced by human seed many years thereafter.
These local congregations were called "churches of Christ." (Rom. 16:16.)
They Met Together Each Sunday To Eat The Lord's Supper. (Acts 20:7.) In Their Assemblies They Prayed (Acts 2:42), Sang Praises (Eph. 5:19), Taught The Word Of God (Acts 20:7), And In Their Lord's Day Assemblies They Gave Of Their Financial Means To The Lord. (1 Con 16:2.) These Local Churches Had No Other Creed Than The Word Of God.
To Them It Was A Sufficient Rule Of Faith And Practice. (1 Thes. 2:13.) The Individuals Who Composed These Congregations Were Christians. (Acts 11:26.) They Loved Each Other, And When Necessary They Gave Out Their Pockets To Help The Other Disciples Who Were In Need. Acts 11:27-30.) To Become Members People Had To Obey The Lord — Believe, Repent, Confess Christ, And Be Baptized. Then God Forgave Their Sins And Added Them To The Church. (Acts 2:47.)
How Restore This?
The way to restore this church is to preach the word of God. That word will produce the same thing now that it produced then. Anything that the word of God produces is the church of Christ. It is just that simple, yet it is just that demanding. Do you want to see the old church now? Then plant the old seed and it will produce after its kind — it will produce the kingdom of God.