Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
February 8, 1962
NUMBER 39, PAGE 4,13b

The New Testament Church


F. B. Srygley...(Gospel Advocate, July 9, 1931)

Every reader of the New Testament knows that the New Testament reveals a church, and when we speak of the New Testament church we mean that church. Jesus said: "And I also say unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it." (Matt. 16:18) There is some dispute as to when Jesus built this church, but more, I suppose, over the fact that he did build it. The question is, What did he build when he built his church? Jesus also said on the same occasion: "I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (verse 19) The "kingdom of heaven" in this verse evidently is the same as "my church" in the preceding verse.

In viewing the institution from the standpoint of its government, it is a kingdom, and Christ is the King in that government. It is an unlimited monarchy. Christ is King over his government, and all who submit to that rule are in his kingdom. Man enters this kingdom by a birth. Jesus said to Nicodemus: "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except one he born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." (John 3:5) Abraham's seed entered the fleshly family of Israel by a fleshly birth, but men enter the kingdom of heaven, which is a spiritual kingdom, by a new birth of water and the Spirit. We enter the church the same way. The church is called the "Family of God," and we enter that family by a birth. All of God's children are in his family. They did not join his family; they were born into it. As the kingdom of heaven embraces all the rule of Christ, so does the church. The church, in its universal sense, is made up of all of God's children, wherever they are. There is no organization of the church in this sense, for it is made up of all of God's people. It is not a denomination or a party in religion, but it is the spiritual body of Christ. God knows his own children, and they know their Father, though they may not be acquainted with each other. They cooperate with each other, wherever they are, as far as they operate under the direction of the same King.

There is another sense in which the word 'church" is used in the New Testament, and that is in a local sense. "For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and partly I believe it." (1 Cor. 11:18) The word "church" means a "called-out" body, and it is used as the congregation called out, or called together, for the worship of God. These were all in the church, if they were all Christians, before they came together as a congregation. Christians were not said to go to church in the New Testament, for they were in the church before they met as a congregation; but when they met together, they were the church.

The local church is often referred to in the New Testament as the church, but it is circumscribed by locality. We read: "Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, unto the church of God which is at Corinth, even them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place, their Lord and ours." (1 Cor. 1:1-2) It will be noted that the "church of God" in this passage is circumscribed by locality, the city of Corinth. The church of God in Corinth was made up of the saints in Corinth. Of course it consisted of all the sanctified ones or saints in that city. Again, the apostle said: "All the churches of Christ salute you." (Rom. 16:16) These were not different churches, but the same church in different localities. These local churches were separate and distinct from each other, and still they were alike in that they were all churches of Christ. They were all like the church of God at Corinth; in fact, that church, no doubt, was included with these. All the organization that there was in the New Testament church was the church in its local sense. The church in Corinth had no control over the church at Jerusalem. Each was able to act without the other.

Any organization that binds two or more churches together is a step toward a denomination. Any religious institution larger than a local church and yet smaller than the whole body of Christ is a human institution, with which the children of God have no connection. In Acts 9:31 we read: "The church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace." This was more than one congregation and less than the whole body of Christ. But in the territory specified it included all the children of God within that territory; yet it was not an organization, save as the local churches were organized.

I believe that all Christians in any community are the church in that locality, provided they are governed by the word of God; but if they have any organization binding them together except local congregations of Christians, they become a denomination. If they reject God's government and establish one of their own, they become a human institution. There is no precept or example in the New Testament for binding local churches together with any kind of an organization. The church in New Testament times had the same work to do that churches of Christ ought to do yet, and they did that work without any organization except the local church.

In the days of the apostles there were needy people, widows and orphans, just as there are today and the apostles taught the churches to care for them, and there was no organization or institution by which the churches were tied together in supporting them. Paul directed the church to care for the widows that were widows indeed, and there was nothing said about any institution except the church through which it was to be done. There were famine sufferers in Jerusalem, and their needs were supplied without anything in the way of an institution except the church in Jerusalem.

This is no new thing with people who have read the Gospel Advocate in the past. Missionary work and benevolent work was done in the early church without any organization except the local church. Brother Lipscomb said with reference to Brother McCaleb when he went to Japan: "Four churches in Tennessee and one in Kentucky agreed to support him, and their support was to be sent direct to him." (See Gospel Advocate, 1892, page 628.) Again, he said: "If one church asks all the churches in the state to give it all the funds they can give to general work, that the elders of one church may direct all the preaching and work in the State, then I say this is wrong, is subversive of divine order, and concentrates power in one church that God distributes to many." (Advocate, 1899, page 487.) Brother McQuiddy said: "There is no scriptural authority for one church directing the affairs of another." (Advocate, 1910, page 487) Brother Elam said: "The New Testament churches not only communicated directly to the missionaries they supported, but when they helped the poor saints they sent directly to those needing it. This we have seen in Acts 11:30: 'Which also they did, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.' And in the case of the Corinthians: 'Whomsoever ye shall approve, them will I send with letters to carry your bounty unto Jerusalem.' (1 Cor. 16:3) One church sent directly to the missionaries and directly to the poor independently of all other churches." (Advocate, 1897, page 358)

I make these quotations from the older brethren who have gone to their reward, not as proof (The N.T. furnishes that), but to show that I stand with them, and in doing so I stand in good company.