Note: In this material, the term “pastor” is used in its common usage; a leader of a denominational church. It is not used in the biblical sense as outlined and illustrated in the New Testament (Acts 20:17-32; 1 Pet. 5:1-4; 1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9).
3. Denominations Are Not The New Testament Church of Christ.
Have you ever heard a pastor admit this? Fact is, he probably doesn’t understand the concept very well. He may think his church is a “New Testament” church. He sees himself as a Christian, not Jew or something else. He would emphatically claim allegiance to Christ. However, when examined in light of the New Testament, the church he leads will fall far short of the Church of Christ.
Name. Most churches have names that are not found in the New Testament. Men chosen different ways of describing themselves, to distinguish themselves from others. For instance, those who followed Marin Luther called themselves Lutherans to distinguish themselves from Roman Catholics and let people know what they believed. Baptist called themselves such to let all know that baptism was integral to being a member of their church; namely adult baptism as opposed to those who sprinkled infants. Presbyterians are named after their form of church government, which distinguishes them from Methodists. All of these names and designations for the church are not found in the New Testament. They are extra-biblical; the doctrines of men (Matt. 15:7-9).
The Church in the New Testament is described in various ways, any of which is scriptural to use today. God’s people are collectively (universally and congregationally) known as the church (Acts 2:47; Matt. 18:17), the church of God (1 Cor. 1:2), the church(es) of Christ (Rom. 16:16), the body of Christ (Eph. 4:17), the kingdom (Col. 1:13, 18; Matt. 13:13), the house of God (1 Tim. 3:15). Each of these names describes a different relationship the church maintains. The church is merely those called out of the world, when attached to God or Christ it shows to whom the church belongs. The body describes a needed relationship between the various parts of the body and also submission to the Head’s direction (Eph. 1:22, 23; 4:4). The kingdom shows a governmental organization, a monarchy specifically, with rights for its citizens. House tells us the church is a family too with God as the Father and Jesus as the elder Brother (Heb. 2:11-14).
We know the names found in the New Testament are scriptural and pleasing to God, for He gave them. Those invented and used by men are without divine inspiration. They assume a place of authority that God has not given. A pastor will not teach this.
Note: Sometimes a church is designated by its location and/or those who are part of it (1 Thes. 1:1; Col. 4:16; Rev. 2:1; 3:14). This is never intended to be an official name where people in Rome would call themselves the church of Ephesus.
Organization/leadership. Generally, denominations have one man leading the local church. This is true even if their national or international organization is headed by a council. The typical leader in a church is a “pastor.” He is the minister and overseer of the work. There may be boards, but everyone knows who leads the church.
The Bible reveals something dramatically different. In the New Testament there is always a plurality of leaders in a local congregation. These men are variously described as elders (presbyter), bishops (overseers), or pastors (shepherds). There were “elders” at the church in Ephesus who were to “shepherd” (pastor) the flock of God among them (Acts 20:17, 28). These men who were elders had to meet certain qualifications to serve in the office and were also known as bishops (Titus 1:5-9; 1 Tim. 3:1-7). Again, there was always a plurality (2 or more) serving in local churches (Phil. 1:1; 1 Pet. 5:1-4; Acts 20:17). These terms were never used as titles, but merely descriptions of their duties or sphere of labor.
Today, men serve as the “Pastor.” Many love the important sounding titles, which are contrary to Jesus’ teaching (Matt. 23:2-12). They often lack the qualifications given by the Holy Spirit (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:7-9). Many are single men, when the Bible says they must be married with believing children. When they serve as the leader, they violate the scriptural principle of multiple leaders.
Also worthy of notice is the fact that an elder/pastor is distinct from a preacher/evangelist (Eph. 4:11). They are two different duties. One oversees the local church, the other serves as a teacher. Some of their labors may overlap, but nevertheless, they are different “offices.” Your average pastor will not acknowledge this.
Worship. Nearly all churches have forgotten worship is directed by God. He has revealed His will on the matter and not left it to man. The Holy Spirit guided the apostles and prophets into all truth (Jn. 16:13). There was not a truth they did not receive in New Testament times that we do not have today, and vice versa. Since the close of the New Testament near 100 AD, there has been no new revelation. Hence, all we know about God’s will for worship is in the New Testament of Jesus Christ; recorded and preserved for all generations.
The gospel reveals the saints engaged in five activities in their assemblies. They studied revelation, gave of their material possessions, observed the Lord’s supper, prayed, and sang songs (Acts 2:42; Eph. 5:19). Let’s break it down. The “apostles’ doctrine” of Acts 2:42 is the teaching/studying done by the congregation. This is the preaching part of the worship (Acts 20:7). The “fellowship” of Acts 2 is the giving on the first day of the week, which was often used to help saints in need (1 Cor. 16:1, 2; Acts 4:32-37; 6:1-6). The churches also commemorated the Lord’s death, burial, and resurrection with the unleavened bread and fruit of the vine (Matt. 26:17, 26-29; 1 Cor. 11:23-26). They did this on the first day of the week in the assembly (Acts 20:7). They prayed frequently (Acts 12:5). Saints also sang in the assembly (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). This was a simultaneous, reciprocal activity—a congregational activity, not a choir activity. They taught and admonished one another in this manner.
The typical pastor will go beyond what is revealed and direct a church in using instrumental music and incorporating multiple forms of entertainment into a worship service. He is leading the church outside the doctrine of Christ, and is therefore corrupting their worship (2 Jn. 9; Matt. 15:7-9).
If the typical church is not following the New Testament teaching of what a church is in name, organization, or worship, then it is not a New Testament church. It does not belong to Christ. Rather, it is a product of the traditions of men. Pastor help perpetuate this, leading people beyond and away from the doctrine of Christ (2 Jn. 9). Such ought to be rejected; embracing the New Testament as the sole guide for the church (2 Jn. 10, 11; Col. 3:17).