and Come Together!
What God Wants in the Community of Christ
Today we see thousands of people scattered in small towns, large cities, and the countryside who have come out of the religious bodies they once knew and are now virtually alone. They are scattered individuals, families, and small bands of seekers who no longer belong to the churches, denominations, and sects in which they once held membership.
These “come out people” are alone for various reasons, but many have made a conscious decision to leave the past behind, launching out on their own in search of something more alive, more honest, and more Scriptural. Some have found rampant unbelief in their former churches, and have taken Pauls words at face value: “Do not be bound together with unbelievers. . . . Come out from their midst and be separate, says the Lord” (2 Cor. 6:14a,17a). Others have read the command of the Lord to those in “Babylon the great”: “Come out of her, my people, that you may not participate in her sins” (Rev. 18:4). Still others have noted how the apostle Paul “withdrew from them [the Jews in the synagogue] and took away the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus” (Acts 19:9). If Paul withdrew from those who opposed the truth, they reason that we should do likewise today.
As these people have evaluated their past denominational affiliation, many have taken Christs own directive to heart: “Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit” (Matt. 15:13-14). They would rather not be led by “blind guides” in a human organization that the Lord will one day “root up.” Of course, there are those who observe the open worldliness and carnality in their church and see the parallel between this and the description Paul gave of the “difficult times” of “the last days” (2 Tim. 3:1-5). They note that Paul says of these carnal and worldly persons: “Avoid such men as these” (v. 5b). Counsel such as this has persuaded some to depart from their religious past and simply “come out” of the organized churches.
These devoted people have generally been dissatisfied with one or many aspects of their past religious involvements. As noted above, some have turned from outright apostasy and unbelief. They have had enough of the false teachers and choose to turn from false teaching (Romans 16:17-18). Some have decided to leave because of the growing worldliness seen in the churches, and they do not want their children exposed to this compromise (James 4:4; Eph. 6:4). Others have concluded that they can no longer condone the materialism and greed of the church members nor the prosperity teaching of their pastors (1 Tim. 6:9-10). Some of these earnest people have been sickened by the “easy believism” of their churches and the loose lifestyle that this teaching often produces. Still others have noted the widespread sexual immorality, adultery, and sometimes even homosexuality found in the established churches, and they cannot continue to tolerate the conditions that allow this to occur (Heb. 13:4; 1 Thess. 4:3-8).
Many parents who choose to home educate their children have deserted the churches, sensing that they are rejected by the majority who opt for public, secular, Godless schooling. And there are those who simply can no longer agree with the carnal, pleasure-loving, and worldly lifestyle promoted by the established churches they have known (Col. 3:1-2). A certain number of these “come out” people have noticed the difference between the primitive New Testament pattern and the present religious system that prevails in our world, and they simply choose to abandon what is obviously a departure from Scriptural ways.
A note might be added just here. There are devoted souls still in the mainline denominations, independent congregations, and small fellowships, who have not yet withdrawn their memberships or deserted their religious associations. Somehow they have assumed–or hopedthat their presence would make a difference. They have tried to influence the leadership or membership to establish more Biblical doctrines, to maintain a more godly lifestyle, or to develop a more uncompromising commitment to Jesus Christ. Yet their efforts have largely been of no avail. Their families are being influenced by the worldliness and carnality. Their own lives are being pulled down by the compromise. Their contributions are going to maintain an unscriptural system. They are afraid to bring friends and neighbors to visit lest they be influenced by the unscriptural elements. Although these committed souls are still within the established churches, they need to come out and seek something better, something more Scriptural, and something more pleasing to God. The challenge of God to them is the same uttered by Joshua: “Choose for yourselves today whom you will serve” (Josh. 24:15a).
The same commitment to Scripture that has impelled many to leave organized institutional churches and mainline denominations has persuaded other people to even leave various “house churches” and “home gatherings.” Just as institutional churches and denominationalism can deviate from Scripture, so these little home groups can be nearly as unbiblical. These groups can hold to various false teachings, be involved in widespread worldliness, partake of the gross immodesty of our age, participate in numerous unscriptural practices, embrace the secular feminist perspective, allow their children to be engrossed in carnal pleasures, and generally fall under the same judgment that organized churches do. Thus, some have departed from these more informal religious expressions and find themselves alone. Whether people have departed from these smaller groups or the huge institutions of Christendom, thousands find themselves alone, without close fellowship. Each person, each family, and each little pocket of “come out” people may be considered unique. Each one has his own story and reason for being alone–or nearly alone.
In general terms, these people hold certain elements in common. Usually they have departed from established churches, sects, and denominations. Generally, they have considerable interest in the Bible and are concerned about what it teaches. They are not only interested in right belief, but also right practice and a consistent lifestyle. Quite often these people have a great devotion toward training and disciplining their children in the ways of godliness. Fathers are usually interested in protecting their families from harmful influences in the world as well as in the religious institutions. Since they have found their former churches spiritually dead, worldly, or apathetic, they have initiated a quest to find spiritual life and reality. Some of these people have dreamed of returning to the New Testament order of life and worship, but they may simply not know where to begin.
We must admit that not all people who have come out of the established religions have the best of motives and most upstanding of character. Some of these are merely disgruntled troublemakers who are hard to get along with! Some have unpleasant personalities and dispositions, thus they have been rejected by fellow-members and leave with hard feelings. A certain number of these people are simply self-oriented individuals who cannot get along with other people and really do not like people. Surely there is a sizable element of these people who hold false doctrines, thus they cannot feel welcome in a more orthodox association. A few of these ones may have actually been excommunicated upon various grounds. And then there are those who are basically content to walk alone. They may imagine that they have a special relationship with God and dont need other people, nor do other people need them!
WHAT DOES GOD WANT?
We have discussed enough about the reasons why people are out on their own. Do you fit the description that we have just given? Are you one of these people who have departed from your previous church or denomination and are now by yourself? On the other hand, perhaps you have made some kind of commitment to the Lord in the past but subsequently never became a member of a congregation. For whatever reason, if you are presently alone and wondering how you should look at your situation, God does have an answer. We now need to search the Scriptures to see what God says about those who are not in organized religious bodies but are searching for answers.
IDEALLY, GOD DOES NOT WANT ISOLATION
As we read through the New Testament Scriptures, we can see that, ideally, God does not want people to be alone. There are exceptions, however, and Scripture does reveal this aspect of the problem. For example, remember the Ethiopian who turned to the Lord in baptism, then apparently went on to his destination as a lone Christian (cf. Acts 8:35-39). Consider also Paul who wrote from a Roman prison, “All who are in Asia turned away from me,” then he acknowledged, “At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me” (2 Tim. 1:15; 4:16). Of course, John the baptizer must have spent lengths of time alone in the desert–but his was a unique case (cf. Luke 1:80). Some people think that Paul may have spent an extended time alone in Arabia after his conversion–but this is mere assumption, and probably mistaken (cf. Gal. 1:17; Acts 26:16-20). We might also remember the apostle John who may have been banished to the island called Patmos as a lone individual (cf. Rev. 1:9). These Biblical references to aloneness are exceptions and not the rule. To be alone and want this isolation is not for our good and it generally does not fit into Gods plan for us.
If a Christian is in fellowship with only one or two other believers, this is better than living in isolation. Remember Solomons counsel: “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up” (Eccles. 4:9-10). In another place the wise man says, “He who separates himself seeks his own desire, he quarrels against all sound wisdom” (Prov. 18:1). Jesus also spoke of the significance of only two or three believers meeting together: “Where two or three have gathered together in My name, there I am in their midst” (Matt. 18:20). We must conclude that God ideally does not want you to be by yourself. He wants you to be in fellowship with other obedient believers, providing they are available to you.
SCRIPTURAL EXAMPLES OF BELIEVING COMMUNITIES
(1) Acts of the Apostles. As we work our way through Acts, we clearly see that the early Christians were members of the body of Christ and part of local communities of believers. On the day of Pentecost, those who responded to Peters message in repentance and baptism (Acts 2:38-39) were “added” to the body of believers (vv. 41-42). Thereafter, “the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved” (v. 47). Even after this, we read that “believers in the Lord” were “added” to the community in Jerusalem (5:14).
After Paul the apostle turned to Christ by being baptized, washing away his sins, and calling on the Lords name, the record says that “he was with the disciples who were at Damascus” (Acts 22:16; 9:18-19). Later, when he went to Jerusalem, Paul sought to “associate with the disciples” (9:26). Luke tells us that many years later Paul and Barnabas “lived in fellowship with the congregation” in Antioch and taught the disciples (11:26, NEB). Later both of these men toured the Galatian area of Asia Minor, bringing people to salvation, then revisited each town (13-14). Luke says that they “appointed elders for them in every assembly” of disciples (14:22-23). These references show that believers were associated with other believers in the various geographical localities.
Consider also the first preaching in Europe. Four “evangelists” or proclaimers of the good news of Christ (Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke), spoke to a group of women in Philippi. Lydia and her household responded in baptism, thereby becoming the nucleus of Gods community in the city (Acts 16:13-15). Others responded to the message of Christ and these “brethren” apparently met in Lydias house (v. 40). As Paul went from city to city, Jews, God-fearing Gentiles, and pagan Gentiles turned to Christ and His salvation. They would automatically be part of the community or assembly of saved ones in their given locality. When Paul would visit certain towns, he could gather the local disciples together, for they were known to each other (cf. 21:4,7,8; 27:3; 28:14). Even if the number was small, it was assumed that they would have fellowship–providing they were true to the apostles teaching.
(2) The Epistles. A wealth of evidence is available in the apostolic letters to show that it was a “given” that those who were saved and obedient to the Lord would be associated with each other. Consider the fact that most of the letters were written to actual communities of believers in prominent cities (Romans, Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians). Some of the letters were more general in nature, such as those addressed to Christians in various geographical areas (Galatians, 1 Peter). This points to the importance of the “community aspect” of early Christian life.
In a large city such as Rome (with an estimated one million people), believers were associated with small house assemblies. For example, Paul sends greetings to his beloved friends, Priscilla and Aquila, as well as the “assembly that is in their house” (Romans 16:5). He greets five brothers and “the brethren with them”–perhaps a reference to another house assembly (v. 14). He greets five other saints and “all the saints who are with them” (v. 15). As Paul writes his letter to the Romans, he sends greetings from Gaius who is “host” to Paul and to “the whole assembly” (v. 23). These simple references reveal that Christians were generally associated with others in a common bond of faith and love–even if their numbers in various locations happened to be small.
(3) Revelation. The last book in the New Testament was written to seven assemblies in ancient Asia (present Asia Minor). These believing communities were located in the cities of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea (Revelation 2-3). It is interesting to note that the gospel first went to people living in the larger cities, then the smaller cities, and finally, at a much later date, it reached into the countryside. But wherever people responded to the truth of Christ, they would seek fellowship with others who had likewise responded in the same way and held to a “common salvation” (cf. Jude 3).
(4) The Gospels. Even in the Gospels we see a hint of what lies ahead in the plans of Christ. For instance, Jesus speaks of dealing with a brothers sin and bringing reconciliation between brothers (Matt. 18:15-20). Here He seems to anticipate the conditions to come for he says if the sinner fails to repent even after a second confrontation with witnesses, one should “tell it [the sin and unrepentance] to the assembly” (v. 17). What assembly or community? Apparently this is a reference to the local body of disciples to which the persons belong.
PRESUPPOSITIONS IN THE APOSTOLIC LETTERS
An abundance of information in the New Testament letters presuppose that the readers will be in a context where they can carry out certain instructions. Notice several examples.
(1) One Another Relationships. Again and again in the New Testament we are instructed to respond to brothers and sisters in a reciprocal way. This relationship is often uniquely expressed with the pronoun “one another” (Gk., allelon) or, occasionally, the same thought is conveyed by “each other” (Gk., heautos; and also by heis ton hena, e.g., 1 Thess. 5:11). This speaks of a mutuality or a “give and take” relationship of giving and receiving. It speaks of a reciprocal relationship.
Notice the following directives employing this thought:
- “Give preference to one another in honor” (Rom. 12:10).
- “Be of the same mind toward one another” (Rom. 12:16).
- “Pursue . . . the building up of one another” (Rom. 15:19).
- “Admonish one another” (Rom. 15:14).
- “Greet one another” (Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20).
- “Have the same care for one another” (1 Cor. 12:25).
- “Through love serve one another” (Gal. 5:13).
- “Bear one anothers burdens” (Gal. 6:2).
- “Showing forbearance to one another in love” (Eph. 4:2).
- “Be kind to one another” (Eph. 4:32).
- “Forgiving each other” (Eph. 4:32; cf. Col. 3:13).
- “Regard one another as more important” (Phil. 2:3).
- “Teaching . . . one another” (Col. 3:16).
- “Encourage one another day after day” (Heb. 3:13).
- “Build up one another” (1 Thess. 5:11).
- “Live in peace with one another” (1 Thess. 5:13).
- “Seek after that which is good for one another” (1 Thess. 5:15).
- “Stimulate one another to love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24).
- “Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another” (James 5:16).
- “Be hospitable to one another without complaint” (1 Pet. 4:9).
- “Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another” (1 Pet. 5:5).
As we mentioned above, these instructions presuppose that the recipients are able to carry out these “one another” instructions by giving to and receiving from other truly saved brothers and sisters. This implies a close, rich, and ongoing association with others.
(2) Instructions for Unity and Togetherness. The New Testament writers have as their constant refrain the unity of those in the body of Christ. For instance, Paul writes to the Corinthian brothers: “Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree, and there be no divisions among you, but you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10). He made a similar reference in his letter to the saints in Philippi: “I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving for the faith of the gospel” (Phil. 1:27). Again, “Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose” (2:2). To the Romans, Paul wrote, “Be of the same mind toward one another” (12:16). He longed for God to grant them to be of “the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, that with one accord” they might “with one voice” glorify God (15:5-6). The early disciples were “together and had all things in common” (Acts 2:44). They continued with “one mind” and the “congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul” (2:46; 4:32). These examples and instructions underline the emphasis on a togetherness of relationship and life.
(3) Relationships Assumed. A number of passages give evidence of relationships–and these relationships are needed to carry out the specified commands. For example, the Hebrew writer says, “Encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called Today, lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:13). Later in the book, the same writer says, “Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near” (10:24-25). Peter says, “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10). Scriptures such as these are carried out as we relate to other children in Gods family.
(4) Withdrawal of Fellowship. The many places where Christians are instructed to withdraw fellowship from others assume that they will be in fellowship with others who are not excluded. For instance, Paul says we are “not to associate with” so-called brothers or sisters who are sexually immoral, greedy, idolatrous, slanderous, or who engage in drunkenness and swindling (cf. 1 Cor. 5:11; cf. vv. 1-13). In another place, Paul says that believers are to “keep aloof from” and not to “associate with” those who do not follow apostolic tradition (2 Thess. 3:6,14-15). These kinds of negative instructions show, conversely, that we are to associate with true Christians who are living holy lives and who follow the apostles instructions (see also Matt. 18:15-20; Titus 3:10-11).
Even the missions of disciples to preach the gospel reveal the importance of association with other believers. In His “limited” commission during His earthly ministry, Christ sent the twelve out “in pairs” to preach the kingdom of God and repentance (Mark 6:7,12). Later, He appointed seventy others and “sent them two and two ahead of Him” (Luke 10:11). The “Great Commission” (Matt. 28:18-20) was somewhat different since it was intended for all of His followers and not just certain of His disciples. It did not specify going in pairs.
However, as we survey the way the commission was carried out, generally we observe that the apostles and others did have companionship. Many times disciples would go out in pairs (cf. Acts 3:1; 8:14; 11:25-26; 15:39-40; 17:10; 18:5; 19:22). Sometimes three disciples would travel (cf. Acts 13:2-5; 16:3; 1 Cor. 16:17) and sometimes even more (cf. Acts 10:23; 11:12; 20:4). Of course, we cannot overlook the fact that sometimes we find instances of single persons also traveling and preaching (cf. Acts 8:26-27; 9:26,30,32; 11:22; 15:2; 17:14; 18:27; 20:13; Phil. 2:19,25). We must conclude that the travels of early disciples to preach and teach generally involved two or more persons, yet sometimes, for whatever reason, a lone person traveled and preached alone.
THE BODY OF CHRIST
Another concept that reveals the importance of fellowship with true believers is that of the body of Christ. Paul, in a number of contexts, speaks of the intimate relationship brothers and sisters should have with one another within the spiritual “body” of believers of which Christ is the Head (cf. Eph. 1:22-23; 4:15-16; Col. 1:18,24; 2:19). Notice this statement: “We, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Rom. 12:5).
1 Corinthians 12 gives the most extensive treatment of this theme. Here Paul writes, “Even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ” (1 Cor. 12:12). He continues: “Now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired” (v. 18; cf. vv. 12-27). Each person is a specific “member” of the “body” and each one has a purpose to fulfill. One who separates himself and is content in such a state is denying the truth that the apostle is describing in these passages.
ESSENTIAL POINTS OF UNITY
It is one thing to point out the Biblical emphasis on unity, togetherness, and mutuality, and it is another to see this worked out in a practical way. Nothing that we have said should be construed to mean that all of those who have come out of apostate denominations or worldly churches should be together. People have departed from their past religious affiliations for many different reasons–and not all of them are good. What God does want is for His beloved children, who are determined to follow Him with all of their hearts, to come together in intimate fellowship that is in harmony with His own will.
Lets discuss this for a moment. Any “coming together” must be based on Scripturewhich is the very mind and will of God. Apart from this, we simply see a religious organizationeven if that association is loose and non-institutional. The written Word of God definitely is foundational: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Just as the man of God is equipped, so the community of God is “equipped for every good work” through Scripture. Paul stated that we must not only accept the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament), but we must receive the apostles words as well. He wrote, “When you received from us the word of Gods message, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe” (1 Thess. 2:13; cf. 1 Cor. 14:37). Gods Word works in Gods people. We must humbly yield to “sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the teaching conforming to godliness” if we would be the body of Christ (1 Tim. 6:3; cf. Matt. 28:20; John 17:8,20; Acts 2:42).
We should be able to see that true Christians can only come together if they are willing to believe and submit to Gods written Word. All members of the body must be willing to lay aside their human, churchly traditions which can actually “invalidate” or “nullify” the Word of God (Mark 7:13; cf. vv. 7,8,9). They must turn from “the tradition of men” (Col. 2:8) to the apostles teachings and traditions (2 Thess. 2:15; 3:6). They must not depend upon their own subjective feelings, visions, dreams, ideas, reasonings, and theologies that would conflict with the firm and steadfast Word of God that will never pass away (cf. Jer. 23:16, 21-32; Prov. 3:5-6; Matt. 24:35). The words of the Lord Jesus Christ (Matt. 7:24-27) and of His apostles and prophets (Luke 10:16; John 13:20; Eph. 2:20) provide the solid foundation for the community of Christ.
Let us notice more carefully some of the points of agreement that those truly saved must have if they would come together in a united fellowship of love for Gods glory.
THE BASIS OF BELIEF
Obviously, the believing community must unitedly believe in Someone and something! The idea that people can come together and find fellowship in Christ without a concern for the basis of belief is unreasonable, illogical, as well as unscriptural. Much could be said about saving faith as described in Scripture. We must have a “mental” or “historical” faith in certain facts. We must also wholly trust and rely on Christ Jesus as Sin-bearer and Sin-offering. Further, we must humbly surrender to Christ in absolute submission to His Lordship. Let us notice the essential content of saving faith or the object of this faith:
- There is only one God and Father (1 Cor. 8:6).
- God is one (Mark 12:29; James 2:19).
- This God is Creator and He has created all things, in contrast to evolutionary theories (Acts 17:24-31; 4:24).
- God loved the world and sent His only Son (John 3:16).
- Jesus is the Anointed One (Christ, Messiah), the Son of the Living God (Matt. 16:16; John 20:30-31; 1 John 5:1,5).
- Jesus is Lord (Romans 10:9) and Savior (1 John 4:14).
- Jesus was conceived and born of a virgin (Matt. 1:23).
- Jesus lived a sinless life (1 John 3:3,5,7).
- Jesus died for our sins (1 Peter 2:24; 3:18).
- Jesus was bodily raised from the dead (1 Cor. 15:1-4).
- Jesus ascended to God the Father and will return to judge the world (Acts 2:33-35; 17:31).
- Jesus is the only way of salvation from sin, death, and eternal punishment (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Tim. 2:5).
We know, of course, that we are saved “by grace . . . through faith” (Eph. 2:8), but it is vital for us to know just what one must believe in order to be saved in this way. An assembly has the proper foundation when members of the body have this full, solid, comprehensive, saving faith in God through the Lord Jesus Christ. Apart from this, there is no salvation. And if there is no salvation for the individual apart from this informed, Scriptural faith, we know that the community of believers as a whole must embrace this kind of faith.
THE GREAT COMMISSION
Evidently, many fail to realize the utter importance of our Lords parting commands to His followers before He departed from this world to sit at the Fathers right hand in heaven. Some actually dismiss His instructions as relevant only for the first century. More likely, people simply acknowledge that Jesus said these words but they do not take them with the complete seriousness that they deserve.
It is impossible to do justice to all that Jesus said at this time. Let us simply quote His words and make several observations.
(1) Matthew 28:18-20
In the first recorded account of the “commission,” the Lord Jesus said: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:18-20). Carefully examine Christs inspired statement again. We can glean several points from His words:
- Christs words are based on His universal authority (v. 18).
- Followers or “disciples” are to be made of all nations (v.19).
- They are to be baptized “into the name of” (i.e., into a relationship with or possession of) the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (v. 19).
- Actually, they are to be “immersed” into this relationship (the Greek term baptizo means to immerse, dip, sink, submerge, plunge, and overwhelm).
- These immersed disciples are to be taught to obey all that Jesus commanded (v. 20).
- As they obey His instructions in the commission, Christ promises His presence to the end of the age (v. 20).
Can you begin to see how absolutely important this passage is for the community of saints?
(2) Mark 16:15-16
Now notice the next account of Christs commission to His followers: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16). We can learn several points from these words:
- The gospel is to be preached to all people (v. 15).
- The one who has believed in the gospel (the good news) of Christ and has been baptized (immersed) “shall be saved” (v. 16).
- The one who refuses to believe shall be condemned (v. 16).
We must pay special attention to these aspects of the commission, for a community of saints must acknowledge them as basic truths of Christ Jesus the Lord.
(3) Luke 24:46-47
The account of the commission in Luke adds further information: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day; and that repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46-47). Notice several facts from this passage:
- The gospel of Christ is announced (His suffering and rising from the dead) (v. 46).
- All nations are required to repent of their sins (v. 47).
- This repentance will bring the forgiveness of sins (v. 47).
Since this commission of the Lord is slightly different from the others, it adds valuable information so that we might know the full will of the risen Lord.
(4) The Day of Pentecost (Acts 2)
We must now ask the vital questions, “Did the apostles understand Christs words the way that we have? Did they carry out this commission very carefully?” The Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) is the great “test” case, for this is when the Holy Spirit was first given and the occasion when the gospel of Christ was first proclaimed in its fullness. Read the entire passage for yourself (vv. 1-41). Notice particularly this portion:
Conclusion: “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christthis Jesus whom you crucified” (v. 36).
Question: “Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, Brethren, what shall we do?” (v. 37).
Answer: “And Peter said to them, Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ . . . .” (v. 38a).
Purpose: “. . . for the forgiveness of your sins;”
Promise: “and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (v. 38b).
Extent: “For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself” (v. 39).
Appeal: “And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, Be saved [save yourselves] from this perverse generation!” (v. 40).
Response: “So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousand souls” (v. 41).
Did the proceedings on the day of Pentecost conform with the precise instructions of the Lord in His Great Commission? Exactly! Let us summarize:
- The gospel of Christ was proclaimed (vv. 22-36).
- Peter urged the sinful hearers to repent of their sins (v. 38).
- He said that they should repent and be baptized (immersed) in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of those sins (v. 38).
- He says that God would give those who so respond “the gift of the Holy Spirit” (v. 38).
- This promise is available to all people (v. 39).
- He calls upon the hearers to save themselves from the destiny awaiting those who remain in their sins (v. 40).
- Those who responded favorably to Peters word were immediately baptized in water (v. 41).
- Those who received the word of salvation (v. 41), believed in Christ (v. 44), repented of their sins (v. 38), and were baptized (vv. 38,41) were brought into fellowship with the apostles and each other (v. 41).
We have not examined the many additional passages that would clarify the message preached by the early disciples and the response of those who wanted to be saved and forgiven, but there are many of them (cf. Acts 3:19,26; 8:12-13, 35-39; 10:42,47-48; 11:18; 16:13-15, 30-34; 17:30-31; 18:8; 19:1-6; 20:21; 22:16; 26:18-20).
We must conclude that when Christ (the Head) forms His people (the body), He works according to the revelation that He has already given in the Scriptures. When God the Father creates His family, He does so in harmony with what He has disclosed in His written Word. Anyone today who would “come out” of his or her religious background should think long and carefully upon these truths.
THE SAME SOURCE OF AUTHORITY
All believers in Christ or members of the body must have the same ultimate source of authority. In the religious world, people look to various sources that only result in confusion, delusion, and division. Notice several prominent ones:
(1) Subjective Experiences. Many people think they have experienced something (a dream, vision, appearance, or conversion itself) and then they rely upon this for their salvation and test of truth.
(2) Personal Feelings or Intuition. Numerous people are convinced that something must be true because of certain “spiritual” or religious or good feelings they have had about it.
(3) Inward “Promptings,” “Impressions,” “Voices,” “Words,” and “Leadings.” Some devoted people are entirely dominated by these subjective perceptions and they rely upon them as their basis of decision-making and test of truth.
(4) Religious Tradition. Many religious people emphasize human traditions that have been sanctified by centuries of loyalty. What the ancestors or founding fathers believed and taught becomes the chief consideration.
(5) Creeds, Confessions, Statements, Church Rules, and Disciplines. These documents flow from fallible men, thus they cannot lead infallibly to the truth.
(6) A Religious Leader–a “Pope,” Pastor, Prophet, Preacher, Priest, Evangelist, Bishop, President. Such men are fallible and usually false in their views and pronouncements, thus they cannot be relied upon for ultimate truth.
(7) Religious Councils, Conferences, Conventions. Such groups of fallible men, sitting in session, have erred and been led by less than honorable motives, thus their pronouncements cannot carry ultimate authority.
(8) The “Church.” Generally, those who say that one must be subject to “church authority” really do not actually mean the church (the people as a whole). Instead, they usually refer to the leadership that exercises control and authority over the church by right of office (whether this be the so-called “pope,” the bishops, the priest, or any other ecclesiastical leader).
(9) Parents, Spouse, or Other Family Member. Family members may simply wish to perpetuate a false doctrine or religious affiliation, thus they cannot be relied on for truth.
All of these may err and have erred in the past. One may feel saved, think he is saved, and assume he is saved, yet all the while be lost! Remember, “The heart is more deceitful than all else” (Jer. 17:9a). One may experience happiness, and peace–but his heart may be unchanged and hardened to truth. One may give evidence of “fruit” but even this may be deceptive to those who observe. In all of this we must have a decisive distrust in our feelings, our experiences, our perceptions, and our views. “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Prov. 14:12). What, then, is our ultimate authority?
- God is Our Ultimate Authority. “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29; cf. Rom. 3:4).
- Christ Has All Authority. “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18; cf. Eph. 1:20-22; Col. 1:17-18; Phil. 2:9-11).
- The Word of God and of Christ Has All Authority. “The word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day” (John 12:48b).
The community of saints must recognize that God the Father and Christ Jesus the Lord are final authority. Whatever God has revealed is true. Whatever Jesus commanded for us must be obeyed. Whatever Scripture affirms we must believe. Whatever Gods Word commands, we must submit to and obey.
As all of the members of the body refuse to be deluded by substitute or counterfeit sources of authority, they may have proper direction. As the entire assembly has absolute commitment to Gods authority, the believers will be able to function harmoniously with each other. As they look to Gods will in all that they do, as they seek the words of Christ for direction, as they become diligent students of Scripture, they will have the authority they need in life.
THE SOLID FOUNDATION
A building is only as reliable as its foundation. If the foundation is weak or malformed, the edifice itself may fall. As we search Scripture, we notice that the figure of a building is used several times and in each case we can learn something about the community of Christ.
First, the community is built on the truth that Jesus is the Christ (Anointed), the Son of God. Peter confessed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My assembly, and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it” (vv. 17-18). Some say that this refers to Peter, the chief apostle, but this is unlikely. Probably it refers to the truth of Christs identity–or perhaps to Christ Himself.
Second, Paul refers to the fact that he was “a wise master builder” who “laid a foundation” at Corinth when he first preached the gospel in this city (1 Cor. 3:10). He continues, “No man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (v. 11). Just as Christ Jesus was the foundation of “Gods building” that Paul would begin (v. 9), any community of believers that would begin today must likewise be founded on Jesus Christ, the Lord and Savior.
Third, Paul writes to the Ephesians and likens the people of the Lord to “Gods household” (2:19b). He continues, “. . . having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone” (v. 20). The New Testament apostles and prophets (cf. 3:5; 4:11) were the “foundation” for they communicated Gods infallible and authoritative will to His people. We too must have this same foundation if we would be part of Gods household or family.
Fourth, Jesus adds to the above by giving us the parable of two builders (Matt. 7:24-27). He refers to the “wise man” who “built his house upon the rock” (v. 24). This represents the person who hears (or reads) Christs Words and acts upon them. What is true of the single person in Christs story is true of a community of saints. They must hear, read, receive, believe, obey, and teach His words if they would be built upon the solid rock of His Word.
Let faithful disciples today be careful that they build with wisdom and according to Gods plan. Let them make sure that Christ Himself, the truth of His identity, the revelation of the messengers of God, and the words of Christ constitute the foundation upon which everything else rests. Some today are building upon popular evangelists, ecclesiastical traditions, and church leaders. Others base their congregational life upon extrabiblical revelation, dreams, voices, visions, and subjective feelings. Let us not try to build a community of saints upon this kind of faulty groundwork.
THE SEVEN POINTS OF UNITY
When Paul writes to the Ephesians, he exhorts them to be “diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). He then proceeds to enumerate seven truths that all of the believers in Ephesus embraced and could affirm. Perhaps he mentions seven since it is commonly considered the number of completeness. Since these points are so closely bound with the unity of the Spirit (a unity produced by the Holy Spirit), we can safely say that a community of true believers today will unitedly hold to these same truths. Notice the seven that Paul mentions in this section (vv. 4-6):
“One body”–There is only one body of Christ, consisting of all those who “by one Spirit . . . were all baptized into one body” (1 Cor. 12:13a). The body refers to the people of God, the family of God, the assembly or community of Christ ((Eph. 1:22-23; 5:23,25; Rom. 16:16). This truth definitely would censure those who promote and rejoice in extra-Biblical organization, sectarianism, and denominationalism.
“One Spirit”–The Holy Spirit is given to those who believe in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:14; Eph. 1:13-14). Scripture also says that God gives the Spirit to those who obey Him (Acts 5:32) and turn to Him in repentance and baptism (Acts 2:38-38; Gal. 3:26-27 with 4:6). The Spirit of God produces fruit (Gal. 5:22-23) and provides believers with the strength and power to overcome sin and live in holiness (Rom. 8:13; Eph. 3:16).
“One hope”–They were “called in one hope of [their] calling.” The Christian looks forward to the Kingdom of God (2 Peter 1:11; Matt. 25:31-34), the “dwelling places” that Jesus has gone to prepare (John 14:1-3), and a heavenly inheritance (1 Peter 1:3-4). All of this is centered in Jesus Himself, “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). We have a “blessed hope” of His appearing in glory (Titus 2:13). Each Christian will find great solace in such a hope for the future!
“One Lord”–True believers have embraced Jesus as Lord at their conversion and continue to submit to Him as Lord throughout their life. Paul said that if one “confesses” with his mouth Jesus as Lord, and believes in his heart that God raised Him from the dead, he will be saved (Rom. 10:9-10). But a surrender to His Lordship must continue through life: “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him” (Col. 2:6). This acknowledgment of His Lordship must be seen in actual submission to Him, a practical obedience to His will. Jesus rightly asked, “Why do you call Me, Lord, Lord, and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46; cf. Matt. 7:21).
“One Faith”–All true believers give allegiance to the same “faith.” Evidently this is the objective use of the term, referring to the object of saving faith or the body of truths to which our personal faith responds. It refers to the gospel of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:1-4), the gospel of Gods grace (Acts 20:24), and the gospel of the kingdom (Acts 28:31). We must “contend earnestly” for these truths (Jude 3) and continue in the faith if we expect to stand acceptable before the Lord (Col. 1:22-23).
“One Baptism”–The singular act of baptism (immersion) stands at the beginning of the Christian life, as we have discovered in our examination of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:16), the examples in the book of Acts (2:38-41; 8:12, 36-39; 10:47-48; 16:14-15, 33-34; 18:8; 19:5; 22:16), and the explanation of the New Testament letters (Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:26-27; Col. 2:11-13; 1 Pet. 3:20- 21). There is both a spiritual aspect to the act (the Holy Spirit–Acts 2:38-39; Gal. 3:26-27 with 4:6; Acts 19:1-6) and a material aspect (water–Acts 8:36-39; 10:47-48; cf. Eph. 5:26?; John 3:5?). Like the other elements, baptism is an experience that all the Ephesians had in common.
“One God and Father”–Obviously, this is a truth that every Christian at Ephesus had embraced. It is foundational to all other essential truths in Scripture. Again and again we read that there is only one true God (1 Cor. 8:6; 1 Tim. 1:17; 2:5; 6:15) and that He is both the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ (1 John 1:3) and the Father of His spiritual sons and daughters (1 John 3:1-2; 2 Cor. 6:18). True Christians have the assurance that they are children of God, a relationship that brings blessings and spiritual security (Rom. 8:14-17).
These seven basic truths are the kind that must be understood, believed, obeyed, and taught by the faithful community of Christ. They are essential and non-negotiable. While the list surely is not complete, we can see how vital these facts are.
THE ELEMENTARY TEACHING
A similar list to that above is found at Hebrews 6:1-2. The inspired writer says, “Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of . . .” (v. 1a). He proceeds to list six “basics” that constitute the “foundation” or the elementary teaching about the Christ. The assumption is that his readers would have been taught or experienced these basics at the beginning of their Christian life. Notice the ones he mentions:
(1) “Repentance from dead works” (v. 1). To be forgiven, these people were required to repent of sinful “acts that lead to death” (NIV). Apart from this inner change of heart, they would die in their sins and be lost (Rom. 6:21-23; John 8:24).
(2) “Faith toward God” (v. 1). In order to be saved, they also had to exercise a living “faith in God” (NIV). Clearly, this would include a faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior from sin (John 5:24; 14:1; 1 Peter 1:21).
(3) “Washings” (v. 2). The term is baptismon (Gk., b a p t i s m o n ), from baptismos, hence “baptisms” (NIV, KJV). This could be a reference to the need of distinguishing baptism (immersion) into Christ from Johns baptism, Jewish proselyte baptism, and even pagan “baptisms.” Application to our contemporary context may mean showing the difference between Christian baptism and various denominational baptisms.
(4) “Laying on of hands” (v. 2). Perhaps this may be a reference to the bestowment of the Spirit or spiritual gifts (Acts 8:17; 19:5-6; 9:12,17), seeking blessing for a preaching work for God (Acts 13:3), appointment to a position in the assembly (Acts 6:6), or the means of healing (Mark 16:18; Acts 28:8).
(5) “Resurrection of the dead” (v. 2). We know that the resurrection of Christ is central to the gospel message (1 Cor. 15:4; cf. vv. 1-20; Rom. 10:9; 14:9). However, not only Christs resurrection, but also that of believers (1 Thess. 4:16; 1 Cor. 15:22-23, 35-58) and all people in general (John 5:28-29) may be in view.
(6) “Eternal judgment” (v. 2). Believers must understand something of Gods judgment upon those in sin. We should be entirely convinced of His righteous wrath upon the sinner (Rom. 1:18), the eternal fire that awaits them (Matt. 25:41), and the eternal punishment that will be their destiny (Matt. 25:46).
These are the kind of truths and experiences that make up the “elementary teaching about the Christ.” Therefore, they should be embraced by all who would begin life in His body.
HOW DO WE BEGIN?
You may say, “What I have read makes sense. I am convinced that this is Scriptural and represents Gods will. But how do we begin?” This is a reasonable question in view of what we have learned so far. Let us briefly note a number of points you should carefully consider and apply in order to carry out the plan of God.
(1) Make sure you understand what we have discussed in the earlier portion of this booklet.
Go back and reread it if you need to more clearly understand it. Look up and read the Scripture passages. You must see Gods ideal and have the motivation to pursue it.
(2) Pray for more spiritual light.
There is little hope for the one who is content with his present limited understanding. Be willing to honestly, earnestly pray that God might give you even more spiritual light on your own situation as well as any group to which you presently belong. The psalmist prayed, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Thy law” (Psalm 119:18). He said further, “The unfolding of Thy words gives light” (v. 130a). Seek Gods guidance in the very important aspect of your life.
(3) Make sure of your own salvation.
It is evident that you cannot begin a Scriptural community of believers unless you are fully convinced of your own salvation. We know that most religious people, most church members, and even most professing Christians are not genuinely saved. “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matt. 22:14). “Someone said to Him, Lord, are there just a few who are being saved? And He said to them, Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Luke 13:23-24). The “fewness” of those saved also is true of devoted people who have “come out” of established churches and denominations in search of a better way. Jesus plainly said:
“Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it“(Matt. 7:13-14).
Jesus went on to say that although many call Jesus “Lord,” only the few are willing to humbly and wholeheartedly do the will of God in heaven (Matt. 7:21-23).
Therefore, you should think through your own past and what you assumed was your “conversion” or “salvation experience” or “born again experience” (people use different terms). Compare this with all that God says in His Word about being forgiven of sin. Did you truly believe in Jesus? Did you trust in His saving death on the cross? Did you turn from a reliance upon your own goodness and religion? Did you truly repent of your sins and turn from all wrong? Did you confess Jesus as Lord and purpose to live in obedience to Him? Were you baptized (immersed) into a living relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit? Did you call upon the Lord for His salvation? Questions such as these should clarify your own standing with God. If you have not truly been saved in the past, now is the time for you to personally respond to His saving grace. (Write for more information on this vital point if you would like further explanation.)
(4) Make sure of the salvation of others with whom you meet and have fellowship.
Maybe you are not totally alone but do have some close friends with whom you have some spiritual interest. Just as you must inquire about your own relationship with God, do not wrongly assume that the dear friends and loved ones with whom you have fellowship are truly saved. Just as you had to be honest with yourself and admit that you might have been deceived, they too may have been mistaken about this crucial matter. They may be devoted, sacrificial, caring people, who enjoy praying, singing, reading Scripture, and talking about Jesus, but they may still be in need of further light and genuine salvation (cf. Acts 10:2-4, 31-34 with 11:14).
God will honor and reward a group of people who are seriously concerned about His truth and yearn to do His will (cf. Acts 17:11). Therefore, before you proceed further, you need to settle the issue of your own salvation and the salvation of those who are in close fellowship with you–if there are any.
(5) If you have been Scripturally saved in the past, honestly look at your present relationship with God.
Look also at your family and any friends you are considering in this exercise. Are you fully in love with God (Mark 12:29-30)? Do you have a love for others whom you believe to be your brothers and sisters in Christ (John 14:34-35)? Are you pursuing holiness with all of your heart (Heb. 12:14)? Are you walking in practical separation from the world (Rom. 12:2)? Are you living in obedience to all the will of God you presently know (1 John 2:17)? Are you refusing to compromise the Word of God in any matter (Luke 6:46)?
As you thoughtfully ponder such questions and pray about them, you probably will come to see your own failure in some measure. Do not dismiss this conviction and violate your conscience (1 Tim. 1:19)! Instead, repent of the sin you see (Rev. 3:19; Acts 8:22), openly confess it to God (1 John 1:9), and determine to forsake it (Prov. 28:13). This is utterly important, for you should not think of fellowship with others until you have settled the question of your own sincere relationship with God.
(6) Reach out to other people with the hope of coming together in Christ.
These people may be other “come out” men, women, and young people. On the other hand, they may be ones still in human religious organizations who need to come out of the sin, compromise, worldliness, false teaching, and unscriptural practices. Hopefully, they will be true “seekers” of God who will put His Word and His will before and above any other commitment in their life. Here are several points to consider:
(a) Consider all of the people you know who may be open to gathering in a simple and sincere way, free from all ecclesiastical arrangements and denominational entanglements. Discuss your concerns with them as well as outlining Gods will for His people. Help them to envision Christs desire to build His holy community in this dark and evil world.
(b) Be willing to consider whether these sincere seekers have been truly saved. Discuss with them (in an unoffensive and honest manner) the meaning of the gospel of Christ. Inquire whether they truly had faith in Christ at the time they think they were saved. Determine whether they truly repented of their sinful lifestyle and renounced all sinful relationships. Discuss whether they truly were baptized into Christ, into His death, and into Gods forgiveness–or whether they had a typical denominational conception of merely testifying to the world of an assumed past conversion or just joining a human denomination at the occasion of their “baptism.” (Some, of course, wrongly assume that they were saved, forgiven, and born again at the point of an infant ceremony they call “baptism.”) Discuss if they were truly born of God at a point in time–or whether they are entirely confused about their presumed new birth experience.
(c) Discuss whether these seekers are presently walking in the Lord and in holiness–or whether they are living a sinful life of compromise with the world and with false teaching. If they do recognize such a lack in their life, yet were truly saved in the past, help them to recommit themselves to the Lord through sincere repentance, open confession, and total repudiation of the error.
(d) Share with them the Scriptural truth about fellowship in the body of Christ. Discuss Gods desire that His people be one, that they would have full fellowship with each other, and that they meet together whenever feasible for worship and edification. Study the Scriptural ideal of intimate community life involving brothers and sisters in Christ.
(e) If you discover that you are saved and they are saved, and you are living in faithful obedience to the will of God and they also are, then you presently are one in Christ. If you are both right with God and live in close proximity, you should be together. To be faithful to God, His people must “come out” of false associations, groups, and religious movements. But to be faithful, they should also “come together” in full fellowship, unity, and togetherness! You are a local manifestation of the body of Christ and all of the members should find their place within that body alone.
(f) Remember that many (most) “come out” people are not in right relationship with God. We might easily–but wrongly– assume that simply because they have turned away from false and compromising religious systems, they thereby prove faithfulness to God. By no means! “Come out” people can be just as tradition-bound, just as worldly, just as loyal to false teaching and practice, and just as compromising as those who maintain membership in large religious systems. It is for you to discover whether the “come out” people you know are seriously interested in serving God without compromise and obeying His will with all of their heart.
(7) “Where two or three have gathered together.”
Now is the time to begin to meet together. Scripture assumes that true believers, in fellowship with God and with each other, will meet together regularly (providing they live near each other). You do not need great numbers to come together. Two or three will provide a start. Remember that Jesus promised, “Where two or three have gathered together in My name, there I am in their midst” (Matt. 18:20). Be willing to do what you can in a limited way in order to please God. Look for opportunities to bring others to Jesus for salvation (1 Cor. 9:22) and to share the vision of His body with all.
(8) Participate in worship and edification gatherings.
Numerous passages guide us on gathering together as a community of Christ. Notice the emphasis on this regular “coming together” or “meeting together” (cf. 1 Cor. 11:17,18,20,33,34; 14:23,26). This gathering as a body is commanded and must not be neglected: “Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24-25). Some friends may admonish you with this passage and encourage you to attend a local denominational service so as to not “forsake the assembly.” But remember that the writer of Hebrews had a godly, Scriptural, Christ-centered assembly of a true community of Christians in mind and not just any assembly–certainly not a worldly denominational church assembly!
In these Scriptural meetings to which we refer, all should “seek to abound for the edification of the assembly” (1 Cor. 14:12b; cf. vv. 3,5,17). In fact, Paul declares, “Let all things be done for edification” (1 Cor. 14:26). The term “edification” (Gk., o i k o d o m h , oikodome) literally refers to “the act of building” and is figuratively used for “the promotion of spiritual growth” (W.E. Vine, The Expanded Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, pp. 347-348). A primary purpose, therefore, of the meetings of brothers and sisters should be the spiritual growth, encouragement, and building up of each member of the body.
Immediately after people repented of their sins and were baptized on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38,41), they began to come together for corporate activities: “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (v. 42). We can see how eager they were to relate to each other in love and how committed they were to these elements of their life together.
(9) Share all aspects of gatherings together.
The Word of God mentions many different aspects of the meetings of the early communities of Christ. The following are gleaned from various passages:
(a) Public prayers (Acts 2:42; 12:5,12; 13:3; 14:23; 1 Cor. 11:4-5; 1 Tim. 2:1-2, 8; 1 Cor. 14:15-16).
(b) Breaking of bread (the Lords Supper) (Acts 2:42; 20:7; 1 Cor. 10:16-17, 21; 11:18, 20, 23-26ff).
(c) Teaching (Acts 2:42; 11:26; 15:35; 20:20; Rom. 12:7; Gal. 6:6; Eph. 4:11-12; 2 Tim. 2:2).
(d) Prophecy (Acts 11:27; 13:2; Rom. 12:6; 1 Cor. 11:4-5; 14:1-4, 5, 6, 22, 24-25, 26, 29-32, 39-40; Eph. 4:11-12; 2:20).
(e) Singing (Eph. 5:18-19; Col. 3:16; 1 Cor. 14:26).
(f) Exhortation (encouragement) (Acts 4:36; 11:23; 14:22; 15:32; 16:40; Heb. 10:24-25; Tit. 1:9; 1 Thess. 5:14; 1 Tim. 4:13).
(g) Admonishment (Acts 20:31; Rom. 15:14; Col. 1:28; Col. 3:16; 1 Thess. 5:12,14).
(h) Reproof or Rebuke (1 Tim. 5:20; Tit. 2:15).
(i) Public Exclusion (1 Cor. 5:4-5; cf. vv. 6-13; Matt. 18:17-20; cf. vv. 15-16).
(j) Reading the New Testament Writings, the Apostles Letters, and the Old Testament Scriptures (Col. 4:16; 1 Thess. 5:27; 1 Tim. 4:13; cf. Rev. 1:4; Chaps 2-3).
(k) Reports of Preaching Efforts (Acts 14:27; 15:3-4; 21:19; 3 John 5-6; cf. Acts 4:23).
(l) Reports on Special Matters (Acts 15:30-31; 16:4).
You can see that we will never lack for helpful and edifying elements in the gatherings of the saints.
(10) Helpful Pointers in Meeting Together.
You should remember a number of things as you begin to meet together in simplicity and sincerity. Make sure you heed Scriptural directives and seek to rid yourselves of the human traditions from your religious past. The following guidelines should be kept in mind:
(a) Prepare to give as well as receive in the gatherings. Christians are not spectators but actual participants. They do not just watch and listen, but are personally involved in worship during the meetings, and in fellowship both before and after the gatherings. Paul explains, “The whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (Eph. 4:16). All of the “one another” relationships that we noticed before reflect the “participant” aspect of the believers meetings.
(b) Respect the role that God has assigned to each one. Scripture says that the brothers (males) are to lead in public prayer (1 Tim. 2:8: andras is from the noun a n h r , aner, “male,” which “stands in distinction from a woman” and “never [is] used of the female sex,” W.E. Vine, Ibid., p. 706). Further, the men (males) are to speak publicly in the meetings, whereas “it is improper for a woman to speak in the assembly” (1 Cor. 14:35; cf. vv. 33-34; 1 Tim. 2:11-15). Women, of course, may freely sing (Eph. 5:19) and say the united “Amen” (1 Cor. 14:16) in the assembly, and may speak before and after the gatherings.
(c) Meet regularly and not sporadically. The Jerusalem saints met in the temple “day by day” (Acts 2:46) and were “with one accord in Solomons portico” (5:12). They saw the need to frequently gather. The emphasis on “coming together” in Scripture (1 Cor. 11:17-34) and nor forsaking the assembly (Heb. 10:24-25) implies that the believers frequently met for worship and edification. The more you love your brothers and sisters in Christ, the more you will joyfully want to be in their presence.
(d) You do not need a “church building” for your gatherings. The early believers generally met in private homes for their assemblies. For instance, Paul greets Priscilla and Aquila and “the assembly that is in their house” (Rom. 16:5; cf. 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15). He also writes to Philemon and “to the community in [his] house” (Phile. 2; cf. Rom. 16:14-15, 23). Luke writes of “the house of Mary” where “many were gathered together and were praying” (Acts 12:12). These house gatherings fostered an informality in their meetings and a feeling of closeness with each other. Further, home meetings helped them to see that they actually were a “family” of brothers and sisters instead of members of a religious institution. Yet, in some situations, it may be wise to meet in other quarters. Sometimes the early believers met in other facilities when they were available (Acts 2:46; 19:9).
(e) Remember Christs suffering and death. Remember that a primary reason for your gathering is to remember the suffering and death of the Lord Jesus Christ. You were called together through the cross of Christ and all were forgiven through His blood. How fitting, therefore, that this should be a central feature in your meetings. Luke clearly says, “On the first day of the week [Sunday] . . . we were gathered together to break bread” (Acts 20:7). They gathered for the specific purpose of breaking bread–evidently a reference to remembering the Lord with the bread and cup (cf. 1 Cor. 10:16-17). The early disciples “were continually devoting themselves . . . to the breaking of bread” and other elements of worship (Acts 2:42). Paul suggested to the Corinthians that when they would “meet together” it should be “to eat the Lords supper” (1 Cor. 11:20; cf. vv. 17,18,33,34). Let this be a primary focus each week when you gather as a body.
(f) As you gather, manifest loving care for each person. The hallmark of the early believing community was outgoing love and concern for one another. The same should prevail today. This is how Paul expresses it: “The members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Cor. 12:25b-26; cf. Rom. 12:15). Heed Peters directive: “Fervently love one another from the heart” (1 Pet. 1:22; cf. 4:8).
(g) Beware that you do not show partiality. The rich are not to be honored and the poor are not to be degraded. We must avoid an attitude of “personal favoritism” (James 2:1; cf. vv. 2-9). Within the body, Christ desires to accomplish an “equalization” work so that extremes of poverty and wealth are eliminated (cf. 2 Cor. 8:13-15).
(h) Various brothers should be allowed to participate in a public way in the gatherings, according to their abilities. In the early assembly, various ones took an active and vocal part (cf. 1 Cor. 14:26; cf. vv. 27-40). This, of course, must be carried out judicially, for not every believer is “able to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2). In fact, James warns, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we shall incur a stricter judgment” (James 3:1). However, Paul emphasizes that each believer (male and female, young and old) may take an active role in some capacity–whether publicly or privately (Rom. 12:3-8; cf. 1 Cor. 12:4-11; 1 Peter 4:10-11).
(i) All things in the assembly must be done “properly and in an orderly manner” (1 Cor. 14:40). Since God is not a God of “confusion but of peace” (v. 33), everything that occurs in the meetings should be carried out according to the instructions of the word of God. Everything that is not in harmony with the Word should be eliminated.
(11) Plan to observe Scriptural organization in all you do.
There are some who wrongly assume that a group cannot begin to meet without “professional” help and direction. While this surely is going too far, we must acknowledge that the Bible does give directions on how a community of believers should be “set in order” (Titus 1:5). First, it isessential to understand that God can form and work in a group of Christians before and without actual local leadership. Recall that the assemblies in Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe were all genuine communities of Christians before Paul and Barnabas “appointed elders for them in every assembly” (Acts 14:23). Further, there were communities of believers in Crete before Titus appointed elders in every city (Titus 1:5).
The same situation may be true today. When a few saints begin to meet together, there may not be qualified men to assume the position of overseer/elder. We might also mention that the early communities of Christians had a plurality of elders/overseers rather than a single one, and this plural oversight may take some time to develop (cf. Acts 11:30; 14:23; 20:17; Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 4:14; 5:17; Titus 1:5; James 5:14; 1 Peter 5:1) It may actually take years before men are qualified for this weighty responsibility. Until such a time, the community must trust that the Lord will be working in their midst and guide them according to His Word.
Various functionaries who had some public activity or leadership in the assemblies are mentioned in the New Testament:
(a) Overseers (Gk., episkopos) were also called elders (Gk., presbuteros) and shepherds (Gk., poimen) (see Acts 20:17 with v. 28; Titus 1:5 with v. 7; 1 Peter 5:1 with v. 2). They were older men in age and maturity, with wives and believing, obedient children, who would oversee the community and shepherd the flock of God. There were strict qualifications for this work (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9).
(b) Servants (Gk., diakonos) were qualified men (1 Tim. 3:8-13) who worked with the overseers (Phil. 1:1) and may have cared for the physical and material needs of the saints (Acts 6:1-6?).
(c) Proclaimers (or “evangelists,” preachers of good news, from the Greek term euangelistes) (Eph. 4:11) must have been particularly concerned with preaching the gospel as well as doing much teaching within the local assemblies (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus give a rather full description of the many duties required of this position). Philip was a proclaimer (Acts 21:8) and so was Timothy (2 Tim. 4:5). Evidently Titus likewise was (cf. Titus 2:15).
(d) Teachers (Gk., didaskalos) must have had a great deal to do with the teaching function in the assemblies, although the overseer (1 Tim. 3:2), the proclaimer (1 Tim. 4:13), and the apostle (2 Tim. 1:11) also had teaching responsibilities. The teachers communicated the Word of God to the communities and applied it to their given situation of life (Eph. 4:11; Acts 13:1).
(e) Apostles (Gk., apostolos) were especially chosen and commissioned men who were “sent forth” to represent Christ in a special way on earth (Eph. 4:11; 1 Cor. 12:28). Along with the prophets, they constituted the “foundation” of Gods household (Eph. 2:20), which leads some to conclude that the position of “apostle” pertained only to the first century assembly. A secondary use of the term “apostle”–more properly, “messenger”–is also seen (cf. Acts 14:4,14; 2 Cor. 8:23), and this position may simply refer to a given individual who was “sent forth” as a “messenger” for Christ or the body of Christ.
(f) Prophets (Gk., prophetes) were also found in the early assembly (Eph. 4:11; 1 Cor. 12:28; Acts 13:1). Along with the apostles, they formed part of the foundation of Gods household (Eph. 2:20).
Besides such positions and works described above, Scripture mentions that every believer–brothers and sisters alike–has a place of service within the body and each has the ability to work in a way that is unique to him or her. When a community begins with few members (as few as two or three or perhaps six or seven), there probably will not be as many gifts or abilities available as there will be if there are fifty saints in one locality. Yet God still recognizes the community as part of the body of Christ and He will bless the members with His power and presence.
Needless to say, you should refrain from perpetuating various unscriptural positions or functionaries. In fact, the whole idea of “officeholder” is sectarian and institutional in nature. Denominational offices such as “President,” “General Superintendent,” “Ruling Elder,” “Trustee,” “Councilman” (and “Councilwoman”), “Bishop,” “General Overseer,” “Senior Pastor,” “Assistant Pastor,” “Associate Minister,” “Minister of Music,” and the like should be repudiated in favor of the positions described in Scripture and listed earlier.
(12) Simply be the Body of Christ.
Because many people come out of the established churches and denominations, it may be difficult to rid oneself of denominational and sectarian concepts. They become more a part of the person than he may realize. The term denominate means “to give a name to,” and many “come out” people continue to be obsessed with the assumption that they must officially name their little house assembly.
Within denominationalism, churches may be named according to certain doctrines (“Baptist,” “Adventist,” “Missionary,” and “Covenant”), certain methods (“Methodist”), certain forms of “church government” (“Episcopal” and “Presbyterian”), and certain kinds of church organization (“Congregational”). Others name themselves after a past religious leader or founder (“Lutheran,” “Wesleyan,” “Mennonite,” “Amish,” “Hutterite”). Some others elevate a certain Scriptural name to an unwarranted place (“Church of God,” “Assembly of God,” “Church of Christ,” “Nazarene,” “Christian Church”). Others take the name of a particular apostle or Biblical figure (“St. Paul,” “St. Peter,” “St. John,” “St. Mary,” etc.). Certain ones simply take some Biblical word or phrase or some non-Biblical word and make this their official “church name” (even the term “church” today means something different than the Greek term ekklesia meant when the New Testament was written). There are many other examples of ways people seek to call themselves by an exclusive, identifying name or title.
Scripture, of course, is totally silent about this kind of practice. The closest we come to this is the way the Corinthians were calling themselves after Paul, Cephas (Peter) and Apollos (1 Cor. 1:10-13; 3:4). Paul calls the practice fleshly or carnal (1 Cor. 3:3) and flatly condemns it (1 Cor. 1:12-15). Yet people today–even religious people–continue to do what Paul disallows. As one who has “come out” of the sectarian and denominational world, be willing to leave this “name calling” aspect of your past religion behind you.
Early Christians were simply called “disciples” (Acts 9:1), “saints” (9:13), “brothers” (9:30), “believers” (5:14), “Christians” (11:26), and those “belonging to the Way” (9:2). They were called the “community,” “assembly” or “congregation” (Gk., ekklesia, Gal. 1:22). They were also called “the community of God” (1 Cor. 1:2) and “the assembly of Christ” (Rom. 16:16). Figuratively, they were called a “temple of God” (1 Cor. 3:16), “Gods household” (Eph. 2:19), “Gods field” and His “building” (1 Cor. 3:9). But none of these references was intended to be an exclusive, sectarian title or name.
As you begin to meet as the body of Christ, be content to be simple Christians, saints (holy ones), believers, and brothers and sisters in Gods family. It would not be wrong to refer to the saints in Centerville, the believers in Beaver Creek, the disciples of River Valley, or the followers of Christ in Elmswood. Such references are not sectarian nor denominational. They simply denote the location where communities of believers live or meet.
Not only should you renounce denominational names, you should also turn from sectarian and ecclesiastical practices so prevalent in our age. Give up the “religious club” concept that churchianity promotes. Turn away from the practice of using religious titles (e.g., Doctor, Pastor, Reverend, Saint, Bishop, Brother, President, etc.). You need not carry over the idea of official “membership” in a religious group. “Unlearn” the idea of referring to the meeting place as the “sanctuary,” the “house of God,” or the “church.” Be willing to renounce your ecclesiastical creeds, confessions, disciplines, councils, conventions, and synods. If you discover other ways that denominational and ecclesiastical concepts have permeated your thinking, be willing to turn from them in favor of a more Biblical viewpoint and practice. The more you saturate yourself in Scripture, the more you will think in Scriptural terms.
(13) Recognize the closeness and intimacy that should exist within the family of God.
It is sometimes difficult for Americans to think in Biblical terms since independent thinking and individualism have been influential factors in American life. You must read Scripture as you never have before to discover the closeness, the intimacy, the “togetherness” of Gods spiritual family. Possibly because human, physical families are no longer very close, it is hard for many people to see how close the spiritual family should be.
The Scriptural writers urge us to see a relationship of closeness among the Lords true people. Notice again what we have seen before. Gods people are:
- The body of Christ, with each person a member.
- The family of God, with each person a son or daughter.
- The flock of Christ, with each person a sheep.
- The temple of God, with each person an individual stone.
- The bride of Christ, with each person a part of the bride.
Even when you are not meeting together, you should seek to be in “fellowship” as often as possible. The term “fellowship” (Gk., koinonia) means communion, fellowship, association, joint participation, and sharing in common. This is what God wants of His people. He wants His children to speak to each other, visit each other, work with each other, preach with each other, care for each other, help each other, weep with each other, and rejoice with each other. The early believers ate “from house to house” and took “their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart” (Acts 2:46). They gathered in homes to pray (Acts 12:12). They opened their homes in hospitality (Acts 16:15; 1 Peter 4:9). One Scripture writer said that we must “encourage one another day after day” (Heb. 3:13). The early believers knew that they were brothers and sisters, members of the same family, day after day–whether they were in public meetings or not. This is the way it must be in our day.
You need to also realize that your relationship to your brothers and sisters is closer than that of your own physical family, if they do not happen to be one with you in Christ. Jesus, of course, realized this very fact. On one occasion, while He was teaching, His mother and physical brothers came looking for Him and wanted to speak with Him. He stretched His hand toward His disciples and said, “Behold, My mother and My brothers! For whoever shall do the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother” (Matt. 12:50; cf. Mark 3:35). Spiritual relationship is closer than physical relationship.
The Lord warned that when one would believe in Him and follow Him, this commitment would often cause disruption in his earthly family. Sometimes the opposition would be severe, to the point of hatred and death itself (cf. Matt. 10:34-37; Mark 13:12; Luke 12:51-53; 21:16-17). Yet the believer must love Jesus (Matt. 10:37) and be willing to turn from ones own family if need be (Mark 10:28-30; Luke 14:26) in order to follow the Lord Jesus. In a similar way, the Christian must realize that His relationship with His brothers and sisters in the Lord is more basic and intimate than that which he has with earthly relationships–whether it be with a marriage partner, a parent, a child, a brother or sister, or friends.
(14) Expect criticism for your commitment to the body.
Since Gods vision for the community of saints is so radically different from the world of churchianity and religious institutionalism with which most are familiar, you can expect that some outsiders may not understand. They will think that you are carrying this idea of community too far. Therefore, you should expect some criticism and some misunderstanding. Jesus warned us of this. He said, “Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and heap insults upon you, and spurn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man” (Luke 6:22). In another place, He said, “Blessed are you when men revile you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great” (Matt. 5:11-12a).
Whether it is your marriage partner, your parents, your children, or other family members; whether it is your neighbors or friends; whether it is the members of the church to which you formerly belonged; whether it is your fellow-workers on the job–there will be people who do not understand your commitment to your fellow saints. Some will call you a radical, an extremist, a hobbyist, or a zealot. Others will probably accuse you of being part of a “cult,” a “mind-control sect,” or a “fanatical fringe group.” This is the kind of response that the early Christians received. When Paul went to Rome, the Jews remarked, “Concerning this sect [of Christians], it is known to us that it is spoken against everywhere” (Acts 28:22; cf. 24:5). Opponents in Thessalonica referred to Paul and his companions as “men who have upset the world” (Acts 17:6b). Jerusalem Jews went so far as to cry that Paul “should not be allowed to live” (Acts 22:22). Keep this kind of ridicule and slander in mind and be prepared for it when it comes.
(15) Let the body of Christ be what the Lord wants it to be.
Not only are there certain basic or elementary teachings that are necessary for the community to be formed by Christ, but there area also principles essential for its ongoing life in Christ. Notice several of these we should bear in mind and apply to please our God and Father:
(a) True Holiness. Believers must seek to be completely holy in heart, mind and body, separated from all sin and defilement (1 Thess. 5:23-24; Heb. 12:14; 1 Peter 1:14-17).
(b) Separation from Worldliness. They must not love the world (1 John 2:15-17), be conformed to the world (Rom. 12:2), allow themselves to be stained by the world (James 1:27), or be friends with the world (James 4:4).
(c) Brotherly Love. They must cultivate fervent love for each other (1 Peter 1:22; 4:8), a love patterned after Christs own self-giving love (John 13:34-35; 15:12-14), that is demonstrated in a practical way (1 John 3:16-18; 4:11-21).
(d) Pure Hearts and Minds. They must strive not only for pure words and actions, but also for pure motives arising from pure hearts (1 Tim. 1:5; 2 Tim. 2:19-22; Matt. 5:8, 20; 23:25-28; Psalm 139:23-24).
(e) Proper Priorities. They must consciously make Christ and Gods Kingdom their priority (Col. 1:18; Matt. 6:33), even before family and friends (Matt. 10:34-38; 24:9-13; Luke 12:51-53; 14:26-27).
(f) Eternal and Spiritual Perspective. They must live for Christ rather than themselves (2 Cor. 5:14-15), and live for the unseen spiritual realities rather than the present evil age (Gal. 1:4; 2 Cor. 4:16-18; Rom. 8:18; 1 Peter 5:10).
(g) Sacrificial Giving and Lifestyle. They must demonstrate in their own sacrificial giving and living that they are living fully for the ways of God rather than seeking to live for money and possessions (Matt. 6:19-24; Mark 10:21-27; 12:41-44; 2 Cor. 8:1-5; 9:6-7; 1 Tim. 6:9-10, 17-19).
(h) Close Relationships. They must seek to develop relationships within the body of Christ, brothers and sisters within the eternal family of God (2 Cor. 6:17-18; Matt. 12:46-50; 1 John 4:20-5:2).
(i) The Great Commission. They (whether brother or sister) must be active in carrying the good news of Christ to an unbelieving world that God may be glorified and that others may come to know Him (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Acts 8:4).
(j) The Word of Truth. They must hold forth the word of truth to all, and hold people accountable to a holy God who requires faithful obedience and submission to His universal sovereignty (Phil. 2:9-16; Acts 17:30-31; 1 Peter 2:9-10).
(k) Rich in Good Deeds. They must be active in good deeds that others may see the evidence of Gods work in the human heart and that Christ may be proclaimed not only in word but also in deed (Matt. 5:13-16; Titus 2:14; 3:1, 8, 14).
These are just a few of the characteristics that individual believers as well as the entire body of Christ must manifest. They are part of the ongoing life of those holy ones who make up the family of God.
(16) Withdraw fellowship from those who are unwilling to love, serve, and obey the Lord Jesus or hold to His truth.
Not only should you be interested in the closeness of fellowship within the body of Christ, you will probably need to withdraw that fellowship from people from time to time. “Excommunication” is something that very few organized groups practice any more, but it is clearly taught in Scripture. Since God says that it is important, we must be willing to do it.
If your physical body contracted a deadly cancer, what would you do? You would seek to find a cure for the dread disease. If the cancer began to destroy your arm and it could not be treated in some conventional way, you would need to amputate the limb in order to save your body–and your life itself. Likewise, when one member of the Lords body allows sin to gain a hold in his life and is overcome by it, the body of believers as a whole must “amputate” that member by removing him or her from fellowship. They must exclude him from close association and cease having normal contact with him.
Scripture is clear about all of this. Faithful and spiritual believers must seek to bring the sinful and erring brother or sister to repentance (cf. Gal. 6:1-2; James 5:19-20; Matt. 18:15-17). If this fails, they must withdraw fellowship from the unrepentant sinner (see Matt. 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 5:1-13; 2 Thess. 3:6-15; 1 Tim. 1:19-20; Titus 3:10-11). The body must exclude members who fail to repent of “offenses” such as the following:
(a) General sin and moral wrong (1 Cor. 5:11; cf. vv. 1-13; 6:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21; 2 Peter 2:20-22).
(b) Violation of apostolic tradition (2 Thess. 3:6-15; cf. 2:15).
(c) Turning from the faith (1 Tim. 1:19-20; cf. James 5:19-20).
(d) False teaching (Rom. 16:17-18; 2 Tim. 2:16-18; 2 John 9-11; 2 Peter 2:1ff).
(e) Factional or divisive attitudes (Titus 3:10-11).
(f) Refusal to be reconciled (Matt. 18:15-20, 21-35).
The action of withdrawing fellowship, carried out by every faithful Christian in the community, is intended to bring the erring soul to the awareness of his need and desperate condition. It should lead to his repentance, confession to the assembly, forgiveness by God and the community, and full reconciliation with the faithful (see 1 Cor. 5:5; 2 Cor. 2:6-11; 2 Thess. 3:15). This will not be a pleasant part of life in the community, but it will be an important one that must be undertaken in obedience to the Lord Himself. The faithfulness, holiness, and preservation of the body depends on it.
(17) Consciously seek to fulfill Christs prayer for His followers.
John 17 records the Lords prayer for His apostles and the wider circle of disciples who would live in the coming years. Here we see the heart of Christ as He expresses His desire for those who would constitute His spiritual body. The elements of His request should be that which we long for in our day as we seek to fulfill His prayer in actual experience. Notice the following points and make them your own:
(a) A common reception of Christs words. Jesus said, “The words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them” (v. 8a; cf. v. 14).
(b) A common belief in Christ. “I do not ask in behalf of these [apostles] alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word” (v. 20; cf. vv. 8,25).
(c) A common unity with each other, with Christ, and with God the Father. “. . . that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be in Us. . . . I in them, and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity” (vv. 21a, 23a; cf. vv. 11,22,26).
(d) A common separation from the world. “The world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (v. 14; cf. v. 16).
(e) A common holiness in the truth. “Sanctify [separate] them in the truth; Your word is truth” (v. 17; cf. v. 19).
(f) A common mission to the world. “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world” (v. 18).
This is the longing of the Lord for His true followers. He intends that we take His prayer seriously. If we do, we shall avoid the converse of these elements: (a) We will not reject Christs words; (b) We will not fall into unbelief; (c) We will not neglect unity with other true Christians, with Christ, or with God; (d) We will not be friends with the world; (e) We will not fall into unholiness or neglect truth; (f) We will not fail to share the truth with others. Let us seek to fulfill our Lords earnest prayer.
(18) As a Body, forsake the wrong and seek the right.
When you begin meeting as a little gathering of saints, there will be adjustments to make. False, perverted, denominational, and institutional concepts need to be “unlearned” and forsaken. New Scriptural concepts need to be pursued. Here are a few of the things that you should keep in mind:
Seek Gods glory
Seek Nonconformity to the world
Forsake False doctrine
Seek Sound, Scriptural teaching
Forsake Carnal, fleshly ways
Seek True spirituality
Forsake Counterfeit conversion
Seek Biblical salvation
Forsake Easy believism
Seek Full, comprehensive faith
Forsake Little or no repentance
Seek Sincere repentance
Forsake Church water ceremony
Seek Faith baptism (immersion)
Forsake Human creeds, confessions
Seek Scriptures as sufficient
Forsake Subjective feelings, leadings
Seek Objective truth of Scripture
Forsake Ecclesiastical offices
Seek Scriptural works and positions
Forsake Religious names
Seek No official name
Forsake Religious titles
Seek Only Scriptural terms
Forsake Liturgical “services”
Seek Simple meetings
Forsake Impersonal meetings
Seek Close relationships
Forsake toleration of Sin
Seek to exclude Unrepentant Sinners
Forsake Complex institutionalism
Seek Simple believing communities
Forsake Denominational organization
Seek Scriptural organization
Forsake Sexual looseness
Seek Absolute purity
Forsake the Secular and humanistic
Seek the Scriptural and spiritual
Since you have read the foregoing pages, you can add to the list that we have given above. The object is to leave everything false and unscriptural behind and to seek after that which God authorizes and His Word has directed.
(19) Gather unto the Lord Jesus.
People form themselves into groups for numerous reasons. There are social clubs and service organizations. There are secret lodges, sports teams, school fraternities and sororities, and labor unions. Sadly, many people have an organizational or club concept when they think of “church membership.” Their idea of “church” differs little from the Rotary Club or Lions Club, except that the “church” club is religious. Attendance, dues, and loyalty is encouraged, but membership affects life in a minimal way.
The body of Christ differs radically from this view. The early believers were those “belonging to the Way” (Acts 9:2; cf. 19:9,23; 22:4; 24:14,22). These saints were committed to Christ as the way of salvation (John 14:6; cf. Acts 16:17). They followed the way of Christ and He introduced them to a whole new way of life–a “narrow way” that focused upon Him (Matt. 7:13-14).
As you meet with your brothers and sisters in Christ, let your gathering be centered upon Him. Let your singing, praying, edifying, teaching, breaking of bread, and fellowship be focused upon Him. Let Him be the reason for your coming together and the One you all have in common. Apart from the meetings, you continue to be one with your brothers and sisters because He died for you, saved you, lives for you, intercedes for you, works through you, and will return for you.
Constantly remember that Christ not only died for believers personally (Gal. 2:20), but He also “loved the community [ekklesia] and gave Himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). Jesus is not only the Savior of each believer, but we also read that He is “the Savior of the body” (Eph. 5:23). Christ not only redeemed each individual saint, but He also purchased the entire believing community with the sacrificial blood (Acts 20:28). Yes, He is interested in the lone, individual believer; but He also is very concerned about the entire body of believers.
All of this should remind you that Christ is very concerned about His people as a whole. They are not to be just lone and scattered persons, but are members of His body, living and interacting with each other, mutually believing on Christ, serving Him, loving Him, obeying Him, and expecting His coming. If you are presently in fellowship with other true believers in Christ, let this focus on Christ be your purpose. If you are a “come out” person who is alone, pray and seek out other truly saved persons with whom you can be in close fellowship. Settle for nothing less than a body that is gathered unto Him who is the Head, even Christ Jesus.
NOW IS THE TIME
Now that you have finished this little booklet, you know what God would have you do. If you have not done so yet, now is the time to “come out” of any apostate, compromising, and unfaithful church or denomination in which you hold membership. If you have come out long ago and have simply been drifting, God is calling you to seek Him and His Word so that you might have guidance into His Will. Read the Scriptures as you have never read them before. Pay special attention to the book of Acts as well as the remaining New Testament books. Become acquainted with what God wants for you. You will probably need to read over this book several times so that you will see more clearly where you should begin and what should be your goal. Allow nothing to stand in your way of making sure of your salvation from sin and seeking fellowship in the Lord with others who have also been rescued from sin.
God cares for you and He calls you to lay your life down in complete sacrifice for Him. He wants you to be entirely sold out for Christ Jesus His Son and His cause on earth. He wants you to lay aside compromise of every kind and give Him all you have and all you are. Now is the time to seek God, His righteousness, and His Kingdom (Matt. 6:33). Now is the time to seek your place in His spiritual family, the body of Jesus Christ