The Importance of New Testament Church Principles
W. E. Vine, Bath
In the Holy Scriptures God has provided for us “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3, R.V.), not once upon a time, as if the provision of the faith was a passing event, leaving something else to be provided later, but “once for all,” indicating its completeness, its finality and its permanent authority. The Lord Himself confirmed this authority as being binding and decisive by constantly appealing to the Scriptures. When, for instance, a certain lawyer questioned Him on a matter of the greatest importance, He said, “What is written in the law? How readest thou?”
What was taught by Christ and His Apostles, as set forth in the New Testament concerning His will as to the principles of the formation, the gatherings, the worship and testimony of an assembly, was designed to be both sufficient and obligatory during the whole of the present period until His return. Changed conditions in Christendom, which in large measure have constituted a departure from the New Testament teaching, only make that teaching stand out the more conspicuously as the mind of God for the unprejudiced believer. Altered circumstances were never intended to involve any departure from the Word of God. The Scriptures are of such a nature as to brook no modification. It has been found possible for those who desire to be obedient to Christ to carry them out through all the centuries of this period.
It is of paramount importance for us to discern and follow the will of the Lord, and that not only in our individual capacity, but in our association with other believers in church life and practice. At the Judgment-Seat of Christ the Word of God will be the criterion by which we shall either receive a lasting reward for our adherence to its teachings, or suffer irretrievable loss for failure to fulfil them.
The teachings of the New Testament concerning a local church or assembly are clear for all who desire to know and follow the will of God instead of the traditions of men. The claims of the Word of God demand our adherence to it and our acceptance of that alone which is in accordance with it. To follow any teaching contrary to the doctrines of Scripture is to challenge its accuracy and to deny the prerogatives of the Spirit of God and His Christ.
It is therefore the responsibility of each believer to identify himself with those who are seeking to assemble in accordance with the teaching of the New Testament. Our fidelity to the Lord must not depend upon the fidelity of our fellow-believers. We should be steadfast enough to be true to Him and to His Word even if others may fail to act consistently. Where any assembly is marked by failure or faithlessness on the part of some of its members, it is ours to set an example by remaining faithful, and this example will meet with the Lord's approval here and will receive its reward in the coming day.
The genuine acknowledgment of Christ as Lord will keep us faithful in our adherence to the Scriptures in the recognition of the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in regard to worship. The fulfilment of the will of the Lord should be our consuming ambition, and this will mean a repudiation of the traditions of men and of human accretions to the faith, as well as of all that undermines its teachings as set forth in the Scriptures of truth.
The craft of Satan is ever at work to beguile us from allegiance to our Lord. What need then there is to receive the exhortation He gave to His disciples when He warned them against mere profession of faith! It is quite easy to imagine that we are rendering service to Him while all the time His revealed will is being ignored. He said, “Not everyone that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in Heaven” (Matt. 7 : 21). Let us beware of substituting our own predilections for what He has enjoined upon us, lest, in setting aside His authority, whether in private life or in our church capacity, we are after all found wanting.
The Lord still walks amidst “the lamp-stands,” the local assemblies, as He did as recorded in Revelation, chaps. 2 and 3. He discerns the ways of His people and knows all that is going on in each assembly. Blessed are those to whom He will be able to say, “Thou hast kept My Word and hast not denied My Name” (Rev. 3:8).
[N.B. To be followed by a series of articles by Mr. Vine setting out the New Testament Pattern for Assembly, Worship and Service.]