The church which Christ built was unique in the first century. The things which made it unique in the first century also make it unique today. The church of the New Testament is different from the sectarian denominations, the cults, and the pagan religions. Let us consider some of its identifying marks.
The Early Church Followed Apostolic Doctrine
When the early church began, Luke recorded that “they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42). The early church recognized that Jesus had selected the apostles to be special men through whom He revealed His will to mankind (Mt. 16:18 cf; 18:18). He gave to them the Holy Spirit who, He said, “will guide you into a truth” (Jn. 16:8,13). The Holy Spirit brought to the apostles’ remembrance what Jesus did (Jn. 14:26). Therefore, the early church recognized this special role of the apostles as the agents through whom Jesus revealed His will and continued in apostolic doctrine.
The Day Of Worship Was Unique To The Early Church
The early church assembled on the first day of every week (Acts 20:7 f; 1 Cor. 16:1-2). This day of worship became known as the Lord’s Day (Rev. 1: 10). Several important events pertaining to the Lord and His church occurred on this day, including the following: (a) the Lord was raised from the dead on this day (Matt. 28:1); (b) He appeared to the disciples in His resurrected body on this day (Jn. 20:19,26); (c) the church was established on this day (Acts 2:1,47); (d) the first gospel sermon was preached on this day (Acts 2: 1). Therefore, the first day of the week was the authorized day of worship for the New Testament church.
The Worship Of The Early Church Was Unique
The worship of the early church also set it apart as unique. The early church’s worship consisted of the following items:
1. Apostolic preaching. The early church worship assembly featured someone addressing the assembly from the revelation of God’s word (Acts 20:7 f; 1 Cor. 14).
2. The Lord’s supper. The early church assembled upon the first day of every week (Acts 20:7 f; 1 Cor. 11:20 cf; 16:12) to remember the death of Jesus. They partook of unleavened bread in remembrance of Jesus’ body and fruit of the vine in remembrance of His blood (1 Cor 11:24-26).
3. Prayer. Prayer was a part of the worship of the church (1 Cor. 14:15). Their prayers were unique in that mankind approached God through one mediator, Jesus Christ (Jn. 16:23-24 f; 1 Tim 2:5).
4. Congregational Singing. The early church sang psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs in their worship (1 Cor. 14:15 ff; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). They sang to one another; Therefore, they did not have specially trained choirs to do their singing for them. Although mechanical instruments of music were available for use (they were used in the Old Testament worship), there is no evidence that they were used in New Testament worship and we know they were never commanded.
5. Contribution. When the early church came together, the Lord commanded that a collection be taken (1 Cor. 16:1-3). This contribution was used for benevolent purposes for the needy saints (1 Cor. 16:1-3) and for evangelism (2 Cor. 11:8).
Indeed, the church which worships in keeping with the divine pattern revealed in God’s word is still distinctive and unique. Such worship does not attract the worldly who expect to be entertained by the worship assembly; only the spiritually minded are attracted to services which are confined to the five acts of worship listed above.
6. Absent from worship: New testament churches forbade women speakers as was commanded by Jesus Christ through the apostle Paul (1 Cor 14:33-40). Thus, no new testament church has women preachers or teachers of any kind or for any reason (1 Tim 2:11-15). No new testament church had banquets, suppers, or luncheons for such were forbidden (1 Cor 11:22,34). No new testament church had church sponsored dances, parties, or entertainment of any kind. No new testament church worked in unison with any man made institution, for the church was self sufficient (2 Pet 1:3). No new testament church sponsored colleges or orphanages of any kind.
Conclusion: As men have departed from apostolic doctrine in various areas, those who confine themselves to the Bible become distinctive in those areas. Areas in which God’s people are distinctive include such things as the names by which they are known (both in their congregational and individual relationships), the organization of the local church and its autonomy, terms of membership, etc. The church which abides by the doctrine of Christ will always be distinctive (2 Jn 9).
Unfortunately, preaching sermons on the identifying marks of the New Testament church is out of style. Most preachers no longer want to call names from the pulpit to contrast denominational doctrine from the doctrine of Christ and his church. They are afraid that this will offend people. Rather, they want to emphasize the positive without mentioning such negative things which might turn people away. We should know that every generation must learn what makes the Lord’s church unique. This must be so clearly learned and understood that men can distinguish it from the denominations around them. Unless our preaching accomplishes this, it is worthless and contributes to the denominationalizing of the church, which I fear has already occurred among very liberal minded brethren.
Elders, deacons, and members need to insist that the pulpit be used for this kind of preaching. Those men who do not preach distinctive sermons will produce a membership which views the Lord’s church as just another denomination. Where such views become predominant, the Lord’s church loses its identity and quickly moves into the mainstream of Protestant denominationalism. Our existence as the Lord’s church depends upon distinctive preaching which emphasizes the distinctive identifying marks of the New Testament church. Any church which bears the name of Christ, but has abandoned His doctrine, is the church in name only. When the church which Christ built begins to look like a denomination, act like a denomination, and worship like a denomination, it is a denomination!