Uniquenesses of a New Testament Local Church (1)

Walter Gustafson

The greatness of New Testament assemblies is similar to Israel’s greatness. They were not great in numbers and neither are we. In Deuteronomy 7:7-8, we read, "the Lord did not set His love upon you, nor choose you because you were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people: but because the Lord loved you..." That is not much of an explanation for the love of God, but really the only explanation for His love is found in the heart of God.

The reason for Israel’s greatness is found in Deuteronomy 4:7-8. I want to link those two verses with Acts 20:32. "For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the Lord our God is in all things that we call upon Him for?" (v. 7). In Acts 20:32 we read Paul’s words, "I commend you to God." How much more is this true in our day than in Moses’ day (Heb. 4:16 and 10:19). In verse 8, "And what nation is there is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?" In Acts 20:32 we read, "I commend you to the Word of His Grace." How much more is that true today with a complete revelation of the mind of God in His Word.

We can thank God for nine uniquenesses of a N.T. local church. In each of these headings I emphasize the word "only."

1. Their only rule book is the Word of God

When the Apostle Paul was speaking to the elders of the local church that met at Ephesus, he knew that after his departing grievous wolves would enter in among them (Acts 23:29). Yet Paul did not write up a creed, but rather he commended them to God and the Word of His Grace (v. 32).

Some have wondered why God doesn’t put all the rules of the assembly on several pages of the New Testament. There is at least one good reason why God has not done so. Any carnal person can follow a set of rules without their heart being in it, and God wants our hearts to be in it. It takes spirituality to learn spiritual principles and we can get those from the Word of His Grace. It takes spiritual power to carry out spiritual principles and we can get that from God, "I commend you to God and the Word of His Grace."

The late John R. Caldwell called his commentary on 1 Corinthians "the Charter of the Church." We could perhaps be more precise and say "the Charter of the Local Church."

In 1 Corinthians 14:37 we read " If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord." That is how we ought to esteem all that Paul has written in scripture, as "the commandments of the Lord."

In 2 Timothy 1:14 Paul writes to Timothy, "that good thing which was committed unto thee keep by the Holy Ghost (Holy Spirit) which dwelleth in us." "That good thing" is the good deposit of truth. In Jude 3 we read, "...contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints." "The faith" is the whole body of revealed truth.

Three times in Hebrews 13 we read of "them that have the rule over you." It could be translated "those who are your leaders or your guides." They rule, lead, or guide by the Word of God. In verse 7 we read "who have spoken unto you the Word of God." That means that their rule is not an arbitrary rule. Verse 17 says, "Obey them that have the rule over you and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account." W.E. Vine tells us that "the obedience suggested is not by submission to authority, but resulting from persuasion." That "persuasion" would be from God’s Word. We should notice that the same verse says "and submit yourselves." When overseers watch for our souls as they that must give account, they surely deserve our submission.

Everyone in every assembly should be able, in a greater or lesser degree, to test all that they hear by the Word of God (1 Thess. 5:21 "Prove all things hold fast that which is good"). How good it is for any N.T. assembly when overseers meet the qualification of Titus 1:9 to a good degree: "Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and convince the gainsayers." Any believer who acknowledges any other rule book than the Bible is acknowledging an authority foreign to the Word of God. There are good books on assembly principles. Their greatest value is when they show us what the Word of God teaches, for that is our only rule book.

I believe it would be good for there to be a revival of us being known as "chapter and verse people." Two preachers were talking about the Cliff Street overseers; one said to the other, "whatever you do don’t get into a controversy with the Cliff Street overseers because they are Bible eaters." We should all be Bible eaters even as our blessed Lord Jesus who said in Matthew 4:4 "...it is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." No one fed on the Word of God as much as He did.

(to be continued)