We are looking at some of the distinctive marks of the churches of the Lord.
If I put some black paint on my white Dodge and attached some red and blue lights; would that make my car a State Patrol Car? If I went to a costume store and rented a police uniform and borrowed one of your hand guns, would that make me a police officer? If I called myself the Prime Minister of Canada would that give me diplomatic immunity? If I jumped over the fence at Safeco Field and announced that I was the starting pitcher for the upcoming baseball game, would they give me the ball? Okay, what if I called myself the vicar of Christ on earth, would that give me the authority of God? Can someone simply assume authority to do what he chooses to do?
If the Lord started His kind of church, and man has taken one of those churches and changed it, or . . . If someone started his own church and called it a “Church of the Lord Jesus Christ,” does that make it so? If there were five churches all claiming to be churches of Christ, but only one of them was patterned after the churches that we find in the Bible, how many of them have the authority to do the work of Christ? How many of those churches have the authority to baptize people? How many of those five professing churches have the authority of God to teach what they believe?
Christ organized His saints into a church, and through that church into more churches. The answer to this question might shock and upset some people: Do we ever find companies of unbaptized and unorganized persons spoken of as “saints” in the New Testament? Do we find the Lord encouraging people to serve Him, who were not a part of the Lord’s church? Not only were the ordinances, but the gospel itself, was given to those churches. With exceptions like Judas Iscariot, do we ever find Jesus committing the gospel for preaching or preservation to people who were not themselves Christians? Okay, do we find in the Scripture the Lord giving the gospel commission to people who were not members of His Church? Is it logical to think that He gave the gospel to people knowing that they would pervert and subvert it?
Paul, addressing Timothy, declared that the church was the “pillar and the ground of the truth.” This teaches that, to the church alone, was the gospel entrusted to be preserved in its purity, and to be published to the world, for that church is the ground and the pillar of the truth. To Christ’s church is entrusted the business of maintaining the truth, of defending it from the assaults of error, and of transmitting it to future generations. The truth is, in fact, upheld in the world by the church. Generally speaking, the world feels no interest in defending God’s truth. It is the church of Christ preserves it and transmits from age to age. The stability of the truth on earth is dependent on the church. Religions sometimes come and go, but the knowledge of redemption is preserved on earth, because the churches of Christ have been preserved and its foundations have not been moved. As certainly as the church continues to live, the truth of God will be perpetuated in the world. The gospel has not been committed to the Christian, but to Christ’s church. The gospel has not been given to preachers to share and preserve, but to the Lord’s church.
If the church alone was commissioned to preserve and to preach the gospel, then what other organizations have the right to preach it? Does the National Republican Party have a commission from God to preach the Gospel? Well then does the Masonic Lodge? How about the YMCA – the Young Men’s Christian Association? Do the Mormons have God’s authority to preach the Truth? What about the Methodists? What about a Baptist church which has accepted members from that Methodist church?
What has been ordained by God to be the focal point of His glorification? Ephesians 3:21 – “Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.” Since the gospel is a key element in that glorification, then we are not surprised that the gospel has been given only to the Lord’s churches.
The gospel and the commission are marks of the Lord’s churches.
What comes first, the officers of a church, or the church itself? A church must exist and have divine authority to glorify God, she can ordain officers to lead her. And where does she get that authority? From a denomination or council of bishops or something like that? A church must be authorized by the Lord, before she can elect and to commission her officers.
The church at Jerusalem elected an apostle to take the place of Judas, and afterwards she elected seven deacons to administer the temporal affairs of the church. These were probably all from the seventy Jesus originally commissioned to preach, and it is certain that one of them at least, became an evangelist, but it was not by virtue of his office of deacon. Subsequently, by the direction of the Holy Spirit, the church at Antioch formally commissioned Paul and Barnabas to the full work of the ministry, and to go forth as missionaries to foreign lands. Were there any neighboring churches called upon to send their officers to ordain these men? Did the pastors of that church ordain or give them their “credentials?” Did Paul & Barnabas receive authority to serve Christ from others who had been earlier ordained? The Holy Spirit lead the church to ordain these two.
A church may, if she sees fit, invite as many ministers as she pleases to advise and assist her in the work of ordaining a minister, but it’s not that she recognizes authority in them to ordain. Those visiting preachers may all decide that the candidate is qualified for the work, but if the church does not then no ordination can take place. Those visitors, the presbytery, may decide differently, but if the church is satisfied with the candidate for ordination, then it is her right to ordain, and the presbytery can not prevent it.
One church does not make a minister for, nor can she impose a minister, another church. When one church calls a minister to preach to her, she basically indorses the act of the church which first ordained him. If the minister is a member of that church, she can, if she deems him unworthy, withdraw the authority she gave him to preach, and still retain him as a member. A man may be qualified to be a good church member, and not qualified to be a preacher of the gospel. Only the church involved has any authority to judge him.
Does a church have the authority to make a decision on behalf of another church? Let’s say that a church believes that its members must only support missionaries approved by that church. But one of its members chooses to send some money to a good, but unapproved missionary, and he is subsequently disciplined and excluded from that church. Across down there is a church which is not so ridged and perhaps even supports that unapproved missionary. Is the decision of the first church against their member binding upon the second church? Okay, what if that second church decided to receive the excluded member of the first church? When a church has excluded a member, she has no further jurisdiction over him. She has no right to directly say what another church can do with her former member, any more than she can tell that church what it ought to believe. Those churches might change their practice on fellowshiping with one another, but that is about all. Each church on earth has an unquestioned right to receive whom she pleases to receive.
This next statement comes from Bro. Graves: what do you think about it? “If a church can fellowship a certain person, it is not her business or duty to inquire if another church possibly exists on earth that can not; and for this reason reject him. I do not discuss here what would be policy in a case where the church was knowing to the fact that the applicant had been excluded for unchristian conduct from a sister church; but I am asserting the abstract right of one church to dictate to another whom she may or may not fellowship.”
What if a member of a good church moved to our area with a letter of recommendation, are we LEGALLY obligated to receive that person into our church? Let’s say that other church uses fermented wine in the Lord’s supper, and this member who has moved here insists that fermented wine must be used in the Lord’s supper, and he intends to demand it of us. Are we obligated to receive him?
Similarly, no Baptist Association or Convention can ordain ministers; dictate the discipline of churches; administer baptism or the Lord’s supper. If Pedobaptist and Catholic organizations are not scriptural churches, then they not only have no right to preach or power to ordain ministers. They have no more right than a Masonic Lodges, to administer baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Such acts of theirs are worse than null and void.
There are certain qualifications, personal and ceremonial, scripturally required to render a man eligible for ordination, things such as personal regeneration, “aptness to teach,” a valid baptism, etc. Of these the church alone is the judge, and it is responsible for that ordination. If someone asked our church to baptize them, but they didn’t like me personally, it is you and not them, who are responsible for me and my qualifications. What if a year from now, I confessed that I had not been a Christian until that week, what would that do in regard to all the people that I had baptized throughout the years? Nothing, because it was not upon my authority those people were baptized; it was the church. Do we read in the scriptures where any of the people baptized by Judas were ever re-baptized?
The authority to preach the gospel and to administer the ordinances has been given by Christ to his churches. If a church believes that the authority to serve Christ resides in it’s pastor, then it is probably not a church of Christ. If it believes that it’s authority has been given to it by a council of bishops or by the denomination, then it is not a church of Christ. Church authority belongs to the Lord’s church, and that church may start another church, passing its authority on to it, but authority to do the work of God can never be found outside of one of the Lord’s churches.