Back to the Beginning
by Bryan Gibson
“Therefore let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father” (1 John 2:24). Back to the beginning. Wouldn’t it be great if we did that to settle religious questions today? Let’s go back to the beginning in this article to see what was true of local churches in the New Testament, and what should therefore be true of churches today. Study carefully, and then compare your church to what was taught “from the beginning.”
Let’s begin with this basic point. New Testament churches were taught the same doctrine—the apostles’ doctrine, or the doctrine of Christ. So whatever they did in terms of organization, work, and worship, they were taught to do so, and their instruction came from the Lord (1 Corinthians 4:17; 7:17; 14:34-35; 16:1-2; Colossians 4:16; Acts 2:42; 20:26-27; 1 Corinthians 14:37; Galatians 1:11-12; 1 Thessalonians 4:2; 2 Thessalonians 3:6). Want to know how your church should be organized, what it should do in worship, what its work should be? Go back to the beginning, to the pattern left by these New Testament churches.
New Testament churches were sternly warned against following any other doctrine (Galatians 1:6-9; Ephesians 4:11-16; Colossians 2:8, 19, 22-23; Revelation 2:14-15). How can a church claim to be “of Christ” if it does not follow the doctrine of Christ? Remember the passage at the beginning of this article: “...If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you will also abide in the Son and in the Father” (1 John 2:24).
The work assigned to these New Testament churches was distinguished from the work assigned to individuals within the church (1 Timothy 5:16). The argument, “anything the individual can do the church can do,” is completely opposed to the teaching in the New Testament. There is some overlap in responsibilities, such as support for the preaching of the gospel (Philippians 4:15; Galatians 6:6), but this still doesn’t mean that the church can involve itself in anything and everything. How do we know what God expects the church to do? That’s right. Go back to the beginning. Look at the pattern in the New Testament and follow that.
New Testament churches raised money for their work by the voluntary contributions of their members (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-35; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 9:6-7; 11:8). No other method was used, and they certainly didn’t solicit the support of those outside the church. Have you thought about all the different methods used by churches today to fund their work? They sure didn’t go back to the beginning to find them.
New Testament churches had regular worship assemblies, and these were conducted according to the instructions of the Lord. A distinction was made between what should be done “at home” and what should be done “in church,” or in the assembly (1 Corinthians 11:20-22, 34; 14:34-35). Let’s go back to the beginning, observe what they did in the assembly, and then be content with that. To do otherwise would be to go beyond the word of the Lord, and we are specifically forbidden to do that (2 John 1:9; Revelation 22:18-19; Galatians 1:6-9).