Principles Shared by New Testament Assemblies

Articles have been written recently defining the characteristics of New Testament churches. Here are some of these principles which have been suggested:

1. The priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:5,9).
2. There should be no clergy-laity division. All are on the same footing as brethren (Matthew 23:8-11).
3. Leadership should be by a body of elders (Acts 14:23), not by one man.
4. Each assembly is autonomous. There should be no central governing body over the churches (Revelation 2-3).
5. The principle of the unity of the Body of Christ: All true believers should be welcome (1 Corinthians 12:13: Romans 15:7).
6. The importance of the Lord's Supper is seen in its weekly observance as a special time of worship (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 11).

Of course, there should also be an adherence to basic, evangelical doctrine. A New Testament church will also be zealous in the proclamation of the gospel (Acts 5:42).

Today assemblies find themselves with a minority of other churches still maintaining male leadership. Increasingly many churches ordain women to the pastorate and to positions of leadership over men, all in defiance of Paul's prohibition of such a role for women (1 Timothy 2:11-14). While the weekly observance of the Lord's Supper is important, this is not what distinguishes a New Testament church from many others. The Roman Catholic Church, Anglican Church, Church of Christ, and others have such a weekly observance. An elder once told the author, "I don't think it matters how you do it, just so you do it weekly." Really! On this basis the ritual of the Catholic Church is as valid as any other.

A New Testament assembly should allow the Holy Spirit to lead in worship and praise. Men should be free to request a hymn, to pray and to open the Word to God's people. By so doing we practice the priesthood of all believers, rather then just giving the doctrine lip service. This requires exercise of heart and spiritual preparation as the saints assemble (1 Corinthians 14:26). It is much easier to hire one man to conduct the service or to arrange it beforehand and assign parts to certain Christians. It is a blessed experience for God's people when the Holy Spirit leads in worship and adoration of the Father and the Son.

Another important principle that marked assemblies in New Testament days was that of faith for the Lord's work. Those who felt called of God to leave their secular occupations and to go into full time service for the Lord went out trusting Him to supply their needs. This was true when Christ sent out His apostles to preach: "Freely you have received, freely give" (Matthew 10:8 NKJV).

This principle of faith marked the spread of the gospel through the first century. There is no mention in the Scripture of hiring a worker, of a salary or pledge. They were the Lord's servants and those who were helped by them and wished to contribute did so (Philippians 4:15-16). If necessary the servant of God could take up employment for a time to meet his needs (Acts 20:33-35). He was uniquely the Lord's servant, free to speak His Word without fear. "For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a servant of Christ" (Galatians 1:10 NKJV).

These areas are under attack today. The role of women is being reinterpreted and Paul's prohibition disregarded (1 Corinthians 14:34), a prohibition he states is a commandment of God. The Lord's Supper is being relegated to a place of secondary importance and is being poorly attended in certain places. Some are now designing an order of service, thus restraining the Holy Spirit of God from leading His people in worship.

Some assemblies now hire a "resident worker," a euphemism for a "pastor." Actually, of course, all workers are resident somewhere. The faith principle, difficult though it may seem for the worker at times, frees him to serve the Lord with real freedom and will cause him to grow in faith as he sees the wonderful way God can provide his needs. It will stimulate prayer and exercise of heart to give as the Lord's people realize the worker treads a pathway of faith. It should encourage them to pray and to give to workers at home and abroad, realizing both depend on God.

If a church is to follow New Testament principles, it will require the believers to be New Testament Christians, fervent, zealous, holy and committed. May God move His people to become such.