What is a New Testament Church?

It would be impossible to study all that the Scriptures have to say about a New Testament Church in a message like this. Maybe sometime in the future we can make a series of messages on the New Testament Church and put them in book form. But for the meantime there are three portions of Scripture on my heart, and they are what we are going to deal with at the present.

All one has to do is look at the churches in any particular community, and it becomes obvious that the majority of Christians do not know what a New Testament church really is. Let’s make a few statements of what a New Testament Church is not and we will go from there. A New Testament Church is not any church since the Day of Pentecost in the Book of Acts. A New Testament Church is not an organization of man. A New Testament Church does not enhouse the bulk of Christianity.

I Corinthians 12:28 And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues.

These are some of the ministries and gifts that God has set in the Church. He first appointed apostles, prophets, and teachers. They are set in the church first because they are the foundation. The church cannot become what God wants it to be without them. After them are miracles; they are the results of the ministries previously listed. Following next are gifts of healing, helps, administrations, and varieties of tongues. These are the ingredients that richly flavor the New Testament Churches. Our next portion of Scripture will come from Ephesians chapter four followed by a portion from the second chapter.

Ephesians 4:10-11 He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.
11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers,

Jesus Christ ascended, meaning He became Spirit. He could not fill all things as an individual, bodily person. The last two verses in chapter one tell us what these “all things” are that the Life and Spirit of the Lord Jesus fills. And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be Head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all things. Ephesians 1:22-23. This is, of course, speaking of a New Testament Church. He fills it with Himself, and He is the Head over it. Thus, it is termed the Body of Christ. From this you can easily see that compared to the church-world there just isn’t very many New Testament Churches.

It is said in I Corinthians 12:28 that God appointed apostles and prophets in the church; and in Ephesians 4:11 it is said that He gave some to be apostles and prophets. The wording in those places would cause one to feel those ministries operated apart from Him, but that is not the way it is. Let’s look at verses 10 and 11 again. It says that He ascended (became Spirit) that He might fill all things, and in Ephesians 1:22-23 we see that the “all things” are the ministries in the church. Therefore, He doesn’t just select or appoint some to be apostles, but He fills them with Himself. A man is an apostle because Jesus Christ the Apostle has entered his life, and Jesus is ministering through him as an apostle. The same is true for the other ministries in the New Testament Church.

Before we continue on we need to know how we will recognize an apostle. The only way you will know for sure is by revelation. Peter knew that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God, because it was revealed to him by the Father (Matthew 16:16-17). Likewise, revelation from God is the only way you will know a real apostle. If you assume someone is an apostle (or prophet) because he says so or because someone else says he is, you are on shaky ground.

I was told of a church that has a picture of their pastor on the wall as you enter the door with the inscription “The Apostle” under it. That is probably not a real apostle. A real apostle exalts the Lord, not himself. Now, how will you recognize a New Testament Church? You will need a revelation from God. A New Testament Church will be so different from what you are accustomed to in the church-world that you will need a revelation from God to recognize it.

A New Testament Church has the presence of the Lord in it. Therefore, people relate to it as they did to the Lord. He (it) has no form of comeliness; and when we see Him (it) , there is no beauty that we should desire Him (it). He (it) is despised and rejected by men. Isaiah 53:2-3. Do you know why that is true? The Jewish religion was suppose to lead the people to Christ (Galatians 3:24). The Jewish leaders, though, had taken their religion so far afield that when Christ came they couldn’t recognize Him. The same thing has happened in Christianity. The church has gone so far afield from what the Lord began that the majority of Christians cannot recognize or desire the New Testament Church. And no one, having drunk old wine, immediately desires new; for he says, The old is better. Luke 5:39. The Jews of Jesus’ day preferred the taste of a corrupted religion more than the flavors of Christ. That is the way it was in the days when Moses brought them out of Egypt. They preferred the flesh pots of Egypt over the flavor of being led by the Lord in the wilderness (Exodus 16:3). Likewise, many Christians today have become so accustomed to a stale Christianity that they don’t like the flavor of the New Testament Church under Jesus Christ. Now, let’s get back to Ephesians chapter four.

Ephesians 4:11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers,

The next few verses explain why these ministries are given to the church. They are sometimes called gift-ministries. Sometimes they are referred to as ascension-ministries, because the Lord Jesus descends into their earthen nature and then ascends in them as an apostle in some, as prophets in some, etc.

Ephesians 4:12 For the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,

The Body of Christ cannot be edified and equipped for the work of the ministry without the ministries of verse 11. The reason should be obvious. The Lord has chosen them as the channels for His life to flow to the members of the Body of Christ. Take away those ministries and the church is cut off from the life of Christ. Now some would argue that while they do not have or believe in apostles and prophets for today, they do have evangelists, pastors and teachers. The evangelists, pastors and teachers they have, though, are not the same as the evangelists, pastors and teachers of verse 11, and they cannot edify and equip the people for the work of ministry. The evangelists, pastors and teachers of verse 11 work with the apostles and prophets. The apostles and prophets are the foundational ministries of the Body of Christ, Jesus Christ being the Chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). They are the connecting link between the Lord Jesus Christ and every other ministry and member. Eliminate the apostles and prophets and you have cut off the life-line of Christ. Why are so many churches weak and lifeless? It is because the life-line of the Lord has been severed from them, and the amazing thing is that they usually don’t realize they are weak and lifeless. They are like the church of Laodicea. Jesus said, “You say that you are rich and have need of nothing. You do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17).

Ephesians 4:13 Till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of Christ;

Notice it is “till we all” come to a perfect man. We do not each become a perfect man. The Body of Christ, which is a New Testament Church, collectively becomes a perfect Man, and that perfect Man is Christ. This is what Paul was talking about when he said Christ would be glorified and admired in all them that believe (II Thessalonians 1:10). Think on verse 13 awhile. That is what the New Testament Church is becoming. Just as the Body of Christ is in the making, so is the New Testament Church. Don’t put the New Testament Church back in the Book of Acts and leave it there. If the modern church of today has ruined your taste buds for what God is doing, then wash out your mouth and “taste of the Lord and see that He is good” (Psalm 34:8); also taste of the New Testament Church and see that the Lord is good.

Ephesians 4:14 That we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting.

The Greek word translated “children” here refers to infants. Children are tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine. You probably already know where these winds of doctrines are that toss the infants about. The doctrinal winds by the trickery of men are blowing in from the various denominations. What about the New Testament Church? Ephesians 4:4-6 answers that question. There is one body, one Spirit, One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

Ephesians 4:15 But, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the Head, Christ,

You do understand that the Church is the Body and Jesus is the Head of the Body? Alright, verse 15 speaks about some growing up into the Head. Some are going to reign with the Lord (II Timothy 2:12; Revelation 5:10).

Ephesians 4:16 From whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does it share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.

Notice that in verse 11 it was the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers that were ministering to the Body, equipping them for the work of the ministry. Now we see the whole Body ministering; it is every joint supplying. This is the principle found in Genesis. Then God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth; and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, the herb that yields seed according to its kind, and the tree that yields fruit, whose seed is in itself according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. Genesis 1:11-12. That is what we see working in the New Testament Church. The earthen vessels of verse 11 (apostles, prophets, etc.) have the seed of Christ in them, and the result of their ministry is that every member becomes a supplier of the life of Christ. You cannot be a part of a New Testament Church very long before you also find yourself ministering the Life of the Lord. There is the major difference between a New Testament Church and the churches of Christendom today.

The other portion of Scripture that I want us to look at is in chapter two of Ephesians. We won’t spend a lot of time on this one. I was expecting this message to be somewhat shorter than it is.

Ephesians 2:19-22 Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,

Chew on that awhile. Members of the Body of Christ are members of the household of God. Now that doesn’t mean every Christian is a member of the Body of Christ and a member of the household of God. The Body of Christ is far more than nominal Christianity. Look at the next verse.

Ephesians 2:20 Having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone,

The members of the household of God have been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. That cannot be said for every Christian. Much of Christianity has been cut off from the life of the Lord by the elimination of the foundation.

Ephesians 2:21-22 In whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord,
22 In whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

How important is the New Testament Church? Well, it is the only means that God has chosen for building His dwelling place. Why do so many Christian churches talk about going to heaven instead of building a dwelling for God? It is because they can’t build a holy temple for the Lord. They have eliminated the foundation. A story was told of a man visiting an institution for the insane. As he was walking through the grounds he saw a group of men with building tools – hammers and such things. One man was on a ladder and someone else was handing him a board and hammer. The visitor asked what they were doing. The man on the ladder said, “We’re building a two-story house, and we’ve decided to build the second story first.” The visitor walked away muttering, “I know why you’re here.” You can’t build the second story of a house first, and neither can you build the temple of the Lord without the foundational ministries. What is a New Testament Church? It is the means that God has chosen to build His holy habitation.

Copyright © 2005 by Henry DuBose