The Pattern for the New Testament Church

by William J. Stewart

A few weeks back, we noticed that we serve a God who has consistently supplied patterns for man, some of those specifically related to worship (ie. the construction of and service in both the tabernacle and the temple). Is there likewise a blueprint provided by the Lord for worship in the New Testament? Indeed, there is. However, unlike the pattern given to Noah for the ark, or that given to Moses for the tabernacle, or to David for the temple, God’s plan for the church is not compiled in just a few verses or chapters, but throughout the entire New Testament.

The New Testament identifies five distinct practices which are part of worship in the Lord’s church. They are:

  • Communion (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 11:17-34)
  • Collection for the saints (1 Corinthians 16:1-2; 2 Corinthians 9:6-8)
  • Prayer (Acts 2:42; 1 Timothy 2;1-2, 8)
  • Singing (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16)
  • Preaching and teaching (Acts 2:42; 20:7)

The New Testament church is very simple in it’s administration, unlike many of the church organizations which exist today. You will not find the earthly headquarters, councils, committees, and the like of denominations in the Scripture.

There is one head, Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:22-23; 4:15-16; Colossians 1:18). No head or headquarters exists besides Jesus, who is now in heaven. The Lord’s headship is the only universal structure revealed in Scripture. Two additional texts reveal to us all there is to know about the organization of the Lord’s church. Ephesians 4:11-12 reads,

And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ…

And Philippians 1:1 reads,

Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons…

Consider for a moment each of the positions or offices mentioned:

  • Apostles — chosen messengers, no longer present;
  • Prophets — spokesmen for God, no longer present (miraculously);
  • Evangelists — preachers of the gospel;
  • Pastors and teachers — spiritual leaders in local congregations (also referred to as elders, bishops, overseers, shepherds);
  • Deacons — servants who address physical needs in the church

The doctrine in the Lord’s church is found in the Scriptures, and specifically in the New Testament. The Lord’s people ought to require book, chapter and verse (ie. Biblical authority) for what is done in the worship and work of the church. Notice the importance of doctrine in the New Testament (Matthew 15:9; Mark 7:7; Acts 2:42; Romans 6:17; 16:17; Ephesians 4:14; Colossians 2:22; 1 Timothy 1:3, 10; 4:1, 6, 13, 16; 5:17; 6:1, 3; 2 Timothy 3:10, 16; 4:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1, 7, 10; Hebrews 6:2; 13:9; 2 John 1:9, 10; Revelation 2:14, 15, 24).

It would be impossible to examine all the doctrine of Christ in a lengthy series of articles, let alone in a single article. But, suffice it to say that whatever is taught among the Lord’s people must be in accordance with what is taught in the Scriptures. Here are a few fundamental doctrines to consider:

  • Deity of Christ (John 1:1; 20:28)
  • Sufficiency of Scripture (1 Timothy 3:16-17)
  • Necessity of baptism (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 1 Peter 3:21)

As there was a distinct pattern for the ark, the tabernacle and the temple, so there is a distinct pattern for the New Testament church. Those who desire to serve the Lord faithfully will be diligent students of the New Testament, so as to believe and teach only that which is according to the pattern.

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