The Lord Jesus Christ promised to establish His church so that it would overcome all obstacles (Mat. 16:15-18). He promised that He would be with His church unto the end of the world. See Mat. 28:18-20. The same passage teaches that the churches are to train the next generations. This is how the churches keep the truth. The first churches did this (2 Tim. 2:2). The principles of the New Testament faith are to be kept until Christ returns (1 Tim. 6:13-16). The one true Christian faith is called the “faith once delivered to the saints,” and we are to fight for it (Jude 3).
Some of the characteristics of the New Testament faith are as follows:
1. The Scriptures are the sole authority for faith and practice (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Paul taught that the Scriptures are able to make the believer “perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” This means that the Bible is sufficient. It is has the ability to bring perfection, what else could be needed? God’s people need teachers of the Bible, but they don’t need priests or church tradition or “church fathers” or new prophecies such as those of Ellen G. White (Seventh-day Adventism) or new revelations like the Book of Mormon or visions and dreams as per the Pentecostal/Charismatic movements.
2. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone by the work of Christ alone. We see this taught in Acts 16:30-31. We see it in Paul’s Epistles (Rom. 4:1-6; 11:6). This doctrine is summarized in Ephesians 2:8-10. Salvation is by grace without works, and works follow as the evidence and fruit of salvation. The works in the Christian life are God’s works. Christ did everything that is necessary to save us from our sins, and our good works are merely the evidence and fruit of salvation.
3. A born again church membership. Only those who profess Jesus Christ and give evidence of salvation are qualified to be church members (Acts 2:41). Churches need to be as careful as possible to see that people are truly born again before they are brought into the membership. The new birth produces a changed life (2 Cor. 5:17). False churches do not exhibit the new life of obedience (Titus 1:16; 1 John 2:3-5).
4. The eternal security of the believer. There are some companion doctrines that must be understood.
a. The doctrine of eternal life. The term “eternal security” is not used in Scripture, but the terms “eternal life” (Jn. 3:16) and “everlasting consolation” (2 Th. 2:16) are used. The believer has eternal life, which means it has no end.
b. The doctrine of gift (Eph. 2:8-10). Salvation is a free gift that was purchased in its entirety by the Son of God on Calvary. By its very nature, a gift is free and without obligation. To lose one’s salvation would mean that it was partly earned by the recipient. It is said that Henry Ford would give favored employees a gift of a Ford automobile, but if they fell out of favor he would take back the automobile. That isn’t a true gift, and that isn’t God!
c. The doctrine of evidence (John 10:27-28; 1 John 3:1-3). The doctrine of evidence teaches us that eternal security is for the true believer, for the one who is born again, the one who gives evidence of his salvation. In John 10:27-28, the one who has eternal life and will never perish is the one who hears Christ’s voice and follows Him. To claim that anyone who professes Christ has eternal security is wrong; the Bible warns about empty professions (Mat. 7:21-23; Titus 1:16).
d. The doctrine of chastisement (Heb. 12:4-10). The true believer is the one who is chastened when he sins. Christ keeps His own and chastens them when they go astray. The one who professes Christ and turns away and is not chastened is not a true believer.
5. The church has two ordinances: believer’s baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
a. Scriptural baptism is for believers and is by immersion in water (Acts 8:36-38). Philip would not baptize the Eunuch until he had a profession of saving faith in Christ, having believed in Christ with all his heart. When Philip baptized him, they both went down into the water, which is necessary only for immersion. The mode of scriptural baptism is immersion because it depicts the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (Rom. 6:3-4).
b. The Lord’s Supper is a simple memorial meal (1 Cor. 11:24-26). It is not a sacrifice, and it is not a sacrament that is part of one’s salvation.
6. The independence and autonomy of the church. The apostles established autonomous churches that fellowshipped with likeminded churches but were not under the authority of other churches or of some ecclesiastical headquarters. The church is autonomous under its one Head Jesus Christ. The apostles established no hierarchical organizations over the churches. The apostolic churches had their own leaders, maintained their own discipline, sent out their own missionaries.
a. We see this in the first missionary journey in Acts 13-14. When God called Paul and Barnabas, the church at Antioch ordained them and did not have to ask permission from the “mother church” at Jerusalem (Acts 13:1-4). After Paul and Barnabas started new churches, they ordained elders in every church (Acts 14:23). Neither Jerusalem nor Antioch operated as any sort of ecclesiastical headquarters over other churches.
b. See the independence and autonomy of the church in Revelation 2-3. When Jesus addressed the churches of that day, He addressed each church directly and individually (Rev. 2-3).
7. The priesthood of the believers. The New Testament knows of only one priesthood and that is the general priesthood of all believers (1 Pet. 2:5, 9) and Jesus Christ as the great High Priest (Heb. 3:1). There was no other priesthood in the early churches. The apostles were not called priests or ordained as priests. While there are instructions for selecting pastors and deacons, there are no instructions for selecting priests.
8. Separation of church and state. God has given different spheres of authority to the government and to the church. The government is the keeper of law and order in society (Rom. 13:1-7). The church is the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15). It is not the government’s business to decide and enforce Bible doctrine or to meddle with church government and practice. Jesus expressed this truth as follows: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s” (Mat. 22:21). Caesar or secular government has its place in God’s plan, but Caesar must not extend his authority beyond that which God has granted. The apostolic churches were not united with or supported by the secular government. They obeyed the government, except when a secular law directly contradicted the Scriptures (Acts 5:29), but they did not yoke together with the government.
9. Liberty of conscience. The first churches did not persecute anyone or try to force anyone to submit to their teaching (Mk. 9:38-40; Lk. 9:54-56). We can preach against what others teach if their teaching is wrong, but we cannot use physical force against them. Churches have the authority to enforce sound doctrine and practice within their membership (1 Cor. 5; Titus 3:10-11), but they do not have authority over those who are outside. Even within the congregation, leaders do not have the authority to compel someone to believe a certain way by the use of physical force or other carnal means of coercion. There is always liberty for a person to leave if he so wills.
10. Separation from false teaching and apostasy. One of the themes of the New Testament epistles is the danger of false teaching and the necessity of separating from it (i.e., Rom. 16:17; 2 Cor. 6:14; 1 Tim. 6:3-5; 2 Tim. 3:5; 2 John 7-9). A New Testament church does not overlook error and apostasy.
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