How To Recognize a New Testament Church


A Publication of Old Paths Baptist Church Bible Trust Ministries (Formerly known as Separation of Church and State Law Ministry)


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Jerald Finney
Copyright © January 5, 2018


Matthew 22.21

How can one recognize a true church? J. M. Carroll, in describing the overall organization of the church, listed eleven “Marks of a New Testament Church:

  1. “Its Head and Founder—CHRIST. He is the lawgiver; the Church is only the executive. (Matt. 16:18; Col. 1:18.)
  2. “Its only rule of faith and practice—THE BIBLE. (II Tim. 3:15-17.)
  3. “Its name—‘CHURCH,’ ‘CHURCHES.’ (Matt. 16:18; Rev. 22:16.)
  4. “Its polity—CONGREGATIONAL—all members equal. (Matt. 20:24-28; Matt. 23:5- 12.)
  5. “Its members—only saved people. (Eph 2:21-22; I Peter 2:5.)
  6. “Its ordinances—BELIEVER’S BAPTISM, FOLLOWED BY THE LORD’S SUPPER. (Matt. 28:19-20.)
  7. “Its officers—PASTORS and DEACONS. (I Tim. 3:1-16.)
  8. “Its work—getting folks saved, baptizing them (with a baptism that meets all the requirements of God’s Word), teaching them (‘to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you’). (Matt. 28:16-20.)
  9. “Its financial plan—‘Even so (TITHES and OFFERINGS) hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.’ (I Cor. 9.14.)
  10. “Its weapons of warfare—spiritual, not carnal. (II Cor. 10:4; Eph. 6:10-20.)
  11. “Its independence—separation of Church and State. (Matt. 22:21.)” [i]

Certainly, a preacher on the street corner with a crowd around him as he preaches is not a church. Nor is a group of people meeting in a house and preaching the Word. However, if that house group chooses a properly ordained and baptized pastor, organizes and operates according to biblical principles, initiates a proper baptism for new believers, and begins to partake of the Lord’s Supper, an ordered New Testament church comes into existence. The Lord desires that those who are saved be baptized into a properly ordered New Testament church.

Thus, an eChurch is not a church, nor is a group who starts following someone on Facebook or other social network. As has been established in prior lessons, a church is a spiritual body or assembly ordered according to the principles of the New Testament.

Only the assembly where the true doctrine is preached is a church: “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed” (Ga. 1.8). Where only false doctrines are preached, no church can exist. For example, the Catholic Church, some Baptist churches, many Protestant churches, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Islam, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses are not churches. When the preaching of a church conceals the gospel message of salvation by grace through faith alone from its members, so that the gospel message is not clearly proclaimed, and has not been proclaimed for some time, the group meeting there is not a church.

A church can exist only where the Bible is believed to be the inerrant Word of God, where the Bible is the sole basis for faith and practice, and where that Bible is preached.

Local churches assemble in His name for the breaking of bread, worship, praise, prayer, testimony, the ministry of the word, discipline, and the furtherance of the Gospel (He. 10.25; Ac. 20.7; 1 Co. 14.26; 1 Co. 5.4, 5; Ph. 4.14-18; 1 Th. 1.8; Ac. 13.1-). Every such local church has Christ in the midst, is a temple of God, indwelt by the Holy Spirit (1 Co. 3.16, 17), and is “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Ti. 3.15). A church is the body of Christ of which He is the Head. Christ desires that a church remain solely under Him: “And [God] hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church” (Ep. 1.22-23). “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church” (Ep. 5.23).

New Testament church doctrine and example further define what a church is to be:

  1. Spiritual entity only. [ii] A church which is a legal entity such as a 501(c)(3) corporation is, at best, in God’s permissive will and out of God’s perfect will. Such a church has combined the earthly, temporal, and Satanic with the heavenly, eternal and spiritual.[iii]
  2. The body of Christ of which He is the Head. Christ desires that a church remain solely under Him: “And [God] hath put all thingsunder his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church” (Ep. 1.22-23). “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church” (Ep. 5.23). A church which is a legal entity has two heads, the Lord Jesus Christ and civil government. Such a church cannot be a New Testament church.[iv]
  3. Separate from the world. An incorporated 501(c)(3) church is not separated from the world.[v]
  4. A church is to assemble in His name for the breaking of bread, worship, praise, prayer, testimony, the ministry of the word, discipline, and the furtherance of the Gospel (He. 10.25; Ac. 20.7; 1 Co. 14.26; 1 Co. 5.4, 5; Ph. 4.14-18; 1 Th. 1.8; Ac. 13.1-).
  5. Every such local church has Christ in the midst, is a temple of God, indwelt by the Holy Spirit (1 Co. 3.16, 17), and is “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Ti. 3.15).
  6. A church has duties outside the meeting house. The teaching of doctrine inside, work outside.[vi] Outside, the members are to present the Gospel to the world through door to door and one on one evangelism and street ministry.
  7. Fight the spiritual warfare against powers, principalities and the rulers of darkness in this present world (Ep. 6.10-18). This fight is being waged by Satan on all fronts. Churches and believers should likewise be fighting on all fronts using God’s methods of warfare.

Click here to go to Bible Study of Ephesians. Ephesians reveals the institution of the church as God’s masterpiece. It is more wonderful that any temple made with hands, constructed of living stones, indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 1 presents the church as a body. The book is both doctrinal and practical. The first three chapters are doctrinal and go into the heavenlies. The last three chapters are practical and cover the believers responsibilities on earth. A church and a believer are to remain connected to their heavenly head as they walk on this earth.

Bible Studies of various Books on the Doctrine of the Church.

The Biblical Doctrine of the Church.


Endnotes

[i] J. M. Carroll, The Trail of Blood, (Distributed by Ashland Avenue Baptist Church, 163 N. Ashland Avenue, Lexington KY 40502, 606-266-4341), pp. 4-5. J. M. Carroll was a leader among Baptists who studied history and the Bible in an attempt to “find the church which was the oldest and most like churches described in the New Testament.” In the course of his studies, he gathered “one of the greatest libraries on church history. This library was given at his death to the Southwestern Baptist Seminary, Ft. Worth, Texas.”

[ii] See What is a spiritual entity?; A Church Is a Mystery, an Assembly, a Spiritual Body; The Holy Spirit Forms a Church which Is a Temple, a Spiritual Body, the Body of Christ.

[iii] See What is a legal entity?; Links to Lessons on Satan.

[iv]  Christ Ordained the Church and Builds It upon the Rock; Christ, the Head/Bridegroom/Husband of the Local Church.

[v] What is an established church?; The Biblical Doctrine of Separation of Church and State.

[vi] Click here to go to Bible Study of Ephesians. Ephesians reveals the institution of the church as God’s masterpiece. It is more wonderful that any temple made with hands, constructed of living stones, indwelt by the Holy Spirit. The book is both doctrinal and practical. The first three chapters are doctrinal and go into the heavenlies. The last three chapters are practical and cover the believers responsibilities on earth. A church and a believer are to remain connected to their heavenly Head, the Lord Jesus Christ, and Him alone as they walk on this earth.

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