Jesse G. Jenkins
If you had the choice of being a member of the church that Paul was a member of or some church that had its beginning since Paul’s time, which would you choose? Actually, you have just this choice! The church that Paul was a member of was opposed by all religious parties of that day. And much evil was spoken of it. (Acts 16:2021; Acts 17:6; Acts 18:13) In these passages Paul was accused of exceedingly troubling the city, teaching customs that were not lawful to receive or observe, turning the world upside down, and persuading men to worship contrary to the law. But in the sight of God, this was the only right church; for He never authorized the existence of any other. To this I believe all will agree. Surely no one would say that God authorized the existence of the Saducees, Essenes, or Pharisees with their corrupt teaching.
God had not at that time authorized the existence of any other religious body, and in the absence of any authorization from God for the existence of any other since that time, we are forced to conclude that it was and is the only church that exists by the power of God. Let us go to the Bible and see if we can find the distinguishing characteristics of this church that is approved of God.
1. The creed (authoritative summary of articles of faith): In searching for the creed that was accepted as authority by this church we of necessity must put aside all creeds that have begun since the life of Paul. Some of the most popular creeds in the religious world today are the Nicene Creed (325 A. D.), the Apostles’ Creed (500 A.D), Augsburg Confession of Faith (1530 A. D.), and the Westminster Confession of Faith (1643-49). None of these could have been the creed of the church that Paul was a member of, for they came into existence from 250 to 1600 years too late. Paul plainly tells us that they accepted the Scriptures as their complete authority and faith (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
2. Name by which identified: It is necessary to determine the name or names by which they were identified as some religious bodies adopt the same creed but wear different names. Collectively, they were identified by such phrases as church of Christ (Rom. 16:16), church of the Lord (Acts 20:28), and church of God (1 Cor. 1:2). Individually, they were called Christians (Acts 11:26), saints (Eph. 1:1), and disciples (Acts 11:26). If one had said in Paul’s hearing, “I want to talk to a Baptist” Paul would not have known what he was talking about. But if one had said in Paul’s hearing, “I want to talk to a Christian,” Paul would have answered, “Here am I.”
3. Terms of admission: Paul taught that hearing the word was necessary to produce faith (Rom. 10:17). He taught that without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6). He taught that God commands all men to repent (Acts 17:30). He taught that one must confess with the mouth (Rom. 10:10). He taught that one must be baptized to have his sins washed away (Acts 22:16) and get into Christ (Gal. 3:26-27). The people of the church at Rome had obeyed this form of doctrine, and it had made them free from sin and the servants of righteousness (Rom. 6:17-18). It will do the same for one today, and nothing less than this will free from sin.
4. Organization: The only organization that was characteristic of the church that Paul was a member of was the local congregation, when fully developed, with elders, deacons, and saints (Phil. 1:1). And all activities of the local church were overseen by the bishops or elders (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:1-3). The church that Paul was a member of did not have any centralized agency that told the local churches what they were to do. And it had no centralized agency, outside board nor one eldership, to which the local church voluntarily relinquished the oversight of her work. But each local church under her elders did its own work and was answerable to no other local church. These churches were independent, autonomous and equal.
5. Items of worship: In the church that Paul was a member of the saints in a locality met together from time to time to sing praises to God (Col. 3:16) pray (Acts 2:42) teach the word (Acts 5:42) and on the first day of the week they came together to take the Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:7) and give of their prosperity (1 Cor. 16:1-2). This church did not use the mechanical instrument in worship to God. Neither did it partake of the Lord’s Supper quarterly, but when “the first day of the week” came they met and took the Lord’s supper.
6. Church work: The church that Paul was a member of engaged in two distinct kinds of work. First, it preached the gospel to edify the saved and to save the lost. (Phil. 4:15; 2 Cor. 11:8; Eph. 4:12) Second, it did benevolent work on a very restricted basis. (Acts 2:42; Acts 4:32-34; Acts 6:1-6; Acts 11:27-30; Rom. 15: 25-32; 1 Cor. 16:1-3; 2 Cor. 8, 9; 1 Tim. 5:16). The church did not engage in any entertainment scheme to draw the crowds such as many churches are doing today. Paul and his co-workers strove to make new converts only by preaching the gospel; for it, and it alone, was and is God’s power to save (Rom. 1:16).
Now, we beg you to take the church you are a member of and see if it will measure up to the characteristics of this church. It was and is the only church that exists by the power of God. A number of the most popular religious bodies do not even have one of these distinct characteristics. Some have part of these characteristics but are lacking in others. Such cannot be the church Paul was a member of. If the church you are a member of has most of these characteristics, but is identified by a different name, just to that degree it is different from the church Paul was a member of. If the church you are a member of is identified by the same name, but does its work, all or a part, through a different organization, just to that degree it is different from the church Paul was a member of. A church has to measure up in all of these characteristics to be the church that Paul was a member of!
We invite you to examine the church of Christ. Not all churches that are identified by this name measure up in all these characteristics. But when you find one that has the right name, the right creed, the right terms of admission, the right organization, the right items of worship, and engages in the right work, you will have found the church that Paul was a member of. And if you will obey the same terms of admission, Christ will add you to the same church.