How to Identify the New Testament Church

        To identify the true New Testament church will determine where you will spend eternity. Today there is much confusion because of the multiplicity of churches, each claiming to be the Lord's church. Not only do people have a right to know what the church is, it is the responsibility of everyone to know it. Who would like to be a member of any organization without any knowledge about it?

        The question therefore is: "How may I identify the New Testament church?"

        Friend, only prayer, dedication, sincerity and thorough investigation can help you to identify it. Identification is essential in every aspect of life, be it in business or society. Manufacturers identify their products by means of trademarks or emblems. This is to avoid duplication and falsification by people who might try to produce the same kind of item but of poor quality.

        In societies or in homes, we are known by names. Though our names are distinct, there are other marks which help us to identify the individual we are after. For example, two people may bear the name Smith. In order to avoid confusion, one or both are identified by adding additional names, preferably the names corresponding to their birth certificate. Hence, we hear Ralph Smith and Bob Smith.

        Identification helps the police to look for the lost child. At the police station, the parents are expected to furnish the police with the full particulars of the lost child; for example, his name, age (date of birth), height, complexion, etc., and any other notable features that can help in quick identification. If the police know only the name of the child, they may not track this child, since many children may bear the same name. Hence, in our bid to help you identify the true church of the Bible, we will not only be concerned with its name, but with other notable features, so as to help you identify with ease the church the Bible talks about. It is for this cause I have undertaken this assignment to help you know the truth about what God says concerning His church.

        There is a story about three blind men who had heard a lot about an elephant and wanted to know the size, so they went out with all determination to find out or identify the animal.

        The first blind man got close to the elephant; held the tail and said, "Eh, an elephant is like a rope." The second blind man held the body and said, "An elephant is like a big building." The last one held the ear and said, "An elephant is like a mat." These three blind men left with different ideas about how an elephant really was. What they failed to do was try to identify all the marks of the elephant. This is what is happening in our Christian world today. We should, in our attempt to identify the church of Christ, try to investigate all the teachings of the Bible that will help us identify it.

Part 1

A PERSON SHOULD OBSERVE
THE TIME AND PLACE OF ITS BEGINNING

        God, through the prophets, spoke of the time and place for the beginning of the New Testament church. In Isaiah 2.2,3 God said, "Now it will come about that in the last days, The mountain of the house of the LORD will be established as the chief of the mountains; And will be raised above the hills; And all the nations will stream to it. And many peoples will come and say, 'Come let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, To the house of the God of Jacob; That He may teach us concerning His ways. And that we may walk in His paths.' For the law will go forth from Zion. And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem."

        In this prophecy, three facts come out: (1) The time of the beginning; (2) God's house was to be exalted above all nations; that all nations would flow into it; and (3) the place.

         According to Micah, Isaiah, and Jesus, it was to begin in Jerusalem. (Micah 4.1-2; Isaiah 22,3, Luke 24 47.) Paul also spoke of the "household of God which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth."

        Concerning the time, we know that every organization has its time of beginning. The prophets foretold the beginning: the time. In Matthew 3.1 we read that in the days of the Caesars and the Herods came John the Baptist. His preaching was "the Kingdom was at hand." In Luke 10 the seventy were sent and their message was "the Kingdom of God is nigh unto you." The statements "at hand” and "nigh unto you" are indications that the kingdom or the church was to be established even during the lifetime of the apostles. Mark 9.1 tells that some (apostles) that stand here shall in no wise taste of death till they see the kingdom of God come with power. On the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, we read of the coming kingdom coming with power. Christ told the disciples in Acts 1.8 to tarry in the city of Jerusalem until they receive power. This, my dear reader, shows and teaches that the New Testament church began in Jerusalem and the time was the day of Pentecost in about AD 33.

Part 2

A PERSON MAY IDENTIFY THE CHURCH
BY OBSERVING THE FOUNDER

        Every organization has its founder: political parties, benevolent societies and many religious sects. What we want to identify now is the Founder of the New Testament church.

        In Matthew 16.15-18 Jesus in Caesarea Philippi asked his disciples, "But who do you say that l am?” Wrong answers were given from among them, but Peter made a most noble confession, that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. Following this truth, Jesus said, "Blessed are you Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter [Petros - Greek word meaning stone], and upon this rock [Petra - Greek word meaning bed rock, a massive great ledge - See 1 Corinthians 10.4) I will build My church." I will emphasize here that the church was not built upon Peter as some people think, but rather upon Peter's confession that "Thou art the Christ the Son of the living God."

        The statement of Jesus that He will build His church was future tense. Neither Abraham, Noah, Moses, nor John the Baptist built the church. It was Jesus who said, "I will build My church." Dear friend, the church is Christ's because (a) He promised to build it; (b) He purchased it with His blood. (Acts 20.28.) (c) He is the foundation of the church. (1 Corinthians 3.11) In fact, from the day of Pentecost we read of the church as being in existence, and that the saved were added to it (Acts 2.47), and persecution came upon it. (Acts 8.1.)

         Let me take a few minutes to illustrate my point that Jesus is the founder or the builder of the church. In case you read from the paper in 1970 that Mr. Brown will build a house, and later on you read in 1970 that people lived in Mr. Brown's house, would you agree that he has built the house? The answer would be "Yes," because if the house had not been built, how could the people live in it?

         So also it is true with the church. Jesus said in Matthew 16.18, "I will build my church," and in Acts 2.47 "the saved were added to the church." Therefore, the church was built by no one else but by Christ Himself. He never said He would build churches, as of many, but “one church.”

Part 3

A PERSON MAY IDENTIFY THE CHURCH
BY THE NAME IT IS CALLED

        The devil has deceived many people to believe that there is nothing in a name. If it is true, why should God command Adam to name things? (Genesis 2.19,20.) God changed Jacob's name to Israel. (Genesis 35.10.)

         Friend, here are several scriptural names by which you can identify the church:

  1. The church of the Lord. (Acts 20.28.)
  2. The church of God. (1Corinthians1.2.)
  3. The house of God; the church of the living God. (1 Timothy 3.15.)
  4. The church. (Acts 11.22.)
  5. The church of Christ. (Romans 16.16.)
        The New Testament church does not wear any man-made name or names. Any church which does not wear a name that signifies the founder could not be the New Testament church.

Part 4

A PERSON MAY IDENTIFY THE CHURCH
BY THE WORSHIP

        In the New Testament church, Christians met on every first day of the week to worship God. The worship consisted of five items:
  1. Singing. Ephesians 5.19; Colossians 3.16. The singing was vocal without any instrument accompanying it. Someone might ask, "What about Psalm 150?" ThoseJews were not Christians. They were under a different dispensation. We are therefore to do all that the Lord Jesus has commanded us to observe. (Matthew 28.19.) The early Christians were steadfast in the apostles' doctrine, but not the doctrine of the Jews. (Acts 2.42.) It is therefore wrong for anybody to worship with instruments in the church today. (2 John 9.)

  2. Praying. Acts 2.42. Christians are to pray without ceasing. (1 Thessalonians 5.17.) We need to pray according to His will and our prayer should be definite. Ask for what you really need. God always rewards true prayer and His blessings are abundant. We should also realize that perfect prayer is the outpouring of a strong intense desire, but with the humble resignation "Not my will but thy will be done."

  3. Giving. 1 Corinthians 16.1,2; 2 Corinthians 9.6-8. The scripture references given above show that Christians were commanded to give according to plan. They were to give weekly (1 Corinthians 16.1,2), voluntarily (2 Corinthians 8.12), purposely, (2 Corinthians 9.7), and proportionately. (1 Corinthians 16.2.) This giving was done weekly. How much you are to give depends upon how much you have been prospered. In the New Testament church we do not read of any church giving on the basis of necessity, pledging, tithing or payment of monthly dues and harvest. Even in their deep poverty, they were willing to give liberally to support the work. (1 Corinthians 8.1-5.)

  4. The Lord's Supper. Acts 20.7; 1 Corinthians 1.20-26; Matthew 26.26-29. Reading from 1 Corinthians 11.20-26, the scripture underlines some facts: (a) It tells of His death for the sins of the world; (b) It proclaims His coming soon. The early Christians upon every first day of the week practiced partaking of the Lord's Supper. The Bible says, "as often as ye meet" and it was their practice of meeting on every Sunday or the first day of the week (Acts 2O.7.) Man has changed this practice and substituted with his man-made doctrines. This has brought the practice of partaking the Lord's Supper quarterly, yearly or at times daily. These are wrong. If you are identifying the New Testament church, ask yourself whether the church you belong to takes the Lord's Supper every first day of the week. The unfortunate practice we see today is the fact that some members of the church are only given the bread, but the wine is drunk by the officiator. Ask the question "Why?" and the answer would be that the bread and the wine change into the literal body of Christ. If that argument is accepted, they why should the officiator, after eating the bread as others did, not only stop there, but go on to drink the wine? My reader, I love you and want you to be able to identify the true church so that you may be a member of it to be saved. I am not interested in adding false teachings that we already have in the world. We want to be free and it is only the truth that shall make us free. (John 8.32.)

  5. Preaching or Bible Teaching. This also is a part of the Christian worship. It is during this time that God speaks to us. It is also through studies that we are able to divide the truth and to handle it rightly. It was the practice of Paul to preach to churches. (Acts 2O.7, 17-21.) The church is commanded to preach and teach. (Mark 16.15: Matthew 18.18-19.)

Part 5

A PERSON MAY IDENTIFY THE CHURCH
BY THE TERM OF MEMBERSHIP

        People that become members of the Lord's church did not just write their names on papers, but rather obeyed or did the will of God as required. The scriptures testify that for one to be a member of the church, they must
  1. Hear the word (Romans 10.14,17),
  2. Believe the word (John 8.24; Hebrews 11.6),
  3. Repent of past sins (Luke 13.3),
  4. Confess faith in Christ (Romans 10.10), and
  5. Be baptized to put on Christ and also to be added to the church (Mark 16.15: Acts 2:38-47; Galatians 3.27.) This baptism is not sprinkling or pouring, but immersion or burial. (Romans 6.3-5; Colossians 2.12.)

Part 6

A PERSON MAY IDENTIFY THE CHURCH
BY ITS ORGANIZATION

        Councils, synods or conferences do not govern the New Testament church. The organization is as follows:
  1. Christ is the head of the church. No man on earth should claim to be the head of the church.

  2. Elders are appointed to take the oversight of each (not more than one) church. (Acts 20.17,28; Acts 11.30.) The reason is that each church or congregation is autonomous. We do not read of moderators or bishops or any other officer taking charge of more than one church. Paul admonished Titus to remain in Crete to set in order the things that were wanting and to ordain elders in every city. (Titus 1.5-9.) These elders were not appointed because of their scholastic achievement or their wealth, but rather on qualifications. (1 Timothy 3.1-7.) Let me remind you also that the titles (if you want to call it like that) bishop, elder, pastor, presbyter, overseer, and shepherd refer to the same person or offices.

  3. Deacons are special qualified members to serve the church. They serve under the elders. (Acts 6.1-6; 1 Timothy 3.8-13.)

  4. Preachers or evangelists are men who went out preaching or telling the good news of Jesus Christ. Preachers were never called pastors or reverend. The word "reverend" is used only one time in the Bible and is found in Psalm 111.9 referring to God. Read the preceding verses. It is therefore wrong for any other man to use the title reverend (Rev.). There were no distinctions such as "clergy" and "laity."

  5. Members. The congregation or the body of Christ which is the church (Colossians 1.18) is composed of people called out of the world and put into the church through obedience. Each member contributes to the unity and function of the church to accomplish its great mission of winning souls. These members were called Christians or disciples. (Acts 11.26.)

        My dear reader, I know I have taken much of your precious time to read this tract. I know why I did that. I wanted you to know the true New Testament church so that you may reject any church that comes or exists in the form of the New Testament church, while in actual fact it is the Old Devil's church. It was also my heart's desire that this might help you to go back to the Bible and be only a Bible Christian and nothing else. I believe that if you will sincerely accept the seed which is the word of God in your heart and let it germinate to let it get hold of your being, you will only be a Christian. (Acts 2.41.)

         Lastly, I wanted to call your attention to the fact that Paul said in Acts 20.20-30 that from among your own selves shall men arise speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after them.

        The many churches we see today should not marvel us. What we should do is to know false churches from the true church.