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New Testament

Nue TES-tuh-mint: noun, 1) the blood of Jesus, 2) a promise from God to His people to remember their sins no more, 3) a collection of books written by the early Christians: history, biography and letters to churches.


What does the New Testament claim to be?

1. The letters of the apostle Paul claim to be letters from an apostle to a local church.

Paul never claimed that his letters had the same stature as Old Testament scripture. Paul wrote to Timothy to remember the scriptures he had been taught as a child. None of the New Testament had been written when Timothy was a child. 

And how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is God-breathed..." (II Tim. 3:15-16)

When Paul wrote to the Corinthians he drew a sharp distinction between what Jesus said and what Paul himself was saying about marriage:

To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. 11But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife. To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her...Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord's mercy is trustworthy...and I think that I too have the Spirit of God. (I Cor. 7:10-12, 25, 40)

Some would say this is an unnecessary distinction, believing that since Paul had the Spirit of God, then his words carried the same weight as Jesus' words. But Paul seems to disagree with that viewpoint, feeling obligated to tell the Corinthians which commands are from Jesus directly and which are from Paul. This may indicate the early church's careful preservation of Jesus' actual teachings handed down initially by word of mouth. At the time of the first letter to the church in Corinth (AD 55) it is believed that none of the gospels had yet been written (AD 60-85).

It is Peter that pronounces Paul's writings to be scripture: II Pet. 3:15,16.

2. None of the New Testament letters focus on the format of the worship assembly.

The closest we have to rules about the assembly are in Paul's first letter to the church in Corinth, chapters 11-14. Paul addresses the abuses of the Lord's Supper in chapter 11, and the abuses of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in chapters 12-14. Much controversy has arisen from Paul's statements about women wearing veils or headcoverings in chapter 11, some seeing this as a custom of Greek or Corinthian society, others seeing it as a custom of the Roman Empire, others see it as a distinctly Christian custom in contrast to the Jewish custom of the men covering their heads to pray. Whatever the case, we are left with questions about Corinthian society and customs, which were well understood by the writer and the receiver of this letter, but not easily understood by present day readers.

This example illustrates that the letters in the New Testament cannot automatically be used as a rulebook for present day Christian practice. This is theoretically understood by the Restoration Movement, with D. R. Dungan's book on Hermeneutics as the old standard. Dungan taught that before one could understand a passage one had to know who was talking to whom, and why. Somewhere this lesson got lost.

Paul encouraged the Corinthians not to be selfish during the Lord's Supper communion, but to share, for the simple reason that Jesus was sharing when he instituted the Lord's Supper, and the Lord's Supper commemorated the sacrifice of Christ--the ultimate in sharing. Selfishness during the Lord's Supper was the opposite of what Jesus intended, according to Paul. Paul's written record of what Jesus said at the Last Supper is the earliest written record of the Last Supper that present day readers possess. Paul probably received his information from the apostle Peter, but he probably heard it many times, and he reminded the Corinthians that they had heard it before.

Paul then went on to restrict the uses of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the assembly (chapters 12-14) to things that built up and encouraged the group. Anything that was chaotic or discouraging or selfish was restricted.

And that is all we have written down as rules for the assembly. And we have to be careful because these rules were written for one church in the first century in response to problems that we are not totally clear about today.

3. The book of Acts is a book of history of the early church's response to Christ.

Some have tried to take the book of Acts and ferret out all of the worship rules that the apostles gave the early church. They see that Paul met with the church at Troas on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7), and put that together with the fact that Paul instructed the church at Corinth:

Now about the collection for God's people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do.2On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. 3Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem. (I Cor. 16)

About half of commentators on this passage interpret it to mean that each person was to save up money at home. Others disagree because then there would have had to be a collection when Paul arrived, contrary to Paul's instructions. Some see this passage as a clear statement that the churches all met on the first day of every week, just as the synagogues met every Saturday.

This is only important to those who are looking for rules of worship in the New Testament. Only those who assume that the New Testament contains the rules of worship of today's church see these passages as important. But is their assumption valid?

3. Why is there no rule book in the New Testament?

It could be that God intended the New Testament church to be an oral tradition. It certainly was an oral tradition for the first 30 years.

If God wanted a rule book He could have had one written. In the Old Testament the Ten Commandments are written very carefully on stone as well as in Exodus, and the rules of the tabernacle and the nation of Israel are carefully written out in Leviticus and then again in Deuteronomy. Why then would God leave the church with no comparable book to rely on?

The answer is because God did not want one. There are no specific rules of worship in the New Testament beyond the ones Jesus gave. It is a waste of time and pride to ferret out the customs of the early church and bind them on today's church.

3. Why are people so intent on finding rules where there are none?

It is so much more comforting to write down five acts of worship and fold up the piece of paper and put it in my back pocket, than to accept that I am in Christ Jesus, not by my own power, but by his righteousness and his sacrifice on the cross. It is so much easier to go to church and badmouth all the other religious groups who have not correctly discerned the early church's customs, than to accept that God loves me because He created me in His image and welcomes me into the Prodigal Son's banquet where there is food, music and dancing.

4. What did Jesus ask for?

Jesus certainly did not focus on the rules for how to worship in an assembly. Jesus focused on how to view God, the Father, and how to respond to the Holy Spirit. That is what Jesus wants us to focus on, and that is what the apostles focused on. That is what the early church focused on. The reason there is not much information on the rules for how to conduct a worship assembly is because the early Christians were obeying Christ in focusing on what Christ wanted them to focus on.

When churches today focus on the rules for worship assemblies, bind those rules, divide over those rules, base the security of their salvation on keeping those worship rules, they have lost sight of Christ. The reason these churches bear almost no resemblance to early churches is because they do not focus on what early Christians focused on.

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When the context of these favorite blueprint passages are studied they do not indicate rules at all--only examples of the early church's response to Christ.







"The New Testament is as perfect a constitution for the worship, discipline, and government of the New Testament Church, and as perfect a rule for the particular duties of its members, as the Old Testament was for the worship, discipline, and government of the Old Testament Church, and the particular duties of its members."

--Thomas Campbell,
"Declaration and Address"










* II Tim. 3:15 "and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."

Notice that Paul told Timothy he knew the Scriptures from Timothy's infancy. The only Scriptures he could have learned from infancy would have been the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament.









When churches today focus on the rules for worship assemblies, bind those rules, divide over those rules, base the security of their salvation on keeping those worship rules, they have lost sight of Christ.







If God wanted a rule book He could have had one written.