THE SIMPLICITY OF NEW TESTAMENT CHRISTIANITY
The church as established by Christ through the divine agency of His Holy Spirit-guided apostles and Christianity as revealed on the pages of the New Testament was simple and uncomplicated. The church consisted of repentant immersed believers who acknowledged Christ as the Son of God and their Savior and who were committed to following His teaching in all things. Their only organization was simple, autonomous congregations overseen by a plurality of spiritually mature men known as bishops/elders/pastors. They gathered on the first day of every week to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, to eat the Lord’s Supper, to pray, to study and be instructed in the word of God, and to give of their financial means for the work of caring for the poor and needy and for providing the funds needed to evangelize others with the gospel. Their objective was to observe all that Christ had commanded (Matthew 28:18-20), to continue steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine (Acts 2:42), to do all in the name of the Lord (by His authority and to His glory) (Colossians 3:17), to walk in the steps of Christ (I Peter 2:21), and to be conformed to His image (Romans 8:29; II Corinthians 3:18).
But alas, the original simple way of Christ did not last! Anyone acquainted with the history of apostasies in Christianity knows that over an extended period of time an elaborate hierarchy developed, culminating in the crowning of the first Pope in A.D. 606. Doctrines and practices strange to the New Testament began to be incorporated into the church: the use of holy water, the doctrine of purgatory, instrumental music, infant baptism, the substitution of sprinkling for immersion, the worship of images, the veneration of Mary, the doctrine that when blessed by the priest (the Bible teaches that all Christians are priests, I Peter 2:9) the elements on the Lord’s table become the literal flesh and blood of Christ (the doctrine of transubstantiation), and a host of other doctrines and practices that evolved over the centuries and for which there is not the slightest precedent or authority in the Scriptures.
In time, a protestant (protest) reformation movement (effort to correct) was launched, leading to the formation of multiplied hundreds of denominations, with scores of variations within each of these denominations. Rather than returning to the simplicity of the original church, these denominations retained many of the doctrines and practices of Catholicism and developed distinctive doctrines and practices of their own. Baptists differ from Methodists, Presbyterians differ from Episcopalians, Lutherans differ from Pentecostals, and the entire system of denominationalism (both Catholic and protestant) is an egregious affront to the unity for which Christ prayed and which He earnestly desires of those who profess to believe in and follow Him (John 17:20-21; cf. I Corinthians 1:10-13). Both Catholicism and Protestantism were born in apostasy and are the fruits of corrupting and departing from the standard of life, doctrine, and practice set forth in the New Testament
Everett Ferguson, in his book Early Christians Speak: Faith and Life in the First Three Centuries, recounts the simplicity of the church during those early centuries. There were many who held to the unadorned way of original Christianity. While I do not know how many congregations down through the centuries continued to adhere to the simplicity of the New Testament way, it is not hard to believe that there were many who did so. Someone has observed that all the church needs is a Book (the Bible, God’s word), a table, a bottle of the fruit of the vine, and a loaf of unleavened bread. If all denominations (both Catholic and protestant) went out of business and closed their doors, simple, New Testament Christianity would not be destroyed or vanish from the face of the earth.
About a dozen years ago, I read an informative book titled The Reformers and Their Stepchildren by Leonard Verdun, a Calvinist. Two questions he addressed rather extensively were: “Who was the true Corpus Christi (body of Christ) throughout history?” and “Are the New Testament Scriptures worth dying for?” Those questions were important to several groups during the period of the Protestant Reformation. Regardless of how many did or did not stay true to the apostolic pattern set forth in the New Testament, we know that seed in the natural realm produce after their kind, and that the word of God, the seed of the kingdom (Luke 8:11), produces after its kind—that it will produce in any century what it produced in the first century—plain, undenominational Christians and simple, undenominational congregations (churches) of God/Christ.
Today the churches of Christ are pleading for a return to the simplicity of the New Testament church. They are organized in the same way as were the congregations of which we read in the New Testament. They worship in the same New Testament way and plead for a “thus saith the Lord” in all that they teach, believe, and practice (see Matthew 28:18-20; II Timothy 3:16-17; I Peter 4:11a; Jude 3).
Instead of belittling the restoration plea and questioning the possibility of undenominational Christianity down through the ages, we need to re-commit ourselves and re-double our efforts to proclaiming the New Testament way and to following that way without fear or hesitation and without addition, subtraction, or substitution. On my Facebook page of Wednesday, January 29, 2020, I posted the below illustration that shows both the validity and the reality of simple, original New Testament Christianity in the present age.
If I want to grow watermelons in Tennessee today, I do not have to have an unbroken watermelon vine stretching down through all the millennia from the Garden of Eden to Tennessee. All I have to do is plant watermelon seeds in Tennessee today. They will produce in Tennessee today what they have always produced—watermelons! Similarly, to have the undenominational church of the New Testament in the 21st century, we do not need an unbroken line of faithful congregations stretching down through all the centuries from the Day of Pentecost to the present. All we have to do is to plant the seed (the word of God, Luke 8:11). It will produce in the 21st century what it produced in the first century—undenominational congregations (churches) of the Lord!
May our world come to see the beauty of Christ and the simplicity of the church for which He gave His life and shed His blood (Acts 20:28)!
March 3, 2020