Summary: It is vitally important in those matters on which God directs the actions of man, to know, upon what authority anyone presumes to know God’s desires and commandments, and to express them to others. What authority did the earliest Christians recognize?
This 13-part series of classes has been many years in the making. About 25 years ago I began in earnest to examine the features, character and characteristics of the church as it existed in its earliest years. As I sometimes do, I kept my notes all along the way, and this series of classes is to a large extent the product of those years of on-and-off studying the subject. Several things in my experience contributed to my interest in making this 25-year study which I will mention along the way, and those go much further back.
There may be some difficulty in using the individual parts of this series separately, although viewer are free to do so if it serves their purposes. But to those whose interest is in knowing what the church was like in its earliest years, I recommend starting with Part 1 - Introduction to the Church of the New Testament and proceeding through the parts consecutively.
I have prepared some slides that I used in presenting the series in a classroom setting before adapting it to use as sermons. I have left my cues to advance slides or activate animations in the notes as posted on Sermon Central. If anyone is interested in having the PowerPoint files with the slides, I will be happy to send them. Send me an Email at firstname.lastname@example.org and specify what part(s) you are requesting. Be sure that the word “slide” appears in the subject line. It may take me several days to respond, but I will respond to all requests.
THE CHURCH OF THE NEW TESTAMENT
OUTLINE OF THE STUDY
II. The Origin of the Church
III. What is the church?
IV. The First Christians
V. Authority in the First Century Church
VI. Problems in the New Testament Church
VII. How the Church Functioned
A. Introduction to Functions
B. Apostles, Prophets, and Teachers
C. False Apostles, Prophets, and Teachers & Various Gifts and Functions
D. More Gifts and Functions
E. Evangelists, Preachers, and Ministers, Servants and Deacons
F. Pastors, Elders, Bishops, etc.
VIII. How the Church Worshiped
V. Authority in the Church in the First Century
It is vitally important in those matters on which God directs the actions of man, to know, upon what authority anyone presumes to know God’s desires and commandments, and to express them to others,.
The chief priests and elders challenged Jesus after he had driven the money-changers from the temple, “By what authority do you do these things?” (Matt 21:23) It was, of course, a trap. If he said “God’s authority,” (though absolutely true) they would accuse him of blasphemy. If he said “Man’s authority,” they would say it was only themselves who possessed the authority to act and teach as he was doing.
If Jesus acted without authority, he was nothing more than a trouble-maker.
A. What did authority consist of in the New Testament church? Upon what authority did the church exist, and conduct its worship and services as it did?
1. Not upon the authority contained in their bibles.
Their bibles were about Israel and the Law. Christ and the gospel were prefigured in their history and the things of the Law, but he was not fully revealed in their scriptures, nor was God’s full plan of redemption revealed, with instructions for replacing the feasts and Levitical system of sacrifices with a new kind of worship, and for conducting the work of the church that Jesus built.
The Old Testament scriptures only pointed to Jesus, but they were not the New Testament.
John 5:39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,
The Old Testament scriptures had long been widely accepted by the Israelites and by Jesus as well, as God’s message to them. But at the time Christianity dawned, the Old Testament was not accepted as God’s word by non-Jewish people. Their bible (the Hebrew scriptures) foresaw only dimly the new relationship between God and man, in which man is washed and regenerated, made holy and sanctified, fit for the Master’s use, and fit to approach the very throne of Almighty God.
2. The New Testament scriptures would one day become recognized as the authority under which the church was to operate
“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.” Proposition 4 of the Declaration and Address, by Thomas Campbell.
But the New Testament did not exist in the first years of the church, and as writings came into existence they were scattered geographically for many years. Letters written by Paul were to be shared with nearby local churches, but organizing them into a collection as a canon would not be completed until near the end of the century, and the content that is familiar to us today would not be generally accepted as an undisputed unit for many years.