The Constitution Of The New Testament Church
Every organization needs a body of laws, rules and regulations specifying the duties and obligations of its members as well as defining their rights and privileges. One cannot think of a school without a set of rules and regulations. Ditto for a business establishment of whatever size or function. Whether small-scale; medium-scale or large-scale, it must formulate a kind of policy. Moreover, who can imagine an association or a nation without a constitution?
The church of the New Testament is definitely not an exception. The people of God either in the old dispensation or in the New Testament era have always been given a set of laws to regulate their belief and behavioural systems. It will be recalled that one of the blackest periods of Jewish history was characterized by anarchy. “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). We should observe that in this particular instance, it was not the case that there was no law per se. Rather, there was tota1 disregard for the law of Moses and this accentuated by a vacuum in the royalty which was supposed to be an embodiment and quintessence of the divine law (Deut. 17:14-20).
Let us just take a cursory look at the state of the religion of Christ today. The picture of Christianity one is confronted with is, as it were, a re-enactment of the situation described in Judges 21:25. Hundreds, if not thousands, of differing sects teaching contradicting doctrines, wearing different names, presenting various plans of salvation with diverse forms of worship. A babel of confusion, you would say? Yes, every man is now doing “that which is right in his own eyes!”
Because of this unfortunate situation, many have rejected Christ and the enthusiasm of some others has been dampened. But the words of the Master keep on ringing: “And why call ye me, Lord Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46). Since the church is a divine institution, we can reasonably argue that it must be governed by a divine law and therefore any religious organization which is not governed by this law is not of Christ but of men and shall be rooted up at the end (Matthew 15:13).
What The Constitution Of The Church Is Not
Let us now highlight what constitutes the law or the constitution which the early Disciples of Christ knew. First, we shall consider this from the negative viewpoint.
1. The Constitution of The Church of Christ is not the Old Testament Law. Apparently, this is the springboard which many denominations are using to justify and defend the use of instrument of music in worship, giving and paying of tithe, polygamy and so on. But in Hebrews 1:1, 2 after conceding that God has spoken to the fathers in various ways in the past, the writer asseverates that He (God) is now speaking to us through Jesus Christ. Jesus is the prophet alluded to in Deuteronomy 18:18, 19 who must be hearkened unto (cf Matthew 17:1- 5). God had earlier on predicted the enactment of “a new covenant” unlike “the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt…” (Jeremiah 31:31-34). The import of this is that God was going to enact a new covenant. Why? Then the inspired answer: “For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second” (Hebrews 8:7). And the apostle Paul averred that “a new Covenant hath made the first old, now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away” (Heb. 8:7-13).
When Jesus came he declared that he had not “come to destroy the law, or the prophets” but rather to fulfill them (Matt. 5:17,18). Unfortunately, this statement has been grossly misunderstood by many today. All that they understand by this statement is Jesus saying the law would continue ad infinitum. It should be observed that he used ‘“destroy” as the antithesis of “fu1fill,” adding that the law would continue until it be fulfilled (Matt. 5:18). Having fulfilled it, he took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross (Luke 24:44; Col. 2:14- 17). “He taketh away the first that he may establish the second” (Heb. 10:9). Indeed, the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ and now that Christ has come, we are no longer under the law (Gal. 3:19, 23-25).
2. What the Religious Leaders say does not constitute the Law of the New Testament Church. Many esteem the words of the religious leaders to the level of the word of God. In Catholicism, for example, when the Pope speaks, that is an ex-cathedra decision. This is, the law. Period! There is no faithful Catholic that has the temerity or audacity to challenge and question that decision. The same thing applies to the other denominations. But now, preachers are under a solemn charge to “preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:1, 2). Following the teachings and opinions of men can only succeed to make our worship vain (Matthew 15:9).
3. What the majority decides is no law in the church of Christ. A practice is wrong regardless of the number of people practicing it. At the sham trial of Jesus, it was recorded that “they all condemned him to be guilty of death” (Mark 14:64). Shall we now say that because “they all condemned him,” therefore, Jesus stood condemned before God? Certainly not! At the instigation of the chief priests, the majority “cried out the more exceedingly, crucify him” (Mark 15:13,14). This particular instance indicates that majority is not always right and it goes on to believe that popular expression: “Vox populi, vox Dei” (the voice of the people is the voice of God).
What Is the Constitution Or the Creed of the Church of Christ?
Basically, it is the New Testament. “But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises. For if that first covenant has been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second…” (Hebrews 8:6, 7). It is a better covenant, bringing along with it better promises. It contains the gospel of Christ. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth… for therein is the righteousness’ of God revealed from faith to faith…” (Romans 1:16, 17). It is the Law of Christ (1 Corinthians 9:21). It is by it we are going to be judged (John 12:48). Remember, Jesus Christ is God’s exalted spokesman (Hebrews 1:1, 2). Therefore, ‘the gospel of Christ, His law, word is our rule of faith and practice. This is encapsulated in the New Testament or covenant (Heb. 8:13). It is complete. “All scripture is given by the inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:16, 17).
In conclusion, unlike the old covenant which abounds in “thou shalt not,” the gospel of Christ teaches in principles. Indeed, it is not only complete; it is final; admitting of no revision or modification. It was once for all delivered unto the saints (Jude 3). We are sternly warned neither to add to, nor take away from, the doctrine of Christ (2 John 9-11; Revelation 22:18, 19).
Brethren and friends, let us heed the admonition of the apostle Peter: “If any man speaks let him speak as the oracles of God…” (1 Pet.4:11). Therein lies the road to the unity of all believers in Christ and the salvation of our souls.
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