Someone recently admonished: “The New Testament provides the pattern which the true church must follow. We learn that by commands, examples and necessary inferences. The church revealed in the New Testament is the one we must imitate if we respect Bible authority.”
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Indeed, the New Testament provides the pattern for each of us as Christians, and that pattern is Jesus Christ himself (Matt. 16:24; Phil. 2:5; 1 Pet. 2:21). We may also safely follow others who follow Jesus, insofar as they do that (1 Cor. 4:16; Phil. 3:17; Heb. 13:7). However, the New Testament never suggests that it is intended to provide us with a detailed pattern of ecclesiastical details concerning a precise church organization, a formal name of the church, complete data about worship, or all the minutia of institutional budgets, buildings or programs for Christian life together in all future times and places.
The New Testament does not show us a uniform picture of church life, organization, worship, steps of salvation or names of the church, as some suppose. It presents us instead with a variety of expressions of community life in the Spirit. Some texts reveal Jewish believers who continue to practice Jewish religion and piety — although now trusting in Jesus as Messiah (Acts 3:1; 21:20-24). Other passages picture a charismatic fellowship characterized by great spontaneity (1 Cor. 11-14). Still others present us with an institutional model of Gentile church organization involving bishops, deacons and deaconesses (1 Tim. 3; Titus 1). The notion that the first-century Christians were all alike in these external details is a fiction from a much later date.
Most importantly of all, the Bible never suggests or even hints that our salvation or right standing with God come through our own efforts and ability to decipher some “pattern” of the “true church,” and then to measure up to these theoretical details. Scripture always points us to Jesus Christ, who has already done all that will ever be necessary to set us right with God, and it always urges us to rely wholly and exclusively on that saving work. All our obedience and all our service is in response to God’s mercies, who saved us in Christ before we were ever born.