In my last post there was an assumption which I didn’t bother bringing attention to but which colored the entire post. That being that New Testament Principles in the church is a worthy stake to claim. With two thousand years of church history that sort of assumption should raise a couple of serious questions.
If anyone does appeal to the New Testament, why bother appealing to those principles?
New Testament Principles means different things to different people. For some it means the area where the church has been conferred with the power to dictate her structure, enact her teaching and divvy out the grace of God. For others it means the source documents which give us the literal model by which the church is to operate. And by yet others it means the guiding information that should direct our thinking in regards to church organization but should not be a literal one to one application.
Now with that broad range of meanings it makes pinning down the actual New Testament principles difficult, yes, but it illuminates a further point: that all of Church History appealed to the New Testament source in some manner. That’s only reasonable being that the New Testament documents contain in them the origin of the church-it’s a historical authority that can’t be thrown away without seriously straying from those origins.
So we all appeal to the New Testament but then have gradating shades of application (as listed earlier). In other words, its every church’s unspoken assumption that they are trying to go back to the principles established in the New Testament if not the outright structure (although recently with renewed interest in the New Testament church, some believers are gathering in homes and forming churches there).
With so much diversity, who can be right?
Any look at the church will inevitably result in a lot of areas of correction and a lot of areas that deserve praise. Looking out across the Christian Landscape its real easy for someone to see the errors in all other churches save their own and thus fall into a trap of self-deception.
The goal then is not so much to point out the practices of who is doing what wrong but to look at major principles laid down in the New Testament and then compare our church actions to those. If the two differ, even if our church appeals to some authority of semi-current revealed revelation, we would have to acknowledge that the New Testament (the source document of why and how the church exists) overrules even the newly revealed revelation. This isn’t to deny the possibility of newly revealed revelation but it is to appeal to God’s consistency for even in the Old Testament as early as Genesis 3 (to Adam and Eve) and then again in Genesis 15 (to Abraham) the salvation of humanity was always to start with the Jews then culminate with the gentiles. When Peter and Paul are preaching its in light of an already revealed revelation from Scripture being confirmed in their experience.
The benefit of the early apostles is that they personally saw Christ. Even if we wanted to disregard Paul’s vision (which would be absurd since the man as a persecutor of Christians went immediately to a vocal believer) and appeal only to Peter and John it would still be on the Ground that they heard God’s message straight from the one who established The Church. And even in that case, Peter still points to Paul’s writings as Scripture!
Therefore, adherence to New Testament principles is a proper assumption because (1) New Testament principles are already appealed to in some form across Christendom (2) because the New Testament documents contain the origin and purpose of the Church and (3) because Christ (thus God) personally spoke to the apostles on whose teaching the Church is built.