What is a church? | Frequently asked questions

1. Are you really saying that you are right about church practice and that everyone else in the kingdom of God is wrong?

 

Answer 1

I think this is one of those questions where the answer is a Yes and No at the same time! It’s a definite ‘No’ in so far that many other believers around the world are doing exactly the same thing as we are, and for exactly the same reasons too. We are not, therefore, the only ones who are right about what churches ought to be like because a great many others in the kingdom of God understand and practice likewise.

However, if the question is, “Do you believe that those who do church contrary to what you are saying are wrong?”, then the answer to that is a definite ‘Yes.’ After all, if you believe, as we do, that scripture teaches a certain thing (about anything at all) then it is obvious that you are going to believe that the Word of God alone is true and final, and that anything contrary to it is wrong. If, for instance, you are convinced that scripture teaches that baptism should only be for those who have come to know the Lord, then you are also, by logical definition, going to believe that infant baptism is both wrong and contrary to the Word of God.

Now it is obviously the case that people have to decide for themselves whether or not they agree with our understanding of scripture regarding church life, but it nevertheless stands that if you do believe that the Word of God teaches a particular thing, whether about this or anything else, then you must also believe that anything contrary to that is wrong and goes against the Bible. After all, if your understanding of scripture about church life is different to ours, then presumably you equally think that we are wrong - and that’s absolutely fine and we have no problem with you doing so at all.

But of course it does have to be said too that the question in point is somewhat loaded. After all, its very wording implies that the mere fact that a group of Christians believe and practice something with which the majority disagree makes them, virtually by definition, both wrong about their belief and arrogant in their attitude. It is therefore sobering to realize that throughout the history of the church; indeed, throughout the entire history covered in the Bible as well, it has often precisely been those whop were in the minority who have been eventually shown to have been right about certain things, whilst those in the majority turned out to be completely and utterly wrong. So it boils down, as everything eventually should, to the question as to what scripture actually teaches.

Therefore, if you don’t agree with what we are saying, then that is absolutely fine. You must, just like us, go with your very best understanding of God’s Word; but you must also be careful not end up disregarding and rejecting something merely because only a small minority of believers hold to it. You must obviously both disregard and reject anything that you think, to the best of your understanding, goes against scripture, but you must equally never reject something just because it is a minority view. By whose side, for example, would you have stood at the time of Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, or even the Lord Jesus Christ Himself? How about the time of the Reformers, or the Baptist movement or the appearing of the Pentecostals? At each point in their respective places in history, these minorities eventually turned out to have been absolutely biblically correct. Or in other words, the vast majority of believers were indeed absolutely, completely and biblically wrong. So I urge that we always be exceedingly careful to judge and assess any question before us, including questions concerning church matters, on the basis of scripture and scripture alone.

It is true, of course, that the case for even that which is true and biblical can be adhered to and propagated arrogantly and in the wrong spirit, and that is always a very terrible thing and without excuse: but it is also equally true that believers who are wrong about something frequently try to invalidate those believers who are right about it by precisely, and wrongly, accusing them of arrogantly believing that they alone have some monopoly on the truth. Indeed, without actually knowing us personally there is really no way for our readers to know for sure one way or the other whether we are doing what we are doing, and teaching what we are teaching, arrogantly: short of, that is, our writings coming across as blatantly and perniciously proud. We could, I suppose, truly be the most arrogant, ungracious, exclusive, bigoted and unloving bunch of believers the world has ever seen, but then you would only find out if such was the case by visiting us and actually getting to know us personally. But in the meantime all we ask is that you check out what we are saying solely according to whether or not it is consistent, and in accordance with, the scriptures. Then, if you think we have got it right, you should run with it as well, but not because we are saying it, but because it’s what you now understand to be what scripture teaches. But if you think that we have got it wrong, then by all means just completely and utterly reject it. Just make sure that you reach your conclusion on the basis of the teaching of the Word of God itself and not merely through personal prejudice, or because of loyalty to other teachings and practices that aren’t actually biblical.

So, to answer the question succinctly: In the same way that those who believe in and practice believers baptism think that those who believe in and practice infant baptism are wrong, we likewise think that those who practice church life other than the way we are advocating are, when assessed strictly on the basis of the teaching of scripture, wrong.


Answer No 2

No! Or at least not in the sense in which the question is being asked! After all, more and more believers across the world are gathering themselves into churches just like we are describing and advocating, so it is actually far from being the case that we are in any way on our own in all this. So it isn’t a case of us thinking that we alone are right, if only for the simple reason that many others in the kingdom of God, though admittedly still a pretty small minority, are doing exactly the same thing.

But of course the question itself is actually a bit of a red herring because the issue here should be purely what God’s Word says concerning church life and not how many people are, or are not, living and practicing accordingly. What matters here shouldn’t be whether or not we (or anyone else) are right or wrong about church issues (or anything else for that matter), but whether or not we are doing what the Bible teaches.

Think of it like this: As believers we are, by definition, saying to the whole world, “Jesus alone is the way to God and we are right concerning this and everyone else who believes to the contrary is wrong” And of course the thing to grasp is that what prevents this from being the most monumental arrogance on the part of Christians is the fact that the statement just happens to be true. We are absolutely right and correct in our assertion that Jesus alone is the way to God because we make it on the basis of the authority of God’s Word, and we are not therefore being arrogant or proud in so doing (though one could, of course, proclaim this truth in a wrong attitude). The question is, “Is it true?” If it is, then it is quite simply the case that we are right and that everyone else is wrong. Just simple logic! If something can be established as being true then anything contrary to it is wrong, as are those who adhere to anything contrary to it. So let’s take a closer look at the above question and see if we can divest it of its prejudicial, loaded and illogical ‘built-in’ insinuation that, should the answer be that we may indeed well be right and everyone else wrong, this would somehow mean that we were even yet wrong in some way and, by definition, arrogant.

We have already stated that we are not alone in how we go about church life anyway, and that many other believers across the world are doing exactly the same thing. But let’s just imagine for one moment (and I emphasize that this is now purely hypothetical) that the church here in Essex of which I am a part was the only one of its kind and that we were therefore actually unique: what would the question be then? Would it be, “Are they arrogant enough to think that they are right and everyone else is wrong?” Or would it be, “Are they doing what scripture teaches?” And if it was the latter then the answer would simply be, “Well, if they alone are doing what scripture teaches about being a church, and if everyone else is going against it, then yes, they are indeed right and everyone else is indeed wrong. They may or may not be arrogant, but it certainly can’t be asserted that they are arrogant by definition just because they do happen to be right. It is simply a question of them being in accordance with scripture at that point whilst others are not.”

So with that under our belts let me answer the question fully: No, we are not saying that we alone are right about all this church stuff and that everyone else in the kingdom of God is therefore wrong. Many of the Lord’s people are doing precisely the same thing as us in this regard and for precisely the same reason - because it’s what the Bible teaches - so it isn’t just us doing it anyway! However, we are nonetheless saying that anyone not adhering to what we are saying is wrong, and for the simple reason that what we are saying can clearly be seen in the New Testament. We don’t thereby believe that being part of a church such as we are makes us better or more committed Christians, and we freely acknowledge that there are many who would disagree with us about church life to whom we wouldn’t claim to be able to hold a candle! However, it nevertheless remains the simple fact that the issue here should solely be that which scripture teaches. That alone is what matters.
Perhaps we could clarify further by drawing a parallel with the issues surrounding baptism. Those who maintain, on the basis of scripture, that it should only be for those who have come to faith in Jesus consider, by very definition, that those who believe in, and practice, the baptism of infants are wrong. They are not necessarily arrogant about it, though of course some might well be, and they certainly aren’t going to allow their fellowship with those they are in disagreement with to be impeded, though sadly, some may; but then neither can they just shrug their shoulders and make out that it doesn’t matter or that nothing ever need be said or done concerning it. As for them and their house, they can only believe and practice what they believe they clearly see in scripture. And of course it is necessarily simply the fact of the matter that they consider themselves to be right, and everyone else in the kingdom of God - that is, those who believe in infant baptism - to be wrong.

And so with ourselves concerning this matter of what churches ought to be like. As clearly as millions of believers see in scripture the way the New Testament churches practiced baptism, we likewise see how they practiced everything else too, and we want to be like them comprehensively, and not just piecemeal here and there. What other believers do about it is for them to sort out for themselves before the Lord, but as for us and our house we can do none other. And lest you be tempted to say, “Ah yes, but unlike those who practice believers baptism, when it comes to all this stuff about church life then you are part of the absolute tiniest of minorities.”, then I reply, “Yes, you are right, we are. But was there not a time when those who practiced believers’ baptism were in exactly the same situation? Indeed, were they not also actually persecuted by the Reformers for their faithfulness to God’s Word?”
You see, the issue must never be whether or not minorities, tiny or otherwise, might be right or wrong about something. The issue must forever be what scripture teaches! If the church here of which we are a part is not based on what God’s Word teaches, then those of us who comprise it are surely, and without a shadow of a doubt, wrong! But if we are based on what God’s Word teaches then we are equally surely, and quite equally without a shadow of a doubt, right! And of course that obviously and inescapably means that those who do things differently are surely, and without a shadow of a doubt, completely wrong!

However, if God’s Word doesn’t actually teach anything in particular about what churches ought to be like, as many believers strangely seem to think, then the simple truth of the matter is that we are all free to do church pretty much anyhow we like. No one could be right or wrong. After all, how could they be if there’s nothing particular in scripture by way of right or wrong to go by one way or the other? And of course in that scenario then what we are advocating here by way of what churches ought to be like should be accepted and honored by all as being as valid and as important an alternative to whatever else already exists on the Christian scene. Curious, then, that what we are advocating seems to be the variation on church life which the vast majority of believers, once exposed to it, proclaim to be unacceptable. Strange too is the way that many who are happy to stand hand in hand with churches as diverse as Pentecostal on the one hand and Catholic and Orthodox on the other, nevertheless seem to want to maintain a very definite and disapproving distance from those churches such as we are here describing.

Now why is that?

 

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