By Tommy Thornhill

What Christianity was in the 1st century it needs to be in the 21st Century. Early Christians knew what they believed and why they believed it Acts 17:11-12; 2.Tim.1:13; 3:14-17. They practiced what they believed, shared it with others, and defended the faith when it was attacked 1.Pet.3:15; Jude 3. Today many members do not really know what they believe or why. Many never question the things they see practiced in their assemblies. Children grow up, hanging on the coat-tails of their parents’ faith, never really developing a strong faith of their own. Some who have been baptized merely accept what they are taught to say and do, and never really study the Bible for themselves. They use the wrong standard for judging the correctness of their faith and practice. Their faith is determined by what other members, or churches, are doing, rather than checking with the word of God. This is not wise, “For we dare not class ourselves or commend ourselves with what those who commend themselves. But they measure themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise” 2.Cor.10:12. Paul told others to imitate him only as he imitated Christ 1.Cor.11:1. How about you? How strong is your faith? Are you committed to following Christ, or following fallible human beings? Think with me. The church drifts from the faith when its members are committed to the wrong standards.

Some are committed to traditions of the past. That is, they believe and practice what they do simply because that’s the way past generations have always done it, and they certainly don’t want to go against established tradition. Tradition refers to that which has been “handed down.”  In and of itself, tradition can be either right or wrong. The rightness or wrongness depends on the tradition itself. If it is a man-made tradition, bound into law, then it is wrong. But, if it is handed down by God, then it is both right and necessary 2.Thes.2:15. God-originated tradition will be found in scripture, and this cannot be ignored or violated Phil.4:9. But when we begin to decide our course of action based on human tradition, we miss the boat. When Jesus met the woman of Samaria in John 4, He showed that certain human traditions were not right. Not only did he speak to a woman in public v.27, He also spoke to a Samaritan woman v.9. He ignored Jewish tradition where neither of these two actions was done by Jewish men. He paid no attention to their human traditions. He did not them let them stop Him from doing His Father’s will.

Yet today, many brethren are more concerned about past traditions (the way we have always done it), rather than whether it is scripturally correct. What is wrong with this? Brethren in one generation form conclusions about certain things, then succeeding generations accept these traditions of teaching and practice developed through the years without ever questioning whether they are scripturally right. In other words they conclude “past generations” accepted this so it must be right. They become indignant when someone asks for scriptural proof. “We’ve already worked this out, how dare you question our position.” They just assume that brethren in the past never erred on this matter, so people can safely practice that which has been handed down to the present time. But it is such assumptions that lead to apostasy. History bears this out over and over again. Gradual departure from truth in one generation paves the way for future digression in following generations. To remain true to their Lord, members of the church need to be like the Bereans, who first “received the word with all readiness of mind,” then “searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” Acts 17:11.  We are taught “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus (by His authority – t.t), giving thanks to God the Father through Him” Col.3:17

Another thing to which some have become committed to is “a movement.”  With some it is the “Restoration Movement.”  People talk about what “restoration preachers” taught. They talk about a “restoration plea,” “restoration slogans” and such like. I have done this myself, in sermons. Yet, at the same time, I also stressed the fact they were not divinely inspired, they were fallible men subject to mistakes. The things taught by these men, and the pleas and slogans they presented may be right and good. But, think for a minute! Where is the emphasis placed in many instances? Is it on the word of God, or some man, or some man-made movement? Are people more concerned with what “brother restoration” said, or what the Bible teaches? I believe with all my heart we owe a great deal to these dedicated men of past generations for they did remove the rubble and debris of many centuries of human tradition, superstition and apostasy. Yet, they were also among the first to admit they were only fallible humans and not to be followed, except as they followed the Lord. Their plea was, “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God” 1.Pet.4:11. As long as men remained true to this principle, the congregations they helped establish taught and practiced the truth. In that sense they were true local churches (assemblies). But, when men abandoned the concept of “whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus” Col.3:17, and tried to improve on the Lord’s arrangements, by introducing things not authorized in the scriptures, the churches they served went into apostasy. They were no longer a true church because they used the wrong standards. Today, we can follow men ONLY as they follow the LORD 1.Cor.11:1. Our commitment must not be to “a movement,” for that commitment can be wrong. In fact, church history makes it abundantly clear that following movements and men will inevitably lead the local church (the people who compose it) away from the truth. Each generation of Christians must dig deep and hard into the scriptures to develop their faith, based on their own investigation, proving from the scriptures what they believe and why. The reason for believing and practicing anything is not because it was believed in the past, but because God’s word teaches it. If a local church no longer asks for “ a thus says the Lord” for its doctrine and practices it has departed “the faith” and is not the right church.

Some are committed to modernizing the church for the 21st Century. To do this they must reject the idea that there is a NT pattern for the local church.  They contend this idea makes the church irrelevant in today’s society. Its teaching and practice must be updated to attract people, since they are no longer satisfied with just Bible teaching. They want more, so they build their family life centers and gymnasiums. -  This article will be concluded in the next issue.