New Testament Pattern
It is necessary that a local church (or assembly) give prayerful consideration to the teachings of the New Testament as to its purposes, activities and organization, recognizing that:
Much of what the New Testament contains relating to church order is in reference to the practices of early churches rather than in specific commandments. Care has to be taken in determining which of these practices were of local or temporary nature, rather than for all churches in all places at all times.
There is considerable diversity of opinion among Christians on the operating practices of the local church, but the elders of each church must take a stand on what they believe to be Biblical and appropriate.
The objectives of the assembly may be summarized as follows:
Godward – to glorify God (Ephesians 3:21).
Inward – to promote spiritual growth in the life of each individual (Ephesians 4:12), providing scope for individuals to develop and exercise spiritual gifts (Romans 12:4-8).
Outward – to reach others with the gospel, locally and elsewhere (e.g. 1 Thessalonians 1:8).
All believers in the Lord Jesus are members of the church, the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:17; 12:12-13), sometimes referred to as the universal church. In New Testament times the local church was a visible, recognizable entity (note the references to churches in the plural in Galatians 1:2).
It clearly was the practice for believers to:
Identify themselves with a local church (Hebrews 10:25)
Be involved in the privileges and responsibilities, e.g., in the breaking of bread (Acts 2:42; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17); doctrine, fellowship, prayer (Acts 2:42); service (Philippians 1:5; 4:3); teaching (Acts 20:7); and giving (Galatians 6:6; 1 Corinthians 16:2)
Recognize those who do the work of elders and deacons within the church (Acts 14:23; Philippians 1:1)
Accept the discipline that is exercised (1 Corinthians 5:1-13).
Each person in fellowship in the assembly should practice these principles. A person who fails to do so on a consistent basis disqualifies himself/herself from fellowship.
Those who desire to fellowship in the assembly must clearly confess faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and be living in obedience to God’s Word. In the case of believers coming from other local churches, it is preferred that they provide a letter of reference from their former church.
Their interest in the fellowship is to be communicated to one of the elders who will arrange an interview with several elders. Announcements concerning those received into fellowship are made at the Lord’s Supper for the information of others in the assembly. Such an announcement expresses the desire of the individual to actively share in the life of the assembly and the response of the assembly in receiving them (Romans 15:7; 16:2).
Anyone desiring to withdraw from fellowship should inform the elders, preferably in writing, of their intent. All such may expect a personal visit to inquire as to their concerns, well-being and future direction. The assembly will be notified of such departures in order to be able to properly extend a blessing, and show their love.
There are two practices specifically ordained and commanded of God.
Believers’ Baptism involves immersion in water (Acts 8:38) and is a public confession by a believer (Acts 8:12) of his or her identification with the Lord Jesus. It was commanded by the Lord Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20), practised by the early church (Acts 8:36-38), and explained by the apostles as symbolizing the identification of the believer with the Lord Jesus Christ in death, burial and resurrection (Romans 6:4-5; Colossians 2:12).
Candidates for baptism are expected to be mature enough to explain their experience of salvation and understand the implications of baptism. Those requesting fellowship in the assembly are encouraged to be baptized.
The Lord’s Supper is celebrated on the first day of each week (Acts 20:7). Since the Lord Himself requested that we should celebrate this supper in remembrance of Him (Luke 22:19-20, 1 Corinthians 11:20-34), it should be the desire of all those in the assembly to attend this meeting.
Visiting believers are welcomed upon their presenting a letter of introduction from another assembly, or upon their being introduced by a believer known to those in the assembly, or upon their confession of faith in the Lord Jesus.
The meeting takes the form of spontaneous expressions of worship by men led by the Holy Spirit in prayers, hymns, reading and expounding of Scriptures leading the believers in remembrance and worship (1 Corinthians 14:26), and partaking of the emblems (bread and cup).
This is not an opportunity to exalt self, to teach, to correct, or to pray for the needs of ourselves or others.
Participation of Members
For an assembly to flourish spiritually it cannot be dependent on ‘one man’ or ‘one gift’. All those in fellowship within the assembly have a Biblical responsibility to support its ministry. This will be done in accordance with the gifts they have received from the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:1-14; Ephesians 4:7-13; 1 Peter 4:10-11; Romans 12:3-8).
The elders will provide opportunities for believers’ gifts to be revealed and developed. For example, it is the responsibility of elders to arrange for public teaching. Since the Holy Spirit has not endowed every believer with the gift of teaching, not every believer will be asked to participate in this aspect of the ministry.
An assembly cannot function properly without the ministry of women. God has given to women as well as to men both speaking and serving gifts, however, God has placed restrictions on the leadership of women in meetings of the local church. This is not an arbitrary choice, nor does it reflect less spirituality or giftedness; it is a scriptural mandate relating to church order. Consequently, women (qualified by their particular spiritual gift) are able to lead women’s Bible study classes, disciple other women, and teach children.
They may also be involved in evangelism, hospitality and other ministries, which do not require them to exercise authority over men.
A New Testament assembly of believers stands accountable to the Lord alone, an autonomous unit that owes no allegiance to any ecclesiastical system established and controlled by men. However, there is a prescribed pattern for leadership within a local church, involving both elders and deacons (Philippians 1:1).
Spiritual leadership of an assembly is the responsibility of a plurality of elders (Titus I ;5), also described as overseers (1 Timothy 3:1-2; Titus 1:5-7), pastors (Ephesians 4:11) and leaders (RSV Hebrews 13:7,17,24).
For example, the elders in the church at Ephesus (Acts 20:17) were overseers (Acts 20:28) who were to pastor the church (Acts 20:28).
Elders are responsible to shepherd the people of God (1 Peter 5:2; Acts 20:28). This involves feeding (Acts 20:28), guarding (Acts 20:31), supporting (Acts 20:35), guiding by exhortation (Titus I :9), and by example, (1 Peter 5:3; Hebrews 13:7). Ministries in which the elders should be primarily involved include teaching, visitation, and counseling.
They meet regularly to pray and to discuss issues relating to the assembly. Individuals in the assembly with concerns about personal or assembly related matters are encouraged to approach one of the elders or to request a meeting with one or more of them.
Elders are raised up by God (Acts 20:28) but are to be recognized and esteemed (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13) and obeyed (Hebrews 13:17) by those in the assembly. Elders should be sensitive to the growth and activities of men in the assembly with the intention of recognizing others who are doing the work and have the necessary qualifications (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-9). Suggestions about recognizing a new elder will be discussed by the elders and, if they concur and the brother agrees, the assembly will be informed and their prayer support requested.
Ministers or deacons are those appointed to perform a particular service within the assembly. The nature of the service may be spiritual, e.g. teaching (Acts 6:4; Ephesians 3:7; 1 Peter 4:10-11) or practical (Acts 6:2-3). Therefore, those responsible for the leadership or co-ordination of the various assembly activities, including the administration of financial matters, are performing the work of deacons.
Deacons are appointed by the elders, taking into account the spiritual qualifications that are required (1 Timothy 3:8-13). Anyone in fellowship in the assembly may suggest the name of an individual for consideration for a particular service (Acts 6:3).
The Lord has entrusted the local church with the authority and responsibility to discipline those in the assembly who are guilty of flagrant sin or serious doctrinal error, the objective being that the erring believer might be restored to fellowship with the Lord and with those in the assembly (Matthew 18:17; Romans 16:17-18; 1 Corinthians 5:1-13).
The elders provide leadership in disciplinary actions, but discipline is a collective responsibility (Matthew 18:15-17).
Discipline will normally involve exclusion from participation in ministry and/or communion at the Lord’s Supper. Other action may be taken as deemed appropriate by the elders and the assembly, in light of various examples in Scripture (Matthew 18:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; 2 Thessalonians 3:6,14,15; Titus I :10-11; 3:9-11).
It is the duty of the elders, and responsibility of the assembly fellowship to welcome back, in the spirit of love and forgiveness, one who has been disciplined and restored, as God has forgiven us. It is important that one who is welcomed back after discipline should demonstrate meekness, love, humility, Godly sorrow and repentance.
It is desirable that individual disputes be handled quickly and discreetly, between the offender and the offended alone (Matthew 5:23-24; 18:15). If no reconciliation takes place, a third party should be sought as a mediator (Matthew 18:16). Only if that fails is the matter brought to the assembly.
A manifestation of women’s submission to God’s designed order is the wearing of a head covering in meetings of the church where both men and women are present (1 Corinthians 11:1-16).
Stewardship of Money
Each believer is responsible to God as a steward of all that he or she has, and out of love to the Lord and as an act of worship, should give back to Him financially (1 Corinthians 6:19-20; 16:1-2; 2 Corinthians 8:9).
The Bible teaches that giving should be done devotedly (Philippians 4:18), voluntarily (2 Corinthians 9:7), liberally (2 Corinthians 9:6), cheerfully (2 Corinthians 9:7), regularly (1 Corinthians 16:2), and proportionately as God has prospered (1 Corinthians 16:2; 2 Corinthians 8:11-12).
An offering is received from believers at the Lord’s Supper, and receipts are issued at the end of the fiscal year for Income Tax purposes. Donor information is confidential to the Finance Committee.
Commendation of Missionaries
Those considering missionary service – short-term or long-term – should express their desire to the elders for their prayer and advice. When believers are called of the Lord to Christian service they may be commended by the assembly.
The elders and the assembly members should:
recognize the call of God to individuals in the assembly (Acts 13:2)
have an understanding of the work to be undertaken (Acts 13:1; 14:26)
know the workers and their qualifications for the work (Acts 16:2)
express their fellowship and oneness with the workers in sending them forth (Acts 15:22;16:2)
commit the workers to the Lord for His blessing (Acts 14:26; 15:40)
The assembly will maintain an ongoing interest in the workers and their ministry, supporting them through prayer, encouragement and finances (I Corinthians 9:11). The missionary is required to keep the assembly informed of his or her activities through regular reports.
On returning from service, the missionary should be given opportunity to recount to the assembly the things that the Lord has done (Acts 14:27) so that all can rejoice together and give God thanks.
Support of Missionaries and Missions
The assembly is committed to the support of missionaries at home and abroad. This involvement is to further the work of the Lord, increase awareness of missions among those in the assembly, and provide exposure to Christian service.
Further clarification on any topic may be obtained from any of the elders.
Should a doctrinal issue arise not covered by this document, it will be dealt with by the elders who, after prayer and consultation with the Scriptures, will give their interpretation and decision.