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What Is A New Testament Church?: Part 1. The Old And New Testament Church

What Is A New Testament Church?

Part 1. The Old And New Testament Church

August 14, 2007
Ron and Karen Schwartz

There was an Old Testament Church just as there is a New Testament Church. Much of the problem Christians face today comes from a misunderstanding of what structure and obligations belong to the Old Testament Church and what to the New Testament Church. In general, Christians understand that they are no longer obligated to make blood sacrifices for their sin. They clearly see this as Old Testament obsolescence, but other things are not as clear. What about the Jewish feasts or abstaining from pork? Christians tend to struggle with many of the sundry laws and ordinances. Many Christians are not clear as to how the law applies to New Testament Christians. The line of separation between the Old and New Testament is blurred with Christians observing many Old Testament practices. It was a problem that was especially difficult for first century Christianity, and a struggled they never completely resolved. Consequently, it is no wonder that Christians of today tend to embrace much of the Old Testament structure when it comes to the New Testament Church.

“The Church In The Wilderness”

Acts 7:37-38 KJV
37 This is that Moses, which said unto the children of Israel, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear.
38 This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us.

We find here that the church did NOT begin at the advent of Christ, after His death, or on the day of Pentecost, but as long as there has been a people of God, there has been a church. Here in Acts we find that the first church (or the Old Testament Church) was the people of God who were “called out” of Egypt with Moses.

The word translated as “church” here is the Greek word ekklesia (ek-klay-see'-ah), which means, simply, “a calling out.” It is translated both as “assembly” and as “church.” It is the same word that refers to the New Testament Church. These people who were called out of Egypt represent the first instance where God “called out” a people rather than an individual. Before that, God dealt pretty much exclusively with individual men who are generally referred to as the patriarchs (i.e., Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, etc.). God called Abraham out of the land of Ur, Moses was called out of Egypt, Noah was called out from among those who died in the flood, and Enoch was literally called out of this world, but the “church in the wilderness” was the first “calling out” of a people. It is important to understand that a church is not about the individual but the community of God’s people. It is not about the welfare of the individual member but of the body as a whole.

The Old Testament church was essentially the realization of the Old Testament in the people of God.

The Old Testament:

1) Was a construct of man

Galatians 3:1-5 KJV
1 O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?
2 This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
3 Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?
5 He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?

This bit of frustrated venting (by Paul) especially encapsulates the defining differences between the two covenants. Paul asks, “Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh (v.3)?” If so, why was “Jesus Christ... crucified among you (v.1)?” Or in other words, “For those of you who want to find God’s approval through keeping the law, what purpose does His death serve?”

The Old Testament was “but a man's covenant (Galatians 3:15).” In the Old Testament, man provided the High Priests, the sacrifices, the temples, and the righteousness. It was a covenant that gave man the opportunity to save himself. The spirituality of men was not dependant on God but rather was the responsibility of other men. Mankind had everything necessary to save himself. But man also failed miserably because he is a creature of passion and corruption. Man is not perfect but susceptible to sin. His priesthood, his sacrifice, his temple, and his righteousness are all therefore imperfect, which makes it impossible for mankind to save itself. How could men offer a pure sacrifice to God when they themselves are guilty of sin? Such was the conclusion of the book of Hebrews.

Like the Old Testament law, the church of the Old Testament was dependant upon the constructs of men in order to operate. The Old Testament church needed a priesthood class to act as mediators. Not just any of God’s people could offer sacrifices. The Old Testament church required the use of a building for worship. Without a temple or tabernacle, atonement for sin could not be made. The Old Testament church had no direct contact with God. They required certain men to hear from God and pass His Word back to the rest of the people.

In contrast, the New Testament is nota man's covenant (Galatians 3:15),” and therefore, it is not dependent on the perfection of men. In the New Testament, through Jesus Christ, God provides the High Priest (Hebrews 3:1), the sacrifice (Ephesians 5:2), the temple (John 2:19, John 1:14), and the righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21, Philippians 3:9). [Note: the word “dwelt” used in John referring to the temple is the Greek word “skenoo,” which means “to tabernacle.”] Therefore, a true New Testament church is not limited by human imperfection.

The Old Testament centered on men who Paul describes in Hebrews 11 as heroes of faith. Paul wrote that they “through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented (Hebrews 11:32-38).” In contrast, the New Testament should be centered on Christ Jesus. Paul described this contrast when He wrote, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son (Hebrews 1:1-2).

When Christians seek a church where they can find a man who will meet their spiritual needs, they are living in the Old Testament church. When churches look to and embrace men to meet their spiritual needs, they are an Old Testament church. When men set themselves up as the spiritual heads of churches, they are peddling the structure of the Old Testament church.

Churches that, like the Old Testament, are dependent upon men for structure eventually learn that (as the author of Hebrews concluded) men are imperfect, which makes it impossible for them to make other people into spiritual beings. Pastors are typically good and well-intentioned men. But pastors are nevertheless made of flesh, and flesh can be, at it’s best, merely good. Perfection and spiritual growth can only come from the Spirit of God. This is why so many of our contemporary churches are filled with “good” and “very good” people but people who are nevertheless barren of the spiritual power that the New Testament church enjoyed.

When God moved on the day of Pentecost, He did not move only upon the leaders (the apostles). “…They were all filled with the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:4).” For 4,000 years, God dealt with individual men rather than His people as a whole. He gave these individual men the responsibility to turn the hearts of the people. It rarely worked. The church of the Old Testament was continually fighting apostasy. When you consider that for the past nineteen centuries men have been trying to usurp God in order to put themselves back into the position they once held in the Old Testament – as mediators between God and His people – it is no wonder that the church has been fighting apostasy also for all of those nineteen centuries.

Why do you think people name their ministries (i.e., John Doe Ministries) and churches? It is not done in order to honor God, because it doesn’t. The names of churches and ministries are associated with men, not God. So how is God glorified? He isn’t.

In reality, people name their churches and ministries because it honors them. It points others to them, it highlights what they are doing, it shows territory (i.e., what belongs to them), and it identifies a person that people can rally around instead of God. Men create ministry titles in an effort to identify themselves as leaders. The only purpose that labels serve is to distinguish their churches and ministries from others, and therefore to separate and fragment the Body of Christ.

What is it about this practice that is actually for God’s benefit? Nothing. Creating and adopting a ministry name is, once again, reverting back to Old Testament church structure, where God exalted individual men through whom He would speak. It is NOT the structure God wants in His New Testament.

God says of the New Testament, “Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt… But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

God’s goal for the New Testament was that He would no longer speak through a man to His people but directly to His people. He accomplished this by placing His Spirit directly in them. When a pastor tries to convince his congregation that he is necessary in order for them to function and hear God’s word, he is dragging them back into the Old Testament structure.

2) Utilized the strength of men

Paul asked, “He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith (v.5)?

In the Old Testament church, priests became part of the priesthood class as result of birth. Levitical parents simply conceived and bore a male child, and according to the law, this male child would be a priest. Additionally, a great deal of emphasis was placed on education. Priests practiced and taught the law without the need for any intervention by the Spirit of God. In the New Testament church, however, ministry is not supposed to be a product of human intellect. Ministry is meant to be the result of the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit.

Today we find Christians flocking to Bible colleges so that they can become ministers. While there, they learn how to preach, how to handle the business of a church, how to deal with difficult people and how to manipulate the rest. Once educated, they send out their resumes to churches that need pastors. They provide canned sermons to which the churches can listen, and if the churches are interested, they will take each other on a “test drive.” Providing they can agree on salary and benefits, they may or may not accept the duty of becoming their pastors. Both the pastors and the churches believe that they will be blessed because the churches now have pastors and the pastors have churches.

Now consider the following story from the Old Testament church:

Judges 17:6-13 KJV
6 In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes.
7 And there was a young man out of Bethlehemjudah of the family of Judah, who was a Levite
[Old Testament minister], and he sojourned there.
8 And the man departed out of the city from Bethlehemjudah to sojourn where he could find a place: and he came to mount Ephraim to the house of Micah, as he journeyed.
9 And Micah said unto him, Whence comest thou? And he said unto him, I am a Levite of Bethlehemjudah, and I go to sojourn where I may find a place
[in other words, “I’m looking for a church to pastor”].
10 And Micah said unto him, Dwell with me, and be unto me a father and a priest, and I will give thee ten shekels of silver by the year
[salary], and a suit of apparel [benefits], and thy victuals [benefits]. So the Levite went in.
11 And the Levite was content to dwell with the man; and the young man was unto him as one of his sons.
12 And Micah consecrated the Levite; and the young man became his priest, and was in the house of Micah.
13 Then said Micah, Now know I that the LORD will do me good, seeing I have a Levite to my priest

The similarity between this story and the operation of contemporary churches is remarkable.

Even more remarkable is that, through education, ministry has been reduced to an academic position. Any educated and articulate person looking for employment can become a pastor. Other than being friendly, charismatic, educated, and articulate, what more do they need?

When Paul described a New Testament leader, he wrote that he was one “that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you (Galatians 3:5).” Christian leaders who draw from their education and natural qualities (such as being articulate) to enable them to minister are ministering under the power and structure of the Old Testament. New Testament ministry does not come from Old Testament style leaders but from the Body of Christ as a whole. As Moses said, “[I] would God that all the LORD's people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit upon them (Numbers 11:29)!

In the New Testament, believers are not meant to be oracles of academia. They are meant to be fountains of life, with rivers of living water flowing from them.

People are not changed by sermons. They are changed by an encounter with God. This is what Paul was talking about when he referred to “he that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you (Galatians 3:5).” If you have hired a good preacher who is friendly and articulate, then you are sure to have a great Old Testament church. Certainly, people will become more knowledgeable about scripture, the church will grow in size, and everyone will feel like they are blessed. Micah felt this way. But it will NOT bring you into the New Testament. A New Testament church does not leverage the strengths of men. It draws from the power, direction, and authority of the Holy Spirit. It is a place where men are not glorified, as is the current practice of contemporary pastors and labeled ministries. In a true New Testament church, people are not limited and controlled by men, but they minister to the world and to one another as the Spirit of God flows out of their bowels as a spring of living water.

Having a leader/pastor who is gifted and articulate, who prays for people and sees the occasional answer to his prayer, who claims to be part of the five-fold ministry structure of the New Testament does NOT make yours a New Testament church. Do we believe in the five-fold ministry? Yes, we do. We simply believe that every believer is part of it, not merely a chosen few.

The people of the Old Testament church had kings and priests to govern and minister to them. In the New Testament church, God’s people are all “kings and priests (Revelation 1:6, 5:10).” Peter wrote, “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:5).” Like Paul, we are all part of the New Testament priesthood to “minister[s] of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost (Romans 15:16).”

“Give Us A King”

1 Samuel 8:4-6 KJV
4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah,
5 And said unto him, Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.
6 But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the LORD.

It would seem that, if given a choice between being governed by men and being governed by God, people would overwhelmingly choose God. But they don’t. Defying all logic, people would rather have an imperfect man (who is given to pride and corruption, who tends to be self-serving and inconsiderate, who typically turns into a tyrant when placed in a position of authority) as their king than a God who would sacrifice His very Son for their welfare. Why?

Genesis 3:6-8 KJV
6 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.
7 And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.
8 And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden.

When Adam and Eve sinned, they felt guilt, shame, and failure, and thus they hid themselves from God. Like Adam, most Christians suffer from guilt, shame, and failure. Pastors are good at making them feel this way. As a consequence, Christians become adept at hiding from God. They do not want God as their king. They do not want to face Him. They would much rather go to a church where a man is their leader than to one where the Holy Spirit is in control. Why? Christians can hide from each other. People can go to a church their entire lives and no one would ever know that they frequent prostitutes and pornography, that they are homosexual or alcoholic, that they are abusive to their spouses and/or children, or that they have never been saved. Like Adam, who hid from God in paradise, many Christians have found that the best place to hide from God is at church. They feel safe there because no one bothers them about their lives. As long as they are in church, their consciences don’t bother them, they feel okay, they mix in with all the other complacent and compromising Christians, and they feel saved. But allow God to move upon them, and all these professing Christians will be on the floor begging for mercy.

The institutional church is therefore the result of the shame and guilt of God’s people who want desperately to hide from God.

Contemporary Christians are “shadow experts” – that is, they are expert at finding shadows. And institutional churches provide plenty of places to hide. It would surprise the average saint to learn exactly how many of his Sunday School teachers, deacons, and elders are not even saved!

Given this, why would Christians want God as their king? Most of them don’t. They have reverted back to the Old Testament church that puts men between them and God. They have rejected the Lordship of the Holy Spirit in their churches and, like Israel before them, they have asked for a man to be their king.

Let’s remember what happened to Israel following their request for a king. Saul was selected. In the beginning, he was a noble man who was full of humility. His only desire was to serve the Lord. But like all men, Saul was imperfect. He eventually gave in to the corruption of power, and he eventually usurped the lordship of God Himself. Did we just describe Saul? Or did we describe the pattern that so many Christian leaders and pastors follow? Most men go into what is considered “ministry” because of their zeal and dedication to God. They are men of humility who enthusiastically serve God. But you cannot put a man into the position that belongs to God without expecting him to be tempted by the corruption of power, and most are. Sadder still, most eventually give in to the temptation of power and begin to usurp God’s authority over His people.

The role of what is considered a typical pastor does work, but only if the pastor is perfect.

Do you know any? That is, do you know of any perfect pastors? No? Well, neither do we, and we certainly are not perfect Christians either. Given this fact, you would have to wonder why God would put men into a position where He knew they would fail – that is, “pasturing” a church in the traditional sense. The answer is that God has not. People have. They have asked for a king, and they got one. They made themselves one. But it is not what God intended.


As you read through the New Testament, you will find emerging from each book the story of a sad but valiant battle, not against the powers of darkness but against its own institutionalization. Each New Testament author, in his own way, battled against man’s attempt to institutionalize the church. Given the nature of what we know about the New Testament, we would expect to find that the enemy of the church is Satan and his minions. But the overriding battle we find witnessed throughout its pages is not against Satan and his army but against man’s attempt to systemize and mass-produce false copies of the church.

The prevailing theme documented throughout the New Testament is the struggle the church faced as it refused to let go of its Old Testament heritage. Although the Old Testament had its place in the history of God’s people, it has nevertheless been replaced by a greater covenant. Even so, the original New Testament church battled what appears to be a losing fight against the obsolete Old Testament structure so that they could fully embrace the spiritual fulfillment promised by the New Testament.

To a lesser extent, another parallel story emerges. It is the story of a man who seems to stand-alone against the tide of Old Testament Jewish law and orthodoxy. This man, the apostle Paul, understood the danger posed by the Old Testament system and stood against it. In his time, many viewed him as a heretic. So strong was their hatred of him that he feared traveling to the strongest Christian church in the world: the church at Jerusalem. Few of his countrymen and fellow Christian brothers fully accepted his “radical” views. Even the other apostles were slow to completely embrace his views. These two stories together make up the account of the New Testament church.

If a book were written chronicling the events of the contemporary church, it would be very similar to the account of the First Century Christians. It would describe how churches refuse to embrace the freedom of the Spirit found in the New Testament and instead consistently recreate the structure of the Old Testament church. It would describe those who spoke out as heretics and complainers. Remarkable how strikingly similar these stories are.

Just as few of the Christian leaders back then believed that what they were doing was wrong, the same is true today. The popular opinion among Christians is that the Old Testament church structure is a good thing. Those who offer an opposing view must therefore be heretics.

Like a man who is asked to leave his home because his wife has found another lover, God has been uninvited from His church. It is like an adulterous affair. Most affairs are the result of unbridled passion. Once the initial passion passes and the affair is over, the husband or wife mourns and cries over what has been lost. Similarly, Christians want men as their leaders because it is more accommodating to their flesh. Pastors accept this role because it strokes their egos and makes them feel important. Like an adulterous affair, this Old Testament structure in New Testament churches is the result of unbridled passion. It is fleshly, not spiritual. Don’t be deceived into believing that the “five-fold ministry” structure being peddled today, calling for people to take authoritative positions in the church, is the construct of the New Testament. There is a “five-fold ministry,” but every believer is a part of it, not just a chosen few. All believers are called to minister, both to one another (i.e. “that which every joint supplies”) and to the world (i.e. the great commission). It is not the function of a select few but of everyone who claims the name of Jesus.

In the Old Testament ministry was limited to the few. In the New Testament it is the mandate of all believers.

Church, forsake your adulterous affair with the “clergy class” you have put in place. Cast aside this practice of idolatry, repent, and turn your eyes back to your one true love: Jesus.


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