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
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 not “a
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.