Sunday, August 14, 2011


Read carefully and ponder well this classic article about the nature of the New Testament Church by John Reisinger.

"We reject the notion that there is a 'true, New Testament, institutional role model church.' No one can find such a system anywhere in the New Testament Scriptures! We would argue the same as the Anabaptist argued with the Lutheran when discussing baptism. The Lutheran chided the Anabaptist by saying, "Surely, sir, you believe there was at least one small infant in the Philippian jailer's household." The Anabaptist replied, "No, sir. The youngest person in that household was a sixteen-year-old boy." The Lutheran opened his Bible to Chapter 16 of Acts and said, "Where, sir, do you find your sixteen year old boy in these words?" The Anabaptist replied, "In the same verse that you find your infant child!"

I am not obligated to prove that something could not possibly be in the Bible. It is your duty to prove it IS clearly there if you claim Biblical authority for it. I can say that no single 'institutional' view of the church is biblical and therefore not mandatory, not only because there are so many different views, but also because no one view can be established with specific texts of Scripture. However, in this case I can go further and prove that the basic concept of church that is essential to ANY institutional system is itself contrary to Scripture. That fact in itself is enough to convince me that the black cat does not exist. Let us consider the following facts:

(1) An institutional role model church simply cannot be found in Scripture by clear exegesis of texts. It must first be assumed to exist and then discovered by a whole series of logical (?) deductions. One must first make the assumption and then look for the evidence to prove it. This is backwards. The truth should come directly from texts of Scriptures. It takes a pretty thick book to prove any system of church order. You have to have a lot of therefores, and we can assumes, when you have no texts of Scripture. If the Bible was one-tenth as clear about church polity as the institutionalist claims, his book on church order would be very thin and made up mostly with Scripture. He could make his statement and give a text of Scripture to prove it. It is the 'sound reasoning' part that takes up so much space.

(2) We could not have such a true New Testament church today without someone having the same authority as that possessed by the Apostles. Some Baptists, especially some Reformed Baptists, have actually come very close to practicing this in their view of eldership but none (that I know of) have claimed Apostleship. One Reformed Baptist preacher has convinced himself, and some immature zealots, that he is the 'modern day Nehemiah' raised up by God to purify the twentieth century church.

(3) We could not have a true New Testament church without having the Apostolic gifts of the Spirit in operation since it was these gifts that created and operated the early church. Do we have prophets giving us special messages from God today? I agree that some zealots make this claim, but we all know better.

(4) We could not have a true New Testament church unless all of the true believers in our area were part of it and there were no other kinds of churches around. If Paul wrote a letter to the "Church in Any Town," I verily believe that some deluded souls actually believe the mailman would bring the letter directly to their pastor. They literally believe they are the only 'duly authorized' church in town. Is a Bible-believing Presbyterian church just as duly authorized by God as a Reformed Baptist Church? Can we accept them as a 'church' when most of their members have not obeyed Christ in biblical baptism? The moment you say "yes," to either of these questions then you must either admit that there is no clear role model for the institutional church or else God has 'duly authorized' some people to disobey God and practice error.

(5) We could not have a true New Testament church today because the New Testament Scriptures not only do not give us details for such a church, they give us evidence of more than one view of church polity among the early believers themselves. One of the difficult struggles in both Acts and Paul's epistles is resolving the problems that arose simply because they did not have a uniform polity in the various churches. This was glaringly evident in the Jew/Gentile struggles. The church at Jerusalem, under James, would never have agreed to operate that congregation like the Gentile congregations that Paul established.

(6) We should not even WANT churches like some of those described in the New Testament Scriptures! How would you like to be an elder in the Corinthian church? Who in his right mind would accept a call to pastor the Galatians? This last question assumes that local congregations in the New Testament times followed the modern practice of extending a 'call' to an ordained (?) clergyman to come and 'pastor' them. Is this practice (a) Biblical, (b) against Scripture, or (c) legitimate expediency? Are we denying the sufficiency of Scripture when we frankly admit we have no clear biblical proof for such a practice? Just because Paul would never have been willing to accept a call to pastor a church already established by someone else (Romans 15:20), does that make it wrong for me to do it today? If so, then I have sinned in this manner at least five times.

I will never forget the first Baptist ordination service I attended. The chairman kept saying, "We Baptists go by the Book" as he waved the Bible. However, all he did was wave it. He never opened it. I was waiting for him to read about how the early church 'called an ordination council,' how they interviewed the candidate on 'his (1) conversion, (2) call to the ministry, (and (3) his doctrinal statement.' I was really waiting for the verses that justified women being on the ordination council (actually there were more women than men but only the men 'laid on hands'). I guess every one was familiar with the verses 'in the Book' on that subject so they did not bother to quote them. I really learned a lot about 'Baptists going by the Book' that day.

(7) The Scriptures themselves give us no encouragement even to look for a role-model church with each detail laid out. It gives us principles and exhorts us to apply them in wisdom and love to the existing situation. We are to create a church order that is consistent with biblical principles and which also enables us to serve God in unity and efficiency with other congregations that differ with us in church order but preach the same gospel of grace."

John Reisinger


Johnny D. said...

I always sort of looked at Acts 2:42-47 as the model for the NT Church. That is one of my favorite passages of Scripture. At the same time, I don't mind that there are different ways of doing things as far as church administration - or views about secondary issues. For me, is Christ exalted as the only way to the Father? Is Scripture God's word? If the answer to both of those questions is "Yes," then the rest is easy for me. I will love you as a brother or sister in Christ.

Paul Burleson said...

Johnny D,

I totally agree that Acts 2:42ff shows the way the body of Christ is to function together in life. There are several passages in Paul's writings that convey much the same thing.

But I would see that as "function" rather than "form." I see John Reisinger speaking of the structure or the form a portion of the body [local church] can possible take to carry out her function in this world being a variable in differing cultures.

But whatever those forms might be, they are to enable the church to function "as the body." His #7 says quite well what I'm trying to say here in my response to your good comment.

By the way, I really appreciate your comments here AND other places I read them Thanks!!

Aussie John said...


Yourself and Johnny D. express my own sentiments regarding Acts 2:42ff.

The author hits the nail on the head when he says,""We reject the notion that there is a 'true, New Testament, institutional role model church.' No one can find such a system anywhere in the New Testament Scriptures!"

I'm sure John must have been in the same church I naively joined so many years ago, because they told me the same thing, "We Baptists go by the Book" as he waved the Bible. However, all he did was wave it. He never opened it." Sadly, as I was to discover, a rather common practice in our neck of the woods.


Strider said...

I agree with much of what he has written here but will take issue with one or two things. It is true that the NT church is not a 501 c 3 registered organization and the strength of what he says has to do with attacking that notion. He makes a big deal about their being no big A Apostles anymore but the reality is that they did not lead the Churches anyway. They taught us how to find leaders of character instead. And here is a place where SB's are particularly weak. When we plant churches we transplant pastors. Paul did not do that but more importantly it does not work. Texans pastor Idahoans very poorly at best and usually end up just pastoring a bunch of other transplanted people while the indigenous population continues with no Gospel witness. So, in this instance he does not go far enough.
But in point three his cessasionism is showing a little. If we do not have apostles, prophets, pastors, evangelists, or teachers then is that a sign that the NT is outdated and does not speak to us or is it a sign that we are out of step with what God is doing? I would need hard evidence of the former before I assumed the later was not true.
Just my two cents.

Paul Burleson said...


I appreciate your thoughtful comment.

I would agree that Reisinger's cessationism may be creeping in a bit in his #3 point. I would not agree with his view of the gifts probably as I'm not personally a cessationist.

However, he MAY be referring to the Charismatic approach, as attempted by the Ft Lauderdale five as they're known, Derek Prince Bob Mumford and others, who attempted to establish the Apostolic/shepherding authority thing a few years back to the detriment of so many.

I do think there was a uniqueness about the Acts era that was there because of the movement from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. It may be simply that to which he's referring.

But with that caution you've raised kept in mind, I'm really appreciative of his attempt to move our thinking from the structure/institutional concept of the Church to the organism/body concept of the Church. We desperately need that emphasis, particularly in SBC life it seems to me.

Strider said...

I certainly agree with your last paragraph. We have let institution replace body. In as much as organization helps us to love one another better then it is fine but we have moved way past that in our thinking.
I remember Prince, Mumfort, and company back in the day. They tried to keep the institution and reintroduce the body life language at the same time. When that happens Apostle always ends up being equated with CEO. As I have said before, Paul wishes he had that kind of authority but it is clear from his letters he never did. He had the authority of a brother talking the wisdom of God and no positional authority at all. Most charismatic and other attempts to restore body life have always ended up the same way- creation of positions with too little thought to the actual relationships.
Still, we must recover what the Body was meant to be, it is our calling and what the Boss is about in these last days.

Johnny D. said...

Paul, it is nice to be noticed. Thank you. And I enjoy reading your blog, and your son's blog. I think it was back on Father's Day when Wade pointed me to your blog here.

I think I'm just not intelligent enough to work out exactly what you are saying in your reply. Having said that, I do see the relation between #7 and what I've written in my initial comment.

I guess that I would say that I tried all the hard-core approaches and did not get any where - always came up empty and pointing fingers at other people for not behaving like I thought they should. That is a failed approach. Since I came back last year, God's grace has totally overwhelmed me. I'm so grateful. It brings tears to my eyes when I think of how our Lord could have just grown weary of my rebellion and killed me off. Yet, here I am.

Aussie John said...


Having read quite a bit of John's writing,I had seen this article focused on the movement from "institutional" O.C. to the New Covenant, as you mentioned to Strider.

I wouldn't agree with traditional cessationism either, but John's work on the New Covenant has been an invaluable contribution to the understanding and development of the Body of Christ towards a true NT, body concept expression of the Church which Jesus is building.

I know from my own foible how easy it is to repeat the problem the article mentions regarding the Lutheran and the Anabaptist, when claiming to know absolutely, THE 'true, New Testament, institutional role model church.'

The day is coming when we will all be mightily surprised, and have egg on our face, as we really understand what we were so adamant about!

Anonymous said...

Your post reminds me of someone’s byline saying “Ver….y interesting!”

Jesus said, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”

Do we demand His church is perfect; you know, like some demand the Bible is perfect in being inerrant?

I’d like to know who is Reisinger referring to by “Reformed Baptists”? Could it be the ‘conservative resurgence’?

I love the Anabaptist saying, “In the same verse that you find your infant child!”

Some read what they ‘think’ they see without seeing the exact words. In your “Reunion Retreat Reflections” post you state people had been “missionaries”, “built business”, and “pastored churches”, but one commenter referred to all of them as “a group of pastors”.

I was raised by a Baptist preacher that taught “Baptists are NOT protestants, but came out of the dark ages being hated because they would not baptize babies that the majority of Christians started doing in 251.

The minority were given the hated name, Anabaptist, because they withdrew from the group that were named Catholic 62 years later.

My dad believed J. M. Carroll’s “Trail of Blood”.

I believe “Reformed Baptists” rejected this book and removed Carroll’s picture from SWBTS because he refereed to Third John 1:9 as the start of errors where elders of large churches assumed authority over smaller churches.

Horrors! That meant Carroll thought Elder John was the ‘bad’ guy instead of the leader of the small church that “does not admit my authority over him” (3 John 1:9 Living).

To reveal if John was the Apostle or an Elder, we should take Reisinger’s advice: “The truth should come directly from texts of Scriptures.”

Jesus told John “You will indeed drink from my bitter cup.” (Matthew 20: 23 NLT)

Do not the bold die first? One “son of thunder” was the first to die; would the second be far behind?
Maybe John shook his fist in the King’s face and called fire from heaven to avenge his brother’s death.
Maybe it was retaliation that history records John being put in boiling oil instead of an easy death like his brother’s.

If John died in the oil, he could not have written the three Johns and Revelation.
But TRADITION teaches that John was not killed by the oil and lived to an old age.

Last night I lost an argued with my wife that the oil was not hot enough to cook fish because it was not boiling.
I finally took her advice and dropped the fish in and there was almost an explosion.
Greece went everywhere and the fish turned dark brown instantly.
I don’t know what would have happened had I waited till it was boiling.
(Today, Goggle said boiling oil is almost 700 degrees F.)

I believe Reformed Baptist going with tradition is like Catholics giving tradition equal authority with the Bible in 1545.

BTW, my computer has had problems for about a week.
Rex Ray

Anonymous said...

Paul, I believe there are different beliefs in Christian denominations because different Scriptures say different things.

For example some say you must be baptized to be saved, and there are many Scriptures that tend to teach this such as:

1. Jesus said, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” (Mark 16:16)

2. Peter said to them, ‘Repent and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Of course we Baptists look upon baptism the same as looking upon Jews being circumcised. (Being circumcise did not make a person a Jew but revealed they were a Jew just like baptism reveals a person is a Christian.)

The question arises: can man limit his faith. Faith is different than belief in that it requires action.

I mean if he believes he is not saved until he is baptized then he limits his faith until that action is complete just like the woman was not healed until she touched the hem of His garment.
(If someone had knocked her hand away, would the healing power have left Jesus?)
Rex Ray

Christiane said...


As always, your writing is thought-provoking. I read this part:

". .. like the woman was not healed until she touched the hem of His garment.
(If someone had knocked her hand away, would the healing power have left Jesus? "

and I thought about, this:
how many times do we knock people's hands away when they reach out for Christ without realizing what we do?

Wade told a story once about a woman who started to take communion while visiting a Church, but her friend said 'don't touch that!'.
She carried that memory with her like a scar for a long time, and then Wade came to her home and they had a communion service with her.
A healing service. A new 'memory' for her . . . a remembrance of Him.

Paul Burleson asks us to describe a New Testament Church. I see Wade coming to that woman's home to have a communion service as a glimpse into to what early Church was about.. . to 'heal' what had been broken, and to celebrate Our Lord with her on a new day when no one's hand would be 'slapped away'.

May God forgive us for our thoughtlessness to others, especially those who 'reach out' and are not considered 'worthy in our eyes'.

Paul Burleson said...


You asked..."I’d like to know who is Reisinger referring to by “Reformed Baptists”? Could it be the ‘conservative resurgence’?"

I think I can safely promise you he was NOT referring to the resurgence in any fashion. I'm not saying what he said should/could not be applied there, but, his reference was to the Calvinists who are more committed to the Law of Moses than they are to the New Law giver.

Christiane,'ve done it again. You say more in a couple of paragraphs than most sermons I've heard preached over the last many years [some of which I've preached] have had to say.