Christ expects His church to align with what He taught. Obedience to His commands is essential for the church to accomplish what He left His church on earth to be and to do. In the Great Commission, the Lord told His followers to teach others to “observe all things” that He “commanded” (Matthew 28:19-20).
Earlier in His ministry, Jesus was confronted by some of the religious leaders of that day with a question that was designed to test His message,
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus responded, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:34-40).
It is obvious by His use of the terms “commands” and “commandment” that Christ was very concerned about believers fulfilling the precepts that He taught. That is exactly why James, the half-brother of Jesus, reiterated this idea to his readers in James 1:22 when he wrote, “Be doers of the Word, and not hearers only.”
Following the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ is absolutely essential for any true disciple of Christ. The same applies to communities of Christ-followers — the local church. The scriptures are explicit, God expects believers to live by the principles He taught while He was physically here on earth, and by the instructions He left in His Word.
Sections in the New Testament
The four main sections in the New Testament (the Gospels, the Epistles, the Acts of the Apostles, and Revelation) each contain valuable and relevant teaching that can help believers align themselves with the teaching of Christ.
The Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) describe the life of Christ and record what He taught while He was physically here on earth. Meanwhile, most of the Epistles are actual letters of instruction written by the apostles to individual churches, church leaders, or groups of churches — and they contain practical directives so that those New Testament churches and all subsequent churches will know how Christ wants His church to function.
The Acts of the Apostles is a historical narrative of the early church and provides a chronological account of the beginning of the church and how God used the persecution of the early church and His missionary messengers to launch other local churches around the known world.
The book of the Revelation provides illustrations of seven specific local churches, each with their own set of strengths and weaknesses, and are real-life illustrations of churches that did or did not line up with Jesus’ teaching.
The New Testament then concludes with a God-given narrative of prophecy that enlightens believers about the future — including when the church of Jesus Christ gathers with her Bridegroom in heaven for all eternity.
With everything the Lord left for His church in the scriptures, it is important to recognize that there is no excuse for the church not aligning with Jesus’ teaching. In fact, the Apostle Paul referred to the church as, “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).
Should All Churches be Alike?
It is imperative for believers to grasp the fact that the Lord wants His church to operate in obedience to the instructions He left in His Word. It is also a good thing to remember that the scriptures do not present local churches as a collection of “cookie-cutter” structures and programs, where every church everywhere looks and operates the same way. That was never Christ’s intent.
Obedience to the directives of Christ does not equal absolute conformity in a style of ministry. That has never been the case in the annuals of church history, and that alikeness is definitely not true today.
Church buildings in Africa look nothing like the architecture in Europe; and the worship services in North America undoubtedly do not resemble church gatherings in South America. Likewise, churches in large cities in the United States are usually not run the same as churches in small towns; and mega-churches do not function like house churches.
In fact, one of the most positive characteristics of Christ’s church is her unique diversity and creativity. The scriptures demonstrate that God never intended all churches to be alike. A quick reading of the New Testament reveals the amazingly creative differences between the specific local churches that are described.
In fact, the first local church mentioned in the Bible was the Jerusalem church as described in Acts 2. Yet, the second church referenced just a few chapters later did not operate the same way (see the Antioch church in Acts 11). This principle is true throughout the entire New Testament. Even the seven churches in Revelation are listed with unique and individual characteristics.
It is obvious that the churches in biblical times were not the same. Except they were all expected to operate by the principles and instructions of Christ!
How the Church Today Can Align with Jesus’ Teaching
That fact is still true today. It is essential for each local church everywhere to operate and function according to what God’s Word describes and teaches. Here are four important commitments, that are based upon clear biblical priorities, that each church must make to ensure they are aligned with the teaching of Scripture.
The first commitment each church must make is to make sure that it preaches and teaches the Word of God. This must be each church’s top priority. This practice should be obvious, not only from the pastors’ messages during the services but in each of the other ministries of the church. God wants His church to produce mature followers of Christ and the only way that is possible is through the exposition of Scripture and proclaiming the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).
The Lord’s implicit goal for church leaders is found in this passage (Ephesians 4:11-16) where God’s Word instructs them with this admonition, “…equipping of the saints for the work of ministry for the edifying of the body of Christ.” If a specific local church is not utilizing God’s Word to equip, or train believers to serve the Lord and to help them grow in spiritual maturity, it is not fulfilling the biblical mission for the church.
In Christ’s last set of instructions to His disciples, He emphasized the importance of outreach and spiritual reproduction, and the book of Acts demonstrates that His followers did exactly that. That mandate is still in effect today. Each local church must make global discipleship a leading priority in its functions and programming or it is not fulfilling Christ’s last directive.
It is also important to recognize that the Lord never intended the church to make a “lecture” on Sunday mornings its top priority. Certainly, sermons were a key ingredient of Jesus’ own ministry with His followers and His Word emphasizes the importance of preaching for the local church from the first century until today.
However, Christ also made sure that His disciples and other hearers knew that the end result of His sermons was that they would implement the truth He taught them in their daily lives. Paul also emphasized that in His writings (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Local churches today can align themselves with biblical commands by ensuring that their people live out the principles of Scripture in their day-to-day lives.
What Does This Mean?
Of course, local churches today will undoubtedly operate and look differently. Their unique differences and characteristics probably depend upon a multitude of cultural factors. Yet, there are plenty of examples of churches that do not line up with the clear teaching of Scripture. Practically speaking, if a specific local church does not teach and practice what Jesus taught, believers should carefully, humbly, and peaceably find another church.
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Mel Walker is the president of Vision For Youth, Inc., an international network of youth ministry, and he is also is the youth pastor at Wyoming Valley Church in Wilkes-Barre, PA. Mel has been actively involved in various aspects of youth ministry for over 40 years. He is also an author, speaker, and a consultant with churches. More information about his speaking and writing ministry can be found at www.GoingOnForGod.com. Mel has written 12 books on various aspects of youth ministry, plus he speaks to hundreds of teenagers and parents each year. Mel & Peggy Walker are the parents of 3 adult children—all of whom are in vocational ministry. You can follow him on Twitter: @vfyouth. He recently wrote a book on discipleship for youth leaders, Discipling Student Leaders: A Strategy for Discipleship in Youth Ministry, which can be purchased on that website.