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Lectureship speaker: ‘I believe the New Testament church is our model’

Blogging live from Oklahoma City
Howard Norton, veteran missionary to Brazil, longtime minister and current director of the Baxter Institute in Honduras, opened Quest, the annual lectureship at Oklahoma Christian University.
In front of an overflowing Hardeman Auditorium, Norton spoke on the lectureship theme “I Believe.” His keynote address was titled “I Believe the New Testament Church is Our Model.” (See our recent Dialogue with Norton and a feature on his work at the Baxter Institute.)
Norton said that, when speaking on this topic, he’s often asked which New Testament church from the first century A.D. today’s church should model. He was quick to point out that the first century churches weren’t perfect, citing the infighting, moral lapses and outright failures noted among the churches in Corinth, Thessalonica and Laodicea, to name just a few.
For an example of the kind of model today’s church should follow, Norton pointed to Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi:

Philippians 2:1-11
1 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

During the opening session of Quest, lectureship organizers honored the family of Norton’s cousin, Don Vinzant. The longtime minister for the Edmond Church of Christ in Oklahoma and his wife, Carol, served on the 1961 mission team to Sao Paulo, and served Churches of Christ across the U.S. Don Vinzant died March 10. (Read Bailey McBride’s tribute to the Vinzants.)
Quest continues through Oct. 4. Speakers include Chuck Monan, Curt Niccum, David Duncan and Lynn Jones. An Oct. 3 dinner features legendary football coach Gene Stallings.

  • Feedback
    With all due respect … doesn’t that passage of scripture say that the model for the church in Philippi should be Christ?
    Keith Brenton
    October, 3 2011

    Amen to the use of Philippians chapter 2 as a central text, but you left out the most important verse— v12.
    “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed— not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence— continue to work out your [all] salvation with fear and trembling.”
    Note the “you” is plural, indicating the working out of a collective salvation within a particular community of faith, not a private one for the solitary individual nor a common one for every christian/congregation everywhere.
    That is the real “pattern” in the NT— individual congregations lifting up their special circumstance in prayer toward God and living out the consequences in their corporate walk of faith.
    Bill Brewer
    Bill Brewer
    October, 3 2011

    Bro. Brewer hits the spot, there is a “pattern” for the church of Christ. He built her, He purchased her, He is preparing a place for her and He will marry her on the last day when her preparation is complete. One cannot separate Christ from His church. Paul observed that all congregations are one. “ALL the churches of Christ salute you.” – Romans 16:16, thus implying a singular schematic. In the New Testament, there are many congregations but only one church. Only those who that “repent and are baptized in the Name of Jesus for the remission of sins” are added to the church (Acts 2:47) and no others. We should recall Paul’s words to Timothy in I Tim. 1:13a; “Hold the pattern of sound words which thou hast heard from me…” (RSV) Thanks be to God that bro. Norton still proclaims this truth! Thank you, OC, for headlining this brother at Quest!
    Russ McCullough
    October, 5 2011

    @ Russ McCullough:
    You quoted II Tim. 1:13a where Paul commands Timothy to hold the pattern of sound teaching but assume that when Paul uses the word “pattern”(hupotuposis) he is describing a method of conversion and congregational structure. I see nowhere in this passage where Paul describes in detail how Timothy ought to conduct a Sunday morning gathering! Contextually, Paul appears to be saying to hold to teachings about Jesus that Paul passed onto him; the perfect incarnation of the Father in the Son and the justification of sins through the perfect propitiation of the Son’s life for those who believe. (see vs. 8-10)
    It’s no wonder the “Christian” world won’t take the churches of Christ seriously: we do damage to the text, take things out of context, make it say what it doesn’t, and force our “pattern” orthopraxy where it doesn’t belong.
    Kevin Mullins
    October, 6 2011

    Please see . . .
    Would appreciate comments on the Elvis Presley illustration.
    Bill Brewer
    October, 6 2011

    Paul asserts in the II Timothy 1 text that he was “appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher.” (vs. 11 ESV) As such he spoke with 100% authority of Jesus Christ on any and all matters, including faith and practice. All the words of Paul are “sound words.” Any “un-sound words,” by default, were not preserved for us in Scripture. Only the sound words of Christ are found in Scripture for Christ and His Word are synonymous and interchangeable terms all throughout John 1 and I John 1. Paul tells Timothy to embrace these “sound words” in “the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” (vs. 13 ESV) If we do not find a “form, pattern or schematic” for faith and practice in the New Testament, where do we find it? We do, in fact, find it there for another inspired apostle, Peter, asserts that Paul’s writings are Scripture (II Peter 3:15 & 16) In addition, Peter states that ” His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence…” (II Peter 1:3 ESV) “All things that pertain to life and godliness” include, not only matters of eternal salvation but of faith and practice as well. Bro. Norton is 100% correct in his assertion that the New Testament is our model today.
    As to the Elvis illustration, “WE” cannot and should not attempt to “DO” anything ourselves for we cannot. “WE” do not create, re-create, replicate or duplicate the New Testament church in our own time. Such is not necessary for we are “added” to His church at the time of our baptism for remission of sins in the Name of Jesus Christ. Once added, we simply follow those very plain dictates on the New Testament for faith and practice. Theologically speaking, there is no separate “American Restoration Movement” or a “Stone-Campbell Movement.” There IS a restoration movement, however. It was first spoken of by Paul to the Galatian churches in Galatians 1:6fl – there is no other gospel other than the one he preached. That same “restoration movement” is on-going even today. This is the same gospel that we should neither add to nor take away from.
    Russ McCullough
    October, 7 2011

    That was a good debate from those brothers.say amen somebody!
    robert brooks
    October, 7 2011

    The NT church was a charismatic church.
    The NT church’s Scripture was the Greek Septuagint.
    NT churches did not have a NT.
    The Lord’s Supper in the NT church was a love feast.
    Elders in the NT church were house church leaders.
    The plurality of elders in the NT church was the assembly of house church elders.
    Pauline churches took up collections to aid the church in Jerusalem.
    Matthean churches continued to observe the OT Law.
    “Sound words” in NT churches referred to theological and prudential matters, not forms of worship and church polity.
    The NT church did not counterpoint Calvinism with a five-step plan.
    And on and on . . .
    These are the kinds of obvious observations that increasingly challenge the way churches of Christ have traditionally used the NT.
    We do our members a disservice when we feed them nothing but hot-house doctrines that don’t hold up well in conversations with other Christians.
    Bill Brewer
    October, 7 2011

    Mr. Brewer-
    I’m not sure where to begin but I would caution you in making pronouncements that might be substantiated by commentaries of your choosing but not by scripture. Some of what you say may be true but some of these emphatic pronouncements are speculative. i.e. your entire argument for house churches rests on a few scattered references from Acts and Romans 16. How do we KNOW that ALL congregations of the Lord’s church during the 1st century were house churches? If some came from the tradition of meeting in the synagogues as a congregation might it be possible to deduce that they maintained that practice and simply gathered again on the first day of the week in the same synagogue? We also know that some met in public places (see Acts 2)…does this mean that ALL met in public places? Hardly, but to say that NONE did is an overreach.
    I agree that the NT church did not devise a 5-step plan of salvation (as a counterpoint to Calvinism) because Calvinism didn’t exist as a cohesive doctrine until after John’s birth in 1509! Yet at the same time, Calvinism wasn’t taught as a cohesive doctrine until then either! 1500 years after Jesus!
    Kevin Mullins
    October, 10 2011

    Thanks for the comments, folks. We’re getting into a lot of back-and-forth here. If any of you want to continue this discussion by e-mailing each other (and all parties agree) I can provide you with e-mail addresses.
    Erik Tryggestad
    October, 10 2011

    The New Testament church was, indeed, a charismatic body for a time. “Signs and wonders” were used by God to “confirm the words spoken” as we clearly see in Mark 16. Also clear, these manifestations ceased upon the Holy Spirit’s completion of the written word as Paul teaches in I Corinthians 13.
    The New Testament church did primarily use the LXX as a “tutor” or “school master.” For matters of faith and practice they relied upon the speaking in and interpretation of tongues, prophesies, etc. When the various truths of these manifestations were written down and distributed, the logos was complete.
    The early practice of the Lord’s Supper as part of the “love feast” was corrupted by the Corinthian church and that corruption was soundly condemned by Paul. It appears that the “love feast” soon ceased as a general practice after the Pauline admonition in I Corinthians.
    However constituted “every town” was to have a plurality of elders according to Titus 1:5. Any kind of “governing council” made of of multiple elderships (however they were constituted) was a corruption and a departure.
    The collection appears first to be spontaneous in the Jerusalem church. (Acts 4:34 & 35) The collection mandate indeed began for famine relief but is was never ended after the famine ceased. There is no apostolic deletion of the practice. The mandate was broad, essentially to the entire Pauline mission. Not only that, it was a practice to read the epistles to all the congregations as noted by Paul in Colossians 4:16.
    Those congregations who mixed Moses with Christ (the so-called Judaizing teachers) were vigorously opposed by the entire Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, by Paul generally in II Corinthians and most exhaustively by the Hebrew writer. These hybrid congregations faded out of existence soon after 70 a.d. Not only that, we must remember that Matthew was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write his gospel. He did not have to be a rabbi in order to write from a rabbinic viewpoint.
    A question here. What words in the New Testament are not sound? Are only words concerning “theological and prudential matters” sound? Are there no sound words in the New Testament regarding faith and practice? Is worship, therefore, to be only an allegorical and mystic experience with no basis at all in Scripture? We should go to Origen and the other patristics for history, not theology.
    Calvinism was an extreme 180 degree reaction to the sacramental and indulgence based works religion of the Roman Catholic apostate church and has no basis in Scripture. Repentant persons who are baptized in the Name of Christ Jesus for the remission of sins are saved and added to the Lord’s church…and no others. (Acts 2:38 – 47) “IF” there are “other Christians,” who are they and how did they become such?
    Russ McCullough
    October, 10 2011

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