“See That You Make All Things
According To The Pattern”

The above instruction comes from Hebrews 8:5 (quoted from Exodus 25:40) and was given to Moses when he was about to construct the tabernacle. The pattern itself came from God (Exodus 25:9) therefore, no man had a right to change it. In the context of Hebrews 8, the writer is showing the superiority of Christ over Moses. The physical tabernacle and all the furnishings in it were but a “copy and shadow” (Hebrews 10:1) of the reality that exists today in heaven. Jesus is a “Minister of the sanctuary of the true tabernacle” (Hebrews 8:2). The same principle taught to Moses in the Old Testament is also taught to Christians in the New Testament. The church is where God dwells today (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). Ownership is claimed by Jesus, “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18). He is the head of the church (Ephesians 5:22-32). Jesus has the right to make the church whatever He wants, and man has no authority to change the pattern. In fact, we are specifically told, “Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 1:13).

The duty of Christians today is to “test the spirits, whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1). From the beginning of the church through today man has sought to introduce his own ideas into the pattern that Jesus gave. Some do this innocently, motivated by a desire help others or further the cause of Christ. Others knowingly violate the New Testament pattern. In either case, the outcome is still wrong.

When a new idea is presented to us we should not reject it without a careful examination of God’s word. It may be that we are wrong in what we believe or practice. Or, it may be that a particular practice is an option of generic authority that we have not considered. In all instances, God’s word is the final authority.

In past years there has been a trend among liberal churches to have “brotherhood building programs.” A congregation has a desire for a building but is unable to pay for it, so funds from other congregations are solicited. These other churches help with the down payment, or even completely pay for the building. The appeal is that such financial help is benevolence. “After all,” we are told, “churches need a place to meet.” Often times, but not in every case, the church paying for the building sees the smaller church as a satellite (or “ministry”) of the larger church. The church that pays for the building will often keep control (the deed) of the property.

In the mid-1950’s, a program spearheaded by Burton Coffman called “A Million For Manhattan” solicited contributions from other congregations. Originally, the program called for an adequate building and classrooms with housing for the preacher. As things progressed and the money started coming in the plans were changed to a multi-story facility. The bottom floor was to be used as rental space for businesses in order to generate income, and the upper floors for church use. According to the Manhattan church’s website, in 1955, "The church began an intensive building fund project to build a new facility for its ministries in Manhattan." In October of 1960, "The building fund had successfully raised money to pay for the property from 48 East 80th to the corner of Madison Avenue. The Church held a ceremonial mortgage burning." There was no scriptural support for their activities, but that didn’t stop the effort.

It was just a matter of time before some progressive-minded, non-institutional churches of Christ started making the same appeal. Is such an arrangement according to the New Testament pattern? Only the scriptures can tell us.

The New Testament does authorize an exchange of funds from one congregation to another. But such an exchange must be limited to only what is authorized. Consider the passages that authorize such a transfer: ·

Acts 11:27-30 “And in these days prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch. Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar. Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea. This they also did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.” Notice that this was “relief to the brethren” because of the “great famine.” This was not help with a building program, this was true benevolence where the very lives of the saints depended on help from brethren in other places. ·

Romans 15:25-27 “But now I am going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem. It pleased them indeed, and they are their debtors. For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things.” (This passage, as well as 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 and 2 Corinthians 8 & 9 were all written about the same time and need to be considered as a whole to understand the full instruction.) This contribution was “for the poor among the saints.” The word “poor” (ptwcos) means, “to be thoroughly frightened, to cower down or hide oneself for fear; hence ptwcos prop. One who slinks and crouches. . . . poor, needy” (Thayer). This word describes people who are destitute, and the contribution was to relieve their burden. ·

1 Corinthians 16:1-4 “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come. And when I come, whomever you approve by your letters I will send to bear your gift to Jerusalem. But if it is fitting that I go also, they will go with me.” The situation here is the same as in Romans 15. This passage is primarily instruction for the church’s action. Their contributing was to be on the first day of the week, but the “gift to Jerusalem” was for the relief of the needy saints. ·

2 Corinthians 9:12 “For the administration of this service not only supplies the needs of the saints, but also is abounding through many thanksgivings to God.” While much of 2 Corinthians 8 & 9 is encouraging the Corinthians to fulfill their responsibility, this verse specifically addresses how the collection was to be used. It was for “the needs of the saints.” “Needs” comes from usterhma which means, “a deficit; specifically, poverty:—that which is behind, (that which was) lack(-ing), penury, want” (Strong’s Greek Lexicon).

There is no question that local churches are commanded to assemble (1 Corinthians 11:17-18, 33; Hebrews 10:25), and that implies a time, a place, and the proper purpose. The New Testament tells us clearly what we are to do when we assemble (purpose), and that we are to assemble on the first day of the week (time). But a place is not specified. Therefore, we have generic authority to assemble in whatever place is most expedient. Many small churches meet in rented buildings or in homes, and many churches own property. In our affluent society, perhaps some think that property ownership is a necessity or a right. Not so!

The New Testament pattern is that funds may be transferred from one congregation to another when members of the receiving congregation are destitute of the things necessary to sustain life. There is no passage that authorizes one church helping another church gain property. If so, where is the verse?

Perhaps this latest trend among us is the natural result of an attitude that has been in some non-institutional congregations for a long time. Some believe that one congregation can support another congregation regardless of who is preaching there. The preacher is merely an incidental. Churches earmark funds for a particular work. Whoever preaches there is then qualified to receive the funds. In the New Testament the church wasn’t supported, the preacher was. Do churches have a right to support any gospel preacher they wish? Absolutely! But some have the attitude that “We’re supporting the church.” It seems that financing another church to construct a building stems from this attitude of “supporting the church.”

Lest someone argue, “Where does the Bible say not to help another congregation with it’s building?” remember what Paul taught in Colossians 3:17, “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” Silence does not authorize.

By Dan Gatlin

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