THE 15th chapter of Acts is a highly interesting chapter to study. With the termination of the Old Testament Law on the cross (Colossians 2:14; Hebrews 9:15-17), the Holy Spirit, step by step, was guiding the apostles and early church into “all truth” (John 16:13; 1 Corinthians 13:9-10). Breaking with the Law was not easy for them and it took time for them to come into the fullness of the New Testament revelation. After God showed that Gentiles should be accepted into the church with the household of Cornelius (Acts 10 and 11), Paul and Barnabas later broke new ground as they were sent out into the Gentile world with the gospel (Acts 13, etc.). Being sent out from the church at Antioch, they successfully preached in southern Asia Minor and returned to report their labors (Acts 14:26-28). It was from here, Antioch, after their preaching tour that the scenario of the 15th chapter of Acts begins to unfold. Certain die-hard Jews who believed in Christ came to Antioch from Jerusalem and taught the brethren, “Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1). This caused much confusion and concern among the Gentile believers, and, consequently, they sent Paul and Barnabas with some others up to Jerusalem to “see what was going on.” These Jewish teachers, whom we call Judaizers, had gone out from the church in Jerusalem and seemed to be claiming to represent the church in what they were saying. We gather this from the letter the Jerusalem church sent out to the Gentile churches, disavowing what they were teaching. The letter said, “Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment” (Acts 15:24). This letter was received with joy by the Gentile believers who were unquestionably verified to be bona fide brothers in Christ (and, significantly, the word “brethren” is found more times in this chapter than any other chapter in the New Testament, eleven times). However, these Judaizers continued to be a thorn in the side of the early church, as they went on into Galatia and others places, hounding the Gentile believers. (Notice the book of Galatians and other related references).

      With this interesting Scripture noticed and highlighted, we now move on to some other thoughts arising in connection with this chapter. In response to our emphasis on wanting to have Scriptural precedent or principle behind all that we practice in the church,  a person once said to this writer that the 15th chapter of Acts furnishes us a Scriptural example of a church convention, like that of a world, national or state convention (organizationally set up and drawn from many local churches). Thus, a national or other such regional name could be appropriately applied to the gathering. But does Acts 15 furnish such an example or precedent?

      Review the first section of this article. The church at Antioch was confronted by the Judaizers. The Judaizers taught, “Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.” They seemed to be claiming to represent the church at Jerusalem in what they were teaching. Paul and Barnabas were sent to get to the heart of the matter. The brethren at Jerusalem sent a letter, saying, among other things, “Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment.” Now, really, does this sound like a church convention? They are handling a church problem.

      We remind you that the church in the New Testament was made up of local, independent and autonomous entities. To apply world, national or regional names beyond the local church is to leap frog the simple New Testament concept and have a ready-made setup for a denominational identity (and apostasy in that direction). Who gave anyone the authority to thus name such gatherings, and thus imply that they are collectively representing a vast number of churches? In the New Testament, the stratum of the organization of the church does not go beyond the local church.  


      CORPORATELY speaking, the church has its being locally. When the New Testament makes reference to Christ’s followers in an organized sense in the world, or in any given region, it is never THE CHURCH, but CHURCHES. There is no such thing as a universal church or a national church. There is no such thing as a church organization in any sense of the word on a state, regional, or district basis (just the local, independent and autonomous church is all that we find in the inspired Scriptures). Yes, Christ said, “I will build my church,” but he is speaking of the whole church in a general sense and did not have reference to a collective unit or organization. When we read the New Testament Scriptures about Christ’s followers in an area, it was never THE CHURCH OF CHRIST, but CHURCHES OF CHRIST (Romans 16:16). It was never THE CHURCH OF MACEDONIA, but THE CHURCHES OF MACEDONIA (2 Corinthians 8:1). It was never THE CHURCH OF ASIA, but THE CHURCHES OF ASIA (THE SEVEN CHURCHES OF ASIA) (1 Corinthians 16:19; Revelation 1:4). It was never THE CHURCH OF GALATIA, but THE CHURCHES OF GALATIA (Galatians 1:2). It was never THE CHURCH OF JUDAEA, but THE CHURCHES OF JUDAEA (Galatians 1:22). And so we could go on!

      Beloved, this is not without significance—in fact, it is very significant! This means the followers of Christ in the world or in any given area were not welded together by an ecclesiastical organization on a universal scale, nor on the basis of some political region—but that each church was locally based, independent and autonomous in its church life and government. Each was a complete entity within itself—the only entity. Therefore, we read the following: “The church of God which is at Corinth” (1 Corinthians 1:2); “The church of the Thessalonians” (1 Thessalonians 1:1); etc.

      Colossians 4:16 and Philippians 4:15 are also significant references. Philippians 4:15 is especially significant. The latter part of this latter reference reads: “NO CHURCH communicated with me concerning giving and receiving, but ye only.” By CHURCH he means the local church, for he is saying this in contrast with the local Philippian church, and this implies that Paul was not expecting CHURCHES (as a group) to communicate as an organized singular unit to support him—for the extent of the government and organization of the church was only local. (Yes, this implies that he was not expecting help from an organized unit such as a district or national church, nor from local churches working through a crystallized district or other organization beyond their local boundries: NO CHURCH communicated).

      Thus, the only way we can speak of Christ’s followers in the world in an organizational sense (when speaking of more than one congregation) is to speak of them as “CHURCHES OF CHRIST.” To think in terms of “THE CHURCH OF CHRIST” is to move in the direction of denominationalism.
---from a booklet by the Editor