Christians are God's children - individually. Each one relates to God as his/her own Heavenly Father. There is nothing and no one between the child and her Father. Not even Jesus! Jesus taught us: "When you pray, say, 'Our Father, who art in heaven.' "Every child of God has direct access to the Father by virtue of what Christ did for us. He is the way, the truth and the life and "no one comes to the Father except by Me" - that is, by what He did for us in the sacrifice (His life) He made.
Our prayers go directly to our Father, to God. They do not go "through" anyone, not even Christ. Yes, we pray "in the name of Christ," but that does not mean that we have to repeat that phrase at the end of a prayer as if it is some magical formula that makes the prayer acceptable or somehow gets the prayer through Jesus and then to the Father. Some of our people actually believe, without any justifiable evidence, that unless that phrase is repeated ("in the name of Christ" or "in the name of Jesus Christ"), that the prayer will not make it to the Father; it will not be heard - accepted - by Him. I have seen many occasions when the phrase was not used and it left several saints very upset. "Prayer is just not acceptable without those closing words" is their erroneous notion.
Our prayers do not go through Jesus Christ to our Father; they go directly to Him; and that "way" to the Father for all of His children has been made possible by what Jesus has done for each of us in the sacrifice He made for each of us. "In the name of Christ" means something like "in His service" or "as a result of what He did."
The work of Jesus as our Mediator was completed when He went into the true Holy of Holies (Heaven itself) and as our High Priest offered once (for all time) His own blood as the sacrifice or atonement for our sins. He is not a daily active intercessor or on-going mediator between our Father and us. I go to my Father directly because I am His child and He deals directly with me. What a magnificent, humbling thought! The work of mediation and atonement was completed with "It is finished."
God's children make up His family, to use that figure of speech. That is as far as we dare press the figure. We are all brothers and sisters in the family of God, whoever we are and wherever we live. There is no one between the individual child and the Father. There is no Pope, council or synod. There is no priest, no "Father," no Rabbi, no Minister, no Clergy, no "Reverend," no Preacher, and no Eldership. There are no Church officials between you and your Father, serving on your behalf. No pastor, no bishop, no man! We dare not permit such in-between arrangement or person.
There is no Church between you and the Father. There is no "local Church" organization or functional entity. By the Lord's direction there is no allegiance owed to what is today called "the local church." You are not obligated to join anything that can be called by a specific, exclusive name, formal or informal, such as the Southside Church of Christ. In the beginning the disciples had no such institutions or organizations. Yet preachers today proclaim that we must join, or become a part of, such a corporate body and "therein serve under the control of that organization."
Do you really believe Jesus Christ our Lord requires us to join, place membership in, some "local church" organization? If so, upon what word of the Lord do you base your faith (Romans 10:17) for such a determinational practice? Is obedience to the Eldership (the Lordship) of the local church the same as obedience to our Father in heaven? Today our preachers proclaim that as a member of one of the local church corporate organizations, we are to obey this ruling body (Eldership) whether they are right or wrong, wise or unwise in their decisions. Their unscriptural claim is that to obey the Lordship (body of elders or Eldership) is to obey Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit and to disobey the Lordship of the local church is to disobey Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit. Yet these same preachers have the audacity to condemn the priestly or Church intercession and decisions of the Roman Catholic Church. If the latter is wrong, so is the other.
Christians relate to one another as God's children - all of them - wherever we live. We are all one family in heaven and on earth. God has only one family! The family is not to be divided and separated into "Church families" all over the city, country or world, with each "family" distinct from the other by some "membership" arrangement and divisive name, such as Lakeview Church of Christ or North Terrace Church of Christ. Each local church claims to be a separate and distinct "family" of God. If true, this means God has many, many families over the world. Do you believe this unscriptural, anti-scriptural teaching? God has only one family and it is the equivalent of the ecclesia (church). There is only one ecclesia. There is only one body (Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:18).
Paul wrote of the "whole family in heaven and on earth." (Eph. 3:15). He says in the passage that the "whole family" derives its name from the Father. Note that some of that great family are "in heaven" and another part is "on earth." Think about that great comprehensive statement. Moses is my brother in the family of God. So is Abraham. Adam. Elijah. Jeremiah and God's other prophets. Peter, James, John and Paul. Ruth, Sarah, Eve, Rachel, Mariam, Priscilla, Dorcus, Phoebe, and Lydia are all part of God's family, His children, and my brothers and sisters in the great redeemed family of God.
Let us remember that what God (which word equals the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit!) did through or by Jesus Christ was as much for those of ages past as it was for all those of ages to come. His death, His precious blood (life) given was as much for them as for you and me (Heb. 9:15). They are no less my brothers and sisters (to use this figure), than God's children today.
You who are God's children are my brothers and sisters wherever you live, even if I never meet you or have the joy and benefit of meeting and knowing you personally. W. Carl Ketcherside and Leroy Garrett popularized a great statement of fact that cannot be denied: "Wherever God has a child I have a brother or sister" in His family. What a blessed joy this brings to my heart. I fear that we have never realized the source of comfort and strength this could be to us. We are afraid to accept that truth and act upon it.
One of our greatest tragedies and difficulties has come from following the ways of men in separating and dividing up God's children into separate and distinct membership units or institutions called "the local church." Each one of these local "units" is now claimed to be independent and autonomous, with no relationship with or direct obligation for any other "local church." Each one is to do its own thing under its own name, through its own organization (corporate body), under its own divisive, exclusive name, and under the control of the corporate ruling body - the Eldership (or in lieu of that official body the same ruling power is exercised by the Men's Business Meeting), to which the members of each unit are all to be subject and submissive, obeying all decisions and requirements as if directly obeying the Lord Himself. And now the Church of Christ people are made to believe that this is all clearly required by the Scriptures. It is not there! It is assumed. Where do you read anything about a "local church" such as we have today? Where does the Lord set forth any word whatever about "local church" autonomy (self-governing)? Where do you read any clear teaching that there is such an organization or functional unit (entity) as "the local church;" and that the Lord requires that each saint join or "place membership" in such a thing? THINK! Study for yourself. You never read anywhere of a plurality of "local churches" in any city! Yes, the ecclesia (church) was there, meaning that the Lord had many people in the city. Some of His people were in Jerusalem, some of His people were in Antioch, some in Ephesus, some in Corinth, etc. But there were not 35 "local churches," separate, distinctive functional organizations operating in any city like we have in the Chattanooga area and in other cities. They had no separating organizations or "pens" that partitioned off God's people from others.
This is all wrong, my people. You have no primary, exclusive obligation to any one group of saints ("membership") that you do not have to any and all others. Each "local church" is not an Eastside Family of God or a Westside Family of God, each separate and independent of the other. It is worthy of note that no Church of Christ Church has yet changed its name to something like the "Eastside Family of God." Have you seen that name on any Church signboard? Why not? Authority for the name "Family of God" is found in every verse, deduced by the same logic that is used to manufacture "authority" for a divisive, exclusive name like Getwell Church of Christ or Knight Arnold Church of Christ!!
The saints, God's children, in Chattanooga are all brothers and sisters in the one family of God! Yet here they are divided up into 35 families and deliberate efforts are made to keep these families separate and distinct from each other. Your obligation to God's family begins and ends with the independent, autonomous family (Brainerd, Centtral, Hixson, etc.) in which you hold membership. There is a lot of moving of "membership" from one family to another in our city. In our current teaching/practice, a child of God in the East Brainerd family can decide to "join" another family, as he or she pleases. Provided, of course, the Lordship/Eldership of that family will accept him/her. So each family is independent and self-governing, accepting members from other families or rejecting them as decided by the overlords of that particular family. This is all accepted and common practice, yet there isn't the slightest indication of such a set-up and practice in the New Testament scriptures. It is all from the will and wisdom of men.
As they did in the time of the apostles and early disciples, God's children can meet together when and with whom they please. It is a mutual individual decision and responsibility. There was no "local church" organization to join. There was no "membership" moving or placing. We are always His children (and "members of the body of Christ," to use another figure) wherever we are, wherever we go.
When I travel to Tampa I am as much a child of God, a member of God's family, there as I am here. I ought to be able to assemble with God's children there - on an "equal footing" before God, as I can here. If I move to San Diego I am a child of God there just like I am here. I don't need to "place" my "family membership" in that city with one of the several "local families," to the exclusion of the other "local families." In the scriptures we read of no "local families" in any city. In fact, we do not even read of "the local church" in any city; and definitely do not read of a plurality of churches (or families or bodies or kingdoms) in any city. The Lord has only one ecclesia (church), only one body, only one family, only one kingdom. Each term refers only to His people, the redeemed and saved, everywhere!! Never is any of these terms used to describe or refer to an institution or organization, a functioning unit or entity!
My people, back off and honestly look at the mess we have made of the family of God. The more you examine it in the light of God's word, the worse it looks and "smells." It looks and "smells" more and more like Rome and her children - the denominations.
My brother and sister, please study carefully what I have written in the light of what Scripture reveals to us. The Lord's way is so simple and free, all based upon the individual disciple's responsibility to God and to one another. In the Lord's plan the one and only functional unit is the individual. There was no structuring of saints in institutions or organizations to be ruled or lorded over by some corporate body of men. The Scriptures do not speak of "the Eldership," "the Rulership" or "the Lordship," all of which are synonymous terms.
"The elders among you" (I Pet. 5:1) relate to individuals, not organizations! Their concern and care is for the individual "sheep" or "lamb" who needs "tending" or "feeding" of God's word. Their responsibility was not budgets, buildings , and hiring professional personnel for "the corporate church."
As saints, brothers and sisters in the Lord, our responsibility is to any and all other saints as the need and occasion demands without any distinction to institutional memberships. (cf. Acts 11:29 - "the disciples...each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea.") The saints in that day were not burdened down with financial obligations for buildings, Family Life Centers, hired Pulpit Ministers, Youth Ministers, Church staff, preacher training schools, Centers for Biblical Studies, and all the other practices we have borrowed from Rome and the other denominations; none of which are scriptural. Does it matter to you? Do you care? Remember that as a member of one of these "local church" organizations your role is to (1) be taught, (2) obey, and (3) pay! To put it another way, your responsibility is to simply be "a faithful member of the church!" Thus you belong to the Church, not to Christ! You serve the Church, not the Lord Jesus. The choice is yours - each of you. "Choose you this day whom or what you will serve." - CAH.