A blog about everything about teaching the Bible. "And still I will show you a more excellent way..." (1 Corinthians 12:31).

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Fundamental Beliefs Among Churches of Christ

What are the fundamental beliefs of the churches of Christ? Well, that's a tough question. I'm not foolish enought to think I have the right to speak for everyone. But, the very idea of fundamentals is that they're supposed to be clear and universal. That said, among churches of Christ there are differences of opinion on almost everything. There are churches on the left wing of things that are basically evangelical protestant churches little different than any other. There are churches on the right wing of things that hold to the belief that unless one is baptized directly by a member of the church of Christ he will go to hell. I have no tolerance for evil speaking of brethren on either wing, so if you've a mind to read and make comments, feel free, but don't bother with anything insulting or disrespectful. I think brothers on both extremes (as I judge them) are sincere. Suffice it to say, nearly all members of churches of Christ on either extreme and in-between (as I see myself--don't we all think of ourselves as balanced?) are pretty conservative when considered in light of the culture, both religious and secular, around us.

As you read this, keep in mind I'm not talking about the International Church of Christ, the United Church of Christ, or the Church of Christ, Scientist, or any other group assembling under some form of the name church of Christ. I'm talking about the churches of Christ that are a worldwide collective of Christians striving to be genuinely Biblical, undenominational followers of Jesus with no central governing body (autonomous congregations) on a mission to restore and practice original, primitive Christianity.

We believe in the Bible as the one true record of the revelation of the triune God. We believe it's message is essentially timeless. We're not into just doing what is culturally popular in a "Christian way." We're interested in following Jesus carefully, according to the ancient way as much as is right and possible. We want an accurate understanding of what Christianity is supposed to be according to the Bible and to be that. We have an intense desire to know truth. We're very concerned with doing things right, though we often fall short. We yearn for the unity of all who believe in Jesus, but remain unwilling to unify with those who will not keep the fundamentals of the faith.

We believe in God our Father, all knowing, all powerful. We believe in his Son, God in the flesh, both God and Man, Jesus the Christ who died for our sins and rose from the dead. We believe he ascended to heaven to reign until the predetermined time for his return as judge and rewarder. We believe he'll raise all the dead, right all wrongs, and bring his faithful ones into his presence to live forever at that point. We believe in the personal Holy Spirit, who indwells the Christian and the church. We believe the Bible is God's word. We believe the church is God's family. All the saved are in the church and it is impossible to be saved outside it. There is only one church that belongs to Christ. When we say churches of Christ, we mean it like Romans 16:16, so, of course we believe our congregations are simply, and truly congregations of that one church. If your church doesn't believe that about itself, of what church is it a part? We believe God calls his children to righteousness and moral purity. We strive to heed the call. We believe grace flows abundantly from God's heart into our lives. As Christians we make mistakes: doctrinal mistakes, moral mistakes, and mistakes of judgment. There is a difference between an honest mistake and willful rebellion against God. God is reasonable (Isaiah 1:18). We believe all of this, because it's what the Bible teaches. We read of Christ founding one church. We cannot find Biblical justification for denominating it any other way. Why would we ever want to be anything more or less? We don't make any pretence of being the best or right Christian denomination among denominations. We're trying not to be a denomination at all. That's a legitimate goal. In all my years as a serious Bible student, I've never heard a good reason why to think otherwise--not even from those who strongly disagree with what I'm saying. All these beliefs come from the Bible. These are the bulk of our fundamental beliefs.

In spite of some bad press, we do not set ourselves up as judges to condemn those with whom we disagree (there are extremist among any large group of people). The Lord will judge! In many cases he's judged already. Where he has, we simply try to stand for his judgment, which leads some to persecute us with hateful and hurtful (undeserved) accusations. We do, however, believe the teachings we hold dear to be the truth, or else we wouldn't hold to them. So we urge those with whom we differ in understanding to accept the truth and become one with us in the church of our Lord, not a better denomination than others, but as no denomination at all: the church we read about on the pages of the New Testament. I just can't find anything wrong with that! That's fundamentally what we're about.

Concerning Fundamentals of the Faith:

If you are a Bible-believing Christian, you believe there are fundamental doctrines one must believe or else stand condemned before God. If you don't believe that, either you don't know what the Bible says, or you just don't believe it! The questions that divide Christians are about what those essentials are. That brings up the vital question: How do we know something is fundamental? There are basically four ways I've learned to answer it. (1) If God directly commands it in the Bible it is fundamental and essential (i.e. John 13:34). I'm not saying God won't forgive us of our failures, but to willfully, continually disobey God's direct commandments leads to damnation (Titus 2:11-12; 2Thessalonians 1:8-9). (2) If the Bible connects a certain behavior with hell, we're dealing with fundamentals (i.e. Revelation 21:8). (3) Whatever Scripture tells us to do to be saved, or sets up as a basis of Christian unity, is fundamental to the faith (I'll deal with these in detail in a later post). (4) If a passage includes the doctrine under the heading of a fundamental matter, well, who are we to argue? (i.e. Hebrews 6:1-2).

Maybe you can come up with other or better ways to say this, but I think I'm on solid ground here. I understand teachings about Deity in general, the incarnation and literal death, burial and resurrection of Christ, specifically, and basic teachings about God's grace, human faith response, moral living, worship and evangelism to be among the fundamentals of the faith. I'll be more specific in later posts.

The Scriptures teach us to come to agreement (John 17:17-23; 1Corinthians 1:10). The Bible is clear on the matter: some points of doctrine are absolutely essential to the faith, and that means fellowship and unity and everything else are dependent upon our coming to a common understanding of them. The Bible is also clear that disagreements about non-fundamentals can and will exist among brethren this side of eternity. We've got to have a spirit of loving patience and strive for unity (Ephesians 4:2-3). There are also very important secondary matters that can divide churches, and these we must handle with great care. I aim to discuss these, too, in a later post.

In the church of Christ with which I work and worship we nurture an environment of open and honest inquiry. We continually stress the fundamentals (as generally outlined above), and while we strive for full unity in all points, we do not get into quarrels over matters of opinion. I think this is true among most churches of Christ (in spite of what you may have heard to the contrary). I'm convinced the churches of Christ are practicing original Christianity like we read about in the Bible. There is no other option for me! As for you, well, all I can ask you to do is fairly judge for yourself--and, please read this and the rest of the posts in the series with a loving, open mind!

Churches of Christ

Some weeks ago, I promised an upcoming series of posts about the churches of Christ. Well, here they come. With this series I'm entering into realms of thought that are extremely controversial: pleasantly for some, very unpleasantly so for others.

On my mother's side, the extended family has roots in churches of Christ that date back to the nineteenth century. The doctrinal views of many of them suggest a heavy influence somewhere back there from preachers like Tolbert Fanning and David Lipscomb. My father converted out of the southern Baptist denomination into the churches of Christ as an adult, some time after he met my mother. So, I was brought up in the church of Christ. I didn't always live up to my raising as a young man, but when I matured a little (thank God) I returned to my raising. As a grown man I returned to the LaVergne Church of Christ (where I grew up), and became a serious Bible student and soon, a Bible class teacher. Before long I was enrolled in Heritage Christian University seeking a Bible degree, and had become Associate Minister in the church.

It was October of 1996 when I returned to the Lord out of bondage to sin. Since then, for thirteen years or so now, I've made what I hope is a truly open-minded investigation of what I was taught growing up, what I learned in college, and what I've learned through personal study. It is ongoing, will be for life, and I'm still open-minded, but not without solid convictions. I now have a well-investigated, well-informed faith. Over the last decade or so I've been tossed to and fro a bit with the winds of doctrine. On some subjects I've swung like a pendulum from one view to another and back again. It has not always been very enjoyable or peaceful. However, though I don't pretend to say I've figured out all of life's mysteries, my mind is settled about many things and I'm confident I have come to the knowledge of the truth regarding salvation and the church. I believe the churches of Christ not only are the best and closest churches to the original apostolic church of the First Century A.D., but I believe they are that church. The church.

Explaining to you why I believe this will require several posts and several weeks of time. I hope you'll read them, and I hope you'll be open-minded. Feel free to comment, or not. Several questions or topics need treatment, and I also want to answer some questions that those outside of churches of Christ always ask. Here's the plan, look for these posts over the coming weeks:

What are the fundamental beliefs of the churches of Christ?
The Restoration Movement
Do members of churches of Christ believe they're the only ones going to heaven?
Where do churches of Christ fit denominationally?
Concerning the Plan of Salvation
Why no instruments?
Religious Authority--Standards and Matters of Judgment

At this point, I think these seven topics will enable me to say what I want to say. Time will tell. I pray God will guide me as I think and write, and that you'll read them--ideally with an open mind. I'll try to be fair and honest. See you with the post on the first topic before the week's out, Lord willing.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Monday, Monday

Looking back, I can remember some really good days--care free days of childhood at home with my family, with my grandparents (I sure miss them), running all over the neighborhood and beyond with friends, exciting times of youth--lots of good times. As a grown-up, even really good times and great days can be diminished by unwelcome responsibilities, dissatisfying circumstances, and just plain irritation with the ways of the world. That's just the way it is, right? Well, I suppose so to an extent; nothing's perfect this side of eternity! On the other hand, so much of how I see my life is based on my own attitude. Today started slow for me. I just did not feel like getting going. I'm sure you can relate. However, I finally (prayerfully) had a little bit of introspection and reminded myself why I have the responsibilities I have, that I'm not a victim to circumstances, and that with God's help I can have an impact on the world for good. So, now I'm pretty positive about the day, about life, and about my work--jury's still out about the world, but, hey, it's a start!

On this Monday, I'm thinking about the Serenity Prayer.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next. Amen.
--Reinhold Niebuhr

Have a good Monday and a blessed week!

Monday, November 9, 2009

My Monday Mind: Friendship, Reading, Fall

Monday. A lot of people hate it. It's the day you have to get up and go to work or school again. I love Mondays! In my life each day of the week has developed its own sort of distinct personality, and I enjoy each one as it offers me a slightly different mindset to operate within. If you'll allow me the luxury of the paradox, my week begins and ends on Sunday. From one standpoint it is the start of the week. Worship, Bible class, meetings, fellowship--all gear me up for the opportunities in the coming week. At the same time, my week focuses on being prepared for Sunday's arrival. I have lessons to get ready. Sometimes I've got sermons to get ready. I often have meetings to prepare for. Of course, like everyone else, I don't have enough hours in the week. Very often I'm working for several hours even on Saturday. So, in a way, my weeks build intensity day after day as Sunday draws nearer.

Well, that puts Monday in a neat little place. It's the second day of the week, but the first day of my semi-normal office routine. It's the day I begin working on plans that I made Sunday. I start building the intensity that will roll like a snowball through the rest of the week. It's a fun day of work, because I love what I do, and it can be easier than the rest of the week, because it's more for planning the rest of the week than actually getting deeply into anything. Since intensity builds toward Sunday, Monday is often like a sigh of relief. I just love Monday.

Mondays can be very introspective days for me. I get lots of ideas on Mondays. I thought I'd share some of the things that have been running through my Monday mind today.

Friendship. I take friendship seriously. If you make friends with me, you have a friend for life even if we fall out of touch, and I can honestly say I'm a true friend. I have very few friends that I am confident would be true friends to me if it came down to it, but there are many who could call on me for anything within my power to give. Friendship is a Bible word that means something deep each time you find it there. "There is a friend that sticks closer than a brother." It comes down to convenience. A true friend is willing to be inconvenienced. Friendship is costly.

Reading. Boy do I love to read. Fall is here and it has brought with it the usual desire to get into some fiction, but I haven't yet had time for fiction this Fall. I'm eager to get and read a book called The Reason for God, by Timothy Keller. I read a few pages recently while browsing at Barnes & Noble with a cup of Starbucks. Keller was recently featured in Christianity Today magazine, and I found the article interesting. Overall I take a somewhat eclectic approach to Bible reading. I went through it cover to cover this year (and do that at least once every year), and have otherwise tried to maintain daily readings in both testaments and the wisdom literature. sometimes I just focus on a particular text, because it meets a present need or suits my interest. I need to get back to reading something from C.S. Lewis and N.T. Wright soon, and want to look for something by an author from the churches of Christ for Fall/Winter reading. Any suggestions?

Fall. Man, isn't it beautiful? I love this time of year. The world is beautiful. The holidays are imminent. Family is close. Ye ole wallet be strained, but there is just an air of novelty about things, and I'm reminiscent and setimental.

Hope your Monday goes well.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Spiritual Habits for Spiritual Health

Despite the case Zombie movies make, a corpse doesn't get hungry! If you don't hunger for spiritual practices like prayer, study and meditation, well, you do the math.

These days, millions of people seek a personal relationship with God. They want to experience God's presence. I'm fine with that; I want it too. However, as strange as it may sound, having a personal relationship with God takes practice! Developing habits of spiritual practices will draw you nearer and nearer to God, and when you draw near to him, he responds in kind (James 4:8). Think of Daniel who habitually prayed three times a day (Daniel 6:10, 13). The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy teaching him to practice, and be immersed in his studies, putting forth an effort to understand accurately (1Timothy 4:15; 2Timothy 2:15). Paul also wrote, "Pray without ceasing" (1Thessalonians 5:17).

God gave us a tendency to be creatures of habit for our good. Of course, we characteristically misuse this trait and form a bunch of bad habits. That's what sin is all about, misusing things for evil that God gave us for good. The way to break bad habits isn't through just trying not to do them, though that's not a bad place to start. To overcome bad habits you've got to replace them with new, better ones. Select and keep several times for prayer each day. Keep a list of things you want to remember to pray for. Choose a time, or times to study Scripture, and decide how much of it to tackle every day, and stick to it. Remember to make space for different types of study. Do some devotional reading, work on a schedule of reading the whole thing through, and, of course, make some time each week for deeper, more careful study. Last, but not least, spend some time each day just thinking about your spirituality. Consider your studies and imagine yourself putting the things you learn into practice. Your mind's just got to have a routine to fall back on, so give it a good one!