A blog about everything about teaching the Bible. "And still I will show you a more excellent way..." (1 Corinthians 12:31).
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Are members of the church of Christ the only people headed for heaven? Well, I'll have to let you answer for yourself, but first let me ask you a question: Do you think everyone's going to heaven?
If you say yes, well, I just ask you to think on that a little longer--we're not in the same book, much less on the same page. If you say no, then we agree there's a line in the proverbial sand somewhere and conditions that determine which side you're on. If presently we disagree about the answer to this post's central question, our task isn't to hate each other, but to work together honestly to find where we're misunderstanding the divine standard. That standard is faith in Christ as defined and commanded in the Bible.
Let's start with some Scripture. We're talking about the universal church here; the whole collective of God's people, everywhere. The church is the same thing as the body (Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:18), the kingdom (Matthew 16:18-19), God's household, & family (1Timothy 3:15). Every saved soul is in the church (Acts 2:41, 47; Hebrews 12:22-24). There is only one church (Ephesians 4:4). If in God's view (and his is the view that matters) there's just one kind of church, and today we see lots and lots of kinds of churches, then, unless I'm quite mistaken, one of the three following views must be true.
(1) None of the types of churches now present are the real church. What a sobering thought! The possibility of total apostasy (falling away) is consistent with the Scriptures. While Jesus said, "...I will build my church, and the gates of hades shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18), the stress of the prophecy is on the ultimate truth of it. In the end, the church will enjoy the complete victory of Christ over all his enemies (1Corinthians 15:24-26). Certain passages, like this one: "For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words" (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 ESV), lead me to believe there will be genuine believers alive on earth when the Lord returns (which means the true church will still be here). But, Jesus also asked a chilling question to his disciples, "Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" (Luke 18:8 ESV). That ought to be a splash of cold water in all our faces! We dare not take it for granted just because we become part of some church that calls itself Christian that it is a church God accepts as truly his! Just read Revelation 2-3 and see that Christ can remove a congregation's candlestick (i.e. it's acceptability to him). We believe in a near total apostasy during the vast portion of time we call the dark ages, even though there was a corrupt form of Christianity then present, and in Noah's day there was such a falling away that his was the only faithful family left on earth! Can it happen again? May God forbid it! But, the answer largely depends on our willingness to yield to God's Spirit. He doesn't force himself upon anyone. God accepts not merely those who claim to follow him, but those who truly do (Matthew 7:21-27).
(2) All of the present types of churches together make up the one true church. This is a widespread point of view, but it is inconsistent with the Scriptures. For instance, today Catholic churches teach "doctrines of demons" (1Timothy 4:1-3). The passage says they've fallen away from the faith. Also these days, more than a couple of large denominations have approved of homosexuality, some have even approved or ordaining homosexuals into positions of church leadership. The Bible calls such behavior an abomination (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13; Romans 1:26-27; 1Corinthians 6:9-10). Surely those churches aren't legitimately Christian. there are many other things I could include here. So, hopefully we can agree that there is a line somewhere a church cannot cross and still be acceptable to God even though it may still call itself Christ's church. I suppose the question is about where that line is. There is also a limited version of this view that looks at all "evangelical" churches as making up the one, true church. I can agree that it is closer to the truth, but I'm convinced even most evangelical churches hold to false teaching at a fundamental level. I'll address that in a later post, though.
(3) Only churches that actually hold to the fundamental doctrines and practices taught in Scripture are of the real type of church. This is the view that's consistent with Scripture. I think the passages cited above while disproving the first point of view will suffice for the present to support this one. If you need more, just look for the future posts in this series. I intend to have more to say.
Though today's climate of numerous "types of Christians" is confusing, there is really only one true church (Ephesians 4:4, 1:22-23). God never authorized us to divide the body into sects with conflicting teachings; wearing the names of men and/or key doctrines. There is no such thing as a Biblically sanctioned Christian denomination. Therefore, Biblically speaking, you cannot find salvation in any denomination. The church of Christ (Romans 16:16) was, is, and forever will be the one body of all saved followers of Jesus Christ. The questions are: Are churches of Christ as they are today legitimately congregations of that church? -Everything I've posted thus far, and what I'll post next (Lord willing) support an answer in the affirmative. Are some of the denominational churches congregations of this one true church? Not if they support and preach fundamental error.
In the churches of Christ, we have checked out of the denomination motel, so to speak. We've hitched the camper and left the sectarian camp, if you will, and renounce the whole idea. We refuse to be anything, willingly, other than the pure, ancient church. That doesn't mean the sectarian spirit doesn't creep into our midst from time to time (as it surely has), but it means we join the Lord in opposing the concept (John 17:17-23; 1 Corinthians 1:10) and strive with everything we have to be nothing other than the one true unified church (Ephesians 4:1-3). If the church of your membership doesn't share that goal, you need to try to change it, or leave it for one that does. If it already does, we together need to discuss what, if anything, keeps us from full unity and partnership in the gospel and come to one mind with regard to the mission of the Lord's church in the world today. So much depends on it!
What does this really mean for those in denominational churches? Well, for one it means that if you'll let me study with you I'll do my very best to lead you out of whatever denomination you've embraced, and you may be surprized by what the word actually says on some points. But, I know what some readers want is the bottom line. Are Baptists Christians? Are Lutherans true Christians? Am I saying you have to assemble in a building with the sign, "Church of Christ," out front to avoid damnation?
My main answer has to do with the Bible plan of salvation. If the church doesn't support and teach the true plan of salvation as revealed in Scripture, it isn't the true church (or I don't see how it possibly can be, God is Judge). One of the next couple of posts will focus on the plan of salvation.
So, what about baptized believers who assemble with a church under some name other than "Church of Christ"? Well, as I understand it, their ultimate judgment is up to God, and I don't have the right to make it, except where he's already declared it in Scripture. I hope God's grace for all types of errors sincere believers make will be deep and wide! I do, however, have the obligation to seek and learn the truth, and teach it to others. There may be groups of disciples who meet under some name other than Church of Christ who hold to the simple gospel, and I know there are true Christians who worship with churches that teach false doctrine with regard to fundamentals of the faith. All I can say is, please, either work to bring change in those churches if possible, or get out of them and into a church of Christ! To continue to knowingly support a church determined in error is to approve of and support error. That's the path of apostasy. I suppose the question finally comes down to, "How much false doctrine will God tolerate and forgive?" How about we all try to stay on the safe (and reverent) route, and avoid it all, if possible?
The churches of Christ are very far from perfect, but we're Biblically sound on the plan of salvation, and many other things, and even if we cannot really say we don't have sectarian tendencies ourselves, sometimes, and in some ways, at least we're committed to the one church and refuse to depart from Scripture by accepting men's names and creeds. Make sense? What is a true, genuine church of Christ? It's a church that follows the Lordship of Christ. Not all churches do. Not even all "Churches of Christ" do. Make sure you're part of one that does.
Friday, December 4, 2009
Historians call it the American Restoration Movement, but other such "movements", if on a somewhat smaller scale, took place in Europe as far back as the 1600s. The movement in America began as a simple unity movement, and though it continued (and continues) to be such, it quickly became a bit more complicated than that.
While a detailed history would be interesting, that's not my purpose here. You can read just about as much as you want about the Restoration Movement here. The basic "restoration plea" is for all believers to unite by abandoning all religious practices not authorized in the Bible. It is built upon the concept of not merely reforming churches, but restoring the one church Christ established through his apostles in the First Century, A.D., to its purity and simplicity.
The movement in America began in the late 1700s, but picked up momentum in the early 1800s. As I said, the movement began as a simple call for the unity of all believers, but since it was to be a movement for true unity with substance, not just a union disrespecting Scriptural authority (like most ecumenical movements seem to be), there were unexpected turns. The early participants in the movement came from backgrounds in various denominations, but as they applied the principles of restoring original Christianity, they faced some difficult choices. Consider the following quote from one of our best known 19th century preachers, Alexander Campbell, from the preface to The Christian System:
We were not, indeed, at first apprized of the havoc which our principles would make upon our opinions. We soon, however, found our principles and opinions at war on some points; and the question immediately arose, Whether shall we sacrifice our principles to our opinions, or our opinions to our principles? We need not say that we were compelled to the latter, judging that our principles were better than our opinions. Hence, since we put to sea on board this bottom, we have been compelled to throw overboard some opinions once as dear to us as they now are to those who never thought of the difference between principle and opinion.
/xiv/Some of those opinions (as the most delicate and tender buds are soonest blighted by the frost) immediately withered, and died under the first application of our principles. Infant baptism and infant sprinkling, with all infantile imbecility, immediately expired in our minds, soon as the Bible alone was made the only measure and standard of faith and duty. This foundation of the pedobaptist temple being instantly destroyed, the whole edifice leaning upon it became a heap of ruins. We explored the ruins with great assiduity, and collected from them all the materials that could be worked into the Christian temple; but the piles of rubbish that remained were immense.
Other topics became the theme of discussion; and, as the public mind became more intelligent and candid, the great principles of the Law and Gospel, the Patriarchal, the Jewish, and Christian institutions, were gradually unfolded. To the development of these, other publications in 1816 and 1820 greatly contributed; and so fully explored were ancient and modern Christianity that, in 1823, the design was formed of commencing a periodical and establishing a press to contend for the original faith and order, in opposition to all the corruptions of fifteen centuries.
And so it goes. If there is one church, and the Bible says so (Ephesians 4:4, 1:22-23), and it is distinguishable from religious groups that aren't that church, then it logically follows that there are distinguishing characteristics of it. Those characteristics would be what a well-studied first-century Christian would say if you asked him what the church was. Whatever he would answer is what I want to be able to answer if you ask me the same question today. That's what the restoration principle is about. It's not a done deal, but an ongoing, constant effort. It requires examining every thought, word and practice among every church to see what is good (1Thessalonians 5:21), and that may well require adding some things we've wrongly left off, and leaving things off that we may well find difficult to leave.
The story of the Restoration Movement is far from "happily ever after." As we've sought a unity true to the word, we've often found more and more division. Folks from opposite corners suggest differing reasons and solutions, but it isn't my purpose to deal with those here. So, this is our background in churches of Christ, and we hope that as we've labored to restore original Christianity we've been successful. We pray for continuing success. We recognize many of our failures, and strive, prayerfully, to see them corrected. Whether the task ahead is now great or small, one thing is clear, we are just Christians and invite you to become the same.