The Community of Christ vs. the Churches of Men

 

Community of Christ vs the Churches of Men 

The Community of Christ vs the Churches of Men


What do human denominations believe and teach? 

What do communities of Christ believe and teach?


What does the Bible really say? 

Introduction

Do you presently find yourself a member of an established church or religious denomination?  Are you part of a smaller nondenominational group or fellowship of committed people?  There are tens of millions of people who profess to follow Jesus Christ to some degree and desire to please God.

What is your own perspective?  If you have a heart for God who wants to take the Bible seriously, we invite you to read the following pages.  Some people do have “good and honest” hearts (Luke 8:15) and want to know the Word of God so that they may do His will.  They are tired of the religious compromises, the worldliness, the false teachings, the ecclesiastical traditions, the unscriptural organization and offices, the hypocritical lifestyles, and every other element in contemporary Christendom.  They are looking for a better way—God’s way!

 

Are you one who does want to know God’s will, even if you discover that this differs from what you always thought was right?  Do you have a hunger for God and a thirst for His truth that the emptiness of denominational organizations cannot satisfy?  Do you even find that the home groups, parachurch organizations, and “community church” groups cannot provide the answers? 

 

 

[We are sorry, but this article is very, very long and because of this we were unable to totally format it to appear well. The entire article is present, but it is not in a form that we would prefer. We do hope that you will be able to find much good here for there is so much about this subject, taken from God’s written Word (the Bible), that should help us. May God bless you! (RH)]

The Community of Christ vs The Churches of Men 

During the time that He walked among men, our Lord Jesus Christ promised that He would form a community of His followers on earth.  He declared to Peter, one of His apostles, “Upon this rock I will build My community; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it” (Matt. 16:18).  This coming community of believers would be His representatives on earth and the body in which He would dwell.[1]

 

In order to convey the saving truth that would be needed to begin, form, and build this body of believers, Jesus promised His apostles that He would send the Holy Spirit as a “Helper” (parakletos) to them.  Notice His reassuring words on the night he was betrayed: “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:26).  He further promised, “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  But when He, the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth” (16:12-13a).  In this way, our Lord indicated that saving truth would be communicated to us through these apostles, His chosen ambassadors.  They would be taught “all things” and would be guided into “all the truth” so that they might declare God’s will to others.

 

Beginning on the day of Pentecost, the apostles began to proclaim the saving message that would bring people into the redeemed body of believers (Acts 2:1-42).  Later, Paul said that “God’s household” has been “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone” (Eph. 2:19-20; cf. 3:5).  Through the inspired and authoritative words of the apostles, along with the prophets, God revealed His will for the early community of saints.  These believers were subject to the instructions of the apostles just as they were to obey the words of Christ Jesus Himself (cf.  Luke 10:16; John 13:20; 1 Cor. 14:37; 1 Thess. 2:13; 2 Peter 3:2).

 

You will remember that God commanded Moses to build the tabernacle according to the divine specifications:  “See . . . that you make all things according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain” (Heb. 8:5).  Likewise, the apostles in the first century were to carefully carry out the instructions of the Lord Jesus in forming and building His community on earth.  While there was a legitimate place for variety and diversity between and within the individual communities of believers, we must also recognize that many fundamental teachings and practices were given for these early assemblies to believe and observe.  Just as Moses received a “pattern” from God and was expected to follow this pattern in building the tent of meeting, so the apostles and prophets received the Word of Christ (through the Holy Spirit) and communicated these directives to believers so that the people of God might be just what God wanted.

 

Sadly, since the days of the apostles, men have attempted to “improve upon” the instructions that the apostles gave to the community of Christ in the first century.  Some have followed various human traditions and practices rather than holding to the ways of the Lord (cf. Mark 7:7-13; Col. 2:8).  Others have added to or taken away from the apostolic word of the Lord (cf. Rev. 22:18-19).  Still others have distorted, twisted, or changed the truth of God in numerous ways (cf. 2 Peter 3:15-17; 2 Cor. 4:2; Gal. 1:6-9).  And some have simply proclaimed a more “acceptable” and palatable message that people more readily enjoy and accept (2 Tim. 4:2-4).

 

All of this has resulted in a massive “falling away” from the faith as declared and written by the apostles and the prophets.  Paul wrote, “Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me” (2 Tim. 1:13a).  Timothy was to retain the “pattern of sound teaching” (NIV) or “pattern of sound words” (RSV) which Paul had taught him.  Instead of holding to the standard or pattern of sound words of the apostles, many modern preachers, pastors, priests, and prophets have chosen to depart from these “sound words” while proclaiming a “smooth and flattering” but deceptive message that leads the masses astray (cf. Rom. 16:17-18; Acts 20:29-30).

 

Even during the days of the apostles, some began to teach that which differed from the truth of God.  False prophets, false teachers and misguided souls departed from the truth and led some astray (cf. 2 Cor. 11:3-4, 13-15; Gal. 1:6-9; 5:7-10; Col. 2:4,8; 1 Tim. 1:3, 19-20; 2 Tim. 2:16-18; Titus 1:10-16; 1 John 4:1-2; 2 John 7-11; Jude 3-4).  This was to be the pattern of departure or apostasy in the following years (cf. Matt. 24:10-13; Acts 20:29-30; 2 Tim. 3:1-7; 4:2-4; 2 Peter 2:1-3).

 

As we examine early “church history” of the second, third, fourth, and following centuries, we can clearly see how various false beliefs, false teachings, false practices, false traditions, and false movements began and grew.  The apostate medieval church was the result of this massive departure from apostolic teaching and practice.  Both the Western Church (the “Roman Catholic Church”) and the Eastern Church (the “Eastern Orthodox” churches) were engulfed in this falling away or apostasy (apostasia).

 

The Reformation of the sixteenth century served to sweep away many of these false teachings, beliefs, and traditions of Catholicism, but alas, a variety of unscriptural elements remained in most of the denominations that have their roots during this period.  Since that time numerous other churches, denominations, and sects have arisen, but generally these too have retained an assortment of unbiblical teachings and practices.  While some religious movements have done more than others to return to Scriptural forms and practices (and for these we are thankful), we must sadly say that much remains to be restored.  Today, according to the researcher Barrett, there are over 2,000 different sects, churches, and denominations in the United States alone, with some 20,000 worldwide!  Obviously, all of these cannot be right; all of them cannot be following and teaching the truth of God!

 

The motivations for the various departures from the “sound words” and Scriptural patterns vary from person to person and from denomination to denomination.  Much of the false teaching and erroneous practices arise from pride, deception, desire for power, and simple unfaithfulness to God.  Some of it also comes from indifference to the will of God and contentment with something less than the revealed will of God.

 

Yet we must acknowledge that others have simply found themselves within a church or group through birth and upbringing.  Some have attempted to make a search of what is available in the religious spectrum, but have given up in despair or acquiesced to a bad situation, thinking that nothing better can be found.  Still others have chosen to settle for an inferior religious experience and church association with the thought that since nothing better can be found, they will attempt a “reform” within the confines of their given church group.  Of course, there are some who have simply given up on religion entirely since they have found nothing similar to New Testament teaching and practice.  They have become cynical and unbelieving.  A few, however,  have given up on organized “Christendom” and are simply biding their time, awaiting God to show them further light of His will that they might walk in it.

 

This present study has a specific intention.  Hopefully it will serve a useful purpose for every sincere person mentioned above.  What is that purpose?  On the following pages we shall examine a number of questions that have a direct bearing on God’s will for the body of Christ.  Under each point, we shall first examine contemporary denominational beliefs and practices.  This is where the mass of people are today if they profess to be Christians.  Then we shall contrast this with what the Scriptures teach about these same issues.  In other words, we shall compare and contrast what may be called “the churches of men” with the “community of Christ” as Christ Himself would have it.  Since Christ is the “head of the body, the community” (Col. 1:18), He should know what He wants His spiritual body to believe, obey, teach, and practice.[2]

 

This format should be helpful in clearly seeing the unscriptural and questionable beliefs, practices, and lifestyle of Christendom in our country, and then seeing what God wants His community of people to believe and practice, as revealed in holy Scripture.  Remember this, however:  We do not want to merely observe and duplicate any false belief or practice of the first century (such as the defective order at Corinth, the false teaching at Galatia, or the misunderstandings at Thessalonica)!  No, we wish to compare present-day denominationalism and churchianity with the intention of God during the days of the apostles–the ideal to which Paul, John, Peter, and other apostles constantly pointed first century believers.

 

Let us now proceed to our Scriptural study.  First we shall ask a particular question that relates to our theme.  Then, we shall examine the belief, teaching, or practice of various churches, sects, or denominations relating to the question.  Finally, we shall go to the Scriptures to determine what the Lord and His apostles taught concerning the question and what the first century assemblies practiced.

What were the early Christians called?

 The Churches of Men

 

Many churches unashamedly confess that they are “denominations” and they are proud of the fact!  The word “denominate” literally means “to give a name to” (The Random House College Dictionary).  A “denomination” is a religious organization or society consisting of a plurality of local congregations following a certain humanly-devised order and called by a specific name.  Yet even independent religious groups or fellowships may take an exclusive identifying name to distinguish themselves from other religious groups.

 

Some churches derive their names from church offices or forms of government:

 

  • Episcopal (rule by bishops)
  • Presbyterian (rule by elders or presbyters)
  • Congregational (each church is self-governing).

 

Others take their names from a religious practice or characteristic: Baptist Church, Methodist Church, Reformed Church, Pentecostal Church, Holiness Church.

 

Still others have chosen a Scriptural term and elevate it as an exclusive and official designation:

 

  • Church of God
  • Assembly of God
  • Church of Christ
  • Church of the Firstborn
  • Church of God in Christ

 

Some denominations and sects are associated with a particular geographical locality:

 

  • Roman Catholic Church
  • Greek Orthodox Church
  • Russian Orthodox Church
  • Anglican Church (Church of England)
  • Old German Baptist Brethren
  • Missouri Synod Lutheran Church
  • Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church
  • Plymouth Brethren
  • Moravian Church
  • Cumberland Presbyterian Church
  • African Methodist Episcopal Church
  • Southern Baptist Church
  • Southern Methodist Church

 

A number of denominations and churches take the name of their founder or an important leader of the past:

 

  • Wesleyan Church (John Wesley)
  • Lutheran Church (Martin Luther)
  • Mennonite Church (Menno Simons)
  • Hutterian Brethren or Hutterite Church (Jacob Hutter)
  • Waldensian Church (Peter Waldo)
  • Amish Church (Jacob Amman)
  • Beachy Amish Mennonite Church (Moses M. Beachy)
  • Schwenkfelder Church (Caspar Schwenkfeld von Ossig)
  • Old Order Wisler Mennonite Church (Jacob Wisler)
  • Church of Jesus Christ, or Bickertonites (William Bickerton)

 

Some local churches are given names of the apostles or certain religious leaders of the past:  St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, St. John’s United Church of Christ, St. Timothy Cumberland Presbyterian Church, East St. Paul Baptist Church, St. Jude Catholic Church, St. Barbara’s Orthodox Church, St. Paul Lutheran Church.

 

As individual members, denominationalists may be known as Baptists, Presbyterians, Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, Pentecostals, Wesleyans, Mennonites, Amish, Congregationalists, Nazarenes, and many others.  Even Scriptural terms are elevated to the status of denominational designations: Brethren in Christ, Friends, Brethren, Disciples, United Brethren.

 

Common to all of these groups, churches, sects, and denominations is the fact that they have chosen a specific, official, exclusive, identifying name that serves to separate themselves from others and gives their members a sense of identity and unity.

 

Community of Christ

 

The early Christians, of course, knew nothing of this type of organizational identification.   Perhaps the closest they came to this was when the Corinthians called themselves after Paul, Cephas, and Apollos (1 Cor. 1:12).  Although they fell into this carnal practice, Paul was dismayed with what they were doing.  He asked—and we could do the same in our own day:  “Has Christ been divided?  Paul [Wesley, Luther, Menno, Calvin] was not crucified for you, was He?  Or were you baptized in the name of Paul [Wesley, Luther, Menno, Calvin]?” (v. 13).  Paul soundly rebuked the carnality that would give rise to this practice (3:3-4).

 

Early believers were known corporately as the community of God (1 Cor. 1:2), the community of Christ (Rom. 16:16), the community of saints (1 Cor. 14:33), the assembly in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 1:1), or simply the “community” or “assembly” (Acts 12:1).  Various images were conveyed in what they were called:  Christ’s “body” (1 Cor. 12:27), God’s “household” (Eph. 2:19), and God’s “temple” (1 Cor. 3:16).

 

Individually, the members of Christ’s body had certain simple but meaningful designations:

 

  • brothers and sisters (1 Cor. 7:15)
  • children of God (1 John 3:1)
  • saints (Romans 1:7)
  • believers (Acts 5:14)
  • disciples (Acts 9:1)
  • followers of Christ, i.e., Christians (Acts 11:26; 1 Pet. 4:16)

 

Whether Christians are referred to as individuals or as a body, the terms are simply descriptive of some characteristic or relationship and are neither exclusive nor official.  Like the faithful in the first century, true believers will desire to use the same descriptive terms today.

 

How were the early communities organized?

 

The Churches of Men

 

Soon after the days of the apostles and continuing until today, people have manifested their discontent with God’s ways by devising various forms of church authority and leadership that deviate from the pattern revealed in holy Scripture.  The variety of these systems of church government seems to be endless.

 

Some religions, such as Lutheranism and the “Assemblies of God Church,” set a “President” over the denomination.  Others, such as Methodism, Catholicism, Mennonitism, and Episcopalianism place “Bishops” over multiple congregations in a district or diocese.  Roman Catholicism, the most complex and hierarchical of religious groups, has traditionally placed a “Pope” or “universal bishop” over the entire world church (of nearly one billion people)!  Cardinals are his special advisors.  Under him are “arch-bishops,” bishops, and parish priests.  The Episcopal and Anglican Churches likewise espouse the bishop system.  The “Orthodox Church” places a “Patriarch” over each national church within her ranks.  Presbyterianism elevates a “ruling elder” over fellow elders, all of whom are over a congregation, then establishes a district-wide “presbytery” to decide policies beyond the congregation.  The Southern Baptist Church elevates a leader called a “Pastor” over the local church, along with a board of deacons, but each church specifies “messengers” who are sent to a central location each year to decide policies for the “Convention.”

 

Besides this questionable organization involved in various denominations and churches, the wide-ranging ecclesiastical officials are both amazing and astounding:  President, vice-president, superintendent, pope, archbishop, cardinal, trustee, bishop, apostle, patriarch, nun, monk, priest, mother superior, sister, council member, pastor, general overseer, messenger, senior pastor, ruling elder, minister, associate minister, assistant pastor, associate pastor, youth pastor, recreation minister, usher, parson, vicar, rector, deaconess, board member, and a host of others.

 

Consider also the religious titles by which certain clergy are addressed (and some of them demand):

 

  • Pope John
  • Bishop Smith
  • Pastor Jones
  • Reverend Peterson
  • Very Reverend Kennedy
  • Monsignor O’Leary
  • Father Bradley
  • Mother Maria
  • Doctor Knowitall

 

Needless to say, this usage is entirely foreign to the way of Christ, nevertheless it is practiced by the majority of those within Christendom.

 

The Community of Christ

 

God planned that the community of Christ—the assembly of Christ—would have an arrangement far different from these humanly-devised systems.  The Lord gave a glimpse of the kind of “leadership” that would be exercised among His followers when He said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.  It is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave” (Matt. 20:25-27).  In other words, those who would be over their fellow-believers would exercise their position with a servant’s heart.  Even the apostles, who were given a unique position of authority, chose to be servants and sought to persuade rather than coerce—although they were capable of exercising authority particularly with the Word of God (cf. 1 Cor. 4:21; 2 Cor. 10:8; 12:19-13:4,10).

 

In each mature community that had been fully “set in order” (Titus 1:5) and that had qualified men (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9), God places a plurality of “elders” (presbuteroi) (cf. Acts 11:30; 14:23; 15:2,6; 20:17,28; 1 Tim. 5:17; Titus 1:5; James 5:14; 1 Peter 5:1; see also Phil. 1:1).  Thus, instead of a “bishop” being over a plurality of assemblies, an assembly was overseen by a plurality of elders or overseers.  The elder is sometimes called an “overseer” (apiskopos) (Phil. 1:1) or a “shepherd” (poimen) (Eph. 4:11).  Actually, these terms were used interchangeably (see the Greek renderings in Acts 20:17 with v. 28; Titus 1:5 with v. 7; 1 Peter 5:1 with v. 2).

 

One writer explains, “The term ‘elder’ indicates the mature spiritual experience and understanding of those so described; the term ‘bishop,’ or ‘overseer,’ indicates the character of the work undertaken.  According to the Divine will and appointment, as in the N.T., there were to be [overseers] in every local church.”[3]   It might be pointed out that men who carried on this work were local men (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2) and were appointed from the local membership (cf. Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5) rather than imported from other geographical areas.  Further, these functionaries were required to meet rigid qualifying standards—such as being able to teach and knowing the “faithful word”; being married; having children who believe; having children who were not rebellious, unruly, or disobedient; having a good reputation; and many others (cf. 1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9).

 

Along with the elders or overseers, who were particularly concerned with the spiritual oversight of the flock, there were also “servants” of the assembly (diakonoi) who were probably more concerned with the material, physical, and financial needs of the believers (cf. Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:8-13; Acts 6:1-6?).   Just as the overseers, these servants also must meet certain qualifications before they are appointed.  Other functionaries were also part of the early apostolic communities—such as the “teacher” (didaskalos) (Acts 13:1; 1 Cor. 12:28-29; Eph. 4:11; Heb. 5:12; James 3:1) and the good news “proclaimers” (euangelistes) (Acts 21:8; Eph. 4:11; 2 Tim. 4:5).  Others, such as “sent ones” or apostles (apostolos) (Matt. 10:2; Acts 1:26; 2:14,37) and “prophets” (prophetes) (Acts 13:1; 15:32; 21:10; 1 Cor. 14:29,32,37) served as the “foundation” of the New Testament assembly (cf. Eph. 2:20; 3:4-5; 4:11-16; 1 Cor. 12:28-30).

 

Although these were positions or works within the early community, we must remember that every believer was on the same plane.  This is why they were all called “brothers” and “sisters” (James 2:15).  Jesus said that His coming assembly would not have a hierarchical arrangement.  Rather, all were to consider themselves servants of the others:  “Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave” (Matt. 20:26-27).  He further said, “Do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers” (Matt. 23:8; cf. vv. 9-10).  In one sense, all believers are part of the “clergy” (from the Greek kleros, meaning “one’s portion”).  “In early Church history ‘clergy’ referred to all the members of a Christian community.  By Tertullian’s day it was used of ordained bishops, priests and deacons. Today it refers to ordained ministers of the church, in contrast to the laity.”[4]  Furthermore, every believer is part of the “laity”!  Laity comes from the Greek laos (“people”) or laikos (“belonging to the people”).  “Originally the word referred to the whole Church, all the people of God.  Today the word unfortunately contrasts those not ordained to professional ministry (laity) with the ordained (clergy).”[5]  Therefore, the present day “clergy-laity” distinction that so thoroughly permeates churchianity was unknown in the early community of saints.

 

One of the striking things we notice as we compare the Scriptural organization above with the systems that various denominations have devised is that the Biblical way is simple and just what the Lord wanted.  Concerning spiritual gifts in general, Paul wrote, “To each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. . . . One and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills. . . . God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired” (1 Cor. 12:7, 11, 18).  Just as God worked in this way in the distribution of spiritual gifts, so God has specified the organization of the body and has revealed the particular works and positions that are to be found within the body.  In fact, within the body of Christ, there is a place for everyone to participate in the exercise of the abilities that God has provided (cf. Eph. 4:11-16; 1 Peter 4:10-11; Romans 12:3-8).  No one is without a work to do.  Young and old, male and female, educated and uneducated, and believers from various backgrounds–all can be used of God in His spiritual family.  As we submit to His plan in this area, we can have the confidence that we are part of the community that Christ is building.[6]

 

Is the Body to be kept pure and free from sin?

 

The Churches of Men

 

Generally speaking, there is room for widespread worldliness and false teaching within denominational membership.  As long as a member occasionally attends the services (perhaps on Christmas and Easter!) and occasionally contributes to the church coffers, he is retained on the church membership roll.  Standards are minimal.  Requirements are unspecified.  Expectations are nearly nothing.  This is not to say that denominational churches would not like the membership to become involved and participate in the “program” of the local congregation.  We simply observe that little is done when a member fails to perform as desired and encouraged.

 

The more liberal or mainline denominations tolerate outright sin and perversion.  Although some may debate whether sodomites or homosexuals should be “ordained” to the ministry, they seem to have little problem with their regular membership.  Many of these churches tolerate or even advocate killing unborn babies (abortion).  Not only is there a serious problem in liberal churches, the more conservative and “evangelical” churches also have a serious problem in tolerating sin and carnality in their midst.  Some of them are havens of adultery—where wrongfully divorced people are permitted to remarry (even remarried by the pastors) and thus enter adulterous relationships.  (Some pastors and other leaders themselves are living in adultery!)  Members are permitted to satisfy their materialistic lusts by building extravagant homes, driving luxurious automobiles, taking expensive vacations, and wearing fine clothes.  They will even be congratulated for their fine taste!  Worldliness is not only tolerated but encouraged.  Many churches themselves sponsor dances, trips to amusement parks, worldly movies, carnal music, beach and swimming pool parties, sports activities, and general fleshly pastimes and pursuits.[7]

 

This section could be expanded almost without limit, but it is apparent that unacceptable toleration is granted within most denominations.  Sins of the flesh and sins of the spirit are accepted.  Worldliness is condoned.  False beliefs and erroneous teaching is tolerated.  And all of this pertains to both leadership and the regular membership.  Membership is simply dropped when a person moves away from a locality or when he becomes “inactive” over a period of time.  To be fair, we must acknowledge that some of the more conservative denominations and churches do exercise “discipline” upon their members because of gross sexual immorality, outspoken unbelief or heresy, or violation of certain church rules or standards.  Some very conservative ones even withdraw membership for such things as tobacco use, immodesty, drunkenness, insubordination to leaders, forsaking the meetings, and such things.  However, this is rare, and when it is practiced in any way, most churches do not fully withdraw fellowship from the offender.

 

The Community of Christ

 

Scripture is quite clear that the body of Christ is to be pure and free from all defilement.  Paul likens the body of Christ to a bride and says that Christ gave Himself for her, “that He might sanctify her [make her holy], having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the [community] in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless” (Eph. 5:26-27).  Christ’s “bride” is to be a pure virgin bride and His redeemed community is to be a pure body!

 

Again and again, we are warned that believers must be “sanctified” or “holy” and free from sin (cf. 1 Thess. 5:23).  Peter writes, “Like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior” (1 Peter 1:15; cf. v. 16). Believers are called “saints” or “holy ones.”[8] Literally, they are “separated” or “set apart” ones—those who have been separated from the world, from sin, and from all moral and spiritual defilement. To be holy means to be “separated,” thus “in Scripture in its moral and spiritual significance, separated from sin and therefore consecrated to God.”[9]  Brothers are to be “holy brethren” (Heb. 3:1).  So vital is this holiness that one cannot enter the presence of God or “see the Lord” without it (Heb. 12:14; Matt. 5:8).

 

We can see, therefore, that God wants His individual children to be holy people.  He also wants the local communities of His saints to be holy and pure.  Earlier we noticed that most churches and denominations give little concern about guarding their membership from unholiness and, in fact, sometimes gross sin and worldliness is condoned in the name of tolerance.  Our Holy God never intended this for His people.  The Scriptures themselves are “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16).  Within the body of Christ, each believer must guard against allowing sin in his own life and must also seek to keep sin from the life of his fellow-believer.

 

There is no room for individualism here.  Christians are accountable to their brothers and sisters.  Note this inspired counsel:  “Encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:13).  Because sin is so deceitful, we must be open to other believers that they might point out our “blind spots” that we might correct the error.  Again, “Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24).  If one falls into sin, the believer must seek out the sinful brother or sister:  “Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; looking to yourselves, lest you too be tempted” (Gal. 6:1).  Dozens of scriptures tell us to encourage, to edify, to admonish, to warn, and to rebuke our fellow-believers so that they and the body as a whole may be kept holy and undefiled (cf. James 5:19-20; 1 Tim. 5:20; 2 Tim. 2:24-26).

 

When a brother or a sister does fall into sin and adamantly refuses to repent of his or her sinful ways, the body as a whole must decisively deal with such sin and unrepentance.  Matthew 18:15-20 describes the process of dealing with private sins:  The believer must go to the offender and seek his repentance and reconciliation; if this does not occur, he must take one or two others to seek repentance or witness the unrepentance; if this is not effective, the entire community must be informed of the sinful attitudes; finally, if there still is no repentance, the unrepentant offender must be entirely separated from the community.  Although this is Christ’s own instructions, we find it seldom carried out in our day.

 

When there is public, known, deliberate sin—such as sexual  immorality—Paul says that the believing community must take direct corrective action.  They must withdraw all fellowship or association from such an unrepentant brother until he should repent and leave his sin (cf. 1 Cor. 5:1-13).  They are “not even to eat with such a one” (v. 11) for there must be a total separation.  False teachers were to be excluded (cf. Rom. 16:17-18; 2 John 9-11), the divisive were to be rejected (Titus 3:9-11), the worldly were to be avoided (2 Tim. 3:1-5), and those who refused apostolic instructions were to be excluded from the fellowship (2 Thess. 3:6-15; 1 Tim. 1:19-20).   This  withdrawal of fellowship by the community from sinful brothers and sisters was intended to keep the body pure (1 Cor. 5:6-8; cf. 2 Tim. 2:16-18), to bring the offender to shame, repentance, and reconciliation (1 Cor. 5:5; 1 Tim. 1:19-20; 2 Thess. 3:14-15), and to honor Christ, the Head of the body (1 Cor. 5:5; 2 Thess. 3:6; cf. Col. 3:17).  We could add here that when the excluded brother or sister does come to repentance and confess the sin or sinful lifestyle before the believers, there must be full acceptance and an affirmation of love by the members of the body (cf. Luke 17:3-4; 2 Cor. 2:5-11).

 

Once again, we see a great disparity between the ways of human denominations and churches on the one hand, and the community of the Lord Jesus on the other.  In the latter, when all loving admonition and stern reproof fails to convict the worldly, erring, and unrepentant brother or sister, the assembly as a whole must remove him from their midst, lest his sinful attitude have a compromising effect upon the others.  This is in stark contrast to the indulgent, unconcerned, passive, and tolerant attitude manifested by denominational bodies that act as thought this teaching was never given by Christ and His apostles.  In this case, sin, immorality, and false teaching frequently is tolerated.  In the body of Christ, believers must strive for absolute holiness and purity within their midst.[10]

 

What is the view of worldliness?

 

The Churches of Men

 

It takes little effort to discover that most churches are very much a part of this world and the ways of the world.  Church members belong to the same clubs as the unchurched, they delight in the same pleasures and amusements, they go to the same movies and rent the same videos, they enjoy the same shopping sprees at the mall, they buy the same kind of extravagant homes, they drive the same luxurious automobiles, they take the same pleasure cruises and ski trips, they send their children to the same worldly schools, they view the same football and baseball games, they watch the same television programs, they wear the same style of clothes, they eat the same fast foods, they enjoy the same kind of conversation, they become embroiled in the same presidential campaigns, and they spend their time in the same way.  Studies and surveys indicate that denominational young people are likely to be dishonest, many engage in petting and fornication (pre-marital sexual activity), most listen to worldly music of all kinds, nearly all wear immodest clothing, most freely attend the state-sponsored public schools, and most have the same aspirations as do the unchurched.

 

The reason why so many members of the churches, sects, and denominations are thinking like the world, talking like the world, and acting like the world is that they are of the world!  “They are of the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them” (1 John 4:5).  Nominal church members seem to get along quite well with the world around them.  Jesus observed, “If you were of the world, the world would love its own” (John 15:19a).  There is not a radical difference between regular church members and the unchurched because they are from the same realm—the world.  While there are some exceptions within the more conservative or radical of the sects and churches (such as the Anabaptists and old time Pentecostals and Holiness groups), and these do manifest a desire to be different from the world around them, we must conclude that most church members are like the world because they are still in the world.  They have never left the world and the ways of the world.

 

The Community of Christ

 

The believing community as a whole should be different from the world since they have been called from the world of sin that is under God’s righteous judgment.  Speaking to His apostles, Jesus said, “Because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19b).  True believers have been “chosen out of the world” and they live in a new realm!  The Lord explains: “My kingdom is not of this world . . . My kingdom is not of this realm” (John 18:36).  In prayer to God the Father, Jesus reveals even more: “I have given to them Thy word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (John 17:14; cf. vv. 15-18).  It should be clear that God has taken His people from the realm of the world that is under rightful judgment because of sin,  and has transferred them into an entirely different sphere—His heavenly Kingdom (cf. Col. 1:13).

 

God’s people, therefore, must not partake of the things of the world.  They have a speech that is pure and clean rather than worldly; they listen to music that is pure and glorifying to God rather than music that is carnal and worldly; they read literature that is honorable and edifying rather than books and magazines that promote worldliness; they delight in pure and clean recreation at times and when needed rather than being consumed by the hundreds of pursuits and pleasures that the world has to offer.  John writes, “Do not love the world, nor the things in the world.  If any one loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.  And the world is passing away, and also it lusts, but the one who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15-17).  There simply cannot be a compromise here.  Either one loves the world or one loves God the Father.  James says the same: “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God?  Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).  No wonder that he also said we must keep ourselves unstained or unpolluted by the world (1:27).

 

Once again we see a clear distinction between the world around us and the perspective that God wants His children to have.  God wants to see a marked difference between His people who are not part of this world (kosmos)—those who are living according to “the present condition of human affairs, in alienation from and opposition to God,”[11]  Nor does he want us to partake of the perspective and ways of this present age (aion), an age that is characterized by unrighteousness and ungodliness.  In fact, Christ gave Himself for our sins “that He might deliver us out of this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Gal. 1:4).  While worldly churches and denominations feel comfortable being a part of the world and doing worldly things, the true believer—and the true body of Christ—realizes that God has “delivered us out of this present evil age” and out of this world system!

 

Where is the headquarters of the community of God?

 

The Churches of Men

 

Many, but not all, of the churches and denominations have an earthly headquarters.  Since most of these organizations freely admit that they are denominations, planned by and formed by men, they are unashamed to announce that they have an earthly headquarters.  Just yesterday, I spoke with a false teacher who attempted to justify her “organization” and the “governing body” in Brooklyn, New York, by saying that God uses and works through these men to give spiritual “food” to her and her fellow-members!  Just like business institutions and educational institutions, these religious institutions also see the need for some location to call “home” and house the administration of their human organization.

 

Notice several examples:

 

 

Church or Denomination                                    Headquarters

                                               

Roman Catholic Church                              Rome, Italy

Seventh-Day Adventist                                Washington, D.C.

Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod)             St. Louis, MO

Disciples of Christ (Christian Church)              Indianapolis, IN

Southern Baptist Convention                      Nashville, TN

United Pentecostal Church                          Hazelwood, MO

Church of the Nazarene                               Kansas City, MO

United Presbyterian Church in the USA      New York City

Protestant Reformed Church in America      South Holland, IL

Jehovah’s Witnesses                                    Brooklyn, NY

Christian and Missionary Alliance               Nyack, NY

The Salvation Army                                    New York City

Church of God (Anderson)                         Anderson, IN

Church of God (Cleveland)                         Cleveland, TN

Church of God of Prophecy                        Cleveland, TN

Assembly of God                                         Springfield, MO

Church of God, International                       Tyler, TX

Church of the Brethren                                Elgin, IL

General Conference Mennonite Church       Newton, KS

United Methodist Church                                      New York City

 

We are well acquainted with the fact that certain cults or alternative religious groups also have their earthly headquarters.  The Mormons look to Salt Lake City, Utah; the Watchtower Witnesses look to Brooklyn, New York; the Christian Scientists look to Boston, Massachusetts.  This list could be expanded to include hundreds of different churches and denominations both in the United States as well as the world.

 

The Community of Christ

 

The body of Christ has no earthly headquarters, but it does have a heavenly headquarters!  The headquarters is located where the “head” presently reigns!  Paul writes that Christ Himself is the “head of the body, the community” (Col. 1:18; cf. v. 24).  He wrote that God “put all things in subjection under [Christ’s] feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church [or community], which is His body, the fulness of Him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:22-23).  If Christ is the “Head” of His body or assembly, where is the Head located?  Peter answers, “[He] is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him” (1 Peter 3:22).  We also read this statement: “Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself” (Heb. 9:24a).  If Christ is our head and if the head is in heaven, then the “headquarters” of His body is heaven itself!

 

Since the community of Christ is not an earthly institution or human organization, it has no need of an earthly headquarters.  Since Christ’s body is only manifested locally and has no district, national, or worldwide administration, we can see that there is no need for a central, earthly headquarters.  Even in the first century assembly of believers, Jerusalem was not technically the headquarters since the apostles were not the heads of the body.  While they lived, they did exercise authority and for some time they resided in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1).  But eventually they went into all of the world to preach the gospel to all people (Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8).  Although Jerusalem was the beginning location for the preaching of the good news of Christ (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:12-14; 2:1-42), it cannot be considered the headquarters then—and especially today!

 

Who founded the community of Christ and when did this take place?

 

The Churches of Men

 

Since most denominations and churches freely admit that they are religious organizations, it is not surprising that they often acknowledge that a particular man (or woman) was the founder.  They may also proudly point to their historical records to show when the church began, was incorporated, or was given an official name.  Notice a few among many that we could examine:

 

  • The Lutheran Church (Martin Luther, ca. 1520)
  • The Christian and Missionary Alliance Church (A.B. Simpson, 1887)
  • Baptist Church (John Smyth, 1609)
  • Society of Friends, or Quakers (George Fox, ca. 1650)
  • Methodist Church (John Wesley, ca. 1740)
  • The Salvation Army (William Booth, 1865-1878)
  • The Seventh-day Adventist Church (Ellen G. White, 1844)
  • Church of Christ, Scientist (Mary Baker Eddy, 1879)
  • Worldwide Church of God (Herbert W. Armstrong, 1931)
  • Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons (Joseph Smith, 1830)
  • Church of God of Prophecy (A.J. Tomlinson, 1923)
  • Foursquare Gospel Church (Aimee Semple McPherson, 1923)
  • Church of the Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith
  • (R.C. Lawson, 1919)
  • Christadelphian Church (John Thomas, ca. 1844)
  • Free Methodist Church (B.T. Roberts, 1860)
  • Metropolitan Community Church (Troy Perry, 1968)[12]

 

You have probably found this information interesting, but it also represents a flagrant violation of the will of God.  Any institution or organization that was established by man and has its origin less than 2,000 years ago cannot be identified as the body that Christ began.   Any group that is of human design cannot please God.  Jesus said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be rooted up” (Matt. 15:13).  The most that can be claimed is that members of these denominations and sects are part of the body of Christ.  However, if this were the case, they would be displeasing to God, for Paul wrote, “Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree [speak the same things], and there be no divisions among you, but you be made complete in the same mind and the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10).  God wants unity and not division, thus there is no room for denominations, sects, or churches.

 

The Community of Christ

 

The body of Christ had its origin in Christ Himself.  You will remember that Jesus said to Simon Peter, “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my assembly” (Matt. 16:18).  Christ began to “build” his community of followers on the “rock” about which He spoke.  Later, Paul wrote, “No man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:11).  Jesus Himself is the “foundation” of this divinely founded and formed community.

In another place, Paul adds that God’s household is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone” (Eph. 2:20).  It is clear that Jesus is responsible for beginning His body and this body is founded on Him, as well as the revelation that the first-century “apostles and prophets” communicated.

 

When did this community of saints begin?  We may think of its roots reaching back into the preaching ministry of the Jesus, when the Lord called people to Himself and to the salvation that He offered (cf. Matt. 11:28-30; Mark 3:13-14; John 4:35-38; Acts 1:13-15).  But something dramatic began on the day of Pentecost!  The Holy Spirit was sent (Acts 2:4; John 7:37-39) and the gospel was first proclaimed in its fulness (Acts 2:22-36).  People responded to the offer of forgiveness through the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ and received the gift of the Holy Spirit (vv. 37-41).  Those who responded by repenting of their sins and being baptized in the name of Jesus Christ were “added that day” to the apostles who proclaimed the good news of Christ and they thereby became part of His community of believers (v. 44).  Luke informs us: “The Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved” (v. 47b).  “It is the Lord whose prerogative it is to add new members to His own community.”[13]  The word, “church” (or ekklesia), as found in the KJV, is not in the Greek.  The  phrase is epi to auto (epi to auto), which simply means “together” (found also at v. 44).  Reese rightly says, “No man can ‘join church.’  He must be added by the Lord.  Men are added to the body of believers when they become obedient.”[14]

 

It was on the day of Pentecost that Christ began to build His community of saved, Spirit-indwelt, baptized believers.  Ever since this memorable day, those who respond to the gospel of Christ by believing in Him, repenting of their sins, and being baptized into Him are automatically “added” to His community of saints.  We have no right to organize a church, sect, or denomination in addition to this divinely-formed body.  Men should be satisfied with Christ began and continues to build.

What relationship did the communities have with each other?

 

The Churches of Men

 

An integral part of denominationalism is an unscriptural organization or structure.  This is true on the congregational level and it is true beyond the local church as well.  For example, a denomination is a religious institution that includes more than members of a local church but less than all of the Christians in all of the churches in the world.  The New Testament knows nothing of this kind of entity.  Further, along with this extra-congregational organization, there must be officers that govern or supervise such an institution.  For example, the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church has a President.  He is not the president of a local church (which, itself, would be unscriptural) nor is he the leader over all of the “Christians” in the world (which the Roman “Pope” claims is the proper view).  Rather, he is the President of a denomination—an organization unknown and unauthorized in Scripture.

 

Other denominations have many different varieties of extra-congregational organization.  Sometimes the denomination is divided into ecclesiastical districts (counties, states, etc.), with each section known as a diocese.  A bishop governs all of the churches within each district.[15]  An archbishop is a church leader who presides over the diocesan bishops and his sphere may be called a province.[16]

 

The denomination not only has certain unscriptural officers who govern all of the churches or a portion of the local congregations, but it has other unscriptural elements (such as a headquarters, as we earlier examined).  There may be biannual, annual, or semiannual conferences.  There may be gatherings of leaders (cardinals, bishops, pastors, or local delegates) to discuss denominational policies, make denominational decisions, and formulate denominational confessions or books of disciplines.  There will be joint-owned property to house denominational boards, publishing houses, and committees.  All of this is part of denominational organization.

 

The Community of Christ

 

The believers in the first century met together locally to worship God, to edify each other, and to have fellowship in the faith (cf. Acts 11:26; 15:30; 1 Cor. 14:23, 26).  The saints living in a given area were known as the “congregation,” “community” or “assembly” (ekklesia) in that area.  Thus, Paul could write, “I was unknown by sight to the communities of Judea which were in Christ” (Gal. 1:22).  He could write of the assemblies (ekklesiais) in a geographical area, although these assemblies were not bound together as an organized district and governed by a bishop or archbishop.  When Paul wrote to the Romans, he said, “All the communities of Christ greet you” (Rom. 16:16).  They were small groups of believers related to each other because they were in Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 14:33-34, NIV).

 

Besides this use of the Greek term ekklesia, Scripture also sees all of the Christians as a totality as the “community” or “assembly” of the Lord.  Paul wrote, “Christ also loved the community and gave Himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25).  He further wrote, “He [God] put all things in subjection under His [Christ’s] feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the community, which is His body, the fulness of Him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:22-23).  This usage is found a number of times, although it is not as frequently employed as the local usage.

 

Christians, therefore, were found in small groups or communities scattered in the cities, towns, and countryside of the first-century world.  These groups of saints were bound together in love and had as their common purpose to proclaim the good news of salvation through Christ Jesus.  They were all subject to the apostles—the human representatives of Christ on earth who had been given responsibility and authority to guide the infant assembly of Christ during its early years.  What they taught was authoritative and all true Christians were subject to their teaching (cf. Acts 2:42; 1 Cor. 14:37; 2 Peter 3:2).  The apostles, along with the prophets who proclaimed God’s Word, constituted the foundation of the household of God (Eph. 2:19-22; 3:5-6).

 

There was no organization beyond the community of Christ meeting in given localities.  Elders, shepherds, or overseers were local men who fed the local flock of sheep.  This is why we read, Shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight” (1 Peter 5:2; cf. Acts 20:28).  Overseers or elders were “among” the sheep or the flock, not living at a distance.  Servants (singular, diakonos) of the assembly were local men, serving with and under the overseers.  There was no headquarters of a district, province, or country.  Men and women who came to Christ in a given area were part of the assembly meeting in that area.  If a man allowed sin to dominate his life, he was removed from the community (1 Cor. 5:1-13; Titus 3:10-11), and if an entire assembly left their first love and refused to repent, the group ceased to be recognized as a community of God (cf. Rev. 2:1-7).  These truths show that the early body of Christ was not denominational.  Those who belong to the community of Christ in our own day seek to be nothing more nor nothing less than what the early believers were.[17]

 

What standard of authority did the early Christians have?

 

The Churches of Men

 

Nearly all fully-organized denominations and sects have thought it necessary to formulate certain confessions, creeds, rule books, and disciplines in order to instruct their members which will assure their loyalty to the given religious organization.  Some churches rely strongly on the rulings of early Catholic church councils (e.g., the Nicene  Creed and the Chalcedonian Creed).  Others accept the statements of all the Catholic “ecumenical” councils (e.g., the Council of Constantinople, Lateran Councils, the Council of Trent, the first and second Vatican councils).  Certain Protestant churches hold tenaciously to confessions dating to the Reformation period and later (Heidelberg Confession, Belgic Confession, Westminster Confession, Philadelphia Confession, New Hampshire Confession, Baptist Faith and Message).[18]

 

Besides these rather fundamental statements of faith, many churches have formulated more practical requirements for membership that deal with activities, relationships, and church policies.  It is amazing how some of these manuals give detailed directions on the unscriptural organization of their denominations and sects!  Some of these are hundreds of pages long!

 

We know, of course, that some groups have writings in addition to the Bible that they consider inspired of God.  Normally, the mainline churches condemn these extra-biblical revelations, but sadly, their own pronouncements in addition to holy Scripture result in the same situation—a departure from the simple and authoritative Word of God.  First, notice some of the writings in this category of professed “inspired” writings:

 

Church                                    Writing

Mormons (Latter Day Saints)             The Book of Mormon,

                                                Doctrine and Covenants

Christian Scientists                             Science and Health

Unification Church                            The Divine Principle

Seventh-day Adventists                      Ellen G. White’s writings

Roman Catholics                                Pronouncements of Popes

Family of Love                                  Mo Letters

 

Other writings are not considered “inspired,” yet churches and denominations rally around them, using them as their ultimate standard:

 

Church                                    Writing

Lutheran Church                      The Book of Concord,

                                                Luther’s Catechism

Methodist Church                    Methodist Discipline

Church of the Nazarene            Nazarene Manual

Orthodox Presbyterian Church Westminster Confession of

                                                Faith

United Presbyterian Church of USA  Presbyterian Confession

Southern Baptist Church          Baptist Faith and Message

Reformed Church in America            Belgic Confession,

                                                Heidelberg Catechism

 

Besides these written documents that effectively become the standard of authority for vast numbers of people within these churches, we may notice several other sources of authority:

 

(a)  Charismatic Revelation.  Those churches which emphasize the spiritual gifts may be led by men and women who claim to have “a word from the Lord.”  These “revelations,” however, may serve to supersede the authority of God’s written Word.

 

(b)  Personal Revelation.  Some churches so emphasize the assumed “leading of the Lord” or the “impressions of the Holy Spirit,” that these subjective experiences become the norm of belief and behavior for great numbers of people.

 

(c)  False and Unbelieving “Scholarship.”  In the more liberal, mainline denominations, many simply dismiss the Word of God with a false, skeptical “scholarship” that leaves no room for the inspired, inerrant and authoritative message of the Bible.

 

(d)  Pronouncements of a Leader, Teacher, Preacher, or Pastor.  Many members are simply not students of the Bible, thus they simply take the forceful but misleading statements of their leaders without examining God’s own Word in the matter.

 

(e)  Wrong Decisions of Those who Do Not Respect the Scriptures.  Even in churches that claim to honor the Bible, many decisions are made without consulting the inspired writings.  They simply choose what they desire and give no consideration to the instructions of Scripture.

 

Let us notice an example of how various views are expressed in the writings of men.  First, notice how these writings view the subjects of baptism and take special note of the contradictions between the views expressed:

 

  • Young children may be baptized, upon request of parents or guardians who shall give assurance for them of necessary training.”[19]

 

  • “We believe further that children are spiritually safe . . . Baptism should not be administered until there has been a clear experience of conversion and commitment to Christ.”[20]

 

  • “Little children should be baptized when they are brought to Baptism by those who have authority over them. . . . Holy Baptism is the only means whereby infants, who, too, must be born again, can ordinarily be regenerated and brought to faith.”[21]

 

  • “Infants cannot believe, and so should not be baptized.”[22]

 

  • “The Church has solemnly defined the validity of infant baptism. Church law commands Catholics to have their children baptized within the first weeks after birth.”[23]

 

  • “We believe children are under the atonement of Christ and as heirs of the Kingdom of God are acceptable subjects for Christian Baptism.”[24]

 

This is sufficient to show that there will be utter confusion and misunderstanding as long as people depend on what a given denomination officially teaches.  The contradictory statements above on the issue of infant baptism should show us the necessity of taking the Scriptures, the word of Almighty God, as our sole source of authority.  It should be clear that the majority of people within human denominations fail to look upon the written Word of God as their ultimate source of authority, thus division and confusion will continue to exist to the dishonor of God.

 

The Community of Christ

 

The early Christians had several sources of authority.  Let us notice them briefly:

 

(1)  The Scriptures.  First, they had the written Scriptures, the very word of God.  Paul writes to Timothy, “From childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is inspired of God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:15-17).  Not only could the holy writings of God lead one to salvation, but they were profitable for four uses:

 

  • “teaching”–The Scriptures set the standard for life.
  • “reproof”–They convince us of error and wrong.
  • “correction”–They set us up in the way of
  • “training in righteousness”–discipline to do what is right.[25]

 

Notice that these Scriptures would enable the man of God to be “adequate” and would equip him for “every good work” (v. 17).  These first Christians realized that the Scriptures were given by God through the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20-21).  The Lord Himself said of them: “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4).  When there was a question about the truthfulness of any teaching, everyone knew that the answers would be found in the holy Scriptures.  Remember the record of the Bereans:  “Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).

 

(2)  The Word of the Apostles.  Besides the written word of God, the early Christians also had the vocal words of the apostles, the special messengers who would represent Christ after He departed for heaven.  How important were the words of these apostles?  Jesus informed them that when they would be delivered up, they should remember, “It is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you” (Matt. 10:20).  He also assured them, “He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me” (v. 40).  On the very night of His betrayal, Jesus once again assured His apostles, “He who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me” (John 13:20).

 

But could the early followers of Christ depend on the words of the apostles?  Indeed, they could!  Notice Jesus’ promise to them:  “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:26).  The Lord taught His disciples many things while He was on earth.  When He would depart, the Holy Spirit would enable them to remember all of the teaching He gave them and would also teach them additional truth to communicate to the people of God.  Later that night, Jesus again declared, “When He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come” (16:13).  Because of this promise to the apostles (and evidently to Paul who was also an apostle), the apostle Paul could refer to “the Christ who speaks in me” (2 Cor. 13:3).  He could write, “When you received from us the word of God’s message, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe” (1 Thess. 2:13).

 

(3)  The Words of the Prophets.  In addition to the apostles, God communicated His will to the early disciples through chosen prophets and prophetesses–men and women who were given the gift of prophecy.  On the day of Pentecost, Peter quoted Joel 2:28-32 where we read, “Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy” (Acts 2:17).  Agabus was a prophet who communicated God’s message to those in Antioch (Acts 11:27-28).  Much later, he also prophesied in Caesarea (Acts 21:10-14).  Philip had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses (Acts 21:9).  Scripture refers to Judas and Silas as “prophets” who “encouraged and strengthened the brethren with a lengthy message” (Acts 15:32; cf. 13:1).  Paul pointed out that “one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation” (1 Cor. 14:3; cf. vv. 1-40).

 

(4)  The Written Words of the Apostles and Prophets.  Not only did the apostles and prophets audibly speak the word of God to the early Christians, they also wrote authoritative writings that were to be heeded as God’s word.  For instance, Paul wrote to the saints in Corinth:  “If any one thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment” (1 Cor. 14:37).  Christ was speaking through Paul’s written words!  Later, Peter could refer to Paul’s writings as authoritative and he classified them with “the rest of the Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:16).  The Spirit was “speaking” to the seven assemblies in Asia through written letters penned by John the apostle (cf. Rev. 1:1; 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22).

 

We can see, therefore, that the early Christians were “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Himself being the corner stone” (Eph. 2:20).  These chosen servants had a special role in the history of the community of Christ, and God intended that not only the first Christians but those who are alive today should look to them to understand His will.  What God gave is sufficient for us and we must not alter these inspired words.

 

During the days of the Mosaic Law, the Israelites were warned, “You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you” (Deut. 4:2; cf. 12:32).  Later, they were warned again, “Do not add to His words lest He reprove you and you be proved a liar” (Prov. 30:6).  Even in the book of Revelation, Jesus issues a warning to not “add” to His words or “take away” from those words (22:18-19).

 

The Word of God is sufficient for us.  If human documents add to God’s word, they contain too much.  If they take away from God’s word, they contain too little.  If they change God’s word, they stand under God’s judgment.  If they include human traditions that would alter the requirements of the Lord, they will face Him one day.  Jesus warned those in His day who would dare to change God’s will through their traditions:  “Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men. . . . You nicely set aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition. . . . Invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down” (Mark 7:8, 9, 13).  Just like these Pharisees, many of those within human churches and denominations “neglect” God’s commandments, “set aside” God’s commandments, and “invalidate” God’s word by holding to human traditions, ecclesiastical documents, and denominational confessions.  Let all who value the word of God in our day lay aside all competing sources of authority and embrace the Scriptures alone as our source of truth.

 

How important is Faith to the body of Christ?

 

The Churches of Men

 

Since the very beginning of the Christian era, unbelief has been a chief problem and enemy of the faith.  During the past century the battle for faith has been particularly intense.  Liberal influence arose in the nineteenth century, questioning every major tenant of the Scriptures.  Virtually all of the leading seminaries of that time departed from basic elements of faith.  Over the years it permeated every major denomination, particularly the Methodist Church, Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church, Congregational Church (United Church of Christ), and many others.  By the early twentieth century, the “Fundamentalist” movement arose to oppose the liberalism and heresy that had engulfed Protestantism and later was to influence Catholicism.  While the Fundamentalist and Evangelical movements have maintained a degree of belief in the so-called “fundamentals of the faith,” today large portions of Christendom have succumbed to unbelief, heresy, and apostasy.

 

When we speak of unbelief, we mean in this context a denial of basic Scriptural teachings.  This would include a denial of. . .

 

  • the creation of the universe (versus evolution)
  • the inspiration and authority of the Word of God
  • the miracles of the Bible
  • the virginal conception and birth of Jesus
  • the sinless life of Christ
  • the deity of Christ
  • the sacrificial, propitiatory death of Christ
  • the bodily resurrection of Christ
  • the literal, bodily return of Christ
  • the reality of the Holy Spirit
  • the judgment and existence of eternal punishment
  • the bodily resurrection of mankind
  • the existence of a personal devil and evil spirits

 

As an illustration of how extensive unbelief has engulfed many mainline denominations, notice the results of one national survey of clergymen.[26]  The statement of belief will first be included, then the percentage of belief will be noted in various denominations:

 

(1)  “Scriptures are the inspired and inerrant Word of God not only in matters of faith but also in historical, geographical and other secular matters.”

 

  • Methodists 13%
  • Episcopalians          5%
  • Presbyterians           12%
  • American Baptists 33%
  • Missouri Synod Lutherans           34%

 

(2)  Do you believe that “the virgin birth of Jesus was a biological miracle”?

 

  • Methodists       40%
  • Episcopalians           56%
  • Presbyterians           51%
  • American Baptists 56%
  • Missouri Synod Lutherans           95%

 

(3)  Do you “believe in a divine judgment after death where some shall be rewarded and others punished”?

 

  • Methodists 52%
  • Episcopalians           55%
  • Presbyterians           57%
  • American Baptists 71%
  • Missouri Synod Lutherans           94%

 

(4)  Do you believe that “Jesus’ physical resurrection [was] an objective historical fact in the same sense that Lincoln’s physical death was a historical fact”?

 

  • Methodists                49%
  • Episcopalians           70%
  • Presbyterians           65%
  • American Baptists 67%
  • Missouri Synod Lutherans           93%

 

Although conservatives (such as Fundamentalists and Evangelicals) would affirm most of these Scriptural facts and truths, they too often reject basic elements of the faith, such as the Biblical account of creation, the judgment resting upon the pagans or heathen, the necessity of repentance for salvation, the place of baptism (immersion) in one’s initial response of faith, the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures, the applicability of Paul’s instructions for believers today, and numerous other Biblical teachings.  In short, whether conservatives or liberals, unbelief is a serious problem in both Protestantism and Catholicism.[27]

 

The Community of Christ

 

The body of Christ is a believing community.  It has been called “the household of the faith” (Gal. 6:10) since one must have faith to enter the family of God and must continue in faith to remain in His family.  In order to be saved initially, one must have genuine faith in God and in Christ Jesus, His Son.  To be specific, one must believe that. . .

 

  • God exists (Heb. 11:6)
  • God is creator (Acts 17:22-31)
  • God is the Father of Jesus Christ (John 3:16)
  • Jesus is the Son of God (John 20:30-31)
  • Jesus is the Messiah (1 John 5:1)
  • Jesus is the Savior (John 4:42)
  • Jesus is the Lord (Romans 10:9-10)
  • Jesus died for our sins (Romans 3:24-26)
  • Jesus rose from the dead (1 Cor. 15:1-4)

 

Obviously, the Christian must believe that Scripture has been given by God (2 Tim. 3:16), that it is authoritative (Matt. 4:4), that Christ is coming back again (1 Thess. 4:14-17), and whatever else God has revealed in His Word.

 

Since one is saved through faith (Eph. 2:8-9) and must continue to live by faith (2 Cor. 5:7), it is understandable that one who departs from faith (or the faith) also departs from God.  Notice this warning, among many that could be examined:  “Take care, brethren, lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away from the living God” (Heb. 3:12).  Unbelief will cause one to fall away from God!  On the other hand, our security is assured only as we “continue in faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel” (Col. 1:23).  We are admonished, “Keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith” (1 Tim. 1:19).  This should be clear enough for us to see that when one departs from the faith by denying cardinal teachings and truths of Scripture, he departs from the very basis of salvation.  The body of Christ realizes this regardless of the unbelief and apostasy we find in the human denominations in the religious world.

 

How close does God want His people to be to each other?

 

Churches of Men

 

Most human denominations and churches have an institutional concept that looks upon their organization as little more than a religious “club” similar to the Rotary Club or the Lions Club.  Members are expected to “attend” their religious “services” regularly and pay their religious “dues” in order to keep their membership current.  Sometimes people are retained on the church membership “roll” even if they “go to church” or make an appearance only on Christmas and Easter.

 

Generally, members do not share the personal lives of other members.  They may not even know the names of their fellow-members!  After all, if a church consists of 300 or 3,000 (or more!) members, it is quite difficult to even know if a given person is a member—or a visitor!  It would be difficult to obey Paul’s command to “wait for one another” when the Christians would “come together to eat” (1 Corinthians 11:33) if they didn’t even know when the other Christians arrived (since they didn’t know them)!  There is generally very little or no personal contact during the week, even by telephone.  There is little visiting among the members and many do not even know where the other church members live!  The early Christians “were together” and broke bread (had meals) “from house to house” (Acts 2:44, 46)—something that is entirely foreign to the thinking of modern churchianity.

 

We must therefore charge that individualism and superficial relationships prevail within the world of churchianity.  Members do not share their lives with each other.  They do not seek counsel from one another.  They live their own personal lives separate from those of other members.  If they do spend time together, it may be for sporting events or other recreational activities.  Spiritual intimacy and fellowship is simply absent for the most part.

 

The Community of Christ

 

The believing community is vastly different from what we have observed above in the churches of men.  Here we find a closeness, an intimacy, a sharing of lives with each other.  Consider the word “fellowship,” which comes from the Greek koinonia.  This term means “communion, fellowship. sharing in common.”[28]  This is precisely what Christ wants for members of His body.

 

True fellowship and intimacy is found in the very terminology used in Scripture.  For instance, all believers are called the “sons and daughters” of God (2 Cor. 6:18).  They are actually “children of God” (1 John 3:1-2).  Because of this, they are “brothers” and “sisters” of each other (James 2:15; 1 Cor. 7:15).  This spiritual relationship they share is far closer than that of any merely physical relationship (see Matthew 12:46-50).  They are actually members of “God’s household”—the “household of the faith” (Eph. 2:19; Gal. 6:10).

 

The closeness and mutuality of genuine believers is also revealed in what they have in common.  Paul refers to “fellow workers in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 16:3) and “fellow prisoners” (16:7).  He speaks of a “fellow soldier” (Phil. 2:25) and a “fellow bond-servant in the Lord” (Col. 4:7).  We read of John as a “fellow-partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus” (Rev. 1:9).  In fact, Gentiles are so related to Jews that they are “fellow-heirs and fellow-members of the body, and fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Eph. 3:6).  This reminds us that true believers have much in common!

 

True children of God should also have a profound “oneness” in their lives.  This fact is revealed again and again in Scripture.  Luke, for example, says that “those who believed were of one heart and soul” (Acts 4:32).  Paul says that we are to be “made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10).  He prays that the saints will be “of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus; that with one accord [they] may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 15:5b-6).  He write to the Philippians, “Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose” (2:2; cf. 1:27).  The impression we receive from this emphasis is that God’s people are to be close to one another in their love, their thinking, their judgment, and their relationship.  This same oneness of heart and soul must be seen today among those who belong to Him.

 

Another way of seeing the closeness that God wants among His people is to examine the numerous “one another” passages in His Word.  Notice several:[29]

 

  • “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love” (Rom. 12:10; cf. 13:8).
  • “Give preference to one another in honor” (Rom. 12:10).
  • “Be of the same mind toward one another” (Rom. 12:16; cf. 15:5).
  • “Pursue . . . the building up of one another” (Rom. 14:19).
  • “Accept one another” (Rom. 15:7).
  • “Admonish one another” (Rom. 15:14).
  • “Greet one another” (Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 12:12).
  • “When you come together to eat, wait for one another” (1 Cor. 11:33).
  • “Have the same care for one another” (1 Cor. 12:25).
  • “Through love serve one another” (Gal. 5:13).
  • “Bear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2).
  • “Showing forbearance to one another in love” (Eph. 4:2).
  • “Be kind to one another” (Eph. 4:32).
  • “Forgiving each other” (Eph. 4:32; cf. Col. 3:13).
  • “Be subject to one another” (Eph. 5:21).
  • “Bearing with one another” (Col. 3:13).
  • “Regard one another as more important” (Phil. 2:3).
  • “Teaching and admonishing . . . one another” (Col. 3:16).
  • “Encourage one another day after day” (Heb. 3:13).
  • “Increase and abound in love for one another” (1 Thess. 3:12; cf. 4:9)
  • “Comfort one another” (1 Thess. 4:18).
  • “Encourage one another” (1 Thess. 5:11)
  • “Build up one another” (1 Thess. 5:11).
  • “Live in peace with one another” (1 Thess. 5:13).
  • “Seek after that which is good for one another” (1 Thess. 5:15).
  • “Love of each one of you toward one another grows even greater” (2 Thess. 1:3).
  • “Stimulate one another to love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24).
  • “Do not speak against one another” (James 4:11).
  • “Do not complain . . . against one another” (James 5:9).
  • “Confess your sins to one another” (James 5:16).
  • “Pray for one another” (James 5:16).
  • “Fervently love one another from the heart” (1 Pet. 1:22).
  • “Keep fervent in your love for one another” (1 Peter 4:8).
  • “Be hospitable to one another without complaint” (1 Pet. 4:9).
  • “Serving one another” (1 Pet. 4:10).
  • “Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another” (1 Pet. 5:5).
  • “Greet one another with a kiss of love” (1 Pet. 5:14).
  • “We have fellowship with one another” (1 John 1:7).
  • “We should love one another” (1 John 3:11; cf. v. 13; 4:7, 11, 12; 2 John 5).

 

From observing these reciprocal relationships, we can see that believers in the community of Christ must be close to one another.  True saints must be involved in the lives of their fellow-saints.  There is no room for individualism or isolation.  There is no room for superficial contacts with others.  We must know others and they must know us.

 

This closeness of relationship was to be lived out in a practical way in daily life.  For example, the early Christians were “breaking bread from house to house” and “were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart” (Acts 2:46).  They related to each other in their homes!  We further read, “The congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and no one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them” (4:32).  Although they retained personal property in a sense (cf. 5:4; 12:12; 16:40; 21:8), they realized that if anyone had true need, this should be supplied.  God stressed that there should be extensive hospitality within the believing community (cf. Acts 16:15,34,40; 18:3; 21:8,16; 27:3; Rom. 12:13; 1 Peter 4:9).  This means more than inviting someone to your house once a year for a little meal!  It means opening your home to those who are traveling and to others in need (literally, “hospitality” comes from philoxenia, “love of strangers”).

 

The hallmark of the early Christians was love–and this same quality must characterize God’s people in our day.  Jesus plainly declared:

 

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.  (John 13:34-35) 

 

While it is true that Jesus commanded His followers to love all people—including all who are in need (Luke 10:25-37), even enemies (Luke 6:27-28, 35)—the thrust of Jesus’ words above was the special, intimate love that His disciples would have for each other (cf. John 15:12,17; Gal. 5:14; 1 Thess. 3:12; 4:9; 2 Thess. 1:3;  Heb. 13:1).  John, the so-called “apostle of love,” mentioned love some 43 times in his first epistle—much of the time with reference to brotherly love.  “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and every one who loves is born of God and knows God.  The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. . . . If we love one another, God abides in us, and HI His love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:7-8, 12b).

 

What is the nature of this love?  Peter writes, “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart. . . . Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another” (1 Peter 1:22; 4:8a).  Our love is to be sincere and fervent!  It is to be genuine and intense!  It is a self-giving concern and good-will toward other saints that is modeled after the love that God had in giving His Son for our salvation, and the love that Christ had when he gave Himself as our sacrifice (cf. John 3:16; Rom. 5:8; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 5:25; 1 John 3:16-18).  Therefore, the Christian must be willing to lay down his life and serve his brother and sister, seeking the spiritual and physical good of the other.  Thus, the community of Christ may be called a fellowship of love.  This is a distinctive characteristic of the people of God.

 

How did members of the body participate?

 

The Churches of Men

 

Although some churches do allow extensive participation by the members, generally denominationalism is bound by what might be called the “clergy” concept.  They see a clear line of demarcation between the “clergy” and the “laity.”  We discussed this false concept earlier.  Along with the clergy concept comes professionalism.  Those who are employed for certain church “offices” (another false concept) are the professionals who have been trained for positions on the church “staff” (another false concept).  They are the ones who have been to seminary.  They are the ones who think they have received a special “call” by God to serve.  They are the ones looked upon as “ministers” of the church.  They are the ones who are “licensed” by the denomination to preach or “ordained” by denominational leadership.  They are the ones qualified to receive special honor and receive the hallowed names of “Reverend” or “Doctor”!

 

Along with the false clergy concept, comes the “participant” and “spectator” distinction.  The clergyman is the one who is qualified, by right of ordination, to stand before the congregation to preach and teach, to administer communion, and to baptize.  One denomination we know only allows the specially ordained “pastor” to publicly pray! Some “high church” denominations believe in “apostolic succession” which says that only bishops who have been “ordained” by other bishops who can trace ordination back to the original apostles are qualified to “ordain” others and administer the “sacraments”!  Others do not carry this as far but yet say that only a qualified bishop may ordain the common clergy (pastor, minister, presbyter, etc.), celebrate the “Eucharist” (or communion), baptize, and “confirm” those who would become members of the denomination.  All of this, of course, represents ecclesiastical ritual, denominational tradition, and is far from New Testament Christianity.

 

The Community of Christ

 

As we open the pages of the new covenant Scriptures, we find a different picture that emerges.  Rather than finding a clergyman who alone publicly addresses the congregation and the members sitting as mere spectators in the pews, we discover that the body of Christ consisted of participants!   We noticed earlier that various positions, works, or functions were carried on by certain men:  “Apostles” (those sent forth), “prophets” (those who speak forth God’s message) “overseers” (those who oversee the flock of God, also known as elders or shepherds), “servants” (deacons), “proclaimers” (evangelists), “teachers” and others (cf. Acts 20:17,20; Phil. 1:1; Eph. 4:11; 1 Cor. 12:28).  This shows that various men served in a public manner in the community of God of the first century.

 

Paul likens the assembly of the Lord to a “body” that is composed of individual “members.”  As in the physical body, each of these members has a special and needed function that is assigned by the Lord.  In fact, God equips each Christian to serve in various ways for the good of the other members.  Paul writes, “Just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Rom. 12:4-5).  There is one body but it is composed of various members.  This is true in a worldwide sense, but it is also true to some extent in a local manifestation.  Although we know that the community of Christ in a given area may be very small, still there is more than one member.  (There can be as few as two or three!)  When there is this plurality of members, there will be different positions to fill, different works to do, different tasks that the members are qualified to handle.  Paul goes on to say that “we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us” (Rom. 12:6a).  He then gives a sample of these gifts that were in evidence in the early body of Christ (vv. 6b-8):

 

  • if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith;
  • if service, in his serving;
  • or he who teaches, in his teaching;
  • or he who exhorts, in his exhortation;
  • he who gives, with liberality;
  • he who leads with diligence;
  • he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.

 

Various gifts, works, or positions are found elsewhere (Eph. 4:8-11; 1 Cor. 12:7-11, 28-30; 1 Peter 4:10-11).  We need not discuss here whether some of these positions may have been limited to the early days of the community.  We only wish to note that every member of the body has a special place to fill; each saint is to be a participant rather than a spectator.  It may be that some may not work in a public way or address the whole assembly (cf. 1 Cor. 14:33-37), yet each is valuable to the Lord and should involve himself or herself for the good of the whole.  Within the context of a first century meeting, when the “whole assembly” assembles together (1 Cor. 14:23), Paul directs:  “When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation.  Let all things be done for edification” (v. 26b).  Again, setting aside the question of whether certain gifts are available today, we can see that God wants participation of various believers rather than just an official clergyman (a denominational pastor, minister, bishop) who alone has a public role in the assembly.

 

Paul does acknowledge that Christ gave His body apostles, prophets, proclaimers of good news (evangelists), shepherds, and teachers (Eph. 4:11), but he also tells us why he gave them:  “. . . for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ” (v. 12).  What is probably meant here is that the men in these positions are to equip the saints so that they (the saints) may be prepared to do “the work of service” and thereby build up the body of Christ.[30]  The KJV gives the wrong impression here: “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”  This has led to the erroneous belief that only the “ordained” are “in the ministry”; only they are to be “trained for the ministry”; and only they are “ministers.”  Actually, all of the saints are to “minister” (or serve) so that the body of Christ might be built up.[31]  Paul adds, “Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (v. 15b-16).  “Every joint” and “each individual part” is to work for the good of the “whole body”!

 

We should be able to see that the community of Christ differs greatly from much of denominationalism.  Christians are to be involved.  They are to participate.  They are all “servants” and, as such, each one is to serve as God supplies the ability through the strength of the Holy Spirit.   There is no room for ecclesiastical clericalism and a special priesthood within the body of Christ.

 

What view of the home and family is held?

 

The Churches of Men

 

Increasingly denominational and independent churches are emphasizing family concerns.  We see this in “marriage seminars” and “marriage encounters.”  We see it in sermons and classes.  WE often see signs and references to “Family Churches” and “family ministries.”  But at the same time this is happening, there is a wide-spread breakdown of the family and violation of Scriptural principles that bear upon the home.

 

Churches often foster a humanistic egalitarian view that sees no hierarchy in marriage.  In mainline churches, the husband and father is not looked upon as the head of the home.  The wife and mother generally has an equality with the husband and father.  Children are frequently disobedient, disrespectful, and allowed to exert their assumed independence.  Education of the children usually is worldly, secular and humanistic—whether it be in public schools or worldly private schools.  Wrongful separation, divorce, and remarriage (with consequent adultery) is tolerated and usually condoned, so that broken marriages are increasingly the rule, even among the clergy.

 

The home itself partakes of the ways of the world.  Mothers often find their fulfillment away from the home and leave their children to be taught and raised by the state-sponsored, humanistic school system.  Fathers are involved in sports and other worldly pursuits rather than nurturing their wives and teaching their children.  Children are exposed to television, radio, carnal music, worldly games and literature.  It may be true that the family is involved in occasional “church activities,” but even these may be worldly and destructive in nature.  As a whole, human denominationalism accepts and may even encourage ungodly and worldly concepts of the home and family.

 

The Community of Christ

 

As “the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15), the community of the Lord will promote those concepts of the home and family that reflect the Scriptural norm.  The Bible is the guidebook for living and it has much instruction on the duties and responsibilities of each member of the family.  The husband is seen as “the head of the wife” (Eph. 5:23) who must love, nourish, cherish, lead, and sacrifice himself for her (vv. 25-29).  The wife must love, respect, and submit herself to her husband (Eph. 5:22, 24, 33; 1 Pet. 3:1-2).  The father, with the help of his wife, must bring the children up in “the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).  Children will be viewed as precious gifts from the Lord (Psalm 127:3-5).  Children are to honor, obey, and care for their parents in the Lord (Eph. 6:1-3; Matt. 15:4-6).  The family should be a place where Christ is honored and love prevails.

 

The home and family must be governed by the principles of Scripture.  In a godly home, there is no place for separation and divorce (1 Cor. 7:10-11), and even in a home where one party is unsaved, there is no place for a wrongful divorce with subsequent remarriage (1 Cor. 7:12-16; Matt. 19:6-9; Mark 10:11-12; Rom. 7:1-3).   Parents should teach their children in the context of Scriptural and godly principles either personally or through a school sponsored and directed by the believers rather than send their children to be taught and trained by the unsaved unbelievers.  The home itself must be a refuge from the sinfulness found in the pagan society around us, thus there is no room for ungodly influences of music, television, literature, toys, games, computers and computer games, and so many other factors that tear down righteousness. The home must be viewed as a haven where each is loved and respected, where the Scriptures are revered, and where Christ is known and loved.

 

However, marriage and the family will not be idolized within the believing community.  Just as Jesus warned and the early Christians observed, commitment to truth and righteousness will often cause disruption and even division–including separation and divorce.  Believers must be so committed to Christ and His truth that they will be willing to suffer the loss of spouse, parents, children, or anyone else dear to them (cf. Matt. 10:34-37; Mark 10:28-30; 13:12-13; Luke 12:51-53; 14:26; 21:16; 1 Cor. 7:12-16).  Spiritual relationships with the children of God far surpasses physical relationships with immediate and extended family members (cf. Matthew 12:46-50).  Therefore, although the family must receive much more concern than the world gives to it, believers cannot elevate it above their commitment to God.

 

What was the message of the early believers?

 

The Churches of Men

 

Gratefully, we can acknowledge that certain elements of the gospel or good news of Christ Jesus may be heard from some of the pulpits of human denominations, particularly those which are fundamental and evangelical.  Many Scriptural principles are also taught in the more conservative groups—and for this we can be thankful.  However, along with this, we also find a great amount of questionable preaching and teaching—and sometimes outright error.  What do we mean?

 

Some preachers emphasize the gospel of positive-thinking and self-esteem.  They refuse to expose sin, emphasize guilt, and call for repentance.  There is also a growing “universalist” trend among ministers who claim that all people will eventually be saved and go to heaven.  There is also an “inclusivist” trend that says that those who have never heard of Christ are not lost and do not need to be saved from sin.  Many Pentecostal and Charismatic preachers proclaim the false teaching of financial prosperity, abundant possessions, perfect health, and positive confession.  In many circles, politics (both liberal and conservative) and citizenship are chief concerns in preaching. During many of the past wars, preachers denounced the enemy and advocated nationalism and militarism. Increasingly, in our day, some pastors emphasize psychology, sociology, and philosophy.  From some pulpits, Newsweek and popular psychologists are just as prominent as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John!  In all of this, hopefully we can see that the message delivered to denominational and sectarian members lacks something of truth and substance.

 

A brief comment may be made about teaching in itself.  In most of the mainline (and more liberal) denominations, the members or “parishioners” view themselves as simple spectators who attend “service” and hear eloquent speeches delivered by professional pulpiteers.  These “sermonettes” may last 20 minutes—and this is the extent of the teaching to which many are exposed in the entire week!  In these more liberal denominations, few members carry their Bibles—and the Bible does not have a prominent place in either the sermons or the teaching program of these churches.  Again we must note that the preaching and teaching of many churches is seriously lacking.

 

The Community of Christ

 

The message of the early preachers to unbelievers may be described in various ways.  They proclaimed Christ (Acts 8:5, 35), the death of Christ for sins (1 Cor. 2:2), the resurrection of Christ (Acts 4:2), and the exaltation and glorification of Christ (Acts 2:33).  They proclaimed the grace of God (Acts 20:24), the kingdom of God (v. 25), and the judgment to come (17:30-31).  They proclaimed faith (Acts 20:21) and repentance (Luke 24:47) and called for baptism (Acts 2:38-41).  They preached the word (Acts 8:4) and the gospel (v. 25).  This same content should be seen in our own words to those who are unsaved and outside of Christ.

 

What was taught to those who received the word of the good news and thereby became believers—and what must be taught today by true Christians?   Surely the teachings of Christ must be taught, for He Himself said to His apostles, “. . .teaching them [baptized believers] to observe all that I commanded you” (Matt. 28:20; cf. Acts 2:42).  Paul said that he taught disciples everything that was “profitable” (Acts 20:20) and declared “the whole purpose of God” (v. 26-27).  Believers were instructed to remain true to the Lord (Acts 11:23) and they were encouraged to continue in the faith (14:22).   Saints were instructed how to live a holy life, how to relate to other persons, how to live for Christ,  what to believe, and false teachings to avoid (cf. 1 Tim. 4:6,11,16; 6:3,17; 2 Tim. 1:13; 2:2; 3:16-17; 4:2; Titus 2:1,15; 3:1,8).

 

We may summarize this by noticing what should be proclaimed to unbelievers and what should be taught to the saints:

 

  • the nature and result of sin (Rom. 1:18-32)
  • the person of the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 8:5, 35)
  • the good news of Christ (Mark 16:15)
  • how to respond to God for forgiveness (Acts 2:38)
  • how to obey the Lord Jesus (Matt. 28:19-20)
  • how to live for Christ and things above (Col. 3:1-4)
  • how to apply the Scriptures to life (2 Tim. 3:16-17)

 

This is only a beginning, but it does show that the preaching and teaching of those within the body of Christ is to differ markedly from that which we find in many sectarian groups.

 

In contrast to the little value placed upon teaching (especially by the mainline, liberal churches), the community of God regards it very highly.  Rather than feeding members with little “sermonettes,” those in the body of Christ know that “sheep” need to be “fed” the spiritual food of the Word.  They need to be “nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound teaching” (1 Tim. 4:6; cf. Matt. 4:4).  Solid Scriptural teaching is imperative if the saints are to be “firmly rooted,” “built up” in Christ, and “established in their faith” (Col. 2:7).  Believers need to grow to the extent that they receive and delight in the “word of righteousness” and “solid food” that will help them to grow and mature (Hebrews 5:11-14).

 

This emphasis is reflected in the early community of believers.  At Antioch, both Paul and Barnabas “met with the assembly, and taught considerable numbers” (Acts 11:26).  We read that Judas and Silas “encouraged and strengthened the brethren with a lengthy message” (Acts 15:32).  Paul met with the saints at Troas and “prolonged his message until midnight” (Acts 20:7).  Regarding teaching and every other activity in the gatherings of the body, Paul says, “Let all things be done for edification” (1 Cor. 14:26b).  Surely we can see that the body of Christ must lay a heavy emphasis on teaching, for the benefit and building up of each member.

 

Did the community of Christ believe that salvation was conditional?

 

The Churches of Men

 

Some churches believe and teach that after one is saved, his present and future salvation is absolutely unconditional and fixed.  We do not refer to the sacramental, Pentecostal, charismatic, holiness, Methodist, nor liberal churches, but many Fundamentalist, Evangelical, and independent churches strongly hold to an unconditionalist theology.  There are at least two main positions they take.  First, Presbyterian and Reformed denominations (and some Baptist churches), which are Calvinistic in perspective, say that God sovereignly chooses, predestinates, regenerates, give the gift of faith, saves, and unconditionally keeps the regenerated secure.  The “elect” believer cannot fall away but will persevere to the end without fail.  If someone does fall into sin and becomes a reprobate, these people will conclude that he really was not genuinely saved when he thought he was.

 

Second, many Baptists and other Fundamentalists believe that the sinner can choose to believe and be saved, but after God saves him, the saved person can do nothing to be lost.  Some go so far as to say that the saved person is secure regardless of his unbelief and sin. They say that one may live in known sin and even fall into apostasy, but if that person was truly saved through a simple act of faith, then that person is still secure in Christ and retains eternal life.  God may even take the sinful “Christian” home to heaven sooner!  While scattered individuals in various groups take one of these two positions, it is the stated position of a number of churches and is promoted widely by tracts, books, radio and television.

 

The Community of Christ

 

The body of Christ has always agreed that the sincere and true believer’s salvation is secure.  The Christian is “protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5).  Nothing at all outside of himself is able to “separate” the believer “from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:37-39).  Christ has given His believers eternal life and “they shall never perish” as they follow Jesus, the good shepherd (John 10:25-30).  We do have security in Christ Jesus (cf. John 5:24; 15:1-7; Rom. 8:29-34; Eph. 1:3-14; Phil. 1:6; 1 Thess. 5:23-24).  This blessed truth provides great comfort and hope to believers with good and honest hearts.  The believing community recognizes and rejoices in the security that God provides in Christ the Savior.

 

At the same time, Christians realize that the same Bible that speaks of the security of the believer also reveals that the security is conditional.  The Scripture shows that a person who is initially saved through faith may subsequently be lost through unbelief (and deliberate sin that accompanies such unbelief).  Notice several lines of evidence:

 

(1)  A person who is saved by faith must continue to exercise faith.  One who ceases to have saving faith will be lost (Col. 1:23; 2 Tim. 2:13; Heb. 3:12; Luke 22:31-32).

 

(2)  Only obedient believers are promised salvation.  A person who refuses to obey God can no longer claim to possess salvation (John 3:36; 14:15, 21-24; 15:9-10; Heb. 3:18-19; 4:11; 5:9; 10:36; Matt. 7:21; 1 John 2:17).

 

(3)  Many promises of God to the believer are conditional.  They are contingent on his continued faithfulness to the Lord (John 8:31; 15:10, 14; Rev. 2:10; 3:11; Col. 1:23; 2 Tim. 2:11-13).

 

(4)  God will only save those who faithfully endure or persevere to the end (Matt. 10:22; 24:13; Mark 13:13; Acts 14:22; Rom. 2:7-10).

 

(5)  Future salvation blessings are given only to those who overcome the world, the flesh, the devil, and persecution (Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21; 21:7; 1 John 2:15-17).

 

(6)  Numerous warnings are offered in Scripture that reveal the danger of falling away from the faith and from the truth (1 Tim. 1:19-20; 4:1-3; 2 Tim. 4:10; James 5:19-20; Acts 8:13, 20-24; 2 Peter 2:20-22; 3:17).

 

(7)  Known, deliberate, unrepentant sin is deadly for the Christian, just as it is for the unbeliever (Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:3-7; Heb. 10:26-31; 1 John 1:7-10; 2:3-6; 5:16-17; Romans 6:22-23).

 

For these reasons and others that could be mentioned, the community of Christ recognizes the possibility of forfeiting the salvation and eternal life that was given at the point of the new birth and entrance into Christ.[32]

 

How important is it that the body of Christ gather together?

 

The Churches of Men

 

Elsewhere we have noticed that most people view the church as a religious organization or club, and are content to devote an hour or two a week to fulfill their religious duty.  Some, of course, only “go to church” on rare occasions—such as holidays, weddings, baptisms, or funerals.  Others attend more often—perhaps every couple of weeks or even every Sunday.  In many churches (even relatively conservative ones), about one-half to one-third of the membership attend the weekly “church service” on Sunday mornings.  Fewer go to “Sunday School” or Bible class.  Only half of these may return on Sunday evenings (if the church even has evening services!).  And only half of these may meet for the Wednesday night Bible study, prayer meeting, or training class!

 

Why the little interest in meeting?  Some simply want to “sleep in” on Sunday mornings (“It’s the only morning they don’t have to get up!”).  Others want to go to the lake, go camping, play golf, take a vacation, go fishing, or watch a ball game on television.  Still others wish to do gardening, do their washing, or prepare for a big dinner for invited guests.  Sunday afternoon may be devoted to the “god” of sports as people practice their popular idolatry.  Sunday evening church may be deserted in favor of favorite television programs.  Thus, the church has low priority to great numbers of members.

 

Further, many members have little loyalty to their own church (we observe that denominational loyalty is disintegrating).  They often feel comfortable deserting their local congregation to visit the church of a relative, a friend, or a neighbor.  Just as some have little commitment to anything of substance in other areas, they may not have great allegiance to the church where their membership belongs.  They frequently look elsewhere when a favorite preacher, a special singing group, a healing evangelist, a revival, or another exciting event is offered.  They seek the diversion of other people and places while deserting their own group.  This is understandable, of course, since one church may be as unscriptural as the other and one preacher as false as the other.

 

The Community of Christ

 

The people of God are to have an entirely different perspective in their coming together.  Just as the members of a physical family ideally live together, eat together, have fellowship with each other, and want to be together, so true members of God’s spiritual family want to be together.  Luke tells us that after the resurrection, the followers of Christ were “together” (Acts 1:15; 2:1).  After Pentecost, those who repented and were baptized were “together” (2:44) and even took their “meals together” (v. 46).  Later, believers were “gathered together” to hear Peter and John and to pray (4:31; cf. vv. 23-31).  Later, believers were “gathered together and were praying” (12:12).  Luke tells us that at Antioch Paul and Barnabas “gathered the community together” (14:27).  Later, these same men “gathered the congregation together” (15:30).  Since true believers are “knit together in love” (Col. 2:2; cf. 3:14), since they have “a faith of the same kind” (2 Peter 1:1), since they are “all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28), we can understand why they will want to be together!

 

Consider the gatherings of the community of Christ.  Here we will notice a marked contrast with the frequent, even prevailing, carelessness among denominational church members.  Immediately after noting the baptism and salvation of people on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38-41), Luke writes, “And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (v. 42).  The believers were “continually devoting themselves” to these aspects of worship and gathering.  This phrase comes from the Greek, proskarterountes, which Vincent says can mean, “to persist obstinately in. . . . to adhere firmly to. . . . steady persistence.”[33]  W.E. Vine says that the verb proskartereo means “to be strong towards, to endure in, or persevere in, to be continually steadfast with a person or thing.”[34]  These early disciples persistently and steadfastly gave themselves to such activities as:

 

  • The apostles’ teachinglistening to and learning the teaching given by the apostles—which was the teaching of Jesus (Matt. 28:20).
  • Fellowship—sharing their lives and worship together.
  • Breaking of bread—probably a reference to breaking bread and partaking of the cup in remembrance of Jesus and His death for sin.
  • Prayer—mutual prayer to God the Father.

 

We know that first century gatherings of Christians included many other elements—including singing to each other (Eph. 5:18-19) and praising God (Acts 2:47)—but here we simply wish to notice the emphasis these believers gave to their meetings.  The Book of Acts mentions certain gatherings of the brothers and sisters (cf. Acts 11:26; 15:30-32; 4:31; 6:2; 19:9-10).  For instance, the believers at Troas “were gathered together to break bread” on “the first day of the week” (Acts 20:7).  The verse implies that this was their regular practice and the very reason for their gathering.

 

More than any other book in the New Testament, First Corinthians stresses the meetings of the saints.  For instance, Paul refers to these gatherings with these words:

 

  • “you come together” (1 Cor. 11:17)
  • “you come together as an assembly” (v. 18)
  • “you meet together” (v. 20)
  • “you come together to eat” (v. 33)
  • “you may not come together for judgment” (v. 34)
  • “the whole community should assemble together” (14:23)
  • “when you assemble” (v. 26)

 

Here the reference is to gathering for the Lord’s supper or communion (11:20) and for the exercise of spiritual gifts (14:23, 26), but the assembly of the body is for the full range of activities that Scripture mentions.[35]

 

The gathering of the body—particularly the main weekly assembly—is not optional at all.  God requires His people to come together:  “Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24-25).  Many denominational members think of “going to church” to “receive a blessing” or “hear a good sermon” or “listen to special singing.”  This perspective, however, is not only unscriptural, it is also selfish.  While we are blessed in meeting with dear brothers and sisters in God’s family, we meet also to bless them!  According to this text, we “stimulate one another” and “encourage” one another!

 

In the gatherings, we participate for the good of others (cf. 1 Cor. 14:26).  We admonish (Rom. 15:14), teach (Col. 3:16), encourage (Heb. 3:13), and help (1 Thess. 5:14) others that they might be built up in Christ (1 Cor. 14:26b) and might not be “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:13).  Significantly, after the Hebrew admonition to not forsake the assembling together (Heb. 10:25), we are warned, “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment . . .” (vv. 26-27a).  Sin will cause the saint to forsake the gatherings—and forsaking the gatherings is not only sinful (in violating God’s command) but it will lead to sin.

 

The committed brother and sister in God’s family will see the need to meet regularly with other children of the Father.  Jesus promised, “Where two or three have gathered together in My name, there I am in their midst” (Matt. 18:20).  If Jesus is present in a unique sense when the disciples gather, this provides the incentive we need to some together in His name.  While there is a place for reaching out to influence and preach to outsiders within the denominational churches, the committed saint will not make a habit of this during the weekly gathering of the body of Christ for worship, breaking bread, and edification.

 

How do Christians view the secular state or governmental powers?

 

The Churches of Men

 

From the days of Constantine, with his Edict of Toleration (AD 313), and Augustine, who wrote City of God (d. 430), on through the entire medieval period, the established churches have generally envisioned a close relationship between the church and the state.  Roman Catholicism looked upon the civil authorities as the church’s servant and used it to carryout corporal punishment.  Both Luther in Germany and Calvin in Switzerland promoted the state church concept.  The Church of England (Anglican) to this day is a church sponsored by the secular government. The Puritans of early American days strongly believed in a state church.  Even those who reject the state church connection, find no problem with “Christians” occupying every office of government—including the presidency.[36]

 

The Community of Christ

 

The New Testament evidence leads us to believe that the early Christians saw a wide difference and unbridgeable gulf between the body of Christ and the secular state.  The earthly governmental powers were viewed as part of this world system that is distinguished from the way of God (John  2:15-17).  The devil showed Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world” and tempted Him with “all this domain and its glory” (Luke 4:5-6), but Jesus refused the offer.  He told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world . . . . My kingdom is not of this realm” (John 18:36).  The kingdoms of the world, ruled by unregenerate men operating by ungodly principles, will pass away (cf. Rev. 11:15), but God’s rule or kingdom will continue on.

 

Paul distinguishes between Christians who live by the principle of love (Rom. 12:14-21), a love even for enemies (Matt. 5:38-48), and the state that maintains law and order by the sword (power of punishment) in a sinful world (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14).  This “separation” of the community of Christ from the state continued for some time after the apostolic period, but it was entirely changed after the fourth century, particularly due to the influence and power of Constantine (ca. 274/280-337).

 

How does the faithful community of Christ view retaliation, violence, and warfare?

 

The Churches of Men

 

From the time of Constantine, the established “church” has usually supported and even promoted wars waged by the governments under which it lives.  Augustine (354-430) formulated the “just war” theory—and most “Christian” nations have concluded their wars are just!  In fact, the history of the church has been the history of war.  The dominant Catholic Church sponsored the bloody and violent Crusades.  This church promoted the cruel and deadly Inquisition.  The churches during the Reformation period (e.g., Lutherans, Catholics, Reformed) persecuted Anabaptists and others who differed from the established religions.  Preachers and pastors in America promoted the Revolutionary War (the war of insubordination), the Civil War (from both sides!), the First World War, the Second World War, and every war since.  They called upon their members to be “good Christian soldiers” and fight to “defend the country” against the ungodly foes.

 

While some liberal churches have promoted a humanistic and political pacifism and several small “peace churches” have promoted a more Biblical nonresistance and non-involvement, most denominations have been quite favorable toward the military and even revere their members who are soldiers.  They honor such veterans rather than censure them.[37]

 

The Community of Christ

 

The way of Christ is the way of love—even for the enemy (Luke 6:27-28, 35; Matt. 5:38-48).  Jesus was the greatest model of nonresistant love and His followers follow His worthy example (1 Peter 2:21-23; Acts 8:32-35).  They are willing to suffer rather than inflict suffering on others, and are willing to lay down their life for the good of their persecutors (Rom. 12:17-21).  They are determined to do good to all people—regardless of nationality, color, or race (1 Thess. 5:15; Gal. 6:9-10).  They do not take revenge but commit themselves to God (Rom. 12:17, 19-21; 1 Peter 3:9).  They are subjects of a heavenly King and part of a spiritual kingdom (John 8:36-37; Colossians 1:13).  They wage a spiritual war, using spiritual weapons, and fight spiritual enemies rather than becoming involved in physical, carnal warfare (2 Cor. 10:3-5; Eph. 6:10-17).  How different the body of Christ is from the religious institutions of history and of our own day.[38]

 

History tells us that the early Christians refused to participate in warfare for one hundred years or longer after the days of the apostles.[39]  Some strong opposition continued for the next century, but a leavening influence had begun with some professing “Christians” in the military ranks.  After the time of Augustine (AD 400-430), opposition, for the most part, ceased because of his “just war” doctrine.

 

  • “No Christian ever thought of enlisting in the army after his conversion until the reign of Marcus Aurelius” around AD 173 (C.J. Cadoux).

 

  • “It is quite clear that prior to about A.D. 174 it is impossible to speak of Christian soldiers” (Guy F. Hershberger).

 

  • “Early second-century literature gives no direct evidence in regard to Christian participation in military service. The general statements which do occur imply a negative attitude.  They reflect the Christian abhorrence of bloodshed and a general Christian affirmation about peace. . . . Only in the early 170’s do we find the first explicit evidence since apostolic times to the presence of [professing] Christians in the military service. . . . Finally Theodosius II in 416 decreed that only Christians could be in the army, for he wanted divine favor to rest with the armies of the Empire against the barbarian threat” (Everett Ferguson).

 

  • “From the end of the New Testament period to the decade A.D. 170-180 there is no evidence whatever of Christians in the army” (Roland H. Bainton).

 

  • “From about 174 A.D. on to the time of Constantine, about 313 A.D., there are indications that a few [professing] Christians were in the military service” (William Paul).

 

  • “The period from A.D. 180 until the time of Constantine exhibits both in the East and West a number of more or less explicit condemnations of military service” (Bainton).

 

How does the community of Christ view worship?

 

The Churches of Men

 

Three extremes can often be seen in the world of Christendom.  First, many of the large and historic churches (Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Lutheranism, Anglicanism, and Episcopalianism) are liturgical in character.  Their “worship” is carefully ordered and meticulously prescribed with set words, forms, and procedures.  Members stand, sit, kneel, speak and remain silent according to ecclesiastical instructions.  Everything is formulated by the church hierarchy who plans and publishes the order of service, the worship books, and the missal.

 

Second, some churches (of the Pentecostal or Charismatic variety) are known for their spontaneity.  Often they exhibit unrestrained emotionalism that may depart from rationality.  They may show little concern for decency and order.  Virtually “anything goes” as long as the Holy Spirit is given the credit.

 

Third, some churches fall into the trap of traditionalism.  While rejecting a written, “high church” liturgy, these churches still have everything planned and nothing is allowed to deviate from the status quo.  They do everything the same, week after week, year after year.  They have everything timed by the clock—and they must not meet for more than one hour—sharp!  Only certain members of their clergy are permitted to address the congregation.  Such stereotypical “services” allow no room for alteration.

 

The Community of Christ

 

While God wants His people to have regular meetings (cf. Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:17-34), and “all things” must “be done properly and in an orderly manner” (1 Cor. 14:40), He yet allows variety and spontaneity.  Jesus said that God seeks “true worshipers” who will worship Him “in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24).  This worship is not confined to a particular place (such as Jerusalem) or a high-steeple cathedral (like the temple), but it is a worship of the heart, regulated by the truth, and inspired by the Holy Spirit (John 4:20-21; Acts 7:48; 17:24; Phil. 3:3; Eph. 6:17; Jude 20).  Although there was to be an order in the early Christian gatherings, there was also a place for the exercise of various gifts by various brothers (cf. 1 Cor. 14:26).  A chief concern at that time—and it should be today as well—was that everything must build up the members of the body:  “Let all things be done for edification” (1 Cor. 14:26b; cf. vv. 3,5,12,17).  Edification was the key to the early gatherings of the believers.

 

There is a place for emotion (1 Peter 1:8-9; Acts 13:52), a place for spontaneity (1 Cor. 14:26-33), and a place for various members of the body to participate for the good of others (Eph. 4:11-16).  In all of this, true believers are to worship God, through Christ, in the Holy Spirit.

 

Sadly, Jesus said that some people will seek to worship God but will be unable (Matt. 15:8-9):

 

This people honors Me with their lips,

          But their heart is far away from Me.

          But in vain do they worship Me,

          Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.

 

The worship of the Pharisees was in vain because they held to their human traditions rather than obey the commands of God (cf. Matt. 15:3, 6; Mark 7:8, 9, 13).  This same warning is applicable to members of churches today who would rather hold to cold and lifeless liturgy, unregulated emotionalism, or dead traditionalism than they would submit themselves to the written will of God.

 

What part do women have in the body of Christ?

 

The Churches of Men

 

One of the notable characteristics of our day, even in the religious world, is the so-called “women’s liberation movement.”  Beginning over a century ago, this humanistic movement has attempted to place the woman on equality with the man in all spheres—in education, business, politics, employment, sports, entertainment, and even in the religious realm.

 

Today women may become pastors, evangelists, or other religious leaders in nearly all leading denominations.  There are Lutheran and Methodist women pastors, Pentecostal and holiness women evangelists, and leading women charismatic speakers.  Even the Baptists appoint women missionaries, hire women seminary professors, and listen to women soloists.  Amazingly, even very conservative groups (Mennonites, Brethren, and others) sometimes permit their women to address their assemblies.  Women’s participation and even leadership pervades the religious atmosphere of our age.  If one objects to this feministic perspective, he is often labeled as chauvinistic, traditional, and bound to old ways of male domination.

 

The instructions of holy Scripture seem to mean little to religious feminism in our day.  Generally, the many passages are negated or explained away by saying that they pertained to a different age, or they came from the pens of apostles Paul and Peter who were bound to first century traditions, or the instructions and prohibitions were expressive of the customs of that age, or maybe the instructions were only meant for cities like Corinth or Ephesus (1 Timothy).  In this way, contemporary feminism falls under the condemnation of our Lord who said: “Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men” (Mark 7:8).  “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition” (v. 9).

         

The Community of Christ

 

From the days of Christ we notice the importance and prominence of women to our Lord.  They followed Him, along with the apostles (Luke 8:1-3).  They were at the cross (Mark 15:40-41); they were among the last ones at the tomb (15:47); they were the only ones to see the angels (16:1-8).  A woman (Mary Magdalene) was the first to see the resurrected Christ and reported to the apostles what she found (John 20:1-18).  In the early community, women were prophetesses (Acts 2:17-18; 21:9) and servants of the assembly (Rom. 16:1-2).  They shared Paul’s struggle in the gospel (Phil. 4:2-3), hosted the gatherings of disciples (Acts 16:40; Col. 4:15, NASB), preached the word to others (Acts 8:4), and could even submissively explain the way of God to men (cf. 18:26).

 

Not only was there much participation by women, there were limitations.  For instance, only men were apostles (Matt. 10:2-4) and only men could be elders, overseers, or shepherds of the flock (referring to the same position, 1 Tim. 3:1-2; Titus 1:5-6).  Apparently only men could be public proclaimers of the gospel or “evangelists” (e.g., Timothy and Titus; 2 Tim. 4:5; Eph. 4:11).  We must remember, of course, that women were not the only ones who could not occupy certain positions; many men could not (and cannot) be in certain positions (cf. 1 Tim. 3:1-13; James 3:1).

 

Further, just as there were restrictions on the participation of some men in the public gatherings (cf. 1 Cor. 14:28, 30), so God places restrictions on women.  In the gatherings, women must “quietly receive [not give] instruction with entire submissiveness” (1 Tim. 2:11).  Women are forbidden to “teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet” (v. 12).  In the context of the exercise of spiritual gifts (and evidently true in other contexts as well), “women [must] keep silent in the assemblies; for they are not permitted to speak . . . . for it is improper for a woman to speak in the assembly” (1 Cor. 14:34-35).  This command comes from the Lord (v. 37) and was to be observed in all of the assemblies of the saints in the world (vv. 33-34).  Men, of course, not women, are the ones who are “in every place to pray” (1 Tim. 2:8, the word for men is the Greek for males).  These restrictions do not degrade or demean women, but they are part of the Lord’s plan for the gatherings of saints even in our age.[40]

 

How frequently did the early Christians remember Christ and His death by partaking of the bread and cup?

 

The Churches of Men

 

Most religious denominations believe in communion  and find much significance in it—except for various smaller sects which have discarded the “sacrament” entirely (e.g., Salvation Army, Quakers [Society of Friends], and ultra-dispensational groups).  However, most church fail to observe the memorial (or “sacrament,” according to certain denominations) very frequently.  In fact, to some, it is a rare occurrence.  To others, it is observed more often.  These are the results of a random calling of various churches in the local area:

 

  • Assembly of God Monthly
  • Alliance Church Monthly
  • Baptist Church           Monthly or semiannually
  • Church of the Nazarene Every 1, 2, or 3 months
  • Lutheran Church Weekly; bimonthly
  • United Methodist Church Monthly
  • Presbyterian Church           Monthly
  • Watchtower Witnesses Yearly
  • Mennonite Church           Semiannually
  • Christian Church Weekly

 

Although we notice that some churches observe the remembrance weekly, generally it is passed over without great emphasis.  Sometimes it is reduced to a ritual or form that is observed in a perfunctory manner.  Much more could be noticed about the meaning and purpose of the commemoration, but we must limit our discussion to the frequency of observance.

 

The Community of Christ

 

In his discussion on the abuses in the Lord’s supper, Paul wrote, “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Cor. 11:26).  In this verse, Paul does not specify how often the Corinthian believers were to break the bread and drink from the cup, but we may make some valid inferences from the entire context (vv. 17-34).

 

Paul said that they “come together not for the better but for the worse” (v. 17).  How often did they “come together”?  Obviously, more than once a year, once a quarter, or once a month.  He evidently had the normal, regular assembly in mind—the weekly gathering.  The apostle further wrote, “When you come together as an assembly, I hear that divisions exist among you” (v. 18).  How often did this divisive attitude show itself?  Surely, at least once a week; at any rate, whenever the Lord’s meal was observed.  Paul goes on to reprimand them, “When you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper” (v. 20).  This is a significant statement.  Because of their divisiveness and unconcern for the poor, they were not meeting together “to eat the Lord’s Supper—but ideally and properly they should have been meeting with this purpose in mind.  Here is quite clear evidence for observing the Lord’s meal at least every week.  Later in the chapter, Paul says, “When you come together to eat, wait for one another” (v. 33).  The purpose of their gathering was “to eat”!  When they did “assemble together,” various ones participated (cf. 14:23, 26), but we must remember that a primary reason for the gathering was “to eat the Lord’s supper” (11:20).  Some Bible students are convinced that Paul has a common meal, or a “love feast,” in mind here.  However we view this, we must recognize that Paul did have the body and blood of Christ in mind (cf. vv. 23-29).

 

Other evidence agrees with this.  Luke writes, “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them . . . and he prolonged his message until midnight” (Acts 20:7).  Notice again the purpose or reason for the saints at Troas to gather:  “We gathered together to break bread.”  When did this occur?  “On the first day of the week.”[41]  The construction of the sentence makes it clear that this was the regular and normal practice of the saints.  While assembled, Paul spoke to them or taught them.  Harrison comments, “Instead of observing [the supper] on Friday, the saints came together on the Lord’s Day, because the death of the Savior derived its full meaning and comfort for the believer from the resurrection (see Rom. 4:25).”[42]      Therefore, each week both the death and the resurrection of Christ were brought to the memory of the believers.[43]  From the very beginning, the newly baptized believers “were continually devoting themselves . . . to the breaking of bread” (Acts 2:42).

 

Although we do not consult the early post-apostolic church to determine God’s will for us, it is instructive to learn that the uniform practice of the second and third century church was to partake of the Lord’s supper each first day of the week, although by this time they called it the “Eucharist,” meaning “thanksgiving” (from eucharistein, “to give thanks”).[44]  Although the meaning of the breaking of bread soon was altered, the church continued to observe the weekly memorial.

 

Just as this was the practice of the first century community, this should be the practice of the body of Christ in our own day.  Instead of allowing a year, six months, or even a month to pass by without a spiritual remembrance of Jesus and His death, God knew that His people need this weekly memorial, this weekly parting of Christ’s body and blood, for their own spiritual good and as an opportunity to “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Cor. 11:26).  This, again, is a hallmark of Christ’s followers in our present age.

 

What view of money and possessions did God want for His people?

 

The Churches of Men

 

The world looks upon money and possessions in a far different way than what God wishes for His people.  Since those in the world have their hearts occupied with the world, they seek to pile up earthly riches and accumulate earthly treasures.  They worship the “god” of materialism and bow before the altar of mammon.  John tells us that the world consists of “the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life” (1 John 2:16).  Paul describes the “difficult times” of “the last days” by referring to those who are “lovers of self,” “lovers of money,” and “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.”  Although they may hold to “a form of godliness,” they have “denied its power” (2 Tim. 3:1-5).

 

This describes our present day even greater than it did Paul’s age.  America is entirely pervaded with materialism.  Americans are focused on earthly things—they think about them, labor for them, and sell their souls for them.  They are discontent and want more than is needed.  They are guilty of covetousness or greed—literally “a desire to have more” (pleonexia).  Their mind and heart are fixed on luxurious homes beyond their needs, extravagant furnishings, expensive sports cars, and the latest fashions. They enjoy high priced fast foods and costly amusements.  They waste money on visits to the restaurant, visits to the sports arena, and trips to the mountains or beach.  To finance all of this, the world seeks earthly riches in every way possible.  As we describe the world, we are describing the churches of men since they are part of the world.  By far the majority of members within religious denominations have the very lifestyle that we have described!

 

Consider the one area of giving to the church of which they are part.  Many denominational pastors teach that a tithe (10 percent) of one’s income should be contributed to the local church, but this is seldom seen.  The “Generous Giving” website (generousgiving.org) is not meant to be authoritative in stating what various religious bodies give, but this organization does suggest the percentage that members of various churches contribute (presumably to their churches).  Notice these results:[45]

 

Church Denomination Percentage Given
African Methodist Episcopal Church 2%
American Baptist Churches 2.5%
Assemblies of God 5.25%
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) 1.75%
Episcopal Church 1.75%
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America 1.5%
Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod 2%
National Baptist Convention 2.75%
Presbyterian Church in America 3%
Presbyterian Church 2.5%
Reformed Church in America 3.25%
Roman Catholic Church 1.25%
Southern Baptist Convention 3%
United Church of Christ 2%
United Methodist Church 1.75%

 

This shows how little church members give.  Surely this is a pittance of their income—in the richest nation on earth!  We must admit that, presumably, some of the members of these religious bodies must also give to other religious causes (charities, missionaries, radio and television stations, ministries, parachurch organizations), but the statistics above do say something!  Most people do not even give a tithe of their income to “the Lord”—however they define this.  While some devoted members give a tenth or even more of their income—most give far less.  We can easily see that most do not even approach a tithe (10 percent) in their giving.   In a day of great income (compared to the remainder of the world), many families and individuals could give 20, 30, or 40 percent of their income to “religious” causes—if they were willing to live more economically and forsake their materialistic lifestyle!

 

The Community of Christ

 

Truly saved persons look at money and possessions in an entirely different way from that of the world.[46]  They look upon themselves as stewards of God’s own resources and seek to use their material assets in a responsible way for His own glory.[47]  The first Christians recognized this very clearly.  Those who had responded in repentance and baptism on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38-41) recognized that they were part of God’s own family and that they were to love and care for each other.  Luke puts it this way:  “All those who had believed were together, and had all things in common, and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need” (vv. 44-45).  Later we read, “The congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them” (4:32; cf. vv. 34-37).  In this unique situation, each person may have held property (cf. 5:4), but if anyone else had genuine need, then the hearts of the believers responded to the need by filling it as they were able.  In this way, the believing community avoided a pure “communism” while exercising a genuine love and care for each other.  This was a radically different way of looking at possessions and wealth, and this indicated that their hearts had been touched with the Holy Spirit and with the practical teachings of Jesus on wealth.

 

The remainder of the new covenant writings shows that believers did own their property (cf. Acts 10:6; 12:12; 16:15,40;  17:5; 21:8; Rom. 16:5; 1 Cor. 16:19; Phile. 2; Col. 4:15; 2 Jn. 10; 1 Cor. 11:22).  However, they were to be loving, unselfish, and generous in the use of their possessions.  They were to be active in giving to worthy causes—such as the poor among the saints (Rom. 15:26), destitute widows (1 Tim. 5:3-16), orphans (James 1:27), proclaimers of the gospel (1 Cor. 9:14), teachers (Gal. 6:6), elders or overseers (1 Tim. 5:17-18), other workers (3 John 5-8), and traveling saints (Heb. 13:1-2).

 

Numerous instructions are scattered throughout the Scriptures.  Paul writes, “Contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality” (Rom. 12:13).  He says, “Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with him who teaches” (Gal. 6:6).  He writes to Timothy about those who are rich:  “Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed” (1 Tim. 6:18-19).  This applies to most Americans in our day—people who definitely want to get rich and pile up possessions!  The most extensive section on giving in the Bible is found in 2 Corinthians 8-9 (read the entire portion).  He writes of the generosity of the saints in Macedonia:  “In a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality” (8:2).  Although they were personally poor, they sought to be generous in giving to others!

 

This reminds us of the “poor widow” whom Jesus saw in the temple treasury (Mark 12:41-44).  She gave her last two copper coins (lepta), each worth only 1/64 of a denarius (a denarius was what a laboring man earned each day).  Thus she gave about $2.00 in our reckoning.  Jesus said of her:  “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on” (vv. 43-44).  Jesus evaluated her gift not by what she gave, but by what was left.  She entrusted herself to God’s care.  This is the attitude we see reflected in the remainder of the New Testament.  In the judgment scene, we see Jesus saying to those who openly cared for His brothers, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:31-40).

 

Scripture says that believers are to give bountifully (2 Cor. 9:6), purposefully (v. 7), and cheerfully (v. 7).  They should be motivated by Christ’s own giving of His life (2 Cor. 8:9).  Among believers, there should not be extremes of poverty and wealth (2 Cor. 9:13-15).  Giving should always express an inner love for others (2 Cor. 8:8, 24).

 

In Scripture also we find numerous warnings of the danger of riches.  He speaks of “the deceitfulness of riches” (Mark 4:19) for most rich people (and many Americans meet this description) are deceived by their wealth and do not know their own peril.  He says, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:23; cf. vv. 24-30).  He says that one who “lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” is a fool (Luke 12:20-21).  The greedy who live in luxury while overlooking needs around them will be in torment after death (Luke 16:19-31).  The one who is not faithful in money will not be faithful in other matters (Luke 16:10; cf. vv. 1-13).  We cannot serve both God and money (Matt. 6:24).  Paul says that “those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction” (1 Tim. 6:9-10).

 

All of these instructions, and many more besides them, show that God wants his children to be very conscious of money and their possessions.  It is a test of their heart and their love (see Matt. 6:21; 2 Cor. 8:8, 24).  It shows whether they worship and serve God alone or whether they serve money (Matt. 6:24).  To worship God in spirit and truth is our priority (John 4:23-24); to worship money and things is idolatry (Eph. 5:5).  We must set our mind on things above (Col. 3:1-2) rather than things on earth (Phil. 3:19).  It is true that not all of the Christian’s giving will be to the local believers.  There are a wide variety of worthy causes that he will want to support with what God has given to him.  Neither will he be limited by a “tithe” of his income.  Most will surely want to give more than this, even much more if God provides more.[48]  We should be able to see from our short discussion that those in the community of Christ view material gain and earthly possessions far differently than those in human churches and denominations.

 

How important was sharing Christ and teaching the truth to the early Christians?

 

The Churches of Men

 

We have already examined the message that is preached by human churches as compared to that of the early believers.  At this point, let us simply ask about how important people see the sharing of their message.  It should be obvious to all that taking the message to others is not a high priority to most people.  Sometimes people talk to others about “visiting church” or they encourage others to “come to church services.”  They may talk to others about the blessings of hearing “Brother John,” “Pastor Smith,” or “Father Callahan.”  But there really is no great desire to share Christ Jesus Himself.   Usually, when people do “share Christ,” it is a partial gospel and a partial acceptance of the gospel.  Even when the pastor challenges the members to “share their testimony” with outsiders and talk with others about Christ, only rarely is his challenge heeded.

 

Since most people seem to think that this is a “Christian nation” and think that few people are really lost, there is no great motivation to share with others the necessity of salvation.  Several errors have caused this:

 

(1) Some people think that people just need to “believe” that Jesus is their Savior and they will be saved.  Many have “believed” in Jesus like this, thus large numbers of church members assume that they are saved.

 

(2)  Some have no conception of a salvation event itself and think that just “being good” or “living a good Christian life” is all that is required by God.  Therefore, they do not think that many others are lost.[49]

 

(3)  Some wrongly assume that if a person has been “baptized” as a baby, he is thereby a Christian and prepared for heaven.  “Why preach to good people like this?” they reason.[50]

 

(4)  Some just look at their fellow church members and think they are saved.  They also hear that some 70 percent of Americans claim church membership, thus they conclude that these people are also right with God.

 

(5)  Some think of hell as a place for particularly evil people—like Hitler, Stalin, or certain mass murderers or child molesters.  Most people are not this “evil” (so they wrongly think), thus most people are not going to hell when they die.

 

Because of these reasons, few church members have a consuming passion to reach others with the message of salvation in Christ.

 

The Community of Christ

 

Believers in Christ have the same perspective that their Lord had.  Jesus knew that few people are right with God; He knew that the vast majority are lost and will not inherit the Kingdom of God.  He made this clear in Matthew 7:13-14:

 

Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it.  For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it.

 

Here Jesus plainly says that “many” enter the “wide” gate and walk the “broad” way that leads to destruction!  Only the “few” enter the “small” gate and walk the “narrow” way that leads to life!  Since most people are lost, condemned, and under God’s righteous wrath, they will finally suffer eternal punishment and separation from our glorious God (Matt. 7:21-23; 25:31-46; 2 Thess. 1:7-10).   Presently, people are “dead” in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1), under God’s wrath (v. 3), separate from Christ, without God, have no hope (v. 12), and are excluded from the life of God (4:18).  If they are not reached now—in this life—they will be eternally lost.  Surely, most of our friends, neighbors, relatives, and even immediate family remain unforgiven and are without a saving relationship with Christ Jesus—even though they may be good church members (cf. Matt. 10:34-38; 24:10-13, 40-42; Luke 12:51-53; 1 Cor. 7:12-16).  The early believers and those who live today should be aware of these sobering facts that underlie all that we do.

 

Because Christians understand these truths, they become primary motivations in life.  The Christian is responsible to heed many different Scriptural directives, but two of the chief responsibilities are:  (1)  to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ and seek to be conformed to His likeness (2 Peter 1:2-11; 3:18; 2 Cor. 3:17-18; Eph. 4:22-24); (2) to share the truth of Jesus and the knowledge of salvation with others (Mark 16:15-16; Matt. 28:18-20).  Our Lord’s parting command is surely vital:  “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:16).  The verb “preach” here is from kerusso and it signifies to herald or proclaim.  In this case, Jesus is saying that we are to proclaim the good news (euangelion, “gospel”) of Christ to others that they might believe it and be baptized as an expression of faith, and so be saved (v. 16).  Sharing the message of Christ should be our priority.

 

Jesus said, “A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40).  Jesus is our teacher; we are His disciples or followers.  As we are trained by Him, we will be like Him.  A chief reason for Christ’s coming was to proclaim the truth of the gospel.  He said, “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, in order that I may preach there also; for that is what I came out for” (Mark 1:38).  Jesus preached; we must preach.  He said to Pilate: “For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth.  Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice” (John 18:37).  Jesus came to bear witness to the truth; we must bear witness to the truth of God as revealed in Scripture.

 

Did the early Christians understand this?  We read that after the death of Stephen, “On that day a great persecution arose against the assembly in Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria” (Acts 8:1).  Notice that the “assembly,” composed of men and women, boys and girls, suffered in this “great persecution” and they were “all scattered.”  What happened to these saints?  Luke answers:  “Those who had been scattered went about preaching the word” (v. 4; cf. 11:19ff).  Because believers know the hopeless state of the lost, because they are grateful for the good news of Christ that has saved them, because they know that Jesus is the only way of salvation, because of the command of the Lord Himself, they feel impelled to share Jesus with others.  Although some have the special ability to proclaim the good news (cf. Eph. 4:11; 2 Tim. 4:5), everyone who has believed the message is able and qualified to share that message with others.

 

Whether it is by word of mouth or by printed page, the truth of God can be shared with those outside of the kingdom.  Whether it is to the wicked sinner in town, or to the deeply religious person (like Cornelius), the message should be shared.  Whether it is by letter, by tract, by book, by recording, by word of mouth, the message must go out.  Paul wrote, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2; “press it home on all occasions, convenient or inconvenient,” NEB; “welcome or unwelcome, insist on it,” JB; “be urgent in season and out of season, RSV).  Whether it is public proclamation or private discussion, the truth must be shared.  Paul spoke of teaching the Ephesians “publicly and from house to house” (Acts 20:20).  The Jerusalem apostles did the same:  “Every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and parching Jesus as the Christ” (Acts 5:42).  One of the marks of the community of Christ today is that believers will recognize the need and the privilege of sharing the truth of Jesus and of His Word with all who will listen or read.

 

Do the people of God suffer for the cause of Christ?

 

The Churches of Men

 

Seldom does it cost much to be part of the mainline denominations of the world.  In fact, it may help one gain the respect of society.  For many church members, it will not require much loss of time.  They will simply devote two hours on Sunday morning to “church services” and that is about the time expenditure.  They will give occasional contributions (we noticed this earlier), but this will not represent more than about two or three percent of their income.  They may serve on an occasional committee, but this requires little commitment of time and effort.  Thus, it costs little to be a church member in our day.

 

What about persecution?  In the United States or Europe, this is seldom a problem.  Church members probably will not lose their jobs or be robbed by a gang.  They probably will not be thrown in jail or beaten up by civil authorities.  They will probably not be ridiculed by their neighbors or family members.  As a whole, being a member of a religious organization will bring no more suffering than being a member of the PTA, the Rotary Club, or the Country Club!

 

The Community of Christ

 

We are aware of the entirely different perspective in the Word of God.  Jesus said that suffering and persecution is the expected lot for those who seek God’s will:  “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when men revile you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me.  Rejoice, and be glad; for your reward in heaven is great” (Matt. 5:10-12a; cf. Luke 6:22-23, 27-28).  He indicated that suffering is to be expected of His disciples:  “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves . . . . And brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents, and cause them to be put to death.  And you will be hated by all on account of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved” (Matt. 10:16a, 21-22; cf. vv. 16-39; 24:10-13).  Our Lord stated that just as He was persecuted, so His followers would suffer the same rejection and hatred of others:  “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love it own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:18-19; cf. vv. 20-25; 16:1-3).

 

In the early days of the gospel, this persecution fell on the community of Christ.  Peter and John were thrown into jail (Acts 4:3), and later all of the apostles were captured (5:17-18), beaten, and threatened (v. 40).  How did the apostles react to this abuse?  “They went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name” (v. 41).  Soon, Stephen was stoned to death by the religious authorities (Acts 7:54-60), and later the apostle James was put to death with a sword (12:2).  Early Christians, both men and women, were dragged from their homes, put in prison, punished, and sometimes put to death (8:3; 9:1-2; 22:4; 26:9-11).

 

Suffering for Christ was simply part of following Him.  It was inevitable that those who are not part of the world would be persecuted by those who are in the world (cf. John 7:7; 15:18-19).  As people would come to Christ for salvation, Paul would warn them, “Through many tribulations [hardships] we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).  Paul writes to the Thessalonians who were in the midst of persecution:  “You may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering” (2 Thess. 1:5b).  He wrote to his son in the faith, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12).  He wrote to his dear brothers, “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Phil. 1:29).   In the midst of these sufferings, the believer knows that he faces them with Christ Jesus Himself.  Paul asks, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” (Rom. 8:35; cf. vv. 36-39).

 

The early community of Christ was a suffering and persecuted people and those who are in the body of Christ today will suffer for His sake.  While members of the body of Christ may not be thrown into jail or experience execution for the cause of Christ in this country, there are places in the world where severe persecution even now prevails.  In America, the suffering is more subtle.  A true believer, who is living entirely for Christ and refuses to compromise His will, may also suffer for Him:

 

  • He may be ridiculed for his faith (Matt. 5:10).
  • He may be excluded from certain circles (Luke 6:21).
  • He may be divorced by an unbeliever (1 Cor. 7:15).
  • He may need to chose Jesus over family members (Matt. 10:37).
  • He may be rejected by family and friends (Luke 12:51-53).
  • He may be dismissed from his job (1 Peter 2:18-20).
  • He may need to live in undesirable living arrangements (1 Cor. 4:11).
  • He may experience danger in travels for Christ (2 Cor. 11:26-27).
  • He may live in poverty rather than riches for Christ’s sake (2 Cor. 8:1-5; 1 Cor. 4:11; Phil. 3:7-8).
  • He may be rejected by and separated from religious people (Acts 6:9-15; 18:5-12).
  • He may need to pay certain fines imposed by authorities (Acts 17:5-9).
  • He may suffer loss of sleep and loss of free time (2 Cor. 11:27-29; cf. Mark 3:20-21; 6:31).

 

Therefore, although members of Christ’s body in this country, at this time of history, may not be killed for their faith, we must understand that they definitely will suffer in various ways for Christ–if they are unwilling to compromise their commitment to Him.

Does God want His people to love, obey, and serve Him with all of their heart? 

 

The Churches of Men

 

Most of those within the pale of churchianity look upon their connection with a church as a mere sideline or diversion.  It is merely something they have added to their lives, one among many different relationships and activities they experience.  As we pointed out earlier, many look upon their church membership as little different from membership with a service club, a fraternity, a lodge, the PTA, or a garden club.  Membership like this requires occasional meetings and a payment of minimal dues, and it offers certain benefits, some entertainment, and an opportunity to serve in some way.   Sadly, this is the frame of mind that most members have regarding their involvement with their particular church.  We cannot say that the “church” is at the center of most people’s life!

 

Where is the heart of most members of human churches and denominations?  Generally, such people are consumed with television, sports, music, hobbies, travel, the internet, and magazines.  They fill their lives with non-essential activities around the house, going to restaurants and clubs, participating in dances and other worldly amusements.  The more church-oriented of them may become involved in choir practice, fun and games night, the church bowling league, the church softball and volleyball games, ski trips, and Caribbean cruises.  Of course, a 15-minute “devotional” may be added to these activities to “sanctify” them!

 

It is safe to say that most members look upon their connection with a church as a diversion and little more.  Their whole heart is not occupied with God and the things of God.  Their life is not focused upon a pursuit of righteousness.  Their passion is not on glorifying Christ and making Him known.  Yet we must acknowledge that there are some members of sects, popularly known as “cults,” who are more actively involved in what they assume is the will of God.  (We may think of the Watchtower Witnesses, the Mormons, members of the United Pentecostal Church, and a variety of other sectarian followers.)

 

The Community of Christ

 

Those who are truly saved realize that their entire life is centered upon the Lord Jesus Christ.  He is their life (Col. 3:4) and reason for living (Phil. 1:21).  True followers of Christ must take seriously His words: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30).  The second command is similar:  “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (v. 31).  Therefore, they determine to live their lives with this passionate and consuming love for God and others.  This influences all they think and do!  Rather than continuing to live a self-centered and self-occupied life of pleasure, they know the meaning of Paul’s words that “the love of Christ controls us,” therefore “they who live should not longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf” (2 Cor. 5:14-15; cf. Phil. 2:20-21).

 

The body of Christ was exhorted to earnestly give themselves in active service to Him and His cause.  Paul writes, “. . . not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord” (Rom. 12:11).  He declares, “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the word of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58).  Of his own life, Paul could say that he was “serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials” (Acts 20:19), then he wrote, “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me–the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace” (v. 24, NIV).  Of his dear fellow-believers, Paul could say, “I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well” (2 Cor. 12:15a, NIV).  Where is this kind of involvement, sacrifice, and devotion in the sphere of denominationalism of our day?  Yet it must characterize the hearts of those within Christ’s body!

 

The seriousness of growing cold in our love and life is mentioned in Christ’s admonitions to the assemblies of Asia.  Christ says these sobering words to those in the Ephesian community:  “I have this against you, that you have left your first love.  Remember therefore from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you, and will remove your lampstand out of it place–unless you repent” (Rev. 2:4-5).  Similar are His words to the Laodicean assembly:  “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I would that you were cold or hot.  So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. . . . Be zealous therefore, and repent” (3:15, 16, 19b).  Ladd comments upon this latter congregation:  “They were not characterized by the coldness of hostility to the gospel or rejection of the faith; but neither were they characterized by a warm zeal and fervor (Acts 18:25; Rom. 12:11).  They were simply indifferent, nominal, complacent.”[51]  The Lord hates this attitude of indifference and complacency.  He cannot tolerate those who would forsake a fervent love for Him and others.  He calls upon such to be zealous and repent that they may be reconciled to Him and enjoy His saving fellowship (cf. 3:20).

 

God calls His people to be wholehearted in their devotion to Him and actively involved in His service.  Paul writes, “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary” (Gal. 6:9-10).  Those who have been redeemed are to be “zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:14), “ready for every good deed” (3:1), must be “careful to engage in good deeds” (3:8), and are to “learn to engage in good deeds” (3:14).  This must be our very lifestyle!  True Christians, member of the community of Christ, must be active in. . .

 

  • good deeds (Titus 2:14)
  • preaching to the lost (Acts 8:4)
  • works of mercy (Matt. 25:31-39,46)
  • meeting with other believers (Heb. 10:24-25)
  • edifying and admonishing others (Rom. 15:14)
  • fellowship with the saints (Acts 2:42)
  • worship of God (John 4:23-24)
  • searching the Scriptures (Acts 17:11)
  • praying with other believers (Acts 12:5,12)
  • personal prayer and devotion (Mk. 1:35; Luke 6:12)
  • giving to saints in need (Rom. 12:13)
  • helping the helpless (James 1:27)
  • warning others of spiritual peril (Jude 22-23)

 

With this kind of active love and devotion, saints will simply not have the interest nor the time to become involved in the vast array of distractions competing for our attention.  Our heart has been given to the Lord and this is where our heart-devotion lies!

 

How did people respond to Christ for salvation and how did they become part of His believing community?

 

The Churches of Men

 

Churches and denominations have a variety of ways of dealing with this present concern.  The sacramental churches (e.g., Catholic Church, Lutheran Church, Orthodox Church, Episcopal Church, Anglican Church, and others) claim that a child is saved, forgiven, cleansed, and given the Holy Spirit by means of the ceremony of infant “baptism.”  They claim that through the general “faith” of the “Church” or the “faith” of the sponsors (such as parents), a child can be forgiven and born of God (regenerated), and thereby enter the heavenly kingdom.[52]  One authority puts it this way:

 

Baptism is the only sacrament that can remit original sin.  It cleanses us from all sin, original and actual, and remits all punishment due. . . . By Baptism we become members of the [Catholic] Church and children of God.  We are given the right to enter heaven, and to gain merits by our good works. . . . Children should be baptized as soon as possible after birth. . . . If possible, this should be done within a week. . . . Catholic parents who put off for a long time, or entirely neglect, the Baptism of their children put them in danger of losing heaven and the vision of God eternally.[53]

 

In contrast to this sacramental view of “baptismal regeneration,” many Protestant churches view salvation in very simple terms and often omit baptism entirely.  First, some Fundamentalists and Evangelicals understand conversion in a way that has been called “easy believism” by their critics.  They say that a sinner simply must recognize that he is a sinner and separated from God, that God is loving, that Jesus died for his sins, and that he must only believe in Christ who died on the cross.  They encourage such a person to “pray a sinner’s prayer” and “invite Jesus into his heart” to be saved.  All of this is a simple procedure, perhaps the outcome of reading a “Four Spiritual Laws” booklet, and may take 15 minutes.  Such churches claim that we are “saved by faith—plus nothing” or “faith alone.”  They quote John 1:12, John 3:16, and Rev. 3:20 to support their convictions.

 

Second, other Fundamentalists and Evangelicals not only emphasize belief (as above) but also repentance.  Some of the more revivalistic strain stress that one must “pray through” and encourage the sinner to “come to the altar” to agonize and seek God’s forgiveness.  While this is not as prominent in our day, it still exists in some circles.  We can be grateful for this call upon the sinner to repent and choose to live differently—for indeed this is a prominent theme of Scripture.  Yet, even in this case, generally repentance is superficial without a great change of life.  Furthermore, baptism is usually entirely omitted from this view and only added later as a “church ordinance.”

 

Third, some churches say that they have sought to return to the New Testament.  They teach that one must believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that he must repent of his sins, and that he must be baptized to be saved.  Aspects of this are good, however this idea (or “plan” as it has been called) has been twisted to become something different from true New Testament conversion.  The faith expected sometimes is little more than mere mental belief that lacks a wholehearted trust in Jesus and His saving death for our sins.  The repentance is usually superficial, and no marked change in life occurs or is expected. They may have little understanding of confessing Jesus as Lord and submitting to His comprehensive will.  They do recognize the need to baptize older children and adults and make this an emphasis in their preaching.  However, baptism becomes so pronounced in their teaching that it seems to become the chief factor in being saved from sin!  They seem to assume that if a young person or adult has been “baptized” with a proper purpose, he is obviously a Christian, saved, and an heir of heaven.  Sometimes the gospel of Christ is hardly mentioned, and if it is, it is not given the stress that it should.

 

Fourth, the Reformed or Calvinistic view varies somewhat from all of the foregoing views.  The Calvinist who holds to covenant theology believes that a child born into a Christian “covenant” household should be presumed to be among the “elect” (chosen) of God and is fit subject of baptism as an infant.  He thereby receives the “sign” and “seal” of the covenant—the rite of baptism (actually sprinkling)—and is considered part of the people of God.  As the child grows, he is totally depraved, thus he is unable to personally respond to God through his own choice. God therefore gives the young person the Holy Spirit, regenerates him, grants him the “gift of faith,” and then saves him through the faith which God has granted by His sovereign will.  God dispenses His grace unconditionally.  This process is entirely the work of God, thus He and He alone is responsible for the young person’s salvation.  Obviously, this differs from some of the other views we have examined.  Like the sacramental view we first noticed, the Calvinistic view sees no need to baptize the young person who comes to faith—for he was already “baptized” as a baby.[54]

 

Finally, many Protestants—especially in the more liberal mainline denominations—have little concept of salvation at all.  They simply think they are raised in “good” and “church-going” homes and are thereby “Christians” and have heaven as their homes.  They may be “baptized” as babies but this is nothing more than a dedication ceremony.  They may be “confirmed” as a twelve-year-old, but this is simply assuming the role of a church member.  They go through life as nominal church members, going to “church services,” being good citizens, and perhaps raising a “good” family.  They seldom, if ever, read the Bible; they seldom pray–unless they have trouble; they surely don’t have a consuming love for Jesus.  In effect, it is salvation by good deeds, by character, by being a good church member.  They have no concept of being forgiven and saved at a point in time. If you were to ask them, “When were you saved?,” they would probably look at you uncomprehendingly.

 

This is sufficient for us to see that there is a wide divergence of views among the various churches and denominations on how to be saved from sin and how to be accepted by God.  We shall see that each of these differs from what Scripture teaches on how to be forgiven of sin.  It is lamentable that a subject of such absolute magnitude and eternal consequence should be fraught with so much confusion!

 

The Community of Christ

 

We have already noticed that the early Christians recognized that all people were in sin and lost until they personally came to Christ for cleansing (cf. Ephesians 2:1-3, 12; 4:17-19).  They proclaimed the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ to those who were lost in sin (Acts 8:35).  They declared the necessity of faith in God and in Christ, repentance of sins, and baptism into Christ.  Salvation from sin, therefore, was seen as a definite experience which occurred at a specific time at a definite place.  In other words, there was a “dividing line” between a person’s former life in sin and his subsequent life in Christ.  This is reflected in Paul’s commission “to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, in order that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me” (Acts 26:18).  Therefore, there is a “before” and “after” in every truly saved person’s life (cf. Col. 1:13; 3:9-10; Eph. 2:1-10, 11-13; 4:22-24; 2 Cor. 5:14-15; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; 1 Pet. 2:24-25).  Every member of the community of Christ has this before and after history—including those who have been raised in godly homes.

 

Life Before Salvation Life After Salvation
Guilty of sin Forgiven of sin
In the world In Christ
Separated from God Reconciled to God
Lost in sin Saved from sin
Destiny of hell Destiny of heaven
Child of the devil Child of God

 

As we survey what Scripture says about salvation from sin and becoming a child of God, we can learn what the body of Christ actually experienced and what they believed about this utterly important subject.  We can also learn what the people of God in our day also believe about this vital theme.

 

First, people need to recognize that they, in fact, are guilty of sin and stand under the judgment and wrath of God because of that sin.  Paul explains, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God . . . . The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 3:23; 6:23).  He further declared, “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (1:18).  Because all are under sin and thereby separated from God (Col. 1:21), God took the initiative in rescuing us from this dreadful and hopeless condition (Eph. 2:12).

 

The sinner must recognize further that God, in love (Rom. 5:8), mercy (Titus 3:5), and grace (Eph. 2:8), sent His Son to this earth to be our Savior (1 John 4:14).  Anyone who realizes his dreadful condition and wants to be saved must believe that God is Creator (Acts 17:24-31), that Jesus is the Son of God (John 3:16-18, 36), the Anointed of God (Christ or Messiah) (John 20:30-31), and the Lord or Ruler of all (Phil. 2:9-11).  He must believe that Jesus was the virgin-born and sinless Son who died for our sins, was buried, was raised on the third day, and was glorified of the Father (1 Cor. 15:1-4; Acts 2:33-34).

 

Beyond this, this faith must not only be a simple belief in the historical accuracy of these facts, but must have the character of trust and reliance upon the Lord Jesus as the Sin-bearer, the sacrifice, and the Savior from sin.  He must renounce any confidence or dependence upon his own works as sufficient grounds of acceptance with a holy God.  He must see the grace of God and the sacrificial death of Christ as his only plea for salvation and forgiveness.  Thus, Scripture says that we are “justified” (declared or accounted righteous and acceptable to God) by the grace of God (Titus 3:7) and by the blood of Christ (Rom. 5:9).  We are also justified by faith (Rom. 5:1; 3:24-27) for the object of this faith is the God of grace and Christ as Savior.[55]

 

Coupled with this faith and characterizing this faith is repentance.  The sinner definitely must repent of his sins for the forgiveness of those sins (Luke 24:47) or the wiping away of those sins (Acts 3:19).  If one will not repent, he will remain under the judgment and wrath of God (Acts 17:30-31; Rom. 2:4-5; 2 Pet. 3:9).  One must not just repent in some nebulous sort of way, but he must repent of his sins—those offenses that conflict with the will of God and bring him under God’s righteous judgment (Acts 3:19 with v. 26; cf. Rev. 9:20-21).  The sinner must determine to literally turn from all sin of which he is aware (1 Thess. 1:9-10; Acts 14:15) and begin to live for Jesus who died for him (2 Cor. 5:14-15).[56]

 

This means that one who wishes to be saved must (in repentance) purpose to turn from such sins as lack of love, anger, resentfulness, sexual lust, premarital sexual relationships, greed, materialism, profane speech, slander, violence, adultery, harming one’s body (through tobacco and drugs), idolatry, stealing, lying, drunkenness, homosexuality, jealousy, carousing, dishonoring of parents, insubmission to one’s husband, cruelty to one’s wife, and any other sins of which he is aware (cf. Romans 1:24-31; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:3-6; Col. 3:5-9).  Generally, one who truly repents will need to make restitution for sins of the past.[57]

 

This shows the need for the sinner to have an entirely different orientation in life.  He must have a complete “turn around” regarding his thoughts, his words, his attitudes, and his actions.  Instead of directing his own life, God must be central.  Christ Jesus must be in control.  Thus, Paul could write, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved” (Rom. 10:9; cf. vv. 10-13).  When one comes to God for salvation, he acknowledges that Jesus is Lord—the absolute ruler and master.  He has “all authority . . . in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 18:18), thus whatever He says must be obeyed (Matt. 7:21-27).  He rightly asked, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46).  If Jesus is Lord and confessed as Lord, the believer will be willing to submit to Him in everything He wills for our lives.

 

We observed that the world of churchianity and denominationalism is utterly deceived and confused about the meaning and purpose of baptism.  Much of this must surely be a matter of unbelief and an unwillingness to take seriously what Scripture reveals about this important topic.  Let us notice several ways that the churches of men pervert Biblical baptism.

 

First, probably 75-80 percent of those who profess to be Christians have only experienced a religious ceremony as infants that they assumed was “baptism.”  As we noticed earlier, most churches teach and practice infant baptism.  Obviously, this ecclesiastical rite is given to babies before they can make a personal response of faith on their own.  They have no conscious understanding at all of what is happening to them!  How does Scriptural baptism differ from this?

 

  • Biblical baptism expresses personal faith in Jesus Christ (Mark 16:16; Acts 8:12; 16:14-15, 31-34; 18:8; Gal. 3:26-27; Col. 2:12).
  • Baptism embodies repentance from sin and a turning to God (Acts 2:38; cf. Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3).
  • Baptism denotes that one is identified with Christ’s death and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-11; Col. 2:12).
  • Baptism has a meaning that only responsible persons can understand (Acts 2:38-41; Gal. 3:26-27; 1 Peter 3:21).
  • Baptism indicates that one is submitting to the purpose of God (cf. Luke 7:29-30).
  • Baptism is part of becoming a disciple or follower of the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18-20).

 

It should be clear that innocent and irresponsible babies cannot be baptized because of the foregoing reasons.  Therefore, those who think that they have been “baptized” as infants have actually not been baptized at all!  It was a counterfeit religious rite.  They are yet in need of Biblical baptism!

 

Second, beyond this, many churches fail to understand and generally even deny the Biblical meaning and purpose of baptism.  As we noticed in our previous discussion, many Fundamentalist and Evangelical denominations assert that one may come to Jesus with mere belief or through faith and repentance.  But what does Scripture say?  What spiritual blessings are related to Biblical baptism?  Notice several of them (and read the passages for yourself):

 

  • Forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38; Col. 2:12-13).
  • Possession of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19).
  • The gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38-39; cf. Gal. 3:16-17 with 4:6; Matt. 18:19).
  • Washing away of sins (Acts 22:16).
  • Salvation from sin (Mark 16:16; 1 Peter 3:21).
  • Union with Christ Jesus and His death (Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:27).
  • Clothed with Christ (Gal. 3:27).
  • Part of the body of Christ (Acts 2:41, 47; 1 Cor. 12:13).
  • New life (Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12-13).

 

We must not only ask whether one’s baptism is an expression of faith and repentance; we must also be concerned whether the baptism had the proper meaning and purpose.[58]

 

Third, perhaps we might also mention one further point here.  Most of those professing Christianity merely sprinkle a few drops of water on the head of the child or pour a minimal amount of water on his head.  They assume that this is sufficient as long as the proper “formula” is stated (assumed to be found at Matt. 28:19).  The problem here is that the term baptize originally meant “to immerse, to dip, to sink, to overwhelm, to submerge.”[59]   Several lines of evidence should be enough to convince us that baptism (as used in Scripture) actually is an immersion in water (and in the Spirit):

 

  • Lexicons (Greek dictionaries) define the term baptizo as immersion (see footnotes).
  • The term meant immerse, dip, or sink in the secular world of the first century.
  • The symbolism of baptism denotes a burial and a resurrection (Rom. 6:3-5; Col. 2:12; 3:1).
  • The symbolism also denotes a birth to new life (Rom. 6:3; cf. John 3:5).
  • Jewish proselyte baptism was an immersion in water and it employed many of the same images as Christian baptism.
  • The physical descriptions and circumstantial evidence for immersion is impressive (cf. Matt. 3:6, 16; Mark 1:5, 9-10; John 3:23; Acts 8:36-39).
  • The root word (bapto) means “to dip” (Matt. 26:23; Mark 14:20; Luke 16:24; John 13:26 [twice]; Rev. 19:13).
  • The Didache (ca. AD 130) differentiated between pouring and baptism.
  • Immersion was the common practice of even the apostate church until about the thirteenth century, after which sprinkling and pouring came to be viewed as equally acceptable.

 

We should be able to see from these three areas that “baptism” as believed, taught, and practiced by much of denominationalism is far from Scriptural belief, teaching, and practice.  The result is that most people who assume they have been “baptized” actually have not been truly Scripturally baptized at all![60]

 

When we take into consideration all of these elements of coming to Christ, we can see how defective most churches of men really are.  Even if they were Scriptural in the other characteristics we examined, to be faulty in this vital aspect of being saved from sin is a serious and deadly flaw.  Consider:

 

  • Sacramental “baptismal regeneration” churches think that infants are saved apart from their recognition of sin, repentance of sin, and faith in Christ—and most of those “baptized” as children will never genuinely be baptized when they are capable of it.
  • Belief only (“easy believism”) advocates sometimes strongly deny the necessity of repentance of sin and likewise repudiate any place for baptism in one’s initial coming to Christ.
  • Proponents of “faith and repentance” only also generally water down both elements of response and renounce the fact that baptism has a legitimate place in conversion to Christ.
  • A few groups see a place for baptism in conversion but may make this the chief consideration, even to the point of minimizing the heart response of faith in the Lord Jesus and repentance of sin. They may tend to view baptism as a saving work and members may wrongly imagine that they are saved, whereas they have merely experienced a water rite—and remain unregenerate!
  • The Calvinistic position assumes the inevitability of salvation for the infants who are “elect” and “baptize” those who are in “covenantal families.” Then they dispense with the baptism of those who later arrive at a point when they claim personal faith.
  • The position of liberal denominations, as noted earlier, is that people are basically good and really have no need of conversion. They are saved by good works apart from the redemptive cross of Christ.

 

You should see from this discussion that the entire teaching of Scripture on how a person comes to Christ for the forgiveness of their sins has been neglected, avoided, and even perverted.  Human denominations have overlooked or twisted the very way that God intends people to be saved!

 

 

Conclusion

 

What We Have Discovered

 

Over 2,000 different denominations, churches, and sects may be found in American alone, each with its own history, doctrine, and reason for existence.  They have their own headquarters, their own officials, their own denominational confessions and creeds and disciplines. There are at least some similarities between these religious organizations and the community of Christ of the first century.  However, in multiplied ways, there are also great contrasts between these contemporary groups and primitive Christianity.  Some churches are similar, in a measure, to the post-apostolic church of the second, third, and fourth centuries, when false beliefs, teachings, and practices had corrupted the dominant (“Catholic”) church.  In some ways, most of the churches of our day differ radically from the ideal that is described on the pages of holy Scripture.

 

We Acknowledge Some Good

 

We cannot simply dismiss all churches as totally unscriptural in all areas.  The one who values truth will be happy to acknowledge the truth wherever it is found.  For example, traditional Catholicism rejects the theory of evolution (although most of contemporary popular Catholicism accepts this false teaching—including the Pope) and we likewise reject this godless theory.  Traditional Presbyterianism holds to what they call “the regulative principle” of the New Testament (although most modern Presbyterians reject its implications)—and we see value in this same interpretive key.  Baptists accept the fact that baptism is immersion (which is the source of their church name), a fact that is taught in Scripture.  Methodists accept the principle of conditional salvation and reject unconditional eternal security—and this we also acknowledge.  Therefore, we must willingly accept truth whoever may believe it and teach it.

 

We can also acknowledge that a number of contemporary denominations and churches officially stand for certain moral principles and practices in this world of evil and immorality (although some of their members may reject them).  For example, some denominations openly condemn abortion, the killing of unborn babies—a sin that grieves the heart of God and is condemned by Him.  Some churches refuse to “ordain” homosexuals—a sin and perverse orientation condemned in Scripture (Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-10).   Some religious organizations also officially condemn gambling which does violate many Scriptural principles (Matt. 7:12).  A few ultra-conservative churches rightfully teach against participation in violence and carnal warfare, thus they would agree with Scripture (Rom. 12:14-21).  Certain very conservative churches prohibit members from tobacco and drug use, dancing, mixed swimming, immodesty, and other carnal practices.  Some churches state that they oppose immoral sexual relations, divorce, and other abuses of God’s holy instructions.  We must gratefully acknowledge that some groups like these publicly stand for certain righteous principles, practices, and prohibitions.

 

Furthermore, some Evangelical, Fundamentalist, and other churches and denominations acknowledge that they believe and teach certain doctrinal truths in Scripture.  For example, they may officially confess a belief in fiat creation, the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible, the virgin conception and birth of Christ, the atoning death and bodily resurrection of Christ, the visible return of Christ, salvation through Christ Jesus alone, and the need of the new birth.  All of this is good.

 

This is a point that needs to be made.  In our opposition to denominationalism and sectarianism, we should not overlook all of these Scriptural truths, moral principles, and positive points that some of the organized religious organizations embrace and promote.  It would be blindness and bigotry if we failed to commend truth and righteousness wherever it may be found.

 

Yet, with all of the good, we cannot overlook the false teaching, false beliefs, false practices, unbiblical organization, unscriptural offices and works, immoral principles, and worldly practices that churches and denominations may accept and promote.  We have noticed a number of these in this booklet.  Just as a relatively small amount of poison may render a glass of orange juice dangerous and even deadly, so a little false teaching, a small amount of false belief, and a compromising practice may make a human denomination spiritual dangerous—or even deadly.  False teaching and preaching must not be tolerated or endorsed by the faithful Christian.[61]

Come Out

 

If you have followed the discussion of this little booklet and concur that it is Scriptural, what should you do if you presently are a member of a human church or denomination?  Should you stay a member of the organization and seek to reform it from within?  Just a day or two ago, someone wrote to me in response to our little tract, I Have a Dream!  She urged me to stay within the organized church so that I might influence those within and so that I too may be blessed by the association.  Obviously, there is some truth in this.  We all need to have a tolerance that will see good in others and strive for a mutual goal.  If we can be sure that others are genuinely saved, then we definitely need to do all we can to work with them and seek to grow in Christ-likeness together.  If others are truly open to truth and are willing to honestly search the Scriptures as did the noble Bereans (Acts 17:11), then there is real potential for unity and mutual growth.

 

On the other hand, we never receive the impression in Scripture that we should be part of a religious organization founded by man, governed by human traditions, regulated by ecclesiastical confessions, and composed of those who have not genuinely been born of God.  Instead of expressing a godly tolerance and open-hearted love, such a relationship would manifest a compromising attitude that is disloyal to the will and ways of God.  If participation is not the answer, what, then, should you do?  What should you—as a person who loves God and is true to His Word—do to be pleasing to Him?

 

First, be willing to decisively renounce the sin, the false teaching, the false beliefs, the immorality, the unscriptural organization and offices, the human name, and every other unscriptural element in the church of which you are a member.

 

Second, you must renounce all of your compromises with these violations of Scriptural faithfulness.  Simply being part of a religious organization that is unscriptural in the ways we have discussed, and supporting it with your membership and financial offerings, has expressed an unfaithfulness to the God of truth.  He did not found these human churches and does not endorse them.  Jesus warned, “Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted” (Matthew 15:13).

 

Third, even more important, you may have discovered that you have only been a good church member but have not truly been saved or born again.  In this case, you must renounce your false “conversion experience” or false infant sacramental ceremony.  This was a human counterfeit to truly Scriptural conversion to Christ—and it was clearly invalid in God’s sight.  You are now prepared to genuinely respond to God through Christ for salvation from your sin.  As you answer the call of God and come to Him as Scripture reveals, you will be truly saved from sin and made His own son or daughter (cf. 2 Cor. 6:14-18).[62]

 

Come Together

 

Not only must you “come out” of apostate, unbelieving, and compromising religious organizations that fail to preach the gospel or how one may respond to the gospel, but you must also seek to “come together” with others who are true believers and who are determined to live in faithfulness to God.  In this booklet you have learned something of what the early community of saints believed and how they lived.  When you come to Jesus and are graciously saved by God (Eph. 2:8-10), you will want to come together and be united with others who have also been united to God through Christ Jesus.  Together, you will be members of the same body (Rom. 12:5), stones in the same spiritual house (1 Pet. 2:4-5), and children of the same household of God (Eph. 2:19).  You will be delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Col. 1:13).

 

Are you willing to accept this challenge and launch out on this venture?  Will you open your spiritual eyes to see the truth about the churches of men and the community of Christ?  Have you been able to see the great contrast that exists between what falsely purports to be “the church” and what God actually wanted His people to be in the first century?  Have you seen the inconsistencies, the contradictions, and the conflicts that prevail in the world of religious organizations that are far removed from the simplicity and purity of devotion to which Christ calls His pure bride, the community of His creation?  Have you been able to see the hypocrisy of claiming to be “the church” while denying many elements of Christ’s will for His believing body?  May you follow the challenge to take God at His word and launch out on your own quest to be part of Christ’s own body, His brothers and sisters in the family of God, and His disciples in a world of unbelief and disobedience.

 

If you presently are part of a fellowship of repentant believers who have truly been baptized (immersed) into Christ, and live under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, maybe you can be God’s own agent to stimulate and teach these brothers and sisters to actually be what God calls them to be.  If these associates are open to God’s will and sincerely want to follow Christ in practical obedience, be willing to actively explain to them “the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26).  Challenge them to be part of Christ’s undefiled bride, integral parts of His own community, that Christ may present to Himself the community  “in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless” (Eph. 5:27).

 

Perhaps you can share this very booklet or its companion volume, Come Out and Come Together!, for the blessing and building up of your fellow believers.  Rise to the challenge of being a faithful part of Christ’s own company of obedient believers rather than falling into the trap of human traditions and denominationalism.

 

 

Appendix

The Nature of the Greek Term Ekklesia

 

Throughout this study, we have used the actual meaning of the Greek term, ekklesia.  Thayer says that this word denotes “an assembly of Christians gathered for worship,” or more frequently, “a company of Christians” (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 196).  “The proper meaning . . . is ‘congregation’ or ‘assembly’ with various implications” (The New Smith’s Bible Dictionary, p. 66).  Lawrence Richards adds this: “The word links two Greek words to mean ‘a called-out assembly.’ . . . . Basically ekklesia is an affirmation of a corporate identity.  The ekklesia is God’s people viewed together as a new and whole community” (Expository Dictionary of Bible Words, p. 164).

 

William Barclay points out that both the Hebrew qahal and the Greek ekklesia refer to “a body of people ‘who have been called together’” (New Testament Words, p. 70).  Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzki, and Cherith Fee Nordling say this: “The Word generally used to translate the generic Greek word ekklesia, which variously means ‘gathering,’ ‘assembly’ or ‘congregation’” (Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, p. 26).  The term, therefore, may be translated as an assembly, a community, a congregation, gathering, or even a group.  Specifically, it refers to a community of God, an assembly of Christ, a congregation of believers or a group of saints.

 

The background of ekklesia is interesting.  In the Greek city of Athens, for instance, it referred to the “convened assembly of the people.  It consisted of all the citizens of the city who had not lost their civic rights” (Barclay, p. 68).   Relative to the Hebrew background, it was employed to translate the Hebrew qahal into the Septuagint (LXX), and it regularly is used for “the ‘assembly’ or the ‘congregation’ of the people of Israel” (Ibid., p. 69).  Once again, we see that ekklesia refers to a body of people—namely, an assembly or congregation or community.

In contrast, the term “church,” which is generally found in our translations, along with the cognate “kirk,” comes from the Greek word kuriakon, which signifies “the Lord’s” or “belonging to the Lord” (The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, s.v. “Church”).  “Church,” therefore, has a meaning very different from the Greek ekklesia.  Richards explains why people are “a bit confused” about the word “church”: “It means a particular building (e.g., ‘the church on fourth street’), a denomination or organized faith (e.g., the Reformed Church in America), and even a Sunday meeting (e.g., ‘Did you go to church today?’).  None of these uses is particularly biblical” (Expository Dictionary of Bible Words, p. 164).  Since “church” does not convey the precise meaning that the Holy Spirit inspired His messengers to uses in their writings, we have used terms that more accurately convey the meaning–such as community, assembly, company, gathering, or group.

 

Suggested Reading

 

  • Shipwreck to Salvation
  • Come Out and Come Together!
  • Are You Truly a Christian?
  • What God Wants in the Community of Christ
  • Christians Only: Is it Possible?

Visit: www.Truediscipleship.com[63]

 

[1] In this study, we will make reference to the Greek term, ekklesia, which literally means assembly, community, group, gathering, company, and congregation. This is a better rendering than the common term “church” which has certain unbiblical connotations and is derived from a different term, .  W. E. Vine uses the word “assembly” for ekklesia (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words). The Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms defines ekklesia as gathering, assembly, congregation (p. 26).  See also Appendix 1.

[2] Our booklet, What God Wants in the Community of Christ, deals with this issue in briefer form.

[3] W.E. Vine, The Expanded Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, s.v., “Bishop.”

[4] Terry L. Miethe, The Compact Dictionary of Doctrinal Words, p. 60.

[5] Ibid., p. 126.

[6] See our booklet, How Were the Early Communities of Christ Organized?

[7] See our booklet, The Deadly Peril of the World!

[8] The Greek term, hagioi means “sanctified” or “holy ones” (W.E. Vine, Expository Dictionary, s.v., “Holy.”

[9] W.E. Vine, Expository Dictionary, s.v., “Holy.”

[10] See our book, The Painful Command.

[11] W.E. Vine, Ibid., s.v. “World.”

[12] See various source books such as J. Gordon Melton, Nelson’s Guide to Denominations, and Mead’s Handbook of Denominations.

[13] F.F. Bruce, Commentary on the Book of the Acts (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1954), p. 81.

[14] Gareth L. Reese, New Testament History (1966), p. 71.

[15] New 20th-Century Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, p. 265.

[16] “Today a group of bishops with dioceses may be presided over by an archbishop or metropolitan, whose group of dioceses is called a province.  In the Roman Catholic Church bishops are answerable to the pope” (Ibid., p. 107).

[17] See our booklet, How Were the Early Communities of Christ Organized?

[18] Information for this section may be gleaned from Frank S. Mead and Samuel S. Hill, Handbook of Denominations, Eighth Edition (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1985), Arthur C. Piepkorn, Profiles in Belief, Vol. 2 (New York: Harper & Row, Pub., 1978), Profiles in Belief, Vols. 3 and 4 (New York: Harper & Row, Pub., 1979), Tim Dowley, ed., Eerdman’s Handbook to The History of Christianity (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s  Pub. Co, 1977), John F. Rowe, A History of Reformatory Movements (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1957), pp. 195-252.

[19] Manual of the Church of the Nazarene, Article 13.

[20] Christian Fundamentals (Mennonite), Article 12.

[21] Luther’s Small Catechism, Question Nos. 250, 251.

[22] J.A. Van Ness, A Brief Catechism on Baptist Beliefs, p. 8.

[23] Donald W. Wuerl, et. al., The Catholic Catechism, p. 196.

[24] The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, Article 6.

[25] See Jay Adams, Christian Counselor’s Manual, pp. 94-95.

[26] Jeffrey Hadden, “A Protestant Paradox–Divided They Merge,” Religion in Radical Transition (n.p.: Aldine Publishing Co., 1971), pp. 48-66.

[27] See also our study, Beware of False Teachers (presently unavailable).

[28] W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary, s.v., “Fellowship.”

[29] Another list may be found in our Come Out and Come Together, p. 10; notice also Lanelle Waters, One Another Way (Star Bible Publications, P.O. Box 821220, Fort Worth, TX 76182).

[30] Kenneth L. Boles has this helpful comment:  “The NIV, following most modern commentators, assigns the first (‘to prepare’) to the leaders, but the second (‘service’) and third (‘building up the body’) to the saints themselves.  This interpretation is supported by the use of the preposition pros with the first phrase, but eis with the second and third” (Galatians and Ephesians [Joplin: College Press, 1993]), p. 277.  Curtis Vaughan adds, “The idea is that the ‘work of service’ is done by the saints. . . . Apostles, prophets, and all who have been given places of leadership in the church are the means provided for equipping the saints to render this service” (Ephesians [Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub. House, 1977], p. 94).

[31] See Kenneth L. Boles, Galatians and Ephesians, pp. 277-278.

[32] See also Robert Shank, Life in the Son; Guy Duty, If Ye Continue; I Howard Marshall, Kept by the Power of God; W.T. Purkiser, Security: The False and the True; Paul M. Landis, Once Saved, Always Saved”: Truth or Delusion?

[33] M.R. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, sv. Acts 1:14; 2:42.

[34] Expository Dictionary, p. 228.

[35] See our book, Come Out and Come Together.

[36] Our study, A Christian as President? (presently unavailable), shows how it would be impossible for a Christian to occupy the office of United States presidency and other high positions.  Note also: What is the Christian’s Relationship to Civil Government?  See also Nonresistance and Nonparticipation in Civil Government (Rod and Staff Publishers, Crockett, KY).

[37] See the discussion by Dean Taylor in A Change of Allegiance (Radical Reformation Books, Ephrata, Pennsylvania).

[38] This is discussed more thoroughly in our booklet, Carnal Warfare or Spiritual Warfare?  This work has a listing of additional books dealing with this subject.  Further information may be gleaned by reading Everett Ferguson, Early Christians Speak, third edition (ACU Press, Abilene Christian University, Abilene, TX 79699); John Driver, How Christians Made Peace with War (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1988); Lee M. Rogers, God and Government (Sheffield, AL); Jean-Michel Hornus, It is Not Lawful for Me to Fight (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1980); Guy Franklin Hershberger, War, Peace, and Nonresistance (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1953); Roland H. Bainton, Christian Attitudes Toward War and Peace (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1960).

[39] The following page is taken from our booklet, Carnal Warfare or Spiritual Warfare?

[40] See further on the participation and restrictions on believing women in our short study, The Discipleship of Devoted Women.  Note also The Position and Service of Women in Christ (presently unavailable).

[41] Paul instructs the Christians to also give of their financial means “on the first day of every week” (1 Corinthians 16:2).  This is additional evidence that the early believers met on the first day of the week.  If they gave each first day of the week, it is reasonable to assume that they also remembered the body and blood of the Lord each first day of the week.

[42] Everett F. Harrison, The Apostolic Church (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1985), p. 139.

[43] Notice the excellent discussion by Everett Ferguson, “The Lord’s Supper and Biblical Hermeneutics,” Mission Magazine, September 1976, pp. 11-14.  See also Andrew Paris, What the Bible Says about The Lord’s Supper (Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co.), pp. 269-301.

[44] “The Lord’s supper was a constant feature of the Sunday service.  There is no second-century evidence for the celebration of a daily eucharist. . . . The central place of the Lord’s supper in early Christianity is abundantly indicated by all types of sources” (Everett Ferguson, Early Christians Speak, first edition, pp. 96-97).

[45] Taken from our book, Christian Giving and the Question of the Tithe, pp. 24-25.

[46] Our large book, The Christian’s Response to Financial Problems, examines this somewhat thoroughly.  However, it is presently unavailable.

[47] See particularly Christ’s parable and teaching at Luke 16:1-15.  Also note William MacDonald’s booklet, Where is Your Treasure?

[48] See William MacDonald, True Discipleship (Kansas City, KS: Walterick Publishers, 1962);  The Day Jesus Came to My House (Toronto: Everyday Publications, 1972); Ronald J. Sider, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1977); Virgil Vogt, Treasure in Heaven (Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Books, 1982).  Notice also Roger Hertzler, Through the Eye of a Needle (Shippensburg, PA: Benchmark Press, 2008).

[49] See our booklet, A Friendly Visit and Words of Truth.

[50] See the booklet, Infant Baptism and Baptismal Regeneration.

[51] George Eldon Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1972), p. 65.

[52] Note our booklet, Infant Baptism and Baptismal Regeneration.

[53] Louis Laravoire Morrow, My Catholic Faith (Kenosha, WI: My Mission House, 1958), p. 269.

[54] Our booklet, Infant Baptism and Baptismal Regeneration, should be consulted.

[55] See the little tract, Do You Truly Believe?

[56] Notice our tract, Repentance: Help to Fulfill the Hardest Command.

[57] Note particularly our tracts, Have You Made Restitution? and Have You Been Transformed?

[58] The interested reader may wish to read our booklets, The Meaning, Purpose, and Importance of Baptism; The Centrality of the Savior in Biblical Baptism; What Does Acts 2:38 Really Mean? See also Boyd Lammiman, Caught in the Crossfire: The Baptism that Demonstrates the Faith that Justifies (Star Bible Publications, P.O Box 821220, Fort Worth, TX 76182, n.d.); Danny Andre Dixon, Essential Christian Baptism (Star Bible Publications, 1990); Jack Cottrell, Baptism: A Biblical Study (Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co., 1989); G.R. Beasley-Murray, Baptism in the New Testament (Exeter: The Paternoster Press, 1962; J.W. Shepherd, Handbook on Baptism (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1950).

[59] “Baptize” comes from the Greek baptizo (baptizo) is simply transliterated rather than translated.  Vine says that baptism (baptisma) consists of “the process of immersion, submersion, and emergence” (W.E. Vine, The Expanded Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words [Minneapolis: Bethany House Pub., 1984], p. 88).  See also The New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance, p. 1638; Liddell & Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, p. 305); The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol. I, p. 144; Wesley J. Perschbacher, ed., The New Analytical Greek Lexicon, p. 66; Joseph Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 94.

[60] See our tract, Have You Truly Been Baptized? Test Yourself!

[61] Our study, Beware of False Teachers (presently unavailable), explores this danger much more thoroughly.

[62] We have much literature that will help you to understand your spiritual need and how you may come to Jesus for salvation through His sacrificial death on the cross.  Notice, for example, the booklets, Shipwreck to Salvation!, A Friendly Visit and Words of Truth, and Are You Truly a Christian?

[63]

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