All posts by Jon Mitchell

The Relationship Between Love And Unity — David Bragg

Many people in the Lord’s church today have a presence on Facebook and other social media. It can be a helpful way of keeping in touch with friends, literal, and “friends” of a less personal nature (they have no interaction outside of the online community). Part of our online presence is, on Facebook at least, often summed up in a single word: single, engaged, married, separated, divorced. One of the relationship options is “widowed.” That single word, according to an article dated December 29, 2017 on Daytona Beach News-Journal Online, raised the suspicions of Florida authorities leading to the eventual charges against a man accusing him of attempting to murder his pregnant wife.1

There were other clues. Among them, according to reports, the 32-year-old man warned his estranged wife to not allow a child to touch the knob on her front door. When his wife mentioned this odd request to her step-father, he went over to her house to investigate. After looking over the scene the woman’s step-father contacted police who discovered a battery charger connected to the inside knob of the front door in such a way that to insert a key into the lock would complete the electrical circuit sending a shock through the person seeking to unlock the door and enter the home. Another hint: the accused had changed his Facebook status to “widowed.”

Relationships are important, especially when it comes to Christian fellowship. Healthy, scriptural fellowship in all its various facets is the result of the careful balance of two vital traits that lays at the heart of New Testament Christianity: love and unity. This precarious balance can be clearly seen in John’s portrait of Jesus. In John’s gospel account, “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23, 19:26, 20:2, 21:7 and 21:20) provides his readers with a unique look into Jesus as He interacts with His disciples on a level not pictured in the synoptic Gospels. John describes in depth Christ’s words to the chosen twelve on His final night with them prior to His arrest and execution. Part of that final conversation included Jesus’ prayer. High among the thoughts occupying the Lord’s mind on this agonizing night was the idea of unity (John 17:20-26). It is vital to keep in mind that in this portion of Jesus’ prayer, our Lord was praying for us, the then future Christians who “will believe in Me through [the apostles’] word” (John 17:20). What we learn from Jesus is crucial in establishing and maintaining fellowship.

Love for Christ produces unity. As Jesus’ thoughts progress in His betrayal night prayer from the chosen twelve to the multitude of yet unborn believers it becomes clear that the unity of this body will rest in their mutually shared love for Christ. The very basis for a single body of believers stretching across the centuries is their love for and obedience to Jesus Christ. Listen to His words: “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:20). It is the mutually shared faith in Jesus as the Christ, the God ordained Savior and the God appointed Head of the one true New Testament church that provides the very basis of our unity in the church of Christ.

Jesus prayed specifically “that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us” (John 17:4). That same love which eternally exists between the divine Father and Son must also exist between believer and Lord (14:15 and 15:14). It is on this very basis that unity among believers of this common faith is possible: “that they may be one just as We are one” (17:22).

Love for the truth protects unity. The events of the closing chapters after Jesus’ prayer for unity (John 17) move quickly. In just the next chapter Jesus is betrayed and arrested, brought before Annas (a former yet still influential High Priest; 18:13), denied by Peter, taken before the current High Priest Caiaphas (18:24) and then He was finally brought before the Roman Governor, Pilate (18:28). Forced to hear the case against Jesus (John 18:29-32), the reluctant judge questions Him. “Are You the King of the Jews?” (18:33) “My kingdom is not of this world” (18:36). “Are You a king then?” (18:37) This last question prompts this response: “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice” (18:37).

It was this final declaration that elicited the infamous response by Pilate, “What is truth?” (John 18:38) We know the truth to which Christ referred. In fact, it is that “truth” which protects the church from the eroding influence of division. We have that truth preserved for us in the inspired New Testament (“Your word is truth” —17:17). This powerful Word of God protects the body of believers by laying down the boundaries of the apostles’ doctrine (Acts 2:42). Preserving our unity in Christ goes hand in hand with keeping or obeying God’s Word (John 17:4).

Love for our brethren preserves unity. The preserving effect of love is powerfully declared by Jesus as He concluded His prayer in John 17:26: “that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” When the church’s fellowship is infused with a love “like” God, the love of Christ will sweeten that fellowship. However, when that fellowship is broken we can be assured that someone’s love for God has faltered. A failure to love God, His Son, and the inspired Word of God is certain to create the fissures of division of which Jesus, who prayed that we be one (John 17:21), and Paul, who condemned division in the body of Christ (1 Cor. 1:10), warned.

Love is indispensable to unity. Unity is impossible without love. Yet when these two qualities are properly balanced fellowship is enriched and God is glorified. Maintaining that balance is crucial in our efforts to evangelize. In His prayer, just hours away from the cross (John 17:4), Jesus emphasized the opportunities for outreach, evangelism, love and unity will create (“that the world may believe that You sent Me” — 17:21; cf. 17:23).

On May 11, 1811 twin sons were born in Meklong, Siam. These were no ordinary twins. The brothers were tightly joined together as few brothers could experience. They were literally connected at the chest by a narrow band of flesh. Coming to America in their late teens, the brothers, whose original birth names are lost to history, toured North America as Chang and Eng Bunker (Chang was the Chinese word for “left” and Eng meant “right”)2 and would become known as the original “Siamese twins.”

After touring for years with P. T. Barnum, the brothers met and married sisters in Wilkes County, North Carolina, where they would retire and raise large families. Although the brothers sought to be surgically separated, their wives were opposed to the idea and convinced the brothers to not undergo the surgery.

The families eventually settled in Surry County, NC. Chang became addicted to alcohol and, in early January 1874 contracted pneumonia. On the night of January 17, 1874, Eng awoke to find his brother dead. There are conflicting stories about what happened next. According to one account the family summoned a doctor to the farm to perform an emergency surgery to separate the brothers. But by the time the doctor arrived Eng had died. Another account claimed that Eng refused the families’ pleas to be separated and, knowing death was quickly approaching, stood vigil next to his brother’s corpse until he died three hours later. The brothers are buried in the White Plains Baptist Church cemetery near Mount Airy, NC.3

Regardless of which account squares with the truth, the reality is that on that January night one thing was clear to everyone involved, the death of Chang Bunker was a death sentence to Eng Bunker. While he remained connected to his twin brother it was certain that Eng could not continue living. The same thing is true regarding the relationship between love and unity within the New Testament church. They are inseparable. The death of one spells certain death for the other.

Dave serves on the board of directors for the Carolina Messenger.

1 Seth Robbins, Palm Coast man rigs door to electrocute pregnant wife, deputies say, Daytona Beach News-Journal Online, Dec 29, 2017.
2 Chang Chun Bunker, Eng Chun Bunker, http://www.geni.com, Burbank, CA. The information used in this article is not endorsed by or affiliated with Geni.

3 Eng and Chang Bunker, The Original Siamese Twins, Surry Arts Council, Mount Airy NC, 2018; http://surryarts.org/siamesetwins/index.html

What Is Fellowship? — Michael Grooms

Mention the word “fellowship” to many Christians, and images of sliced ham, fried chicken, green beans, casseroles, and a table full of desserts enter the mind. The term “fellowship meal” has been coined to refer to a congregational meal where members enjoy food and social interaction. While it is appropriate to use the word “fellowship” in such a way, the word means much more and has many more applications than enjoying food or social activities together.

The word fellowship is translated from the Greek word koinonia in the New Testament. The exception to this is in 2 Corinthians 6:14 (KJV) where the Greek word metochē is translated fellowship. Paul asks the question “What fellowship has righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness?” (emphasis mine) The King James translators used the word “fellowship” for the Greek metochē and the word “communion” for the Greek koinonia. Other translations such as the ESV and NASB translate metochē as “partnership” and koinonia as “fellowship.”

Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon defines koinonia as fellowship, association, community, communion, joint participation, or contact. In the New Testament, the words used are mostly fellowship and communion. Biblical fellowship denotes the interaction that Christians have with each other and with God, both in social interaction and in worship. Paul gives a working definition of fellowship in Colossians 2:2 when he speaks of Christians having their hearts “knit together in love.”

Fellowship has an essential role in the church as a congregation, and in the lives of individual Christians. Paul wrote to the Christians at Rome that he desired to see them and impart a spiritual gift to them so that they may be established, “That is, that I may be encouraged together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me” (Rom. 1:12). Paul expressed a desire to establish others in the faith and to be encouraged by them in the faith they shared in Christ. This scripture is an excellent illustration of the purpose of fellowship. To share something mutually is to have fellowship in it. Christians need each other to establish and encourage each other in the faith. There is a very real danger of individuals and congregations leaving the faith because of the lure of the world and the danger of false doctrines. It is essential to our spiritual welfare that we edify each other with a mutual faith based on the truth of God’s word. In writing to the Ephesians, Paul states:

But, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head–Christ– from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love” (Eph. 4:15-16).

Fellowship is an integral aspect of our worship. This fact has been established in scripture both in terminology and in principle. Koinonia is used in scripture relative to various aspects of worship. In other aspects of worship the principle of fellowship is present, though the word may not be present. Hebrews 10:24-25 is often used to show that God commands us to be present with the assembly of the saints, and rightly so. However, this passage also demonstrates the importance of our fellowship in the assembly. There are two phrases in this passage that contain the principle of fellowship. The first is “Let us consider one another.” The second is “exhorting one another.” It is this fellowship in the assembly that underlines the importance of each member’s presence at all assemblies of the saints. Thus we help each other as we “provoke unto love and good works” and maintain faithfulness. The principle of fellowship in worship is present not only in the generic sense but also in each item of worship.

The Lord’s Supper is often referred to as the communion. The word “communion” is itself a term for fellowship and is translated from the word “koinonia.” The scripture states, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10:16) In the above text, the word communion is translated twice from the Greek koinonia. Paul states that when we take of the cup (fruit of the vine), it is done in communion (fellowship) with the blood of Christ. When we take of the bread, it is done in communion (fellowship) with the body of Christ. This is in reference to the crucifixion of Christ that is commemorated in the Lord’s Supper. When the child of God understands that the taking of communion is having fellowship with Christ in His crucifixion, it will add greater depth to that aspect of worship.

The collection of money for the work of the church is a part of worship. This process is usually called the “contribution.” That word is a translation of the word koinonia in this text: For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem. It pleased them indeed, and they are their debtors. For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things” (Rom. 15:26-27).

The word “contribution” is rendered from koinonia in verse 26. In verse 27, the word “partakers” is rendered from koinoneo, which means, “To enter into fellowship, join one’s self to an associate, make one’s self a sharer or partner” (Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon). The contribution is a process through which one is in fellowship with the work to which that person contributes. This fact should make all Christians aware that if one contributes to a work, they are in fellowship with that work, whether good or bad.

The preaching of God’s word takes place during worship. Paul thanked the Philippian church for their “fellowship in the gospel” (Phil. 1:5). The word “fellowship” here is a translation of koinonia. When one supports the preaching of the gospel in any way, that person is in fellowship with such preaching. When the preaching is the pure word of God, such fellowship is commendable and spiritually uplifting. When the preaching is in error, the one who supports it is a partaker of that error.

When Christians sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs together, they are fellowshipping together in that practice. While the word koinonia is not used in reference to singing, the principle of fellowship in that act is demonstrated in scripture. In the context of Christians singing in worship, the following phrases are used which depict fellowship: “Speaking to yourselves” (Eph. 5:19); “Submitting yourselves one to another” (Eph. 5:21); and “Teaching and admonishing one another” (Col. 3:16). When the church engages in singing songs together, there is a fellowship which occurs between those Christians as they share in worship to God.

Prayer is an essential aspect of the Christian’s daily life and is an integral aspect of our worship. While prayer is often between the individual and God, it is also an aspect of our worship as we pray together. The principle of fellowship is seen in prayer as demonstrated in James 5:16. In this passage, James tells the readers to “confess your trespasses to one another” and “pray for one another.” When this reciprocity takes place as individuals pray with each other and for each other, those who participate in the prayers are in fellowship.

Understanding the nature of fellowship in our walk together and in our worship together will help us to draw closer to each other and as a church draw closer to God. When a person understands the need for fellowship in all areas of faith, that person will be more likely to invest spiritually in the congregation. No one can be an island to themselves and be the person God would have them to be. Fellowship is not a luxury. It is not an option. It is an essential element in our faith. Christians cannot have fellowship with works of darkness, for that makes the person a partaker in that darkness (Eph. 5:11). Let us continue to walk in the light that we may have fellowship one with another and with God, through the cleansing blood of Jesus (1 John 1:7).

Michael preaches in Boiling Springs, SC, and serves on the board of directors for this paper.

Passing Children Through Fire: My Thoughts on Abortion — Jon Mitchell, Editor (Editorial: March/April, 2019)

In the days preceding the writing of this editorial, the New York state assembly with a vote of 92-47 and the state senate with a vote of 38-24 passed a bill that permits late-term abortions to be available to women essentially on demand up to the point of birth. The paradoxically-named Reproductive Health Act, which was signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo on the 46th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade which legalized abortion, also decriminalized abortion, moving it from New York’s criminal code to the public-health code.

In the days following this atrocity, the state of Virginia tried and so far have failed to make into a law a bill that would have reduced the number of doctors required to sign off on killing the infant and expanded the number of excuses for why a mother could choose at the last minute to ask for an abortion. Kathy Tran, the Virginia state delegate who proposed the bill, explained on video how her bill would allow a fully developed baby to be killed even during labor. Virginia governor Ralph Northam defended the legislation in ways that made it sound like he believed a viable infant could be fully delivered before the doctor and mother decided whether it should be permitted to live.

In the interest of balance, it must be acknowledged that some lawmakers in Tennessee at the time of this writing support legislation to ban abortion once a baby’s heartbeat is detected. Some legislators in Iowa are currently trying to amend Iowa’s constitution to state that the state “does not secure or protect a right to abortion.” Virginia delegate Tran now says she misspoke and has acknowledged that her description of the law would have gone against anti-infanticide laws. It’s also true that the number of women who will bring a baby fully to term only to then kill it during the 40th week is very small.

However, it is only small in comparison to the total number of abortions in the United States. The pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute reports that in 2014 (the most recent year for which data is available), 926,000 abortions took place and 1.3 percent — roughly 12,000 — of those were after the 20th week. Guttmacher also reported in 2013 that “most women seeking later terminations are not doing so for reasons of fetal anomaly or life endangerment.” There are currently movements in several states to make abortion legal past the point where the baby could live independent of its mother. According to Tennessee State Representative Sheila K. Butt, eight states now allow abortion at any stage. The United States is currently one of only seven countries worldwide that allows elective abortions after 20 weeks. According to National Review, it’s “unclear how many countries allow abortion at 40 weeks, mid-delivery, but it’s possible that the U.S. and North Korea would be the only members of that club.”

Abortions are legal and widely practiced in America, and our God is very angry about it. I say this because God is our Creator. He formed us while were in the womb (Ps. 139:13-16; Job 31:15). He did not “knit” together a mere chemical activity, cellular growth, or other vague force like pro-abortionists claim the fetus to be. The Hebrew for the “unformed substance” in Psalm 139:16 that God saw has to do with the embryonic state, the first eight weeks after conception. Thus, God knows — and cares — for the infant in the womb long before the mother can even feel life within her. He formed us in the womb, human beings in His own image. Jehovah was and is personally involved in our development while we were inside our mothers. Do you think He is pleased when we go out of our way to destroy the work which He made and for which He cares?

Exodus 21:22-25 gives the answer to that question. God decreed that if a man harmed a pregnant woman who later gave birth and it was proven that any harm came to that unborn child due to the man harming her, that man would pay back wound for wound that was inflicted upon the unborn child. If the unborn baby had died while in the womb and was delivered as a stillborn, that man would pay with his life! “Life for life…” How could God say that if life doesn’t begin until birth like abortion proponents claim? There is life in the womb, before birth. Any taking of that life is an abomination before God. Babies, both while in the womb (Rom. 9:10-13) and after birth (Ezek. 18:1-20), are innocent, and God hates hands “which shed innocent blood” (Prov. 6:17).

Thus, the mass killing of innocent life in our nation today which takes place through abortion is an irreverent assault on the unique work which God performs. He hates it not only because it destroys the work of His hands and the life which He gives, but also because of how it destroys that life.

Imagine a vacuum tube with a sharp blade attached to it, sucking the child from the womb and dicing it up into several pieces. Imagine a loop-shaped steel knife which slices the placenta from the walls of the uterus and cuts the baby’s tiny body into pieces. Imagine an instrument very comparable to sharp-toothed plyers, dismembering the baby part by part until all parts are removed from the womb. Imagine a long needle inserted through the mother’s abdomen into the infants sac where it would inject a solution of concentrated salt which the infant would then breathe in and be poisoned by it as the corrosive effects of the salt burns off the outer layer of the baby’s skin.

How hypocritical is it to find people guilty of crimes for killing infants in gruesome ways outside of the womb…but not if they had hired “doctors” to do pretty much the same thing to those same babies earlier while inside the womb! As we see the video of the applause and smiles on the faces of the New York legislators as they legalize these abominations and as we hear the passionate defense of these murders by women to whom God gave the ability to cherish rather than destroy the lives within them, let us be reminded of Isaiah’s inspired condemnation: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!” (Is. 5:20-21)

Reader, are you outraged by what you just read? Are you sickened? Are you unhappy that you just read of such monstrous acts? I apologize for your unhappiness, but I made the decision to write so plainly about what happens in abortion procedures because so many of us have not truly been told about what happens to a baby when it is aborted. If we are told, it is usually in a way that is extremely edited for content in order not to disgust. This is understandable and necessary in many contexts, but it also results in too many of us looking at the abortions of today in the same way in which we look at the Holocaust of the Jews in the previous century: as a mildly unpleasant historical fact from which we are far removed. If abortion is to stop in this country and in the world, that needs to change. We must hate abortion just as God hates it, and for the same reasons.

What also helps us hate the atrocious deed of abortion like God hates it is when we understand why it happens. James gives us one reason when he said, “You desire and do not have, so you murder…” (James 4:2). What do parents of aborted babies desire that would lead them to murder their children? More financial security? More leisure? More education? More unrestrained sexual activity? More career options? Avoiding a child who may be handicapped? Less hassle for the next 18-25 years?

The statistics imply this. According to the Guttmacher Institute only 0.5% of abortions were done on victims of rape in 2004. 3% were done because of fetal health problems, 4% because of physical health problems, 4% because it “would interfere with education or career,” 7% because of “not mature enough to raise a child,” 8% because the reason “don’t want to be a single mother,” 19% because of “done having children,” 23% due to “can’t afford a baby,” 25% because of “not ready for a child,” and 6% because of “other” reasons. In Florida alone in 2015, .001% of abortions were done to pregnancies from an incestuous relationship and .085% of abortions were done to women who were raped. .065% of abortions were done because the woman’s life was endangered by the pregnancy, 288% because the woman’s physical health was threatened by the pregnancy, .294% because the woman’s psychological health was threatened by the pregnancy, .666% due to a serious fetal abnormality, 6.268% due to social or economic reasons, and 92.330% for “no reason (elective).”

What keeps coming back to my mind is the option of adoption. Statistically, the necessity to take the life of one’s child in the womb in order to necessarily save your own life is so minute, and even then the choice would still be there to put the child’s life before one’s own out of love (John 15:13; Rom. 5:7-8; Eph. 5:2; John 10:11). Adoption is an option for all other cases, including the statistically rare cases of rape and incest in which a mother would understandably not want to keep the child of the monster who had violated her. Since God has provided this clear way of escape (1 Cor. 10:13), why is it not used? The only reason left in my mind revolves around what James condemned.

All of us desire things and have goals, but may we work hard to never be so self-absorbed and covetous that we miss out on — or even purposefully kill — the most important things in life (Heb. 13:5)! When we love the world rather than God (1 John 2:15-17), we follow Satan rather than resisting him (Eph. 2:1-3; James 4:7). So let us work to have a heart that deeply submits to God, a heart which reverences His word and works above all worldly self-enhancement (James 4:6). This will help us look at things differently, react differently, want different things, and hate different things…the same things which God wants and which God hates (Rom. 12:1-2).

The only way this righteous change will come to the hearts and minds of the majority of our society is when Christians care as much (no, I say even more) about the souls of the lost surrounding them every day as they do about the lives of the unborn. The actions of politicians who legalize monstrous deeds take place only because they know enough of the electorate either agree with them or are apathetic about what they do. Thus, Christians should not focus more on working to achieve political gains against abortion than we do on evangelistic gains against all sin by converting more souls to be completely committed to Jesus. Should we be silent about abortion? Of course not, but realize that real progress will be made against the evil of abortion only when we talk even more passionately to even more people about the gospel of Jesus Christ than we do about politics and abortion, and prayerfully and continually use the gospel to change their hearts and minds into Christ’s image. Only then will we be rid of the great evil of the murder of millions of children…when our society sees it as God sees it because of the influence of the gospel!

— Jon

Christianity And The History Of Human Dignity — Dewayne Bryant, Ph.D.

Moderns in the West often take the inherent dignity and worth of human beings for granted. We assume that recognizing the value of another person is intrinsic to humanity—or believe that it should be. We are shocked and outraged by human rights violations in nations around the world and crusade for fundamental rights for every individual. After all, the Founding Fathers enshrined the “unalienable rights” of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in America’s consciousness through the Declaration of Independence. Not everyone realizes that this perspective is largely the product of a Christian worldview.

Before the emergence of Christianity, recognition of human dignity was incredibly uncommon. The devaluation of foreigners, women, and different ethnic groups occurred with a frequency that might surprise many moderns. Even in the 20th century, some groups living in nations whose governments were mostly non-Christian or anti-Christian enjoyed far fewer rights than those living in nations influenced by the Judeo-Christian tradition.

The value of human life in Scripture stems from mankind’s creation by God. Not only is humanity the apex of God’s creative activities, but we are also the only creations who bear his image (Gen. 1:27). Elsewhere, Scripture states that humanity was created with status only slightly lower than that of angels (Ps. 8:5). Unsurprisingly, the Bible’s view of humanity is often quite higher than that of other worldviews both ancient and modern.

Partiality and Favoritism

Using unequal standards in the treatment of others is nearly as old as time itself. In the ancient world, social status was often a determining factor in punishments for criminal behavior. In the ancient Near East, various law codes prescribed different consequences for the offender based on the social status of the victim. To commit a crime against someone of high-ranking status brought more severe penalties than one committed against a slave. Elsewhere in history, the creation of ranks of nobility and aristocracy have often led to the differing treatment of individuals under the law. Money and power have long been used to either purchase or avoid justice.

In Christ, God revealed himself to mankind in the form of a Jew at a time when anti-Semitism was present in the Roman world. He took the form of someone of relatively low social standing, instead of the triumphant monarchial figure his contemporaries expected. He served not as a ruler but as a slave, washing feet when his disciples refused to do so (John 13:1-17) and setting the standard for service for all who would follow him (Matt. 23:11).

Early church history continued the same focus. For example, the third-century work Didascalia Apostolorum forbade a bishop to interrupt the service to greet a person of high social standing, yet also commanded him to see that a pauper would not have to sit on the floor. This echoes the insistence of James that favoritism due to social or economic status is forbidden (Jas. 2:1-13).

Infanticide

Infants were considered expendable under certain conditions in the Roman Empire. After its birth, a midwife would lay the child at the feet of its father. By picking up the child, the father signaled its acceptance into the family. If he did not—likely because it had some visible deformity or was female—the child would be left outside in a remote place or on a trash heap. The child would either die from exposure or wild animals or be taken by slavers for sale. Roman writers such as Cicero and Seneca noted physical weakness or deformity as the deciding factor in whether to keep a child (De Legibus 3.8 and De Ira 1.15, respectively).

Jesus taught the value of children. When the disciples tried to wave away children wanting to see Jesus, he told them, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 19:14). In a time where children had secondary status, Jesus uses them as a model of faith.

The early church viewed abortion as murder. The Didache instructed Christians not to procure an abortion or kill a newborn child (2.2). Justin Martyr also prohibited the exposure of children (Apology 1.27). Minucius Felix also forbade infanticide, stating that some exposed children to wild animals, while others strangled newborn infants or took abortifacients to kill them in the womb (Octavius 30.1-3).

The Greco-Roman world did not have a monopoly on infanticide. It appears throughout history in many cultures. The modern form of this is, of course, abortion. Countries such as China, India, Pakistan, and other nations throughout the Middle and Far East, have an extremely high male-to-female ratio in the population, with sex-selective abortion thought to play a significant role in this discrepancy (the same spirit was common in antiquity, where families typically kept only one female child). Some estimate that there are more than 100 million “missing” women from the combined populations of these areas today due to female infanticide. Nearly 60 million babies have been aborted in the United States since Roe v. Wade in 1973.

Misogyny

Although it is fashionable among critics to claim that Christianity is an inherently misogynistic religion, a comparison with the Greco-Roman culture of the first century shows clear differences between the two. Roman writings often refer to the infirmity of the female sex (infirmitas sexus) and the fickleness of the female mind (levitas animi). It seems that women’s testimony in court was viewed as unreliable, and Roman society held wives to a double standard concerning marital fidelity (cf. 1 Tim. 3:2). The culture expected unflagging faithfulness from wives. While philandering husbands could have mistresses and hire the services of prostitutes, women in the time of emperor Augustus could be banished for marital infidelity.

In contrast, the Bible view women as having a worth equal to men. Paul eliminates cultural/racial, socio-economic, and gender qualifications concerning who may be a follower of Christ (Gal. 3:28), which may have been prompted by a particular Jewish blessing that possibly dates to the first century AD. This prayer thanked God that the one praying was not made a Gentile, ignorant, or a woman (Tosefta Berakoth 7:18). We cannot miss the fact, however, that many Christian men have not been as quick to adopt a biblical view of women in history.

Later religions, such as Islam, hold a far dimmer view of women than people in ancient Rome. The Qur’an states, “Allah permits you to shut them in separate rooms and to beat them, but not severely. If they abstain, they have the right to food and clothing. Treat women well for they are like domestic animals and they possess nothing themselves. Allah has made the enjoyment of their bodies lawful in his Qur’an” (Sura 9:113). No matter how we interpret this passage, we cannot come away with much that is positive by comparing women to livestock who may be beaten into submission and whose existence is to serve the pleasures of their husbands.

Unbelievers and Outsiders

Humanity has always struggled with “the other.” Historically, the division between races has been a significant problem for various religions. Particularly noteworthy is Islam’s historic call for the destruction of Jews (Sahih Al-Muslim Book 41, Number 6985; cf. Sura 5:51, 54), a mantra often repeated in the Middle East today. It is not difficult to find examples of Muslim authorities teaching that Jews are the descendants of apes and pigs—a charge which does not appear in the Qur’an but can be found in Muslim writings dating back to the Medieval Period.

Other faiths have also espoused less enlightened views. After the death of Joseph Smith, Jr., the Mormon church barred anyone of African descent from the Mormon priesthood. This decision was reversed — conveniently enough — at the same time as the Civil Rights Movement. The Nation of Islam makes it clear that anyone of Jewish or Caucasian ancestry is a wicked creation of an evil scientist named Yakub just over 6,000 years ago. Some smaller fringe religious traditions and cultic movements sometimes have similar beliefs, such as identifying the mark of Cain (Genesis 4:15) or curse of Canaan (Genesis 9:25-27) as darker-colored skin.

In the New Testament, we see Jesus’ willingness to seek out individuals such as the Samaritan woman and Zacchaeus the tax collector (John 4:1-26; Luke 19:1-10), and his willingness to make the same kinds of individuals into righteous figures worthy of imitation in some of his parables (Luke 10:30-37; 18:9-14). Other examples appear in the Hebrew Bible (1 Kings 17:8-24; 2 Kings 5:1-14). Jesus’ ministry involved calling not the righteous, but sinners, to repentance (Luke 5:32), which included no qualifications regarding culture or ethnicity.

For Christians, one of the distinctive features of the gospel is its availability to all. The Bible recognizes no inferior human beings based on criteria commonly employed in discrimination against others. While this may have been an evil from the beginning of civilization, it has no place among God’s people. We celebrate the church’s rich diversity and see every human being as a unique living sculpture crafted by the Master Artist.

Dewayne is a minister at the New York Ave. Church of Christ in Arlington, TX. He serves as a staff writer for Apologetics Press and the Apologia Institute, and as a professional associate for the Associates for Biblical Research.

Soul-Winning For Jesus: The Oneness of the Church — Jon McCormack

Clark Stanley stood before a large crowd in 1893. The self-proclaimed Rattlesnake King held a burlap sack in his hand and pulled out his namesake, a live rattlesnake. He sliced into the fanged creature and tossed it into a waiting pot of boiling water. In little time, the fat from the snake rose to the surface. Thus the world was introduced to a concoction that Stanley referred to as Snake Oil. He sold his mixture to the unsuspecting masses and made a considerable amount of money. In 1906 the United States passed the Pure Food and Drug Act in order to protect the consumer from fraudulent claims and potentially harmful concoctions. Stanley’s Snake Oil was inspected and found to have no snake oil present in the mixture. It was a combination of mineral water, cayenne pepper, turpentine, and a little beef fat. Clark Stanley and other copycats that followed gave us a term that is still used today.

A snake oil salesman is someone who offers a solution to a problem, but in reality brings harmful consequences. Snake oil salesmen still abound in the world today peddling their “miracle” cures. Other hucksters operate on a religious level pushing their spiritual hoaxes on the unsuspecting masses. One such spiritual hoax, perhaps the biggest of them all, is that one church is as good as another. The 38,000 plus denominations in this country are a testament to the effectiveness of this hoax. Phrases such as, “All that matters is the crucifixion,” and “We are all headed to the same place, just on different paths” proliferate religious conversations. Is this true? Is a multitude of denominations what God envisioned when He established the church of our Lord? The biblical answer is no.

The situation is made all the more serious when we consider our own mortality and the frailty of life. The Hebrews writer confirmed, “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27). Likewise the brother of our Lord declared, “For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (Jas. 4:14). Death is a reality for us all, and how devastating for someone to die in a church that cannot be found in the New Testament. Counter to that John wrote, “Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on…” (Rev. 14:13). How sweet it is to die in a right relationship with God in the one true church. Yet spiritual snake oil salesmen are spreading the error that the church you belong to does not matter. Consider these three important warnings.

Don’t Die In A Church That God Did Not Plan

In his introduction to the church at Ephesus, Paul writes of the wonderful spiritual blessings we have in Christ Jesus. He continues that thought by writing, “Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love” (Eph. 1:4). How comforting to know that church was planned by God before the world was even formed. The church of our Lord was not an afterthought or a “Plan B” but rather a masterfully calculated project from the divine Architect Himself, God.

We see His divine planning in the fact that He had His prophets talking about the church centuries before He established it. Isaiah prophesied of the place of establishment (Jerusalem, Is. 2:1-4), Daniel foretold of the time of establishment in the days of the Roman Empire (Dan. 2:44), and Joel portended the activity of the establishment day which was baptism of the Holy Spirit (Joel 2:28-32). If you are part of a church that wasn’t established under these conditions then you are not a part of the church God planned.

Don’t Die In A Church That Jesus Did Not Build

The Lord speaks to the oneness of the church in His very promise to build said church. He told His apostles, “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). Consider the possessive nature of the church. Jesus said, “My church.” This eternal truth is seen in the name we carry. We are the church of Christ (Rom. 16:16), that is, the church which belongs to Christ. If you are part of a church that does not honor His name then you are not in a church that He built. Likewise, consider the singleness of the word church. The significance of this cannot be overstated. Jesus did not say that he would establish multiple religions but just one soul saving institution.

To a religious person who has spent years listening to spiritual snake oil salesmen this truth may seem shocking, even arrogant. Yet the Bible is clear on the fact that Jesus only established one church. The Ephesian Christians were taught, “And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:22-23). Notice that the church is the body of Christ. When we combine these verses with the truth found later in the same book we see the singularity of the church. Paul wrote, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling” (Eph. 4:4). Jesus only has one body; therefore, Jesus only has one church.

Don’t Die In A Church Jesus Did Not Die For

Think back to a truth that has already been revealed in this article. Jesus owns the church. He owns it because He bought it. Acts 20:28 reveals, “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” He paid the price for the church when He died for the church. That blood He used is the same blood in which we in the church have been washed (Rom. 6:3-6). Those in denominations (churches not built by Jesus) have no access to that soul saving blood. How sad to die in a state of separation from Jesus. This is the fate of all those who have not been added (Acts 2:47) to the one true church that Jesus died to save.

Snake Oil promised to cure many ailments. It pledged to fix your rheumatism, sciatica, toothaches and sore throats. It did not fulfill its guarantee. Denominationalism promises to send you to heaven. It won’t. It is spiritual snake oil. Please do not let a huckster convince you that there is more than one true church.

Jon is the preacher for the Lord’s church in Atlanta, TX. He is a 2002 graduate of the Southwest School of Bible Studies in Austin, TX. He and his wife, Holly, are the parents of three children.

Soul-Winning For Jesus: Teaching About Baptism — Adam Carlson

Among the most common obstacles a Christian may encounter when sharing the gospel is objection to or misunderstanding about the role and purpose of baptism. Some teach baptism for the dead, others teach baptism by the Holy Spirit while others teach that faith and/or grace alone saves us with nothing being required by us. The purpose of this article to briefly discuss some questions we may ask when we’re met with this obstacle so we can effectively be about our Father’s business (Luke 2:49) and follow the example of the first century church: “And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus” (Acts 5:42).

As will be seen in the discussion, teaching Jesus is to teach baptism (Acts 8:35-36). Questions must be asked if we are going to effectively teach the gospel to the world (Luke 2:46). After these questions we will look at some tips which may help in these discussions as well.

What is your religious background? It is imperative to not make assumptions about what one believes. Thus, we must listen rather than argue (Prov.18:2). Phillip did this when he first encountered the eunuch. “Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:35, emp. mine). In this section it can be ascertained that this man, like many among us today, was confused about the Scriptures. He needed teaching about the interpretation of Isaiah 53 (vs 30-33). It was at that point that he began to be taught and understood the need to be baptized (vs. 35-38).

Do you understand what you are reading? While this is the exact question Phillip asked it is still a pertinent one. When the Jews began to return to Jerusalem post-captivity, helping others gain a proper understanding of God’s word was needed. “Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading (Neh. 8:7-8, emp. mine). As disciples of Jesus we must remember it is our responsibility to make sure the hearer understands what we’re teaching.

What is your understanding of baptism? An important component of listening is seeing what one may believe regarding an issue as previously stated. When this question is posed you’ll likely get an array of answers, including but not limited to the notions that baptism plays no role in obtaining salvation, it’s a “sign” to show you’re already saved, etc. Again, with God’s Word as our guide we may direct one to show that it is a burial (Rom. 6:4), an inward circumcision (Col. 2:11-12), and the means by which one is cleansed (1 Pet. 3:21).

Why were you baptized? It must be understood that not all religious groups deny baptism. Thus it is not uncommon to encounter someone who will state they have been baptized previously. However, it may be that they did so believing they were saved prior to their baptism, they may affirm they were baptized by the Holy Spirit after a time of prayer, or a host of other unscriptural reasons may be given. At this juncture the one teaching must gently and humbly direct them to the scriptures (2 Tim. 2:24-26) and show there are no examples of anyone being saved prior to baptism. Saul was told by the Lord to receive further instruction (Acts 9:6), nor was he saved after three days of earnest prayer (9:9); rather, he was saved after he was taught about baptism and obeyed, which led to his conversion (9:18; 22:16).

Why do you tarry? This is another question taken from Scripture (Acts 22:16). Assuming the one with whom you’re studying is still hesitant, this question will need to be asked for various reasons. Some have difficulty accepting a loved one such as a beloved grandparent dying in a lost state. Like the five brothers of the rich man, we also have God’s Word (Luke 16:28-31). When one raises this objection we should lead them to consider what their loved one might say if they could communicate with them. Others may fear the severance of familial relations with those still living as the Lord foretold the disciples would happen (Matt. 10:36). It would be good to emphasize that family is not defined by DNA or genetics. “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matt. 12:50) Inform them they will have support (Gal. 6:2). Sadly, others may prefer the temporary, sensual pleasures of the flesh (1 Pet. 4:3). Lastly, there are also those who haven’t counted the cost (Lk. 14:25-33).

Additional Pointers

Asking questions is a great way to teach. However, some other things should be taken into consideration.

Diversity of backgrounds. Just as our culture is diverse, the culture of the first century was also diverse. This should be considered when teaching the gospel. In the first century, one preached to Jews and Gentiles. When preaching to the Jews, appealing to the Old Testament writings would be common (Acts 2:17-21, 25-28, 34-35; 17:1-2). When addressing Gentile audiences, we see an appeal to their intellect and established beliefs (Acts 14:12-17; 17:22-32). While the Scriptures are our standard, it needs to be understood that an agnostic or atheist isn’t likely to be persuaded by the Bible itself. Rather, they must first be convinced of its truth. This by no means advocates for compromise or watering down the message, but rather to show that we need to be adaptable (1 Cor. 9:19-23).

Maintain a proper attitude. Affirming the necessity of immersion for forgiveness of sins is sometimes a contentious subject. Like Naaman when he was instructed to dip in the Jordan River, some may become “wroth” (2 Kings 5:11). When someone is antagonistic it can be easy for us to succumb to anger. Yet we must remember what Solomon told us: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov. 15:1). We must teach in love (Eph. 4:15) and contend for the faith rather than be contentious (Jude 3). Is it more important to us to win an argument than win a soul?

Remember not everyone will submit immediately. When studying the Scriptures with others, there will be those like the prison warden in Philippi who will respond immediately (Acts 16:30-33). We should be thankful for such reactions. There will be others like those in Athens who will want to hear more (Acts 17:32). Discouragement will come with lukewarm replies. When this happens, remember it takes time (1 Cor. 3:6).

Don’t become discouraged. It’s easy to be susceptible to discouragement when someone with whom you’ve spent time and energy studying ultimately rejects the message you share with them. It must be remembered that our Lord was rejected (Is. 53:3). Out of all the people on earth in Noah’s time, it was only eight who were delivered (1 Pet. 3:20). On these occasions we must recall we are only responsible for ensuring the seed is planted (Matt. 13:3). God grows it (1 Cor. 3:6-7).

Conclusion

This is by no means an exhaustive list of questions. It rather serves to lay a foundation and direct us to the Word for guidance as we go about the Father’s business. It is my prayer and hope this will be of benefit to you as we proclaim the gospel message to this lost and dying world.

Adam preaches for the Midwest Church of Christ in Ferguson, MO.

Soul-Winning For Jesus: Producing Repentance — Jon Mitchell

Have you ever wondered why David, “a man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22; 1 Sam. 13:14), never showed any sign of remorse over committing adultery with Bathsheba and his attempted deception and ultimate murder of her husband (2 Sam. 11)? After all, it was David’s faith that motivated him to face the giant Goliath (1 Sam. 17), and it was his love for God and compassion for others that kept him from killing Saul, his enemy, when he had the chance (1 Sam. 24, 26). This same man would later showed kindness to the crippled grandson of his slain enemy (2 Sam. 9), and yet a short time after that he would give in to his lustful temptations and sleep with the wife of one of his most loyal soldiers, all while giving no sign of feeling guilty about his sins.

Yet, this all changed – apparently in an abrupt manner – when the prophet Nathan called him out on the carpet for his sins with the forceful accusation, “You are the man!” (2 Sam. 12:1-15). One minute David, blind to the fact that Nathan’s story of the rich man who killed the poor man’s one prized lamb related to his own sin, was indignant over the perceived sins of others. The next minute, after being indicted for his adultery, deception, enticements to drunkenness (cf. Hab. 2:15), and murder, David was confessing his sin against God with the greatest of sorrow and remorse (Ps. 51:1-15). What brought the penitent change of heart?

First, Nathan forcefully brought David’s sins to his attention by directly attributing the sinful actions of the rich man in the parable to the king himself while also warning him of the consequences of his wrongdoing (2 Sam. 12:1-7a, 9-12). Too often, we see others commit sin and naively hope that they will repent without us having to inconvenience ourselves with the potential awkwardness of rebuking and warning them. This shows within us a lack of spirituality (Gal. 6:1) and concern for the well-being of their souls and our own (James 5:19-20; Ezek. 3:17-21). Repentance – and forgiveness itself – will never come without a direct acknowledgement of the wrong done (1 John 1:9) and fear of God’s wrathful punishment (Rom. 2:4-11; Heb. 12:28-29). If we want to bring about a change of heart within the sinner, we must rebuke and warn them lovingly and truthfully (Eph. 4:15; Acts 2:36-37), humbly and gently rather than argumentatively (2 Tim. 2:24-26), and yet sharply if need be (Tit. 1:13). We must also never forget that we ourselves will never truly repent of ourselves without first acknowledging our wrongs with honest and open hearts (Luke 8:15) while having that godly fear (2 Cor. 5:11).

Secondly, Nathan reminded David of God’s great love for him by listing all the blessings the Creator had bestowed upon the king (2 Sam. 12:7b-8). In Steven Spielberg’s epic World War II drama Saving Private Ryan, Private James Ryan (Matt Damon) is saved from death by the sacrifice of Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) and most of his platoon. Decades later, an elderly Ryan looks down at Miller’s grave at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial and tearfully confesses that he’s tried to live his life the best he could in order to atone for Miller giving his life for his. Many veterans whose friends have died in battle to save them feel the same way. Yet God gave a much greater sacrifice when he gave his Son up to die a horrendous death on a cross to save us, wretched sinners who were his enemies rather than friends (John 3:16; Rom. 5:6-11). Add to this all the wonderful blessings that God gives to us on a daily basis (Matt. 5:45; Jas. 1:17), just as he did with David. When we remember all that God does for us with unselfish and humble hearts, we will be motivated to detest the sin that offends our Savior and repent.

This is true because our humble and honest remembrance of God’s great love, mercy, and numerous blessings on our behalf will bring about godly sorrow, which leads to repentance (2 Cor. 7:9-10). In Spielberg’s movie, the older Ryan breaks down in tears as he approaches Captain Miller’s grave, no doubt due to remembering the great sacrifice that man and others made for him. Likewise, the psalm David wrote after Nathan rebuked him for his sins is filled with remorse and anguish as he remembers the salvation God offers to him (Ps. 51:8, 12, 14). Unlike worldly grief, which leads to spiritual death in hell (2 Cor. 7:10b; cf. Rom. 6:23; Rev. 21:8) and is selfishly based only on sorrow over the punishment one receives here on earth for one’s sins, godly grief is based on anguish that one committed the sin in the first place due to the great offense it gives to our Savior and King. Only this will truly lead us to repent and thus be saved (2 Cor. 7:10). Do we grieve over our sins, and if so, what kind of sorrow is it? We should examine ourselves (2 Cor. 13:5) so we will know if we need godly sorrow in our lives.

Furthermore, godly sorrow will motivate one to “bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Matt. 3:8; cf. Acts 26:20). The thief who has worldly sorrow only over the fact that he got caught and is now being punished will steal again at the first opportunity. However, the thief who has godly sorrow over the fact that he stole in the first place because it grieved his Creator and Savior will now detest the very idea of stealing and thus be motivated to never do it again. As a result of the repentance brought on by their godly sorrow, the Corinthians became very diligent in their strong desire to fearfully and zealously serve God and clear themselves of the guilt of their sins which they now indignantly detested (2 Cor. 7:10-11). Likewise, we never read of David committing adultery or murder again after his repentance over his wrongdoing with Bathsheba and Uriah. In other words, their actions proved that they had truly repented. When we commit to repentance, do our actions prove it? Or are we deceiving ourselves?

Too many in the church today have no idea what true repentance means, or how it is produced. This contributes to the lack of true conversion to Christ among many, the lack of zealous commitment to his cause among more, and the growing immorality and apostasy within the brotherhood. We must go out of our way to teach potential converts the true meaning of repentance and how it is produced before we baptize them, while reminding new converts and ourselves of how true repentance is manifested within our lives. With God’s help, doing so will have a highly positive impact on our own spiritual well-being and that of the church overall.

Jon preaches for the Calhoun Church of Christ in Calhoun, GA. He is the editor of the Carolina Messenger.