All posts by Jon Mitchell

The Conversion of Cornelius — Bruce Ligon

During the course of our lives, you and I have become acquainted with individuals of generally good morals. These people may involve themselves in organized religion and good works. Yet we would never consider them Christians. The upstanding morals of these people and devotion to religion do not mean they are in a proper and pleasing relationship with the Lord.

The book of Acts gives us a glimpse of the preaching of the gospel by the apostles in the early days of the church.   As we come to Acts 10, approximately ten years have passed since the gospel had been preached for the first time in its fullness (Acts 2). This was a time of transition in the history of the church. Up until this time the gospel had only been taken to the Jews. Yet now a significant turning point occurs. Jesus had told the apostles, immediately before His ascension, they would also be going “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Now the time had come to extend the reach of the gospel. This change required the apostles to completely adjust their thinking.

What Kind Of Man Was Cornelius?

In Acts 10, we meet a man named Cornelius. He was a responsible and recognized leader. As verse 1 states concerning him, he was “a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort.” Of greater importance is that Cornelius recognized the importance of reverencing God.

Verse 2 summarizes the character of Cornelius: “A devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God.” Please notice the two revealing adverbs in this verse. First, he gave alms generously. Though he was probably a man of considerable prosperity, he realized that life was to be more than about riches. Also, Cornelius’ praying is described as continual. This emphasizes that prayer was a regular part of his life rather than reserved for special situations.

Brother H. Leo Boles presented the following comments regarding the depth of Cornelius’ devotion, “It seems that he worshiped God with all earnestness and devotion, and taught his house to do the same” (H. Leo Boles, Commentary on Acts, p. 160). Verse 4 states regarding Cornelius that he feared God with all his household. Brother Wayne Jackson cogently stated that this indicates that he had renounced the idolatry of paganism and was a true believer in God (Wayne Jackson, The Acts of the Apostles From Jerusalem to Rome, p. 118).

The Gospel Comes To Cornelius

Since the gospel had not yet been taken to the Gentiles, Cornelius was unaware of it. This is a key point to be considered regarding his prayer being heard.

Verse 3 records that Cornelius saw clearly in a vision an angel from the Lord. Immediately, he responded, “What is it, Lord?” The Lord tells Cornelius he had heard his prayers. Then he instructs Cornelius to send men to Joppa in order that they may bring Peter back with them.

As the men sent by Cornelius made their way to Joppa, Peter receives a startling message from the Lord while he was in a trance (Acts 10:9-13). Peter’s difficulty in accepting this message is seen in that the Lord sent this message to him three times. Peter was “inwardly perplexed” and he was “pondering” regarding what the message might mean (verses 17, 19a). Any doubts Peter had went away as the Spirit tells him to go with the men who had been sent “without hesitation, for I have sent them” (vs. 19-20). When Peter inquires of the reason the men have come to him, they respond, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say” (vs. 21-22).

When Peter and the men arrive at Cornelius, the record emphasizes he had brought together his family and close friends (v. 24). When Peter entered, Cornelius wants to worship him, but Peter tells him, “Stand up, I too am a man” (v. 26). After explaining his presence is a violation of Jewish custom, he now understands that he should not call any man common or unclean (vs. 27-28). In verses 29-32, Cornelius sets forth why Peter was called. The attitude of Cornelius, now that Peter has arrived, is emphasized as he declares, “Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord” (v. 33).

Peter begins his sermon with a very important emphasis, “God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34). The sermon preached on this occasion is reminiscent of what he had earlier preached on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). He proclaims to them Jesus as the Christ. Peter emphasized Jesus had been anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power, he had been put to death, he had been raised from the dead, and he had been ordained by God to be the Judge of the living and the dead, and that through Him the forgiveness of sins is offered (vs. 38-40).   In verse 43, Peter announced that it is through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is offered to those who believe. In verse 48, we learn that Peter commanded Cornelius and his household to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Following their baptism, they asked Peter and those who came with him stay to for a short period of time.

The Baptism Of The Holy Spirit

Please notice in this account the baptism of the Holy Spirit. A careful reading of the text will help sincere people to properly understand it. Acts 10:44-46 sets forth a dramatic turning point, “While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God.”

In order to grasp the significance of this occurrence, there are three points to be observed. First, as Acts 11 records, Peter defends his preaching to those gathered in Jerusalem who were disturbed over what had taken place. A crucial point in his narrative is set forth, when he stated, “I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning” (vs. 15). “At the beginning” is a clear reference to the beginning of the church and the preaching of the gospel. Second, in Peter’s sermon on Pentecost, he quoted the prophecy uttered by Joel (see Acts 2:16ff). A key point in Joel’s prophecy is that God’s Spirit would be poured out on “all flesh.” “All flesh” did not mean every person. It meant the basic two divisions of people at that time: Jews and Gentiles. In light of the fact that all of the apostles were Jews, this had not yet taken place. Thus we must look for a further bestowal of the Spirit to complete the scope of Joel’s prediction. Since Cornelius was a Gentile, now Joel’s prophecy was being fulfilled. Third, Wayne Jackson makes the following poignant point regarding Holy Spirit baptism, “The fact that Peter had to reach all the way back to Pentecost for an adequate example to illustrate this ‘outpouring’ of the Spirit in Caesarea, is evidence that ‘Holy Spirit baptism’ had not been a practice that occurred between these two episodes” (Wayne Jackson, The Acts of the Apostles From Jerusalem to Rome, p.134). These three points can also help us to understand that the baptism of the Holy Spirit was never meant to be a continuing element involved in people becoming Christians. Its fulfillment was limited to the first century.

Conclusion

The accounts in the book of Acts of the preaching of the gospel, including the account of Cornelius, should be viewed as more than history. You and I need to read them and be reminded of the urgency of taking the gospel to the lost. Brother J.M. McCaleb penned the following words that have been set to music, which should motivate our efforts toward the lost:

The blessed gospel is for all, The gospel is for all; Where sin has gone must go His grace: The gospel is for all.

Bruce preaches for the Bellville Church of Christ in Bellville, TX.

The Conversion of Saul — Tony Brewer

During his ministry, Paul wrote that he became all things to all men so that he might save some (1 Cor. 9:22). We use Paul’s ministry as a pattern for our own ministry. Likewise, we must use Paul’s conversion as a pattern for our own conversions. By looking at Paul’s conversion, we will discuss two aspects of conversion. Additionally, we will notice the similarities between his conversion and our own.

The Damascene Road Experience

Multiple times in my life, I have heard that everyone needs to have a Damascene Road experience. This generally refers to an enlightening in one’s life. An enlightening experience is exactly what happened to Paul (named Saul at the time). He literally met the resurrected Jesus, and came to the realization that Jesus wanted him to have. Leading up to his Damascene Road experience, Paul had a purpose in his life. During his Damascene Road experience, Paul had a profound realization.

Paul’s Purpose. During the first great persecution of the church and after Stephen was stoned, Saul (a.k.a. Paul) “made havoc of the church, entering into every house and hailing men and women committed them to prison” (Acts 8:3). So much was Paul convicted that his cause was just and right that he took his mission outside the walls of Jerusalem. He went to the high priest and obtained permission and credentials to travel 225 miles to Damascus from Jerusalem (Acts 9:1-2).

At this point in his life, Paul’s purpose did not demonstrate holiness in any way. He was well meaning, genuine, moral, but devastatingly wrong. Thus is the case with every person who does not obey the gospel of Jesus. Paul writes that those who do not know God and consequently have not obeyed the gospel of Jesus will have vengeance taken upon them with flaming fire (2 Thess. 1:8). Like Paul, many souls are in this predicament: not knowing they are headed to hell with a lofty purpose in their heart and a smile on their face. Like Paul, they need to come face to face with Jesus.

Paul’s Profound Realization. Could you imagine being enveloped in a bright light, then hearing a voice from the light, and knowing that the only way that this could be happening is that God Himself is talking to you? Paul experienced such an encounter (Acts 9:3). According to the inspired account, Paul was asked a question: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4). The purpose of God’s question was to make Paul realize what he was doing and why he was doing it. Jesus knew why, and God never asks a question in order to obtain information. This question informed Paul that he was actually personally persecuting Jesus!

Every human being must come to an understanding of what their life of sin does to Jesus. Sin is the reason Jesus went to the cross in the first place (Rom. 5:1-21)! When we sin it is a personal affront to Jesus. Paul refers to those who have fallen away as crucifying afresh the Son of God and putting Him to open shame (Heb. 6:6). It would stand to reason that those who live in sin are doing the same thing. Many live with a seared and numb conscience through repetition of sin. Yet as we know more about Jesus and God’s Word, our consciences are pricked more and more.

When Paul came face to face with Jesus, he realized that he had been persecuting the Lord. Jesus made a declaration that speaks to every sinner from across the expanse of time: “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the pricks” (Acts 9:5). Let’s think of Paul’s credentials. He was a Hebrew’s Hebrew and a Pharisee (Phil. 3:5). He studied at the feet of Gamaliel, being taught according to the perfect manner of the law (Acts 22:3). Paul had to have been putting the pieces of the puzzle together of his own. This Jesus was the Messiah. How long had Paul kicked against the pricks of his conscience?

Paul’s Damascene Road experience showed who and what he was: a sinner guilty of crucifying the Christ. Every sinner must have this kind of experience before conversion can ever take place. Now that Paul was enlightened, he realized that he must do something to rectify his situation (Acts 22:10).

Calling On The Name Of The Lord

Just because we have our own Damascene Road experience does not mean we are converted. Paul experienced divine blindness on the road to Damascus that caused him to focus on himself and the actions of his lie. We must have our own blindness of a sort that causes us to be introspective and take inventory of our actions and life as well. IF all we have is a Damascene Road experience then we, like Paul, are simply blind and ignorant as to what to do to rectify our current situation (Acts 22:10-11). Paul was totally dependent upon the provision of Jesus to be converted and saved. Jesus provided the way, but Paul had to take action via the proper response.

Jesus’ Provision. Jesus gave Paul instructions to go to Damascus on Strait Street where Paul would wait for a commissioned evangelist to inform him on how to obey the gospel call (Acts 22:10). Just like the evangelist Ananias was personally commissioned by Jesus, Christians today are commissioned by Jesus to find people who are needing to be converted and tell them what they must do (Matt. 28:18-20). Now that Paul received instruction it was up to him to do it.

Paul’s Response. Paul was told to do three things immediately: arise, be baptized, and wash away his sins (Acts 22:16). All three of these things are all included in the necessary act of calling on the name of the Lord. No person has ever been saved outside of calling on the name of the Lord. Paul did exactly what we must do today. Every sinner seeking salvation must get up and take action, submit to being baptized, and wash away his sins. Jesus has provided the way for us to do this. We, like Paul, must take advantage of this precious provision.

To be approved of God, our conversion must be the same as Paul’s. Paul had his Damascene Road experience and took advantage of the provision of Jesus. There is no way on earth to be converted to Jesus unless we follow in Paul’s footsteps. If we do what he did, we can have what he had: salvation.

Tony preaches at the Bay Church of Christ in Bay, AR.

The Conversion Of The Ethiopian — Cougan Collins

Philip, the evangelist, had just finished a great work in Samaria converting many to Christ, including a “sorcerer”. His next mission would be one individual (Acts 8:26). God used an angel to direct Philip to the right location to meet a man who was ready to hear the gospel. Angels are used in many ways, but they were never used to proclaim the gospel to the lost (Acts 11:13-14). He is told to go south toward the road that goes between Jerusalem and Gaza. Gaza is one of the oldest places mentioned in the Bible (Gen. 10:19).

Philip does not argue with the angel; he arose and went (vs. 27-28). The eunuch was the treasurer of Queen Candace. All the queens of Ethiopia were called Candance, similarly to how the rulers of Egypt were called Pharaoh and the rulers of Rome were called Caesar.

According to BDAG, eunuchs were “(a) castrated male person … Eunuchs served, esp. in the orient, as keepers of a harem (Esth. 2:14) and not infreq. rose to high positions in the state.” Even though this eunuch was not allowed to go into the temple, he still traveled hundreds of miles to worship God in Jerusalem, which shows his dedication. I wish more Christians had this same zeal to worship God. The eunuch was returning home on his chariot and was reading a scroll from Isaiah the prophet.

The Holy Spirit tells Philip to overtake the eunuch’s chariot (v. 29). The Holy Spirit didn’t teach the lost the gospel either. Instead, He would direct preachers like Philip to the person that needed to hear it. Today, salvation is taught by the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Eph. 6:17).

Philip hears the eunuch reading from Isaiah, and he asked him a great question: “Do you understand what you are reading?” (v. 30). The eunuch didn’t understand what he was reading, and he needed someone to guide him (v. 31). His lack of understanding does not mean that we can’t read and understand the Scriptures on our own because we can (Acts 17:11; Eph. 3:3-5; 1 Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 1:19; Rev. 1:3). However, a person new to reading the Bible can benefit from a person who has studied it for years. The eunuch invited Philip to join him (v. 31).

The eunuch wanted to know if the prophecy was about Isaiah or someone else (vs. 32-24; Is. 53:7-8). Philip answered his question by preaching to him about Jesus from Isaiah 53 (v. 35). Though we don’t have the details, we know he taught him the same basic message he taught the Samaritans, which included Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection and what he needed to do to be saved.

The desert spoken of earlier (v. 26) was not dry sandy wasteland but was just an isolated place because there was a pool of water there (v. 36). As Philip preached to the eunuch about Jesus and what was needed to be saved, he taught him about the necessity of baptism. We can know this because when the eunuch saw the pool of water on the side of the road, he immediately wanted to know if there was anything preventing him from being baptized, which shows his eagerness to become a Christian (v. 37).

Some Bible versions don’t have verse 37 because it isn’t found in any of the earlier manuscripts. However, part of the Ethiopian’s confession of faith in Christ was quoted by Irenaeus in the second century (Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. 1 Against Heresies, III.xii:8), which suggests that it belongs there. Also, the answer and the response given in verse 37 fits naturally within the text. Even without this verse, it doesn’t take away from the question the eunuch asked.

Philip said that he must believe with all his heart, and the eunuch makes the confession that Jesus is the Son of God, which agrees with what Jesus said: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mk. 16:16). A person must believe before he can be baptized. You will notice the eunuch didn’t schedule his baptism later so his family members could watch it. No, he saw the water on the side of the road and he wanted to be baptized immediately.

The eunuch commanded the chariot to stop, and they went down into the water (v. 38). Philip baptized him, and they came up out of the water. Those who teach that pouring or sprinkling is a valid way to baptize will say that they went to the edge of the water and Philip either took a cup and poured some water on him or perhaps put his fingers in the water and sprinkled him. We can know this is not true because the Greek word that has been transliterated into the word ‘baptism’ means to dip, plunge, or immerse. Besides, the text says they went ‘into’ the water and ‘came out’ of the water, which proves they did not just go to the edge of the water.

When they came out of the water, the Holy Spirit sent Philip to a new area, and the eunuch continued his journey home rejoicing because he knew he was saved (v. 39). Rejoicing was the typical response of those who had been baptized (Acts 16:34). The eunuch had a lot to rejoice about because he would no longer have to make an arduous journey to worship God outside the temple in Jerusalem. Now, he would be able to worship God in a local congregation with his brothers and sisters in Christ with no division, and we have the same privilege today. 

Cougan is the minister of the Lone Grove Church of Christ in Lone Grove, OK.

Reflections On Pentecost And Solomon’s Porch — Edwin S. Jones

The first two sermons recorded in Acts, though having a variety of differences, share a very instructive core pattern worthy of serious consideration. With the understanding that biblical methodology is instructive, let us analyze these early presentations to see what we might glean.

An indispensable component in a public presentation is the public. In our two biblical examples, the miraculous provided for the gathering of listeners. This, however, does not mean we are left without recourse. There are a variety of ways to get an audience, especially in our technological age. Creativity tempered by common sense allows for good brainstorming opportunities. A congregation or any other group of brothers and sisters could share and refine effective strategies.

Jesus is the clear focus of the two sermons we are unpacking. For that matter, Jesus gets center stage throughout the entirety of New Covenant revelation. While this rather obvious truth is abundantly evident, we are not assured that it will therefore receive its due respect. Public outreach is first of all a telling of the Good News, and the news is about Jesus!

Here let us be reminded of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

The command is “make disciples.” The explanatory participles are “going,” “baptizing,” and “teaching.” We are not converting people to the church. Neither are we converting them to a pattern of response; nor are we converting them to a particular set of doctrines we embrace, but others do not. The church, the pattern of obedience, and the teachings of the church are certainly part of the larger picture, but the lost need to first make a commitment to Jesus!

A possible objection at this point might be to note that those in denominational settings have already been introduced to the Christ. While this is of course true, the fully biblical Jesus may still be a stranger to them (Matt. 7:21-23).

Our two sermons then begin to add weight to the identity of Jesus. He is strongly connected to passages from the Old Covenant that point to the coming Messiah and which clearly find fulfillment in Him. The biblical narrative is robustly connected to Him as it shows Him to be the one who has come to bring in a new day of hope and rescue.

Additionally, a vital point is made relative to the Lordship of Jesus. He is the promised great King, the son of David. He sits at the right hand of God. As Moses predicted, He has come as the great prophet who is to be obeyed in all things.

It is here that the contemporary condition of knowing about Jesus rather than knowing Him needs special attention. If He is to be chosen, He must be chosen as Lord! In very stark terms, the person coming to Jesus must understand that he or she, as Bonhoeffer said, “comes to die.” The new Master expects to be obeyed, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”

Here the two sermons depart. The gathering at Solomon’s Porch is interrupted before a response takes place. The need to “repent and return” as well as the association of Jesus with various Old Covenant themes of refreshing associated with the Messianic Age are, nonetheless, given voice. God was indeed “restoring the kingdom to Israel” in the much greater glory found in Jesus as King.

Hearts were pierced. Guilt was felt. Relief was sought. If our preaching does not create a need, why would anyone want to respond?

Jesus was publicly acknowledged, minds were persuaded to change, and those who came to Jesus came to die with Him that they might begin again the journey of life.

We now see the “make disciples” command coming to life in the lives of those who were baptized. The need to be “taught all things whatsoever (Jesus) commanded” found powerful expression: “So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:41-42).

I find it amazing that within about two years these disciples and many more were, when “scattered abroad,” able to go “everywhere preaching the word.” If there has ever been a testimony to the tepid nature of modern “discipleship,” this would surely be it! The contrast between how the church grew by vigorously applying God’s plan then and how we “grow” today is stark! Let me be so bold as to repeat: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

 

A Bookish Faith — Dewayne Bryant, Ph.D.

Christianity demonstrates many distinctive features when compared with other world religions. One of those features is its “bookish” nature (a term frequently used by New Testament scholar Larry Hurtado). Early Christians valued texts more highly—and used them much more often—than any other religion at the time except Judaism. It is perhaps because of Christianity that we tend to identify religions according to their sacred texts, which was virtually unheard of in antiquity.

Roman religions focused on activities or performances, usually consisting of making offerings or sacrifices to the gods. People liked receiving divine favors, and they thought of their gods as enjoying gifts provided by their worshippers. If people wanted to express thanks for something the deity had done, they might leave a gift (such as a votive object) in the temple to show their thanks. Religions also featured temples, altars, shrines, sacred places, and images of the gods. Texts made little if any contribution to the worship of the Roman gods.

Early Christians emphasized texts. This has caused some scholars to question whether Christianity could even be called a “religion” by Roman standards. While they practiced religious activities such as baptism and the Lord’s Supper, they did not have other items traditionally used by other religious groups. Biblical Christianity has no altars, temples, shrines, and the like. Unlike their pagan counterparts, Christians regularly read texts as part of worship. The only other group to do so were Jews in the synagogue (cf. Luke 4:16-21; Acts 13:14-15; 15:21).

The production of texts can only be described as impressive. Other religions had myths concerning their gods, but virtually nothing we would call “scripture.” Mithraism, for example, is a Roman mystery cult which appears in the historical record shortly after the founding of the church. It has almost no textual or inscriptional evidence, leaving scholars to wonder about a great many things the early worshippers of Mithras believed and taught. In contrast, Christians wrote voluminously. In the first three centuries of the church, believers had authored over 200 different compositions. Only a select portion produced by the inspired writers would be counted as Scripture, but it does highlight the textual nature of early Christianity.

The production and dissemination of texts further show the interconnectedness of Christians. While different versions of gods might be worshipped in various locations, the early Christians seem focused on the importance of consistent belief (2 Tim. 1:13-14; 2:24-26; Tit. 1:9-11; 2:1). The apostle Paul required faithful Christians to transmit sound doctrine accurately (2 Tim. 2:2). Not only did it properly equip the faithful (2 Tim. 3:15-17), it communicated the means of salvation (Eph. 1:13; 1 Tim. 4:16). Further, the biblical authors instructed their fellow Christians to earnestly contend for the faith (Jude 3), because any tampering with the truth would lead to dire consequences (Rev. 22:18-19; see also Deut. 4:2; Prov. 30:6).

The books of the New Testament were given to many different churches for reading. Paul tells the church in Colossae to share his writings with the church in Laodicea and vice versa (Col. 4:16). He sends his epistle to the Galatians not to one congregation but the “churches of Galatia” (Gal. 1:2). Paul may have intended his letter to the Romans to include more than one congregation (Rom. 1:7). Most famously, the book of Revelation was meant to be read by the seven churches of Asia (Rev. 1:4). This emphasis upon sharing texts seems to have been intended not only to foster a sense of community but to ensure that Christians had a consistent doctrine.

A particularly interesting feature of the New Testament books is their sheer size. Letters in the ancient world could be quite short. The longest letter composed by the Roman orator Cicero’s is 2,350 words, while the Roman philosopher Seneca’s longest is 4,134 words. Both of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians exceed these lengths, with his letter to the Romans consisting of an impressive 7,101 words. Even the relatively short letter to Philemon was quite long by Roman standards. This probably explains Paul’s comment about others considering his letters to be “weighty” (2 Cor. 10:10)—it was probably a comment more on their size than their contents. While philosophers did use letters to communicate their teachings, no other individual or group did so like Paul and the other New Testament authors.

Finally, passages in the New Testament make it clear that the books carried authority. Paul intended his letters to serve as authorities when he could not be present himself (1 Cor. 14:37-38). The apostle Peter included a reference to the authority of Paul’s letters, placing them in the same category as “the other Scriptures” (2 Pet. 3:15-16). When using this term, New Testament authors generally refer to the books of the Hebrew Bible. In other words, within his lifetime Paul’s writings had been accorded the same status as the books that God-fearers had considered inspired for many centuries.

Unlike other world religions of the time — and even some today — Christianity has always been a faith concerned with Scripture. The value that Christians ascribed their texts is indicated by the massive number available in light of the time, effort, and expense involved in copying these documents. In spite of the substantial cost, believers reproduced these texts because of their central importance to the faith. This should impress upon modern believers a sense of awe at the very fact that Bibles are so readily available to Christians in the West. It should also concern us whenever someone emphasizes opinions or feelings over the Word of God. Christians considered their Scriptures indispensably precious for life and faith. So should we.

Dewayne is a minister at the New York Ave. Church of Christ in Arlington, TX.

Withdrawal of Fellowship — Adam Orr

It is the most heart-wrenching, gut-churning, hand-wringing, tear-filled process a congregation of the Lord’s church will endure. One should not be left to wonder why so few leaders of the church will fail to go to the lengths of withdrawing fellowship from a wayward Christian. The truth of the matter: This is tough!

With that being said, elders and leaders of the Lord’s church are without excuse for not obeying one of the clearest commands in all of Scripture. “But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the traditions which he received from us” (2 Thess. 3:6, emp. mine). The apostle Paul made it clear this was a direct command, not from himself, but from the Lord Jesus Christ. It is important in approach of this subject, as with all others, that we remove the emotions attached and simply strive to obey the Lord. Let’s allow the New Testament to be our guide on this specific issue.

The Problem

The problem can only be understood after some underlying words are given their definition and certain issues are clearly understood. For example, for one to understand what it means to withdrawal fellowship, one must first understand what it means to be in fellowship. Spiritual fellowship can be best defined with the words, association, joint participation, partnership, or sharing. It is seen on display in the very infancy of the Lord’s church in Acts 2:42-46 with the words of Luke describing the fellowship of those who “gladly received his word” and were baptized. The nearly 3,000 souls added to the church that day were said to “be together” and “have all things in common,” “continue daily with one accord,” and “break bread from house to house.” This is the picture of fellowship. However, this fellowship is not only between people as brothers and sisters in Christ – it is fellowship between God and those who are His people. “He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and Son” (2 John 9).

When fellowship needs to be withdrawn from a Christian brother or sister in Christ, it is because fellowship has first been broken with God. This is the problem that needs to be addressed. Because one has chosen to go beyond the doctrine of Christ, they do not have God (2 John 9). If they are not in fellowship with God, their brethren have the responsibility to withdrawal from them. What needs to be made very clear is withdrawal of fellowship is not to be mean or unloving. It is simply to demonstrate to an erring brother or sister that they are no longer in fellowship with God and this is a problem that must be corrected before it is eternally too late!

“This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth” (1 John 1:5-6). This is not an issue that we can fail to address or take too lightly. The problem is that one is outside of Christ. If not corrected it will keep them from going to heaven.

The Purpose

Withdrawal of fellowship is a command to be obeyed for the purpose of helping a brother or sister realize they are not in fellowship with God or with His people and that repentance must take place. Because there has been a lack of teaching or practice of withdrawal of fellowship, some are tempted to say that this practice is cold-hearted and may only serve to drive someone further from the Lord and His people. Before undergoing the process in withdrawing from an erring brother or sister, it is needful to state that this process is driven only by love for the Lord and the soul of the wanderer. Parents discipline their children not to drive them away or to be cold-hearted, but because of the love they have for them. The same is true with God and His children. “For whom the Lord loves He chastens” (Heb. 12:4).

In a healthy church family, the desire must be for what is best for each member. The loving thing to do for those who are walking disorderly is to help them to see the error of their choice. This is done not to separate the family, but actually to keep it together. The purpose of going through the process that might lead to withdrawing fellowship is to get the attention of the impenitent sinner. Their best interests out of love for their soul is the primary motivation in going through the process that was put in place by the Lord.

The Process

Please be reminded that the withdrawal of fellowship by a congregation toward a wayward Christian is a process. Jesus gives the first step in Matthew 18:15: “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother” (emp. mine). Go first and try to get the attention of the one who has sinned – alone. If your brother or sister is in sin, let them know of their sin and give the one you love the opportunity to repent. If they are willing to repent, there will not be a need to withdraw fellowship!

However, Jesus continues with the second step in the process if the erring brother or sister is unwilling to repent: “But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established” (Matt. 18:16). This step in the process is for the same result as the first step – to get the attention of the one who has sinned and to strive to keep the family together and not separate. If the one in error is now willing to repent after this step, there will be no need to withdraw fellowship!

The third step in the process outlined by Jesus is to take the matter before the church if the first two steps are unsuccessful in turning the erring one from their sinful behavior. “And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church” (Matt. 18:17a). Can you imagine if all brethren would call, write, or show up on the doorstep of their brother or sister to beg for their repentance? All too often the focus is on the final step of the process and not enough given to the first three steps. Withdrawal of fellowship should be painful to the impenitent! If the brother or sister is willing to repent after their brethren are informed, there will be no need to withdrawal fellowship from this Christian.

Jesus takes it one more step. “But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector” (Matt. 18:17b). This final step is to help the erring to again see the very serious nature of their sin. Jesus makes it clear that because spiritual fellowship is broken physical fellowship is broken as well. This means we are no longer going to invite them into our homes for common meals (2 Thess. 3:14), out to eat, to go hunting, fishing, shopping, out to ball games or over for game nights. Social media status is going to change. Does the New Testament say this final step is for the purpose of being hateful and unloving? The purpose of following the prescribed process is to help rescue a soul from eternal destruction (James 5:19-20). Paul would make it clear the one withdrawn from should not be treated as an enemy, but admonished as a brother (2 Thess. 3:15). Continued admonishment comes in conversation that must always center on the sinner repenting.

In addressing an impenitent sinner in the congregation at Corinth, Paul scolded the Christians for allowing the sin to persist in the church. The sin was very open and “in your face.” Paul said that it was time to “deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Cor. 5:5).

The Product

The church plainly understands the problem, purpose, and process of the withdrawal of fellowship from an erring brother or sister. It all boils down to the desired product or result of withdrawing. The Lord has made this command to keep the church pure (1 Cor. 5:6-7) and ultimately help all family members get to our heavenly home. It seems that the brother withdrawn from in Corinth was willing to repent, to which Paul said, “This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man, so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him…I urge you to reaffirm your love to him” (2 Cor. 2:6-8). May God help us to properly practice this command to help members of the church stay home! This will help the church to be closer to one another and ultimately closer to God.

Adam works with the Westside Church of Christ in Midland, TX.

Fellowship and the One Baptism — Will Hester

One major point of contention in the religious world is how is one to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. One might ask you, as they did on the day of Pentecost, “Men, and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37) There are so many responses to this question in the twenty-first century that it is no wonder why people question what is true. How is this question to be answered? Are we to just assume that Peter was wrong in his answer?

Mode of Salvation

At the heart of the question of salvation is the mode to which we are to adhere. Many believe that to become a Christian you are to state a prayer and “accept Jesus into your heart.” Is this a correct reading of the New Testament? What are we to do about passages that directly speak to baptism?

The origins of the sinner’s prayer are uncertain. The man that is normally given the credit for originating the skeleton of the modern day sinner’s prayer is John Bunyan. In his book Pilgrim’s Progress which he wrote in 1678, one will find his version of the sinner’s prayer. He states, “God be merciful to me a sinner, and make me to know and believe in Jesus Christ; for I see, that if his righteousness had not been, or I have not faith in that righteousness, I am utterly cast away. Lord, I have heard that thou art a merciful God, and hast ordained that thy Son Jesus Christ should be the Savior of the world; and moreover, that thou art willing to bestow him upon such a poor sinner as I am—and I am a sinner indeed. Lord, take therefore this opportunity, and magnify thy grace in the salvation of my soul, through thy Son Jesus Christ. Amen.” The words sound good on the surface; however, can there be saving power in them?

A question that should be raised to the proponents of the sinner’s prayer is, “Why aren’t they all the same?” If the sinner’s prayer is the way of salvation found in the Bible, then why aren’t they all the same across the spectrum? What is the reason that they are not the same? The sinner’s prayer is not found in Scripture and is not of God.

What is the correct mode of salvation? Acts 2:38 states, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” We must see the verse for what it says. “Repent” carries the idea of making a radical change in life to be able to be prepared for the new life you will receive (Rom 6:4). Repentance might be the hardest step of the entire process of becoming a Christian. Satan loves to make sin look good and feel good, but for us to truly change we must turn away from the temporal and turn to the eternal.

“And let every one of you be baptized” is change from the singular of repentance to the plurality of the all listening and reading. This means that we are ALL commanded to be baptized into Christ! What does baptism truly mean? The Greek word used in Acts 2:38 is a form of the verb βαπτίζω (baptizó). This verb carries the idea of being immersed, submerged, or dipped into water to wash away sin in a person’s life. We are buried in baptism, to die to sin, and to rise in resurrection of a new life (Rom. 6:4).

Baptized Into One Faith

When baptized, are we added to one fellowship or a multiplicity of fellowships? Many would say that when you are “saved” you should join a church of your choice. Others would say that once you become “saved” you are to adhere to the creed of that particular church. What does the Bible say on the matter?

Ephesians 4:1-6 states, I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” Notice that there is reference to only one body! There is not a multiplicity of bodies that make up a collective. There is also only one faith and one baptism. After we are baptized into Christ, we are added to a single body, in a single faith.

Luke would write in Acts 2:41-47, “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.  So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” Notice that the Lord added those who were being saved to the church, not churches. It is a far cry from what the religious world would have everyone believe.

Conclusion

Christ would say in Matthew 16:18b, “…and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” Christ has only built ONE church and we are baptized into that one body. Our salvation rests in Christ and what He did at Calvary. Our lives and worship are in one body. We must strive to be Christians according to the New Testament. If we get salvation wrong, then we are jeopardizing our souls and those who we teach. We want to have the home that is being prepared for us (John 14:1-4), but we must be baptized into the body of Christ and stay faithful to the end of our lives. Our prayer should be that every soul comes to a saving knowledge of Christ before they die!

Will is the minister of the Pleasant View Church of Christ in Bradford, TN.