All posts by Jon Mitchell

How To Successfully Resist Temptations — Patrick Swayne

Look out the window,” a father instructs his son. “You see that young man down there? He’s about to commit a terrible sin.” The son looked at his father quizzically. “How do you know that he’s going to sin?” The father looked down at his son. “I know he’s going to sin because of where he’s headed.”

Many today might be tempted to accuse the father in this story of being judgmental. How can someone presume to know what someone else is going to do? However, before making this accusation ourselves, we would do well to ponder the fact that this conversation occurs in the Bible almost word for word.

My goal for this article is to examine the idea of resisting temptation. We’ll eventually get to the answer you’re expecting – namely, the need to respond to temptation the way Jesus did in the wilderness. However, before we get there, let’s discuss the importance of putting ourselves into positions not to face temptation in the first place.

The Connection Between A Path And A Destination

Proverbs 1-9 is distinct from the rest of the book of Proverbs in that it contains advice from a father to his son (with occasional interjections by lady Wisdom). When I read this portion of Scripture, I not only try to gain advice as a parent, I try to see what I can learn from my heavenly Father. One lesson that stands out time and time again is that my Father wants to be my teacher rather than to leave that job to experience. He wants to keep me far from sin, not merely rescue me out of sin.

In one of the fatherly speeches that make up the bulk of this section of Scripture, the father of the text describes looking out a window and seeing “a young man devoid of understanding” (Prov. 7:7). The text says that the father arrived at this appraisal of the young man through perception – it says, “I perceived.” Perception typically implies seeing more than what’s presented at face value, so what did the father see to make him pass this judgment?

The father shares two pieces of evidence that he noticed: 1) He saw the young man “passing along the street near her corner” and noticed “he took the path to her house” (v. 8); 2) He saw that he did so “in the twilight, in the evening, in the black and dark night” (v. 9). In short, he perceived that the young man lacked understanding because he didn’t know when it was, where he was, or where he was going. The text confirms the father’s appraisal; what follows is that the young man is seduced (v. 21). It ends up costing him “his life” (v. 23).

What does the father want his son to learn from all of this? He says, “Do not let your heart turn aside to her ways, Do not stray into her paths” (Prov. 7:25). Notice the emphasis on “ways” and “paths,” and the fact that the son is called to guard his “heart” and not merely his body. The goal of the father is not merely for his son to avoid sexual sin; it is to avoid the path that leads to sin. This father – and our heavenly Father – understands the surest way to avoid a destination is to stay off the road that leads there.

The advice of the father of this text mirrors some very important New Testament commands. Paul tells us to “make no provision for the flesh” (Rom. 13:14). The flesh is Paul’s way of describing a life of “darkness… revelry… drunkenness… lewdness and lust… strife and envy” (vs. 12-13). Paul says we need put “on the armor of light” (v. 12) and “the Lord Jesus Christ;” doing this demands that we not even give the life that opposes light and Christ an opportunity to take root in our lives. This requires us to be “awake” (v. 11), and, as Paul instructs elsewhere, to “walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise” (Eph. 5:15).

Unlike the young man “void of understanding” (Prov. 7:7), Christians must know when it is (“redeeming the time” – Eph. 5:16), where we are, and where we are going. However, God clearly calls us to more than awareness.

Choosing What Is Excellent

Possibly my least favorite question is, “Where does the Bible say that _____________ is wrong?” (To be fair, I also equally despise its twin, “Where does the Bible say that I have to _____________?”) This question can be asked legitimately by someone searching the Scriptures (Acts 17:11), but more often than not it is asked by someone who is trying to defend questionable behavior by showing that said behavior exists outside of the realm of what God has forbidden.

This is a very legalistic way of looking at the Bible. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day attempted to determine the exact boundaries of the word of God so that they could do exactly what was required, no more and no less (unless the “more” was something they valued by way of tradition). They precisely tithed mint, anise, and cumin. Yet they failed to realize that in the process of merely keeping commandments they were setting aside “justice and mercy and faith” (Matt. 23:23). Jesus commended their obedience (“These you ought to have done”), but said they shouldn’t have left “the others undone.”

The Hebrews author calls an understanding of “repentance from dead works” (i.e. turning our mind away from what is sinful) an elementary principle, a foundation (Hebrews 6:1). His encouragement to us is to move beyond what is elementary and to “go on to perfection,” to strive for maturity. Maturity is not interested in simply avoiding what is wrong; it is interested in pursuing all that is right and ensuring faithfulness in that process.

Paul called this aspect of maturity “excellence.” He strove for excellence personally (Phil. 3:8, 14), prayed for others to be able to discern what is excellent (1:10), and encouraged Christians everywhere to reflect on what is excellent (4:8, ESV). Hinging on our ability to “discern” (1:9) and “approve what is excellent” is being “pure and blameless for the Day of Christ” (1:10).

People who seek excellence want to know what is eternally best. When presented with borderline behavior and an action that is guaranteed to be right, a person pursuing excellence will always choose the latter.

The surest strategy to overcome temptation is to avoid it in the first place. This demands that we identify not only what is wrong but the path that leads to what is wrong. It demands further that we avoid that path not merely by walking the boundaries of God’s commands, but by pursuing what is excellent and therefore eternally best. Satan loves it when people peer over the edge of the cliff spiritually speaking, but he hates it when people stay as far away from the edge as they possibly can.

When Temptation Finds You…

I’d love for the above preventative prescription for the plague of temptation to be a panacea. The fact is that even when we pursue excellence with our whole hearts, we will be tempted. Tribulation is the lot of those who live in this world (John 16:33). Jesus lived to do the will of the Father (John 4:34; 5:19; 9:3), and yet He was tempted (Mk. 1:13; Heb. 4:15).

We often run to the account of Jesus in the wilderness to find God’s prescription for overcoming temptation when we face it. However, sometimes we do so secretly believing that Jesus overcame temptation simply because He was God. I’ll be the first to admit that a full understanding of “God… manifested in the flesh” (1 Tim. 3:16) is beyond me. What I do know though is what the Bible says: Jesus was in the form of man (Phil. 2:7-8). While He was in that form, He was “like his brothers in every respect” (Heb. 2:17). I might not know the “mystery of godliness” (1 Tim. 3:16), but I know what “every” means. When Jesus was tempted, He was tempted like you or me. When He overcame temptation, He did so in a way that you or I can emulate.

By all means “flee” from temptation (1 Cor. 6:18; 10:14; 1 Tim. 6:11; 2 Tim. 2:22). Do so by avoiding the paths that lead to sin as well as the sins themselves. Do so by pursuing excellence. However, before temptation comes – and it will come – fill you heart with the word of God like Jesus did so you can identify temptations as He did and respond to them by saying, “It is written.” “Your Word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You” (Ps. 119:11).

Patrick serves as a minister to the South Anchorage Church of Christ in Anchorage, AK. He is married to Chantelle Marie (Herd), and together they have two sons: Ezekiel and Ezra.

Balanced Christianity — Keith B. Cozort

What is meant when we talk about “balanced Christianity?” A dictionary definition of “balanced” would include: “an instrument for weighing, esp. one that opposes equal weights, as in two matched shallow pans hanging from either end of a lever supported exactly in the middle; scales…a state of equilibrium or equipoise; equality in amount, weight, value, or importance, as between two things or the parts of a thing” (Webster’s New World Dictionary; Second College Edition; 1970; p. 105-106). The dictionary definition of Christianity includes: “…the state of being a Christian” (ibid.).

When I think of a balance or being balanced, I automatically think of the scales used to represent justice. They are intended to demonstrate equilibrium or things being equal on both sides of the lever in the middle. The questions arise, “What are we trying to balance? What is the standard in being balanced?”

Unfortunately, there are many different ideas as to what is meant by “balanced” when Christianity is the subject of discussion. Some hold to the idea that for a Christian to be balanced he/she must have equal parts of good and evil. Are we really trying to imply that if we have just as much good in our lives as we do evil, then we are balanced? I certainly hope not, but the way some Christians are living it appears that is exactly what they mean. The apostle Paul stated, “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” (Rom. 6:1-2). Paul says Christians are not to continue living sinful lives. A change for the better is expected to come as a result of putting on Christ in baptism.

Another view could mean we are to have just as much love as we have hatred in our lives and thereby we are balanced. Again, I hope not, but look at some Christians and you will see that seems to be their thinking concerning balanced Christianity. Jesus states, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven…” (Matt. 6:43-45a). Jesus doesn’t indicate we are to have equal amounts of love and hate in our lives. Instead, love is to be descriptive of our lives, not hate.

Finally, what do you get when you have equal amounts of light and darkness? You end up with twilight. This results in problems of trying to distinguish things clearly. Jesus said, “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let you light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 5:14-16). Therefore, Christians are to be light, not darkness to those around us. Thus, equal parts of love and hate, good and evil, light and dark are not what we are meaning by balanced Christianity.

We must use the right standard in order to determine if we as Christians are living balanced lives. The standard must be God’s word, the truth of the gospel. Those scales must have the Bible on one side and our lives on the other. If we are living balanced Christian lives, then we are living according to the word of God, living like our Lord lived. Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth” (Jn. 17:17). It is the word of God which is to direct every facet our lives. Paul wrote, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

God’s inspired word shows us several different groups or individuals who were unbalanced in living their lives. In Genesis 3 we read of God’s first test for mankind in the garden of Eden. This test proved Adam and Eve were unbalanced. Eve decided it was better to follow the direction of the serpent and eat the forbidden fruit, rather than faithfully adhere to God’s instructions (Gen. 3:1-5). Paul informs Timothy that Eve was deceived, thoroughly beguiled by the serpent (1 Tim. 2:14). He also states Adam was not deceived, which means Adam deliberately disobeyed God’s law. As a result of Adam and Eve’s unbalanced lives they were put out of the garden and never allowed to enter it’s premises again lest they also eat of the tree of life (Gen. 3:22-24).

Cain lived an unbalanced life believing he could worship God by substituting his harvest of the ground for the sacrifices God specified (Gen. 4:3-5). We know this to be true because the Hebrews writer states, “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh” (Heb. 11:4). The apostle Paul informs us and defines for us what faith is when he states, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). God even explained to Cain, “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door” (Gen. 4:7). To be balanced Cain would have obeyed God’s instructions concerning offering acceptable sacrifices to God.

Think about the Pharisees. They were Jews who believed it was acceptable to add to God’s word and still be balanced. Our Lord said, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoreth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrine the commandments of men” (Matt. 15:8-9). Even though they proclaimed the need for strict adherence to the law of God, they insisted on adding and binding the commandments of men. Such is not balanced.

We might also consider the Sadducees as those who were unbalanced because of their attitude toward God’s word. They believed it was acceptable to subtract portions of the Bible without any negative consequences. Luke wrote, “For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit…” (Acts 23:8). Jesus instructed the disciples to be leery of both the Pharisees and the Sadducees: “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees” (Matt. 16:6).

The previous examples are not of unbalanced Christians, but there are many examples of such in the New Testament. Paul admonished the Corinthian brethren to learn from the mistakes of the children of Israel while wandering in the wilderness to keep themselves from making the same mistakes (1 Cor. 10). He warned the Galatian brethren of following a perverted gospel (Gal. 1:6-9), which thereby would certainly make them unbalanced. Also, our Lord through the apostle John demonstrated that the Laodicean brethren were unbalanced Christians by being neither cold nor hot (Rev. 3:14-22).

We are expected to compare every aspect our lives as Christians to God’s word in order to determine if we are living a balanced life. As husbands, wives, sons, daughters, preachers, elders, deacons, male and female members of the church, we must put ourselves on one side of the scales and God’s word on the other side. The likelihood is that we will need to make adjustments to our lives if we are to be balanced with God’s holy word.

I remember hearing a story when I was younger concerning a woman who lived during the Depression. She contracted with the local grocer to bring him butter in blocks weighing one pound each in exchange for other food products she needed for her household. One day she lost her one pound weight for measuring the butter. So, she decided to use the one pound of laundry detergent the grocer weighed out for her earlier in the day. She brought the butter to the store, as she always did, and the grocer weighed each of the blocks of butter as was his custom. However, this time he accused her of trying to cheat him because the blocks of butter didn’t weigh a pound. She exclaimed, “I don’t understand! I lost my one pound weight, so I decided to use the one pound of laundry detergent I bought from you this morning as my standard.” If the scales are out of balance or the weight is not exact, someone is going to be cheated.

Are we cheating God or are we living balanced Christian lives?

Keith is a graduate of the Florida School of Preaching in Lakeland, FL. He preaches for the Lord’s church in Mountain Grove, MO. He has been an instructor for the Online Academy of Biblical Studies (OABS) for the last five years. He and his wife, Cheryl, have 3 sons and 12 grandchildren.

The Baptism of Jesus — Steve Miller

The baptism of Christ (Matt. 3:13-17; cf. Mk. 1:9-11; Lk. 3:21-22) raises several questions. R.C. Foster, in his monumental work, Studies in The Life of Christ, highlights some of them: “The New Testament offers exactly ten verses as the historical record of the baptism of Jesus. Luke tells the story in two verses, Mark in three, and Matthew in five verses. John does not describe it, but alludes to it by presenting the impressions of John the Baptist concerning it. How can we reconcile the personality of Jesus with this act of humiliation? How do we harmonize the virgin birth with the baptism? How could Jesus be begotten of the Holy Spirit and yet need here the descent of the Spirit? Why should He, who was and is God, submit to John’s baptism? How can we relate this humble action with His claims of absolute pre-eminence? How reconcile the great mission of Jesus as Savior with this acceptance of baptism at the hands of another religious figure as if He Himself needed salvation? How do we reconcile the claims of Jesus and the New Testament writers that He lived a sinless life with His deliberate acceptance of this baptism of John which was ‘of repentance unto the remission of sins’?”

All things indicate that Jesus came to John because God told him to come. The baptism of John was prior to the baptism that would be under the new covenant of Christ. John’s baptism was from heaven (Matt. 21:23-27). It was according to God’s Word (Lk. 3:1-4), designed to manifest Jesus to Israel (John 1:29-34). It was part of preparing Christ’s way (Lk. 3:1-6).

Purpose. The baptism of Jesus was not for remission of sins. Jesus had no sin to take away (2 Cor. 5:21). As H. Leo Boles reasons: “We know that Jesus did not come to be baptized from a feeling of personal sinfulness, neither because of his personal connection with an impure people, nor for the purpose of showing that there was no incompatibility between his life and the life of others, nor merely to elicit the divine declaration that he was the Son of God, nor to confirm the faith of others in him, neither was it to sanction the baptism of John as having been authorized of God. It was the will of God for him to be baptized, and he came to do the will of God (Heb.10:7).”

The purpose of Jesus’ baptism was “to fulfill all righteousness.” “Righteousness” means doing what is right, obeying the Father’s will. Jesus was baptized in submission to His Father’s will. All of God’s commands are righteousness: “My tongue shall speak of Your word, For all Your commandments are righteousness” (Ps. 119:172, NKJV). In studying the phrase “fulfill all righteousness,” we understand Jesus simply complied because it was the right thing to do.

In addition to fulfilling all righteousness, the text reveals that the heavens were opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him (Matt. 3:16). A voice came from heaven, which was when God first called Jesus His Son and said, “In whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). Luke mentions that Jesus was praying (Lk. 3:21-22). God the Father, Christ the Son and the Holy Spirit were manifested. These are unique happenings that introduced Christ into His earthly ministry.

There are many aspects of the baptism of Jesus that show its uniqueness and its importance. The distance Jesus traveled to be baptized of John is significant. It was possibly 60-80 miles, depending on the exact location. The beginning of His earthly ministry is marked by His baptism at the hands of John (Lk. 3:23). It marked His first public identification with those whose sins He would bear (Is. 53:11; 1 Pet. 3:18). It publicly affirmed His being the Lamb of God by testimony straight from heaven (Matt. 3:17; Ps. 2:7; Is. 42:1). The miraculous power of the Godhead was evident in the baptism of Christ.

Lessons. The baptism of Christ foreshadowed the importance of Christian baptism. He was baptized in order to identify with us. He gave us an example of how to obey God: “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him” (Heb. 5:8-9). He gave us the example to walk in His steps: “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.  He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth” (1 Pet. 2:21-22). He was baptized to teach and remind us about His death, burial, and resurrection. His being baptized of John the Immerser also helped to sanction John’s baptism and ministry.

Jesus’ baptism gives us applications to our understanding of baptism and its essentiality in becoming a Christian. Christs baptism is the foundation of Christian baptism” (Ferguson). We gain insight into the mode of baptism in the immersion of Christ. We observe that Jesus went to the water (Matt. 3:13), went down “into” the water and came up out of the water (Mk. 3:16). Our receiving of the Spirit, and becoming a son or daughter in Christ is connected to our baptism: Explicit in the text is the association of Jesus’ baptism with sonship and the gift of the Holy Spirit. At the baptism of Jesus, the Spirit came upon him and God acknowledged him as his Son (Matt. 3:16-17; Mark 1:10-11; Luke 3:21-23). Then he was empowered to begin his ministry. Only when the Spirit came in Acts 2 did the disciples begin preaching the gospel. For Christians, at baptism they are acknowledged as children of God (Gal. 3:26-27) and receive the Spirit (Gal. 4:5-7) and then begin a life of service” (Ferguson). Temptations will follow those who are immersed (Matt. 4:1-11; 1 Cor. 10:13) as we begin to work and serve the Master. Even as Jesus identified himself with humanity at his baptism, so at baptism his followers identify themselves with him, his ministry, and his cross” (Ferguson).

The baptism of our Savior provides an antecedent for the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (I Cor. 15:3-4; cf. Rom. 6:1-4). We are baptized into His death, buried with Him in water, and raised to be a Christian, added to the church by the Lord (Acts 2:47).

The baptism of Christ provides an example of how Jesus always fulfilled the Father’s will. The implication is powerful that Jesus led the way through His example (being baptized) to show us the way which corresponds to New Testament teaching (Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:21), that those lost in sin (all – Rom. 3:23) must be immersed in water for the remission of sins in order to contact the precious blood of Jesus.

Steve is on the board of directors for the Carolina Messenger. He serves as one of the ministers at the Gold Hill congregation in Fort Mill, SC.

Endnotes

H. Leo Boles, Matthew (Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1952), 89.

Everett Ferguson, The Church of Christ (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 180.

The Challenge of Widowhood — Dean Miller

My wife left me. She left me on Christmas morning. At 9:40 A.M. on December 25, 2013, Ruth Ann Miller breathed her last breath. She departed this life but left behind her body (James 2:26; 2 Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:23). On that day I became involuntarily single, forced to join a group nobody wants to be in: the widowhood club.

While ministering within the same church and community for 32 years, I was blessed to be alongside many individuals before, during, and after the loss of their spouse. I thought I knew what loss and widowhood was about. The reality is that I was clueless. The heartache is deep. The emptiness is real. The questions about you and your future are troubling. Some things about life are simply hard to understand without the first-hand experience. This is why in 2014 I launched the Widowhood Workshop ministry at widowhoodworkshop.com. My goals are to raise awareness of what life after loss is like, stimulate more effective ministry to the widowed (James 1:27), and create a network of solace and encouragement among members of the Lord’s body who share in this experience of life after loss.

Human relationships are among the best blessings of God. No relationship is more unique and none more intimate than marriage. From the very beginning, “a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). Jesus said, “They are no longer two but one flesh” (Matt. 19:6). This divine togetherness is so special that our Lord added, “…let not man separate.” What other relationship is described so uniquely? During marriage the bond is strengthened by time and experiences, by both prosperity and adversity. We become deeply tied to one another through years of investing ourselves in the relationship. Death separates that unparalleled union. The one left behind is “released” or “free” (Rom .7:2-3; cf. 1 Cor. 7:39) of that lifetime commitment made when we vowed, “…until death do us part.” Death ends the marriage. Widowhood begins.

The end of the most important human relationship by death is the ultimate forced change with life-altering consequences. Throughout life, change is experienced, some chosen but others not. The one left behind is forced to deal with harsh realities. No spouse. No conversation. No hug. No hand to hold. No goodnight kiss. No intimacy. No eating partner. No traveling companion. Being married is a lifestyle. One widow put it this way: “I just miss being married. I miss having a companion. I miss cuddling, having someone to cook for, someone to come home to.” Marriage is also part of our identity. We are half of a whole, someone’s marital mate. Who are we when our marriage has been amputated and there is no prosthesis?

The widowed person is forced to deal with the loss of the individual with whom they spent more time in their life than anyone else. Such a loss is the beginning of an unpredictable grief journey, filled with experiences that may very well prove to be the most difficult of life. Family, friends, neighbors, and church family may (or may not) help. The one sure, consistent source of support is our Father in heaven. David said of himself, “When my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Ps. 61:2; cf. 27:1-5). That relationship with the Father is the widowed person’s best hope and source of strength along the grief journey.

Dean will be presenting a Widowhood Workshop at the Northwest Church of Christ at 6510 Old Oak Ridge Road in Greensboro, NC on October 18-20, 2019. The schedule is as follows:

Friday, October 18

Love, Life, and Loss…..7 pm

Saturday, October 19

Divine Perspective / Personal Perspective of Widowhood (Session 1)….10:30 am

Lunch…..12 pm

Divine Perspective / Personal Perspective of Widowhood (Session 2)….1:00 pm

Sunday, October 20

Praise the Lord, No Matter What…9:30 am

What We Ought To Do When We Are Overwhelmed….10:30 am

Marriage and Remarriage….6 pm

“What DO You Believe, Christian?” — Jon Mitchell, Editor (Editorial: September, 2019)

The reader has likely deduced that answering common accusations thrown against the Lord’s church is the theme of this issue of the Carolina Messenger. The need to do so is apparent when we remember the divine directive to “always (be) prepared to make a defense” (1 Pet. 3:15) and “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

Yet while rebuking error, especially when it involves erroneous or even slanderous accusations against the precious body of Christ, is important and must be done, it will ultimately be for naught if we solely focus on telling others what we are not, what we are not for, and what we do not believe. The gospel is good news, the best news anyone could receive. It is the only instrument God uses to save all of man who believe and obey it (Rom. 1:16; 2 Thess. 1:8). We will never truly convert souls until we believe it ourselves whole-heartedly and in a way that is apparent to anyone. This is why “contend(ing) for the faith” (Jude 3) is not only teaching against error, but even more so teaching what our faith is all about and why we have it.

So…what DO you believe, Christian? What do YOU believe?

Each of us will individually stand before God and “receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor. 5:10). Each of you must individually “work out your own salvation” (Phil. 2:12). So only you can answer those questions. I would like to tell you what I believe and why I believe it, as much as I can in the space remaining in this issue. I surmise that many of you will find yourselves in agreement with the following convictions. Yet even if that were not the case and I stood alone in the world with this faith, I would still be convicted that the following is nothing but truth and worthy of my acceptance and support. I hope you will join me and hold to these truths yourself, not because I hold them but because they come from God.

Here’s what I believe as a Christian:

I believe in God, a singular Deity manifested in three Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Deut. 6:4; 2 Cor. 13:14). I believe He exists and rewards those who diligently seek after Him (Heb. 11:6). I know He exists because the evidence of His existence is clearly seen by everyone every day as we look at and live in this world and universe, the existence and clear design of which demands the truthful conclusion that He exists and created this universe and everything in it, including us (Rom. 1:19-20; Ps. 19:1-6; Gen. 1).

I am convicted that all Scripture is His Holy Spirit-inspired, absolute Word and is therefore inerrant (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:19-21; 1 Cor. 2:9-13; Ps. 19:7-8). In keeping with the infallibility of Scripture, I believe in the Old Testament canon of Genesis through Malachi and the New Testament canon of Matthew through Revelation. I reject the proposed apocryphal and pseudepigraphal additions to the aforementioned scriptural canon because of their proven theological and historical mistakes and lack of credibility. I believe in the divine inspiration of Scripture because of the scientific foreknowledge (cf. Gen. 15:5; Is. 40:22; Job 26:7; 28:25), fulfilled prophecies (cf. Is. 13:7-22; 19:1-4; Matt. 24), and complete uniformity and unity in its pages, all of which were written over a period of 1,600 years by numerous writers of different backgrounds, nationalities, educations, and interests.

For these reasons I know what the Bible says, promises, and teaches is true. I am convinced Scripture should be interpreted literally unless the immediate or overall context of a particular passage, combined with logic, demands a figurative interpretation. Thus, I believe God created the heavens and the earth in six literal days because the immediate and overall context demand such a conclusion (Gen. 1:5b, 8b, 13, 14b, 19, 23, 31; Ex. 20:8-11), while also believing that the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5) was not a literal door or vine (John 10:7; 15:1).

I believe when God created this world everything was very good (Gen. 1:31) until sin and subsequently death entered the world through Eve and Adam (Gen. 3; cf. 1 Tim. 2:14; Rom. 5:12-14). I know that a few centuries after Adam (Gen. 5) wickedness grew so great on the earth that God destroyed all of mankind save Noah and his family through a global flood (Gen. 6-9). I believe He chose Abraham, a descendant of Noah’s son Shem (Gen. 11:10ff), to be the ancestor of the nation of Israel and the Messiah, Jesus, who would come from through that nation (Gen. 12:1-3; Matt. 1:1ff; Gal. 3:16). I am convinced the biblical account of that nation’s history in the Old Testament is true.

I believe He started the fulfillment of the promise He made to Abraham by miraculously giving him and Sarah a son in their old age (Gen. 18:9-15; 21:1-7). In fact, I am convicted of the veracity of all the miracles God performed either directly or through men throughout the biblical record. Thus, I believe that He rained fire and brimstone from heaven onto Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19). I know He gave Joseph the ability to prophesy the future through interpreting dreams (Gen. 37, 40-41). I am convinced He parted a huge body of water when Moses raised his staff over it (Ex. 14), rained bread from the sky and caused water to come from a rock to keep a nation alive (Ex. 16-17), caused the walls of a city to collapse at the sound of a shout and trumpets (Josh. 6), caused the sun to stand still in the sky (Josh. 10), gave a man miraculous strength (Judg. 14-16), brought fire from the sky to consume a drenched altar (1 Kings 18), kept a man alive inside the belly of a fish for three days (Jonah 1-2), and caused a virgin to conceive and bear a Son (Lk. 1-2), as well as all the other miraculous incidents recorded in biblical writ.

I believe that virgin’s son is the Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, the Anointed One, the Messiah who alone saves (Matt. 16:16). I know that He lived a sinless life (1 Pet. 2:22) before dying on a cross (Phil. 2:8) to be the sacrifice that would appease God’s wrath over our sins (1 John 2:1-2; Rom. 1:18) and thus allow us the hope of salvation from the hell we deserve (Rom. 6:23; Rev. 21:8). I know that He was resurrected from the dead by the Spirit of God three days later (1 Cor. 15:3-4; Rom. 1:4; John 14:6).

I am convicted that He is the head of His church which He built and purchased with His own blood (Eph. 1:22-23; Matt. 16:18; Acts 20:28). I know His church is His spiritual kingdom (Col. 1:13, 18; John 18:36), the kingdom without end prophesied by Daniel which came on the day of Pentecost after His resurrection and ascension (Matt. 16:18b; Dan. 2:44-45; Acts 1:6-2:47). I believe His church is His body (Eph. 1:22-23), of which there is only one (Eph. 4:4), and He is the Savior of this same church, His body (Eph. 5:23). I know God recognizes only this one body as His Son’s church (Eph. 4:4) and only one faith (Eph. 4:5), the faith which is based solely on the truth and pattern of His Word (Rom. 10:17; John 17:17; 1 Tim. 3:15; 2 Tim. 1:13). All other faiths and practices and dismissed and warned against as counterfeit repeatedly in Scripture (Matt. 7:13-27; Acts 20:29-30; Rom. 16:17-18; 2 Tim. 4:3-4; 2 Pet. 2; Jude; et al).

Therefore, I know that all members of this church will have entered it by the grace of God through their faithful obedience of the gospel of Christ (Rom. 1:16; Eph. 2:8-10; James 2:14-26; Heb. 5:9; 2 Thess. 1:7-8), which requires them to respond to their acknowledged faith in Christ by penitently being immersed to receive forgiveness and addition to His body (Mk. 16:15-16; Acts 2:38-39; 1 Cor. 12:13). Only then are they born again to a new life as a Christian (Rom. 6:1-5; John 3:3-5; Tit. 3:3-7), after which they must be taught and obey God’s commandments in the New Testament (Matt. 28:18-20; 2 Pet. 1:5-11; Heb. 5:9; 8:6-13), using the Old Testament to as an instructive, admonishing example while not being under its laws and practices (Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:6, 11; Gal. 3:24-25; et al).

I am convicted of the biblical promise of the coming judgment of us all (2 Cor. 5:10) on the day when Jesus comes back (2 Thess. 1:7-10; Matt. 24:35-25:46), this world and universe are destroyed (2 Pet. 3:10-14), and faithful Christians are ushered into heaven to be with God eternally (John 14:1-3; cf. Mk. 16:19; 1 Pet. 1:3-5) while the lost will be condemned to an eternal hell (Rev. 20:15; 21:8). Thus, I and all Christians must preach the gospel (2 Cor. 5:10-11; Mk. 16:15).

I believe, know and am convinced of all of this. Christian loved of God, are you?

— Jon

Militant Atheism And Revisionist History — Dewayne Bryant, Ph.D.

Many have said that history is written by the victorious. This usually means that the record of the past is merely used to suit an agenda. While many exceptions to this rule exist, the age-old saying does point to an important truth: history can be abused for nefarious purposes. This may take the form of propaganda in which the winner reshapes the past to achieve present-day goals. History can also be manipulated to either defend or attack a particular point of view.

In an era where feelings often matter more than facts, the historical record has become a wax nose for militant atheists who criticize the Christian faith. (I am using “militant atheist” here in the same sense as Richard Dawkins and other atheists have used it of themselves, to describe aggressive, confrontational atheism or anti-theism.) This often takes a predictable form: an anti-Christian author or speaker presents a severely distorted version of historical facts to either extol atheism or casts aspersions on Christianity.

History in the Wrong Hands

Virtually everyone recognizes that objective history does not exist. No one can be perfectly impartial. Even professional historians fall prey to the same biases that affect us all. Partiality is particularly common in journalism, where reporting the facts is replaced by offering an interpretation (or reconstruction) to support a narrative.

For the most strident atheist apologists, history is not a field of study to be examined with dispassionate objectivity. Though they often appeal to history, these writers rarely have any training in the discipline. Consequently, they produce materials commonly accepted by their fan base but rejected by professional historians.

One of the most prominent examples of historical abuse is the notion that religion and science have been locked in mortal combat for centuries. This idea first appeared in two books published in the late 1800s: John William Draper’s History of the Conflict between Religion and Science (1874) and Andrew Dickson White’s History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1896). These two authors wrongly—and, some might say, deceitfully—argued for the conflict model, which did not exist before the 19th century. Historians of science today rightfully view Draper’s and White’s assertions as heavily-biased misrepresentations of the facts, but their claims persist in the public mind nevertheless. Sadly, this is not an isolated example, as we shall see.

The History of Science

A favorite weapon in the militant atheist’s arsenal is twisting historical facts to aid in the criticism of religion. One of the most famous examples involves the alleged anti-scientific nature of faith. For example, Sam Harris has bemoaned Christianity’s supposed habit of “torturing scholars to the point of madness for merely speculating about the nature of the stars.”Carl Sagan lamented that religious authorities threw Galileo into a “Catholic dungeon” for daring to teach that the earth revolved around the sun.2 Daniel Dennett has claimed that the Roman Catholic Church has an “unfortunate legacy of persecution of its own scientists.”3

This claim that Roman Catholic authorities persecuted scientists such as Galileo for being thinkers ahead of their time is demonstrably false. A close look at church history reveals that many of the most accomplished scientists in history were devoutly religious. As for Galileo, a combination of his opposition to the church and papal politics led to his detention. Yet even under house arrest, he continued to pursue his research.

Another common myth is that Christians have taught the earth is flat. “Flat-earther” has become synonymous with scientific ignorance arising from religious commitment. Daniel Dennett warns believers, “If you insist on teaching your children falsehoods that the earth is flat … those of us who have freedom of speech will feel free to describe your teachings as the spreading of falsehoods, and will attempt to demonstrate this to your children at our earliest opportunity.”4 Christians do not teach the earth is flat, and this belief appears nowhere in the Bible. The charge arises from critics who frequently misinterpret phenomenological language in Scripture.

Even in antiquity, the ancient philosophers such as Aristotle knew the earth was round. The Greek philosopher Eratosthenes arrived at a relatively close estimation of the earth’s circumference in the 3rd century BC. In the Medieval period, every educated European knew the earth was not flat. Unfortunately, this old canard makes too tempting a target for irresponsible critics to resist.

Political History and Religion

The historical record can be unforgiving, regardless of the personal beliefs held by its most noteworthy contributors. Both atheists and professing Christians alike have harmed others and ruled with iron fists. However, Christians rightly point out that atheism has by far the highest body count, with many tens of millions murdered in the 20th century alone. Further atrocities have continued into the 21st century in countries like communist China. In attempting to avoid this uncomfortable fact, militant atheists usually try to defend their position and insulate themselves from criticism for crimes committed by fellow unbelievers.

The attempt to exonerate atheism from the guilt of the atrocities committed by its subscribers often fails spectacularly. One tactic is to excuse the dictators responsible for millions of deaths in atheistic states, claiming that these rulers considered themselves “gods.” For instance, Daniel Dennett argues that Joseph Stalin was not an atheist, despite his professed disbelief. He says that Stalin “wasn’t an atheist at all. He believed in god. Not only that, he believed in a god whose will determined what right and wrong was. And he was sure of the existence of this god, and the god’s name was Stalin.”5 Dennett’s sophomoric claim would be humorous if he were not serious.

Another popular argument is that Adolf Hitler was a Christian because some of his speeches included references to God. In truth, he followed the same course as other political figures before him who used religion as a tool for control, such as Karl Marx and Niccolo Machiavelli. The Nazis showed their true colors when they sought to destroy Christianity and replace it with a state church committed solely to promoting Nazi ideology. They planned to de-Christianize Germany, a goal betrayed by the fact that Hitler’s government confiscated church property for government use and sent thousands of clergy to concentration camps.

One of the most recent examples of historical revisionism is the portrayal of the Northern Ireland troubles as a religious conflict. Richard Dawkins claims that without Christianity, there would have been no conflict.6 Sam Harris says this battle is “deeply rooted in religion.”7 While the hostilities are often described as being between Protestants and Catholics, the actual causes had virtually nothing to do with religion. The root cause centered upon the constitutional status of Northern Ireland and was a territorial and political battle waged between two ethnically different groups of people.

Historians correctly recognize the terms “Protestant” and Catholic” in the context of the Troubles as convenient political labels. A popular joke underscores this fact. An Irishman approaches a tourist visiting Belfast and asks, “What religion do you practice?” The tourist states that he is an atheist. The Irishman says, “But are you a Catholic atheist or a Protestant atheist?” Those who rush to use the Troubles as an example of religious violence miss the fact that the origin, circumstances, and goals of the conflict were almost purely secular.

Any point of view has subscribers who will resort to half-truths, fallacious arguments, and underhanded tactics to defend themselves and criticize the opposition. In a matter as important as the question of God’s existence, we have the right to expect that participants in the debate will conduct themselves with thoughtfulness and integrity. Often, militant atheists have lacked both. This can be seen quite clearly in their attempts to revise the historical record to promote atheism and demonize Christianity. Thankfully, facts tend to resist such abuse.

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.

Endnotes

1Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 2004), 105.

2Carl Sagan, Cosmos, (New York: Random House, 1980), 54.

3Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (New York, NY: Penguin, 2006), 274

4Daniel Dennett, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster,

1995), 519.

5Stated during a debate with Dinesh D’Souza, Is God (and Religion) a Man-Made Invention?

6Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), 24.

7Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation (New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006), 81.

“You Think Music’s A Sin!” — Jon Mitchell

I love music. Just ask my little girls. They’d be more than happy to tell you how Daddy loves to pretend the car’s steering wheel is a microphone at his own little concert inside his head while he’s driving and blasting his music. Yes, I love music. I’m very glad music is not inherently sinful in God’s sight.

The charge that we in churches of Christ think music is sinful comes from those who have a misunderstanding of biblical authority in the area of worship. In the denominational world, instrumental musical accompaniment to singing in worship is widely accepted. Some accept it simply because others around them do so, not giving thought to whether God is pleased with the practice. Others assume God is pleased with the practice simply because they themselves approve of it, thus making their worship to Him the “will worship” (KJV) or “self-made religion” (ESV) warned of by Paul in Colossians 2:23. Others seek to find biblical approval for it by appealing the instrumental accompaniment in worship during Old Testament times (1 Chr. 13:8; 15:16; 23:5; 2 Chr. 7:6; 29:25-30; Ps. 150:3-5; etc.), ignoring that the Old Testament laws and practices were taken out of the way at the cross and replaced with Christ’s New Testament (Rom. 7:1-4; Gal. 3:23-25; Eph. 2:14-16; Col. 2:13-17; Heb. 8:6-13; 9:1-17).

Under the New Testament, our Lord commanded us to “worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24). Since God’s Word is truth (John 17:17), we must worship according to God’s Word., the Scriptures. In the New Testament, the only music commanded of Christians in their worship to God is singing.

Jesus and His disciples sang a hymn on the night He was betrayed (Matt. 26:30; Mk. 14:26). Paul and Silas sang hymns to God while in prison (Acts 16:25). Singing is mentioned throughout the rest of the New Testament: in an Old Testament quote encouraging the Christian to praise God (Rom. 15:9), in the context of giving instruction concerning the worship assemblies (1 Cor. 14:15, 26), instructing Christians to speak to each other (an indication that they were assembled to worship) in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs via singing and making melody with their hearts to the Lord (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16), in an Old Testament quote citing how Christ also is singing in the midst of our assemblies (Heb. 2:12), how our spiritual sacrifices to God include “the fruit of our lips” (Heb. 13:15), and how the individual Christian who finds themselves happy during their daily lives should sing praises to God (James 5:13). Unlike the Old Testament, there is no mention of instrumental accompaniment. Historically, such did not arrive in worship of professed Christians until centuries after the church began.

Perusing the above passages shows how the music commanded in the New Testament emphasized the spiritual, not the physical. We are commanded to be “making melody to the Lord with (our) heart” (Eph. 5:19). “Making melody” comes from the Greek term psallo, which has multiple definitions that include the playing of instrumental accompaniment. However, listed among these definitions is this: “to touch the chords of the human heart, that is, to sing, to celebrate with human praise.” As with any word that has multiple definitions, one must examine the context of how it is used in order to determine its meaning. In Ephesians 5:19, the inspired writer specifically says that one “psallos” (“makes melody with”) their “heart.” The heart is the instrument God wants played in our worship to Him as prescribed in the New Testament.

The contrast between New Testament and Old Testament musical worship is striking. When one reads the psalms of David, making melody referred to the playing of physical instruments. Yet in the New Testament, the instrument with which one makes melody is our hearts. As cited earlier, Old Testament music was usually performed by a professional choir or band, with the emphasis on how it sounded to the human ear…the physical side of man. Yet New Testament music is sung by all Christians instead of a select few which make up a choir (unlike common denominational practice, sadly), and the melody is made with one’s heart…the spiritual side of man (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). A recent convert out of denominationalism told me just last week how she has noticed the difference and has been spiritually edified by it.

Therefore, churches of Christ in no way despise music. What the faithful among us despise is lack of biblical authority for how we worship (Col. 3:16-17), because we worship and praise a heavenly Father who gave His only begotten Son to die a humiliating, agonizing death to save us from hell. We are bought with that price (Acts 20:28). We belong to Him. In the covenant He shed His blood to purchase (Matt. 26:28), He told us how to worship Him musically. We simply offer Him no more than that.

Worship in spirit and truth is not a show put on by entertainers to entertain the masses sitting in the pews. It is offering to the Lord who saves us praise and adoration in accordance with His will. That last — “in accordance with His will” — is the key. If it’s not in accordance to His will, how can it truly praise and adore Him?            — Jon