All posts by Jon Mitchell

What Botham Jean’s Brother Taught Me About Christianity — Jon Mitchell, Editor (Editorial: November/December, 2019)

On October 2, 2019, the entire nation was shown what it means to let one’s light shine for Christ in what was the clearest and most powerful way I’ve ever seen in my adult life.  Many are aware of the tragic story of Botham Jean, a citizen of God’s kingdom and member of the body of Christ who lived in Dallas and was a Harding graduate.  In September of 2019 Botham was shot to death by Amber Guyger, an off-duty police officer who mistakenly went to Botham’s apartment in the apartment complex in which they both lived.  Thinking it was her own and seeing Botham in the darkness sitting in his recliner eating a bowl of ice cream, she pulled her weapon and killed him.  She was found guilty of murdering him and sentenced to ten years in prison.  Days before her sentencing, I read of how she said she wished that she was the one who had been killed and how she hates herself every single day.

During her sentencing on October 2, Botham Jean’s brother, Brandt Jean, was allowed to take the stand and make a statement to her.  What he said to her is something I’ve been continually thinking about ever since I first heard it late that night on YouTube:

“I hope you go to God with all the guilt, all the bad things you may have done in the past…If you truly are sorry, I know I can speak for myself, I forgive you and I know if you go to God and ask Him, He will forgive you…I love you just like anyone else, and I’m not gonna say that I hope you rot and die just like my brother did but I personally want the best for you…I don’t even want you to go to jail.  I want the best for you because I know that’s exactly what Botham would want you to do and the best would be to give your life to Christ…Giving your life to Christ would be the best thing that Botham would want you to do.  Again, I love you, and I don’t wish anything bad on you…Can I give her a hug, please?  Please?”

The judge gave her permission and Brandt and the woman who killed his brother embraced for at least half a minute right there in the courtroom.  It’s an image which has yet to fail to come to my mind every day since I first saw it.

Watching that video of him saying those words to his brother’s murderer, I realized that this young man of 18 years of age has taught me something very, very important about Christianity.  He has shown me exactly what it means to be “children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Phil. 2:15).  All of us have read Jesus’ command to forgive those who repent, even if they sin against us seven times in a day (Lk. 17:3-4).  How many of us have chosen not to even attempt to obey our Savior’s words over petty, trivial wrongs and slights?  Yet this young man did exactly what Christ told him to do with someone who had committed against him and his family a horrific wrong the likes of which few of us will ever experience.  Just as Abel still speaks through his example of obedient faith, Brandt’s example of humble love shown towards “the least of these” will likewise speak to all willing to listen for quite a long time.  For that I am thankful.

The light shone by Brandt is also still shown by his brother even after his death.  Botham’s influence for good is still seen in the words of his brother as he told Amber Guyger that the reason he wants “the best” for her, “the best” being “to give your life to Christ, is “because I know that’s exactly what Botham would want you to do.”  His impact is still seen in the decision reached by the jury when they sentenced Guyger to ten years in prison rather than the 28 years asked for by the prosecution, a decision which, according to the Washington Post, “was influenced by what they believed (Botham) Jean would have wanted…”  Both of these brothers — one passed on and one still with us, both of them my brothers in Christ — have shown me the magnitude of the power of a positive Christian influence.  It is a lesson I hope not to soon forget.

Amber Guyger has received justice.  Because of what she did to Botham Jean, she has lost her career and her freedom.  A former police officer now in prison, her life will hang by a thread every single day of her sentence as she is surrounded by fellow convicts who have no love for police officers in general and are very aware of what she has done.  A good day for her will likely be a day in which she is hit in the face only once.  She will likely be assaulted many times and possibly even killed by fellow inmates before her time is served.  If she survives and is released either on parole or with all of her sentence realized, she will attempt to “rebuild a life post-release,” as explained by a juror who gave the reasons for their vote for ten years in jail.   Even so, it will forever be a life nothing close to what she had previously enjoyed.  Whatever job she will be able to get will likely pay far less than her income as a police officer.  Her living quarters will likely also be far below what she had lived in before.  Being an ex-convict, fewer doors of opportunity and fairness will likely be given to her.  So yes, she has received justice.  It is good that she has received justice.  Because of the influence of Botham and the Christian love and godly grace shown by his brother Brandt, she has also received mercy and forgiveness from a surprising source.  For that I am filled with joy and awe.

The apostle told the Ephesian saints that he prayed that God would give them knowledge of Jesus (Eph. 1:15-17).  He prayed that their heart would be “enlightened,” that they would know “what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints” (v. 18).  He prayed that they would know “what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe…the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead…” (vs. 19-20).  In other words, more specifically in the words of Brandt Jean, he wanted “the best” for them, that they would “give (their) life to Christ.”  God inspired Paul to express a desire for us which is the exact same thing that Brandt wants for the woman who took his brother away from him.  He wants her to receive mercy, forgiveness, and grace…not only from him, but for all eternity from God Himself.  A Christian like his brother whom she murdered, he wants his brother’s killer to become a Christian too.  He wants her to experience the power of God’s love and grace and walk the streets of heaven with him and Botham.

A greater example of what it means to be like Jesus, we will likely not soon see again…unless we choose to “go and do likewise.”

— Jon

Historical Myths Concerning Christianity — Dewayne Bryant, Ph.D.

The historical record has more than its fair share of falsehoods. One of the most famous—and pernicious—is the tale about George Washington cutting down the cherry tree, later confessing to the deed by saying, “I cannot tell a lie.” Another is the infamous Piltdown Man hoax, in which amateur geologist Charles Dawson claimed to discover fragments of bone belonging to the missing link between apes and early humans. Initially presented in 1910-1912, it took decades for scientists to detect the ruse.

Many people may be surprised to discover that many other events of history never happened. The Salem Witch trials never sentenced anyone to be burned at the stake. No apple fell on Sir Isaac Newton’s head. Rats probably never spread the Black Plague. Pocahontas never had a love affair with John Smith.

We will examine three of the more egregious claims made to undermine Christianity. Each one can be found at virtually every level of education, from the relatively uninformed critic to the militant atheist to even professional historians and theologians in the ivory tower of academia.

The Bible is Anti-Semitic

Anti-Semitism was nothing new at the time of Hitler’s rise to power in the 1930s. For centuries, Europeans had accused Jews of being responsible for the death of Christ as well as “blood libel” (the belief that they used the blood of Christian children in religious rituals).  The Nazis seized upon this and began to blame Jews for the problems Germany faced. In Mein Kampf, Hitler called this “the big lie,” claiming that “colossal untruths” would work because people “would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.” 1

Critics frequently use Nazi Germany against Christianity. Militant atheist Sam Harris, who is himself Jewish, claims that anti-Semitism is “intrinsic to both Christianity and Islam,” and as “integral to church doctrine as the flying buttress is to a Gothic Cathedral.”2 Further, the Nazi hatred of Jews was “a direct inheritance from medieval Christianity.”3 Many other modern writers make similar claims, arguing that anti-Semitism was a product of the early church and quickly became an integral part of the Christian faith.

Numerous ancient writers expressed anti-Semitic sentiments in their writings. Such esteemed Romans as Seneca, Cicero, Tacitus were guilty of holding such views. Greeks such as Diodorus Siculus, Strabo, and Apion expressed similar anti-Jewish sentiments. Roman emperors bore even more guilt. Claudius expelled Jews from the city of Rome around AD 49 (cf. Acts 18:2). Vespasian passed a tax on Jews throughout the Empire in AD 70. Domitian executed several people—including his cousin—in AD 95 for adopting Jewish ways. As is evident from the historical record, anti-Semitism did not originate in the church. But did the church hold similar views as the surrounding culture?

Critics often read passages in the Gospels as containing anti-Semitic sentiments. These include the Jewish populace taking responsibility for Jesus’ death (Matthew 27:25), statements that the Jews persecuted Jesus and attempted to kill him (John 5:16-18), and Jesus labeling Jerusalem as a city that killed the prophets (Mathew 23:37). We could cite many others, many coming from John’s Gospel in particular. In many of these cases, statements made by the biblical writers use the phrase “the Jews” as a kind of shorthand to refer to the Jewish religious leadership. As virtually all of the biblical authors were themselves Jews, it makes it almost impossible to imagine that the early church assembled such a collection of self-loathing Jewish writers to compose the New Testament documents and criticize their fellow countrymen.

The Dark Ages

One of the most obscene myths of history concerns the existence of the so-called “Dark Ages,” in which the Roman Catholic Church supposedly dominated Europe and suppressed scholarship and scientific advancement. Not only are the Dark Ages a total fiction, but this was also a time of unprecedented technological progress.

French historian Jean Gimpel identified this period of European history as one of innovation and progress that employed technology “on a scale no civilization had previously known.”4 Far from being a benighted period of barbarism, superstition, and decay, the Middle Ages witnessed numerous developments such as the heavy plow, chimneys, eyeglasses, the stirrup, and the proliferation of watermills and windmills. Contrary to popular belief, virtually all educated people believed the Earth as a sphere, and scholars knew its approximate circumference.

In addition to technological progress, Europe witnessed advances in many other areas.  Massive opposition to slavery grew in Europe due to Christianity’s influence.  Music, art, literature, science, and education all developed to such degree that professional historians no longer use the term “Dark Ages” — although it continues to appear in the works of Christianity’s critics.  The esteemed Medieval historian Warren Holister impolitely stated that anyone believing “that the era that witnessed the building of Chartres Cathedral and the invention of parliament and the university was ‘dark’ must be mentally retarded — or at best, deeply, deeply ignorant.”5

Crusades

In the popular mind, the Crusades were wars of conquest prompted by European imperialism. Modern Muslim apologists claim that the Crusades were a veritable onslaught against the Islamic world. Many politicians on the political left have argued similarly. In a 2015 speech, President Barack Obama went so far as to compare the activity of the Crusades to those of the Islamic State. Only a month after the September 11 attacks, Bill Clinton stated, “Those of us who come from various European lineages are not blameless,” after which he proceeded to recount the details of Jerusalem’s conquest in 1099.

Critics paint a portrait of bloodthirsty crusaders descending upon the peaceful Muslim populace in the hopes of finding wealth and war. This stereotype is just as false as it is fashionable. These criticisms are nothing new—writers such as Voltaire, David Hume, and Denis Diderot condemned the Crusades as examples of utter barbarism. Yet we must also observe that these writers all denounced Christianity in general. Voltaire condemned the faith even though he found some merit in its morals when it came to daily living, but Diderot and Hume were virulently anti-theistic.

Modern historians understand several fundamental truths that many people have not grasped. First, the crusades were a response to Islamic aggression. In the first three centuries of its existence, Islam came to dominate lands once occupied by Jews and Christians through conquest. In the history of the supposed Andalusian “paradise” when enlightened Muslims ruled most of the Iberian Peninsula for eight centuries (711-1492), one does not have to go very far to find a multitude of draconian laws punishable by death, senseless beheadings of noteworthy—and completely innocent—members of society, and subjugated those under their rule as second-class humans known as dhimmis.

Second, the crusaders did not go off to war for profit. In a sense, the Crusades were a money pit into which European nobles poured their resources. The crusader kingdoms remained continually dependent upon cash from Europe. When funds dried up, these kingdoms withered and fell to their previous occupants.

Third, the outrage of modern Muslims against the Crusades is a recent creation. Politicians commonly cite the Crusades as the leading explanation for America’s troubles in the Middle East. Until a century ago, Muslims had forgotten about the Crusades for one reason: they won. Islamic theology divides all of creation into the “House of Islam” and the “House of War.” From an Islamic viewpoint, Muslim forces had done Allah’s will when they conquered Jerusalem. Their reconquest of the city confirmed this.

The Importance of Understanding History

Studying history does more than offer insights into the connection between the past and present or help us avoid repeating the same mistakes made by others. It is also a powerful tool in defending the Christian faith. Critics have a habit of distorting the historical record. Creating straw men is a particular talent of the most militant atheists, who seem to have little interest in giving Christianity any credit. Even on the popular level, we often see spectacular untruths preceded by the phrase, “Everybody knows.”

Historical myths have incredible staying power. Some enter our culture through the work of agenda-driven critics, others through anti-Christian polemic. Regardless of their source, Christians will have ample opportunities to defend the faith from these gross abuses of history.

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

1Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf. Translated by James Murphy (), .

2Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 2004), 92.

3Ibid., 101.

4Jean Gimpel, The Medieval Machine: The Industrial Revolution of the Middle Ages (New York, NY: Penguin, 1976), 1.

5Warren Hollister, “The Phases of European History and the Nonexistence of the Middle Ages.” Pacific Historical Review 61 (1992): 8.

Authentic Worship — Scott Crawford

Recently a preacher friend, after reading a couple of articles about millennials and their worship desires, noticed that one of the things millennials said they needed was “authentic worship.” Of course, that raised an interesting question that needed to be answered – “Does that mean worship now is not authentic?” The implication seems to be that if the millennial generation is looking for an authentic worship experience then the worship experience that has been the norm up to that point was not authentic.

One doubts that the average millennial would go out on a limb and say that all worship is not authentic and needs to be changed so that authenticity is achieved. That would cast doubt and judgment on parents and peers that approve of and participate in what is the typical current worship practice. It’s one thing to critique the perceived impersonal worship of the institutionalized church, but to critique the worship of a beloved grandparent or parent is impinging upon the personal. Judging whether a formalized worship is an authentic experience for another person boarders upon intolerance, and in the postmodern thought climate into which the millennial generation is born, judging another person’s actions and intentions is practically anathema.  Therefore, the real point being driven home, the unspoken part of the statement about seeking authentic worship is “… for me.”

Isn’t that the real bottom line? How one person describes an authentic worship experience may be completely different from another’s authentic worship experience. Simply put, a worship “experience” can only be measured by a subjective standard: what comes across as authentic “… for me.” One person says that authentic worship consists in having a lesson presented that obviously uses Biblical references and illusions. Another person says that authentic worship consists of interaction between the members, so everyone has a voice. Still another person says that authentic worship consists of eliciting a feeling or emotional response that is confirming and reaffirming. Yet in each of these scenarios what is described as authentic worship can be said to be subjective from the standpoint of the other scenario.

The experiential dimension is mentioned in the Old Testament book of Ezekiel. Ezekiel, the prophet that went with Israel into captivity about 720 B.C., was nothing short of what might be considered a “performance prophet.” He makes a drawing of Jerusalem and lays in front of it, on his left side for 390 days and his right for 40 days (4:1-8); that is just the beginning of his performances (see also 5:1-4; 12:3-7; 24:15-24). Yet in Ezekiel 33:30-33 the people tell each other to come see and hear the prophet because he was “to them like a sensual song by one who has a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument” (v. 32, NASB). The people are coming to see the prophet for the experience of listening to a person that makes them feel something powerful inside. Ezekiel moved them. Then, in the same verse, we find the people – who love listening because of how it makes them feel – leave Ezekiel but never put his words into practice! Matthew Henry makes this comment about these, “(T)here are many who take pleasure in hearing the word, but make no conscience of doing it; and so they build upon the sand, and deceive themselves.”

Having an emotional experience during worship would not seem to be wrong in and of itself, but to seek out an authentic worship for the sake of that emotional encounter elevates the object of the worship to the “I” as opposed to “the Other.” In Colossians 2:20-23 Paul is asking those Christians why, since they had died to the world, do they subject themselves to ordinances that are prescribed by the world? In the end, those precepts and doctrines which are implemented by men – which Paul sums up in “do not handle, do not taste, do not touch” (v. 21) – are the object of what Paul identifies as “self-made worship” (v. 23). Coffman makes this comment: “Will-worship means the kind of actions engaged in because they please the worshiper, and not because they are commanded by the Lord.”

The worship that Paul describes in Colossians is self-directed, oriented in such a way that the worshipper is the center of the activity. If proskyneo is that form of worship that recognizes God as the true object of a sincere worshipper, ethelothreskia describes worship that might be motivated because of God but in the end is a show, described by Calvin as “placed in contrast to reality, for it is an appearance, … which deceives by resemblance.” Further, to say the only worship experience that is authentic is one that produces an “I’ve-never-been-that-moved-before” experience is bordering on arrogance and rebellion. Regardless of a person’s age defined category (Baby Boomer, Millennial, Gen X, or whatever), the emphasis of worship is God, not the “I.”

There are certainly many today who worship in unorthodox places and some in unorthodox manners.  While some may raise an eyebrow, the real bottom line is expressed in John 4:19-24.  According to Jividen, four important facts can be recognized from this passage:  1)  Christian worship is not confined to a physical place, 2) the Father desires worship from His people, 3) it does make a difference whether we follow God’s directions in worship, and 4) we must worship in spirit and truth.  If this passage highlights any specific truth or principle, would it not be that Jesus believes that God has a specific method by which Christians must worship?

There is an authority structure for the church. Paul points to that structure in Ephesians 2:19-22, where he notes that the household of God into which Christians are being built has its foundation upon “the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone.” The Hebrews writer makes the same point: “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world” (Heb. 1:1-2). When Paul was an old man he wrote to Timothy and reminded him to watch for what “is contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God” (1 Tim. 1:10-11). The reason for this admonition falls directly upon Jesus’ statement that it is by staying within His teachings that we are truly His disciples (John 8:31-32). Sadly, more and more are drifting away from the only source available that can inform us, guide us, judge us, and enlighten us:  the Scriptures. Phil Sanders wrote, “When God looks down on one who is worshiping Him and sees a heart that is crafting its own religion, God sees that worship as futile. Such songs and prayers never get above the ceiling.”

The hardest part of this whole consideration is setting aside my feelings.  This in the end must be done. The Christian cannot truly be a “bond-servant of Christ” (Rom. 1:1; Jam. 1:1; 2 Pet. 1:1; Jude 1:1; Rev. 1:1) when the focus is upon what makes me feel good, what makes me feel as though God is present, and what makes me feel that worship has been authentic. The focus which must be maintained is the same focus that Jesus had, a focus that allowed Him to say, “…not as I will, but as You will” (Matt. 26:39). This should be on one’s lips not only at the point of death or during great anguish, but every second of every minute of every day of this earthly life. So the question that must be answered by every person, is this.  Do we allow the Scriptures to define what is “in spirit and in truth,” or is “in spirit and in truth” to be defined by the individual? The answer to that question is at the very heart of the definition of authentic God-centered worship.

Scott is a teacher, preacher, and elder for the Rock Creek congregation in Warrior, AL.

Endnotes

Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Vol. IV — Isaiah to Malachi (Old Tappan: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1970), 947.

James Burton Coffman, Commentary on Galatians Ephesians Philippians Colossians, Volume VII (Abilene: ACU Press, 1977), 364.

John Calvin, Commentaries on The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, trans. Rev. John Pringle (Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1948), 201.

Jimmy Jividen, More Than A Feeling: Worship that Pleases God (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1999), 25.

Phil Sanders, Adrift: Postmodernism in the Church (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Co., 2000), 56.

The Women of God — Tassie Smith

We are as young as the newly baptized middle-schooler and as old as the great-grandmother breathing her last breath.  We are single, married, divorced, and widowed. We work tirelessly both at home and as waitresses, doctors, engineers, and day care workers.  We are the women who have submitted ourselves to God’s service. We are the women of the church.

Much ink and bile have been spilled trying to understand our role as women of God.  Is our primary task to keep a clean house? This is a common misunderstanding. In a 2012 Barna poll, women who identified themselves as Christians believed their greatest struggles were disorganization and a lack of productivity. Most striking is not what they did not mention struggling with: sin.  Perhaps our role is to get married and tend babies? I love babies. I adore my husband.  However, neither my marriage nor my children are my primary service to my King. I could be an equally pleasing servant if I were single (and certainly more single-minded, as Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 7). We can define our role as women in God’s kingdom best by examining how God’s women served Him in the days of Jesus and the apostles.

Mary and Martha serve as a great example of women who loved and served Jesus (Luke 10:38-42).   As a girl I learned that the moral of the story is that housework must not take priority over Bible reading or prayer.  That takeaway is true, but it tends to pull the teeth of this as a revolutionary tale. The story begins with Martha in the kitchen working, and Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet.  To the first-century readers, Martha had an honorable place, a woman’s place: working in the kitchen to serve her guest. They would have been surprised to hear that Mary sat at Jesus’ feet.  She was in the wrong place, a woman sitting in a disciple’s spot. For this Jesus praises her.  He didn’t praise her for defying gender roles; that’s a modern conceit. He praises her for following Him, the only proper pursuit for every person — male or female, young or old, Jew or Gentile.

By the world’s standards, a woman should be beautiful, thin, healthy, poised, confident, successfully married, a mother of well-behaved children, not to mention fashionable. By God’s standards a disciple should be fully dedicated to Jesus as his or her Rabbi, humble, obedient and ready to serve.  There is little overlap between the world’s vision and God’s. The women of God still follow in Jesus’ footsteps and sit at His feet. First and foremost they are disciples. Jesus valued discipleship over every other pursuit. He put being a disciple over happiness, family, riches, having a home, over and above the cost of our very lives (Matthew 8:18-22, Luke 14:26-33). In this story Jesus makes it clear.  Mary has chosen the greater part.

What did female disciples do in the New Testament?  They were teachers, and not just a few of them. Priscilla worked with her husband Aquilla in both professional and spiritual matters. Together they privately taught Apollo the way of God more clearly (Acts 18:24-28).  Anna, who had dedicated her life to God after her husband’s death, was privileged to see the baby Jesus. She then spent the rest of her years telling everyone she saw that the Messiah had come (Luke 1:36-38). Lest we think that we have to be single or with lots of free time like Anna or already well educated in the Word like Priscilla, we have the story of the Samaritan woman (John 4).  She is not educated in the Word. She’s not a Jew. She’s not even a good girl. Yet she encounters Jesus. This single meeting is enough to send her scurrying back to her village, letting everyone know she may have met the Messiah. None of these women of God took the place God had assigned men.  Rather, beginning where they were, they shared Jesus with everyone they encountered.

Not only were the women of the New Testament disciples and teachers, they were hard workers.  Dorcas gave so generously of her time and talent that not only the church but the community’s widows gathered around to mourn her death and celebrate her resurrection (Acts 9:36-42).  Lydia, a businesswoman, turned her home into the headquarters of Paul’s ministry in Philippi, first hosting him and his companions then housing the growing church (Acts 16:14-15, 40). These extraordinary women didn’t seem extraordinary to the New Testament church. Paul lists these and other good works as being a mark of a “worthy widow.”  In other words, the standard for being a women in God’s kingdom is to work the works of the one who called us!

Today’s women of God run alongside these sisters from long ago.  We are disciples sitting with Mary at Jesus’ feet.  We are mighty in poetry, prayer, and obedience like Elizabeth, Mary the mother of Jesus, and Anna.  We are evangelists of the first order: both learned women who teach others God’s way more accurately like Priscilla and enthusiastic sharers who simply tell the story of their encounter with Jesus like the Samaritan woman.  We are those who are created for God’s good work like Dorcas, Lydia, and the worthy widows.  We are vessels of honor — unashamed workmen, able to teach, patient when wronged, gentle and sanctified.  As we take up their mantle to be disciples, teachers, and workers, we too fulfill our role as the women of God.

Tassie and her husband were missionaries in China for almost nine years.

Scriptural Points on Church Government — David R. Pharr

There is an obvious contrast between the ecclesiasticisms of modern religious groups and the simplicity of church government in Christ’s original plan. Solomon wrote: “Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions” (Eccl. 7:29). Though this observation can have broader application, it certainly fits the way denominations have invented unscriptural schemes by which their churches are governed. The great apostasy which resulted in the hierarchy of Catholicism grew out of men assuming high positions of authority for themselves (Acts 20:29ff).  Protestantism and the denominations which followed broke free of many of the errors of Rome, but for the most part could not give up the politics of centralized control. Even those which claim congregational autonomy may feel constrained by and be pressured by denominational conventions.

Christ the Head

In the scriptural plan Christ is the only head of the church and the only headquarters is Heaven (1 Pet. 3:22; Col. 1:18; Eph. 1:22-23). He has absolute authority (Matt. 28:18-20) and no legislation is acceptable from any other source. It is not our purpose in this article to argue that the Scriptures alone reveal the instructions of our King, but knowing that to be the case, we surely see the error of councils which claim authority for themselves. It has been demonstrated over and over that the larger and more prestigious denominational organizations become, the further will be their departures from the truth. A recent egregious example was in a council voting to ordain homosexual bishops. That was a case of an unscriptural board approving an immoral lifestyle for a non-biblical position.

His Ambassadors

The Head of the church commissioned the apostles to be his representatives on earth (2 Cor. 5:20; 1 Cor. 14:37). These ambassadors of Christ declared the gospel and guided the proper formation of the congregations. It was through them that the commandments of Christ are made known (Matt. 28:18-20). It is important to understand that their instructions originated with and had the authority of Christ. He told them: “Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven (Matt. 18:18, NASU, emp. mine). This reminds us of David’s assurance: “Forever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven” (Ps. 119:89).

The ministry of the apostles was in the context of history. Revelation of the pattern was progressive. That is, in various places situations arose which required apostolic guidance. The instructions they gave in those situations demonstrate the principles by which the church is to be guided today. In this way the New Testament gives a pattern which ought to be followed.

In telling the apostles that their authority would originate in heaven, he added: “Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst” (Matt. 18:19-20). This is sometimes thought to be assurance for those in small church gatherings, but that is hardly the application. In Acts 15 we find more than “two or three” of the apostles (and others) being together to affirm the truth regarding the Gentiles. This is the only time recorded of apostles meeting together over a doctrinal issue. However, it was not to legislate but to affirm for the brotherhood what Christ had already revealed.

Pattern Unchanged

This emphasis on apostolic authority is necessary because the world is not satisfied with the ancient order of things. The common notion is that the apostles’ teaching and practice was satisfactory back then, but hardly suitable for changing times. This presumes the Lord’s failure to provide a plan suitable for all nations and all times. Such presumption ignores not only the intended universality of the apostolic commission (Great Commission), but also Christ’s assurance regarding the apostles: “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).

There were movements even in New Testament times to depart from the original order. As a reason for not being “carried about with divers and strange doctrines,” the Hebrews writer emphasized: “Jesus Christ [is] the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Heb. 13:7-9). Whatever in any creed, discipline, manual, or private opinion that is thought to be an improvement on the Scriptural pattern is an affront to the infallibility and unchangeableness of the risen Lord. The “faith,” the true Christian system, was “once for all delivered” (Jude 3).

The biblical pattern makes no provision for succession of the apostolic office.  This is evident when after the martyrdom of James no one was chosen to replace him.  (Paul’s commission without being one of the twelve was unique, with a special purpose regarding Gentiles, but was not to be in place of James).

Local Congregations

Baptized believers who worked and worshiped in a given area constituted a local congregation. Their assemblies together identified them as a church of Christ. Though in each Christian’s relationship with Christ he or she was part of the universal church, earthly membership was in local congregations. Each congregation organized after the New Testament pattern and faithfully serving Christ was in itself as completely a church of Christ as was any other congregation in the whole world.  Christian were expected to assemble together (Heb. 10:25). Those who traveled to other places were expected to connect themselves with the local church there (Acts 9:26; 11:26; Rom. 16:1ff).

Local congregations were known collectively as “churches of Christ” (Rom. 16:16). These were all part of the same cause and cooperated with one another, but were autonomous bodies. Unlike the inter-congregational arrangements of denominations, there was no hierarchy ruling over districts, states, or the world.

The letter Paul wrote to the church of Christ at Philippi was addressed: “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons” (Phil. 1:1). The term “saints” applies to all Christians (cf. 1 Cor. 1:2). “Bishops and deacons” refers to men qualified for leadership and service positions in the congregations. Another word for “bishop” is “overseer.” This implies leadership. The scriptural pattern is for a plurality of bishops to guide a local congregation. A church was not “set in order” until qualified men could be given this responsibility (Titus 1:5-9).

Other New Testament terms are used interchangeably in reference to the role of bishops. They are called “elders” (“presbyters”), reflecting their being men of experience. They are called “pastors” (“shepherds”) to show their loving care for the “sheep” in their charge. A review of various passages, such as Acts 20:28 and 1 Peter 5:1-4,  where these terms are used will prove that all applied to the same office. One will find, however, that the ways the same terms are frequently used today are different from the simplicity found in Scripture. Bishops/elders/pastors must meet qualifications (Titus 1:5-9; 1 Tim. 3:1-7). They are themselves subject to Christ and must never yield to their own self-interest (1 Pet. 5:1-4).

Another point about church government which denominations often choose to ignore is the pattern of male leadership. Paul, guided by the Holy Spirit, wrote: “And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence” (1 Tim. 2:12). Only men were chosen to be elders. We should take note of the fact that Christ chose no female apostles. This is not to be interpreted to mean spiritual, moral, or intellectual inferiority, only that God made us male and female and has assigned different roles.

The deacons in New Testament congregations met qualification which made them suitable for special service assignments. It is likely that the seven men chosen to serve a special need in Jerusalem were deacons, though the term is not used in the text (Acts 6:1-6). (Diakoneo, a derivative of diakonos, the Greek term transliterated “deacon,” is used in Acts 6:2.)  Deacons are not overseers. Instead, they are expected like all the members to obey those who have been scripturally appointed to rule the congregation (Heb. 13:17).  The Acts 6 example indicates they are “special servants” whom the leaders of the church put in charge over various ministries of the local congregation.

Ephesians 4:11-12 indicates that in addition to the inspired apostles and prophets who gave the church the New Testament (cf. Eph.  3:3-5; 2 Pet. 1:19-21) and the pastors who oversaw the church as elders, evangelists and teachers also worked in the local congregation to “equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”  The work of evangelists is to bring the gospel to the lost, while the work of teachers is to teach and spiritually build up the saints.  Preachers and ministers such as Timothy were given the responsibility to “do the work of an evangelist” and to “teach others” (2 Tim. 4:5; 2:2).  Many preachers are financially supported in their work by local congregations (1 Cor. 9:4-14; 2 Cor. 11:8-9; Phil. 4:14-19).  Serving under the oversight and authority of the overseers of the local church, they are to “preach the Word” (2 Tim. 4:2) “with all authority” (Tit. 2:15).

“Follow The Pattern”

In spite of the apostasy of many in departing from the simple organization found in the New Testament, churches of Christ must still heed “the pattern of sound words” which are found in the inspired writings of the apostles and prophets and in so doing, “guard the good deposit” entrusted to us (2 Tim. 1:13-14).  The biblical pattern for church organization exists and is clearly seen in Scripture.  We must work hard “not to go beyond what is written” (1 Cor. 4:6) and submit to the wisdom of God as shown in his plan for the organization of his church.

David is the former editor of the Carolina Messenger and serves on its board of directors. 

A Way That Seems Right About Salvation — Roger Leonard

There is a sense in which our feelings are our friends. Fear can protect us from certain dangers or taking unnecessary chances. Crying can help us deal with loss, pain, and deep grief. Anger can even be a friend if it is righteous indignation. Consider all the wrongs that would go without a response if no one got upset about them. The apostle Paul wrote, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity” (Eph. 4:26). Paul did not say that anger is a sin. He is teaching us how to deal with it properly. Then there is joy, the joy of true love and kindness. Again, the apostle Paul writes: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again will say, rejoice” (Phil. 4:4). The Bible teaches that God gave us emotions — feelings — to help us get through life.

Yet our feelings are not always true; they are not our friends at times.  Have you ever felt that something was true or good, only to learn later the opposite?  Perhaps you didn’t hear correctly, or someone lied.  Either way, what “seemed right” turned out to be wrong.

It has been my observation that people often deal with spiritual matters, from the existence of God to the Bible to the salvation of their souls, by the way they feel.  Others do so by human reasoning alone.  Something seems to be true, so they go with that.  Consider the following:

GodIt seems right to many that there is no God.  The main barrier to atheistic philosophy is origin.  We and the universe are here, but by whom, what, or how?  A fundamental answer is cause and effect.  It is an indisputable scientific fact that any cause is always greater than the effect.  The Bible says the cause is God (Gen. 1:1; Rom. 1:20; Heb. 3:4).  Then there is the life issue.  Life comes from life.  That being so, someone must be eternally alive.  The Bible says it’s God (Deut. 33:27; John 1:1;4; et al).

The Bible.  How does one account for a book written over a period of 1,600 years, by forty different authors in three languages, and without a single contradiction?  It has to be a supernatural production, as it claims to be (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

Countless individuals deny the divine origin of the Bible based solely on what others have said.  People view the Bible as just another religious book, full of fairy tales and inconsistencies.  We seem to be living in an age where even known facts are either totally ignored or deemed irrelevant.  How many who hold this view of the Bible have actually read it with an honest and objective approach?  As a candid, committed student of Scripture, I know it is not what people feel about it.  It passes the test of its claims!

The Savior.  The absurd claim by some that Jesus never existed can be cleared up with the Bible.  Jesus fulfilled more than 300 Old Testament prophecies.  The odds of Him fulfilling only eight is 1×1028  or 1 in 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.   Yet He is the Son of God, born of a virgin and the only way to the Father (Is. 7:14; Matt. 1:23; John 14:6).

The New Birth.  How does one receive salvation from Jesus?  He told Nicodemus, “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” and “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:3, 5).  Countless individuals will base their understanding of the new birth — their soul’s salvation — on the words of a preacher because his words seem correct, yet they do so with little to no questions as to whether the words he speaks are actually the words of God in Scripture.  Others will base their salvation on the beliefs of some respected family member.  Others do so based on some supposed “salvation experience.”

This brings up an important question.  Is the Bible truly God’s Word and our only source for truth in the matter of salvation?  The apostle Peter answers this:  “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Pet. 2:22-23).

We see here that salvation is not based on human feelings, but on God’s revealed truth.  Jesus taught that absolute truth is not only knowable but is also liberating (John 8:32).  The Lord also prayed that His disciples would be sanctified by the truth which is God’s Word (John 17:17).

In the Scriptures we see certain steps which bring one to Christ.  Often only one or two of these steps are considered necessary for salvation.  Some are even considered unnecessary for salvation.  We should recognize as necessary every point which Jesus or His apostles included in God’s plan to save us from sin and eternity in hell.

Faith.  Biblical faith “comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17).  It is required to please God (Heb. 11:6).  Those in Acts 2 had come to believe Peter’s preaching that Jesus was the Messiah and were convicted in their hearts that they had murdered Him (vs. 36-37).  While faith involves man’s feelings, as these people were “cut to the heart” (v. 37), it is not merely a feeling.  They asked, “What shall we do?” (v. 37)

Repentance and Baptism.  In response to their question Peter said, “Repent and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins…” (v. 38).  Jesus and Paul also taught repentance (Lk. 13:3, 5; Acts 17:30).  Repentance is a change of mind.  It is not merely feeling bad about sin but demands actions on our part.  Paul wrote, “Sorrow that is according to the will of God produces…repentance” (2 Cor. 7:10).  Notice again the two things Peter said.  Repentance AND baptism are both required to receive the remission of sins.  Many feel that baptism is not necessary for salvation, but God’s Word says that it is.

We Are Not Saved By What Seems Right.  Nothing in this article has come from what “seems right to a man.”  It has come from the Scriptures.  Remember that the end of what seems right to a man “is the way of death” (Prov. 14:12).  What the Lord says in His Word leads to life (John 6:63, 68).  Our feelings are our true friends when they respond to the will of God.

Roger preaches for the church of Christ in Adel, GA.  He also teaches and preaches in foreign countries once or twice a year.

A Way That Seems Right In Religion — Dustin Forthun

Years ago my interest in golf was much more than it is now. I watched tournaments, news, reality shows, instructionals, and pretty much anything golf-related. I recall one segment featuring a golf coach touting game-improving tips and advice. He said something much more meaningful than just shooting lower scores in golf.  “Feel isn’t real,” he quipped while trouble-shooting a golf swing.  Feel isn’t real!  It seems there are quite a few golfers who feel like they’re doing it right. Closer inspection, though, reveals that things are not always as they feel.

As it turns out, we humans are pretty partial to ourselves. Just ask anyone you know if what he or she is doing makes sense and seems right. The answer will likely be a rousing “Yes, of course,” because we don’t normally do things that feel otherwise. Yet “feel isn’t real.” What if it were possible to do something wrong even though it seemed right? That question, of course, is not one to ponder too long.  Obviously it’s possible to do bad things that seem good. This fact accounts for so much of what’s wrong with the world.

Even the religious world struggles in this way. Of far greater import than how one feels when he’s swinging a golf club, many Christians and churches are doing things which feel right to themselves without much inspection. The apostle Paul famously observed this:  “For I am not aware of anything against myself…” (1 Cor. 4:4, ESV). Referring to his infamous years before Christ, Paul described feelings of being right.  Everything seemed okay.  Paul could likely deliver a long, eloquent justification for being against Christ.  Paul was raised to be a Pharisee.  His parents believed Christ was the enemy of Moses.  Paul was taught at considerable expense how to attack the faith of Christians.  Every bit of this training felt right to him. It seemed like he was doing what God wanted him to do. Even when Paul held the coats of the men who murdered Stephen (Acts 8:58), he believed he was doing the right thing. When he perpetrated his own persecution against the people of God, it seemed perfectly fine to him (Acts 9:3). “I have lived in all good conscience…” (Acts 23:1, KJV). That’s how this man described his feelings about his life and religion.  He didn’t feel that he was doing anything wrong at all.  Everything felt right.  Yet “feel isn’t real.” The sad reality of Paul’s pre-Christian life was that he was far, far off course.

Paul felt that his life was all right when it was actually all wrong. As a man shaken to his very core, Paul didn’t eat for three days upon being told how wrong he was.  He was also stricken blind, possibly to convey how his life was truly errant. Later in his Christian ministry, Paul would strike Elymas blind (Acts 13:9-11).  While punitive, this blindness is possibly also a commentary on Elymas’ teachings.  Jesus famously called the scribes and Pharisees blind leaders who should be left alone (Matt. 15:14). The amazing thing was that the Pharisees felt that they were right. So did the scribes.  So did Elymas. Paul felt like he was right! This eventful episode in Paul’s life shows just how possible it is to be sincere and wrong.  Sincerity is not enough to please God.  We have to be right in the things we do.  Thanks be to God that Paul changed his ways when he was taught the error of his ways.

In addition to Paul, consider another example of this principle:  Nadab and Abihu.  Nadab and Abihu share some points of similarity with Paul.  They were Aaron’s sons, trained by devout religious teachers. Religion was a real part of their lives. They desired to please God, and they believed they were pleasing God.  Leviticus 10 records the last time they ever worshipped God. The fact that they were worshipping God often gets overshadowed by their dire punishment. These boys were worshipping God, and presumably they were doing so because they wanted to honor him. Nadab and Abihu were not satanic or overtly rebellious toward God. If they hated God or wanted to rebel, why worship him? It seems most likely that Nadab and Abihu were sincere, devout, and well-intending in their worship to God. However, the text reports that they used an unauthorized element in their worship — something that must have seemed small and insignificant. Rather than use the fire which God said had to be used, the brothers made a substitution. Surely they did not get their censers and incense and do all that work just to fail in worshipping God.  No, probably they felt fine in making this substitution. Surely they could justify their actions and make explanations that they found logical.

There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death” (Prov. 14:12). In these immortal words, Solomon articulates the examples shown above and sounds a warning to us all.  No one sets off to do something that will be self-destructive (or, thankfully, at least very few people do so).  God indeed proclaims that there is generally a love and care that people have for themselves (Eph. 5:29), but it’s so easy to get off track while thinking nothing is wrong. Just about everyone who has done something wrong, destructive, or harmful is amazed as how easy it is.  Most of the times, it even feels right!  Yet, “feel isn’t real.”

While physical harm is something we would all like to see less of, the spiritual harm that can be done is far worse.  Losing a limb, getting a scar, or damaging property is no one’s idea of a fun time, but what about losing your soul? Right now Christians and churches are doing what seems right to them.  I did an online search of churches in my area and found hundreds of results. They’re all different.  Some differences are minor while some are major.  Yet one thing I know that’s true for each is that they all believe what they’re doing is right. Like Paul, Nadab and Abihu, they have their reasons.  They’ve thought about it.  Maybe they have even lived their whole life doing what they’re doing. Not only does it feel right, it feels normal.  Anything else would feel foreign.  Yet “feel isn’t real.”  We all need the inspection of God’s Word.  James tells us to look into it as one would a mirror (James 1:25) .  People looking into a mirror make adjustments based on what they see.  They fix their hair, trim their beards, and put on makeup based on what that mirror reveals.  God wants us to use his Word that way. Look at it often.  Some carry around small mirrors to check their appearance often.  Imagine a world in which people cared that much about how their souls looked to God!  What a place that would be.

We’re told not to walk by the sight of our eyes or by our own understanding, but by the faith-producing Word that comes from the Lord! He tells us what is right, and it’s our duty and honor to do what He says. In some cases, we may wish things could be different. We may find a teaching in the Bible that we would like to change. Paul momentarily imagined how things could be different and mused of giving himself for the salvation of his countrymen (Rom. 9:3). Yet what we think should be, would be, could be right doesn’t matter.  “Feel isn’t real.”  There is a way that seems right, but it’s not always right!  God, however, is always right.  Always.  Your friends in churches of Christ do not think they’re any better than you or anyone else.  Members of the church of Christ know that we’re all put here to please the Lord.  He has told us how this must be done, and no one is able to change that plan.

When Paul was so far off course, God asked why he was “kicking against the pricks” (Acts 9:5).  The dated reference is of an animal which was plowing.  Some animals chose to fight the direction in which they were being steered.  They would buck and kick and protest in every way possible.  Nothing good ever came of this!  The animal was stressed and unhappy.  The rider was none too pleased either.  Eventually the animal was still made to do the job.  All the protest and kicking didn’t change a thing.  One day every knee will bow (Rom. 14:11) and every tongue will confess (Phil. 2:11).  All the kicking and protesting won’t change a thing.  One day everyone will see the right way, love it,  and want to follow it!  Please make today the day that you commit to that plan.  One day you will.  One day everyone will.  Will you do today what God says is right over what may seem right?

Dustin preaches for the Augusta Road congregation in Greenville, SC.