All posts by Jon Mitchell

Editorial: Is It Possible To Correctly Interpret The Bible? (November/December, 2018) — Jon Mitchell, Editor

The above question is relevant for many reasons. After all, how one interprets the Bible — more specifically, whether one does so correctly — determines whether one actually obeys the commands and principles within Scripture. That in turn has a direct bearing on one’s salvation (Matt. 7:21-23; Heb. 5:9; 1 John 3:4; Rom. 6:23; Rev. 21:8). Since we are commanded to accurately handle Scripture (2 Tim. 2:15), then doing so is possible and necessary.

Some believe truth is relative rather than absolute, a notion proven to be erroneous when one thinks about it honestly (cf. Lk. 8:15). The inconsistency of this proposition is shown by simply responding to the person who confidently asserts, “There is no absolute truth,” with the question, “Are you absolutely sure about that?” Still, many believe this misguided notion. A popular rock band from my youth wrote a song which opined, “This is not a black and white world/To be alive, I say that the colors must swirl/And I believe that maybe today/We will all get to appreciate/The beauty of gray.” This post-modernistic idea — the beauty of gray, no black and whites, no absolute truth — is very popular in our society for good reason. After all, the absence of absolute truth results in the absence of an absolute standard of right and wrong…so who are you to tell me if I am wrong for doing whatever it is I want to do?

Hypothetically, anyone could commit adultery with your spouse, murder your child, steal your money, and burn down your house and if you have a problem with that…well, that’s just YOUR definition of truth. The one who did these things would say, “MY definition of truth says it’s okay for do those things. Truth is relative, so we’re both right. Therefore, I will continue to do these things to you, and who are you to do tell me I’m wrong?” This mindset is both ludicrous and also extremely dangerous because chaos is its natural result (Judg. 21:25).

This mindset is even more dangerous when we see that it would make it impossible to correctly interpret Scripture. In a post-modernistic mind every word in the Bible would be subjective, open to multiple interpretations of which all are valid. You believe John 3:16 teaches God gave His Son because He loves the world? Fine, that’s YOUR interpretation. MY interpretation is that God sent Jesus because He did NOT love the world. Truth is relative, so we’re both right and who are you to tell me I’m wrong? Yet to the one who knows about and accepts the existence of absolute truth, a simple reading of John 3:16 shows the above mindset to be absurd because the passage very clearly states, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…” Believe that statement to be absolutely true, and you clearly see the error of any other interpretation.

The existence of the post-modernistic worldview does not mean it is impossible to correctly interpret the Bible. Indeed, those who recognize the existence of absolute truth will find it easier to correctly interpret God’s Word because God’s Word is truth (John 17:17). When one has already accepted the existence of absolute truth and then accepts that God’s Word is truth, one is well on their way towards correctly interpreting Scripture.

Yet even then it could still be possible to misinterpret Scripture. One could looks at parts of the Bible to be absolutely true while failing to realize that the entirety of Scripture is truth (Ps. 119:160). This fallacy of thought has led some to dismiss parts of Scripture as myth and other parts of the Bible as not applicable to us today. Yet Scripture says that every word of God is “tested” (Prov. 30:5), meaning both that every word in the Bible has proven to be true (John 17:17) and that it has a reason to be in Scripture, namely to guide us to eternal life and godliness and make us complete and thoroughly equipped for every work God deems good (2 Pet. 1:3; 2 Tim. 3:16-17).

Thus, one continues to be on their way to correctly interpreting Scripture by recognizing all of Genesis through Revelation to be true and there to help them grow closer to God and eternal life. This will cause them to accept the biblical account of creation and the biblical record of miracles to be historically factual. They will accept the commands and principles of God within the Bible to be applicable to them and to all men of all cultures and times. Any conclusion that a law or principle found in Scripture would not apply to them personally will be only because Scripture specifically says so (cf. Heb. 8:7-13; 1 Cor. 11:13-16). Any conclusion that certain parts of Scripture are figurative rather than literal in its language will be solely due to evidence found in Scripture rather than one’s own musings and theories (cf. Revelation 1:1’s “signified”). If a certain verse is read that commands one to do a certain thing in order to be saved while other verses command additional things to be done in order to be saved, one will accept the fact that all of those passages need to be obeyed rather than a select few of them (Ps. 119:160; cf. John 3:16; Mark 16:16; 2 Cor. 7:9-10; Rom. 10:9-10; 1 Pet. 3:21).

We must also remember that when we read Scripture we are reading documents written long ago, in a different culture which had different definitions to words which might still be used today. This happens in other contexts. 100 years ago the term gay meant to be happy or joyful; only in recent years has the homosexual movement applied the term to themselves, resulting in gay meaning something else today.

In like manner, God’s Word was written by Spirit-inspired men a long time ago (2 Pet. 1:19-21), completed about two thousand years ago. None of it was written in English. The Old Testament was written primarily in Hebrew with a smattering of Aramaic, and the New Testament was written in Greek. It has since been translated into numerous languages. Even though the translators have generally done an excellent job in conveying the intent of the inspired authors through their translation of the original foreign words, it is still easy for us to read a word in our English Bibles and assume its original definition in the inspired Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek of long ago is the same as our modern-day definition of it in English. In most cases that assumption would be correct, but not in every case. In some of those cases, our mistaken assumption would make all the difference in the world in correctly interpreting the will of God and thus have a direct impact on our eternal destiny. An example of what I’m talking about is the biblical term baptize, which is a command from God directly correlated with salvation (1 Pet. 3:21) and which today is defined by many as sprinkling or pouring water onto someone…yet in the original Greek it means to dip someone in water. Thus, to do the former instead of the latter would be to not do what God had originally commanded.

One doesn’t have to be fluent in Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek…but we all should take our study of the Bible seriously and, when needed, do research to know for sure what God requires of us. This is why correct interpretation of Scripture is very important. The next editorial will continue this study, Lord willing.            — Jon

The Role Of Women In The Lord’s Church — Will Hester

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in the September, 2018 issue of the Carolina Messenger. Through an editorial mistake, a section of brother Hester’s article was accidentally left out of the printed edition of that issue. The fault for that omission is mine alone, and for that I apologize to brother Hester and to the reader. This is the full text of the article.    — Jon

Over the last 28 years, we have seen a large contingent of the church that has taken an unscriptural stance on an important doctrinal question. Most would think that we would talk about instrumental music just by that statement. Although that issue is important to discuss, we are not talking about that doctrinal question at this time. The doctrinal question we will be attempting to answer is, “What is the role of women in the church of the Lord?” This question has plagued the church in many different ways. On one side you have those who believe women have no voice at all in the worship service. On the other side you have those who believe women can do anything a man can do in worship and maybe even more. The pertinent question that must be asked when studying this doctrinal position is, “What roles are women allowed to have through scripture within the confines of worship?”

The view of women within the Lord’s church has been tainted because the interpretation of certain passages has been tainted by denominationalism. We have seen that most liberal theologians have done eisegetical study, forcing a meaning into a text that is not intended by the author, with these texts. When we do this, we are creating our own narrative to suit our own version of Christianity. Did we die for the sins of the world? Did we purchase the church with our blood at Calvary? The answers are a resounding no! However, the way some of our friends view the Bible would make us believe that they think they did purchase the church. We are only interpreters and must be exegetical in our approach to the scripture. When you exegete a passage, you are literally being led to your conclusions about a certain Bible subject by following the text itself. Exegetical study is critical for viewing the texts of the Bible and discerning what the text says about doctrinal issues that we face.

As we go through this study, we will try to look at both sides in equal measure. Our goal is to view the arguments of both sides and try to formulate a conclusion of which argument holds with the biblical view of the role of women. We will also be looking at the different roles that women do have within the confines of scripture. The goal of this study is not to cause division but to allow for discussion and to show that we must use the Bible as our only guiding principle for faith and practice.

Arguments For An Expanded Role Of Women In Worship

The position for an expanded role of women in worship is the minority view in the Lords’ church; however, the proponents of this view have a very loud voice. These voices are being given an audience at some of our brotherhood school’s lectureships. Abilene Christian University, Lubbock Christian University, Lipscomb University, and Pepperdine University have decided that they will allow these views to be defended at their lectureships. We find that the Bible departments are bending to the whims of these men and women.

On Wednesday night of the 2018 Pepperdine Bible Lectures Don McLaughlin, preaching minister at the North Atlanta Church of Christ, gave the 7:00 pm keynote address on “1 Corinthians 12-14.” From this text, brother McLaughlin used for a subject “The Gift of the Spirit to the Body of Christ.” Twenty-two minutes into his lesson, Don uses a term that would be the calling card of the rest of his lesson. He coined the term, “hermeneutical segregation,” in speaking of “our” belief of the Holy Spirit in our lives as believers.

He would ask the question, minutes later, “What is a woman’s body for?” Don attempts to answer his own question by stating, “It is for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit…not for exploitation by men or women for financial and self gratification.” He then stated, “Let me take it a step farther. I am going to talk to the ladies. Women’s bodies are not for evaluation or comparison.” I agree with his assertion. A recurring problem we have in this country is “body-shaming.” In many instances, our society shames young women for not having a certain body type or for not being under a certain weight. However, Don does not stop there. He would state further, “I will say one more thing. We have lived under the false assumption that the Holy Spirit prefers male bodies to female bodies for leadership in the church. That did not arise from Scripture, but that is what WE put on Scripture.” As we will see later, his argument does not hold fast to what Scripture says.

One of the main arguments used by the proponents of an expanded role for women is, “We must take 1 Timothy 2:8-12 as cultural for the first century and not a command for us in the 21st century.” Patrick Mead, senior minister at Fourth Avenue Church of Christ, has been the biggest proprietor of this position in recent memory. He, along with a couple of others, wrote the document found on the Fourth Avenue website entitled, “Document on Women in Worship and Ministry.” In this document, we find that the authors make the statement, “Paul felt the need to address the situation in Ephesus with several commands, most of which we do not apply to ourselves or to our congregations.”

The text of 1 Timothy 2:8-12 states, “I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting; in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works. Let a woman learn in silence with all submission.  And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.” The view of these scriptures as just being “cultural” to the first century is not a new phenomenon; however, for many years it was just a dominating denominational view.

A point of contention within this text, according to the proponents of this view, is the translation of two Greek words used by Paul in verse 12. The first Greek word, which is a very uncommon word, is “αὐθεντεῖν” (authentein). This word comes from the verb, αὐθεντέω (authenteo), which carries an idea of “having authority over, to be domineering, and having full power.” Those who have a feministic view of where they believe the church should be going take this word as the key to this passage. In their estimation, verse 12 only pertains to a cultural problem in the church at Ephesus. It is only to be taken to the conclusion of being for the relationship in the home and not the church.

The second Greek word, which only occurs in the New Testament four times, is ἡσυχίᾳ (hesuchia). This word carries the idea of “being calm, being in silence or having a stillness in ones’ life as a believer.” Brother Thomas Robinson, Senior Minister at the Manhattan Church of Christ in New York, wrote a study guide entitled, “A Community Without Barriers.” In his study guide he references this Greek word and says the following, “Again, the phrases translated by the RSV ‘learn in silence’ and ‘keep silent’ both use the Greek word hesychia which means ‘quietness’ rather than ‘silence.’” He would further state, “Quietness is not silence.” As we will see, it is not so cut and dry as he tries to make it out to be.

Another main argument from the proponents of this position is, “What do you do with Phoebe, the deaconess that Paul mentions?” The singular point that is focused upon is the Greek word “διάκονος” (diakonos). This word carries the idea of “a person who is a servant and is set to serve.” The main push of this argument is that “diakonos” can be translated as “deacon.” With the revelation of this information, they translate that word as “deaconess.” Romans 16:1 in the New King James version states, “I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea, that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and assist her in whatever business she has need of you; for indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also.” They view these verses as the key to view the scriptures in a brand new light.

A final major argument comes from 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, which states, “Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.” Thomas Robinson writes of this passage, “Here, as elsewhere, Paul judged the actions of the community not by a rigid standard of required conduct that was eternal and unchanging. Rather, what mattered to Paul (because it matters to God) was the souls and salvation of people.” He further states in his study guide, “In our day and in our context, the kind of shame and disgrace that Paul wanted the church to avoid is more likely to come upon the church by silencing women (and thereby indicating that they are somehow inferior to men) than by allowing women to use all the gifts that the Spirit has given them.” As it seems, the narrative that they want to portray is one of tolerance and equality. In their view, the roles of women and men are similar and equal to each other. The perspective given is, “To stay relevant with the times, then we must embrace all progressive cultural narratives.”

Arguments For A Biblical And Less Inclusive Role For Women In Worship

The position that this author takes, like so many in the Lords’ church, is that women have specific roles they must take in the makeup of the church; however, they are not to step outside of the parameters of Scripture. We have seen our more “progressive” brethren are willing to forcibly insert a meaning into texts that are not there. When they do this, then they are misleading scores of people with their view of scripture.

The passage in 1 Timothy 2:8-12 gives us the first indication of what we are to look for in defining the role of women. David Lipscomb explains the text of verse 11 by stating, “The position of women in public worship is a quiet learner in manner, yielding submission in all lawful respects to the position God had placed man as leader of the worship in the public assembly of the church.” Lipscomb would further state, regarding verse 12, “The point guarded against here is woman’s assuming authority over man…this is the only reason given why it is wrong.” Brother Lipscomb is not taking a male chauvinistic approach to the passage, but he is taking a clear and concise role that is defined through Scripture.

Brother Robinson tries to point out that hesuchia means only “quietness” and it cannot mean silence. According to Strong’s Concordance, which is one of the most reliable concordances one can own, hesuchia means “silence” in verse 11. As we have seen, the misdirection used by the proponents of an expanded role for women is prevalent. In order to fit their view of Scripture into the box, they must change the way words are defined to change the narrative.

The Greek word authentein means, “to have authority over or to be domineering.” We cannot overlook that this word means what it means. Although there have been many cases where people have tried to change the definition, it remains constant that the original meaning is what we have shown. In verse 12, Paul is not just addressing a cultural problem. Paul is addressing the church through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and is addressing a wider issue. Women, in church and at home, must be submissive to men and not exercise authority over them as well.

The question of Phoebe is one that has caused much strife and division. Brother Lipscomb states in his commentary on Romans, “Some think she was a publicly recognized deaconess, but we find no recognition in Scriptures of any such class.” He would further state, “Many women did, however, voluntarily devote themselves in a womanly way to teaching and to those who preached, waiting on the sick and doing whatever work presented itself for them to do. Phoebe was one of this class.” I could not agree more with these statements regarding Phoebe. The word diakonos in Romans 16:1 is properly rendered in most translations as “servant.” Phoebe was a servant of the church and devoted herself to taking care of the people of the church. As a Christian, she understood her role and was “commended by Paul for her service,” according to Brother Lipscomb.

When we look at 1 Corinthians 14:34ff in light of everything we have seen thus far with other passages, we see that the progressive view is not the view that should be taken. Brother Lipscomb writes of verse 34, “No instruction in the New Testament is more positive than this; it is positive, explicit and universal; and however plausible maybe the reasons which are urged for disregarding it, and for suffering women to take an active part in conducting public worship, yet the authority of the inspired apostle remains positive and his meaning cannot be misunderstood.” This passage is not one to be taken just on a basis of cultural stigmas. We must remember that Paul, like all the writers in the Bible, were fully inspired and that they were given the words to write from God. Brother Lipscomb would continue, “He looks at it from every viewpoint, forbids it altogether, and shows that from every consideration it was to regarded as improper for them to take any active part in conducting the public service.”

Biblical Roles For Women

As we all know, there are five acts of public worship. These are singing, praying, preaching, giving and observing the Lord’s Supper. These acts of worship are important to the church and how we are to give praise to our Father. The Bible clearly indicates that we all must actively participate in these to be pleasing to God.

The question that remains is, “What roles, if any, do women have in the structure of the church?” This is a great question and it must be answered with the Bible and, most importantly, it must be answered with great care. The women of the church have a vital role to play in the church!

One role women must take on is a participant in the worship itself. What does this mean? Do women take leader roles? As we have seen, they do not take on the role of the leader; however, they must give their being to the worship of God. When we come together to partake of the emblems of the Lord’s supper, we all must participate. When we sing songs of praise, we all must “sing and make melody with our hearts to God.” When we pray, we all must give our thoughts and praise to God through prayer. When the preacher is preaching, we all must give our attention to the speaker and listen to the sermon being taught. When we give of our means, we all must give of what we have been blessed with each first day of the week.

The women of the church can also take on the role of mentors to the young ladies of the congregation. They can give pertinent skills training and advice for girls. This is also a biblical concept. Titus 2:3-5 states that “the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things—that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed.” This passage gives the women of the congregation insight into what God is looking for from the ladies of the church.

The Great Commission of Matthew 28 is not just a statement for men, but it is also for women. Some of the most brilliant preachers in our brotherhood would not have been the men they were, had it not been for the women who stood beside them or the ones that taught them. Someone might ask, “Wait, I thought women were not allowed to teach and now you are saying they can?” We are all to teach and bring souls to Christ every day because that is a primary function of being a Christian; however, the roles must be understood. If we are the kind of Christians we must be under the New Covenant, then those around us will be taught just by our example. Women can have a much greater influence in some respects than men can have in certain areas.

For too long, we in the mainstream” have been silent on the roles women play in the church and vocal against what they cannot do. May we continue to search the Scriptures, train women to be confidant in their roles, and train churches to understand there are many roles women have which do not compromise Scripture for the sake of cultural relevancy!

Will is married to Sarah and is the minister of the Pleasant View congregation in Skullbone, TN.

The Case For A Cappella Music In Worship — Will Hester

Over the last twenty-eight years we have seen a resurgence of an old issue in the churches of Christ. The trend of moving away from basic non-instrumental worship services has accelerated. Now—more than ever—we need to speak out against blatant doctrinal error. Our focus needs to be on Christ and his teachings and not the ways of man. We must be willing declare that this is not a biblical doctrine. Instrumental music in worship to God, in every form, is doctrinally unscriptural. A cappella music is the only form of music we can use in worship.

Most of us understand certain aspects of our faith and practices. We know that we have to be baptized for the remission of our sins (Acts 2:38), pray to God for all we do (1 Thess. 5:17), and love God and our neighbor (Matt. 22:36-39). Yet the fundamentals to the ways we sing are still hard to sort out among some. The questions that arise are about the authoritative nature of Ephesians 5:19-21, 1 Corinthians 14:15 and Colossians 3:16-17 and where does instrumental music fit, if at all? If a cappella music is the only form of singing that is prescribed in the New Testament, then instrumental music in worship is unauthorized by God and does irreparable harm to the unity of the church.

In the texts listed above, the Greek word that is used is psallo, defined by most reliable Greek lexicons as literally meaning “to pluck or play.” Eric Lyons writes, “By studying reliable Greek lexicons (dictionaries) and various historical documents, one soon comes to understand that the term psallo has had a variety of meanings in different periods of its history” (Lyons, The Meaning of Psallo in the New Testament). We understand meanings of words change meanings over time, as Lyons mentions, and we also must understand context as well. Ephesians 5:19 and 1 Corinthians 14:15 each “singing and making melody with your heart” and “I will sing praise with my mind.” In both of these texts we see that through context the instrument is the heart and the mind.

Ephesians 5:19 states that Christians must be “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.” The heart is the instrument that is being played. The Greek of this text is αδοντεσ και ψαλλοντεσ τη καρδια ὑμῶν. Literally this clause means, “singing and making melody with your heart.” For those that believe that instrumental music is authorized, they must contend with the fact that the only instrument authorized is the heart.

Instrumental music is not an old issue in religious history. John Price states, “The first recorded example of a musical instrument in Christian worship was an organ introduced in about 670 in a Roman Catholic Church in Rome by Pope Vitalianus” (Price, 79). However, it was not generally accepted by the populous. “By the 9th century, only two organs had been used in Christian Worship” (Price, 80). Though this was the case and fact that the organ was used at this time, “the general acceptance of it did not come until late 1200” (Price, 80). Although the instrument was introduced at this time, opposition arose from many learned men and religious leaders. We must also state that for many religious groups the instrument was a strange innovation and that many did not even add the instrument until well into the 18th and 19th centuries.

During the restoration movement Alexander Campbell and the other restoration preachers dealt with an assortment of issues and doctrines. They wanted to get back to the Bible for every practice, including the way to worship God in song. Although Campbell dealt with the “issue” of musical notes early in the movement, “From 1850 on, the ‘organ in church’ question kept cropping up” (Choate & Woodson, 20). However, it would not be until twenty years later that the issue became a major source of division in the church.

Woodson and Choate assess the significance of the issue at hand and quote from Benjamin Franklin, a well-known preacher and restorer, saying, “The early Christians had no instruments of music. I will not dishonor the Bible by resorting to the instrument” (Choate & Woodson, 22). James S. Lamar, however, states almost the polar opposite of what Franklin does by saying, “I do not wish to thrust an instrument upon anyone…[A]nd I am perfectly willing for every church to worship God with or without such an accompaniment” (Choate & Woodson, 32). Why are we quoting these two men? Are their statements anymore appeasable than others? Not necessarily, but they do start to scratch the surface of both sides of the issue.

The issue came to a head by 1870 and “the differences of opinion over instrumental music widened, while more and more pianos and organs were finding their way from the parlor and Sunday school into the worship service upstairs in the church (Choate & Woodson, 37). The issue was decisively separated into those for and those against. For the next thirty-five years the issue would start severing the ties between the Christian Church and the churches of Christ. By 1906, the issues between the two were finally put to rest. “This was the year that the United States religious census identified the churches of Christ as a separate and unique religious movement” (Choate & Woodson, 107).

In 2006, the one hundred year anniversary of the split between the churches of Christ and Christian churches, a preacher in Texas decided to come out with a stance on the issue that perplexed many people in the church. Rick Atchley, the preacher for the former Richland Hills congregation in North Richland Hills, TX, “delivered three sermons (all entitled “The Both/And Church”) in December 2006 from the Richland Hills pulpit in an effort to explain the rationale behind the change” (Miller, Preface). He tried to explain why the largest church in the brotherhood was about to make the most drastic decision one church could make.

Why did Atchley and the Richland Hills congregation make this decision? Was it to be the first in what they thought would be a wave of change in the church? In the minds of most, the decision was made on “full study.” Brother Atchley even states, “I spent three days in Abilene in the library, reading everything I could on this subject. I let every side have their best shot at me. I read debates that were 100 years old. I read everything the anti-instrument position has produced” (Miller, 1). The most troubling aspect of this quote is not that he spent his time in Abilene, but it is what is really not said. The fact that he “studied” these documents and yet still came to the conclusion he did is baffling, to say the least.

What should be stressed is that, “Historically, people who have argued for instrumental music in church worship have made considerable use of material from the Old Testament. Brother Atchley is no exception” (Alexander, 19). As with all of his arguments, he takes a slanted view of scripture to suit the issue that he is defending. “Atchley’s first attempt to push the Old Testament perspective on instrumental music into the New Testament comes in a passing comment on Psalms 33, 92 and 150, all of which mention instruments” (Alexander, 22). Atchley’s assessment and thoughts on these passages being for instrumental music in Christian worship are weak, at best. However, this is not the end of his argument. He states, “No where in the New Testament is congregational singing specifically authorized” (Miller, 36). The statement is very bold and has major implications in this issue. Miller states, “If God has indicated His desire that our worship of Him include singing, such singing would be mere human invention. And if God accepts mere human invention/inclination for worship, then a person can worship God any way he chooses, no matter how bizarre or outlandish, as long as he/she is sincere” (Miller, 36). He could not have stated it any clearer than that.

While Richland Hills and Rick Atchley were taking these drastic steps there were other congregations that followed suit. One such congregation, the Quail Springs Church of Christ in Oklahoma City, added an instrumental music service. Their preacher “praised Atchley and recommended that the Quail Springs members listen to Atchley’s lessons. He said the Quail Springs church ‘will join the Richland Hills and others in becoming a both/and church’” (Alexander, 12). One decision made by one church shaped the course of events in churches of Christ for years to come.

The train of introducing instrumental music into worship does not stop with Quail Springs and Richland Hills. In 2015, the eldership at Greenville Oaks church of Christ in Allen, Texas, made the decision to introduce an instrumental service on Sundays. In a document found on their website entitled, “FAQ-Greenville Oaks Worship Journey,” they explain what lead them to this decision. They stated that they want to be “culturally relevant,” that they want to meet “a growing need and desire,” and that they want to “provide the younger and future generations with worship experiences that engage and enable their hearts to worship.” These three statements are extremely dangerous in the context they are being used. The “culturally relevant” statement is dangerous because of the conformity to the worldview of what “worship” looks like. Romans 12:2 states, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Notice the first part of the verse. When we decide to be “culturally relevant” and change the nature of worship, then we are in clear violation of Romans 12:2.

They also stated, “Nearly all churches that are really connecting with and reaching the lost have contemporary instrumental worship.” That is a grave assumption. This statement, if taken at face value, assumes that any church that does not have instrumental worship is not effectively reaching the lost. There is no evidence to support this claim. I concede that many people attend instrumental churches; however, to make the claim that they are reaching the lost and teaching the right way of worship is not in corroboration with Scripture.

What can be done to combat this issue? Are there ways that we can speak out against this doctrinal error and help those who have fallen away to see the truth? The answers may come from an unlikely source. In 1987, Rubel Shelly produced a small book entitled, Sing His Praise: A Case for A Cappella Music as Worship Today. He states, “It would be a shallow protest to inveigh against corrupting the action (i.e., adding instruments to the musical praise of the church) without warning against neglecting its very essence (i.e., adoration from a devoted heart)” (Shelly, 53). Yes, even Shelly believed that instrumental music was not the proper way of praising God in song. He further stated, “…Instrumental music should be abandoned” (Shelly, 56).

How should one interpret what has just been said? Is there sufficient data to support the case for either side? I believe there is enough data to support the case for a cappella music. Scripture tells us that our heart and mind are both affected and that we play our hearts — ψάλλω — through our words. Shelly has a statement near the end of his book that, if made today, one wonders if he would still affirm. “If an effort were to be made to introduce the instrument into a local church where I held membership or into our larger fellowship of believers, I would oppose it strenuously” (Shelly, 108). I could not agree more with brother Shelly’s statement as made in 1987.

Price states, “In the first place, this is a misunderstanding of the regulative principle of worship, which has been cherished by the Reformed churches throughout the centuries. The Bible affirms that worship is always a matter of what God commands, never a matter of what He has not forbidden.” He goes on, “In the second place, we may compare this to the Lord’s supper. In the same way that He has not forbidden the use of musical instruments in the New Testament, He has not forbidden the eating of meat at His supper. All would agree that to eat meat at the Lord’s Supper would be presumptuous addition to His will. But if we use the rule that what is not forbidden is acceptable, then to eat meat at the Lord’s Supper must be admissible. Why should the addition of musical instruments in His worship be viewed any differently than the addition of eating of meat at His Supper? The argument that because musical instruments are not forbidden in the New Testament and, therefore, their use is acceptable must be dismissed” (Price). Jividen expands on this idea: “The answer that Jesus gave showed that he used prohibitive silence in His interpretation of Scriptures” (Jividen). He then states, “His Disciples should have the same lofty view of the Scriptures” (Jividen, 140)

Is singing worship? When we worship, do we believe in the words of the songs? According to Jividen, “Singing is for edification. Singing is heartfelt praise to the Lord” (Jividen, 92). He mentions the passages we have discussed and says, “Two points stand out in the passages—both spirit and mind are involved in worship in song, and everyone should understand and benefit from the songs in the assembly” (Jividen, 92). Jividen is correct on these points because worship includes singing. He continues, “James combines singing and praying in describing how worship arises from hearts filled with joy or sorrow [James 5:13]” (Jividen, 91).

What can be taken away from this study, if anything? One of the key points to be made is that the scripture is our guiding principle. Instrumental music, as we have seen, has no place in the worship setting. John Price goes a step further: “To bring them into the church is to transgress the authority of Christ in His Worship” (Price, 228). I agree with him wholeheartedly.

As we conclude, Ecclesiastes 12:13 comes to mind: “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.” Our duty as Christians is to worship in the way set forth in the Bible. Instrumental music in worship is unauthorized by God and does irreparable harm to the unity of the church. We must guard against doctrinal error such as instrumental music and speak out against it. Now more than ever we need sound teaching and it is my firm conviction that we must start at the heart of worship. If we lose the battle for sound worship, then we have lost our way and we may never get it back.

Will is married to Sarah and is the minister of the Pleasant View congregation in Skullbone, TN.

 

Works Cited

Alexander, Thomas C. Music In Worship: A New Examination of an Old Issue. Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate, 2010.

Choate, J.E., and William Woodson. Sounding Brass and Clanging Cymbals. Henderson, TN: Freed-Hardeman University, 1991.

Elders of Greenville Oaks. “FAQ-Greenville Oaks Worship Journey.” Allen, TX: Greenville Oaks church of Christ, 2015.

Hester, David. Among the Scholars. Tuscumbia, AL: David W. Hester, 1994.

Jividen, Jimmy. More Than A Feeling. Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate, 1999.

Lyons, Eric. The Meaning of “Psallo” in the New Testament. Apologetics Press, 2002. Web. 2002.

Miller, Dave. Richland Hills and Instrumental Music: A Plea to Reconsider. Pulaski, TN: Sain Publications, 2007.

Price, John. Old Light on New Worship. Avinger, Texas: Simpson Publishing Company, 2005.

Shelley, Rubel. Sing His Praise: A Case for A Cappella Music as Worship Today. Nashville, TN: 20th Century Christian, 1987.

Is It A Sin To Eat In The Church Building? — Robby Eversole

Back in the mid 1940’s a movement was born that has worn the moniker anti-ism. This name was given because those of this persuasion were against many things. This nomenclature was given to them before I was born. I mean no disrespect by the use of the term anti.

A little history will perhaps prove needful. This movement had its roots in condemning how money was spent in evangelism. In 1952 the Highland Avenue Church of Christ in Abilene, TX, was presented a marvelous opportunity to preach the gospel on the radio. The church didn’t have the money, so the elders signed the contract at the radio station and sent letters to sister congregations for financial support in preaching the gospel. The money came in and the gospel was preached. This was the beginning of the Herald of Truth Radio Program.

In 1954, this same church was invited to put the Herald of Truth Radio Program on national television. Again, they didn’t have the money. So the elders signed the television contract and mailed letters to sister congregations asking for help. The funds came in and the gospel was preached. Eight years before this in 1946, a man by the name of Roy Cogdill, the father of the anti movement, preached a sermon in California condemning one church helping another church in evangelism. This resistance grew as individuals began to speak against these cooperative efforts and by the mid 1950’s the church was in a civil war.

They were guilty of making laws where God had made no laws. They had no respect for expediency as it relates to Bible authority. It is equally wrong to bind where God has loosed as it is to loose where God had bound. “He who justifies the wicked, and he who condemns the just, both of them alike are an abomination to the Lord” (Prov. 17:15, NKJV). Liberalism justifies wicked things like abortion, homosexuality, and the like. Legalism (anti-ism) condemns just or right things. Both are wrong!

There were multiple divisions within their own ranks. False doctrines began to be propagated on every hand. There arose among them the doctrine of “No Bible class.” They taught that it was a sin to divide the Bible classes into age groups and teach everyone on their level. Then there was the “anti orphan home” movement among them. They taught that it was a sin that would send one to hell for taking a penny out of the church treasury to feed a starving little child. Some said that it was a sin to preach the gospel to the church. Others said that the fruit of the vine had to be drunk from one cup or container. Again, there was no understanding of expediency. In evangelism money had to be given to the preacher. In benevolence the money had to be given to the elders. There were many webs of error that were all based on a failure to understand how the Bible authorizes.

Let’s notice the verse they abused then and continue to abuse today. “What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you” (1 Cor. 11:22). In this letter Paul was condemning the abuse of the Lord’s Supper. Notice how Paul condemns their actions and attitudes in 1 Corinthians 11:19-21: “For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you. Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk.” They were not doing what they were assembling to do, which was to eat the Lord’s Supper. They were not waiting on one another (1 Cor. 11:33). Some (the rich) were eating to the point of gluttony (KJV, drunken), while the poor were going away hungry (1 Cor. 11:21). They had turned the Lord’s Supper into a common meal, prompting Paul to tell them they were not eating the Supper of the Lord (1 Cor. 11:20).

It was in this context that Paul said, “What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you” (1 Cor. 11:22). They had houses in which to eat their common meals. They had despised the church of the Lord because they were not sharing. The problem had nothing to do with eating a meal at the church building. The problem in this instance was that they had replaced the Lord’s Supper with a common meal and the rich were not sharing with the poor. Paul condemns this ungodly behavior. The rich were eating to excess and the poor were leaving hungry. How deplorable!

Paul asked a question in 1 Corinthians 11:22 that we must consider. He asked, “Do you not have houses to eat and drink in?” (emp. mine). The same verse which is used as a proof text to condemn eating in the church building would also condemn drinking in the church building. Eating and drinking are tied together by the coordinating conjunction “and,” which ties together two things of equal rank. If it is wrong to eat in the building, then it is also wrong to drink in the building.

If this is to be a mandate with no qualification from the context, then the only place one could eat would be at home. You couldn’t eat at restaurants, go on picnics, or eat on the job. Travel would be limited. You could be gone from home no longer than your ability to abstain from food. Business travel would be limited. What about the homeless? Where do they eat? What about people in hospitals? They must be brought home three times a day so they can eat and then be taken back. Why? Because one must eat at home! This is the implication of their doctrine if they take Paul’s admonition without any qualification.

Many congregations begin in homes (1 Cor. 16:19). Where are people to eat who do this? Did Aquila and Priscilla have to build a separate structure in which to take their meals? Why didn’t Paul correct this?

This is not just an oversight by Paul and the Holy Spirit because he wrote about churches who met in houses to the Christians in Rome also (Rom. 16:3-5). Church buildings as we know them today were not common in the first century. What church building is found in Acts 20:7-11? It was simply an upper chamber; to whom did it belong? Note that Paul both worshiped and ate in this same upper dwelling. The breaking of bread in verse 7 is the Lord’s Supper, while the breaking of bread in verse 11 is a common meal, both eaten in the same upper room. Apparently Paul did not know that it was sinful to eat in the same building in which he had worshiped. Was Mary’s house rendered unfit for meals? (Acts 12:12) What about Lydia’s house? Could they no longer eat there? (Acts 15:16, 40) The New Testament knows nothing of holy buildings used for Christian worship that were rendered contaminated because someone ate a meal in them.

Is it a sin to eat in the church building? The answer is no. It is wrong to make up laws for God.

Robby lives in Summerville, GA, and preaches for the Pennville congregation. He studied at the East Tennessee School of Preaching and Missions in Knoxville, TN.

A Different Kind Of Faith — Dewayne Bryant, Ph.D.

The uniqueness of Christianity sets it apart from other world religions. At times, believers have received ill treatment ranging from simple ridicule to outright persecution. In the first century, Christianity appeared as a faith different from anything the Roman Empire had ever seen. Although many differences emerge upon close examination, Christians differed from their religious neighbors in three significant areas: their worship of one God, the promotion of morals, and religious practice.

Exclusive Worship of One God. Christians differed sharply from their pagan neighbors in worshiping only one God at the exclusion of all others. The Romans had no problem with Christians worshipping God as long as they paid respect to the gods of Rome. Pagans saw early Christians’ refusal to do so as both bizarre and intolerable. Christians acquired the reputation of being seditious, divisive, and dangerous to the well-being of the empire.

The Romans tolerated Jew’s insistence upon worshipping Yahweh alone because of the antiquity of the Jewish faith. As a recent development with no ties to any particular ethnicity or nation (Gal. 3:28b), Christian beliefs found little sympathy. The Romans saw the exclusive worship of one God as unprecedented and unjustifiable.

Promotion of Morals and Ethics. Christianity is not merely a religion of theological tenets and beliefs but prescribes distinctive ethical teachings. The typical person in the ancient world made little if any connection between religion and morals—this was the domain of philosophy. The religious were interested in placating the gods and warding off unwanted attention from vengeful spirits. Christianity offered a moral and ethical system of belief designed to imitate God’s holiness and righteousness (Eph. 5:1-14). Indeed, ancient religion had little interest in emulating the gods, whose behavior was often deplorable if not criminal.

Religious Practice. Religious activities made up a significant part of the fabric of daily life. Christianity differed from paganism in that it had no altar, sacrifices, depictions of God, shrines or temples, or priesthood (at least, not how pagans understood them; cf. 1 Cor. 6:19; 1 Pet. 2:5). Temples could often be found in the heart of the city, and shrines and altars could be seen throughout (e.g., Acts 17:16). Rome expected its citizens to worship the gods, which Christians in good conscience could not do.

With an abundance of opportunities for showing the necessary reverence to the gods, Christians must have had a difficult time navigating society. In the modern world, concealing one’s Christian faith is relatively simple; in the Roman Empire, such a thing would have been almost impossible. Living out the faithful Christian life was not only a matter of choice but of consistency. New Testament writers commended the perseverance of the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 1:2-7) and the Ephesians (Rev. 2:2-3) for their resolute faith under challenging circumstances.

The behavior of the early Christians must have left their neighbors befuddled. The disdain and even hostility of the Romans toward early believers is proof of the distinctiveness of the Christian faith. It differed from both the traditional religions of the classical world and the mystery cults. In spite of the consequences they suffered for their faith, Christians lived their lives as a “peculiar people” (1 Pet. 2:9). They weathered the efforts other others in their day to compromise their distinctiveness and conform to popular attitudes toward religion. They serve as a model for those today who still seek to imitate Christ and bring the light of life to a darkened world (2 Cor. 4:6-11).

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.

One Faith — Keith B. Cozort

The title of this article has only two relatively small words in it, but there are major disagreements as to the meaning of those two words. Some believe the apostle Paul, the writer of the book of Ephesians, was speaking of an individual’s personal faith. Thus, there would be many faiths because every individual has his, or her, own faith. Others believe Paul was speaking of the gospel of Jesus Christ, God’s Word, as found in the New Testament. Which is it?

One’s personal faith is absolutely essential if that person wants to have heaven as his or her eternal reward. Jesus said, “I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins” (John 8:24). He would also state, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16). Therefore, personal faith or belief is important. The Hebrews writer also states, “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Heb. 11:6). So, an individual cannot be saved without having a personal faith in Jesus, in God, as well as in the word of God.

A person’s individual faith must be based upon the truth revealed in the New Testament. Jesus taught, “…If you continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32). Many people like to quote verse 32, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free,” but they forget or refuse to acknowledge where that truth is located. It is located in the words of our Lord. Plus, one cannot be a disciple of Christ and refuse to abide by the words or revelation of Christ. Our Lord made this perfectly clear when He said, “He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day” (John 12:48). The word which was spoken by our Lord will be the standard by which all those on this side of the cross will be judged. Paul affirms the same thing in Romans 10:17 when he says, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” This “faith” is one’s own personal faith which is founded upon God’s word. But this is not the “one faith” to which the apostle Paul speaks.

Paul in Ephesians 4:5 is referring to the system of faith, the gospel of Jesus Christ of which we read in the New Testament. It is the same “faith” to which Jude, the half-brother of our Lord, spoke when he said, “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write upon you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). “The faith” in this passage is not an individual’s personal faith but rather the system of faith which Jude says was “once delivered,” meaning it was once for all time delivered unto the saints. There never has been and never will be a need for another “faith,” an updated version of the faith, to be delivered to the saints.

Unfortunately, there are those who believe the “one faith” needs to be updated. As one person proclaimed, “After all, it’s not the first century any longer!” What he and many others don’t realize is there were those who lived at the same time as the apostle Paul who thought the “one faith” needed to be updated. Paul wrote to the Galatian brethren, “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ” (Gal. 1:6-7). Paul is saying there were those who were promoting “another gospel,” an updated gospel, but he says it was actually a perversion of the gospel of Christ. He makes the point that their misguided reasoning stated that this new, updated, gospel was another of the same kind of good news when compared to that which originated with Jesus Christ. This new gospel, instead of being another of the same kind, was instead actually another of a different kind. It was a perversion of Christ’s gospel. We still have those who are promoting “another gospel of Jesus Christ” but it too is just a perversion of the “one faith.”

The “one faith,” the system of faith, is comprised of: facts which must be believed; commandments which must be obeyed; instructions which must be followed; promises which will be given by our heavenly Father; and warnings which must be heeded, if we intend to have Heaven as our everlasting home! None of these ingredients which make up the “one faith” can be ignored, rejected, or excluded by anyone who desires to hear our Lord say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant…” (Matt. 25:21).

In his commentary on the books of Ephesians and Colossians, brother Robert R. Taylor, Jr. quotes brother Winfred Clark as saying, “The ONE God sent the ONE Lord who sent the ONE Spirit who gave us the ONE faith (the gospel) which teaches the ONE baptism which puts us into the ONE church (body – K.B.C.) wherein we enjoy the ONE hope” (Studies In Ephesians & Colossians, Taylor Publications, 2010, pg. 80).

While there are many individuals who have biblical faith, notice there is only ONE faith — system of faith, gospel of Jesus Christ — acceptable to God. ONE means one, not two or any number greater or lesser than one.

Keith is a graduate of the Florida School of Preaching in Lakeland, FL, and preaches for the Lord’s church in Mountain Grove, MO. He and his wife, Cheryl, have 3 sons and 12 grandchildren.

The Interrelatedness of Dispensations — Travis Main

I once witnessed a conversation in which the premise put forth was that the older generation did not understand the times. Culture changes! Ages go by. Therefore, the beliefs of the older generation were no longer considered correct. In part, there is truth to this. Traditions, skills, and knowledge which have been passed down over time aren’t always acceptable. Speaking in the language of an era passing away, “Use a #2 pencil to adjust the tape in the cassette” may not only be a confusing phrase, but outdated and irrelevant.

Yet, what are we to do with the biblical statement “…ask for the old paths…”? The context and source of any discussion are critical in determining their usefulness. When speaking of the old paths, the context is people needing to get back to what God commands. The source of the statement is God. This is a message that fits all cultures and times. Today, many people want to do what God says, but they are holding to practices which God no longer authorizes. So looking back over man’s time upon earth, what statements of God should one follow? Is there a thread of consistency or interrelatedness throughout the time of man upon the earth and the dispensations he has lived through that helps determine this?

The New Testament definition for the word dispensation is “the management or oversight of a household or property”. In other words, a dispensation is defined by the authority or laws under which it operates and is not confined to time or culture. It appears in the expanse of man’s life upon earth there have been four major dispensations given by God: Creation, Patriarchal, Mosaic, and Christian. Each has very specific characteristics.

The dispensation of Creation is remembered through two people: Adam and Eve. They were to be fruitful and multiply, tend the Garden of Eden, and not eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That was their dispensation (the authority they lived under).

The Patriarchal dispensation represented a time when God spoke directly to the fathers (patriarchs). It has been frequently taught that God spoke to them with different laws, each under their own dispensation as it were. To support this it is oft stated that Abraham was the only one told to sacrifice his son or Noah was the only one told to build an ark. However, it appears that despite individual directives by God, there was a universal law given. Consider the man Noah. What is it that Peter calls him? He calls Noah a “preacher of righteousness” (2 Pet. 2:5). How could Noah preach righteousness if what was right to him was not also defined as right to others as well? The source of what defined righteousness to all men was God. Thus, Noah could preach righteousness to others. Later, but under the same dispensation, Lot is seen vexed with the filthy conversation of others (2 Pet. 2:7). Why? He was aware of a common dispensation all lived under, but some were rejecting.

The Mosaic dispensation is defined by a particular people and a particular law. By the authority of God, the nation of Israel was given the “Law of Moses” to live under. It was specifically for them and those who would voluntarily choose to live under it. When God directed that from the Israelites two silver trumpets be made and that only the Levites play them, no other people lived under that law. None other were under that authority.

The Christian dispensation, the fullness of time, the right time, began with the crucifixion of the Savior of the World, Jesus the Christ. He died as an Israelite man, fulfilling the law which God had imparted to Israel by Moses. The dispensation being fulfilled, a new dispensation began. All mankind became accountable to the household administration of Christ. Since that time, no other dispensation has been given by God.

In examining the dispensations of God, it is interesting to note that the first two dispensational laws never appear to have been written down. Beginning with the Mosaic dispensation, God commands His Law be written down (Ex. 34:27). These laws were to be at the forefront of every Israelite’s mind (Deut. 6:6-9). As Christ came onto the scene in the first century, John the Immerser heralded the kingdom of God as being at hand. Jesus and his disciples would share the gospel of the kingdom (Mark 1:1). Then, following the death of Jesus, his disciples continued on with that gospel in full knowledge. The apostles and disciples by the power of the Holy Spirit wrote down exactly what God desired us to know and follow (2 Pet. 1:20-21). The perfect Word of God, as we find it in the Bible today, enabled men to be fully mature in Christ (1 Cor. 13:9-13; Eph. 4:8-15).

There are commonalities throughout the dispensations. A few come quickly to mind. God put people on the earth to multiply and fill it (Gen. 1:28; 9:1; Lev. 26:9, Deut. 8:1; Matt. 28:19, John 3:5). God expects man to be obedient or face consequences (Gen. 3:3; 4:7-12; Ex. 15:26; Rom. 2:8; 2 Thess. 1:7-9). God requires blood sacrifice for the sins of man (Gen. 3:21; Job 1:5; Num. 15:25, Gal. 1:3-4). A list of like characteristics could get relatively lengthy if we continue on. However, there is the more pressing issue of the interrelatedness of the dispensations which explains what law is applicable today.

The thread interlocking all the dispensations and causing them to work together was once a mystery. Today, that mystery has been revealed. In the beginning the light of this mystery was dim, but with the arrival of the Christian dispensation it burns bright. Interestingly enough, the Creation and Patriarchal dispensations were once described by many a preacher as “starlight.” The light from stars is dim and limited. Similarly, so was information regarding the mystery. When the Mosaic dispensation unfolded more light was shed in regard to the mystery. This timeframe was referred to by ministers as “moonlight.” Finally, the Christian Dispensation brought “Sunlight” or “Sonlight” upon the mystery of God. What was once unperceivable was revealed and made known to the world. The mystery that glued all the dispensations together was the truth of the gospel of Christ. The good news was eternal life. Salvation!

God “hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love” (Eph. 1:4). God “saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (2 Tim. 1:9). The salvation planned by God was necessary “in hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began.” So before the world began, God had a plan of salvation through Christ for the promise of eternal life. In the creation, Adam and Eve did not know this plan. It was a mystery. They were happy in the Garden of Eden with no concerns. Then it all changed with the taking of the fruit against the Word of God (Gen. 3). Death came into the world. Sin separated man from God (Is. 59:1-2). How could men be holy before God if they were filthy from sin? This would be the opening dilemma starting the Patriarchal dispensation.  Perhaps the only clue came in Genesis 3:15 where it was said that man would crush the head of Satan, whereas Satan would crush only the heel of man.

The Patriarchal dispensation makes it clear that sacrifice and offerings were part of man’s worship based on the sin that had entered the world. Cain and Abel, Noah, Job, Abraham, and Jacob are all recorded as offering to the Lord. The related tie between the Creation and Patriarchal dispensations is the desire to get from the latter state back to the former. Yet, man being no longer in the presence of God, with the Fathers guiding the families, chose not to follow the righteousness of God but to perish in the waters of the flood and then afterward begin sin anew. Yes, Noah preached for them to do right! But mankind did not listen. How would God bring them back to the holiness of God and be faithful to His promise? A great mystery indeed! Again there are clues seen from the flood itself: salvation and the washing away of sinfulness through water. Additionally, three promises given to Abraham, one specifically stating through his Seed all nations would be blessed.

The Mosaic dispensation removed the focus from the worship of the patriarchs and presented a chosen nation to the world as a vessel for something greater and an example to the world. Israel was born out of Egypt. God gave them a Law from Sinai delivered by the hand of Moses. A priesthood was chosen from the nation and a sacred place of worship (the tabernacle) was built by the directive of God. God promised the nation of Israel that when they would obey Him, they would be blessed and that when they disobeyed they would be punished. This was a great teacher to all the world and still is today (Josh. 2:9-11), but the purpose of the Law was to be a pedagogue. A pedagogue is an individual who would take the children from home to school. He delivered them from point A to point B. The Law of Moses served to hold the people under sin and take them to the coming of the messiah (Gal. 2:22-25). Jeremiah 31:31 declared a new dispensation was coming. A new law would be needed because the many sacrifices since sin came into the world could not remove the filth of sin from mankind (Heb. 10:4). The nation of Israel had been given clues from Moses and the prophets about the coming Messiah. Clues about how He would arrive, where He would live, and what He would do, were given in abundance to the nation of Israel. The mystery was still hidden, but more and more was known. The end of this dispensation would see Messiah coming, heralded by John the Immerser. Christ declared the kingdom of God to be at hand. He instructed the people in righteousness with miracles as confirmation of the truth. Jesus went to the cross nailing the old dispensation to the cross (Col. 2:14). The Law of Moses had accomplished its task in bringing mankind to the cross. Now the mystery would be revealed. The link from creation to salvation, from sin to holiness, would come into full view.

After the crucifixion, the Holy Spirit of promise was poured out on Pentecost. The Spirit provided all truth to the Apostles (John 16:13). The mystery of salvation revealed, Peter then declared the Deity of Jesus and convicted 3000 souls of their sins against God. Horrified at their condition, the crowd asked what they should do. “Repent and be baptized…for the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 2:38). Once again, washing with water was taking away the sins of the world, one spiritual birth after another as God added to His Kingdom, the Church (Acts 2:47, 1 Pet. 3:21, 1 Tim. 3:15). The Christian dispensation had begun! The Christ by His once for all time blood sacrifice (Heb. 10:10), born of the Mosaic dispensation, was linking the Christian dispensation to the great washing flood of the Patriarchal dispensation for the purpose of returning to the state once present in the Creation dispensation.

It is Jesus who provides us the full assurance of returning to stand holy before God (Heb. 10:20-22) and authority and relevance under which we all live (Col. 3:17). His free salvation links all the dispensations together. Following any other dispensation, tradition or creed is done only by those who do not understand the times.

Travis has been a minister in the Lord’s church for over 15 years. He attends and teaches at the Eastside Church of Christ in Mt. Vernon, OH. He is the creator of churchofchristarticles.com.