Category Archives: 2019 – Sept

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what I believe as a Christian:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Jon

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

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

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

History in the Wrong Hands

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

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

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

The History of Science

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

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

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

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

Political History and Religion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endnotes

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

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

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

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

1995), 519.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re A Bunch of Legalists!” — Adam Carlson

Merriam-Webster defines legalism as “strict, literal, or excessive conformity to the law or to a religious or moral code.” In the religious world, especially among those who advocate a “seeker friendly” approach, the term legalist is hurled at anyone who expresses concern for biblical authority in religious matters. Sadly, this is sometimes done by some of our own. In this article, we’ll strive to see what the Scriptures say regarding this matter.

Example of actual legalism. In Acts 15 we’re introduced to Jewish converts who were seeking to bind circumcision on their Gentile brethren as a condition of salvation (15:1, 5). The apostles understood this wasn’t proper and thus only instructed them to maintain moral lives (vs. 19-20, 29). Paul further expounded on this (Gal. 5:2-3, 6). We must be careful to “not go beyond what is written” (1 Cor. 4:6). When we impose personal convictions as doctrine, it does nothing but create a stumbling block (Rom. 14:13).

Misrepresenting Jesus. In discussions where the charge of “legalism” is hurled, it’s common to appeal to our Lord’s public exposé of the scribes and Pharisees in an effort to loosen what they had bound (Matt. 23). He had good reason for the words He spoke to them. They were hypocritical (Matt. 6:2, 5, 16; 15:7; Lk. 13:15) and self-righteous (Lk. 18:9), among other things. Yet He never condemned them for adhering to Mosaic law and even told the people to do what they said (Matt. 23:2-3). Instead, He condemned them for not doing what they told others to do.

Not under law. Proponents of the “seeker friendly” approach will take Paul’s words in Romans 6:14-15 to argue that emphasis on doctrine doesn’t matter. Paul wrote, “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” (emp. added). In the context of this section, Paul was arguing that God’s grace isn’t a license to sin; rather grace, when properly understood, grants access to forgiveness. He most certainly didn’t say doctrine doesn’t matter because he would have been contradicting himself (Rom. 16:17; 1 Tim. 6:3; 2 Tim. 1:13; Tit. 2:1).

Unchanging standard. From the dimensions of the ark to the dimensions of the tabernacle, God has always specified what He wants. To emphasize and practice what God desires of us isn’t legalistic but rather shows respect to Him by adhering to His instructions (Heb. 8:5). Furthermore, our Savior told His disciples that He has “all authority” (Matt. 28:18). He doesn’t change (Heb. 13:8). Those under the guise of standing against “legalism” who undermine our Lord’s authority are like the false teachers described by Peter and Jude. Peter wrote, “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bring upon themselves swift destruction” (2 Pet. 2:1, emp. added). Jude likewise wrote, “For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 4, emp. added).

False accusations. When scriptural authority is emphasized and charges of “legalism” are made, we’ll be called “divisive.” Elijah was met with this by the mouth of Ahab (1 Kings 18:17). Amos likewise was charged falsely by the corrupt Amaziah (Amos 7:10). One who is sincerely concerned for God’s Word is neither divisive nor legalistic. They seek to do God’s will.

Strive for balance. As Joshua was preparing to lead Israel across the Jordan after Moses’ death, he was instructed, “Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to that which Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go” (Josh. 1:7, emp. added). Some have gone too far in some things, yet the actions of others give no license to loosen what God has settled (Ps. 119:89). Extremes should be avoided.

A word of caution. It is certainly true that we must adhere to what has been commanded. Yet we must not deceive ourselves into thinking that we are acceptable to God merely because we obey the actions He prescribed. The Ephesian church was what we would consider to be sound. After all, they took a firm stance against false teachers (Rev. 2:2). Yet, they had left their “first love” and were told to repent (vs. 4-5). We can emphasize doctrine and proper worship (and we must)……but we can’t reasonably expect God to be pleased if we abandon Christ and lose our love (1 Cor. 13).

I hope these thoughts will be of benefit to you and that you’ll find it both encouraging and challenging as you seek to grow in His grace and knowledge (2 Pet. 3:18).

Adam preaches for the Midwest congregation in Ferguson, MO.

“You Don’t Believe In Heart-Felt Religion!” — Adam Orr

Religion that is not heart-felt is no religion at all! To those who might feel compelled to offer criticism by suggesting that members of the church do not believe in heart-felt religion, please be reminded of these simple truths from God.

The Necessity of Heart-Felt Religion

Do the words of the inspired writer Solomon come to mind? He would write, “…for as he thinks in his heart, so it he” (Prov. 23:7). Jesus would make it clear that all that we do will be driven from the inside, from the heart, of a man (Mark 7:21-23). It is important that each of us take stock of our heart and where our desires are placed. The heart will drive our thoughts and it will drive our actions.

Jesus was once asked, “Which is the first commandment of all?” Was Jesus really going to give an answer? Would He really provide a ranking of the commands of God? In other words, was Jesus going to indicate that some commands might be more important to follow than others? Notice the answer that Jesus provides in Mark 12:29-30: “The first of all commandments is, ‘Hear, of Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment.” In responding to the question, Jesus reminds us all of the important place of the heart in religion. It is a requirement that we first love God with all of our heart. The heart is the seat of feeling, emotion, and affection. We are commanded to have an emotional attachment to God – to love Him with our entire heart!

In Matthew 15:7-8, Jesus offered righteous critique of the Jewish leaders of His day: “Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you saying: These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.” Religion that is not heart-felt, that is not driven from with-in, is no religion at all.

Worship of God must be driven by the heart of each individual worshipper. In the same context, Jesus would shame the worship of the religious “elite.” Those whose hearts were far from God were said to be those who also were offering vain worship as they were teaching for doctrine the commandments (traditions) of man (Matt. 15:9). True worshippers must worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24). Jesus makes it clear that worship must be according to truth. Only that which God authorizes is going to accepted by God. We must therefore only follow the pattern of worship given in the New Testament. However, the heart is as much involved in true worship as the prescribed actions of worship. All who strive to worship God acceptably will seek to be properly motivated from with-in and offer outward praise driven first by heart-felt praise!

The Caution of Heart-Felt Religion

The heart cannot be our only guide as we seek to please God. When our hearts are right and we seek only to please and praise Him, we will live acceptably in His sight. We must be quick to point out that in the end, we will be judged not by our feelings alone but by our actions of faithfulness (John 12:48). Jesus is the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him (Heb. 5:9). He would say, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). True heart-felt religion will prompt and motivate true obedience.

The Bible warns against feelings being the only safe-guide in religion. Let’s be honest. When most people think of religion that is heart-felt, they think first about feelings. As Saul of Tarsus walked the road to Damascus, he felt that he was right with God and sincerely was about his Father’s business. He would make it clear that he had lived in all good conscience (Acts 23:1). Was this a safe-guide? He was persecuting Jesus in persecuting His people! He was not right with God. Thus, we see that his feelings were not a safe guide.

In all we do, we must strive for sincerity, to be genuine and not fake. In Romans 10:1, Paul is not questioning the sincerity of the Jews. He simply points out that they were sincerely in error. They “felt” they were right, but they were wrong. “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God” (Rom. 10:1-3). If you were to ask the Jews to which Paul was referring if they were sincere and truly felt they were pleasing God, how do you think they would have responded? “YES!” However, their heart-felt religion was misguided. Caution must be used when only being led by our feelings and emotion.

Let us strive to love God whole-heartedly. May our praise always be with all our heart (Ps. 9:1; 111:1). We must never shy away from the fact that He demands and deserves all that we are from within. However, may we seek to always do His will and obey Him fully with heart-driven service.

What a great God we serve!                  

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

“You Are Unloving When You Teach Bible Truths!” — Spencer Strickland

Facts don’t care about your feelings.”1 That is the title of an article in the winter issue of Libertas magazine. The title is actually a quote attributed to an individual by the name of Ben Shapiro who is evidently known to say this phrase during various political discussions. One might easily see how this phrase could be used to argue in favor of certain political stances, but this article is not about politics. In fact, if this author might be indulged a little, I would like to add to this quote by saying, “‘Facts don’t care about your feelings’ . . . but Christians should.”

It is true that sometimes folks are “turned off” by the truth of God’s word. Those folks may try to distract us by using an emotional argument like, “If you love me you won’t judge me.” At the same time, Christians need to recognize that we can be unloving when we teach Bible truths. If we show people the error of their ways “and have not love, it profits me nothing” (NKJV) . . . to borrow a principle from the inspired apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13. Paul told the church at Ephesus that growth in the body of Christ comes from “speaking the truth in love,” among other things (Eph. 4:15). Just as worshipping God in “truth” to the exclusion of “spirit” (a proper attitude) is vain (John 4:24), so too is speaking the truth to our neighbors without the motivation of love. There must be balance in what we say and speak.

Nevertheless, truth is truth no matter how one feels about it. It simply will not do for those who are in error to suggest that a Christian is unloving for having the courage to share the truth. Jesus is the most loving individual to have ever walked among humankind (John 1:14). If he shared the truth with people in error, so must those who follow him.

Jesus was not afraid to look someone in the eye and tell the truth, but his motivation was clearly guided by love. When Jesus looked the Samaritan woman in the eye in John 4 and told her the truth, it was not a comfortable conversation for her. While the record begins with Jesus asking her for water (John 4:1-9), she ends up asking him for water—living water (John 4:10-15). This request leads to Jesus telling her, “Go, call your husband, and come here” (John 4:16). The woman may have thought she had an easy “out” when she responded, “I have no husband” (John 4:17). Imagine her surprise when Jesus said to her, “You have well said, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly” (John 4:18).

If a similar conversation were to occur today, no doubt some people would stop and say, “Who are you to judge me? If I’m living with a man then that is none of your business! If I divorce and remarry as much as I want, then who are you to say that I’m wrong! God wants me to be happy!” Even though Jesus approached this woman out of love and concern for her soul, a Christian trying to help someone in a similar sinful state today might well be deemed “unloving.”

There is, however, a very important line of questions that must be considered in the case of Jesus and the Samaritan woman. What if Jesus had never addressed her sinful situation? What if he had never confronted this woman’s history of divorce, and remarriage? How different would her life be (as well as the other Samaritans in the city of Sychar) if Jesus had not had a difficult but necessary conversation with her? Furthermore, how would he have addressed her misunderstandings about worship had he not confronted her with the truth (John 4:19-24)? The text tells us, The woman then left her waterpot, went her way into the city, and said to the men, ‘Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?’ Then they went out of the city and came to Him…And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, ‘He told me all that I ever did’” (John 4:27-30, 39).

The fact is that a woman and an entire city had the opportunity to be saved from their sins due to an uncomfortable conversation. How could anyone sensibly argue that teaching this woman the truth in John 4 was an exercise in being “unloving”? The New Testament is filled with conversations that might well be considered “unloving” by the culture of today. One amazing example of this type of thing is when Peter confronted sin by telling his audience: “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). That “uncomfortable” statement led to 3,000 souls being saved (Acts 2:41).

The evidence in Scripture is stacked against the false notion that teaching Bible truths is unloving. When a Christian has the courage to help someone out of error, they should be commended instead of condemned. In addition to fornication and unscriptural divorce and remarriage, society now has plenty of opportunities for Christians to have “uncomfortable” conversations which may cause them to be labeled “unloving.” So, as the song asks, “Who will follow Jesus, standing for the right, holding up His banner in the thickest fight, listening for His orders, ready to obey? Who will follow Jesus, serving Him today? Who will follow Jesus? Who will make reply, ‘I am on the Lord’s side. Master, here am I’?”

Spencer has served as the associate editor for the Carolina Messenger for four years. He has been preaching for 21 years. He currently preaches part-time in West Columbia, SC.

 

Endnotes

  1. Jensen, Jessic, ed. “Facts Don’t Care About Your Feelings: An Interview with Ben Shapiro.” Libertas. Winter 2019: 22-25.

“You Believe In Water Salvation!” — Drew Milligan

There are many issues on which the churches of Christ are often criticized about. “You think you are the only ones going to Heaven!” “You don’t respect the Old Testament!” and others are often thrown our way. Perhaps the most well known criticism is the one that people give about water baptism. They will say to you, “You believe that you are saved by water!” Peter tells us to always be ready to give an answer to everyone that asks of us concerning the hope that is in us (1 Pet. 3:15). As a Christian, my hope is in Heaven and I want people to go there with me. Therefore, it is very important that we teach people how to be saved. That includes the avenue of baptism. Let’s consider some points that we can share with people concerning baptism for salvation.

We do not believe we are saved by water. Nobody whom I know of in churches of Christ teaches that we are saved by water. However, God has used water on several occasions as a tool for salvation purposes. For example, consider Noah and his family. Noah was told to prepare an ark and to take his family and both clean and unclean animals aboard (Gen. 6). Peter mentions that “eight souls were saved through water” (1 Pet. 3:20). Noah and his family were saved through water because that water separated them from the wicked generation that had grieved the heart of God. Water itself has no saving power for the believer, but it is a vehicle God has chosen on multiple occasions to use in saving people.

It is the blood of Jesus Christ rather than water which saves us. The day Jesus died and His blood was shed is the most important date in all of human history. We have redemption through the blood of Jesus, even the forgiveness of sins (Col. 1:4). How does one receive forgiveness of sins? Is it by saying “the sinner’s prayer”? Is it by “asking Jesus into your heart”? The people on the day of Pentecost were told to repent of their sins and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of their sins (Acts 2:38). The word “remission” is a word that means a lot to many people. For a cancer patient, the word “remission” brings much happiness and hope for a future full of health. While surgery and medicine can take away cancer or at least slow the progression down, only the blood of Jesus can take away or remit sin. The only way to come into contact with the blood of Jesus is through baptism for the remission of sins.

We do not believe we can save ourselves. Many are opposed to water baptism being required for salvation because they view it as a work of man. They would say we are trying to save ourselves through baptism by being baptized and viewing it as a requirement. Baptism is not a work of man. It is a work of God. I heard Phil Sanders say in a sermon that those who oppose baptism for the remission of sins are interfering with the work of God. Paul talked about how we are “buried with him through baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God(Col. 2:12, ESV, emp. added). No member of the church ought to believe he is entitled to salvation or has earned his salvation. However, there are some, even within the brotherhood, who are so afraid to admit that there are works of obedience which are required to please God. One very prominent minister and author in the churches of Christ was quoted in the early 1990’s as saying that we “do not contribute one whit to our salvation,” that our salvation depends solely on God’s grace. Certainly we are saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8), but faith requires us to act upon it through works of obedience. Another prominent minister and author who at one time was associated closely with churches of Christ no longer teaches baptism as being essential to salvation. He has long since adopted a “faith only” stance. Christians do not believe in salvation by meritorious works, but we do believe in salvation by faith in Christ, demonstrated through works of obedience.

We do not believe that only baptism saves. Simply being baptized is not enough to save. If a man does not have faith in Jesus Christ, all he has done by being baptized is get wet. If a man refuses to repent of sin in his life, all he has done is get wet. Baptism is just part of God’s plan of salvation for man. Baptism is the culmination of one hearing the Word of God which produces faith in Christ leading to repentance and confession. Upon one’s baptism, the Lord adds that soul to His church (Acts 2:47). Baptism is not the end, however. It is only the beginning as the one immersed is now a Christian who has vowed to live faithfully to God and Jesus.

We do not believe in “once baptized, always saved.” We rightly speak out against the Calvinistic, denominational idea of “once saved, always saved.” The Bible strongly shows us in many passages that a child of God can go off into apostasy (Heb. 2:1-3; 2 Pet. 2:20-22). However, we must remember that one is not immune from falling from grace just because they have been baptized for the remission of their sins. The church also has an obligation to new converts to make sure they are being nurtured after their baptism, since they are truly a new babe in Christ.

Drew is the preacher at the Corinth Church of Christ in Rock Island, TN. He also teaches History, Government, and Middle & High School Bible at Boyd Christian School in McMinnville, TN.