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Editorial: More Thoughts On What The Bible Says About Drinking (October, 2018) — Jon Mitchell, Editor

The editorial from the last issue of the Carolina Messenger started a study on what the Bible says about drinking alcoholic beverages. We looked at the definitions of the Greek words translated “drunkenness” (Gal. 5:21), and “drunkards” (1 Cor. 6:10). We examined how the definition of the Greek term translated “get drunk” (Eph. 5:18) — methusko — is an inceptive verb condemning the entire process of becoming drunk. We saw how the Greek word for “sober” (1 Thess. 5:6-8; 1 Pet. 5:8) — nepho — literally means “to be free from the influence of intoxicants” (Vine), “…to abstain from wine (keep sober)…” (Strong), and “to be temperate…” (Thayer). We looked at how nepho is the verbal form of nephaleon (“temperate,” 1 Tim. 3:2, 11; Tit. 2:2), and how an early form of nephaleonnephalios — means “sober: and of drink, without wine, wineless” (Liddell and Scott). Therefore we came to the conclusion that, with the exception of ingesting small amounts of intoxication for medicinal purposes (1 Tim. 5:23), our Lord wishes us to abstain from drinking intoxicating beverages, the practice sometimes known as “social drinking.” Several medical authorities and other official reports and statements were cited to show how even the first sips and drinks of alcoholic beverages immediately act upon our brains in an intoxicating fashion. We also studied how the wine which Christ miraculously made from water at the wedding feast (John 2:1-11) was not intoxicating in nature because the Hebrew and Greek terms translated “wine” in the Bible could refer not only to intoxicating beverages (Prov. 20:1) but also to freshly trodden grape juice (Is. 16:10), clusters of grapes which were just gathered (Jer. 40:10), or the grapevine itself (Num. 6:4).

We will now continue our study on what the Bible says about drinking by examining objections commonly made to the aforementioned fact that “wine” in the Bible is defined not only as an intoxicating beverage, but in other contexts fresh grape juice. One such objection is the notion that “wine” in biblical times exclusively indicated a fermented, intoxicating drink. Yet Aristotle (Meteorologica 4.9), Athenaeus (Deipnosophistae 1. 27; 5199), and Pliny (Natural History 14.11) all spoke of unfermented wine existing in their time. In Pliny’s case, he talked about a Spanish wine which was called inerticulam, (“inert, not affecting the nerves”); it was also called justius sobriam (“more justly, sober wine”) as well as viribus innoxiam: siquidem temulentiam sola non facit (“harmless to the strength, as of itself it does not cause intoxication”). Columella, a Roman agricultural writer, spoke of this wine being called by the Greeks amethyston (“unintoxicating”), inerticula (“not intoxicating”), innoxia, quod iners habetur in tentandis nervis, quamvis in gustu non sit hebes (“harmless because guiltless of disturbing the nerves, though it was not wanting in flavor”), thus showing that unintoxicating wine was both known and appreciated during biblical times (De Re Rustica 3.2).

Others object by claiming that there were no methods of keeping grape juice free from fermentation during biblical times. For example, the removal of moisture from grapes keeps them from fermenting. Columella wrote of drying grapes before the skin was broken and preserving them in that condition in order to produce, even after a considerable period of time, an unfermented beverage after they had been soaked in water, calling it the Roman term passum because the grapes had been spread out in order to dry (De Re Rustica 12. 39). He also wrote of how the Romans had boiled wines by boiling the grapes. The boiling evaporated the water and thus prevented fermentation. Grape juice boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit and ethyl alcohol evaporates at 172 degrees Fahrenheit; thus boiling was a great way to expel alcohol from the juice. Additionally, Columella and Pliny also wrote of lining earthen containers with pitch, filling them with fresh juice before sealing them, and then sinking them in water or burying them in the ground in order to prevent air from coming into contact with the juice and causing fermentation (De Re Rustica 120; Natural History 14.11).

Returning our focus to Scripture, the Old Testament says about consumption of intoxicating beverages. The first sin on record in Scripture after the flood was drunkenness, committed, unfortunately, by Noah himself and leading to further sin by his son Ham and the cursing of Canaan by his grandfather (Gen. 9:20-27). Drunkenness also led to the downfall of Lot, another righteous man who had previously stood out as a light among a sin-filled culture only to be taken down by imbibing intoxicating drink and becoming drunk to the point of committing incest with his daughters (Gen. 19:30-38). So it should not surprise us that God refers to intoxicating wine and strong drink as “a mocker…a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise” (Prov. 20:1). We should understand why he attributes “tarry(ing) long over wine” and “go(ing) to try mixed wine” as the cause for those who have woe, sorrow, strife and complaining before telling us not to even look at these intoxicating drinks and warning of the adverse effects they will have on us (Prov. 23:29-35). We should heed his caution that “wine is a traitor, an arrogant man who is never at rest” (Hab. 2:5) and understand why he pronounced a “woe” upon “him who makes his neighbors drink” (Hab. 2:15-16) … yet another reason why the wine Christ miraculously made for his fellow wedding guests was not intoxicating in nature. These admonitions combined with the direct commands found throughout the New Testament in the Greek terms for “sober” (1 Thess. 5:6-8) and “do not get drunk” (Eph. 5:18) should make it very clear to all of us that our Lord does not want us drinking alcoholic beverages.

Yet the objections still come. For example, some point to Deuteronomy 14:24-26, which records God telling the Israelites to spend their money on whatever they want, including “wine or strong drink.” The thought is that if God told Israel to spend their money on “wine or strong drink,” then he must have permitted them to be social drinkers. Again, it must be pointed out that “wine” (yayin in Hebrew) is used biblically in both an alcoholic andnon-alcoholic sense depending on the context; since elsewhere in the Old Testament God strongly disapproves of ingesting intoxicating yayin, it is clear that the yayin of the Deuteronomy passage is non-alcoholic in nature. The same can be said for “strong drink.” Just as most today automatically associate intoxicating beverages with the term “wine,” such is even more so the case with “strong drink,” and understandably so. Yet “strong drink” comes from the Hebrew term shekar, and like yayin with “wine” scholars have also acknowledged that shekar can refer to the sweet, either fermented or unfermented, juice of many fruits other than grapes (some of which possibly having a particularly strong taste, thus earning the term “strong drink”). For example, the Cyclopaedia of Biblical Literature says shekar “was much broader than ‘strong drink,’” listing other definitions which include “luscious, saccharine drink or sweet syrup, especially sugar or honey of dates, or of the palm-tree; also, by accommodation, occasionally the sweet fruit itself…”, and “date or palm wine in its fresh and unfermented state…” (emphasis mine). Thus, if one is to take the Bible in its entirety (Ps. 119:160a), it is clear that God was not commanding Israel to buy alcoholic wine and alcoholic strong drink, but rather grape juice (“wine,” yayin) and sweet fruit drinks (“strong drink,” shekar).

Another objection is centered around the words of the mother of King Lemuel to her son in which she says, “Give strong drink to the one who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their poverty and remember their misery no more” (Prov. 31:6-7). Clearly the context surrounding verses 6-7 promote the definition of intoxicating beverages, but one must go further to determine if divine support for social drinking is found here. For example, we could look at the previous two verses where his mother says to Lemuel, “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to take strong drink, lest they drink and forget what has been decreed and pervert the rights of all the afflicted” (vs. 4-5). The question must be asked as to why God and this obviously wise woman would warn about the dangers of alcoholic consumption for royalty in one sentence and then in  the very next sentence promote alcoholic consumption and its dangerous results for the dying and impoverished. Since the ethyl alcohol within intoxicating drinks is a medically proven toxic poison, why would God tell us to poison the dying and poor in the same book where he provided instruction to prevent early deaths and care for the poor (cf. Prov. 2:18-19; 5:23; 14:21; 17:5)? Why would God promote “drinking our worries away,” an obvious reference to drunkenness? It is clear when one takes into account the entirety of the Bible’s condemnation of the consumption of alcoholic beverages, including in the immediate context of Proverbs 31:6-7, that King Lemuel’s mother is not advocating social drinking. On the contrary, she is emphasizing the warning she had just given her son in verses 4-5. She is basically saying, “When you become king, remember that kings shouldn’t drink. Bad things will happen if you do. You’ll forget important policies and treat your subjects in an unjust way. Look at those out on the street who are dying and poor. With some, their alcoholism got them there and keeps them there by helping them forget their troubles and taking away their motivation to fix themselves. Don’t be like them.”

More could be studied concerning the biblical admonitions against drinking as well as the objections some have to them, but it is our hope that the study produced in this editorial as well as the one in the previous issue will make it clear to the reader that it is not God’s will that they socially drink alcohol. We are called to be lovingly obedient to our God (John 14:15) and an excellent example to our fellow man (Matt. 5:16; 18:6-7; Rom. 14:21; 1 Cor. 10:32; 1 Pet. 2:12).

It’s simply impossible to do that with a beer or wineglass in your hand.

— Jon

Editorial: What Does The Bible Say About Drinking? (September, 2018) — Jon Mitchell, Editor

This is a subject which should be addressed within the body of Christ. My wife once told me about one of her co-workers, a very religious lady, who talked freely of storing six packs of beer in her automobile’s trunk. Some college friends of mine who profess Christianity drink alcoholic beverages socially and defend the practice. Some leaders and teachers in the church also defend the practice or hesitate to see anything wrong with it. Thus, we see a great need for biblical teaching on this subject (Hos. 4:6). In addressing it, my goal is to present the evidence of Scripture to the reader and respectfully and kindly encourage them to have God’s will as their highest priority (Col. 3:17), recognizing that this is a sensitive and controversial subject (Eph. 4:15; 2 Tim. 2:24-26).

To my knowledge, all who want to follow the Bible will acknowledge that drunkenness is listed among the works of the flesh which condemn those who practice them as not inheriting God’s kingdom (Gal. 5:19-21). The point of disagreement lies around the question of when one is drunk scripturally. When does God consider someone to be drunk?

The Greek-English lexicographer W.E. Vine cites “drunkenness” (Gal. 5:21) as methe in the original Greek, defining it as “‘strong drink’…denotes ‘drunkenness, habitual intoxication’… Vine also ascribes the word translated “drunkards” (1 Cor. 6:10) to the adjective methusos, defining it as “‘drunken’…used as a noun…in the plural…‘drunkards’…” So far proponents of social drinking completely agree because in their minds there is a difference between consuming one margarita and being drunk. I understand that reasoning, yet also am reminded of God’s warning in Isaiah 55:8-9.

With that warning in mind, note that Vine also cites the verb translated “get drunk” in the command against doing so (Eph. 5:18) as methusko, which “signifies ‘to make drunk, or to grow drunk’…an inceptive verb, marking the process…‘to become intoxicated’…” (emphasis mine). Vine specifically includes in the definition of the verb “get drunk” not only what the proponents of social drinking would call the end result of several drinks (drunkenness), but also the entire process of becoming drunk. Robert Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible defines methusko as “to begin to be softened.” Therefore, the word which the Spirit of God inspired Paul to use in this command against drunkenness would not only condemn the inebriation resulting from a consumed six-pack of beer, but also the entire process one would undergo to reach that state of inebriation (social drinking).

Elsewhere, the Holy Spirit inspired Paul and Peter to command us to be “sober” (1 Thess. 5:6-8; 1 Pet. 5:8). Paul’s command is part of a contrast between the Christian being of the day and thus awake and sober rather than of the night and sleeping the sleep of drunkenness. Peter’s command is part of a warning to be continually on the lookout for the devil who is always on the prowl like a lion, seeking someone to eat. The Greek word they used which is translated “sober” is nepho, which Vine defines as “to be free from the influence of intoxicants.” Greek authority James Strong defines it as “…to abstain from wine (keep sober)…” Joseph Thayer’s second definition of nepho says, “to be temperate, dispassionate, circumspect” (emphasis mine). Regarding the term “temperate,” social drinking proponents cite how it is sometimes defined as moderation with regards to consumption of alcohol. As we examine that notion, it is worthy to note that nepho is the verbal form of nephaleon (“temperate,” 1 Tim. 3:2, 11; Tit. 2:2). Lexicographers Henry Liddell and Robert Scott define nephalios, an early form of nephaleon, as “sober: and of drink, without wine, wineless.” Thus, the promotion of total abstinence from wine in Vine and Strong’s definitions of nepho and Liddell and Scott’s definitions of its derivative of nephalios and nephaleon leads us to conclude that Thayer had in mind the definition of “temperance” found in The New World Dictionary for his definition of nepho: “total abstinence from alcoholic drinks.”

This shows us that by inspiring Paul to use a word which in the Greek meant total abstinence from intoxicating drinks, God’s idea of “sober” (1 Thess. 5:6-8; 1 Pet. 5:8) is more along the lines of how Alcoholics Anonymous use the word when they ask their members, “Are you sober?” When AA says “sober,” they do not mean, “Does your blood alcohol content meet the legal requirements to operate a vehicle?” Rather, they are asking, “Have you totally abstained from consuming alcoholic beverages?” That is what nepho means in the New Testament, which has this command completely in sync with Ephesians 5:18’s condemnation of methusko, the entire process which would result in methe, drunkenness.

The only divinely approved allowance of the ingestion of any intoxicating beverage would be small amounts for medicinal purposes (1 Tim. 5:23). There is no comparison between the command to “use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments” and the notion to have a cocktail at dinner or a can or two of beer at the party. Concerning the latter, drunkenness results much sooner than one might think.

Remember that God created us and thus knows our bodies and how they react to social consumption of intoxicating beverages. Dr. Haven Emmerson wrote Alcohol, Its Effects on Man, in which he reported that even the first sips of an alcoholic beverage causes changes in mood or behavior. He cited studies of how the first measurable effects on younger, inexperienced drinkers were detected after half a can of beer, the equivalent to half a cocktail or half a glass of wine, while on adults who are occasional drinkers the first measurable effects were detected after only one beer or cocktail. Toxicologist Clarence Muehlberger wrote an article on drunkenness for the 1959 Encyclopaedia Britannica in which he said, “The higher nerve functions of the forebrain, such as reasoning, judgment, and social restraint are impaired by very low concentrations of alcohol in the blood.” Dr. Donald Gerard wrote in his article “Intoxication and Addiction” in Drinking and Intoxication that “judgment and inhibitions are affected” with “the first few ‘social’ drinks.” The 1971 First Special Report to the U.S. Congress on Alcohol and Health reported that even the first few sips of an alcoholic beverage can cause changes in mood or behavior. The American Automobile Association said, “The effects of alcohol begin with the first drink…The first effects are impairment of judgment and reasoning and weakening of self-control and normal inhibitions.”

Yet objections to these clear biblical and biological facts still come. A common one centers around how Christ turned water into wine (John 2:1-11). The wine in question is understandably assumed to be an intoxicating beverage, since that’s what wine is today. Because of this, some have even gone so far as to assume the master of the feast saying that the guests were already drunk by the time Jesus made the good wine (v. 10), defining “good” as “best for getting smashed.” However, in biblical times the terms translated “wine” could refer not only to an intoxicating beverage (Prov. 20:1), but also to the grapevine itself (Num. 6:4), clusters of grape which were just gathered (Jer. 40:10), or freshly trodden grapes (Is. 16:10). Furthermore, Strong defines the master of the feast’s phrase “drunk freely” (methuo) not only as “to drink to intoxication,” but also adds another definition: “drink well.” Liddell and Scott, along with lexicographer Samuel Bloomfield, agree and state that it could refer to the quantity of drinking without necessarily indicating as to whether the drink was intoxicating. Also, Thayer defines the “good” wine (kalos) as “beautiful” and “excellent,” which logically correlates much more to taste or appearance than supposed intoxicating qualities.

Thus, the wine Jesus made was not intoxicating in nature, but rather sweet grape juice. The master of the feast was accordingly saying that normally the best tasting and looking wine was served first with the sub-quality being saved for after the guests had drank well, or all, of the former. To claim otherwise would have Christ making intoxicating wine for guests who had already become tipsy at best (cf. Hab. 2:15). Such does not correspond with Christ’s nature.

More study will be given to this topic in the next editorial. I pray this study will be beneficial to the reader and glorify God.   — Jon

Editorial: A Historical Overview of Apostasy (July/August, 2018) — Jon Mitchell, Editor

I remember well the first time I ever read 1 Timothy 4:1-3. I was in college at the time and dating a Catholic girl who was interested in learning more about the Lord’s church. After learning that we were studying the Bible together, my father suggested I show her Paul’s prophecy to Timothy while discussing the Catholic doctrines surrounding Lent and the celibacy of the priesthood. Reading that passage for the first time, and then seeing the impact it had on her once she read it, had a profound effect on my faith, especially in regards to my trust in biblical prophecies and my high regard for scriptural teachings concerning apostasy.

The term “apostasy” comes from the Latin apostasia, which in turn is derived from the Greek aphistasthai, the word Paul used under Spirit inspiration which is translated “will depart from” (1 Tim. 4:1, ESV). Thus, “apostasy” means “to depart from.” Accordingly, Merriam-Webster defines “apostasy” as “renunciation of a religious faith” and “abandonment of a previous loyalty.”

We see why secular dictionaries correlate a religious tone to the definition of “apostasy” when we read how the Spirit explicitly warned Paul just a few decades after the beginning of the church that some would apostatize or depart from “the faith” (v. 1). This would be the “one faith” (Eph. 4:5) that comes from hearing only God’s Word (Rom. 10:17), “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). This apostasy would happen “in later times,” a reference to these “last days” and “end of the ages” which began alongside of Christ’s covenant and church two thousand years in Jerusalem following his death and resurrection and continues on until he comes again (Matt. 28:20; Acts 2:14-17; 1 Cor. 10:11; Heb. 1:1-2; 9:26; 1 Pet. 1:20).

Before the church began, Jesus prophesied of those who would lead people astray (Matt. 7:13-27; 24:11, 24; Mark 13:22). Almost from the very beginning of the church, attempts were made from within it to depart from the faith. Judaizing brethren attempted to add to God’s Word by requiring Gentile converts to obey tenets of Mosaic Law, prompting Spirit-inspired teaching to the contrary throughout the New Testament (Acts 15:1ff; Rom. 3-11; 1 Cor. 7:18-19; 2 Cor. 3:3-11; Gal. 1:6-5:15; Eph. 2:1-22; Col. 2:8-23; 1 Tim. 1:3-11; Tit. 1:10-11; 3:9-11; Hebrews). Other false doctrines and those who would promote them were warned about and condemned as well, some specifically and others generally (Acts 20:29-31; Rom. 16:17-18; 2 Cor. 11:13-15; Col. 2:8; 2 Thess. 2:1-12; 1 Tim. 4:1-7; 6:3-6, 20-21; 2 Tim. 2:14-26; 3:1-13; 4:1-5; Tit. 1:9-2:1; James 5:19-20; 2 Pet. 2:1-22; 3:3-5, 15-16; 1 John 1:8, 10; 2:4, 18-27; 4:1-6; 2 John 7-11; Jude 3-16; Rev. 2:2, 9, 14-16, 20-24; 3:9; 13:1-18; 19:20; 20:10; 21:8, 27; 22:15, 18-19). The reader can see here the amount of scripture relating to apostasy in the New Testament alone, which should show how seriously God takes departures from the faith and why this subject is worthy of our attention and study.

Paul warned elders that false teachers would rise from among their own ranks, leading many astray (Acts 20:29-31). He also warned of a “rebellion” which would come before and last until Christ came back, a rebellion which would reveal “the man of lawlessness,” also described as “the son of destruction” (2 Thess. 2:1-3). This “man of lawlessness” would “take his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God,” and would come “by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception” lead astray the perishing who refuse to love the truth (2 Thess. 2:4, 9-12). Paul also warned Timothy of insincere people with seared consciences who would apostatize by paying attention to the doctrines of demons which forbid marriage and require abstaining from certain foods (1 Tim. 4:1-3).

A study of church history reveals the fulfillment of these prophecies not long after the apostles died (cf. 2 Thess. 2:6-7). It started when elders in the church started making changes to the governmental organization of the church, changing it from the scriptural pattern of autonomous congregations overseen by pluralities of elders (Acts 14:23; 20:17, 28; 1 Pet. 5:1-2) to a collection of congregations in a particular region being under one bishop.

From then it wasn’t long before there was one bishop over all the other bishops, a man who became known as the Pope. Roman Catholic history reveals that the Pope was thought of as God on earth, and that he consolidated his power among the superstitious by the performing of “miracles.” He and the leaders under him came up with doctrines such as forbidding priests to marry and requiring parishioners to abstain from certain foods at certain times. Other man-made doctrines emerged such as instrumental music in worship, praying to Mary, the idea that Mary was a perpetual virgin and our intercessor, the paying of indulgences, Purgatory, apostolic succession, the Apocrypha, sacraments, transubstantiation, the canonization of saints, the forgiveness of sins by the church and assignation of penance for those sins, and many more. In 2013, the current Pope made it known that he would grant indulgences to his followers on Twitter.

Meanwhile, during the first thousand years of Christianity other departures from the faith were taking place outside of the establishment of the Roman Catholic Church. After the Judaizers and Gnostics of the apostolic era, other man-made doctrines emerged in the form of Marcionism, which promoted rejection of the Old Testament and limited usage of the New Testament; Montanism, whose founder, Montanus, and his followers were a copy of the future Charismatic movements when they claimed to be given uncontrollable miraculous spiritual gifts of prophecy; Monarchianism, which taught that Jesus was born a man and became God at his baptism; Manichaeism, whose founder, Mani, believed that he was the manifestation of Christ on earth; Donatism, a movement which taught that those who gave communion to others must be free from sin; Arianism, a precedent of the future Watchtower movement in that they believed the Son of God was a created being; Nestorianism, whose founder, Nestorius, taught that Jesus as man and God was nothing more than a “merging of wills;” the Paulicians, who held the writings of Paul to be inspired while teaching that the rest of the Bible originated from an evil spirit; there were others also.

The next five hundred years would see the rise of the Eastern Orthodox Church, which eventually would denominate and organize itself into various Orthodox Churches along national lines; the Waldensians, who preached a doctrine of “apostolic poverty”; the Cathars, who were Gnostic in their theology; and the Hussites, precursors of the Protestant Movement about one hundred years before Martin Luther, who would usher in the Reformation in earnest. His followers, who would call themselves Lutherans, initially sought to reform the Roman Catholic Church, and, failing that, formed their own denomination. Around the same time, the Anabaptist Movement would form and coalesce behind Menno Simons, thus forming the Mennonites. From them would split another group who followed Jacob Amman and became known as the Amish. Meanwhile, John Calvin established a theology around the notion that God has already determined the fate of every person, and thus saves man by grace alone. His Calvinism would produce the Presbyterian Church in Scotland, later Puritanism in England, and from them the United Church of Christ of today. English King Henry VIII, upset that Catholicism would not grant him an annulment to his marriage with Catherine of Aragon, formed the Church of England, known as the Anglican Church in England and the Episcopalian Church in America today.

The 1600’s saw the rise of the Baptist movement begun by John Smythe, a group who — initially, at least — taught the need for immersion in water for remission of sin, only to later embrace several Calvinistic tenets. Meanwhile, George Fox started the Religious Society of Friends after supposedly receiving divine revelations; his followers came to be known as “Quakers” due to how they shook with emotion during their worship assemblies. After the Pietist movement split from Lutheranism, John and Charles Wesley would be influenced by them and decide to attempt to reform the Anglican Church by founding within it a “Methodist society;” eventually in America the Methodists would split from Episcopalians to form their own church. The “holiness theology” promoted by Methodists would form many Holiness Churches, which would consolidate into the Church of the Nazarene in the 1900’s. About one hundred years before that, Ireland would produce a group known as “the Plymouth Brethren,” whose promotion of dispensationalism and premillennialism would influence many American denominations in the 1800’s and the modern Evangelical movement. The 1800’s would also see the rise of Mormonism, the Watchtower Society (also known as Jehovah’s Witnesses), and Pentecostalism. In 1865 William Booth of England would modify aspects of Methodist doctrine to form the Salvation Army, called such due to its organizational doctrine literalizing biblical military metaphors.

Around forty years earlier, Thomas and Alexander Campbell would seek to restore pure, unadulterated New Testament Christianity in America. Congregations who remained true to the biblical pattern would come to be known as churches of Christ (Rom. 16:16; Matt. 16:18), but over time the congregations who decided to stray from the New Testament doctrine would form other man-made churches. The Christian Church, known also in some circles as the Disciples of Christ, began over their decision to embrace the Catholic doctrine of instrumental music in worship; in 2013 they voted to allow unrepentant homosexuals in leadership roles. The International Church of Christ, also known as the Boston or Crossroads Movement, also came into existence in the late twentieth century.

The current and previous generations have seen the rise in popularity of various religious movements in Western society such as evangelicalism, which promotes a “salvation by faith alone” doctrine mixed with various Calvinistic tenets; ecumenism, which attempts to embrace unity among all churches by ignoring differences in doctrine; and fundamentalism, which sprang from evangelicalism in its efforts to promote not only biblical doctrine but also human tradition. The Community Church movement has resulted from a combination of evangelicalism and ecumenism, the largest congregations of which have come to be known as megachurches. Most recently, many evangelicals have embraced the Emergent movement, which promotes post modernistic concepts of Christianity.

Where Does This Leave Us?

On the night before He died, Jesus prayed to His Father, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word, that they may all be one, just as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You have sent Me. The glory that You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one even as We are one, I in them and You in Me, that they ay become perfectly one, so that the world may know that You sent Me and loved them even as You loved me” (John 17:20-23).

Paul would later command the church at Corinth, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, ‘I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Cephas,’ or ‘I follow Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Cor. 1:10-13). He later returned to the subject of their lack of unity, calling it worldly and immature by writing, “But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not merely being human?” (1 Cor. 3:1-3). He would also exhort the saints at Philippi, “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (Phil. 2:1-2).

Sadly, we see now how far the overwhelming majority of professed followers of Christ have come from the unity for which He prayed and His inspired apostle commanded repeatedly. Our God knew this would happen and why: the selfishness, greed, and arrogance of unmerciful, hedonistic men who purposefully turn from the truth towards liars who will scratch their itching ears with myths (2 Tim. 3:1-9; 4:3-4).

Yet in the end, the truth still remains. Christ is the head of His body, and His body is His church (Eph. 1:22-23). There is but one body and faith (Eph. 4:4-5), which means there is only one church: the church which is the pillar and support of nothing more than the truth of all Scripture (1 Tim. 3:15; John 17:17; Ps. 119:160), since the one faith comes from hearing and heeding the Word of God (Rom. 10:17; Jude 3). Let us remain faithful by preaching and obeying nothing but God’s Word (2 Tim. 4:1-2)!

— Jon

Editorial: How Is The Church of Christ Different From Denominations? (May/June, 2018) — Michael Grooms, Guest Editor

“So…how is the church of Christ different from other denominations?” I have been asked that question many times, and I am happy to give an answer. First, let me address the question itself. The term “church of Christ” is a possessive term that demonstrates the church as belonging to Christ. It is not the name of a denomination. Paul told the church in Rome, “…the churches of Christ greet you” (Rom. 16:16b). Second, the question assumes that the Lord’s church is one of the many denominations that we see in the religious landscape today. This is a misnomer. Jesus Christ did not make denominations. He made His church, and He only made one (Matt. 16:18). Men made denominations as a result of leaving the truth of God’s Word.

The church of Christ is made up of Christians who have been added to the church by our Lord as they were baptized into Christ for the remission of sins. (Acts 2:38, 41, 47; Rom. 6:3-6). Jesus alone has the authority to add men to His church (Matt. 28:18) and He only adds those who submit to His instruction that they believe and are baptized (Mark 16:16). Christ’s church is distinctive in nature because its members require authority from Jesus in all matters pertaining to worship, doctrine, and practice. This is the command of God. The Holy Spirit inspired Peter to write: “If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11 NKJV). Paul, also inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote to the Christians in Colossae: “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Col. 3:17 NKJV).

Since our Lord has thus instructed, true churches of Christ are determined to “speak where the Bible speaks, and be silent where the Bible is silent. Do Bible things in Bible ways, and call Bible things by Bible names.” In organization, each congregation is autonomous and overseen by a body of elders (Acts 20:28; Tit. 1:5). Deacons aid the elders in carrying out the work of the church (1 Tim. 3:18-13; Acts 6:3-4). Preachers have the charge to preach the word of God (2 Tim. 4:2; Titus 2:15). The elements of worship are only those which we find in scripture. The church sings with the voice and heart, not with instrumental additions (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). The Bible is preached, and the Lord’s Supper is observed each Sunday (Acts 20:7). Prayer is offered (James 5:16). Contribution is taken each Sunday (1 Cor. 16:2). We decry the names of men and call ourselves only “Christians” (Acts 11:26).

Before our Lord left this earth, He gave to His disciples a charge we affectionately refer to as “The Great Commission.” This charge, which is found in Matthew 28:18-20 and Mark 16:15-16, continues to challenge us through the Word of God to go into the world and bring disciples to Christ. It is our charge to evangelize. It is also our charge to maintain that which has been placed into our stewardship. We are stewards of the grace of God (1 Pet. 4:10). As such, we are stewards of His Word and His church. We must maintain the purity of the church as we preach and practice the unfettered truth of God’s Word. It is up to this generation to pass on to the next generation a church which is true to the Word of God. Let us be ever vigilant to protect and preserve the truth of God’s Word, that we may be faithful stewards.

— Michael

 

Editorial: Am I As Stubborn As A Mule? (March/April, 2018) — Jon Mitchell, Editor

All of us have heard the phrase, “stubborn as a mule.”  This term was probably coined by frustrated farmers after they observed how difficult it was to get their donkeys to pull their assigned loads in the field.  (A case could also be made that the phrase was thought up as an observation made by frustrated spouses about their significant others.  I say that because I know what my wife’s answer to the question posed in the title of this editorial would be!)

Regardless, I think there’s a lesson we can learn about our relationship with Christ when we examine exactly why a mule is stubborn.  The reason it balks at pulling a load is not because it doesn’t hear the command to “giddy up.”  Rather, it would simply not hear it.  It has more than enough strength and ability to pull that load, but it would rather graze in the green grass of the pasture or bask in the noonday sun than work for his owner.  Our human minds are several levels above that of a mule, but we sometimes manifest the same characteristics.  How many times have we heard a clear command from God as revealed in His Word, but we, like the mule, try to evade obedience because the biblical command does not coincide with our mind’s individual prejudices and desires?

When I was a child, I was reluctant to hear my mother’s call because I knew that if I listened and obeyed her it would result in some unpleasant chore that would encroach upon my playtime.  That’s why I chose not to see my dirty hands and ignore her command to wash them, because I would rather have been eating.  This kind of evasive thinking is found in the minds of mules and children, but it should never be found in the thinking of mature, responsible adults (1 Cor. 13:11).

Yet, while the eternal destiny of souls are at stake, there are professed Christians who exhibit indifference and intolerance toward the true teachings of God as revealed in the totality of the Bible.  They do so because such teachings are contrary to their personal desires or disrupt their convenient, worldly way of life.  Jesus talked about such people when He quoted Isaiah by saying, “Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says, ‘You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.  For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them’” (Matt. 13:14-15).

What a pity it is for people who could (and should) know God’s truth which is His Word (John 17:17), but reject it because it does not suit their evil lifestyles or tastes!  For example, God commanded that men have faith (John 3:16; Rom. 10:9-10), repent of their sins (Lk. 13:3; Acts 2:38; 3:19), and be baptized — literally in the Greek, immersed — in water in order to obtain salvation and forgiveness of sins (Mk. 16:16; 1 Pet. 3:21; Acts 2:38), and thereby be put into Christ and His body, the church of Christ, by the Holy Spirit through their baptism (1 Cor. 12:13; Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:26-27; cf. Eph. 1:22-23).  How sad it is for such commands to be rejected simply because they violate the wishes of family (Matt. 10:34-37) or the traditions and doctrine of religious groups (Matt. 15:1-9) who seek the god of convenience rather than the God Who demands obedience (1 Sam. 15:22; Acts 5:29; Heb. 5:8-9).

Other examples could be given.  We continually see reports from a media who gladly supports what they report about those in our country and elsewhere who selfishly and stubbornly promote homosexual “marriage” and the murder of innocent children through abortion, despite what God wishes (1 Cor. 6:9-10; Prov. 6:16-19).  Spring Break and summer are coming, and we will see many who choose to stubbornly flaunt their bodies through immodest apparel and actions, fornicate, and partake of alcohol and other hallucinogens regardless of the will of their Creator in such matters (1 Tim. 2:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21; 1 Thess. 5:6-8).

Closer to home, let’s examine ourselves and our own attitudes (2 Cor. 13:5).  Does our own stubbornness keep us from treating others as we would be treated (Matt. 7:12)?  Husbands and wives, are we so determined to have our own way that we end up treating our spouses in ways contrary to the will of the One who united us in marriage (Eph. 5:22-33; 1 Cor. 7:1-5; 1 Pet. 3:1-7; cf. Matt. 19:1-9)?  Children, you know as well as I that the primary reason you disobey your parents and thus disobey God is due to stubbornness (Eph. 6:1-3).  Parents, is our adamant refusal to put the spiritual raising of our children before unneeded work, TV times, our golf game and favorite book due to stubbornness (Eph. 6:4; Deut. 6:6-9)?  Brother and sister in Christ, does our constant criticism and backbiting against the shepherds of our local congregation come from being stubbornly adamant about having our own way above all (Heb. 13:17)?

Through the inspired apostle, our Father in heaven said this:

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:1-8).

Do we have the mind of a mule, or the mind of Christ?  Jesus left being in the form of God, equality with God, and the glory of heaven for a wretched, hard life among men which ended in an agonizing, humiliating criminal’s death on a cross…and He did so because He considered us more important than Himself.  Are we anything like Him?

A stubborn mule looks only to its own interests.  It does not put the interests of its owner before itself.  Stubborn Christians look only to their own interests.  They do not put their Father’s interests before their own, nor do they care about the interests of their brethren.

Christians who are like their Savior are not like that.  Like Him, they sacrifice their own interests to serve God and the church.  May we be listed among their ranks!

—Jon

 

Editorial: Why Emphasizing Scriptural Doctrine Is Right (January/February, 2018) — Jon Mitchell, Editor

In our post-modernistic culture which shies away from the notion of absolute right and wrong, many do not embrace the idea that one can hold to a position which is authoritatively right and thus make all contrary positions authoritatively wrong. As with most other cultural trends, this relativism has seeped into the minds of many in the religious world, even to the point where embracing and defending doctrinal truth is labeled sinful. In his book, Counterfeit Gods, Presbyterian author Timothy Keller writes, “Idolatry functions widely inside religious communities when doctrinal truth is elevated to the position of a false god. This occurs when people rely on the rightness of their doctrine for their standing with God rather than on God himself and his grace.”

Some within the Lord’s church toy with this notion as well. This writer has discussed theology with many brethren in the church over the years, most of whom are preachers. In many of these discussions I’ve observed that some tend to shy away from the notion of stating with scriptural proof that a particular belief or person is absolutely wrong; others react with outright hostility to the idea that I or anyone else could state with authority and scriptural proof that they or anyone could hold to an erroneous religious belief.

I recently read two blog posts by brotherhood writers. One, authored by Jack Wilkie and titled “A Dangerous Trend In The Churches of Christ,” starts out by saying, “Right doctrine that leads to right actions is critically important, but if we’ve come to the place that our rightness outranks Jesus in terms of where we direct our attention (and I believe we have), we have a problem.” Citing the above quote from Keller, Wilkie then criticizes our “constant dwelling on the doctrines that set us apart from others, like baptism, music, women’s roles, and the like,” before talking about our supposed condescension towards outsiders, an unfriendly, unwelcome attitude we theoretically show towards any who question us, and our “ever-shrinking window of fellowship.” While he repeatedly clarifies that we must teach correct doctrine, the majority of Wilkie’s piece seems to promote the idea that we overemphasize correct doctrine, resulting in making us shallow, prideful, fearful people who de-emphasize Jesus, the cross, and the grace of God.

The second blog post, authored by Steven Hunter and titled “Has Our Bible Replaced Our Lord?”, asks this about our true faith: “Is it in the Scriptures themselves, or the Person to whom the Scriptures point us—Jesus?” Hunter wonders if we “have become more about our Scriptures than the Lord who gave us the Scriptures,” comparing some in the Lord’s church to the Jews whom Jesus chastised when He said, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me” (John 5:39). Criticizing using the Bible “as a method to win debates and arguments,” “search(ing) the Scriptures to prove others wrong,” and “read(ing) the Scriptures in snippets to establish a doctrine,” Hunter believes the Scriptures “more often make us into Pharisees because we sometimes care more about being right in our obedience than in our carrying the whole of the purpose of Scripture.”

Those who hold to these views are likely sincere, but they overlook some facts of great importance concerning the value of focusing on the Scriptures. First, without emphasizing the Scriptures one would know absolutely nothing about God’s grace, the cross, Jesus, His will, salvation, the promise of heaven, or the curse of hell. One cannot look to Jesus or focus on Jesus without looking to the Bible.

Secondly, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 teaches that we must focus on the Scriptures if there is anything concerning the Christian religion about which we need instruction or correction. If we want to be right as God is right, we cannot achieve that goal without the Bible. If we want to grow more complete spiritually or be thoroughly equipped for any work God considers worthy, we must go to God’s Word.

Much false doctrine exists because most do not do this. The Scriptures command us to expose such error (Eph. 5:11; Jude 3; etc.) by “speaking the truth in love”; this is how we grow more like Christ (Eph. 4:14-15). God’s Word is that truth (John 17:17). Thus, we must teach topics on which error is taught by others such as baptism, worship, and the like. Doing so, even in love, may put us in a negative light in other’s eyes, but such can’t be helped (2 Tim. 3:12-13). The whole counsel of God must still be proclaimed, and the Bible is the sole source of that counsel.

The Scriptures are a major part of the method God chose to use to save us. One cannot overemphasize their importance; indeed, many are lost because they de-emphasize them. May we never do so.

—Jon

Editorial: Is The Bible The Only Way God Communicates With Man? (November/December, 2017) — Jon Mitchell, Editor

We call the Bible the Word of God, and so it is (2 Tim. 3:16-17).  Yet if a sincere yet unknowledgeable soul asked you to explain why you believe the Bible is from God, or why you believe it is the only way God communicates with man today, would you be able to explain it to him?

It is true that many people during biblical times came to know God without reading Scripture.  In fact, no inspired record of any written communication between God and men exists from Eden until He gave the Ten Commandments to Israel at Mount Sinai and then inspired Moses to write the Pentateuch (Ex. 20:1-17; 17:14; 24:4; 34:27; Num. 33:1-2; Deut. 31:9-11).  Before Sinai, Genesis records God speaking directly to various patriarchs, people and kings (cf. 1:28-30; 4:9-15; 12:1-3) and also indirectly through miraculous prophetic interpretation (40:1-23; 41:1-39).  Genesis also speaks of God-fearing people from families, countries and backgrounds different from those to whom we read that God directly spoke, implying that God also directly communicated with these people even though we have no specific record of such (14:18-20; cf. Josh. 2:9-13).  This divine, miraculous communication outside of inspired Scripture would continue at certain times with certain people during and even after inspired men started writing the Old Testament (cf. Num. 22-24; Josh. 1:1-9; Judg. 6:11-27; et al).

It would also continue during the time when the New Testament was being written.  Men who already had inspired Scripture in the form of the completed Old Testament still directly received communication from Deity during Christ’s time, sometimes without knowing so (Matt. 1:20-25; 2:12-15; John 11:49-52; 12:28-30).  Jesus told His apostles that the Holy Spirit would directly communicate with them after He had gone (John 14:16-17, 25-26; 15:26-27; 16:12-15), which the Spirit did starting at Pentecost and afterwards (Acts 2; cf. 4:31; 5:1-10).  Later, the apostles would lay their hands on other Christians like Stephen and Philip and give them the ability to miraculously receive communication from the Spirit and thus prophesy (Acts 6:5-6, 8-10; 7:55; 8:18, 26-29).  During this time, some of these apostles and prophets were inspired by the Spirit to write the New Testament (1 Cor. 2:10-13; Eph. 3:3-5; 2 Pet. 1:19-21; cf. 2 Tim. 3:16-17).

Does God communicate to us directly today?  While He spoke to the Hebrew patriarchs in various ways at various times, He now speaks to us through His Son (Heb. 1:1-2; cf. John 15:15), who is interestingly referred to as “the Word” (John 1:1, 14).  When Jesus told the writers of the New Testament that they would be inspired by the Spirit, He said the Spirit would only communicate to them what the Son and the Father directed (John 16:12-15; cf. 1 Cor. 14:37).  Thus, whenever we read our Bibles we are reading a message from the Son of God, Who is the only way the Father communicates with us today.  Any other method of communication is cursed and forbidden (Deut. 4:2; Prov. 30:6; Gal. 1:6-9; 1 Cor. 4:6; Rev. 22:18-19).  Not being Scripture, it would not equip us to any truly good work anyway (2 Tim. 3:16-17).  The miraculous spiritual gifts imparted by the apostles  through the laying on of their hands — some of which being direct communication from Deity (1 Cor. 12:1, 4-11) — ceased “when that which is perfect has come” (1 Cor. 13:8-10), a reference in the literal Greek to that which is complete or mature.  The same Greek term is used to describe the complete Word of God (Jas. 1:25; Rom. 12:2).  Thus, the Bible says that miracles involving men — including receiving miraculous, direct communication from Deity — would cease when the New Testament was completed.  God does not lie (Tit. 1:2), so we can be confident that, rather than waiting and searching for some other form of communication from Him, all we need is to go to His Word and “rightly handle” it in order to be on the right path (2 Tim. 2:15).

Yet, can we know that the Bible truly comes from God?  Consider this.  No one can successfully dispute the overwhelming secular evidence that the Bible contains 66 books written by 40 authors over a period of 1,600 years on three different continents in three different languages.  These authors came from very different backgrounds and wrote in very different environments about extremely controversial subjects…and yet there is harmony and continuity in the Bible which is unmatched because all were inspired by the same Spirit (2 Pet. 1:21).  That combined with the overwhelming scientific foreknowledge within Scripture (cf. Is. 40:22; Job 26:7; 28:25; 38:16; Ps. 8:8; Eccl. 1:6-7), the hundreds of prophecies historically fulfilled, and the archeological discoveries continually made which support biblical events show the Bible to be what it claims to be: from God.

Thus, let us “in humility receive the word implanted” (Jas. 1:21) and encourage others to do likewise!

— Jon