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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

 

 

Editorial: The Solution To Our Troubling Times (October, 2017) — Jon Mitchell, Editor

I write this editorial the week after the shooting at the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch, Tennessee.  Last Sunday afternoon, I had gone to Wal-Mart after worship services to get my daughter a birthday cake for a birthday party we were having for her at church that night.  As I was standing in the checkout line, my smart phone lit up with a notification from Fox News that there was a church shooting.  As was the case when my phone notified me of the shooting that took place in 2015 at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, my first prayer was for the safety and health of all within that place of worship, followed by a prayer that this church was not a church of Christ and that my brothers and sisters in Christ were not the ones suffering through this tragedy.  Sadly, when I then opened up the notification to read the news story I discovered that it was in fact a church of Christ who was the victim of this particular atrocity.  Since then, my heart both rejoiced to learn that most of those wounded have stabilized and sank with sorrow at the news of the death of a single mother of two, Melanie Crow Smith, as well as the news of the critical condition of the minister of that congregation, Joey Spann, who was wounded in the chest and hand after shouting for everyone to run.  (I’ve since heard that he seems to be improving, for which I and others are thankful to God.)

This shooting is just the latest of a long line of tragedies and divisive actions which make the times in which we live very troubling indeed.  In the past decade alone, in addition to the shootings at Burnette Chapel last Sunday and the church in Charleston in 2015 we can recall the movie theater shooting in Colorado; the Sandy Hook school shooting in Connecticut; the Washington Navy Yard massacre; the tragedy at Virginia Tech; the shooting in Arizona which killed a little girl and wounded others, including a congresswoman; the Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin; the bloodshed at San Bernardino, California; the slayings at the Orlando night club last year; the tragedy in Dallas which also occurred last year and Charlottesville this year; many more incidents of violence could be cited.

There also seems to be much division and animosity drawn along lines of race and ethnicity in our society today.  The president of Lipscomb University recently made national news after inviting minority students to his home to discuss their experience at the university.  After hosting Hispanic students in his home and serving them tacos, he then invited African-American students to his home the following night and served them traditional “southern comfort” food such as collard greens and corn bread at a table decorated with a cotton stalk centerpiece.  The students were offended, some of them taking to social media to air their grievances after trying to express them to the president, Randy Lowry, who later publicly apologized for insensitivity.  This controversy took place days before the aforementioned Burnette Chapel shooting in which a black gunman of Sudanese background opened fire on an assembly of Christians of different races, causing some pundits and commentators to wonder if racism played a factor in the shooting as it had clearly done in the similar incident in Charleston in which a white gunman had opened fire on a predominately black congregation.  Also taking place on the same day as Burnette Chapel was another controversy in which National Football League athletes and coaches knelt instead of standing during the singing of the National Anthem.  This controversy had its roots last year in the actions of a quarterback who had knelt during the Anthem in protest to another controversy: alleged police brutality against African-Americans in recent years, something which gained and kept national attention after the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, following Michael Brown’s death and a grand jury declining to charge a police officer with wrongdoing.  Since Ferguson, more protests, riots, and incidents of proven and alleged discrimination against minorities and police officers have taken place.  Much more could be cited, but these serve to illustrate the troubles facing our country and culture these days.

It is my sincere and firm conviction that the love of God is the solution to our troubles.  As Carolina Messenger writer Lorraine Smith wrote in last month’s issue, love is “an overworked word with underfelt meaning.”  We tend to throw that word around a lot without really stopping to think about or put into practice its meaning.  Yet if both Christians and non-Christians would put the biblical meaning of God’s love into practice with all whom we come into contact, we would very readily find that love to be the solution to our troubling times.

Consider what 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 says about the love God has for us and which He desires for us to have for each other.  The passage states that love is “patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude.”  The kindness of godly love in itself would cause all acts of violence such as the aforementioned shootings to cease, since kindness demands that we would all treat each other the way we would want to be treated (Matt. 7:12).  Such universal adherence to the kindly conduct prescribed by the Golden Rule would also exterminate all racism, bigotry, and discrimination.  Applying the other tenets of godly love would only further solve the division amongst us if they were universally applied.

What if the patience, kindness, humility, and respect of godly love had been in place by all from the very beginning with the Lipscomb controversy?  Much if not all of the contention would have been avoided if both sides had shown patience with each other from the beginning.  From what has been reported, President Lowry by his own admission initially dismissed the students’ expressed concern about the cotton centerpiece, something for which he later acknowledged as wrong and apologized.  In turn, some of the students showed little patience with his dismissiveness, instead taking to social media to complain about it.  Having read their posts  and similar posts about the controversy, including the subsequent comments of many from all sides, much of which were extremely profane and insulting to all parties involved, it is clear that such unkind, boastful, arrogant, and rude communication only exacerbated the problem and resulted in even more division.  The patience and kindness of godly love, if shown from the beginning in love’s humility and civility by not only all initially involved but also by all who have since made observations, would have gone a long way towards solving the problem.

The Bible also says that godly love “does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful.”  Imagine if all sides of the National Anthem controversy put these tenets into practice.  What would happen if everyone who attended a football game and saw an athlete kneel instead of stand attentively during the National Anthem decided to NOT resent it or be irritated by it?  What if the athlete who considers kneeling in protest saw the uproar resulting from others doing it and, rather than insisting on doing what he wanted to do above all, decided to put others’ interests above his own (Phil. 2:3-4) and protest in a way less controversial?  Would a solution to the problem be more easily attainable?  Probably.

The passage goes on to say that love “does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.”  It seems to me that with every allegation of police wrongdoing and racism in recent years, there are many who do not care about first finding out whether the police officer in question is in fact guilty of the discrimination and bigotry of which he is charged.  Many assumptions of guilt are made, often based on appearance and in many cases not even that.  Such lack of concern about obtaining the truth only more intensely fans the flames of the chaotic anarchy of the riots plaguing our society in recent years.  These tumults in turn result in more “rejoic(ing) in wrongdoing,” as many take advantage of the strife to loot, assault, and rape.  Would the riots and protests that were the catalysts to even more criminal activity and loss of life and property have taken place if everyone in our society refused to “judge according to appearance,” but instead decided to “judge with right judgment” (John 7:24)?  How much better would our society be if everyone cared solely about punishing only those found beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law to be guilty of bigotry and criminal conduct, and rejoiced that the truth was found and upheld when such was done?

God’s Word ends its discourse on godly love by saying that love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  We all let each other down, disappoint each other, and hurt each other because we are all human and fallible.  What would happen if we all chose to bear with each other in all things, basically putting up with each other?  What if we all gave each other the benefit of the doubt instead of automatically assuming the worst about each other?  What if we all genuinely hoped for the best for each other and were all willing to endure each other’s mistakes and follies while actively working with each other to make our positive hopes for each other a reality?  How much better would our culture be?

Am I being naïve?  If I think that everyone will have God’s love for each other, of course (Matt. 7:13-14).  Yet, more people can be like this than we might think, Christians.  It depends on each of us to make it happen.  You see, only those who truly put the will of the Christian God first in their lives, continually striving to penitently grow in God’s love in every area of their hearts, with come to show God’s love to every person they see.  Yet that will never happen unless you — each of you — brings the gospel to them and lives it in front of them (Matt. 28:19-20).

Robert Engle, the Burnette Chapel usher who stopped the gunman last Sunday, refused to be called a hero, ascribing that honor to others and calling on everyone to pray not only for the victims but even for the shooter and his family.  That’s godly love.  Imagine if more were like that.            — Jon

 

 

 

Editorial: Discouragement – Satan’s Greatest Weapon (September, 2017) — Jon Mitchell, Editor

Discouragement.  A tool Satan can use so much more easily than many of the others in his arsenal.  It sits off to the side, looking harmless, assumed to be nothing more than a normal part of life.  How little we realize that with discouragement Satan can open doors in our hearts and minds which are so tightly locked up against his other tools…and once he’s inside our hearts and minds via his key of discouragement, he can use any other tool he wants.

God’s Word records many sad accounts of followers of God who lost heart and gave up.  When Moses sent the spies into the Promised Land, all but Caleb and Joshua came back with discouraging news.  The fearful saw the size and strength of their opponents rather then remembering the size and strength of their God (Num. 13-14).  Elijah  did great things for God which resulted in the conversion of thousands of Israelites (1 Kings 18:1-40; 19:18).  Yet, he had become so discouraged when Jezebel threatened his life that he deceived himself into thinking he was the only servant of God left (1 Kings 19:1-18).  After Peter promised that he’d never leave Jesus’ side, he ran with the rest when the Lord was arrested and a few minutes later became so afraid that he denied even knowing Christ (Matt. 26:31-75).  He did so because he was discouraged after seeing the apparent lost cause his Lord’s ways had become upon His arrest.

We become discouraged when we make the same mistake that these folks made and start paying more attention to the obstacles than the opportunities.  We become discouraged when we start believing Satan, “the father of lies” (John 8:44), instead of the Father “who cannot lie” (Tit. 1:2).  What has the God who cannot lie promised us?  He has promised us that our work is not meaningless, so be steadfast and immovable (1 Cor. 15:58).  He has promised us that our trials and hardships make us stronger if we allow them (Jas. 1:2-4; Rom. 5:3-5).  He has promised us that the hardships we endure seem painful now, but they cause us to become more righteous later if we allow ourselves to be trained by them (Heb. 12:1-11).  Do we believe His promises?  Do we?  Our actions always prove how strong our faith really is (Jas. 2:14-26).

God can do great things with a heart which is His and a mind which believes it.  Joshua and Caleb, the two spies who refused to be discouraged, went on to do great things for God and His people for years afterward.  Elijah recovered from his discouragement and went on serving God, resulting in being brought directly into heaven rather than being allowed to die.  Fifty days after a discouraged Peter denied Christ, he converted thousands of people through courageous preaching.  All of these men faced what they thought were impossible situations, seeing no light at the end of the tunnel and no hope whatsoever…but it turns out they were wrong.  Why?  Because they forgot that God was with them (Phil. 4:13).  Once they remembered that, look at the heights to which they climbed!

What heights can you reach with God’s help?  What can God do with you?  Does He have your heart and mind, or is Satan having his way with you?  Remember James 4:7 and Hebrews 12:12-13, dear friends.  Don’t let Satan discourage you!       — Jon