Tag Archives: Jon Mitchell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Jon

We CAN KNOW The Truth, And The Truth Will Set Us Free! — Jon Mitchell, Editor (Editorial: October, 2019)

While teaching in the temple, Jesus famously said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12, ESV). This prompted a discussion in which Christ answered criticisms from the Pharisees (vs. 13-29). As the crowds in the temple heard the answers he gave his enemies, “many believed in him” (v. 30). Recognizing their faith, our Lord “said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’” (vs. 31-32).

“You will know the truth.” “Know” comes from the Greek term ginosko, which Thayer defines as “to learn to know, come to know, get a knowledge of, perceive, feel,” and “to know, understand, perceive, have knowledge of.” Ginosko is in the future tense (which is why English Bibles translate it as “will know”), and is in the indicative mood (meaning that it is a simple statement of fact). By saying we will know the truth if we abide in his word, Jesus is guaranteeing — making a simple statement of fact — that the result of abiding in his word will be “learning to know” the truth, “coming to know” the truth, “getting a knowledge of” the truth, “perceiving” the truth, “feeling” the truth, “knowing” the truth, “understanding” the truth, and “having knowledge of” the truth.

It is no accident that our Lord correlated the guarantee of coming to know, perceive, and understand the truth with abiding in his word. On the night before he died, he acknowledged in his prayer to his Father in heaven that “your word is truth” while asking that God “sanctify” his disciples in that same truth (John 17:17). The psalmist also stated that “the sum of your word is truth” (Ps. 119:160a), after having pleaded that God “take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth, for my hope is in your rules” (v. 43).

The apostle John would later relate abiding in God’s word with coming to know (ginosko, perceive, understand, learning to know) Christ. He wrote, “And by this we know (ginosko) that we have come to know (ginosko) him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says ‘I know (ginosko) him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfect. By this we know (ginosko) that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 John 2:3-6). Keeping his commandments, abiding in him, walking in the same way in which he walked…all of this is how we come to know, understand, perceive, and understand our Lord and that we are in him, just as it is also how we come to know the truth. This should not surprise us since Jesus said that he is the truth (John 14:6).   Yet claiming to understand, know, and perceive the Lord and his truth while not abiding in his word proves one to be nothing more than a liar.

Consider again the context in which Jesus said that abiding in his word is how one comes to know the truth which sets them free. The Pharisees had accused his testimony of being false because he was bearing witness about himself (John 8:13). Jesus responded that his testimony is true even if he did bear witness about himself because I know where I came from and where I am going” (John 8:14). “I know” comes from oida, a Greek term similar to ginosko which likewise means “to know, i.e., get knowledge of, understand, perceive.” Jesus perceived and understood his Deity, that he had been with God before his human birth and that he would go back to sit at God’s right hand once his work was complete (John 1:1, 14; Mk. 16:19). Note the confidence behind his reply to the Pharisees. That confidence was based on his knowledge, understanding, and perception of who he was, where he had been, and where he was going.

Take note of what he then said to them: “You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one. Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me. In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true. I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me” (John 8:15-18). The Pharisees did not realize their judgments and criticisms were directed against Deity; in that way their judgments were “according to the flesh,” superficial, human, worldly. Jesus’ judgments, on the other hand, were different. His judgments are “true,” based on truth backed up by the corroborating witness of his heavenly Father (Matt. 3:17). His miracles were proof that God was with him and his message was from God (Matt. 12:28; John 3:2; 5:36; 9:33; Acts 2:22; 10:38).

After his enemies insincerely asked about his Father, Jesus did not hesitate to state of them: “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also” (John 8:19). He again uses oida here, stating that the Pharisees had no knowledge, perception, or understanding of him or his Father. He likewise did not hesitate to warn them, “…you will die in your sin” (v. 21). Seeing that they again misunderstood and thought he was talking of suicide when he spoke of leaving them (vs. 21-22), he again confidently told them the facts about himself and their spiritual state: “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he, you will die in your sins” (vs. 23-24). Again he affirmed his Deity and warned them of spiritual death if they did not believe that he is Deity. This prompted them to ask him again about his identity, to which he replied that he was “just what I have been telling you from the beginning” (v. 25). After again bringing up how his Father had sent him and was the originator of his message and seeing that they still did not understand his relationship with his Father (vs. 26-27), he pointed to his death and resurrection as the final proofs of his deity (v. 28a; cf. Rom. 1:4; Eph. 1:20).

His next words are very telling: “…I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him” (John 8:28b-29). Jesus knew that he spoke nothing but his Father’s message. He was confident that God was with him. He had no doubt that he always did what pleased his Father. These statements are what prompted many who were listening to believe in him (v. 30), which in turn prompted him to urge them to abide in his word in order to truly be his disciples and know the truth which would set them free (vs. 31-32).

Christians, each of us can have the same confidence our Lord has. The whole purpose of being his disciple is to become like him (Lk. 6:40). We can in fact know, understand, and perceive the truth of Scripture. Having come to know, understand, and perceive it, we can be confident that we have done so. The key is to abide in his word by keeping his commandments and speaking nothing but the entirety of the word of God.

Preachers, we especially must do this. In recent years I’ve observed a hesitancy among some of us to state some biblical precepts with confidence. I’ve increasingly heard, “We’ve all been wrong before,” and “No one has everything figured out.” The charges of arrogance and dogmatism are easily and increasingly made against those who speak biblical truths authoritatively. Less attention is given to Scripture and more is given to theologians both within and outside of the Lord’s church. Doctrinal differences are increasing downplayed as “matters of opinion” and “not salvation issues,” even though we are commanded to “speak the truth in love” and unrepentant failure to do so would result in spiritual death (Eph. 4:15; Rom. 6:23). Speaking “with all authority” (Tit. 2:14) seems to be decreasing, while uncertainty seems to increase.

Yet we CAN know, understand, and perceive truth if we abide in his word which is truth. Will mistakes be made? Of course, but progress can and will be made continually by those with honest hearts if study of and adherence to the Bible is the highest priority (Lk. 8:15; 1 Tim. 4:15-16). As a result, those mistakes will decrease. We can know and understand that our message and judgments are not our own but God’s. We can confidently assert that our teachings are not from man but from God and he has our back! We can know we are “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). We can be humble and yet confident and authoritative too. We can truly be his disciples. We CAN KNOW the truth and rejoice that it has set us free!            — Jon

What The Bible Teaches About The Sabbath Day — Jon Mitchell

Despite what evolutionists claim, it is a fact that Jehovah created this world and universe in six literal days, and then rested on the seventh day. Centuries later, God blessed the seventh day and set it apart from the other days. The seventh day became known as “the Sabbath Day,” from the Hebrew word shabbath, meaning “to rest from labor.” In the Old Testament, the Sabbath was a day of rest after six days of work (Ex. 20:8-11; cf. Gen. 2:1-3). Jews measured their days from sunset to sunset, so the Sabbath was from Friday at sunset to Saturday at sunset. Thus, the Bible generally has the Sabbath referring to Saturdays.

Interestingly, after Genesis 2:1-3 the Sabbath is not mentioned again in the book of Genesis. From the days of Adam all the way to the days of Moses one does not read of it. All of the faithful people in Genesis — Adam, Abel, Enoch, Lot, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, Joseph — all of them pleased God but there is no mention of them observing the Sabbath as holy or a day of rest. It is not until Exodus 16:22-30 that one reads again of the seventh day being the Sabbath, a day of rest. God had instructed Israel concerning how to collect the manna He had rained down on them from heaven for their food while in the wilderness. This was shortly after they were delivered from Egyptian slavery and before they arrived at Mount Sinai where they would receive the law of Moses. Moses writes that they had to be specifically told not to gather the manna on the seventh day, twice (Ex. 16:23, 29). Yet they went out on the seventh day prepared to work to gather the manna anyway, thus showing how they weren’t used to taking the seventh day off from work (v. 27).

This is because, as Nehemiah would later point out, the Lord made known to Israel the holy Sabbath at Mount Sinai (Neh. 9:13-14). Since He made it known to them at Sinai, that means they did not know about it previously. That’s why they had to be told twice not to work gathering manna on the seventh day. Putting aside the seventh day as a day of rest was unknown to them.

When God gave the Ten Commandments to Israel at Sinai, the Sabbath became a part of the Law of Moses (Ex. 20:8-11). While giving the Sabbath commandment, God explained why He wanted them to keep the Sabbath holy (v. 11). He had created the world in six days and had rested on the seventh, a statement pretty much the same as recorded in Genesis 2:3. Exodus 31:13-17 would show that the Sabbath became a sign between God and Israel, not only because He rested from creation, but also to show they were His special people. Deuteronomy 5:15 would also show that the Sabbath was a weekly reminder of their deliverance from Egypt.

The Sabbath was never commanded to observed by non-Jews. All of the commands concerning the Sabbath were directed solely to Israel, with the only exception being “the stranger who is within your gates” (Ex. 20:10). God did not want Israel to be influenced by visiting Gentiles to disobey His laws concerning the Sabbath (cf. Neh. 13:15-21). He wanted the Sabbath to be something special only between Him and Israel while the Law of Moses was in effect (Ex. 20:12, 20; 31:13, 16-17). The Sabbath, like circumcision, was a sign between God and Israel.

So why is the Sabbath mentioned in Genesis 2:1-3 if it wasn’t until centuries later that God commanded it of Israel? Remember, Moses wrote Genesis while Israel wandered the wilderness for forty years after Sinai. The very first readers of Genesis would be the same Israelites to whom God had given the Sabbath commandment at Sinai. Thus, the Holy Spirit inspired Moses while writing about the seventh day of this world’s existence to give a reminder to the first readers of Genesis — Israel — as to why God made the seventh day a Sabbath of rest.

In the final years of the law of Moses during Jesus’ ministry, we read of Christ teaching in the synagogues on the Sabbath (cf. Mk. 1:21). He did other things on the Sabbath which were controversial, such as allowing His Jewish disciples to pluck grain for food and healing the sick (Matt. 12:1-2; Lk. 13:10-14). When His enemies objected, He showed their ignorance of the Old Testament while proclaiming Himself to be Lord of the Sabbath (Matt. 12:3-8). He also pointed out their hypocrisy (Lk. 13:14-16). As a Jew living under the Law of Moses, Jesus sinlessly observed the Sabbath. Yet there is no biblical data showing that He ever extended the Sabbath to Gentiles.

After Christ’s ascension, Paul utilized Sabbaths to teach in synagogues because he knew the Jews would be gathered there on those days (Acts 17:1-3). Yet he never taught that God wanted Christians to observe the Sabbath as the Jews did in the Old Testament. He taught that Jews had spiritually died to the Law of Moses when they became Christians (Rom. 7:4-7). He also taught that Jesus ended the Law of Moses with its commandments when He died (Eph. 2:13-16). This would include the commandments about the Sabbath (Col. 2:14, 16-17). He warned those who would seek justification by observing Moses’ laws that they had fallen from grace (Gal. 5:4). He wrote to Corinth about the new covenant replacing the old covenant, which he called “the ministry of death carved in letters on stone” (2 Cor. 3:6-11), a clear reference to the Ten Commandments, including the Sabbath commandment. The writer of Hebrews also wrote about the new, superior covenant which had replaced the Old Testament covenant which was the Law of Moses and which included the Ten Commandments, including the Sabbath commandment (Heb. 8:6-13). Thus, the apostles and prophets of the first century taught that observing the Sabbath was no longer necessary.

Obviously Jews who were not converted to Christ continued to observe the Sabbath. That’s why Jesus, in the midst of His prophecy about the destruction of the temple by the Romans in A.D. 70, charged the Jerusalem Christians of the first century to pray that they would not have to flee on a Sabbath (Matt. 24:20). This was possibly because the first-century Jews might have continued to observe Nehemiah’s tradition of shutting the gates of Jerusalem on Sabbaths (Neh. 13:19), thus making flight from Jerusalem an impossibility on those days. It’s also true that first century Jewish Christians continued to observe elements of Mosaic Law. Paul himself did so at times in order to not offend the Jews (Acts 21:20-26). Yet he and the other apostles made it clear that the Law of Moses could not be bound on Gentiles with the exception of its prohibitions against eating blood, food set apart for idolatry, and what has been strangled, in addition to the commands against fornication (Acts 15:1-2, 19-20, 28-29). Those Jewish Christians who would continue to force Gentiles to observe Mosaic law would be condemned as “false brothers” who were trying to get their Gentile brethren to submit to a spiritual form of slavery (Gal. 2:3-5; 5:1). Paul made it clear that observing the Law of Moses would not bring salvation (Gal. 5:4; Rom. 3:28). Yet he also allowed individual Christians to privately set days apart as holy as something between them and God if they so desired (Rom. 14:5-6, 22).

The only day set aside in the New Testament as a day of special significance for Christians is Sunday, the first day of the week, the day on which Jesus rose from the dead (Matt. 28:1ff). While instituting the Lord’s Supper, Jesus spoke of a day on which He would partake of the fruit of the vine with His disciples in His Father’s kingdom (Matt. 26:29; Mk. 14:25). It was when His kingdom came (Lk. 22:18). His kingdom — the church (Matt. 16:18-19) — came on the Jewish holy day of Pentecost, which always took place on a Sunday (Lev. 23:15-16). On that day, the first converts worshiped by hearing the apostles’ doctrine, contributing (fellowship — compare with Romans 15:26), praying together, and breaking bread together, a reference to the Lord’s Supper (Acts 2:42; cf. 1 Cor. 10:16-17). This practice was shown to continue when we read that Paul and other Christians broke bread together (partook of communion) on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7), the day he also commanded Christians to give of their means (1 Cor. 16:1-2). Non-canonical writings from this time period confirm this, such as the Epistle of Barnabas and the writings of Justin Martyr, both of whom cite Sundays as the day when the early Christians came together to worship. Yet nowhere in the New Testament are Sundays referred to as a Sabbath day in any way. Thus, to call Sundays “the Sabbath” or “the Christian Sabbath” as some denominations do is to not “speak as the oracles of God” (1 Pet. 4:11).

The biblical Sabbath was always on the seventh day of the week, and it was designed by God to be a sign between Him and Israel alone until the Law of Moses ended. He said as much when He said that it would be a sign between Him and the Jews “forever” (Ex. 31:16-17). “Forever” comes from the Hebrew word olam, which literally means “long duration; long time; long, completed time.” While the word in some cases could refer to eternity, the context determines the proper definition. Since the same word is used to describe the amount of time circumcision and the Passover would be commanded by God for the Jews to observe (Gen. 17:13; Ex. 29:42), we know God did not have eternity in mind for the Sabbath since those rites of Judaism ended at the cross as well.

He did correlate the Sabbath (literally, rest) with eternity in one way, though (Heb. 4:1-11; see v. 9). If we want to enter that heavenly rest which was provided by Christ, we must have diligence and strive to find ourselves “without spot or blemish, and at peace” on the day when the Lord comes back and this world and universe end (2 Pet. 3:9-14). May each of you be found by Him in exactly that way.

— Jon

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what I believe as a Christian:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Jon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why Do Your Disciples Break The Tradition Of The Elders?” — Jon Mitchell, Editor (Editorial: July/August, 2019)

The Pharisees and scribes challenged Jesus with the above question, prompting Him to scathingly indict them for putting their man-made traditions and commandments on a higher precedence than God’s actual commands, resulting in hypocritical, vain worship (Matt. 15:1-9; cf. Mk. 7:1-13).

Traditions are a controversial topic in the church. The word literally means “that which is passed down.” There are divinely-inspired apostolic traditions, i.e., the New Testament (1 Cor. 11:2; 2 Thess. 3:6; cf. 2 Pet. 1:19-21). There are also man-made traditions, some fairly new while others bearing the weight of decades or longer. Some fail to distinguish between traditions of divine and human origin. Among these folks are some who erroneously consider rightly divided scriptural commands and principles to be nothing more than “our tradition” and thus want to embrace doctrinal error and practice, particularly in worship. Others mistakenly consider traditions about worship times and arrangements, ways to biblically educate children and adults, and church activities to be equivalent with biblical commands and principles, thus concluding that any change made along these lines is heresy. Some recognize the distinction between divine and human traditions and thus always seem to want to be on the lookout to form new human traditions simply for the sake of change, regardless of whether change in a particular area is actually needed. Others acknowledge the irrelevancy of some long-held human traditions but are so comfortable with them that they are uneasy or apathetic about anything new that may be productive to God’s cause.

Knowledge and wisdom are needed to accurately navigate the tempestuous waters of traditions. Knowledge of rightly divided Scripture in its totality (2 Tim. 2:15; Ps. 119:160) is needed in order to make the necessary and important distinction between divine and human traditions so that we may always stay within the boundaries of God’s will and grace. Wisdom is needed to accurately use that knowledge to guide a church and “equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” so that maturity and church growth are reached (Eph. 4:11-16). The goal of obtaining this knowledge and wisdom must be so that we all can “make the best use of the time,” opportunities, and resources given to us to grow and strengthen the Lord’s church and basically “understand what the will of the Lord” actually consists of (Eph. 5:15-17) … rather than being bound to a matter of human judgment which is now irrelevant or changing a tradition that might not need to be changed.

Shepherds and preachers of Christ’s church must be men who know the Bible very well, godly servants of Christ who have Christ’s cause first in their hearts and work together to patiently instruct their brethren to rightly divide scripture. All Christians must humbly grow in their knowledge of Scripture with open and honest hearts so that they distinguish between divine and human traditions, always obeying the former while also submitting to the judgments of church leadership concerning the latter. Both leadership and members must consider what the church needs most, sacrificially and humbly working together towards meeting that end to God’s glory (Phil. 2:1-4).

— Jon

Lessons From The Conversions Of The Samaritans And John’s Disciples — Jon Mitchell, Editor (Editorial: May/June, 2019)

Seven men “of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” were set before the apostles by the assembly of Jesus’ disciples in Jerusalem. Out of the thousands of followers in the holy city, these seven were set apart to be put over the “duty” of “serving tables,” making sure that no Hellenistic widows “were being neglected in the daily distribution” of food. After prayer, the apostles “laid their hands on them” (Acts 6:1-6). Considered by many today to be during this infancy stage of the church the prototypes for the deacons who would later come, these seven men were instrumental in helping keep peace in the first church of Christ in the history of Christianity as it faced its first internal problem on scriptural record.

Two of these seven men were Stephen and Philip. Stephen would immediately be cited by Luke as the first disciple outside of the apostles who “was doing great wonders and signs among the people” (v. 8). By the end of chapter 7, he would meet a violent end at the hands of the enemies of Christ for his preaching of the gospel, including a man named Saul of Tarsus who held his murderer’s coats and went on to “ravage” the church, dragging male and female followers of Christ from their homes and throwing them into prison (Acts 8:3). Stephen’s martyrdom prompted “a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles” (v. 2). And yet…the gospel was not silenced. The disciples fleeing persecution still “went about preaching the word” (v. 4). Philip was among them.

He “went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ” (v. 5). His preaching received great attention from the Samaritan crowds as they heard him “and saw the signs that he did,” such as the exorcism of unclean spirits and the healing of the paralyzed and lame (v. 7).

Luke then informs us of Simon, a known magician in that area whom the people likened to the power of God and had a great following due to amazing the crowds with his magic (vs. 9-11). Yet in spite of his former fame, the Samaritans “believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” and “were baptized, both men and women” (v. 12). Simon himself believed and was baptized, afterwards continuing on with Philip and being amazed as he saw “signs and great miracles performed” (v. 13).

When the apostles in Jerusalem “heard that Samaria had received the word of God,” Peter and John made the journey there and “prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit” (vs. 14-15). The reason they did this as stated by Luke was this: “For He had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (v. 16). As they had done with Philip, Stephen, and the rest of the seven earlier in chapter 6, these two apostles “laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit” (v. 17). This prompted Simon the magician, upon observing that “the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands,” to offer them money with the plea, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit” (vs. 18-19). This prompted Peter to rebuke him for thinking he “could obtain the gift of God with money” (v. 20). He indicted Simon’s heart as not being “right before God,” and urged him to repent and pray that God would possibly forgive the intent of his heart (vs. 21-23). Simon in turned asked Peter to pray for him (v. 24).

There are several points worthy of note in Luke’s account of the Samaritans’ conversions. Perhaps most relevant to the Christian is Peter’s directive to Simon to repent and pray that God would forgive him of his sin (v. 22). Simon’s earlier conversion was spoken of as genuine (v. 13). Thus, we learn that a saved soul can in fact still sin in such a way as to be in danger of condemnation (cf. 1 John 1:8, 10; Heb. 10:26-31). Yet, we also learn that God’s forgiveness is still readily available to the Christian who sins if they continually repent and pray for forgiveness (v. 22; cf. 1 John 1:7-9; 2 Cor. 7:9-11).

The Samaritans’ conversions also teach us something important about miraculous gifts given by the Holy Spirit. The apostles had made the trip to Samaria after hearing of the Samaritans’ baptisms for the specific purpose of praying for them and laying their hands on them in order for them to receive the Spirit (vs. 14-17). Simon himself saw that “the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands” (vs. 18-19). This is significant because it teaches us how some early Christians were given miraculous spiritual gifts.

I call your attention back to Stephen, Philip, and the rest of the seven chosen from the Jerusalem church to be over the feeding of the widows (Acts 6:1-6). In order to be chosen for this work, they had to have already been “full of the Spirit” (vs. 3, 5a). This had occurred when they had been baptized for the forgiveness of their sins (Acts 2:38), a promise made to all whom God would call through the gospel (Acts 2:39; 5:32; cf. 2 Thess. 2:14). Yet notice that there is no mention of them — or anyone else other than the apostles — performing any miracles until after the apostles had laid their hands upon them (v. 6). Only then do we read of disciples other than the apostles performing miracles, particularly Stephen (v. 8) and Philip (Acts 8:6-7). The rest of the New Testament teaches this also (cf. Acts 19:6; Rom. 1:11; 2 Tim. 1:6). Interestingly, the description of the Spirit “falling” upon people as is mentioned in the case of the Samaritans (8:16) is used in Scripture only in reference to people receiving miraculous power (10:44-46; 11:15; cf. 2:1-4). Thus, it is reasonable to conclude that while the Samaritans upon their baptism had received “the gift of the Holy Spirit” promised in Acts 2:38-39, the Spirit had not yet “fallen” upon them resulting in giving them miraculous gifts and would not do so until the apostles had laid their hands upon them (Acts 8:14-17).

This is relevant to answering the question of whether miracles take place today. Paul had prophesied that the miraculous spiritual gifts he had described to Corinth (1 Cor. 12:1-11) would cease “when that which is perfect has come” (1 Cor. 13:8-10). “Perfect” (teleios) refers to that which is complete or mature and is used elsewhere to refer to the New Testament (Rom. 12:2; Jas. 1:25). Historically, within a few years of the New Testament’s completion all of the apostles, as well as all those on whom they laid their hands and gave miraculous spiritual gifts, were deceased. Thus, no human being has been given miraculous power from God today. Such has been the case for almost two thousand years.

One final lesson of importance can be learned from the Samaritans’ conversion, but to fully grasp it would do us good to first examine another conversion in Acts: that of John’s twelve disciples (Acts 19:1-7). By this time Saul of Tarsus had been converted to Christianity and had become the apostle Paul. During his missionary travels, he found some disciple in Ephesus (v. 1). These disciples informed Paul that they had not heard of the Holy Spirit (v. 2), prompting him to ask about their baptism (v. 3; cf. Matt. 28:19; Acts 2:38). They informed him that they had been baptized “into John’s baptism” (v. 3). Apparently they, like Apollos during this same time period (Acts 18:25), were only familiar with the baptism of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ. And just as Aquila and Priscilla had taken Apollos aside and “explained to him the way of God more accurately” concerning baptism (Acts 18:26), Paul likewise taught them the difference between John’s baptism and baptism in the name of Jesus before baptizing them in Jesus’ name and bestowing upon them miraculous spiritual gifts through the laying on of his hands (19:4-6).

There is much this episode can teach us about baptism (literally immersion in the Greek). For one, there were similarities and yet also distinct differences between John’s immersion and the immersion in the name of Christ commanded after Christ’s resurrection (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:38). Both baptisms were correlated with repentance (Acts 19:4; Mark 1:4; Acts 2:38). Both baptisms were for forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4; Acts 2:38). Both baptisms were done in water (John 3:23; Acts 8:36-39). Yet John’s immersion was commanded by him during the time before Christ died, whereas the immersion in the name of Christ is baptism “into His death” (Rom. 6:3), thus making John’s baptism not able to meet that spiritual goal since it was commanded before Christ died.

This brings to mind the fact that immersion in Jesus’ name — the “one baptism” of Ephesians 4:5 — is done for more reasons than just the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16). Remember, John’s baptism was also for forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4), yet Paul still considered it lacking and thus “re-baptized” those twelve men. Since many ask the often legitimate question of “Should I be baptized again?”, it would be good to review all the purposes given in scripture for baptism in Jesus’ name.

In addition to forgiveness of sins, the purpose of baptism in Jesus’ name (Acts 2:38) is to bring one into the possession of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. A study of the Greek terminology used in Matthew 28:19 shows this to be the literal meaning of the phrase “in the name of” used in that passage. Obtaining salvation is another purpose of the one baptism (Mark 16:16; 1 Pet. 3:21), one synonymous with forgiveness. Being born again, “of water and the Spirit,” is another purpose of the one baptism in Jesus’ name (John 3:3-5; cf. Acts 2:38; Tit. 3:5).   Participating in the spiritual circumcision as a sign one is part of God’s chosen people in the new covenant is another purpose of the one baptism (Col. 2:11-13; cf. Rom. 2:28-29; James 1:1; Gal. 6:16).

Alluded to earlier, being baptized into Christ and thus into His death via burial in baptism to rise to a new life, causing one to be “clothed” with Christ, is another purpose of the one baptism (Rom. 6:3-5; Gal. 3:27). Further examination must be given to what it means to be baptized “into Christ” because it gives us the next scriptural purpose of baptism, which is to be baptized into His body (1 Cor. 12:13). The church is called Christ’s body which fills Him (Eph. 1:22-23). Paul goes on to refer to that body as “one body” (Eph. 4:4) before identifying it again as the church of which Jesus is the Savior (Eph. 5:23). Thus, to be baptized “into Christ” means to be baptized “into one body” (1 Cor. 12:13)…Christ’s body, His church which fills Him, of which there is only one.

This brings us back to the Samaritans’ baptism as we read that they had first believed the “good news about the kingdom of God” before being baptized (Acts 8:12).   God’s kingdom was prophesied to come during the lifetimes of Jesus’ disciples (Dan. 2:44; Mk. 9:1). When asked about the kingdom, Christ pointed towards the establishment of His church on Pentecost (Acts 1:6-8; 2:1-47). After Pentecost, it was always spoken of as presently existing, with Christians as its inhabitants (Col. 1:13; 1 Thess. 2:12; Rev. 1:6, 9). Thus, Christ’s church — His body, the “one body” (Eph. 4:4; 1 Cor. 12:13) — is the kingdom of God. To be baptized into Christ is to be baptized into His body, His one church, His kingdom.

Paul’s conversion of the twelve disciples of John teaches us much about baptism in Jesus’ name. The Samaritans’ conversion also teaches us about the one baptism, as well as miraculous spiritual gifts and God’s directives on how Christians who sin can still be forgiven. It is my prayer that our study of these conversions, as well as this issue’s study of the conversions in Acts overall, has strengthened your faith and encouraged you to bring the gospel to others.

— Jon