Tag Archives: Jon Mitchell

“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

Passing Children Through Fire: My Thoughts on Abortion — Jon Mitchell, Editor (Editorial: March/April, 2019)

In the days preceding the writing of this editorial, the New York state assembly with a vote of 92-47 and the state senate with a vote of 38-24 passed a bill that permits late-term abortions to be available to women essentially on demand up to the point of birth. The paradoxically-named Reproductive Health Act, which was signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo on the 46th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade which legalized abortion, also decriminalized abortion, moving it from New York’s criminal code to the public-health code.

In the days following this atrocity, the state of Virginia tried and so far have failed to make into a law a bill that would have reduced the number of doctors required to sign off on killing the infant and expanded the number of excuses for why a mother could choose at the last minute to ask for an abortion. Kathy Tran, the Virginia state delegate who proposed the bill, explained on video how her bill would allow a fully developed baby to be killed even during labor. Virginia governor Ralph Northam defended the legislation in ways that made it sound like he believed a viable infant could be fully delivered before the doctor and mother decided whether it should be permitted to live.

In the interest of balance, it must be acknowledged that some lawmakers in Tennessee at the time of this writing support legislation to ban abortion once a baby’s heartbeat is detected. Some legislators in Iowa are currently trying to amend Iowa’s constitution to state that the state “does not secure or protect a right to abortion.” Virginia delegate Tran now says she misspoke and has acknowledged that her description of the law would have gone against anti-infanticide laws. It’s also true that the number of women who will bring a baby fully to term only to then kill it during the 40th week is very small.

However, it is only small in comparison to the total number of abortions in the United States. The pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute reports that in 2014 (the most recent year for which data is available), 926,000 abortions took place and 1.3 percent — roughly 12,000 — of those were after the 20th week. Guttmacher also reported in 2013 that “most women seeking later terminations are not doing so for reasons of fetal anomaly or life endangerment.” There are currently movements in several states to make abortion legal past the point where the baby could live independent of its mother. According to Tennessee State Representative Sheila K. Butt, eight states now allow abortion at any stage. The United States is currently one of only seven countries worldwide that allows elective abortions after 20 weeks. According to National Review, it’s “unclear how many countries allow abortion at 40 weeks, mid-delivery, but it’s possible that the U.S. and North Korea would be the only members of that club.”

Abortions are legal and widely practiced in America, and our God is very angry about it. I say this because God is our Creator. He formed us while were in the womb (Ps. 139:13-16; Job 31:15). He did not “knit” together a mere chemical activity, cellular growth, or other vague force like pro-abortionists claim the fetus to be. The Hebrew for the “unformed substance” in Psalm 139:16 that God saw has to do with the embryonic state, the first eight weeks after conception. Thus, God knows — and cares — for the infant in the womb long before the mother can even feel life within her. He formed us in the womb, human beings in His own image. Jehovah was and is personally involved in our development while we were inside our mothers. Do you think He is pleased when we go out of our way to destroy the work which He made and for which He cares?

Exodus 21:22-25 gives the answer to that question. God decreed that if a man harmed a pregnant woman who later gave birth and it was proven that any harm came to that unborn child due to the man harming her, that man would pay back wound for wound that was inflicted upon the unborn child. If the unborn baby had died while in the womb and was delivered as a stillborn, that man would pay with his life! “Life for life…” How could God say that if life doesn’t begin until birth like abortion proponents claim? There is life in the womb, before birth. Any taking of that life is an abomination before God. Babies, both while in the womb (Rom. 9:10-13) and after birth (Ezek. 18:1-20), are innocent, and God hates hands “which shed innocent blood” (Prov. 6:17).

Thus, the mass killing of innocent life in our nation today which takes place through abortion is an irreverent assault on the unique work which God performs. He hates it not only because it destroys the work of His hands and the life which He gives, but also because of how it destroys that life.

Imagine a vacuum tube with a sharp blade attached to it, sucking the child from the womb and dicing it up into several pieces. Imagine a loop-shaped steel knife which slices the placenta from the walls of the uterus and cuts the baby’s tiny body into pieces. Imagine an instrument very comparable to sharp-toothed plyers, dismembering the baby part by part until all parts are removed from the womb. Imagine a long needle inserted through the mother’s abdomen into the infants sac where it would inject a solution of concentrated salt which the infant would then breathe in and be poisoned by it as the corrosive effects of the salt burns off the outer layer of the baby’s skin.

How hypocritical is it to find people guilty of crimes for killing infants in gruesome ways outside of the womb…but not if they had hired “doctors” to do pretty much the same thing to those same babies earlier while inside the womb! As we see the video of the applause and smiles on the faces of the New York legislators as they legalize these abominations and as we hear the passionate defense of these murders by women to whom God gave the ability to cherish rather than destroy the lives within them, let us be reminded of Isaiah’s inspired condemnation: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!” (Is. 5:20-21)

Reader, are you outraged by what you just read? Are you sickened? Are you unhappy that you just read of such monstrous acts? I apologize for your unhappiness, but I made the decision to write so plainly about what happens in abortion procedures because so many of us have not truly been told about what happens to a baby when it is aborted. If we are told, it is usually in a way that is extremely edited for content in order not to disgust. This is understandable and necessary in many contexts, but it also results in too many of us looking at the abortions of today in the same way in which we look at the Holocaust of the Jews in the previous century: as a mildly unpleasant historical fact from which we are far removed. If abortion is to stop in this country and in the world, that needs to change. We must hate abortion just as God hates it, and for the same reasons.

What also helps us hate the atrocious deed of abortion like God hates it is when we understand why it happens. James gives us one reason when he said, “You desire and do not have, so you murder…” (James 4:2). What do parents of aborted babies desire that would lead them to murder their children? More financial security? More leisure? More education? More unrestrained sexual activity? More career options? Avoiding a child who may be handicapped? Less hassle for the next 18-25 years?

The statistics imply this. According to the Guttmacher Institute only 0.5% of abortions were done on victims of rape in 2004. 3% were done because of fetal health problems, 4% because of physical health problems, 4% because it “would interfere with education or career,” 7% because of “not mature enough to raise a child,” 8% because the reason “don’t want to be a single mother,” 19% because of “done having children,” 23% due to “can’t afford a baby,” 25% because of “not ready for a child,” and 6% because of “other” reasons. In Florida alone in 2015, .001% of abortions were done to pregnancies from an incestuous relationship and .085% of abortions were done to women who were raped. .065% of abortions were done because the woman’s life was endangered by the pregnancy, 288% because the woman’s physical health was threatened by the pregnancy, .294% because the woman’s psychological health was threatened by the pregnancy, .666% due to a serious fetal abnormality, 6.268% due to social or economic reasons, and 92.330% for “no reason (elective).”

What keeps coming back to my mind is the option of adoption. Statistically, the necessity to take the life of one’s child in the womb in order to necessarily save your own life is so minute, and even then the choice would still be there to put the child’s life before one’s own out of love (John 15:13; Rom. 5:7-8; Eph. 5:2; John 10:11). Adoption is an option for all other cases, including the statistically rare cases of rape and incest in which a mother would understandably not want to keep the child of the monster who had violated her. Since God has provided this clear way of escape (1 Cor. 10:13), why is it not used? The only reason left in my mind revolves around what James condemned.

All of us desire things and have goals, but may we work hard to never be so self-absorbed and covetous that we miss out on — or even purposefully kill — the most important things in life (Heb. 13:5)! When we love the world rather than God (1 John 2:15-17), we follow Satan rather than resisting him (Eph. 2:1-3; James 4:7). So let us work to have a heart that deeply submits to God, a heart which reverences His word and works above all worldly self-enhancement (James 4:6). This will help us look at things differently, react differently, want different things, and hate different things…the same things which God wants and which God hates (Rom. 12:1-2).

The only way this righteous change will come to the hearts and minds of the majority of our society is when Christians care as much (no, I say even more) about the souls of the lost surrounding them every day as they do about the lives of the unborn. The actions of politicians who legalize monstrous deeds take place only because they know enough of the electorate either agree with them or are apathetic about what they do. Thus, Christians should not focus more on working to achieve political gains against abortion than we do on evangelistic gains against all sin by converting more souls to be completely committed to Jesus. Should we be silent about abortion? Of course not, but realize that real progress will be made against the evil of abortion only when we talk even more passionately to even more people about the gospel of Jesus Christ than we do about politics and abortion, and prayerfully and continually use the gospel to change their hearts and minds into Christ’s image. Only then will we be rid of the great evil of the murder of millions of children…when our society sees it as God sees it because of the influence of the gospel!

— Jon

Soul-Winning For Jesus: Producing Repentance — Jon Mitchell

Have you ever wondered why David, “a man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22; 1 Sam. 13:14), never showed any sign of remorse over committing adultery with Bathsheba and his attempted deception and ultimate murder of her husband (2 Sam. 11)? After all, it was David’s faith that motivated him to face the giant Goliath (1 Sam. 17), and it was his love for God and compassion for others that kept him from killing Saul, his enemy, when he had the chance (1 Sam. 24, 26). This same man would later showed kindness to the crippled grandson of his slain enemy (2 Sam. 9), and yet a short time after that he would give in to his lustful temptations and sleep with the wife of one of his most loyal soldiers, all while giving no sign of feeling guilty about his sins.

Yet, this all changed – apparently in an abrupt manner – when the prophet Nathan called him out on the carpet for his sins with the forceful accusation, “You are the man!” (2 Sam. 12:1-15). One minute David, blind to the fact that Nathan’s story of the rich man who killed the poor man’s one prized lamb related to his own sin, was indignant over the perceived sins of others. The next minute, after being indicted for his adultery, deception, enticements to drunkenness (cf. Hab. 2:15), and murder, David was confessing his sin against God with the greatest of sorrow and remorse (Ps. 51:1-15). What brought the penitent change of heart?

First, Nathan forcefully brought David’s sins to his attention by directly attributing the sinful actions of the rich man in the parable to the king himself while also warning him of the consequences of his wrongdoing (2 Sam. 12:1-7a, 9-12). Too often, we see others commit sin and naively hope that they will repent without us having to inconvenience ourselves with the potential awkwardness of rebuking and warning them. This shows within us a lack of spirituality (Gal. 6:1) and concern for the well-being of their souls and our own (James 5:19-20; Ezek. 3:17-21). Repentance – and forgiveness itself – will never come without a direct acknowledgement of the wrong done (1 John 1:9) and fear of God’s wrathful punishment (Rom. 2:4-11; Heb. 12:28-29). If we want to bring about a change of heart within the sinner, we must rebuke and warn them lovingly and truthfully (Eph. 4:15; Acts 2:36-37), humbly and gently rather than argumentatively (2 Tim. 2:24-26), and yet sharply if need be (Tit. 1:13). We must also never forget that we ourselves will never truly repent of ourselves without first acknowledging our wrongs with honest and open hearts (Luke 8:15) while having that godly fear (2 Cor. 5:11).

Secondly, Nathan reminded David of God’s great love for him by listing all the blessings the Creator had bestowed upon the king (2 Sam. 12:7b-8). In Steven Spielberg’s epic World War II drama Saving Private Ryan, Private James Ryan (Matt Damon) is saved from death by the sacrifice of Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) and most of his platoon. Decades later, an elderly Ryan looks down at Miller’s grave at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial and tearfully confesses that he’s tried to live his life the best he could in order to atone for Miller giving his life for his. Many veterans whose friends have died in battle to save them feel the same way. Yet God gave a much greater sacrifice when he gave his Son up to die a horrendous death on a cross to save us, wretched sinners who were his enemies rather than friends (John 3:16; Rom. 5:6-11). Add to this all the wonderful blessings that God gives to us on a daily basis (Matt. 5:45; Jas. 1:17), just as he did with David. When we remember all that God does for us with unselfish and humble hearts, we will be motivated to detest the sin that offends our Savior and repent.

This is true because our humble and honest remembrance of God’s great love, mercy, and numerous blessings on our behalf will bring about godly sorrow, which leads to repentance (2 Cor. 7:9-10). In Spielberg’s movie, the older Ryan breaks down in tears as he approaches Captain Miller’s grave, no doubt due to remembering the great sacrifice that man and others made for him. Likewise, the psalm David wrote after Nathan rebuked him for his sins is filled with remorse and anguish as he remembers the salvation God offers to him (Ps. 51:8, 12, 14). Unlike worldly grief, which leads to spiritual death in hell (2 Cor. 7:10b; cf. Rom. 6:23; Rev. 21:8) and is selfishly based only on sorrow over the punishment one receives here on earth for one’s sins, godly grief is based on anguish that one committed the sin in the first place due to the great offense it gives to our Savior and King. Only this will truly lead us to repent and thus be saved (2 Cor. 7:10). Do we grieve over our sins, and if so, what kind of sorrow is it? We should examine ourselves (2 Cor. 13:5) so we will know if we need godly sorrow in our lives.

Furthermore, godly sorrow will motivate one to “bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Matt. 3:8; cf. Acts 26:20). The thief who has worldly sorrow only over the fact that he got caught and is now being punished will steal again at the first opportunity. However, the thief who has godly sorrow over the fact that he stole in the first place because it grieved his Creator and Savior will now detest the very idea of stealing and thus be motivated to never do it again. As a result of the repentance brought on by their godly sorrow, the Corinthians became very diligent in their strong desire to fearfully and zealously serve God and clear themselves of the guilt of their sins which they now indignantly detested (2 Cor. 7:10-11). Likewise, we never read of David committing adultery or murder again after his repentance over his wrongdoing with Bathsheba and Uriah. In other words, their actions proved that they had truly repented. When we commit to repentance, do our actions prove it? Or are we deceiving ourselves?

Too many in the church today have no idea what true repentance means, or how it is produced. This contributes to the lack of true conversion to Christ among many, the lack of zealous commitment to his cause among more, and the growing immorality and apostasy within the brotherhood. We must go out of our way to teach potential converts the true meaning of repentance and how it is produced before we baptize them, while reminding new converts and ourselves of how true repentance is manifested within our lives. With God’s help, doing so will have a highly positive impact on our own spiritual well-being and that of the church overall.

Jon preaches for the Calhoun Church of Christ in Calhoun, GA. He is the editor of the Carolina Messenger.

Correctly Interpreting The Bible: Authority and the Testaments — Jon Mitchell, Editor (Editorial: January/February, 2019)

The editorial in the last issue started a study on whether it is possible to correctly interpret the Bible. It examined the necessity of doing so (Matt. 7:21-23; Heb. 5:9; 2 Tim. 2:15), the false notion that truth is not absolute, the need to heed the entirety of God’s Word (Ps. 119:160), and the benefits of researching the definitions of biblical terms in the original languages when necessary.

We will now continue our study by examining the concept of biblical authority. Jesus was asked about the authority He had to teach His doctrine (Matt. 21:23), a legitimate question even if it was asked with illegitimate motives by the religious leaders. It’s a legitimate question because God tells us to have divine authority in everything we do and say (Col. 3:17). Thus, biblical authority is very important to properly interpreting Scripture. Authority is a foundational precept of Christianity, for without it we have no basis for anything we believe, teach, or practice individually or congregationally.

For example, consider the basic fundamental trait of Christianity which is prayer. We all know Christians pray…but how do we know to whom to pray, for what to pray, or even to pray in the first place? Ultimately, we know to pray (Col. 4:2) to God the Father (Matt. 6:9) about numerous topics (Matt. 6:9-13; 1 Tim. 2:1-2; etc.) because God’s Word tells us to do so. If not for the Spirit-inspired Scriptures (2 Pet. 1:19-21), we wouldn’t know how to pray or even to pray to begin with (Rom. 8:26). Thus, we get our authority to pray from God’s Word.

In fact, every divinely pleasing thing we do as Christians is done by authority which comes from Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Paul said that Scripture equips us for “EVERY good work.” That means if there is a work out there which we don’t need Scripture to give us authority to do in some way, it is not a good work as far as God is concerned. Sure, we might think it a good work…but God’s thoughts aren’t ours (Is. 55:8-9; Prov. 14:12). So again the need for biblical authority is apparent.

Yet how do we get that authority? Studying Scripture reveals three ways in which God’s Word gives authority. The first would be through a command, a direct statement of something which can or cannot be done (e.g., John 13:34; Acts 2:38; Eph. 5:18; 1 Thess. 4:3).

Sometimes biblical commands are general in nature, not limited in scope, area, or application. For example, the command to “go” (Matt. 28:19) is general nature and would authorize all methods of transportation in our efforts to evangelize since God did not specify just how we are to “go.”

On the other hand, sometimes biblical commands are specific in nature, like when God specified gopher wood as the type of wood Noah was to use while building the ark (Gen. 6:14). For this reason Noah would have disobeyed God by using pine wood.

In like manner, a specific command may itself have a degree of general authority which would open up the use of aids not specifically mentioned in the command but which nonetheless are suitable for carrying out that which is authorized. For example, peruse the instructions God gave to Noah about the construction of the ark and you will see more examples of how specific God was in His requirements (Gen. 6:14-16). However, you will find no mention of God telling Noah to use tools such as hammers, nails, saws, etc. Yet, we know that the ark was not built miraculously in that it took decades to build it (Gen. 6:3). Thus, Noah must have used construction tools to build it, tools which God did not mention in His instructions. Did Noah go beyond what God had authorized? No, because when all was said and done Scripture says twice that Noah “did all that God commanded him” (Gen. 6:22; 7:5).

The second way God’s Word gives authority is through approved examples. The divinely inspired Paul taught not only through command, but also by example (Phil. 4:9). In fact, he encouraged others to imitate him and follow his apostolic example (1 Cor. 4:16-17; 11:1), something which the early church did with all the apostles (Acts 2:42; Phil. 3:17; 2 Thess. 3:9). They did so with good reason, considering that the apostles were inspired by the Spirit of God (Eph. 3:3-5). So when we have an example in Scripture which meets with apostolic approval, we know there is authority for the practice. To illustrate, we meet on the first day of each week to partake of communion because of the example set by the early church with the apostles’ approval (Acts 20:7; cf. 1 Cor. 10:16-17).

The third way God’s Word gives authority is through necessary implications. These are neither explicitly stated nor specifically exemplified, but rather are necessarily implied by the clear meaning of the language used by the inspired writers, so much so that one could only logically draw a particular conclusion. Jesus made a necessary implication in His teaching of the existence of the resurrection of the dead to the unbelieving Sadducees (Matt. 22:31). He quoted what God said to Moses at Mount Horeb (Ex. 3:6) about currently being the God of Jewish patriarches who at the time were centuries in their grave (“I AM the God of Abraham…Isaac, and…Jacob”) to necessarily imply that God is not “God of the dead, but of the living,” i.e., that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob still existed after their deaths.

We do the same thing, probably without realizing it. For example, we cite John 3:16 as biblical proof that God gave His only begotten Son because He loves all of humanity. Yet the verse doesn’t actually say that. It actually says, “For God so loved THE WORLD that He gave His only begotten Son…” We necessarily infer that “the world” refers to the entire human population rather than the physical planet because of what is specifically stated in other passages (cf. 1 Tim. 2:4). In like manner, students of the New Testament know that there is no specific command which states, “Thou shalt not punch thy wife in the face.” However, none of us would say that spousal abuse is therefore permitted in the New Testament. Why? Because of the necessary implications we make from certain passages (Matt. 7:12; Eph. 5:28-29).

A study on authority and its relationship to correct biblical interpretation would not be complete without examining the differences between the Old and New Testaments (covenants). Unlike the new covenant whose laws apply to everyone (Matt. 28:18), the old covenant applied only to Israel (Deut. 5:1-3), serving as a “guardian” to Israel until Christ came (Gal. 3:24), after which its laws would not longer be applicable (Gal. 3:25; Rom. 7:1-6). Those attempting to obey some of its commands would be obliged to obey them all, and would fall from grace (Gal. 5:3-4). Yet it still has value to the Christian (Rom. 15:4) by instructing us about God (cf. Ps. 19:1; 23) and His interactions with man (cf. 1 Cor. 10:1-11).

However, correct biblical interpretation requires recognition that its laws given to Israel which regulated their theology, worship, eating habits, holy days, etc., do not apply to Christians today unless we read of those same regulations within the new covenant. For example, all ten of the commandments given at Mount Sinai are also found in the New Testament except for the one concerning the Sabbath Day. Both Testaments command to love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Lev. 19:18; Rom. 13:9). Other examples could be cited.

Yet, while we read of Israel worshiping God through animal sacrifices and instrumental music in the Old Testament (Lev. 1; 2 Chr. 29:25-30), we do not read of Christians commanded to worship in the same ways in the New Testament. Rather, Christians are told that Christ is their sacrifice (Heb. 9:26). We are told to sing praises to God while “plucking the instrument” (the literal definition of the Greek word translated “making melody”) of their heart (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16).

Interpreting the Bible correctly requires constant study (Ps. 1:2; 1 Tim. 4:13, 15-16). Proper understanding doesn’t come overnight; in fact, continual study will always be required if for no other reason than we will forget some of what we’ve learned (2 Pet. 3:1-2). These two editorials provide only a generalized overview, but it is my hope that they can serve as a good starting point in our efforts to no longer be spiritual children “carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14; cf. Heb. 5:12-14; 6:1-2).

— Jon