Tag Archives: New Testament

The Name of the Church — Hugh Fulford

On one occasion, Leonard Johnson, one of the founders of what is now Faulkner University in Montgomery, Alabama, was preaching in a gospel meeting in a small Alabama town.  One night he preached a sermon on the church.  In the midst of his sermon brother Johnson said, “Now within the next four to five minutes I am going to tell you everything the New Testament says about the name of the church.”  For the next four to five minutes brother Johnson was completely silent.  He did not utter a word.  Then he said, “There you have it – everything the New Testament says about the name of the church!”

Brother Johnson was absolutely right—the church, the body of people redeemed to God by the blood of Christ, does not have a proper, formal, exclusive, and patented name!  It was not and is not a denomination and does not wear a denominational designation.  Instead, the New Testament gives numerous descriptors for the church.  The church (the aggregate of all who have been saved by obedience to the gospel) is the spiritual body of Christ, of which there is but one (Eph. 1:22-23; 4:4).  It is the spiritual temple of God, being composed of living stones (Eph. 2:19-22; I Pet. 2:4-5).  It is the house (household, family) of God, with every child of God a member of it (I Tim. 3:15; Heb. 3:5-6).  It is the kingdom of God’s dear Son (Col. 1:13; cf. Acts 2:47).  Christ, in promising to build it, called in “my church” (Matt. 16:18).  A plurality of local congregations are designated as “churches of Christ” (Rom. 16:16).  At the same time, they also are described as “churches of God” (I Cor. 11:26), and the universal body of redeemed people is called the “church of God” (v. 22).  Geographically, the people of God are spoken of as the church at Jerusalem, the church of God which is at Corinth, the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, the churches of Judea, the churches of Galatia, the seven churches of Asia, etc.  Modern Catholic and Protestant names are noticeably absent from the New Testament, and came to be applied to religious groups arising this side of the New Testament!

Churches of Christ today strive to be churches of the New Testament order.  We do not profess to be a denomination.  The use of the biblical descriptor “church of Christ” is not intended as our “official, exclusive, denominational name.” Any biblical descriptor is acceptable.  However, in our sadly divided religious world, it is practical to use rather consistently a descriptor that sets forth in a scriptural way those who are pleading for a return to the undenominational church of the New Testament and who are contending for “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

Clearly, it is possible to use a biblical designation for the church in a sectarian and denominational sense and, sadly, many are doing that with the descriptor “church of Christ.”  At the same time, to use this scriptural designation does not make those using it a denomination.

Many years ago, the late Cled Wallace made some insightful observations about the “name” of the church that we would do well to consider today. He wrote: “Now I am somewhat of a stickler for calling the church anything and everything it is called in the New Testament and have said so over and over again in these and other columns . . . I am certain that the expression ‘church of Christ’ has been used in a sectarian sense, but not when it is applied to the right thing, however often it may be used.  It is misused only when it is employed to cover too little or too much or applied to something that is not it at all . . . Brethren keep me more uneasy sometimes by what they mean by it than they do by how often they say it” (Bible Banner, Volume IV, Number II, September 1941).

Let me say again: I am not Church of Christ (viewed as a denomination) in my religious affiliation.  I am not a Church of Christ (viewed as a denomination) preacher – no more so than I am a Church of God (viewed as a denomination) preacher, or a body of Christ preacher, of a kingdom of God’s dear Son preacher, or a temple of God preacher, or any of the other biblical descriptors for the people of God that may be corrupted into a denominational name or employed in a sectarian sense.  At the same time, I am a member of Christ’s church, the Lord’s church, the body of Christ, the household of God.  I can be such without being a member of any denomination.  So can anyone else.  Local churches can be churches of Christ without being a denomination.  There are many of us who are Christians only without denominational affiliation, members only of what the New Testament most frequently designates simply as “the church.”

huford@comcast.net

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Departures From The Faith – Jon Mitchell

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

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

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

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

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

A study of church history reveals the fulfillment of these prophecies not long after the apostles died (cf. 2 Thess. 2:6-7).  It started when elders in the church started making changes to the governmental organization of the church, changing it from the scriptural pattern of autonomous congregations overseen by pluralities of elders (Acts 14:23; 20:17, 28; 1 Pet. 5:1-2) to a collection of congregations in a particular region being under one bishop.  From then it wasn’t long before there was one bishop over all the other bishops, a man who became known as the Pope.  Roman Catholic history reveals that the Pope was thought of as God on earth, and that he consolidated his power among the superstitious by the performing of “miracles.”  He and the leaders under him came up with doctrines such as forbidding priests to marry and requiring parishioners to abstain from certain foods at certain times.  Other man-made doctrines such as instrumental music in worship, praying to Mary, the idea that Mary was a perpetual virgin and our intercessor, the paying of indulgences, Purgatory, apostolic succession, the Apocrypha, sacraments, transubstantiation, the canonization of saints, the forgiveness of sins by the church and assignation of penance for those sins, and many more.  Most recently, the current Pope made it known that he would grant indulgences to his followers on Twitter.

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

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

  

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

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

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

Sadly, we see now how far Christendom has come from the unity prayed for by Jesus and commanded by divine inspiration by his apostle (John 17:20-23; 1 Cor. 1:10-13; 3:1-3; Phil. 2:1-2; cf. Eph. 1:22-23; 4:4-6).  Our God knew this would happen and why: the selfishness, greed and arrogance of unmerciful, hedonistic man who purposefully turn from the truth towards liars who will scratch their itching ears with myths (2 Tim. 3:1-9; 4:3-4).

Let us pray that we instead remain faithful and preach nothing but God’s Word!  (2 Tim. 4:1-2)

jonandelizabethmitchell@hotmail.com

The Faith Once Delivered – J.T. Wheeler

“Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you, exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.”  (Jude 3)

We have the truth.  And we have to fight for the truth.  Evil men hinder the truth (Rom. 1:18).  Righteous men spread the truth (Eph. 4:15).  Why is this corpus of revelation, this presentation of supernatural reality, this thing called the faith – why is it so important to us?

The Heavenly Body of Truth

Did you know that, before any word of Scripture was set pen to paper, the Message was enshrined in the holy halls of heaven?  It is true.  The Bible speaks of there being books in heaven (Rev. 20:12).  The psalmist declared, “Forever, O Lord, your word is settled in heaven” (Ps. 119:89; see also Ps. 56:8 and 139:16).  Before Ezekiel was to write or speak a word, he had to consume the heavenly volume containing the message he would deliver to the Jewish refugees (Ezek. 2:8-10).  In the New Testament, the apostle John was told to do the same (Rev. 10:8-11).  Daniel, before he wrote down his final vision and interpretation, was told by the heavenly messenger, “But I will tell you what is noted in the Scripture of Truth” (Dan. 10:21a; notice also Dan. 7:10).

That the New Covenant, or Testament, was established in heaven first is seen in Hebrews 10:7, 10, and in Acts 2:23.  Think about it.  If the covenant had to first be written down by men before it would be real to men, then Peter would have had nothing to say that first Pentecost after the Lord’s resurrection, certainly nothing authoritative; for nothing of the New Testament was written on earth at that time.  And nothing would be written, as far as our Scripture is concerned, until around fifteen years later.  So the New Testament had to exist, real and in force, before Peter and the other apostles opened their mouths as authoritative messengers of this covenant.

Catholicism states that the Church as they understand it gave us the New Testament.  But we should see clearly that the church did not originate or even authorize any canon as God’s Word.  Such is beyond the ability of men (Matt. 16:19).

Did the New Testament exist in its fullness in the time of the acts of the apostles?  If not, what authority – what covenant – were the apostles demanding allegiance to (Acts 2:42)?  What would be the efficacy of the blood of Christ that the church would celebrate the first day of every week (Matt. 26:28; 1 Cor. 11:25)?  The Old Covenant ceased to be in force after the crucifixion of Christ (Col. 2:14-17).  And John’s ministry certainly concluded its course with the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).  Yet the word, beginning in Acts 2, was preached with authority that validated the New Testament, the testament now in force because the risen Christ was on his throne (Acts 2:32-33; Heb. 9:15-17).

The message of the Bible is from the mind of God.  It is not arbitrary or capricious.  Rather, the Lord our God has graciously revealed what has been established in the will of God from eternity (Acts 15:18; Eph. 3:8-11).  This is good for us, because we could not know these things any other way (1 Cor. 2:7-10).

Delivered by the Miraculous Work of God

This Message was given to men as God chose to deliver it to us.  Speaking of Old Testament concerns, God delivered the revelations as he saw fit, but always with the same end in view (Heb. 1:1-3).  Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:20-21).

The term is verbal, plenary inspiration.  It refers to God giving the writers of Scripture the very words to use to convey the message He was revealing to them (1 Cor. 2:12-13).  Since it is God’s message from God’s mind being revealed and communicated, to think of inspiration in any lesser terms becomes illogical – and certainly unscriptural.  The fact that the Scripture indicates that God used the vocabulary and communicative skills already familiar to the writers shows us God’s gentleness in his use of men (1 Cor. 14:32), but not God surrendering to their understanding of what was to be revealed (1 Pet. 1:10-12; 2 Pet. 1:20-21).

And now the mind of God has been fully revealed as that mind speaks to our life and godliness (John 16:13; 1 Cor. 2:16; 2 Pet. 1:2-4).  It has been given by the authority of Jesus Christ through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  It is the New Testament which now establishes the apostles of Christ as the revealers, interpreters, and guides for all who would follow Christ (2 Cor. 3:3-6; Eph. 3:1-7; Phil. 4:8-9; 2 Tim. 2:1-2; 3:10-17).

For All Men of All Time

The Message is for all everywhere, for all nations (Matt. 28:18-20), for every creature in this sphere of existence who can believe it and be baptized in obedience to it from the heart (Rom. 6:17-18; Mark 16:15-16).  It is for all time, the eternal covenant which will not be abrogated (Heb. 13:20-21).  It will never pass away (Matt. 24:35).  The Message stands with us forever (2 John 2).  It does not matter that the Message is 2,000 years old.  It is as relevant and pertinent to us today as it has ever been (2 Cor. 6:1-2; Heb. 3:15).  It cannot be lost to humanity (though we may ignore it), so it will never need to be re-given to us.  There is no such thing with God as the restoration of revelation.

What Our Disposition Toward It Should Be

Notice that the Message is called the Faith.  That is telling and instructs us as to our response to this wonderful gift from God.  We are to believe it, trust it, be fully convinced of its truth.  Some brethren struggle with whether the word “faith” deals with subjective understanding or objective revelation.  The fact is that, most of the time, it references both.  The fact that the objective revelation from God, known to God from eternity, the fact that this is called the Faith demands that we hold it personally, intimately, subjectively in our own hearts.  The Faith does you no good unless it becomes your faith (Heb. 11:6; Rom. 4:13-25; 10:17).

What to say about this gift that is appropriate, adequate, impressive?

We are able to save our souls from eternal destruction because of this gift.  We can learn a depth of love beyond ordinary human comprehension.  We can commune with the Divine and make his realm our home.  We can see the invisible.  We can know the unknowable.  We can experience the best of the unspeakable.  The past is explained; the present is understandable; the future is relatable.

We can beat our weaknesses and promote our strengths.  We have a clear vision of perfection while we are able to see our own failings.  Community is enhanced while we still hold to individual worth, dignity, and honor.  Circumstances are seen as transient while we understand that real value is in the internal and eternal.

To surround yourself with Bible believers is to touch heaven.  To have a home where the Bible is believed, taught, and celebrated is to know peace, love, enrichment, and empowerment.  Children grow up secure and ready to take hold of challenges, understanding the greater good to be all important, as God himself has defined such.

Freedom is real, but to be used for the good of others.  Everyone gets a hearing but no one gets to control the soul.  With the revelation of God delivered perfect and complete, nothing new is to be feared, because nothing else is allowed authority over the soul (Eph. 4:5; Gal. 1:6-9).  Peace rules and good advances.  And the Kingdom of God is realized on this earth!

All of this and so much more are found in the wonderful treasures that God has revealed to us in his Holy Bible.  We can know God with it.  We can know how to worship God with it.  We can know what redemption is, what sin is, what righteousness is, what real hope is.

Such a thing cannot be exaggerated.  Such a gift cannot be overstated.  Such a book cannot be spoken about too much.  Oh, the terrible consequences if we were to lose this gift!  The horrible darkness that would enshroud us, the ignorance that would relentlessly beat down on us, the loss of all that could bring good and prosperity to friend and neighbor!

But if we do not appreciate this gift of God’s grace, this divine act of intervention into the affairs of men, this demonstration of love beyond all love, then we will lose the blessings it brings – for ourselves, for our children, for our society.  It has happened before.

Israel lost their focus on God’s revelation and lost great blessings, until at last the word was rediscovered by efforts of reform (2 Kings 22:1-20).  The Great Apostasy occurred with the failure to keep faith with the word of God; and the world was plunged into the Dark Ages until men determined to relearn and re-teach the truth, at the cost of their lives, families, and fortunes.  To honestly think that we can treat such treasure lightly and still keep it is to fool oneself into blindness.

Imagine such a book forgotten on a dusty shelf, trampled as a foot stop, thrown around as a paper weight.  Imagine such a book given less time than is given to an empty TV show or a crass movie.  Imagine children being taught that their secular school work was more important than to study God’s word, or that their job carried more weight than their soul or their God.  Unfortunately, we do not have to imagine, do we?  Such absurd attitudes and declarations are all too familiar in our fellowship.

What would such a treasure demand of us?  What would be the appropriate response to a real revelation from God?  Well, the Bible gives us plenty of historical examples of the wisdom found in those who listened to God and positively responded to him, and the foolishness of those who did not.  In other words, as always, so now, too, when God speaks, we are to listen.  He has spoken, and the Message reverberates to this hour, and will continue to do so, to the end of time and forever more.

charsaint@aol.com