- “The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7).
- “From Thy precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way” (Psalm 119:104).
- “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to may path” (Psalm 119:105).
It was forty years ago that I met someone who was a member of the church of Christ and as a result started to really read the Bible for the first time in my life. In that very first reading experience I found that the above verses were absolutely true. I was naïve, ignorant and foolish, but as I read the Bible was giving me knowledge and offering me wisdom. As I read it was seeking to help me see the sinfulness, arrogance and selfishness of my ways. It clearly revealed the nature of the path I was currently on, how to get off that path, and what the other path looked like and where it was found. In addition, here are other things that struck me in that first reading.
It Was Understandable
Prior to this first reading I had been intimidated by the big leather bound black book with golden edges which rested in the living room but seemed to remain unopened by both family members, relatives and guests. My personal view of the Bible before opening it was that it must be extremely complicated, seeing that so many people seemed to have differing views of what it taught. That it had to be incredibly mysterious or cryptic in what it said. All this changed once I read it. What I actually found was that while I did not immediately understand all I read, I did understand a lot.
- Yes, even the simple-minded can learn a lot when they read the Bible (Psalm 19:7).
- Even people who had no interest in obeying what Jesus teaches, still understood what He taught (Matthew 27:63).
- The text is understandable, even for what some might call the average or ordinary person (Ephesians 3:4).
- What I found was the God had communicated to man (Hebrews 1:1-2) and the communication He gave was perfectly suited for the understanding level of the men and women He had created.
It Was Clear and Convicting
Jesus told the apostles that when He left and returned to Heaven the Holy Spirit would arrive and guide them into all truth (John 16:13). Involved in this process would equally include the Holy Spirit speaking through them and convicting the world in reference to sin (John 16:8). I remember reading Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7) and being immediately convicted concerning:
- Mark, you are not thirsting for righteousness at the moment: 5:6
- You are not pure in heart: 5:8
- You are going along with the world, rather than being persecuted by it: 5:11
- If religious people like the Pharisees were not saved, then obviously you are in trouble: 5:20
- What about your anger? 5:22
- What about your lust? 5:28
- Everything you treasure right now is of an earthly nature: 6:19
- You are on the broad path that leads to destruction with a lot of other people: 7:13-14
- Just saying that you believe in God is not enough: 7:21
What Was Not In the Text
As I read through the Bible I kept thinking, “Well eventually I am going to encounter a book, section or chapter on all the religious practices, organizational structure, and ceremonies that I had seen growing up that existed in the denominations”. At some point I would encounter a chapter dealing with celibate religious orders, the Pope, the right way to baptize a baby, some sort of official priesthood, youth pastors, church bands, and so on. I was absolutely shocked after finishing the book of Revelation, that I had seen none of that mentioned in the text. Not only was the God silent concerning the name or even existence of denominations, the entire Catholic or Protestant terminology/vocabulary was missing.
What Was in the Text
- I found that Jesus had actually spoken about building His church (Matthew 16:18). So God had a plan for Jesus to come and die for our sins (Acts 2:23), and equally a plan for what would happen after He left this earth.
- I found that one becomes a Christian or member of His church after hearing the gospel, believing in Jesus, repentance, confessing Christ and baptism (Acts 2:37-41,47).
- While I did not find any denominational names, I did find the name “Christian” (Acts 11:26; 1 Peter 4:16), and “church of Christ” (Romans 16:16).
- I did not find any religious celibate orders being authorized, rather I found a warning against such (1 Timothy 4:3).
- I did not find the Pope or a world headquarters, but I did read about Jesus being head over all things to the church (Ephesians 1:22-23).
What Was Not Being Talked About
I had grown up around religious people most of my life and at times I had went to at least two vacation Bible schools at different denominations. I had attended many weddings and funerals. For a number of years, along with my younger brother and my mom, I attended a local denomination and heard a number of sermons. My Dad worked for an organization that was run by the Catholic church, so I routinely interacted with both the nuns and various “fathers”. Even during grade school and a good portion of Junior High we were allowed to go every other week for a period of time to a denomination up the street, sing and listen to a Bible lesson. Yet in all this time I never remember hearing:
- An accurate presentation of the gospel plan of salvation, including baptism for the remission of sins: Acts 2:38
- I never remember Mark 16:16 being emphasized.
- I never remember a talk dealing with the narrow way and the broad way, or dealing with the “Lord, Lord” type of believers: Matthew 7:13-21
- I do not remember any clear teaching on the subject of hell, or what Jesus had said about that topic: Mark 9:43ff
- I do not remember any teaching on what Christians are to do on the First Day of the Week, that is, the importance of attendance (Hebrews 10:25) and offering to God the worship He desires.
- I do not remember any lessons on the warnings about adding to or subtracting from the Bible: 2 John 9; Revelation 22:18-19
- How the Bible offered everything we needed: Jude 3
- I do not recall any lessons on the need to respect the authority of the Scriptures.
- No lessons about Nadad and Abihu (Leviticus 10), or Uzzah and the Ark (2 Samuel 6).
- I recall no lessons concerning and had never heard about a case of church discipline being practiced (Matthew 18:15-17).
- Even though I went to many weddings that were in denominational buildings I never remember anyone talking about Matthew 19 and what Jesus taught about marriage, divorce and remarriage.
In fact, when I first read Matthew 5:31-32, I had to read that again. I was astounded. For Jesus was making it really clear. You cannot divorce for any cause. He was definitely not on the side of no-fault divorce. Not only that, but if one divorces his wife without Scriptural cause and she remarries, then the adultery that results is also on you (“makes her commit adultery”). And the divorced woman (a woman either put away for Scriptural cause or a woman not put away for Scriptural cause) is off limits when it comes to selecting someone to marry. I know I said to myself, “Why isn’t anyone telling other people about this! People need to hear this, for I see a lot of people in the dark on this teaching and churches being silent”. What really struck me was that most of the churches I had encountered while young seemed far more interested in attracting numbers, patting people on the head and making them feel comfortable, rather than telling them the truth and preparing them for standing before God in judgment. So I had a choice to make. I made mine, which choice will you make? I knew this. If I side with the Bible I will not be immensely popular with men. But after all, Jesus had died for me, no men. God had created me, not men. And the people around me were just as limited and finite as myself. So, side with God.