I was recently impressed by the following comment, "The market-place, user-friendly, generic approach to Christianity assumes that God has bound very little, if anything. It assumes that the church is the toy of the culture, to be used in whatever way man may choose to use it" (The Spiritual Sword, October 1998, p. 5).
"I Will Build My Church"
Far from being a Lego set with which man can build and rebuild according to his preferences, the church belongs to Christ, "I will build My church." (Matthew 16:18). Not only is He the founder, but He retains the exclusive right to be it’s head in every generation, "but as the church is subject to Christ" (Ephesians 5:24); "And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church" (1:22). He purchased this relationship with His own blood (Acts 20:28), and determines who will be added to this relationship (Acts 2:47), and who will be removed (Revelation 2:5). This is an essential relationship, for how can one be right with God, if they haven’t been purchased with the blood of Christ (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 1:18-19), are not a member in the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22-23), and are not a child of God (1 Timothy 3:15 "the household of God, which is the church of the living God")?
The New Testament is very clear that Jesus only established one church (Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 4:4 "There is one body"; Colossians 1:18 "He is the head of the body, the church"). While this one body is composed of many Christians who work and worship together in various local congregations (Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 1:2). This one body is not divided up into various denominations. Some have tried to argue that each denomination is a vital member in the universal body of Christ. In contrast, the New Testament argues that the members in the universal body of Christ are individual Christians (Romans 12:4-5). Some have said that each denomination has some truth to offer. But there are a number of problems with this position: 1. Truth doesn’t originate with any denomination and all truth is found in the teachings of the Apostles (John 16:13). In addition, this truth is not so complicated that we need an official human interpreter to explain it to us (Ephesians 3:3-5). So no denomination can contribute any truth different from that revealed in the truth. If we argue that the existence of denominations are justified on the premise that they all teach some truth, then we must concede that even non-Christian religions are valid, including the those thoroughly pagan, for even pagan philosophers teach some truth (Acts 17:28). In addition, should all religious books be put on an equal basis with the Bible, seeing that they also teach some truth? Legitimizing the denominational world and placing it as equally valid with the church revealed in the Scriptures makes about as much sense as elevating human religious writings to the level occupied by the Scriptures. 2. The statement, "but denominations teach some truth", implies that they also teach a good amount of error.
The Church in the first century faced the teachings being advocated by various groups including what we might call some splinter groups(Acts 20:29-30; 1 John 2:19 "They went out from us"). All of these groups, including the Judaizing teachers, Gnostics, Nicolaitans, and so on taught some truth. In fact, the Pharisees and Sadducees which Jesus and the Apostles encountered taught some truth. Why is it that neither Jesus nor the Apostles took any comfort in the fact that these groups taught some truth? Why did they refuse to acknowledge such groups as being saved and right with God? (Matthew 23:33; Galatians 1:6-9; 2:4 "the false brethren"). In fact, the Judaizing teachers taught or accepted more truth than many modern denominations. We never find them arguing that one didn’t have to be baptized to be saved. Instead of arguing that the zeal of such groups in various areas was a proof that God would accept them, or that their zeal in a certain area put some Christians to shame and therefore such people will be accepted by God. Paul said simply, "For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God" (Romans 10:2-3). Yes, the denominational world is filled with people who have a zeal for God. There are those who are dedicated to opposing abortion and the homosexual agenda. There are those who are dedicated to feeding the poor, sending medical supplies to third world nations and building medical clinics. There are those who are dedicated to the family, teaching our children moral values, and opposing humanism and evolution in our schools. But the same type of things could have been said on behalf of those who rejected the gospel and remained in Judaism.
Tradition Verses Truth
"But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men. Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men….You nicely set aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition" (Mark 7:7-9). Likewise this is the problem in the denominational world. In order to embrace the teachings of a particular denomination, one must at the same time ignore or reject what Jesus and the Apostles taught. This is vividly seen by looking at the following Biblical doctrines.
The typical response in the denominational world towards baptism is that it is unnecessary for salvation. This is a direct contradiction to what Jesus said, "He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16). The teaching revealed through the Apostles only confirms the teaching found in the above verse, (Acts 2:38 "Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins"; 22:16 "Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins"; 1 Peter 3:21 "baptism now saves you"). There a few groups which still do immerse and still do it for the right reason, and yet many of them (like a good number of liberal churches of Christ), are arguing that one can be saved without being baptized. In the Scriptures such compromises with error are swiftly condemned(Galatians 1:6-9; 2 John 10-11). Increasingly in some circles we are hearing the question, "What about our spiritually-minded friends who have never been biblically baptized?" Instead of being a thorny question, actually the Bible has a very simple answer to this question. First of all, people who are truly interested in serving God do not balk at the command to be baptized (Acts 2:41 "So then, those who had received his word were baptized"; Acts 8:36 "Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?"; Acts 16:33 "immediately he was baptized"). Secondly, God has already placed the label of rebelliousness on those who reject His command to be baptized, "But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves, not having been baptized by John" (Luke 7:30). Now, what would God say about the person who refuses to submit, not to John’s baptism, but to the baptism commanded by the Son of God?
A good number of denominations ascribe to all or various portions of the doctrine known as Calvinism. The verse often quoted to support the theory that man is born depraved is Psalm 51:5. It is interesting to note that the rest of Psalm 51 contradicts what would be the logical end result of Calvinism. For example, since Calvinism teaches that God chose before the foundation of the world who would be lost and who would be saved, apart from any human choice, it follows that once lost you are always lost and once saved you would be always saved. Yet, David believed that his salvation was conditional, "Do not cast me away from Thy presence" (51:11). Other passages make is clear that David isn’t saying he was born inheriting the sins of Adam or his parents (Ezekiel 18:20; 1 Corinthians 14:20; Romans 7:9).Admittedly there is a huge difference between denominational doctrine and the Bible in this area. Is man born lost and opposed to all good, or is he born innocent with great potential for good and evil? Will only those whom God selected apart from their free will end up saved, or is salvation open to all who will obey? (Matthew 28:19; 1 Tim. 2:4; Hebrews 5:9) Is the sinner unable to obey God even with the gospel message, or is the gospel able to convict the heart of the sinner? (Romans 1:16) Is man so depraved that he can’t even manifest faith when he hears the gospel? (Romans 10:17; Luke 8:15). Did Jesus only die for those whom God had predestined for salvation, or did Jesus die for all men? (1 Timothy 2:6) Can a person never lose their salvation or is salvation conditional? (Hebrews 10:26-31; 2 Timothy 2:11-13).
In the New Testament we find that each congregation was self-governing, and was to have its own elders and deacons (Philippians 1:1).The oversight or authority of the elders was limited to the congregation of which they were members (1 Peter 5:2 "shepherd the flock of God among you"). Each congregation had a plurality of elders and we never find a congregation which was being tended by one elder or pastor (Acts 14:23 "they had appointed for them elders in every church"). The names elder, pastor, overseer or bishop applied to the same office (Acts 20:17,28; 1 Peter 5:1-3). As we read the New Testament we find absolutely no earthly organizational structure beyond the local congregation. How many denominations conform to this very simple and straightforward pattern? One author noted that when he had bought and read about a dozen of the latest books on ministry and on church growth, that not one of them referred to the instructions Paul outlined so carefully for Timothy or Titus (1 Timothy 3:15).
In the New Testament we find that Christians assembled on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). During this time period they prayed and heard preaching (Acts 2:42), partook of the Lord’s Supper (2:42; 20:7), gave as they had been prospered (1 Corinthians 16:1-2), and sang spiritual songs (Ephesians 5:19). From reading the last passage and Colossians 3:16, it is clear that vocal music is the only kind of music divinely authorized for Christian worship, and in the worship assembly of the church the singing that is authorized is congregational in nature. I want you to be impressed that all of the topics I have chosen in this lesson are very simple. Should the Bible have a real complicated answer concerning, "What must I do to be saved?" Or, "How is the church to be organized?", Or even, "What is a worship service supposed to contain?"
Mark Dunagan/Beaverton Church Of Christ/503-644-9017