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Vol.  10  No. 2 February 2008  Page 16
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Ken JoinesIs This Church Any Different?

By Ken Joines

    It is Sunday morning. You are standing in the lobby at church when a man and his family walk in. After brief introductions and a welcome, you learn that this is their first visit. They’re glad to be here. In the next few minutes, he asks a few questions. “How is this church different from other churches up and down the street—or is it?” “What do you believe, and why?” Later, over lunch, he and his wife have several other questions. “Why is there so much emphasis on baptism, and the Lord’s Supper,” “When did the church of Christ begin?” “Is it true that you believe you are the only ones going to Heaven?”

    These are fair questions, and these people have every right to hear an honest answer. How would you answer? May I enlist your interest as I try to address these matters.

    In truth, these questions are hard to answer until I first explain how we view the Bible itself. We believe that “…all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17), and “…holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). Simply put, we believe the Bible is the expression of the very mind of God. The Bible is either God’s infallible Word, or it is worthless. If you want to know how God feels about any matter, you will have to find out by reading what He has said.

    However, it is not sufficient simply to say we believe the Bible to be God’s Word; one must know that the Bible consists of two books—the Old Testament and New Testament. And while they are both God’s Word, there is a vast difference between them. Perhaps it would help if I could just say that if one should read only the Old Testament and follow all of its instructions, he would be a good Jew. Similarly, if he should read only the New Testament and follow all of those instructions, he would be a good Christian. Look in the flyleaf just before the book of Matthew and it will say, “The New Testament of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” or words to that effect.

    Any time a new will is written, it overrides or replaces the older will. The Old Testament was God’s will for the Jewish people. Jesus’ new will, the New Testament, is His law for the Christian age. This does not suggest that the Old Testament is useless, but as a law, it has been abolished and replaced with the New Testament. Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I have not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). Speaking of the Old Testament, apostle Paul said, “…he has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to His cross” (Colossians 2:14). “…A new covenant, He has made the first obsolete” (Hebrews 8:13). “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning…” (Romans 15:4). From the Old Testament, we learn so much about the nature of God and how God reacts to obedience and disobedience. The Old Testament is profitable and should be read and preached constantly, but not as a law for people today.

    This means that in doctrinal matters we do not appeal to the Old Testament. Under that testament the people offered animal sacrifice, played the harp and burned incense as worship. The New Testament makes no provision for any of these things.

    Well, when did the church of Christ begin? Jesus said, “…on this rock I will build [future tense] my church” (Matthew 16:18). The Savior thought the church was essential; He died for it (Ephesians 5:25)! Later, Luke recorded, “And the Lord added [past tense] to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). The apostle Paul wrote, “The churches of Christ greet you” (Romans 16:16). Therefore, the church had its beginning at this early time.

    If the Lord added to the church everyone that He saved, then there was no such thing as a Christian who was not a member of the church. To be a Christian was to be a member of God’s family of the saved. If you were saved, you were a Christian. If you were a Christian you were added to the church. The church is God’s family. You don’t join a family. God adds to His family every person who is saved. During the time period covered by the book of Acts, tens of thousands were added to the church. The church was strong and vibrant.

    The apostle Paul warned, however, that there would come a “falling away” (Read Acts 20:28-31). From the start, each congregation was self-governing and independent. Elders were appointed to oversee each congregation. There is no record of elders who had any authority over more than one congregation. However, men soon became dissatisfied with this simple arrangement, and soon began assuming positions of authority never intended by God. They began to advance doctrines foreign to the written Word. It wasn’t long until sprinkling had replaced immersion as baptism. A so-called “universal bishop” (Pope) took the place of God’s elders over each congregation, and mechanical instruments were added to the singing. Such departures increased in number as the centuries came and went. The church of Christ referred to by Paul in Romans 16 was soon rivaled by the Catholic Church. Then came the Greek Orthodox Church in 1054 A.D. A few centuries later, came Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists and Baptists. This division deepened and widened.

    By the 1700’s and 1800’s, there was a growing feeling that something was seriously amiss. No doubt in some home, a wife said to her husband, “Dear, why is it that we can work alongside our neighbors all week long, plant and harvest crops together, build houses and barns together and our children can go to school and play together, but when Sunday comes we cannot worship God together?” Indeed, why is this? Preachers began to question division and plead for unity from their pulpits. They began to say, “This division is killing us; we need to return to the Bible alone for everything we believe and practice—surely we can unite on this.” As the 19th century began to unfold, there was a loud and resounding call for a restoration of the church described in the New Testament. This plea was valid then, and it is valid now. To restore the church of the New Testament was not to begin yet another denomination. The church of Christ was never a denomination at all

    Church restoration can best be understood when compared with automobile restoration. Let’s say you purchase a 1931 Ford Model A. It is rundown and beat up. Some parts are missing. You want to restore it to its original condition. You might begin by cleaning the car. Broken, worn-out parts are replaced with new originals. When you’ve finished, you don’t have a new car; you have a restored original.

    Now, you may want your car to have a 350 V8 with high-lift cams, dual pipes, automatic transmission, air conditioning and wide wheels. You may do this, but it won’t be a 1931 Ford Model A. Further, I seriously doubt that Henry Ford would be impressed. It will be a Street Rod or modified car. I like Street Rods, but when I see one, I know it is not an original. Similarly, there are a lot of “churches” out there that are not originals, but rather modified churches. If you are willing to take a chance on your soul that a modified, sectarian, denominational church will please Him, then you are free to take that chance. However, please don’t bet your soul that God will be pleased with it. A Street Rod may sound better, look better and be more comfortable, but it’s everything but original. Similarly, a church that has gone beyond the written Word of God to change the form of baptism, change the purpose of baptism, add another genre of music, change its form of government and even change the name by which we are called—that church cannot possibly be seen as the original church.

    I must tell you that there is a fairly high price to pay when you claim to be the restored or restoring New Testament church. Be prepared to have people refer to you as “bigoted, narrow-minded legalists and a cult” (these are some of the kinder descriptions you’ll hear).

    I believe that when it comes to spiritual matters, we cannot afford to offer something to God that He has not authorized. This philosophy will help answer some of the remaining questions posed at the beginning.

    Baptism A careful reading of your New Testament will reveal that whenever a person wanted to be baptized, he or she was always immersed. No exceptions. Too, you will be impressed with the fact that it was always for the forgiveness of sin. Are we saying that salvation is by water? By no means. Might as well say that the grape juice cleanses our sins in communion! In communion, cleansing from sin is by the blood of Christ, which we commemorate, and in baptism, forgiveness is by the blood of Christ, which we contact when we are buried into his death (Read Romans 6:3-4). Many protestant churches practice baptism by sprinkling, but they do so at the risk of God’s displeasure. Will God accept sprinkling for baptism? Why would I even want to run that risk? I’ll say this: If you rest your salvation on this substitute, you do so without even a shred of support from God’s Word. Why not make it as sure as you can?

    Communion Why do we offer the Lord’s Supper every Sunday? Well, we’re back to this very same principle again of making everything as sure as we can. All I can tell you is that when you read your New Testament you will find those Christians meeting “…on the first day of the week…to  break bread…” (Acts 20:7). He was raised on the first day of the week. His resurrection is the most stupendous event in all history. We remember this each Lord’s Day because, from all evidence in the New Testament, this is what those early Christians did. Remember, we are seeking to restore things as they were then.

    Another question sometimes asked in this connection is, “In your church, who is permitted to take communion? Just members, or are visitors allowed?” This is a good time and place to remember that this is not the church’s supper. It is neither the preacher’s supper, nor the elder’s supper. It is the Lord’s Supper. The Lord invites obedient believers to do this “in remembrance of Me” (1 Corinthians 11:25). It is simply up to every person to “examine himself” (1 Corinthians 11:28). To be quite honest, when I am eating the Supper of the Lord, I have neither the time nor inclination to examine anyone other than myself.

    Singing People often ask, “Why do you sing without accompaniment? Why is there no piano/organ in your worship?” Again, I refer you to our effort to restore that which the Lord left us. There are just nine passages in the New Testament dealing with worship in song in any form. In every one of these nine passages, it is vocal music that is specified. There are only two kinds of music in all the world—vocal and mechanical. God asked for vocal. He said, “sing.” There is not a single recognized church historian that will say that there was any mechanical music used in any kind of church worship until the 5th century. Why? Because none of these nine passages made room for anything but vocal music (Matthew 26:30; Acts 16:25; Romans 15:9; 1 Corinthians 14:15; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 2:12; Hebrews 13:15; James 5:13). These are the nine places where any kind of music is mentioned in connection with worship by any stretch of the Word. And that is all the New Testament says about the matter. If you choose to take it a step further and use mechanical music in your worship to God, you do so at your own risk. You are offering to God something he never requested. Are you prepared to explain this to Him?

    In asking us to sing praises to Him, God is asking for an expression from our hearts. I may attend a concert or even a church service where Handel’s Messiah is presented, and it is impressive. I have listened to great orchestras. I was impressed. Pipe organs and great choirs are impressive to hear. I enjoy them. The question is not whether I am impressed, but is God impressed. Worship is to EX-press, not IM-press. It is to honor God, not entertain the crowd.

    Everyone Else Lost? One of the most oft-asked questions about churches of Christ is, “Do you actually believe everyone is lost except those who are members of this church?” To this I always reply that I am not the judge of that. I was told to “preach the word”; I was not told to judge the people. God will do that, and He will make no mistakes. I have never been invited by God to sit on the Judgment Seat beside Him. In fact, I never heard of a throne with two seats. God doesn’t need my help in this matter. It is the church’s responsibility to faithfully preach the Word of God and urge all people to listen, learn and conform their lives to it. Most of us probably believe just about the same thing in this regard: We believe that only those who obey the will of God have hope of Heaven. It is a matter, then, of studying the Bible and knowing exactly what it says, and obeying the written Will of God. Only then can we claim the hope of Heaven. So we urge people everywhere to study the Holy Scriptures, obey the Gospel of Christ and thus be prepared to face the Great Judge in that Final Day.

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