|Vol. 14 No. 11 November 2012||
Several years ago while studying in my office, the telephone rang. When I answered, a lady inquired if a certain person was there. I replied in the negative. She asked, “Is this the Church of God?” I answered, “This is the church of Christ.” She replied, “Oh, I have the wrong number.” I then said, “I want to assure you that this is the church of God.”
This short conversation made me realize once again how denominationalism has really confused matters regarding biblical terms applicable to the church of the Lord. In fact, it made me feel uncomfortable to answer the lady in the manner I did. While I did not deny that this was the church of God, realizing the confusion this would cause, I answered by saying this was a church of Christ. I knew if I answered in the affirmative to her question, she would not understand as to why the party she was asking for did not work here.
What would you say if someone asked you if you were a member of the church of God? Now, think before you answer, and why would you answer in the way that you would. Could it be that you would not want to be associated with another religious group? Would you be truthful and unashamed by answering in the positive? Several years ago, I preached a sermon relative to the undenominational nature of the church of Jesus Christ. I emphasized the scripturalness of using all the biblical terms for the body of Christ. Of course, I mentioned that the term “church of God” was scriptural (1 Corinthians 1:2; Acts 20:28). After the assembly that evening, one very fine Christian lady was heard to say, “I will never call us the church of God.” Herein lies a deep-seated problem among many brethren.
There has evolved within our brotherhood the notion that the term “church of Christ” is the name to be worn to the exclusion of all other terms found in the Bible. Please understand the term “church of Christ” is scriptural (the singular of “churches of Christ,” Romans 16:16), but the Lord never intended for us to make this the official name of the church.
Actually, the term “church of Christ” is not a name but a biblical term that denotes ownership. Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, “I will build my church.” That is possessive in nature. The church belongs to Christ. We often speak of the Lutheran Church, the Presbyterian Church and the church of Christ in the same manner. Of course, our religious friends consider us to be just another denomination. The sad fact is, by our attitude and the improper usage of biblical terms, we may contribute to the confusion. Brethren are often heard to say, “The church of Christ teaches,” “he is a church of Christ preacher,” “he is a church of Christ person,” “church of Christ church,” “church of Christ college,” “church of Christ literature” and even a “church of Christ ball team.”
The fact is we should not use one term to the exclusion of other biblical terms regarding the church. If we do, we have denominationalized a scriptural expression. Study the Bible and observe the other terms that can be used in regard to the body of Christ. It is right to refer to the Lord’s church as being the “church of God” (1 Corinthians 1:2), “church of the First-born” (Hebrews 12:23), “church of the Lord” (Acts 20:28 ASV), etc. The term used most in the New Testament, especially in the book of Acts, is “the church.” Let us become more aware that the expression “church of Christ” is not a proper name per se, but it is a term denoting ownership. Uusing other scriptural terms regarding the body of Christ would help in clarifying the undenominational nature of the New Testament church of our Lord in the thinking of others.
In a recent posting on our son-in-law’s blog, he wrote of asking our oldest grandson what different parts of the church building were. Of course, as a proud grandpa, I thought that all of the responses were very insightful. Like all grandparents, I was sure that our grandson would know more about the church building where his family worships regularly than any other six-year-old in the universe. (Of course that would also be true with regard to our three-year-old, our two-year-old and both of our less that one-year-olds!)
In particular, I found the following response to be very interesting: Baptistery – “Where somebody goes into God’s family (they have to believe and they have to hold their breath).”
I am not sure that I have ever read where one of the biblical requirements of baptism is the ability to hold one’s breath, but it surely would be a very practical thing to do. That would be true, of course, only if a person submitted to the type of baptism described in God’s Word.
While many in the religious climate of our day accept a variety of “modes” of baptism, those who desire to follow the will of God will recognize and submit to only one. By definition, description and depiction, baptism is immersion.
The word “baptism” is an anglicized word. Translators took the Greek word baptizo and/or one of the forms of that word and “invented” an English word where one had never existed before. According to Vine’s Expository of New Testament Words (89), this word means “…to dip, was used among the Greeks to signify the dyeing of a garment or the drawing of water by dipping a vessel into another, etc.” Many other sources give the meaning as “dip,” “plunge,” “overwhelm” or something similar. Thus, by definition, scriptural baptism is immersion.
The act of baptism is described in Romans 6:4 and Colossians 2:12 as a burial. Neither sprinkling nor pouring would fit this description. Only immersion would fit this word picture.
The New Testament depicts the baptism of several individuals. Possibly the most helpful for this discussion would be the baptism of the eunuch from Ethiopia who had been taught by Philip. Notice carefully the language of Acts 8:38. “And he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him” (emphasis added).
Sadly, many have missed or misapplied these and other passages of Scripture and have never really been baptized. It is also sad that many have been immersed, but have been taught some erroneous doctrine about the role that baptism plays in their salvation.
Is it true, as our six-year-old “scholar” said that the baptistery is “where somebody goes into God’s family?” Is a person a Christian (and thus a part of God’s family) before he or she is baptized or does baptism play a role in putting them into God’s family?
It is apparent to all who read the New Testament that one of the beautiful descriptions of the Lord’s church is that of family. To be in the church would be equivalent to being in God’s family. We learn from Acts 2:47 that “…the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” Would it not be correct to also say that these same people became members of God’s family? Would it not also be correct to say that if we learn what caused them to be added to the church, we would also learn when they became members of God’s family?
It is of particular interest to notice that in this context people were challenged to “…be saved from this perverse generation” (Acts 2:40). Notice the response and result in the next verse (Acts 2:41). “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them” (emphasis added).
Many other passages could be cited to demonstrate that baptism, which is part of an obedient faith and thus necessary for salvation, is what puts a person into the Lord and His church (Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:27; 1 Peter 3:21, etc.).
While it might be a good idea for people to hold their breath while being baptized, it is even a better idea for them to understand and do what the New Testament teaches in order to be saved. When they do, they will, in fact, “go into God’s family.” Oh, that more people would have the understanding of a six-year-old!