|Volume 19 Number 6 June 2017||
Louis Rushmore, Editor
Is Christianity cracked? Is the church broken? Has Christianity been marginalized? Is the church ineffective and irrelevant, today? In one sense, “Yes,” Christianity has stress fractures, the church has been severely damaged, Christianity has been sidelined in the lives of most people, and the church has become an extraneous and unconnected historical tidbit from the past, but stuck in an apathetic present day. For many people nowadays, Christianity and the New Testament church have no practical application.
As a world religion, Christianity faces stiff challenges (through sheer numbers and militancy) from other world religions, such as Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and atheism. Most of the world’s population is either completely unaware of or outright rejects without the least consideration of Christianity. What passes for Christianity in the eyes of global populations frequently does not fairly represent Bible teaching and is associated with godless characteristics of western civilization (e.g., general immorality, consumption of alcohol, immodest attire). On the world stage and according to international discernment of what typically represents itself as Christianity, “Yes,” Christianity is cracked at best, the church is broken, Christianity deserves to be marginalized, and the church is irrelevant.
Denominational divisions and degrees of active or bygone antagonism between church groups heightens for observers from outside of Christianity the notion of an incapacitated world religion that derives its name from Jesus Christ. Doctrinal discord between church organizations adds to the confusion for adherents to other world religions as well as muddles the minds of those who fall under Christianity’s influence, especially in westernized nations. Even among the churches of Christ, indifference to religion, apathetic application of the Gospel to one’s life and carelessly handling the Word of God establishes that at least in one sense, Christianity is cracked, the church is broken, Christianity has been marginalized, and the church is ineffective and irrelevant, today.
However, before members of the Lord’s church become completely demoralized, there are some things that we need to realize. First, there is a difference between divinely given biblical ideals for the church of the Bible and human implementation of those heavenly directives. Second, discrepancies between Holy Spirit-inspired prescriptions for the existence as well as for the function of the church of Christ and imperfect enactment of Christianity have always existed from near the beginning of the New Testament church. Third, careful students of the Bible can discern definitively the God-given pattern (1 Timothy 1:16; 2 Timothy 1:13) for practicing Christianity faithfully.
Christianity as God gave it through the Holy Spirit is not cracked. The Lord’s church as it was intended to be is not broken. True Christianity cannot be marginalized. The church of the Bible as it was envisioned by God is neither ineffective nor irrelevant, and furthermore, the Lord’s church as it was anticipated in the mind of God will never be ineffective or irrelevant (Ephesians 3:10-11).
Much of the New Testament was written to correct derivations from holy doctrine within the early church. The Jerusalem congregation experienced deception (Acts 5:1-10) and discord (Acts 6:1-6) among some of its members. In addition, the Jerusalem church was derelict in its duty to spread the Gospel throughout Judea, Samaria and beyond (Acts 1:8); only after persecution came upon the Lord’s church did Christians generally go out of Jerusalem and Judea, taking the Gospel with them (Acts 6:8-8:4).
Besides being instructional, the Book of Romans denoted false teachers within the church (Romans 16:17-18). Nearly every chapter of 1 Corinthians addresses some grievous error of brethren in first century Corinth. Among other matters, 2 Corinthians highlighted contests over leadership and authority in religion. In Galatians, the apostle Paul counteracted a fallacious substitution for the Gospel of Christ (Galatians 1:6-9), and he rebuked brethren for returning to the Old Testament for instruction in religion (Galatians 2:16; 5:4). Ephesians and Philippians intimate a lack of unity (Ephesians 4:1-6) and love (Ephesians 4:3, 15) among brethren (Philippians 2:1-2). Five of the seven churches in Asia Minor were flawed, for which Jesus Christ rebuked them (Revelation 2-3).
Particularly through the corrective writings of the New Testament, but also through positive instruction, a New Testament pattern emerges for the church of divine origin. The practice of Christianity, though, differs from the divine ideal to the extent of human inadequacy or deliberate disobedience of God’s will revealed in the Holy Writ.
The one true church of the Bible belongs to its Founder—Jesus Christ (Matthew 16:18; Acts 20:28; Ephesians 5:23). Its establishment was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (Isaiah 2:2-3; Daniel 2:31-45), and it was founded in A.D. 33 in Jerusalem (Acts 2). It is comprised of independent congregations (Acts 14:23) under Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:18; 1 Peter 5:1-4), which when fully organized are ruled by elders (Titus 1:5-9; Hebrews 13:17), served by deacons (1 Timothy 3:8-13), taught by teachers (Hebrews 5:12-14) and preachers (Romans 10:13-15), and served by other members, too (Romans 12:4-8).
The worship of the one true church of the Bible is to be in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). The whole congregation assembles on the first day of each week (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 14:23) to worship God through the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:20-29), singing (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16), giving (1 Corinthians 16:1-2), praying (Acts 2:42; 1 Corinthians 14:15) and preaching (Acts 20:7).
Members are baptized men and women (Acts 8:12), baptized believers (Mark 16:16), those who have repented and have been baptized (Acts 2:38) and profess Jesus as Christ (Romans 10:9-10). They are obedient souls (Romans 6:1; Hebrews 5:8-9) who have been immersed in water (baptized) (Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 2:12). Members of the Lord’s church are from every nation (Acts 10:34-35) and constitute the saved (Acts 2:47). They are Christians only.
The binding agent responsible for the cohesiveness of Christians is God’s Word alone (Revelation 22:18-19). Otherwise and particularly for our present age, the New Testament is the doctrine by which Christians are to conduct themselves (Hebrews 9:15). The Gospel (Romans 1:16; Galatians 1:6-9) rather than human creeds (Mark 7:7) guide the children of God in this life and toward an eternal home with God in Heaven. The doctrine of Christ governs the New Testament church (2 John 9).
The church of the Bible is spiritual rather than material and physical (John 18:36). The church is a kingdom (Matthew 16:18-19), a house (1 Timothy 3:15) and a body (Ephesians 1:22-23). It is the church of God (1 Corinthians 1:2) or the church of Christ (Romans 16:16). Members of the church (Romans 12:4-5) are saints (1 Corinthians 1:2), brethren (Acts 15:22-23), Christians (Acts 11:26), children of God (Romans 8:16) and priests (Revelation 1:6).
The church of the Bible is distinct from world religions other than Christianity. Further, the Lord’s church is different from manmade churches (Matthew 15:13).
The universal church over which Jesus Christ is the Head is perfect in every way respecting the divine ideal for it. Nevertheless, the church is less than perfect because of the human factor when it comes to implementation of divine directives. To the best of our abilities, Christians ought to conscientiously do their best to be a part of the faithful enactment of Christianity. Thereby, each can do his or her part to avoid bringing about a broken church.
Rodney Nulph, Associate Editor
Scripture is filled with people from whom we can learn a great deal. When it comes to the challenging vocation of fatherhood, there are certainly a few fantastic fathers in Holy Writ that come to mind. Interestingly, no human father has been or will ever be perfect. While true perfection is beyond our reach, we certainly can labor and grow to become the fathers that our Creator expects us to be. Three fathers from God’s Word teach us three character traits necessary to raise godly children.
Firstly, Moses teaches us about resolve. Moses was commissioned to lead the children of Israel to Canaan. This task soon became next to impossible due their tenacious ways. However, even during the most difficult times, Moses kept his hand to the plow and did not quit. Raising godly children is anything but an easy task. So many forces are pushing against us. Therefore, Christian fathers must have a determined resolve to execute their God-given duties in a manner that God would approve, the world notwithstanding! Daddies, do you have the resolve to stand against the filth of Hollywood? How about the clothing of Vogue? Do you have the resolve to stand against the political correctness of women’s liberation? Fathers, we must determine before we are ever faced with these that we are going to be God’s men, today, tomorrow and forever!
Secondly, David teaches us about repentance. David was a man of many great spiritual traits. When we speak of David, we often speak of his involvement with Bathsheba and all the sins linked to that incident. However, while doing so, we often forget the great penitent heart that David had. When the prophet pointed out David’s sin, immediately, “…David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the LORD…” (2 Samuel 12:13a). It takes a real man to admit his sin. David never blamed or shifted responsibility to another (Psalm 32; 51). Fathers are not perfect, and as such we will sin and make mistakes. How we handle those sins will determine our eternity.
Thirdly, Joseph teaches us about righteousness. Our Lord’s “earthly” father is a great example of what it means to be righteous. From the very fact alone the God Almighty chose Joseph the carpenter to be such an intimate part of our Lord’s life points to Joseph’s character. He went to great pains in his attempt to protect Mary from utter humiliation (Matthew 1:19). Consequently, the Bible speaks of him as being a “just” (KJV) or “righteous” man (NASB). Daddies, if God was to write down your character traits, would righteous be one He would use?
Interestingly, each of the above fathers were far from perfect. They each had flaws and faults, but still as we consider their example today, their weaknesses pale in comparison to their strengths. Fathers, God does not expect perfection from any of us, but what He does demand is faithfulness. Rise up oh men of God and labor to become the fathers God expects you to be!