Gospel Gazette Online
Volume 20 Number 12 December 2018
Page 16

Questions and Answers

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Is One Church as Good as Another?

Louis Rushmore, Editor

Louis Rushmore Someone asks, “Is one church as good as another?” That depends. Churches originating in the minds of men are relatively equal to each other. Hundreds of years after the first church was promised by (Matthew 16:18) and established upon Jesus Christ as its foundation (1 Corinthians 3:11), deviations from the church appearing in Acts 2:47 occurred, as foretold (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4; 1 Timothy 4:1-3; 2 Timothy 3:1-5; 2 Timothy 4:3-4). Over the centuries, deviations from the church of the Bible continued to diverge more radically from the church belonging to the Lord Jesus Christ. In addition, a couple millennia after the establishment of the Lord’s church in Jerusalem in about A.D. 33, literally thousands of manmade churches or denominations now exist. All of them differ from each other, and more importantly, they differ from the church about which we can read upon the pages of the New Testament.

The Lord’s church still exists, but it is more difficult to discern that church from the great number of counterfeit, manmade churches. Often, the church of our Lord is obscured by the sheer number of human religious organizations. Due to the popularity of contemporary religion in so-called Christendom, sometimes members of the Lord’s church desire to fit in with denominationalism—much the same way that Israel of old desired an earthly king to become like the nations around them (1 Samuel 8:5, 19-20).

The identifying characteristics of the church that Jesus Christ established are clearly observable in various New Testament passages. For instance, there are several biblical designations or names ascribed to the church of the Bible (e.g., “churches of Christ,” Romans 16:16; “the church of God,” 1 Corinthians 1:2). The church of the Bible was congregational, autonomous and overseen by elders (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5; 1 Peter 5:1-2). Church worship consisted of weekly participation in teaching or preaching, a collection, singing, praying and communion (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2; 14:15). Manmade churches that comprise the denominational world differ from the Lord’s church in name, organization, worship and doctrine. Doctrine makes a difference, as the Holy Spirit inspired New Testament writers to promote “sound doctrine” (1 Timothy 1:10; 2 Timothy 4:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1).

It is true, more or less, that one manmade church is as good as any other manmade church. However, no manmade or denominational church can compare with the church that Jesus died to establish and for which one day He will return to retrieve. It is immeasurably better to be members of the church for which Jesus Christ is coming back to take to Heaven (John 14:1-3; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17), than to be members of manmade or denominational churches. Jesus Christ will present only His church to the Heavenly Father (1 Corinthians 15:24).

What Is a Sin Unto Death?

J.D. Conley

The apostle Paul wrote these inspired words, “If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it. All unrighteousness is sin; and there is a sin unto death” (1 John 5:16-17). What is the proper understanding of this verse?

This passage needn’t be puzzling to us. The subject is praying on behalf of a brother or a sister in Christ. In doing so, our prayer may be effective or ineffective, depending on the circumstances. One thing is certain, there is “a sin unto death.” Yet, what sin is it, and what is meant by the term “death?” The sin is not classified and should be understood as sin in general, since any sin could be “sin unto the death.” Even though any sin could be engaged in impenitently up until the moment of physical death, “death” here refers to spiritual death. It is this sin for which it is useless to pray because the sinner will neither confess it nor repent of it (James 5:16ff; 1 John 1:9; Revelation 2:5). His or her persistent sinning has brought about spiritual death, and he or she will physically die enslaved in sin if failing to turn from the sin. Thus, the “sin unto death” is an attitude of heart. Any Christian who sins and steadfastly refuses to repent is spiritually dead (John 12:37ff; Ephesians 4:9; 1 Timothy 4:2; Hebrews 3:7ff). Hence, it is futile to pray for such a hardened brother or sister. For this reason, John stated, “I do not say that he should pray for it.” Although John does not prohibit us from praying for such a person and his or her sin, we are not commanded to do so. If we do pray for such a person, there is no assurance that God will hear, much less answer, our prayer.

However, this passage also mentions “a sin not unto death” and for this occasion, prayer is useful. Any Christian who confesses sin and repents should be and needs to be the object of our prayers. A tender-hearted brother or sister who shows contrition for sin obviously retains a spiritual pulse. For them, there is hope and joyful expectation of forgiveness and ultimately eternal salvation.

To sincerely ask if you have sinned “a sin unto death” is a strong indication you have not. It’s those whose “conscience [has been] seared with a hot iron” (1 Timothy 4:2) who are “past feeling” (Ephesians 4:19) that have sinned “a sin unto death.” May God help us to always remember that the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6: 23).

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