|Volume 21 Number 9 September 2019||
Louis Rushmore, Editor
“Were Jews commanded to be baptized by John Baptist?” someone inquired. It is clear that John the Baptist was baptizing Jews from Jerusalem and Judah. “Now John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there. And they came and were baptized” (John 3:23 NKJV). “John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. Then all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins” (Mark 1:4-5). John claimed to be the manifestation of Old Testament prophecy (Matthew 3:1-3; Isaiah 40:3) as the one who would prepare the way for the coming of the Christ. As such, then, like other prophets before him, John was acting on God’s behalf when he required the Jews within the sphere of his influence to be baptized. Incidentally, biblical “preaching” has never been merely “informational speeches,” but the very nature of preaching carries with it the requirement to implement the preaching or teaching into one’s life.
Because Jews within the influence of John the Baptist (i.e., Jerusalem, Judah, etc.) were commanded to be baptized is the reason for which Jesus was baptized, despite not having any sins of which to repent. “Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent Him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?’ But Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he allowed Him” (Matthew 3:13-15). Jesus was sinlessly perfect (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:22), but had He refused or neglected to be baptized in the baptism of John the Baptist—who was acting officially on behalf of God—Jesus would have sinned. Therefore, to maintain His sinlessness, it was necessary for Jesus to obey the will of the Father for Jews to experience the baptism of John the Baptist. Hence, Jesus said His baptism was “to fulfill all righteousness.”
Yes, the Jews were commanded through the preaching of the prophet John the Baptist to be baptized. Therefore, the Incarnate Son of God also had to be baptized in John’s baptism as any other Jew was also required to do.
Doctrine of the Bible versus
Doctrine of the Church of Christ?
Louis Rushmore, Editor
“Is there any distinction between the doctrine of the Bible and that of the church of Christ?” The word “doctrine” means “teaching.” The question, then, amended becomes, “Is there any distinction between the teaching of the Bible and the teaching of the church of Christ?” However, the phrase “the churches of Christ” (Romans 16:16) pertains specifically in the actual sense as in existence to the New Testament rather than to the Old Testament. Hence, once more the question amended results in, “Is there any distinction between the teaching of the New Testament (i.e., Gospel) and that of the church of Christ?”
If by “church of Christ” one refers to the church of the Bible (the New Testament), most certainly the doctrine of the New Testament is the doctrine or teaching of the church of Christ. There is no difference between the doctrine of the New Testament and the doctrine of the church of Christ because they are one in the same. The church of Christ (the church of the Bible) does not have a doctrine or a teaching independent of the New Testament (the Bible).
Yet, if by “church of Christ” one thinks of a manmade religious organization—a denominational body—then, there may exist a vast difference between what the New Testament teaches and what such a sect believes and teaches. Historically through the present, there are several avowed denominations who at one time or another have appropriated to themselves the moniker “Church of Christ.” In addition, from a biblical perspective, a true church of Christ can apostatize and no longer practice and teach what the New Testament teaches. Through the pen of the apostle John, Jesus Christ warned five of the seven churches of Asia ( Revelation 2-3) that they were in danger of no longer being recognized as belonging to Him because of their departures from practice and teaching of New Testament doctrine.
Not knowing precisely the origin and thinking behind the initial question, it may be that some brethren are sensitive to differences between congregations of the churches of Christ owing to local customs, expedient matters and disputes about the application of some Scripture. Whereas the only divinely given doctrine or teaching guiding the churches of Christ is the New Testament, observable differences occur between congregations because of human application of New Testament doctrine or because of areas where human judgment is permitted.
Every local congregation has its own culture, affected by such things as race or ethnicity, national identity, academics, economics, language, age of its members, degree of complete biblical organization, fidelity to Bible authority, attitudes, lifestyle or culture, urban or non-urban location, geography, climate and governmental tolerance or interference. Therefore, some congregations are more active whereas other congregations may be less active physically. A congregation might be interracial or of one race. One church may have elders, and another does not have elders, yet. One congregation may expect its worshippers to be finely dressed, but elsewhere, perhaps in a poorer locale, worshippers are merely dressed modestly, irrespective of the type of clothing, because they wear what they have and are pleased to have something. There are many potential observable differences between congregations that do not affect Bible doctrine or teaching.
On the other hand, sometimes congregations differ from each other in some of what they teach (doctrine) because of improper biblical interpretation. Some brethren are too lenient with the application of God’s Word, and some others are too harsh and judgmental. Still others have adopted religious positions that are unwarranted by Scripture (e.g., anti-financial cooperation, one shared cup for congregational communion, no located preachers, no Bible classes, not eating in church buildings, no church vans, using choirs, violating God-given roles for women, adding instrumental music to Christian worship, open fellowship, ignoring biblical teaching about marriage and divorce, etc.).
The child of God must acknowledge that the doctrine or teaching of the New Testament is the same doctrine or teaching of the church of Christ—if it is the church of the Bible. At the same time, Christians need to recognize that local congregations have unique cultures that may vary in non-doctrinal areas. Further, human judgment regarding expedients—non-doctrinal matters—will differ between churches of Christ. Yes, some congregations also are in a degree of apostasy and clearly may conduct themselves beyond what is written in Bible doctrine (1 Corinthians 4:6). The churches of Christ are obligated to Jesus Christ to practice and to teach “sound doctrine” (1 Timothy 1:10; 2 Timothy 4:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1).