November 23, 2014.
As we continue this series about the church of Christ, who we are, what our moment was, and who we should be, today I would like to talk about the solid principles that our movement is founded on and the essentials for Christian unity. These are the core beliefs that hold us together and what I think should unite all Christians in the faith. Tomorrow we will talk about the beliefs that many hold as essential for fellowship when there really isn’t much biblical basis for it and then we will discuss what true New Testament Christianity looked like and finally where we should go in the future. The principles that we were founded on are core beliefs that I think are essential to Christian unity, and they are firmly rooted in scripture as opposed to the word of man. Let’s take a look at some of these and why they are important.
1. Jesus is the Son of God.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life,and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
This should be the foundation of Christianity, period. Jesus Christ, the Chosen One, came down to live as God on earth, experience what we experience, see what we see and suffer the trials and tribulations that are common to man. He then, being without sin, laid down His life willingly to give a ransom for our sins and rose from the grave to defeat sin and death and give us the hope of a resurrection like His on the last day. Jesus is the reason that Christianity makes any sense whatsoever. Jesus makes it explicitly clear that we must believe in Him if we are going to be saved from our sins.
“He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.”
This is the first and foremost thing we must teach to have unity. This is the gospel, the good news. It is the message that we must bring to the lost world. Those in sin need to hear the news that salvation has been offered though Christ, and only through Christ.
“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
To a world that seems to be growing more towards all inclusiveness and against offending anyone, this is not a popular message. To say that salvation only comes through Jesus is to say that a lot of people, morally good people, are not going to be saved. It is an offensive statement to most. But the gospel has always been offensive to those who were not receptive of it. That’s not to say that we should preach in an offensive manner, but rather to understand that some people are not going to be receptive to the gospel. However, this is what we must teach, because these are the words of Christ.
This is the reason that we identify ourselves only by the name of Christ, or names given biblically. We call ourselves Christians, because we are followers of Christ. We use the name church of Christ because we, the church, belong to Christ. We are the body of Christ. That is not to say that my congregation are the only ones in the body of Christ, but rather to say that we belong to the body at large. This is how we have tried to separate ourselves from denominationalism, by dropping the names of various denominations and simply wearing the name of Christ. We will talk more tomorrow about how this has in some cases gone awry.
2. The Bible is inspired by God and is our guide.
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
(II Timothy 3:16-17)
A popular saying among our fellowship (or at least it used to be popular) is “speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where it is silent.” I am really growing more and more love for this statement. The idea behind this point is to drop all denominational bias as simply do what the bible says. If the bible says we should do something a certain way, we do. If it says we shouldn’t do something, we don’t. The bible is the common ground that all Christians should be able to agree upon as it is inspired by God, as Paul says to Timothy. In I Timothy 2:15, Timothy is told to “rightly handle” or “rightly divide” the word of truth, implying that there is a right way to handle the bible and a wrong way. We believe that through good study one can come to the truth on many things, especially the principles that are essential (such as Jesus Christ being the Son of God). Are we going to agree on everything? No. Is the bible absolutely clear about every subject? No (more on this tomorrow). But is it very clear about some things? Absolutely. These are the things that we typically hold as essential beliefs.
Taking the word of God as our only “creed,” so to speak, that means we decide (or we should decide) any disputes over theology by opening the bible and reading what God has to say about it. We accept what it says regardless of how uncomfortable it makes us feel, at least in theory. If the bible tells me one thing about God’s plan of salvation, for instance, and you tell me another, I’m going to choose what the bible says. This is not a personal attack against you or your opinion, but a simple realization that it is God who defines right and wrong, and not any of us. I have been taught from a young child to never take a preacher’s word by itself, but to always examine what the scriptures say and compare that to what the preacher said, and if they are different, then disregard what the preacher said. I believe this strongly, even though in practice I’m not sure we teach that. If what I tell you doesn’t agree with the bible, then by all means don’t listen to me. I am not God. I do not have the wisdom of God. I do not make the rules or define righteousness. All I am is a messenger, and if the message that I preach is not rooted in scripture, then I have become a false teacher. Please don’t just take my word for it.
“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel.”
What I say doesn’t matter, unless what I say is from the word of God. And that’s the great thing about our movement. The wonderful thing. If I believe something, I don’t have to come up with a clever argument or a long work around to express to you why I believe it. I simply open the bible and let you read what it says, because that is my argument. I am not going to spend three pages of commentary explaining why a single verse or passage doesn’t actually mean what it says (though there are instances where deeper study is very good, if not essential). If the bible says it, I believe it. Plain and simple. Now, don’t get me wrong, there is so much study that goes into this. I don’t just pick out a random verse and say “well, that’s what it says, so that’s what I believe.” You must understand everything in context. I can’t read, “Judas went out and hanged himself” and then flip over to a passage that says “go and do thou likewise” and call that theology. That’s just pasting verses together. You can make the bible say whatever you want it to say if you use this tactic. Rather, we must teach what the bible means through the context, but I digress.
Since we use the word of God as our guide, any doctrine (I promise that isn’t a bad word) we teach should theoretically come from the word of God. It should not come from man’s opinions or man’s teaching, but from the inspired word. This is what the church of Christ strives to focus on, keeping in step with the Spirit. “Speak where the bible speaks and be silent where it is silent.”
3. God’s plan for salvation, not man’s.
Probably one of the strongest core beliefs that hold any movement together is their belief on how you become a disciple. In Christianity, this relates to how you accept the wonderful gift of salvation. It is this point that I believe separates our movement from many others, though I don’t fully understand why. What we teach, just like other points of doctrine, comes directly from scripture. Different groups of Christians agree on most of the points of salvation. You would be hard pressed to find someone who told you that you don’t have to know who Jesus is to be saved. It would be difficult to find someone who told you that you didn’t have to have faith in Jesus to be saved. Not many (at least amongst protestants) would say that salvation isn’t a free gift of grace. Likewise, most would agree that you have to repent to be saved. All of these points are agreed upon in main stream protestantism, and all of these points are very biblical (read “How do I become a Christian?” for a more in depth study of this).
But the point where we differ is baptism. I don’t exactly know why there is so much argument over this point. It’s relatively simple and not nearly as hard as repentance. We believe that baptism is in faith and for the forgiveness of our sins. It is during baptism that we reach the blood of Christ, being buried with Him in his death and raised with Him as a new creature, being freed of sin. Why do we believe this? Simply because that is what it says in the bible.
“Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”
“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
(Romans 6:1-4, read on for more)
“But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
These are just a few of the many passages that describe the role that baptism plays in salvation. We do not view baptism as a work (except perhaps a work of the Spirit, not us- ref. Titus 3:5), and it certainly doesn’t “earn” us anything. It is simply the response to the gospel. We have been told that it is for the forgiveness of sins, and thus we believe that it is for the forgiveness of sins. As I said before, I have no clever argument for baptism, no sweeping words of my own. All I do is open the bible and let others read what I believe. When people argue with that, it is as though they are arguing with the bible rather than me, for I have added no words of my own.
This is the point that I hope changes soon in the denominational world. It seems this is one of the major points that keeps us separated. I honestly believe if we all just gave up our theological bias and took the word of God for what it is, we would be so much closer to unity in the body of Christ. As it stands, I cannot in good conscious evangelize with a Christian who teaches a different route to the body than they one laid out here. I so badly want this to change, but again, I digress.
4. Simplistic Christianity.
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
Perhaps one of the biggest calls of the church of Christ is to restore a more pure and simplistic form of Christianity, the Christianity that is found in the New Testament. This is where the Restoration Movement got its name, though it was Campbell’s group that focused more heavily on restoration while Stone’s group more heavily on unity. The idea is that the Christians that lived during New Testament times were closest to the time of Christ, so they most likely had the best view of what Christianity was really supposed to be, and this is the Christianity that spread so rapidly throughout the Roman empire. It is this form of Christianity that we want to restore.
And what a wonderful thing that would be. The Christianity that I read about in the New Testament is phenomenal. The fellowship and community they had I want so much. They relied on one another, ate together, shared a common faith and knew that they would go home together in the end. The Restoration Movement wanted to restore this. In part four we will discuss whether or not this ever actually happened, and if it actually needs to be restored to the letter or if it is the spirit of this Christianity that needs to be restored.
Because of this want of a purer Christianity, you will find that many of the worship assemblies of the churches of Christ are rather simplistic in nature. There are typically no lights, no band, no choirs or soloists, and no praise teams (though some of these seen in more liberal congregations). Rather, more often than not you would find acapella congregational singing, prayer, bible study classes and a sermon. Fellowship meals are also popular, which I am very glad to see. We don’t put on a show because we believe that worship is for God, not for our entertainment, and we believe that reverent worship is what is described often in the bible (though sometimes I think we focus too heavily on this, and I’m sure we will get into that later).
“But the Lord is in his holy temple;
let all the earth keep silence before him.”
We try not to put any person up on a pedestal during worship but rather focus on praising God and learning from His word. I can’t say that we are perfect at this, but we do try. I hope that you come join us one worship period to see what it is like. Don’t be thrown off by the simplicity, but rather try to embrace it for what it is.
I hope you are continuing on with me in this study as I think it could be beneficial to both those inside our fellowship and outside. Tomorrow we will discuss some constructive criticism of the churches of Christ and then the day following we well examine what New Testament Christianity really looked like and what we can draw from it. May all the glory go to the Lord God above.
Suggested Daily Reading: Acts 2-5.
Grace and peace.