This series of 26 lessons was developed for classroom presentation from the book by David Miller that should be required reading for every preacher, elder, and Bible school teacher in the Lord’s church: Piloting The Strait”.  This book is available from a variety of bookstores, Sain Publications at www.sainpublicans.com as well as from David Miller at www.apologeticspress.org.

 

CHANGES IN THE CHURCH

SPECIFICS OF CHANGE - EMBRACING DENOMINATIONALISM

 

Lesson Twenty One                                                                                           Page One

 

            As my wife Judy and I travel about this country there are many things that we observe along the way, some good, some make us wonder.  But one of the things that you will frequently see at the edge of many small towns in whether it be in Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Georgia, the Carolinas or East Texas a sign that lists all of the churches in that town or area, their addresses and an invitation to attend.  Frequently you will see the church of Christ listed; less frequently you will see something that says that this invitation is presented by the Ministerial Alliance of that town.

 

John 17:20-23  “NEITHER PRAY I FOR THESE ALONE, BUT FOR THEM ALSO WHICH SHALL BELIEVE ON ME THROUGH THEIR WORD; THAT THEY ALL MAY BE ONE; AS THOU, FATHER, art IN ME, AND I IN THEE, THAT THEY ALSO MAY BE ONE IN US: THAT THE WORLD MAY BELIEVE THAT THOU HAS SENT ME.  AND THE GLORY WHICH THOU GAVEST ME I HAVE GIVEN THEM; THAT THEY MAY BE ONE, EVEN AS WE ARE ONE:”

 

            One of the greatest changes that has come over the church today, carrying with it enormous implications, is the new attitude toward the status of denominations.  Historically, churches of Christ have viewed the denominations as counterfeit churches spawned in the minds of men.  The very existence of a denomination (same root word as denominator; the part of the fraction that is below the line; that by which you do the dividing), despite some correct beliefs, was considered to be out of harmony with God’s revealed will.  Denominations were considered to be in direct violation of Jesus prayer for unity (above) and the biblical doctrine of the eternal and singular nature of the church that Jesus built.

 

Daniel 2:44 “AND IN THE DAYS OF THESE KINGS SHALL THE GOD OF HEAVEN SET UP A KINGDOM, WHICH SHALL NEVER BE DESTROYED: AND THE KINGDOM SHALL NOT BE LEFT TO OTHER PEOPLE, but IT SHALL BREAK IN PIECES AND CONSUME ALL THESE KINGDOMS, AND IT SHALL STAND FOR EVER.”

 

Matthew 16:18 “AND I SAY ALSO UNTO THEE, THAT THOU ART PETER, AND UPON THIS ROCK I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH; AND THE GATES OF HELL SHALL NOT PREVAIL AGAINST IT.”

 

Ephesians 3:9-10 “AND TO MAKE ALL men SEE WHAT is THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE MYSTERY, WHICH FROM THE BEGINNING OF THE WORLD HATH BEEN HID IN GOD, WHO CREATED ALL THINGS BY JESUS CHRIST: TO THE INTENT THAT NOW UNTO THE PRINCIPALITIES AND POWER IN HEAVENLY places MIGHT BE KNOWN BY THE CHURCH THE MANIFOLD WISDOM OF GOD,”

 

Ephesians 4:4there is ONE BODY, AND ONE SPIRIT, EVEN AS YE ARE CALLED IN ONE HOPE OF YOUR CALLING;”

 

A widespread conspiracy has taken shape in recent years that blurs the distinction between the church of Christ – the New Testament church – and the counterfeits constructed by men, i.e., the denominations.  Churches of Christ are being bombarded with propaganda designed to generate acceptance of and

fellowship with the denominations (Promise Keepers is but one effort).  Under the guise of “unity,” we are being goaded into a permissive, tolerant posture toward false teachers and false religions.  The thoughtful application of Scripture that penetrates the false fronts of these deviations from God’s Word, the diligence that our forefathers used to determine what was true and false and be able to discriminate between the two and the clearness with which we understood the differences between them and faithfulness to God is fast disappearing.  It is being replaced by a unity that defies the definition of the term because it is based upon the attitude that we are to just ignore the differences between what they teach and the teaching or doctrines of Jesus Christ and His apostles.

            Four specific biblical doctrines have come under the attack of the change agents in their attempt to link the Lord’s church with denominations: fellowship, unity, grace and baptism.  We covered the subject of fellowship extensively in lesson thirteen but in the event that we have forgotten we will review:

 

Matthew 16:18  “AND I SAY ALSO UNTO THEE, THAT THOU ART PETER, AND UPON THIS ROCK I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH (singular); AND THE GATES OF HELL SHALL NOT PREVAIL AGAINST IT.”

 

Ephesians 4:4-6  there is ONE BODY (the church), AND ONE SPIRIT, EVEN AS YE ARE CALLED IN ONE HOPE OF YOUR CALLING; ONE LORD, ONE FAITH, ONE BAPTISM, ONE GOD AND FATHER OF ALL, WHO is ABOVE ALL, AND THROUGH ALL, AND IN YOU ALL.”

 

Our doctrine, our teaching, the doctrine that has been given us by divine revelation is our fellowship is:

 

 “THAT WHICH WE HAVE SEEN AND HEARD DECLARE WE UNTO YOU, THAT YE ALSO MAY HAVE FELLOWSHIP WITH US: AND TRULY OUR FELLOWSHIP is WITH THE FATHER, AND WITH HIS SON JESUS CHRIST.  AND THESE THINGS WE WRITE UNTO YOU, THAT YOUR JOY MAY BE FULL. I John 1:3-4 


If we have fellowship with God through our acceptance and obedience to His divine revelation then:

 

I John 3:7  BUT IF WE WALK IN THE LIGHT, AS HE IS IN THE LIGHT, WE HAVE FELLOWSHIP ONE WITH ANOTHER, AND THE BLOOD OF JESUS CHRIST HIS SON CLEANSETH US FROM ALL SIN.”

 

And that fellowship is to be limited:

 

II John 10-11 “IF THERE COME ANY UNTO YOU, AND BRING NOT THIS DOCTRINE, RECEIVE HIM NOT INTO your HOUSE, NEITHER BID HIM GOD SPEED; FOR HE THAT BIDDETH HIM GOD SPEED IS PARTAKER OF HIS EVIL DEEDS.”

 

            This means anyone and everyone who is not faithful to the doctrine of Christ and his apostles.

 

Unity

 

            One of the major problems and drives toward denominationalism is the continued desire on the part of some to be like all others.  History repeats itself again and again beginning in the days of Israel and recorded for our learning:

 

I Samuel 8:19-20  “NEVERTHELESS THE PEOPLE REFUSED TO OBEY THE VOICE OF SAMUEL; AND THEY SAID, NAY; BUT WE WILL HAVE A KING OVER US; THAT WE ALSO MAY BE LIKE ALL OTHER NATIONS; AND THAT OUR KING MAY JUDGE US, AND GO OUT BEFORE US, AND FIGHT OUR BATTLES.”  Who was the King that they were rejecting?  God!

 

            So mankind has been there before but just like someone who can’t learn or chooses to ignore the lessons of past generations this drive toward denominationalism is especially evident in the almost deafening clamor for what they call “unity.”  The irony of this situation is that the “unity” they preach is in reality the very opposite – disunity, division and diversity.  This new man-made form of “unity” is but a lot of talk about unity with no real commitment to the demands and requirements of the unity that is biblical and God-approved.  There is an obsession and really an intoxication with the idea of peace, harmony and union at all costs just as we find in Jerusalem that caused God to tell the people through Jeremiah in 6:14  THEY HAVE HEALED ALSO THE HURT of the daughter OF MY PEOPLE SLIGHTLY, SAYING, PEACE, PEACE; WHEN there is NO PEACE.”  The spirit of compromise in the face of divine uncompromising truth is clearly evident at the very time when members who ought to be endorsing the kind of division that God approves and respects cry for unity with that which is not in unity with God or his precepts.

            One of the implicit attitudes underlying the “unity movement” is the tolerant, permissive mentality which has come to characterize American society from especially the sixties to the present as we studied in one of our earliest lessons in this series.

            Where once clear standards were intact with regard to what is right and wrong, moral and immoral, now morality belief systems and perceptions of truth are viewed as fluid, in a state of constant flux and subject to constant alteration and rethinking.  Our pluralistic culture demands that everyone be free to believe, practice, and pursue whatever lifestyle one chooses.  The demands of this liberal minded society have permeated itself into the very fabric of the Lord’s church in too many places.  Spiritual Israel today has become as physical Israel during the days of the Judges:

 

Judges 17:6  IN THOSE DAYS there was NO KING IN ISRAEL, but EVERY MAN DID that which was RIGHT IN HIS OWN EYES.

 

Today there is a King in Spiritual Israel but Spiritual Israel is ignoring Him and still doing what is right in their own eyes.  History repeats itself again and again but mankind never learns its lessons and tries to unify and harmonize himself with every false religion that suits his fancy.

            When the average member of the church embraces this false idea of unity, either consciously or unconsciously he will find acceptable the idea of having fellowship with those who were previously excluded from fellowship.  He will even consider this change to be “the loving, mature thing to do.”  He will regard those who integrate caution and rigid attention to purity into their Christian lifestyle (which the Bible demands) as narrow, immature, intolerant, unloving, extremist, mean-spirited, right-wing and ultra-conservative.  He will be very uncomfortable with anything but a superficial sort of “peace” which he sees endangered by those whom he sees as “judgmental” and “critical.”  This is exactly what is happening to the Lord’s church.

 

Baptism and the Plan of Salvation

 

            The intense craving by our wayward brethren for respectability and credibility with the religious world around them naturally leads to adjustments in the plan of salvation.  Why?  Because one common characteristic of denominationalism has been its rejection of God’s gospel plan of salvation.  Consequently, accompanying the cry for unity and fellowship has been a rethinking of the role of baptism in salvation.  The following is a quote:

 

“What I have said is that it is not necessary for one to receive baptism with the verbal formulation ‘for the remission of sins’ before him or in his consciousness.” “’For the remission of sins’ is a purpose assigned to baptism in the New Testament.  Believers do not obey purposes; we obey commands.”  “I see no reason to think one has to understand “for the remission of sins” in order to be baptized scripturally, for I do not think there is ONE right reason for being baptized”  (Rubel Shelly I Just Want To Be A Christian, pp. 142-144) 

 

Another liberal brother has said:  “we must hush our childhood prattle about ‘baptism for the remission of sins’ – these and all such expressions must be thrown away for they belong to the language of our childhood period.” (Earl West; Elder Ben Franklin: The Eye of the Storm) 

 

In other words, they basically telling those of us that insist in drawing the line of fellowship and acceptance as Christians; only those people that have obeyed God’s commandments, fully understanding the purpose of those commandments, to grow up, we’re acting like children arguing over the rules of a child’s game.

            If a person does not have to understand that baptism is the point at which sin is forgiven, then it follows that he can believe that he is saved before baptism and still be a Christian and there are a multitude of people who believe this.  I see it constantly in my Bible Correspondence students.  If we believe this false teaching then it therefore follows that much of the denominational world is composed of persons who are our brethren since most all denominations believe the deity of Christ and administer baptism “to obey God.”  But such is not the case.

 

Grace

 

            The denominational world almost without exception believes and teaches that salvation from sin and the action of becoming a Christian is achieved solely on the basis of God’s grace apart from man’s obedience.  This doctrine originated as a reaction to the “works salvation” found in the Roman Catholic Church by the reformers such as Calvin and Luther.  In recent years more and more of our brethren are taking up this cry and are accusing the church of having failed to believe in and preach grace.  Consider the following:

 

“I spent too many years of my Christian life not knowing what grace was.  The only thing I knew for sure was that ‘we didn’t believe in it.”  (Jim Hackney, church bulletin, Midtown Church of Christ, Fort Worth, January 1991.)

 

“Nobody has any right to preach anything other than the Gospel of pure grace.  We are saved by grace plus nothing.  You are saved by faith period.  There is nothing you can to do to be saved.  There are no rules; there are no regulations in serving Jesus Christ” (Glen Owen, Sermon at Midtown Church of Christ Fort Worth. 1982)

 

            “It is a scandalous and outrageous lie to teach that salvation arises from human activity.  We do not contribute one whit to our salvation.”  (Rubel Shelly, “Arbeit Macht Frei!” Lovelines October 31, 1990.)

 

            “I believe deeply that the New Testament teaches that salvation is a free gift of God period.  You are saved by grace alone.”  (Max Lucado in “Minister Teaches Simplicity in Faith” by Carolyn Jenkins, Tulsa World, March 12, 1989.)

           

There are more available but I couldn’t stand any more.  If you can stand to hear something really radical get a copy of the tape of Jeff Walling at the Golf Course Road Church of Christ in Midland, Texas that was recorded at their “Renewal Weekend” held in early 2003.

            No one who studies the Bible thoroughly would deny that we are saved by grace.  What we do deny is that we are saved by grace alone or faith alone.  The Scriptures no where say we are saved by “grace only” or “faith only.”  If grace alone saved, then everyone on earth would be saved because:

 

Titus 2:11  FOR THE GRACE OF GOD THAT BRINGETH SALVATION HATH APPEARED TO ALL MEN.”

 

            But most people will not be saved:

 

Matthew 7:13-14  “ENTER YE IN AT THE STRAIT GATE; FOR WIDE is THE GATE, AND BROAD is THE WAY, THAT LEADETH TO DESTRUCTION, AND MANY THERE BE WHICH GO IN THEREAT: BECAUSE STRAIT is THE GATE, AND NARROW IS THE WAY, WHICH LEADETH UNTO LIFE, AND FEW THERE BE THAT FIND IT.”


            Granted, if God had not taken the initiative to provide man with a way out of his sin problem, man would have no hope.  In that sense, we are completely dependent on God’s grace and favor.  But it does not follow that man has no actions to perform or no commands to obey before – prior to – the actual forgiveness of sin.  A danger surely exists in that some people may think they earn their salvation or that they achieve their salvation through their own actions.  But this danger must not be permitted to hide the fact that divinely-given directions exist that humans must follow in order for God to freely provide the benefits of the blood of His son.  That we must follow those directions to place ourselves in a position to accept the benefits of God’s eternal grace is the sum and substance of much of the New Testament teaching.