July 1, 2012 by Mitch
Filed under Blog, Sermons, Sermons on Faith & Trust, Sermons on Glory & Honor, Sermons on Jesus, Sermons on Resurrection & Judgment, Sermons on Salvation (Being Saved), Sermons on Teachings of Jesus
How do you even begin to explain something that has no beginning? How do you tell someone what is “eternal life”? Jesus does and your response has eternal consequences!
John 3:16, the most well known verse in the Bible, explains that Jesus died so we wouldn’t have to. However, it doesn’t teach that simply because Jesus died, no one will. It says only those who believe in Him will have eternal life. That is pretty profound. Jesus didn’t teach universal salvation. He taught that only those who had faith in Him, who trusted Him, who surrendered to Him would be saved.
This is not simply a mental assent to the facts of Jesus; this is a surrender to the will of the one we say we believe. Galatians 2:20 describes what this faith is like: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Having faith in Jesus is more than agreeing; it is surrendering. It is putting ourselves and our will to death. It is submitting to what Jesus taught.
How does this start? Romans 6:3-6 says:
“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. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.”
If living by faith means crucifying ourselves with Jesus, when does that happen? According to Romans 6:3-6 it happens when we are baptized into Christ. It doesn’t happen any other time. There is no amount of prayer that will accomplish that. There is no amount of “going to church” that will accomplish that. There is no amount of giving money to the church or to those in need that will accomplish that. There is no amount of ignoring temptation that will accomplish that. Only being baptized into Christ will accomplish that.
Further, remember that John 3:16 says Jesus died so we don’t have to. But, that death doesn’t just cover everyone. How do we get into that death? Romans 6:3-6 says when we are baptized into Christ, we are baptized into His death. It is not when we have simply agreed that Jesus died for our sins that we enter His saving death. It is not when we’ve told others about His saving death. It is only when we have been baptized into Christ that we enter His saving death.
Sadly, I hear of more and more Christians who once had so much faith in this teaching from Christ that they submitted to baptism in the name of Jesus for the remission of their sins who are not passing this teaching on to others. Because the majority of the religious world doesn’t accept it, they have started backing off. Maybe people can be saved simply by agreeing that Jesus died for them, they say. Maybe people can be saved because they are leading pretty good lives, in sincerity toward God. Maybe people can be saved because they said a prayer. Maybe they can be saved even though they weren’t baptized into Christ, but were baptized to show something else. This is what we are told.
Who are we to say how God can save people? That is what we are asked. My response? We aren’t anyone to say how God can save people. That is why we must say only what Jesus said. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). You see, when we say a person must be born of the water and the Spirit, that is must be baptized, we aren’t telling God how He must save people. We are only telling people what God said about how He would save people. Actually, we are taking too much to ourselves and telling God how to save people when we say that maybe God will save people some way other than how He said.
Romans 6:3-6 is pretty clear. If you want to be in Christ, you have to be baptized into Him. If you want to be in His saving death, you have to be baptized into it. If you want to be crucified with Christ, you have to be baptized into it. Let’s just say what God says about it and leave it at that.
Last Tuesday, I explained why the Franklin Church of Christ is not part of a Church of Christ Denomination. That article dealt with common mistakes folks who are not members of this congregation make about us. In this article, I want to look at the other side of the issue. I want to point out mistakes I’ve heard members of a church of Christ make that cause part of this problem.
Common Mistake #1: “We’re Church of Christ.”
Regrettably, one of the reasons other folks believe we are part of a denomination is because too many of us act like we are. When we say things like, “We’re church of Christ,” or, “He’s a church of Christ preacher,” or, “Are they church of Christ?” we’re are using the language of denominationalism. Individual’s cannot be “church of Christ.” Rather, Christ’s church is made up of individuals. “Church” represents a collective, therefore an individual cannot be “church of Christ” nor can a preacher be “church of Christ.” We may be members of Christ’s church but we are not Christ’s church.
Think of it this way. Would you ever say, “He’s Christ’s church” or “He’s a Christ’s church preacher”? If you can’t substitute the phrase “Christ’s church” in the sentence you are making then you can’t use the phrase “church of Christ.” That is all “church of Christ” means. It is a reference to the church that belongs to Christ.
Of course, some will say, “Oh, but we know what they mean. It’s too much trouble to explain.” That’s right. We know what they mean and they are mistaken. We must not sit idly by and just further their misunderstanding about the Franklin church. We need to be clear.
Common Mistake #2: That church of Christ is calling itself non-denominational. That’s awful.
To be honest, I’m almost amazed I have to deal with this issue. But sadly, one of the reasons folks outside of churches of Christ are accusing us of being a denomination is because too many members think the same thing. I remember hearing a Christian ridicule a congregation because their listing in the phone book was under the heading of “Non-denominational Churches” instead of under “Church of Christ.” That is just sad. Perhaps we should consider placing our listing under that same heading if it will eliminate confusion.
Non-denominational is not a bad thing. It is what we teach and practice. Or it should be.
Common Mistake #3: They have to wear the name “church of Christ” to be one of us.
The fact is the New Testament never names Christ’s church. It offers descriptions. One description is “churches of Christ” in Romans 16:16. That doesn’t mean that was their name. That means Paul was referring to groups of people who belong to Christ. There is also the example of I Corinthians 1:2 and II Corinthians 1:1 in which Paul described the church as “the church of God which is at Corinth.” Why? Because that is what they were. They were the group of people in Corinth that belonged to God. Paul referred to the churches in Galatia as “the churches of Galatia” (Galatians 1:2). Why? Because that is what they were. Groups of people in Galatia. He referred to the congregation in Thessalonica as “the church of the Thessalonians” (I Thessalonians 1:1 and II Thessalonians 1:1). Why? Because they were a group of people that were Thessalonians making up that church.
I could go on, but I think you get the point.
Sadly, folks accuse us of being a denomination because many among us are being like the denominations when it comes to our name. We have chosen the name “Franklin Church of Christ” because we want folks to know we are a church belonging to Christ and we meet in Franklin. However, we could just as easily be a church belonging to Christ if our sign read “The Franklin Church of God.” We could just as easily be a church belonging to Christ if our sign read “The Church of God in Franklin.” We could just as easily be a church belonging to Christ if our sign read “The Franklin Church.” We could just as easily be a church belonging to Christ if our sign read, “Christ’s Church” or “Christ’s Church in Franklin.” We could just as easily be a church belonging to Christ if our sign read “Christians assemble here Sunday at 10 am.”
While we certainly need to describe ourselves in biblically accurate ways, we need to realize we are doing more harm than good by acting like the only way to refer to the congregation is the phrase “Franklin Church of Christ.”
Common Mistake #4: “That’s denominational.”
One of the common mistakes members of a church of Christ make about denominationalism is thinking that anything a denomination does is denominational. That is just not true. I don’t know how many times I have heard Christians claim something is wrong or shouldn’t be done and their sole argument is, “That’s denominational.” What do they mean? They simply mean a denomination does it.
We need to understand that the word “Denominational” refers to one error. It refers to the error of establishing a governmental organization over multiple congregations and establishing a hierarchy of offices governing more than one church. It is not the catch all for everything that is error. The fact is most denominations believe in Jesus Christ. Is believing in Jesus Christ denominational? Most denominations take the Lord’s Supper. Is taking the Lord’s Supper denominational? The fact that a denomination does something doesn’t make it wrong. The fact that a denomination doesn’t do something doesn’t make it right.
Allow me an illustration. I believe and the Franklin church teaches that a congregation should participate in the Lord’s Supper every Sunday (cf. Acts 20:7; I Corinthians 11:20; 16:1-2). Many denominations participate in the Lord’s Supper annually, semiannually, quarterly, or monthly. Do I believe they are practicing something incorrectly? Yes. Is taking the Lord’s Supper quarterly denominational? No. It has nothing to do with the organization of the churches. We must not let the word “denominational” become our catch all word for everything we think is incorrect. That only confuses the issue.
Therefore, if we believe something is unauthorized, we need to demonstrate that from scripture. We cannot simply say, “A denomination does it. That’s denominational.” That is not sound logic but laziness and it is far too common of a mistake.
Denominationalism is an unscriptural method of congregational organization. There is nothing in the New Testament that supports the practice. Therefore, we need to understand that we are not part of a denomination. We need to speak and teach clearly about denominationalism. Further, if we think something is wrong, we need to refrain from the lazy argument of “That’s denominational.”
Denominationalism has governed churches since the time of Martin Luther. So much so that few people can even comprehend the concept of just being a Christian without thinking we must be a certain kind of Christian–Lutheran Christian, Catholic Christian, Baptist Christian, etc. In fact, when you hear of a non-denominational church they rarely mean they are opposed to denominationalism, rather they mean they don’t care what denomination you are part of. Sadly, some congregations present themselves as non-denominational but are still part of a denomination.
What about us? What about the Franklin Church of Christ? Are we part of a denomination called “The Church of Christ?” No, we are not. I want to share three common mistakes people make in claiming we are a denomination.
Common Mistake #1: Denominate Means to Name
Commonly folks will say that the word “denominate” means to name, so if you name the congregation you have become part of a denomination by that name. Thus, if we call ourselves the Franklin Church of Christ then we are part of the Church of Christ denomination. Of course, I ask folks to look at that whole name. The whole name is “Franklin Church of Christ” why don’t they ask if we are part of the “Franklin Church of Christ” denomination. Even the assertion demonstrates a problem with this definition.
What we really need to note is a common mistake is made with this argument. No doubt one of the most basic definitions of the word “denominate” is “to name.” However, simply finding one definition of a term does not mean that is how it is being used in every context. For instance, the word “butterfly” does not refer to airborne dairy products.
Consider the following definitions as applied directly to the issues of churches and denominations:
“Denominations are associations of congregations—Though sometimes it might be said that congregations are localized subdivisions of denominations—that have a common heritage. Moreover, a true denomination does not claim to be the only legitimate expression of the church” (Donald G. Tinder, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 1984, p. 310).
“Denominationalism – A term for the continuation of the organizations and emphasis on the divisions and distinctions of Protestantism” (Donald T. Kauffman, The Dictionary of Religious Terms, 1967, p 147).
In the context of churches, a denomination does not equal a church that has a name. A denomination equals a group of churches that are associated together in an organized way. Notice, it does not simply refer to a group of churches that have a similar name. Consider the fact that Southern Baptist and Missionary Baptist are two separate denominations.
The question is not does the name on the sign in front of our church’s building have a name similar to other congregations. The question is whether we are organizationally associated with other churches. We are not. In fact, we believe the Scripture does not authorized such organizational association. In the New Testament we find the universal church (Matthew 16:18). We see local churches (Romans 16:16). We see that local churches are to be governed by their own group of shepherds (I Peter 5:2; Acts 14:23). That is how we are organized. We are an independent, autonomous group of Christians striving to glorify God as best we can by surrendering to the pattern established in the New Testament.
Common Mistake #2: Your Teaching is the Same as Other Churches
Because there are other churches that teach very similarly to us does not mean we are in a denominational arrangement with them. We have no offices or roles for people who are telling us along with other congregations what to teach. If another congregation teaches similarly to us, that is because when they study the Bible they have come to similar conclusions.
According to I Corinthians 4:17, Paul taught the same thing in every church. If those churches practiced what Paul taught them, did they suddenly become a denomination with each other? There is no evidence for that. In I Corinthians 16:1-4, Paul claimed he gave the Corinthian church the exact same instruction he gave the churches in Galatia regarding the collection. If all those churches followed those directions, they would be teaching and practicing the same thing. That did not make them a denomination.
The fact is, if we believe God has provided a clear revelation for us, we would expect all churches who are following the Bible to teach and practice similar things. That won’t mean they are a denomination. It will mean they are following the same standard.
Common Mistake #3: You Interact with Other Congregations
Since there are other churches that teach and practice similar things to us, we often interact with them. What I mean by that is we often invite members of other churches to attend special services we are offering whether lessons, lectures, singings, etc. We often encourage members of our congregation to attend the functions of other churches, even posting invitations on our bulletin board. Additionally, we often invite men who preach for other congregations to come and teach for us. Does this mean we are a denomination?
No. In fact, it just means we do the same things the Christians and churches did in the New Testament. Though we are not associated together in some kind of governmental organization, we do have interaction with other congregations. In fact, it would be ridiculous for us not to.
Notice in II Corinthians 8:18, Paul talked about sending the brother who was famous among all the churches for his preaching. Here was a brother that preached in many different churches. That didn’t make the churches part of an organizational hierarchy. It just meant many of them let this one fellow preach to them. In Acts 15, the church in Antioch sent men to Jerusalem to find out why the error about circumcision was originating there. That didn’t mean they had a denominational structure just because they interacted with one another. When Paul came to Derbe on his second mission trip, he decided to have Timothy travel with them. The text in Acts 16:1-2 says he was well spoken of by the Christians in Lystra and Iconium as well. These churches had interaction. That doesn’t mean they were in a denomination together.
Despite the accusations made that we are part of a denomination, it just isn’t true. Are there other churches like us? Sure. Do we interact? Definitely. Is there a governmental hierarchy over us? No.
This article looked at some of the mistaken concepts about our congregation and denominationalism. Come back next week in which I’ll share some of the mistakes I hear Christians make about denominationalism.