Acts 26

Tonight’s local hypercon TV show featured a message the host presented at a recent cofC-sponsored tent meeting in a nearby town.  In the beginning of his talk, the host asked his audience to go home and look up Acts 26:17-20.  Then he said,

“…you will hear the Apostle Paul say that you better get ready to do some work.  Everybody says that Paul said that it’s faith only, that’s not in the Bible.  No preacher in this town can show you the Scripture where it says “faith only”.  And I can show you where the Apostle Paul said that Jesus Christ told him to preach to the Gentiles that they better turn from darkness to light, and they better do works meet for repentance, in other works to show that you have repented… that is in the book and Jesus said it to Paul…

The interesting thing about this statement (especially with the “faith only” comments) is that the host says that works are required for salvation, and then he claims that Paul was somehow saying such a thing in this passage.  

t’aint so, McGee.

This passage isn’t dealing with how to be saved – as the host even said, “work meets repentance” means that after you’ve become a believer, you will do works that prove you are a believer.  Let’s look at it again.  

The Greek word translated by the KJV as “meet” is the Greek word ἄξιος (“axios”) which also translates like this: “befitting, congruous, corresponding to a thing” (look here for more info on this Greek word).  In other words, it isn’t saying that you have to work for your salvation, but that when you’ve turned from darkness to light, there should be work that proves your repentance.

Let’s look at that passage in a more understandable (more modern) translation:

“…that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance.”  Acts 26:20b NKJV

That’s still a bit hard to understand.  Let’s look at another even more modern translation:

“that they should repent and turn to God and perform deeds worthy of their repentance.” Acts 26:20b RSV

This is a point that our hypercon host and others who agree with his teaching seem to miss.  The work that the writer of Acts talks about here (as well as in James) is a work that happens because we’ve become followers of Christ – it’s not a work that we do to become a Christian.

This is one of the stunning misconceptions that our hypercon friends try to propagate – that we must work our way to heaven.  That we have the ability to work our way to heaven.  

Well, we don’t.  

I submit that our readers consider these verses with regard to the idea that we have much of anything to contribute to our salvation by way of works:

“As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:” Romans 3:10  

“I will declare thy righteousness, and thy works; for they shall not profit thee.” Isaiah 57:12  

“But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” Isaiah 64:6  

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

“Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” Romans 3:27-28  

“Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.” Romans 3:31

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Regarding Tactics…

Watched a bit of the Robertson show tonight.  He spent quite a bit of time justifying his tactics of getting at his enemies (the preachers from other denominations) by ambushing with cameras, etc.  He justified this behavior by talking about the tactics employed by the children of Israel when they were spying out the land.   

This made me go “hmmm…”

Why?  Well, when we’ve discussed using musical instruments in worship on this blog, the hyperconservatives have come back repeatedly saying that there is no New Testament authority authorizing the use of musical instruments in worship, and that is why the “true church” would never use musical instruments.

My question – where is the New Testament authority for hyperconservative church of Christ people to use these tactics of ambushes, secret recording, etc?  Can anyone tell me a passage of New Testament scripture that has the apostles engaging in this sort of behavior?   

It seems that this is a pretty big double standard.  Further, it demonstrates how the hyperconservatives will violate their own principals if it helps them to justify themselves in their own minds.

Am I misreading this situation?  Anyone else care to comment?

Why Are You In A Church That’s Not In The Bible?

The title of this post is a question that hyperconservative churches of Christ (like the 3 TV hosts) love to ask.  The implication to their question is that they (the hypercons) are not just in a church that is in the Bible, but that they are in the only modern church that is in the Bible.  In other words, they are the only ones who are theologically correct (TC).  They are the only ones who are really Christians.  

Of all the arguments for tearing down the walls of denominationalism I’ve heard (and I’ve heard some good ones), this idea is to the Christian faith what New Coke was to soft drinks.

or the Yugo was to automaking.  

In other words, it’s a load of complete rubbish that deserves to become a distant memory in the minds of those who have heard of it.

Unity = Good

Understand that I am not arguing against unity.  Even a casual reading of the New Testament will yield to the reader that God desires for His children to be unified.  Here are just a couple of examples:

Jesus said, 

“I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me…May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:20, 21, 23). 

Paul said,

“We were all baptised by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink” (1 Corinthians 12:13)

Unity is a good thing.  But the proponents of the “where’s your church?” idea aren’t interested in unity.  They are interested in conformity – to their limited interpretations of Scripture.   

Conviction = Good

Understand, also, that I’m not arguing against having convictions.  I agree completely with the old expression that goes, “you have to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything”.  Or, as Scripture says, “But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.” (1 Corinthians 2:15)   

The problem I have is this idea that the name of your church is enough to condemn or save you.  “Why are you in a church that’s not in the Bible?”  The hyperconservative asks.  Well, why are they in a church that’s not in the Bible?

Churches That Are In The Bible

The churches in the Bible were located in the modern countries of Israel, Turkey, Italy, etc – in other words, in countries that are near and around the Mediterranean Sea.  Did the person who asked this question pack up his or her things and move to this region?  No?  Then guess what – they aren’t in a church that is found in the New Testament.

In fact, you won’t even find the exact phrase “church of Christ” in the Bible at all!  I’m still waiting for someone to answer the challenge to find “church of Christ” in the Bible.  If they find it, I’ve got $1000 that I will give them.

But That’s Not What We Mean…

“But we mean why are you in a church that doesn’t act like the church in the Bible,” they might respond.

First, if you mean that, then why don’t you say that?

Second, my hypercon friends, I hate to tell you this, but you are also not in a church that acts like the church in the Bible.  Let’s look at three basic ways in which you join the rest of us by not acting like the church we find in the New Testament:

1.  The infamous holy kiss.  

Hyperconservative churches of Christ don’t do this.  Check here for more explanation.

2.  Women and Head Coverings.

1 Corinthians 11:5-6 says:

“But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved.  For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered.”  

Hyperconservative churches of Christ don’t follow this.  At least not the ones in our area.

3.  Tongues and Prophecies.

Sorry, I couldn’t find a good picture.  We’ll just let Scripture speak for itself.

“Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues.” (1 Corinthians 14:39)

Hyperconservative churches of Christ forbid people from speaking in tongues.

So, gentlemen, I ask you… why are you in a church that is not in the Bible?

Wait!  Stop!  Let me give you the answer to that question.

The Answer 

It doesn’t matter whether or not you are in a denomination.  It doesn’t matter whether or not you can “find your church in the Bible”.  All followers of Christ are in Christ’s church and we are all called to be a part of something that transcends differences – that transcends denominations.  

The churches that existed in the first century, that Paul and the other NT writers were addressing, were all different.  They were dealing with different issues.  They lived in different cities with different cultures and values.  

Where did they find their unity?  In the words of the New Testament?  No, because they didn’t have the New Testament.  They had the words of the ones who taught them, the letters from various NT writers, what we call the Old Testament (if they were Jewish), and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  Their unity was in the Gospel of Christ.

“…[S]tanding firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.”  (Philippians 1:27)

This is at the heart of the New Testament – the Gospel of Christ.  What is the Gospel of Christ?  The hypercons would, by necessity, link baptism to the Gospel.  And while Baptism plays a part in the life of a Christian, baptism is not the Gospel (1 Cor 1:17).  

So, what is the Gospel? 

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.  For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”  Romans 5:8-10

Like the church of the first century, this is where we find unity.  We don’t conform to the teachings of a few hyperconservative church of Christ TV host/pastors, or Baptist pastors, or Lutheran pastors, or [fill in the blank] pastors… we conform to Jesus, and Jesus alone.  

And there – in that conformity and only in that conformity – will we be a part of the Lord’s church – a part of the worldwide churches of Christ as found in Scripture and through the last two thousand years.

No matter what the sign outside reads, or whether or not we are in a church that’s “not in the Bible”.

Spiritual Gifts

Do they exist today,

or were they only for a certain time and then ceased?

Discuss.

(This conversation was started on another place on this blog.  To get caught up, you can visit that place here.)

My “Aha!” Moment

I had an “Aha!” moment just now.

No, not that kind of “Aha!” moment.  You know, like a “Eureka!” moment.  Or an “Of Course!” moment.

Let me explain.  A few minutes ago, I was walking past a house on my street and heard some sort of “Hillsongy” P&W music coming from the window. I didn’t know the song, but it was one of those obviously Christian songs – and as notoriously bad Christian music can be, I don’t mean “obviously” as a critique. In fact, it made me nostalgic for a few years back when I listened to a lot of that sort of music, and it also reminded me of some pretty significant things that happened to me at that time, in my Christian walk.

Then, the “Aha!”, “Eureka!”, “Of course!” moment hit… one of the reasons why I (and probably so many other people) get so angry and sad about the message that the hyperconservatives are trying to get out, at least in my community in NC/VA.      

According to their message, the Jesus that died on the cross for me and for so many others was insufficient.  His death was insufficient.  His defeat of hell and the grave was insufficient.  The blood that he gave as an atoning sacrifice for our sins was insufficient.  

According to their message, the Jesus that walked with me and my family through personal tragedy (the death of my father and the burning of my church not long after) was false.  The comfort we felt from the Holy Spirit as we grieved was false comfort.  The unity that we experienced with our fellow church members was a farce.

According to their message, the Jesus that has inspired men and women through the centuries to give up everything they have to work with people who have nothing was anti-Christ.   Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Pete Fleming, Jim Elliot and Roger Youderian?  All Lost.  Lottie Moon?  Lost.  William Carey?  Lost.  The people talked about at the Voice of the Martyrs?  Lost.  All the faithful followers of Jesus through the ages who have believed differently than they do?  Lost.

Why?  How could this be?  It is because they all served an insufficient Jesus.

The Promised Land

And for what? What is this wonderful alternative that they have set up? This Newly Restored Promised Land to which they are attempting to lead us?  Certainly it will inspire a new generation of people who want to go to the four corners of the earth to share the Good News of God’s grace!   Well, let’s look and see.

“If you don’t take the Lord’s Supper each first day of the week you are lost!”

“If you play a guitar in a church service, you are lost!”

“If you aren’t baptized exactly the way I say you should be according to my interpretation of Scripture, you are lost!”

“If you don’t follow the rules I have set up from my “study” of Scripture, you are lost!”

“If you aren’t in a church that I approve of, you are lost!”

And, finally, said to the “unbeliever”:  “we are here to defeat destroy you and uplift truth”!

It Is For Freedom You Have Been Set Free

When I let myself think about the bondage that they are setting up for people through their deft mishandling of the Word of God, it makes me really, really, sad. It makes me sad for the people who will fall for their mishandling. It makes me sad for the people who halfway listen to them and, hearing them quoting Scripture, think that they are somehow authoritative. It makes me sad because it is an attempt to turn the Gospel into something that it is not – a prison, when Christ came to set the prisoner free (Luke 4:18); to give us freedom (John 8:32).

(image from here)

The Word as Blunt Weapon

“But they make people go back to the Bible!” some would say. Yes, that is true, but do they make people go back and sit at the feet of the Master to grow closer to Him, or do they make people go back so that they can also learn to prooftext the Word and fight with it like some sort of blunt weapon?

(Image from here.)

An Answering Voice

And I was suddenly glad that I had started this blog, so that there would be an answering voice out there.  JR likes to ridicule us, that we may only have five (or so) people commenting here each day, but my blog status report tells me that we have hundreds of people visiting and reading each day.

It’s my prayer that some of them might be people who are looking for a way out of the bondage of this way of thinking, and that somehow we might help them to see that Christ exists outside of their assembly, regardless of what they might hear from the pulpit on Sunday morning.

My Prayer

And to any of those folks who might have stopped in here today, I share Paul’s prayer from Ephesians 3:

“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” 

(image from here)

 

For those who didn’t grow up in a church named “church of Christ”…

If you are trying to understand where these folks are coming from, I would highly recommend spending some time on the ex-church of Christ website – especially in the “Church of Christ: Doctrine & Culture” board.  There are some insight into this culture for those of us who weren’t raised in it.  

It’s really interesting to me as a person who was raised in a different faith tradition, and you might find it to be so as well.  At the least, it is informative to understanding any hyperconservative churches of Christ that might be in your community.

The DVD That Wasn’t Seen

In case you were wondering what was on that DVD that Chris didn’t show on Sunday night, he has uploaded it to the internet and given us permission to embed it here for your viewing pleasure.

You can comment here, or directly to Chris over at his blog: The Knight Shift.