Lesson Eight: You Can Be Just A Christian
When in the better land
Before the bar we stand,
How deeply grieved our souls may be;
If any lost one there
Should cry in deep despair,
"You never mentioned Him to me."
O, let us spread the word
where-e'er it may be heard,
Help groping souls the light to see,
That yonder none may say,
"You showed me not the way,
You never mentioned Hime to me."
A few sweet words may guide
A lost one to His side,
Or turn sad eyes on Calvary;
So work as days go by,
That yonder none may cry,
"You never mentioned Him to me."
"You never mentioned Him to me,
You helped me not the light to see;
You met me day by day
And knew I was astray,
Yet never mentioned Him to me."
By James Rowe
You Can Be Just a Christian
Nearly two thousand years have passed since Jesus established His church in the city
of Jerusalem in A.D. 33, yet its beauty, simplicity, and purity still shine through the
centuries, undimmed and unchanged. During the last few lessons we have studied
several prominent characteristics of the church as revealed in the Bible. We learned
in lesson seven, for example, that a person can become a member of the church
Jesus built only by being added to it by the Lord Himself and that this takes place
only when we have obeyed the gospel requirements for pardon and have thus
received the remissions of sins (Acts 2:47), and that the Bible that we are
"… baptized into Christ…" (Galatians 3:27), and that true Bible baptism is a burial in
water for the remission of sins (Romans 6:3-5; Acts 2:38; I Peter 3:21). In lesson six
we learned that the church which Jesus built partook of the Lord's Supper each
Sunday and that instrumental music was conspicuously absent for their worship
(Acts 20:7; Ephesians 5:19; Revelations 22:18-19). We also read that Jesus only
promised to build one church and that in the first century all faithful Christians were
part of that one body (Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 1:22-23; 4:4-5). We also read
that Jesus only promised to build one church and that in the first century all
faithful Christians were part of that one body (Mt.16:18; Eph. 1:22-23; 4:4-5).
Why are there so many churches?
Perhaps you are wondering, in view of these Bible teachings, why there are
so many conflicting denominations today and by what authority they exist.
The purpose of this lesson then is not to be critical of the sincerity of good
intentions of anyone, but to find a Bible answer to these important questions.
As we have noticed before, it has always been a tendency of mankind to
attempt to "improve" upon God's divine plan and in so doing to depart from
God's way. In the book of Proverbs Solomon said, "There is a way which
seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death"
(Proverbs 14:12). This tendency was true in the days of King Saul
( I Samuel 15:1-24), in the time of Naaman (II Kings 5:1-14) and throughout
the ages. History shows that it is exactly what took place shortly after the days
of the apostles. At first there began a very gradual departure from the New Testament
pattern. Human changes were made in the organization of the church, then
in the parctice and worship of the church. These changes did not happen overnight,
and most of them were not done with malicious intent, but gradually they produced an
almost complete departure from the New Testament pattern. Like the little boy swapped
one of his red blocks of marbles, so the distinguishing characteristics of Christ's church
were gradually exchanged for the doctrines and commandments of men until within
a few centuries most of the religious world held very little similarity to the church
we read of in the Bible.
THE DEPARTURE FORETOLD
Jesus and the apostles knew that after the apostolic age such changes
would be attempted and thus strongly warned against being carried away by such
a departure. In Matthew 24:11-13 Jesus told his disciples, "And many false prophets
shall rise and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of
many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be
saved." The apostle Paul likewise told the Ephesian elders, "For I know this,
that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing
the flock. Also, of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse thing to
draw away disciples after them" (Ac. 20:29-30), see also Mt. 7:15). Again
we read, "Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall
depart from the faith ..." ( I Tim. 4:1). Peter described the coming departure in
these words, "But there were false prophets among the peopl, even as there
shall be false teachers among you who privily shall bring in damnable heresies
even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift
destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom
the way of truth shall be evil spoken of" (II Peter 2:1-2).
Throughout the New Testament we read prophecy after prophecy that
soon after the days of the apostles a great "falling away" or departure from
the faith would come. These prophecies did not declare that people would cease
to be religious nor that they would cease to claim to be following Christ, but simply
that they would depart from God's devine pattern and thus make worship vain.
Jesus said that such people would in fact, strongly claim to be following him and
to be doing great work in His name (MT. 7:22). It was not long after this, in
Mt. 15:9 that Jesus said that teaching for doctrines such commandments of men
makes our worship vain. Paul made the coming departure from the New Testament
pattern even clearer if possible, when he described the end of the world in these
words: "Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come,
except there come a falling away first..." (II Thess. 2:3).
PROPHECIES BEGIN TO BE FULFILLED
It was not long after the days of the apostles that these prophecies began to
be fulfilled. First one item, then another was altered to fit the thinking of the times.
These changes in the New Testament pattern were gradual, so much so that no one
generation became very concerned about them, but eventually they produced religious
organizations that were often as different from the New Testament church as night is
from day. Let us now turn to religious history and notice some of the more prominent
human changes and the approximate time of their origins.
Throughout the centuries the tendency continued to let man's thoughts about
religion take the place of God's divine plan. As though in anticipation of this the Bible
says, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the
Lord" (Is. 55:8-9)
As more and more opinions and human practices developed new groups began
to be formed, each like the New Testament church in some ways, yet each holding
special human practices and doctrines which make them different from the church of
the Bible and from each other. At the present in America alone there are over 250
different denominations, all similar on the surface, yet each holding different human
opinions and teaching human doctrines peculiar to their particular group. If these
differences had not existed such seperate groups would never have developed.
The present wide spread religious division then is not over what the Bible teaches,
but over human opinions and doctrines which have developed since the days
of the apostles (I Tim. 1:3; Mt. 15:9). The only real basis for Christian unity then,
lies in a complete return to the New Testament pattern (Mt. 28:20).
Prominent Human Changes
AND THE APPROXIMATE DATES OF THEIR ORIGINS
USE OF HOLY WATER--120 A.D. This was borrowed from the Jew's religion.
INFANT BAPTISM--First expressly mentioned and condemned in the third century
by Tertullian (See Ac. 8:36-39; Mt. 28:19).
FIRST HUMAN CREED-- Written in 325 A.D. at Nicea in Bythynia by
318 uninspired men and called the "Nicean Creed." It should be noted that
the "Apostle's Creed" was not written by the apostles and does not appear
in its present form earlier than 650 A.D.
LATIN MASS--Began in 394 A.D.
PURGATORY--The doctrine that one may suffer
punishment after death and then go on to heaven began in 593 A.D. ( See Luke 16:19-26)
INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC--First introduced into
Christian worship in about 666 A.D.
CELIBACY--Priest were not allowed to marry
after 1015 A.D. (See I Tim. 4:1-3).
ARICULAR CONFESSION to priests began in 1215 A.D.
SPRINKLE FOR BAPTISM was legalized by the Council of Ravenna
in 1311 A.D. The first known isolated case was of Novatian in about
251 A.D. Other such human changes include: the sale of Indulgences,
communion under one kind, pernance, the Lord's Supper monthly or quarterly,
Immaculate Conception, women preachers, praying to Mary,
the mourner's bench, etc. (See Deu. 4:2; Rev. 22:18-19).
A few years ago two preachers were talking about these and other
departures from the Bible which had troubled them. During the discussion they
read Jesus' statement in Mt. 16:18, "...upon this rock I will build MY CHURCH;
and the gates of hell shall not prevail against IT." They also read the similar
passage in Ac. 2:47, "And THE Lord added to THE CHURCH daily such as
should be saved." One of the men then asked, "Since the Bible only speaks of
Christ establishing one church and says that all the saved are added to it,
which one is it?" He then began to name several of the more prominent
denominations and to ask which of them it was. Although the other minister
was a member of one of the groups mentioned, he pointed out that it must
not be any of them since history shows, as most of them admit, that none
of these groups were established until hundreds of years after the Apostolic
age. He went on to say that all early disciples were just "Christians" and
not members of any human denomination.
The first preacher thoughtfully, pointed out that this must be true
since not a single Catholic or Protestant denomination is ever described
in the Bible as being in existence in the Apostolic age. He then asked,
"If it were possible for all these people in the Bible to be Christians and
members of the Lord's church without joining any Catholic or Protestant
denomination, why can't we still do the same thing today?" He reasoned
that since time is not limiting factor with God and since we have the same
gospel that early Christians had there is no reason why we cannot be
exactly what they were, no more and no less, without ever joining any
Is Such a Return Still Possible?
In the New Testament times such undenominational Christianity
was not only possible but was reality. The Bible teaches, for example,
that the apostles Paul was a faithful member of the Lord's churh hundreds
of years before a single modern denomination was ever in existence. Had someone asked him whether he was Catholic or Protestant he would not have known what they were talking about since neither existed until long after the apostle's death. But is it still really possible to be a member of this same church of which Paul was a member and which is described in the New Testament nearly 1600 years before any modern Protestant church was founded?
In order to answer this question let us again turn to the Bible. In Genesis 1:12 the Scriptures point out that all seed reproduce " after his kind." This principle stated another way simply means that when we plant wheat we reap wheat, not apples or corn; when we plant peach seed we get only peaches. Paul used this fact to illustrate a spiritual lesson when he said, " ...whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" (Ga. 6:7). This same principle applies to the "seed" of the kingdom which Jesus said is the Word of God (Lk. 8:1). When this same pure seed is planted in sincere hearts today without the creeds and doctrines of men beig added, these scriptures teach that it will produce exactly the same thing it did in the days of the apostles.
THE LORD'S CHURCH VERSUS HUMAN DENOMINATIONS
Although all human denominations have certain good qualities, the most charitable thing tht may be said about any of them is that they were not established at the right time, the right place, nor the right person to be the church we can read of in the New Testament. Ay religious body established at any place other than Jerusalem, at any time later than 33 A.D., or by anyone other than Jesus himself cannot possibly fit the description of the church spoken of in the Bible. All such organizations exist without Christ's authority and contrary to His prayer for unity (Jn. 17:20-21). The only safe course that may be taken therefore is to be a member of the church we can read of in the Bible without ever joining any Catholic or Protestant denomination.
You may be asking yourself, "Is this really still possible." The answer is a resounding YES! Not only is it possible, but multiplied thousands are already doing so. Throughout the world multitudes of men and women have returned to this simple New Testament pattern set down by the Lord for His church. In America alone there are more than 2,000,000 such New Testament Christians. They have not joined any human denomination, but upon obeying the gospel have trusted the Lord to add them to His church as was done in New Testament times (Ac.2:47). They have been "Buried with Him in baptism," "...For the remission of sins," just as the Bible commands (Col.2:12; Ac.2:38). Uponthe first day of each week they take the Lord's Supper just as was done in the church during the apostolic age (Ac.20:7). They have no human creed and wear no human name. In Romans 16:16 the Bible states, "the churches of Christ salute you." These disciples are therefore still known as members of the church of Christ. No human name can compare with this name and none other is needed by God's people.
In worship, doctrine and practice the church of Christ today is endeavoring to be identical to the pattern of the church described in the New Testament. It is therefore neither Catholic nor Protestant any more than was the church of Christ in the days of the apostles. The church of Christ today is composed of those who wish to conduct themselves in a way that is safe and sure. There is no firmer ground than a complete return to the New Testament system instituted by Christ, practiced by the apostles and specially approved in the scriptures. It is a way that is right and cannot be wrong.
You are invited to investigate the church of Christ for yourself. See first hand if it is really the restored church of the Bible. If you find anything being practiced or taught that can be shown to be foreign to the teachings of the New Testament we will gladly change. If it is only another human denomination you are asked to reject it, but if it is in truth the church described in the scriptures we encourage you also to take a way that is right and cannot be wrong by believing, repenting, confessing, being scripturally beptized and allowing Christ to add you to His church. May the Lord continue to bless you in the study of His divine Word.
Bible Correspondence Course By John M. Hurt
P.O. box 126,
Smyrna, TN 37167
You Can Be Just A Christian
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