Free In Christ

Finding Freedom in the Churches of Christ

Archive for April 2010

From The Archives: Sabbath, My Favorite Commandment

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[This post is from June 14,2009 and it is about how we need to incorporate rest into our daily lives.  This is one of my favorite posts.]

To start (and if you’ve read this blog at all you will know this), I don’t believe that we have to keep the Law of Moses as Christians today but there is one law that I have found myself in the habit of keeping:  Sabbath.

The only thing that I was taught growing up about Sabbath was that we didn’t keep it anymore but there is really so much more.  We really need to be teaching Christians about Sabbath, we need it.  In the crazy, run-around world that is American culture, we need to take a break and I have found myself doing this about once a week (usually Thursday though since I work on Saturday…i didn’t even write this post on my Sabbath).

We shouldn’t be forcing people to do it or guilting them into it (which is really two sides of the same coin) but we really should be encouraging it.  I know some people see Sunday as a kind of Christian Sabbath but it doesn’t really work as one (and its incorrect theology).  God didn’t design the Sabbath as a day of “worship” but as a day of rest.  I don’t do anything on this day besides things that I actually want to do.  I don’t do any shopping and I don’t go to the post-office. I don’t visit relatives or keep any meetings.  I don’t pay bills or do any housework.  I let the world stay as it is for one day and really this is the Spiritual lesson of Sabbath:  God can run the world just fine on His own.

Although I believe that God wants me to love Him and others as much as I possibly can (and that He has a plan/mission for my life), Sabbath reminds me that it isn’t my job to save the world.  I can’t fix everything.  I can’t control others (I have enough trouble controlling myself). I must let some things be.  I can take a deep breath and realize that the world is in God’s hands.  I should stop worrying and start trusting.  God’s plan will work out.  God’s way will win.

But my first rule of Sabbath: NO CHURCH!!!!  Trust me, its work.  God didn’t put “church” into the Sabbath; the Jews did. They decided that they should go to the Synagogue on the Sabbath but God never said so.  Going to church is such a laborous task for me that I couldn’t even try to convince myself (or God) that it wasn’t work.  Even in the best churches, mutual edification, bearing one another’s burdens, participating in the mission of God, are all hard work.  Actually, the best churches are the ones that do this hard work.

I just wanted to encourage you today to take a break and rest.  It is one of God’s gifts to us.  We should use it.

One of God’s greatest gifts has basically been ignored by a bunch of legalists so that they don’t look like they are keeping a law.  Silly, isn’t it.

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Written by freeinchrist

April 29, 2010 at 8:00 am

Free In Christ: Lawyers

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The next chapter of Cecil Hook’s “Free In Christ” furthers his coverage of the topic of legalism.  It is absolutely necessary that he does this because our traditional legal way of interpreting the Scriptures has led to most of the problems in the church of Christ.

Cecil sums up the traditional approach this way:

We in the Church of Christ have developed some strange concepts of Christ’s law. We seem to conceive of a system of law half revealed and half concealed in biography, historical accounts, treatises, personal letters, and prophecy. Clues to the laws are scattered through these writings to be discovered, pieced together, and interpreted by studious lawyers of the Word. We must not trust anyone else for this, we are cautioned, though his talents, training, and dedication may be much greater than ours. We must become lawyers ourselves. Lack of literacy or academic training is no excuse.  It is like a child’s puzzle — a maze. If you are astute enough, you can be among the spiritually elite who are able to work their way through the maze. But if you make a wrong turn, which most religious people presumably have done, then you will find yourself in the dead end of eternal punishment. That is the verdict, at least, the lawyers of the Word render as they put on their robes and sit in judgment of all others. The majority of the most learned, sincere, and devoted students of the Word are lost in the interpretive maze, while lots of us simple folk breeze right on through to eternal glory.
I couldn’t have said it better.  We seem to think that their is some kind of Christian Law hidden between the narrative of the New Testament that has to be picked out to be obeyed.  We have taken a story and tried to obey it instead of trying to learn from it.
Cecil then makes the excellent point that most Christians throughout history didn’t have a Bible to read anyway (and couldn’t have read it if they had one).  This means that they couldn’t be lawyers; they didn’t have the ability to pick all of the laws out of the story to obey them.  This is fine because their salvation was not contingent upon keeping laws and neither is ours.
Cecil then goes on to illustrate three errors that we have made in interpreting Scripture.
The Legal Approach (legalism), Inconsistency, Scholasticism (which I have called Backwards Theology).
Cecil’s example of the Legal Approach is to give this example of a disciple of Christ:
A disciple of Christ must be a man of faith and conviction. He must love his wife and
children and rear his children in the faith. He must provide for his family. He must pay
his debts. He must deal fairly with his employees. He must love his enemies. He must
read and study his Bible. He must assemble regularly and lay by in store each week. His
speech must be becoming of a disciple, etc.
This description may seem right but actually there is an error in every sentence.
A disciple of Christ does not have to be a man; it can be a girl. A wife and children are not necessary;
an unmarried person can be a disciple. He does not need a family to provide for to qualify. Neither must he or she have debts, nor pay debts if that person is destitute or disabled. Enemies are unnecessary to qualify. He or she need not be literate or scholarly, or attend services if bedfast, etc. Yet, each of these qualities was listed as a must.
When you read the 1st description you read it accurratly because you did not read it legally.  You understood it as a general description of a disciple; not a legal description.  Cecil (and I) encourage you to go and read Paul’s qualifications for an elder in 1 Timothy and Titus and see what might change if you read it like the first example instead of the second.
Inconsistency is when we don’t apply the same rules to similar cases.  The example that Cecil gives is that we ignore the fact that Paul wanted women to wear head coverings in 1 Corinthians 11 due to cultural differences but make women be silent according to 1 Corinthians 14 although culture has definetly changed in regards to this.
Scholasticism (or Backwards Theology) is reading our present day back into Scripture.  Cecil’s example has to do with treating Sunday as a holy day.  The churches of Christ have traditionally said Sunday was the only day you could take Communion (Acts 20:7) and give to the congregation (1 Corinthians 16:2).  Both of these are cases of Backwards Theology.  Luke never says that the meeting in Acts 20 was a regular meeting that ever happened more than at that one time and more importantly never says anything about Sunday being a special day for Christian meetings.  The Bible never says anything about this.  In 1 Corinthians 16, Paul is taking a special collection due to a Jewish famine and never even says that this practice is supposed to continue (he also does not give a reason why he chose the first day of the week).  The Bible never gives Sunday more than a passing mention and never makes it a holy day.

Written by freeinchrist

April 27, 2010 at 8:00 am

Why We Should Keep The Church Of Christ: Conclusion

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This is the end of my series on what I think we should keep from the church of Christ.  There are probably many other things that I didn’t mention, I just wanted to highlight some of our strengths while I highlighted weaknesses in the book series.  I hope you have enjoyed both of them (there are only a few posts left in the book series).

I hope the future congregations look to our older congregations for wisdom while making the transition into the future.

Written by freeinchrist

April 25, 2010 at 8:00 am

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From The Archives: Give What You Can Give

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[I thought that this post was a great reminder about the purpose of giving in Christianity.  This is from September 5, 2008]

Give in proportion to what you have. Whatever you give is acceptable if you give it eagerly. And give according to what you have, not what you don’t have. Of course, I don’t mean your giving should make life easy for others and hard for yourselves. I only mean that there should be some equality. (2 Cor 11b-13)

I came across this passage today and wanted to draw some attention to it.  The Bible is consistent that a person should give what they are able to give and not feel like they should give beyond what they are able.  Some churches teach that a person should give 10% of their income (tithing) but the Bible does not teach this.  God does not want you to go poor in order to help the poor and He doesn’t require the poor to help the poor.  He wants those who have to help those that don’t.  If you aren’t able to give, you shouldn’t feel bad about it.  If a preacher tries to guilt you into putting more in the collection plate, that preacher is wrong.  God wants you to give whatever you can cheerfully and responsibly give.  The part at the end where it says “there should be some equality” I think arrives at the point.  The rich should help the poor so that their is “some equality”.  If you are struggling to make ends meet (which I am right now) you should not be giving to other needy people.  You should be trying to increase your wealth so that you will not be needy anymore and can give to those who are.  Any preacher who tells you differently is probably after your money.

Written by freeinchrist

April 23, 2010 at 8:00 am

From The Archives: Local Church or Christian Synagogue?

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[This post is from May 8, 2009.  This was the post where I first started to see the connection between the current institutional assemblies and the Jewish synagogues of the Old Covenant.  This is also one of the first posts to generate comments.  Enjoy.]

Whether we want to admit it or not, what has been called “church” is really just a Christian version of the Jewish synagogue.

The Jews invented the synagogue during the intertestamental period in order to educate the common people in the Scriptures and to handle community business.  The synagogue was not God’s idea and He nowhere tells the Jews to do this.  When Jesus walked the earth, He made it a “custom” to attend these synagogues showing His approval of them as a method of teaching the Scriptures.  Notice that this was Jesus’ “custom” and He did not do this to fulfil the Law of Moses or for righteousness sake.  It was His choice.

This is also true of our local assemblies today (which rightly could be called Christian synagogues).  Christians came up with these assemblies to educate people in the faith and for fellowship (among other reasons).  These were not God’s idea and God never told us to do it.  It is perfectly fine for us to go to these Christian synagogues as a “custom” to learn more about the Scriptures and to have fellowship with other Christians.  We do not go, however, to fulfil any kind of Law or for righteousness sake.  It is our choice.

If many today knew this, they would never set foot in a “church building” and could live holy lives before God without going to “church” for the wrong reasons.  Many people go to “church” because they believe that God will be mad at them (maybe even send them to hell) if they don’t.  This isn’t true!!!!!!

We are justified by grace through faith in Christ Jesus and not by works.  Some have thought that this is primarily about the conversion process, but it really isn’t.  It is about how we relate to God in the New Covenant.  I am not saved by anything that I do, but by what Christ does.  I do not please God by what I do, but by what Christ did on my behalf and I will not be sent to hell for failing to go to “church” because God never told me to go to “church” and even if He did, I am not saved by my obedience, but by His grace.

That’s what is so “good” about the good news!!!!!

We are now free in Christ!!!!

Praise be to God!!!!!

Written by freeinchrist

April 21, 2010 at 8:00 am

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From The Archives: Can We Be Sure Of Our Doctrinal Positions?

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[This post is from March, 5, 2009.  I think it is a great reminder not to be too sure that we are correct about any issues in Christian theology.  Although we try to know as much as we can, we never know everything or know perfectly.]

“…it is a mark of imbecility of mind, rather than of strength; of folly, rather than of wisdom; for any one to dogmatize with an air of infallibility, or to assume the attitude of perfect intelligence on any one subject of human thought, without an intimate knowledge of the whole universe. But as such knowledge is not within the grasp of feeble mortal man, whose horizon is a point of creation, and whose days are but a moment of time, it is superlatively incongruous for any son of science, or of religion, to affirm that this or that issue is absolutely irrational, unjust, or unfitting the schemes of eternal Providence, or the purposes of the supreme wisdom and benevolence, only as he is guided by the oracles of infallible wisdom, or the inspirations of the Almighty. Who could pronounce upon the wisdom and utility of a single joint, without a knowledge of the limb to which it belongs; of that limb, without an understanding of the body to which it ministers; of that body, without a clear perception of the world in which it moves, and of the relations which it sustains; of that world, without some acquaintance with the solar system of which it is but a small part; of that particular solar system, without a general and even intimate knowledge of all the kindred systems; of all these kindred systems, without a thorough comprehension of the ultimate design of the whole creation; of that ultimate design, without a perfect intelligence of that incomprehensible Being by whom, and for whom all things were created and made? How gracefully, then, sits unassuming modesty on all the reasonings of man. The true philosopher and the true Christian, therefore, delight always to appear in the unaffected costume of humility, candor, and docility–”  Alexander Campbell “The Christian System”

If only the Church of Christ today would listen to the words of its earliest scholar.

To sum up this quote:  You have to know everything in the universe in order to know everything about Christianity (because Christianity is a system in the universe and can only be understood by what is higher than it) and only God knows everything in the universe so only He can know everything about Christianity.  This simple truth should lead us to humility when discussing (to use one of Campbell’s favorite terms) the oracles of God.

Does this mean that their is no truth?  Not at all!!!!  It just means that we shouldn’t be too sure that WE have the ability to deduce all truth since we are lower than God and lower than the system in which we seek our justification and sanctification.  Since we need things from the Christian System we must be lower than it and should be humble when trying to figure it out.

Written by freeinchrist

April 19, 2010 at 8:00 am

Salvation

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SalvationIn the churches of Christ, we have nearly always followed a set of steps called the “Plan of Salvation”. These are five things that we say a person has to do to be saved. We generally state these steps as hear, believe, repent, confess, and be baptized.

This system was developed by an early Restoration Movement leader named Walter Scott (his steps were believe, repent, confess, be baptized, receive the gift of the Spirit) as a simple method to use with new converts and we still use it today.

A number of questions have come up about the exact meaning of the Plan and whether it should even be used today.

1.Do the five things have to be done in the stated order or does it matter?

2.Do all of the things have to be done for a person to be saved or would you be saved with one or a combination of some?

3.Do the five things have to be done with a certain level of understanding by the convert to be effective?

4.Does the status of the evangelist contribute to the effectiveness of the Plan?

5.Should the Plan be used since it is not specifically mentioned in Scripture.

I hope to answer all of these questions in the new light of being led by the Spirit instead of the Bible and being led by love instead of Law.

ORDER

There has been much debate on whether the order of the Plan of Salvation makes any difference and I think we can answer this question. The Plan of Salvation represents the normal order that an adult convert was saved and accepted into the Church but isn’t necessarily the order that all conversions must take place.

That being said, most converts should come to Christ in this way because there is no reason a person could believe without hearing, repent without believing, truly confess without repenting, or be baptized without confessing. I would not baptize someone who didn’t confess to me that they believed in Jesus and I don’t think that any of you would either.

As far as the legalities go, there is no reason that the order might not be slightly different in some cases. If we were to use Walter Scott’s list, there is a specific Scriptural case in which the Holy Spirit fell on a group of converts before baptism as in the case of the house of Cornelius. This may have been a rare instance, but it proves that such a thing is possible. God can change things if He wants to but I do think that most conversions are of the normal type.

MUST ALL THE STEPS BE DONE TO BE SAVED?

The next question is about how many steps must be done for salvation. This question isn’t asked to excuse the absence of a step but is brought out by the Scriptures themselves. The five steps are never stated completely in any verse. Some verses say that belief alone saves, some say repentance alone, some baptism alone, and some the Holy Spirit alone. Some also combine faith and confession and some combine repentance and baptism. The five are never all stated together, combinations are said to save, and some of the things are said to save all by themselves. What should we make of this?

K.C. Moser answered this question in his book “The Way Of Salvation” but very few in the churches of Christ listened to him. He realized that hearing, believing, repenting, confessing and being baptized were actually all faith. Let me explain by breaking down the five steps to show their unity.

Hear – This one is obvious. How can you believe what you haven’t heard? We can say that a person must hear the Gospel to be saved because you can’t have faith without hearing.

Believe – Believe and faith are actually the same word in the Greek and have the same meaning in Scripture. Some people today use “believe” to refer to believing in the mere existence of God and use “faith” to refer to saving believe in Jesus for the remission of sins. This use isn’t what the authors of the Bible intended. Belief is faith and faith is belief.

Repent – A person cannot and will not truly repent without faith. It is also a misconception that “repent” means “to turn away from your sins”. It can have this meaning but in conversion it means to turn from faith in one thing to faith in another. The “repent” part of the Plan of Salvation is specifically about turning to Jesus in faith Really, faith and repentance are the same thing in this case. Repent (like in Acts 2:38) means to turn to faith in Jesus.

Confess – Many things can be confessed and we must be clear about what is being confessed in the Plan of Salvation. Some people think “confess” means that we confess our sins but this isn’t really true. It is fine and appropriate to confess your sins; but this isn’t part of the Plan of Salvation. In the Plan of Salvation we make “The Great Confession” that Jesus is the Son of God. The Plan of Salvation doesn’t include the confession of sin but the confession of faith. In this way the confession is actually faith in that the confessor is saved by the faith that they are confessing.

Baptism – This is where the idea gets a little harder to understand. How can baptism be faith? Well, it really isn’t (this is where I deviate from Moser). Baptism is a gift that God gives us to symbolically experience our salvation. This is how we experience the forgiveness of sins. But here’s the thing; we don’t do baptism, it is done to us. This is also true of the indwelling of the Spirit and is the reason that it doesn’t really belong on the list (although the reason it was taken from the list is quite different).

Baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit are gifts that God gives us and not things that we do in order to get salvation but things that are done to us. The other 4 steps are really just different ways and parts of talking about being justified by faith. They are really the same thing.

A person would be saved with a combination of the things because they are really all the same thing: faith. A person should not use this fact to neglect any of the steps. If anything, this fact should make us want to to the steps and especially to receive the gifts of God. To reject a gift of God is utter foolishness and I can think of no good reason that anyone would reject it.

LEVEL OF UNDERSTANDING

The churches of Christ have struggled with exactly how much understanding a person must have for the steps and gifts to be effective. This is true of baptism especially. How much understanding does a person need in order to be saved?

I think that we would all admit that there is some understanding that needs to take place in salvation. What if someone were to hear the Gospel so incorrectly that it wasn’t even the Gospel at all? Many religions have theories and stories about Jesus but we don’t consider them to be the Gospel, do we?

Yes, there is a point in which the Gospel someone hears would be so inaccurate that they would have to be retaught in order to be considered a Christian but I think that we all have enough sense to know whether this is true. If a person cannot explain the Gospel to you and at very least tell you that Jesus died for their sins and was raised; it is highly unlikely that this person is a Christian.

When it comes to repentance and confession we must remember that the person turned and confessed faith in Jesus Christ and this must still be true in order for this person to be a Christian. Struggling with sin does not stop a person from being a Christian. Actually it is probably a sure fire sign that the person is a Christian. A non-Christian will not struggle with sin because they will not care about it. They won’t be trying to change. A true Christian will have a sin problem that they are trying to change (but there initial confession was only faith in Jesus).

Baptism has been the tough one for us. With such a technical view of correct baptism we have often wondered whether much of the religious world (who we consider to be practicing baptism incorrectly) is actually saved.

If we remember what we discussed about baptism being a gift, we will be able to answer this question in a completely new way. The baptism of a person might be performed in a way that totally misses the point of it and that person would still be saved. Why? Because we are saved by faith and baptism is a gift from God that helps us to experience it.

It is hardly a new converts fault that they are improperly baptized. Isn’t it the evangelist’s responsibility to know how to properly baptize someone? How could the new convert know the meaning of Greek words, Church history, and Scripture well enough to know that their baptism is being improperly administered? Nowhere in Scripture does it say that a person who is improperly baptized has to go back and repeat the process again. When Paul met some people that had been baptized improperly (not knowing about the Holy Spirit), he took the responsibility on himself for rebaptizing them. He did not condemn them for being baptized incorrectly.

We need to stop condemning other Christians for being improperly baptized and start believing that they are accepted based on God’s grace through faith just like we were accepted. We should try to share the gift of proper baptism with any that are willing to accept it but should never question someone’s salvation based on the absence of a gift that they had no control over. An improperly educated evangelist is not going to send you to hell. It is your faith that matters in the end.

EVANGELISTS

I hinted at this during the last section but wanted to specifically answer the question about the evangelist’s Spiritual status and the effectiveness of the baptism he administers.

Since we have already said that baptism is a gift of God it should be apparent that the gift in no way is tainted by the human that administers it. There is no need for any type of ordination in order to administer a baptism. I could baptize you and you could baptize me (although I’ve already been baptized so I wouldn’t ask you to). My Spiritual status would not change the outcome of your baptism. You would still get to experience what God wanted you to experience in the act regardless of what my relationship with Him was like. The Scriptures say nothing of what the evangelist must believe in order to administer valid baptism.

This means that baptisms that are administered at non-church of Christ churches are just as valid as those performed in the church of Christ.

SHOULD THE PLAN BE USED?

I don’t think there is really any harm in using the five step exercise if we realize the following:

1.The steps are all faith and thus we do not deny the idea of justification by grace through faith.

2.We have faith in the historic Christian Gospel of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the remission of our sins.

3.We turn toward Jesus and confess our faith in Him.

4.Baptism is a gift that God gives us to experience our salvation and not a work that we do to earn it.

5.Christians who disagree with us about baptism are saved in the same way that we are: by grace through faith.