A STUDY ON MUSIC IN THE CHURCH: WHY I NO LONGER BIND

Yesterday, 1/27/2016, while building this blog, I visited “One in Jesus” Jay Guin’s site to help me gather a list for my Blogroll. As I was reading through the names, one jumped out at me. The name: ‘Kevin Pendergrass’. My first thought was: this must be a different Kevin.  Last I recall he was totally opposed to the progressive church of Christ.  In fact, he had been in my area on Johnny’s Robertson’s show.  Just a few months back I even watched his 2012 debate “against” music in worship.  I quickly jumped to Kevin’s site to see if it was the same Kevin and to my surprise it was.  I encourage others to visit his site. Below is an article from Kevin, on music. Enjoy.

Music Staff CurlyNot too long ago, I posted a study explaining why I no longer believe that Christians should bind a frequency when it comes to taking the Lord’s Supper. This study can be viewed by clicking here. Similar to my change on that topic, I no longer believe that Christians should bind vocal music in worship as being the only kind of music acceptable to God in worship. In 2012, I had a public debate on the subject of music in Christian worship. In the debate, I affirmed that vocal music was the only type of music authorized in New Testament worship. I have since changed my position. I believe that it is only fair for me to explain why I changed my position. I have changed because of my study in the Word of God and I am thankful to be able to share those studies with you.

OBJECTIVE STUDY AND THE PROBLEM WITH RHETORIC

mistakes in how we think - confirmation bias, thinking mistakesIn order to enter this study, I ask that you leave rhetoric and proxy thinking at the door. Rhetoric is language designed to have a persuasive or impressive effect on its audience, but often regarded as lacking in meaningful content. For example, I have heard preachers say comments like, “every argument that has ever been presented in favor of instrumental music in worship has already been defeated and nothing new has been brought to the table for 150 years.” That may sound really impressive, but what does it prove? Sadly, I have used statements similar. I even used one similar in my own debate. And, lo and behold, I later realized that I had missed some things along the way! The problem with rhetoric is that either side can use it…and at the end of the day, it proves nothing. For example, someone else could just as easily say, “every argument that has ever been presented against instrumental music in worship has already been defeated and nothing new has been brought to the table for 150 years.” This type of reasoning does nothing to advance the cause of truth. Therefore, please be careful of this style of argumentation because it proves nothing.

I have read dozens of books, articles and debates on the topic of instruments in worship. I even had a debate on this topic myself when I opposed instruments. Some were actually converted to the belief of “vocal music only” because of my debate! However, I have now changed my view because of my own study on this topic. I realized I didn’t know as much as I thought I did and I was very biased in my previous way of studying. Please do not allow anyone to do your thinking, including myself (Phil. 2:12). I do not want you to accept what I am saying just because I am saying it. I also do not want you to reject what I am saying just because I am saying it. I ask that you please do your own thinking. The idea of “proxy thinking” is when you allow someone to do your thinking for you. The Church of Christ is often times accused of this and sadly, I have been guilty of this as well. However, I realized that if I was going to study objectively, I must allow the Bible to dictate truth…no matter where it leads. I ask that you do the same.

A PLEA FOR UNITY

One central point that I emphasize in my study on the frequency of the Lord’s Supper is that I do not believe it should be made an issue of fellowship either way. In other words (regardless if you agree with my conclusion or not), this shouldn’t affect our fellowship with one another (Rom. 14:10-13). I believe that we can disagree on this issue without causing division or strife. Vocal music is biblical and one can go to heaven without ever using an instrument. I also believe that one can go to heaven if they do use a mechanical instrument in worship as I will demonstrate in this study. While striving to be sensitive to the conscience of other Christians, we must also strive to remain honest to the text. We cannot allow emotions or the traditions of men to reign supreme. At the end of the day, the Bible must be our standard in ascertaining truth (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:3).

INCONSISTENCIES REGARDING WORSHIP MUSIC

There are some in the Churches of Christ who have no problem using instruments in worship songs as long as they are not used in “corporate worship.” Some will condemn their neighbor on Sunday morning for using mechanical instruments in worship, yet they themselves have no problem listening to worship songs with instruments on Sunday afternoon. There are some brethren who condemn worship choirs only to turn around and have a choir sing worship songs at a funeral or have a Church of Christ college choir sing at their church. I think that this belief stems from a lack of proper understanding of the context of Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16. These passages are by no means limited to the assembly or even in direct reference to the assembly (although I do believe they can have application to the assembly). God did not give different regulations and restrictions for worship songs when sung inside the assembly versus outside the assembly (see: Acts 16:25; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16; 1 Cor. 14:15; Ja. 5:13; etc.). I say all of that to say that perhaps we have been blinded by our own plank (Mt. 7:1-5; Rom. 2:1-5).

While I believe that pointing out the inconsistencies above is important, I want to make it clear that I am not making this an argument to justify instruments in New Testament worship. This study is not about how inconsistent the Churches of Christ are and have been on the issue of music in worship. The attention and focus in this study will be on one crucial question, “Does the Bible sanction the use of mechanical instruments in New Testament worship?”

WHAT LAW IS BEING VIOLATED?

In order to know if God sanctions a practice, we need to first see if there is a law against it. Paul writes in Romans 4:15, “Where there is no law, there is no sin.” Paul is stating a universal principle. 1 John 3:4 specifically teaches that sin is violation of the law. Sin was brought into this world through a violation of law (Gen. 3:1-7). imageThe Bible repeatedly teaches that there has to be a law violated in order for sin to occur. Since the Bible teaches that authority or approval for a practice is intrinsically granted in the absence of a law, those who believe that it is a sin to use instruments in worship are obligated to provide the New Testament law that they feel is being violated.

Since Jesus has all authority (Mt. 28:18), this means that neither I nor you have the authority to make laws that God never made. We need to be careful that we do not bind our own beliefs and make laws where God “gave no such commandment” (Acts 15:24). If mechanical instruments in worship are sinful, it is because either God directly gave a law against their use or because God gave a specific law which would exclude their use. I will explain why I believe there is no law (thus no sin) regarding the use of instruments in New Testament worship.

REGULATION OF INSTRUMENTS IN THE OLD TESTAMENT

John Price wrote a book entitled, Old Light on New Worship. Price argues that God has always regulated the type of music He wants in worship. Price writes about music in the Tabernacle and the Temple. His basic conclusion is that God did regulate instruments under the Old Testament to be used in worship and that only the Levites were authorized to play instruments. He reasons that if God wanted instruments in New Testament worship, then He would have said so, just as He did in the Old Testament.

While it is certainly not in the scope of this short study to address everything Price wrote, I do believe his fundamental conclusion has no basis. First, Christians live under and are amenable to the New Covenant (Heb. 7-10; Eph. 2:14-18; etc.). File:Gerard van Honthorst - King David Playing the Harp - Google Art Project.jpgRegardless if instruments were condoned, commanded or condemned in the Old Testament, I must turn to the New Testament to find my instruction as a Christian. The Old Testament is not our authority, the New Testament is. Second, David is recorded all throughout the Psalms as praising and worshipping God with an instrument multiple times. David was not a Levite. He was from Judah (2 Sam. 2:4). To argue that only Levites worshipped God with instruments is inaccurate. Third, the example of Miriam shows us that instruments were an acceptable way to praise God before Tabernacle or Temple worship (Ex. 15:20). Instrumental praise pre-dated the Law of Moses and was acceptable to the Lord. Miriam was not in sin for worshiping with instruments because God had given Miriam no law on the matter.

I do however agree with Price that God accepted instruments of worship in the Old Testament. Before the Law of Moses, instrumental praise was used and accepted by God. During the Law of Moses, instrumental praise was used and accepted by God. But as I stated before, we are concerned (or at least should be concerned) with what our instructions are as Christians. Did God ever give regulations and restrictions to singing and instruments in the New Testament? Or, similar to the example of Miriam, has He given no law?

GOD HAS GIVEN NO DIRECT LAW AGAINST THE USE OF INSTRUMENTS IN NEW TESTAMENT WORSHIP

One can read their New Testament as many times as they would like and they will never find any type of proclamation against instruments in worship. In fact, there is not even a hint of any kind of negative connotation to instruments in worship. John’s vision symbolically presents instrumental worship to God in a positive light (Rev. 5:8; 14:2; 15:2). Realizing that this is symbolic, I do not want to overstate the point. However, I do find it interesting that the times that instrumental praise is seen in the New Testament, it is only spoken of positively and never negatively.

It is agreed upon by all Bible students that God never gave a direct law against the use of instruments in New Testament worship. Even the most conservative members of the Churches of Christ will concede this point. However, God does not have to directly condemn something in order for there to be a law against it. Certainly that is one way to show that a practice is wrong, but there is also another way. When God is specific about what He wants, He doesn’t have to give an exhaustive list of what He doesn’t want. Sometimes this is called the law of specificity or the law of exclusion.

To demonstrate this point, I always used an example that I called the, “Subway example.” If I went to Subway for lunch and ordered a sandwich and specified the kind of meat, cheese and vegetables I wanted, I wouldn’t have to tell the worker every kind of meat, cheese and vegetable that I didn’t want. How to Eat Subway Everyday | Feed Your SkullWe would call this common sense. It would be foolish to expect God to state explicitly everything He didn’t want. The Bible would be an endless book if God operated this way. When God specifies what we need to do, we need to do it without adding to or taking away. I have always agreed with this principle and still agree with it. So, why have I changed my mind about binding vocal music? As I will demonstrate below, I have changed because I do not believe that God ever specified vocal music to the exclusion of instrumental music as I once did.

SING VS. SING ONLY

How many sermons have you heard that teach we are saved by faith, but not faith only? This makes a very valid point. Faith doesn’t mean faith only. But, have we added to the word of God by teaching that “sing” means “sing only?” There is no language where the word “sing” intrinsically means “sing only” to the exclusion of instruments. If the word “sing” automatically excludes instruments, then why must it always be qualified with the word “only?” The reason is because “sing” doesn’t intrinsically exclude instruments. There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that the Greek words used for sing in the New Testament (“psallo,” “ado” and “humneo”) ever excluded instruments. None of the words used in the New Testament for “sing” ever meant “sing only” or “sing to the exclusion of instruments.” These are not specific words that exclude instruments. Those believing that these words exclude instruments would be obligated to provide the evidence.

In fact, the Greek word “psallo” used in the New Testament is a word that permits instruments. There are five occurrences of the Greek word “psallo” in the New Testament (Eph, 5:19; 1 Cor. 14:15 twice; Ja. 5:13; Rom. 15:9). Authorized UserIn the Greek Old Testament, the word “psallo” is a word which can include instruments (1 Sam. 16:16; 1 Sam. 16:17; 1 Sam. 16:18; 1 Sam. 16:23; 1 Sam. 18:10; 1 Sam. 19:9; 2 Kings 3:15; Psa. 33:3; etc.). It is important to note that while the word “psallo” can include instruments, it doesn’t necessitate them. This can be seen by the way it is translated in the Greek Old Testament (Judges 5:3; 1 Sam. 16:16; 1 Sam. 16:17; 1 Sam. 16:18; 1 Sam. 16:23; 1 Sam. 18:10; 1 Sam. 19:9; 2 Sam. 22:50; 2 Kings 3:15; Psa. 7:17; Psa. 9:2; Psa. 9:11; Psa. 18:49; Psa. 21:13; Psa. 27:6; Psa. 30:4; Psa. 30:12; Psa. 33:2; Psa. 33:3; Psa. 47:6; Psa. 47:6; Psa. 47:7; Psa. 57:7; Psa. 57:9; Psa. 59:17; Psa. 61:8; Psa. 66:2; Psa. 66:4; Psa. 68:25; Psa. 68:32; Psa. 69:12; Psa. 71:22; Psa. 71:23; Psa. 75:9; Psa. 92:1; Psa. 98:4; Psa. 98:5; Psa. 104:33; Psa. 105:2; Psa. 108:1; Psa. 108:3; Psa. 135:3; Psa. 138:1; Psa. 144:9; Psa. 146:2; Psa. 147:7; Psa. 149:3).

I studied every occurrence of the word “psallo” in the Greek Old Testament and above you will find an exhaustive list of every time the word “psallo” occurs. It is important to note that the word “psallo” itself never excluded instruments. Furthermore, examples of those living close to the time of Jesus such as Josephus and other Hellenistic Jews can be cited to show that they used the word “psallo” in such a way as to be able to include instruments (Corbitt, Danny. Missing More Than Music, p. 28).

If Paul wanted to exclude and forbid instruments from worship, why would He have used a word that was inclusive to instruments? Neither the Greeks nor the Hellenistic Jews would have understood the word “psallo” to exclude instruments. The Greek word “psallo” didn’t exclude instruments in the Greek Old Testament and the Greek word “psallo” didn’t exclude instruments in the first century. Therefore, there is absolutely no basis for anyone to objectively argue that the word “psallo” (which never excluded instruments) somehow excludes instruments the five times it is used in the New Testament. God certainly knows how to make something clear when He is being specific and exclusive. Since none of the words used for “sing” in the New Testament means “sing only,” God could have still excluded instruments with these words by adding the word “only” to “sing” if He wanted to. The word translated “only” is used some 47 times in the New Testament (http://biblehub.com/greek/3441.htm). If God wanted to make “sing” mean “sing only,” He certainly could have. Yet, He never did.

The Bible, or Traditions of men? © Edler von Rabenstein | dollarphotoclub.comInterestingly enough, this poses an important question. Who is actually adding to the Word of God? Is it those who believe instruments are authorized or is it those who believe that we are only authorized to “sing only?” If God never gave a law condemning instruments in worship and if God never excluded their use in the New Testament, then, who has “gone beyond that which is written, teaching as doctrine the commandments of men” (1 Cor. 4:6; Mk. 7:7-9)?

DOES THIS MEAN THAT ALL CHRISTIANS MUST PLAY A MECHANICAL INSTRUMENT?

Since Christians are supposed to “psallo” and the word “psallo” never excluded instruments, does that mean that Christians are commanded to play a mechanical instrument? I used to use this argument when I believed that instruments were unauthorized in worship. In other words, I used to argue that if the word “psallo” didn’t exclude instruments, then that means that all Christians have to use instruments. However, this argument assumes that the word “psallo” is a word that demands a mechanical instrument and that is just not the case as can be seen by multiple passages (Psa. 7:17; Psa. 9:2; Psa. 9:11; Psa. 47:6; Psa. 47:6; Psa. 47:6; Psa. 47:6; Psa. 47:7; Psa. 57:7; Psa. 57:9; Psa. 59:17; Psa. 61:8; Psa. 66:2; Psa. 66:4; Psa. 66:4; Psa. 68:4; etc.). According to the Bible, you can “psallo” acceptably with or without a mechanical instrument. If God would have commanded Christians to play, we would expect to see words that necessitate playing (such as “kitharizo,” “auleo” or “kreko”). However, that is not what we find. Instead, we find that the word “psallo” is a word that authorizes instruments but doesn’t necessitate them.

Furthermore, the Greek word combination that Paul uses in Ephesians 5:19 is “ado” and “psallo.” These two words are paired together multiple times in the Greek Old Testament and they never exclude instruments nor do they necessitate instruments. The paring of “ado” and “psallo” can be praise without an instrument (Judges 5:3; Psa. 27:6; Psa. 68:4; etc.) or it can be praise with an instrument (Psa. 33:2-3; etc.). Therefore, one could acceptably “ado” and “psallo” to God with or without a mechanical instrument.

WHAT ABOUT MUSIC IN YOUR HEART?

In Ephesians 5:19, the Bible says that Christians are to sing and make melody in their heart (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). Some argue that if the melody is to be made in the heart, then that would somehow exclude melody being made on a piano, a guitar or any other instrument. Some claim that the instrument that we are to pluck is the instrument of our heart strings, thus, excluding any mechanical instruments. This alleged argument holds no weight and should be dismissed for the following reasons.

The phrase “in your heart” in Ephesians 5:19 is an adverbial prepositional phrase which describes the manner of the action, not the method (Gen. 17:17; Josh. 14:7; Psa. 15:2; Prov. 3:5; Psa. 119:2; Lk. 2:19; Mt. 5:28; etc.). “Things done from the heart i.e. cordially or sincerely, truly” (Thayer, Joseph. Greek-English Lexicon, p. 325). Paul is teaching Christians that they need to worship and praise God sincerely. What makes any action “dead” or “in vain” (whether it be an instrument or vocal music) is the heart from which it proceeds (Mk. 7:7-9). “Whether with instrument or with voice or with both it is all for naught if the adoration is not in the heart” (Robertson, A.T. Word Pictures in the New Testament, vol. 4, p. 405). The idea is that the praise needs to come from the heart in order to be acceptable (Mk. 12:30; Mt. 22:37-38).

The heart was an essential component with singing under the Old Law (Psa. 9:1; 57:7), which obviously didn’t exclude mechanical instruments (Psa. 57:7; Psa. 138:1; etc.). If they could use an instrument while singing in their heart, then that means that singing in your heart doesn’t exclude an instrument. Singing in the heart has never excluded mechanical instruments. The Bible teaches that it is possible to sing in your heart with the accompaniment of a mechanical instrument. Singing “in your heart” does not nor has it ever excluded a mechanical instrument.

andIt needs to also be noted that Ephesians 5:19 says that both the singing and the melody are to be done in the heart (see also: Colossians 3:16). If the phrase “in your heart” means inward and silent, then one is forced to conclude that the singing must also be inward and silent since it is to be done “in the heart.”  Whatever “in the heart” means with one action in Ephesians 5:19, it must also mean with the other. Therefore, if this reasoning were to be taken to its logical conclusion, it would exclude vocal praise since the singing is to be done “in the heart.” Therefore, according to this type of reasoning, the only authorized kind of singing would be “mental singing.”

Furthermore, I believe we have to be careful to make sure we are consistent with any argument that we claim is an argument of “exclusion.” For example, James 5:13 says, “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.” Is this a law of exclusion? Is God being specific? Does this mean that if I am suffering, I can’t pray and go to the doctor? Does this mean that I can only sing a psalm when I am cheerful? What if I am not cheerful? What if I am sad? Am I authorized to sing a psalm then? These questions could be endless. We need to be careful that we do not overstate a point when speaking about “statements of exclusion.”

 THE HISTORICAL ARGUMENT: MISREPRESENTING HISTORY

Church Fathers

In my years of growing up in the Churches of Christ, it has been proclaimed that the early church didn’t use mechanical instruments because they were unauthorized. Claims have been made that instruments were not brought into Christian worship until the 5th or 6th century. This is a heavy, heavy claim that is absolutely false. Now, before we start, let me remind you that early church history is not our authority. But since it has been one of the leading arguments among members of the Churches of Christ as to the rejection of instruments in worship, I want to address the fact that many Churches of Christ have (unintentionally) misrepresented early church history on this matter.

I want to begin with one of the most famous quotes that some Churches of Christ have used. It is allegedly claimed by some that the following quote comes from Justin Martyr:

The use of [instrumental] music was not received in the Christian churches, as it was among the Jews, in their infant state, but only the use of plain song. . . . Simply singing is not agreeable to children [the aforementioned Jews], but singing with lifeless instruments and with dancing and clapping is. On this account the use of this kind of instruments and of others agreeable to children is removed from the songs of the churches, and there is left remaining simply singing” (Justin Martyr? c.a. 139).

Justin Martyr.jpgYou will notice that there is no reference for this quote. The reason for this is because this quote is found nowhere in Justin’s writings. It has been long accepted by scholars and textual critics that this was not a quote from Justin Martyr. This was a “pseudo-Justinian” quote that came hundreds of years after Justin (McKinnon, James. Music in Early Christian Literature, p. 107; Ferguson, Everett. The Instrumental Music Issue, p. 95).

So, if this quote was not from Justin, then what did Justin Martyr have to say about music in Christian worship?

As the Spirit urges those from all the earth who recognize this salutary mystery – i.e., the sufferings of Christ, through which he saved them – to sing (adontes) and play the harp (psallontes) continually” (Justin Martyr, c.a. 139. Dialogue with Trypho, a Jew, 74. translated – Dr. Walter L. Straub: Wilbur Fields, The Glorious Church A Study of Ephesians, College Press: 1960, p. 211).

Other writings of Justin Martyr show that he understood that the Greek word “psallo” did not exclude playing because the phrase “David sung (εψαλλεν) them” in his Dialogue is the identical Greek phrase from the Septuagint in 1 Samuel 16:23 and 19:9 where David played an instrument before the Lord. (Dialogue with Trypho, a Jew, 29; 1 Samuel 16:23; 19:9). Therefore, Justin Martyr (c.a. 139) didn’t condemn instruments in worship, he spoke positively about them!

Now let us move on to Clement of Alexandria (c.a. 190). He was also an early church writer. What did he have to say about instruments in the church?

ClemensVonAlexandrien.jpgFor the apostle adds again, ‘Teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your heart to God.’ And again, ‘Whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and His Father.’ This is our thankful revelry. And even if you wish to sing and play to the harp or lyre, there is no blame.” (Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 2, p. 249)

Clearly Clement saw no problem with using instruments in worship to God. Another individual used in the Churches of Christ whose information is often misapplied is Tertullian (c.a. 200). Tertullian writes:

That immodesty of gesture and attire which so specially and peculiarly characterizes the stage are consecrated to them—the one deity wanton by her sex, the other by his drapery ; while its services of voice, and song, and lute, and pipe, belong to Apollos, and Muses, and Minervas, and Mercuries. You will hate, O Christian, the things whose authors must be the objects of your utter detestation” (Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 3, p. 84).

Tertullian 2.jpgThis quote is sometimes used to allegedly prove that Tertullian was against instruments in worship. However, this is not the context of Tertullian’s statement. Tertullian is not speaking about worship to God; he is talking about the theatre or the “Show.” He was speaking against going to shows that he believed were ungodly. Also, the lute and pipe was not the only thing that Tertullian mentioned. He also mentioned the voice and song. This quote has nothing do to with worship, much less instruments being sinful in worship. In fact, we have writings of Tertullian where he associates and includes instruments in “psalms and hymns” (Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 3, p. 468). Tertullian never condemned the use of instrumental music. He only condemned the abuse of such of those “who drank wine with drums and psalteries.” Tertullian believed that instruments could be included with singing to the Lord.

Ephraim SyrusEphraim Syrus (c.a. 306-373) said, “Let us praise that Voice whose glory is hymned with our lute, and His virtue with our harp. The Gentiles have assembled and have come to hear His strains” (Post Nicene Fathers, vol. 13, p. 227).

Jerome speaks of a “sister” who praises God with instruments (c.a. 347- 420):

Oh! that you could see your sister and that it might be yours to hear the eloquence of her holy lips and to behold the mighty spirit which animates her diminutive frame. You might hear the whole contents of the old and new testaments come bubbling up out of her heart. Fasting is her sport, and prayer she makes her pastime. Like Miriam after the drowning Pharaoh she takes up her timbrel and sings to the virgin choir, ‘Let us sing to the Lord for He hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.’ She teaches her companions to be music girls but music girls for Christ, to be luteplayers but luteplayers for the Saviour” (Schaff & Wace, Nicene & Post Nicene Fathers, 1893, vol. 6, p. 107).

To my knowledge, there is absolutely no evidence of anyone, from the time of the early church through the first few centuries, that actually condemned instruments in worship. But, what about all of the quotes your preacher has used to show how the early church opposed mechanical instruments? Well, as we have noted, some of those “quotes” are not accurate or accurately applied (see also: http://theweatherlyreport.blogspot.com/2012_05_01_archive.html) . Even early quotes that are sometimes used to discourage instruments in worship do not prove that the early church condemned them. Furthermore, the quotes of writers who do actually condemn instruments in worship are much later quotes and do not begin until almost the 5th century and they also condemn even David’s use of instruments (Corbitt, Danny. Missing More than Music, p. 26).

We can move forward together in unityUnfortunately, I was never given this information in the congregations I attended, the Bible classes I went to or the preaching school I graduated from. On the contrary, I was led to believe the exact opposite! Biased study seldom produces unbiased conclusions. That is why it is so important to be honest with the evidence. Please do not misunderstand me. I certainly believe that vocal singing (chanting to be exact) was the music of the time culturally of the early church, even though early Christians never condemned instruments in worship (and based upon the writings, some actually used and encouraged them). The reason for vocal chanting wasn’t an authority issue, but a cultural one. Danny Corbitt in his book Missing More Than Music explains this in-depth, citing multiple historical and cultural reasons and explanations for the churches music choice, and it has nothing to do with authority or sin (pp. 24-41).

A FEW THOUGHTS ON “COMMAND, EXAMPLE AND NECESSARY INFERENCE”

If you are a member of the Churches of Christ then you have probably heard the phrase, “command, example and necessary inference” or something very similar to it. Let me be the first to admit that I believed this for many years and even taught others to believe it. However, there are blatant and obvious problems with this idea. The problem is that this position assumes itself. In logic and debate, this is called begging the question. Begging the question is a logical fallacy that is committed when a proposition, which requires proof, is assumed without proof. I don’t believe that I should assume a fixed way on how to read and study the Bible before I even read and study it. I should conform my thinking to the Bible, not the Bible to my thinking. I should allow the context to dictate the meaning of the text.

The Bible never states that the exclusive way to study the Bible is by command, example and necessary inference. This method presupposes itself. Consider this for a moment: There is no command, example or necessary inference in the Bible for this method of studying the Bible; therefore, by its own admission, this method would be “unauthorized.” Some Churches of Christ are guilty of creating a doctrine outside of the Bible that they claim must be accepted in order to understand what is inside the Bible.

Furthermore, this method quickly becomes a subjective way to study the Bible. For example, which examples do we bind? Which examples must we follow and which examples may we follow? And, what is the objective way to gauge the difference? I have already covered this fallacy in my study on the frequency of the Lord’s Supper. Also, when it comes to “necessary inferences,” I must honestly ask the question, “Necessary to whom or what?” Once again, this becomes subjective, proving that this way of studying the Bible cannot be accurate. In reality, this type of Bible study could be called, “Command, Subjective Examples, and Necessary (when you want them to be) Inferences.”  I do not say this to be rude, but to be realistic. When I was honest with myself, I could no longer accept a position that I realized was created by men and not God.

CONCLUSION

This has by no means been an exhaustive study of this issue, but should serve as sufficient information to get you started on the issue. There are many more arguments that could be produced. However, from Miriam and her tambourine, to David’s instrumental worship, to Paul’s use of “psallo” and psalms and to John’s heavenly vision (Rev. 5:8; 15:2); instrumental praise to God in and of itself has never been intrinsically sinful or unauthorized.

ConclusionI pray that we can learn to live with each other’s differences, respect each other’s decisions and have unity and cease division on beliefs that God never makes issue out of. “But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written: As I love, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me and every tongue shall confess to God. So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way” (Rom. 14:10-13).

– Kevin Pendergrass

http://www.kevinpendergrass.com/study-music-church-longer-bind/

Peter’s Problem Preposition

Reflecting on “EIS” in Acts 2:38

On the web site of the Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry, Matt Slick, in an article titled “Baptism and Acts 2:38” observed, “Acts 2:38 is one of the more controversial verses in the Bible regarding baptism and whether or not it is the requirement for salvation.” Notice that he didn’t say “a requirement,” but “the requirement.” Down through the ages, many within Christendom have conferred upon water baptism the mantle of Sacrament, proclaiming thereby that it is the act through which God bestows forgiveness, justification, divine acceptance and eternal salvation. It is the precise point in time at which one is “born again,” becoming a child of God. In short, baptism SAVES you! It is the theology of “Baptismal Remission” and “Baptismal Regeneration.” I was raised up in a faith-heritage that largely embraced this view, and proclaimed it so vigorously that they came to be known throughout Christendom as “the church of Acts 2:38.” Baptism, along with a semi-sacramental perception of our tradition with respect to the Lord’s Supper and a cappella singing, became the marks of our Movement: it was what set us apart as “the one true church” from all the heathen and heretics all around us who were deceived and deluded into thinking they actually had a chance to go to heaven! We were taught that until they got into one of our buildings, they were headed for hell. They didn’t sing right, they didn’t commune right, and they didn’t baptize right. They were lost. End of story!

Yes, Acts 2:38 was the “proof text” proffered from virtually every pulpit by every preacher in Churches of Christ as I was growing up. And, I must admit, I pranced it out Sunday after Sunday in the early years of my own ministry, intent upon getting as many people “into the baptistery” as I could. After all, congregations weren’t “hiring” preachers who didn’t have a good “track record of baptisms.” I pridefully pitied all those “denominationalists” who simply couldn’t grasp the “simple truth” of Acts 2:38. Some, I figured, were just stupid; the rest were most likely servants of Satan sent to lead people farther away from the Lord. What arrogance!! What lunacy!! I long ago repented of such godlessness, and am thankful to see more and more within my faith-heritage doing the same. We are becoming a people transformed by the Spirit into a more Jesus-focused, grace-affirming part of the universal One Body of Christ. The sectarian walls we erected to isolate ourselves from others, excluding them from our midst, are coming down, and we are embracing other disciples of Christ as beloved brethren. Thank God for allowing me to live long enough to see this new day dawn!! And yet, although progress is being made, there are still those proclaiming a sectarian sacramentalism among us with respect to the nature and purpose of water baptism, and they are still using Acts 2:38 as one of their primary “proofs.”

“One controversial issue concerning salvation has been whether water baptism is necessary for the remission of sins. Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches have insisted that water baptism itself is the means of the remission of sins. Evangelical churches, with their roots in the Protestant Reformation, have taught that, though baptism is important as the sign and seal of justification by faith and as the sacrament of initiation into the visible church, it is not the means of remission of sins. Certain cults and even some descendants of Protestantism, however, have embraced the sacerdotal views of Romanism and Orthodoxy and taught that sins cannot be forgiven apart from baptism. … The most commonly cited biblical ‘support’ for the latter view is Acts 2:38. … On the surface, in English, it seems that Peter meant that the purpose of baptism was to effect the remission of sins, which explains why baptismal remissionists so readily appeal to this verse” [E. Calvin Beisner, “Does Acts 2:38 Teach Baptismal Remission?,” Christian Research Journal, vol. 28, no. 2]. Yes, “on the surface, in English,” the words of Peter do indeed seem to promote such a view, but deeper study and reflection show the matter to be a bit more complex than some would have us believe. In reality, “‘Acts 2:38 assuredly confronts the interpreter with weighty problems,’ says Professor Stonehouse, and the extent and diversity of the theological exegesis of the verse show how right he is” [Dr. F. F. Bruce, Commentary on the Book of Acts, p. 75]. Dr. A. T. Robertson, one of Christendom’s greatest NT Greek scholars, agreed, saying that this verse “is the subject of endless controversy as men look at it from the standpoint of sacramental or of evangelical theology” [Word Pictures in the New Testament, e-Sword].

“Peter’s answer to the people’s anguished cry presents interpreters with a set of complex theological problems that are often looked upon only as grist for differing theological mills” [The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 9, p. 283]. Unfortunately, this is absolutely correct. Disciples of Christ have fussed, fought, feuded and fragmented over Acts 2:38 for centuries! Vastly differing theologies have each embraced this passage as the validation of their view, resulting only in greater confusion than clarity. Much of this is a result of a failure to fully perceive both the grammar and structure of the passage as it appears in the Greek text, preferring instead to build a theology around the wording in English as handed down from the old King James Version. Additionally, by lifting a passage from its overall context, one can easily do damage to the original intent of the author, thus abusing the verse to further a tradition, rather than using it to further Truth. “Rarely is doctrine ever made from a single verse” [Matt Slick, “Baptism and Acts 2:38,” Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry]. One must examine carefully and prayerfully ALL of what the Bible says with respect to a topic, not just lift a handful of passages out of context to prove a personal or party perception or preference. Sadly, I fear we have done too much of the latter with respect to Acts 2:38.

The reality of God’s inspired revelation, and this is perceived throughout, is that we are saved by grace through faith, not by virtue of anything we have done or ever could do; rather, it is a gift of God because of His great love and mercy. If this is true, and I believe with all my heart that it is, then we must repent of proclaiming a performance-based and knowledge-based salvation!! Redemption is not to be found in getting religious rituals right; it is found in the redemptive act of our Redeemer!! Salvation is a GIFT, and it is received by FAITH. Yes, genuine faith will show itself in our daily lives in countless loving manifestations, but none of these evidentiary acts, in and of themselves, constitute the precise point of salvation (as some sacramentalists assert). Thus, passages like Acts 2:38 must be understood in view of the truth that “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). With that foundational truth in mind, how are we to understand what Peter told the people in Jerusalem on that first Pentecost following our Lord’s death, burial, resurrection and ascension? Peter’s message in his sermon was essentially: Jesus is the Messiah … and you killed Him … Repent of this, and embrace Him! Dr. F. F. Bruce correctly points out that in Acts 2:38 “the call to repentance is Peter’s basic and primary demand” [Commentary on the Book of Acts, p. 75]. When we teach baptism as the primary demand of this verse we have missed Peter’s point. Peter’s purpose was to turn the hearts of his hearers to faith in Jesus as their Redeemer, who, by virtue of His shed blood, would cleanse them of their sins! This basic emphasis is especially seen in Peter’s sermon in Solomon’s Colonnade where he says nothing about baptism, but instead declares to the people, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out” (Acts 3:19). “This shows that for Luke at least, and probably also for Peter, while baptism with water was the expected symbol for conversion, it was not an indispensable criterion for salvation” [The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 9, p. 284]. Peter’s clear emphasis is repentance, which “is not a mere feeling; it has not the uncertainty of moods and sentiments. It is not a simple change in the weather of the soul. It is a distinct alteration of the focus of the intelligence; it carries with it a movement of the will; in short, it is a revolution in the very ground of the man’s being” [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 18, p. 66].

The “Baptismal Remissionists,” however, insist that the word “for” in Acts 2:38 proves otherwise! Yes, the people were to repent, but forgiveness of sins came at the point of baptism, they declare. After all, Peter said to be baptized “FOR the forgiveness of your sins.” Thus, sins are forgiven AT baptism! Right?! Again, “on the surface, in English,” this wording does seem to promote such a view … until one begins to look a bit deeper and to ask some vital questions. For example, what do the rest of the NT writings have to say about forgiveness of sins and how such forgiveness is acquired? Paul makes the case, in Romans 4, that Abraham’s transgressions were forgiven and his sins covered by faith, and that it was a gift of God’s grace prior to his circumcision. Was circumcision an outward rite to which this man was required by God to submit? Yes, it was. But, as Paul notes, his forgiveness and justification were not due to this outward act, but rather based upon his faith. Paul goes farther here and informs us that this principle is true for us under this new covenant. Forgiveness, justification, salvation are not based on our acts of faith, but upon faith itself. The various acts (of which baptism is one) are merely evidentiary in nature: they show faith (James 2). They are essential (no one is denying that fact), but they themselves are not redemptive (as some claim). Thus, baptism does not remit sins, but evidences one’s faith in and acceptance of the One who does!!

However, we are still faced with that little word “for” in Acts 2:38. Because of that word, some will vehemently assert that everything I have just said is “false teaching,” and thus “Al Maxey is a heretic who denies baptism.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. Water baptism is an act commanded by our Lord. Thus, we must comply. I have baptized many people during the years of my ministry, and I anticipate baptizing a great many more. I preach and teach the importance of water baptism, and I practice it. What has changed for me, however, is my previous perception that water baptism is the specific act by which, and the precise point in time at which, one is forgiven, justified, redeemed, saved, etc. I will no longer proclaim baptism as a sacrament, but rather as a required manifestation of one’s faith. Forgiveness comes to those who turn from sin and in faith turn to the Lord. Such persons then demonstrate that inner faith and repentance by a number of visible acts that will occur throughout their lives (one of which is baptism). But, can one justify this view that forgiveness comes to those who by faith have turned to the Lord, or does the word “for” suggest it is baptism that brings the blessing? I believe one can make a strong case, from the structure and grammar of the Greek, for the former. And furthermore, if such an understanding of the text is at least a legitimate one textually and exegetically, then that fact would forever remove Acts 2:38 as a proof-text for baptismal remissionists. “A Bible verse proves a doctrine only if that doctrine is the only interpretation the grammar and word definitions permit. If there are other plausible interpretations, the verse might be used as evidence in a cumulative case for the doctrine, but its evidential value rises or falls in inverse proportion to the plausibility of the other options” [E. Calvin Beisner, “Does Acts 2:38 Teach Baptismal Remission?,” Christian Research Journal, vol. 28, no. 2]. So, let’s take off our sectarian spectacles and seek to view this passage with fresh spiritual sight.

First, we need to realize that the word “for” in Acts 2:38 is not the actual word used in the Greek text (more about that word later). Nevertheless, even the English word “for” has quite a wide variety of meaning and usage. In Webster’s New International Dictionary, for example, there are eleven definitions of the preposition “for” given, and baptismal remissionists have assumed that only one of those definitions can apply in this passage: that it denotes purpose, and signifies “in order to obtain.” Although other legitimate definitions of “for” make equal sense, they are nevertheless discarded. Why? Because they don’t support their theology! For example: “for” may also mean motive, thus signifying “because of.” Would this definition of “for” in Acts 2:38 make sense? Would it be consistent with NT teaching? Of course it would. So, why is one chosen dogmatically over the other? I think we all know the answer to that. Is this other usage of “for” found in the NT writings? Yes, it is. In Matt. 3:11, just to give one instance, we find John the Baptist saying, “I baptize you with water for repentance.” Okay, are they baptized “in order to obtain” repentance? That doesn’t make sense. But, being baptized “because of” their repentance makes sense (and, by the way, this is the Greek preposition “eis” here, just as it is in Acts 2:38). When words have a variety of meaning and usage, we must allow the context in which the word appears, as well as the overall teaching of Scripture, to dictate which usage best fits. And where several may fit, one dare NOT become dogmatic over his interpretive choice. “The plausibility of these alternative understandings of ‘for‘ reduces the evidential value of Acts 2:38 for the doctrine of baptismal remission of sins” [E. Calvin Beisner, “Does Acts 2:38 Teach Baptismal Remission?,” Christian Research Journal, vol. 28, no. 2].

The English word “for,” however, is just a translation of the Greek preposition “eis,” but, like the former, the latter also has a wide variety of meaning and usage, including the two mentioned above. “The illustrations of both usages are numerous in the NT and the Koine generally” [Dr. A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, e-Sword]. Therefore, there are times when the Greek preposition eis (which appears some 1774 times in the NT writings) refers to purpose, and there are times when it refers to motive (and times when it refers to something else entirely). Again, one must allow the context, as well as comparative study of NT teaching on the topic in question, to guide one’s understanding of the preposition in any given passage. Yes, baptism for/eis (purpose) the remission of sin is a valid rendering of the phrase, but is it a valid teaching in light of the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith. I do not believe it is. On the other hand, baptism for/eis (motive) the remission of sin, which is also a valid understanding of the phrase (and is the view taken by such Greek scholars as A. T. Robertson and J. R. Mantey, just to name a couple), IS consistent with the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith. We are washed clean of our sins by the precious blood of the Lamb, and we reflect the reality of that spiritual washing in the symbolic rite of baptism, which is a testimony and affirmation not only to ourselves, but also to others (much like our partaking of the elements of the Lord’s Supper, by which we participate emblematically with the reality itself). Thus, we are baptized because of our forgiveness, not in order to obtain forgiveness. The latter elevates a sacrament; the former elevates the Savior!!

Baptism in water is “the visible seal of that remission” of our sins [Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, e-Sword]. “Water baptism is the external symbol by which those who believed the gospel, repented of their sins, and acknowledged Jesus as their Lord publicly bore witness to their new life” [The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 9, p. 284]. Most Christians recognize that “there is nothing in baptism itself that can wash away sin. That can be done only by the pardoning mercy of God through the atonement of Christ” [Albert Barnes, Notes on the Bible, e-Sword]. The renowned NT Greek scholar, Dr. A. T. Robertson, in his classic work “Word Pictures in the New Testament,” declared, “My view is decidedly against the idea that Peter, Paul, or anyone in the New Testament taught baptism as essential to the remission of sins or the means of securing such remission. So I understand Peter to be urging baptism on each of them who had already turned (repented) and for it to be done in the name of Jesus Christ on the basis of the forgiveness of sins which they had already received.” Dr. F. F. Bruce agrees, characterizing “baptism as the visible token of repentance” [Commentary on the Book of Acts, p. 77].

But, is there anything else in the text of Acts 2:38, either grammatically or structurally, that might perhaps bring additional light, and which might help us in our understanding of Peter’s intent? Well, as it so happens, yes there is. There is a very significant break in the passage structurally that is not carried over into the English. “There is a change of number from plural to singular and of person from second to third. This change marks a break in the thought here that the English translation does not preserve” [Dr. A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, e-Sword]. “In Peter’s command, the verb repent is second-person plural. The verb be baptized is third-person singular. In the phrase for the forgiveness of your sins, the word your is second-person plural again. Imagine the implications of ignoring this switch from second-person plural to third-person singular and back again!!” [E. Calvin Beisner, “Does Acts 2:38 Teach Baptismal Remission?,” Christian Research Journal, vol. 28, no. 2]. This interpretation views “for/eis” as signifying purpose more than motive, but it links it with repentance rather than baptism. In other words, Peter is telling the people that they need to turn away from their present course and turn toward the Lord in order that they might receive the forgiveness of their sins. Each one doing so was then to be baptized in the name of Jesus the Christ, the very one they had previously rejected, but were now declaring to be Lord and Savior. That act of faith (baptism) would affirm their faith and bear witness to their new allegiance! It is not the turning itself that forgives sins, but rather the One to whom they turn: Jesus!! HE washes clean those who in fullness of faith turn to Him. Such persons then evidence that faith throughout the remainder of their lives (one of the first evidentiary acts being baptism).

Dr. Beisner wrote, “In short, the most precise English translation of the relevant clauses, arranging them to reflect the switches in person and number of the verbs, would be, ‘You (plural) repent for the forgiveness of your (plural) sins, and let each one (singular) of you be baptized (singular).’ When I showed this translation to the late Dr. Julius Mantey, one of the foremost Greek grammarians of the twentieth century and the co-author of ‘A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament,’ he approved and even signed his name next to it in the margin of my Greek New Testament” [ibid]. Let me repeat this principle of biblical hermeneutics: “A Bible verse proves a doctrine only if that doctrine is the only interpretation the grammar and word definitions permit. If there are other plausible interpretations, the verse might be used as evidence in a cumulative case for the doctrine, but its evidential value rises or falls in inverse proportion to the plausibility of the other options” [ibid]. There are clearly a number of ways to understand Acts 2:38, each of which are grammatically legitimate, which fact demands we not become dogmatic with respect to our interpretations. I have my personal convictions as to what Peter sought to convey to the people of Jerusalem that day, and I believe they are textually and contextually and conceptually sound. However, I don’t pretend to be infallible in my insights (and I doubt seriously any of you are either), thus I pray we can continue to love and accept one another as brethren to the glory of our God, even when we honestly differ.

– Al Maxey

http://www.zianet.com/maxey/reflx515.htm

Re-Baptism: Where Does the Slippery Slope End?

Where does it end? James A. Harding opined that no human since the time of Christ had understood the “design of baptism” when she/he submitted to it. Of course by design Harding meant more than Acts 2.38 … as our recent post makes clear. All that was biblically required was submissive faith in Jesus as the Messiah the Son of God. J.W. church-sign-rebaptismMcGarvey argued, convincingly, that God requires simply faith and repentance for biblical baptism. Because baptism “belongs to God and not man.”

Some demand that a candidate must must know her baptism is specifically to obtain “the remission of sins” at the moment of immersion, though there is not a single text that makes such a demand, including Acts 2.38.

But once we start “adding to” God’s list of requirements necessary for baptism where does the “slippery slope” end??

Barry Grider, for example, wrote in the “Forest Hill News” (vol 27.9) of the Forest Hill Church of Christ on February 27, 2001 an article called “Scriptural Baptism.” If my memory serves correctly this is the home of Memphis School of Preaching. Grider makes some pretty hefty demands on the part of the candidate.

1) Must have the correct mode. That is it must be immersion under all circumstances.

2) It must be done for its one, and only one, scriptural purpose. “If someone is baptized for some reason other than the remission of sins, such a person has not been scripturally baptized.” My emphasis.

3) Baptism must be preceded by repentance. This is applied to folks divorced and remarried “unbiblically,”they are to be refused baptism if they don’t repent. “[A]n administrator of baptism should not baptize a person who refuses to repent” that is of their “adulterous relationship.”

4) The candidate must not only be baptized for one and only reason (remission of sins) this person must “understand the concept of the New Testament church.” “A few denominational churches baptize for the remission of sins, yet the individuals baptized are not added to the one true church.”

The Slippery Slope

I scratch my head folks! I see no such demands in the NT placed on any candidate. I hate to say it but it is sectarianism in the extreme but where does the slippery slope of adding unbiblical demands end?

There are many, not a single, biblical reasons to be baptized. And how many folks out there understood the “the concept of the New Testament church” at their baptism? I would say there is misunderstanding present in Barry’s own article on this very point … he declares that the church is the kingdom and this is not so. Once we have decided to cut ourselves off of anyone else new conditions have to be added to keep us “distinct” …

So where does the hedging end? How many conditions are there before a person can respond to the “grace” of God offered in his Son Jesus Christ? How many conditions before he or she can simply believe he is the promised Messiah and be baptized into his Name? The old King James Version was right about one thing. When the Ethiopian heard the message about “Jesus,” the only condition for his being baptized by Philip was “do you believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God” (Acts 8.37, KJV).  That was the only condition, not a series of entrance exams to satisfy some sectarian agenda.

Legalism is a slippy slope.  Once you find yourself on it you find yourself erecting more and more barriers that we ourselves do not even keep.

Shalom,
Bobby Valentine

Re-Baptism: Where Does the Slippery Slope End?

Must All Believe Alike?

 

CliffDo Christians have to believe alike in order to be in fellowship with one another? According to the ultra-conservative in the churches of Christ the answer is yes. We are told that because of 1 Cor 1:10 and 2 John 9, all Christians must believe the same things in order to be in fellowship. Is that what these passages are really teaching? What does the word fellowship mean exactly?

In common everyday usage, the word fellowship is usually meant to express the idea of companionship or friendly association. While this notion is not inconsistent with the Bible usage, the word fellowship is a little more specific in application when used in the Scriptures. There are several Greek words in the New Testament that are translated using the word fellowship. Their meanings all overlap to a great degree and they convey the idea of sharing in common. It is insightful when trying to understand the concept to consider that the word fellowship is not the only english word chosen to translate these Greek words. Other words are:

  • Partakers
  • Partners
  • Companion
  • Share
  • Contribution
  • Distribution
  • Communion

Thus we see that the idea conveyed by the Bible when speaking of fellowship is a sharing, partnership or a joint participation. Fellowship is not simply a nice word that means people socialize together. In the Bible, Christians were partnered with each other working toward common goals and sharing in the burdens and the joys that went along with the work. For example, if a person supports a preacher financially, he is in fellowship with him because he contributes a portion of his monetary resources. He is partnered with the preacher and shares in his work of spreading the gospel. It is possible that the two may have never met face to face, yet they are still in fellowship. When disciples of Christ in a particular geographic area decide to pool their resources and work collectively as a congregation, they are in fellowship. They are companions in the endeavor and jointly participate with one another working toward the common goal of worshiping God and doing the other works God set forth for His people. In other words, they are doing something collectively and are all pulling for the same thing.

Now the Bible is clear that Christians are to have no association with evil works, “what communion has light with darkness?” (2 Cor 6:14). However, many assert that we can no longer be partners in the work (be in fellowship) when we disagree with each other doctrinally. Many church splits have occurred, not because there was disagreement regarding what their congregation was doing collectively, but because a disagreement arose about some point of doctrine. Granted we can have no fellowship with those who would deny the divinity of Christ or the plain passages that teach one how to become a Christian. But, disagreements that arise among brethren today are almost never over such foundational principles. If we are honest with ourselves, we’ll have to admit that some within the Church of Christ will break fellowship with one another at the drop of a hat! The cause of much of this division is a misinterpretation and/or misapplication of 1 Cor 1:10 and 2 Jn 9. Because of this we have missed the mark on what the basis of our fellowship with one another should be. Let’s take a look at these passages one at a time.

1 Corinthians 1:10-13

10 Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. 11 For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. 12 Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

It is said that this passage teaches that we must all speak the same thing, have the same mind and same judgment. Indeed it does teach this but some have concluded that the only way this can be achieved is for all to believe alike. If it isn’t teaching that all must believe exactly the same thing what does it teach? Please note that this passage does not say anything about them having disputes over doctrinal matters. It does not say their division and contentions are brought about by differences of personal opinion or conscience. What then was the source of their contention? Verse 11 tells us they were starting to divide up into sects giving their allegiance to various preachers instead of to Christ. Notice in verse 10 that Paul instructs them to speak the same thing. In verse 12 he calls attention to the fact that they are not speaking the same thing since each one brags about how he follows a different preacher. This was the source of the division and controversy that they were involved in. Paul begins a thought in verse 13 that he doesn’t conclude until chapter 3:

1 And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; 3 for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? 4 For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal?

They weren’t arguing about whether they should use one cup or many. They didn’t contend with each other over the women should wear a veil or not. They weren’t arguing about the proper way to send money to preachers. Their divisions resulted from the fact that they were following men and not God. He tells them that Christ is not divided and that Paul and Apollos work together as one in spreading the gospel and following Christ. Those who spread the Gospel are nothing; it is God who is important. To fall into sectarianism is to be carnally minded. They are to be united in speech, mind and judgment in their allegiance to Christ. When they get it right in their minds about whom they should be following, then they can be united in thought and speech and end the strife and division. Clearly, Paul is telling them to be of the same mind in regards to who they give their allegiance to; he gives no instruction which tells them to all believe exactly alike!

When we break fellowship with one another over differences of opinion or conflicting points of doctrine are we not doing essentially what Paul reprimanded them for? Are we not being sectarian and carnal when strife and divisions arise? When was the last time you met someone who believed in all points as you do? There is no basis for demanding complete doctrinal conformity in this passage!

2 John 9-11

9 Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; 11 for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds.

There is controversy about whether the “doctrine of Christ” refers to the teachings about Jesus or the things which Jesus taught. To be sure it includes that which is taught about Christ because that is the context under consideration in this passage. Verse 7 says there were decievers who deny that Jesus came in the flesh. Therefore, we can be certain that verse 9 would apply specifically to those who attempt to decieve with this false teaching. John tells us that if we encounter any such person, we may not have fellowship with him. Does this passage authorize drawing lines of fellowship based on other criteria? I don’t think we can safely conclude that it does. To extend this passage to other issues would be to “go beyond that which is written”, exceeding the boundaries of John’s context.

Ultra-conservative brethren think that only those who believe everything as they do “abide in the doctrine of Christ”. If someone disagrees with them they are to be “cut off” because John says to have nothing to do with them or else you’ll become a partaker with them in their evil deeds. John does teach that Christians are to draw a line in the sand when it comes to supporting error regarding the incarnation of Christ. However, there is a big difference in someone who would deny the fundamentals about the incarnation of Christ and people who have honest disagreements about the number of communion cups or whether or not instruments may be used.

We must remember that unity is more than just something nice we are to hope for. We are commanded to maintain it! Jesus prayed for His followers to have unity (John 17:21). We are to be humble, gentle and patient in our quest to maintain unity (Eph 4:1-3). When it is not maintained, we generate strife and division and demonstrate how carnally minded we are (1 Cor 1:10, 3:3). Galatians 5:19-21 lists some words that describe disunity along with other heinous sins.

19 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

It is interesting that the word “heresies” comes from a Greek word used nine times in the New Testament and is translated as “sect” in five of those instances. In fact, the word means “dissensions arising from diversity of opinions and aims“. It might have been good to put the words “hatred” and “selfish ambitions” in bold as well because they usually go along with “church troubles”. Has it ever occurred to you that in parting fellowship with those whom we so haphazardly determine to be unsound, that we place our own souls in grave jeopardy? Has it occurred to you that being so fast to draw lines of fellowship may indicate that we are carnally minded? It is funny that you never hear preachers calling the division among the Churches of Christ what it really is – SIN! Rather, we usually hear some preaching on why we must have nothing to do with those who we don’t agree with.

Unfortunately it is the norm among the right wing Churches of Christ, generally speaking, to draw lines of fellowship over trivial matters. We must show love, patience, mercy, understanding and open mindedness and not just pay these notions lip service!

Since when does assembling with someone who doesn’t believe as you do make you a “partaker of their evil deeds”? If someone you assemble with believes that instrumental music is ok in worship, does that affect you? If another person thinks that multiple communion cups are scriptural, have you some how been tarnished? In neither of these examples am I speaking of someone pushing a point of view to the point of causing dissension since that would be sinful. In spite of this, many of my brethren would feel it was their duty to run around offering to “study” with these people to get them “straightened out”. Indeed, I think study is called for, but not to straighten them out, but to discuss the Scriptures with the goal of finding the truth. If two of us study together and miraculously come to the same understanding of everything, as soon as a third person comes along we are right back in the same boat! Let’s use some common sense and acknowledge that no two people will ever be in complete harmony.

The unending splits among the Churches of Christ will continue unabated until we figure out that we are deciding our fellowship on the wrong basis. The scriptures do not teach that we must base our fellowship on perfect doctrinal conformity, but rather it must be based upon an agreement of what we do collectively

– creedrehearsal.com

 

ARE WE FOLLOWING CHRIST OR THE CHURCHES OF CHRIST?

 

ChurchOfChrist

 

I was raised in a very conservative Church of Christ. I also preached and worked in several conservative congregations. As I began to change some of my beliefs (and ceased holding some of the traditions that my conservative brethren hold), some brethren became very upset. Many conversations ensued. During these conversations it became apparent that many brethren hold their beliefs based upon a different standard. They would ask me questions or make statements such as, “Do you know of any sound brethren who believe what you believe?” I also heard preachers say, “No church will accept you if you do not hold our tradition” or “Since you can’t convince other brethren isn’t that evidence you are wrong?” Some have even said that I am in danger of leaving or losing my faith if I don’t hold to the beliefs of the conservative Churches of Christ. I recall one discussion between two brethren. One brother had legitimate questions regarding the validity of one of our traditions. The other brother had no answers but dismissed the questions by saying that if a particular deceased brother were still alive he would have the answers.

These things are troubling to me because they illustrate a misplaced allegiance. Rather than our allegiance being to Jesus it appears the allegiance of some is to the Churches of Christ. There are three things Christians need to know or remember that would correct this problem.

First, a clear distinction needs to be made between Jesus and the church. It appears that in the minds of many there is little if any difference between the two. Perhaps we have taken the “body” illustration too far. Jesus is the head of the body, the church (Colossians 1:18), but that does not mean the church is Jesus or Jesus is the church. Perhaps it would help if we remember that Jesus is our king and the church is His kingdom. Jesus is the Shepherd and the church is His sheep. We have too many sheep following the flock instead of the Shepherd.

Second, we need to remember what (who) the church is. I was taught as a small child (and I still believe it to be true) that the church is the disciples of Jesus. In other words, Christians are the church. Who are Christians? They are people, human beings (1 Corinthians 12). People are imperfect, flawed and make errors in judgment and reasoning. Since the church is made up of people, then the church is also imperfect, flawed and makes errors in judgment and reasoning. Why then would I follow the church? Do not misunderstand me. I am not saying the church is unimportant or not valuable. I am simply saying we need to put the church in its proper place and understand what it really is. It is a group of sinners that are trying to follow Jesus. These sinners are not all knowing. They are not flawless in their studies, reasoning and conclusions. We need to quit trying to restore the first century Church for they were full of problems just like we are today. Instead, we need to restore Jesus. The Churches of Christ is not the standard by which we should determine truth and error; God’s Word must be the standard.

Third, Christians need to learn to trust their Savior instead of the Churches of Christ. Let me give a couple of examples of what I mean. I can remember studying through Romans in preparation for a Bible class. As I would digest the words of Paul I would always feel hesitant to formulate my conclusion unless I could find a “sound,” “big name” brother who agreed with me. For some reason, I felt that if a well respected brother agreed with me, that made my conclusion valid. It was if I felt that if I were the only one that held a conclusion then it was somehow invalid. You see, I had placed my trust in “the brethren.” I don’t believe it is wrong or unwise to read or listen to other brethren. In fact, the Bible teaches we should seek counsel from many (Prov. 15:22). However, we need to realize that they are people like us and their agreement does not make something right and their disagreement does not make something wrong. For every person who agrees with us, we can find many who do not agree with us. We must develop our own faith with Jesus. Where did we get the idea that it is safer to trust the Church than to trust Jesus? As disciples of Jesus we are to imitate and trust Him (1 Corinthians 11:1, Ephesians 5:1-2). We are to be disciples (followers) of Jesus; we are not to be disciples of the Churches of Christ. Since the church is made of people and people are flawed, then if we put our trust in the church we will surely be disappointed.

The church is a wonderful blessing that God has given us. When we keep it in its proper place, it serves the purpose God intended. However, when we begin placing our trust in the church and using it as the standard of truth and error, then it has become our god and idol. So let’s love, appreciate, work in and encourage the church, but let’s follow and trust our Savior, Jesus Christ

-Brandon Johnson

http://www.kevinpendergrass.com/category/church-of-christ/