Posted in Church History, Doctrine, New Testament

We Have Overlooked the Transition Era

It is unfortunate and somewhat strange that we have as a people, generally speaking, overlooked the transition period that began with John (Luke 16:16) and ended when the gospel was made available to the whole world (Colossians 1:6, 23). We have studied the book of Acts as though the events were transpiring today.

When we look at the world today, we see sinners. And we see sinners that are amenable to the gospel of Christ. But we study the book of Acts as though the world of the first century was like our world today. And this is a colossal interpretive blunder that our brotherhood has made for years.

The world of the first century entailed four classes of people: righteous Jews, unrighteous Jews, righteous Gentiles, and unrighteous Gentiles none of whom were amenable to the gospel of Christ before Pentecost of Acts 2. When I was growing up, brethren usually believed that all Jews became amenable to the gospel on Pentecost and that all Gentiles became amenable to the gospel in Acts 10. This was another almost unbelievable error! It is certainly true that some Jews became amenable to the gospel on Pentecost. It is even true that some Jews became amenable to John’s baptism prior to Pentecost (Luke 16:16; Mark 1:4; Matthew 3:1-12). It is not true that all Gentiles became amenable to the gospel in Acts 10, even though it certainly is true that some of them did when Peter preached the gospel to Cornelius, his household, and his friends who lived near him.

God had a way for Jews and Gentiles to be saved prior to Acts 2! What we usually called “Patriarchy” (Gentile-ism) and Judaism were God’s divine arrangements for both classes of men whereby they could be saved prior to divine amenability change (Romans 2:14-15). That means that the book of Acts covers history when the gospel, for the first time, goes to Jews and Gentiles. Some of the Jews were good people, and some were not. Some of the Gentiles were good people, and some were not. If the good Jews and good Gentiles had died in the first century prior to the gospel’s being made available to them, they would have gone to paradise.

This explains Luke’s language in Acts. As the apostles took the gospel to the whole world, they found plenty of sinners for sure. In fact, more of the cases of kingdom entry recorded in Acts were of sinners. However, some cases of kingdom entry entail non-convert cases. That is, these cases were Jews and Gentiles already in a saved condition but who were required to become responsible to the gospel as it reached them. As the gospel reached each man, he was under divine obligation to submit to the truth and enter the kingdom, and every case of kingdom entry in Acts is in complete harmony with the Lord’s words to Nicodemus in John 3:3-5.

It took thirty years of preaching and teaching for all men to become amenable to the gospel of Christ, and no man became amenable to it without God’s making the gospel accessible to him! And that changing amenability required inspiration (1 Corinthians 2:12-13), miraculous signs (Mark 16:19-20), and miraculous providence (Acts 16:6-10; 21:10-14). The work of changing amenability began and continued for years prior to the first written New Testament book which appeared in the early 50’s. For about twenty years, the gospel was preached, congregations established, and these congregations were stabilized by miraculous gifts in the early church (1 Corinthians 12:4-11). The first century world was not like ours when it comes to amenability. The Jews and Gentiles were, as classes of people, amenable to a divinely arranged system of salvation prior to the preaching of the gospel. That is not true today since the gospel once and for all changed human amenability as it was preached to all the world in the first century.

Posted in Church History, Doctrine, Instrumental Music, Worship

Three New Arguments (on the Instrumental Music Question)

The churches of Christ and the Disciples of Christ have been formally recognized as two groups of people at least since 1906. The division occurred over the formation of the American Christian Missionary Society and the introduction of mechanical instruments of music into public worship. D. S. Burnett played a prominent role in the establishment of the society, and L. L. Pinkerton of Midway, Kentucky was involved in the innovation regarding music. Pinkerton, in a letter to Ben Franklin, said, “So far as known to me, or, I presume to you, I am the only ‘preacher’ in Kentucky of our brotherhood who has publicly advocated the propriety of employing instrumental music in some churches, and that the church of God in Midway is the only church that has yet made a decided effort to introduce it” (Earl West, The Search for the Ancient Order, Vol. I, p. 311).

In passing years as more and more brethren demanded the change in worship, much discussion, disagreement, aggravation, tension, and separation followed. It was a sad time for the church.

Over the years many debates have been held on the music question. One of the greatest debates on the issue of scriptural music in worship was between N. B. Hardeman and Ira M. Boswell held in 1923 in Nashville, Tennessee. Boswell contended that the Greek word, “psallo,” used by Paul in Ephesians 5:19 and translated in our ASV as “making melody,” permitted the use of a mechanical instrument in worship. In his first affirmative speech he declared that he was attempting to prove that “To sing with or without instrumental music is scriptural” (Hardeman-Boswell Debate, p. 29). Neither Boswell nor any other disputant of whom I am aware ever committed himself to the position that the New Testament obligates worshipers to worship with a mechanical instrument of music in the song service.

Hardeman admitted that some instrument inhered in the word “psallo.” He took the tack that “psallo” did demand some kind of instrument. But in the passage, the particular instrument that Paul named is “the heart.” Boswell resorted to much lexical evidence for the Greek word which indicated that some instrument of some kind inhered in the word, but then he would not draw the conclusion that Christians today must use that instrument, whatever it was. In his second speech, Hardeman said, “It seems to me that Brother Boswell is in this kind of a predicament: First, God demands it. The word means it, and you cannot do what ‘psallo’ means without the use of the musical instrument. That is Brother Boswell’s contention, as from the lexicons to which he has referred; and then the next part is, notwithstanding the word means that and notwithstanding that idea inheres in it, yet I can leave it out” (Hardeman-Boswell Debate, p. 56). This was a fantastic moment in the history of the discussion!

In the debate Boswell’s weak position was completely routed, and Hardeman took the correct position on the music issue including proper handling of the word “psallo.” Hardeman’s effort was masterful. And when he took the position that the Greek word, “psallo,” did, in fact, demand an instrument, his approach was a complete surprise to Boswell. Boswell did not expect it!

In Hardeman’s biography we learn that Hardeman viewed his debate with Boswell as his best (James Marvin Powell and Mary Nelle Hardeman Powers, N. B. H., p. 195). We also learn the following:

Some twenty years after the debate, Hardeman met Boswell in Louisville, Kentucky. He told Boswell that he had heard that Dr. Carey Morgan, who at the time of the debate was pastor of Nashville’s Vine Street Christian Church, and J. J. Walker had stayed up nearly all night after the first session of the debate, trying to answer Hardeman’s argument, and revamp their own arguments. Boswell said that was true. Hardeman and Boswell remained friends through the years, though their paths did not often meet. There was mutual respect though their views were poles apart” (N. B. H., pp. 195, 196).

The issue has been debated much, and the history of the debates has revealed that on the polemic platform, mechanical instrumental music in worship has never been proved to be authorized by the New Testament, while singing without the accompaniment of any mechanical instrument of music in worship has been conclusively proved to be authorized.

Our preachers have defended the truth on the issue for years. Sadly, too many brethren now alive have become ignorant of history and are completely out of touch with Bible authority and, therefore, find mechanical instruments in worship harmless, appealing, and acceptable. How tragic!

Finally, let me by way of three new arguments, add to the history of the defense of the truth regarding scriptural music in worship. Consider the following:

First Syllogism:

  1. If the Old Testament authorized both singing and playing, then the Old Testament distinguished singing from playing.
  2. The Old Testament authorized both singing and playing (Psalm 149:1; Psalm 87:7).
  3. Then, the Old Testament distinguished singing from playing.

Second Syllogism:

  1. If the Old Testament distinguished singing from playing, then the authorization to sing by itself did not authorize playing anymore than the authorization to play by itself authorized dancing.
  2. The Old Testament distinguished singing from playing (Psalm 87:7; Psalm 149:1; Psalm 150).
  3. Then, the authorization to sing by itself did not authorize playing anymore than the authorization to play by itself authorized dancing.

Third Syllogism:

  1. If the Old Testament authorization to sing did not by itself authorize playing or dancing, then the New Testament authorization to sing cannot by itself authorize playing or dancing.
  2. The Old Testament authorization to sing did not by itself authorize playing or dancing (Psalm 87:7; Psalm 149:1; Psalm 150; Ezekiel 33:32).
  3. Then, the New Testament authorization to sing cannot by itself authorize playing or dancing.
Posted in Church History

Ignatius and the Bishop

By Weylan Deaver

Among other books, I’m currently reading The Apostolic Fathers, translated from the Greek by Michael W. Holmes. The so-called “apostolic fathers” are ancient authors who have left us the earliest uninspired Christian writings (from late first to mid-second century). One of them, Ignatius, may have been martyred early in the second century. His letter to the church in Ephesus (as well, his letters to other congregations) is disturbing for its seeming portrayal of congregational structure foreign to the New Testament pattern. For example, Ignatius wants the Ephesians to be “subject to the bishop and the council of presbyters” (To the Ephesians, 2:2). He writes that “it is proper for you to run together in harmony with the mind of the bishop, as you are in fact doing. For your council of presbyters, which is worthy of its name and worthy of God, is attuned to the bishop as strings to a lyre” (ibid., 4:1). Though the gospel knows nothing of a church bishop who is distinct from and superior to a “council of presbyters,” Ignatius goes so far as to say, “For everyone whom the Master of the house sends to manage his own house we must welcome as we would the one who sent him. It is obvious, therefore, that we must regard the bishop as the Lord himself” (ibid., 6:1). That is quite a claim! Ignatius writes, “I dedicate myself to you Ephesians, a church that is famous forever” (ibid., 8:1).

Whether or not “famous forever,” the Ephesian church figures prominently in the New Testament. The apostle Paul wrote a letter to them in the mid first century. Paul also wrote to Timothy, telling him to “remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine” (1 Tim. 1:3, ESV). Evidently, “different doctrine” was a genuine threat to the church at Ephesus. Toward the late first century, Jesus himself sent to the church at Ephesus, “I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent” (Rev. 2:4-5). Earlier, Paul, in a face to face meeting with the Ephesian church’s elders, told them that “after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-30).

It is possible that, within a hundred years of the church’s beginning in Jerusalem, there were already departures in the leadership structure God put in place for congregational rule. But an error is not made right just because it is old. And, if “the bishop” in Ephesus is a scary thing to contemplate at such an early time in the church, we can take encouragement from the fact God had—through Paul—already warned the Ephesian elders years earlier that trouble would rise from themselves. Such warning is testimony to God’s omniscience, Paul’s inspiration, and the truth that Christians are never, whether back then or now, to veer from the gospel’s original design.

Posted in Christianity and Culture, Church History

“Hatred of the Human Race” (A Lesson from Nero Caesar)

By Weylan Deaver

An age that worships sin does not relate well to people who teach moral purity. The gospel of Christ demands godliness, as defined in the pages of his New Testament. The less the gospel is known and respected, the bolder sin becomes. That is how an ethically challenged culture can pit itself against God, who loved enough to send Jesus to die in our place: the supreme expression of divine love for humanity that, somehow, evokes derision, opposition, rejection. It explains how Christians who proclaim heaven’s ultimate message of love can be condemned as unloving, bigoted, intolerant, hateful just because they refuse to endorse homosexuality, Islam, skepticism, evolution, or other things contrary to the gospel. It explains how the Bible, whose principles once wove our national fabric, can now be considered “hate speech.” America is in a moral fog, wandering to the wrong side of reality. When Rome burned in July of the year 64 A.D., emperor Nero looked for someone to blame, pointing an accusing finger at the city’s Christians. In his Annals, Tacitus, the ancient historian, tells what happened. Christians “were arrested; next, on their disclosures, vast numbers were convicted, not so much on the count of arson as for hatred of the human race.” Two millennia ago, a godless culture decided Christians were too “hateful” to put up with. In the interest of power, sometimes a government has to do hard things. So, those “hateful” Christians were slaughtered by the enlightened who, we assume, had only love for the human race. Tacitus notes that “derision accompanied their end: they were covered with wild beasts’ skins and torn to death by dogs; or they were fastened on crosses, and, when daylight failed, were burned as lamps by night.” Many see today’s society as more open-minded than people used to be. Loud are the voices calling us to tolerate diversity of every stripe, assaulting the walls of long held prejudice. But, the gospel is not about diversity, and therein lies the insuperable difficulty, as today’s confused masses seem unable to respond peaceably to the fact. That is why Christians now can be so vilified by the spiritually myopic, not unlike in the days of the progressive minds of ancient Rome. And so, let Nero teach us this: the more things change, the more they really stay the same.

Posted in Church History

A Study of Crucifixion

By Weylan Deaver

Christians today see the cross as a symbol of salvation by divine grace. So did the earliest Christians two millennia ago. Paul would write, “But far be it from me to glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world hath been crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Gal. 6:14). Crucifixion was anything but rare in the ancient world. After defeating Tyre, Alexander the Great crucified 2,000 along the Mediterranean shore. Alexander Jannaeus, king of Judea about 80 years before Jesus was born, is said to have crucified 800 Pharisees who rebelled against him.

Rome perfected crucifixion to a science, if not an art form. In 71 B.C., along the Appian Way, 6,000 followers of Spartacus were crucified in a victory celebration. When the Roman General Titus laid siege to Jerusalem (about 40 years after Jesus’ death), he was crucifying Jews at the staggering rate of 500 or more per day. Jewish historian Josephus writes, incredibly, that the Romans nailed the Jews on crosses in various positions “by way of jest.” It went on to the point they ran out of space for crosses, and ran out of crosses for new victims.

That Jesus should die by crucifixion was not unique, but the early church’s perspective on crucifixion was absolutely unique. It related, of course, not to just any cross, but to one in particular. The idea that anyone could love or glory in a cross would have been anathema prior to the gospel. Then again, the gospel changed a lot of thinking.

Before Christ, crucifixion had a gruesome history associated with nothing pleasant, much less with forgiveness of sins. It was the summa supplicium (Latin for “supreme penalty”), reserved for the worst offenders. A later Roman jurist, Julius Paulus, writing around the beginning of the third century, indicated there were three supreme penalties: beheading, burning, and crucifixion (the latter being the most terrible of all).

Being nailed to a cross and left to hang until death was such a horrific means of execution that, as a general rule, Roman citizens were exempt from facing it. Such a humiliating and agonizing demise was reserved for those guilty of murder, banditry, treason, desertion, sedition, and the like. According to Cicero, the statesman who died about 40 years before Jesus was born, “Far be the very name of a cross, not only from the body, but even from the thought, the eyes, the ears of Roman citizens.” Thus, a Roman cross, now cherished by millions, was, at one time, not a subject fit for polite Roman conversation.

Josephus, witness to many a crucifixion, called it “the most wretched of deaths.” And Seneca, born about the same time as Jesus, offered this insight: “Is anyone found who, after being fastened to that accursed wood, already weakened, already deformed, swelling with ugly weals on shoulders and chest, with many reasons for dying even before getting to the cross, would wish to prolong a life-breath that is about to experience so many torments?” To top it all, the law of God, given through Moses, itself placed a curse on anyone put to death by hanging on a tree (Deut. 21:22-23).

In a world where life could be cheap and death came in many varieties, why was crucifixion so despised? It robbed whatever dignity one had left, forcing the naked victim to endure pulsing pain in a public venue as an object lesson, often with ridicule and verbal abuse thrown in for good measure. By design, it was a lingering death. Some lived on a cross for days, exposed to humiliation, the elements, insects, and birds before finally expiring. After a brutal beating, Jesus lasted several hours on the cross (cf. Mark 15:25, 44; Luke 23:44-46). “Excruciating” is an English word for intense suffering. It comes from the Latin word excruciates, which literally means “out of the cross.” It was not just any death that Jesus endured, and we should be in awe that “being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8).

The concept of crucifixion was so odious to first-century sensibilities that people refused to believe a Savior could have been subjected to it. “The Old Rugged Cross,” so often preached and sung about, was a huge obstacle in the thinking of many. A victim of crucifixion did not fit the mold of the Messiah most Jews were looking for. And Gentiles of the Roman world found it difficult to embrace as a risen Savior someone who had died so despicably.

Opponents of Christianity even pointed to the cross as evidence Jesus was not divine. Minucius Felix, an early Latin writer, accused Christians of worshiping “a criminal and his cross.” No wonder Paul would state that “we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:23-24).

Before there could be Christ’s resurrection, there had to be his crucifixion. We can scarcely imagine the initial misery of the act, and the subsequent difficulty of explanation in convincing the masses of what had just happened, in light of an ingrained prejudice against anything associated with a cross. “For the word of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us who are saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18).

Paul, who had been “baptized into Christ” (Gal. 3:27), so identified with Jesus that he could say “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I that live, but Christ liveth in me: and that life which I now live in the flesh I live in faith, the faith which is in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20). Who but God could turn a hated means of death into a beloved symbol of everlasting life?





Posted in Church and State, Church History

“Compelle Intrare”

In Jesus’ banquet parable (Luke 14:12-24), the master sent his servant to gather up guests for the feast. His instructions were, “Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled” (v. 23, ESV).

In Latin, “compel people to come in” is written, “compelle intrare.” From early centuries of church history through medieval times and beyond, the Roman Catholic Church leaned on a grotesquely twisted interpretation of “compelle intrare” in Luke 14:23, concluding that governmental authorities had the right to coerce people into the church. In a perverse marriage, Catholicism and the state were so tied together that the former could dictate the latter use deadly force against the church’s enemies. And, the church’s enemies included whatever men and doctrines were not in lock step with what the Catholic Church taught. Forced conformity to Catholicism was the glue holding society together. Naturally, if people were allowed to study the Bible for themselves, voluntarily practice what they believed from their own study, and freely preach their views, it would be a fundamental threat to the church’s power (and the crumbling of society, as they knew it).

Reformers such as Martin Luther are often hailed for their courage in confronting the status quo in religion (i.e. Catholicism). Yet, what they created in the Reformation was simply another state religion like Catholicism—only with certain different doctrines. In other words, while Luther opposed the Catholic Church, he very much endorsed the idea that the Reformed church could use force against its own enemies.

While the reformers (such as Luther, John Calvin, etc.) were battling Catholicism, there were others insisting that both sides were wrong in their concept of a church which forced itself on everyone in a given locale. The view of these objectors was that the church of Christ consisted of voluntary believers, and that it had no connection to the state; nor was it biblical to use force in spreading the gospel. They studied their Bibles and clung to their convictions. They also found themselves mercilessly persecuted by both the Catholic Church and the Protestant Reformers.

Martin Luther commissioned his friend, Urbanus Rhegius, to fight those who were calling for a church formed only of voluntary believers. Rhegius said:

“The truth leaves you no choice; you must agree that the magistracy has the authority to coerce his subjects to the Gospel. And if you say, ‘Yes, but with admonition and well-chosen words but not by force’ then I answer that to get people to the services with fine words and admonitions is the preacher’s duty, but to keep them there with recourse to force if need be and to frighten them away from error is the proper function of the rulers….What do you suppose ‘Compelle intrare’ means?” (quoted in Leonard Verduin, The Reformers and Their Stepchildren, p. 74).

Those who thought the church and state were separate, that the state should not interfere with the church, and that the church should be organized along New Testament lines, were considered radicals and hated as enemies. One of them was Felix Manz, of Zurich, Switzerland. His goal was “to bring together those who were willing to accept Christ, obey the Word, and follow in His footsteps, to unite with these by baptism, and to leave the rest in their present conviction” (ibid.). In other words, Manz was opposed to coercion and held that the church should consist of true believers—those who wanted to accept and obey the gospel.

For his “heretical” ideas, Felix Manz had his hands tied around his bent knees, with a big stick shoved between his elbows and knees so that he could not move his arms. He was put in a boat and rowed into the Limmat River, where he was thrown into the frigid water to drown. The date was January 5, 1527.

Over the recent centuries, both Catholicism and Protestantism have had to back off of “compelle intrare,” but neither the former nor the denominations that sprang from the latter have gone all the way back to the primitive church’s organization and practice. Therein lies their insuperable problem.

If we, in the church of Christ, had lived back then, we would have been hunted like dogs by both Catholics and the Reformers. We are still at spiritual war with their religious descendants, but, thanks be, at least they cannot come after us today with a death warrant.