Posted in Baptism, Doctrine

A Brief Response To Massive Confusion

By Mac Deaver

The reader may be aware that not long ago I wrote a lengthy article exposing an unsound syllogism that had been written, the writer of which was trying to falsify our contention regarding what happens when a sinner is baptized into Christ. The article was entitled, “Who Is Added To the Church—Saint or Sinner?” The syllogism had been written by Daniel Denham whose name I did not call in the article. However, now he has placed a brief statement on Facebook which I have been sent. According to Denham, my whole article “can be falsified with one simple question. Mac Deaver, when an accountable person receives the remission of sins in baptism is he at that point saved or lost?” Then he goes on and refers to the law of excluded middle, showing that the man is either saved or lost, one or the other. My response: of course!

Denham’s confusion is apparent. He thinks that my article indicates that I would have trouble answering the question. Hardly! In baptism, when a person’s sins are forgiven, he is at that moment saved from those sins! But the problem is that Denham assumes (without proof) that the remission of sins is the same thing as entry into the kingdom. And this is where he is wrong!

Remission of sins is one thing; entry into the kingdom is another. And according to the Lord, entry demands not only immersion in water for remission of sins, but immersion in Spirit as well (John 3:3-5). So, again I raise the question, “Who does the Lord add to the church?” Denham is already on record as implying that the Lord adds a sinner to the church so that the sinner can now “in Christ” receive the spiritual blessing of the remission of his sins! In other words, Denham has taken the position that requires the sinner to bring sins into the kingdom so that while in the kingdom he can receive the remission of those sins! And he incredibly thinks that his one question somehow destroys the force of my article. Amazing! Consider:

  • T/F 1. The Lord adds a sinner to the church (False). It is false because one has to be forgiven in order to be added to the church (cf. Acts 2:47). Denham is already on record as declaring that one must be in Christ in order for his sins to be remitted. He implies that a sinner must bring his sins into the kingdom, and then while being in the kingdom, he receives the spiritual blessing of forgiveness per his wrong understanding of Ephesians 1:3, 7. So, Denham has the Lord adding sinners to the church in order to be make saints out of them after they have been added to the church! Why must they bring their sins with them into the church? Because forgiveness is a spiritual blessing, and it is only granted to those who are members of the church (according to Denham’s wrong view of Ephesians 1:3, 7).
  • T/F 2. The Lord adds a saint to the church (True). Only the saved are added to the rest of the saved (Acts 2:47). Sinners must become saints before they can enter. They must be born of both water and Spirit, and not just water (John 3:3-5). Kingdom entry entails being born of both water and the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5). Water only is not enough.
  • T/F 3. The Lord adds both saints and sinners to the church (False). Obvious! If sinners could enter the church as sinners, then there would be no point in their becoming saints. God is in the church and the devil is in the world, and the world cannot enter the church while still existing as the world (1 John 4:4; 5:19; Acts 2:47)!
  • T/F 4. The Lord adds neither saints nor sinners to the church (False). Since a church exists, somebody has entered it.

Denham’s confusion centers on his assumption that forgiveness equals entry. And his assumption is false. If his assumption were true that all cases of forgiveness granted in association with water baptism and based on the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ equaled kingdom entry at that moment, then that would imply that all of John’s disciples including the apostles would have entered the kingdom ten days before Pentecost of Acts 2. Why would the implication follow? It would follow because all of those disciples were baptized in water for the remission of their sins (Mark 1:4; Matt. 3:11), and the Lord died for them, was buried for them, and was raised for them, and remained on the earth 40 days following his resurrection. The forgiveness of their sins was granted ten days prior to Pentecost! And yet they did not enter the kingdom until they were immersed in the Holy Spirit ten days following the Lord’s ascension (Acts 2:1-4). But, if Denham’s assumption that forgiveness equals kingdom entry is accurate, then these disciples entered the kingdom ten days prior to Pentecost! The fact is that the kingdom’s actual coming was identified by the empirical miraculous power that verified the presence of the Holy Spirit (Mark 9:1; Acts 1:8).

According to Paul in Romans 6:3-4, a person is baptized into Christ Jesus. He is not baptized in Christ. If he were baptized in Christ that would mean that his baptism took place while the man was already in Christ. And this is the Baptist position on baptism! Paul does not teach that, but Denham by implication does. Given his confusion on Ephesians 1:3, we face the following:

  • T/F 1. Every spiritual blessing is in the church of Christ (True per Denham).
  • T/F 2. Initial forgiveness of sins is a spiritual blessing (True per Denham).
  • T/F 3. Initial forgiveness of sins is found only in the church of Christ (True per Denham).
  • T/F 4. One must be in the church of Christ in order to receive this remission of sins (True per Denham).
  • T/F 5. One then must be in the church of Christ prior to the remission of his sins (True per Denham).
  • T/F 6. Remission of sins is granted only to those who are already in the church of Christ (True per Denham).

Does the reader detect a problem? Unlike Denham, Paul teaches that through baptism one is forgiven first and then the forgiven party is regenerated and indwelled by the Spirit so that the party can arise to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:3-4). It is certainly true that by means of baptism one enters Christ. But the problem for Denham is that he can’t see that the sinner cannot be added to the church while a sinner; rather, the forgiven party must then be regenerated by God’s Holy Spirit, and recognized as a son (Titus 3:5-6; Gal. 4:6). Then, based on this recognition as a child of God, God moves the Holy Spirit to within the heart of that child (Gal. 4:6). Only his children are added to the church. So again, which is it, Denham? Does God add sinner or saint to the church? All of us ought to know that we cannot enter Christ (the spiritual body of Christ, or, the church of Christ) as sinners. But we also need to know that forgiveness does not by itself equal kingdom entry. Kingdom entry requires not only the water of forgiveness but the regeneration of the Holy Spirit so that we become partakers of the divine nature (John 3:3-5; Titus 3:5-6; 2 Pet. 1:4)! In baptism the Holy Spirit enters the body of the forgiven party, regenerates the human Spirit, and moves into that spirit (or, heart) to indwell (Acts 2:38; Titus 3:5-6; Gal. 4:6).

The man who is baptized into the death of Christ is the sinner who needs forgiveness for his sins by means of the Lord’s death (Rev. 1:5). The man who arises to walk in newness of life is the saint who, because of his forgiveness and regeneration is now a child of God. The saint is the one who now arises to walk in newness of life with the Holy Spirit in his heart as God’s own pledge of heaven to come (Eph. 1:13-14). The sinner was forgiven and the saved man was then added to the church! Consider:

  • T/F 1. The sinner is baptized into the death of Christ in order to receive remission of his sins (True).
  • T/F 2. The saint is baptized into the death of Christ in order to receive remission of his sins (False).

If #1 were false then no sinner can be saved by water baptism. If #2 were true, it would mean that saints (those persons already forgiven) would have no sins to be forgiven.

  • T/F 1. The sinner arises to walk in newness of life (False).
  • T/F 2. The saint arises to walk in newness of life (True).

If #1 were true, then forgiveness is not granted in water baptism (and that would mean that water baptism is not for the remission of sins!) and the sinner arises still in his sins. If #2 were false, then the sinner does arise to walk in newness of life while still in his sins. So, just as the Bible teaches, while under the water the sinner is forgiven of his sins. The forgiven party (Acts 2:38) is then regenerated (Titus 3:5-6 —being made partaker of the divine nature— 2 Pet. 1:4), recognized by God as a son, then indwelled by the Spirit who moves to within his heart (Gal. 4:6). The child of God then arises to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:3-4). Denham cannot answer correctly the question, “Who does the Lord add to the church—sinner or saint?” without contradicting his position on Ephesians 1:3!

Posted in Doctrine, Instrumental Music, Worship

The Instrumental Music Question, From Another Angle

More and more, members of the Lord’s church in various places are beginning to advocate the use of mechanical musical instruments in worshiping God. This, in spite of all the hard won battles of days gone by, where ground was gained and minds were converted to the truth when we once powerfully proclaimed that every belief and practice must have a “thus saith the Lord” in back of it.

Often, the justification for instruments in modern worship is based, at least in part, on an appeal to the Old Testament. Perhaps the one making such appeal does not comprehend the distinction between the Old and New Testaments. Or, perhaps he believes that any practice that was once right in God’s eyes will always be right in God’s eyes. Thus, if Israel used instruments under the law of Moses, there is no way instruments could be wrong now.

In replying to that argument, we have often held up examples of other Old Testament practices, such as animal sacrifices and burning incense, neither of which we use in our worship now. N. B. Hardeman rightly argued along those lines in his classic 1923 debate with Ira Boswell. That which proves too much, proves nothing. If instrumental music is alright now because it was alright once, then we should also be able to offer goats in worship, and even practice polygamy.

But, let us approach the subject from a different angle (which I have not seen done before). If it is right to justify instruments today because Israel used them at one time, then ponder what that means. If an Old Testament practice could never be wrong in the New Testament, then would it not also follow that every right practice in the New Testament would also have to be a right practice in the Old Testament? Said another way, if “once right, always right” is true, then it should follow that what is right under the gospel should not have been sinful under Moses. In other words, the principle (if correct) should work both ways, right?

Consider that there are numerous Old Testament prophecies about the church, and that “all peoples, nations, and languages” would serve the Messiah (e.g. Daniel 7:13-14). What if a forward looking Israelite decided to ignore the distinction God made under Moses between Jew and Gentile? After all, the gospel makes clear that such a distinction exists no more (see, especially, Ephesians 2:11-22). Jesus brought Jew and Gentile together in himself, having torn down the “dividing wall of hostility” that had been put there by divine legislation. Now, did any Jew in Old Testament days have the right to ignore that “dividing wall” God built? No. It was good that it existed under the Old Testament. But, it is sinful for anyone under the New Testament to perpetuate what was abolished with Jesus’ death. If someone today says that every Christian doctrine would have been right to practice in the Old Testament, that is simply false. And the converse is false, as well. It is wrong to say that every Old Testament religious practice must be acceptable to God now. It is wrong to justify any practice solely on its being right under a divine law that has now been abolished.

Moses did not baptize for remission of sins, and it would have been sinful for him to start the practice. Likewise, we do not approach God through Levitical priests serving in a tabernacle containing the Ark of the Covenant. We would sin in trying to re-establish that expired practice.

The gospel brought radical change to the status quo of two millennia ago. It is wrong today to kill a goat as an animal sacrifice to God—not because it has always been wrong, but because it is not authorized in the gospel. It is wrong today for a man to have two (or more) wives—not because it has always been wrong, but because it is not sanctioned in the gospel. It is wrong today to enforce Jewish dietary laws (cf. Mark 7:19)—not because they were wrong under Moses, but, rather, because they have not been re-instituted under the gospel of Christ. Think of the law of Moses as having been issued with a sunset provision. Moses’ law was nailed to the cross, but, unlike Christ, it was never resurrected (cf. Hebrews 10:9; Colossians 2:14; Ephesians 2:15).

Our task is not to imitate what God once allowed under a now-abolished law, but, rather, to learn what his new law demands. To justify present practice by relying on the law of Moses is like going to the store to make a purchase with a stack of Confederate money. It would have worked (in the South) in the early 1860’s, but nowhere today. “In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (Hebrews 8:13, ESV). True, the Jews had musical instruments in worship, but their entire God-given system turned obsolete and vanished, taken out of the way, nailed to the cross by God himself. The Old Testament has much to offer (cf. Romans 15:4), but it is not normative for worship in the Lord’s church. No one has the right to appeal to the Old Testament in justifying a practice he cannot find in the New Testament!

In a nutshell, the old covenant was abolished. The new superseded it. The new covenant does not say anything about the Lord’s people using mechanical musical instruments to worship God, but it does mandate singing to worship God. Hence, the church of Christ’s historic opposition to anything other than acapella music in worship. Those who would give up that position must prove that instruments are acceptable in worship today, but on what basis? If they do not prove it by Scripture, they are disobeying 1 Thessalonians 5:21. They cannot justify it based on the Old Testament. The only remaining option is to justify the practice by New Testament proof. Where is that?

God can—and has—changed his law in going from Moses to Christ (cf. Hebrews 7:12-14). Those who would take a superseded, abolished law from Moses to sanction worship that Christ never authorized, are playing with fire.

Posted in Doctrine, Salvation

Who Is Added To the Church–Saint or Sinner?

By Mac Deaver

For several years we have maintained that in order for a person to enter the church, several things must occur. Most of us are very familiar with the plan of salvation or the steps of obedience, so that we are clear on the fact that one must move from personal faith to repentance to confession of his faith and then to baptism. We have believed and taught this developmental procedure for years and years. And we have been correct.

But there is another procedural point that is not at times rightly comprehended because insufficient thought has been given to it, and that is that sinners must become saints before they can enter the kingdom. Now why is this so? It is so because it is either the case that (1) the Lord adds sinners to the church or (2) the Lord adds saints to the church. And to get the matter straight in our heads, we have got to comprehend when forgiveness transpires. Furthermore, we need to know just who it is that God forgives in the act of conversion. God either forgives (1) the sinner, or he forgives (2) the saint. Whom does he forgive?

I have explained both in book and in public debate that in the process of conversion, a person is forgiven of his sins (Acts 2:38), then he is regenerated by the Holy Spirit (Tit. 3:5, 6), and then he is indwelled by the Holy Spirit (Gal. 4:6), and then he arises to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:3, 4). This is the chronologically correct conceptual order and actual event order. Now, to be sure, the forgiveness, regeneration, and indwelling, all take place within the blink of an eye. And they all take place while the human body is under the water! Following these conceptually distinctive events, the baptized person is then lifted up. He breaks the surface of the water, but by that time, he is already a forgiven, regenerated, indwelled Christian. He arises to walk in newness of life. This is the essential conceptual and actual event order in the process of conversion as it entails the momentary transition from sinner status to saint status. Scripture makes it plain that this order cannot be gainsaid. When one attempts to change the sequence of events in the process, he faces doctrinal implications that are incoherent regarding the nature of salvation.

Let us make this inquiry as simple as we can. Let us, then, imagine an alien sinner responding to the gospel invitation, stating his desire to become a Christian. Based on his repentance and now on his having-been-taken confession of faith, he withdraws to the dressing room, from which he then enters the baptistery. Who walks into the baptistery? A sinner or a saint? Unlike most denominationalists, we in the churches of Christ have for years correctly defended the view that a sinner enters the water (Acts 22:16)! Faith alone cannot save (John 1:11, 12); faith with repentance alone cannot save (Acts 2:37, 38), and the confession must be followed by baptism in order for it to contribute to salvation (Rom. 10:9, 10; 1 Tim. 6:12; Rom. 6:3, 4).

Now, the baptizer and the alien sinner stand in the water before the audience. The sinner is then lowered (immersed) in the water. What happens while he is under the water? The first thing that happens is that God forgives the man, and that forgiveness takes place in the mind of God. God no longer counts the man a sinner! Since he has done everything that the New Testament requires of him to become a child of God, God now grants that much desired forgiveness (Acts 2:38; 22:16). The human spirit is now clean (Eph. 5:26; Heb. 10:22). Second, God regenerates that human spirit since it is now forgiven of all sin. This means that the Holy Spirit actually and personally and directly contacts the human spirit and changes its nature! The human spirit is revitalized; it is given spiritual life (Tit. 3:5, 6). Its nature is now altered (2 Pet. 1:4). Now, why must regeneration follow forgiveness? It must follow instead of precede because if the alien sinner were still in his sins, then God would be giving spiritual life to one who remained guilty of his sins. Any sinner must be forgiven before he can be granted spiritual life! If someone objects to the Holy Spirit’s being placed within the body of the baptized person in order to regenerate the spirit of that person, he must remember that the Holy Spirit is being given to a forgiven person! At this point of the process, the Spirit is within the body but outside the spirit of the person. He works from the outside of the human spirit or heart to regenerate it. Why? Because the nature of the forgiven person must be changed before the Spirit can take up his permanent abode! But if someone objects and says: “Yes, but Mac is saying that the Holy Spirit is within the body of a person not yet in the kingdom,” my response would be that (1) certainly he is within the body of a person not yet in the kingdom, but (2) he is in the body of the person who is about to enter the kingdom and who is under the water, and (3) he is in the body of the person who stands already forgiven!

Then, following the forgiveness and regeneration, the Holy Spirit moves to within the spirit or heart of the person who is immersed in water. How do we know that this act takes place at this time? We know it because Paul tells us. “And because ye are sons, God sent forth the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, Abba, Father” (Gal. 4:6). Paul doesn’t simply state that the Spirit moved to within our bodies, but into our hearts. And he cannot take up his abode in an unholy place. His “abiding” in this permanent location is the indwelling of the Spirit, which takes up his abode for holy purposes (Rom. 8:9-11; cf. 1 Thess. 4:1-8; Gal. 5:22-24; Eph. 1:13, 14; 1 Cor. 6:12-20).

Now, as proven in our book, Except One Be Born From Above, the water in baptism is for the remission of sins. John’s baptism was water baptism, and it was for the remission of sins (Mark 1:4). But water baptism alone could not and did not ever put one into the kingdom. This is what Jesus was telling Nicodemus. It is likely that Nicodemus himself had already received John’s baptism, but whether he had or had not, the Lord made it clear that water baptism alone could not secure entry into the kingdom (John 3:3-5). But another point that we have often overlooked is that the continuation of the fact that water alone as continued under the “great commission” assignment could not provide entry into the kingdom any more than it could during the days of John’s ministry. As I explained in tedious detail in our book, this is what Luke is telling us in Acts 8:12-17 and in Acts 19:1-7. Water alone never put anyone into the kingdom even under the “great commission” assignment given the apostles! Water, in the story of redemption, has always been for the remission of sins (of course, in the sense of a stipulated requirement). But it has never been by itself a way into the kingdom. It has been a requirement of the gospel because only forgiven people can enter the kingdom!

Now, let us seriously consider Acts 2:47. “…And the Lord added to them day by day those that were being saved.” The KJV has “And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” Actually the word “church” is not in the Greek text. But clearly, somebody was being added to something or to somebody else. The Interlinear Greek-English New Testament by Marshall puts it, “And the Lord added the [ones] being saved from day to day together.” The words “being saved” come from an accusative, plural, masculine, present, passive participle. The word “added” is a 3rd person, singular, imperfect, active verb. So, the verb indicates that at the time that Luke was recording the account, God had been adding together or placing together (and Luke says it was on a day by day basis) some people. Now who exactly were being placed together? The “being saved” ones. So, as sinners were being saved, they were being added to the rest of the saved. But the question with which we are now most interested is, “Were these people sinners or saints at the time that they were on a day by day basis being added together by the Lord?” Precisely, the question entails the following theoretical possibilities: That is (1) the Lord was adding together all saved people, or (2) he was adding together all lost people, or (3) he was adding together some lost people to already saved people, or (4) he was adding some saved people to already lost people. Now, dear reader, which is it? To a Bible student, the answer is obvious! The tense of the Greek verb by itself cannot answer this question. Dana and Mantey inform us that “…in dealing with the present tense we must consider not only the fundamental force of the tense, but also the meaning of the verb root, and the significance of the context” (A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament, p.181).

Now, we know that those referenced by Luke in Acts 2:47 were not being added to the church or to the rest of the saved prior to their own conversion. If the saved constituted the group to which others were added, obviously then those being added could only be more people who were being saved without destroying the nature of the group. This much should be certainly clear. But the point of controversy is the point at which the being-converted ones or the being-saved ones are precisely being added to the rest of the already-saved. We know that it happens while the person being baptized is still in the water. But we are attempting to point out that there is even more explanatory precision that is provided for us in the New Testament. Our concern just now is to locate the exact point at which the being-converted ones are being added to the rest of the saved. So, let us consider, in the light of Acts 2:47, some True-False questions:

  • T/F 1. God added forgiven sinners as sinners to the church. (False)
  • T/F 2. God added saved men as saved men to the church. (True)
  • T/F 3. God added neither sinners nor saved men to the church. (False)
  • T/F 4. God added both saved men and sinners to the church. (False)

The reader should have absolutely no trouble whatever in coming up with the correct answer to the above. So, now let us move on.

  • T/F 5. God added forgiven men who were not yet regenerated to the church. (False)
  • T/F 6. God added only regenerated men to the church. (True)
  • T/F 7. God added neither regenerated nor non-regenerated men to the church. (False)
  • T/F 8. God added both regenerated and non-regenerated men to the church. (False)

Is this hard? Surely, any member of the church ought to be able to answer all of the above with ease. If someone is not clear on the last set of questions, he should realize that to regenerate is to give life to, to make alive, to revitalize. It is not the same thing as forgiveness. That is why we know that regeneration follows (rather than precedes) forgiveness. If it preceded forgiveness, then we would face the absurd situation of a sinner’s being made spiritually alive while still in his sins! Most members of the church understand that in some situations there is the necessity of conceptual order (for example, faith must precede repentance, and repentance must precede baptism).

But just here and before proceeding with what happens while a person is in the water of baptism, let us go back for a moment and revisit the concept of a necessary sequential order in the plan of salvation before one enters the baptistery. And we see that it is not simply a conceptual order but it is a chronological order as well. That is, just as there is a conceptual order to the topics of faith, repentance, confession, and immersion in the life of any man who becomes a Christian, just so there is a time sequence in which each item must exist. I am reminded that years ago I received a phone call from a Baptist preacher whom I was about to engage in public debate. He assured me on the phone that when he said that we are saved by “faith only,” that he was including repentance! My, my! How convenient, but it is ludicrous. “Faith only” is not only faith if repentance is added to faith. Language cannot cover such misguided conceptual confusion. My opponent’s definition of his expression contradicted the words of the expression. If I were to claim that “baptism only” saves us but then added that by “baptism only” I mean to include faith and repentance, “baptism only” is not only baptism.

In his second negative of the Warren-Ballard Debate, brother Warren said regarding Ballard, “He said repentance and faith are joined together. Where is the Scripture that says it? Where is the Scripture that says repentance and faith are joined together?” (p. 44). Of course, there is none! The steps in the plan of salvation are not simultaneous steps. That is, since one can come to faith without yet repenting, we know that faith must come before repentance can occur (Acts 2:37, 38). And since one can arrive at faith and yet refuse to confess his faith, and since we know that one cannot rightly confess what he does not believe, we know that confession of faith follows the initiation of faith (John 12:42, 43). And since baptism transfers a person into Christ (Gal. 3:26, 27), we know that faith, repentance, and confession must precede baptism.

Now, let us get back to the baptistery and again focus on the conceptual distinctions and the chronological order of the sequence of events that transpires while the person being baptized is in the water. We have already determined that prior to the sinner’s entering the baptistery, (1) he has come to faith, (2) he has repented of his sins, and (3) he has confessed his faith. Now he steps down into the water, and someone (usually the preacher) then immerses him in that water. Now, regarding the most serious topic of salvation and kingdom entry, what is the order of spiritual events that transpires while the person being baptized is yet under the water (immersed in or submerged in that water)?

Is water baptism for or unto the remission of sins? Yes (Mark 1:4; Acts 2:38). Can God regenerate or make spiritually alive a person who is yet dead in his sins while he is still in his sins and yet to be forgiven? No. Then, regeneration must follow forgiveness (Tit. 3:5, 6). So now we have the chronological order of (1) forgiveness of sins and then (2) regeneration. Now, notice that regeneration is changing the nature of the dead human spirit into a live human spirit by virtue of its having its nature changed. This is 2 Peter 1:4. While in the water, the baptized person’s nature is changed, so that now he is considered not only forgiven, but regenerated or revitalized by God’s Holy Spirit so that he is now at a higher level of association with God than his being in sin allowed him to be (See the discussion of this vital point in chapter 13 of our book, Except One Be Born From Above—especially look at the “Scale Of Connection” on page 218). Now, understand that it is the regeneration (which is what being born from above means) that makes one finally fit for the kingdom. It is the “regeneration” that belongs to the washing, that now causes God to consider this forgiven person as now finally his child! Forgiveness alone doesn’t make him a member of the church; it does not transfer him to the kingdom. It takes both the water of forgiveness and the regeneration of the human spirit by the Holy Spirit to make one fit for the kingdom! Read Titus 3:5-6 very carefully along with John 3:3-5.

In talking with Nicodemus, Jesus said that a person cannot enter the kingdom unless he is born of water and Spirit. If to be born of water is to be baptized in water, then it cannot be successfully gainsaid that to be born of Spirit is to be baptized in Spirit (See our book, pages 109-117, for a more thorough discussion of this point and for refutation of the suggestion that to be born of Spirit simply means to be baptized in harmony with the teaching of the Holy Spirit). And for the elaborated proof that water-only baptism has always been baptism into the name of Jesus only (and not into the names of the Father and Holy Spirit), see our book, chapter 1 (as well as pages 61-68).

Follow this carefully. It is at the point when a person (still being under the water) is not only forgiven but now has been regenerated in his spirit by the Holy Spirit of God, that God now sees that person as a spiritual child of his! That is the time at which God then, because he now recognizes him as no longer guilty and no longer dead, sees him as a son! Notice that Paul tells us specifically that God sends the Holy Spirit into the hearts of those whom he considers his children (Gal. 4:6). Please observe that God does not send the Holy Spirit into the hearts of (1) those not yet sons, (2) those not yet sons in order to make them sons, and not even (3) those not yet sons who are already forgiven! It is when a forgiven person is completely regenerated by the Holy Spirit of God (and, of course, while the person is still in the water), that God moves the Spirit from the outside of the heart to the inside of the heart as well. Now, not only does the Spirit enclose the heart, but it indwells the heart. I discuss this point in detail in our book to show why the idea that we are “in” Spirit is equally accurate to the expression the Spirit is “in” us. This is what makes it possible for the person under the water to arise to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:3, 4; 2 Cor. 5:17)!

If someone objects to the foregoing and says that there is no detailed chronological order to the events that transpire while the person is under the water, he must face the numerous logical contradictions that his suggestion necessarily entails. If someone says that what we claim is false because we have a “forgiven” party not yet “regenerated,” and we have a “regenerated” party not yet in the kingdom, the first thing that we need say is that the not-yet-in the-kingdom-party is still in the water. And we are, after all, discussing the transition from sinner status to saint status! And secondly, we must remember that Jesus told us that the birth of water and Spirit was required in order for any man to enter the kingdom (John 3:3-5). Unless we are born both of water and Spirit, we cannot enter the kingdom! We can only enter by virtue of our being baptized in both water and Spirit. Read John 3:3-5 very, very carefully.

Now, we see the person being baptized in the baptistery. And we know that while his body is submerged in the water, that God forgives him. And we know that forgiveness alone is not enough to catapult him into the kingdom. But we do know that birth of water along with birth of Spirit can do that very thing. Thus, today when the believing penitent who has confessed his faith now has (1) a body under the water, and (2) a human spirit or heart regenerated by the Holy Spirit himself, having been dispatched to that person from Jesus Christ (Matt. 3:11; Luke 3:16), he satisfies the twofold requirement that the Lord gave Nicodemus. He is now born of water and Spirit, and just as the person’s body immersion is a baptism in water, just so his spirit or heart immersion is a baptism in Spirit!

If someone objects to the order of events as here described as occurring while a having-confessed, penitent believer is being baptized in water, and claims rather that everything happens simultaneously (forgiveness, regeneration, indwelling), then (1) he faces not only the logical contradictions that his denial implies, but (2) he contradicts the very notion of the essentiality of sequential events as described in Scripture.

Now let us consider one final point. One is either in the kingdom or out of the kingdom. Our discussion of what happens while a baptized person is under the water, helps us to see where the line is crossed from being outside the kingdom to being inside the kingdom. According to the Bible, since God can only add the saved to the rest of the saved (the church), a person has to be not only forgiven but regenerated. And today in every occurrence of kingdom entry, it is always at the point of regeneration that one is added to the church. [I have to say “today” because in the cases involving initial entry of the three major ethnic groups (Jews, Samaritans, Gentiles) into the kingdom in the first century era, there was a time lapse that occurred (1) between the time that some entered the water and the time in which they received the Spirit or (2) between the time in which they received the Spirit and the time in which they entered the water (see Mark 1:4 with Acts 2:1-4; Acts 8:12-17; Acts 10:44-48)]. Today every person who enters the kingdom enters the water first before he can receive the Spirit.

Following regeneration, the person is now a son into whose heart the Spirit then goes. So, notice the following conceptual stages: (1) forgiven, (2) regenerated by Holy Spirit, (3) identified as spiritual kinfolk (sons and daughters of God), so that we are then (4) indwelled by Holy Spirit. Since point (2) is the point at which our nature is changed, that is where we become the sons and daughters of God. Because we are his children, then, he sends the Spirit to abide in our hearts (Gal. 4:6).

So again, if objections come which claim that this makes no sense because we then face the fact that (1) a forgiven person is not yet in the kingdom, and (2) a regenerated person is not yet indwelled, and that (3) a son of God is recognized as a son without his having the indwelling Spirit within his heart, remember that all of these events take place in the blink of an eye while the baptized person’s body is under the water as he is being changed from sinner to saint. And the process is not over until each stage is reached. And the complete process is ever so quickly completed while one is still under the water! But conceptual distinctions must absolutely be observed. If we deny them, we wind up in conflict with the doctrine of salvation as explained in Scripture and have to face the logical contradictions that are by the denial implied.

To clarify, let us say again that (1) we are not added to the kingdom at the point of forgiveness because we have not yet at that point been immersed in Spirit. (2) We are then regenerated by the Holy Spirit, which regeneration constitutes the baptism of the Holy Spirit. (3) We are not yet added to the kingdom at the point of regeneration, but we have by this point been born of water and Spirit. The body is immersed in water and the human spirit is immersed in Holy Spirit. (4) Now we are added to the kingdom because as recognized children of God, God sends his Spirit into our hearts per Galatians 4:6. This encompassing Holy Spirit (surrounding my human spirit in regeneration) now moves to the inside of my heart. His now being within my heart constitutes the indwelling. It is now true that (1) a person is then “in Christ” and that (2) Christ is “in him” or, to say it differently but equally truthfully, that (1) a person is now “in Spirit” and (2) the Spirit is “in him.” And when a person is in Spirit and has the Spirit within him, he is in the kingdom (Rom. 8:9-11; Luke 17:20, 21). God only adds his spiritual children to the kingdom. He only adds saints (and not sinners) to the church!

If one attempts to deny the “process” of salvation (whether before the water or while one is under the water), he faces great difficulty. We have historically known about (1) the difficulties that denominationalists have faced when attempting to dismantle the logical steps in the plan of salvation or by combining concepts that cannot be joined (cf. Warren-Ballard Debate again). But what about (2) the difficulties that we face as brethren if we attempt to deny the process and the distinctions that the Bible makes as to the sequence of events that transpire while the baptized person is under the water? What if someone claims that there is no process so that everything takes place at once? What if all that occurs, occurs simultaneously? Well, let’s consider that.

If it is true that, while a person is being baptized in water, “everything takes place at once,” it either takes place inside the kingdom or outside the kingdom. Which is it? We know that the sinner entered the baptistery. Now if, while he is under the water, “everything takes place at once,” then let’s consider the first option. Let us say that he is forgiven, regenerated, recognized as a child of God, indwelled by God’s Spirit while he is still outside the kingdom. Is this possible? Is it possible for a forgiven, regenerated, recognized, and indwelled child of God to be outside the kingdom? NO! Why not? In the first place, it is “no” because only those who are in the kingdom (or church) can finally enter heaven, and the indwelling Spirit is the earnest of that inheritance (Eph. 1:13, 14), and in the second place, when a person is indwelled by the Spirit, that means that since the Spirit of Christ is now “in” him, the kingdom is “within” him (Luke 17:20, 21). Consider the chart:

While Under The Water
Remission of sins → Regeneration → Recognition → Residence

It is at the point of “Residence” that the Spirit resides within the heart of the forgiven, regenerated, and now recognized person! At the point of “Residence” we have (1) the person’s heart residing within the Holy Spirit, and (2) the Holy Spirit residing within the heart of that person. This is why Jesus could say that “the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20, 21), and Paul could say, “But ye are not in flesh but in Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you. But if any man hath not Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Rom. 8:9). On the chart the transition of the forgiven, regenerated, recognized party takes place as the person moves from “Recognition” to “Residence.” One is not in the kingdom until he reaches the point where he resides in Christ by residing in the Spirit of Christ and where Christ by his Spirit resides in that person!

Let’s try the second option. The person in the water, let us say, is forgiven, regenerated, recognized as a child of God, and indwelled by God’s Spirit, and all of this while he is inside the kingdom. But we all surely know that if a person is forgiven and regenerated while he is inside the kingdom, we are saying that he enters the kingdom before he receives such forgiveness and regeneration. In other words, this position implies that one must enter the kingdom in order to receive forgiveness and regeneration! So, as it turns out, the claim that all that occurs while one is in the water occurs at the same time actually implies an impossible chronological process of its own! The view implies, if one takes the second option, that one must (1) enter the kingdom, or church, in order (2) to receive forgiveness and regeneration!

Now, if someone suggests that Paul did claim in Ephesians 1:3 that all spiritual blessings are “in” Christ rather than outside of Christ to bolster the claim that initial forgiveness of sins must be then found “in” Christ, we examine the claim first by asking, “What did Paul mean?” Consider the following argument that recently appeared in print:

Major Premise: If the Mac Deaver doctrine of present day Holy Spirit baptism is true, then the doctrine that alien sinners receive the remission of sins before and without entering the spiritual body of Christ is true.

Minor Premise: The doctrine that alien sinners receive the remission of sins before and without entering the spiritual body of Christ is not true (Eph. 1:3, 7).

Conclusion: Therefore, the Mac Deaver doctrine of present day Holy Spirit baptism is not true.

This is a valid argument form called modus tollens. However, it is not a sound or dependable argument because a sound argument is not only valid, but its premises are true as well. In this argument the minor premise is false. That means that the argument is not sound!

If the expression “all spiritual blessings” includes initial forgiveness and regeneration, and if the expression “in Christ,” means “the church of Christ,” then it is clear that one must enter the church of Christ before he can receive initial forgiveness and regeneration! That is, the sinner must enter the church as sinner, and then he must after being admitted to the church as sinner, receive forgiveness and regeneration, which means then that at first he is a sinner in Christ but afterward he is a saint in Christ! But we know that this is not so. The saved are added to the rest of the saved, as we have previously proven. So, this implication is false. It is simply false doctrine to contend that “initial forgiveness of alien sins” is found “in Christ,” taking that expression to mean in “the church of Christ.” That will not work! So, we have to determine what spiritual blessings are being contemplated in the passage and/or we have to more carefully define what “in Christ” in the passage means.

Look at it like this: Is the Bible a spiritual blessing? If we answer “yes,” then we can see that either (1) the Bible is being excluded from the category of spiritual blessings as contemplated by Paul in Ephesians 1:3 [so that only spiritual blessings that only Christians actually have access to are being included] or (2) the Bible is being included in the category of “spiritual blessings” being referenced by Paul, but if it is, then the expression “in Christ” must refer not to the church of Christ but rather to the person of Christ since many people outside the church of Christ have access to the Bible.

If we answer the question (“Is the Bible a spiritual blessing?”) with a “no,” we find ourselves having to face the implication that then it is either not spiritual or not a blessing. And since it is the most spiritual book we can have, being produced by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:12, 13; 2 Tim. 3:16, 17; 1 Pet. 1:10, 11; 2 Pet. 1:20, 21), we wouldn’t say it is not spiritual. And we certainly would not deny that it is a blessing!

So, the answer to the question (“Is the Bible a spiritual blessing?”) must be “yes.” But that means we have to face the implications that then (1) it is excluded from Paul’s comments in Ephesians 1:3 or it is being included. I do not think that the context will allow for its exclusion, but if someone suggested that it must be excluded because the expression “in Christ” can only refer to the church of Christ, then I would suggest that then on equal grounds, the concepts of forgiveness of sin and regeneration can be equally excluded from the expression as found in the passage, so that Ephesians 1:3 lends no support whatever to the view that “forgiveness and regeneration” take place “in Christ” meaning “the church of Christ.”

But, since there is no way to exclude the Bible from the category of spiritual blessings, the expression “in Christ” must mean, not the church of Christ, but the person of Christ himself! Paul elsewhere clearly does make the distinction between the Lord’s spiritual body (the church) and himself. In fact, later in the book of Ephesians, he does this very thing, distinguishing between glory being “in the church and in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 3:21). Furthermore, in the letter to the saints at Colossae, Paul claims that “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” are hidden in Christ (Col. 2:2, 3). This is claiming that it is by reason of the person of Christ (not the church of Christ) that this wisdom and knowledge are available! And this lends support to what we have said about Ephesians 1:3 not excluding the Bible from the category of spiritual blessings. It is by means of the Spirit of Christ that we have the Bible (1 Pet. 1:10, 11; 1 Cor. 2:12, 13), but people outside the church of Christ have access to it. It would be absurd to claim that Paul was excluding the Bible from the category of spiritual blessings to be found “in Christ” when writing to the saints at Ephesus, and yet locate all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge “in Christ” when he writes to the Colossian brethren (2:2, 3)!

So again, I reiterate: Anyone who says that since all spiritual blessings are in Christ (meaning the church of Christ), and since initial forgiveness of sins is a spiritual blessing to be found in Christ (meaning the church of Christ), is taking the Baptist position that one must get into Christ before he is baptized!

Finally, the reader by now should be able to answer the following True-False questions without difficulty.

Before One Enters The Water

  • T/F 1. Before the sinner is immersed in water, all that he does he does outside the kingdom. (True)
  • T/F 2. Before the sinner is immersed in water, all that he does he does inside the kingdom. (False)
  • T/F 3. Before the sinner is immersed in water, some things he does he does inside the kingdom and some things he does he does outside the kingdom. (False)

As One Is Immersed In Water

  • T/F 1. As the sinner is immersed in water, all that he experiences, he experiences outside the kingdom. (False)
  • T/F 2. As the sinner is immersed in water, all that he experiences, he experiences inside the kingdom. (False)
  • T/F 3. As the sinner is immersed in water, he experiences at least some things from outside the kingdom (forgiveness and then regeneration), and then he experiences at least one thing (indwelling) which transitions him from outside the kingdom to inside the kingdom. (True)

Note: At some point while under the water, the person has to go from outside to inside the kingdom!

  • T/F 4. The sinner leaves sinner status and gains saint status while he is under the water so that he can arise to walk in newness of life. (True)

When One Arises From The Water

  • T/F 1. As a saint all that he does he does inside the kingdom. (True)
  • T/F 2. As a saint nothing that he does he does inside the kingdom. (False)
  • T/F 3. As a saint only some things that he does he does inside the kingdom. (False)

May God help us to come to a greater understanding of and appreciation for the new birth. And let us all be united in the truth that the Lord adds only saved ones to the kingdom.

Posted in Doctrine

Find the Right One

By Weylan Deaver


An encyclopedia of religions lists over 2,600 faith groups in America and Canada. That staggering figure is in stark contrast to Jesus’ promise that “on this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). Most who call themselves “Christian” see no problem with thousands of different churches with differing doctrines, as though God were pleased with this arrangement. In fact, many see such diversity as a boon because they think it gives everyone opportunity to look for a church that “fits” them. The number of denominations keeps growing. The world keeps turning. The clock keeps ticking. God’s patience keeps lasting—for now.

All the while, the right church is the one found in the Bible, and not simply one found in a phone book, or with an internet search. Jesus is “the head of the body, the church” (Colossians 1:18). So the church is described, metaphorically, as Jesus’ body. Just how many bodies (churches) are there supposed to be? The apostle Paul wrote “there is one body” and that Jesus is the savior of that body (cf. Ephesians 4:4; 5:23). All who want to be saved eternally must be in the spiritual body of Jesus, which is the church of Christ.

Think about it. If there is only one church that Jesus promised (Matthew 16:18) and then purchased with his own blood (Acts 20:28), then every church which is not that church is a wrong church. But, how can anyone tell which church is right? Again, God’s plan is so simple. He wrote a guide for us called the New Testament. When a person obeys what that gospel teaches, he is a Christian. When a group of people in the same location all obey that book, you have a congregation of the church. Which church? God’s church. To find the genuine article, study your New Testament for the earmarks of the church when it first began, then find who is practicing the same now. The New Testament has not changed.

But beware. Satan is a subtle deceiver, making the multitudes content with churches that depart in countless ways from the original blueprint. Yet, Jesus says, “Every plant which my heavenly Father planted not, shall be rooted up” (Matthew 15:13). We in the church of Christ lovingly invite you to investigate us. Put our beliefs under a microscope. Shine a spotlight on our teaching. Check our practice against the words of the apostles. Ask hard questions. Think deeply. Dig until the truth is uncovered. It could very well mean you have to leave the church you are in. If so, pay that price. Eternity hangs in the balance. And one church—the Lord’s true church—outweighs every other. Find it.


Posted in Baptism, Doctrine, Marriage

What About Divorce and Remarriage Before Baptism?

By Weylan Deaver

It goes without saying our society has put a chasm between itself and Bible teaching on marriage and the family. Divorce is pandemic, and often followed by second or third marriages entered without any regard for what Jesus taught on the subject (e.g. Matt. 19:3-10, etc.). The pressure exerted by Satan on the church can be tremendous. The devil would like nothing better than to get Christians to compromise the gospel without realizing that is what’s happening. While the devil tempts us to fold up, God tests us to hold out and lift high the banner of divine truth—even if most turn a deaf ear (2 Tim. 4:1-4). While the world runs rampant in sin, the church is trying to reach out to save some souls. This leads to inevitable contact with couples in a second, third, or fourth marriage who may want to become Christians. There are two basic approaches to such a scenario.

The first approach says that Jesus’ teaching on divorce and remarriage (cf. Matt. 19:9; Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18; 1 Cor. 7:10-11) applies to everybody—Christian and unbeliever alike. Jesus’ gospel is for those in the church, as well as those outside of it, and the same commands, truths, and principles apply to all. Therefore, if a couple finds themselves in a marriage out of harmony with what Jesus taught, repentance demands they cease their unscriptural marital relationship. Put simply, they must get out of the marriage. Dissolving a sinful marriage is easier said than done, and may incur a plethora of difficulties, but the question needs asking, “How badly do I want to go to heaven?” Remember Jesus remarked, “there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 19:12, ESV). Tragically, most are not willing to do whatever it takes to be saved.

The second approach says that God has separate requirements for Christians, which the world is not expected to obey, and that Jesus’ teaching on divorce fits in this category. In other words, when Jesus said, “whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery” (Matt. 19:9), he was teaching something unbelievers were never obligated to listen to. Therefore, unbelievers are free to marry, divorce, remarry, divorce, and remarry again (ad infinitum) and, if they ever decide to become Christians, they can be baptized and keep whatever spouse they have at that time. Only after baptism do they become accountable to Jesus’ teaching, and they are expected to obey it from then on.

We believe this second view is fraught with error (not least of which is that Jesus’ original comments in Matthew 19 were directed to unbelieving Pharisees, not Christians). Consider but two brief arguments showing the second view to be wrong.

Argument #1

The combination of two simple verses should conclusively settle the matter. “And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery” (Matt. 19:9). Those words were initially spoken to unbelieving Jews (should they have replied, “Jesus, we’re sure glad you’re not talking to us!”?). Whatever else the New Testament says about divorce does not contradict what Jesus here plainly taught. All Scripture harmonizes with itself. Here is the second passage: “The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day” (John 12:48). Notice Jesus’ words are specifically said to be what judges those who refuse to receive them. What will judge the unbeliever? Jesus’ words will. And, Jesus’ words include what he taught about divorce! Put in logical form, the argument reads:

  • All unbelievers alive today are people who will be judged by Jesus’ words (John 12:48).
  • The words of Matthew 19:9 are Jesus’ words.
  • Therefore, all unbelievers alive today are people who will be judged by the words of Matthew 19:9.

Any Christian or church that believes pre-baptism marriages can be washed away, or that a pre-baptism unscriptural marriage can be turned into holy matrimony by baptism, has got to ignore this argument, or else try to falsify it. Yet, we see no way it can be successfully disproven.

Argument #2

Any position which implies an untruth is itself a false position. God is the God of all truth, and truth is consistent with itself. No Bible teaching implies error. No error can be proven by the Bible. And, any position implying an unbiblical conclusion cannot be true and should be abandoned.

The view that unbelievers are not accountable to Matthew 19:9 (etc.) implies error. How? Suppose Mike (a Christian) marries Jane (also a Christian). All sides agree Mike and Jane are bound to abide by Matthew 19:9 (since both are Christians). Suppose that Jane divorces Mike because he is too much into sports. All would agree that this divorce is not authorized by Matthew 19:9, and is contrary to what Jesus there taught. Now suppose that Jane marries Bill (an unbeliever). What would Jane and Bill’s relationship be? On Jane’s side, she is a Christian who had no right to divorce her first husband, and thus, had no right to marry Bill. Per Jesus’ teaching, she is now in adultery. But what about Bill? Those who insist that Matthew 19:9 does not apply to Bill (an unbeliever) must say one of two things. Either (1) Bill is in a God-sanctioned marriage to Jane, or (2) Bill is not in a God-sanctioned marriage to Jane.

If (1) Bill is in a God-sanctioned marriage to Jane, then that would imply that Matthew 19:9 does not even apply to the believer (Jane), in which case Jesus’ teaching on divorce applies to no one today. Any position which implies Jesus’ teaching on divorce is not applicable to anybody is a false position.

If (2) Bill is not in a God-sanctioned marriage to Jane, then what is it that would make Bill’s marriage wrong, since Bill’s marital status is allegedly not dependent on being in harmony with Matthew 19:9? If it is true that unbelievers are not under Jesus’ teaching, then no one can appeal to Jesus’ teaching to either justify or condemn an unbeliever’s marriage. If Bill and Jane’s marriage is adulterous, then Bill (an unbeliever) must be amenable to Matthew 19:9. But, if Bill and Jane’s marriage is not adulterous, then Jane (a believer) must not be amenable to Matthew 19:9. Either way, the belief under review runs aground, smashed on the rocks of inconsistency. That which implies error is itself error.

“What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matt. 19:6). A marriage is real only if God does the joining, and a divorce is actual only if God does the separating, and God joins and disjoins only according to his will, which is revealed as the New Testament! Does God join Bill to Jane (since he is an unbeliever), but not join Jane to Bill (since she is a believer out of harmony with Jesus’ teaching)? Are we to believe that Bill and Jane’s relationship is half adultery (i.e. on Jane’s part) and half holy matrimony (i.e. on Bill’s part)? Scripture knows nothing of such a hybrid marriage monstrosity. Every marriage is either adulterous or non-adulterous; there is no half-and-half. We can state a formal argument thus:

  • Any doctrine implying that a marriage can be simultaneously adulterous and non-adulterous is a false doctrine.
  • The view that unbelievers are not under Matthew 19:9 (etc.) is a doctrine implying that a marriage can be simultaneously adulterous and non-adulterous (see above).
  • Therefore, the view that unbelievers are not under Matthew 19:9 (etc.) is a false doctrine.

Far more can be said on the issue, but if the view under consideration can be falsified by one or both of the above arguments, then that is sufficient. A doctrine need not be disproven from multiple angles before we give it up. All it takes is one sound argument. And, if there is a single sound argument proving that a position is wrong, then the position is wrong, no matter what else may be marshaled in its defense. There seem to be far too many congregations who think Jesus’ teaching (at least on divorce) does not apply to people until after conversion. Yet, we have shown that to be error. If society had not drifted so far away from biblical teaching, the church might not be divided on this issue. But society has drifted. And the devil wants to take the church along with it. If we believe John 12:48, then we must believe that Matthew 19:9 will judge the unbeliever. It is that simple. If we do not believe Matthew 19:9 will judge the unbeliever, then we trample John 12:48. What will it be? “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous” (Heb. 13:4).

Posted in Doctrine, Evangelism

The Great Commission Has Been Fulfilled

By Mac Deaver

All of my growing up and most of my preaching career found me lingering under the misconception that Christians today remain bound by the Great Commission. My generation was not the first to be taught this as truth, and that is why I had the wrong idea about it. I had been misguided by those who went before me as they had been wrongly taught by those who went before them on this matter of the relationship of the church today to that long ago given assignment. It was common in the brotherhood of my youth for brethren to think that all Christians are under obligation to the Great Commission. That is, the view was pervasive throughout the church that all of us are under obligation to go into all the world to preach the gospel to the lost. And that is the way that preachers told the story of the cross. We kept the obligation constantly before ourselves and the brethren with whom we worshipped.

I can remember, however, as a young preacher being very bothered by the concept of that commission obligation as it related to me as a 20th century preacher. I remember as a young preacher discussing my frustrations about it with my father. I was trying to come to a better grasp of the relationship that we brethren (including us preachers) have to that assignment. Regarding evangelism, regardless what the church did, nothing ever seemed to get finished. Ever. Each generation lived and died and without the modern day fulfillment of the commission. But somehow, we thought that if we kept stressing it to ourselves, we were upholding a part of the permanent pattern of Christianity. And even though we all knew that not one generation since the first had ever fulfilled the commission, that somehow the failure of all of us since then did not have essential eternal consequences. That is, on the one hand (1) we told ourselves constantly that we were under the commission, and (2) constantly failed to fulfill the commission as every generation before us had (except the first one), and yet (3) each generation of Christians passed away bound for heaven. This is what we believed and preached.

Even now I would venture to say that most preachers spend a tremendous amount of time and energy reinforcing the view that evangelism today rests on the Great Commission assignment and that all brethren are under that assignment. Most appeals of would-be missionaries are based in part with references to our alleged obligation to the commission. But, the view is fraught with difficulty, and I would like to discuss it just here.

In our book, Except One Be Born From Above, I deal with this misconception in Chapter 15 entitled, “Facts That Paint The Picture Of Acts.” I want to emphasize what I say there about the commission and even provide more information to help explain why it is that we simply cannot be under that commission. I also wish to provide three sound arguments that conclusively demonstrate why it is impossible for us to be under that awesome assignment given to the apostles. But before we get into the elaborate discussion of the particular point that I wish to make, I would like to ask a few questions. Why don’t members of the church feel obligated to build an ark such as that constructed by Noah? We might say in response that the assignment to build that ark was a one-time assignment that fit a particular historical moment. Well, why don’t we Christians feel compelled to go and preach exclusively to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel”? We say, well, that assignment was given in an historical context where it was appropriate and it was given to the apostles only, and it was superseded later by a greater commission. All right then, why don’t members of the church feel compelled to produce more Scripture? We respond that such cannot be done because Scripture has been completed, and there is no miraculous capacity for the production of it. Okay. Why do members of the church today feel compelled to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature”? Unlike the responses thus far offered, we decide this time that we are under such obligation. And I ask, “WHY”?

The purpose of this article is to demonstrate truth regarding our non-amenability to the commission given by the Lord to the apostles before he left the earth. It is not the purpose to lessen our efforts among men in trying to reach the lost with the gospel, but I would have us all understand that any evangelistic effort that we put forth is based on something other than the commission. While it is true that all men are under obligation to become Christians (Acts 17:30-31), it is not true that all men are under obligation to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. There is a difference between “the great commandment” and “the great commission” (Matt. 22:37-40; Mark 16:15-16), just as there is a difference between one man’s obligation to preach (cf. 1 Cor. 9:16), and the world’s obligation to repent (Acts 17:30-31). While it is clear that the apostle Paul was in a category all his own, in one sense (Acts 9:16; 20:22-23), the whole world is in one category in need of salvation (John 3:16).

In the first place, please note that the view that Christians today are under the Great Commission fails to consider the unique position of the apostles. When we admit that no generation of Christians has carried the gospel into the whole world since those of the first century did, we likely are assuming that the first century church itself was under that assignment. But, dear reader, did you ever find a passage in the New Testament where that assignment was given by the apostles to the church? I have not found that passage. Let me ask it another way. Have you come across at least one passage in the New Testament where any apostle repeated the assignment (given to the apostles) to any other Christian as a stimulus to evangelistic activity? If you haven’t looked, let me go ahead and tell you: there is no such passage! It is certainly true (and who would want to deny it?) that we have many passages providing instructions on teaching and calling for teaching and examples of teaching. But we have absolutely no information to the effect that the first century church saw itself under the Great Commission assignment.

We preachers at times have not been very good interpreters of Scripture when it comes to this topic. For example, we have often quoted Acts 8:4 to undergird our current accepted notion that we are under the commission. The passage says, “They therefore that were scattered abroad went about preaching the word.” Where the American Standard Version (ASV) has “about,” the King James Version (KJV) has “everywhere.” We preachers have referred to this passage many times trying to shore up our responsibility to preach the gospel everywhere. And if that is all that we have in mind, there is no harm done. But the harm is in trying to attach the preaching everywhere that the scattered brethren did with an alleged obligation to the Great Commission.

To see the point I am trying to make, go to Mark 16. The commission is given to the apostles and to the apostles only (v. 14). They are told where to go and what to preach (v. 15). They are told what men must do to be saved (v. 16). Then Mark informs us of what will characterize the church. Certain named “signs” will accompany those who come into the kingdom (v. 17-18). Finally, the book closes with this summary remark: “So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken unto them, was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word by the signs that followed. Amen.”

Notice that the “they” who went forth and preached everywhere, according to Mark, are the apostles (v. 14, 19). In verses 17 and 18, we see that those who become believers will be characterized by miracles in their midst. In other words, the early church would have access to miraculous power. And Mark tells us that the apostles (over an unstated period of time) preached everywhere and that the Lord was working with them and confirming the preached word by signs (cf. Heb. 2:1-4). But most of the apostolic preaching “everywhere” took place later than this “scattering” in Acts 8 because Luke tells us that when the brethren scattered due to persecution, the apostles remained at this time in Jerusalem (v. 1).

Notice also that the brethren do not scatter to preach the gospel because they were given an assignment to do so, but because they were run out of town by persecution (v. 1). And those to whom the assignment was given to go into all the world and to preach everywhere remained in town! New converts, understanding the significance of the gospel, however, would gladly take the message with them regardless where they went, and this they did (v. 4). The first Christians, then, to preach outside of Jerusalem were non-apostles. They would gladly spread the truth as best they could while the apostles awaited further instructions in Jerusalem.

But how is it that those charged with the duty of going into all the world can remain in Jerusalem with divine sanction? We need to realize that even though the gospel was carried throughout the earth in about a thirty year period (Col. 1:23), there was no emergency! Why not? There was no emergency because all Jews and all Gentiles were still living under divinely provided religious systems that entailed salvation possibility, a salvation based on what God was going to do about their sins (Rom. 3:25-26; Heb. 9:15). Jews had heretofore been judged by the law of Moses and Gentiles had been judged by compliance with moral law (Rom. 2:12-15). All the Gentiles and most of the Jews remained amenable to their systems following Pentecost. So, Jews and Gentiles could live and die and be bound for glory before and even up to a point following Pentecost. There was no emergency because of the divine arrangement in place. Jews and Gentiles became answerable to the gospel as the gospel became accessible to them. The book of Acts relates to us this history. That means that all the preaching that was done by the apostles and the early church up to the time when Paul writes Colossians 1:23 was being done in an historical context where men could yet be saved in Judaism and Gentile-ism (because the gospel had not yet become accessible to them). The early church wasn’t making heaven a possible destiny for the first time (cf. Matt. 8:11; 22:32; Luke 16:19-31). Men became amenable to the gospel as the gospel reached them. Before it reached them, their obligation to God was for the Jew to obey Moses and for the Gentile to obey moral law. The good Jews and Gentiles went to Paradise when they died; the evil ones went to Tartarus. The book of Acts is capturing for us the historical and divinely guided change in amenability. God was taking the Jews and Gentiles, whom he himself had long ago separated (cf. Gen. 12:1-3), and placing them together by means of the third religious system which was based on the gospel (Eph. 2:11-22). We are watching (1) the going away of human amenability to the law of Moses (Judaism) and to moral law exclusively (Gentile-ism) and (2) the coming of universal amenability to the gospel of Christ.

No doubt, there was great harmony between the apostles and early saints in evangelism, but the church did not and could not sustain the relationship to the commission that the apostles did. How do we know? First of all, we know by (1) considering one of the qualifications for all apostles that remained in place, and by (2) considering clear statements declaring the responsibility that the apostles alone carried.

Remember that when Matthias was chosen to take the place of Judas just before Pentecost, there were two qualifications listed as essential for the replacement. First, the successor to Judas had to have been in the company of the other apostles when Christ was on earth beginning from the time when John began to administer his baptism and remaining in the company until the ascension of Christ (Acts 1:21-22). And, second, he had to be a witness of Christ following his resurrection. These were named as the two credentials for Judas’ successor. The first qualification, however, was not permanent to apostolic appointment, but the second one was. When Saul of Tarsus obeyed the gospel and became an apostle, he was appointed an apostle in spite of his not being in the company of the other apostles from the days of John, but he was required to see Jesus.

And that is why in Acts 9 we have the blinding appearance of Jesus in his glorified state to Saul (Acts 9:3-5). Barnabas explained to the twelve that Saul “had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him (Acts 9:27). Ananias later told Saul, “For thou shalt be a witness for him unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard” (Acts 22:15). Later Saul—or Paul—in a defense lesson declares that following the Lord’s identifying himself, he then said to Paul, “But arise, and stand upon thy feet: for to this end have I appeared unto thee, to appoint thee a minister and a witness both of the things wherein thou hast seen me, and of the things wherein I will appear unto thee” (Acts 26:16). He compared his late view of Jesus to an untimely birth of a child (1 Cor. 15:8). He was the last one appointed as an apostle to see Christ, and he saw him after he left the earth which, in a way, gave him a better view than all the others had ever been granted! Stephen, a non-apostle, just before his violent death had been granted such a view (Acts 7:55). This shows us that such a glorified view did not necessitate a blinding. In Paul’s case the glory was intensified so as to become blinding, and it was in addition to the view of Jesus. The lingering effects of the blinding may well have been the Lord’s way to humble Paul because of further visions and revelations to come (2 Cor. 12:1-10; Gal. 4:15; 6:11). So this leads us to a definite conclusion: those charged with taking the gospel into all the world were eyewitnesses of the Lord in his resurrected state! Of course, there were some others who were eyewitnesses as well (1 Cor. 15:1-8), but the Great Commission assignment wasn’t given to them. There is a definite distinction drawn between (1) all who saw the Lord following his resurrection and (2) those who had been “chosen before of God” and “who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead” (Acts 10:41; cf. Luke 24:33-43). It was to this second group that the commission was given “to preach unto the people, and to testify that this is he who is ordained of God to be the Judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:42). Obviously, Paul was not in this group, but his assignment was given by Christ following the Lord’s resurrection, ascension, and coronation (Acts 9:15-16). Paul claimed that Jesus had appointed him to service (1 Tim. 1:12).

Second, the ones responsible for the Great Commission assignment were ambassadors of Christ, and the ambassadors are distinguished from the rest of the world and even from the rest of the church. Notice carefully that Paul identifies himself with others who were given “the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18). Paul affirms that if a man had been reconciled to God, he had been thus reconciled through Christ. But not everyone who was reconciled was given a special ministry as such. It is certainly true that all Christians could and did have a certain kind of ministry in serving (cf. 1 Pet. 4:7-11), but Paul tells the Corinthians that “the ministry of reconciliation” was given to those he identifies as “us” and these men were those by whom God through Christ was reconciling the world to himself (2 Cor. 5:19). And the “us” to whom the ministry of reconciliation had been given is the same “us” that were reconciling the “world” or the “them” to God (2 Cor. 5:18-19). And finally, notice that the “us” by whom God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ are said to be the “ambassadors therefore on behalf of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:20).

The word for “ambassador” (presbuo) occurs only twice, here and in Ephesians 6:20. According to Harper’s Lexicon, this word means “to be elder; to be an ambassador, perform the duties of an ambassador.” There is another word (presbeio) which refers to “an eldership, seniority; an embassy, legation; a body of ambassadors, legates” (Luke 14:32; 19:14). In Luke 14:32 the word presbeo is translated “ambassage” and refers to those men sent by a king. In Luke 19:14 in the parable of the pounds, the Lord used the word to refer to a group of men who represented the citizenry that belonged to a certain nobleman. The representatives of that citizenry constituted the “ambassage.” The word that Paul uses in 2 Corinthians 5 is plural and translated “ambassadors” (representing Christ) and in Ephesians 6 this same word is in singular form and refers to Paul only as he calls himself “an ambassador in a chain.” Of course there is both an official meaning of representation and an unofficial sense of representation. The apostles were officials in that they were divinely selected and sent by God. The word “apostle” means “one sent as a messenger or agent, the bearer of a commission, messenger (Jno. 13:16); an apostle (Matt. 10:2).” Apostles in an unofficial sense (those not of the apostolic band, as such, but sent on a mission) would include Barnabas (Acts 14:14) and Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25). Paul’s commission, like that of the other official apostles, entailed the direct involvement of Christ himself. And Christ himself, though not one of the apostolic band or company, was certainly above them, being divine. And Christ was an “apostle” sent on a mission from heaven (Heb. 3:1). There were none other than the official apostles who constituted the whole of the Lord’s “ambassadors” on earth.

Third, two of the official apostles and ambassadors of Christ were given special assignments that were to be carried out under the general assignment of the Great Commission. The Lord gave Peter the “keys of the kingdom” (Matt. 16:19), which explains why it is that Peter is present on the landmark occasions when the Jews, the Samaritans, and the Gentiles enter the kingdom (Acts 1:8; 2:1-4; 8:14-24; 10:44-48). Not only that, but he was given prominence among the other apostles in that he had a commission to the Jews—or a responsibility to them—unequal to that shared by the others (Gal. 2:7). The Bible does not explain this difference, but it identifies it. And though Paul was given the responsibility of preaching both to Jews and Gentiles (Acts 9:15), he had a special obligation to Gentiles (Gal. 2:7). So, by this we know that even among the apostles, there was a certain inequality of responsibility to the Great Commission because of the specific commissions that were given to Peter and Paul.

Fourth, the apostles’ distinctive relationship to the Great Commission is seen in the fact that each apostle had witnessing power unavailable to anyone else in the church. While various members of the church had one or more of the nine miraculous gifts, no Christian had a gift that the Holy Spirit did not want him or her to have. Every gift was given to the man or woman who received it according to the will of the Holy Spirit himself (1 Cor. 12:11). The apostles did not hand out these gifts; they came to an individual—if they came at all—because of the person’s desire for a gift (1 Cor. 14:1), prayer (1 Cor. 14:13), and the desire or will of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:11). The gifts could be distributed by the Spirit in conjunction with or in association with the accompaniment of human hands (1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6), but no human hands provided Spirit power. Spirit power came from the Spirit himself. And please note that in the two passages just noted, the hands of (1) an apostle and (2) some non-apostles were utilized. (This is all discussed in detail in our book, Except One Be Born From Above).

Now, the degree of power distributed by the Spirit was up to the Spirit. Some men and women received a degree of power which enabled them to perform miracles. But whether a man or woman was given that degree of power or not, he or she was always given Spirit power because each man and woman was given the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:32). It was impossible to have the Holy Spirit within and not have access to enormous spiritual power (cf. Eph. 3:14-21). But many brethren were during the first century given miraculous capacities, not simply the supernatural non-miraculous ones that would perpetually continue in the kingdom following the close of the apostolic era. But the singular feature of the apostles was that each man was able to perform “the signs of an apostle” (2 Cor. 12:12). Evidently, the apostles could perform all nine of the miracles. The apostles stood out as obviously recognizably different (by miraculous power) from the rest of the brethren. No one could do what they alone could.

Fifth, if the brethren in the first century had borne equal obligation to the Great Commission characteristic of the apostles (that is, if all the brethren had been under assignment to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature), then they should have all been given the gift of tongues (as the apostles were) and they all should have been encouraged to desire that gift. Think about it for a moment. If one of our missionaries today desires to go to a country where a language other than English is spoken, he either works through translators (a person who knows both English and the native tongue) or he begins to learn the native tongue himself. Many of our missionaries have done this. And it takes ability, much effort, and much time before an American can speak in another language. As adults, surely we all realize that not every man is capable of much foreign language learning. We do not all have a knack for language study (not even for English)! If each Christian were under obligation to go into all the world with the gospel, he would have required the gift of tongues to be able to speak in native dialects as he came into new ethnic areas. Or even if he just had to go into one area where the native inhabitants spoke a language other than his own, he still would have required the gift. And yet, we learn from Paul that some brethren evidently developed the wrong attitude toward tongue speaking.

He corrected them and told them that they ought to desire the gift of prophecy rather than tongue speaking, and in the discussion we learn that their tongue speaking was being done in a setting where those present didn’t understand the foreign language being spoken. Hence their tongue speaking was being utilized in the presence of believers and not for evangelistic purposes (1 Cor. 14:1-6). Tongue speaking was designed to be used primarily for unbelievers (1 Cor. 14:22). So, do we not see that if the gospel was to be preached to unbelievers throughout the world and if the world was characterized by various languages, and if tongues were to be used for unbelievers who did not speak the language of the apostles, then apostles were to speak in languages provided by the Holy Spirit? And while this ability (to speak in a language that one had not learned) was available to some non-apostles, it was never provided to them for the purpose of evangelizing the world.

Sixth, the next point I wish to make is that even if someone could prove that the early church sustained the very relationship to the commission that the apostles did, still it would be the case that the church today simply cannot sustain that relationship. Why would I say such? I would say it because the fulfillment of the Great Commission depended upon the capacity of the apostles to speak by inspiration and to confirm the preached word by miracles (Heb. 2:3-4). The apostles did not speak by inspiration when they went on the Limited Commission because they had not as yet received the Holy Spirit (Matt. 10:5-7; John 14:16-18). The inspired preaching capacity would come later in preparation for their taking the gospel to the world (Matt. 10:16-23; John 14:26; 16:13). And though some of the apostles never wrote Scripture, and some non-apostles did, the apostles were given the assignment to go into all the world. The apostles (Matthew, John, Peter, Paul) and the non-apostles (Mark, Luke, James, Jude) stood in equal relationship to the gift of prophecy whereby they wrote Scripture, but there was always a difference between apostles and non-apostles (Eph. 2:20; 4:11).

Other brethren, we know, helped the apostles in the work of spreading the gospel. Both Acts and the epistles prove this point. That the apostles bore a responsibility that other brethren did not is again, however, shown by Paul’s comparison of himself to the other apostles. Rather than merely comparing himself to the rank and file of the brethren, when it came to an appraisal of his work, he compared himself to the other apostles (whose labors would be more than the rest of the brethren) and declares, “I labored more abundantly than they all” (1 Cor. 15:10). Remember that Luke refers to the gospel during the days immediately following Pentecost of Acts 2 as “the apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42). The following passages declare that the apostles were in a category of their own (1 Cor. 4:9-13; 2 Cor. 12:12; Matt. 18:18; 16:18-20; 19:27-28).

Seventh, this point involves the apostles and non-apostles in the first century church, but it certainly identifies a clear distinction that obtains between the assignment to go into all the world and the responsibility that the church has in evangelism today. The point is that during the thirty year period in which the gospel was taken to the whole world, God was miraculously managing the whole affair. Notice please Acts 13:1-4 and Acts 16:6-10. In these passages Luke informs us of the Holy Spirit’s involvement in first century evangelism. Notice two points. The first evangelistic tour of Paul began because the Holy Spirit himself gave a revelation that Paul and Barnabas were to do that work. The Holy Spirit himself sent Paul and Barnabas on the first missionary tour by declaring in a revelation that such was to be done. The Spirit “said” (v. 2), and the Spirit “sent” (v. 4). For comparison with what was to remain a permanent feature of Christianity, consider that the Holy Spirit still “appoints” elders but not by new revelation (Acts 20:28; Tit. 1:5). The second passage involving new revelation regarding evangelism is Acts 16:6-10. Here we learn that on Paul’s second tour (with Silas), the Holy Spirit for a time forbad Paul and his companions “to speak the word in Asia” (v. 6). And when Paul and company at first attempted to go into Bithynia, “the Spirit suffered them not” (v. 7). It was at Troas that Paul saw a “vision” that let him know that it was God’s will that he and his companions were to go into Macedonia. Luke tells us that “when he had seen the vision, straightway we sought to go forth into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel unto them” (v. 10). Later on the third tour, Paul’s two year work at Ephesus in the school of Tyrannus eventuates in the gospel going throughout all Asia (Acts 19:8-10). Other passages in Acts show us that God’s direct involvement in evangelism continued, but these two passages are enough to document the fact that the work went where God told it to go. Since we know now that this and all other kinds of revelations have ceased (1 Cor. 13:8-13), such specificity and clarity with regard to geographical assignment does not exist either. There has to be such difference between the work of the brethren under the influence of direct revelational evangelistic assignment and our situation today. Not long after the commission was fulfilled, the miraculous ceased from the earth. Isn’t it clear that if God had wanted the specific assignment to continue (that he gave to the apostles and which was successfully carried out with accompanying miraculous influence) that he would not have withdrawn the miraculous element from the church? But he did withdraw it, and while on the one hand we have rightly contended for years that miracles have ceased, we have wrongly contended that the assignment that was fulfilled by the necessary miraculous element in the early church has continued! This is one of our lingering mistakes.

God undoubtedly continues in his providence to open doors for evangelism according to his own will (and we continue to pray that his will be done on earth whether it entails evangelism, edification, benevolence or even the continuation of our very lives [Matt. 6:10; Gal. 6:10; Jas. 4:13-17]), but we do not and cannot learn of these open doors by new revelations that were made available to the early church (cf. Acts 14:27; 1 Cor. 16:8-9; 2 Cor. 2:12; Rev. 3:7). It is one thing to tell brethren that we all must love neighbor so that we desire to do what opportunity allows us to do for his good, but it is quite another thing to attempt to obligate each Christian to the Great Commission. The accuracy of the first point can be proven by Scripture just as by Scripture the inaccuracy of the second point can be established.

We do ourselves no favor in constantly misapplying passages (that give accounts of evangelism) to support a contention that is not true. And the mere citation of a passage to prove the contention is simply not good hermeneutics. The Lord once told Satan that one does not necessarily establish his point by the mere citation of Scripture. The Scripture must be not merely correctly quoted but correctly applied (Matt. 4:5-7)! Recently, I was looking at an article where a preacher was expressing his hope that the time would come when evangelism would be the priority of the church. After stating his sincere desire, he cited 1 Corinthians 9:16. He didn’t analyze the passage. He didn’t give the context of the passage. And he certainly did not give the correct meaning of the passage. He simply cited it as though it sufficiently established his desire that the church should see its priority mission as evangelism. I am not saying that there are no times when a Scripture citation cannot do the job intended by the one who cites it. I have, indeed, done that very thing in this article. But we must all be careful to make sure that the Scripture reference that we cite in fact does prove what we are citing it to prove.

In our latest book, Except One Be Born From Above, I show how it is that we can by Scripture prove that the view that evangelism is the number one priority of the church is absolutely false! But just here, let me simply point out that the passage that was cited in the article that I just mentioned (1 Cor. 9:16) does not and cannot establish evangelism as the priority or main work of the church. What the passage does show, considered in its context, is that since Paul did not choose to be a preacher on his own, he could not “glory” in preaching. However, he could “glory” in preaching without charging for his services, and that became his adopted policy. Read the text for yourself. I remember hearing a preacher years ago, using the same passage and applying it to himself. Well, if it has any correct application to himself, it is not and cannot have the same application to him that it had to Paul because Paul didn’t choose to be a preacher, and the modern day preacher that I heard did! And also, Paul preached without pay, and the modern day preacher preached with pay! We sometimes, though unintentionally, are very careless in our own use of Scripture.

Furthermore, please consider that all of the evangelism that we read about in the book of Acts transpires under the authority of the assignment given to the apostles. All of it! When the book closes, Paul is in Rome a prisoner of Caesar for the first time, and it is while he is there he writes the “prison epistles.” The year is about A.D. 62 or 63. And Colossians is one of those epistles that he writes. And it is in that epistle that he informs us of the fulfillment of the commission (Col. 1:6, 23). And in the books written following Colossians, there is no information to suggest that evangelism is of higher priority to the church than edification and benevolence. There is no passage in the New Testament that teaches that the main work of the church is evangelism. A Christian’s relationship to the church is comparable to any person’s relationship with his own family. Priority attention is to be given to his own (1 Tim. 5:8; Gal. 6:10). We have surely known this when it comes to benevolence, but the concept is of equal application to edification and evangelism as well. But just as some of us reached the incorrect conclusion that the church can help “saints only,” most of us were taught incorrectly that the church’s basic responsibility was to the sinner. How pitiful!

In the eighth place, note that texts that do mention an obligation to teach others cannot in and of themselves prove that the teaching that we are to do today entails Great Commission obligation. By inferring what the Bible implies, just as we conclude that all men today must repent, we can rightly conclude that the church today is to support the truth (1 Tim. 3:15). However, that does not mean that when the church today does teach the truth, that she is under obligation to the Great Commission nor is she under obligation to attempt to place new converts under such obligation. For example, in spite of the fact that (1) Paul did more in evangelism than any other apostle (1 Cor. 15:9-10), and (2) though each apostle was qualified to do more than any one non-apostle (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8; 2 Cor. 12:12), and (3) though members of the church in the first century were not all on equal ground with respect to work to be done (1 Cor. 16:15-16), and even though (4) we now rightly teach that Christians do not all have the same capacity to work equally at the same thing, and so do not share equally in all specific activity (1 Cor. 12:12-31), when gospel preachers get through preaching on evangelism, the definite impression is left with the audience in most cases that it should be, according to Scripture, the main focus of every member that the gospel be preached to the lost. And that is not what the New Testament teaches!

Note that 1 Timothy 3:2 tells us that an elder is to be “apt to teach.” Teach whom? The passage does not say, but the qualifications being listed are to equip elders to take care of the church (v. 5). Consider 2 Timothy 2:2. Paul obligates Timothy to teach what he has learned to “faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” However, the “others” are not identified. They could certainly include non-Christians, but just as certainly, they could entail Christians. No emphasis is placed in the context on one group over the another. But clearly, Paul does not say to Timothy to commit his learning to other faithful men so that they will feel under obligation to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature!

Timothy’s work clearly entailed helping the saved and attempting to help the lost (1 Tim. 4:6, 12, 16; 2 Tim. 2:23-26). But there was no priority given to reaching the lost. If someone counters with, “Well, that’s why Jesus came to the earth (Luke 19:10), so that’s what the church should be stressing,” we would respond by saying that the reference to Jesus entails the fact that all men without Jesus would be lost. Jesus came to save all men (including the righteous ones in Gentile-ism and Judaism which were then the faithful of God). All men were technically doomed until his blood covered their sins (Rom. 3:25; Heb. 9:15). Even though there were some few good people on the earth before Pentecost (Luke 1:5-6), and some following (Acts 10), no man—whether he was good or bad—could go to heaven without the cross (Heb. 2:9; John 3:16).

And remember, dear reader, that all of the New Testament books (excluding Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, which were written to prove that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God) were sent out to either individual Christians, a local congregation, or to congregations of the churches of God. And even the first four were for the church to use in strengthening itself for the tasks she had. The Bible is to equip the “man of God” (a Christian per 1 Timothy 6:11) “unto every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Indeed, all who obey the gospel are God’s own creation who are created for “good works” (Eph. 2:10). And we are “to be ready unto every good work” (Tit. 3:1). But good work to be accomplished by brethren, in general, is not and never has been primarily—and certainly not exclusively—evangelism.

It is now God’s business to regulate or manage evangelism according to his providential will just as it was his business to manage evangelism according to his miraculous will in the first century. As already noted, it is God alone who can open and shut doors of opportunity (Rev. 3:7). It is God alone who decides the course of history (cf. Rom. 9:17). It is God alone who controls human conception to the effect that it serves his purposes (Jer. 1:5). But it has never been God’s will whether performed by miracle or performed without miracle that (1) evangelism be the priority work of the church and that (2) evangelism be accomplished by creating guilt among the saved that they were never doing enough and were thus blameworthy for the continuing lost condition of the damned! If God can raise up a Pharaoh and a counterbalancing Moses to serve his purpose, and if God can raise up men or women with language capacity to translate Scripture so that his revealed word remains accessible to the degree that he himself desires, he can certainly raise up men and women appropriate to the divinely managed moment to grasp the opportunity for reaching the lost when the lost finally decide that they desire to be reached.

Finally, in the ninth place, since God has withdrawn all miraculous assistance necessary to the carrying out of the Great Commission, the Bible tells us that salvation possibility for any man now rests on bases other than the carrying out of that commission. Dear reader, if you were to face an atheist in public debate who, in the course of his attacks on the existence of God, lambasted the very idea of God because, according to the atheist, if there were a God, the situation is now such on earth that no one could find him, what would you say to counter such an assertion? Is it true, that most men are or that any one man is in a situation such that he cannot be saved? Is it true that without miracles to help the delivery of the gospel, men are doomed to hell? Is it true that evidence for God’s existence is not plain? Is it correct that if there is an inspired book on earth somewhere, still most men can’t read it and so cannot find truth? Is it correct that since there are so few Christians on earth so that most men will never come in contact with one, that most men simply cannot be saved for lack of a Christian or for lack of a congregation? What do you say to all of this, dear reader?

I would tell the atheist, among other things, that he is simply wrong in his denial of God and in his contention that God, if he exists, does so without an existing apparatus sufficient to the salvation of men. Notice please—

  1. Man’s nature is designed by God so that he is, as long as he is true to his nature, seeking for God until his finds him (Acts 17:27);
  2. Man’s honesty about his own nature and his own guilt should drive him to seek until he finds him (Matt. 7:7-11; Luke 11:13);
  3. God wants all men to be saved (2 Pet. 3:9; 1 Tim. 2:4);
  4. God in his providence will see to it that all who sincerely want truth will find it (Luke 8:15; 11:13);
  5. No man’s failure and not even the church’s failure and certainly not an atheist’s failure can prevent the salvation of an honest God-seeker on his early search for God (Luke 11:13; Eccl. 12:1). Not even an apostate church can come between a God who desires to save and a man who desires the saving God. There is no weakness or insufficiency in the divine program and the control that the God of creation retains for himself.

Let me conclude this article by offering three arguments to prove that although faithful brethren today continue to uphold the truth in this world, we are not, have never been, and can never be, under obligation to the Great Commission. Please ponder the arguments carefully.

Argument #1

  1. All assignments that the apostles were given to do that required the capacity for inspired speaking and miracle working are assignments that Christians today cannot carry out.
  2. The assignment to go into all the world and to preach the gospel to every creature was an assignment that the apostles were given to do that required the capacity for inspired speaking and miracle working (John 14:26; 15:26-27; 16:13; 1 Cor. 2:12-13; Heb. 2:3-4).
  3. Therefore, the assignment to go into all the world and to preach the gospel to every creature was an assignment that Christians today cannot carry out.

Argument #2

  1. Any assignment that the apostles were given which changed human amenability on earth for all time is an assignment that cannot be carried out following its fulfillment.
  2. The assignment that the apostles were given to go into all the world and to preach the gospel to every creature is an assignment which changed amenability on earth for all time (cf. Col. 1:23; Acts 10:36; 17:30-31).
  3. Therefore, the assignment that the apostles were given to go into all the world and to preach the gospel to every creature is an assignment that cannot be carried out following its fulfillment.

Argument #3

  1. If (1) the fulfillment of the Great Commission today would require some brotherhood-wide authority in order to its fulfillment, and if (2) there is no brotherhood-wide authority to manage a fulfillment of the Great Commission, then there can be no Great Commission assignment currently operative.
  2. (1) The fulfillment of the Great Commission today would require some brotherhood-wide authority in order to its fulfillment, and (2) there is no brotherhood-wide authority to manage a fulfillment of the Great Commission.
  3. Then, there can be no Great Commission assignment currently operative.

The evangelism to be characteristic of God’s people today is that which is the normal, supernatural yet non-miraculous work of the Spirit within the heart of God’s people. It is not “guilt-driven” evangelism. It is not evangelism attempted because we have been intimidated or shamed into doing something constructive for the lost. It is not “cult” evangelism. It is the evangelism of light, leaven, and salt (Matt. 5:13-16; 13:33), and it will be the effect of the Spirit in a Christian’s heart (Rom. 5:5; 15:30; 2 Thess. 3:5) and which effect, among other things, is love for both saint and sinner (Rom. 13:8-10; Matt. 22:37-40).

Posted in Doctrine

Pope Tweets and Purgatory

By Weylan Deaver

Twitter is a very popular social media site where millions of people post short messages, called “tweets,” consisting of 140 or fewer characters. Twitter users include celebrities, politicians, athletes, academics, conservatives, liberals, government agencies, schools, businesses, etc. and cover any and every interest imaginable. Twitter users pick accounts they want to follow, which lets them keep up with their favorite tweets. Even Francis, the new Roman Catholic Pope, has a Twitter account. Yes, the Pope tweets.

Tom Kington has an article in The Guardian (July 16, 2013 titled “Vatican offers ‘time off purgatory’ to followers of Pope Francis tweets.” Excerpts follow, in italics.

“In its latest attempt to keep up with the times the Vatican has married one of its oldest traditions to the world of social media by offering ‘indulgences’ to followers of Pope Francis’ tweets.

The church’s granted indulgences reduce the time Catholics believe they will have to spend in purgatory after they have confessed and been absolved of their sins.

The remissions got a bad name in the Middle Ages because unscrupulous churchmen sold them for large sums of money. But now indulgences are being applied to the 21st century.

But a senior Vatican official warned web-surfing Catholics that indulgences still required a dose of old-fashioned faith, and that paradise was not just a few mouse clicks away.

‘You can’t obtain indulgences like getting a coffee from a vending machine,’ Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, head of the pontifical council for social communication, told the Italian daily Corriere della Sera.

Indulgences these days are granted to those who carry out certain tasks – such as climbing the Sacred Steps, in Rome (reportedly brought from Pontius Pilate’s house after Jesus scaled them before his crucifixion), a feat that earns believers seven years off purgatory.

But attendance at events such as the Catholic World Youth Day, in Rio de Janeiro, a week-long event starting on 22 July, can also win an indulgence.

Mindful of the faithful who cannot afford to fly to Brazil, the Vatican’s sacred apostolic penitentiary, a court which handles the forgiveness of sins, has also extended the privilege to those following the ‘rites and pious exercises’ of the event on television, radio and through social media.

‘That includes following Twitter,’ said a source at the penitentiary, referring to Pope Francis’ Twitter account, which has gathered seven million followers. ‘But you must be following the events live. It is not as if you can get an indulgence by chatting on the internet.’

In its decree, the penitentiary said that getting an indulgence would hinge on the beneficiary having previously confessed and being ‘truly penitent and contrite’.

Praying while following events in Rio online would need to be carried out with ‘requisite devotion’, it suggested.”

There are so many things to be said about this piece. Then again, it seems to fit perfectly in the category of, “no comment necessary.” Anyone who can read this story with straight face surely has little to no acquaintance with the Bible. It doesn’t matter how many qualifiers they try to add to pass it off as legitimate, like “you must be following the events live,” you must be “truly penitent,” and that paradise is “not just a few mouse clicks away,” such a bankrupt, unbiblical theory of salvation is simply past salvaging. Did the Apostle Paul ever talk about the church having a “court which handles the forgiveness of sins”? Did Jesus do any preaching about a “Pope”? Did the Apostle Peter write about “purgatory”? All those Catholic mainstays are just as absent from Scripture as is the concept of indulgences. When salvation is connected to a church court which offers sinners early release from an imaginary place if they follow the Pope’s tweets (but only in real time), then Catholicism has become a caricature.

Posted in Doctrine, Evangelism

Should evangelism include mention of the church?

Should Christians preach Christ without mentioning the church? Not a few insist that we should. The church does not save, they say, and they are correct, in a very true, primary sense.

But neither does baptism save, in that same primary sense. Christ alone saves. Christ alone as sacrifice for sin is able to extend forgiveness to man and restore him to God’s presence. So perhaps we shouldn’t preach baptism, or faith, or any other subject except the facts of the crucifixion?

In another sense, however, the church does save. (Just as baptism does, too, 1 Pet. 3.21.) Through the church God’s salvation in Christ is made known. People are reached with the message through the church.

Paul praised one congregation by saying that “from you the message of the Lord has echoed forth” (1 Thes. 1.8 NET). To another he said they were “offering to [pagans] the message of life” (Php. 2.16 OEB). He told Timothy that “the church of the living God [is] the support and bulwark of the truth” (1 Tim. 3.15), meaning, in part, that the church is the carrier of the gospel truth.

Even the term “to save” is used in that secondary sense of being responsible for the salvation of others.

  • Jude tells us to “save others by snatching them out of the fire” (Jude 23).
  • James wants us to “know that the one who turns a sinner back from his wandering path will save that person’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5.20). (This is the same word “to save” that James uses in 1.21 for the implanted word which saves our souls.)
  • Paul tells Timothy to persevere in the right life and teaching, “because by doing so you will save both yourself and those who listen to you” (1 Tim. 4.16). (Again, this is the same word he uses in the letter earlier, in 1.15, to quote that trustworthy saying, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”)
  • And the same Paul who said in 1 Corinthians 1.21 that ” God was pleased to save those who believe by the foolishness of preaching,” also declared his famous statement, “I have become all things to all people, so that by all means I may save some” (1 Cor. 9.22).

Christians save non-Christians. The church saves people. If that is true, if their presence in the world is essential to the salvation of sinners, why is the church never to be mentioned as a part of God’s eternal plan to redeem mankind? Strange, is it not? Continue reading “Should evangelism include mention of the church?”

Posted in Christianity and Culture, Doctrine

“Whatever It Takes”

By Marlin Kilpatrick

In a recent church bulletin, the elders of the Heritage church of Christ (Fort Worth, Texas) made a Special Announcement under the title of Whatever It Takes. The Heritage elders announced that, beginning in the fall 2013, Heritage’s evening services will include instrumental music. The Sunday morning services will remain a cappella. The late brother J. D. Tant, gospel preacher, was known for his saying, “Brethren, we are drifting.” If he were still living he would say, “Brethren, we have drifted.” Fellow Christians, the Lord’s church is in deep spiritual trouble.

In the announcement it was claimed, “…all the elders were in agreement that “scripture does not prohibit the use of instruments in our worship.” On many issues it is good that all the elders be in agreement, but on this issue it matters not one whit that the elders are in agreement. While the elders may be “in agreement,” they are in disagreement with the Lord and his word. In the avenue of worshiping God in song, the scriptures are very specific: only singing is authorized. The use of instrumental music in Christian worship introduces another kind of music, which the scriptures do not authorize. In public debate with denominational preachers, faithful gospel preachers have met this issue time and again, and not once have denominational preachers been able to falsify this claim. Brethren, are we going to just throw away what we know the scriptures teach and become just another denominational church among many?

In their Special Announcement, the elders claimed “that the addition of instrumental worship service would be beneficial to our quest to reach the lost.” Here is where their “Whatever it Takes” enters the picture. Supposedly, if it takes instrumental music in worship to reach the lost, then the use of instrumental music is what we should do. But, the use of that which is sinful in worship will not save the lost. Where is the benefit in filling the auditorium with lost souls, even if they do enjoy the music? The only power to save the lost is the gospel of Christ (Rom. 1:16), but to pervert the gospel by using instrumental music in worship is in direct violation of Paul’s words (cf. Gal. 1:6-9), and renders the gospel powerless.

In the aforementioned rationale, where does such “reasoning” stop. If we use instruments of music in addition to our singing, in an effort not to offend the lost, when it comes to the question of music, then what will we do when the lost object (most already do) to baptism for the remission of sins? What will we do when someone objects to immersion in water, and insists on being sprinkled, instead? On what scriptural basis could we refuse to turn the Lord’s Supper into a common meal and remember the Lord’s death on Saturday night, if we use the rationale used by Heritage’s elders? Brethren, we are opening the flood gates, and when we do the Lord will hold us accountable. Such action as that taken by Heritage’s elders is a rejection of the need for scriptural authority for all that we do (cf. Col. 3:17). Correctly ascertaining scriptural authority on this issue will settle the matter.

In their Special Announcement, the Heritage elders said, “…we have spent a great deal of time studying the issue and praying for God to reveal his will as to what we should do.” The spending of “a great deal of time studying the issue” is commendable, but praying “for God to reveal his will as to what we should do,” is a waste of time. God has already revealed his will, and it is his will which we should obey. If we do, we will sing praises to him without instruments of music (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). The New Testament is God’s final revelation to man. He will not reveal anything that is contradictory to his already revealed will. So waiting for God to reveal what we should do, when he has already revealed what he desires in worship, is useless.

Hopefully, the Heritage elders will see their mistake and repent. If this does not happen, it then becomes an issue of fellowship. We cannot fellowship error and please our Lord. Think about it.

Posted in Doctrine, Restoration History

Flawed from the Beginning

By Mac Deaver

For years I have been greatly interested in what is called The Restoration Movement of the 1800s. As a young student, I loved to read of the great men who called others back to a more serious consideration of the Scriptures and to see more clearly the then current religious scene that had been created through years and years of Bible neglect. And I still think that current members of the church owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to so many religious pioneers who have gone before and who were willing to break with never proved religious tradition and to break rank with those who proved to be non-Christians after all, but who claimed such status before God and man.

However, as we learn in the study of the period, not all those who came to be endorsers of and even participants in the “movement” understood clearly what a person had to do to become a Christian, and while some learned exactly what was essential , others who were involved did not. In fact, as we shall soon see, in this brief piece, the “movement” was flawed from the beginning. The movement was based on a cracked foundation that could not support the hoped for superstructure. And while it has had lasting effect to our good day in America, there were some concepts from the beginning that characterized some of its most prominent leaders that necessitated its limitation by division within because of its initial failure to divide from many without!

But before I continue, let me stress that the effort to “restore” New Testament Christianity was indeed a movement in the sense that there was an historical effort in time that was socially influential and that attempted to call men back to the Bible. It was an effort to call men back to original ground, at least allegedly so. To restore the “ancient order” of things was the goal because the then current religious division was deemed so intolerable by some, and that division seemed to make any religious progress most difficult if not impossible. And so a harmony or unity of all “Christians” (those who professed faith in Christ and obeyed him in such things as they understood) was sought and advocated upon a basis less divisive and less complex. A committed return to a more simple basis of spiritual fellowship was the desired item in the hearts of those longing for an end to the unending division within the “church” as the church was being viewed.

Now, the idea is only possible (much less essential) if original ground can be located. If the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the obligatory truth regarding (1) how one enters the kingdom and (2) how one remains in the kingdom cannot be located, articulated, practiced, and successfully defended, then such an effort at “restoration” is wholly misguided because it is impossible to restore what cannot be found. But as we shall see, the working assumption that original ground could be located on the one hand (1) included some necessary concepts that on the other hand (2) were expressly excluded from the process of restoration. In fact, from the beginning there was an unrecognized conceptual self-contradiction offered as the right approach to the restoration of that original sacred ground. And so the “movement” was an attempt to restore what it was, in fact, impossible to restore given the way that it was going about the very business of restoration. If original ground were located, it would have to be found by going against some of the very foundational ideas upon which it was being launched.

Of course, it is very easy for me to criticize someone living in the 1800s who was for the first time beginning to see differences between what he found in his New Testament and religious doctrine that he had been brought up to believe in some denomination. And I certainly do not want to appear as an ungrateful recipient of great learning that took place during that time and within that movement.

But, I am more interested in (1) finding and in knowing that I have found what they were trying to restore themselves (the purity of original Christianity) than in (2) merely admiring a certain way of self-imposed looking, the effect of which would have to prevent one’s seeing clearly at all.

Let me begin the task of identifying the cracks in the foundation of the movement by first pointing out a few facts that must be faced by anyone who approaches the Scriptures in the effort to find the truth. Consider the following True-False statements:

T F 1. It is possible for a man to find all the truth necessary to his becoming a Christian and to find all the truth necessary to his remaining a faithful Christian.

T F 2. It is possible for a man to find only some of the truth necessary to his becoming a Christian and to find only some of the truth necessary to his remaining a faithful Christian.

T F 3. It is impossible for a man to find any truth necessary to his becoming a Christian and to find any truth necessary to his remaining a faithful Christian.

T F 4. It is possible for a man to find all the truth necessary to his becoming a Christian but only to find some of the truth necessary to his remaining a faithful Christian.

T F 5. It is possible for a man to find only some truth necessary to his becoming a Christian but to find all the truth necessary to his remaining a faithful Christian.

Now, these statements need a clear and careful answer. In the light of Scripture, #1 is the correct statement. Statements #2 through #5 are false (John 8:31, 32; 1 Tim. 2:4; Heb. 6:1; Eph. 5:3-14). And this truth would, at first, seem to have been grasped by the initial promoters of the restoration idea.

Now, let us consider several more relevant True-False statements that have to do with the very prospect of restoring the ancient order of things.

T F 1. Since Christians are the only components of the church, and since the first True-False statement above is correct, then we know that it is possible to locate in Scripture what is required of men today in order for them to be added to the Lord’s church (Gal. 1:6-10).

T F 2. Since we know that all men today must obey the same gospel in order to be added to the church, then we know that the church is composed only of those who have done the same thing in order to enter (Eph. 4:1-7).

T F 3. Since the church is composed of only those who have done the same thing (obeyed the same gospel) in order to enter, then spiritual fellowship is only rightly extended to those who have obeyed that gospel and thus who have entered (1 John 1:3; 2 Cor. 6:14-18).

T F 4. It is possible for a person to claim to be in God’s favor and a devoted follower of Christ while never having become a Christian at all (Rev. 2:9; Matt. 7:21-23).

T F 5. It is possible for a Christian to cease being a faithful Christian (Gal. 5:4; 1 John 2:19).

Now, while it is true that Christians are under obligation to love all men (Matt. 22:37-40), we have never been under obligation to treat even most men as Christians. For most men simply are not, and most men do not even claim to be. And, even more to the point, most men do not even desire to be. However, while doctrinally, the matter is fixed as to who is and who is not a Christian, a problem arises when –

  1. a non-Christian seeks to extend spiritual fellowship to another non-Christian when both parties claim to be Christians and yet neither one is.
  1. a Christian seeks to extend spiritual fellowship to a non-Christian in spite of the Christian’s knowing that the non-Christian is clearly a non-Christian.
  1. a Christian seeks to extend spiritual fellowship to a non-Christian because even though he knows on the one hand that the non-Christian is not a Christian, he knows that the non-Christian at least claims to be a Christian, and the Christian considers it more loving to endorse the non-Christian in his sin than to deny his claim. After all, the Christian isn’t God!
  1. a Christian seeks to extend spiritual fellowship to a non-Christian because the Christian himself no longer is sure of the essentiality of obedience to the gospel in order for a person to have a rightful claim to Christian status. He has now subscribed to a doctrine of “grace” that by redefinition allows him to fellowship those who make the claim to be Christians on the basis that, after all, who is he to say they are not. Again, truth has now become “unclear” truth when compared to a “clear” claim especially since the truth has no feelings to be hurt by rejection but the personal claimant surely does?

Note: At this point it may not bother him because it never dawns on him that if “grace” is actually extended to one who claims to be a Christian but who has not, in fact, obeyed the gospel, for all he knows then, that same “grace” may be extended to anyone who does not even claim to be a Christian. If a formerly viewed false claim has now become a possibly true claim because of a redefinition of grace, then why is a claim necessary (for the divine extension of grace) for the reception of grace at all? If one does not have to know and obey the truth in order to be saved, then no clear claim about anything is necessary to salvation at all! With his redefinition of “grace,” he is in no position to deny the salvation of all men since he knows that God desires that universal salvation (2 Pet. 3:9; 1 Tim. 2:4). Historically, truth has often been sacrificed on the altar of friendship and false claim. But if the non-Christian can’t prove the accuracy of his own claim to be a Christian, and if the Christian does not care about the absence of justification for the non-Christian’s claim to Christian status, then the truth does not matter to either the Christian or the non-Christian! Is such a spiritual fellowship worthy of a search and then support? What is the value of such a fellowship or of a “movement” that might embrace it?

Now, let us proceed by considering some things early on declared by two prominent men in the early days of the American Restoration Movement. And as I consider these quotations, I do so with a view toward establishing the point that there were at least three cracks in the original foundation of restoration effort or three flaws from the beginning. And for the purpose of this article, I mean by “beginning” 1809 when Thomas Campbell wrote the Declaration And Address. And the “cracks” that I will identify are (1) a faulty hermeneutic which was an attempt at the time to get rid of all human opinions as impediments to the rightful extension of spiritual fellowship to all Christians in the denominations, but which hermeneutic unwittingly created (2) a situation in which it was impossible to maintain the correct distinction between faith and opinion, and (3) a willingness to extend spiritual fellowship to people who were not complying with the nature and purpose of baptism as they came to understand it.

In the Declaration And Address, Thomas Campbell stated that he was not trying to create another human creed as a term of communion. What he was proposing was a route to “original ground” so that men in his day could “take up things just as the apostles left them” (Historical Documents Advocating Christian Union, edited by John Allen Hudson, p.107; hereafter this book will be referenced as HD). Thus, his goal in providing the thirteen propositions listed in the Address were based on the view that the apostles had left some things for us that needed to be recovered in thought and practiced in life. And these things needed to be distinguished from other things so that religious reform could indeed take place. All of the various additional doctrinal positions that had been taken over the centuries and which had accumulated as divisive creedal statements that kept equally sincere brethren in segregate communities simply had to be removed from human thinking if the unity required in Scripture was going to be achieved.

But how did Thomas Campbell come to the conclusion that there was an obligatory unity that Christians were obligated to practice? Whence came this understanding? How did he come to the conclusion that there was a kind of unity that Christians were under obligation to practice? How did he know that the obligation to uphold that unity lasted longer than the first century? And why did the Address seem to him to be important as an applied way of getting rid of the accumulated human decrees that stood in the way of the unity of Christ?

The Declaration And Address didn’t just fall from the sky. It was a document that originated in the mind of Thomas Campbell. Well, let us ask ourselves some questions as to the nature of that document as it first existed in thought in his mind. And let us be specific. Let us think about his goal of trying to get back to original ground, sacred ground not spoiled by wrong human thinking.

T F 1. The view that Thomas Campbell and all other men should only do what is authorized by Christ as revealed in the New Testament is itself a mistaken and unintended part of the accumulation of mere human opinions that stand in the way of the unity of Christ.

T F 2. The view that Thomas Campbell and all other men should only do what is authorized by Christ as revealed in the New Testament is a part of “original ground” discoverable by human reason but without the exertion of opinion.

Or let us word the two statements a little differently and make our point more simple:

T F 3. The view that Thomas Campbell and all other men should only do what is authorized by Christ as revealed in the New Testament is itself a mere human opinion.

T F 4. The view that Thomas Campbell and all other men should only do what is authorized by Christ as revealed in the New Testament is itself a matter of biblical faith.

Dear reader, now think about those four True-False statements very carefully. And with regard to the first and third statements, surely Campbell did not mean to be binding another mere human opinion on others in his attempt to get rid of the then current problem of binding human opinion on men as a basis of establishing and maintaining religious fellowship. He would certainly have no right to bind his own personal opinion that “original ground” should be recovered if such were merely an opinion, while at the same time deploring the use of human opinion as the means of establishing spiritual orthodoxy. So, we would take it that statement #1 is false and that statement #3 is false. Thomas Campbell’s view that “original ground” should be desired and that by it alone men could maintain the unity of Christ is a part of “original ground” or to express it another way, it is a part of biblical faith itself and certainly is not a matter of mere human opinion. So, statements #2 and #4 are true.

Paul’s words to the brethren at Colossae establish the correctness of the foregoing conclusion. “And whatsoever ye do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17). Truly, to do things in the name of Christ is to obey God rather than man (Acts 5:28, 29; cf. 4:12). And this is the very thing that was Campbell’s goal. It was a noble goal, but his process for accomplishing it was flawed. Now, just what do we mean?

Proposition #3 in the Declaration And Address is too restrictive in its statement of what constitutes the pattern of authority whereby Scriptural unity can be obtained and maintained. Campbell in trying to reach a position that would prohibit the constant dividing up into various religious camps said that “nothing ought to be inculcated upon Christians as articles of faith; nor required of them as terms of communion, but what is expressly taught and enjoined upon them in the word of God. Nor ought anything to be admitted, as of Divine obligation, in their Church institution and managements, but what is expressly enjoined by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ and his apostles upon the New Testament Church; either in express terms or by approved precedent” (HD, 108). His words “expressly enjoined” are what we call “direct statement” and his “approved precedent” are what we call “approved example.” But Campbell left out the third category or way that the Bible authorizes. He left out what in our day came to be called “necessary inference,” but which later was more appropriately identified as “implication.” Campbell intentionally omitted that route to the record.

We can appreciate his reluctance since he was trying to avoid the mental route that had caused him so much pain. He well knew the agony of wrong inference when men drew conclusions not provable by Scripture and bound these conclusions on others. That is what had created the warring denominational camps. But rather than make the distinction between (1) inferring what is actually implied as can be established by logical argument, and (2) inferring what is not implied (thus merely drawing a conclusion not implied by the Bible which conclusion is then a mere human opinion), Campbell simply attempted to leave the whole process of “inference” out of ascertaining the pattern of authority. The pattern would consist of (1) direct statement and (2) approved example only.

In Proposition #5 we have the wonderful statement that “Nothing ought to be received into the faith or worship of the Church, or be made a term of communion among Christians, that is not as old as the New Testament” (HD, 110).

But when we come to Proposition #6, we see Thomas Campbell’s fear of inference as a category or route to Bible authority. Read it carefully in full:

“That although inferences and deductions from Scripture premises, when fairly inferred, may be truly called the doctrine of God’s holy word, yet are they not formally binding upon the consciences of Christians farther than they perceive the connection, and evidently see that they are so; for their faith must not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. Therefore, no such deductions can be made terms of communion, but do properly belong to the after and progressive edification of the Church. Hence, it is evident that no such deductions or inferential truths ought to have any place in the Church’s confession” (HD, 110).

Notice, please that while Campbell was honorably trying to prevent the continued application of human authority as binding on men as an appendix to or substitute for divine authority, in the very way that he was attacking “opinion binding,” he went too far by undermining the very procedure that he was, in fact, already employing. In looking at human reason the way that he was and in describing it the way that he did, he was creating unintentionally an impossible and self-contradictory task for himself and others. Consider carefully, please, that on the one hand (1) Campbell allows for the fact that when inferences and deductions are “fairly inferred,” the conclusions reached may be called “the doctrine of God’s holy word,” and yet on the other hand, (2) Campbell says that those conclusions, though a part of God’s holy word, are the product of human wisdom rather than divine power. Do you see a problem just here, dear reader?

If the principle that Campbell is upholding in his proposition #6 is the product of “fair inference” from Scripture premises, then although it may be a part of God’s holy word, it cannot be bound on anyone as divine authority since it is the product of Campbell’s own human reasoning and, therefore, is a part of human wisdom rather than the product of divine power. Therefore, Campbell’s own view which was reached by inferring what the Bible was implying (about substituting human authority for divine authority in his day) was a conclusion that (though correct and a part of God’s holy word) had no “place in the Church’s confession.”

Rather than stress the absolute necessity of correct reasoning (cf. 1 Thess. 5:21: Rom. 12:2), he attacked human reason, in the act of deduction, as leading to “the wisdom of men.” The truth of the matter is that it is only by the correct use of human reason that a person can come to comprehend that he is under the binding authority of the New Testament at all!

So, I ask, how in the world could the appeal in the Declaration And Address (to those viewed by Campbell as Christians) have any rightful place in their thinking? If his conclusion that there should be a rediscovery of “original ground” was rightly inferred from what the Bible implied, then (although correct and a part of God’s holy word according to Campbell himself), it still stood in the “wisdom of men” rather than in the “power and veracity of God.” According to Campbell, if these “Christians” couldn’t see the accuracy of the plea and thus the need of the plea for “restoration,” then the plea could not be “formally binding” on them, because he said that fairly inferred conclusions drawn from Scriptural premises cannot be “formally binding upon the consciences of Christians farther than they perceive the connection, and evidently see that they are so.” Therefore, unless the other “Christians” in the denominations were convinced that Campbell’s call for restoration was good and needful, and if they were convinced of the need to participate, they would be following the “wisdom of men” rather than the “power and veracity of God” in submitting to a principle that Campbell learned by proper deduction from Scripture premises.

Therefore, it is clear that the first “flaw” from the beginning was a hermeneutical (interpretational) flaw that appeared by way of Campbell’s unintentionally attacking “implication” as a way of learning what is binding upon men.

And since that error was advocated in the Address, that meant that there was no clear way for Campbell to make a clear distinction between (1) matters of faith and (2) matters of opinion although he was trying desperately to get rid of the notion of binding mere human opinion on anyone. If conclusions “fairly inferred” were still evaluated as standing in “the wisdom of men” rather than in “the power and veracity of God,” then there could be no precise distinction drawn between “God’s holy word,” learned by “fair inference” and mere human opinion both of which are products of a man’s mind.

In our day, when it comes to the matter of “ascertaining Bible authority” (that is also the name of one of my father’s well-received books), we have said that the Bible authorizes by (1) direct statement, (2) approved example, and by (3) implication. Of course, implication and approved example are both derived from direct statements, but the three categories are correct as identifications of literary function or the ways that we learn what we must do, what we may do, and what we must not do. And by the three routes to authority, we find our obligations, our options, and our prohibitions.

In Campbell’s words “fairly inferred” refer to a conclusion rightly deduced from Bible premises. “Fair inference” would be correct inference from Bible implication. That is, we fairly infer when we correctly infer what the Bible actually implies. These doctrines thus inferred can be, then, stated as conclusions of valid syllogisms. They become a part of a sound argument. And a sound argument is a valid argument with truthful premises. The argument is, therefore, dependable. The conclusion of a sound argument is true. If we infer what the Bible does not really imply at all, we draw a conclusion that is simply an opinion, and there is no sound argument whatever that can be constructed in its defense.

All doctrinal controversy can rationally only be settled by the appeal to a sound argument. And this is an obligation stated in Scripture. This is what the very notion of “proof” entails! According to Ruby’s Logic, An Introduction, the “law of rationality” is the principle that “We ought to justify our conclusions by adequate evidence” (Ruby, 131). Jesus always complied with that law or regulative principle of human reasoning. And Paul made our deference to that law a matter of biblical obligation in at least two passages of Scripture. He told the brethren at Thessalonica to “prove all things; hold fast that which is good,” (1 Thess. 5:21), and he told the saints in Rome, “And be not fashioned according to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:2).

But as brother Thomas B. Warren taught us long ago, since none of us (and this applies to Thomas Campbell as well as to Thomas Warren and all men living today) can find his own name written in the Bible, he cannot learn that he is even under Bible authority without rightly inferring what the Bible implies! We cannot even recognize our connection to and the necessity of submitting to Bible authority without correctly inferring what the Bible implies! Although the Bible provides our obligations, options, and prohibitions, it reaches us or connects us to those ways of ascertaining Bible authority only or completely by way of implication. That is the one and only route that provides our connection to the binding authority of Holy Writ!

Since the Bible was originally addressed to others (none of us living today were even born when even one book of the Bible was written), we can only come to recognize that we, too, like the original audience are under Bible authority only by or exclusively by inferring what the Bible implies. And if this conclusion “fairly inferred” cannot be bound on anyone because it is simply a part of the wisdom of men rather than the product of the veracity and power of God as described by Thomas Campbell, then no man living today is under Bible obligation to do one single solitary thing! And this would also mean that no one living in Campbell’s day including Campbell himself was under Bible authority at all. That is how crucial the mistake made by Thomas Campbell was. Given the way that he was describing “fair inference” and “deduction,” he could not clearly distinguish between faith and opinion at all when it came to matters of binding obligation.

His idea of getting rid of binding human opinion in the religious arena was indeed correct! But the way he described the process whereby he thought that such could be achieved made it impossible for one to even be under divine authority to do such a thing.

And perhaps, because of the way that he confusedly and unintentionally blurred the distinction between human opinion and biblical faith, that at least partially explains why it is that he and later his son, Alexander, were so very willing to spiritually fellowship denominational people, including preachers, who did not share the “restoration” viewpoint. This is the third “flaw” that I want to mention.

When we read of the way that Thomas and Alexander Campbell related to other religious people in their day, we see that they were willing to spiritually fellowship them even though they were practitioners of denominationalism and not necessarily supporters of the idea of recovering original ground. The Campbells had come out of the Presbyterian church themselves. But their break with that group with all its historical internal division, did not mean that they would, however, refuse to recognize as faithful Christians those from whom they were now somewhat religiously estranged. And as their comprehension of certain Bible truths grew, even though they remained very ecumenical in their regard to the sects, yet their knowledge growth brought them into a closer affiliation with other religious people who had learned the same truth.

For example, following the Campbells’ learning that “baptism” was, in fact, in Scripture “immersion,” the little Brush Run church across the West Virginia line in southwestern Pennsylvania became organizationally connected to the Baptists. After writing out a statement which entailed a rejection of human creeds as a basis of fellowship, and declaring their willingness to become a part of the Redstone Association if they would be allowed to uphold what they were convinced the Bible taught, the Brush Run church then joined that Baptist association in 1813 (West, Search For The Ancient Order, Vol. I, p. 61). Alexander wrote to a relative in 1815,

“For my own part I must say that, after long study and investigation of books, and more especially the Sacred Scriptures, I have through clear convictions of truth and duty, renounced much of the traditions and errors of my early education. I am now an Independent in church government; of that faith and view of the gospel exhibited in John Walker’s Seven Letters to Alexander Knox, and a Baptist so far as regards baptism. What I am in religion I am from examination, reflection, and conviction, not from ‘ipse dixit’ tradition or human authority” (West, pp. 61, 62).

Later, while Alexander Campbell was working with the Wellsburg church, that congregation joined the Mahoning Baptist Association (West, pp. 66-68). So, while the Campbells were advancing in their understanding of Scripture, and while they were making headway in teaching the non-denominational nature of early Christianity and the necessity of unity among Christians, they still recognized Christians among the sectarians groups.

And later, in 1837, Campbell received a letter from a woman in Lunenburg, Virginia, in response to which Campbell again revealed his attitude toward the sects, and which attitude bothered some of his own brethren who thought that Campbell was surrendering ground gained in the reform effort. The woman from Lunenburg had been surprised by the fact that in Campbell’s periodical, Campbell had recognized “the Protestant parties as Christian” (Campbell, Millennial Harbinger, September, 1837, p. 411).

In response, Campbell first proposes the following:

“In reply to this conscientious sister, I observe, that if there be no Christians in the Protestant sects, there are certainly none among the Romanists, none among the Jews, Turks, Pagans; and therefore no Christians in the world except ourselves, or such of us as keep, or strive to keep, all the commandments of Jesus. Therefore, for many centuries there has been no church of Christ, no Christians in the world; and the promises concerning the everlasting kingdom of Messiah have failed, and the gates of hell have prevailed against his church! This cannot be; and therefore there are Christians among the sects” (Campbell, 411).

So, the basis on which Campbell rests his view that there must be Christians in the sects is that unless one is willing to grant that contention, then he must admit that in history the church at some point ceased to exist! But I ask the reader, is that true? Why would that admission necessarily have to follow? Isn’t it possible that Christians could have existed ever since Pentecost in the world without their getting involved with and amalgamated with some denomination. Even if history ignored the existence of non-denominational Christians in its record (given their small numbers), does anyone today have the right to claim that the church simply stopped existing in history unless one admits that it existed in combination with Catholicism and Protestant denominationalism or among Jews, Turks, and Pagans? Such simply does not at all follow. Campbell merely asserted what he could not prove.

It is the case that Christians, following the apostasy predicted by Paul, did not for a long time have the force of a massive societal movement, but their non-mention in the historical record of the continuing apostasy does not prove their non-existence. To be viewed as non-worthy of mention is not the equivalent of proof of their non-existence. Consider that outside the Bible there is very little mention of Jesus during the first few centuries from secular historians following his resurrection. And some today deny that he ever lived, but such is no proof of any currently alleged non-existence. The books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are historical documents from antiquity. They establish the historicity of Jesus. I used to ask my students the following question: How long must you be dead before your “not having been” here becomes a real possibility? We are not here trying to beg any question. We are simply saying that real historical existence, while it can be denied, can never be disproved. Too, the non-existence of the church in one country would not argue conclusively for the non-existence of the church in every country. The fact that the Bible did not exist in many languages for a long time during the days of the apostasy did not mean that it was not here at all. And simply because the Bible had not existed in an English version before a certain date could not mean that it did not exist in some other language or languages before the first English version appeared. If the Bible presently exists in one language, then it has always existed in some language tracing back to the original.

Then, too, Campbell thinks that if we claim that there are no Christians in the sects, we have also to claim that there are no Christians among the Catholics (Romanists), the Jews, Turks, and Pagans. In other words, if there are no Christians among the sects, there have been no Christians in the world for many years! But it is certainly conceivable that one could argue for the existence of some Christians among the sects while denying that any Catholic or Jew or Turk or Pagan had ever become a Christian. And Campbell says that if we deny that all others have become Christians, that we are claiming, therefore, that there are “no Christians in the world except ourselves, or such of us as keep, or strive to keep, all the commandments of Jesus.” Well, is that a false claim? If “ourselves” refers exclusively to those in America, it would be a false claim. If it refers to those known only to Campbell, it would be a false claim. But if it refers to all those who “keep” (not just strive to keep) the commands of Jesus any and everywhere, the claim is correct. And it is beyond successful contradiction.

On the one hand Campbell (1) strove for recovering original ground, (2) did not intend to start a new religious group or church, (3) attempted to get Christians among the sects to unify on that recovered ground. He plainly stated that he was not striving for the unification of the sectarian groups as such. He was appealing to those among them who were Christians to come out and unify on the restored basis of divine doctrine, but he (4) spiritually fellowshipped the denominationalists who did not agree with him doctrinally. This made the very idea of “restoration” seem suspect. If on the one hand he was distinguishing between “Christians among the sects” (thus calling them out from among those in the sects who were not really Christians) that might have a certain Scriptural appeal to it. It would seem fair to assume the possibility that some people had, in fact, become Christians but who had subsequently joined some denomination. However, since Campbell himself spiritually fellowshipped others who were not willing or who had not as yet “come out” to unify on original ground, that made the Campbells concept of “restoration” suspect and inconsistent.

But then notice what Campbell says in response to the letter from Lunenburg:

“But who is a Christian? I answer, Every one that believes in his heart that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, the Son of God; repents of his sins, and obeys him in all things according to his measure of knowledge of his will. A perfect man in Christ, or a perfect Christian, is one thing; and ‘a babe in Christ,’ a stripling in the faith, or an imperfect Christian, is another” (Campbell, p. 411).

He goes on to say that both groups are recognized in Scripture and the imperfect Christians are told to be perfect, and he cites 2 Corinthians 3:11. But Campbell’s significant problem is that he is assuming that a person can become a Christian without clearly understanding anything beyond repentance. According to his own words, a Christian is a man who believes that Jesus is the Christ, repents of his sins, and “obeys him in all things according to his measure of knowledge of his will.” So, given the way that Campbell describes who a Christian is, the following individuals would be Christians:

  1. a man who has faith and repents but does not know anything about baptism;
  2. a man who has faith and repents and knows that he should be “baptized” for some unknown (to him) reason;
  3. a man who has faith and repents and who is “ baptized” for some wrong reason;
  4. a man who has faith and repents and who is “baptized” in the wrong way (by sprinkling or pouring but not by immersion) would be a Christian.

In response to the implications of Campbell’s remarks to the woman from Lunenburg, I would say this: “repentance unto life” per Acts 11:18 does not entail any of the four categories just listed! The cases of kingdom entry in the book of Acts do not allow for such variation as Campbell’s view did. Read the following from the “Lunenburg Letter” carefully, and you can see how that other brethren began to see that they were not looking at “restoration” in the same way that Campbell evidently was:

“Should I find a Pedobaptist more intelligent in the Christian Scriptures, more spiritually-minded and more devoted to the Lord than a Baptist, or one immersed on a profession of the ancient faith, I could not hesitate a moment in giving the preference of my heart to him that loveth most. Did I act otherwise, I would be a pure sectarian, a Pharisee among Christians. Still I will be asked, How I know that any one loves my Master but by his obedience to his commandments? I answer, In no other way. But mark, I do not substitute obedience to one commandment, for universal or even for general obedience. And should I see a sectarian Baptist or a Pedobaptist more spiritually minded, more generally conformed to the requisitions of the Messiah, than one who precisely acquiesces with me in the theory or practice of immersion as I teach, doubtless the former rather than the latter, would have my cordial approbation and love as a Christian. So I judge, and so I feel. It is the image of Christ the Christian looks for and loves; and this does not consist in being exact in a few items, but in general devotion to the whole truth as far as known” (Campbell, p. 412).

Dear reader, did you understand what Campbell just affirmed? He said that if they were “more spiritually minded, more generally conformed to the requisitions of the Messiah” both a sectarian Baptist and a Pedobaptist (one who believes in infant baptism) would have his “cordial approbation and love as a Christian” more so than that given to someone less spiritually minded but who “precisely acquiesces with me in the theory or practice of immersion as I teach.” WOW!

In the November issue of the Millennial Harbinger under the heading, “Christians Among The Sects,” Campbell briefly responded to some objections received in the light of his response to that letter from Lunenburg (pp. 506-508). One can easily see how that some concluded that Campbell was surrendering ground for which he and others had fought. Campbell, however, didn’t think he was surrendering anything, and if he wasn’t, we see that many who had been striving for “restoration” for years had failed completely to grasp the weakness in the foundation of Campbell’s thought regarding who was and who was not a Christian. When Campbell’s precise teaching on the nature and purpose of baptism was grasped and practiced by others, they took it as a point that was necessary to be understood in order to become a Christian. Campbell evidently thought that was going too far.

So, we see that early on there were flaws in the thinking of some who were most engaged in the effort at “restoration.” There was a (1) hermeneutical flaw regarding the place of deduction in discerning the pattern of authority, (2) an epistemological flaw, therefore, that did not allow for clear distinction between matters of faith and matters of opinion, and (3) there was the willingness of some involved in the formative period of “restoration” thought to spiritually fellowship other religious people who had never obeyed the gospel, which rendered the whole effort at restoration suspicious. It is a wonder that unity was maintained as long as it was.