Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Answering 13 Questions that 'Church of Christ' Preachers Supposedly Can't Answer

A brother-in-Christ called me up a week or two ago and asked me to look at an article online that his wife had discovered. The article was written by Pastor David Martin of the Solid Rock Baptist Church in Bartlett, TN and is entitled, Common Sense Questions a 'Church of Christ' Preacher Cannot Clearly Answer. In just the third paragraph of the article, Mr. Martin brashly says:
"If you ask one of these preachers any of the questions in this tract, you won't get a straight answer due to their 'screwball theology.' You'll have them in 'hot water,' 'swimming in circles,' trying to explain their heretical positions. They'll be 'hopping all over the pond' because they can't stay too long in one spot without sinking in the mire of their false doctrines."
Now, I don't know Mr. Martin and have no issue with him personally. But considering the fact that I have been preaching for 'churches of Christ' for 11 years now, I suppose that I am qualified to answer his questions. I will only add that I'm not answering Mr. Martin's questions to be argumentative, but because these are very common questions that many honest people have.

I sincerely hope that my answers are adequate and helpful.
1. According to the history of the "Church of Christ," God used certain men to "restore" the New Testament Church in the early 1800's. Where was the true New Testament church before then? Jesus said that the gates of hell would not prevail against His church (Matthew 16:18). What happened to the church and where was the truth it was responsible for preaching before God restored it?
It's true that a Restoration Movement occurred in the 1800s here in America and that "churches of Christ" became quite prevalent as a result. The reason that the members of "churches of Christ" are sometimes labeled Campbellites (by outsiders, because this is not a label we use for ourselves) is because a man named Alexander Campbell was a leader in this movement.

While it's tempting to conclude, based on these facts, that our history can be traced to the work of Alexander Campbell, I would first of all suggest to you that if New Testament Christianity was truly restored by Campbell and his contemporaries (e.g. Barton Stone, "Raccoon" John Smith), then our history goes back to the first century, not the 19th century. So the question is, "Did they restore New Testament Christianity?" That was, after all, the aim of the Restoration Movement.

But more to the point, I see men such as Campbell and Stone as just a few of the countless men throughout history who made the same effort to restore and practice the faith of the New Testament. Take John Huss, a well-known Pre-Reformation reformer, as an example. In the early 1400s, John Huss wrote from Bohemia to Richard Wyche in England, "“Dear brother, the people will hear nothing but the Scriptures, especially the gospels and epistles. And wherever, in town, village, house or castle, a preacher of the sacred truth appears, there the people flock together in crowds. Lo, I have but touched the tail of the Antichrist, and it has opened its mouth, that it may swallow me up with my brothers. Our Lord the King and his whole court, queen, barons, and common people, are for the word of Jesus Christ. The Church of Christ in Bohemia salutes the Church of Christ in England.”

I believe that there have always been Christians faithfully following the New Testament pattern, and this letter from John Huss to Richard Wyche is evidence of that.
2. If a "Church of Christ" elder refuses to baptize me, will I be lost until I can find one who will? Do I need Jesus AND a Campebllite "preacher" in order to be saved? If I do, then Jesus Christ is not the only Mediator (1 Tim. 2:5) and the Holy Spirit is not the only Administrator (1 Cor. 12:13) of salvation - the "Church of Christ" preacher is necessary to salvation for he isperforming a saving act on me when he baptizes me! Is this not blasphemy against Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost?
I, for one, do not preach that baptism is not valid unless it is administered by a "Church of Christ elder." And I know a lot of elders and preachers in "churches of Christ" all across this great country, and I've never heard any of them use this reasoning. It's not a matter of who baptizes you, but why and how you're baptized (in keeping with the New Testament teachings).
3. If the water pipes broke and the baptistry was bone dry, would my salvation have to wait until the plumber showed up? If I were to die before then, would I go to hell? If obedience to water baptism is the means of forgiveness of sins, then I would.
I'll answer a question with a question.

If a sinner is going to church to hear the gospel and is ready to believe and accept it...but he dies on the way to the building, or the preacher's car breaks down and the service is cancelled...or let's say he dies of a heart attack during the sermon, right before he really believes in Jesus...is he hopeless and hell-bound?

In the end, all any of us can do is use the opportunities that come our way to preach the gospel, obey the gospel, and help others find the Lord. "What if" scenarios such as these do not change the message of the gospel in any way. If the New Testament mandates baptism for salvation (Mark 16:16; John 3:5; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rom. 6:3-7; 1 Cor. 12:12-13; Gal. 3:27; Col. 2:11-12; 1 Pet. 3:20-21, et al), then that is what we must preach and practice.

4. If my past sins are forgiven when I am baptized in water, and it is possible for me to "lose my salvation" and go to hell after being baptized, then wouldn't my best chance of going to heaven be to drown in the baptistry?!! - before I had a chance to sin so as to be lost again? If I wanted to be absolutely sure of heaven, isn't that my best opportunity?
I have to admit that this question made me chuckle.

First, according to Romans 6:3-7, because baptism is modeled after the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, one must be immersed in water and then raised up from the water to "walk in newness of life" as the apostle Paul instructs.

Also, it would be an act of murder for the baptizer to hold you under the water against your will, and an act of suicide to hold yourself under the water. So it might just be better to go ahead and complete the baptismal act, put your dry clothes back on, and start living your life in such a way that you can bring glory to God (Matt. 16:24-26; 1 Cor. 10:31-33) and bring more into His kingdom (Matt. 5:13-16). That's God's expectation. The apostle Paul said, "For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you" (Phil. 1:23-24).
5. If as a Christian I can sin so as to "lose my salvation," just what sin or sins will place me in such danger? Is it possible to know at what point one has committed such a sin, and become lost again? Please be specific and give clear Bible references.
I don't think the Scriptures equip us to discern between "damning sins" and "non-damning sins." All we're told is that sin separates us from God (Isaiah 59:1-2), causes our death (Rom. 6:23) and keeps us out of the light of God's fellowship (1 John 1:5-8). Therefore, we as Christians ought to just do our very best to avoid sinning (Rom. 6:1; 13:14) and when we do, to repent and confess our sin to God, who promises to forgive us (1 John 1:9).
6. If as a Christian I can fall and "lose my salvation," is it possible to regain it? If so, how? If God "takes away" my salvation, doesn't that make Him an "Indian giver"? How could I ever know for sure that I was saved or lost?
Yes, we can regain our salvation. John tells us that when we sin, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). Also consider Acts 8:22; 2 Corinthians 7:8-10 and James 5:19-20.

Is God an "Indian giver" for taking away our salvation? When we choose to sin and depart from God's will, we are forfeiting our salvation; God isn't taking it from us. According to 1 John 1, when we're right with God, we're "in the light." Sin is darkness. So when we sin, we are choosing to step out of the light (and thus out of God's fellowship).
7. After becoming a Christian, are there any sins that will put me beyond the "point of no return" so that I cannot regain salvation? What sin or sins will put me in such jeopardy, so that, after becoming a Christian, I would be doomed to hell without any recourse? Please be specific and give me clear Bible references.
There are two sins that are unforgivable, I believe.

First, there is the famous "unpardonable sin" in Matthew 12:31-32, which is identified in the text as "blasphemy against the Spirit." Without spending too much time here, the context tells me that this is not a one-time sin that we accidentally fall into, but rather a mindset that is so severely wicked that true repentance is impossible. Even 2 Peter 2:14 describes those who "cannot cease from sin" because they have so given themselves over to the power of darkness.

The second kind of "unforgivable sin" is that sin which a person persists in and for which he does not seek forgiveness. Paul writes in Romans 6:1, "Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid!" John adds that "He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. He who sins [practices sin, CH] is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning." I gather from these and other verses that if we continue in sin and do not repent, we will not be forgiven.
8. If I committed some sin -whether in thought, word, or deed, one minute before a fatal car crash - would I go to hell if I did not have time to repent of it? And, please, don't just say that it's up to God without giving me a specific Bible reference.
Why is it so wrong to say "it's up to God" without giving a specific Bible reference? When describing his experiences in heaven, Paul said "whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows" (2 Cor. 12:1-4). I don't feel like I'm ignoring the question at all by acknowledging that there are some things I don't know. "God knows." That's not me being evasive; that's me being honest and, I believe, humble.
9. Why does the "Church of Christ" insist that their name is scriptural when it cannot be found anywhere in the Bible? The church is referred to as the "church of God" eight (8) times in the Bible, but never is it called the "church of Christ." The verse they use is Romans 16:16, but it doesn't say "church of Christ." Where does the Bible call the church the "church of Christ"?
Mr. Martin references Romans 16:16 but does not quote it, so I will: "Greet one another with a holy kiss. The churches of Christ greet you." If there were "churches of Christ" (plural), then there was a "church of Christ" (singular).

Now, I'm not claiming that this is some official name for the church that we MUST use to the exclusion of all other names. It is merely a description of what the church is. The church is an assembly of Christians that belongs to Christ. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus said, "I will build My church," and in Ephesians 1:22-23, we're told that Jesus is the Head of the church. When we identify ourselves as "churches of Christ," we're not only striving to use a biblical designation, but to give all the honor to Christ, our Lord. What is so wrong with that?

I agree that the churches in the first century were also identified as "churches of God" in places like 1 Corinthians 1:2. Many other designations were used for that matter. For this reason, I do not bind the "name" "Church of Christ," nor do I condemn the use of other scriptural designations for the church. I just want to give honor to my Savior, and the Bible indicates that this is one way to do that.
10. If the "Church of Christ" claims to worship God only as "authorized" by scripture because they sing only (and do not use instrumental music), then where do they get the "authority" to use hymnals, pitchpipes, pews, and indoor baptistries in their worship services? If the answer is that they are "aids to worship," where does the Bible allow for that? Where is your required authorization? If a pitchpipe can be an "aid to worship" for the song service in the "Church of Christ," then why can't a piano be an "aid to worship" for Baptists who may need more help in singing?
There is a lot to say here, but I will simply give an illustration to make my point...

I'm sure Mr. Martin would agree that we are to observe the Lord's Supper. The Scriptures specify that we're to use bread to represent Christ's body and fruit of the vine, or grape juice, to represent His blood. Would it be acceptable to use Oreos and milk instead? Or Sun Chips and Pepsi? No, because the scriptures specify bread and grace juice!

But...the Scriptures do not specify how we're to secure the emblems, or how we're to serve them, etc. We realize, however, that we must secure them somehow, and that we must serve them somehow. Right? So we may purchase them at the store. We may bake our own unleavened bread. We might serve the Lord's Supper by having a select few members distribute the emblems to the congregation, or we might do it by having everyone come to the front, or by sitting around a table.

The point is this: where the Bible specifies what we are to do, that is what we must do. Where the Bible doesn't specify how we're to go about doing something, it's up to us to determine the means by which we will do it. This is how we understand authority in every walk of life.

Because the Scriptures plainly instruct us to "sing" (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16; Heb. 2:12; Jas. 5:13), that is what we do...nothing more and nothing less. But how are we going to be unified in our singing? How are we going to go about it? This is where we have liberty in how we act, and I personally know of many different congregations who go about this in different ways. Some use pitch pipes to help find the right pitch, others do not. Some use song books while others use PowerPoint projectors or "call and response." None of these things, however, change the fact that we're singing.
11. The "Church of Christ" teaches that a sinner is forgiven of sin when he is baptized in water by a Campbellite elder. Where does the Bible teach that water baptism is required in order to have one's sins forgiven? Every time the phrase "for the remission of sins" occurs it is speaking of the fact that sins have been forgiven previously! The Bible plainly teaches that the forgiveness of sins is conditioned upon repentance of sin and faith in Christ - never upon water baptism! (Matthew 3:11; Luke 24:47; Acts 3:19; Acts 5:31; Acts 10:43; Acts 20:21; Romans 1:16; Romans 4:5; et.al.) Where does the Bible teach that forgiveness of sin is linked with water baptism? When Christ made the statement in Matthew 26:28, "for the remission of sins," it had to be because they had been forgiven all through the Old Testament! Christ shed His blood because God forgave repentant and believing sinners for thousands of years before the Son of God came to "take away" sins and to redeem us and pay the sin-debt with His own precious blood. How can one say that "for the remission of sins" means 'in order to obtain' in light of the fact that God never uses the phrase in that sense? In the Old Testament God forgave sin on the basis of a blood sacrifice (Heb. 9:22) - the Old Testament saints had their sins remitted (i.e., forgiven) but they were not redeemed until Christ came and shed His blood at Calvary. Their sins were covered (Romans 4:7; Psalm 32:1), but the sinner was not cleared of his guilt (Exodus 34:7) until the Cross (Heb.10:4). Before Calvary, the sins of believers were pardoned, but they were not paid for (i.e., redeemed) until the crucifixion (see Romans 3:25 and Heb. 9:12-15). When Jesus said, "It is finished," (John 19:30), all sin - past, present and future - was paid for, and the plan of salvation was completed, so that 'whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins' (Acts 10:43). In Acts 2:38, the people were baptized because their sins were forgiven (at Calvary when Jesus said, "Father, forgive them,") and they received the blessing of forgiveness when they repented of their sin of rejecting Christ and accepted Him as their Saviour and Lord. Friend, heaven or hell depends on what you believe about this.
Mr. Martin says that every time the phrase "for the remission of sins" appears in the Scriptures, it refers to sins already forgiven. He sees the word "for" as meaning "because of," not "in order to obtain." This is a classic argument and at the heart of many debates about baptism. 

Without getting into a lengthy debate about the meaning of the Greek word eis, I will simply point to Matthew 26:28. Before He was even on the cross, Jesus said to His disciples, "For this is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins." Did Jesus shed His blood on the cross because our sins were already forgiven, or in order to obtain the remission of our sins? This verse would seem to crush the premise of Mr. Martin's argument.

The fact is, the people in Acts 2:37 asked Peter and the apostles what they had to do (in response to the news that they were guilty of crucifying the Son of God). Peter responded by telling them what to do, and his instructions included both repentance and baptism "for the remission of sins." It's clear, based on the context, that they were repenting and being baptized in order to obtain forgiveness and salvation. 

In Acts 22:16, Ananias asked Paul, "And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord." In Romans 6:3-7, Paul explains that "the body of sin" is destroyed in baptism, a point which is repeated in Colossians 2:11-12. So even if a person struggles with the meaning of "for" in the phrase "for the remission of sins," these other verses make it clear that sin is forgiven and destroyed when we are baptized.
12. If salvation is not by works of righteousness which we have done, and baptism is a work of "righteousness," then how can water baptism be a part of salvation? (Titus 3:5; Matt. 3:16) In the Bible, we are SAVED BY GRACE, and grace does not involve human effort or merit - grace is grace and work is work! (Just read Ephesians 2:8,9 and Romans 11:6.)
I don't believe that baptism is a "work of righteousness." Works of righteousness (Titus 3:5) are those works of which we can boast to the neglect of God's grace. It's true that we cannot earn or merit our own salvation. Those who arrogantly or naively think that they can work hard enough to "deserve" heaven are flat-out wrong! But there is a difference between works of merit and works of humble obedience. Hebrews 5:9 says that "having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him." And Luke 17:10 makes it even more clear that obedience doesn't earn us anything!

I believe that if God places conditions on salvation (e.g. faith, repentance, baptism) or gives us instructions to obey, we ought to obey without question. I have taught and baptized a lot of people over the years and I have never once seen anyone come up out of the water or walk away from our studies thinking that God owed them salvation. I've only seen gratitude toward God.

I'll only add that if salvation is by grace alone (something the Bible doesn't teach), and if it is truly unconditional, then all are saved because God's grace has appeared to all (Titus 2:11). Mr. Martin would reject this conclusion. The dirty little secret is that even those who teach that salvation is unconditional teach that we must believe to be saved. And repent (Luke 13:3). And confess (Rom. 10:9-10). They just want to exclude baptism...even though the Bible is just as clear that baptism is essential.
13. The "Church of Christ" teaches that "obeying the Gospel" includes being baptized in water in order to be saved. If this is true, then how is it that the converts of Acts 10 were saved by faith before and without water baptism? The Bible says in Acts 5:32 that only those who obey God may receive the Holy Ghost - so what did those in Acts 10 do to obey and receive the Holy Ghost and be saved? In the light of Acts 10:34-48, Acts 11:14-18, and Acts 15:7-11, how can anyone honestly believe that water baptism is necessary to salvation? Simon Peter said their hearts were "purified by faith" (Acts 15:9) and that we are saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ like they were (Acts 15:11); that is, before and without water baptism!We know that unsaved people do not receive or have the Holy Spirit (John 14:17; Romans 8:9). We know that the Holy Spirit is given only to those who have believed on Christ (John 7:39). We know that the Holy Spirit seals the believing sinner the moment he puts his faith and trust in Christ as Savior, before he is ever baptized in water (Ephesians 1:12,13). How does the warped theology of Campbellism explain away these clear passages of Scripture without "muddying the waters" of truth and drowning its members in eternal damnation?
Some of Mr. Martin's questions are rather lengthy, aren't they? And there are really four questions here, and more answering than asking, but that's okay.

I admit that this is difficult, but I will try to provide a concise answer for each question.

How is it that the converts of Acts 10 were saved by faith before and without water baptism? The text actually doesn't say that they were saved by faith before and without water baptism. Or did I miss something? If one is going to argue that they were justified at the point of faith before baptism on the basis of Acts 15:9 (which says that God purified their hearts "by faith"), I would turn your attention to Acts 16:31-34. After being baptized, the Philippian jailor "rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household." In the context of individual conversion, the word "faith" may include the act of being baptized since it is an act or response of faith.

The Bible says in Acts 5:32 that only those who obey God may receive the Holy Ghost - so what did those in Acts 10 do to obey and receive the Holy Ghost and be saved? First of all, I wonder if Mr. Martin is contradicting his early statements that works do not save us? It would appear so. To answer the question, though, while it is true that those who obey God receive the Spirit, it's not necessarily true that only saved people can receive the Spirit (see 1 Sam. 19:18-24 and Num. 23:1-5). This is because the Spirit may be given for reasons other than salvation.

In Acts 10:6, Cornelius was told that Peter the apostle would come to him and tell him what he must "do." Peter later recounted that he was sent to Cornelius to "tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved" (Acts 11:14). If you'll read the text of Acts 10:44-45, you'll quickly discover that the Holy Spirit came upon the Gentiles suddenly and unexpectedly, not because they obeyed Peter's message. Peter wasn't even done with his message! So the Holy Spirit wasn't sent upon the Gentiles in response to anything they did. Therefore, by Mr. Martin's own reasoning, the Gentiles in this story weren't saved yet even though they received the Holy Spirit and began speaking in tongues.

So why did they receive the Holy Spirit if they weren't saved? The context would indicate that because the Jews were so doubtful about the Gentiles, God baptized them with the Holy Spirit to prove that they were candidates of salvation (see Acts 11:16-18).

It's interesting that when Peter finally told Cornelius and the Gentiles what to do to obey the gospel message, he said, "Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" (Acts 10:47)

In light of Acts 10:34-48, Acts 11:14-18, and Acts 15:7-11, how can anyone honestly believe that water baptism is necessary to salvation. I admit that this is a very unusual and unique story in the book of Acts. The events of Acts 10 clearly stirred up a lot of controversy even then, so it's no surprise that the same response is seen today. In the end, I believe that Cornelius and the Gentiles heard the gospel, believed it, and were baptized into Christ. The fact that they received the Holy Spirit before being baptized in water (vs. 44) only proves contradictory if you assume that this was a sign of their salvation. The context, however, indicates otherwise.

For more on this, listen to a sermon I preached on this topic here.

These 13 questions posed to preachers of "churches of Christ" are very common and, in most cases, very understandable. There was a time when I had many of these same questions. In fact, I was once a very active Baptist like Mr. Martin. But in the end, I believe that these questions are either rooted in misconceptions and/or easily answered with Scripture.

As I stated earlier in the article, I have no beef with Mr. Martin. This isn't personal. Someone from my church family asked me to take a look at this article and I saw it as a good opportunity to address some very common questions. Some of these questions were easily and quickly answered while others were deeper and required more attention.

If you're still reading this article, I'm impressed. It's been a long one. Clearly, you are interested in these issues. Please understand that there is SOOO much more to say here, so if you have any questions yourself, please let me know. I mean that.