Monday, January 28, 2013

What Makes A Church A Denomination?

Part 3

One brother pushes for changing the sign from something biblical (“church of Christ”) to something else (no more expedient than the other sign). He argues that to object to changing the sign is a “denominational marker”.  But, if the sign was scriptural and right to start with, if brethren see no need to change the sign, why would he be divisive about it? He perceives that it is important to change the sign because he perceives that the name on the sign has become an obstacle to outsiders.  On the one hand he argues that those who do not change the sign are in a denomination.  If this is so, he needs to be honest and tell everyone in a church of Christ to LEAVE the denomination.  Changing the sign does not make a denomination become a scriptural church.  If the Baptist Church changed the name to “the church at _______” has it now ceased to be a denomination?  Masking the exterior name on the sign becomes deception. We don't need to use deception to get people in.  It is still a denomination that teaches the distinguishing doctrines that formed the Baptist denominations. 
If our brother wants to charge “churches of Christ” with being a denomination, he needs to address the doctrines or teachings that distinguish modern churches of Christ from the first century churches of Christ.  This is hard to do on an issue of expediency.  The early churches of Christ did not have an expedient option of a building, and if they had a building, it was not expedient to put a sign up to advertise the nature of the group that met there.  That is still the case in some places like China.  It is more expedient to meet in secret and never put up a sign to advertise your meeting and the nature of the group.  But, in a free society, we find it expedient to advertise the nature of the group that meets in this building.  This may not always be the case, but so far it has been helpful. 
 “Church of Christ” is a good and expedient description.  It does not denominate us FROM Christ and His church.  It does not denominate us from the nature of the early churches.  We are not only advertising what we are, but what the early churches were.  If the time comes when it is expedient to meet in secret again because of similar circumstances of persecution, then we will still be churches of Christ, but will opt to not have a sign.  The sign does not make us any less the undenominational church belonging to Christ. Changing the sign does not make us change from being a denomination to now being non-denominational.

We need a better definition than our brother gave in Part 2 of this series.  A better definition of what constitutes a denomination is as stated in the following quote:

As far as I know, there is no denomination using the name "Church of Christ." A typical definition for a denomination is: "A group of religious congregations united under a common faith and name and organized under a single administrative and legal hierarchy." While churches of Christ are united under a common faith, that which is found exclusively in the Bible, and many, but not all, use a common name based upon Romans 16:16, there is no single administrative and legal hierarchy here on earth. The only head recognized by Christians is Christ Jesus (Matthew 28:18).

Now, this is what makes a denomination. A church is not a denomination just because someone imagines that it is, nor that someone with an ax to grind SAYS it is.  It is not a denomination because it shares common faith with other like churches (that would make the early churches a denomination). It is a denomination if it divides itself from the original order in how it describes itself AND in the doctrines and practices that separate it from the original order.  It can do this by organizing into a group larger than the local church but smaller than the universal church.  The Southern Baptist association is an example of an organization of churches into an order larger than a local church but smaller than the universal church.  Thus, a division that is away from the New Testament pattern.

 A local church can become a denomination by dividing away from a legitimate, scriptural local church in order to press some unscriptural practice such as making the Lord’s Supper into a common meal and making a distinguishing law that they must meet in personal houses instead of in buildings purchased by the group.  A church is not denominational because they happen to meet in a home with no sign out front, but by divisive, distinguishing doctrines of men.  

All denominations are actually “sects”. The Oxford Dictionary defines the word “sect’ as “Body of persons agreed upon religious doctrines, usu. different from those of an established or orthodox Church from which they have separated, and usu. having distinctive common worship, non-conformist or other Church as described by opponents, party of faction in a religious body, religious denomination. . . followers of a particular philosophy or school of thought” The Greek equivalent to “denomination” is “HAIRESIS”, it is translated in our English Bibles as either “sect” or “heresy”. It means “An opinion, then, a party” (Bullenger’s Lexicon) W.E. Vine defines “HAIRESES” a division developed or brought about by an issue” The word appears among the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21 and has a marginal definition of “parties”. Today there are thousands of parties (or denominations) which were begun by men at various times in history.

It is SINFUL and fleshly to start and continue to support a heresy or sect or division.  If one is in a denomination, they must destroy it or get out.  There is no scriptural authority to be in one and to support one. The only way to avoid being in one is to obey the will of God. That will mean proving what is acceptable to the Lord (Rom.12:2-3; Eph.5:11; 1 Thess.5:21).  If the organization is acceptable to the Lord and you can prove it, then it is to that extent the will of God and undenominational.  If it is local only in order and organization and the local order is within the will of God, then it is not a denomination.  If the assembly is conducted within the will of God, then it is not a denomination.  If the teaching advanced and supported is provable by handling aright the word of truth, then it is not a denomination.  If what the local group calls itself is within the will of God, then it is not a denomination. 

When all of the above is proven by the will of God, then the local church should object to someone trying to characterize them as a denomination.  When preachers start doing this, it is time to test what he says and object when he is wrong.  I know that I have never been part of a “church of Christ denomination”.  I don’t intend to start being a part of one. But, neither am I going to sit quietly and say nothing when some preacher wants to make the charge that unless we are willing to change a scriptural designation on the sign that it MAKES a church a denomination, I will object to this unfounded charge. There are several preachers pressing for such a change of sign, but that can be making a divisive issue where it does not need to be pressed.  Divisive brethren need to be marked and avoided (Rom.16:16-17).  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. Let Jesus have “all authority” and be “preeminent” and do all in His name. Prove what is acceptable to the Lord and then act accordingly. You will not be in a denomination, but you will be working with brethren of like precious faith.  That is part of truly living for Christ.  If you are in a local church of Christ that makes doing the will of God their mission and priority, and the groups is acting by the authority of scriptures, then don't let someone get away with calling you a denomination just because you don't see a need to change the sign and they want to be divisive about it.  Put the responsibility on them to prove that it is necessary to do the will of God to do what they say we must do. Terry W. Benton

Saturday, January 26, 2013

What Makes A Church a Denomination? Part 2

What Makes A Church a Denomination?

Part 2

Quote: The Evangelical theological dictionary defines "denomination" as: "anything distinguished by a name … such as Baptists and Methodists.” Second, “Associations of congregations that have a common heritage.” There is no doubt that there exists a "church of Christ" denomination that belies the claims of those within it to local autonomy. And, the unwillingness to consider changing a sign outside a building is an indication of a sectarian attachment - not an attachment to Christ but to a denomination. (Jeff Young)-Unquote!

TB: If the above definition really gives the scripturally-based definition of a “denomination”, then the early church was a denomination.  They were “distinguished by a name”, “Christian”, and there was a “common heritage” of associated congregations (Rom.16:16).  They were associated together with their common heritage of hearing and obeying the gospel of Christ.  There is something very lacking in the above definition when it makes the early churches of Christ a denomination by definition while only really wanting to make modern “churches of Christ” out to be a denomination.   Was there “local autonomy” in the early churches?  We could easily argue that they shared a common heritage that made them tend to share common practices.  Does sharing a common heritage make a denomination?  I think that is not really a good argument to make.  If it makes the early churches of Christ a denomination then it is probably not a good, sound argument to make.

Since I am unwilling to change the sign outside because I really think “church of Christ” is one of the best ways of describing the Lord’s church, the above writer says I MUST be willing to change the sign or I will be in a denomination or possess a “sectarian attachment” to the name on the sign.  But, think about it. Isn’t it sectarian to be so set on changing a sign to something else that only sectionalizes brethren into smaller sections?  What will a different description on the sign accomplish?  Will it prevent people from thinking you are a denomination?  It never has. It never will.  As we pointed out in part 1, the sign does nothing.  A person with only denominational concepts will still have denominational concepts. Teaching the TRUTH and believing the truth is the only way to get concepts corrected.

A person or group of people may have an “unwillingness to change the sign” because they think the sign is an adequate description of what they are, a church belonging to Christ, not a denomination.  Think about this carefully. The above argument says that unless you are willing to change the sign from “church of Christ” to something else, you have a “sectarian attachment” to a “denomination” instead of to Christ.  Hold on a minute!  How often will we need to change the sign to make sure we don’t have a denominational attachment?  Is there a schedule of sign changing that will avoid this?  I doubt very seriously that changing the sign is crucial at all.  In fact, could it not also be the case that one can have a factious and denominational spirit that says in essence that “the nature of this denomination will be our devotion to changing the name on our sign”?  This will be our common denominator with others who are also willing to change their signs often.


I knew of a case where the preacher was so set on changing the sign that he divided the brethren. His accusation was that they were too denominational in wanting to retain the name on the sign and their accusation was that he was too denominational in wanting to change a legitimate sign. Who was really denominational in this case?  To me, the preacher was trying to create a denomination that would be known for sign-changing as the key issue of his new denomination.  It was not devotion to Christ that demanded a change on the sign.  It was a divisive spirit that would ultimately make sign-changing the key doctrine of those he would associate with. 


Those brethren who would not make that THE issue would be mentally assigned to a different denomination while they think only they have captured “undenominational” status.  Brethren and outsiders would take note that this new denomination will make changing descriptive signs THE distinguishing feature to this new denomination.  If it is really so that a church becomes a denomination if they keep “church of Christ” on their sign, then it is still a denomination if they change the sign.  Changing the sign is not out of devotion to Christ. Christ has no interest whatsoever in brethren pushing for a change on the sign out front from “church of Christ” to “the church at ________” .  It is out of devotion to their denominational marker of making sign-changing their distinguishing doctrine.  If they are a denomination if they describe themselves as a “church of Christ”, then they are a denomination if they call themselves “the assembly of Christ”. 

The definition our brother offered above is very inadequate and applies just as well to his own local church.  There is a “distinguishing name” involved and his church is still associated with a common heritage of churches.  If he succeeds in changing the church till no other church feels a common heritage with his church, he has created a new denomination that is starting a new heritage.  You see the definition our brother gave of a denomination still fits his church and church heritage.  He has not escaped the parts of the definition he offered.  That is because his definition is wholly inadequate. He gave a partial definition that indicts his own church that changed the sign out front, and his partial definition indicts every local church you read about in the Bible.

I cannot look at the early churches of Christ (Rom.16:16) as a denomination, nor can I believe that describing local churches today as “churches of Christ” is any more a denominational indicator than it was in the first century.  Thus, we need to quit bashing brethren and calling them a denomination if they are only imagined to be a denomination.  Imagining the local church I attend as being a denomination or part of a denomination does not make it so. There is inadequate definition and a lot of imagination at play here.  I don’t accept our brother’s definition or his imagination.  We need to understand what the universal church was in the first century in order to know what it is now, and we need to understand the local church in the first century in order to know what is should be today.  We also need to know that the early churches did not form denominations and denominations are not supported now.  The Bible does not support divisions, seditions, and heresies (1 Cor.1:10; Gal.5:19-20). We need to challenge people who do not teach the truth and mischaracterize churches of Christ.

(to be continued)

Terry W. Benton

Friday, January 25, 2013

What Makes A Church A Denomination?

What Makes A Church A Denomination?

(Part 1 of a series)

Quote:  There is no doubt that there is a denominational attachment with the phrase, "church of Christ" or "churches of Christ" among many.-Unquote!

TB: I’m thinking about the Lord’s church found in the Bible and want to use an expression that captures what it is.  It is “the church”.  It is “the assembly”, but it is not just any assembly. It is a very unique assembly of people and they are related to Jesus Christ.  “Church of Christ” is certainly good and biblical. Do some have “a denominational attachment with those phrases”?  I don’t have a “denominational attachment” to the phrase “churches of Christ”, but I really like that phrase as a very adequate and scriptural way of describing the Lord’s church.  I don’t see a need to drop the phrase just because someone will accuse me of having a “denominational attachment” to that phrase.  I could just as easily accuse those who are choosing to drop the “church of Christ” phrase and just calling it “the assembly” as having a “denominational attachment” with that phrase.  Does that make it so? 

Quote: …the use of the phrase and the attachment to it as a denominational marker. –Unquote!

TB: Is the use of the phrase “church of Christ” a “denominational marker”?  I don’t think so. But, let’s test this.  If Paul described a bunch of churches “churches of Christ”(Rom.16:16), is that a denominational marker?  I really don’t think so, but let us suppose a group of churches decided it was a “denominational marker” to refer to the Lord’s church by the regular designation of “church of Christ”. Instead, they decided to put “the assembly” or “the church” on the sign outside.  Has that now become a “denominational marker”?  It could just as easily become a new “denominational marker” as the “church of Christ” description phrase.  If not, why not?

Providing the description is biblical, the sign will never keep people from thinking of a “denominational marker” no matter what you put on the sign.  Paul was not able to escape the charge of “sect-arianism” with or without a sign.  The sign is not a “denominational indicator”.  Let us be honest.  People reject churches of Christ because of the TRUTH generally taught from those groups, or because they were turned off by an experience with a “Christian”.  Some “Christians” have not represented Jesus very well.  To keep people from being prejudiced against “Christians”, should we drop the name “Christian”?  People were prejudiced against “Christians” in the first century and later.  Would it have then been expedient to quit referring to themselves as “Christians” so that the prejudice could die down? Absolutely not!  What we will do is try to encourage Christians to try to represent Jesus better and quit giving the name “Christian” a bad name by bad behavior.

Likewise, if you change the sign outside from “church of Christ” to “the assembly”, what have you accomplished?  If the members have not changed their personal behavior, how will the new sign avoid the “denominational marker”?  How will the sign keep the “Christians” from bad behavior?  It won’t.  Teaching the truth about what you mean by ANY description on the sign (if you opt for a sign at all) is the only way to educate people about the Lord’s church.  The fact that three churches decided to drop a reference on their sign in favor of another description means they have now adopted a NEW “denominational indicator” if the old sign was a “denominational indicator”.  If the discarded description was truly a “denominational indicator”, then so is the new sign. I really don’t care what you put on the sign, the sign is not by itself a “denominational indicator”.  So, I think the phrase “church of Christ” is a very good description, don’t agree that the group inside is a “denomination”,  or that the words on the sign outside is a “denominational indicator”. It really depends on other things, not the words on the sign. 

Let’s suppose that a group decides to put “Christians meet here” on the sign. Another church thinks that is a good idea and so they do the same. Has this sign now become a “denominational indicator” of what this group is?  This is the denomination that likes to put “Christians meet here” on their sign.  If we are honest we know that “church of Christ” on a sign is not a “denominational indicator” any more than “the assembly” is a denominational indicator or “Christians meet here” is a denominational indicator.  It depends on other things.  I want people to know us for what we do and teach, not for what they think they can assess from the sign out front.  Remember, with no building and no sign the apostles were still thought to be in a “sect”. They were not. But, the lack of a sign did not keep people from thinking that he was in a new “sect” instead of the undenominated , non-sectarian body of saved people belonging to God.  So, changing the description on the sign is not the answer. Taking down the sign is not the answer.  Using a description on a sign that describes what you are, a group that belongs to Christ, may help brethren think of commonality, but it does nothing toward keeping denominationally-minded people from pigeon-holing you as a denomination or sect.  Overcoming that idea is only accomplished by teaching. Let us not be ashamed of a good description, nor shy away from telling the whole TRUTH and nothing but the truth. The truth will set men free from denominationalism and every other sin. –Terry W. Benton

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

What is the Spirit of the Law?

What is the Spirit of the Law?

From time to time I hear people say "We should follow the spirit, not the letter of the law". This has a deceptive ring of scripture to it. It is a misuse of 2 Cor.3.  "The letter" is made to mean the strict wording of scripture, and "the spirit" is made to mean "what you think they really mean to you". They seem to think "the letter"(what the words actually say) versus "the spirit"(how I feel inside) is what 2 Cor.3 is about.  However, 2 Cor.3 is actually contrasting "the letter"(the already written Old Testament) with "the Spirit"(the New Testament, being at that time, revealed through the Spirit to His apostles and prophets). Read the context carefully and  the spirit of the New Testament will show that this is the case. The letter they had was the Old Testament, and the Spirit was now leading them under the authority and covenant of Jesus Christ. Thus, in context "the letter" is the Old Covenant from Sinai and "the Spirit" was the New Covenant now being revealed through the apostles and prophets (Heb.2:1-4; Eph.1:22; 3:3-5) by the Holy Spirit.

Going back to the misuse of 2 Cor.3, how does one determine what the spirit of a law is? It says “do not commit adultery”, but what is the “spirit” of that command?  It uses letters to condemn homosexual activity, but what is the actual “spirit” we should get instead of following the letter of the law? Doesn't this reasoning, in essence, wind up telling people to follow their own imaginations and desires above God's law? Each person gets to bend the actual words and imagine a certain “spirit” that is more important than the actual law demands. Thus, we can always over-rule something by appeal to spirit over letter.

Was the question of circumcision settled by an appeal to "the spirit of the law"? (Acts 15). Could the Judaizing teachers have justified this innovation by saying the spirit of God’s law is to not get so technical about what the apostles had commanded or not commanded?

Instead of insisting on taking literal unleavened  bread (in observing the Lord's Supper) in harmony with the "letter of the law", can we just observe "the spirit of what it's about"?  Can we treat everything else in this way?  Baptism?  Confession?  Assembling? Church organization?  Who determines what the spirit of the law actually is?  How is this determined?  This is not by reasoning upon the evidence of the words available in scriptures, but rather it becomes handy to claim a more spiritual attitude while ignoring the responsibility spelled out in God’s revealed word.  I hear them say “You are just concerned about the letter of the law, while I am more concerned about the spirit of the law”.  It is actually another form of pride that tries to act superior when their errors are pointed out.  Beware of this misuse of 2 Corinthians 3. There is the matter of “proving what is acceptable to the Lord”(Rom.12:2-3; Eph.5:11; 1 Thess.5:21).  How would you prove something is acceptable to the Lord?  You will have to start with stated principles, and commands, examples, and what you can rightly infer from what the scriptures actually say.  You cannot pull it out of thin air and call it “the spirit of the law”. -Terry W. Benton

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

“Not Forbidden” is Our Authority Now?

“Not Forbidden” is Our Authority Now?

Quote: Everything must begin with truth. Truth is the foundation of all things. Suppose we substitute the converse, “not false”, which is a valid definition of “true.” If the thing between them (or the question between us) is not false or not forbidden, then continue to the next step. If it is false or untrue, then stop.-Unquote ! (Max Ray)

TB: Everything must begin with truth, and truth is foundational.  Truth is complete as well.  So,  we do not necessarily look for what is “not forbidden” but for what is “not approved”.  If it is approved, then continue to the next step.  If it has not been approved by any statement, command,  or  example, then it is not part of the “all truth” God wanted to reveal (John 16:13). Thus, even things that are not forbidden must be proven to be approved.  I can give my daughter a grocery list. If she starts picking up things on the basis that I did not forbid that item, my bill will be larger than I was planning on and I will not be pleased with her approach to my authority (expressed in the list).  She knows that the list is for the things that I approved.  How should she look at the authority of my will expressed in the grocery list?  Should she buy all that I did not forbid?  Or, does she buy only what she knows I approved?

I believe our brother commits a fundamental error in his view above.  He thinks that in order for a thing to be “false” it has to be specifically forbidden. That allows him all kind of room to bring into the church things that are not authorized, but not forbidden. Such things as kitchens and gyms and instrumental music are not specifically forbidden.  Perhaps you could also bring in new offices or leaders for the church such as a presiding bishop over a diocese of churches. After all, once you open the door by saying “not forbidden” you have opened the door to anything and everything that is not specifically forbidden.  That is how you reason to the position of Pope and Cardinals. “Not forbidden” and therefore don’t object unless it is specifically forbidden.  There is a serious flaw to this way of thinking.  It is not a new approach. It has been around a long time. 

Jefferson David Tant observed: These questions rose early in the church, as Tertullian (ca. 150-222) wrote of those who claimed that “the thing which is not forbidden is freely permitted.” Tertullian responded with, “I should rather say that what has not been freely allowed is forbidden.”


 In the Reformation


 There were differences in the approach to the Scriptures by the Reformists Martin Luther (1483-1546) and Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531). In his early reformist years, Luther wrote, “Whatever is without the word of God is, by that very fact, against God.” He based this upon Deuteronomy 4:2: “You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of Jehovah your God which I command you.” In later years Luther changed his view, stating, “What is not against Scripture is for Scripture, and Scripture for it.” The Swiss Zwingli taught that practices “not enjoined or taught in the New Testament should be unconditionally rejected.”


Luther’s view won the day, and his looser interpretation became the preferred practice as denominations developed and proliferated. If Zwingli’s view had been preferred, then the history of the religious world might be quite different. But Luther lived 15 years longer than Zwingli, and thus had a longer period of influence. Zwingli suffered an untimely death after a Protestant pastor was captured by a Catholic group, tried for heresy and sentenced to be burned. The Protestant Zurich government declared war against the Catholics, and in a subsequent battle, Zwingli was serving as a chaplain when he was wounded and died. It was October 10, 1531.

Think how this view has evolved the Roman Catholic Church with icons and relics that are not specifically forbidden and new offices that were not specifically forbidden. Think of infant baptism. Does scripture forbid it? When you think about this approach to authority, was Cain’s offering forbidden?  Was the fire used by Nadab and Abihu forbidden?  The oxcart on which David put the ark to bring it home from the Philistine territory was not specifically forbidden. Yet, none of these approaches fit the standard of authority enjoined by God’s word.  The question we should be asking is: “Does the scriptures approve it?”

The Word of God enjoins upon us the responsibility to “prove what IS acceptable”(Rom.12:2; Eph.5:11; 1 Thess.5:21).  It does not enjoin upon us the responsibility to “prove what IS NOT acceptable to the Lord”.  There is a huge difference between those two ideas.

Our brother has started down the same path that brought about the apostasy that developed the Roman Catholic Church,  and that kind of thinking has endorsed every major denomination of the Protestant Reformation movement.  It is a step in the wrong direction.  He talked about how the two women at Philippi could come to unity of faith, but it was not for one of the sisters to yield to a practice of the other sister unless she could show it was a practice that was forbidden.  A better example would have been an appeal to the issue of circumcision in Acts 15.  If they had thought in terms of asking if it is “forbidden”, then it was not forbidden.  They asked another question instead:  Was it positively taught in the original teaching of the apostles?  If not, then it was not to be imposed on the church.  It is automatically forbidden as a matter to impose on others if the apostles did not teach it.  Brethren need to take heed to the fruit of this kind of teaching.  “Prove what IS acceptable to the Lord”.  If you can’t prove it first, then refrain from it. That is what is “true”.  The two women would work out their differences by putting Jesus first and behaving themselves under that authority and peace. That is what we must do too.

Terry W. Benton

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Social Gospel

The Social Gospel


Churches would do well to turn their fancy million dollar mausoleums (church buildings) into workshops and/or kitchens to feed the hungry and clothe the needy and shelter the homeless. Instead they are used usually no more than 4 hours a week unless they are having a “gospel” meeting which would up that occupancy rate to about 9 or 10 hours. How does this glorify God? (Max Ray)

Reply:  This mentality is what you find among brethren do not like to be limited to the authority of the Bible. They cannot find the early church making social arrangements to feed the hungry in the Bible. The examples we do have was when a famine took place or special circumstances called for seeing to the physical needs of the “saints”, but the corporate (combined) work of the church was designed for getting the gospel into the heart of the saints so that they could get the saving message into the hearts and lives of others. 

In Acts 3 we have an opportunity for the Lord to show us what the church should and should not be doing.  There is a begging lame man asking for alms. Peter, led by the Holy Spirit, did not stop to tell the man that the church has just the right social program for his physical needs.  He did not think about it being the work of the church to see to the physical needs of the poor.  Instead, he showed that it was an individual responsibility to do what he could.  He told him he had no silver or gold to give him, but that he did have something he could give, and then he worked the miracle that set this man in position to see to his own needs and to be another reason for all to listen to the gospel this miracle was confirming.  There were limitations placed upon churches not to be charged (1 Tim.5:16), yet our brother, quoted above, would charge the church with endless charges for feeding the hungry and giving shelter to the homeless.  His view of authority simply does not match the scriptures.  Limited charges to the church for saints only in physical need and individuals seeing to physical needs as they have opportunity and ability, versus the church on a mission to feed, clothe, and shelter the homeless are two entirely different views of authority and the mission of the church.


In 1983 brother Harold Fite wrote:

Where are the Scriptures which authorize churches involving themselves in recreational pursuits and setting themselves up as social services agencies?

Brethren generally opposed the social gospel concept forty years ago. There are those who opposed it then, but have completely embraced it now without saying as much as "excuse me." Was N. B. Hardeman wrong in 1942 when he said, "It is not the work of the church to furnish entertainment for the members. I have never read anything in the Bible that indicated to me that such was the part of the work of the church. I am wholly ignorant of any scripture that even points in that direction." Was B.C. Goodpasture in error in 1948, when he wrote in the Gospel Advocate, "For the church to turn aside from its divine work to furnish amusement and recreation is to pervert its mission. It is to degrade its mission. Amusement and recreation should stem from the home rather than the church." If brethren were in error in opposing the social gospel then, all need to repent and embrace it now. But if they taught the truth then, it remains truth today, and those of the contrary part need to repent and turn to that truth.-Unquote!

In 1980 Mike Willis observed:

The manner in which social problems were affected in the New Testament was through the preaching of the gospel. Helping social problems was a by-product of Christianity, not its primary message. When the gospel sank into a man's heart and he obeyed it, he became a better citizen in the community, a better employee or employer, a better father, a better neighbor, etc. However, these changes came because he became a disciple of Jesus Christ, not because the work of the church was to become involved in labor/management decisions, in building hospitals, or in politics. Rather, these changes which occurred in the man came as a by-product of him becoming a Christian.-Unquote!

The Example Of Jesus

It has been argued that when Jesus fed the multitudes, we are being given a precedent for the congregation to provide or fund potlucks.  Jesus fed the multitudes, therefore we can eat in the building, build a kitchen, fellowship hall, and so on.  Points To Note:  Someone has said, “That which proves too much (or just about everything) proves nothing at all.”   Jesus also healed people, does that give the Church the authority to go into the medical field?  Is it the work of the Church to own hospitals, have stock in pharmaceutical companies and so on?  Jesus also made some wine for a wedding party (John 2:6-9).  Is it the work of the Church to be involved in the catering business, can we building a wedding chapel, or can we own a processing plant for various beverages?  Seeing that Jesus made wine, can we ‘make’ anything and distribute it, Church of Christ Natural Fruit Drinks?   To parallel such meals to a church funded meal misses a number of points.  1.  The church wasn’t established as yet (Matthew 16:18; Acts 2:47).  2.  Money collected on the first day of the week wasn’t used, facilities purchased with the Lord’s money weren’t used either.  How many people are really prepared to argue that whatever Jesus did as an individual, the funds and resources of the local congregation can be used for the same thing?   3.  Jesus feeding the multitudes is not a parallel to congregational action, rather it is a parallel to what an individual Christian might do (of course in a non-miraculous manner and on a smaller scale).  As an individual I have the right to provide meals for neighbors, friends, and strangers.  The obligation of extending hospitality rests upon the individual Christian (Hebrews 13:2).

The call of God to the church is to preach the gospel to the lost, and when men get their hearts and lives right with God, they will begin taking care of their families and helping others as they become productive citizens and neighbors.  The social gospel is to charge the church with a mission God did not give the early church.  The social gospel is now, as it has always been, a step in the wrong direction. It has no stopping point logically or scripturally.  Those who advocate it are never able to demonstrate from scriptures that the church then or now should have set up kitchens and hotels for the feeding and sheltering of the lost.  Our mission is to feed them with the gospel and provide for their spiritual shelter in Christ.  The home and community are to see to the physical needs as they have opportunity and ability.  “Let not the church be charged”(1 Tim.5:16) needs to echo in their conscience until they realize they need to start seeking God’s way of doing things instead of their own way.   -Terry W. Benton






Monday, January 14, 2013

Preaching the Grace of God

Preaching the Grace of God

A brother made the following comment:  Grace is one subject one hears very little about in conservative Churches of Christ except it be prefaced by a stern warning of what grace is not.”

I wonder if that statement has been true of my preaching.  I personally know it has not, but could someone perceive that of me?  I suppose someone could perceive that I do not preach enough about the grace of God, but let us think clearly and fairly about our perception.  It seems to me that Paul taught both about what grace is AND what it is not.  Romans 1-2 is why we need grace (we have all sinned), Romans 3-5 is about what grace provides for the remedy of sin, and Romans 6 is about what it is NOT. It is not license to sin. When a majority around us pervert the grace of God and talk as if it is “unconditional”, then a good minister will evaluate what needs to be said.  I judge that we need to both understand what it is and what it is not. Paul made that same judgment.  Jude felt a need to point out that some “turned the grace of God into licentiousness (license to sin)”(Jude 5).  He felt a need to declare what grace is NOT.

But, let us consider something else about preaching the grace of God.  There are broad topics within the preaching of grace.  Notice what Paul says that GRACE teaches:

Titus 2:11-15

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, 12 teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, 13 looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.

15 Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you. NKJV

Notice that when preachers are teaching you to “deny ungodliness”, they are preaching the true grace of God.  So, don’t dismiss his teaching as not enough about the specific topic of the nature of God’s love. He is only teaching you to deny ungodliness because that is part of preaching true grace.  When some of the sermons center on denying “worldly lusts”, you need to remember that this is what GRACE teaches.  When a preacher is preaching about “living soberly” and making good judgments, he is preaching GRACE.  When he tells you what the New Testament teaches about morals and righteous principles of living for Christ, he is preaching true GRACE.  When he is preaching that you should avoid “every lawless deed” he is preaching true GRACE.  Would you look at the nature and content of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians and accuse him of not preaching enough about GRACE?  Wouldn’t that be a bit unfair?

When we preach God’s word, we are preaching true GRACE.  Now, like each of the books and letters of the New Testament, we will mention a variety of things.  We will cover the love of God and the mercy of God, and we will illustrate it like Jesus did in the parable of the prodigal son.  We will also preach the kingdom, because that is where grace is enjoyed. We will preach the kingdom and church of Christ, because that is where grace is enjoyed, and that too was illustrated in much of the teaching of Jesus and His apostles.

When we examine Jesus’ teaching, it was not all about the gracious nature of God SPECIFICALLY, but it was all part of the grace of God generally.  Would it be fair to examine Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and charge that Jesus did not preach enough about the grace of God specifically? Examine Peter’s sermon on Pentecost.  Would it be fair to charge that Peter did not preach enough about the gracious nature of God’s grace SPECIFICALLY?  Yet, the entire sermon with the opportunity to call on the Lord and be saved, was all generally part of preaching true grace.  When we preach against any and all error, we are basically exhorting the brethren to “continue in His grace” and not get side-tracked away from true grace.

We should and do preach about what Jesus did for us on the cross, and we should and do preach about the gracious nature of God, but we should know enough to recognize that our range of topics should be as broad as the topics found in the New Testament or against any topic that competes with or challenges the truths of the New Testament (2 Cor.10:3-5).  Part of preaching grace is to preach the truth about how to enter His grace and how to continue in His grace.

Paul wrote a whole book on law versus grace through faith (Galatians).  Would it be fair to judge that he did not write enough to the Galatians about the specific topic of God’s amazing love?  Was he spending too much time telling what grace was not?  It was not adding the Law of Moses or circumcision to the liberty given in Christ.  Did Paul say too many negative things in this book?  Some at Corinth charged him with preaching too much in a rebuking manner.  Well, sometimes that is what brethren need in order to get back on track with the grace of God.

Acts 11:23-24

23 When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. NKJV

What did Paul see?  He saw how people had repented and had entered Christ,  were joyful about their blessings in Christ, and were continuing in the activity that faith in Jesus demanded.

Acts 13:43

43 Now when the congregation had broken up, many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them,  persuaded them to continue in the grace of God. NKJV

What would it take to “continue in the grace of God”?  It would be “continuing steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine, in fellowship, in breaking of bread, and in prayers”(Acts 2:42).  What the 3,000 brethren were doing by “continuing in the apostle’s doctrine” was the very same thing as “continuing in the grace of God”.

Acts 14:22

22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, "We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God." NKJV

Continuing in the faith (that body of teaching expressed in the New Testament) is the same thing as continuing in His grace.  Teaching brethren to be faithful and true to the “faith once delivered” to the saints, is teaching grace and how to continue in it. Would it be fair to say that Jude wasted a letter and did not say enough, specifically, about the positive nature of God’s gracious nature?  Did he spend too much time warning about apostasy?  When we think fairly and soberly, we would have to check ourselves before we accused gospel preachers of not preaching enough about a certain topic.  It may be that we were not paying close attention.  It may also be that we have a distorted view of how much time should be spent on one topic as opposed to another.  It may also be that the time we were not present, or the times we were not paying attention was when those topics were indeed preached on.  But, anytime a man preaches the kingdom, the parables of Jesus, the books of the New Testament, we do not skip over the grace of God. We are teaching and preaching it.  Sometimes a church needs a series of topics like Paul delivered in his first letter to Corinth.  Brethren, that IS preaching the grace of God.  Be fair in your assessment. 

Col 1:22-23

 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister. NKJV

1 Tim 4:15-16

15 Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all. 16 Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you. NKJV

Can we read the two letters to Timothy and get the idea that he should only preach about the God’s gracious nature?  Can we save people if we do not defend the truth on all fronts of attack?  Timothy will be preaching the saving truth if he defends it against those trying to bind the Law of Moses on Christians.  If brethren start trying to make Genealogies after Jesus came to have some importance, Timothy can defend true grace against such talk.  Preaching grace is much broader than simply dwelling on the gracious nature of God.  It is preaching “the whole counsel of God”. It is preaching a wide range of topics like we find in 1 Corinthians.

I do not believe that I have neglected the grace of God. I do not believe that there is another preacher who appreciates the grace of God more than I do.  I don’t believe that such preachers as make comments like the above opening comment have a better grasp of the topic or understand it better.  I think many who make such comments are not thinking correctly about the topic specifically and generically.  I am not saying that we all do not have room to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, but I am saying that the opening comment of the brother is not true of my experience in conservative churches of Christ in general or of my preaching specifically.  I would think that the comment is indicative of someone who is simply not satisfied with his own experience and who has surmised that it was the fault of others who were preaching rather than problems with his own perceptions due to his own spiritual problems and lack of personal study. At any rate, let us be sure we understand and appreciate the nature of God and His amazing grace, while realizing that there is far more to preaching the true grace of God than merely dwelling on that specific aspect of it to the neglect of what grace teaches and demands.  Let us be careful to enjoy and preach the whole counsel of God.

Terry W. Benton