The Bible and Problems in the Church

Chapter Nine

Problems of Denominational Beliefs and Practices

Why do denominational traditions often enter the church?

Traditions are difficult to drop. Old practices continued in for many years are not easily or quickly forgotten. Members may not have fully come out of denominationalism, and denominationalism may not have fully come out of them. When the Israelites came out of Egypt, Egypt did not fully come out of them. They remembered the idolatry and fornication practiced there, and they brought these things into their midst. They even murmured to go back to the “flesh pots” of Egypt, finding it hard to forget their former practices. The Bible shows that the Israelites’ experience is written for us today (1 Corinthians 10:11). Just as they brought former practices With them out of Egypt, likewise members bring former practices with them out of denominational churches. Just as the Israelites murmured to go back and enjoy the life in Egypt, so also do members today wish to return to their former religious customs.

What does the word “church” mean?

It means a “called out group of people.” The Israelites were called the “church in the wilderness” because they had been called out of Egypt (Acts 7:38). This called out group serves as an example of the true meaning of the word “church.” The Lord has called Christians out of the world into His kingdom or church (Colossians 1:13). They, therefore, must fully come out from among men and be separate (2 Corinthians 6:17).

Are Christians warned against going back into the world?

The example of Israel teaches those who think they stand to take heed lest they fall (1 Corinthians 10:12). Christians must not be conformed to the world but must be transformed (Romans 12:2). They must not allow the world to change them, but instead they must change the world. Pure religion includes keeping oneself unspotted from the world (James 1:27). We are called a peculiar people or a people for God’s own possession (1 Peter 2:9). If after escaping the pollution of the world, we are again entangled therein and overcome, our latter condition is worse than the beginning (2 Peter 2:20-22). Hebrews 3:12 says, “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God.”

What denominational beliefs often corrupt baptism?

Some churches sprinkle subjects, whereas New Testament baptism was immersion (Matthew 3:16; Acts 8:38). True baptism is a “burial” (Romans 6:3,4; Colossians 2:12). Some churches practice infant sprinkling instead of baptism for those who believe (Mark 16:16), and who repent (Acts 8:37), and who confess their faith in Christ (Acts 8:37). Some denominations baptize for a wrong purpose, saying that baptism is not for remission of sins. But the Bible shows that Scriptural baptism is for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38) or for salvation from past sins (Mark 16:16; Acts 22:16; 1 Peter 3:21). We are baptized into Christ to put on Christ (Acts 2:41,47). Other unscriptural practices include baptismal fees and baptism only by the “clergy.” Never was a fee charged for baptism in the Bible, and the Bible never mentions the “clergy”. A “certain disciple” baptized Saul (Acts 9:10).

Should a person ever delay his baptism?

Because of the above denominational misunderstandings about baptism, many who wish to be members of the Lord’s church delay their baptism. While in a denomination they were encouraged to postpone their baptism, and they continue to do so after learning the truth. In the Scriptures baptism was immediate as soon as one believed in Christ and repented of sin. The Jews on Pentecost were baptized the same day that they heard the first Gospel sermon (Acts 2:41). The man from Ethiopia stopped his chariot as soon as water was seen (Acts 8:36). The Philippian jailer was baptized “the same hour of the night” (Acts 16:33) which was past midnight (verse 25). Saul of Tarsus was told, “why tarriest thou? Arise and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). After a person believes on Jesus Christ and is convicted and willing to repent of his sins, it is unscriptural and dangerous to delay baptism even one hour. A person who wishes baptism does not have to wait for a “day of baptisms.” He does not have to wait for others to be baptized with him. No preacher should ever tell someone to delay his baptism. The remission of one’s sins is too important for that.

When does a person become a “member” of the Lord’s church?

Acts 2:47 shows that the Lord adds to the church those who are saved when they are baptized. Before baptism a person is not saved and not a member of the church. Even many Gospel preachers will say that a person is a “member” who has not been added to the church by baptism. This is a denominational belief being carried over into the church. Before becoming a true member of the Lord’s church a person is an unforgiven sinner (Acts 2:38; 22:16). Baptism is part of the new birth which adds one to God’s family or kingdom (John 3:3,5). One who has not been born of water and the Spirit is not a child of God. He is still in darkness in the devil’s family (Colossians 1:13). No non-member should be allowed any leadership in the church or any voice in the church’s decisions. Let us speak as God’s Word speaks (1 Peter 4:11).

Shouldn’t baptismal certificates be awarded after baptism?

This is another practice which some want to borrow from the denominations. No certificates are spoken of in the New Testament except the living certificate of one’s example (2 Corinthians 3:3). The only true recommendation a Christian has is his good character and good life. Any other recommendation paper can often be misused. A baptized person may apostatize but still use his baptismal card to get employment, etc. But the epistle of one’s life which is “known and read of all men” cannot be deceitfully used. Weak members wish a baptismal certificate to use somewhat as a ticket to get them into heaven. But the Lord knows them that are His (2 Timothy 2:19). The Children of God are “manifested” (or seen) in the kind of lives they live (1 John 3:10).

Is special white dress appropriate after baptism?

Another denominational tradition is the wearing of white robes after baptism. Matthew 23:5 condemns those who change the appearance of their garments in order to be seen of men. The wearing of white cloth outwardly in no way helps the appearance of a person’s inner man. Luke 16:19 describes a rich man clothed in purple and fine linen on earth, but who was lost in the next life 1 Peter 3:3,4 shows that Christians do not depend upon beautiful outward appearances. That which is in the sight of God of great price is the adorning of the character or the hidden man of the heart. We must clothe ourselves in good works (1 Timothy 2:9,10). The fine linen which will have meaning in heaven is the “righteousness of the saints” (Revelation 19:8). Outward adorning does not affect the soul, but inward-adorning does. Outward adorning can be deceitful, but inward adorning cannot.

Is special dress for the “clergy” good?

The division between “clergymen” and “laymen” is a denominational idea which the Bible does not support. There are no special licenses in the Lord’s church for preaching, baptizing, or conducting worship. All Christians must teach the Gospel (Matthew 28:19). Faithful men teach others who then are able to teach others also (2 Timothy 2:2). Every member has an important work in the Lord’s body or church (1 Corinthians 12:12,14-1 8). Jesus was speaking of religious leaders when He condemned the wearing of special robes to be seen of men (Matthew 23:5-12). Even Bible school students sometimes wear their blazers as if they gave them religious authority, distinction, and importance. Jesus said, “He that is greatest among you shall be your servant” (verse 11). “Whosoever exalts himself shall be abased, and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (verse 12).

Was anyone re-baptized in the Bible?

In Acts 19:3 the apostle Paul asked twelve men at Ephesus, “Unto what then were ye baptized?” They answered, “Unto John’s baptism.” When Paul explained that John’s baptism was no longer in effect, they were then baptized again (verses 4,5). This shows us that just any immersion will not do. These men had been immersed under John’s baptism, but they needed baptism again. Their first baptism was not Scriptural since John’s temporary teaching and baptism had been replaced by Christ’s baptism. The purpose of their first baptism was not the purpose of Christ’s baptism. They had never been baptized into Christ, to put on Christ (Galatians 3:27). The teaching which they received about baptism was not correct, so they had to be taught correctly and then baptized correctly. The same is true today. Many have been mis-taught and mis-baptized and must follow the example of the men at Ephesus and be taught correctly and baptized correctly. There is no dishonor in being re-taught and re-baptized. To fail to do so because of pride may cause one to be lost. Some people today say that they will not be re-baptized because they were immersed twenty or thirty years ago. But this is not what the men at Ephesus said. They wanted to have Scriptural baptism immediately after they learned of their error.

How do some denominations immerse incorrectly?

Just because a person is immersed does not mean that he is correctly baptized. One cannot be taught wrong and baptized right. Correct teaching must go before correct baptism (Matthew 28:19). Jesus said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16) But many denominations twist this and teach, “He that believeth and is saved shall be baptized.” 2 Peter 3:16 says that some “wrest” (or twist) the Scriptures to their own destruction. Persons taught this doctrine believe that remission of sins comes before baptism. But the Bible says that true baptism is “for” the remission of sins (Acts 2:38). False baptism comes after remission, but true baptism comes before remission of sins. Many churches teach salvation by Holy Spirit baptism. They teach that the Holy Spirit saves one from sin before water baptism. This is another way of teaching that water baptism is not for the remission of sins. A person believing such false doctrine may have been immersed, but he has not been Scripturally baptized.

Is Holy Spirit baptism performed today?

Some denominations teach both Holy Spirit baptism and water baptism today. But Ephesians 4:5 says there is “one baptism.” Holy Spirit baptism was a special miraculous gift given to the apostles on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4) and to the house of Cornelius (Acts 10:44,45). In the days before the New Testament was completed, the Holy Spirit was given miraculously to guide men (John 16:13). But when the perfect revelation of the Holy Spirit (the Bible) was completed, the partial or miraculous gifts ceased (1 Corinthians 13:8-10). The Holy Spirit instructs men today only through the Bible, which is the “sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17). Holy Spirit baptism was necessary to begin the church, but it was temporary and ceased with all other miracles.

How can one be sure about his baptism?

Not by tradition, for men’s traditions often make void the commandments of God (Matthew 15:3,6). Not by following the practice of the greatest number of people, for multitudes shall be lost, while only a few will be saved (Matthew 7:13,14). The only sure way of obeying any commandment of God is to follow the Word of God exactly. The testimony of God is sure (Psalm 19:7). When we hear and obey the Word of God, we are building our house on a rock (Matthew 7:24-27). But when we depend upon any other thing, what we have built will fall (verses 26,27). We may do many mighty works in Christ’s name, but He won’t know us (verses 21-23). We must build our baptism on God’s Word and it will stand. But if we build it upon tradition or opinion, it will fall. Twelve men in Ephesus rejected their former baptism and submitted to true baptism when they heard the Word of God from the Apostle Paul (Acts 19:1-5). Scriptural baptism is a burial in water (Colossians 2:12) for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38) or to be saved from past sins (Mark 16:16). Without this kind of baptism a person has not had Bible baptism.

Must one be re-baptized who was already zealous and faithful in a former church?

Saul of Tarsus was formerly very zealous in the Jews’ religion (Galatians 1:13,14). He could have boasted of a long and faithful career in the traditions of his fathers. But these things which seemed gain to Paul he counted loss for Christ (Philippians 3:4-7). He counted all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus his Lord (verse 8). He had verily thought with himself that he should do many things contrary to the name of Christ (Acts 26:9). But when he learned that he had been in error all those years, he was baptized immediately to wash away his sins (Acts 22:16).

Is it possible that one could have been Scripturally baptized by a denominational preacher?

It is very unlikely but still a possibility. If a person had read his Bible for himself and had not followed any false teaching, he may have had a proper understanding of baptism. He could therefore know the meaning and purpose of baptism, although the preacher taught another doctrine. The important thing about a person’s baptism is what is in his own heart. His personal faith and repentance are what matters. What a preacher believes or teaches does not matter unless it causes the subject himself to be mistaught. This is why a person must make his own decision to be re-baptized. Unless he himself believes that re-baptism is necessary, it would do no good for him to agree only because the church wished him to. Every person who has been immersed in the past and who considers re-baptism, must open-mindedly study the Word of God and answer for himself before God whether he has already been baptized exactly as God’s Word directs. If he sees for himself that he has not, he should obey God’s command before it is too late.

What is the gift of the Holy Spirit which comes after baptism?

Acts 2:38 says that those who repent and are baptized in the name of Christ for the remission of sins also receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost). This promise is for all whom God shall call (verse 39), which includes Christians today. Galatians 4:6 says that God sends forth the Spirit of His Son into the hearts of those who are His sons or children. Acts 5:32 says that God gives the Holy Spirit to those that obey Him. These and other verses clearly tell us that the Holy Spirit is given to those who become Christians. But the gift of the Holy Spirit is not a miraculous gift, for the giving of miracle-working gifts of the Spirit was done by the laying on of the apostles’ hands (Acts 8:18; 2 Timothy 1:6). When the last apostle died, miraculous gifts could no longer be given. The gift of the Spirit to every Christian is not a feeling or emotion in one’s heart. Pagans feel happy and saved in their heathen practices, but emotional feelings are not the Spirit of God. The gift of the Holy Spirit is simply God’s Spirit dwelling in a Christian. Christ dwells in our hearts by faith (Ephesians 3:17). God also makes His abode in a Christian (John 14:23). There is no mysterious feeling or sensation. But we are merely assured that God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit live within us as we abide within them and their teachings.

How does a Christian know that he is truly God’s child?

Romans 8:16 says, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” The only way that the Holy Spirit witnesses or speaks today is in the Bible (2 Timothy 3:16,17). The words of the Scripture are the words of His testimony (1 Corinthians 2:13). The Spirit tells us in the Bible what to do to become and remain a true child of God. Our spirit (or mind) bears record of whether we have exactly obeyed the Spirit’s words to become a child of God, and whether we are living as a child of God. In this way the Holy Spirit bears witness (in the Word), and our spirit bears witness (as to whether we have obeyed the Word). Thus God’s Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God (Romans 8:16). 1 John 2:3 puts it this way: “Hereby we do know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.” But he that says he knows God and keeps not His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him (verse 4).

Did the early Christians observe special religious days like Easter and Christmas?

Denominational churches have many special days, but the Lord’s church has only one. The first day of the week is the only special religious day for Christians. On this day (Sunday) Christ was raised from the dead (Mark 16:9), the church was established (Acts 2; Leviticus 23:15,16), and early Christians worshipped (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2). But never did the early church observe Christmas, Easter, or any other special day. (The word “Easter” in Acts 12:4 should be translated “Passover” as in the revised versions. The feasts of the Jews were kept in New Testament days by the Jews, but not by Christian.) The observing of special religious days other than every first day of the week is from man’s tradition and not from God.

If Christmas and Easter are not in the Bible, where did they come from?

The keeping of December 25 as Christmas was begun by the Catholic Church hundreds of years after the days of the New Testament church. This date was borrowed from a pagan feast which had formerly been held at that time. The heathen holiday was merely changed into “Christ-mass,” later known as “Christmas.” The name “Easter” comes from the pagan goddess of spring, “Easter.” It was also transferred from pagan custom to denominational practice. Since Christians follow the Word of God rather than heathen traditions or denominational errors, they do not keep these religious days.

Doesn’t the Bible tell of the birth and resurrection of Jesus?

The Bible tells of the birth and resurrection of Christ, but it does not tell when these events happened. Jesus’ birth and resurrection are Bible facts, but when they happened are men’s opinions. God’s Word condemns the keeping of special days and seasons. Galatians 4:10,11 warns, “Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labor in vain.” The first day of the week is the only special day of worship God authorizes. All other special religious days of worship are vain because they are based upon the traditions and commandments of men (Matthew 15:9).

In what ways does denominational organization often try to enter the church?

(1) Most denominational churches have earthly headquarters. The officers at such centers control and oversee the congregations. Because many members of the are accustomed to such a plan, they wish to make the Bible Training College the headquarters of the church of Christ. Weak members want American brethren to be their bishops, select their preachers, settle their quarrels, and manage their affairs. (2) Congregations often wish to be organized together. This also comes from the denominational plans of districts, synods, or dioceses. Brethren use “Gospel meetings” and other meetings to organize themselves together. They may even have officers, a treasury, and may pass decisions for all the member churches. (3) Combined services is another practice borrowed from the denominations. This custom disrupts the local church assembly and usually causes or allows many members to forsake worship. (4) Dividing the congregation into committees is another practice brought into the church from outside. Committee members (especially committee “heads”) think of themselves as officers and assume great authority. (5) Politics is often brought into the church. Men try to grab authority by political means. Political methods and schemes are used to gain authority over others.

Why do members want denominaltional schemes in the church?

The Israelites in Canaan were not satisfied to have God’s plan of rule in which He Himself was their only King. Instead they asked Samuel to make a king over them so that they could be like the heathen nations around them (1 Samuel 8:5). This is the very reason that members today want denominational plans instead of God’s plan. They want to be like the churches around them. They are not satisfied with God’s plan of rule. When the people rejected God’s plan and asked for a king, God told them that in rejecting His plan they had rejected Him (1 Samuel 8:7). Likewise today when members reject God’s plan for the organization of the church, they are really rejecting Him. Denominational schemes are brought into the church because weak members are not content with God’s plan. They want to be like the peoples round about them. See Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 6:17; James 1:27; and 1 Peter 2:9.

What is the headquarters of the Lord’s church?

A “headquarters” is “the quarters of a head.” Jesus is the only head of His church (Colossians 1:18; Ephesians 4:5). Jesus is in heaven (Hebrews 12:2). Therefore, heaven is the only headquarters of Christ’s church. No school, hospital, or compound is headquarters. The church has no headquarters on earth. Each congregation is free and independent under Christ, the head.

What are the dangers in gospel meetings?

The greatest danger in gospel meetings is that the freedom and independence of local congregations is often gradually lost. Men seek to be rulers and use gospel meetings to have authority over the churches. This is the very way in which denominational organization began. The organization of the local church is thought not good enough. So, a larger group of several churches bands together. Officers are chosen, a financial plan is begun, and decisions are passed which have authority over the member churches. God’s plan of organization does not tie congregations together into a larger, earthly organization. In the New Testament there were elders in the local churches (Acts 14:23), but no elders over all the churches. Local congregations each had a treasury (1 Corinthians 16:1,2), but there was no treasury for many churches. Gospel meetings are steps toward denominational organization and toward the corruption of the New Testament plan of autonomous churches.

What can replace the fellowship and teaching at gospel meetings?

Because gospel meetings have an inborn danger of changing the organization of the church into districts and synods such as denominational churches have, many churches are now seeing this danger and replacing gospel meetings with congregational lectureships. These do not have the dangers of officers, treasuries, business meetings, and authoritative decisions which gospel meetings have. They have all of the good and none of the bad of gospel meetings. They use no organization of men, but only God’s organization, the local church. It is encouraging to see brethren turning away from a dangerous practice to one that is beyond question.

What are the drawbacks to combined services?

The major danger of gospel meetings is also true of combined services. Brethren are not satisfied with the local congregation and want something bigger in which they can have more authority and prominence. An additional disadvantage is that the Lord’s Day worship is forsaken in the local churches, and the work of the church in many villages is cancelled on the day when all local members should be active. Combined services may build the attendance in one assembly, but they destroy the assemblies of many other churches. This tends to weaken the disassembled churches and slow their work.

How do committees often hinder the local church?

Another effort to gain prominence is in church committees. By being in a committee or being head of a committee, men seek authority and the praise of others. They consider themselves officers in the church. They make decisions which other members are forced to follow. Politically-minded men use committees to gain control for themselves over church affairs.

If a church has no elders, how can its decisions be made and its work carried on?

A church with no Scriptural officers must allow every man equal authority. Each must count others better than himself (Philippians 2:3). Business meetings or general meetings of the congregation are where the work of the church is discussed and decisions made. If every member truly loves the Lord and the Lord’s work, jealousy and strife will not be allowed to enter. The congregation can run its own business without depending upon a larger body to make its decisions or without organizing itself in unscriptural ways.

What does “undenominational” mean?

“Undenominational” means “not denominational in concept” or “not sectarian in nature.” To be “sectarian” is to have a narrow denominational view of the church. It is to think that the church is a sect like many other sects. It is to look upon the church of Christ as another denomination. Many members think that the church is just another denomination, or they may think that it is a better denomination than others. To be undenominational or non-denominational in one’s viewpoint of the Lord’s church is very important. Unless one has an understanding of the New Testament church as altogether different from denominations in its nature, one has a denominational view.

What is the name of the Lord’s church?

Whether one has a denominational or undenominational idea of the church is often indicated by his use of the term “Church of Christ.” The Lord’s church has no single name in the Bible. It is called “the church” (Colossians 1:18), “church of God” (1 Corinthians 1:2), “church of the living God” (1 Timothy 3:15), “churches of the saints” (1 Corinthians 14:33), “churches of Christ” (Romans 16:16) etc. We should acknowledge and wear all Bible names for the church. To wear only one is a narrow, unscriptural idea. We should think of the church as we think of God in the Bible. God has many names, and we do not limit Him with only one. A god with only one name is not the God of the Bible. Likewise, a church with only one name is not the church of the Bible. We must have an understanding of the true nature of the undenominational church as it is in the Bible. Unless we do, we cannot teach others of undenominational Christianity.

Is Christianity the same as the church?

In the New Testament the church and Christians were the same (Acts 2:47; 8:1,3). True Christians and the true church are the same today. Although denominational bodies may call themselves “Christianity,” they are not true Christianity. True followers of Jesus Christ are not those who call themselves followers, but those who obey (Matthew 7:21,22). So when we speak of “undenominational Christianity” we are speaking of Christians (or church members) who obey Christ as the first Christians did in the New Testament. Christianity has always been the same as the church. If changes are made so that a body is not truly the church, then that body is not true Christianity. If corruptions have altered a group of people so that they are not truly Christians, then they are not the church. The Lord’s Church is Christianity, and it must not be misunderstood to be anything denominational or sectarian.

What does “restoring the church” mean?

Jesus built His church on Pentecost Day of Acts 2, when 3,000 souls were made members by obeying the gospel (Matthew 16:18; Acts 2:38,41,47). But soon thereafter false teachers led away followers out of this church and began groups that were not the Lord’s church (Acts 20:28,29). This is how denominationalism began. It is like a builder building a nice house according to a good plan and then leaving for a far journey. But afterwards enemies steal away the parts of the house and build houses of their own. The servants of the owner discover the condition and set about to restore the house as it was. They first find the builder’s plan. Then they follow the same plan in every way exactly as it was followed the first time, being very careful not to change a thing. The result will be the first house “restored.” The enemies may still live in their different houses, but the original house has been reproduced. Therefore, if the New Testament plan for the church is exactly and carefully followed today, the original church which Christ built will be restored or reproduced today. This is the plea of churches of Christ – to restore original Christianity, to reproduce the true church which the Lord built, and to exactly re-establish the undenominational church of the Lord Jesus Christ today. To “restore” is not to build another house, but to rebuild, reproduce or re-establish the original or first one.

What are some indications that members do not have an undenominational view of the church?

Often members will speak of “our church”. But the church is not ours, it is Christ’s (Matthew 16:18). A preacher will sometimes call the congregation “my church.” They are not his, but the Lord’s (1 Corinthians 3:23). Members will be asked their beliefs. They will often reply, “These are the beliefs of the Church of Christ. These are doctrines of the Church of Christ.” This sounds like the person has agreed to an unwritten creed which the Church of Christ requires. What should have been said was, “I can tell you the doctrine of the Lord” (Actsl3: 12). Or, “I can show you the apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42). The Lord’s church has no listed set of beliefs like a denominational catechism. The doctrine we believe is not our own, but the Lord’s. Another hint that one does not have an undenominational understanding of the church is to hear a member frequently speak of “Church of Christ people” or “Church of Christ members” rather than “Christians” or “members of the church.” We must never allow ourselves to make God’s idea of the church like ours. We must make our idea like God’s. Some preachers think that true worship must be the exact custom or order of things which they have always been accustomed to. If the Lord’s Supper were served first, they would feel that it was unscriptural! If a prayer were said before the first song, they would complain! Some preachers even repeat a denominational ritual or prayer at the end of the service. Most members think they have to kneel and pray before they begin to worship. All these things indicate a narrow and denominational outlook. They show a sectarian spirit and attitude. Let us keep our mind clearly on the Bible concept of Christianity. Let us never allow our thinking to become like the denominations around us. Let us keep an open mind to correct denominational tendencies. Let us understand the Lord’s church so that others may understand also.

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