Archive for December, 2006

God’s Grace

December 26, 2006

One of the most misunderstood concepts of Christianity is that of God’s grace. Before we can study the concept of grace we have to understand what exactly grace is.  The American Heritage Dictionary defines grace as:

grace   (grās)  n.  

  1. Seemingly effortless beauty or charm of movement, form, or proportion.
  2. A characteristic or quality pleasing for its charm or refinement.
  3. A sense of fitness or propriety.
    1. A disposition to be generous or helpful; goodwill.
    2. Mercy; clemency.
    3. Divine love and protection bestowed freely on people.
    4. The state of being protected or sanctified by the favor of God.
    5. An excellence or power granted by God.
  4. A favor rendered by one who need not do so; indulgence.
  5. A temporary immunity or exemption; a reprieve.
  6. Graces Greek & Roman MythologyThree sister goddesses, known in Greek mythology as Aglaia, Euphrosyne, and Thalia, who dispense charm and beauty.
    1. Divine love and protection bestowed freely on people.
    2. The state of being protected or sanctified by the favor of God.
    3. An excellence or power granted by God.
  7. A short prayer of blessing or thanksgiving said before or after a meal.
  8. GraceUsed with His, Her, or Your as a title and form of address for a duke, duchess, or archbishop.
  9. MusicAn appoggiatura, trill, or other musical ornanment in the music of 16th and 17th century England.

So simply put grace is favor or good will toward someone and God’s grace is his favor or good will toward mankind.  With regard to God’s grace toward us we must also recognize that it is unmerited favor.  There is nothing that we can do to deserve God’s grace.  In Romans 3:11-12 we are told that there are none that do good and in verse 23 of the same chapter that we are all sinners and have come short of God’s glory.  As such we are deserving of God’s wrath rather than his favor.  Thus when we are talking about the grace of God we are talking about the undeserved favor that God has shown to mankind.

God’s great and undeserved favor towards man has caused him to offer salvation unto mankind (1 Timothy 2:11, Ephesians 2:4-5).  So is there anything required of us seeing that God has offered us his undeserved favor?   Most people in the denominations will tell you that nothing is required on our part and that, in fact, requiring something on our part would nullify grace.  We are told that passages such as Ephesians 2:8 and Romans 4:4-5 teach that no work at all is required of us to recieve salvation.  Do these passages truly say that no actions are required of us to be saved?  The truth is these passages do not teach this.   They only state that works have no power to save us apart from the grace of God, not that no works are required.  Without God’s grace nothing we could do can save us because nothing we can do will pay off the debt for sin that we owe but this does not mean that there is nothing we are supposed to do. 

Consider the following scenario:  Mr. Debtor owes Mr. Creditor ten thousand dollars but doesn’t have any money to pay this debt.  Mr. Creditor comes to Mr. Debtor and tells him that if he will go to credit counselling that he will forgive him the debt.  If Mr. Debtor completes the credit counselling and the debt is forgiven it is still forgiven by the grace of Mr. Creditor.  The favor of offering to forgive the debt without payment if a simple condition is met is undeserved.  Mr. Creditor was not under any obligation to provide Mr. Debor with a means of alleviating the debt.  Had Mr. Debtor gone to credit counselling without the offer of Mr. Creditor his debt would have remained.  It was the grace of Mr. Creditor that empowered Mr. Debtor to become free from debt by going to the counselling. 

The grace of God was manifested through the offering of his son Jesus (Hebrews 2:9).  However, just like in the scenario above there are requirements on our part now that God by his grace has extended the offer.  We must believe on his son (Mark 16:16), repent of the sins that we have committed (Acts 17:30), confess our belief that  Jesus is the son of God (Romans 10:9-10) and be baptized into him (Romans 6:3-7).  Do any of these actions nullify the grace of God?  Of course not, just as the action of attending counselling did not nullify the grace of Mr. Creditor in our scenario above.  It is the grace of God, offered through the sacrifice of Jesus, that empowers our faith, repentance, confession and baptism to have any effect.  Had Christ not died we would have nothing to believe on for salvation. Had Christ not died a lifetime of penitence for our sins would be meaningless.  Had Christ not died we would have no one to confess. Had Christ not died we would have no one and nothing to be baptized into.  So it is the grace of God that gives any of these acts meaning.  This is the true meaning behind passages such as Ephesians 2:8 and Romans 4:4-5.  It is the grace of God that gives us the opportunity to do what God has commanded and thus be saved.  God did not have to give us any means of salvation at all so whatever works he has required of us are still only effective through his grace.

REFERENCES

grace. (n.d.). The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Retrieved December 26, 2006, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/grace

Is the church of Christ a denominaton

December 22, 2006

It is often stated that the church of Christ is hypocritical in condemning denominationalism because the church of Christ is a denomination. Thus it is necessary to explain why the church of Christ is not a denomination.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines a denomination as follows:

de•nom•i•na•tion
n.
1. A large group of religious congregations united under a common faith and name and organized under a single administrative and legal hierarchy.

2. One of a series of kinds, values, or sizes, as in a system of currency or weights: Cash registers have compartments for bills of different denominations. The stamps come in 25¢ and 45¢ denominations.

3. A name or designation, especially for a class or group.

The first definition given is that of a large group of religious congregations united under a common faith and name and organized under a single administrative and legal hierarchy. The Church of Christ does consist of a large group of religious congregations united by a common faith and name but we are not organized under a single administrative and legal heirarchy. Each congregation is autonomous and is overseen the elders and deacons ( Philippians 1:1, 1 Peter 5:1-3, Acts 14:23, Titus 1:5). As the Church of Christ is not a large group of congregations organized under a single administrative and legal heirarchy it does not fit this definition of a denomination.

The second definition given is that of one of a series of kinds, values or sizes. In the religious sense of the word a denomination is, supposedly, one of a series of kinds, values or sizes of Christianity. The idea behind the denominations is that each of them is a large group of religious congregations that all together make up the universal church. The following diagram give us a denominational view of the church:

Demominationalism

The denominations claim that each of them are just one in a series of kinds of churches that make up the church universal. Each one of these denominations consists of a large number of local congregations but is itself smaller than the universal church. There is no such organization authorized in the Bible. The following illustration shows the Corinthian’s practices which Paul condemned:

Corinthian Divisions

See the similarities between what the Corinthians were doing and what the denominational world has done today? They had groups within the church as a whole saying they were followers of this man or that man. Today people are saying I am a member of this denomination or that denomination. Paul instructed these brethren to get rid of the divisions and be one in belief and teaching ( 1 Corinthians 1:10). The following illustration shows the biblical view of Christ’s Church:

Scriptural Church

This is how the bible intended the church to operate, as multiple autonomous congregations that make up the church that belongs to Christ as a whole. The church of Christ is not a part of the “universal church” made up of many denominations. The church of Christ IS the one true universal church made up of many local congregations. Since the church of Christ is not one of a series of kinds of churches making up the universal church then it does not fit the definition of a denomination.

The third definition of a denomination is a name or designation of a group or class. In the religious sense then it a denomination is a group of congregations. As we have already seen this arrangement is foreign to scripture. Groups of congregations that believe and worship differently within the universal church is a practice condemned by scripture. Because the church of Christ is not simply a group within the universal church but actually is the entire universal church it does not fit this definition of a denomination.

Thus the church of Christ is not a part of the church which is comprised of many denominations but is a seperate and complete entity on its own.

REFERENCES

denomination. (n.d.). The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Retrieved December 22, 2006, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/denomination

How many churches?

December 21, 2006

One of the most common complaints made against the churches of Christ is that we don’t recognize the truths that are found within all denominations of “christianity”. It is often argued that we are all simply on different paths to the same place and are all seeking God in our own way.  The problem with this view is that it is specifically condemned by the Bible.

In Matthew 16:18 Jesus promised to build his church, singular. He did not promise to build multiple churches, plural. In Ephesians 4:4 we are told that there is only one body, not multiple bodies. The denominational answer to this is that all of the denominations are simply a part of the “universal church”. They argue that there is only one body but that the body has many members and that the denominations are those members. On the surface this sounds perfectly reasonable but there are some major flaws in it when one looks deeper.

In Luke 11:17 Jesus arguing with the Pharisees about whether or not he was casting out devils by the power of Satan made the observation that a kingdom or home that is divided destroys itself. Many of the denominations teach things that are contradictory to one another. If Jesus’ kingdom is so divided then it cannot stand.

In John 17:20-21 Jesus prayed to God that his followers would be one just as he and the Father are one. Are all of the denominations united in the same way that Christ and the Father are united? In John 12:50 we are told that Christ and the Father are one in speech or teaching. In John 14:9 Christ said that seeing him was the same as seeing the Father as they are one in action or practice. Can we say the same thing of the denominations? Are they one in teaching and in practice? Can you say that if you have seen one denomination you have seen the rest? It is obvious that the denominations are not one in the same way that Christ and the Father are one. Denominationalism is against the expressed will of Jesus.

Denominationalism is not a new occurance. We see it creeping into the church during the first century. In 1 Corinthians 1:12-13 Paul takes those in Corinth to task for dividing with some saying I am of Paul, I am of Peter, or I am of Apollos. Paul said there should not be such divisions within the church. Do we not see much the same thing today when people say I am a Baptist, I am a Methodist, or I am a Presbyterian. Paul urged that the Corinthians would do away with divisions and all teach and practice the same thing (1 Corinthians 1:10) and gave the same command to the Philipian church ( Philipians 3:16).

It is obvious from this brief look at scripture that the idea of multiple denominations, all with their own beliefs and practices, being a part of the “universal church” is completely foreign to the word of God. We should not be a member of any denomination but the true church which Christ built and which still belongs to him.

Is the church of Christ a cult?

December 16, 2006

One of the most common allegations made against the church of Christ these days is the claim that it is a cult. The label of “cult” has come into much more frequent usage recently. The problem is whenever anyone is asked to define exactly what a cult is and how one is to be recognized the answers begin to get vague and uncertain. It seems that no one can pin down exactly what a cult is and the label is simply applied to any who have differing beliefs. Let us look at one such definition of a cult provided by the popular apologetics website, the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.

On their website, in the Theological Dictionary section, CARM has the following for the definition of a cult:

Cult
A religious group that follows a particular theological system. In the context of Christianity, and in particular, CARM, it is a group that uses the Bible but distorts the doctrines that affect salvation sufficiently to cause salvation to be unattainable (CARM, 2006)

So according to CARM a cult is anyone that uses the Bible but whose beliefs regarding salvation differ significantly from CARM’s therfore making salvation for them unattainable in CARM’s view. Translated into plain English this says that a cult is anyone that doesn’t accept CARM’s beliefs regarding salvation. In their article “Cults! An outline analysis of them.” CARM gives the following characteristics of a cult:

I. What is a cult?
A. Generally, it is a group that is unorthodox, esoteric, and has a devotion to a person, object, or a set of new ideas.
i. New Teaching – has a new theology and doctrine.
ii. Only True Teaching – often considers traditional religious systems to be apostate and it alone possess the complete truth.
iii. Strong Leadership – often an individual or small but powerful leadership group holds control of the group’s teachings and practices.
iv. Asset Acquirement – often requires tithing and/or property transfer to the religious system.
v. Isolationist – to facilitate control over the members physically, intellectually, financially, and emotionally.
vi. Controlling – exercises control over the members. Sometimes this is through fear, threatening lose (sic.) of salvation if you leave the group. Sometimes through indoctrination.
viii. Indoctrination – possesses methods to reinforce the cult’s beliefs and standards where opposing views are ridiculed and often misrepresented.
ix. Apocalyptic – to give the members a future focus and philosophical purpose in avoiding the apocalypse or being delivered through it.
x. Experience – various practices including meditation, repetition of words and/or phrases, and ‘spiritual’ enlightenment with God are used as confirmation of their truth.
a. Depravation – sleep and food deprivation which weakens the will of the subject.
b.This is uncommon, though practiced by more severe cults
xii. Persecution – predictions of being persecuted and often combined with claiming any opposing views demonstrated against them as a form of persecution (CARM, 2006).

The first thing that is mentioned is a new form of teaching or doctrine. When Jesus taught his teaching was nothing like the people of his day had ever heard before. In his sermon on the mount Jesus says several times to the people that they had been taught one thing by the scribes and Pharisees, the religious leaders of the day, but that he says to them something different (Matthew 5:22, 28, 32, 34, 39 & 44).

Claiming to have the only true teaching is also supposed to be a characteristic of a cult. Jesus said that he was the way, the truth, and the life and that no one could have access to God accept through him (John 14:6). The apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians that if anyone taught them anything different than what they had already been told they were to let them be accursed (Galatians 1:7-9).

The third thing that is claimed to be a characteristic of a cult is that the group is lead by a strong individual or small group that decides what is taught and practices. Jesus said that all authority had been given to him and that the apostles were to teach what he commanded (Matthew 28:18-20). He had previously told the apostles that they would have the authority to bind and regulate within the kingdom (Matthew 16:19, Matthew 18:18).

The most hypocritical of these criteria is the requirement of tithing! Nearly all of the major denominations require tithing. We are told that in the early church many gave their homes and property to the apostles to distribute to those who had need (Acts 2:44-45, Acts 4:34-37). Paul commanded the Corinthians to lay aside funds for the church (1 Corinthians 16:2).

What about isolationism which supposedly is also characteristic of a cult. Paul warns the Corinthian church that evil company corrupts good morals (1 Corinthians 15:33). He tells them again in his second letter not to enter into close relationships with unbelievers ( 2 Corinthians 6:14-17).

Also mentioned is control over members through claiming those who leave the group lose their salvation. Peter says that those who have had their sins washed away and return to their wicked ways are like washed pigs that return to wallow in the mud and dogs licking up their own vomit (2 Peter 2:22). The writer of Hebrews taught that if one sins willingly after salvation that they lose the sacrifice for their sins (Hebrews 10:26).

Another claimed sign of cultism is indoctrination where opposing views and practices are ridiculed and mocked. Jesus called the scribes and Pharisees hypocrites and condemned their practices (Matthew 23:13, 14, 15, 23, 25, & 27). Peter describes those who taught differing doctrine as brute beasts, having eyes full of adultery, and being unable to stop sinning. Jude called those who did not follow the same faith filthy dreamers and other unflattering terms (Jude 1:8-13).

Apocalyptic teaching is also viewed as a characteristic of a cultic group. Apocalyptic mearly means prediction of a widespread destruction or disaster. Christ fortold apocalyptic events in Matthew 24 and the entire book of Revelation is apocalyptic.

Another characteristic mentioned is experiences which includes food depravation. The Bible often teaches about fasting, or abstinance from food, and encourages its practice. Jesus encouraged people to fast in his sermon on the mount (Matthew 6:16-18). Paul encouraged the practice of fasting (1 Corinthians 7:5).

The final characteristic of cultism given is that of predicting persecution of the group. Jesus taught his disciples that they would be persecuted (Matthew 5:10-11, Matthew 23:34, John 15:20). Peter warned that christians would suffer and be reproached (1 Peter 4:12-14).

Every single characteristic that is mentioned here could be applied to Christ and christianity as a whole. It could also be applied to Moses and Judaism. It is easily seen that by the denominational definition of a cult that it can be applied to nearly anyone. Thus anyone that differs in belief can be labeled a cult and their teaching dismissed without the one doing the labeling having to defend his own beliefs from the Bible.

The church of Christ is not a cult but does have some views that are radically different than those of the denominations. Those of the denominations need to stop the name calling and simply begin opening their Bibles and attempt to defend their beliefs and practices from it.

REFERENCES
(2006). Theological Dictionary. Retrieved December 16, 2006,from Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry Web site: http://www.carm.org/dictionary/dic_c-d.htm#_1_39

(2006). Cults!. Retrieved December 16, 2006, from Christian Apologetics and Resarch Ministry Web site: http://www.carm.org/cults/cultic.htm