Hugh Fulford Sins of preachers 111218

SINS OF PREACHERS

 

“Therefore, seeing we also are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares (besets, KJV; ASV) us, and let us run with patience the race that that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1).

 

The story is told of three preachers traveling together to a Christian university Bible lectureship. One of them brought up the passage above and said, “You know, we all have a besetting sin—even we who preach. I think it would be good if each of us would confess our besetting sin so we can help each other overcome that sin. I’ll start. My besetting sin is that I like to drink a little. O, nothing heavy, just a little social drink every now and then when I am away from the brethren.” The second one said, “Well, I like to gamble a little. Nothing big, just a little petty gambling for the thrill of it, and the chance to perhaps pick up a little extra money.” They traveled on for a while, with the third preacher saying nothing. Finally, the others said, “Come on brother Bill, ‘fess up. We know you have a besetting sin just like the rest of us. Tell us what it is.” Bill said, “Well, yes, I do have a besetting sin. I love to gossip from time to time, and I can hardly wait to get back home!!”

 

Yes, preachers are human. They face the same temptations as everyone else.   But because of their unique place of influence and often being the “face” of the church in the community, their sins can be especially harmful to the cause of Christ. Here are some sins of preachers that I have witnessed over the years.  

 

Envy and Jealousy – These two attitudes are closely related. “The distinction lies in this, that envy desires to deprive another of what he has, jealousy desires to have the same or the same sort of thing for itself” (W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Vol. II, p. 37).   Unfortunately, preachers can sometimes be quite envious and jealous of each other. The size of the congregation, the salary, the number of meetings and lectureships in which one is invited to speak, the number of responses to one’s preaching, the articles one writes and the publications in which they appear can become objects of jealousy. Both envy and jealousy are sinful attitudes roundly condemned in scripture. Do we think that when we preachers “judge those who do such things, and do the same, that [we] will escape the judgment of God” (Romans 2:3)?   The late Ira North used to say (and it perhaps was not original with him), “There is no competition between lighthouses.” Let all of us who preach the life-changing gospel lay aside all envy and jealousy and genuinely rejoice when others are more successful in the work of the kingdom than are we!

 

Grudge-Holding – Some preachers (and Bible professors!) are quick to take offense at anything that might be viewed as a criticism of them (whether it actually was or not), some action they have taken, or some theological position they hold. They are ultra-sensitive and seem to feel that they are somehow above criticism. When such criticism comes, the critic is no longer in the good graces of the one who received the criticism. A grudge is held and the critic is “black-listed.” None of us enjoys being criticized, but criticism can be productive if given and received in the right spirit.   But under no circumstances is it ever right to hold a grudge against another. “Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest you be condemned” (James 5:9, KJV). Liberty Mutual doesn’t hold grudges, and neither should Christians, especially preachers!

 

Egotism – Some preachers are plagued with a huge ego and this one character flaw perhaps lies at the heart of many of the other sins of which preachers are especially guilty. I am not a trained psychologist, but I have been around preachers nearly all of my life and am one myself, and I know egotism when I see it—in myself as well as in others. Get a few preachers together and see who can “outdo” the others in telling how many degrees “I” have and where “I” got them, what “I” have done, where “I” have preached, how many meetings “I” have held, what “big name” lectureships “I” have spoken on, how many sermons “I” have preached, how many people “I” have baptized, etc., etc. I think preachers have more “I” problems than any other group of people I know, but I am sure it plagues all professions. It is hard for some folks to play “second fiddle.” I know preachers (and they are otherwise fine men) who simply cannot sit for very long and listen to someone else tell of his accomplishments without feeling compelled to tell what they have done! And be assured… it’s never less than what the other fellow has done, it is always more and better! How good it would be if all preachers could train themselves to sit quietly and listen to and rejoice in the successes and good fortune of other preachers without feeling the necessity of saying something about themselves!   Whatever became of the injunction: “…but in lowliness of mind let each esteem another better than himself” (Philippians 2:3)? Or, does that not apply to the bearers of the “Good News”?

 

Love Of The Praise Of Men – Closely akin to the preceding is the unwholesome love of some preachers for the praise of men. While thoughtful recognition and honor are appropriate, to desire and seek “the praise of men” (John 12:43) is debasing for the true man of God.   Some of Jesus’ strongest words were reserved for the Jewish leaders of His day. “But all their works they do to be seen of men…They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the market places, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi’ ” (Matthew 23:5-7). Jesus warned, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you” (Luke 6:26). The wide praise of men may say more about a preacher and his faithfulness to God’s word than it does about the actual honor of the preacher! Yet, some preachers are flagrantly guilty of this sin. In this they fall far short of the Old Testament prophets of God and the New Testament apostles and preachers of Christ.

 

Sexual Immorality – Many an effective preacher has been forced to leave the ministry because of sexual improprieties: fornication, adultery, homosexuality, pedophilia, pornography addiction, and the like. They have destroyed their own family, the families of others, brought shame and reproach on the church in their community, shame and reproach on themselves, shame and reproach on the name of Christ, and destroyed what could have been an otherwise long and faithful ministry in the kingdom of God. Preachers are just as human as anyone else in this regard, but we must guard against those situations that tempt one to engage in sexual misconduct (cf. Matthew 5:27-28; Galatians 5:19-21; Ephesians 5:15; Colossians 3:5; I Timothy 4:12). One of the evidences of the fruit of the Spirit and one of the Christian graces is self-control (Galatians 5:22-23; II Peter 1:5-7). Preachers need to practice that! “You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself” (Romans 2:21)?  

 

Compromise To Hold One’s Job – In a culture where the mores and morals are constantly changing the temptation can be strong to “trim” the message of the gospel to fit the fluctuating standards of society. In an age when doctrine is belittled and propositional truth is scorned, the temptation can be irresistible to not proclaim “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:26-27). God does not change (Malachi 3:6). His word does not change (Matthew 24:35). The truth of the gospel does not change (Romans 1:16-17; I Corinthians 15:1-4). Man’s response to the gospel, the acceptable way to worship the Lord, the nature of the church, and the way we are to live as Christians do not change (II Timothy 3:16-17; Jude 3). Woe to that preacher who caves in to the culture around him and fails to speak the truth of God—ALL the truth of God—in love (Ephesians 4:15)! But it has happened and it continues to happen.   Names can be named! And remember: one does not have to preach false doctrine in order to be disloyal to Christ and the gospel.   One can simply fail to preach all the truth in its fullness. What our hearers do not know can condemn them as quickly as false doctrine and false practice.

 

The lesson in all of this? Preachers are human. They are no better or holier than any other Christian. They, too, have feet of clay and must, like all other children of God, “be even more diligent to make [their] calling and election sure” (II Peter 1:10).

 

Hugh Fulford

November 13, 2018   

ON DEAD MEN CLIMBING LADDERS

 

In an effort to downplay the necessity of taking the steps necessary for being saved from sin and becoming a Christian, it has been asserted that “dead men don’t climb ladders.” But what proves too much proves too little! Using that same “logic,” dead men do not go to the mourner’s bench. Dead men do not “pray through.” Dead men do not kneel down by their radio or television set and “receive Jesus into their heart.” Dead men do not walk to the front at a “Crusade for Christ.” Dead men do not “just believe.” Dead men do not say “the sinner’s prayer.” Yet, all of these are taught as things that a person can do to be saved. 

 

It is rather obvious that a person who is literally and physically dead can do nothing. Physically dead men don’t breathe, eat, think, talk, walk, or work! Neither do they read the Bible! And, it is true that the alien sinner (the sinner who has not been redeemed by the blood of Christ and who has not become a child of God) is said to be “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). But, the fact that a person may be spiritually dead does not mean that he is physically dead and therefore incapable of doing anything to save himself. A person who is spiritually dead but physically alive is capable of hearing, believing, and obeying the gospel which is God’s power to salvation (Romans 1:16).  

 

If a person who is spiritually dead but physically alive cannot hear and respond to the gospel, why did Jesus command that the gospel be preached to every creature, promising that “he who believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:15-16)? “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). But according to the “logic” behind the “dead men don’t climb ladders” notion, the person would not be able to hear and believe the gospel even when it was preached to him! 

 

The idea that one can do nothing to save himself or herself from sin is rooted in the doctrine of John Calvin (1509-1564) who taught that a person is born totally depraved and cannot be saved without a direct and miraculous operation of the Holy Spirit on his heart.   If God does not “move” on a person’s behalf and provide that so-called miraculous operation of the Holy Spirit, then that person is doomed to the fires of torment no matter how badly he may have wanted to be saved.

 

On the nights of December 25-30, 1911, F. B. Srygley, a New Testament Christian, met C. H. Cayce, a Primitive Baptist, in a debate in Nashville, Tennessee. (Isn’t it interesting that people were so interested in religious discussions in that day and time that they would attend a debate on Christmas night?!)   The first three nights of that debate Mr. Cayce affirmed: “God gives eternal life to an alien sinner without a condition on his part, and the Scriptures so teach” (emphasis mine, hf). The last three nights of the debate brother Srygley affirmed: “Faith, repentance, and water baptism are conditions of salvation to an alien sinner, and the Scriptures so teach.” Thus, the lines were drawn between Calvinism and the teaching of the Bible.   After citing Ephesians 5:14, brother Srygley pressed this point: “If the sinner can do nothing, why does the apostle say, ‘Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light?’ I insist that the sinner is dead only in the sense of being separated from God, from truth and righteousness, and that he is not dead in the sense and to the extent that he cannot hear, reason, think, and act” (Is Salvation Conditional or Unconditional? A Discussion Between C.H. Cayce and F. B. Srygley, McQuiddy Printing Company, Nashville, Tennessee, 1912, p. 206). 

 

Let us return to Ephesians 2. Verse 1 says that the Ephesians at one time were “dead in trespasses.” But verse 2 says they “once walked according to the course of this world.” I would think that if these spiritually dead people could “walk” they could also climb ladders! Revelation 3:1 says that the church at Sardis was “dead.” Yet in verse 3 this “dead” church is told to repent. Therefore, spiritually dead people can “repent” (i.e., change their minds).

 

Consider these questions: 1) Can spiritually dead people hear the gospel, or are they already spiritually alive before they hear the gospel (Romans 10:17)? 2) Can spiritually dead people believe the gospel, or are they already spiritually alive before they believe the gospel (Romans 1:16)? 3) Can spiritually dead people repent of their sins, or are they already spiritually alive before they repent of their sins (Acts 3:19)? 4) Can spiritually dead people confess faith in Christ, or are they already spiritually alive before they confess their faith (Romans 10:9-10)? 5) Can spiritually dead people “arise, and be baptized, and wash away [their] sins,” or are their sins already washed away and are they already spiritually alive before they are baptized (Acts 22:16)? Paul declared that we are buried with Christ in baptism and raised to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4). Are we already spiritually alive before we are buried with Christ in baptism? Do we bury live people or dead people? 

 

Sadly, some folks are more wed to the religious doctrines and traditions of their forefathers and their denomination than they are to the truth of the gospel. And some among us, ashamed of the simple gospel plan of salvation and “wise in their own conceits” (Romans 12:16c), have been duped by Calvinistic theology and now, parrot-like, repeat, “Dead men don’t climb ladders,” thinking they are declaring some great theological truth!

 

In a Facebook posting on August 23, 2018, gospel preacher Isaiah Caesar B. Bie of the Philippines, correctly observed: “We should not, as Calvinists do, expand Bible metaphors beyond their intended meaning. Spiritual ‘deadness’ in sin is not akin in every respect to physical deadness, in that while the physically dead is unable to act/respond, the spiritually dead is. Man is responsible precisely because he is response-able.”

 

Hugh Fulford

October 16, 2018

 

Speaking Schedule:

October 21-24: Smyrna Church of Christ, Cookeville, TN

FORTY THINGS WE ALL NEED TO KNOW ABOUT GOD

 

  1. God is self-existent and eternal; He had no beginning and will have no end (Genesis 1:1; Genesis 21:33; Isaiah 40:28; Psalm 90:2).
  2. He is the creator of all things, including mankind (Genesis 1:1-2:1; Exodus 20:11; Acts 17:26-28).
  3. He is Almighty God; He is omnipotent (possessing all power) (Genesis 17:1; Genesis 18:14).
  4. He is the Lord God (Genesis 15:2; Numbers 14:17; Deuteronomy 3:24; Matthew 4:7; Hebrews 1:10).
  5. He is “the Great, the Mighty God, whose name is the Lord of hosts” (Jeremiah 32:17-19).
  6. He is the “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14).
  7. God is invisible (Colossians 1:15).
  8. God is all-wise and all-knowing (omniscient) (Romans 16:27; Hebrews 4:13).
  9. He is present everywhere (omnipresent) (Psalm 139:7-12; Jeremiah 23:23-24).
  10. God is Spirit (John 4:24), and a spirit does not have flesh and bones (Luke 24:39).
  11. God does not dwell in temples made with hands (Acts 17:24).
  12. He is the living and true God (I Thessalonians 1:9; Matthew 16:16; Hebrews 9:13-14; Hebrews 10:31).
  13. He is the only acceptable object of man’s worship (Exodus 20:3; Matthew 4:10; Acts 17:22-31; John 4:24).
  14. He is the God of glory (Acts 7:2).
  15. He is the first member of the Godhead (the Divine Nature) (Matthew 28:18-20; II Corinthians 13:14).
  16. God is holy (separate) (Isaiah 6:1-3; I Peter 1:15-16).
  17. God is love (I John 4:8-10).
  18. He is a God of grace (I Corinthians 1:4; II Corinthians 6:1; Ephesians 1:6).
  19. He is the giver of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17).
  20. He gave His Son as a sin-offering (an atonement) for all mankind (John 3:16; Romans 5:8; Romans 3:21-26).
  21. God is merciful (Ephesians 2:4; I Peter 1:3; Hebrews 4:16).
  22. He has blessed Christians with all spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1:3).
  23. He is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:3; I Peter 1:3).
  24. As the creator of all mankind, He is the God and Father of all (Ephesians 4:6).
  25. To Christians (those who have become His spiritual children), God is “our Father who art in heaven” (Matthew 6:9; II Corinthians 6:14-18; Galatians 3:26-27; Philippians 4:20).
  26. God has spoken—in “time past (Old Testament ages, hf) . . . by the prophets,” but “in these last days” (the last epoch of earth’s history, hf) “by His Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2).).
  27. God cannot lie (Hebrews 6:18; Titus 1:2).
  28. God gave the Scriptures as His complete, final, perfect and all-sufficient guide to mankind (II Timothy 3:16-17).
  29. God does not change (Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 1:10-12; cf. Psalm 102:25-27).
  30. God is both good and severe (Romans 11:22).
  31. He is to be feared (respected) and His commandments are to be kept, such being the whole duty of man and the objective evidence that one truly loves God (Ecclesiastes 12:13; I John 2:3).
  32. He is no respecter of persons, i.e., He shows no partiality (Acts 10:34-35).
  33. God disciplines His children so that they may be “partakers of His holiness” (Hebrews 12:5-11).
  34. He is the “God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation” (II Corinthians 1:3-4).
  35. God desires all to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth; He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (I Timothy 2:3-4; II Peter 3:9).
  36. For those who believe that He is, God is “a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6)
  37. God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29).
  38. God is righteous (always does what is right) (John 17:25; I John 2:29; Revelation 16:5).
  39. He is a God of justice and will judge the world in righteousness through His Son Jesus Christ (Genesis 18:25b; Psalm 89:14; Romans 1:32; Matthew 25:31-46; Acts 17:30-31; Romans 2:16).
  40. In the consummation of all things, the kingdom will be delivered to God the Father “that God may be all in all” (I Corinthians 15:24-28; cf. Romans 16:27; Jude 25).

 

Hugh Fulford

July 24, 2018

 

 

Hugh Fulford ppg Spiritual Growth Parts 22-27

THE LANGUAGE OF ASHDOD

One of the great hindrances to the restoration and advancement of original, apostolic Christianity and the church of which we read in the New Testament is the use of Ashdodic language (i.e., denominational terminology in an attempt to convey biblical concepts and/or biblical terms in a denominational sense).

In about 450 B.C., after the return of the people of Judah from the Babylonian Captivity (which God had brought on them as punishment for their rebellion against Him), we read these words: “In those days I also saw Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab. And half their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and could not speak the language of Judah, but spoke according to the language of the other people” (Nehemiah 13:23-24).

The Lord’s people today, just as the people of Nehemiah’s day, live among a “mixed people.” Our world is one of many religions, including many “brands” of professed Christianity. Great care has to be exercised not to be influenced by the unbiblical concepts and terminology of the denominational world around us. The late Guy N. Woods often spoke of the importance of God’s people maintaining “a pure faith and a faultless practice.” Such a faith and practice will be reflected by the proper use of biblical terminology and the refusal to use denominational terminology.

One of the most glaring examples of the language of Ashdod is the use of “church of Christ” (often spelled “Church of Christ” as though that descriptor is the official and exclusive “name” of God’s people) as an adjective/modifier. Christians thoughtlessly speak of “Church of Christ preachers,” “Church of Christ schools,” “Church of Christ publications,” “Church of Christ worship services,” “Church of Christ congregations” (which is the same as saying “Church of Christ churches”!), etc. One fellow has a blog called “Church of Christ Celebrities.” Whether intended or not, all of these convey a denominational concept of the church.

The expression “church of Christ” is only one of several terms used in the New Testament to refer to God’s people. The church also is spoken of as the church of God, the family of God, the kingdom of the Son of His love, the household of faith, the body of Christ, as well as a number of other descriptors. I doubt if anyone would use any of these terms to identify gospel preachers, Christian schools, gospel publications, and autonomous congregations of people who are Christians only, so I wonder why they use “Church of Christ” this way.

I know there are many good, sincere people who have been converted from denominationalism to the New Testament way who, without thinking, sometimes lapse into a denominational way of expressing themselves. They understand that the church is not a denomination, but they have not yet learned how to speak of it in an undenominational way. We need to be patient with such people and help them understand the right use of biblical terms. A number of years ago, a fine sister in Christ told me that she was “church of Christ all the way”! I admired her loyalty to the New Testament way, but she had not learned how to speak in a non-sectarian manner.

Because we dwell in the midst of a denominational culture, it is easy for otherwise good people to lapse into the use of denominational terminology to state their religious identity. But we need to stop and think about what we are saying and the concept of the church we are conveying. I am not “Church of Christ,” and I did not marry a “Church of Christ”! I am a Christian, a member of the body of Christ, and I married a member of God’s family, a Christian! I did not “join” the church of Christ, nor was I “voted” into the church. Rather, as a result of obedience to the gospel and being saved from my sins, I was added to the church by the Lord (Acts 2:47), which is the same as being “translated into the kingdom of the Son of His love” (Colossians 1:13).

I am not a “Church of Christ” preacher, but a gospel preacher. I do not teach “Church of Christ” doctrine, but the doctrine of Christ. I am not a “pastor,” a “Reverend,” or “Father” Fulford. I am simply a Christian, a child of God, a preacher of the gospel. I am not trying to convert people to “the Church of Christ way” or to “Church of Christ teaching,” but to Christ and the teaching of the New Testament.

The expression “congregation of the church of Christ” is often used by knowledgeable and well-meaning Christians, but the expression is redundant and leaves the impression that the church of Christ is a denomination composed of its constituent congregations, just as the United Methodist Church is a denomination composed of its constituent churches.

There is no difference in the meaning of “congregation” and “church,” either in English or in Greek. To speak of “a congregation of the church of Christ” is tantamount to saying “a church of the church of Christ.” If our intention is to speak of a single congregation, let us use biblical language and simply say a church of Christ or a church of God—not a congregation of the church of Christ. If our intention is to speak of more than one congregation, let us not speak of congregations of the church of Christ, but let us simply speak of “the churches of Christ” (Romans 16:16), “the churches of God” (II Thessalonians 1:4), or “the churches of the saints” (14:23). This is Bible terminology.

We do not go to mission areas to establish a congregation of the Lord’s church! We go to preach the gospel and to plant an autonomous church of the Lord! It is glaringly redundant to speak of a congregation (or congregations) of the church of Christ! It is quite sufficient to speak simply of a congregation (or congregations) of the Lord. Paul did not speak of “the congregations of the church of Christ”; rather, he spoke simply of “churches of Christ” (Romans 16:16). So should we!

Only by thinking of the church in denominational terms or with an overt intent to present the church as “a denomination among the other denominations” does one use the above kind of terminology. The same is true of such expressions as “our fellowship,” “our brotherhood,” “our faith heritage,” “our tradition,” “our tribe,” or “our tributary.” God’s people today should belong to no fellowship, brotherhood, faith heritage, tradition, tribe, or tributary different than that to which the first century Christians belonged.

I know it will do no good to call these matters to the attention of some folks. Their thinking is so influenced by denominationalism that they can only speak the denominational language of Ashdod. On the other hand, our liberal brethren are only too happy to use such denominational terminology in speaking of the church for they have as their agenda the portrayal of the Lord’s church as “just another denomination” originating with the Stone-Campbell Movement of the early 1800s.

Others, however, will appreciate what I have had to say and will adjust their thinking and terminology accordingly. Some people are teachable and willing to have things pointed out to them. Others, overly “wise in their own conceits” (Romans 12:16) and puffed up by their “scholarly” achievements, are not so teachable. Yet there are things for all of us to learn if we are humble enough to listen.

If we are ever to be successful in the advocacy of pure, New Testament Christianity—undenominational Christianity—we must learn to think and speak biblically, not denominationally. I have no ill will toward any one, and I do not point out these matters motivated by an ugly spirit or with an air of superiority. However, I will not let up in my efforts to point out the unbiblical ways some people think and speak with reference to divine things, regardless of from where I see or hear the unbiblical thinking and terminology coming. Faithful preachers, teachers, and elders have a big job on their hands in educating many of our members out of their denominational thinking, speaking, and writing. This includes not a small number of preachers, teachers, elders, editors, and university professors themselves!

“Hold the pattern of sound words” (II Timothy 1:13, ASV).

“But speak thou the things which befit sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1, ASV).

Hugh Fulford

June 19, 2018

MILLENNIALS AND THE CHURCH OF CHRIST

Millennials are that generation born roughly between 1980 and 2000. At 80 million, they represent the largest segment of the U. S. population and the largest segment of the U. S. workforce.

I have been doing a bit of reading about the Millennials and their characteristics, and have been thinking about how the Lord’s church might have a special appeal to them if they could be led to have a clear understanding of it. Of course, all people need to know about Christ, His gospel, His church, and the way marked out in Scripture for how the Lord would have all people to live (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16).

According to my research (and admittedly it is limited), Millennials are looking for a strong sense of purpose and a chance to grow and learn. They are looking for coaches/mentors who take a personal interest in them. They are extremely team oriented, are transparent, and like honest and open relationships. They want a personal connection to the causes to which they commit themselves.

Millennials are tech savvy and know everything about social media.

They are multi-taskers, but as a consequence they can be easily distracted and side-tracked from the task at hand. They want opportunities to advance and develop their careers, but look for work-life balance and flexibility. They have a “work hard” / “play hard” approach to life.

Millennials also are known as the “Me Generation.” They crave instant gratification, having grown up receiving instant gratification and recognition from their Baby Boomer parents (born between 1946 and 1964). Growing up, Millennials did not always have to actually excel at anything (academically, sports-wise, or otherwise) in order to be recognized or given an award of some kind. They were given trophies, certificates, gift cards, etc. just for “showing up and participating.” Apparently, in no instance was their self-esteem to be negatively impacted!

Millennials are said to be “nuanced, multifaceted, and open to many modes of thought.” “They’re going to change the world, but they’re in no hurry to move out of the room over mom’s garage.” They will figure out who they are “as soon as they start paying all of their own bills.”

According to David Kinnaman, President of the Barna Group, “When it comes to Scripture, practicing Christian Millennials—self-identified Christians who attend church at least once a month and who describe their religious faith as very important to their life—are quite orthodox and continue to hold the Bible in very high regard. In fact, nearly all of them believe the Bible contains everything a person needs to know to live a meaningful life (96%). The same proportion claim the Bible is the actual or inspired word of God (96%). Among these young adults, a plurality say, ‘The Bible is the actual word of God and should be taken literally, word for word’ (46%); an additional four in 10 agree it is divinely inspired and has no errors, though ‘some verses are meant to be symbolic rather than literal’ (39%); and 11% say the Bible is the inspired word of God, ‘but has some factual or historical errors’ ” (“What Millennials Believe About The Bible”). Millennials hold a high view of Scripture and are said to still prefer to engage the Bible in print. (Remember, the preceding is a description of those who view themselves as Christian Millennials, and is not representative of all Millennials by any means).

In the light of the above, it occurs to me that Millennials represent a large and ripe field to be harvested for the undenominational autonomous churches of Christ, overseen/shepherded/pastored by a plurality of godly, biblically qualified elders, served by a number of special servants (deacons), with preachers, teachers, and members all working together for the advancement of simple New Testament Christianity.

Churches of Christ have no denominational founder or origin. They have no denominational hierarchy or headquarters. They adhere to no denominational creed and are bound by no denominational traditions. They wear no denominational name, but seek simply to be Christians only and the church of which one reads in the New Testament. They have no denominational forms of worship, but adhere to the simple elements of worship that characterized the New Testament church. They have no denominational plan of salvation, but set forth the very plan found in the New Testament.

My good friend Phil Sanders, speaker on the international television program “In Search of the Lord’s Way,” stated in a January 23, 2018 Facebook post: “As churches of Christ, we are distinctive! We preach the need for Biblical authority, restoring New Testament Christianity. We preach against the errors of innovation and human doctrines. We speak where the Bible speaks and are silent where the Bible is silent. We have no relationship with any denomination but look to Jesus as the only head of His church and the Bible as our rule of faith and practice.”

In his insightful blog “Something to Think About” of March 22, 2018, my friend and fellow preacher of the gospel James Hayes stated: “Churches of Christ (Rom. 16:16) reject the denominational model for church life. We seek to restore New Testament Christianity. We seek to do Bible things in Bible ways. We endeavor to look at Scripture through 1st century lenses and apply those truths to our 21st century lives. We do not have conventions where doctrinal matters are decided by popular vote. We do not have a central headquarters where decisions are made by special committees—each congregation governs its own affairs. We believe that what saved people 2,000 years ago will save people today, since God is not a respecter of persons. That method of biblical interpretation ignores American social trends, but that’s okay since God never commanded us to ride the socially trendy waves. It is a belief that we must first go back to Scripture in order for us to move forward as a church.”

We believe the above description of churches of Christ should have an appeal to Millennials. In fact, we believe it should have an appeal to all who will give thoughtful consideration to it.

Hugh Fulford June 12, 2018
GOD’S ETERNAL PURPOSE
AM I A MEMBER OF A DENOMINATION?

(Note: This week’s essay is pursuant to a sermon I preached this past Sunday morning, June 3, at the Mitchellville (TN) Church of Christ on the question, “Why Do You Say That The Church Of Christ Is Not A Denomination?”)

From time to time, I am told by various denominational people, as well as by various liberals among us, that as a member of the church of Christ, I am a member of a denomination—that the church of Christ is a denomination that arose out of the American Restoration Movement of the early 1800s.

It is acknowledged by both denominationalists and the liberals that the Lord’s church as set forth in the New Testament is not a denomination, but according to them it is not a distinctly identifiable group of people on earth today. Instead, I am told that Christ’s church, His spiritual body, is now dispersed among a multiplicity of Catholic and Protestant denominations and Community churches with their hundreds of human founders, different names, different times and places of origin (all this side of the New Testament and other than the city of Jerusalem), various forms of organization, different ways of worship, conflicting doctrines, and varied practices!

Never mind that before there was any such thing as the Catholic Church or a Protestant denomination, the Lord’s church—churches of Christ—existed (Matthew 16:18; Acts 2:47; Romans 16:16; Ephesians 1:22-23; 4:4). But according to denominationalists and liberals, that situation cannot exist today! According to them, one cannot take the New Testament as a directive today and following it only, go back and be what people were in the first century—Christians only without denominational affiliation.

I am told that because the churches of Christ in America constitute an identifiable social group that makes them a denomination, as though churches of Christ were not an identifiable social group in New Testament times, e.g., the church at Jerusalem, the church in Antioch, the church at Corinth, the church in Philippi, the seven churches of Asia, et al. (cf. Romans 16:16).

I am told that because there is a heavy concentration of churches of Christ in the southern United States that makes them a denomination, never mind that there is a heavy concentration of churches of
Christ in Nigeria, various other African nations, India, and that there are many churches of Christ in Central and South America, as well as other parts of the world. For the first several years of its existence, the church was heavily concentrated in the environs of Jerusalem and Judea, but that did not make it a denomination. According to Jesus, three-fourths of the ground on which the seed of the kingdom (the word of God) falls does not produce enduring results (Luke 8:11-15). The church will always be the strongest where the ground is the most fertile for the gospel, but geographical location has absolutely nothing to do with the undenominational nature of the Lord’s church!

I am told that because the churches of Christ may advertise their places and times of meeting in the yellow pages of the telephone book that makes them a denomination.

I am told that if a list is made and published (a directory) of known autonomous churches of Christ that makes them a denomination, as though making a list available to Christians to assist them in locating other known churches of the saints (I Corinthians 14:33) is denominational.

I am told that if someone compiles and publishes a list of known gospel preachers that makes the churches of Christ a denomination.

I am told that if we speak as the oracles of God and call Bible things by Bible names (referred to by the liberals as “insider” language) that makes us a denomination.

I am told that because “outsiders” see me as a member of a denomination that means I am a member of a denomination, as though that misperception and misrepresentation of the church did not exist in New Testament times (Acts 24:14).

I am told that to suggest that one person, ten persons, a hundred persons, or a thousand persons can be Christians without being members of a denomination is only hypothetical and not a reality today. But it is far from hypothetical and is, in fact, a historical reality.

I am told that to suggest that it is possible to have one autonomous congregation, ten autonomous congregations, a hundred autonomous congregations, or a thousand autonomous congregations who do not have denominational status is only hypothetical and not a reality today. Yet it is far from hypothetical but is a historical reality. (See paragraph 5 above).

According to denominationalists and liberals, one cannot plant just the pure word of God, the seed of the kingdom (Luke 8:11), and produce in the 21st century what that seed produced in the first century—churches that are simply of God/Christ and without denominational status (II Thessalonians 1:4; Romans 16:16).

With the old apostle “I marvel” at these baseless contentions made by those who are desperate to cast the churches of Christ as just another denomination (cf. Galatians 1:6). I marvel to think that according to denominationalists and liberals not one single person today can be a Christian without being a member of some denomination that originated with man and that not one single congregation can exist without being a part of a denomination!

The Christian Chronicle, a monthly publication which advertises itself as being “An international newspaper for Churches of Christ,” has been running a series of articles on “What is a Church of Christ?” The Chronicle and some of its readers seem to be struggling with trying to decide whether or not we are a denomination. Again, I marvel.

(Part 1)GOD’S ETERNAL PURPOSE

(Part 2)

“Before time began” God promised eternal life through Christ and the gospel (Titus 1:1-3; II Timothy 1:8-12). This is known as God’s “eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ephesians 3:11). Throughout the ages of the Old Testament this purpose remained hidden (a mystery), but it “has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (II Timothy 1:9-10).

Paul wrote to the Colossians concerning “the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints” (Colossians 1:26). It was revealed by “His word through preaching” (Titus 1:3), and concerned things “which now have been reported to you through those (the inspired apostles and prophets of the New Testament [Ephesians 3:5], hf) who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven” (I Peter 1:12)—“the word which by the gospel was preached to you” (I Peter 1:25b).

God’s eternal purpose was not for the Jews only (the fleshly descendants of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob), but included the fact “that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ by the gospel” (Ephesians 3:6). God’s purpose reached its fruition in the church as the ultimate demonstration and display of the manifold (multi-faceted and many splendored) aspects of the wisdom of God. As Paul put it, “To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all people see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things by Jesus Christ; to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ephesians 3:8-11)!

By His death Christ “abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is the law of commandments contained in ordinances (the Old Testament, hf), so as to create in Himself one new man from the two (Jews and Gentiles, hf), thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both (Jews and Gentiles, hf) to God in one body by the cross, by it having put to death the enmity” (Ephesians 2:14-16). The “one body” is the church which Christ purchased with the blood of the cross (Colossians 1:20; Acts 20:28), which He Himself established (Matthew 16:18), of which He is the head (Ephesians 1:22-23), of which there is but one (Ephesians 4:4), and of which He is the Savior (Ephesians 5:23)! It has “been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone,” and is the “whole building” that has been “joined together” and that “grows into a holy temple in the Lord . . . for a habitation of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:14-22).

God’s eternal purpose is also referred to as God’s wisdom. In a magnificent passage in which he disavows speaking by the wisdom of men (I Corinthians 1:18-2:5) Paul goes on to affirm, “However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (I Corinthians 2:6-8).

Paraphrasing a prophecy from Isaiah 64:4, Paul declares, “But as it is written: ‘Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared to those who love Him” (I Corinthians 2:9). Rather than referring to heaven (as I often hear this verse used), Paul is talking about God’s grand scheme of redemption (His great eternal purpose) which people of the Old Testament had not seen or heard and which had not entered their hearts. But now “God has revealed them (the things previously unseen and unheard and which had not entered the heart of man) to us (the apostles and prophets of the New Testament [Ephesians 3:5], hf) by His Spirit” (I Corinthians 2:10). In turn, having “received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that [they] might know the things that [had] been freely given to [them] by God,” the apostles and prophets went on to speak “these things,” “not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches . . .” (I Corinthians 2:12-13). This is a strong and irrefutable affirmation of the verbal inspiration of what the apostles and prophets of the New Testament spoke and wrote in making known God’s eternal purpose—set forth with such clarity that, as Paul elsewhere declared, “when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ” (Ephesians 3:4)!

Christ is the centerpiece of God’s eternal purpose. It is that “which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ephesians 3:11). Thus, “when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5). Into the hands of wicked men Christ was “delivered by the determined counsel/purpose of God” to be crucified for the sins of all mankind (Acts 2:22-24).

Indeed, it may be said, “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory” (I Timothy 3:16). All who by faith in Him and obedience to the gospel become participants in God’s eternal purpose have the blessed assurance of knowing “that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Have you entered into God’s eternal purpose?

Hugh Fulford

May 15, 2018

According to the Holy Scriptures, God in His infinite wisdom and marvelous grace conceived and formed an eternal purpose to redeem fallen mankind through Christ Jesus our Lord (Ephesians 3:11). This purpose was formed “before time began” (Titus 1:1-3; II Timothy 1:8-12), and was gradually revealed down through the ages until it came to fruition in Christ, the gospel, the church, and the New Testament. To see the unfolding of this grand purpose is one of the most thrilling, exciting, and informative studies in which one can engage.

To make known God’s eternal purpose is the purpose of the Bible, and to come to an understanding of that purpose and enter into it is the greatest blessing of mankind because it results in the salvation of one’s soul—“receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls” (I Peter 1:9). To grasp that eternal purpose amazingly expands one’s view of the Bible and enables one to see that it is not a “self-help” book, a “feel good” book, a “health and wealth” book, a “pop psychology” book, a book on how to eliminate poverty (see Mark 14:7) or slavery (see Titus 2:9-10; Colossians 3:22-4:1), a book on how to welcome and show hospitality to immigrants, or a book of myth, folklore, and human wisdom, with a few nuggets of good advice (“be a good person and have a good heart”) and perhaps a few bits of divine truth thrown in for good measure. Rather, the Bible is a divinely inspired revelation from God, setting forth God’s eternal purpose to save man through Christ and showing how one enters into and remains a part of that purpose.

In a sweeping doxology at the end of the book of Romans, Paul declared: “Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which was kept secret since the world began but now has been made manifest, and by the Scriptures of the prophets (a little later we will see whether Paul had in mind Old Testament prophets or New Testament prophets, hf) has been made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith—to God alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen” (Romans 16:25-27). Clearly, in this great text Paul speaks of two theological ages—the epoch of mystery and the epoch of manifestation. God’s purpose was called a mystery because prior to the coming of Christ it had not been revealed but had been “kept secret since the world began.” In the Old Testament it was only intimated, promised, and predicted, but it had not become a reality. With the coming of Christ, however, the age of mystery vanished and the age of manifestation arrived!

The apostle Matthew explains that Jesus spoke in parables so “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet saying, ‘I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things have been kept secret from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 13:34-35). Quite clearly then, Christ began to make known that which throughout all the Old Testament had been a mystery—God’s eternal purpose to redeem man through Christ! The saved of mankind will “inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34).

Of Christ the apostle Peter declares, “He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times (“last days,” [Hebrews 1:1-2], hf) for you” (I Peter 1:20). In the infinite wisdom of God, the death of Christ was a “done deal” before time began! He was “the Lamb who was slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8)!

Of those living in ages prior to the coming of Christ it is said, “These all died in faith, not having received the promises” (Hebrews 11:13). It was further said of them, “And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us (those of us living since the coming of Christ, hf), that they should not be made perfect (complete, hf) apart from us” (Hebrews 11:39-40).

Peter writes: “Of this salvation the prophets [of the Old Testament] have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ (the Holy Spirit, hf) who was in them was indicating when He (the Spirit) testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. To them (the Old Testament prophets, hf) it was revealed that not to themselves, but to us (those living since the coming of Christ, hf), they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven—things which angels desire to look into” (I Peter 1:10-12).

Paul spoke of “how that by revelation He (Christ, hf) made known to me the mystery as I wrote before in few words, by which when you read you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ (yes, we can understand the Scriptures!, hf), which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets. . .” (Ephesians 3:1-7). Thus, by divine revelation “the mystery” has now been made known to the inspired apostles and prophets of the New Testament and has been set forth by them in the New Testament scriptures (Romans 16:25-26). The church (the aggregate body of those redeemed by Christ) is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets [the foundation laid down by them through the gospel], Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:19-22).

(To Be Continued)

Hugh Fulford

BILLY GRAHAM

Billy Graham—dubbed by the press as “America’s Pastor”—is dead! He passed away on Wednesday, February 21, at the age of 99. He was an American icon and the friend and counselor of Presidents. America and the world are extending their love and sympathy to the Graham family—as well they should be doing. Unlike that of so many others, Billy Graham’s ministry was untarnished by either sex or financial scandals. His message of morality and upright living which he passionately proclaimed for almost six decades should be embraced by all who seek a better life for themselves, their families, our country, and the world. Any truth he set forth from scripture should be believed and embraced.

While I had great respect for Mr. Graham, there is much about his teaching and practice with which I disagree because I find it contrary to the Scriptures. While Mr. Graham preferred to be addressed simply as “Billy,” the media insisted on referring to him as “Reverend,” and he accepted that title. Yet, I find this specific word only once in our English Bible, and there it is used to refer to God, not man (Psalm 111:9, KJV). More determinative, however, is the fact that Jesus spoke against the wearing of religious titles. He emphatically stated, “But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. And do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father in heaven” (Matthew 23:8-9). Furthermore, the distinction between “clergy” and “laity” is of man and not of God. The apostle Peter explained that all Christians constitute “a royal priesthood” (I Peter 2:9).

The term “pastor” is greatly abused in religious circles today as it is made to apply to all preachers in general. Yet in scripture it is never applied to a preacher, but to those who serve as elders/bishops of a single congregation. All three words (elders/bishops/pastors) apply to the same office (Acts 14:23; 20:17,18; Ephesians 4:11-12; Philippians 1:1; I Timothy 3:1; 5:17; Titus 1:5-9). A little more careful reading of the Bible and a proper application of what is read would be beneficial to many people! Too, one should learn to “speak as the oracles of God” (I Peter 4:11), and call Bible things by Bible names, instead of applying Bible names to things to which the names do not apply. Certainly a preacher may serve as one of the elders of a local church, but in New Testament times congregations always had a plurality of elders/bishops/pastors (Acts 14:23; 20:17; Philippians 1:1). Never in the New Testament do we read of one person being the pastor of a church, much less the “pastor” of an entire country!

Billy Graham preached to untold millions, and the headlines of the local newspaper the day after his death hailed him as the “most important evangelist since the Apostle Paul.” Yet, in fact, for all the moral truth that he taught and for all the good that he did to raise the moral consciousness of America and the world (and for that I GREATLY rejoice), Mr. Graham did not and would not preach what the apostle Paul and the other inspired apostles of Christ preached concerning what one must do to be saved from sin.

Jesus commissioned His apostles, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16). In the book of Acts we see the apostles doing what Christ charged them to do. On the day of Pentecost when the church was established, the apostle Peter told inquiring sinners, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). Cornelius and his family were commanded to be baptized (Acts 10:48). Saul of Tarsus, who became the apostle Paul, was instructed, “Arise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). Baptism puts one into Christ (Galatians 3:27) and saves us (I Peter 3:21). But Mr. Graham would not instruct people to be baptized in order to be saved. He instructed them to “accept Christ as their personal Savior” and say the so-called “sinner’s prayer,” something that no apostle ever told anyone to do and something concerning which one cannot read a single syllable in all the New Testament! Graham believed that baptism came after one is saved, but the biblical texts cited above clearly show that such is not the case.

Graham’s counselors would encourage those who responded at his Crusades to “find a church” and “join” the one of their “choice.” Yet the entire system of denominationalism with its many churches is contrary to New Testament teaching. Neither the Baptist Church (of which Mr. Graham was a member), the Presbyterian Church (of which his wife was a member), nor any other denomination can be found named on the pages of the New Testament. Christ established His one church (Matthew 16:18). All those who are saved from their sins by obedience to the gospel are added to that church (Acts 2:47). The church is His body (Ephesians 1:22-23) and there is but one body (Ephesians 4:4). But when people miss it so badly on such simple things as the use of the terms “reverend” and “pastor,” it is not surprising that they miss it on bigger matters that involve salvation from sin and the undenominational nature of the church!

Most telling as to what Billy Graham actually believed is revealed in a May 31, 1997 interview with Robert Schuller on Schuller’s “Hour of Power” television program. Mr. Graham said: “I think there’s the Body of Christ. This comes from all the Christian groups around the world, [and] outside the Christian groups. I think everybody that loves Christ, or knows Christ, whether they’re conscious of it or not, they’re members of the Body of Christ…. [God’s] calling people out of the world for His name, whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world, or the Christian world, or the non-believing world, they are members of the Body of Christ, because they’ve been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus, but they know in their hearts that they need something that they don’t have, and they turn to the only light that they have, and I think they are saved, and that they’re going to be with us in heaven.”

These unbelievable statements are an affront to the words of Christ in John 14:6 and the words of the inspired apostle Peter in Acts 4:11-12. They are a contradiction of what the apostle Paul wrote concerning how God calls people by the gospel and that people must hear, believe, and obey the gospel in order to be saved (II Thessalonians 2:14; Romans 1:16-17; 10:13-17; II Thessalonians 1:6-10). If Mr. Graham is correct in his statements then God is a liar, but the Bible affirms that it is impossible for God to lie (Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18)! One had better believe God rather than “Charming Billy,” as I referred to him in a sermon many years ago. “Let God be true, but every man a liar” (Romans 3:4).

I am not the judge of Billy Graham, or of any other man. No man is my judge. We all must stand before the judgment bar of God to receive the things done in the body, whether good or bad (II Corinthians 5:10). The standard by which we all will be judged is the word of God (John 12:48)—not the word of preachers who refused to faithfully preach the word of God in its wholeness, not what the local parish priest said, not the creeds and catechisms of men, not what our parents and grandparents believed, not what we always “thought” or “felt” or “believed” about a matter!

No one will be saved except by the grace and mercy of God. But all who would be saved must obey the gospel of Christ as set forth in the New Testament and live a faithful Christian life (II Thessalonians 1:6-10; Hebrews 5:8-9; Revelation 2:10).

A DISTINCTIVE PULPIT:

EXCERPTS FROM THE SPIRITUAL SWORD OF JANUARY 2018

The theme of the January 2018 issue of The Spiritual Sword is “Being Distinctive In The Pulpit.” In the forty-eight year history of this great journal I doubt if a more relevant or needed theme has been addressed, particularly in the light of current developments in the Lord’s church. Following are some incisive excerpts from each article in this timely issue. You are urged to reflect seriously on them.

“There was a time when preachers of the gospel enunciated the fundamentals. They preached what men must do to be saved. No young person who ‘grew up’ in the church was left with any doubt about the necessity of obedience…. / For many years I rarely heard of any young person who left the church and went into denominationalism. Some became unfaithful and went back into the world, but with the teaching they had received most could never be comfortable in joining any denomination. / What about our young people today? Do they understand the plea of churches of Christ? Could they discuss it or speak to others about it? Could they tell someone else what to do to be saved and give scriptures for their answers? Do they know the difference in the church and denominationalism? What could they say to any other person about why they are members of the church of Christ?” (Alan Highers, editorial, “Are We Preaching Our Plea?”)

“The pioneers of the restoration movement were committed to book, chapter, and verse preaching. After all, they reasoned, if we are going to have in the present age the church as set forth in the New Testament, then we must preach the same things that produced that church and those things that are necessary to keep the church true to the will of God.” (Hugh Fulford, “What the Pioneers Preached”)

“Several years ago an elder in the church made this statement to me. He said, ‘Our preacher is a fine man. He is loved by the congregation. He does not preach error or false doctrine, but you could listen to him every Sunday for a year and never learn what to do to be saved.’ Sometimes we err not only by what we preach, but by what we fail to preach.” (Alan Highers, “What the Pioneers Preached”)

“The contrast between the Lord’s teachings and those of the scribes could easily be likened to that between the Lord and many preachers today. Matt Walsh wrote an article pointing to this very problem. He noted that the ‘modern church’ has as its primary goal the avoidance of anything that might offend. ‘And this is precisely why they’re dying. The problem is not merely that they’re boring people…. The problem more specifically is that they’re starving people. There is no substance, no meat, in the message being preached. The congregants sit there and slowly starve to death.’” (Gary Hampton, “What Is Distinctive About Our Message?)

“One man said, ‘I have learned more about the Bible in six months in the church of Christ than I knew in twenty years as a deacon in a denomination.’ Churches of Christ emphasized and should still emphasize ‘thus saith the Lord.’ People ought to be able to see (and hear) the difference in the church and denominationalism.” (Alan Highers, “What Should the Hearers Hear?”)

“Sermons that convert are not afraid to examine and explain the scriptural necessity of baptism, worship without mechanical instruments of music, the role of women in worship, marriage, divorce, and remarriage, the Day of Judgment or hell. In this day and age where preachers want everyone to feel good, be happy and never offend, [they] refuse to preach on some subjects, including many of the above.” (David Powell, “Sermons That Convert”)

“The reason churches are being torn apart by false doctrine today is a lack of distinctive preaching yesterday. When ‘What Can I Do to Improve My Self-Esteem?” replaces “How Noah’s Ark Is a Type of the Church,” it is only a matter of time. When doctrinal sermons on fundamental issues are [considered] old-fashioned, the next generation of the church will accept denominational baptism, put women in leadership roles, use instruments in the early service, and plan a yard sale with the denomination down the street.” (Allen Webster, “The New Testament Church Is Distinctive”).

“All Christians should know the Scriptures well enough to recognize false teaching when they hear it. Some congregations languish in vulnerability, because preachers and teachers, wanting to be positive, have ceased to warn against what is false.” (Phil Sanders, “Refuting and Dealing with False Doctrine”)

“A number of years ago on a plane flight I overheard a woman say to her seatmate, ‘I don’t know much about the Bible, but I know what I believe.’ That summarizes the attitude of many in our world today. Oblivious to what God has set forth in his word, people have devised their own religious beliefs and practices, as well as their moral standards, from a ‘smorgasbord’ of religious notions, all while being in total ignorance of what the Bible teaches. This underscores why we as people pleading for the restoration of New Testament Christianity, must boldly proclaim the necessity of Bible authority in all things!” (Hugh Fulford, “The Necessity for Bible Authority”)

“The Word of God is distinctive, meaning it is different, and not like any other of men’s speeches or thinking, but the Gospel is clear and plain, and, therefore, we have the reason why we should take careful interest and consideration in how we handle it (cf. II Tim. 2:15)!…. / Devotion to the Lord and His Word will make a distinctive preacher, with a distinctive message.” (Gary Colley, “Distinctive Preaching in the Pulpit”)

“Thoughtful persons recognize that what is called Christianity today is a morass of conflicting and confusing doctrines, rituals, and sectarian churches and cults. Caring people are frustrated over divisions in families and among friends. People of goodwill who want to be followers of Jesus know it would be better for all to be on common ground spiritually. Paul appealed ‘that ye all speak the same thing’ (I Cor. 1:10). If all speak the ‘same’ thing, it has to be one thing. That one thing is ‘the faith once for all delivered,’ i.e., the New Testament system of faith and practice (Jude 3).” (David Pharr,

“Preaching the Restoration Plea”)

“First, let us consider the false view that ‘only the things Jesus actually spoke are binding upon us today.’ Why would anyone hold to this position? Without impugning the motives involved in such a claim, we cannot help but wonder about the connection in the minds of those who hold this view between this and the fact that they want to reject what Paul said in his letters about women’s roles in the church (see I Cor. 14:34-35; I Tim. 2:8-15), marriage (Rom. 7:1-3; I Cor. 14:1-40), worship (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16), homosexuality (Rom. 1: 26-27; I Cor. 6:9-10), and the importance of teaching only what is written (II Tim. 1:13; 4:1-5; et al.).” (Jay Lockhart, “Teaching to Observe All Things”)

“What happens to Christians and the Lord’s church when we fail to grow in knowledge? Obviously, the world drifts further and further away from God, and the church stops growing. There is another tragic thing which happens and which we may fail to see. The door is opened to false teaching.” (Dan Jenkins, “Growing in Grace and Knowledge”)

Please ponder these words of warning and exhortation. You may subscribe to The Spiritual Sword at: Getwell Church of Christ / 1511 Getwell Road / Memphis, TN 38111 / Phone: 901-743-0464.

Correction: In last week’s “News & Views” the sketch of John T. Johnson incorrectly identified the place of his death as being Lexington, Kentucky. It was Lexington, MISSOURI, where he was engaged in an evangelistic meeting. I apologize for the error.

Hugh Fulford

January 23, 2018

GROWING OLD GRACEFULLY

Someone has said that we cannot hold back the hands of the clock or the pages of the calendar. Each year that we live we come closer to the end of life’s journey. How shall we grow old? With anger and resentment toward the inevitable changes that aging brings, or with grace and gratitude? Will we become cranky and crotchety old people, making ourselves and all of those around us miserable, or will we allow our faith in God to have its crowning glory by the poise and assurance with which we come to the closing days of our earthly life?

The book of Ecclesiastes is one of the most memorable books in all of the Bible. In it, Solomon, the third and wisest and wealthiest of all of Israel’s kings, describes his search for happiness and the meaning of life. The final chapter sets forth his conclusion, and in a beautiful allegory he describes the process of growing old.

Solomon begins by urging us to remember our Creator—God—in the days of our youth, before the evil (or difficult, NKJV) days of old age come and the years draw near that leads one to say, “I have no pleasure in them,” that is, when the joy and exuberance of one’s younger years have now turned gray and there is little if any physical pleasure is to be found in life.

In verse two the wise man describes what has been called “the rhythm of life [which] is like the rhythm of the year. Spring and summer give place to the clouds of autumn and winter. The showers that so quickly come and go in youth are succeeded by rain and clouds and then more clouds. It becomes progressively harder to throw off troubles and anxieties” (J. Stafford Wright, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 5, Frank E. Gaebelein, General Editor, Zondervan [1991], p. 1192).

In verses three through eight, in picturesque and poetic language, Solomon describes the aging process as “the keepers of the house (the arms and hands) tremble, and the strong men (the legs) bow down.” “The grinders (teeth) cease because they are few, and those that look through the windows (the eyes) grow dim.”

“When the doors are shut in the streets” likely refers to the closing down of the other senses, including the organs of hearing, “marooning the owner within the cramped house of his own body” (Wright). As one advances into old age, he tends to rise early (“rises up at the sound of a bird”), while at the same time one’s voice becomes weak and indistinguishable as “all the daughters of music are brought low.”

With age comes the fear of heights and of “terrors in the way.” Old men don’t climb ladders, and more and more the elderly fear getting out into the busy traffic of life, especially at night. “The almond tree blossoms,” signifying the whitening of the hair (or, as is the case with some, before our hair turns gray it may simply turn loose!) Something as light as a grasshopper is a burden, or perhaps (as some scholars think) the sense is that the once lively, leaping grasshopper, now an old person, can only drag himself along in the cold days of the winter of life, the “strong men” (legs) now being bowed down (verse 3).

“Desire fails.” One’s appetite for food, sex, adventure and the other pleasures of life is greatly diminished in old age. “For man goes to his long home (here I love the KJV), and the mourners go about the streets.” Ah, yes, in contrast to life in this world which Job pessimistically described as being “of few days and full of trouble” (Job 14:1) and which James described as “a vapor that appears for a little while” (James 4:14), life for God’s children is finally reached in the long home—the eternal home, the real home! (See II Corinthians 5:1-3).

With advancing years comes the loosing of “the silver cord” (the bending of the spinal column), the breaking of “the golden bowl” (the head), the shattering of “the pitcher” at the fountain (the failure of the heart), and the breaking of “the wheel” at the well (perhaps a reference to the absence of the full functioning of the lungs or possibly an allusion to the breaking down of the organs of digestion)—all resulting eventually in death.

Regardless of the specifics of Solomon’s description of the aging process, the fact remains that unless we die young (and many do), old age with all its accompanying infirmities will come. As it does, how will it affect us? Will we accept it graciously or bitterly?

At the end of his search for the meaning of life, including his graphic depiction of growing old, Solomon says: “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear (reverence, respect, hf) God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether it is good or whether it is evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).

May God give us the will to grow old gracefully and to come to the end of our earthly journey in the full assurance that “there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but to all who have loved His appearing” (II Timothy 4:8).

Hugh Fulford

January 9, 2018

TURNING THE PAGE

Swiftly we’re turning life’s daily pages,

Swiftly the hours are changing to years;

How are we using God’s golden moments?

Shall we reap glory? Shall we reap tears?

These poignant words were penned by Mrs. Roy Carruth and set to music by that grand old gospel preacher and song writer, Tillit S. Teddlie. The song appears in many hymnals used by members of the Lord’s church and is sung with much meaning.

On December 27, 2017 I turned a page on another year of life as I reached the heralded four-score years. I sometimes wonder where these eight decades have gone! I know that the Psalmist was right when he wrote, “The days of our lives are seventy years; and if by reason of strength they are eighty years, yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off and we fly away” (Psalm 90:10).

At midnight on December 31 we all turned the page on another year of life. What did we leave behind in the old year? What will we take with us into the New Year?

In the New Year, let us turn the page . . .

From hate to love, realizing that “he who loves is born of God and knows God,” while, conversely, “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:7-8).

From unkindness to kindness, knowing that we are to “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32). Let the pages of our new year be filled with kind thoughts, kind words, and kind deeds.

From impatience to a demonstration of that patience that God has with us. Let us determine to live in “all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:1-2).

From rudeness to graciousness, remembering that genuine love “does not behave rudely, does not seek its own” (1 Corinthians 13:5), but, like Christ Himself, is ever gracious, easy, kind, and good (1 Peter 2:3).

From coarse, crude language to language that is pure, chaste, and reverent, and the kind that we would not be ashamed to use in the presence of Jesus Himself. Christians are to “let no corrupt communication proceed out of [their] mouth(s) . . . nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting . . .” (Ephesians 4:29; 5:4).

From paralyzing fear to trusting faith. Let us not be as the one talent man who was afraid (Matthew 25:25), but in boldness let us remember that “this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith” (1 John 5:5). Let us ever keep in mind that God “has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7).

From irresponsibility to faithful stewardship and accountability to God and man. Let us be accountable as husbands, wives, parents, children, employers, employees, students, and, above all, as disciples of Jesus. In all of these relationships may we see ourselves as stewards (managers of that which rightfully belongs to another) and realize that “it is required in stewards that one be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2).

From any hint of compromise with evil and error to strong, unyielding convictions that are firmly rooted in the word of God. Let us “watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13). Let us “earnestly contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3) and make our personal lives “worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27).

From lukewarmness to burning zeal for the cause of Christ. Lukewarmness is the sin that makes Christ nauseated and will result in one being rejected by the Lord (Revelation 3:14-16). In the new year let us firmly resolve to be “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, inasmuch as [we] know that [our] labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58).

He came to my desk with quivering lip.

The lesson was done.

“Dear teacher, I want a new page,” he said,
I have spoiled this one.”

I took the old page, torn and blotted,
And gave him a new one, all unspotted,
And into his sad eyes smiled:
“Do better now, my child.”

I came to God’s throne with a trembling heart.
The year’s work was done.
“Dear Father, I want a new life,” I said,
“I have spoiled this one.”

He took my old life, torn and blotted,
And gave me a new one, all unspotted,
And into my sad heart smiled:
“Do better now, my child.” (Kathleen Wheeler)

As we begin a new year, if we have never done so, let us turn the page on rebellion and disobedience to Christ, humbly repent of our sins (Acts 17:30), confess our faith in Christ (Romans 10:9-10), and be buried with Him in baptism for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16), thus being “born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5), turning the page from a life of gloom and darkness to one of inexpressible joy and light (John 8:12; Acts 8:26-40).

(Note: The preceding article is an adaptation of one I wrote at the request of the editor and published in the Gospel Advocate, December 2017. It is used here by permission of the G.A.)

Hugh Fulford

January 2, 2018

BASIC BIBLE STUDIES
# 022

SOME GREAT LEADERS OF THE RESTORATION MOVEMENT

(Part 4)

In November I wrote three essays under the above heading, with vignettes of three great leaders constituting each essay. I have been encouraged by a number of readers to write some additional articles along this line, and intermittently over the next several weeks I plan to do so. I will resume with the previous numbering of the articles (i.e., this will be Part 4), as well as with the numbering of the men I shall mention (i.e., Barton W. Stone will be number 10, etc.).

10. Barton Warren Stone (1772-1844). Born in Port Tobacco, MD on Christmas Eve in 1772, Stone’s father died when he was three years old and his mother moved the family to Virginia. As an infant his mother had him sprinkled in the Church of England. In 1790 he entered Guilford Academy in North Carolina, a school operated by David Caldwell, a Presbyterian preacher. In 1791 Stone united with the Presbyterian Church, and in 1796 he received his license to preach in that denomination. In 1798 he received a call from the Cane Ridge and Concord Presbyterian Churches in Kentucky to preach for them, but he became increasingly dismayed by Calvinism. In 1804, after preaching six years for the two Presbyterian congregations, he informed them that he could no longer conscientiously preach Presbyterian doctrine. He and four of his fellow Presbyterian preachers withdrew from the Presbyterian Church. Independent study led them to abandon infant baptism and sprinkling. They baptized (immersed) each other and soon many others followed them in taking this step. In a famous document known as “The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery,” among a number of other items, they said, “We will, that the people henceforth take the Bible as the only sure guide to heaven; and as many as are offended with other books, which stand in competition with it, [they] may cast them into the fire, if they choose; for it is better to enter into life having one book, than having many to be cast into hell.” In 1826 Stone began editing and publishing The Christian Messenger and it continued until 1845. In 1801 he had married Eliza Campbell. Eliza died in 1810, leaving him with a son and four daughters. The next year he married Cecilia Bowen. By both wives he fathered nineteen children. Stone died on November 9, 1844 in Hannibal, MO in the home of his son-in-law, Captain Samuel Bowen. (I do not know what kinship may have existed between Stone’s second wife and Samuel Bowen who married his daughter Amanda). When asked if he had any fear of death, Stone’s response was, “Oh, no, I know in whom I have believed and in whom I have trusted. God bless you, my brother. I hope to meet you in heaven.” He was buried in Hannibal, but the body was later reburied at Cane Ridge in Kentucky. A stone marker bears this inscription: “The church of Christ at Cane Ridge and other generous friends in Kentucky have caused this monument to be erected in a tribute of affection and gratitude to Barton W. Stone, minister of the gospel of Christ and the distinguished reformer of the 19th century.”

11. Samuel Rogers (1789-1877). Rogers was born in Charlotte County, VA on November 6, 1789. His mother, a member of the Church of England who had taken her stand with the Methodists, had Samuel christened by the famous Bishop Francis Asbury. On January 14, 1812, Samuel married Elizabeth Irvin who became a great spiritual influence in his life. Her family had been converted to the principles of the restoration by Barton W. Stone (see above), and because of her, Rogers came under the influence of Stone. Shortly after his marriage, he was immersed into Christ. In spite of a lack of much formal education, Rogers began preaching the gospel and calling people back to the Bible. After preaching for a while in Kentucky, he moved to Clinton County, OH. He preached to his neighbors and gathered together a group of Christians. Rogers expanded his field of labor and spent much time preaching on the frontier of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri. He was the second man to preach the gospel in Missouri and the first to preach it in St. Louis. Both success and hardship were parts of the life of Samuel Rogers. Of his preaching he said, “The story was plain and easy to tell. There was nothing to do but open my Bible and let it tell to a perishing world the way of salvation. It was not necessary to warp or twist a single word or sentence” (H. Leo Boles, “Biographical Sketches of Gospel Preachers,” Gospel Advocate Company [1932], pp. 52-53). Of all the hundreds of people Samuel Rogers baptized, probably the most famous was Benjamin (Ben) Franklin, the object of the next sketch. Though deaf and almost blind in his closing years, Rogers remained happy. He retained his mind and memory to the very last, and closed his eyes in death in Carlisle, KY on June 23, 1877. (Note: For much of the preceding, I am indebted to Don Deffenbaugh and his lecture on Samuel Rogers delivered at the Faulkner University Bible Lectures in Montgomery, AL in 1997).

12. Benjamin Franklin (1812-1878). The great-great nephew of his famous forebear and namesake, Ben Franklin was born in Belmont County, OH on February 1, 1812. The Franklin family moved to Henry County, IN in 1833. The same year, Samuel Rogers (above) moved with his family to Henry County, IN and established a church after the New Testament order. Rogers set out to convert the Franklins (who were Methodist in their religious background), and succeeded in doing so, with Rogers baptizing Ben in December of 1834. The following month, Ben went to work studying the Bible and preparing himself to preach. Though his education was limited and his grammar initially quite poor, he continued to study diligently, and went on to become one of the greatest and most influential preachers among those pleading for a restoration of the New Testament order of things in Christianity, especially in the North. Of him Earl West wrote, “He did not pretend to be a philosopher, a politician, a teller of stories, or anything of the kind. He was a gospel preacher in everything the term implies . . . It is not likely that a greater, nobler, truer, purer preacher of the gospel lived since apostolic times than Ben Franklin” (The Search for the Ancient Order, Volume 1, p. 103-104). Two volumes of his sermons were published under the title The Gospel Preacher. When Samuel Rogers had grown old and Ben Franklin had become famous as a preacher, Rogers took great satisfaction in knowing that he had introduced Franklin to the gospel. In 1850 Franklin and his family moved to Cincinnati, OH, and in January of 1856 he began editing and publishing the American Christian Review, a periodical devoted to upholding the principles of apostolic Christianity. Franklin engaged in a number of debates with Universalists as well as with various denominationalists. He was bitterly opposed to the use of instrumental music in worship and refused to preach where the instrument was used. In 1864 he moved to Anderson, IN where he spent the rest of his life preaching, debating, and writing for the advancement of the New Testament way. He died on October 23, 1878 of an apparent heart attack, after spending the morning writing editorials. West notes, “Until that Tuesday afternoon of October 23, 1878, Franklin was a busy man in the kingdom of Master.” His funeral was conducted two days later and he was buried in the Anderson Cemetery in Anderson, IN. Of him, Jacob Creath, Jr. said, “If our own brethren believed in canonizing men, he could soon be placed on the front ranks of the roll of canonization . . . He has left no one who can fill his place, and we shall not see his like soon again” (American Christian Review [March 4, 1879], p. 73, as cited by West).

Hugh Fulford

December 12, 2017

Faith In Christ

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31).

In our last two Studies we saw that salvation is possible only because of the amazing grace of God. But we also discovered that God’s grace must be appropriated by a submissive obedience to the gospel, the good news of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection for our redemption from sin and our justification (right standing) before God. While Christ “by the grace of God [tasted] death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9), He nevertheless is “the author of eternal salvation [only] to all who obey Him” (Hebrews 5:9). We are now ready to begin a study of the specific conditions set forth in the New Testament for being saved from sin and added to the church (Acts 2:47), for being “delivered from the power of darkness and translated into the kingdom of the Son of [God’s] love” (Colossians 1:13), for becoming a citizen of God’s “holy nation” (I Peter 2:9).

Beyond any question or doubt, a person’s response to the grace of God and the gospel of Christ begins with faith. “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6). Jesus Himself said: “Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24). To believe in Christ is to put one’s faith in Him as the Son of God and to trust Him as the only Savior (John 14:6; Acts 4:11-12).

The Bible, and especially the New Testament, often uses “belief” and “faith” as synonyms. The New Testament also uses “belief” and “faith” in both a limited sense and a comprehensive sense. When used in the limited sense, “faith” refers to the mere act of believing, of only giving mental assent to certain facts. This kind of “faith” will not save anyone. In John 12:42-43 it is said: “Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him (Christ), but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” It was in this limited sense of “faith” that James was speaking when he said: “You see then that by works a man is justified and not by faith only” (James 2:24).

When used in the comprehensive sense, “faith” refers to a full compliance with all the conditions set forth in the New Testament for receiving forgiveness of sins and maintaining a faithful walk with the Lord. Thus, “the golden text” of the Bible declares: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). That “belief” is here used in the comprehensive sense is seen by reading the last verse of this same chapter: “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; but he who does not believe the Son (he who does not obey the Son, New American Standard Version) will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36).

It is in this all-encompassing sense of fully submitting to Christ that the Philippian jailer, in response to his question, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”, is told: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:30-31). Sadly, many people stop at this point in this amazing story of salvation. In the words of Paul Harvey, they fail to listen to “the rest of the story.” The jailer is told to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.” But in Romans 10:14 Paul rhetorically asks: “…how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard?”, and then affirms: “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17).

And so, after telling the jailer to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,” Paul and Silas “spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house” (Acts 16:32). It was only by hearing the word of the Lord that the jailer could believe and learn what he must do to act upon that belief in order to be saved. Now for “the rest of the story”: “And he (the jailer) took them (Paul and Silas) the same hour of the night and washed their stripes (they had been beaten with many stripes prior to being put into prison, verse 23). And immediately he and all his family were baptized. And when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, believing in God (having believed in God, New American Standard Version) with all his household” (Acts 16:33-34).

In this beautiful story of how the Philippian jailer and his family were saved, the following vital question needs to be asked: Between the point where the jailer is told to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” and the point where it is said that he had “believed in God,” what took place? When one answers that question, he has discovered what it means to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.”
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BASIC BIBLE STUDIES
# 023

Repentance

“Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19).

Our present series of Studies (beginning with # 020) is focusing on salvation from sin and how a person establishes a spiritual relationship with God. We have learned that salvation is by the grace of God, but that God’s grace must be appropriated by obedience to Christ. Obedience begins with absolute faith and trust in Christ as the Son of God and as our only means of access to God (John 8:24; John 14:6). But this faith is not mere mental assent to the truth of who Christ is; it is an active, obedient faith. James reminds us: “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (James 2:26).

Genuine faith in Christ leads a sinner to repent of his or her sins. More than simply being sorry for one’s sins (though godly sorrow is a motivation for repentance, II Corinthians 7:10), repentance “signifies to change one’s mind or purpose, always …a change for the better, an amendment…” (W. E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words). Repentance involves a change of mind by which a person determines to stop living life by his own rules and sincerely seeks to live as Christ instructs. Repentance is a “turning from” a self-centered and self-ruled life and a “turning to” a God-centered and God-ruled life. For this reason, repentance is the hardest command of all to obey because it involves the surrender of one’s will to the will of God. Yet without such a surrender, forgiveness of sins and salvation of the soul are not possible.

Consider a few of the numerous New Testament passages requiring a person to repent.

Luke 13:3: “I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” (Jesus repeats this command in verse 5).

Luke 24:47: “…and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His (Christ’s) name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”

Acts 2:38: “Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Acts 17:30: “Truly, these times of ignorance God [once] overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this (the final judgment, hf) to all, by raising Him (Christ, the Man whom God has ordained to judge the world, hf) from the dead.”

Romans 2:5: “But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart (a non-repentant heart, hf) you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each one according to his deeds.”

II Peter 3:9: “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”

The apostle Paul sets forth a high motive for repentance when he writes: “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:5). Many people have lived in sin and rebellion to God’s holy law for years and years and years. God has been good to them, extending their lives, blessing them with an abundance of good things (James 1:17), being patient and longsuffering with them, hoping that some day they would “wake up” and look up to the One “from whom all blessings flow.” How God does yearn for sinful man’s repentance, and how His love and kindness and goodness toward all should lead people to repent!

But just as God is a God of love and mercy, He also is a God of justice and wrath. In a passage cited above–Romans 2:5–Paul spoke of those characterized by a hardened and impenitent heart, and warned that they were “treasuring up for [themselves] wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” He went on to say: “…but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness” God will render “indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek…” (Romans 2:8-9). Indeed, “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31)!

Thus, to accept God’s grace and receive His forgiveness one must repent of all sin. One must “turn from” pursuing his own agenda and “turn to” the way of the Lord. In the language of the passage at the top of this lesson: “Repent therefore and be converted (changed, hf), that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19).

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With these articles being controversial in the religious world, we simply ask any student to read, evaluate within the context of each Scripture and make the first century application which you see in the text, please. Let us know of additional studies on your part which speak to these themes as we will evaluate them also. s/website director

Article # 24
The Good Confession

“And he answered and said, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’ ” (Acts 8:37).

In order to appropriate the grace of God to one’s life and receive salvation for one’s soul, we have learned that a person must obey from the heart that form of doctrine (the gospel of Christ) to which he/she was delivered (Romans 6:16-18; II Thessalonians 1:6-8; Hebrews 5:8-9). This obedience involves coming to a real faith in Christ as the Son of God (John 8:24). It also involves genuine repentance of (a turning from) all sin (Acts 17:30). As we continue our study of what Christ and His apostles taught with reference to the all-important question, “What must I do to be saved?”, we learn that there are other conditions or acts of obedience with which a person must comply in order to be saved. In this Study we examine what the New Testament says about the necessity of making an open confession of faith in Christ as the Son of God.

The apostle Paul, alluding to statements first made back in Deuteronomy 30:12-14, and showing their application in the Christian system, wrote: “But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, even in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith, which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart man believes to righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made to salvation” (Romans 10:8-10).

There are several matters involved in this confession. First, the confession is made with the mouth: “…that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus Christ…” (Romans 10:9). Faith in Christ is not kept to one’s self; it is articulated, verbalized. Peter openly confessed: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). When the Ethiopian eunuch requested baptism at the hands of Philip, he was told: “If you believe with all your heart, you may [be baptized].” The eunuch responded by confessing: “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God” (Acts 8:37).

That same confession is required of all today who would receive forgiveness of sins and be added to the church. The church is the collective body of people redeemed from their sins by the blood of Christ (Acts 20:28; I Peter 1:18-19). The foundation of the church is Christ (I Corinthians 3:11), which means that the people who have been saved stand confidently upon their faith in Christ as the Son of God. Peter affirms of them that they “will by no means be put to shame” (I Peter 2:6, New King James Version), or that they “shall not be disappointed” (New American Standard Version). What tremendous assurance the believer in Christ possesses! It is utterly inconceivable that anyone could be saved and made a part of the church (Acts 2:47) without first acknowledging his/her faith in Christ! Indeed, “…with the mouth confession is made to salvation” (Romans 10:10).

Second, the confession involves believing that God has raised Christ from the dead (Romans 10:9). It was by His resurrection that Christ was “declared to be the Son of God with power” (Romans 1:4). Therefore, to confess faith in Christ as the Son of God is to acknowledge His resurrection from the dead. Christians serve a living Lord, not a dead martyr!

Third, the confession arises from a truly believing heart. “For with the heart one believes to righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made to salvation” (Romans 10:10). For one simply to “mouth” the words, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God,” without really believing what he is saying is of no avail. In this superficial sense “the devils also believe–and tremble! ” (James 2:19). There must be a deep and genuine conviction behind the spoken words.

When a person from another country desires to become a legal citizen of the United States, he renounces allegiance to all other governments and verbally pledges his/her loyalty to the United States of America. In the same way, when one desires to become a citizen of the kingdom of God, he renounces his allegiance to Satan and pledges his loyalty to Christ as his only Lord and King. Legal residents of the United States are not ashamed to let it be known that they are loyal citizens of this great country. Similarly, those who truly believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the only way to eternal life (John 14:6) are not ashamed to confess Him before men–both at the time of their initial commitment to Christ, as well as throughout the course of their life as a Christian. Jesus said: “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38).

Have you confessed with your mouth the Lord Jesus Christ? To receive forgiveness of your sins and enter the kingdom of God you must do so!

Editor: Usually, no rejections come up till the next subject is presented; we present this material in the interest of full studies. Let us know of your thoughts as you consider this line of study…………by using our Guestbook……..we will be back in touch with you as you study this topic, if you desire….thank you…….

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BASIC BIBLE STUDIES
# 025
Baptism

“And now why are you waiting? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16).

As we continue our study of the specific conditions involved in appropriating God’s saving grace to our souls, we are ready to examine what the New Testament says about the place of baptism in the plan of salvation. Already we have learned that there are indeed conditions with which a person must comply in order to be saved (Matthew 7:21; Hebrews 5:8-9). The question, “What must I do to be saved?”, is a valid question (see Study # 021), and must be answered according to the Scriptures. Thusfar, we have learned that a person must come to have faith in Christ, repent of all sins, and confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. What role, if any, does baptism play in receiving God’s grace and entering a saved state?

Before He ascended back to heaven, Christ commissioned His apostles to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). The gospel is the “good news” that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (I Corinthians 15:3-4). Christ wants this “good news” proclaimed to all the world because this gospel is God’s power to save those who will believe it and obey it (Romans 1:16; Romans 6:16-18; II Thessalonians 1:6-10). After giving the apostles this “great commission,” Jesus then said: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved, but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16).

In Acts 2 we have the record of how the apostles began to execute the great commission of Christ. Following the stirring sermon delivered on that occasion, the audience was “cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’ Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:37-38). It is important to observe the clear connection between the blood of Christ which was shed “for (eis = in order to) the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28) and baptism “for (eis = in order to) the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). The apostle John affirms that it was in His death that Christ shed His blood (John 19:33-34), and the apostle Paul explains that one is baptized into the death of Christ (Romans 6:3-4). Thus, it is in baptism that a person reaches the blood of Christ and has his sins washed away (Revelation 1:5).

The above truths about baptism are verified in the case of Saul of Tarsus, the arch-enemy of Christ, who was converted and became the apostle Paul. While Saul was on a mission to persecute and kill Christians, the Lord appeared to him and told him to “arise and go into the city (Damascus), and you will be told what you must do” (Acts 9:6). In Damascus, a disciple of Christ’s by the name of Ananias came to Saul and said to him: “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). The Lord had told Saul he would be told what he must (an imperative) do, and he was told to be baptized to have his sins washed away! Thus, we again see the connection between the blood of Christ, which was “shed for the remission of sins,” and baptism, the point at which one reaches the blood of Christ and has his sins washed away.

A careful study of the New Testament will reveal the following truths about the place of baptism in God’s plan for receiving His grace and entering a saved state:

1. Baptism stands between the sinner and salvation (Mark 16:16).

2. Baptism stands between the sinner and the remission of sins (Acts 2:38).

3. Baptism stands between the sinner and having sins washed away (Acts 22:16).

4. Baptism stands between the sinner and the benefits of the death of Christ (Romans 6:3).

5. Baptism stands between the sinner and newness of life (Romans 6:4-6).

6. Baptism stands between the sinner and being able to legitimately wear the name of Christ (I Corinthians 1:12-13).

7. Baptism stands between the sinner and being in the body of Christ (I Corinthians 12:13). Note: The body of Christ is the church (Colossians 1:18), but one is not added to the church until he/she is saved (Acts 2:47).

8. Baptism stands between the sinner and being in Christ where all spiritual blessings are found (Galatians 3:27; Ephesians 1:3).

9. Baptism stands between the sinner and the benefits of the spiritual circumcision which Christ performs on the sinner by “putting/cutting off the body of the sins of the flesh” (Colossians 2:11-12).

10. Baptism stands between the sinner and being saved and having a good conscience toward God (I Peter 3:21).

“And now why are you waiting? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16).
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BASIC BIBLE STUDIES
# 027

Baptism: What And Who?

In our two previous Studies we learned that baptism is an essential part of man’s faith response to the gospel of Christ and to coming into a saved relationship with the Lord. Since remission of sins does not occur until one has repented and been baptized (Acts 2:38), it is vitally important to learn what baptism consists of and for whom it is applicable. Surely with reference to any condition or act having to do with the salvation of our soul we should want to make sure that we have properly understood and complied with that condition. We should not approach the matter in a nonchalant or lackadaisical manner, or with some false sense of security that the matter had already been taken care of for us by our parents when we were babies. Rather, we should want to make sure that we have correctly understood what God’s Word teaches about baptism and that we have personally done what the Bible says concerning baptism.

What is baptism? How is it to be performed? If we ignore the religious traditions and doctrines that have developed over the centuries, and if we lay aside the creed books, catechisms, and church manuals that men have written, and go back to the New Testament and make a fresh study of it, what will we discover with reference to the action of baptism (what it is)?

Of the ministry of John the Baptist (that is, John the Baptizer, the man who administered baptism, hf), it is said: “Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan [river] went out to him and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matthew 3:5-6). Later, it is said: “And John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there. And they came and were baptized” (John 3:23). In the Jordan river and in a place where there was “much water” John baptized people! What was the obvious action of baptism? Neither sprinkling, pouring, nor christening require “much water,” but Bible baptism does!

In Acts 8 we read of the conversion of the treasurer of the queen of Ethiopia. After having Christ preached to him by Philip, the treasurer–who was a eunuch–requested baptism, and following his confession of faith in Christ as the Son of God “both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him” (Acts 8:38). What transpired in this New Testament account of baptism?

Later, the apostle Paul wrote: “Therefore we were buried with Him (Christ) by baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). In baptism there is the reenactment of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. As Paul stated in Colossians 2:12: “…buried with Him (Christ) in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him, through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.”

Is it important today for a person to do what the New Testament teaches with reference to how baptism is performed? If baptism is essential to salvation–and we have learned that it is (Mark 16:16; I Peter 3:21)–then should not a person who is serious about the salvation of his soul want to comply with what God’s Word says regarding the way baptism is to be performed? If a person has only had a few drops of water sprinkled on him, or a small amount of water poured on him, or if as a baby a church official “christened” him, has that person truly been baptized? This is a question deserving of very serious consideration by every person who truly wishes to be saved.

Who is to be baptized? For whom is baptism valid? Following His death, burial, and resurrection, Christ commissioned the apostles: “Go therefore and make disciples of (teach, KJV) all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them (those baptized, hf) to observe all things whatever I have commanded you…” (Matthew 28:19-20). In Mark’s account of this matter Christ said to the apostles: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16). From these words, spoken by the Lord Himself, we learn that baptism is for an accountable, responsible being who can be taught and who can come to belief for himself. Baptism has no power to save one who is not capable of receiving an appropriate amount of teaching before being baptized, as well as further teaching after being baptized, nor does baptism have any saving power for the person who is not himself a believer.

Still further, when the apostles began to carry out Christ’s great commission, they instructed people: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins…” (Acts 2:38). Baptism is of no benefit to a person who has not personally repented of (turned from) his sins.

In Acts 8, when the Ethiopian treasurer requested baptism, he was told: “If you believe with all your heart, you may [be baptized]. And he answered and said, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’ ” (Acts 8:37). Baptism is valid only if a person is a believer in Christ and is willing to confess that faith (Romans 10:9-10).

Infants and young children who have not reached the age of accountability are not sinners, are not capable of being taught the gospel, are not capable of believing for themselves, have no sins of which to repent, and possess no personal faith in Christ that they can confess with their mouth as the Bible requires. With reference to little children Jesus said: “…of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14). Contrary to doctrines devised by men since the close of the New Testament, children are not born in sin (though they are born into a world of sin), they are not born totally depraved, and they have not “inherited” the sins of their parents, grandparents, et al, all the way back to Adam. Rather, they are pure and innocent until they become accountable for their actions and are able to choose between good and evil. Thus, babies and young, unaccountable children are not candidates for baptism, and all adults who were “baptized” as babies (in the light of the fact that baptism is immersion–not sprinkling or pouring–were they truly baptized?) should seriously re-think this matter from the standpoint of Biblical teaching, and ask themselves: “Have I truly complied with what the Word of God says regarding baptism, or have I lived under the delusion that all of that was taken care of for me when I was a baby?” Our eternal salvation in heaven, as opposed to the loss of our soul in hell, is too vital a matter with which to “gamble.” As the apostle Peter, writing to Christians, once said: “…be even more diligent to make your calling and election sure” (II Peter 1:10). Are you sure that you have complied with God’s will regarding baptism?

BASIC BIBLE STUDIES
# 026

Objections To Baptism

In our previous Study we very carefully examined what Christ and His inspired apostles taught about the place of baptism in receiving the forgiveness of sins and entering a saved relationship with the Lord. We learned that baptism stands between the sinner and: (1) salvation (Mark 16:16), (2) remission of sins (Acts 2:38), (3) having sins washed away (Acts 22:16), (4) the benefits of the death of Christ (Romans 6:3), (5) newness of life (Romans 6:4-6), (6) being able to legitimately wear the name of Christ (I Corinthians 1:12-13), (7) being in the body of Christ (I Corinthians 12:13), (8) being in Christ where all spiritual blessings are found (Galatians 3:27; Ephesians 1:3), (9) the benefits of the spiritual circumcision which Christ performs on the sinner by “putting/cutting off the body of the sins of the flesh” (Colossians 2:11-12), and (10) being saved and having a good conscience toward God (I Peter 3:21).

In spite of the clarity with which the New Testament speaks regarding the role of baptism in salvation, there are many good, honest, devoutly religious people who simply do not believe that baptism has anything to do with being saved. Numerous objections have been raised to baptism as a condition for receiving the remission of one’s sins. In view of our previous study, it is very much in order for these objections be considered in the light of Biblical teaching. Each objection will be listed below in bold and set off in quotation marks, with a corresponding Scriptural response made to each objection.

(1) “We are saved by grace, not by works.” Yes, indeed, the Bible is quite emphatic in affirming: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). But let it be remembered that “the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men” (Titus 2:11) and that Christ “by the grace of God [tasted] death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9). This does not mean, however, that everyone will be saved. Why? Because Christ is “the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” (Hebrews 5:9). Grace does not remove the necessity of one’s obedience to the gospel in order to be made free from sin (Romans 6:16-18; II Thessalonians 1:6-10). This obedience includes the essentiality of baptism for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38). Paul clearly states: “…not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us…” How? “…by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). What is this “washing of regeneration” by which God “according to His mercy” saves us? Elsewhere, Paul explains: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church (the aggregate body of those who have been saved from their sins–Acts 2:47, hf) and gave Himself up for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word” (Ephesians 5:25-26). Baptism is “the washing of water” by which God in His mercy cleanses us of our sins and adds us to the church, the blood-cleansed body of all the saved (Acts 2:47; Acts 20:28). Baptism is not set in opposition to God’s grace; rather, it is when a penitent believer is baptized into Christ (Galatians 3:27) that he/she accesses the saving grace of God.

(2) “We are justified by faith only.” Again, it is a divine truth that a sinner is justified by faith (Romans 5:1), but the careful student of the Scriptures will be hard pressed to find a passage that affirms that the sinner is saved by faith only. In fact, James declares: “You see then that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only (James 2:24). By “works” James is not referring to meritorious works by which one may earn salvation (the kind of works Paul had in mind in Ephesians 2:9), but to the submissive acts of obedience with which a person complies in order to enter into a saved state and to remain in such a saved state. (Note: It is sometimes pointed out that James is talking about the faith that keeps a Christian saved, not the faith by which a sinner is justified. But remember this: Just as the faith of a Christian must be an active, obedient faith, so the faith of a sinner must be an active, obedient faith. The matter of obedience is inseparably related to both the faith of a sinner and the faith of a Christian). Keep in mind that as we learned in Study # 022, the Philippian jailer was told to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your house” (Acts 16:31). Yet it was not until the jailer had been baptized that it is said of him that he had “believed in God” (Acts 16:34, American Standard Version). At the household of Cornelius Peter declared that “whoever believes in Him (Christ) will receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43), but in Acts 2:38 the same apostle commanded: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins…” (Acts 2:38). Faith and baptism are not mutually exclusive. In fact, it is in repentance and baptism that a sinner demonstrates his faith and receives the remission of his sins. Interestingly enough, those who contend for salvation by faith only, without baptism, nevertheless find room in their “faith only” doctrine for repentance. I have never known of a person who advocates salvation by “faith only” to affirm that the sinner can be saved without repentance. But the same logic that includes repentance in salvation by faith also includes baptism.

(3) “Baptism is for (because of) the remission of sins.” As noted above, on the Day of Pentecost when the church was born, Peter instructed inquiring sinners: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). The preposition “for” in this verse is the translation of the Greek eis and means “in order to.” It is precisely the same word and precisely the same phrase that Jesus used in Matthew 26:28 when in instituting the Lord’s Supper He said of the cup: “For this is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” Question: Did Christ shed His blood because mankind’s sins were already remitted, or did He shed His blood in order for mankind to have remission of sins (I Peter 1:18-19)? When one answers that question he also will be able to answer the question: Is repentance and baptism because a person’s sins are already remitted, or is repentance and baptism in order for a person to receive the remission of sins? Bear in mind that Christ’s blood was shed in His death (John 19:33-34) and that a person is baptized into the death of Christ (Romans 6:3), thus reaching the benefits of Christ’s cleansing blood.

(4) “Paul was not sent to baptize but to preach the gospel.” Yes, Paul said: “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel…” (I Corinthians 1:17). Based on this statement, some have concluded that baptism is not a part of the gospel. Yet, two verses earlier Paul had explained why he had not personally baptized many of the Corinthians — “…lest anyone say that I had baptized in my own name” (I Corinthians 1:15). Far from affirming that baptism is not a part of the sinner’s response to the gospel, Paul is simply pointing out why he had not personally baptized many of the Corinthian converts. This does not mean, however, that the Corinthians had not been baptized in response to their hearing and believing of the gospel. In fact, the inspired historian Luke, in telling of the advance of the gospel into Corinth, declares: “And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized” (Acts 18:8b). That, of course, is what Christ had commanded (Mark 16:16), and that is what Paul preached!

(5) “The thief on the cross was saved, and he was not baptized.” With all due respect to those who make this objection to baptism, I have to say that there is not a person on earth who can prove that the repentant thief on the cross was not baptized. With reference to the ministry of John the Baptist it is said: “Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matthew 3:5-6). No one can prove that the thief was not among the many baptized by John the Baptist! In view of the wide response to the preaching of John, it is entirely possible that the thief was among those who were baptized by John. But that is beside the point. The real point is that when Christ said to the thief: “…today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43), Christ had not yet died and therefore His will or testament was not yet in force. The writer of the book of Hebrews affirms: “For where there is a testament (a will, hf), there must also of necessity be the death of the testator (in this case, Christ, hf). For a testament is in force after men are dead, since it has no power at all while the testator lives” (Hebrews 9:16-17). The thief lived and died before the new testament (will) of Christ became in force. That is why the thief on the cross, as well as all the Old Testament worthies, cannot be held up as examples of righteous people “who were saved without being baptized.” They were never amenable to the New Testament of Christ requiring baptism for the remission of sins! But all people living this side of the death of Christ are amenable to His testament/will, and according to the stipulations of that will it is the person “who believes and is baptized” who will be saved (Mark 16:16). This is why all of the passages we noted in our Study last week (and reviewed in the first paragraph of this Study) are so vitally important in understanding the place of baptism in God’s plan for redeeming a sinner through Jesus Christ.

If this essay has blessed you, feel free to forward it to others who may benefit from it.

Hugh Fulford