by Steven Chan
In John 17:20-22, Jesus prayed for the unity of believers: “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one:” One-ness as desired by our Lord is characterised by all speaking the same thing, having the same mind and the same judgement.
Jesus taught the same things as given to Him by the Father: “For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. And I know that his commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak.”(John 12:49, 50) Similarly, the apostle Paul urged believers to do the same: 1 Cor 1:10 Now I beseech you, brethren, through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”
Unfortunately, the reality is that some will not speak the same thing as revealed in the inspired Word of God. Hence, the apostle wrote in Gal 1:6-7: “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.”
In view of the danger of some perverting the gospel, we would need to ensure that brethren with whom we wish to work together are doctrinally in sync with the Scriptures and therefore with us on various matters even as we all seek to follow Christ ( I Cor 11:1).
In our present time and in this part of the world, some have been teaching doctrines contrary to what the Bible teaches and it is important that we do not encourage such erroneous teachings by supporting those who teach these erroneous doctrines (either by our silence or by our association with them – 2 John 9-11). The teachings listed hereunder is not to be viewed as a comprehensive body of distinctive doctrines of the church of Christ as it only lists doctrines which some are teaching falsely in our region and in our time for which we need to be aware of:-
1. The Bible teaches that all must obey the gospel by believing that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God (John 8:24), repent of one’s sins (Luke 13:3; Acts 2:38), confess Jesus as Son of God (Matt 10:32; Rom 10:9,10) and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16). By implication, those who have not obeyed any of the afore-stated terms and conditions would not have obeyed the truth so as to be saved. In particular, those who have not been baptized for the forgiveness of sins have not obeyed the terms of the gospel as specified by our Lord in Mark 16:16.
2. It would be wrong for anyone to teach that those who have believed but have not been baptized may yet be saved. These brethren have in the past challenged the established doctrine by asking whether one really believes that some very good people who have not been baptized will actually be lost. We should be reminded that Cornelius was a godly man and yet he was required by God to be baptized in order to be saved (Acts 10; Acts 11:14: “Peter will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved.” Acts 10:48: “And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord”).
3. The Bible teaches that churches of Christ today (Rom 16:16: “The churches of Christ greet you”) have the same origin as the churches in the New Testament (i.e. those who obey the gospel are added to the church that Jesus died to purchase – Acts 20:28) and that churches of Christ are not a product of the so-called American Restoration Movement – although the latter Movement could be credited with initiating the significant effort to call for all believers to go back to the Bible for all that we do and teach – but the teachings of the leaders of the Restoration Movement such as Alexander Campbell, etc. are not the bases for our teachings in the churches of Christ. We do not appeal to the teachings of the leaders of the American Restoration Movement as our authority for our teachings and practice – we appeal to the Scriptures – and to the extent that these leaders of the Restoration Movement follow the Bible then we are in sync with them as well (I Cor 11:1).
4. It would be wrong to teach that churches of Christ today are merely the product of the American Restoration Movement just as the Protestant churches are the product of the Reformation Movement and to say that they are all from the same stream and that the church of Christ is not really any different from the Protestant churches.
5. The Bible teaches that churches of Christ are not another denomination; we are the church that Jesus died to purchase (Matt 16:18; Acts 20:28; I Cor 1:10-13).
It would be wrong to teach that churches of Christ are not any different from all the denominations in the world who claim to follow Jesus – arguing that since none of the churches of Christ are perfect then they are no different from the denominations as they too are not perfect – and thereby implying that we are all man-made and of equal standing – and that therefore all denominations can similarly claim to be part of the church that Jesus established with his blood.
There are significant differences between the church of Christ and denominations. One significant difference is that Churches of Christ comprise of members who have obeyed the gospel of Christ (as discussed in #1 above) while members of denominations have not obeyed the gospel in that many of them have not been baptized for the remission of their sins. Mark 16:16: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” The Bible teaches that “the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). Those who were being saved and who were subsequently added to the Lord’s church were those who had been baptized: Acts 2:41: “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.” Hence, if a believer has not been baptized for the forgiveness of sins, he cannot expect the Lord to add him to His church. On the other hand, if a man has obeyed the gospel by believing in Jesus and have been baptized for the forgiveness of sins, then he can expect the Lord to add him to His church – and not to any man-made denominations! Man-made denominations did not exist in the first century; none of them are mentioned in the New Testament.
If some teach otherwise and contend that one can possibly be saved without having been baptized for the forgiveness of sins, then how can we work together as we differ on such a material doctrine?
6. The Bible teaches that the worship of the church as described in the New Testament comprise of adherence “to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship (contributing to the needs of the church – I Cor 16:2), to the breaking of bread (Lord’s Supper – Acts 20:7), prayers and praising God (singing)” (Acts 2:42, 47). The worship of the church is also described by the apostle Paul in 1 Cor 11:26ff – the partaking of the Lord’s Supper; I Cor 14:15-17 – singing and praying; I Cor 14:16 – teaching for edification; and collection for the saints – I Cor 16:1,2).
It would be wrong to teach that everything one does in life is worship – thereby implying that there are no specified acts of worship and therefore anything may be introduced into worship so long as it is done for the glory of God (I Cor 10:31)
7. The Bible teaches that the organisation of the church as clearly revealed in the New Testament is that of qualified men (I Tim 3:1ff; Titus 1:5ff) being appointed as elders who are responsible to “take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit hath made you overseers, to feed the church of the Lord which he purchased with his own blood”(Acts 20:28); and they are to be assisted by qualified men who are appointed as deacons or servants of the church ( I Tim 3:8-13). However, all brethren functioning as members of the body of Christ ( I Cor 12:12ff; Rom 12:4-5; Eph 4:11-16), are to love one another (John 13:34-35), serve one another in love (Gal 5:13), confess our sins to one another, pray for one another (James 5:16) and to observe all the “one another” obligations as taught in the New Testament.
It would be wrong to teach that elders as overseers do not have any authority over the church over which they are to exercise the oversight and it would similarly be wrong to teach that members need not submit themselves to the elders (1 Thess 5:12-13; I Tim 5:17; Heb 13:17; I Pet 5:2-3). The contention that we are all equal at the foot of the cross and therefore no one is above the other in the church contradicts the instruction for brethren to “obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls.”(Heb 13:17). Indeed, we are all one in Christ (Gal 3:28) but Christ our Chief Shepherd has appointed elders to rule over the flock (Heb 13:17) and to shepherd/feed His flock (I Pet 5:1-4). The Lord cautioned that the elders are to be exemplary and not to lord over the flock of God. This means that the elders are not to be dictatorial or autocratic or power-crazy.
8. The Bible teaches in Eph 5:19 that we are to “speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in our hearts to the Lord”. In that way we are to “continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.” (Heb 13:15).
The Bible does not authorize the use of mechanical instrumental music in worship. It is also a historical fact that the early church did not use mechanical instrumental music in their worship although they were familiar with stringed instruments as that had been used in worship during the period of the Old Testament. They had left out these instruments as the worship of the New Testament is declared to be different from that of the Old Testament. Jesus had declared in John 4:24 that “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
God has specified that we are to “speak and sing”, and “make melody in our hearts to the Lord”. He has not included playing mechanical instrumental music in our singing of praise to the Lord – and we should not add something that God has not required or permitted. In the Old Testament, when Nadab and Abihu offered fire to God from an unspecified place, fire from heaven consumed them for their disobedience: Lev 10:1-3: “when they offered profane fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them… So fire went out from the LORD and devoured them, and they died before the LORD.” The lack of permission or authority from God to offer “unauthorized fire” (the NIV translates the action of Nadab and Abihu in Lev 10:1 as “they offered unauthorized fire before the LORD”) was what caused them to be consumed by fire from heaven. Since God has specifically authorized “speaking and singing”, we should not take the liberty to add or vary His command and offer something unauthorized by Him.
There are some today who declare that they do not use mechanical instrumental music in their worship only because “that is what we have been taught and it is a tradition of the churches of Christ” – and not because it is wrong to do so from the perspective of the Scriptures. If they insist in continuing with that line of reasoning, it would not be possible for us to work together with them.
9. The Bible teaches expressly that just as Jesus was raised from the dead (it is a fact that He was physically raised and the empty tomb testifies to that fact), Christians can also expect to be similarly raised when Christ comes again. John 5:28-30: “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth–those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.” This was reaffirmed by the apostle Paul in Acts 24:15: “I have hope in God, which they themselves also accept, that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust.” 1 Thess 4:14-17: “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.” 1 Cor 15:51-53: “Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed– in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” 1 John 3:2-3: ”Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”
There are some who teach that the resurrection has already occurred and Christ has already come in AD70 and that Christians today should not expect Christ to come again and that Christians today cannot expect to be raised in the same manner as Jesus was raised. This changed the hope of the Christian that John wrote about in I John 3:3 of being like Jesus when He is revealed. Those who teach this doctrine is described in 2 Tim 2:17-18: “And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some.” It is not possible to work together if we have different hopes because the Bible teaches that there is one hope (Eph 4:4).
10. The Bible teaches in Matt 19:9 that “whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.” Matt 5:31-32: “Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ “But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.”
Notwithstanding what Jesus taught in Matt 19:9 and Matt 5:31-32 some are now teaching that one may also divorce his wife for the various reasons that Moses gave them permission to do so in the Old Testament, and not just because of adultery. In other words, one may divorce his wife for reasons other than adultery. They claimed that Jesus did not do away with the law on Marriage Divorce & Remarriage (MDR) as taught by Moses.
Such a teaching clearly contradicts the plain teaching of the Lord Jesus as stated in Matt 5:31-32 and Matt 19:9. The only exception to marriage as a lifelong partnership is that of adultery and the death of one of the partners (Rom 7:1-3; I Cor 7:39).
There are also some who teach that one may divorce his spouse for any reason whatsoever and remarry freely so long as one repents from his sin of divorcing his spouse for reasons other than adultery – in other words, the sin of divorce is just like any other sin and one may just simply repent by feeling or saying sorry – but there’s no need to discontinue one’s subsequent marriage although one had divorced one’s partner earlier for reasons other than adultery.
If brethren differ on such basic and clear teachings of the Lord as pertaining to MDR, then it would not be possible for us to work together with them.
Brethren, it is our sincere desire to be united with all believers and to work hand in hand with all believers. Psa 133:1: “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” We should endeavour to unite brethren at every opportunity. However, until and unless they cease from teaching or from tacitly supporting (through their silence or failure to speak out against) the various errors as enumerated above, it is nigh impossible to be united with them. As Amos the prophet wrote: “Shall two walk together, except they have agreed?” Amos 3:3. In fact the apostle Paul wrote thus in Rom 16:17: “Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them.” We need to avoid those who teach doctrines contrary to what we have learned from the Scriptures. Sadly, there can be no unity with such people.