The Benefits of False Teaching

An old cliché says there is a silver lining in every cloud. In a sense this is true for the follower of God. In Romans 8:18-39, Paul tells us that God can turn the wicked events that happen to Christians into an advantage for the righteous. Joseph’s life is an excellent example (Genesis 39-41). After being sold by his own brothers, Joseph spent 13 years as a slave and in prison. I can’t think of many good things to say about Joseph’s situation, yet Joseph rose from his miserable state to become the second highest man in Egypt. However, we often overlook an important point. Pharaoh appointed Joseph to manage Egypt’s produce during the seven years of plenty and the seven years of famine. How did Joseph, the son of a nomadic herder, learn to manage the wealth of a nation? Much of it came from the wisdom that God granted him, but notice that in both Potiphar’s house and in jail, Joseph was placed in a position of management. In both places, Joseph was second only to Potiphar and the jailer. He ran their affairs so well, that neither man had to concern himself with his daily affairs. In other words, God used Joseph’s bad situation to train Joseph for a larger future task.

God turns many bad events into something good for every Christian, but have you ever wonder if anything good can come from the works of a false teacher?

Peter warns us that there will always be false teachers among God’s people (II Peter 2:1-3). Because of them, many Christians will be lead to same destruction reserved for the deceivers. Paul prophesied that Christians would depart from the faith, following after false teachings (I Timothy 4:1-4). Not only would God allow this to happen, but Jesus said it is impossible for this not to happen (Luke 17:1-2). Now don’t take this to mean that God approves of the actions of a false teacher. God will still punish those who lead His people astray. However, false teachers will come. In fact, Jesus bluntly says, in Matthew 18:7, that such offenses must come.

Why does God allow false teachers access to His people? Why must a person be lead astray? We begin to see the answer in I Corinthians 11:17-19. Paul states that there will be divisions among Christians. These factions show whom God approves and disapproves. In order for Christians to grow in Christ, they must learn to use their knowledge to combat error (Hebrews 5:13-14). A Christian cannot distinguish between good and evil without using the knowledge God gives them. Paul explains it a different way in Ephesians 6:10-20. We must imagine our lives as Christians as constant warfare. We don’t fight on a physical plain, but on a spiritual battlefield. Our weapon is our own Bible — our spiritual sword. Nevertheless, how accomplished would a swordsman be if he never welded his weapon in the heat of a battle? Oh, he may know the technical aspects of sword fight, but we would never call him an accomplished sword fighter until he had a chance to put his knowledge to use against a real opponent. The same idea applies to Christians. We may have a lot of technical knowledge about the Holy Scriptures, but until we put our knowledge to use in combating false teaching, we will never be accomplished fighters for God.

John shows, in I John 2:18-19, that there is another benefit to false teaching. When faithful Christians stand against false teachings, they put the spotlight of truth on the corrupt ways of the false teacher. Many Christians would never notice falsehoods if other, more mature, Christians did not point them out. When false teachers run from the truth, they show they are not a part of the Lord’s body. A few may be lost, but the Lord’s bride remains pure. Her members grow stronger as they learn from first-hand experience the methods Satan uses to taint the church.

Even under the Old Law, God told the Israelites that He would allow false prophets to go among the people (Deuteronomy 13:1-3). God uses the false prophets to test the people’s commitment to the Lord. Claiming we love God when there is no resistance is easy for followers of God, but will we love God when someone is actively trying to persuade us to leave God? We cannot know until God has tested us.

Jesus was not a false prophet, but He did cause the rising and falling of many people (Luke 2:34-35). Peter describes Jesus as a stone in a path that people trip over (I Peter 2:4-10). In other words, Jesus forces people to come to a decision. When people face the glorious news of the Gospel they must decide either to accept it or reject it. This decision shows us the true heart of the people. Accepting or rejecting Christ becomes more than an outward acknowledgment. God designed the Gospel to reveal the true inward feelings of a person. Why does the division come? It comes because some people lack true faith in God (Romans 9:30-33).

Amazingly enough, God can derive benefits for His people from the wickedness of false teachers. The benefits are not for the false teachers or for the people they lead astray. Eternal destruction awaits them at the end of this world. However, for those of God’s people who overcome — who successfully resist the wiles of the Devil — they derive the benefits of strength and joy (James 1:2-4).

By Jeffrey W. Hamilton

There Must Needs be Heresies

After a few weeks study at St. John’s University and Abbey, I am impressed by the perceptive Roman Catholic analysis of the weaknesses of Protestantism. They insist that Protestants are pressed between two unacceptable extremes. One extreme grows out of the assumption that man has an individual obligation to judge Bible truth. As a result, “a principle of disunity is embedded in the very essence of Protestantism.” On the other hand, in order to escape this evil, Protestants are guilty of hacking away at the body of essential truth of Christianity until they “sap it of all conviction.” (What Price Unity?” America, May 5, 1945, p. 95).

Of course, Catholics are not so perceptive in analyzing the appalling consequences of their own alternative to the Protestant dilemma. It hardly seems an improvement when one is asked to swallow a body of divine truth rooted in historical corruption, Biblical ignorance, and the intellectual intolerance of the Roman Catholic tradition. A Roman Catholic does indeed have his own certified brand of truth and unity, but he pays a staggering price.

But what of the Protestant predicament? I am not a Protestant, but it strikes me that there is a lesson for Christians to learn by examining the apparent incompatibility of truth and unity. The core truth of the lesson is that a belief in individual responsibility means one also believes in division. I unabashedly accept that conclusion. Protestantism, as a system of human religion supposedly reflecting the wisdom of good men, is indeed vulnerable to the taunts of Rome. Protestants ought to be ashamed that they can do no better. But Christians should understand that a rigorous search for truth necessitates that “there must be also heresies among you” (I Corinthians 11:19).

The Bible clearly teaches that division serves a useful and necessary function in the church. The acceptance of unity at any price will eventually “leaven” the whole body — such unity levels all to the lowest common denominator (I Corinthians 5:6-7).  Division is necessary so that “they which are approved may be made manifest among you” (I Corinthians 11:19). If the only vestige of the true church that existed today was the liberal Christian churches, I believe it would be impossible to distinguish the church of the Lord from every other form of religion. In the same way, if there is to be a church of Christ in another fifty years, it will be in the conservative churches today. Whatever might be the intention and hopes of many of those associated with liberal churches of Christ, it seems historically absurd to believe that after one or two more generations these churches will offer a distinctive alternative to the chaos of Protestantism. Finally, division is necessary to preserve the peace and sanity of the kingdom (Romans 14:1). A group united in the “same mind and the same judgment” (I Corinthians 1:10) — and only such a group — can take to the world a message of hope and peace.

This is not to say that division is good in any absolute sense. It quite obviously is not, and Jesus prayed fervently that his disciples would be one (John 17:11). He made it quite clear that Christian division would be a source of confusion to those who were not disciples. But if religious unity among all men of good will is desirable, the Bible never intimates that it is a practical end to be expected by Christians in history.

It is true that a Christian is obliged to work with both a love of the truth and a desire for unity. It is true also that Romans 14 teaches that under some circumstances two can walk together who do not agree and that a Christian is always ready to engage in dialogue about what is “essential” as a basis for doctrinal unity. There is no easy formula which answers all of the questions one must face in a lifetime. A Christian will take the issues one at a time, day by day, person by person, and weigh the respective tugs of truth and unity.

One could miss the central truth in this lesson, however, by gagging over the unpleasant day to day confrontations which arise. Practical problems should never obscure the very real Bible principle that truth is divisive. Again and again, those who start with a commitment to truth become weary along the endless trek through barren deserts of debate, bickering, and biblical legalism and opt for peace and unity. Some become too sweet-spirited to stomach the bitterness that is a part of division.

Some become tired of the long and tedious discussions of seemingly trivial subjects. Some long for the enlightened company of those who do not honor the truth. Some become exasperated by their human inability to find a final resting place, to fight the last battle and lay their armor down. They retreat in dismay. So many are overwhelmed by the responsibility for division which every man shoulders when he picks up his Bible to read it as the literal and comprehendible word of God.

Over and over again in the history of Christianity the weary have dejectedly begun the long and fruitless journey toward compromise and unity. In the minds of nineteenth-century Disciples of Christ, the quest for peace came quickly and logically to exclude the concept of the “restoration” of true religion. The renewed interest in “unity” movements in the church today stems, I believe, from the same mentality. It is a mind which has lost its spiritual toughness, which can no longer tolerate the consequences of a belief in individually perceived religious truth. Although we tend to see all of our differences in terms of case studies the ever present and argumentative “what would you do if” — they are generally, I believe, much more a matter of mood. Some come to love too much the sweet fruits of unity and to hate unreasonably the purifying exhilaration of strife. One who feels in mortal danger on one horn of the dilemma proposed by Roman Catholics is likely to be gored by the other.

I am not ashamed to admit that my teaching is divisive. Jesus came with a sword. I have helped to divide churches; I expect to divide more. I have also helped to unite churches that were needlessly and shamefully divided. Unity is wonderful in the truth of God; division is needed when the truth is at stake. It would be more comfortable if the dilemma were not there — but it is. We must live life as it is. If you have deep convictions, you must be prepared for careful, courteous, certain confrontation.

By Ed Harrell

Slip-Slidng Away

When changes occur, it is common for those who bring in new ideas to reinterpret past events to prove that their ideas are really what people thought and wanted all along. Even when the changes are recent and people still remember what life was like before the changes, they just put a spin on the old ideas.

There is a whole generation who have now lived in a United States where abortion has always been legal, where most married couples get divorced, and where homosexuality is prominently discussed. Is it a wonder that young people just assume it was always like this; or if it wasn’t like this, life must have been worse? For example, I frequently read that the era before no-fault divorces was a time when many women were trapped in abusive relationships. Human nature doesn’t change (Ecclesiastes 1:10). I doubt there where more abusive husbands in the past than there are today. Yet, history is redefined. What occurs today is assumed to be better than the past. Rightly did Solomon sorrowfully say, “There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of things that are to come by those who will come after” (Ecclesiastes 1:11).

It is a fact that most of the churches who wear the name “Church of Christ” hold a liberal view of the Scriptures. Liberalism is a philosophical approach to law, whether we talk about constitutional law or the law of Christ. A liberal advocates a free approach to law. Anything is allowed that the law doesn’t specifically restrict, and even then, the law is interpreted so as to give the least restraint possible. The majority of churches of Christ refer to themselves as “mainstream” churches. They will attack those who hold more conservative beliefs as being too restrictive; using terms such as “pharisaical” or “anti” to address conservative-minded Christians. At the same time, they will attack those who take liberalities further than they desire to go. The Max Lucados and Rubel Shellys of the world are too liberal in their view.

Interestingly, the last few decades have brought a reinterpretation of the views of past brethren. Brethren among the mainstream churches assume that their beliefs are the ones brethren have always held. Thomas B. Warren, in his book “Lectures on Church Cooperation and Orphan Homes” argued “If you can find anyone who taught this before 1955, you will be doing me a favor.” Yes, teachings have changed in the church, but it might surprise you who has changed.

Consider the idea of churches establishing and maintaining homes for the needy. Paul taught, “If any woman who is a believer has dependent widows, she must assist them and the church must not be burdened, so that it may assist those who are widows indeed” (I Timothy 5:16). The primary care of the elderly fell upon their family. The church only cared for a limited set of widows who had no family and who had met strict guidelines (I Timothy 5:3-16).

In 1930, brother A. B. Barret, founder of Abilene Christian College wrote, “Individual Christians, any number, may scripturally engage in any worthwhile work, such as running colleges, papers and orphanages, and other individual Christians may properly assist them in every proper way; but no local congregation should be called upon, as such, to contribute a thing to any such enterprises. Such a call would be out of harmony with the word of the living God. And if any congregation so contributes, it transcends its scriptural prerogatives” (Gospel Advocate, March 13, 1930). Yet, today Abilene Christian College regularly solicits and accepts funding from mainstream congregations across the country.

The following year, brother F. B. Srygley wrote, “These churches were independent of each other and of all other congregations. They were not bound together by any organization under the control of the eldership of any of these churches, neither were they banded together under one board created by any state or national law … there was no discussion among them about how to build and control institutions such as orphanages, homes for the aged, or hospitals for the sick. There is no more authority in the New Testament for the control of such things than there is for control of a farm or health resort. Sometime after the apostles died … men became dissatisfied with this simple organization, which eventually led to the Roman Catholic hierarchy. The Catholic church then undertook to organize in a way to control schools, hospitals … we now have brethren that should know better trying to find authority for owning and operating such things under the overworked rule of expediency” (Gospel Advocate, May 14, 1931). Hence, the debate over church supported institutions did exist prior to 1955, unlike what brother Warren asserted. Since the Gospel Advocate was and remains the popular paper of the mainstream churches, brother Srygley’s comments show that the churches in the 1930s held a conservative view against the use of institutions.

In 1946, Guy N. Woods argued “There is no place for charitable organizations in the work of the New Testament church” (1946 Annual Lesson Commentary, page 338). In 1954, B. C. Goodpasture stated, “The church is all sufficient for the work God intended it to do. It needs no aids or auxiliaries.” Brothers Woods and Goodpasture later changed their position. Today the mainstream churches support a wide variety of organizations, such as orphanages, nursing homes, and schools. A change did occur, but it was away from a conservative view of the authority of the Scriptures.

There has also been a change in how churches supported the work of spreading the gospel. Paul stated, “You yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone; for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs” (Philippians 4:15-16). Other churches joined with the Philippians to support Paul so that Paul later wrote to the Corinthians, “I robbed other churches by taking wages from them to serve you; and when I was present with you and was in need, I was not a burden to anyone; for when the brethren came from Macedonia they fully supplied my need, and in everything I kept myself from being a burden to you, and will continue to do so” (II Corinthians 11:8-9).

Regarding this simple method of each congregation sending support directly to preachers of the gospel, David Lipscomb wrote in 1874, “The simple congregation can cooperate, help, assist, by each of them doing just what the master commands them … what are usually termed cooperation are really not cooperation of the churches, they are an organization, combinations that do the work of the church … two churches, both working by the same law for accomplishment of the end are cooperation.” The view 125 years ago among the churches was similar to the pattern laid out in the New Testament. Each congregation independently supported preachers of the gospel. That two or more congregations happened to decided to support the same man meant they were cooperating in the spread of the gospel in that area. No further organization was needed.

In 1921, M. C. Kurfees wrote, “Hence, the fact that one church is contributing to sustain a missionary is no reason another church or churches may not do so if one is too poor financially to sustain the work; in such a case, each church maintains its own independence, and sends directly to the support of the missionary in the field” (ACC Lectures, 1920-1921, page 55).

Foy E. Wallace, Jr. also commented on this topic in 1931, “For one church to solicit funds from other churches for general distribution in other fields or places, thus becoming a treasury of other churches … makes a sort of society out of the elders of a local church, and for such there is no scriptural precedent or example” (Gospel Advocate, May 14, 1931). That same year, F. B. Srygly wrote, “These elders had no authority to take charge of the missionary money or any other money or means of any church except the one over which they were overseers” (Gospel Advocate, December 3, 1931). The following year H. Leo Boles wrote, “There is no example of two or more churches joining together their funds for the support of the gospel” (Gospel Advocate, November 3, 1932).

We see, then, that the common view in the past agreed with the scriptural pattern. Congregations did not pool their funds, but solely cooperated through common but independent action. Today, the mainstream churches accomplish almost all their support of preachers through sponsoring churches. A preacher finds a congregation to sponsor his work and that congregation then solicits and collects funds for that preacher, which it then sends to that preacher in the form of a salary. Yet, most brethren among the mainstream churches refuse to believe that this was not the way it used to be done.

Changes are also evident in the way preachers were trained to preach the gospel. The apostle Paul wrote the young preacher Timothy exhorting him, “And the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (II Timothy 2:2). One of the duties of a preacher is to train preachers for the next generation.

In 1915 J. D. Tant wrote, “He and I agreed that this society was unscriptural. Then I told him the church of Christ has its Bible college society with its president, secretary, treasurer, board of directors, etc. to collect money from churches to teach the gospel and do other good works. Then I asked by what process of reasoning could the digressive missionary society be unscriptural, and our college society be scriptural” (Firm Foundation, June 8, 1915). While it has long been the practice of colleges to accept funding from congregations, it was frequently argued against the practice, even within these same colleges. In 1939 Guy N. Woods argued, “The ship of Zion has floundered more than once on the sand-bar of institutionalism. The tendency to organize is characteristic of the age. This writer has ever been unable to appreciate the logic of those who effect to see grave danger in the missionary society but scruple not to form organizations for the purpose of caring for orphans, and teaching young men to be gospel preachers” (ACC Lectures, 1939, page 54).

Later, George DeHoff clearly stated, “What is God’s institution to educate and train men in the gospel? Answer: The local church” (Christian Magazine, January 1951). Brother DeHoff’s answer reflects the teaching of Paul in Ephesians 4:11-16. Christ organized the church to train its members to be mature Christians. Yet today the majority of churches will only accept a preacher who has been trained at a college or preacher-training school run by brethren. Rarely does a local congregation train up preachers. Instead, promising young men are sent somewhere else to be trained.

Finally, let us consider the matter of churches sponsoring recreation for its members. The apostle Paul scolded the Corinthians, “What, do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God?” (I Corinthians 11:22).

In 1948 B.C. Goodpasture wrote, “For the church to turn aside from its divine work to furnish amusement and recreation is to pervert its mission. It degrades its mission. Amusement and recreation should stem from the home rather than the church. The church, like Nehemiah, has a great work to do; and it should not come down to the plain of Ono to amuse and entertain. As the church turns its attention to amusement and entertainment, it will be shorn of its power as Samson was when his hair was cut. Only as the church becomes worldly, as it pillows it head in the lap of Delilah, will it turn from its wanted course to relatively unimportant matters. Imagine Paul selecting and training a group of brethren to compete in the Isthmain games!” (Gospel Advocate, May 20, 1948). Yet today, the mainstream churches frequently fund social meals for its members. They furnish gymnasiums for use by their members. Many congregations sponsor youth sports leagues. Who appears to have changed their view regarding the work of the church?

The brethren quoted in this article are not authorities in the matter of determining what is right or wrong regarding a particular issue. However, their writings prove that these issues were considered and for the most part rejected many years ago. Mainstream churches of Christ have followed a new path. They have walked there for so long that they have forgotten that it wasn’t always this way. They find comfort in the position of the majority instead of searching for the ancient landmarks (Proverbs 22:28).

By Jeffrey W. Hamilton

Book Review: From Fear to Faith by Matthew Allen

“The goal of our study has been to help New Testament Christians move toward a new paradigm that is characterized by a confidence in God and an increased assurance of His promise of salvation” (p. 59. Emphasis mine).

A paradigm is a pattern.  Webster particularly defines a paradigm as “a pattern, example, or model.”  So I wonder, what’s wrong with the pattern laid out for us by Christ?  Why do we need a new pattern to follow?  Is Matthew Allen implying that the pattern laid out in God’s word does not adequately produce confidence?  The Apostle Paul said, Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 1:13).

So what is this new pattern?  Sadly, this book outlines a “grace based” philosophy that isn’t new at all.  Rather, it is a perversion of the gospel (Gal. 1:6-9).  Wittingly or unwittingly Brother Allen has fallen into a doctrine as old as the King James Version when John Calvin wrestled with this same question.  Does God require perfect obedience to obtain the remission of sins?

From the opening chapter of this book, perfect obedience is marginalized.  Grace is emphasized as an unconditional favor post-baptism.  Repentance is trivialized.  God’s mercy is limitless.  Continual cleansing is advocated.  The culminating effect of such writings makes one think we are fine being sinful; after all, we “cannot meet all of God’s standards” (p. 55).

Perfect obedience is marginalized.  To the author, perfection is not attainable.  “All Christians need to move away from the idea that human perfection is attainable.  It simply is not” (p. 9).  He writes in the first chapter, “We need to get away from the unspoken teaching that says we have to be absolutely perfect all the time in order to get to heaven” (p. 6).  Never mind the fact that the scriptures do not talk about absolute perfection.  The author makes that point clear by sighting passages such as Romans 3:23.   However, scriptures do say, “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).  Human perfection is attainable from time to time in righteousness while God is consistently perfect.  In Matthew 19:21, Jesus told the Rich Young Ruler, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”  If perfection was not possible why did Jesus tell the Rich Young Ruler he could have been perfect?  Other passages teach the same concept that perfection is obtainable (Jn. 17:23; Eph. 4:13; Col. 1:28; Col. 4:12; 1 Thess. 3:10; Heb. 11:40; 12:23; Jas. 1:4; 2:22; 3:2; 1 Pet. 5:10).  Jesus even sights the church in Sardis for not having perfect works (Rev. 3:2).

Brother Allen needs to consider that if perfect obedience is not attainable, then perfect love is not attainable.  In order to love Christ, we must obey him (Jn. 14:15; 1 Jn. 5:3).  Yet, we all fall short of our obedience to our Savior as the author abundantly emphasizes.  If we cannot obey Christ it means we don’t love Him!

Further, the Apostle John says, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love” (1 Jn. 4:18).  If we can’t attain obedience, we have not been made perfect in love because love requires obedience.  If we can’t attain perfect love through obedience then we have something to fear.  If we don’t love Him because we don’t obey Him, we don’t have the assurance of salvation!  Obviously, the author’s understanding of obedience is seriously flawed.

The author goes on to state, “We must not expect Christians to come out of the baptistery water and be capable of perfection” (p. 6).  I would beg to differ! Simon the Sorcerer was a new convert (Acts 8:13) but notice the rebuke he got from Peter (Acts 8:20-23).  That was anything but mild.  Peter did not coddle Simon in his sin.  Perhaps the author sees this as “shooting our own” (p. 7).  Yet, it serves as an example that we must confront sin rather than tolerate it.  People should not be encouraged in their sins (Rom. 6:1-2).

Further, it seems the author is blaming the church for the sins of the weak or ignorant.  “Our weakest and most vulnerable Christians fall away too soon because some congregations have created such a sterile environment that they feel completely uncomfortable and intimidated by others sitting in the pew” (p. 6).  If I understand this argument, Brother Allen is upset that Christians have the gall to live righteously in their “environment” because it makes others feel bad about their sins.  Again, we find an attitude toward the acceptance of sins.  Does a sterile environment in the pew actually cause people to fall away?  James says sin occurs when people are drawn away by their desires (Jas. 1:13-16).  Remember, it is in obedience to God’s instructions that we worship Him in that sterile environment (1 Cor. 14:40).  Surely, God is not tempting the weak to feel uncomfortable by setting them next to a godly individual during worship.

The chapter on “New Perspectives on Obedience” gives me pause.  The author sarcastically ridicules the obedient as keeping a check-list that has to be fulfilled as though they are void of love for God.  He creates a dichotomy between “having to obey rather than wanting to obey” (p. 45).  Does it matter whether a person obeys from a sense of obligation (2 Cor. 9:5), fear (Eccl. 12:13), or love (Jn. 14:15)?  As parents, does it matter to us how our child obeys when he is about to run out in front of traffic?  Works from love don’t merit our salvation any more than works from fear.  If we do what we are supposed to do we are still unprofitable servants (Lk. 17:10).

Repentance is trivialized.  Repentance is “to change one’s mind or purpose” concerning sin (Vines).  It is the resolution not to sin again!  Yet, Brother Allen believes repentance is impossible and sets a person up for failure. “We can resolve to never sin again.  If we do this, we set ourselves up for failure.  This is impossible.  See 1 John 1:8” (p. 10).   A few lines later he reiterates, “Since resolving to never sin and not facing our sin are ways leading to defeat we must learn from our sin” (p. 10).  This is extremely troubling for me to accept.  God says that repentance is required for the forgiveness of sin and Brother Allen says it leads to defeat and failure.  Is this part of the new paradigm (Acts 5:29)?  Why would God tell us to do something that would lead to our defeat in the fight against sin?  Obviously, the author has made a tremendous blunder in his rationale.  If that is not the case, his sheep skin is wearing thin (Matt. 7:15).

Mercy is limitless. The author generalizes to the point of fallacy on the subject of mercy.  “God has never begrudged any gift to mankind. God’s mercy is without limit. No one is beyond His saving power” (p. 21).  Yet, God told Moses that His mercy was conditional.  “For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.   So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy” (Rom. 9:15-16).  God “repays man according to his work, and makes man to find a reward according to his way. Surely God will never do wickedly, nor will the Almighty pervert justice” (Job 34:11-12).  Mercy is obtained at baptism (1 Pet. 2:9-10).  Yet, mercy can be lost through disobedience (Heb. 10:26-31).

Grace is unconditional post-baptism.  The underlining problem with this whole book is Brother Allen’s misunderstanding of grace.  He recognizes the free gift of our Lord’s grace but he fails to see how it is accepted on our part.  He would have us believe there is nothing we can do after baptism but passively accept His free gift.  He fails to recognize that anytime we obey God’s commands we are working the works of God unto salvation (Jn. 6:28-29).  Obedience is part of our faith in Christ.

Obedience is required because God commands it (Jn. 14:15, 21; 1 Cor. 7:19; 1 Jn. 2:3-4; 3:22, 24; 5:2-3; 2 Jn. 1:6; Rev. 14:12; 22:14).  Grace is based on human performance.  Grace teaches us to conduct ourselves in certain godly ways.  “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works (Titus 2:11-14; emphasis mine).  To say, “Grace is not based on human performance” (p. 26) is to mislead people into thinking there is nothing they must do for salvation.  We are saved “by grace through faith” (Eph. 2:8).  Grace is God’s part in our salvation while faith is our active part which is demonstrated by our obedience (Jas. 2: 17-26).

For a proper explanation concerning grace I would highly recommend an article written by James R. Cope entitled, “Salvation by Grace.”  The article can be found at:  http://lavistachurchofchrist.org/LVarticles/SalvationByGrace.html.  Brother Cope’s article explains just how we accept our salvation by grace through faith.

Continual cleansing is advocated.  The chapter on “Justified in Christ” is a soft peddling of the continual cleansing concept.  He states in that chapter, “God promises to cleanse us of all sin.  Our salvation is not dependent upon our perfection – but on God’s cleansing!” (p. 32).  Again, we find the author contradicting scriptures on the subject of perfection while affirming the work of God in our salvation to the neglect of any involvement of the sinner.  A few sentences later he states, “God wants to forgive people who want forgiveness.  He forgives people who realize they need forgiveness.  He forgives people who feel truly unworthy of forgiveness” (p. 32).  One will notice he never says God forgives those who repent or ask for forgiveness (Luke 17:3-4).  The reason for that oversight is because the author seems to believe forgiveness is complete at baptism.  After Brother Allen sights passages that teach salvation occurs at baptism he writes, “We will be saved, wholly, completely and forevermore!” (p. 7).  To the author it seems asking for forgiveness is not necessary after baptism.

Conclusion.  This book review should not be taken as documenting every possible error.  There are many more questionable statements throughout this book.  The five points above represent the most glaring contradictions to God’s word in Brother Allen’s book.

From Fear to Faith by Matthew Allen and published by Spiritbuilding Publishing is the worst Bible class book I have ever had to endure.  Brother Allen’s influence has caused one congregation that studied this material to divide within a few months.  Instead of building one another up in the assurance of salvation, this book helped tear apart a once loving congregation.  False doctrine has that affect (Acts 20:29-30).

 By Steve A. Hamilton
shamilton@rap.midco.net

 

What is a Sound Church?

It is no secret that there are many apostate churches in this world.  The apostle Paul warned us that many will depart from the faith (1 Tim. 4:1).  Even within Churches of Christ there are many congregations that have departed from the truth.  Brethren are quite aware of those churches that no longer seek Biblical authority for all their practices though they still consider themselves a church of Christ.

In the course of discussion, I’ll refer to congregations in the Lord’s one true Church as a “sound” church.  I seek to draw a distinction between churches of Christ that follow the New Testament pattern and those which do not.  A sound church will abide in all that is written in the scriptures (2 Tim. 3:16-17).  An apostate church will not care if they operate with or without authority.

I could as easily call such digressive congregations “liberal.”  However, that gives credit to those congregations as abiding in God’s word but without a strict adherence to it.  In reality, any digression from God’s word is enough to jeopardize a soul no matter how liberal a church might become.  “Liberal” certainly describes an undesirable attitude toward God’s word.

A sound church is fundamentally solid.  It is like a building that is well constructed and remains solid through the years. If the building develops a crack in the foundation we would no longer consider it sound.  Without repair (i.e. repentance) even a building inspector (i.e. Christ) will eventually condemn the structure (i.e. the congregation). Christ told the church at Ephesus, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lamp stand from its place – unless you repent” (Rev. 2:5). A building may continue to stand, but that does not mean it is sound.

Paul and Titus both referred to God’s word as “sound doctrine” (1 Tim. 1:10; 2 Tim. 1:13; 4:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1).  They also referred to those who abided in God’s word as being sound in mind, speech or faith (2 Cor. 5:13; 2 Tim. 1:7; Titus 1:13; 2:2, 8).  It is not a stretch to refer to congregations that abide in God’s doctrine; composed of brethren who are sound in mind, speech and faith as being a “sound church.” If a congregation fails to abide in God’s doctrine that is enough evidence to know it is not a sound church.

A sound church would not try to justify kitchens and dinners supported by church funds when the apostle Paul condemned mixing social events with the work of the church (1 Cor. 11:22, 34).  A sound church would not pay organizations or institutions to do their work (Matt. 25:36, 43; Acts 15:36; Jas. 1:27).  A sound church would respect what the scriptures authorize and not try to justify what it does not authorize (Lev. 10:1-2; Matt. 19:9; Eph. 5:19; Heb. 10:26-27; etc.).  A sound church would not seek to establish a hierarchy nor positions not found in scriptures (Eph. 4:11-12).  These things cannot be done by faith (Rom. 10:17).  “Whatever is not from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23).  Yet, all these things can be found in apostate churches of Christ.

Some brethren will argue in ignorance that churches of Christ have always practiced the things just mentioned.  Jeffrey Hamilton wrote an excellent and well documented article on this very topic entitled “Slip Sliding Away.”  I would encourage anyone living under that delusion to read the article.  It can be found on the web at:

www.lavistachurchofchrist.org/lvarticles/slipslidingaway.htm.

The Apostle Paul said, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle” (2 Thes.2:15).

By Steve A. Hamilton
shamilton@rap.midco.net