Read and Consider . . .
"I marvel that ye are so quickly removing from him that called you in the grace of Christ unto a different gospel; which is not another gospel: only there are some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach unto you any gospel other than that which we preached unto you, let him be anathema. As we have said before, so say I now again, If any man preacheth unto you any gospel other than that which ye received, let him be anathema (let him be condemned before God!). For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? or am I striving to please men? If I were still pleasing men, I should not be a servant of Christ." (Gal. 1)
Consider for just a moment the reason for this warning. What was being taught that provoked such an extreme response from the Apostle to the Gentiles? At the Jerusalem conference, discussed in Acts 15, Paul rehearsed what God had done through him and his companions among the Gentiles. "But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees who believed, saying, It is needful to circumcise them, and to charge them to keep the law of Moses". The conclusion of the Holy Spirit, the Apostles and elders was that Gentiles need not be circumcised nor keep the law to be saved. Their conclusion was written down and delivered to the Gentile believers.
What was so bad about what was being taught when we consider:
1 . Jesus was circumcised and kept the law.
2. Paul was circumcised and at one time offered sacrifices in the temple according to the law just to pacify some Jerusalem Jews who were zealous for the law.
3. Paul had Timothy circumcised because of the Jews who knew that Timothys father was a Gentile.
4. Paul said plainly, "Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing. He said it many times.
If circumcision and keeping the law was no big deal, then how did the issue become so important that Paul invoked Gods wrath and condemnation upon anyone who taught that circumcision was essential to salvation? That is the point at which the issue became so destructive. When circumcision became "essential," rather than a matter of no-consequence personal choice, it became "a different gospel". Men cannot, we must not, contaminate, we must not adulterate the simple gospel of Christ with our preferences, our innovations, our efforts to make the gospel work "better".
We must understand the gravity of the Apostles warning. We must understand the eternal consequences of believing, preaching, teaching, conforming our faith and practice to "a different gospel", different in any way from "what is written". Paul plainly states the consequences for all of us who received and embrace the message of the lawless one "whose coming is according to the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceit of unrighteousness for them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God sendeth them a working of error [a deceiving power], that they should believe the lie: that all might be judged who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness [they embraced and enjoyed sin]" (2 Thess. 2).
The gospel is simple. We have made it complex. The gospel has one, single, easily understood, purpose. We have made it multi-purposed.
Listen: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life". I believe that is the total, all-inclusive purpose of the gospel; to save the souls of all of us who believe on him; no more, no less. There are many secondary, incidental results of the gospel at work in this world, but "the Son of man came to seek and save the lost". Nothing more.
The enormous impact of the life of Christ and his gospel upon this world, upon the conduct of the affairs of men in this world, is well known. What affairs?
1. Many people believe that the democratic form of civil government is rooted in the principles of the gospel. That may be so. But many also believe that God moved our founding fathers in the writing of our constitution, that it is Gods will that our form of government and our "way of life" be defended and advanced throughout the world. Many of us believe that our social and cultural institutions are God given and that it is our responsibility as Christians to preserve our social and cultural heritage. I do not believe that any form of government, any social or cultural institutions play any role in the saving of my soul, or anyone elses. Whatever influence the Scripture has on the way men are governed in this world is incidental to the purpose of the gospel.
2. The explosive spread of concern for "human rights"throughout the world is said to have its roots in Christian principles. Thats what President Jimmy Carter believed, and he used the power of his Presidential office to promote human rights throughout the world. Thomas Jefferson wrote in our Declaration of Independence:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these, are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness".
The first article of the "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" signed by every member nation of the United Nations, says:
"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood."
I am personally deeply moved by such ringing declarations of human rights, but I recognize that men, not God, said these things. God has never decreed that the sons of Adam are endowed by Him with political rights of any kind. When men preach that it is our "Christian duty" to assist oppressed peoples of other nations to overthrow their oppressive governments to establish democracy, they are preaching "another gospel".
It seems to me that we have clearly accepted a double standard of behavior. In our personal lives we do our best to live by the principles set down for us by God. In our public, civil lives we appear to believe that we must conform to principles of behavior established by our political, social, cultural and economic institutions. Examine just one example.
Jesus said, "Ye have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: but I say unto you, Resist not him that is evil: but whosoever smiteth thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man would go to law with thee, and take away thy coat, let him have the cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. Ye have heard that it was said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy: but I say unto you, Love your enemies, and pray for them that persecute you".
Would you agree that these standards of behavior must characterize Christians? Then how would you answer this question, "Could you kill a human being under any circumstance, and be without guilt?".
I would guess that a large majority of our brethren would say "yes", under some circumstances, such as:
1. In self-defense.
2. In defense of the sanctity of our homes, defending our wives and children from harm.
3. In defense of the peace and security of our communities or our nation, as a law officer or in military service.
In these circumstances civil law protects us from criminal guilt. Civil law says that we do "right" when we resort to violence under these circumstances.
Rom. 13 says, "Rulers are not a terror to the good work, but to the evil for he (it) is a minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is a minister of God, an avenger for wrath to him that doeth evil."
The Apostle says, "Wherefore you must needs be in subjection, not only because of the wrath, but also for conscience sake. For this cause ye pay tribute also; for they are ministers of Gods service, attending continually upon this very thing. Renderto all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.
In every case Caesar, Rulers, the King, are also third person; they are Gods ministers, he is a minister of God to thee for good, never you or we are Gods ministers executing wrath upon evil doers. But many of us have come to believe that if we accept a position of responsibility as a civil servant we are duty bound to carry out the responsibilities of the position "as a civil servant", relieving us of personal responsibility for what we are required to do.
I believe that I will be held accountable to God for everything I do, including what I am ordered to do by "the powers that be".
Granted, this subject area is very complex. There are no easy answers. Each of us in the end will answer for our own personal faith and practice. That is as it should be. Each of us must "work out our own salvation in fear and trembling".
There are issues much closer to our everyday personal faith and practice than questions concerning a Christians relation to civil government.
What Paul said, in Galatians 1, identifies the preaching of any essential to salvation not clearly required by God as ''another gospel and invokes the wrath of God upon all who preach it. And Paul was not the first to say this. Jesus said: "How right Isaiah was when he prophesied about you hypocrites. As it is written:
These people honor me with their lips but their heart is far from Me. It does no good for them to worship Me. They teach rules made by men, not God!
What sort of things are now being taught as essential to salvation that are unknown to scripture? Listen to our brother Keith Sharp in a proposed proposition for debate with Charles Holt .
Resolved: The scriptures teach that Christians are obligated to join and be faithful to a local Church of Christ.
1. First, the denomination, that is the naming, of the organization as "Church of Christ" is not two hundred years old. "Church of Christ" was selected from among many descriptive references to the "called out people of God" in scripture. You know that those disciples were called Christians, the household of faith, church of God, body of Christ, church of Christ, and many other descriptive terms. "Church of Christ" is the name of a religious corporate institution.
2. Second, our brother affirms that the scriptures teach that Christians "must be faithful to a local Church of Christ". He doesnt say faithful to Christ, he says faithful to a local Church of Christ. Where would our brother go in the scripture to show that first century Christians deposited a membership with a group of Christians publicly identifying themselves as "The Church of Christ"?
3. Third, our brother clearly affirms that being a Christian is not enough to save. After a believer is washed in the blood of the Lamb, he must find some group somewhere publicly calling itself "The Church of Christ", deposit his membership with the organization and submit to the organizations oversight. And the power of the institutions "oversight" hasbeen clearly stated. Tom Warren has stated, and with the arrogance of a Pope, that "Rebellion against elders is rebellion against God".
In the early 1950s I was a student at Abilene Christian College. Those were the first years when "Church of Christ" missionaries were in India. The missionaries found a small group of Indians who had studied the Bible enough to develop a faith that led them to practice the simple faith it teaches. Men of age and experience were looked upon as counselors and advisors to the whole group. The missionaries worked with them for a while and recommended to their sponsoring Churches back in Texas that several of the more promising young men be sent to Abilene Christian College for further "training". Five or six of the young men were sent to Abilene. It occurred to me at the time that devotion to the scriptures and following its precepts were not enough to plant the seed of the Kingdom in good and honest hearts where it could bear fruit to the glory of God. It takes more. It takes concentrated indoctrination to make orthodox Church of Christ Christians!
Membership in a local Church of Christ is essential to salvation. My brethren, that is "another gospel".
Five "acts of worship" are designated as necessary for a complete and acceptable "worship service" on the Lords Day by Church of Christ Churches. One of those "acts of worship" is giving.
I trust that we would all agree that any functioning organization in this world would require some level of resource expenditure. I would guess that without exception the principal resource expended is money. This is to say clearly that the Institutional Church could not exist without money. It has to have a regularized and predictable quantity of money to function smoothly.
We "Christians" have, over the centuries, created the institutional corporate church. The New Testament record of the establishment and development of the Body of Christ does not provide for a regularized and predictable quantity of money for the functioning of the Body of Christ. The obvious reason for this "oversight" is that the Body of Christ in the first century was not represented by an organization, an institution, a corporation, which required financing. The only circumstances under which first century Christians gave money was to relieve the physical needs of people. That is without exception. Human needs were the only object of giving money by first century Christians.
When the Institutional Corporate Church came on the scene, the required funding for its operation came with it. And human needs were a very small part of its expenditure of funds.
Please note that I have not said that relieving human needs in the only scriptural expenditure of money by Christians.
What I am saying is that teaching Christians that giving money to support an institutional corporate church is essential to their salvation is "another gospel". But how can "The Church" function without a regularized and predictable source of money? It cant. And that presents the problem. How has it been solved?
Our brethren believe in the strongest terms that the New Testament is the pattern in all its detail of the New Testament Church, its Organization, and all its functions. We have reasoned, since the Church is an organization requiring financing, there has to be a pattern in the New Testament providing for the financing of our operations. Thats how easily we have seduced ourselves.
What is the pattern?
"Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I gave order to the churches of Galatian, so also do ye. Upon the first day of the week let each one of you lay by him in store, as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come. And when I arrive, whomsoever ye shall approve, them will send with letters to carry your bounty unto Jerusalem. And if it be meet for me to go also, they shall go with me." (1 Cor. 16)
Out of this has grown an "act of worship" required of every Christian as a condition of being "faithful to the Church". This passage has been examined into its smallest detail. The passage has nothing whatever to do with financing the functioning or operation of an organization. As with every other reference to Christians giving money, its objective was to relieve the physical needs of people. Nothing more.
The saints that Paul encouraged to make this contribution were to set aside money regularly until Paul arrived at Corinth and all the gifts were taken to Jerusalem. So far as the record is concerned, these saints did not continue to set aside money for any purpose.
But we are very good at rationalizing. If setting aside money weekly for one "good work" is scriptural, God approved, then collecting money from the saints every First Day for any "good work" would be scriptural. Since the "Church", the "ekklesia", functions as a "local church" organization, and organizations require a regular and predictable source of income, then 1 Cor 16 must be the pattern. On this basis of reasoning the entire financial structure of the Institutional Corporate Church rests, and we know about the staggering wealth extracted from its members by the Institutional Church. This system of financing the operations of the Institutional Church is accepted universally within the Institutional Church as a God-commanded responsibility for all Christians.
We have heard the ritual thousands of times. On Sunday morning following the observance of the Lords Supper, we hear, "We have been commanded by God to give of our means on the Lords Day to support the work of the Church. God loves a liberal and cheerful giver Let us give liberally and cheerfully." My brethren, this is a "different gospel". Let the apostle Paul tell us the results of a "different gospel":
I marvel that ye are so quickly removing from him that called you in the grace of Christ unto a different gospel; which is not another gospel: only there are some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach unto you any gospel other than that which we preached unto you, let him be anathema. As we have said before, so say I now again, If any man preacheth unto you any gospel other than that which ye received, let him be anathema. For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? or am I striving to please men? If I were still pleasing men, I should not be a servant of Christ (Gal 1).