Yours, Mine or the Lord's?
by Clem Thurman
via Gospel Minutes, Feb. 6, 1976
- Isn't it true that the present day church of Christ was begun in the early 1800's by Alexander and Thomas Campbell?
- Was there any organization of your church from the first to the 18th centuries?
- On what basis can your ministers claim that salvation can be obtained only through your denomination?
- My religion and belief is based on the belief that God is good and just, and that we will all be judged on how we live, and not on belonging to a particular denomination.
- After all, a person cannot help believing what he believes, can he?
We deeply appreciate honest questions that we receive. The honest soul, searching for the truth of God, is the prime reason we publish this paper. And we are happy to "give answer to every man that asketh you a reason concerning the hope that is in you" (I Peter 3:15). We rejoice that a friend has sent you Gospel Minutes, and we are glad you appreciate it and read it with care and interest. We pledge the same honesty and care in trying to answer your questions.
You mention that you are not a member of any church. We hope before you finish reading this reply to your questions that you will see the value of the church we read about in the Bible. We shall answer your questions by number, and we encourage you to search in your own Bible, "whether these things be so" (Acts 17:11).
1) The "present day church of Christ" is the same as the "olden day church of Christ." If it is different, it is not the church of Christ. That church was begun by the Lord Jesus Christ, as He promised in Matthew 16:18, "Upon this rock, I will build My church." Notice that He said, "My church." It belongs to Him; that is why it wears His name. The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 16:16, "The churches of Christ salute you." And 1800 years before the Campbells, Paul told the elders of the church in Ephesus, "Feed the church of the Lord, which He purchased with His own blood" (Acts 20:28). That church existed fro 1800 years before the Campbells.
Thomas Campbell, and his son, Alexander, deplored the religious division they found in the early 1800's. They began to preach a return to the Bible. Thomas Campbell coined the phrase, "We speak where the Bible speaks, we are silent where the Bible is silent." Both men did great work in pointing people of many different denominations back to the Bible as authority. But they founded no church, they began no new religion, they set forth no new teaching. Their plea was not for any church begun by man, but for the church we read about in the Scriptures. And that only. I believe that is still a reasonable plea.
2) First, the expression, "your church," is an error. I have no church -- I did not build it, I did not die for it, I am not the Savior of it, and I am not the Head of it. The church belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ. It is His, and that is why it is called"church of Christ." If it were truly my church, it would be proper to call it after my name: "church of Clem Thurman." But it is not my church, it is the church of Christ.
Yes, there was organization from the first to the 18th century. When Jesus told the parable of the sower, He likened it to the kingdom, then He said, "The seed is the Word of God" (Luke 8:11). The organization of the church of Christ is not found in men, the practices of men nor the teachings of men. It is found in the Word of God. The apostle Peter wrote "Having been begotten again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the Word of God, which liveth and abideth. For, all flesh is as grass, and all the glory thereof as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower falleth: but the Word of the Lord abideth for ever. And this is the Word of the gospel which was preached unto you" (I Peter 1:23-25). As long as the Word of God endures, the church (and its organization) will endure. And that Word "abideth forever."
3) Again, let me state that "your ministers" and "your denomination" are mistakes. Such terminology suggests that I own them, that I chose them or that I rule them; none of which is true. the church of Christ belongs to Christ --not to me nor any other man. Further, I deny that the church of Christ is a denomination. Christ did not build a denomination, but He did build His church! Every denomination has been built by man and is based on division of those that believe that Jesus is the Christ.
Christ deplored division. He stated, "Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand" (Matthew 12:25). That is the reason for His prayer for the unity of believers found in John 17:20,21, "Neither for these only do I pray, but for them also that believe on Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee that they also may be in us: that the world may beleive that Thou didst send Me." For that unity -- such as He and the Father have -- our Lord prayed. For that unity we must work. Jesus never build even one denomination, let alone 300! He is the Head of the "one body, which is the church" (Ephesian 4:4; 1:22,23).
Why do we say that salvation is in the church? Why, beloved, because God said it! When 3,000 were baptized on the birthday of the church, the Bible says, "There were added unto them in that day about 3,000 souls ... And the Lord added to the church daily, such as were being saved" (Acts 2:41,47). Again, in Ephesians 5:23, Christ is called "the Savior of the body" (and the church is that body, Ephesians 1:22,23). It is not the church that saves, the church is the saved, and Christ is the Savior. But how can a saved person be outside that which Christ saves?! Friend, there is no salvation in any denomination, no church begun by man can offer salvation. But Christ is the Savior of His church, to which He adds the saved.
4) I agree perfectly with your statement here. God is good and just, and we will be judged by how we live. Belonging to a denomination will not help us to please God. Therefore I steadfastly refuse to be a part of any denomination, and I encourage all who are in them to leave them. It would be a great advance for the cause of Christ if all denominations were done away. Christ prayed for that, and so do I.
Jesus showed that acceptance of Him as Lord involves doing what He said: "Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the Will of My Father Who is in heaven" (Matthew 7:21). If we would have salvation, it must be on His terms, accepting His authority, obeying His Will. But when we do that, we will then be in His church! Doing what the Lord Jesus said will not make anyone a member of a denomination, but it will make that one a member of His church.
That is what the church of Christ is! Nothing more, nothing less -- simply those who put their trust in Jesus, obey His teaching, are saved by His blood, and are added (by Him) to His church. Really, since the church is the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:22-33), how could anyone accept Christ without accepting the church of Christ? And how could one be part of Christ without being part of the church of Christ?
5) Yes, a person can help what he believes. In John 3:16 we read, "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." The Lord also stated in John 8:24, "Except ye believe that I am He, ye shall die in your sins." When God offered us salvation, it was to be accepted "by faith" (Romans 1:16; 5:1; 10:9,10). If one could not help what he believed, how could a just God offer salvation on the condition of what we believe?
When we put our trust in Jesus Christ, we believe what He says. That means we don't follow the "way of our choice," but His Will. We don't select the "church of our choice," but the church of His choice. We don't worship after our desire, but as He directs. That is what faith means. We must believe that He is Lord, and that He has the right to command our obedience.
When Jesus sent out the apostles, after His resurrection from the dead, He told them: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned" (Mk. 16:15,16). The apostles, under that commission, began preaching the gospel in the city of Jerusalem (Lk. 24:46,47; Acts 1:8; 2:1-47). Directed by the Holy Spirit, those apostles preached Jesus to be "both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36). Now, notice what the result was: "Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and the rest of the apostles, Brethren, what shall we do? And Peter (said) unto them, Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins ... They then that received his word were baptized: and there were added unto them in that day about three thousand souls...And the Lord added to the church daily such as were being saved" (Acts 2:37-41,47).
Those 3,000 were members of the church of Christ, but they were not members of any denomination. Friend, why isn't that same thing possible today? We believe that it is. If you put your trust in the same Lord as they did, if you repent and are baptized as they were, will you no be a member of the same church? That is precisely what the church of Christ is: people who have done just what those folk did nearly 2,000 years ago. It was not a denomination then, it is not one now. I have never joined a denomination, but I did just what we read above. I am a member of the church of Christ. I put my trust in Him, I was baptized into Him (Galatains 3:27), and He added me to His church. If you will do that same thing, the same Lord will add you to that same chruch, also.
That is the plea of churches of Christ today. Let's go back to the Bible -- for all authority in what we believe and do. And by doing just what they did 2,000 years ago, we will be just what they were 2,000 years ago; members of the church of Christ. That is our prayer for you, because it is God's plan for you.