Who Are We?

Who Are We?

by Jefferson David Tant

From to time, in talking with people about churches of Christ, people ask "Who are you?" "What are your beliefs?" We are "one" in Christ. One of our nation's mottos is "E Pluribus Unum"—"Out of many, one." In one way, that well describes us. As to what we believe, the simple answer is, "the Bible." That is our only creed or statement of faith. We have no other creed or catechism that defines us.

Those who have assembled with this local church in Roswell have represented many nationalities, cultures and backgrounds — Jamaica, Malaysia, Nigeria, Mexico, Peru, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Korea, China, Canada, Kenya, Costa Rica, Surinam, South Africa, Sweden, the Philippines and of course, the United States.

These have come from many different religious backgrounds, as well. Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, Sidang Injul Borneo, Lutheran, Mormon, Jehovah's Witness, Roman Catholic and Islam, to name but a few. What is the common bond? What has brought these diverse nationalities and differing religious backgrounds together? There are various factors, but the main point is a strong belief in God and His Word. If we believe the Bible is the Inspired Word of God, then we believe we must follow its teachings. We are forbidden to add to or take from. "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law" (Deuteronomy 29:29). "Every word of God is tested; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. Do not add to His words Or He will reprove you, and you will be proved a liar" (Proverbs 30:5-6).

With that common faith, we then believe we need to put into practice things that are taught in the Bible. For example, we see Christ praying for his disciples shortly before his arrest and crucifixion in John 17:20-23: "I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me." Note that Christ prayed that his disciples, his followers, might be one, even as he and the Father were one. Although the Son and the Father are separate beings, they are united. They are one. And we would include the Holy Spirit in that scenario.

Now, think with me a moment. As we consider the three beings in the Godhead, do we think the Father might be a Pentecostal, and the Son might be a Lutheran, and perhaps the Holy Spirit might be a Baptist? Obviously not! That would represent division, not unity, for these three denominations teach doctrines that contradict one another. Then why do we think God is pleased with the situation on earth where we have thousands upon thousands of differing religious bodies, with all teaching differing and often contradicting doctrines. Christ prayed that we might be one, not divided, not thousands. One scholar has noted that in the United States there are some 32,000 different denominations.

One denomination baptizes by pouring water on the head; another by sprinkling water; another by immersion in water; another by sprinkling rose petals; and others do not practice baptism at all. That is just one example of many that could be cited. Does the Bible teach all four ideas? Obviously not. Truth does not contradict itself, and God's Word is true. If 2+2=4, then it cannot equal 5, or even 4½. In John 17:17 of our text Christ made this plea to his Father: "Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth."

Another passage dealing with unity is Ephesians 4:4-6: "There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all."

Notice the seven "ones" mentioned in the passage. "One God." Have you ever heard a preacher advocate worshiping the God of your choice? Or serving the Lord of your choice? I didn't think so. Then how is it that these same preachers may encourage people to pick the baptism of their choice or worship in the body of their choice? Shouldn't we be concerned about God's choice?

And what is the "one body" of the text? It is the church, the spiritual body of Christ. Ephesians 1:21 states: "And He (the Father) put all things in subjection under His (Christ's) feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all."

If the church is to be subject to Christ, then it must respect his authority. The Bible has quite a bit to say about this matter. "And whatsoever ye do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Colossians 3:17). Thus what we teach (in word), or practice (in deed), must be by the authority (in the name of) the Lord Jesus.

Our Lord's own words emphasize the concept of following the guidelines. "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles? And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness'" (Matthew 7:21-23).

We must note that, contrary to those who teach that all that is necessary is faith, and faith alone, Jesus contradicts this. He cites those who believe on him, but do not follow "the will of my Father." These people were even doing good works, but Jesus said they were practicing "lawlessness."

"Lawlessness" in the original Biblical Greek is "anomia." It refers to that which is "without law." We say something is "lawful," and when we put the "un" in front of it, we negate the meaning. It is the same concept in the Greek language. The root word "nomos" refers to law, thus putting the alpha (a) before it, makes it "unlawful," or "without law," and thus "without authority." The apostle John gives us something to think about in II John 9: "Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son."

Without citing other passages that carry the same thought, we should be able to understand that God says we must have authority, permission, for our teaching and practices. This means that we do not have the right to change, add to, or take from, what has been written by God's messengers.

Thus we take seriously the warning Paul wrote to the church: "I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!" (Galatians 1:6-8).

Consider the words of Christ, as he is rebuking the Pharisees and the scribes in his day. They were believers in God, and worshiped God, but through the years, had added their own teachings to those of God. "You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: 'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far away form me. But in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrins the precepts of men'" (Matthew 15:8-9).

The "who are we" go to the New Testament to find written "the will" of the Father, so we may follow it, without adding the traditions, opinions, church manuals, disciplines and catechisms of men. These all teach things that are not found in the Bible. Consider:

  1. If the Baptist Manual teaches the same thing as the Bible teaches, then we don't need it, for we already have the Bible.
  2. If the Baptist Manual teaches some doctrine other than what the Bible teaches, then it is teaching a doctrine of men.
  3. If we teach the doctrines of men, then our worship is in vain.

Some may ask, "In what way does the Baptist Manual teach something different than what the Bible does?" Let us note just one example out of many." Church Membership, p. 22 – "It is most likely that in the Apostolic age when there was but 'one Lord, one faith, and one baptism,' and no differing denominations existed, the baptism of a convert by that very act constituted him a member of the church … In that sense, 'baptism was the door into the church.' Now, it is different…" (Standard Manual for Baptist Churches, Hiscox). The Manual then goes on to state the process by which it is "different" than what we read in the Bible.

In referring to Baptists' doctrine, I am not attacking Baptist people. I have many dear friends that are Baptists, but I believe they are following the doctrines of men. In truth, every denomination has the same problem. Note an example from The Methodist Discipline, which is identified as "The Constitution of the Methodist Church: "Wherefore, that we are justified by faith only is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort." (p. 27). Then we compare that with the "constitution" that God gave: "You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone" (James 2:24).

In fact, the "faith only" doctrine is a part of most denominations, including Baptists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Jehovah's Witnesses, Pentecostals, etc. But that is a doctrine that is not in the Bible, thus it must be a doctrine of men. We could go on page after page citing examples of how the denominations have changed things, but you see the point.

Often those who teach "faith only" will cite John 3:16, which is probably the most memorized verse in the Bible. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." The argument is made that "baptism" is not mentioned in that verse, but only faith. That is true. But neither is "repentance" or "confession" mentioned, and people agree that these ingredients are necessary. Thus the "belief" in the passage is an all-inclusive statement. It includes all that is associated with belief or faith. If those who espouse "faith only" will only read a bit further in John 3, they will notice verse 36; "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." It is obvious that Christ's words about believing include an obedient faith.

Now consider another point.

  1. Must one believe what is in the Catholic Catechism in order to go to heaven? Would you say "No?"
  2. Must one believe what is in the Bible in order to go to heaven? Would you say "Yes.?"
  3. Therefore, what is in the Catholic Catechism is not truth, because one must believe truth in order to go to heaven!

You can substitute the name of any denomination's book of rules and doctrines and come up with the same conclusion—Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, etc. If not, why not?

In our desire to be "Christians only" as a part of a New Testament church, and following only what the Scriptures teach us, we naturally look to see what the early church was, under the direct guidance of the apostles who were in turn guided by the Holy Spirit. The Scriptures give us a clear picture of the churches in the First Century.

  1. They were organized — Philippians 1:1; Acts 14:23; I Timothy 3:1ff; Titus 1:5ff
  2. They assembled together — Hebrews 10:25; I Corinthians 11:18
  3. They taught God's message — Acts 20:7; I Corinthians 14:15
  4. They prayed — Acts 12:5; I Corinthians 14:19
  5. They sang without instruments — Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; I Corinthians 14:15
  6. They took the Lord's Supper each First Day — Acts 20:7; I Corinthians 11:20
  7. They gave on the First Day — I Corinthians 16:1-2; Acts 2:44-45
  8. They had a treasury — Acts 5:1-4
  9. They relieved needy saints — Acts 4:34-35; 11:29-30; I Corinthians 16:1
  10. They supported preaching — II Corinthians 11:8; Philippians 4:15-16
  11. They disciplined unruly members — I Corinthians 5:1-5
  12. They discussed congregational activities—Acts 6:1-5

This is all we find the early churches doing under apostolic guidance. Then the question is, "Is that what God wants today?" We sincerely believe that is what God wants today. Some people may counter, "But times have changed." Certainly times have changed, but has God changed? Has human nature changed? Has our need for salvation changed? Do we not believe in an all-powerful and all-wise God who can design a plan for mankind that will endure through the ages? "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away" (Matthew 24:35).

The early churches did not sponsor sports teams, did not own businesses, did not teach sewing classes, did not have seminars on how to care for your horse. I see churches today doing all of these things. While they may be good in their own realm, they are not the mission of the church. The church's mission is in the spiritual realm — to prepare us for heaven.

The early churches had no headquarters or governing body ruling over the churches. Each church was independent and autonomous, answering only to God through his Word. The design was for each church to have qualified men to be shepherds / pastors, elders / presbyters, bishops / overseers as the spiritual leaders of the congregation. Their qualifications are given in I Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. It is worthy of note that these must be men, who are married, and who have believing children, in addition to the other qualifications. The reason is obvious. If these men are to be spiritual leaders, how can we know they can fulfill that responsibility? Look at their families—their wives and children. If a wife is a stripper in a night club, and the children are drug dealers, that would raise questions about the man's ability to lead. Note also that we never find a New Testament church with only one pastor, as is common today. A plural number of elders / pastors / bishops were appointed in "every church" (Acts 14:23). These different terms all refer to the same men, as they indicate the different roles/responsibilities these leaders have. There are thousands of churches just like us throughout the world. The Roswell church has been involved in supporting and spreading New Testament Christianity in many nations — Canada, Jamaica, Malaysia, the Philippine Islands, South Africa, Kenya, Austria, Spain, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Czech Republic and India, to name some.

We seek for men and women to be "one" as Christ prayed. The only way we know to do that is to follow the New Testament, the "will" of the Father. That is the only way we can be what Christ wanted. We cannot all agree on the Book of Mormon, or the Pentecostal Discipline, or the Christian Science Manual, or the Presbyterian Confession of Faith. But people who desire to follow only what God wants, rather than what man wants, can agree to follow God's Word. In doing so, we will all be One, and we will be Christians only. If that is what you desire, then we invite you to visit with us and study the Bible with us.

In reading through the various creeds and books of doctrine among the many denominations, it is interesting to note that certain doctrines have changed. Things that were once forbidden are now accepted, and other changes have been made. For example, consider the following two quotes.

  1. 'No divorce, except for adultery, shall be regarded by the church as lawful; and no Minister shall solemnize marriage in any case where there is a divorced wife or husband living; but this rule shall not be applied to the innocent party to a divorce for the cause of adultery..."
  2. "In view of the seriousness with which the Scriptures and the Church regard divorce, pastors may solemnize the marriage of a divorced person only when they are satisfied by careful counseling, that (1) the divorced person is sufficiently aware of the factors leading to the failure of the previous marriage, (2) the divorced person is sincerely preparing to make the proposed marriage truly Christian, and (3) sufficient time has elapsed between the divorce and the contemplated marriage for adequate preparation and counseling."

Did you note a difference? Both quote from the Methodist Discipline. The first quotation is from the 1904 edition, and the second is from the 1972 edition. Neither is the true standard for determining faith or practice – only God's word can do that - but the 1904 edition far more closely represents what God's Word says in Matthew 19:9.

Without having to cite various quotes, there are various changes in the doctrines and practices of many denominations that are quite obvious. Many denominations have changed from males only in the pulpit to now allowing women in the pulpit. God's Word is clear on this: "But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet" (I Timothy 2:12). This is not to put women as lesser than men, but God has different functions for men and women. The Bible honors women far above their status in the first century world, and, in fact, far above their status in much of the world today.

Of course, the most obvious change is that of the support several denominations are giving to homosexual marriages. This is in spite of clear teaching from the eternal God that homosexual practices are against nature. "Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God" (I Corinthians 6:9- 11; cf Romans 1:26-27). As stated earlier, the Word of God does not change.

Our plea for everyone is that they may have a keen desire to know and follow the truth that is only found in God's Word. For Jesus said, "you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free" (John 8:32). We are reminded that Jesus said that when we follow the doctrines of men, our worship is vain—worthless (Matthew 15:9).

We invite investigation and questions. If we are mistaken, then we want to know. If you would be interested in knowing more, we would be more than happy to meet with you, study together, answer questions, and come to understand God's will for us.