By Mike Willis
Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and be established in the present truth. Yea, I think it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance; knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath showed me (2 Pet. 1:12-14).
The book of 2 Peter was written shortly before Peter’s death. The Lord foretold the death of Peter (“even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath showed me”) in John 21:18-19. There Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou was young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not” (John 21:18). The Apostle John adds, “This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God” (John 21:19). How Jesus’ statement signified “by what death” Peter would die is not as obvious in English as it was in Greek. The phrase “stretch forth” is translated from ekteino that basically means “stretch out.” However, the phrase is used “of one who is crucified” in several places (Epict. 3, 25, 22; Josephus, Antiquities 19, 94; Epistle of Barnabas 12:2). Early church historians are uniformly agreed that Peter was taken to Rome and put to death by crucifixion (Eusebius Chap. 25), some adding that he was crucified upside down. Based on John’s comment in 21:19, I conclude that this word was intended to convey to Peter the manner of death that he would die — that he would be crucified.
No doubt Peter could see events leading to his death developing and, therefore, penned this short letter. Knowing that his death was imminent, he wanted to remind the Christians of some things that they need to keep in mind, lest they slip away from them. The work of reminding Christians of the basic truths of the gospel is just as much a work of gospel preachers today as it was for Peter. The Apostle was afraid that false teachers would lead men away from the truths of the gospel which he re-enforced; therefore, he wrote to remind them of those fundamental truths.
We also see the need to remind men of some fundamental truths which we are in danger of losing. That is not to say that the truths that will follow are the most basic. Indeed, the deity of Christ, his atonement, the inspiration of the Scriptures, and many other doctrines are certainly fundamental principles that we must not forsake. However, the following truths seem to be some fundamental truths that are in jeopardy at this present hour. We remind brethren of them, not to exalt them above other truths, but because they are under assault.
The Plan of Salvation
When I was a child, I distinctly remember hearing sermons about the “plan of salvation.” Everyone understood that man’s salvation depended upon both what God does and what man does. God’s part was demonstrated in his loving grace toward us in sacrificing his only begotten Son for the sins of mankind (John 3:16). Our religious neighbors were fundamentally agreed on what God had done for mankind through Jesus Christ. However, our religious neighbors were fundamentally disagreed on man’s part in his salvation. So brethren preached many sermons on the “plan of salvation” in which they presented what the Bible teaches that man must do to receive the gift of God’s grace.
They developed that man’s part in his salvation is the following: (1) The hearing that produces faith (Rom. 10:17; Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16). (2) Faith in Christ (Heb. 11:6; John 8:24; 14:6; Mark 16:16). (3) Repentance of sins (Acts 2:38; 17:30; 2 Pet. 3:9). (4) Confessing one’s faith in Christ (Acts 8:37; Matt. 10:32; Rom. 10:10). (5) Baptism (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Col. 2:12; Rom. 6:3-4; 1 Pet. 3:21). Our brethren emphasized that (a) Baptism is a burial in water; (b) Baptism is ad- ministered to penitent believers; and (c) Baptism is for the remission of sins. We understood that there is only one way to become a Christian, by “obeying the gospel.”
Roman Catholicism teaches salvation through meritorious works and Protestant denominationalism teaches salvation through “faith only.” Both are in error. What the gospel presents as the conditions for man’s salvation was a distinctive mark of the gospel preaching I heard in my youth.
There are evidences that our brethren are drifting away from this fundamental truth. Max Lucado has preached salvation through faith only. Others are more subtle in their criticism of preaching the plan of salvation, charging that such is preaching salvation by works. What they mean is that we are emphasizing what man must do to be saved to the neglect of preaching what God has done to save us. (What good would preaching either one be to the neglect of the other?) Basically what these critics are condemning is preaching that water baptism is a condition for salvation!
I intend to preach the “plan of salvation” so that when my days on earth are over there will still be a remnant who clings to the fundamental truths of the gospel.
The Five Acts of Worship
Another fundamental lesson that we heard when we grew up pertained to revealed worship. Gospel preachers emphasized to us that God has a pattern for worship. They emphasized that when men violate God’s pattern for worship, God is displeased, as shown by Cain’s unauthorized worship (Gen. 4), Nadab and Abihu’s offering “strange” fire which God “commanded not” (Lev. 10:1-2), and Saul’s unauthorized worship (1 Sam. 15). We learned that God has a pattern for worship in our own age as well.
The acts of worship that God has commanded are as follows: (1) Prayer (Acts 2:42; 1 Cor. 14:15). For prayer to be acceptable, it must be offered in Jesus’ name (John 16:23-26). Prayer offered in the name of the virgin Mary is not acceptable worship. (2) The Lord’s supper (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:20-33). The Lord’s supper is observed weekly (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:20; 16:1-2). The elements to be used are unleavened bread and the “fruit of the vine” (Matt. 26:17, 26-28). Both the bread and fruit of the vine was taken by all participants. The Lord’s supper is not a sacrifice anew of the literal body and blood of Jesus (as in transubstantiation). (3) Giving (1 Cor. 16:1-2; 2 Cor. 9:6-7). The church’s work is financed by the free-will offerings of its members. The early church did not tithe, take up several offerings, raise funds through commercial enterprises (rummage sales, raffles, cake sales, car washes, etc.), and such like things. The church only took a contribution on Sunday, not on any other day of the week. (4) Singing (1 Cor. 14:15; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). The Lord commanded that his saints lift their voices in praise to him in song. Men have changed this part of worship by: (a) Choirs, (b) Professional entertainers to perform for the group, and (c) Mechanical instruments of music. (5) Preaching (Acts 2:42). That which was preached from the pulpit was apostolic doctrine. The pulpit is abused when another message is preached (such as The Book of Mormon, the Koran, Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures). The pulpit is abused when those who believe the Bible do not use the Bible when they preach, choosing rather to tell anecdotes and self-motivation stories. Faith is built through the preaching of the word (Rom. 10:17). When the word is not preached, faith cannot be built.
If there is no pattern for worship, then one kind of worship is just as good as any other (Rom. 4:15). That there is a pattern for worship is obvious from God’s condemnation of idolatry (1 Cor. 6:9). The very fact that idolatry is condemned demonstrates that there is a pattern revealed for man’s worship. The departures from that pattern of worship are just as serious in our own day as they were in the first century.
There is plenty of evidence that indicates brethren are moving away from this concept. Just how long has it been since you have heard a sermon on the five acts of worship? Among our liberal brethren, a few churches have allowed mechanical instruments of music to be used, a chorus (choir), and solos sometimes performed in their public worship, the word of God is less and less emphasized in their preaching and teaching programs, some churches have “hummed” a song while the Lord’s supper is being taken, and some have raised funds through selling admission to certain programs.
Will there be a remnant who still insist on the New Testament pattern of worship in the next generation? That depends upon whether or not we put our brethren in remembrance of these things.
The Church of Christ
Another lesson that was a distinctive part of the preaching we learned as children concerned the Lord’s church. Brethren of that generation distinguished between divinely revealed religion and that devised by men. They were not ashamed or embarrassed to preach the distinctive features of revealed religion.
The church of Christ has always been distinctive. One can easily distinguish the worship of the New Testament church (congregational singing, partaking of the Lord’s supper on the first day of each week, prayer in the name of Jesus, contribution, and preaching apostolic doctrine) from that of any sect of Judaism (with its Temple sacrifices, Levitical priesthood, Levitical choirs, tithing, etc.) or any pagan temple. Had the church not been distinctive, there would have been no reason for its separate existence.
The church of Christ is just as distinctive from the un- revealed religions of the late twentieth century as it was from those of the mid-first century. Among the things that are distinctive about the church today are the following: (1) Its names (Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:15). Although the church does not have one exclusive name by which it is called, it is distinctive in that it wears only those names found in Scripture. Paul condemned the wearing of the names of men (1 Cor. 1:10-13) and that condemnation is just as certain in the twentieth century as it was in the first. We do not wear those names that exalt men (Lutheran, for Martin Luther), some religious act (Baptist, for baptism), some organizational structure (Presbyterian or Episcopalian), some emotional religious experience incorrectly named (Pentecostal, named after the Day of Pentecost, not some religious experience), or other non-biblical name. (2) Its organization (Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:1-14; Tit. 1:5-7). Each local church was organized congregationally. Each local church was independent and autonomous, without any organizational structure tying local congregations together (as exists in conferences, synods, and councils). The officers in the church are elders and deacons (1 Tim. 3:1-14). There was a plurality of elders in each local church (Acts 20:17, 28; Phil. 1:1; etc.). Churches soon departed from this simple form of church government to develop their own, as was done in Roman Catholicism (with its priests, bishops, archbishops, cardinals, and pope) and the varieties of government in Protestant denominational- ism (pastor oversight, inter-congregational organizations, conferences, etc.). (3) Its work is unique. The church is designed to do these works: (a) Evangelize the world (1
Tim. 3:15); (b) Edify its members (Acts 20:32); and (c) Relieve the physical sufferings of its members (Acts 6:1-6;
11:27-30). Churches are not designed to (a) Form political action committees; (b) Build and maintain colleges, high schools, grade schools, etc.; (c) Build and maintain hospitals; (d) Feed the poor of the world; (e) Operate child day-care facilities; and such like works.
Already there are evidences that brethren are moving away from preaching the distinctive nature of divinely re- vealed religion. Brethren are writing that when we preach the distinctive features of the divinely revealed church, we are preaching “ourselves” rather than Christ. Such preaching is said to be a departure from the gospel because it is “church centered” rather than “Christ centered.” How can one preach the divinely revealed kingdom of God without emphasizing the King who gave its laws?
So long as I am in the tabernacle of this body, I intend to remind brethren of the distinctive nature of the Lord’s church, lest there come a time when the Lord’s church no longer exists. There is a danger of the Lord’s church becoming just another Protestant denomination. It already has in too many places.
The Moral Purity of Its Members
Another feature of gospel preaching of my youth was a fervent call for Christians to live like Christ in their moral conduct. Brethren plainly condemned the immoral conduct of the world and called on Christians to walk in holiness.
The church has always been faced with the danger of being conformed to the moral standards of the environment in which it exists (Rom. 12:1-2). We are in danger of con- forming to the world’s moral code in the following areas: (1) Dress (1 Tim. 2:9-10). Many see nothing wrong with wearing shorts that expose most of the thigh, wearing one or two-piece bathing suits in the company of those of the opposite sex, low cut blouses, tight fitting blue jeans, skirts with splits half-way up the thigh, dresses with an open back, and other sexually stimulating apparel. (2) Divorce and remarriage (Matt. 19:9). In contrast to the Bible standard that allows remarriage for the innocent party when one puts his mate away for fornication, the world sees nothing wrong with divorce for any reason and subsequent remarriage. (3) Attitude toward drinking intoxicating beverages (1 Pet. 4:3). (4) Gambling. (5) Sexual immorality (Gal. 5:19). The world sees nothing wrong with consensual sex outside of marriage (fornication) and homo- sexuality. (6) Lasciviousness (Gal. 5:19). The world thinks that sexual stimulation is natural and sinless. Consequently, it does not condemn such things as pornography, dancing, calling sex phone lines, attending girlie shows, and such like things.
There is plenty of evidence that some have quit preaching against some of the things that the Bible demands in moral purity. One can find disagreement in about any local church by preaching on immodest dress, dancing, divorce and remarriage, and gambling, because already we are being influenced to conform to the world’s moral standards.
Many first century churches no longer exist. In the state of Israel today, there are only two institutional congregations, even though in the first century 3000 obeyed the gospel on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:41). These churches have ceased to exist. What will become of the Lord’s church in our area over the next 50 years? That depends upon whether or not we do the work of a faithful preacher in reminding brethren of the fundamental truths of the gospel.