By Ernest A. Finley
Can One Be Only a Christian?
If a man were dissatisfied with the condition of religious division which exists in the world today and were to desire to have fellowship with no denomination or sect, but to be simply a Christian, a child of God, a member of the church which the Lord built (Matt. 16:18), the church he purchased with His own blood (Acts 20:28), would it be possible for him to do so?
Division Contrary to the Lord’s Will
Suppose a man were to reason that the division which exists today is displeasing to the Lord and that he desires to have no part in it (1 Cor. 1:10; Jn. 17:20, 21), could he free himself from these entanglements and serve the Father simply as a Christian?
No doubt, there are many in the world today who have had these very thoughts. But when one begins to look about upon the maze of religious confusion and conflicting doctrines, it is quite possible that he may despair of the task of ever coming to know pure and simple New Testament Christianity. Some have concluded that there is no religious body which bears the stamp of divine approval, and thus have settled down in indifference. Some have erroneously concluded that since almost all religious bodies contain some truth, all are right. So they drift on, compromising, without firm convictions, or else unite with some church which they know teaches doctrines which are in conflict with divine truth.
Others have considered the situation of divided sects and have suggested a course of action which involves them in an almost impossible task. They say they will worship and study with different churches and when they have found the right one that they will affiliate with it. But it is probable that time would fail before the individual would be able to thoroughly consider the doctrines, origin, practices and organization of all or many denominations and discern which is right, if indeed any of them be. But instead of spending time considering the doctrines of men, endeavoring to weed out the false or unscriptural teaching, is there not a better course to follow?
The Lord Can Supply The Answer
Yes, friends, I am confident that there is a better way than the one just presented. There is a course that we can follow in which we can turn away from the whole troublesome tangle of religious confusion, human theorizing, and doctrines of men. We can go straight to Him who assures us that He is “the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn. 14:6). He alone is right, true, and infallible. All men who teach in conflict with Him are in error.
Seek And Ye Shall Find
Rather than endeavoring to weed out all the doctrines that are false and all the religious bodies which exist without divine authority, why not go to the Word of God seeking to know the truth and learn of the Lord’s church which we read about in the Bible. The Word assures us that we can know the truth if we will to do so (Jn. 7:17). We must approach the Word of God with honesty. We must handle it aright. We must not wrest or pervert it. We must interpret it in harmony with all divine truth.
Scholarship An Essential?
Some would minimize the effectiveness of such a suggestion by saying, “Oh, but I am not educated; I fear that I do not have the educational background or wisdom to understand the truth.” “Indeed,” they say, “are there not many wise and learned men who differ upon that which is set forth in the word of God?” But this problem, for its proper solution, does not resolve itself to the scholarship or education of the man but more to the attitude of the man. It must be an attitude of humility and trust. The individual should know that he is seeking after the will of the Master who assures us that he will not let us perish if we seek to know His Will with the right attitude of heart. He says. “. . . seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you . . .” (Matt. 7:7). Our Master says, “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled” (Matt. 5:6). Jesus invites all to learn of Him (Matt. 11:28-30).
Whence Came The Confusion?
There are those who contend that the division that exists today is the result of the individual’s endeavoring to learn the truth for himself without the aid of a professional religionist. They suggest that the error that is now being taught throughout the world is the result of the common man’s having erred, being insufficiently wise to discern the truth for himself without assistance from a learned theologian. But this is not true. The division came when men blindly followed religious leaders or teachers without looking, thinking, or studying for themselves to see whether the theologians were in harmony with truth. It is a fact that when men put prejudice, human conceptions, and human theology aside and search the scriptures in all honesty, that it is possible to come to a knowledge of the truth. But too many are afraid to let the Bible guide their thinking. They are afraid they might have to change their views or their religion. They had rather see what brother “BigName” thinks about it than to see what the Lord says about it.
We Must Accept All Truth
Almost every religious theory has some truth in it, but too often the support of a sect or denomination limits the individual’s right to see and knew and accept truth. The man or woman who is resolved to follow Christ has a right to all truth. He does not have to dodge any of it. He does not have to “read anything in” that does not belong. He does not have to assume an attitude of infallibility in order to grant that the Bible is infallible. Though we are human, the Bible is right and God is right and if we are going to be right with God we must line up with Him and hold a straight course in the Word of God (2 Tim. 2:15). If we take this attitude, we do not have any “ax to grind,” no position to “force,” nothing to “harmonize” or “explain away.” We will not have to formulate any human theories or support any human creed, we will not have to fight for any sect or manmade religious body or denomination.
We need sorely to realize that we need nothing but the God-given truth. Paul said, “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy or vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world and not after Christ. For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him” (Col. 2:8-10). In view of the many warnings which the Bible gives against being deceived by false teaching, it is ridiculous that man should suggest that any course that he honestly follows in life will lead to glory. God said, “There is a way that seemeth right to a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Prov. 14:12). Thus, we must not only be honest, but we must be right in the sight of God. The man who is resolved to be content with less than the whole God-given truth, while hiding behind a cloak of honesty and sincerity is not honest at all, and God knows it. Anybody who willfully refuses to see the truth need not try to convince God that he is honest.
But how can I become a Christian? The only infallible way to find the answer to this question is to study your New Testament. Note where the cases of conversion are recorded and study each case carefully.
Observations on Conversion
There are several evident suggestions that we wish to make relative to these cases of conversion. First, when they were converted, they were children of God, their sins were taken away, and they became simply Christians, nothing more, nothing less. Is that not correct? Furthermore, when they had complied with God’s law of pardon, they were added to the Lord’s church by the Lord (Acts 2:47). Since no sects or denominations, such as we have today, existed then, they could not have been added to any one of them.
A study and summary of these cases of conversion will show that conversion involved (1) the matter of believing in Christ (Acts 2:36). This faith led to their salvation, but not until it led them to (2) repent of their wickedness, (3) confess faith in Christ as the Son of God and (4) be baptized unto the remission of their sins (Acts 2:38). There is no possible room for doubt that in each case of conversion recorded they believed on Christ, repented of their sins, and were baptized in order that their sins might be taken away. If that is what each one of them did, then it must have been God’s ordained plan for their salvation. This is how people in the beginning of the New Testament period became Christians-Christians only. This is how they became members of the Lord’s church. They believed in Christ, trusted in Him, obeyed His Will, and he added them to His body.
These people were not voted into the church. They did not suggest that they were already saved so they wanted to “join the church. ” The scriptures tell us that when they were obedient to Christ that the Lord added them to the church. “And the Lord added to the church daily such as were saved” (Acts 2:47). This is how they became Christians.
The Church Defined
The church of which they became members had no earthly headquarters. Its headquarters are in heaven. It had no earthly head. Its head, Christ, is in Heaven. It had no human-inspired manual or discipline formulated by a conference or council. Its manual was the Word of God alone, inspired by the Spirit, made known by men moving under the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
That church had no “mission” organization other than the local congregation (i Tim. 3:15). That church had no mechanical instruments of music to mar the purity of the worship which Christ made known in His will, “. . . teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto God” (Col. 3:16). See also Eph. 5:19.
That church buried men in baptism and raised them to walk in newness of life, not granting, as some suppose today, that sprinkling or pouring are just as good; “We were buried therefore with him through baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). See also Col. 2:12.
That church assembled every first day of the week to break bread, to keep the dying request of the Lord that we “show forth the Lord’s death till he come” (1 Cor. 11:26). “And upon the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread . . .” (Acts 20:7).
Early Christians baptized those who believed on Christ and repented of their sins. They did not doubt nor deny the necessity of doing those things which Christ commanded and made conditions of our salvation; “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned” (Mark 16:16). They went everywhere preaching the Word, telling men that those “who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death” (Rom. 6:3).
Men inspired of the Holy Spirit taught that we have not yet laid hold on eternal life, but that we must press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:13, 14). They taught that we must guard against the sin which doth so easily beset us (Heb. 12:1, 2), buffeting our bodies daily that we may keep them in subjection and that we not be rejected by the Lord (1 Cor. 9:27). They warned that a man should “take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).
Inspired men spoke of that church as “the church of the Lord,” “church of God,” and “churches of Christ” (Acts 20:28; 1 Cor. 1:1, 2; Rom. 16:16).
They believed and taught that God has promised to save only those that compose the church, the kingdom of Christ, the body of Christ, “For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, being himself the savior of the body” (Eph. 5:23). They did not suggest that Peter was either the head of the church (notice the passage above) or the foundation of the church. They taught that Christ is the head and the foundation. “For other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:11).
These early disciples highly regarded the name Christian and said, “Do not they blaspheme the honorable name by which they are called?” (Jas. 2:7). Peter spoke of the great privilege that is ours in wearing the name of Christ alone. “For let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or an evil-doer, or as a meddler in other men’s matters; but if a man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God in this name” (1 Pet. 4:16). By wearing the name of His Son, we glorify the Father. When we can give Him glory by doing this, why should we refuse to wear this name? Why should we choose to wear some name which men have adopted?
The Church Purchased, Redeemed and Purified
The Word of God informs us that Christ shed His blood to purchase the church (Acts 20:28), that he gave himself for us “that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a people for his own possession, zealous of good works” (Tit. 2:14). The Lord intends for His church to be free from sin. His followers are to emulate His example, “who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth.”
The Seed Still Being Sown.
The Word of God, which is the seed of the kingdom (Lk. 8:11), which was sown in the hearts of men at the beginning of this gospel period still lives today. Seed brings forth after its kind. The sowing of the seed then made Christians. The sowing of the seed now will make Christians. The sowing of the seed made men members of the Lord’s body, the church, then. It will do the same today.
The Word, which is God’s power unto salvation is able to “make you wise unto salvation” (2 Tim. 3:15). Paul tells us that, “the Word of his grace . . . . is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all them that are sanctified” (Acts 20:32). We encourage you to study your Bible. Learn all you can about the Lord’s church. Learn what it takes to become a member of it. And learn how to live in that church so that you may be counted among the faithful in that great day. May the Lord bless you in your earnest search for truth.
Truth Magazine XIX: 50, pp. 794-796
October 30, 1975