By Mike Willis
Even- as the people of the Lord are to be separated from the world in the speech which they use, they are also separated from the world in the doctrines which they preach. That has always been the case.
First Century Church Had Unique Doctrine
The doctrine of the church in the first century was unique. The early church “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42). They realized that God had sent the Holy Spirit to guide the apostles in all truth (Jn. 14:26; 16:13). Consequently, what was revealed through the apostles was understood to be the word of God (1 Cor. 14:37-38; 1 Thess. 2:13). Hence, the early church followed the revelation which God gave to them through the apostles.
This certainly distinguished them from the Jews in general. The Jewish religion followed the law of Moses; some of them added the traditions which had been handed down by well-known rabbis. However, the Jews stood opposed to apostolic doctrine, challenging the, authority of the apostles (cf. Acts 4:2; 5:28). Even as they opposed the Lord before them, the early Jews opposed the apostles in what they preached and taught. The conflict with the Judaizers over whether or nor the Law of Moses was binding upon Gentiles, reflects the opposition which existed with reference to the authority of the apostles. It also shows how distinctive the message of the apostles was from that which was preached by Jews of the first century.
Even as the message which was preached by first century Christians was clearly distinguishable from that which was preached by Jews, it was also clearly distinguishable from that which was preached by pagan religions. The pagans followed their supposed revelations (e.g., the oracles of Delphi): The revelation which the apostles gave to the early church was easily distinguished from that which pagans followed.
Respect For Apostolic Authority
God’s people today will be unique because of their peculiar respect for apostolic authority. Whereas the world in general has an attitude of a subjective approach toward religion, the church adheres to the principle that one must have positive divine authority for what it preaches and practices: Consider this difference in more detail.
Modern denominationalism is somewhat diverse in its attitude to what is preached. Roman Catholics are, theoretically at least, bound to believe and preach what their church sanctions as true. If the pope makes a pronouncement about birth control, Catholics are supposed to adhere to what he speaks. With continuous revelation, that which is taught by the church is constantly subject to change. Similarly, old-line Protestant denominations were obligated to preach what their creed books taught. When a legislative council met, every member of that denomination was expected to adhere to what came out of it. Two recent examples of this are seen in the following citations:
(1) A Westminster Seminary graduate was denied a Presbyterian Church in Canada pastor’s license, presumably over the women’s ordination issue. Daniel MacDougall, a member of Bridlewood Church, Toronto, had told a committee of the Presbytery of East Toronto that he could not in conscience ordain women ministers or elders. The presbytery voted to reject MacDougall’s application, and after he appealed, the synod upheld the presbytery’s decision. The denomination authorized women’s ordination in 1966 and, responding to recent allegations of discrimination against women clergy candidates, the 1979 General Assembly appointed a task force to probe and correct any such discrimination (Christianity Today, 7 December 1979, p. 52).
(2) An article in Christianity Today (2 November 1979, pp. 58-60) related the conflict among Presbyterians over such things as ordination of homosexuals. Cases have been taken to the court to determine who owns the church property in cases of unresolved differences. The denomination claimed to own the church building in such cases; however, recent court decisions have awarded the property to the local congregation rather than the denomination.
Both of these examples demonstrate the denomination’s attitude that whatever it pronounces is official dogma is to be preached by its “pastors” and believed by its laity.
Recent times have witnessed the demise of a strict doctrinal emphasis by the major denominations. Whereas the former years saw Baptist teaching why they were Baptist and not Methodists, Presbyterians explaining why they were not Episcopalians, and all Protestant denominations stating why they were not Catholics (and vice versa), modern denominationalism has tended to take less interest in the dogmas being taught. The modern denominationalist does not know what their church teaches or does not care to find out. Generally, he believes whatever appeals to his fancy. Like the man who goes through the food line in a smorgasbord cafeteria and picks out whatever food pleases him while leaving the rest, the modern denominationalist believes whatever doctrines appeal to his fancy without regard to consistency in doctrine. Furthermore, modern denominationalists display the attitude that so long as one has a general commitment to Jesus Christ, he can be in the denominational fellowship regardless of what he believes and teaches otherwise. The gospel-doctrine distinction as a basis of fellowship which has been taught among us by Ketcherside, Garrett, Fudge, Hardin and others in recent years has been preached and practiced among denominationalists for years!
In a world which displays this attitude toward what is taught from the pulpit and believed by the members, Christians who preach apostolic authority for all that is done and preached is unique. Which other religious group in existence today demands book, chapter and verse for all that is done and said? Which other people claims to speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent? So long as God’s people are doing these two things, demanding book, chapter and verse for what is taught and speaking where the Bible speaks and being silent where the Bible is silent, they will be unique.
The Christian will not blend in with the world and lose his distinctiveness so long as he is asking the religious world where is their Bible authority for wearing such names as Baptist, Methodist, Episcopalian, etc. The Christian will be distinctive from the world so long as he requests book, chapter, and verse for church support of hospitals, colleges, and other social activities. The Christian will be distinctive so long as he demands that book, chapter, and verse be given for every item which is practiced in religion. Even as the first century saints were distinctive from the world around them by the fact that they followed apostolic authority, so also twentieth century saints will be distinctive by their appeal to apostolic authority.
Some of the doctrines which have become distinctive because of denominationalism’s apostasy from apostolic doctrines include the following:
1. Salvation by a working faith. Modern Protestant denominationalists are characterized by their belief and acceptance of salvation by “faith only.” The only time that “faith only” occurs in the Authorized Version is in James 2:24 – “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.” Instead of teaching salvation by faith only, the Scriptures teach salvation by faith (Rom. 5:1) – a faith that is working by love (Gal. 5:6). So long as we teach that faith must be active in order to save a man, we will be easily distinguished from Protestant denominationalism.
2. Water baptism is essential for salvation. The Scriptures clearly indicate that water baptism is essential for salvation (Mk. 16:15-16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:21; and other Scriptures). Denominationalists of every hue deny that water baptism is essential for salvation. Believing that one is saved the very moment that he believes in Jesus Christ, they deny that one must be immersed in water in order to have his sins washed away. So long as one teaches that water baptism is essential to salvation, he will be distinguishable from the religious world around him.
3. The oneness of the church. The Scriptures reveal that Christ built one church (Matt: 16:18). He is the head (Eph: 1:22-23) of only one body (Eph. 4:4). So long as one teaches and believes that there is only one church, he will be distinguishable from the religious world around him. The modern religious world believes that there are good people in every church who will go in heaven; the very idea that there is only one church is considered to be narrowminded and bigoted. Yet, the Scriptures clearly teach the oneness of the church.
This list of peculiar doctrines could be extended; just about everything which is revealed in the Scriptures is denied by someone in the religious world! Consequently, so long as brethren are steadfastly teaching apostolic doctrine, they will be separate from the religious world around them.
In the early years of Gospel Guardian, Yater Tant wrote the following comments about the same trends which we are seeing develop among us:
We keep hearing a great deal of talk about a “new era” in the church. It seems that quite a few people (mostly on the West Coast) are convinced that the church needs to revamp and readjust her whole attitude and outlook to fit her new and improved status economically and socially. Since the church has moved out from “across the tracks,” and has become a large and respected member of the fraternity of churches, she must shed her backwoodsy and provincial mannerisms and accept the obligations of her new position.
For one thing, it is being urged that all this “personalized” preaching be relegated to the past. We cannot hope to command the respect we ought to have from our Methodist and Baptist neighbors, we are told, if we continually call their names from our pulpits and try to show that “they’re wrong, and we’re right.” We must preach a positive gospel, simply emphasizing the truths of the New Testament without any reference whatever to those who differ from us. People will soon enough see the beauty of true Christianity, and will turn from the husks of error to accept it.
Sounds pretty, doesn’t it?
The only trouble is, it simply isn’t so. People will not turn from error till they are convinced that it is error; they will not turn to the truth until they are convinced that it is truth. And the only way under heaven to bring that conviction to their hearts is to let them see the two side by side – error contrasted with truth. Otherwise the churches will become filled up with people who are not converted, not converted t9-the Lord, that is. They will have joined the church (literally) because it is a nice and respectable denomination, and not because of any overwhelming conviction that they are doomed to everlasting hell outside the Lord’s church. They will make little or no effort to win their friends and loved ones away from Lutheran and Presbyterian and Catholic churches. Why should they? For unless they have been taught that these churches are false, they will inevitably hold to the popular idea that “one church is as good as another.”
This “new” liberalism in the church, which seems strongest on the West Coast, but is by no means confined to that area, is neither new nor liberal. It is the old, old heresy that the apostate Disciples’ church fell into when they abandoned the militant aggressiveness of the early restoration years. The result was that the digressive church became honey-combed with unconverted people. It is made up of people largely without religious conviction, people who have married out of their own church, and have compromised on the Christian church. Because of this general absence of doctrinal depth the digressives have hit the toboggan slide toward total and irretrievable apostacy. Isaac Errett himself would be shocked and horrified into speechlessness (and that would be some shock for Errett!) if he knew of the present day practices of his followers. The idea of a distinctive gospel has long since disappeared from the pulpits of the Disciples’ churches.
Let the exponents of the “new era” in the church just remember that for the most part the very churches in which they preach and of which they are members were hewn out of denominational strongholds by uncompromising men who believed that the church of Christ is the true and only church, and that every other church on this earth is false and counterfeit. Not only did they believe this, but they boldly proclaimed it – from the pulpit as well as in their daily conversation. They loved their sectarian neighbors, loved them so earnestly and. sincerely that they dared not let them go complacently unwarned into the final judgment (“Dawn of a New Era,” Gospel Guardian, Vol. I, No. 15, p. 2).
I can only add a hearty amen to these fine comments. The only change which needs to be made is to update the article to the liberal church what brother Tant then applied to the Disciples of Christ.
Let us unabashedly proclaim Christ as the only hope of glory, the church as the blood-bought body of Christ, the only body of which He is the Savior. Strong doctrinal preaching might be out of style in the twentieth century among half-converted people and denominationalists; it will never be out of style to those dedicated saints who are serving the Lord all over this country.
Truth Magazine XXIV: 34, pp. 547-549
August 28, 1980