A SERIES OF OBSERVATIONS
From time to time, I post on my Facebook page various observations. In the interest of a wider reading audience, this week’s edition of “Hugh’s News & Views” consists of some observations I have made over the past few weeks.
From November 14, 2019: Given the new way some are now saying we ought to read and interpret the Scriptures, I wonder why the churches of Christ should continue to exist. According to this new way, “how” (and perhaps even “if”) a person is baptized, how the church is to be organized, how it is to worship, the frequency of (and even the day for the) Lord’s Supper, the matter of the kind of music that is to be offered in worship, how the Lord’s Day contribution should be used (or even if there should be an every Lord’s Day contribution), and various other matters are only “secondary matters” (perhaps even legalistic and sectarian matters) that have no real bearing on the Bible’s main “story line” of the incarnation, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. As long as a person accepts these few basic essentials he is alright with God, and the other things do not really ultimately matter.
No wonder that some of those who hold to this view are now saying that the church of Christ should surrender its plea for a restoration of “the ancient order” (the plea to simply be the undenominational church of the New Testament), admit to denominational status, join the “other denominations,” and profess our unity with them simply on the basis of Christ’s deity and divine mission. In this case, a great part of the New Testament scriptures could be excised because their instructions are not relevant to us today. My memory of church history is that we have been down this road before. I marvel, I marvel, I marvel !!!
From November 23: Some of the leftists among us are suggesting that “patternism” and the use of commands, apostolic examples, and necessary inferences (logical conclusions) to determine God’s will for mankind are responsible for all of the various divisions in the church. Their notion is that we should interpret the Scriptures through Jesus and “the big story line” of the Bible. All of which sounds well and good on the surface, but if such is the case, why is the larger “Christian” world itself divided into so many sects and denominations? When was the last time you checked to see how many denominations there are and how they, in turn, are divided among themselves? Do you know, for example, how many kinds of Baptists there are? Yet, all of these denominations have for years been claiming that “we all believe in Jesus” and hold in common the great truths of the Christian faith.
Jesus said, “If you continue in My word, then you are My disciples indeed” (John 8:31). It would be hard to miss the condition here stated by the Lord. We had best have the attitude of the Bereans who “searched the scriptures daily, whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11), to “test all things; hold fast what is good” (I Thessalonians 5:21), to “hold fast the pattern of sound words” (II Timothy 4:17), and to strictly “speak as the oracles of God” (I Peter 4:11). As Paul said to Timothy: “Be diligent (study, KJV) to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing (handling aright, ASV) the word of truth” (II Timothy 2:15).
From November 9, 2019: Far too many of the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of informed and faithful members of the Lord’s church have “joined” what, to them, is “our fellowship,” “our tradition,” “our tribe,” “our tributary,” or “our little corner of the kingdom” – all of which, for them, translates into “our denomination” or “the Church of Christ Church.” Their faith is an inherited one rather than a biblically informed one. That is why they can so easily leave the church for what, again to them, is “another denomination” – the Baptists, the Presbyterians, the Catholics, the Disciples of Christ, the Independent Christian Church, or a supposedly non-denominational community church, etc. They came into the church with no well-formed, biblical understanding of what the church really is according to New Testament teaching, and they never went on to study and gain such an understanding. Their “understanding” of the church as the body of Christ is a pluralistic, ecumenical, interdenominational one, rather than a biblical one. It is from these that over the last several decades a number of problems in the church have arisen and continue to arise. It is from these that instrumental music, women preachers, the Lord’s Supper any day of the week and at various kinds of occasions, the denial of the necessity of baptism for salvation from sin, the oneness of the church and its undenominational nature, the notion that the New Testament does not constitute a pattern for the church in all ages, and other problems have arisen (and continue to arise). It is for these reasons that some congregations have gone astray from “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). I get no pleasure in reminding us of these matters and warning about them. In fact, it grieves me to do so. But my love for the Lord and His church (and the two cannot be separated – Colossians 1:18, 24; Ephesians 1:22-23; Ephesians 5:22-33; et al) compels me to speak up and to speak out. I have no desire to be an alarmist, to be hypercritical, to air our dirty laundry, or to become any one’s enemy by presenting and defending the truth of the gospel and the one church that is produced and sustained by the gospel and its faithful application to the lives of Christians individually and collectively (Galatians 1:10; Galatians 4:16). My only desire is to exalt our Lord and Savior and His church, and to see them both in all their pristine purity and to set them forth in this way. And it is for this reason that I shall continue to speak and to write about these matters.
From November 6, 2019: While no Christian should think that he has arrived in Christlikeness and stop pursuing such, and while no congregation of Christ should think that it has arrived at the point where no improvements can be made in its commitment to and execution of the mission of Christ, let us not be so shortsighted as to think that guarding, keeping, maintaining, and protecting what we have gained is a bad thing. There are always those (both within and without the church) who would like to see us surrender points of doctrine and practice of precious biblical ground that has been gained in the effort to restore and be just the church of which we read in the Bible. The pioneers of the restoration movement fought battles that many moderns seemingly cannot conceive of or have any deep appreciation for. Paul urged Timothy, “Hold the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. That good thing which was committed to you, keep (guard, ASV) by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us” (II Timothy 1:13-14). While it is not to be our exclusive mode, maintenance of ground gained, holding to, guarding, keeping, protecting, and defending “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” is a good and godly thing to do (Jude 3). Let us not be so sanctimonious as to think otherwise.
From November 11, 2019: On this Veterans’ Day, when our nation honors the men and women—both living and dead—who have given themselves to the protection of our country, let us not forget the veterans of the cross of Christ—the noble men who have fought to give us a pure faith and a true practice.
Sadly, there are those who seem to overlook, or perhaps even willfully forget, the militant nature of the gospel. Jesus Himself said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). (Here, by the way, is a sterling example of a text that is in tension with other texts, thus emphasizing the importance of always studying every text in its context and in the light of what the rest of the Bible says on a particular subject).
Paul urged Timothy to “fight the good fight of faith” (I Timothy 6:12), and to “endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (II Timothy 2:3). Archippus (and all faithful servants of Christ) was a fellow soldier (Philemon 2). The word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12), and the soldier of Christ is to arm himself in the full panoply of God (Ephesians 6:10-17). Christians are to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). At the end of his life Paul declared that he had “fought the good fight” (II Timothy 4:7). May the same be said of each of us.
As some of the old soldiers of the cross used to say, “I would be afraid to be ashamed and ashamed to be afraid!”
Hugh Fulford December 17, 2019