You Can Be Just A Christian
Nearly two thousand years have passed since Jesus established His church in the city of Jerusalem in A.D. 33, yet its beauty, simplicity and purity still shine through the centuries, undimmed and unchanged. During the last few lessons we have studied several prominent characteristics of the church as revealed in the Bible. We learned in lesson seven, for example, that a person can become a member of the church Jesus built only by being added to it by the Lord Himself and that this takes place only when we have obeyed the gospel requirements for pardon and thus received the remissions of sins (Acts 2:47). In other lessons we also read from the Bible that we are “…baptized into Christ…” (Galatians 3:27), and that true Bible baptism is a burial in water for the remission of sins (Romans 6:3-5; Acts 2:38; I Peter 3:21). In lesson six we learned that the church which Jesus built partook of the Lord's Supper each Sunday and that instrumental music was conspicuously absent from their worship (Acts 20:7; Ephesians 5:19; Revelations 22:18-19). We also read that Jesus only promised to build one church and that in the first century all faithful Christians were part of that one body (Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 1:22-23; 4:4-5).
So Many Churches?
Perhaps you are wondering, in view of these Bible teachings, why there are so many conflicting denominations today and by what authority they exist. The purpose of this lesson then is not to be critical of the sincerity or good intentions of anyone, but to find a Bible answer to these important questions.
As we have noticed before, it has always been a tendency of mankind to attempt to “improve” upon God’s divine plan and in doing so to depart from God’s way. In the book of Proverbs Solomon said, “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Proverbs 14:12). This tendency was true in the days of King Saul (I Samuel 15:1-24), in the time of Naaman (II Kings 5:1-14) and throughout the ages. History shows that it is exactly what took place shortly after the days of the apostles. At first, there began a very gradual departure from the New Testament pattern. Human changes were made in the organization of the church, then in the practice and worship of the church. These changes did not happen overnight, and most of them were not done with malicious intent, but gradually they produced an almost complete departure from the New Testament pattern. Like the little boy who each day swapped one of his red blocks for a friend’s green marbles until his whole set of blocks had been changed to marbles, so the distinguishing characteristics of Christ’s church were gradually exchanged for the doctrines and commandments of men until within a few centuries most of the religious world held very little similarity to the church we read of the Bible.
The Departure Foretold
Jesus and the apostles knew that after the apostolic age such changes would be attempted and thus strongly warned against being carried away by such a departure. In Matthew 24:11-13 Jesus told his disciples, “And many false prophets shall rise and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” The Apostle Paul likewise told the Ephesians elders, “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also, of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-30, see also Matthew 7:15). Again we read, “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in latter times some shall depart from the faith…” (I Timothy 4:1). Peter described the coming departure in these words, “But there were false prophets among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you who privily shall bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by shall be evil spoken of” (II Peter 2:1-2).
Throughout the New Testament we read prophecy after prophecy that soon after the days of the apostles a great “falling away” or departure from the faith would come. These prophecies did not declare that people would cease to be religious nor that they would cease to claim to be following Christ, but simply that they would depart from God’s divine pattern and thus make worship vain. Jesus said that such people would in fact, strongly claim to be following him and to be doing great works in His name (Matthew 7:22). It was not long after this, in Matthew 15:9 that Jesus said that teaching for doctrines such commandments of men makes our entire worship vain. Paul made the coming departure from the New Testament pattern even clearer if possible, when he described the end of the world in these words: “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first…” (II Thessalonians 2:3).
Prophecies Begin to be Fulfilled
It was not long after the days of the apostles that these prophecies began to be fulfilled. First one item, then another was altered to fit the thinking of the times. These changes in the New Testament pattern were very gradual, so much so that no one generation became very concerned about them but gradually they produced religious organizations that were often as different from the New Testament church as night is from day. Let us now turn to religious history and notice some of the more prominent human changes and the approximate time of their origins.
Prominent Human Changes and the Approximate Dates of their Origins
USE OF HOLY WATER - 120 A.D. This was borrowed from the Jew’s religion.
INFANT BAPTISM - First expressly mentioned and condemned in the third century by Tertullian (see Acts 8:36-39; Matthew 28:19).
FIRST HUMAN CREED - Written in 325 A.D at Nicea in Bythynia by 318 uninspired men and called the “Nicean Creed”. It should be noted that the “Apostle’s Creed” was not written by the apostles and does not appear in its present form earlier than 650 A.D.
LATIN MASS - Began in 394 A.D.
PURGATORY - The doctrine that one may suffer punishment after death and then go on to heaven began in 593 A.D. (See Luke 16:19-26).
INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC - First introduced into Christian worship in about 666 A.D.
CELIBACY - Priest were not allowed to marry after 1015 A.D. (See I Timothy 4:1-3).
AURICULAR CONFESSION to priests began in 1215 A.D.
SPRINKLING FOR BAPTISM was legalized by the Council of Ravenna in 1311 A.D. The first known isolated case was of Novatian in about 251 A.D. Other such human changes include: the sale of Indulgences, communion under one kind, penance, the Lord’s Supper monthly or quarterly, Immaculate Conception, women preachers, praying to Mary, the mourner’s bench, etc.
(See Deuteronomy 4:2; Revelation 22:18-19).
The Rise Of Modern Denominations
Throughout the centuries the tendency continued to let man’s thoughts about religion take the place of God’s Divine plan. As though in anticipation of this the Bible says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
As more and more opinions and human practices developed new groups began to be formed, each like the New Testament church in some ways, yet each holding special human practices and doctrines which make them different from the church of the Bible and from each other. At present in America alone there are over 250 different denominations, all similar on the surface, yet each holding different human opinions and teaching human doctrines peculiar to their particular group. If these differences had not existed such separate groups would never have developed. The present widespread religious division then it not over what the Bible teaches but over human opinions and doctrines which have developed since the days of the apostles (I Timothy 1:3; Matthew 15:9). The only real basis for Christian unity then, lies in a complete return to the New Testament pattern (Matthew 28:20).
A few years ago two preachers were talking about these and other departures from the Bible which had troubled them. During the discussion they read Jesus’ statement in Matthew 16:18, “…upon this rock I will build MY CHURCH; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against IT.” They also read the similar passage in Acts 2:47, “And THE Lord added to THE CHURCH daily such as should be saved.” One of the men then asked, “Since the Bible only speaks of Christ establishing one church and says that all the saved are added to it, which one is it?” He began to name several of the more prominent denominations and to ask which of them it was. Although the other minister was a member of the one of the groups mentioned, he pointed out that it must not be any of them since history shows, as most of them admit, that none of these groups were established until hundreds of years after the Apostolic age. He went on to say that all early disciples were just “Christians” and not members of any human denomination.
The first preacher thoughtfully agreed, pointing out that this is must be true since not a single Catholic or Protestant denomination is ever described in the Bible as being in existence in the Apostolic age. He then asked, “If it were possible for all these people in the Bible to be Christians and members of the Lord’s church without ever joining any Catholic or Protestant denomination, why can't we still do the same thing today?” He reasoned that since time is not a limiting factor with God and since we have the same gospel that early Christians had there is no reason why we cannot be exactly what they were, no more and no less, without joining any denomination.
Is Such a Return Still Possible?
In New Testament times such undenominational Christianity was not only possible but was a reality. The Bible teaches, for example, that the apostle Paul was a faithful member of the Lord’s church hundreds of years before a single denomination was ever in existence. Had someone asked him whether he was Catholic or Protestant he would not have known what they are talking about since neither existed until long after the apostle’s death. But is it still really possible to be a member of this same church of which Paul was a member and which is described in the New Testament nearly 1600 years old before any modern Protestant church was founded?
In order to answer this question let us again turn to the Bible. In Genesis 1:12 the Scriptures point out that all seed reproduce “after his kind”. This principle stated another way simply means that when we plant wheat we reap wheat, not apples or corn; when we plant peach seed we get only peaches. Paul used this fact to illustrate a spiritual lesson when he said, “…whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7). The same principle applies to the “seed” of the kingdom which Jesus said is sincere hearts today without the creeds and doctrines of men being added, these scriptures teach that it will produce exactly the same thing it did in the days of the apostles.
Although all human denominations have certain good qualities, the most charitable thing that my be said about any of them is that they were not established at the right time, the right place, nor by the right person to be the church we can read of in the New Testament. Any religious body established at any place other than Jerusalem, at any time later than 33 A.D., or by anyone other than Jesus himself cannot possibly fit the description of the church spoken of in the Bible. All such organizations exist without Christ’s authority and contrary to His prayer for unity (John 17:20-21). The only safe course that may be taken therefore is to be a member of the church we can read of in the Bible without ever joining any Catholic or Protestant denomination.
You may be asking yourself, “Is this really still possible.” The answer is a resound ‘YES.’ Not only is it possible, but multiplied thousands are already doing so. Throughout the world multitudes of men and women have returned to this simple New Testament pattern set down by the Lord for His church. In America alone there are more than 2,000,000 such New Testament Christians. They have never joined any human denomination, but upon obeying the gospel have trued the Lord to add them to His church as was done in New Testament times (Acts 2:47). They have been “buried with Him in baptism,” ….. for the remission of sins,” just as the Bible commands (Colossians 2:12; Acts 2:38). Upon the first day of each week they take the Lord’s Supper just as was done in the church during the apostolic age (Acts 20:7). They have no human creed and wear no human name. In Romans 16:16 the Bible states, “the churches of Christ salute you.” These disciples are therefore still known as members of the church of Christ. No human name can compare with this name and none other is needed by God’s people.
In worship, doctrine and practice the church of Christ today is endeavouring to be identical to the pattern of the church described in the New Testament. It is therefore neither Catholic nor Protestant any more than was the church of Christ in the days of the apostles. The church of Christ today is composed of those who wish to conduct themselves in a way that is safe and sure. There is no firmer ground than a complete return to the New Testament system instituted by Christ, practiced by the apostles and specifically approved in the scriptures. It is a way that is right and cannot be wrong.
You are invited to investigate the church of Christ for yourself. See first hand if it is really the restored church of the Bible. If you find anything being practiced or taught than can be shown to be foreign to the teachings of the New Testament we will gladly change. If it is only another human denomination you are asked to reject it. But if it is in truth the church described in the scriptures, we encourage you also to take a way that is right and cannot be wrong by believing, repenting, confessing, being scripturally baptized and allowing Christ to add you to His church. May the Lord continue to bless you in the study of His divine Word.
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