CHALLENGED! If you allow your religious traditions, or even traditional doctrinal understanding of the Bible, to be the foundation of your faith, then you might want to read this book. It is not wrong to have religious traditions. And certainly it is not wrong to belief in doctrines that are founded upon the world of God. But if either our religious traditions, or doctrinal beliefs, are misguided, or lacking in a biblical foundation, then it is time to allow ourselves to be challenged. This book will certainly challenge your understanding of what a Christian truly is, and then how we should view the church of Christians that Jesus built.
If you like what you read, then pass this book on to your friends around the world.
If we as a Christian were to enter the city of Antioch of Syria about ten years after the Passover/Pentecost of Acts 2, and go looking for a Christian, our task would be somewhat different than today. If we were to go searching for a Christian in Antioch, we would go searching around for an individual with a like-minded faith as ours.
It seems that the unbelievers of the city of Antioch would have already made our search easy. They had already nick-named those individuals who believed in Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ. They derogatorily referred to them as “Christians.” About twenty years after the unbelievers of Antioch came up with this reference to those who followed Christ, Luke, the historian, wrote, “And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch” (At 11:26). They were called “Chrstians,” not by Christians, but by those who did not follow Christ.
Now suppose for a moment. Since we would have been looking in Antioch for people who were disciples of Christ, then the unbelievers of the city had already made our search easy. All we had to do is inquire around for any individual who was ridiculed by the idolatrous unbelievers, or even Jewish unbelievers, to be a follower of Christ, and thus a “Christian.” We might have inquired at the local market, “Do you know of any individuals in town who are called ‘Christians’”? The unbelievers would possibly have responded, “Oh, those Christians! There is one of them working at the fruit stand on the other side of the street.” And so, our search would have ended with a particular individual who believed and behaved as a disciple of Christ. From that individual we would have been successful in finding other “Christians.”
In order to be successful in our search, we would not have been able to find for some “church house” full of Christians on Fifth and Main. Neither would we have satisfied our search in finding some assembly of disciples in someone’s house. Our search would have been for individuals, for people who followed Christ.
So in our search today, we too seek for people who are so different in their beliefs and behavior that they are identified in the community as “Christians.” Our search must first be for people who believe and behave as Christ, and thus, are His church (assembly) of disciples (followers) in any city. Therefore, if we could have entered the city of Antioch over two thousands years ago in order to find a disciple of Christ, we would have gone looking for individuals who believed and behaved after the manner Christ. And so is our search today.
CHURCH: PEOPLE, NOT PROPERTY It was not without purpose that Jesus chose the Greek word ekklesia to describe what was coming in the near future in reference to His gospel actions that would find reality on an old rugged cross. Therefore, upon the rock that He was the Christ (Messiah) and Son of God, He promised His inner circle of Jewish disciples, “I will build My ekklesia [church]” (Mt 16:18).
Those Jewish disciples to whom Jesus made this statement knew exactly what an ekklesia was in the town culture of their day. When the Jews came to the synagogue they came as a people to the ekklesia (At 13:43). When idol worshipers in Ephesus came together into their temple of Artemis, they, too, came as a gathering of people to the ekklesia (At 19:30). On this occasion when Paul was preaching the gospel in Ephesus, the ekklesia (people) in the temple became quite confused in reaction to what Paul preached (At 19:32). It was the people, the ekklesia, who were confused, not the temple structure itself. The word ekklesia was never used in the culture of the time to refer to physical structures.
So when Jesus promised He would build His ekklesia, the Jewish disciples to whom He spoke these words knew that He was referring to people, not to “church houses.” But the Jewish apostles to whom Jesus promised that He would build his ekklesia of people could go further back in their history as the people of God. It was to this nation of people (the Jewish people) to whom Stephen referred when he confirmed that before His incarnation, the Son of God “was in the ekklesia [church] in the wilderness” (At 7:38). It was this ekklesia who “were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the [Red] Sea” (1 Co 10:2). This ekklesia of people was delivered out of the bondage of Egypt because they followed the prophet Moses. They were, as a people, baptized into Moses. Jesus Christ was the Prophet to whom Moses promised would replace him as the leader of the ekklesia (See Dt 18:15-22).
Since Jesus was the Prophet about whom Moses prophesied would come after him, then people today can be baptized into the name of this Prophet, the name of Christ (At 2:38; Rm 6:3-6; Gl 3:27). Therefore, in order to replace the ekklesia of people who followed Moses out of Egyptian bondage, the ekklesia (people) of Christ is composed today of those people who have followed Christ out of the bondage of sin. The identity of the church, therefore, is first identified as people, a people who have believed that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and incarnate Son of God, just as Jesus had promised His Jewish disciples in Matthew 16:18:
As people believed in Moses, and subsequently were baptized unto Moses in the Red Sea, so people today believe in Christ and are baptized unto Him in order to be delivered from the bondage of sin.
• Entangled in bondage: Some people seek to identify the church by pointing out an array of legalities that must be obeyed and catechisms that should be honored. In other words, some seek to go back under a system of legal obedience similar to the Sinai law in order to construct a church that can be legally identified by either a specific name, institutional governance, or some ceremonial assembly of the adherents on Sunday morning. But if we do this, then we are ignoring some fundamental truths that are revealed in the New Testament when the Holy Spirit addressed the dysfunctional behavior and beliefs of some early disciples, especially Jewish disciples.
Some of the Jewish Christians sought to go back under the bondage of meritorious law-keeping in order to be the church of God’s people of whom it was written, “for by grace you are saved through faith” (Ep 2:10). Those who sought to walk by meritorious law-keeping failed to understand the grace by which the church is defined. And so, they walked directly into the Holy Spirit’s defense of those who had been set free from the bondage of meritorious law-keeping by the grace of God. The Holy Spirit subsequently warned those who were being influenced by these meritorious law-keepers: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (Gl 5:1). This bondage in the Galatian letter was not in reference to sin, but a direct reference to meritorious law-keeping.
Christians should be cautious about establishing a legal identity of the church. They must not fall back into such bondage because we are not justified before God on the basis of our meritorious law-keeping, but by His grace (See Ep 2:8-10).
• Freed by grace: In seeking to walk in the bondage of perfect law-keeping, one of the basic fundamentals that identifies the church is violated. Legalistic “churchiologists” often ignore the nature of the church that is revealed in Romans 6:14: “For you are not under law, but under grace.” In other words, Christians are not under any system of law that they are obligated to keep perfectly in order to be justified before God, and thus, legally identified as the disciples of Jesus. The fact is that there is no system of law that we could keep in order to justify ourselves before God. This is true simply because we are all lawbreakers (Rm 3:23). We must remember that when we fail to keep law perfectly – and we always do – we can thank God that we are under grace, not a system of perfect law-keeping.
We must confess that those who have for years moved the identity of discipleship of Jesus into a violation of the principle of Romans 6:14 find it quite difficult to understand what the Spirit meant in this verse. So we must dig deeper.
Christians are not under the bondage of a legal system of meritorious law-keeping that they would establish to supposedly justify themselves before God. It is simply self-deception and self-righteousness to supposed that we can keep any system of law perfectly in order to be identified as the church, since we as the church are identified by our response to the gospel of Christ, not through our perfect behavior in keeping a system of law. It is certainly self-righteous thinking to assume before God that we are supposedly saved on the basis of an assumed perfect obedience to “church law.” It is Christ who saves, not His church. The church is the saved, not the Savior.
If it were possible to establish some religious system of self-justification – and it is not – then we could pick and choose an assortment of doctrinal points in the New Testament in order to construct some legal definition of the church. We could then in practice of such a legal system of identity claim that we have restored the “true church.” This is exactly what some Jewish Christians in Galatia were trying to do by intimidating others, specifically Gentile Christians, into going back under the bondage of salvational law-keeping, which was actually, according to the Holy Spirit, back into “another gospel” (See Gl 1:6-9).
The “other gospel” is the simple gospel of God’s grace through Jesus, plus numerous added catechisms and codes by which we would seek to meritoriously justify ourselves before God.
• Bondage builders: Some have gone so far as to extract favorite “proof texts” out of a biblical context in order to establish some legal system of bondage to which all adherents of a particular sect must adhere in order to be identified as faithful members of the body of disciples. In other words, there are groups that believe in the gospel of God’s grace through Jesus, but they have also added their own meritorious religious rites, ceremonies and traditions that must also be obeyed in order to be considered faithful disciples. Or, they have used the Scriptures to establish a legal system to identify the church through their own performance of self-imposed “laws.”
Again, this is precisely what some legal-oriented Jewish Christians were doing in Galatia. In doing such, they were walking contrary to the Holy Spirit’s mandate of Galatians 5:1, as well as revealing that they did not appreciate the principle of Romans 6:14. It was in this context that the Spirit reprimanded them: “I am amazed that you are so quickly turning away from Him who called you into the grace of Christ to another gospel” (Gl 1:6). Notice carefully that Paul said they were “turning away from Him [Jesus].” They were not turning away from some legal identity of the church. They were turning away from Jesus by turning to themselves and their ability to be justified before God through their personal performance of law.
By encouraging those who were faithful to Christ, Paul continued to rebuke the Galatian law-performers by stating that “there are some who are disturbing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ” (Gl 1:7). By perverting the gospel of Christ through a legal system of law-keeping by which they supposedly thought to justify themselves. In this way, some Jewish Christians were taking the Gentile disciples back into the bondage of trying to keep some system of law perfectly in order to be identified before God as His people. Unfortunately, this legal attempt of justification was a perversion of the gospel of Christ, which gospel sets us free from perfect law-keeping (Gl 5:1).
In our search for an identity of the church in the New Testament, we must be very cautious not to violate the very principle of Paul’s definition of the “other gospel” in the document of Galatians.
[From a forthcoming book. Check out indepth Bible study books at www.roger-e-dickson.org ]
The church is identified as a membership of people who have faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and now, the King of kings. This is the message to which people initially responded in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost. Therefore, any legal definition of the church would work contrary to this initial gospel message to which the first membership of 3,000 initially responded. We must not forget that the 3,000 responded to grace, not law. Any legal system of identity of the church, therefore, violates the very heart of the principle of Romans 6:14, and the foundation upon which the first members were originally established.
Since the church was originally established on the foundation of a message of gospel grace that extended from the reign of King Jesus, we must not conclude that it moved to a foundation of law that the first members successfully performed on Sunday morning. On the contrary, the foundation of the church has never moved from grace to law keeping.
The fact is that we cannot establish ourselves as the church on a supposed inerrant obedience to any system of law. This principle could not have been made more clear than when Paul publicly rebuked Peter with the following statement:
A man is not justified by works of law, but by the faith of Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus so that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by works of law, for by works of law no flesh will be justified (Gl 2:16).
This statement needs no interpretation as it is worded here. Therefore, we must dismiss our vain hopes as to establishing some legal code of law in reference to “church.” And, we must dismiss any hopes of keeping perfectly any legal code of church in order to be the church. As we can see, there are some very important concepts in Galatians 2:16, and similar passages, we must understand in order to restore a gospel foundation of the church.
• A false sense of righteousness: Seeking to be justified by our own law-keeping as the church is a direct attack against the gospel of the Son of God being incarnate in the flesh in order to go to the cross. In Paul’s statement of Galatians 2:16, some translators have translated the text in a way that would encourage a self-righteous system of law-keeping that marginalizes, if not ignores, the gospel message of grace that Peter preached on Pentecost. This is a subtle “translation” of the Greek text. But it is a translation of the Greek text that leads some to question their own faith in reference to being righteous before God. And more seriously, the miss-directed translation encourages a self-righteousness that is contrary to the very themes of both Romans and Galatians.
• Righteousness was revealed through the faith of the incarnate Son: By literally translating the Greek objective genitive, Galatians 2:16 should read, “A man is not justified by works of law, but by the faith of Christ Jesus.” In the verse, and throughout the book of Galatians, Paul was bringing to his readers’ attention a sense of security that came through grace, as opposed to the law-keeping apprehension of the legalistic Jews who were preaching “another gospel” on the Gentiles (Gl 1:6-9). We see in this one verse Paul’s argument in the entire book against the “other gospel” preachers.
So we notice that the Greek text of Galatians 2:16 should not read as many versions that introduce a sense of insecurity and self-righteousness in the minds of those who are questioning if they have enough faith to be righteous before God. The Greek objective genitive of the verse drives us to focus on the faith of Jesus Christ who had faith in the Father in order to endure the cross for us. The “faith” that is under consideration in the verse is not the faith of those who believe, but the faith of Jesus who “believed” for us.
Many translations of this verse read, “… a man is not justified by works of law,” – so far so good – “but by faith in Jesus Christ.” This is a slip in objective translation. Translations that make this slip miss Paul’s argument of the book of Galatians that is brought out in this one verse. Faith “in Jesus” in order to be saved is indeed necessary to be saved (See Jn 20:30,31). But this is not Paul’s point in Galatians 2:16. He wanted his readers to focus on the faith of Jesus Christ, not on their own personal faith, which faith is often weak.
The actual Greek text of Galatians 2:16 should literally read, “through faith of Christ,” or, “through [the] faith of Christ.” This is the literal translation of the Greek text that honors the objective genitive that Paul used to uphold his theme of the entire book of Galatians. The objective genitive presents an entirely different emphasis in reference to whose faith is involved in reference to our justification: our faith, or the faith of Christ? In Galatians 2:16, and similar verses, the emphasis is on the faith of Jesus, not our faith.
• We have faith in Jesus to have had the faith to go to the cross for our justification: Several translators have unfortunately made an arbitrary rendition of Galatians 2:16 by ignoring the objective genitive in reference to the faith of Jesus on which Paul focused. The same objective genitive is used in Ephesians 3:12 in order to turn our attention to the results of the faith of Jesus to make us righteous before God.
But the literal translation of the Greek objective genitive should use “of,” not “in.” “Faith” in the statement of both Galatians 2:16 and Ephesians 3:12 is in the possession of Jesus, not ourselves. In other words, it is our faith in the faith of Christ Jesus our Lord that “we have boldness and access with confidence through the faith of Him” (Ep 3:12). The Greek text of this verse reads “of” Him (Christ) because Paul focused on the work of Christ to reveal the righteousness of God, in contrast to our often weak faith to claim some self-righteousness.
The commentary passage of this discussion, therefore, would be a correct translation of Philippians 3:9. Paul wrote that he was “found in Him, not having my own righteousness that is from law [keeping], but that which is through the faith of Christ [also objective genitive], the righteousness that is from God by [His] faith.” This is the very foundation upon which we identify the church of Christ. The church is a membership of people who have been delivered out of the bondage of self-righteous performances of their faith, in order to be set free by grace wherein the members enjoy the righteousness of God that comes to them through the faith of Jesus going to the cross.
The preceding would certainly help us understand better what Paul meant when he wrote Romans 1:17: “For in it [the gospel] is the righteousness of God revealed from [Jesus’] faith to [our faith], as it is written, ‘the just will live by faith’ [in Jesus].” Our faith, therefore, is in the faith of Jesus Christ, through whom the righteousness of God was revealed through the cross. So now we need to carry on with His righteousness that came through the faith of Jesus, lest we try to lay claim to our own self-righteous justification that we would suppose to have worked out through some meritorious performance of acts or experiential behavior as the church.
Our faith is in the faith of Jesus who delivered us from the futility of trusting in the meritorious performance of our own faith.
• The difference between “of” and “in”: There is a vast difference between the use of the words “of” or “in” in the statements of Galatians 2:16 and Ephesians 3:12. The word “of” focuses our attention on the faith of Jesus, whereas the word “in” focuses our attention on ourselves. Specifically, the word “in” seeks to focus on the performance of our faith in order to be justified, and thus, righteous before God. This understanding is subjective, that is, we make our own determination concerning whether we have faithfully performed in order to earn our justification, and thus stand righteous before God. But this is an attack against the gospel of Jesus Christ who, through His own faith, took Himself to the cross to be God’s righteousness for us.
Now compare this to the use of the word “of” in reference to the faith of Jesus. The word “of” focuses our attention on Jesus, by whom, through His faith, we are made righteous by His redemptive sacrifice at the cross. Compare this thought to the use of the word “in,” that is, to focus on our faith. The word “in” focuses attention and our supposed righteousness in the performance of our faith, either through law-keeping, good works, or meritorious worship assemblies. In other words, “of” is gospel; “in” is another gospel.
According to Paul’s argument throughout the book of Galatians, our saving faith in Jesus as the incarnate Son of God must move us to trust in His faith that moved Him to go to the cross for us, as opposed to our own faith to keep law perfectly.
• Righteous as a result of His faith, not ours: The church is identified by those who trust in the righteousness of Jesus Christ as opposed to being zealous religionists who would lay claim to our own righteousness through the performance of our faith. We cannot over-emphasize this truth. We cannot, simply because any understanding of the righteousness that the church enjoys is totally dependent on the members’ trust in the faith of Christ whereby He took Himself to the cross to make us righteous before God.
Our righteousness is not the result of our perfect obedience to some code of doctrine that identifies the church. On the contrary, “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Rm 3:10). Therefore, our righteousness can never be dependent on the performance of our faith. If we assumed that our righteousness is attained through our faithful and perfect performance to some code of law, then we are supposing to be righteous on the merit of our own faith in law-keeping. If we would assume this, then we have disqualified ourselves from the righteousness of God that comes to us totally through the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul would rebuke us by saying that we are promoting “another gospel,” and thus, we stand condemned before God (See again Gl 1:6-9). “You have been severed from Christ, you who seek to be justified by law [keeping]. You have fallen from grace” (Gl 5:4).
Every honest Christian is usually never satisfied with his or her own faith. For this reason, we are never satisifed with the performance of our faith. We know that we never do enough. However, we must not fear, for we are righteous before God through the faith of Jesus because He took Himself to the cross.
[If you have finished this one chapter of the forthcoming book on the one church, please be informed that this book will be released in about a month.]
JESUS WILL NEVER STEP FOOT ON THIS EARTH AGAIN (Extract from the new bookito.)
We must keep in mind that no matter what happens in our world today, or whatever incorrect prophetic interpretations may come forth from theologically fertile minds, one thing will always be true. Jesus Christ, as the resurrected and ascended Son of God, still reigns over all things. This is just as it was prophesied in the Old Testament. This is exactly what He promised His disciples during His earthly ministry. And this is exactly what we believe. Jesus is now in control of all the physical world and all the worlds throughout the universe. This truth is at the heart of Old Testament prophecies concerning King Jesus and His present kingdom reign.
The universe is under the galactic sovereignty of the Lord Jesus Christ. Even Satan and demons are within His realm of authority. Regardless of what may happen on earth, or things in the spiritual world, we can be assured that Jesus reigns as the supreme authority over all things in the heavens and on earth.
Now this short bookito contains some exciting facts about this present reign of King Jesus that are revealed in Old Testament prophecies. Among the approximately three hundred Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah (Greek, “Christ”), the prophecies of Daniel 2 and 7 refer specifically to the present kingdom reign of King Jesus and the time in history when this reign began. These two fundamental prophecies are sufficient in reference to understanding the present kingdom and reign of the Lord Jesus Christ.
[Go to my facebook page in order to receive directions to download the complete bookito.]
Over two thousand years ago the disciples of Jesus were called Christians (At 11:23). Many people of faith today have always wondered what it meant to be just a Christian in the first century in the midst of so many confused idolatrous beliefs? Today, there are likewise thousands of religious groups throughout the world that are quite confusing. Add to this the fact that the religious groups that exist today are as diverse as those that were scattered throughout the world in the first century. Nevertheless, in the midst of so many idolatrous beliefs and religious groups in the first century, thousands of people responded to the gospel in order to be united as one body of faith, being Christians only. We can do the same today.
Many people in the first century were becoming Christians simply because of the overwhelming truth that Jesus of Nazareth was more than a prophet. He was the actual incarnation of God just as He claimed to be. And in order to come out of the religious confusion that existed in those days, and be set free from the bondage of sin and religion, millions of people then and today are rethinking what it means to be just a Christian.
DESIRE TO BE CHRISTIANS ONLY: People of faith today are hungering and thirsting to maintain a simple faith as opposed to being marooned in the confusion of numerous systems of religion that are divided from one another by unique divisive names and traditional religious ceremonies. Therefore, there are thousands of people throughout the world today who want to restore Christianity to its original simplicity as it was in the first century.
For this reason we too want to be Christians only. That’s all. In a world of conflicting and confusing religious beliefs and practices, everyone can be just a Christian, that is, if he or she is willing to focus on the word of God as the only authority in all matters of faith. Because people want to free themselves today from the bondage of religion, they are turning to the only guide that will lead them out of the diversity that is caused by so many religious groups that exist today.
People have simply concluded that they can be a disciple of Christ without being in the bondage of some religious institution. It is a phenomenon of these times that people of faith throughout the world are thirsting to be set free from the bondage of religious traditions and misguided religiosity. They are thirsting to fellowship and encourage one another on this road to restoration. It is our plea that all of us join together in order to restore this simple New Testament Christianity that is based solely on the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Through obedience of the gospel, anyone can be just a Christian without placing their membership with a particular religious organization that seeks their loyalty as a club member. For this reason we believe it is time to restore Jesus as the sole owner of all those who believe in Him and have obeyed the good news of His death for our sins. Contrary to some religious organization claiming us to be their member, we seek to place our membership in heaven alone, right at the feet of the reigning King Jesus.
The word “Christian” means that one is “of Christ.” That is, as a Christian we belong to Christ alone. We are followers of the person of Jesus and His teachings because we have responded to the good news that He brought into the world. One who follows the person of Jesus Christ, and is obedient to the gospel, is just a Christian. Nothing more, nothing less. Are you interested? If so, then this plea is your invitation to join with us and millions around the world who have discovered the freedom that one can enjoy by being just a Christian.
BRANDED BY CHRIST ALONE: Every Christian throughout the world seeks to be identified by the name of Christ. Being a Christian means just that. There is no such thing in the New Testament that Christians are to be branded by a unique denominational religious group. In the first century, believers in Jesus were simply known as Christians. They were not identified with a unique name that would separate them from one another. They were not divided into different denominated groups simply because religious denominations that posed to be a unique flavor of Christianity, did not exist in the first century. Therefore, in order to be a Christian today, one must put away any unique name that would separate him or her from others who have likewise obeyed the gospel in baptism and are seeking to be Christians only.
WHY BE A CHRISTIAN: We are Christians because Jesus fulfilled over 300 Old Testament prophecies that were written about Him hundreds of years before He came into this world. Therefore, He must be believed. Even before the world was created, God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit planned that the Son of God would be incarnate in the flesh of man (Jn 1:1,2,14). When the time was right in the history of mankind, the Son of God was incarnate in the flesh of man. The following is a list of only a few of the fulfilled prophecies concerning the Son of God coming into this world:
A. He would be, and was a descendant of Abraham (Gn 12:1-3; Gl 3:16). B. He would be, and was born in Bethlehem (Mc 5:2; Mt 2:1,3). C. He would be, and was a sojourner in Egypt (Hs 11:1; Mt 2:15). D. He would be, and was a teacher of Gentiles (Is 42:1-4; Mt 12:18-21). E. He would work, and did work miracles (Is 35:5,6; Lk 7:18-23). F. He would be, and was betrayed (Zc 13:7; Mt 26:55,56). G. He would die, but be raised from the dead (Ps 16:10; Jn 2:19-22).
UNITY OF CHRISTIANS: God expects His people to be united throughout the world. Though there were city assemblies of Christians in the first century as in Corinth (1 Co 1:2) and Ephesus (At 20:17), all local city assemblies were part of the one universal church (Rm 16:16). No local assembly of Christians validated themselves as Christians by proclaiming autonomy from other Christians that were meeting at other locations in the same city, or in another city, town or village. On the contrary, all individual Christians were members of the one body of Christ that existed throughout the world. Therefore, there is only one church of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is this church that is made up of all those who have responded to the gospel, and thus are just Christians as a result of their obedient response.
God expects Christians to be united together as one universal church (1 Co 1:10). They are not to divide themselves by binding as law any religious heritage, religious tradition, or any matters of opinion. As obedient disciples of Jesus who have given themselves in service to God, all Christians are to stand fast in the faith and strive together with one heart and soul in order to maintain unity (Ph 1:27). Through the power of gospel, and their unity, Christians are, as a united body, a mighty worldwide force against evil. Everyone who struggles with this world should be encouraged to become a part of this worldwide force in order to make this a better world. But in order to be encouraged, we must strive to restore the one united body of Christ wherein we can find close fellowships.
JESUS’ PRAYER FOR UNITY: Jesus prayed that those who follow Him should be united as one (Jn 17:20,21). He did not pray that we would be satisfied by dividing ourselves into different denominations according to our unique heritages, or different religious rituals or Sunday ceremonies. On the contrary, He prayed that all His disciples throughout the world who believe in Him, and who have obeyed the gospel, should work together to answer His prayer that we all seek to maintain the unity of the faith. It is for this reason that we are striving to be united in order to call all people of the world into a covenant relationship with God through obedience to the gospel (Rm 6:3-6). We must not forget, therefore, that inherent in the one gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, there is the unity of believers for which Jesus prayed.
BEING FREE AS A CHRISTIAN: Being just a Christian sets us free. We are set free from the bondage of religious restrictions that others might impose on us as law, which restrictions have no authority in the word of God. This means that believers in Jesus can be just Christians without being a part of any man-made religious group. In this way all believers in Jesus can be free from being divided into different religious groups that are denominated from one another, either by unique names or religious traditions.
One can be free to be a Christian only by allowing the Bible to be his or her sole authority in matters faith. Since we will be judged only by the word of Jesus, then we are free in matters of faith to be accountable only to the word of Jesus (Jn 12:48). When people of faith establish the word of God as their only authority in matters of faith, then unity among believers will prevail.
Since the Bible is the Spirit-inspired word of God, then we are free to allow the Bible alone to direct us in godly living (2 Tm 3:16,17). Since this word is our source of faith, then we are free to allow it to be the only foundation of our faith (Rm 10:17).
It is certainly not wrong to carry on with religious traditions. However, religious traditions must never be bound on believers in a manner by which the traditions cause division among Christians (Gl 5:1; see Mk 7:-19). In order that the truth of the gospel set us truly free, we must agree to allow the Bible to be our final authority in matters of faith, not our former religious traditions or unique names (Jn 8:32).
We must speak, therefore, where the Bible speaks. But where the Bible says nothing about a certain religious practice, we must allow freedom of opinion in the atmosphere of loving discussion. When one is a Christian only, therefore, he or she is very cautious about imposing on others religious traditions or any current rituals or ceremonies that are not found in the Bible.
FIRST PRINCIPLES FOR CHRISTIANS: Being just a Christian in the community means believing and doing good to all people. Being a Christian means being a disciple who works in thanksgiving for what Jesus has done for us through the gospel. In order for anyone to get started in living as a Christian only, the following are fundamental beliefs that all Christians must maintain in their lives:
A. Believe in the one true and living God (Is 44:8; Ep 4:4-6). B. Believe in Jesus as the one Lord (Jn 20:30,31; Ep 4:4-6). C. Believe in the one universal body, the church (Cl 1:18). D. Believe in the one Holy Spirit and His fruit (Gl 5:22,23). E. Believe in the one baptism (immersion) (At 2:38; Ep 4:4-6). F. Believe in the one faith (Ep 4:4-6; Jd 3). G. Believe in holy and moral living (Cl 3:12-17; 1 Pt 1:15). H. Believe in Jesus’ principle of love (Jn 13:34,35; 14:15). I. Believe in the one gospel (Rm 1:13-16; 1 Co 15:1-4).
EXPECTATIONS OF CHRISTIANS: As a result of their commitment to Jesus, Christians expect to live the abundant life of spiritual and emotional peace in this world (Jn 10:10; Ph 4:6,7). Christians know and expect all things to work together for good (Rm 8:28). They expect not to be tempted above what they are able to endure (1 Co 10:13). However, because of their commitment to be working disciples for their Lord Jesus, they expect persecution from those whom Satan is using to destroy the work of God (2 Tm 2:12). Therefore, they have peace of mind in the fact that the word of God tells them not to be ashamed of their stand for the gospel of Jesus, but to glorify God by living as a Christian (1 Pt 4:16; see Mt 5:10; At 11:26). Since the disciples of Jesus are more than Christians in name only, they understand that obedient service in response to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ will stir up persecution against them. But they also remember that the reward for faithful discipleship is eternal life in heaven.
ANYONE CAN BE JUST A CHRISTIAN: In order to be a disciple of Jesus, one must first believe that Jesus Christ is the incarnation of the Son of God (Jn 20:30,31). One must then respond to the gospel of this incarnate God by being immersed into Jesus Christ in order to put on Christ (Gl 3:26,27). Jesus is calling upon everyone in the world through the good news of His death for your sins, resurrection for our hope, and security by the present kingdom reign of King Jesus over all things (2 Th 1:14; see Ep 1:16-23). If one responds to Jesus’ call, then he or she can be just a Christian. Great things will then happen in one’s life (At 2:38,47). It is for this reason that we encourage everyone to respond to the good news of all those events that Jesus accomplished when He came into this world in order to deliver us out of this world. We must never forget the following words of the Holy Spirit that were written in 2 Corinthians 4:15 by the hand of the apostle Paul:
“For all things are for you sakes, so that the grace that is reaching many people may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God.”
Sometimes in history global events transpire that drive us to rethink our theology, and in particular, our understanding of how we view certain concepts in reference to the church. The axiomatic principle that familiar passages must always be reexamined is especially true in times of social chaos during wars and global pandemics. In the global pandemic days that began in 2020, which days will continue until an effective vaccine is discovered for the Covid-19 virus, it seems that the relentless virus will be with us far into the future, as is the inflictions of AIDS, tuberculosis and influenza. What has already begun on the part of many is to rethink the New Testament teaching concerning the identity and behavior of the church.
What has transpired in these pandemic days has motivated us to rethink our faith, specifically our identity as the children of God. Because health departments around the world have taken aim at what had become the identity of many religious groups—the assembly—we have now been forced into reconsidering what defines our relationship with God, and in particular, our relationships with one another. Because of restrictions that have been placed on Christians in reference to their assemblies, what faithful Christian has not reconsidered his or her relationship with God? Is it possible to feel as close to God in one’s closet as we do when in the midst of fellow congregates?
Since many people formerly identified their faith by their assemblies, I thought it very appropriate to republish a revision of this book in order to rethink this subject. The original publication struck at the heart of the theology that Christianity is somehow identified by the assembly of the saints, particularly in reference to what the saints commonly perform on Sunday morning. But this misguided identity of the church produced a dichotomy in Christian behavior that has misled not only ourselves, but also made it difficult for unbelievers to understand the nature of true Christianity.
It seems that the unbelieving world has understood “Christians” according to their performance of religious ceremonies that take place in church buildings around the world, and not according to their behavior throughout the week. This understanding of Christianity has often led the world to harbor a distorted understanding of who Christians are and what “church” means. The pandemic may have helped in correcting this misunderstanding. When assemblies of Christians are greatly restricted, or even shut down completely during lockdowns, Christians began to reevaluate their own personal identity as Christians. The world has also started viewing Christians from a different perspective. As for Christians, these are certainly the times in which everyone must take another look in their Bibles and come to a different understanding of the Christian faith.
This book is more relevant today because readers are forced into rethinking who they are in their relationship with God. Since we had formerly been misguided to think that our faith depended on whether we were discovered in some assembly on Sunday morning, we are now home alone wondering if the Holy Spirit functions outside a church assembly. Possibly more important is the belief that we had convinced ourselves that unless we meritoriously wandered through a certain criteria of acts of worship with fellow disciples in an assembly, we were not worshiping God. And even worse, we went so far as to convince ourselves that our identity as the church was established by the performance of our acts of worship on Sunday morning during the “hour of worship.”
So now we are home alone, wondering if the church can even exist when all the members are socially distanced from one another and alone in their homes. We must take this opportunity to make sure that we have a Bible-defined understanding of the church. Our worship must be extracted from the confines of performing rites, rituals and ceremonies in public assemblies. It must now be rediscovered in the confines of our homes. For many, closets have been cleaned of cobwebs and dusted in order to restore again silence with God in prayer. Gone are all the orchestras, and guitars lie quietly in cases stacked away in the corner of attics. These are certainly times for reconsideration of what we may have fabricated over time that in itself was a drift away from a close relationship with our Father. What we defined as “worship” may have been an invention for ourselves with less focus on God, and more on our own emotional needs.
In the midst of our social distancing and isolation from one another, it may be time to again challenge the doctrine of “church autonomy.” For years this misguided teaching separated groups of Christians into independent church-house shelters where the denominated tried to validate themselves with their worship performances on Sunday morning. But the pandemic has driven us to rethink this misguided theology that we could socially distance ourselves as a group, and then think that we would all be together as one in heaven. The irony of the matter lies in the fact that the autonomous are now autonomously home alone, craving to be with any brother or sister who might happen to come their way. Maybe the good that will come out of the Covid pandemic, as in the case of wars, is that we are forced into a social environment wherein we can better understand our inconsistencies in reference to church autonomy. Such beliefs now seem so senseless since we are forced into individual autonomy, or at least greatly limited to house assemblies around the world.
It is in times as these, therefore, that we need to refresh our studies of the nature of the church, particularly our relationship with one another and God. Sometimes God must move us into extremes in order that we might come to a better knowledge of the truth. At least in the past history of the nation of Israel He did such through their captivity. The Israelites came back from that captivity a changed people, never again to wander off into self-righteous Baal religion that was so common among them before the confinement of captivity. Maybe we too must be moved so far away from one another into the captivity of our own homes before we can restore a craving for God and for one another. But more important, maybe we need to be moved away from one another in order that we might renew our one-on-one relationship with our Father, who in our former religiosity had become only an afterthought during our self-righteous ceremonies we performed on Sunday morning for our own entertainment. Once we rediscover that our salvation is totally dependent on His grace through His Son, then we can find some comfort in the fact that we are saved without all the self-righteous rites, rituals and meritorious ceremonies that we performed in mega-assemblies around the world. It is now that the world has the opportunity to understand us apart from what they observed us doing during a Sunday morning performance.
Isolation always drives us to understand that church is not defined by assemblies. Church is defined by love-driven individuals throughout the world who have been baptized into Christ Jesus in response to the grace of God that was revealed on the cross. When we come to this realization, it is then that we will find confidence in our home alone relationship with Him, regardless of where everyone else is in their homes, who are also alone.
We read in our history books of wars and pandemics that have occurred throughout the centuries. We can even read again John’s prophecy of what would happen when government would eventually come crashing down on Christians for a century and a half in the first two centuries two millennia ago. We must remember that all those Christians survived those chaotic years. We are here today because they did. There were no cellphones, no internet, no television and no newspapers during their years of persecution. And yet, those Christians who emerged from persecution, pandemics and global wars survived. They did so because their faith was not, as ours often is, centered around Sunday assembly performances, or church function that was centered around church-buildings, organization committees, fancy robes and reversed collars. Christians then were faithful in godly behavior that was born out of their living response to the grace of God. They never cease to believe that they would survive in the darkness of a catacomb, or huddled in fear in a bombed out building. They simply survived, and the darkness and fear made them better. So much better that their faith transitioned through those harsh times in order to captivate our hearts today when we read about their strength.
It is my prayer, therefore, that this book will motivate readers around the world to rethink their concept of “church.” I send the book forth in order to challenge your thinking on this matter, and in doing so, to possibly restore a faith that will permeate all trials through which we must go in this sin-infested world. In the midst of so many trails we need to remember always what the Holy Spirit said to some who stayed with Jesus about two thousand years ago when they too were to suffer through heard times:
“These will make war with the Lamb and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings. And those who are with Him are called and chosen and faithful” (Revelation 17:14).
[Preface from a forthcoming book entitled: THE ORGANIC FUNCTION OF THE BODY OF CHRIST]