Written by Robert Turner
Our “Getting to the Bottom Line” series has taken us through a consideration of How We Know Things of God, Grace, and Faith; all very basic subjects. Members of the church of the Lord need these fundamental studies, and yet, strange as it may seem, there is probably more need for a basic understanding of the Nature of the Church than for any other one subject. The reason is obvious to all who give reflective thought to the study of church history. Within the first one hundred years of the church there is evidence that the concept of its nature was being corrupted. Nearly one thousand, nine hundred years have passed, during which that corrupted concept has maintained a predominate position among historic “Christians.” Despite manful efforts for “restoration,” we live among and draw converts from people who have accepted the corrupted concept. What could we rightfully expect but that our small minority of people will be affected by this overwhelming burden?
Recently I was told of two preachers who tried to discuss product of truth, some points of difference. After three or four matters were measured by the Scriptures and not the mother it became apparent they were poles apart in understanding, one remarked, “You know, I don’t believe you are a member of the Church of Christ. I have never met a Church of Christer who believed as you do.” It was a clear case of “you don’t believe as we do, so you are not ‘Church of Christ.”‘ Reminded me of a statement from Irenaeus (120-202 A.D.) about the church at Rome: “. . which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its preeminent authority. . .”(Against Heresies, Bk.III, Ch.3, par.2; subject to various translations of the Latin). This tells us how early the nature of the church was corrupted, and the direction that corruption took.
The concept puts “Church authority” in the hands of a body politic, whose true core consists of its administrators. Perhaps this strikes a familiar note to those who read some recent literature, but do not let that turn you off. If the current examination of local church “entity” and elders succeeds in raising another divisive “issue” it will be because we have too few truly taught in the nature of the N.T. church — not because the Examiner was logical or understood that nature correctly. It is a shameful state that should enlist careful study on the part of us all.
Catholicism sees the church as “the society founded by our Lord Jesus Christ” (Catholic Encyclopedia, V. III, p. 744). It is defined as “a body of en united together by the profession of the same Christian Faith, and by participation in the same sacraments, under the governance of lawful pastors . . .” (Ibid, p. 745). Look carefully for the nature of the church in any reliable Catholic source. It is a society (a body politic), having lawful pastors (administrators), who dispense grace (blessings of the sacraments), bought by the blood of Christ. (See Understanding the Catholic Faith, John O’Brien, 1955.)
Allow me to put this pragmatically. (1) Such a church must perpetuate itself, sanctioning and authorizing additional churches. Mormons, accepting this concept in principle, conclude that since the church had been “lost” the original “authority” had to be restored – hence, Peter, James and John appeared to Smith and others, laying hands on them (?). Baptists, accepting this concept in principle, conclude they must “rattle the chain” of succession back to the original “church” – to prove validity. (2) “The church” (via bishops) baptizes, validates public worship, etc. The Great Commission was given to “the church,” hence none but the institution is authorized to go, teach, baptize. Growth of this idea can be traced through Ante-Nicene writings (cf. Constitution of the Holy Apostles, Bk. III, Ch. 10, ca. 120 A.D.). However, as late as 193 A.D., one writer says in special cases “other disciples are called i.e., to the work” (On Baptism, ch. 17). The concept that the institution was the authority, the validator, and the testing stone for heaven, was developed at a very early date. Little wonder, when the institution apostatized it took “Christianity” with it.
I believe the Scriptures teach a much different nature of the church. The word itself is a collective noun, and refers to saints metaphorically assembled. We have put far too much emphasis upon the establishment of the Church, when we should be emphasizing the establishment of the rule of Christ (Study Isa. 2; Acts 2 objectively). It has caused us to think of an institution, when we should have been thinking of a certain kind or quality of people – the saints. Christ rules His people via His word, and even the Apostles were not “the authority,” but were the king’s Ambassadors, who delivered the authoritative word. They have no successors – need none, being still active via their inspired message. I am not arguing the case here, for I believe my readers who will take time to think, will agree with what I am saying. The church (visible) is the product of truth, not the mother of it. Take the word to people, cause them to believe and obey it, and they become Christ’s church.
Putting that pragmatically, we would say a New Testament could be tossed from a boat to an island where people never heard of Christ’s church, and if translated, studied, believed and obeyed, the “church” would exist on that island. (Consider: put sheep on that island, and a “flock” exists there.) This concept says anyone can teach the word, and if it is taught accurately, and obeyed, it produces the same thing every time. Succession is in the seed, not in the sower. Baptism is not “administered” by some “office,” nor is public worship validated by such administrators. Saints assemble and worship because they want to follow the Lord’s instructions, and have a perfect right to do so, without some “mother church” giving them this right. The “nature” of the church in this sense, is the character of its units, the saints. We speak of the “body” of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23), the whole family of God in heaven and earth (3:15, KJ), the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven (Heb. 12:22-23).
We are aware some seem to think this is the only possible use of “church,” and that every passage which speaks of “the church” doing something simply means that “saints” did something. Well, saints did it all right, but not always individually or distributively. Such limitations are inexcusable. They sometimes did something as a team, or collectively; and that team has “entity” and is called a “church.” “Churches” paid wages to Paul (2 Cor. 11:8). This can be broken down to no smaller unit than “church.” “Let not the church be burdened” (1 Tim. 5:16) can not refer to saints individually, because of the contrast in the context. Saints (distributively) have an obligation, and are to perform it and not let saints (collectively) be charged with that obligation. The saints at Philippi, with their overseers and servants (1:1), were called “church” in chapter 4:15, and here “church” is the subject of a singular verb – indicating the saints are not being considered distributively.
There is nothing unusual about a term having more than one application. The word “elder” means older, and sometimes refers only to age. But it is not so limited. Presbuteriou (1 Tim. 4:14) “is a late word (ecclesiastical use also), first for the Jewish Sanhedrin (Lk. 22:66; Acts 22:5), then (here only in N.T.) of Christian elders. . . ” (Word Pictures, Robertson). In “The high priest . . . and all the estate of the elders” (22:5) the high priest was also “elder” but has a separate designation. Adolf Deissmann (Light from Ancient East) confirms the ecclesiastical and official use of “elder” in the N.T., and even mentions a scholar who has written a “history of the title ‘presbyteros. “‘ The dual use of “church” is so commonly confirmed it is foolish to ignore it. All of which brings us to consider “church” when it refers to a group of saints who have covenanted together to act as one – to “organize” if you please. Our study on the nature of the church is incomplete without much more consideration of the nature of the local church, so we promise that in our next article.
Guardian of Truth XXX: 19, pp. 583-584
October 2, 1986
Written by Leon Mauldin
An article entitled Does God Care? appeared in the Cullman Times (4/25/08), written by Mr. Bill McCartney (hereafter referred to as Mr. M. for brevity). The position set forth was this: “Who is right and who is wrong in the way they worship? I suggest that God simply doesn’t care because there is not a wrong way to worship Him.”
I maintain that God does care how we treat His word, and for that reason He cares how we worship. As Mr. M. told us what God does and does not care about, he did not share with us upon what scriptures he based his conclusion. But as I respond to his article, I want to include several passages, and I ask that you give them a fair hearing.
Mr. M. asked, “Which does God care about: how we worship or how we live our lives?” That’s a bit like asking, would you like to breathe, or would you like to eat? Mr. M’s fallacy is making worship and conduct “either-or” – thus creating a false dilemma. Are those the only alternatives? Could it not be that God is concerned with both? Let us not presume to speak for God. He is capable of doing that Himself, and He has done so in His word. That’s why we have the Bible.
Old Testament Examples. You remember the biblical account of Cain killing his brother Abel. But what was Cain so angry about that he took his brother’s life? Genesis 4:3-5: “And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the LORD. Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the LORD respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.”
Remember, Mr. M. said there is not a wrong way to worship. If that’s true, why didn’t God accept Cain’s worship? The Bible plainly says He did not. The difference between the two brothers is this: Abel did what God said, the way God said it (Hebrews 11:4; Romans 10:17). Cain did what he wanted to, but God did not accept it. You see, God really does care how we worship Him.
If the priests, Nadab and Abihu, could talk today on the subject of worship, would they say that “God simply doesn’t care”? Would they conclude there is no wrong way? Leviticus 10:1-2 (NIV): [they] took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, contrary to his command. So fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.”
I understand that we today live under the authority of the New Testament. But we are to learn from the Old, as Paul said in Romans 15:4, “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.”
New Testament Warnings. Take your New Testament and see how Jesus warned about ignorant worship… “you worship what you do not know” (John 4:21), vain worship (Matt. 15:9), will worship (Col. 2:23, KJV). How can this be, if God doesn’t care?
Jesus showed that acceptable worship has two essential elements: “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24). The spirit here is the human spirit; that is, the heart, the inner man is involved. Truth is God’s word (John 17:17). Further, notice that word must – worship must be both from the heart and in accordance with the directives of scripture (truth) if it is to be acceptable. Can you read these verses and conclude that God doesn’t care???
This subject is important because it deals with our souls. God holds us responsible for what we accept (read Matt. 15:14; 1 John 4:1). Jesus said, “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46). Oh yes, He cares!
Written by Jesse M. Kelley – Published in February 1967
…hounded like a wounded brute, Man with all his worldly loot, Is caught at last — by what he chases”
It is a sad fact of human experience that a man can become so intent on satisfying his greed for material gain and possessions that he becomes oblivious to all else. His entire outlook on life is viewed only as it relates to his obsession. “What profit is in it for me” is his philosophy of life. He is the victim of his own greed; what he has and what he desires to have, have become a prison far stronger and more confining than iron bars and stone walls. He views every transaction and every relative duty through the haze of his own selfishness. His covetousness has killed all his finer senses. If God ever occupied anyplace in his life, He has now become a vague, intangible, and impractical “something” that is wholly unrelated to the affairs of life and the destiny of souls. He has truly been “caught by what he chases.”
In his first epistle to Timothy Paul said, “But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” (6:9,10) When a man becomes discontent with “food and raiment” (verse 8) he will forsake God and launch out into the mainstream of ungodly and unprincipled men to lay claim to “my share” of possessions. After all, “I must provide for my family and our future security.” He forsakes God and sells his soul for a “mess of pottage” to fill his belly, while righteousness, honor, and godliness are trampled under his unholy feet.
I read a story one time about a man who went to Africa in search of diamonds. It is related that he “struck it rich” and was returning home with his hoard of uncut and unpolished diamonds. The ship on which he booked passage was caught up in the grip of a severe storm. It was tossed helplessly and seemingly hopelessly in the tumultuous waves. The story relates that the man became terrified and thinking that the ship would surely sink and he would lose all his wealth, he tied the sack of diamonds around his neck and jumped overboard. The moral of the story is, Did he possess the diamonds, or did the diamonds possess him?
Covetous men are “caught by what they chase.” Their love of money and the things it will buy has become a snare” and they are “drowned in destruction and perdition.”
In the sermon on the mount, Jesus warned, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matt. 6:19-21) When this incomparable truth is applied to the life God will have a man who is worth more to His cause than all the treasures of all the kingdoms of the world. Let us therefore urge you, beloved, to search and seek after those things which are above, “where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.” Your life will be happy and secure, and the life hereafter assured.
Written by Robert F. Turner – Published in March 1970
My dad reads your paper; thats how I got the address. Ive been talking to him about dancing. He wont let me, because of what it will lead to, and all the preachers he has talked with on the subject say No, it isnt good.
But my side: Thats just about all the things that teenagers do beside smoking and drinking. I can see where these arent good and I would never dream of doing them, but whats wrong with dancing? Its just something to do for pleasure.
I have already promised to keep my dancing sensible. Other kids (two) at my church (Church of Christ) can. Do you, and the ones you can talk with about this subject. think I should miss out on the fun? Please answer in a letter. _________ N .Y.
I certainly do not want you to miss the fun — and I am aware that what it leads to makes very poor argument indeed to early teens. But you seem to be very intelligent — try reasoning on your own statements.
By what standard do you reject the smoking and drinking? It is done for pleasure; and many contend it can be kept sensible. Other kids do them, and should you miss out on the fun? Some other kids break store windows and bait the police just for kicks. But you see the END of these things — the alcoholic, death by cancer, etc. These ends are physical. and more readily seen than the break down in morals, and of character. Apparently your dad, and those with whom he has counseled, see some ends of dancing that are not yet clear to you. And they know that ones concept of sensible dancing — like that of smoking and drinking — usually change for the worse as we grow older.
You will not long remain a young teen, dancing at school or in supervised parties. In a few short years you will dance at Clubs. Night-Spots, where drinking, smoking and sensuous dancing will be pressured upon you. (Associates there will ask why you should miss the fun of things you now know to be wrong, and reject.
What you reject now, because their end — the physical break-down are not nearly so damaging as those things that attack ones morals, destroy character, and cause the loss of ones immortal soul.
It is difficult, if not impossible for younger and less experienced boys and girls to see this point. That is why Christian parents have to set and rule in such matters, for the children. (Pity those whose parents are too weak to accept and meet the responsibility.)
But I believe you can understand that the wrong dancing is NOT the gay association, music and rhythm you might enjoy now. It is the sensuality, immodesty, and lasciviousness (study these words an unabridged dictionary) of the full grown vice of which we warn. Already you may sense such association being made by older and more bold girls boys of your public school classes. I’M RESTING MY CASE ON YOUR MATURITY AND YOUR LOVE FOR JESUS CHRIST.
Written by Robert F. Turner – published in March 1980
A fellow preacher showed me the church building in a community of middle income people — the meeting place for 60/80 brethren. Paint was peeling from the trim, the lawn was filled with weeds and needed mowing, shrubbery needed trimming, and trash was blowing about the parking lot. He asked, “If you were preaching here, how would you go about getting the brethren to clean up this place?”
I told him I would begin by bringing my mower up there and cutting the grass. Then, at our next meeting, I would ask if any of the members had an edger, and if so, would they meet me here on Saturday and edge the walk while I clean up the parking lot. I’d thank that person publicly on Sunday, and ask if someone would volunteer to trim the shrubbery. All this should get their attention!!
Then I would ask the elders, or the next business meeting, if there was any objection to scraping off the old paint, and putting on new, I’d have prices for paint on hand — and if they said the “church” couldn’t afford it, I’d offer to do it myself, with whatever help anyone would give.
But my friend played devil’s advocate. “What if no one offered to help, or even told you that if it took a neat clean building to get people to come to worship they would be coming for the wrong reason.” I would counter that people who looked for a show place weren’t coming to that little place; and that the clean-up was not to attract new comers, but was the fruit of self-respect on the part of those who regularly worshipped there.
I might suggest a Bible reading of Proverbs 24:30-34. “I went by the field of the sluggard, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; and, lo, it was all grown over with thorns, The face thereof was covered with nettles, and the stone wall thereof was broken down…”
In this day of emphasis upon material things this article seems almost archaic. But this was not written to promote clean neat buildings alone. I hoped you would notice that if something needs doing you begin by doing it yourself. Elders and preachers will not increase personal work, contribution, or other desirable traits by “fussing” at the congregation. We should have scriptural authority for our plea, but even this will fail in the absence of example. Most brethren know what is right, but are not motivated to do as well as they know to do. For the bottom line, it is this mutual edification, encouragement, prompting and correcting that gives meaning to congregational fellowship.