Going straight to the Cross

Moving the Goalpost

by Greg Tidwell

"You're making a mountain out of a molehill," my more progressive friends would say. They assured me a decade ago that no one among churches of Christ intended to use instrumental music as worship. Over the ensuing years, however, these same friends have begun using instrumental music in their worship services.

"No one among churches of Christ doubts inerrancy," my more progressive friends assured me. "Certainly," they scoffed, "anyone denying inerrancy would leave the church." These same friends now publicly deny the total accuracy of the text of Scripture.

My more progressive friends have likewise shifted their position concerning the role of women in the church and the fixed plan of God's way of salvation. Everything seems to be in play, and nothing seems certain.

A Slippery Slope

Continually, on every issue imaginable, the progressive element in the church has shifted further to the left. Dialogue with proponents of the Community Church approach has become like playing football against a team that has the luxury of moving the goalpost any distance they choose.

Their guiding principle is not fixed and objective, but fluid and subjective. The overriding issue is not "what is right," but rather "who is right." My more progressive friends, as a matter of policy, are unwilling to drive a stake in the ground and set boundaries on any point of doctrine.

They now deny the reality of eternal punishment in hell, the essential nature of baptism for salvation, and the need for biblical authority to structure the work and worship of the church. Like watching the bar in a limbo contest, I keep asking, "how low can you go?"

The Full Assurance of Faith

I fear there is nothing to hold the Community Church Movement back from embracing every vile error imaginable. Apostasy is cumulative by nature, a duplicitous downward spiral. As the apostle Paul warned Timothy, "…evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived" (2 Timothy 3:13, ESV).

Consider the Disciples of Christ and the Episcopal Church. A generation ago, no one would have imagined either group embracing homosexual activism. However, the same disregard for Scripture that opened the door to the ordination of women has paved the way for practicing homosexuals to fill the pulpits of these apostate denominations.

I actually feel sorry for my more progressive friends. In compromising with the unbelieving world, they are abandoning the eternal assurance of the gospel. In denying the truths they find unpleasant or inconvenient, they are losing the framework that upholds all truth. In the end, having compromised everything, they will find themselves left with nothing.

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God-Fearing Faith

When I hear the phrase “hell-fire preaching,” an image comes to mind of a man preaching in a tent sometime in the 1920s. Frenetically waving his arms in the air, the preacher shouts and exhorts his listeners to “turn or burn.” This sort of image gives the impression that preaching on hell was a cultural fad of that time.

However, in Matthew 10:28 we read: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” This warning comes from the first century, not the twentieth. It did not come from a man preaching in a tent in the American countryside. Jesus spoke these words.

Jesus often warned His followers to prepare themselves for an eternal judgment that would consign each person either to heaven or to hell. This teaching is found in many of our Lord’s parables. (Such as the parables of the unrighteous steward; the pounds; the talents; the wheat and the tares; the evil servant; the marriage of the King's Son, and the ten virgins.) This warning pervades the story of the rich man and Lazarus.

Jesus repeatedly and clearly taught an eternal division of humanity either into eternal blessing or into eternal torment. In the succinct words of Matthew 25:46, “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

The reality of God sending people to eternal punishment was an essential part of what Jesus taught precisely because the reality of hell is essential to understand Jesus as Savior. For Jesus to be the Savior He has to save us from something. Moreover, that from which Jesus has saved us is eternal damnation. Our salvation in Christ is so wonderful precisely because the alternative is so terrible. If we do not really believe in hell, we cannot really believe in Jesus as Savior.

Jesus also repeatedly used the warning of damnation to encourage right behavior. “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.” (Matthew 5:29, ESV)

If the church is going to be faithful to the Master, we must also be willing to follow His lead in teaching the truth about Hell.

Much contemporary religion with its “feel good” approach has abandoned teaching about the eternal damnation of the unconverted. Religion of this sort teaches a hollow gospel in which God’s grace and God’s love are robbed of true power. God’s grace and love are so profound because our need is so great. Authentically presenting the grace of God necessitates bringing people to fear.

Faithful Christians, themselves, must fear God. Not a fearful expectation of an eternity in hell, but a fearful realization of what would come were we not in Christ. Without such fear, there can be no appreciation for God’s love and grace given in Christ.

There are things we are not to fear. Jesus commands us to fear God alone. Having the proper fear of God delivers us from all other fear. While it is true that “…perfect love casts out fear…” (1 John 4:18), but authentic Christian love only comes through the experience of God’s love is saving us from Hell. “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10, ESV)

Understanding the truth of God’s judgment is essential to the presentation of the gospel. As the apostle Paul states, “…Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others….” (2 Corinthians 5:11, ESV) As John Newton wrote, “’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved; How precious did that grace appeared the hour I first believed.” Without fear there can be no real knowledge of the gospel of salvation, but with the teaching of God’s truth people not only learn appropriate fear, they also find the ultimate solution to all fear in the love of God.

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Priorities for the Church

"But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus." 2 Timothy 3:14-15

In this encouragement from the Apostle Paul to the young evangelist three points can help us as we consider our work in the church.

First, notice the importance of childhood training. Timothy’s spiritual instruction began with childhood. We cannot emphasize enough the importance of training children in the faith from the earliest years. The teaching which occurs in our Bible classes, at special events such as church camp or Vacation Bible School, and - most importantly - in our homes is a vital aspect of the Lord’s work.

Second, not only did Timothy receive instruction from his youth, but Paul tells us the content of this instruction. Timothy had been trained in Scripture. We must be careful never to dilute our message with other things. The Bible must remain central in our work as God’s people.

Third, the result which came from this training was salvation. As we teach children, teenagers and adults the ultimate goal of our instruction is the salvation of their souls.

Keeping these things in mind provides a perspective on the work of the church which can keep us in balance. While there are many good things we can do in the Lord’s service, we must not neglect our central mission of teaching the gospel.

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God Has Spoken

“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” We sing these simple words to our children. Sometimes simple truths are the most profound. God has spoken. Scripture completely preserves God’s message to us. This message provides our complete, sufficient, and exclusive guide to a right relationship with God in Christ.

Faithfully following the Bible, we can know that Jesus saves us. We can know God’s pattern for the church. We can have assurance in a world of uncertainty. God has spoken, and in the message of Scripture we find spiritual power that blesses all who will trust and obey.

The Current Apostasy

Sadly, not everyone is willing to approach the Bible in faith and accept God’s will for our lives. In every generation, detractors have rejected the authority of God’s word. Currently, many professors at ostentatiously Christian schools deny that the Bible is inerrant, completely true in all it affirms. This message of infidelity is fueling the many aberrations of the Community Church Movement among churches of Christ.

Radical changes are corrupting worship. Human organizational schemes are flouting God’s pattern for church government. The social desire for unity is diluting and destroying the preaching of the gospel. Unless we unite under the authority of Scripture, any wind that blows will track us into even more uncertain waters. God’s church must reaffirm its commitment to God’s word if there is any hope for revival.

A Candle in the Darkness

In the face of the current apostasy, the church of the Lord is seeing some of God’s servants rising to the challenge. Affronted by the error that imperils the church, courageous men of faith are investing themselves in the study and proclamation of God’s truth with increasing fervor.

One of these courageous men is Jimmy Jividen, a Christian scholar and evangelist. Jividen has touched the lives of thousands and strengthened their faith through his writings. Over the years, Jividen has addressed many important issues in his books. Each of them has made a great contribution to the work of God’s church. His latest work,Inspiration and Authority of Scriptures, is by far the most important study Jividen has ever presented.

Ideally designed for a quarter of study, this book contains thirteen chapters with discussion questions following each lesson. Jividen addresses the central role of faith in receiving the truth of Scripture and in applying it to our lives. Church leaders will find in Inspiration and Authority of the Scriptures a tool to help address the rising tide of unbelief.

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by Greg Tidwell

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Galatians 6:1 (ESV)

Paul provides a very realistic and practical statement about sin in the lives of Christians, a balanced approach which deals directly with sin without falling into a destructive self-righteousness. Several important concepts appear in this verse:

  1.   Sin is a universal danger. Anyone can be caught in transgression, and all need to keep watch on themselves. We should neither be shocked to learn that Christians sin nor complacent in guarding our own souls against sin.
  2.   Sin is to be opposed with a view towards the restoration of the sinner. The purpose of confrontation is to bring the transgressor back, not to drive him away.
  3.   The person doing the restoring must be spiritual, that is to say in step with the Spirit of God. Galatians 5:22-23 describes the attributes of this spirituality as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Each of these spiritual qualities has a place in confronting sin. 
  4.   Paramount in the restoration of a sinner is an attitude of gentleness. This approach flows from the humility of knowing our own susceptibility to sin and our need for the Savior. Of all spiritual attributes, this quality is most important in confronting sin.

Human nature has not changed since the day Adam and Eve fell from grace, and the Biblical approach to sin and salvation remains as true today as when Scripture was first written.

The church will continue to deal with sin and its consequences until the Lord returns. We must make sure we do so as the Lord intended.

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