Since the day of Pentecost, in AD 33, the Lord's church has sought to remain distinct from every denomination during many centuries of religious pluralism. Unfortunately, many churches of Christ in recent decades, and possibly as far back as the Restoration Movement, have changed and become like the denominations around them. In every article of this series, I will deal with the areas in which the church must be different as the Bible teaches. Before we deal with the church being distinct in origin, it is necessary to have an understanding of what the Bible teaches about the distinctiveness of the church.
The word "distinct" simply means different, set apart, or unique. In Matthew 5:14-16, Jesus said,
"Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."Here, Christ is instructing the Jews to be a nation that is completely different from the world around them. Thus, they were to be a city of light (righteousness) among a world of darkness (sin). The same can be said of the church today.
Another way in which the church of our Lord is distinct from all others is the fact that Jesus established only one true kingdom. Jesus said,
"I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it," (Matthew 16:18).This "church" was established on the day of Pentecost when approximately 3,000 of the Jews present on that day were baptized (Acts 2:38-40).
Furthermore, every other church that Jesus did not build will be rooted up when He comes again. Jesus, in Matthew 15:13, said,
"Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up."
When Christians remain faithful to Christ until death by making their lives holy, distinct from this world, the Lord's church in its entirety will be a unique kingdom. Paul wrote in Romans 12:1-2,
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
The last way in which the church is distinct from the denominations is the resistance to unscriptural change. Moses, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, instructed the Israelites not to follow a multitude to do evil (Exodus 23:2). The evil that he spoke about consists not only of committing sins such as fornication, stealing, and lying, but also doing things that have no scriptural authority. This teaching still applies to God?s people today (Romans 15:4). Sadly, many congregations of the Lord's body are implementing these digressions. Examples include instrumental music, women usurping the role of men in the church (i.e. preaching, leading sing, offering public prayer, deacons, teaching in a class in the presence of men, etc.), special ministries, etc.
Although the church must be distinctive in many areas, as we shall observe throughout this series of articles, we must be careful lest we should boast of our uniqueness. Jesus said,
"whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted," (Matthew 23:12).
There are many in the world of "Christendom" today that teach that we must read the Scriptures, and apply them to our lives, but we should not be "legalistic" about it. We must "allow" for "common sense" and "implicit understanding," and we must not be concerned with following the "letter of the law," but be guided by the spirit of the law. Is this an accurate understanding of our purpose in understanding the Scriptures?
Many of those who believe this will point to verses like 2 Corinthians 3:6-8 to demonstrate their point:
who also made us sufficient as ministers of a new covenant; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. But if the ministration of death, written, and engraven on stones, came with glory, so that the children of Israel could not look stedfastly upon the face of Moses for the glory of his face; which glory was passing away: how shall not rather the ministration of the spirit be with glory?
Does this mean that we should simply follow the Spirit? By no means! Paul is comparing the Law of Moses to the ministration of Christ in 2 Corinthians 3, not any "law" versus the "spirit." It is evident that there is such a thing as the "Law of Christ" from verses like Galatians 6:2:
Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.
How, then, are we to live? Are we to simply follow the urgings of our "common sense" and such things? We have been told the following in Acts 23:1 concerning Paul:
And Paul, looking stedfastly on the council, said, "Brethren, I have lived before God in all good conscience until this day."
Is our guidance purely based on how we feel? Paul assuredly committed many heinous deeds against the church (cf. Acts 7-9), yet believed he was doing right. It made much sense to him to destroy those who believed in Jesus Christ. Therefore, there is no security in our conscience or in "common sense" to guide us to spiritual truth.
Probably the best example of the need to follow the Scriptures as they are written is the example given to us by Christ. We see the following in Matthew 23:16-20:
"Woe unto you, ye blind guides, that say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor. Ye fools and blind: for which is greater, the gold, or the temple that hath sanctified the gold? And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gift that is upon it, he is a debtor. Ye blind: for which is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift? He therefore that sweareth by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon."
The idea is further exemplified in Luke 11:42:
But woe unto you Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and every herb, and pass over justice and the love of God: but these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.
Jesus makes it abundantly clear, therefore, that we ought not disregard any commandment that He has given us-- even a tithe of mint, rue, and herbs is not to be overlooked. Shall we, then, use "common sense" and "reason" as our guide for living as Christians, or shall we follow the Word of God as He has had it written for us?
What, then, shall we say about using "common sense" and "reason" as our guides for living a Christian life as opposed to a "thus saith the LORD?" Saying that we ought to live by "common sense" and "reason" is simply an implicit admission that the doctrines and practices being described do not have any Scriptural support. After all, if they had Scriptural support, why would they not present it? "Common sense" and "reason" simply serve as rationalizations for believing in doctrines and practices that do not conform to the teachings of the New Testament. Therefore, we may conclude that the best teaching to follow is the teaching preserved in the New Testament, and not to use "common sense" and "reason" to guide our lives.
Ethan R. Longhenry
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