What Is The Church Of Christ?
By H. A. (Buster) Dobbs
What Does The Bible Say About Salvation?
What Is The Connection Between Faith And Works?
The following letter was received by the editor of the Firm Foundation:
"Dear Firm Foundation: What is the theology of the church of Christ? Some say, ‘No creed but Christ. No law but love..’ I want to know what they teach and why they teach it. Cannot seem to understand baptism & faith and how they work together or do not work together. What does James 2:19 mean? Please explain to me. Hope to hear from you soon".
Thank you for your recent letter and for your questions. You are to be congratulated on your interest in Bible teaching, and your obvious desire to have a right understanding of God’s word.
Jesus tells us that we can know and be saved by the truth (John 8:32). Truth is one and can have no contradictions. If two statements are in disagreement, one or both of them must be wrong, but both cannot both be right.
Truth is of paramount importance, seeing that Jesus said that he is the truth, the way, the life, and that we cannot come to the Father except by him (John 14:6). The way of truth is the way of life.
You ask, "What is the theology of the church of Christ? Some say, ‘No creed but Christ; no law but love.’ I want to know what they teach and why they teach it."
Succinctly put, the churches of Christ -- if that is what they truly are -- speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent. By a strict following of the Bible, salvation and the church of the New Testament are recovered in each generation.
The church, if it is truly of Christ, must follow carefully and absolutely the teaching of Christ. The Bible warns us about neglecting the great salvation that was at the first spoken by the Lord, confirmed by those who heard him, and witnessed and certified by Jehovah (Heb. 2:3-4).
That is a short and correct answer, but it provokes another question: What is the exact teaching of Christ? Another short answer would be, it is found in the Bible and especially the New Covenant, but that does not define the teaching – it merely points to where it is stored.
Still, it gives us information about where to find good doctrine. The Bible is the source. It is the very word of very God and therefore true; being true there can be no mistakes in it.
We begin, then, with a commitment to the Bible as an authoritative rule book. If we would know the truth and be made free, the Bible, and the Bible only, must be our guide. There is no other way.
If we are agreed on this point, we can proceed with our study of the Bible, always remembering that while mere mortals may be able to help us to a better understanding of God’s word, it is the word itself that is the authority.
If a teacher says something different from the Bible, the teacher is wrong and the Bible is right. Always weigh and measure what human teachers say by the never failing balance of the eternal and inerrant word of God. Make the Bible your standard.
Following the sacred scriptures may not make you popular, but it will make you right and deliver you blameless before the throne of God. So, do not make the mistake of seeking the majority position, but decide to seek truth, even if it is hated by most people (John 17:14).
Jesus said, "Many are called, but few are chosen" (Matt. 22:14). It is the wide gate and broad way that leads to destruction; the strait gate and narrow way lead to life (Matt. 7:14-15).
Please keep in mind that the Bible is the standard -- nothing else! The church is the people and the people are not the standard. The church Jesus built and purchased with his blood is precious and necessary, but the question is not what do the churches of Christ teach, but what does the Bible teach?
There is no salvation outside the church, seeing that God adds to the church daily such as should be saved (Acts 2:47). Because the Lord adds the saved to the church daily, no saved person was ever out of the church overnight. God does not make mistakes. He knows who the saved are and he adds them to the church of Christ, which is the one body of Christ. The church is one just as the truth is one.
The church is the body of Jesus (Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:18). There is one body (Eph. 4:5). Therefore there is one church. Jesus is the head of the church and the church is his body. Can you conceive of one head with many bodies?
The church is essential to eternal salvation, but it is not the measure of what is right and wrong. When we go to the Bible and follow it unfailingly, we are a part of the universal body of Jesus, which is his one church. Yet, we are not seeking to reproduce even churches that existed in the first century -- like the church at Corinth, or Berea, or Laodicea, or any other New Testament location – but we are dedicated to finding the exact teaching of Jesus about the church and salvation and obeying his words. "The seed [of the kingdom or church] is the word of God" (Luke 8:11).
To the extent first century churches kept the teaching of the Son of God, they were right and to the extent that varied from it, they were wrong, just as we are either right or wrong on the basis of whether we faithfully walk in the light of God’s undying word. We will be judged in the last great day, not by any first century church, but by the words of Jesus (John 12:48).
It is not what does the church of Christ teach, but what does the Bible teach that matters. We are not so much interested in what people teach as we are in what the Lord teaches.
The Bible tells us plainly and emphatically what we must do to be saved by the grace of God and the blood of Christ. In the second chapter of the book of Acts we learn that Jesus baptized the apostles in the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4);
A crowd gathered and were overwhelmed by what they saw and heard (Acts 2:5-13);
Simon Peter preached a fabulous sermon proving that Jesus is both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:14-35);
Many of those who heard believed that Jesus is the anointed Lord and asked, "What shall we do?" (Acts 2:37);
Peter told these believers to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus for the remission of sins and they would receive the "gift" of the Holy Spirit (The Holy Spirit reveals the word of God and confirms the revealed word. Only God-breathed scriptures make us complete before God, giving us peace, joy, hope and multiple gifts – 2 Tim. 3:16-17; Gal. 5:22-24);
Many received the words of Peter and were baptized and God added them to the church (Acts 2:41);
They continued to study, worship and love each other (Acts 2:42-46);
Jehovah added to the church daily such as should be saved (Acts 2:47).
These first century converts had the teaching of the apostles, the sanction of Christ, the gifts (blessings) of the Holy Spirit and the approval of Jehovah. If we obey the same commands, the same results will follow. It is that simple – that clear. The penitent believer is to be baptized to wash away sins (Acts 22:16).
This is the unmistakable teaching of the Bible with regard to personal salvation.
Your question seems to include the idea that Bible teaching about salvation is not the same as what is taught in most denominations. You are right. The Christian denominations of the world do not teach the simple Bible plan of salvation. The majority are heartbreakingly wrong -- just as Jesus said they would be Many called, but few chosen. The noble few stand for what is true and right.
The church of New Testament times veered into apostasy and became the Greek and Roman Catholic churches (Acts 20:29-31; 2 Tim. 4:1-4; 2 Thess. 2:1-11). The King of England, Henry VIII, and Martin Luther protested the corruption of apostate churches, and created the Anglican and Protestant Reformations (which includes most modern "Christian" denominations). Luther and Henry VIII made a conscious attempt to return to the Augustinian belief system. (Augustine is regarded as the father of theology.)
Augustine taught that because humans are totally depraved they are altogether helpless; if God chooses to save a person, he will receive a direct, personal operation and in-filling of the Holy Spirit, bringing love of God, repentance, faith and salvation The Catholic and denominational view of salvation follows this line of reasoning:
We are lost and there is nothing we can do about it.
Saved and there is nothing you can do about it.
God is the sole actor in the salvation process.
Man is a helpless pawn.
If God elects to save a person, he is saved by grace only through faith alone.
If this is true, God is alone responsible for all the lost and is alone responsible for all the saved. Some will be saved arbitrarily and others will be lost arbitrarily. If you burn eternally in hell, it is not your fault; if you bask eternally in heaven, it is not your doing. We have nothing to do with our salvation or condemnation – it is solely an act of God.
This makes God a respecter of persons. The Creator whimsically saves some and condemns others, according to this theory. Of course, this denies the scriptures which say that God is not a respecter of persons (Acts 10:34). Peter was talking about salvation – the salvation of Jews and Greeks – and plainly says that God does not respect persons. Who are we to believe? The Bible or the denominations?
Anyhow, the Bible says that we all sin (Rom. 3:23).
It also says the sinner to be saved must hear the gospel (Rom. 10:13-14).
Faith comes by hearing the word of God (Rom. 10:17).
Through Christ we have peace with God and by faith we have access to saving grace (Rom. 5:1-2).
The goodness of God leads to repentance (Rom. 2:4).
We are baptized into the death of Christ and are raised to walk in a newness of life (Rom. 6:4).
In the act of baptism our "old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin" (Rom. 6:6-7).
The gospel is the power of God to save and we should not be ashamed of it (Rom. 1:16).
The churches of Christ worship according to the divine pattern. Upon the first day of every week they sing (Eph. 5:18-19; Col. 3:16-17); pray (1 Cor 14:15); observe the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 10:16-17; 1 Cor. 11:23-26); give (1 Cor. 16:1-2); and are edified (taught) (1 Cor. 14:3, 29-30).
The church is organized into local congregations with bishops (elders) and deacons (Phil. 1:1). The Bible tells us what qualifications the elders and deacons must have (1 Tim. 3:1-13). The church continues to have evangelists, elders and teachers to perfect the saints, for the work of ministry and to build up the body (Eph. 4:11-16).
The disciples are commanded to "go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned" (Mark 16:15-16). Each saint makes a diligent study of God’s word to be able to get the teaching right (2 Tim. 2:15). The church (saved people) "visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction," and is unspotted from the world. As we have opportunity we do good unto all men, especially them who are of the household of faith (Gal. 6:10).
You also say, "Cannot seem to understand baptism and faith and how they work together. What does James 2:19 mean; mere intellectual faith & belief? Explain to me. Hope to hear from you soon."
James 2:19 says, "Thou believest that God is one; thou doest well: the demons also believe, and shudder." If one is saved only by faith, as most denominations teach, then the demons will be saved, seeing that they believe and tremble. Demons will not be saved. Therefore, salvation is not by faith alone, and the denominations are wrong.
James discusses the principle of saving faith in the second chapter of his letter from verse fourteen to verse twenty-six. He makes the following points:
Faith without works is dead (v. 17).
One cannot show faith without works (v. 18)
Demons believe (only) and shudder (v. 19).
Faith without works is barren (v. 20).
Abraham was justified by works (v. 21).
Works make faith perfect (v. 22)
We are not justified only by faith (v. 24).
Faith apart from works is dead (v. 26).
When the Bible elsewhere tells us that works have nothing to do with salvation, it is obvious that the word "works " is being used in two different senses, or the Bible contradicts itself, which would mean that it is not true, and we have no hope of being made free from sin. There is no alternative.
Two ways in which the word "works" is used in the New Testament are, first, works of men apart from faith and grace, sometimes called the doctrines of men (Matt. 15:9; Eph. 4:14; 1 Tim. 1:3).
And, second, works in the sense of following God’s instructions, sometimes called the doctrine of God or Christ, sound, good, or healthful doctrine (1 Tim. 1:10; 1 Tim. 4:6; 2 Tim. 4:3; Titus 1:9; Titus 2:10; 2 John 9).
The first is unavailing. The second is necessary if we would be saved. We must obey the teaching of the Bible to have a living, saving faith (James 2:14-26).
It is obvious that obeying and following the doctrines of men is a vain work, but to obey the doctrine of God our Savior is commendable and essential. If we are to understand the teaching of the Bible about works, these two divisions must be kept in mind.
For an example of human works apart from faith, or the doctrines of men, suppose a mature person never transgressed the moral law of God. He would be free from sin because sin is a transgression of (moral) law and where there is no such law there is no sin (Rom. 5:13). A person who has never sinned is not lost but is in a saved condition. If salvation is the result of keeping the law of God without fail, then it would be of works – human works. This is not possible because all sin and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).
Another example of works without the grace of God, suppose a person sins, but is able to formulate his own scheme of salvation by human merit alone and apart from the grace of God. He would be saved by his works without faith in God. This is not possible. Jeremiah said, "O Jehovah, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps" (Jer. 10:23). Solomon tells us, "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man; But the end thereof are the ways of death" (Prov. 14:12). If we could devise our own plan of eternal salvation, the cross is not necessary and Jesus died for nothing. (This is also be said of the law of Moses -- see Gal. 2:21.)
Now, here is an example of sound doctrine. When God tells us to do something, that, too, is a work, but it is not a work of human merit apart from faith, mercy or grace. Faith itself is called a work (John 6:28-29). Repentance and its fruit is a work, but without it we cannot be saved (2 Peter 3:9). Baptism is a work but it is necessary to salvation (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16; 1 Peter 3:19-21).
The apostle Peter says that baptism saves. Obedience to the commands of God is necessary to eternal salvation (Heb. 5:7-9). Jesus is the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him. Obedience to divine commands is necessary to salvation, but such obedience is works. It follows that when the Bible tells us we are not saved by works it is speaking of works of human merit and is not talking about submission to the will of God.
Paul wrote: "Where then is the glorying? It is excluded. By what manner of law? of works? Nay: but by a law of faith" (Rom. 3:27).
Notice that the apostle speaks of 1) a law of works and 2) a law of faith. They are not the same, but they are both law. Law involves procedure, a set of rules, legislation, an order or a dictum having authority, a code of principles or precepts. Law usually protects those who obey it and punishes those who disobey it.
Paul says that if we are saved by a law of works we could glory in our salvation. That is, if we won salvation by our human merit either by sinless perfection, or developing our own scheme of redemption, we would have something to brag about – we could glory in that. Since we can do neither, there is no boasting or glorying. We are sinners and must have the good gift of God to be saved.
Paul mentions a law of faith. It is still law. It has requirements to be observed and commands to be obeyed. The law of faith comes to us by the grace of God and is an expression of his love for us. The law of faith tells us to repent, confess, be baptized and live faithful lives in service of God. When we do what God tells us to do, we are confessing our own wretchedness (sinfulness) and our need to lean upon God and his mercy for our salvation. Therefore there is no glorying. We have nothing to brag about.
This understanding helps us to better appreciate Paul’s statement in Ephesians 2:8-9: "for by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, (it is) the gift of God; not of works, that no man should glory." We now know that the Spirit is saying through Paul that we cannot be saved without the grace (gift) of God, coming to us through the law of faith, which includes repentance, baptism, and service; such salvation is not of human works (sinless perfection, or human merit) that no man should glory.
Bible writers make a clear distinction between doing the works of men and doing the works of God. The former is condemned and the latter is approved.
Some works are unworthy and will not save. The Pharisees were condemned for "saying but not doing" and acting to be "seen of men" (Matt. 23:3-5). The Bible speaks of the "works of the law" -- meaning either Law of Moses or uninspired human law (Rom. 2:6; 3:20), or the precepts of men (Matt. 15:9). There is such a thing as righteousness apart from law (doctrines of men, or meritorious human works) (Rom. 4:6; 9:32; 11:6; Gal. 2:16; 3:2,5,10). The word of God also speaks of evil works (Col. 1:21; 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 3:5; 1 John 32:12; 2 John 1:11). There are also "dead works" (Heb. 9:14; James 2:26).
On the other hand, there are approved works that are necessary to salvation and commendable. The Bible speaks of the "works of God" (John 6:28); the works of Abraham (John 8:39); working the works of him who sent Jesus (John 9:4); the greater works of the disciples of Jesus (John 14:12); works worthy of repentance (Acts 26:20); we are to be judged by the works done in the flesh whether good or evil (Rom. 2:6; Rev. 20:12-13); good works (1 Tim. 2:10; 5:10, 25; 6:18; Titus 2:7,14; Heb. 10:24; James 3:13; 1 Peter 2:12). Jesus said he knew and approved the works of certain first century churches (Rev. 2:2, 19 :3:1,8,15); the good works of the righteous dead follow with them (Rev. 14:12).
It should be obvious that the Bible speaks of at least two different kinds of works. One is of God and the other is not. One will put sinful humans in a saving relationship with God and the other cannot do this. If this distinction is not clearly drawn and understood there will be great confusion.
My dear friend, I pray this study has not been too long and tedious for you and that you will benefit from it. I have gained as a result of writing this letter to you. If you have additional questions, or you need more information, please do not hesitate to contact me.
H. A. (Buster) Dobbs