What's Happening in the Church?
By Paul Clements
Consider the following scenario: Two young baptized believers are in discussion regarding some Bible teachings. They are talking about worship, especially music in worship, both instrumental and "special" music. They are also discussing a woman's role in the church. One young Christian asserts that there is no biblical authority for either instrumental music, special music, or women having dominion over men, expecting the other member of the church to immediately agree. Instead, the other person says, "That's not important. We need to be telling others about Jesus, not 'majoring on minors.' God didn't send Jesus so he could condemn to hell some for playing the piano or for having a woman serve on the worship committee. You are just bound by your traditions."
Where have they been? It sounds like one has been in the church, but the other has been in a denomination. How can this be? What is happening? Telling others of Jesus is primary, but other Bible doctrines are also important. It is still incumbent upon us to contend earnestly for the faith. There are those in the church today who would suggest that some gospel preachers are spending too much time being "nitpicky" on Christian doctrine and not enough time preaching on Christ and the cross. To preach Christ and him crucified is to preach the doctrine.
The idea being circulated is that there is a basic portion of the gospel that is being neglected and that the Epistles and Acts are secondary to this core gospel. It is interesting how the Bible never mentions a core gospel. Christ did command his disciples to go into all the world and preach the gospel. We should be safe to conclude that they did this since the Holy Spirit was given to the apostles (Acts 1:8; 2:4) to guide them into all truth and bring to their remembrance all that Jesus had taught (John 14:25-26; 16:13). So why should we consider Acts and the epistles as secondary? They are the gospel, too. Peter spoke on the day of Pentecost "as the spirit gave him utterance."
The doctrine of Christ is what Jesus taught and what his apostles taught (John 14:25-26). 2 John 9 says that those who "progress" away from the teaching of Christ do not have God.
We cannot preach Christ and the cross without preaching the church because the church was purchased with the blood shed on the cross (Acts 20:28). We cannot preach the gospel of Christ without preaching the kingdom (Acts 8:12). We cannot preach the kingdom/church without preaching about its doctrines, organization, work, worship, etc., which is taught in Acts and the Epistles. If we are going to declare the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27), it would have to include all that God has revealed.
Unfortunately, much of the debate today comes not from a desire to focus on the Savior (which none would oppose), but from a desire for a broader fellowship than God's Word allows. Some may think, "If we allow for this or that teaching and still include others in our fellowship, the church would grow; we would increase our number, and fewer would be condemned by our dogma."
It is like the denominational ideas that "there are good Christians in all churches" and "everybody can believe and practice what they will and still be acceptable to God." What about the idea that the good people in denominations will be saved? If Christians are in denominations, the question is: How did they get there? The Lord certainly didn't add them to a denomination! Then we are asked, "But what if somebody who doesn't know of the church hears the Word, believes, repents, confesses his faith, and is baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit for the remission of sins?" Answer: The Lord would still add them to his church (Acts 2:47). Consider this: one is baptized into the body (1 Cor. 12:13), which is the church (Col. 1:18), of which there is one, (Eph. 4:4), to which the saved are added by the Lord (Acts 2:47), when they are baptized (Acts 2:41). There well may be sincere, religious people in other religions, but sincerity doesn't make one a Christian. Obedience to the Lord's commands gains one entrance into the church which is made up of disciples, who were first called Christians in Antioch (Acts 11:26).
Some say silence in the Scriptures does not forbid a practice (as with instrumental music). Let us use the overworked illustration from Leviticus 10 where Nadab and Abihu were devoured by fire from the Lord for using strange fire. Leviticus 10:1 says the Lord "commanded them not." The Lord had not said, "Don't use strange fire." The "silence-does-not-forbid" argument will not stand. Regardless of what some brethren say, when God specified a certain fire, all other was forbidden. God would not tolerate addition to his worship plan. Since he had authorized a certain fire, to use strange fire was a sin.
Just about everyone in the church agrees that immersion is the mode of baptism. That is tantamount to admitting that when God authorizes an action, he forbids all other. When they say the command to immerse makes sprinkling and pouring unauthorized (which is exactly right!), they are arguing against themselves. This principle cannot be applied in one case and not in the other. Comparably, the command to sing one to another renders instrumental music and special music unauthorized.
It is curious that "more generous" brethren who allow clapping, solo, choirs, instrumental music, women in authority, and not taking the Lord's Supper every first day of the week, still have some limits. They will not tolerate all religious teaching (sprinkling as a substitute for baptism, for instance). This indicates some restrictions. By what are they restricted? On what are their limits based? Where do they get the authority for the things they do believe and practice? Again, consider the fact that they still teach immersion is essential for salvation. By what authority? If they find their authority for baptism in the New Testament, this might suggest they consider the New Testament as God's authoritative Word. But the emphasis given to the doctrine of immersion of believers by the "open-arms policy" disciples stops short of teaching all that relates to what happens to the believer when he is baptized. Remember that the Lord adds him to the church, among other things. You would think a person who has been added to the church would want to know all that God's Word has to say about the church, its work, worship, and organization.
It is significant that one reason Paul wrote his epistle was so that Christians know how to conduct themselves in the church (1 Tim. 3:15). If they are going to worship God through certain avenues (like music), they had to get the idea somewhere. Where did they get such a notion as to sing praises to God? Could it be from the Bible? The New Testament? The epistles? Maybe from Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19. Since "every scripture inspired of God is profitable" to furnish us completely unto every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17), then how can they take some of it and discard or disregard the remainder as with a smorgasbord? If we are to be judged by the words written, should we not consider all that it says about any matter?
It may all come down to whether one truly believes the Lord still has all authority as he claimed (Matt. 28:18), and that God still speaks to us today through his Son (Heb. 1:1-2). It may be necessary to go back to questions like: "Do you really believe that God is and that the Bible is his complete, inerrant, infallibly inspired Word?"
What about the music issue? It isn't an issue for one who accepts the Bible as God's Word. So, what's the problem? It's the same problem that has troubled the church from the start. Man wants to take liberties where God has not allowed. Maybe we have some who are assuming "apostolic privilege" and binding or loosing on earth when they want to set aside those doctrines that distinguish the church from the denominational world.