Monthly Archives: September 2017

Teach Them to Observe All Things

Just before Jesus ascended to His Father, He spoke to them the words in the title above (Matthew 28:18-20).  He was handing His authority over to His apostles who would take the leadership role in establishing the remainder of the foundation for His church.  His apostles would be leading the new church in teaching the gospel and teaching Christ’s will to the Christians who would submit to that gospel.  It has been noted by many that Jesus did not choose to give this authority to the rich and powerful of this world, nor to well-spoken orators, nor even to the highly educated.  He gave this authority to very simple men whose only claim to the Lord was as humble servants.  And of His apostles, the only one who was well educated, discounted his education and considered himself to be the least of the apostles.

Now certainly, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to inspire these simple men as they would teach this new message of salvation to the world and help the early church to become grounded in the truths Jesus had in mind for His body.  However, this inspiration would only last until the last apostle died.  And it is worth noting that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, some of the Lord’s Christians would have such divine inspiration as well to help them teach the Lord’s truths.  However, it is also clear in the New Testament that when the last of this generation of Christians died (those who had the apostles’ hands laid upon them for this purpose) there would no longer be such divine inspiration through living men.  However, there would be no need for such, for in the first century the Holy Spirit would inspire some of these apostles as well as some New Testament prophets to write the Lord’s truths so that men and women could not only know them for themselves, but especially so they could teach these truths.  These inspired writings have become part of what we have today which we know as the Bible.  We have been blessed with such writings for the past 2,100 years, so that we do not need any further divinely inspired writers.

What I have written until now in this article has simply been an introduction to the primary point I wish to make.  Just as the Lord Jesus’ will was that His message would go through ordinary men, it is also the Lord’s will throughout these centuries that ordinary men would teach these same truths to others.  It was always the Lord’s intent the NT gospel as well as the NT doctrines be taught by ordinary men (as well as women in an informal manner).

We can see this principle throughout the book of Acts as only Christians taught the Lord’s will.  In other words, even in Acts 2 the gospel was preached through the mouths of men!  Surely the Holy Spirit could have chosen to preach this message thunderously from the Old Testament temple or any other location if He had chosen, but it was not the Lord’s will that this happen.  He spoke through the apostles.  When the gospel was preached to the Eunuch in Acts 8, it was preached through Philip.  Yes, an angel told Philip where to go, but Philip did the teaching.  In Acts 9, Jesus spoke to the Pharisee, Saul, and sent him to Damascus, but he sent a Christian named Ananias to preach the gospel to Saul.  Certainly, Jesus could have spoken this message to Saul when He spoke to him on that road, but He did not.  He left it to a man!  One final example is Cornelius in Acts 10.  An angel told Cornelius to send for the apostle Peter while the Lord gave to Peter the vision of the animals upon the sheet.  The angel and the Lord could have easily spoken to Cornelius of the gospel, but it was the Lord’s will that a man, Peter, preach that gospel to Cornelius.  There is not one example in Acts of an angel, the Lord, or His Spirit or any other means for the gospel to be preached.  It was always done by a man!

This principle continues to this day that ordinary men and women teach the Lord’s truths based on the NT Scriptures.  This is consistent with Paul’s words in Ephesians 3:10, “to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.”  We see this throughout His congregations as ordinary men teach the Lord’s truths to one another.  The Lord uses fallible men like you and me to teach His truths to those in the world and to His people.  Let us never take this privilege for granted, and let us always take this divinely given responsibly seriously and reverently.  May God be glorified through what we teach!

“Now I myself am confident concerning you, my brethren, that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another” (Romans 15:14).

~ Jay Graham

Changing Times

I was recently reminded of a notable event that occurred in Lyons, Indiana, during the late fall of 1934. The church of Christ contracted with Brother E. M. Zerr to conduct a twelve-week Bible reading at a cost of $400. Two hour classes were held each afternoon and evening on week days. The entire Bible was read and commented on during that study. This is notable because of the length of the study, the cost during the depression and the size of the congregation. I have a picture of the attendees that was taken on the steps of the church building. Additionally, this occurred during the cold part of the year and the cars were not heated very well and they traveled on gravel roads that were very rough.

When I was in grade school, Brother Zerr held a Bible reading at the church in Vincennes for two weeks. There were no special classes for the children, but we all took notes like the adults. Upon the urging of many church members, Brother Zerr published commentaries of the entire Bible based on the notes he used in the studies. He was very reluctant to do so because he did not want the members to quote him as an authority but to use the books as a tool. Unfortunately, many have disregarded his wishes.

The title of this article is “Changing Times’” and the above paragraphs serve as an introduction to how times have changed through the years (and not necessarily for the good).  It was common for churches to have two week meetings more than once a year. This practice was gradually reduced to one week meetings once or twice each year. As time has progressed, churches began having Saturday and Sunday meetings several times a year but when attendance dropped off, so have the meetings.

The purpose of this article is not to sound like doom and gloom but rather that each of us will look at our priorities and see if they have shifted too far toward the world and the “enjoyment” that it affords. It is more serious than many will admit, but our preparation for heaven may be falling very short. When we read the book of Revelations, we read that those who are there are singing and praising God all of the time. All too often, we hear the complaint that “church is boring.”  If so, will it also be boring in heaven?

We are often reminded that we are to seek the kingdom of heaven first and all the necessities of life will be available for us. Do we really believe this or are we so intent upon providing these necessities that we put God in a distant second place?

What lesson do you get from the parable of the great supper? Many were invited but some gave excuses such as marriage, purchase of land and purchase of oxen so that they could not attend. The one who had made the great feast was angry that these had turned down his offer and told his servants to go out and gather people off the streets so that the food was not wasted (Luke 14:15-24).  By comparison, how do you think God feels when we choose so many things to do instead of meeting with the church?

Why is church so boring? It is the same or even better than it was when I was a child. A big difference between the “olden days” and now is what Satan has made to offer us. The decline in church attendance and interest can probably be measured with the increase in sports, electronic entertainment by radio, TV and games plus the cellphones. With the advent of all these devices, asking people to attend and sit through a service seems unreasonable to many.

We need to ask ourselves a very important question. What is our reason for a lack of interest in worshiping God? Is it family activities like the man who married a wife? Or is it a boat or travel trailer that we need to use because of our money invested in it? Or are we hooked on sports at any level from peewee league to professional? Let each of us examine ourselves and determine to be more attentive to the worship of God.

~ Glen Owens

Predestination

At the recent Eminence campout, I came upon a chance conversation with three younger men. We shall call them by their initials: A, R and C. During the course of our conversation, predestination came up. One of the young men grabbed his Bible and we looked at passages in Romans 8 and Ephesians 1. I left that conversation impressed with their study and thinking. Since I was thinking about what to contribute in this issue of The Gospel Message, I thought, here it is, my topic.

Predestination is often a difficult subject partly because of the many false teachings that surround it and partly because God’s ways are far above ours. But even with that, all serious Bible students must accept that predestination is a biblical truth. Passages such as Romans 8:29-30 and Ephesians 1:4-5 firmly place it in sound doctrine. As Paul identifies some specific spiritual blessings in Ephesians, he says God “chose us…before the foundation of the world…having predestinated (or foreordained) us” (Ephesians 1:4-5).

The word translated “foreordained” (ASV) or “predestined” (KJV, et al.) is from the Greek term proorizo.  It literally means “to mark out before, to decide before, predetermine in advance” being a compound term (pro, before, horizo to mark out, to specify).

We see Paul addressing this also in Romans 8:29-30:

“For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”  

The word foreknew in Romans 8:29 is from the Greek term proginosko which means “to know before.”

Clearly God “predestined” or “foreordained” the saved. But what is the nature of this predestination? Is it conditional or unconditional? What did the Father determine? Did He determine who would believe and who would not believe? What does it mean to be predestinated and what does it not mean? How does it work with free will?

The concept of Predestination has been explained in multiple ways:

1)         Individual- Some feel God has determined which individuals will be saved.

2)         Apostles- Others feel it was the Apostles who were predestinated and not all men.

3)         Destined-Some feel God predestined us to live on earth, predestined to eat and breathe as we do.

4)         Group- Others feel God predestined His people to be saved but not who would choose to be His people that is our choice.

 Calvinism holds at least to some extent to the first option. God has determined (predestinated) which individuals would be saved. This is a determinist view: God has predetermined who will be saved and therefore who will not. Our destiny is determined without our input or choice. It is certainly true that we are saved by God’s grace not our self-effort.

One of the arguments for this position is that God is Sovereign, therefore all that happens is guided by God. His will is always done. But is that true? What does man do the most? Sin. Is that God’s determined will for us? Of course not, He wants all to be saved, but we are told most will not be. Does this indicate a limitation on God’s sovereignty? No. God is sovereign. And in His sovereignty, He has given man choice or freewill. He has sovereignly delegated that to man. Only a sovereign (all powerful) being could delegate that ability to choose. God’s will is done in the sense that it is His will that we have choice. But our choice may not be in His will.

Even those who hold to the view that all that happens is God directed and that nothing we can do can change the outcome, still look before crossing the street. If all is already determined and nothing we do can change that, why look?

God wants our love and obedience but only voluntarily love and obedience have value. Only voluntary love and obedience give God true pleasure. He could have made us so that we had no choice but to love Him, but what kind of love would that be, certainly not “agape.” God forcing or predetermining people to be saved or condemned would go against His very nature. For God to override free will would be counterproductive for Him. God does not ravish or force, but rather He woos.

True love does not and cannot act coercively, only persuasively. A God of love cannot force people to love him. Paul spoke of things being done freely and not of compulsion, “So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).  God does not want forced giving or forced obedience or forced love. Things that are forced are not authentic. Forced loved is not love at all.

The second option that predestination applied to the apostles has some merit, for the apostles truly were chosen by Christ. But even if one accepts the understanding that it refers to the apostles, it still negates the false teaching of universal individual predestination. But applying this understanding that it refers only to the apostles seems too limited. The Books of Romans and Ephesians were written to churches/Christians; therefore the references are best understood directed at the writer’s audience and not limited only to the apostles.

The third option, while true, places predestination within the physical realm while the context of scripture is clearly a reference to salvation and our spiritual relationship with God in the spiritual realm.

That leaves us with the fourth option which fits the text best. The predestination referred to in scripture is that God’s children are predestinated to salvation, but through free will we individually decide whether we will accept His gift of grace and be His children. Notice in Ephesians 1:4 “He chose us in Him. Being in Christ is the key.  God has therefore predestined the kind of people (His people, the church) which will be saved. God determined this before the foundations of the world, before creation. But each person must freely choose to obey and to be “in Him.”

When we hear teaching that God already knows who will be saved and who will be damned, and therefore anything we do is useless, we must remember four key biblical truths: God wants everyone (all) to be saved, no one is predestined to go to hell, Jesus died for everyone, and everyone has the opportunity to be saved.

God did not decide who would believe and who would disobey, though His foreknowledge has revealed that to Him. He did, however, determine that those who would believe and obey would be saved.

The Lord’s predestined plan does not negate the Lord’s gift of free will He has given each of us. God chose Christ (1 Peter 1:20; 2:4). But Christ exercised his own free will in offering Himself on the cross in the redemptive plan (John 10:17-18; Galatians 1:4). If we want to share in the glory God chose for the saved, we must submit to his conditions and enter His kingdom.

~ John Lee