Speak Smooth Things

This is a rebellious people… who say to the seers, ‘Do not see,’ and to the prophets, ‘Do not prophesy to us right things; speak to us smooth things, prophesy deceits.  Get out of the way, turn aside from the path, cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us’” (Isaiah 30:9-11).

1.  The Prophet

The duty of a prophet was to faithfully deliver to the people the message that God wanted delivered.  Micaiah, who understood this, said, “As the LORD lives, whatever the LORD says to me, that I will speak” (1 Kings 22:14).  Jeremiah cried out, “O earth, earth, earth, Hear the word of the LORD!” (Jeremiah 22:29).  God warned Ezekiel, “When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you shall surely die!’ and you do not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand” (Ezekiel 33:8).

This same duty is expressed in the New Testament.  Paul declared, “I am innocent of the blood of all men, for I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:26-27).  Paul instructed Timothy “Preach the word!  Be ready in season and out of season.  Convince, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and teaching” (1 Timothy 4:2). 

2.  The People

Judah did not want to hear God’s rebuke.  They wanted the prophets to change the message.  Homer Hailey commented, “Surely they were not so honest as to come right out and say these things; but this verse very graphically reveals their true feelings… a modern version would be, ‘Give us religion but not the truth…’, ‘Get out of the way; do not hinder us in that which we have determined to do’” (Homer Hailey, A Commentary on Isaiah, p. 253).  Frank Chesser had a different view; he commented, “Some feel that the people of Judah would not be so brash as to actually verbalize such sentiments as appear in verses 10-11.  They view these words as simply characterizations of their attitudes and feelings.  However, would people who are kindred in spirit with Sodom and Gomorrah (Isaiah 1:10), who worship idols (Isaiah 1:8), whose tongues and conduct are at war with God (Isaiah 3:8), with whom wine is a constant companion (Isaiah 5:11), and who view good as evil and evil as good (Isaiah 5:20) experience any hesitancy over literally expressing their disdain for the truth and their desire for the smooth, soothing words of error that numb their spirit and grant liberty to fleshly indulgence?” (Frank Chesser, The Heart of Isaiah, p. 96).  Literal or not – they did not want to hear God’s full message.

3.  Us

Do we want the truth?  Or do we simply want to hear a self-affirming message?

Cornelius said, “We are all present before God, to hear all the things commanded you by God” (Acts 10:33).  May this be our attitude.

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From Scarlet to White

Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes.  Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rebuke the oppressor; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:16-17).

This is a call to repentance.  It is addressed to the rulers of Sodom and the people of Gomorrah (Isaiah 1:10).  God’s people in Judah and Jerusalem (Isaiah 1:1) had become corrupt (Isaiah 1:21-23; 10:1-2).  Their worship was no longer pleasing to the LORD (Isaiah 1:11-15). 

“‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ says the Lord, ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool’” (Isaiah 1:18).

There are many cleaning products on the market.  The names are familiar (e.g., Amway L.O.C., Clorox, OxiClean, Shout, Tide, Woolite etc.).  Even the best of these products is unable to remove every stain.

However, God can remove the stain (guilt) of sin.  He promised this to them on the condition of repentance.  The red stain of sin would be removed, if they would repent. 

They had a role to play in this.  They were instructed, “wash yourselves, make yourselves clean, put away evil…” (Isaiah 1:16-17).

Likewise, we have a role to play in our cleansing.  (1) This is true at baptism (Acts 22:16).  (2) This is true after baptism (1 John 1:7, 9).

Furthermore, God had a role to play in this cleaning.  It is not states in so many words in our text, but God alone makes this cleansing possible.  None could be cleansed without the mercy and grace of God being offered.

Likewise, it is for us.  The blood of Christ is the cleansing power (cf. Revelation 1:5; 7:13-14).  He is willing and able to forgive sins. 

Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow… Though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool… \ Hear the voice that entreats you, O return unto God!… He is of great compassion, and of wonderous love \ He’ll forgive your transgressions, and remember them no more… ‘Look unto Me ye people’ saith the Lord your God…” (Song: Though Your Sins Be As Scarlet by Fanny J. Crosby). 

Posted in Forgiveness, Grace, Mercy, prophets, Textual study | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Six Woes (Isaiah 5)

The house of Israel (Judah) was the LORD’s vineyard (Isaiah 5:1-7).  The nation was to bring forth good grapes, but instead it brought forth wild grapes (Isaiah 5:2).  It is in this context, six woes are pronounced.  Let’s notice…

1.  “Woe to those who join house to house; they add field to field, till there is no place…” (Isaiah 5:8-10).

Materialism may be in view.  The focus seems to be on possessions.  Jesus taught, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (Luke 12:15). 

Greed is in view.  Homer Hailey comments, “Woe unto the rich landowners who buy up or otherwise acquire the land of the less fortunate until the original owners are crowded out” (Homer Hailey, Isaiah, p. 65).  Micah spoke of those who “covet fields and take them by violence, also houses, and seize them.  So they oppress a man and his house, a man and his inheritance” (Micah 2:2).

Disregard for God’s law may be in view.  The land acquired was to be returned on the Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25).  Some believe that this was not occurring (ESV Study Bible, NIV Study Bible). 

2.  “Woe to these who rise early in the morning, that they may follow intoxicating drink; who continue until night, till wine inflames them!  The harp and the strings, the tambourine and flute, and wine are in their feasts; but they do not regard the work of the LORD, nor consider the operation of His hands” (Isaiah 5:11-17).

Hedonism and mixed-up priorities are in view.  They lived for their own pleasure from morning to night.  They did not think about God or His will.  The book of Hosea says, “My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6 cf. Isaiah 5:13). They loved pleasure more than God (2 Timothy 3:4).

This is still a problem. Even in wholesome pursuits, one must not lose sight of proper priorities. Some become so focused on the cares, riches, and pleasures of life that they fail to be spiritually fruitful (Luke 8:14).

3.  “Woe to those who draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as if with cart ropes; that say, ‘Let Him make speed and hasten His work that we may see it…’” (Isaiah 5:18-19).

False teaching is in view.  The people are seen as animals pulling sin around.  What is it that hooked them to this cart of sin?  The answer is “cords of vanity” (NKJV) or “cords of falsehood” (ESV).  Some believe that this refers to idolatry (cf. same word Psalm 24:4; Jeremiah 18:15).  Others believe that it refers to the empty promises of false teachers (cf. Isaiah 30:10; Same word Ezekiel 12:24; 13:6; Lamentations 2:14). 

Disrespect is in view.  They challenged God to bring on the punishment (Isaiah 5:19 cf. Jeremiah 7:15; 2 Peter 3:3-4).  All should remember, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

4.  “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter” (Isaiah 5:20).

Mixed up values are in view They did not view things as God did (cf. Micah 3:2). Franklin Camp pointed out, ” It was not to Assyria or Babylon that Isaiah directed these words, it was to Judah. Sin overlooked, ignored, practiced, leads to the inability to distinguish between righteousness and evil. The lack of love for truth and righteousness leads one to believe a lie and to think it is truth.” (Franklin Camp, Principles and Perils of Leadership, p. 45).

God makes distinctions. God made many distinctions in creation itself: (1) God and creation; (2) night and day; (3) land and water; (4) God and mankind; (5) mankind and animal; (6) man and woman; (7) parents and child; (8) good and evil (cf. Dennis Prager, Deuteronomy, p. 77, 337).

It is not enough to make distinctions. Man must learn to make distinctions based on the word of God.  We are to “prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:1-2).  We are to be able to “discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14).  We are instructed “Test all things; hold fast what is good.  Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22). We must learn to distinguish things as God does.

5.  “  Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight” (Isaiah 5:21). 

Pride and ignorance are in view.  Some cannot be taught.  They think that they know everything. Franklin Camp remarked, “There is nothing wrong with academic learning that knows its limitations, but when ‘wise men’ presume to know things that contradict divine revelation, they have become too smart” (Franklin Camp, p. 46).

We should remember where true wisdom is found.  “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding” (Job 28:28 cf. Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7; 9:10; 15:33). 

6.  “Woe to men mighty at drinking wine, woe to men valiant for mixing intoxicating drink, who justify the wicked for a bribe, and take away justice from the righteous man!” (Isaiah 5:22-25).

Justice is in view.  These men perverted justice for money (Isaiah 5:23; 10:1-2 cf. Amos 5:12; Exodus 23:8; Deuteronomy 16:19; 27:25).  Instead of being mighty for good, they were mighty for other things, even sinful things. [They may even have been lionized by some for these things. Franklin Camp remarked, “The morality of a nation and the morality of the church may be measured by looking at its heroes.” (Franklin Camp, p. 47)]

God cares about how we treat others (cf. Matthew 7:12; 25:31-46).  Let us, as Jesus, go about doing good (cf. Acts 10:38).                      

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Denominations: United Pentecostal Church

The United Pentecostal Church International (UPCI) says that it has 5½ million constituents world-wide (About UPCI, upci.org).  There are more than 350,000 members in the U.S.A. and Canada combined (overview of the United Pentecostal Church International by Jack Zavada, learnreligions.com). 

History

The UPCI grew out of the Pentecostal movements in the early 20th century.   They say, “The UPCI emerged out of the Pentecostal movement that began with a Bible school in Topeka, Kansas in 1901 and with the Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles, California in 1906.  It traces its organizational roots to 1916, when a large group of Pentecostal ministers began to unite around teaching of the oneness of God and water baptism in the name of Jesus Christ” (About The UPCI, upci.org). 

“This church was founded in 1945 by the union of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ and the Pentecostal Church, Inc.  Both of these bodies were formed by Oneness Pentecostals who withdrew from the Assemblies of God in 1916” (Frank Mead and Samuel Hill, Handbook of Denominations, p. 193).

Authority

They state, “The Bible is the only God-given authority which man possesses.  Therefore, all doctrine, faith, hope, and all instruction of the church must be based upon and harmonized with the Bible” (2019 UPCI Manual, Articles of Faith, Preamble).

Beliefs and Practices

  1. God.  They believe that there is one person in the Godhead.  They believe that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not only one being, but one person without any true distinction in person (The Oneness of God by Dr. David K. Bernard and Dr. David Norris, YouTube Channel of the UPCI).  This is sometimes referred to as modalism.  They say, “Before the incarnation this one true God manifested Himself in divers ways.  In the incarnation, He manifested Himself in the Son… As He works in the lives of believers, He manifests Himself as the Holy Spirit” (2019 Articles of Faith, The One True God).  Johnny Ramsey (Church of Christ) debated Marvin Hicks (UPCI) in Sherman, Texas December 3-7, 1973.  The proposition: “Resolved, the scriptures teach that there are three separate distinct persons in the Godhead; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”  Affirm: Johnny Ramsey.  Deny: Marvin Hicks.
  2. Salvation.  “Pardon and forgiveness of sins is obtained by genuine repentance, a confessing and forsaking sins” (Articles of Faith, Repentance).
  3. Baptism.  “The scriptural mode of baptism is immersion and is only for those who have fully turned from their sins and a love of the world.  It should be administered by a duly authorized minister of the gospel, in obedience to the word of God, and in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, according to the Acts of the Apostles 2:38; 8:16; 10:48; 19:5; and obeying and fulfilling Matthew 28:19” (Articles of Faith Baptism).  Note: They believe that the name “Jesus” alone must be used in baptism, not “the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”  They believe that the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is “Jesus.”  The wording matters to them (See: Jesus Only Baptism by B.H.).
  4. The Lord’s Supper.  They understand the bread and the fruit of the vine “as emblems of His broken body and shed blood” (Articles of Faith, Sacrament or Communion).  I did not find anything concerning frequency of partaking.
  5. Foot-washing.  Foot-washing is listed as an article of faith.  “UPCI churches practice the Lord’s Supper and foot-washing as ordinances” (Beliefs and Practices of UPCI, learnreligions.com.
  6. Tithing.  “We believe tithing is God’s financial plan for His work” (Articles of Faith, Tithing).
  7. Holy Spirit/Miracles.  They believe that tongue speaking continues today, and is evidence that one has received the Holy Spirit and has been saved (Is Speaking in Tongues Necessary for Salvation?  Parts 1&2, Apostolic Life in the 21st Century, David K. Bernard YouTube).  They also believe that miraculous healing continues (Article of Faith, Divine Healing). 
  8. Holiness.  They disapprove of such things as “theaters, dances, mixed bathing or swimming, women cutting their hair, makeup, any apparel that immodestly exposes the body, all worldly sports and amusement, and unwholesome radio programs and music.  Furthermore, we disapprove of any of our people having television sets in their homes (Articles of Faith, Holiness).  “We disapprove of school students attending shows, dances, dance classes, theater… wearing gymnasium clothes which immodestly expose the body… coeducation classes which involve boys and girls mixed together in swimming, calisthenics, baseball, and other mixed athletics while clothed in ungodly attire which immodestly expose the body” (Articles of Faith, Public School Activities).
  9. Eternal Security.  UPCI do not believe in eternal security, or once saved always saved doctrine.  “When a person transgresses and sins against God and does not repent, he will eventually be lost and cast into the lake of fire” (Articles of Faith, The Grace of God). 

Organization

The headquarters of UPCI is located in Weldon Spring, Missouri.  Its current Superintendent is David K. Bernard (Leadership, upci.org).

“The governmental structure of UPCI is basically congregational in that the local churches are self-governing” (About UPCI, upci.org).

However, there is greater organization.  “The general organization embraces a modified Presbyterian system in that ministers meet in sectional, district, and general conference to elect officials and to conduct the business of the organization” (About UPCI, upci.org).

                                     

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Moral Perfection

I believe that a major misunderstanding exists among some Christians and among many non-Christians.  I am speaking of the need for moral perfection, flawless performance of God’s law, or absolute sinless living.  When a Christian has this misunderstanding, the consequences may be serious.  The Christian who believes that God demands absolute sinless living may give up when he understands that he has fallen short.  When a non-Christian has this misunderstanding there may also be serious consequences.  It may cause him to reject Christianity, and not even try, reasoning, “I can’t do it.  I am not good enough.”  It may cause him to reject instruction from a Christian; he may reason, “Why should I listen to you?  You, yourself, have sinned.”

It is true that we should seek to avoid sin (1 John 2:1).  We should not engage in willful sin (Hebrews 10:26).  We should not turn from God’s holy commandments (2 Peter 2:21-22).  Our manner of life should not be one described as walking in darkness (1 John 1:6-10).    

However, it is not true that sinless perfection is needed to please God.  Other than Jesus, which man or woman in the Bible was without sin?  David was guilty of adultery and murder (2 Samuel 11-12).  Yet, he was forgiven (2 Samuel 12:13).  He would say, “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.  Blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity” (Psalm 32:1-2).  Peter denied the Lord three times (Matthew 26:34 cf. 26:69-75), and mistreated certain Gentile Christians due to peer-pressure (Galatians 2:11-21).  Yet, he was clearly a beloved member of the church.  He would write, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away…” (1 Peter 1:3-4).

What does God expect?  He expects us to live our lives by faith (Galatians 3:10-12; Hebrews 10:35-39).  He expects us to repent and pray when we know that we have sinned (Acts 8:22; 1 John 1:7-9).  He expects us to live a life striving to follow His will.  He does not expect us to never sin.

What about Matthew 5:48, “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”?  The word ‘perfect’ (teleioi) does not refer in context to sinless perfection.  It refers to mature love, which loves not simply neighbors and brethren, but humanity, even one’s enemies (Matthew 5:43-48).  We must develop a heart which cares about others.  Wayne Jackson points out, “one must remember, however, that agape love, is not an emotional feeling, such as one would have for a family member or close friend.  Instead, it entails a dedication to the person’s eternal welfare… God is our example.  He sends providential blessings upon both the just and unjust (v. 45).  This kind of ‘perfect’ love, manifested by God, is the goal for which all must strive (v. 48)” (Wayne Jackson, A New Testament Commentary, p. 11). 

What about 1 Peter 1:15-16, “But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy’” (cf. Leviticus 11:44-45; 19:2; 20:7; 20:26)?  This is speaking of the model or standard of life.  Albert Barnes comments, “The meaning here is, that the model or example in accordance with which they were to frame their lives, should be the character of that God who had called them into his kingdom” (studylight.org).  In context, we are not to direct our lives according to pre-Christian sinful lusts.  We are to seek to conform ourselves to the holiness of God, living as obedient children (1 Peter 1:13-16).  This is speaking of direction in life, not absolute sinlessness.  We are to pursue a certain course in life.  “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).  There is a big difference between a Christian trying to pursue holiness but who fall short, and one who is living a life pursuing his own lusts.

 We should understand that the only way that we can be counted as righteous is due to Jesus.  Paul said, “God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14).   Again, “not having my own righteousness… but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith” (Philippians 3:9).                                  

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Some Questions For Us

Many members say that they desire the growth of the local church.  Many say that they desire many visitors at the annual Gospel Meeting.

However, are we doing what it takes for these things to happen?  Desire without action will not produce the desired results.  A man may want a harvest.  However, he must first sow seed.  Uncultivated, unplanted land will not produce the desired harvest (cf. Mark 4:3-9, 14-20, 26-29). 

Here are some questions we each should consider.  A= 5 points; B=3 points; C=1 point.  Yes, the questions and assigned point value are arbitrary.  However, perhaps, this will cause us to think about our efforts.

Friendliness/Hospitality

_____  1.   I greet each visitor and try to get to know them.

A. Almost Always

B. Sometimes

  C. Rarely or Never

_____  2.  I invite our visitors to lunch.

                 A.  Almost Always

B.  Sometimes

C.  Rarely or Never

_____  3.  I invite new members to my house (or out to eat).

                 A.  Almost Always

B.  Sometimes

C.  Rarely or Never

_____  4.  I have had _________ member into my house (or out to eat) this past year.

                 A.  Five or More

B.  Two to Four

C.  None or One

_____  5.  I have visited _________ member this year.

                 A.  Five or More

B.  Two to Four

C.  None or One

Participation/Attendance/Edification

_____  6.  I attend…

A. Almost every time the church meets for Bible class and worship

B. Almost every Sunday for worship

C. Less frequently

_____  7.  I usually attend our Gospel Meetings for…

A. All Lessons

B. At Least One Lesson

C. None

_____ 8.  I participate in, or host church activities such as family fun night, youth activities, etc….

               A.  Almost Always

B.  Sometimes

C.  Rarely or Never

_____  9.  I check on those who miss assembling with us on the Lord’s Day.

A. Usually, if I do not know where they were

B. Sometimes

C. Rarely or Never

Bible/Prayer/Growth

_____  10.  I read the Bible…

A. Almost daily

B. Weekly (Bible class and worship not included)

C. Less Frequently

_____  11.  My family has home Bible study or family devotionals

A. Weekly

B. At least once per month

C. Less frequently

_____  12.  I pray…

A. Several times a day

B. Daily

C. Rarely

_____  13.  I read the church bulletin…

A. Almost each week

B. Sometimes

C. Rarely or never

_____  14.  I read, watch or listen to _________ brotherhood magazines, blogs, or podcasts each month.

A. Three or more

B. At least one

C. None

_____  15.  I seek to make my decisions based on what the Bible says.

A. Almost Always

B. Sometimes

C. Rarely

_____  16.  I am…

A. Growing in the likeness of Christ

  B. Stable, not growing or stagnant

C. Spiritually declining

Evangelism

_____  17.  I invited _________ to attend our Gospel Meeting.

A. Three or more

B. At least one

C. None

_____  18.  I have invited _____ family members, neighbors, coworkers, classmates, or friends to attend

worship with me this past year.     

A. Three or more

B. At least one

C. None

_____  19.  My neighbors, coworkers or classmates would say of me…

A. He is a Christian, a member of the Church of Christ

B. He is some sort of Christian, a member of some church

C. I am not sure if he is a Christian, or if he attend any church

_____  20.  I have conducted Bible studies (personal evangelism) with ______ people this past year

A. Three or more

B. At least one

C. None

This coming year, let us determine to rack up more A’s!

Posted in christian growth, Christian Influence, Dedication, evangelism, Fellowship, Hospitality, questions, Soul Winning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Christmas Tree?

Do not learn the way of the Gentiles… for the customs of the people are futile; For one cuts a tree from the forest, the work of the hands of the workman with the ax.  They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with nails and hammers so that it will not topple.  They are upright, like a palm tree, and they cannot speak; they must be carried, because they cannot go by themselves.  Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, nor can they do any good” (Jeremiah 10:2-5).

Is this speaking of the Christmas tree?  No, this is speaking of the making an idol out of wood and overlaying it with gold and silver (Jeremiah 10:3-4, 8-10, 14-16 cf. Isaiah 40:19-20; 46:5-7).  I know of no one who sets up a Christmas tree to be an idol.  Nor, do I know of anyone who claims to be worshipping a god under the image of a tree.

Doesn’t the Christmas tree have pagan origins?  Maybe.  The History Channel says, “Long before the advent of Christianity, plants and trees that remained green all year had a special meaning for people in the winter.  Just a people today decorate their homes during the festive season with pine, spruce, and fir trees, ancient people hung evergreen boughs over their doors and windows.  In many countries it was believed that evergreens would keep away witches, ghosts, evil spirits, and illness. Many ancient people believed that the sun was a god and that winter came every year because the sun had become sick and weak.  They celebrated the solstice because it meant that at last the sun god would begin to get well.  Evergreen boughs reminded them of all the green plants that would grow again when the sun was strong and summer would return…  Egyptians filled their homes with green palm rushes, which symbolized for them the triumph of life over death.  Early Romans… decorated their homes and temples with evergreen boughs.  In Northern Europe, the mysterious Druids… also decorated their temples with evergreen boughs as symbols of everlasting life.  The fierce Vikings in Scandinavia thought that evergreens were the special plant of the sun god, Balder” (History of Christmas Trees, history.com). 

However, the modern Christmas tree seems to have its origin in Germany.  “Germany is credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition, as we now know it, in the 16th century when devout Christians brought decorated trees in their homes… It is a widely held belief that Martin Luther… first added lighted candles to a tree.  Walking toward his home one winter evening… he was awed by the brilliance of stars twinkling amidst evergreens.  To recapture the scene for his family, he erected a tree in the main room and wired it branches with lighted candles” (ibid). 

The Germans seem to have introduced it to America.  “Most 19th century Americans found Christmas trees an oddity.  The first record of one being displayed was in 1830’s by German settlers of Pennsylvania although trees had been a tradition in many German homes much earlier… But as late as the 1840’s Christmas trees were seen as pagan symbols and not accepted by most Americans… In 1846… Queen Victoria and her German Prince, Albert, were sketched in the Illustrated London News standing with their children around a Christmas tree… Victoria was very popular… what was done at court immediately became fashionable – not only in Britain, but with fashion-conscious East Coast American Society… But the 1890’s Christmas ornaments were arriving from Germany and Christmas popularity was on the rise in the U.S. … The first tree at Rockefeller Center was in 1931” (ibid).

Is the seasonal display and decoration of a tree sinful?  There is nothing inherently sinful about having a green tree in one’s house.  There is nothing sinful about decorating it.  Idolatry is wrong, not decorations.  What about pagan roots?  Intent matters.  To marry in June at one time may have meant that one was seeking the blessings of the goddess Juno.  Today, it may be simply a convenient time for the couple and have nothing to do with Juno.  The meaning a culture attaches to a symbol matters.  The question mark in Greek is the same symbol as semicolon in English.  2¼ may be written 2,25 in France, Germany, and some parts of the world.  It is written 2.25 in the United States and other parts of the world. One thousand is written 1.000 in Germany and some parts of the world. It is written 1,000 in the United States and other parts of the world. One million is written 10,00,000 in India (the comma is placed after every two digits following the first three). It is written 1,000,000 in the United States (the comma is placed after every three digits). The eating of unleavened bread and drinking of the fruit of the vine does not necessarily mean that one is remembering the death of Christ.  However, in context of Christian worship, this is what it should mean. 

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Some Questions About the Church of Christ

What is the church of Christ?  I believe that some well-meaning brethren have wrongly approached this question.  They have approached this from the idea of perfection.  For example: (1) The church of Christ teaches the correct plan of salvation.  (2) The church of Christ wears a scriptural name.  (3) The church of Christ has no creed book but the Bible.  (4) The church of Christ partakes of the Lord’s Supper each first day of the week.  (5) The church of Christ does not use mechanical instruments of music in worship.  (6)  The church of Christ is supported by free-will offerings by its members each first day of the week.  (7)  The church of Christ is properly organized, etc.  “Identifying marks” are listed.  If each may be checked off, then one may know that he has found the church of Christ. 

This may help one identify a church which is following (at least in these points) the Biblical pattern.  However, I do not truly believe that this accurately answers the question: What is the church of Christ?

The simple answer is: it is the called-out of Christ.  He has called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).  It is composed of those who have been baptized into Christ.  “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (1 Corinthians 12:13 cf. Acts 18:8; Acts 2:41, 47).  I do not believe that this refers to the baptism with the Holy Spirit (see my article – The Holy Spirit: In Conversion, Part 2).

The baptism to which we each are to submit is based on the authority of Christ (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 2:38).  It is described as a burial and resurrection (Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12).  It is for believers (Mark 16:15-16; Acts 8:12; 8:36-37; 18:8), who are willing to repent (Acts 2:38; 3:19).  It is done for the purpose of washing away sin (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 22:16). 

What about the other “identifying marks”?  Once one has been added by the Lord to His church, he should meet with other members of the church of Christ and worship (Acts 2:42; 20:7; Hebrews 10:24-25).  He should seek to do this in a manner which is pleasing to the Lord (John 4:24; Colossians 3:16-17). 

Not all worship is pleasing to God.  The Bible speaks of vain worship (Mark 7:6-7), ignorant worship (Acts  17:22-24); and will or self-impose worship (Colossians 2:20-23).  We should worship God in spirit/proper attitude and in truth/proper action (John 4:24 cf. Joshua 24:14).  However, these “identifying marks” are not what constitutes the church of Christ.  The church at Corinth was still a part of the church of Christ, though they were doing many things wrong in practice.  This is not intended to condone error.  It is simply to understand that perfect practice is not what makes a church of Christ to be a church of Christ. 

Must I be a member of the Church of Christ to be saved?  When someone asks me this, I answer, “One certainly must be a member of the church you read about in the New Testament.  Can we study together about how one can be added to that church?”

T. Pierce Brown has written, “When a person asks, ‘Do I have to be a member of the church of Christ to be saved?’ the implications to the average questioner are: 1. That means that a person ‘gets membership’ in the church of Christ, and that saves him.  2.  Membership comes first and salvation comes second in a logical and chronological order.  3.  The church of Christ is a sort of religious organization similar to any denomination, except it claims (somewhat like the Roman Catholic Church) that salvation is found by ‘getting membership’ in that organization.

“I contend… that these implications are wrong!  It would be at least accurate (or more so) in view of Acts 2:47 to say, ‘A person has to be saved in order to be a member of the church of Christ.’  However, since that might suggest that a person ‘gets saved’ and then becomes a member of the church, that would also have to be explained.

“…The truth of the matter is that the moment a person becomes a member of the church of the Lord he is saved, or the moment he is saved he becomes a member of the church of the Lord, and neither is the consequence or antecedent of the other, but both are the concurrent or simultaneous result of something else…

“The church is the saved (the group that has received God’s salvation, B.H.).  If he understood that, he would not ask the question in the first place, for it would be, ‘Must a person be a member of the saved group in order to be saved?’  Which would sound rather stupid” (Article: Do I Have To Be A Member of The Church of Christ? By T. Pierce Brown). 

Wendell Winkler correctly said, “There was no such thing as a man being saved on Monday and joining the church the following Sunday.  Rather, the moment he was saved… he became a member of the New Testament church (Wendell Winkler, The Church Everybody is Asking About, p. 106).  This is true (Acts 2:47). 

What does the Church of Christ Believe/Teach about X, Y, and Z?  I have been asked this many times through the years.  In a radio interview a preacher worded his questions to me this way.  I do not like the wording.  (1) The church is not the ultimate authority.  It does not matter, in a sense, what the church believes/teaches.  It matters what the Bible teaches (Galatians 1:8).  (2) One can find a wide variety of things taught, by members of the church of Christ, on a given subject.  I suppose that this has always been true (cf. Acts 15:5; 1 Corinthians 15:12).  Each of us must, “Be diligent to present (ourselves) approved to God… rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). 

How does one become a member?  The term “church” is used in two senses in scripture.  (1) It is used of the universal church (e.g. Matthew 16:18; 1 Corinthians 15:9).  One becomes a member of the universal church when he is baptized into Christ (Acts 2:36-38, 41, 47).  (2) It is used of the local church (e.g. Acts 14:23; James 5:14).  Specific names were associated with certain local churches (e.g. Acts 13:1; Romans 16:14-15; 2 John 9-12).  One must be a member of the universal church to be a member of the local church.   While there is no specific formula, it seems that in some way one should make known that he desires to be identified with the local church.  How else could proper care and effective work be done together?  (Consider Acts 6:1-5; 1 peter 5:1-2 cf. Luke 15:4-ff; 1 Corinthians 12:12-ff; Romans 12:4-ff; Ephesians 4:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:11, 14; Hebrews 10:24-25).  One should be a part of a local church and not hop around without any commitment to a local church.

Why do some not capitalize church in church of Christ?  It is for the same reason that one does not capitalize bride in bride of Christ.  It does not seem to be a proper name, but a descriptive phrase of relationship.  Whether to capitalize or not is a personal choice and matter of opinion or writing style.

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The Christmas Truce

It sounds like fiction.  However, it is history.  History is sometimes stranger than fiction.  The date was December 24 – 25, 1914 during World War I.  The location was in Belgium and France, along the Western Front.  German soldiers began to sing “Stille Nacht” (“Silent Night”) from their trenches.  The British and Allies, hearing them, began to sing as well.  The Germans called for the British and Allied soldiers to come out of their trenches and join them.  Signs were held up, “You no shoot, we no shoot.”  An unofficial truce was reached.  They shook hands.  Gifts were exchanged including food, cigarettes, buttons and hats.  Soccer was played.  The dead were retrieved and buried.  Perhaps, 100,000 were a part of this spontaneous Christmas truce.  Some officers were not pleased with soldiers fraternizing with the enemy.  Gerfreiter (Lance Corporal) Adolf Hitler thought this should never happen in war. War soon resumed and would last almost four more years.  However, one British soldier, Murdoch Wood said in 1930, “I then came to the conclusion that I have held very firmly since, that if we had been left to ourselves there would never have been another shot fired” (time.com).

Christ can and has brought men together.  Matthew, a tax collector, and Simon, A zealot, were brought together by Christ (Matthew 10:1-4 cf. Luke 6:12-16).  Jews and Gentiles were (are) brought together in one body (Ephesians 2:14-22). 

Christ should bring us together.  We are taught to love one another as He loved us (John 13:35; Ephesians 5:2; 5:25; 1 John 3:16-18).  We are taught to forgive one another as He has forgiven us (Colossians 3:12-13).  We are taught to care for others as He did (Philippians 2:4-8).  He taught us that true greatness is found in service (Mark 10:42-45; John 13:14-15).

(Sources consulted include – Silent Night: The story of the World War I Christmas truce of 1914 by Naina Bajekal December 24, 2014, time.com; WWI’s Christmas Truce: When Fighting Paused for the Holiday by A.J. Baime & Volker Janssen December 6, 2021, history.com; Christmas Truce of 1914, history.com; The Story of the WWI Christmas Truce by Mike Dash December 23, 2011, smithsonianmag.com; interesting video- The Christmas Truce, Warographics, Simon Whisler, YouTube; Christmas 1914 brought the men out of the trenches and the slaughter to a stop by Michael E. Ruane Dec. 24, 2014, washingtonpost.com). 

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Honoring Veterans

Veterans Day is observed on November 11th.  It does not matter on what day of the week in falls.  The date stays the same; the day of the week changes.  It was originally known as Armistice Day.  In 1918, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, an armistice was declared in “the Great War” (WWI).  The war officially ended with the Treaty of Versailles signing on June 28, 1919.  However, in the public imagination November 11, 1918 marked the end.  Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11, 1919 Armistice Day.  On June 4, 1926, Congress passed a resolution that Armistice Day should be a recurring observance.  In 1938, in became a federal holiday (Veterans Day 2022, history.com).  “However, in 1954, the holiday was changed to ‘Veterans Day’ in order to account for all veterans in all wars” (Veterans Day 2022, military.com).     It should not be confused with Memorial Day, but often is.  Memorial Day is observed on the last Monday in May.  The day of the week stays the same; the date changes.  “Memorial Day is a day for remember and honoring military personnel who died in the service of their country, particularly those who died in battle or as the results of wounds sustained in battle.  While those who died are also remembered, Veterans Day is the day set aside to thank and honor ALL those who served honorably in the military – in wartime or peacetime.  In fact, Veterans Day is largely intended to thank LIVING veterans for their service, to acknowledge that their contributions to our national security are appreciated, and to underscore the fact that all those who served – not only those who died – have sacrificed and done their duty… we’ll give the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs the last word: ‘Veterans Day does not include an s’ at the end of veterans, it is not a day that belongs to veterans, it is a day for honoring all veterans’” (Matthew T. Hall, Many People Confuse Veterans Day and Memorial Day.  Don’t., The San Diego Union Tribune, Nov. 10, 2014, sandiegotribune.com).

We should appreciate those who have served (and serve) to keep us free.  “Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor” (Romans 13:7).  “Honor all people.  Love the brotherhood.  Fear God.  Honor the King” (1 Peter 2:17). 

However, let us think beyond honoring military service.  Let us appreciate, and honor those who serve in all areas of life.  Let us appreciate, and honor those who serve in the church.  Let us honor the living who serve, and not just eulogize the dead.  Jesus taught that true greatness is found in service (Matthew 20:25-28; 23:11-12).  Paul instructed, “through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13).  Service, and those who serve, should be highly esteemed (Philippians 2:29-30; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13; 1 Timothy 5:17; Romans 16:3-4; 1 Corinthians 16:15). 

      

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