WHEN AND WHERE DID THE KINGDOM BEGIN?

    Last week we presented the case, from Scripture, that the kingdom of God is already here. This provoked a few questions from some inquisitive students of the Bible asking, “Can we identify with certainty when and where the kingdom began?” The answer is, “Yes! We can.” Again, simply by studying the Scriptures, we can distinguish precisely when and where. Still keeping in mind all the important aspects about the kingdom of God that we discussed in the previous article, let’s now look at some additional verses that teach about its inauguration.
    We’ll start with Mark 9:1, “Assuredly, I say to you that there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power.” Pay close attention to all the words of that verse! This statement places a very specific time limit on the event. This is Jesus speaking to His disciples, to whom He says some will live to see that day, with their own eyes, when the kingdom shall come into existence. He also states that it will come “with power.” These same words are also found in Matthew’s account, right after He had told Peter that He would give him “the keys to the kingdom,” (Matthew 16:19). Add to this, Jesus also uses the words “church” in verse 18 interchangeably with “kingdom.”
    Now, in Acts 1:6, the disciples ask Jesus if He was going to “at this time restore the kingdom to Israel.” They were thinking of a physical, earthly kingdom like the days of David and Solomon. But, notice what Jesus says in verse 8, “you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you …” Do you see the connection and consistency with Mark 9:1? Read the first few verses of the next chapter, Acts 2:1-4. What do we see? We see miraculous power come to (or rather, fall upon) the apostles in the form of the Holy Spirit! Exactly as Jesus had promised in John 16:7-13.
    Thinking back on the words of Mark 9:1, Jesus had said “some” would see the kingdom arrive. This implied that not all of them would, meaning some of them standing there wouldn’t be around on that day. So, were any of the apostles not there, or had someone died between the time Jesus had spoken those words and the day of Pentecost? Indeed, Judas, one of the men who was with Jesus back then had since passed on, (Acts 1:16-18; Matthew 27:5). Isn’t that exactly what Jesus said would happen? His words came true! And, speaking of fulfilled prophecy, look also at what Jesus said in Luke 24:46-48. He stated, “that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things.” Where were the apostles when Peter preached that first Gospel message that we read in Acts 2:14-36? (Here’s a hint: Acts 1:12). The kingdom of God began on the Day of Pentecost, some 2000 years ago. It began in Jerusalem and is still in existence today. It is not some future event, nor will it be an earthly, physical kingdom, as so many erroneously teach. The identifying marks are easy to identify with Bible study, which refute such doctrine.
    However, the most important lesson we can learn from the inception of God’s kingdom is what was said on that day. The apostle Peter stood up and began preaching. He preached Jesus. He preached the Gospel of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. He preached that He is the Messiah and is sitting at the right hand of God. What was the result of that sermon? Men were convicted of their sins (Acts 2:37), they responded to the invitation of Jesus by being baptized (Acts 2:38-41), and they were added to the church (Acts 2:47). What just happened there? Peter used the “keys of the kingdom” to open up the door (cf John 10:9) and the first converts were ushered in. That’s the main lesson for us! If we want to be saved, we must be IN His kingdom – the church of Christ, the Son of God (2 Timothy 2:10; Colossians 1:18; Galatians 3:27).


THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS HERE!

    Jesus spoke often about the “kingdom of God/heaven.” What was He talking about, exactly? Many religious groups teach that the kingdom to which Christ is referring, is something that has not yet arrived – it is still coming sometime in the future. One of these doctrines is known as “premillennialism.” It suggests that when Jesus returns, He will then establish a kingdom on earth for a thousand years. This theory is derived from misconstruing several passages. Sadly, this teaching has greatly confused many people. So, what is the truth about God’s kingdom? Is it possible to accurately discern its establishment or existence? Indeed, it is possible. It is not at all hard to determine the truth. We must simply look into the Bible to find the answers.
    First, we read where prophets like Daniel and Isaiah prophesied about a coming kingdom (Daniel 2:44; Isaiah 2:2; 9:7). It would be a special kingdom, like no other before it. Daniel even specifies the time-frame of its establishment, saying, “In the days of these kings.” He refers to a fourth kingdom to arise after the present one of his time. History shows us that this was the Babylonian kingdom, which was followed by the Medo-Persians, the Greeks, and then the Romans. So, according to the prophecy, God’s kingdom would be established during the reign of the Roman Empire. That’s an important point!
    Secondly, when Jesus came to earth and preached, He said the kingdom “was at hand” (Matt 4:17) and He also stated that, “the kingdom has come near you” (Luke 10:9). This indicates a close proximity of time for its establishment. Remember, Jesus lived during the time of the Roman Empire. Galatians 4:4 also teaches, “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law.” God’s timing was involved.
    Thirdly, one must simply look for specific, identifying characteristics that indicate the presence of a kingdom. For example, every kingdom must have a king, subjects to that king, its own territory, and its own law. If it can be established that those four elements are present today, then we can conclude that the kingdom exists today. So, if you will diligently study the following passages, you will see that not only does the “kingdom of God” already have all these characteristics present, but it has also already arrived and is among us! Start with the question, “Does the kingdom have a king? If so, is he reigning now?” Look in John 18:33-36; 1 Corinthians 15:25,26; 1 Timothy 6:14,15 and Ephesians 1:20-22. According to these verses, is Jesus the king? Is He already reigning? If so, where is He?
    Next, consider whether or not the kingdom has subjects. What does John say about himself in Revelation 1:9? What does he say he is “in’? Now, look in Colossians 1:2,12,13, 18 and Hebrews 12:28. What does this indicate about Christians? Do we not all belong to God according to Romans 6:17-22? Now, what about its territory? Notice that in Matthew 16:18-19, Jesus uses the terms “church” and “kingdom” interchangeably. Now, consider the words “church” and “body” are used interchangeably in Ephesians 1:22-23. Both Acts 2:47 and Galatians 3:27 teach that we are added into Christ (the church) upon our obedience to the Gospel (1 Corinthians 12:13). Then, notice that Jesus describes the kingdom as one that isn’t physically visible, but rather, it is within us (Luke 17:20-21). The territory of the kingdom is found among the hearts of the disciples (Romans 14:17).
    Lastly, does the kingdom of God have a law? If you compare Colossians 2:14 and Galatians 6:2 alongside with what Jesus taught in Mathew 5:21-48, it should be obvious that all Christians live under a new law – the Law of Christ. This is because we are also under a new covenant (Matthew 26:28).
    According to what we have observed and studied here, we may deduce that the kingdom of God does, indeed, already have its king – Jesus Christ. It has subjects to the king – His disciples, Christians. It has a territory – the hearts of those in His church. And, it has its own law – found written in New Testament. All these verses categorically confirm that the kingdom of God has come, it is here, it currently exists. Therefore, it is not some future institution waiting to still be established one day. This leaves a another implication – one that is very serious – are YOU part of His kingdom? If you want to be among the saved, get in!


WHY ARE THERE SO MANY CHURCHES? (Part 3)

    This is our third installment concerning the question of, “Why are there so many churches in the world today?” We have approached the question by considering both history and the Bible. We began with observing the source of division that produced the various denominations of Christendom today (Part 1) and then we discussed why the church of Christ is not one of those denominations (Part 2). There remains a third element to addressed. It is the question of, “If the Church of Christ is not a denomination, then why are there several different ‘types’ of churches of Christ?” Sadly, this is a question we often avoid, or only speak about in private circles. But, it is important for brethren to know the differences and the history behind it. Let’s see if we can explain.
    After the prominent men of the Restoration Movement were successful in convincing the hearts and minds of God-fearing people to turn back to the Bible in order to restore the Lord’s church, it was no time at all before departures surfaced once again, this time from within the church. As early as 1849, questions and opposing opinions emerged over church cooperation within missions, the inclusion of musical instruments in worship, and other methodological disputes. This lead to differing practices among the various congregations around the country. In 1906, the U.S. Census revealed just how far and wide the sectioning had truly reached. It exposed the fact that the Restoration church had segmented into two distinct groups: the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and the Church of Christ. The primary difference between the two was instrumental music. Only the Church of Christ maintained the practice of a cappella singing in worship. It didn’t stop there, the sectioning continued among those two branches as differing factions among their membership developed over the next several years. All the work that had been done to unify Christians in returning to the Scriptural model of the church had fragmented into different bodies.
    Among the Churches of Christ, these differing factions grew in number over the course of the twentieth century. Quite frankly, this should be one of the expected results of true autonomy. When independent congregations started “working out their salvation” (Philippians 2:12), strong opinions develop over all kinds of Scriptural interpretations. The various views that emerged within the churches of Christ lead to some groups assigning special identities to themselves, such as, “Mutual Edification, Non-Institutional, One-cup, Main-Stream, etc.” Sadly, there are some who have attributed pejorative labels to the various groups, also. This means that just because it says “Church of Christ” on the sign doesn’t always guarantee that a particular group practices the exact same thing as another church of Christ down the street.
    Perhaps, the biggest problem with all of this division is the lack of love and respect so often displayed between the various groups. So often, it is just a matter of differing OPINIONS! The sad reality is, these opinions have turned into “tests of fellowship,” where one faction won’t have anything to do with another just because of the differences. Some of these groups are downright hateful toward each other, either directly or indirectly. Certainly, matters of opinion (or even doctrinal differences) are never grounds for treating someone with contempt and hatefulness!
    So, what does all of this history teach us regarding, “Why are there so many churches in the world?” It teaches us that although God has given man the Bible, man still hasn’t quite worked it all out perfectly. We’re still learning! The only answer to all of this – from the beginning of the church’s history until now – is to study the Scriptures diligently (Acts 17:11). Jesus clearly taught that only those who DO God’s will shall enter into heaven (Matthew 7:21). So, we must find His will in His word and obey it if we want to be acceptable to Him. It is as simple as that.


WHY ARE THERE SO MANY CHURCHES? (Part 2)

    Continuing our discussion concerning, “Why are there so many churches in the world today?” Some might ask a more specific question, in light of the first question, ”Is the church of Christ one of those denominations that grew out of the Reformation and Restoration Movements?” (See last week’s article on the historical background of denominations). The answer is rather simple. We are striving to be the church that one can read about and easily identify in the pages of the New Testament, nothing more, nothing less. To elaborate on that thought, let’s look at how the church of Christ we know today came about.
    Our own history may have added confusion to those who think we are just another denomination. This is because several of our early, prominent leaders were all men who had come out of various denominational backgrounds. They were preachers such as James O’Kelley, Abner Jones, and Thomas Campbell who had arrived at the decision to reject all religious creeds, doctrines, and institutions made by men. This has often been viewed as constituting yet another denomination. But instead, these men simply wanted to return to the Bible as the sole authority for the church. They wanted to follow only the Scriptural examples in order to reproduce Jesus’ church among themselves, just like the one they had read about in the Bible. This same ideology lead to the Christian Church emerging from among the two simultaneous movements of Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell. They decided to call themselves “Christians” only and would speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent in regard to religious authority. It was/is therefore, not another denomination, but rather, an attempt to return to, or “restore,” the original, apostolic church of Christ.
    To add to the confusion, we have also been called “Campbellites,” which implies that just as the “Lutherans” follow Martin Luther’s doctrine, we simply follow Alexander Campbell’s doctrine. However, Campbell and other Restorationists, such as “Raccoon” John Smith, Walter Scott, Jacob Creath, Sr., Moses Lard, J.W. McGarvey, and David Lipscomb all rejected the man-made, denominational doctrines and simply held the belief that Christianity should be restored to that which was known in the early apostolic church. While denominationalism is a distorted facsimile of the apostolic church, Restorationist were in search of a purer and more ancient form of the religion – only that of the Bible!
    With this as their basis, the true doctrine of the apostles slowly came to the forefront of the church over time. Don’t forget that centuries of religious confusion had to be undone. So, just like those ancient Bereans of Acts 17:11, they searched the Scriptures to discern all matters of religion. Alexander Campbell was seen as a radical for preaching about the distinction between the Old and New Testaments, especially that Christians are no longer bound by the Old. Walter Scott is credited for exegeting the “Plan of Salvation” from the Scriptures. He simplified it to five points. He would ride into a town and teach the children to hold up their hand saying, “Repeat after me, starting with your thumb, ‘Faith, repentance, baptism, remission of sins, gift of the Holy Spirit.’ Now, run home and repeat that to your parents and that a man will present the Gospel tonight at the local school house!” These men and others concluded that the only creed of the early church was Jesus Christ Himself.
    The quest for restoring the church of Christ has continued now for almost 200 years. Every aspect of doctrine has been scrutinized and compared with the Bible to bring us back to the original (1 Peter 4:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:21). This is why we use the name we use (Romans 16:16). It is why we have no headquarters anywhere on earth (John 18:36). It is why we don’t use musical instruments in worship (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). It is why we have a plurality of elders as our leadership and not a “pastor” (Acts 15:23; 1 Peter 5:1). It is why we believe salvation comes after baptism, not before (Mark 16:16; Acts 22:16; 3 Peter 3:21). It is why we put Jesus as the only Head of the church and no one else (Ephesians 1:21-23; Colossians 1:18). Everything listed here can be supported and justified by Scripture (2 Peter 1:3). Religious elements that are not supported by a “book, chapter, and verse” approach are to be rejected. And, that is why we are not a denomination! …. Continued next week.


WHAY ARE THERE SO MANY CHURCHES? (Part 1)

    Many people have often asked, “Why are there so many churches in the world today?” That is a great question and one that is important to answer. To understand why requires a study of both history and the Bible. Today, we will look at the early history; next week we will look at the Restoration, then finally, more modern history. When it comes to the church’s history, there are many versions out there because it always depends on who is doing the writing! But, the facts are not difficult to find and Jesus is “the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13: 8). So, in reality, His church has never really changed since the day of its inception, as we can read in Acts chapter 2 and forward. But, a look at history tells us from where all these others came.
    Beginning in the days of the apostles, we see many autonomous congregations of the church of Christ being established (Acts 8-28; Romans 16:16), which were each lead by a plurality of elders (Acts 14:23; 1 Peter 5:1). But even at that time, some were already exiting from the faith and starting their own “churches,” (3 John 9; 1 Corinthians 1:10; Revelation 2:6). This explains why that in the beginning of the second century, also called the Age of the Church Fathers (100 to 500 AD), apologists such as Irenaeus and Origen write that a new practice emerged where a single elder began to wield more influence and control over other congregations, outside of his own. In 325 AD, Roman Emperor Constantine made it official by convening the Council of Nicea, which decreed that certain “bishops” were to be given control over the various churches and elderships within their “districts.” In that decree, the Roman Catholic Church was born. This departure from the Scriptural model of leadership started what would later become an avalanche of denominationalism.
    From about 500 to 1500, also known as, The Dark Ages, the Roman Empire had completely disintegrated, but the Holy Roman Empire grew in importance and power. Pope Leo I was the first church leader to use the name Pontifex Maximus. But, several historians generally considered Gregory I to be the actual, first Pope. It was he who wrote a decree stating that Peter was the first “Pope” in Rome. Therefore, according to that, all authority for the church must reside in Rome. Gregory’s successor, Boniface III, later appointed himself as the first supreme leader of the church in 606 AD. The Dark Ages also produced a major division over whether the headquarters of the Catholic Church resided in Rome or Constantinople, musical instrument were introduced into worship, and unbiblical doctrines appeared such as indulgences for those who wanted to pay to have their sins forgiven. Fortunately, this period also produced John Wycliffe’s translation of the Bible into English and Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press, which made the Bible accessible to ordinary people for the first time in history.
    Such accessibility to the Bible prompted a German friar, named Martin Luther, to nail his “95 Thesis” (complaints) to the door of the Catholic Church in Wittenberg in 1517. This ignited a movement called The Reformation (1500 to 1650). Many others also began studying the Bible on their own, like John Calvin, John Knox, Ulrich Zwingli and Conrad Grebel, who each rejected Catholic doctrine. This precipitated many to leave that church and start their own. The name Protestantappeared as more and more “protested” and resisted imperial edicts. The Roman Catholic Church responded with a Counter-Reformation at the Council of Trent. There, they rejected the accusations against them and affirmed their doctrine through the Catholic Catechism of 1566. This resulted in a bloody inquisition and many religious wars where thousands upon thousands lost their lives for the next several decades. The fighting finally subsided when the “Peace of Westphalia” was signed in 1648.
    Tired of so much conflict, many religious groups began seeking freedom to practice their own religion by migrating to the New World. Among those groups to arrive, even more divisions emerged as each attempted to follow their own interpretation of the Scriptures. This has continued until today, resulting in more than 40,000 different religious organizations! Each has their own creed, their own doctrine, and their own hierarchy of leadership. But, the New World also became fertile soil for the Restoration Movement (1790-1840). This became a crusade f rejecting all man-made creeds, doctrines, and religious institutions and simply returning to the Bible for all guidance pertaining to the church and religion. …. To be continued next week!


IDENTIFYING THE ONE TRUE CHURCH

     The fact that the church exists, naturally implies that it had to have begun somewhere, at some time, in some place, by someone having founded it. Yet, there are many religious groups claiming to be the one, true church, or true religion. How can there be so many claiming the same thing? Is it possible to have more than one? Everyone wants to think they belong to the right church, but, is it even possible to identify the right one? Friend, it is possible to identify it and there can only be one. We simply must ask a few questions and then look in the Bible for the answers. These are questions like, “Who established the church? Where and when did it begin? How many were established?” At that point, we can compare what we have discovered in the Bible to what the other religions claim. This is such an important matter, because according to the Scriptures, identifying the Lord’s true church is paramount to one’s salvation, (Matthew 7:21-23; 2 Timothy 2:10; Ephesians 5:30).
    Let’s begin our study by looking at specific things Jesus said about the church. As we mentioned last week, the first time we encounter the word “church” is in Matthew 16:18. “And I also tell you, that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it,” (Matthew 16:18).
     The first thing that should stand out in our minds is Jesus used the word, “I” in reference to building the church. In simple terms, Jesus Christ Himself would build the church. It would not be some man-made institution, a sect, a cult, nor a continuation of the current religious system of the time (Judaism), but rather, a divine creation of His own doing. Jesus also had no connection to the religious sects of His day, nor did He establish any of them. This alone should tell us who the church belongs to, it belongs to Jesus (Ephesians 1:22,23). It is the church of Christ, which is a description of what it is, not necessarily a formal title (Romans 16:16). No church, or any religious system, that cites someone else as its founder, or head, can claim to be the true church of the Bible. That distinction belongs solely to Jesus. Yet, sadly, there is no denying that such religious institutions do exist today.
    The second thing we should notice is, Jesus said He “will build” the church – future tense. This implies it did not exist at the time He spoke those words. We can also infer from this statement His intentions did not include an extension of, or a supplementation to Judaism. It would be something entirely different (Luke 22:20; Colossians 2:14). But, that brings up another question, “Well then, when did He establish the church?” The answer is, again, found in the Bible. Read the following verses, Luke 24:47-49; Acts 1:8; and Acts 2:1-6, 37-41, 47; Acts 5:11, 8:1. Notice the day mentioned? Where did it take place? Then, both Acts 2:47 and 5:11 identify these new believers as “the church.” All of this is after the ascension of Jesus. So, did He still build His church, or did someone else? Jesus did because He said He would send the Helper/Comforter to help the disciples (John 14:16,26, 15:26, 16:7). Any religious body claiming to be the Lord’s church that didn’t start in Jerusalem, on the Day of Pentecost, is making a false claim.
    Thirdly, notice that the word “church” is singular? It is not plural. Jesus did not say, “my churches.” Instead, he said, “my church.” What does that teach us? It teaches the same thing Ephesians 4:4-6 teaches us – there is only one! Therefore, it is impossible for more than one to be accurate. If the Bible says there is only one, yet, multiple groups claim to be that one, with each still having distinct differences existing between them, then how is one to determine which is the correct church? Again, the answer is rather simple, measure it with the Bible! Read and investigate what the church of the Bible looks like, what they did, how they worshiped, when and where they met, what they called themselves, and who were the members. Then, compare those findings (the pattern, or model) with the various groups claiming to be the true church. If they don’t match up with exactly what is in the Bible, then how can they say they are the Lord’s church? They cannot.
    If one will take the time to study what the Bible says about the church, then it can certainly be unmistakably identified. If it can be identified with all certainty, then one can be certain they are in the right church – the one of which God approves. It is the true body of Christ (Colossians 1:18) of which the saved belong (Galatians 3:27; Ephesians 5:30).


THE WORD “CHURCH”

   In this series of articles (which began June 9), we have been presenting some of the key principles in the spiritual formation of a Christian. We’ve addressed aspects of two main principles: the personal responsibility of Christian to grow spiritually and the infallibility of the Bible. A third principle every Christian should understand is how to identify the true church. With so much religious confusion in the world, a disciple can easily become confused and disoriented. So, how does one determine if he/she is in the right place? How can we be sure that the church we attend is adhering to the right doctrine? The articles in next few weeks are going to deal directly with these questions and more.
    Let’s begin by looking at the word “church” itself. The word “church” is found more than 100 times in the New Testament. Obviously it is a very important word if the inspired writers recorded it that often! But what does it mean? Is that the word they used? Where did our English word come from? The first time the word “church” appears in the New Testament is in Matthew 16:18 when Jesus said, “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, …” The word used here in our English Bibles was translated from the Greek word “ekklesia.” Jesus didn’t actually say, “I will build my church.” He said, “I will build my ekklesia.” There’s quite a difference between what He actually said and what word the translators decided to use in the English versions they produced.
    The Greek word ekklesia means “a gathering or assembly, congregation, or community.” Many preachers like to point out that it is composed of two words, “ek” meaning “out of” and “klesia” meaning “to call.” Thus, they say, “Christians are the ‘called out’ as in being called out of the world.” While that may be applicable, the New Testament never uses the word in that manner, or context. Instead, it is always used in the sense of an assembly. Acts 19:32-41 is a great example of the word being used in its general sense, apart from the spiritual connotation. 1 Corinthians 14:23 also explains it well, “Therefore if the whole church [ekklesia] comes together in one place. So, what Jesus actually said implies that He was going to build a gathering, an assembly, or a community. This is a better way to understand what the word church truly means.
    Our English word “church” came from a derivative of an Old English word, “kirche,” (from German influences). Sometimes it was spelled, “circe, cirche, or chirche.” In fact, a man named John Wycliffe used it when he copied and published a translation of the Latin Vulgate (the Bible of the Catholic Church at the time) into the Middle English of his day (the language of Chaucer). In 1380, it became the very first Bible written in English. In it, he translated Matthew 16:18 in this way (in Old English style) “ … Y schal bilde my chirche, ….” He used the term chirche for ekklesia. That word means, “belonging to, or pertaining to God.” So, in that sense of the word, it would be correct to say the “church building” for it is, indeed, a building pertaining to God.
    That wasn’t always the case, however. One hundred and forty six years later, William Tyndale produced the first English translation to come directly from the Hebrew and Greek texts. His 1526 version was also the first English Bible mass-produced. His translation of Matthew 16:18 reads, “… I wyll bylde my congregacion …” (I will build my congregation). The Coverdale Bible of 1535, the Great Bible of 1539, and the Bishop’s Bible of 1568 followed suit and also all translated the word as “congregation.” It wasn’t until the Geneva Bible was published in 1560 that the use of “church” became the common term used among translators. The King James Version then solidified its use which has lasted until now in all English versions of the Bible.
    The word “church” is not a reference to a building, or even a place you go, as so many people typically use it. “Church,” as the New Testament uses the word, is the collection of disciples, or the assembly of the saints. Peter described it this way, “You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood,” (1 Peter 2:5). People are what make up the church. The building is just where the church meets (where they assemble). Do you see the difference in what Jesus actually said? He certainly wasn’t talking about a big, elaborate brick and mortar structure. He was talking about spiritual things. He was talking about His people, His disciples.


HOW DO WE KNOW WHAT APPLIES TO US?

    A child of God should always want to be pleasing to Him. What pleases God is keeping His commandments (1 John 3:22, 5:3; Matthew 7:21). But, how do we know exactly which commands to obey? How do we discern what applies to us today and what doesn’t? After all, yours or my name is not written in the pages of Scripture. The answer is this, we must use our reasoning and logic in order to identify God’s will for us. This is not difficult to do or understand. We simply must acknowledge three things: (1) Direct Commands, (2) New Testament Examples, (3) Necessary Inference. Let’s look at what this means.

DIRECT COMMANDS.

    “Do that!” or “Stop in the name of the law!” are a direct commands. They are imperative statements, which means something one is obligated to obey, perform, or expected to execute. We can easily understand this concept because we use imperatives in everyday communication. The same applies to the Bible.
    For example, read Acts 17:30. Who does God require to repent? Even though this passages does not mention our names specifically, you and I are included in the word “all”. This means that this passage is a direct command for us today. Another example is found in Matthew 5:44. Again, we read the words in the imperative mood, which means it is a command. Although Jesus was speaking to a particular crowd, it is a universal command that applies to all disciples. If you are a follower of Jesus, then this is for you and all believers, everywhere.

NEW TESTAMENT EXAMPLES.

    So, what are we supposed to do if there is no direct command for something? If a direct command cannot be identified, then we must look for examples to guide us. The Bible has many to observe. For example, there is no commandment regarding the day in which we must meet to worship God, but we have examples. What day is mentioned in Acts 20:7 and 1 Corinthians 16:2? These passages tell us what the first disciples did. We can deduce that what they did was right and pleasing to God, therefore if we imitate that example, it is an acceptable practice for us that will be pleasing to Him.
    Now, we have added the words, “New Testament” to example. This is because we are living under the New Testament law, that is, the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2). Those are the only examples that apply directly to Christians. While the examples we have in the Old Testament may be educational and informative, they are not binding on us today. So, we do not employ the practices that they exhibit. (See our previous article on “Rightly Dividing the Word”)

NECESSARY INFERENCE.

    Inference means, “a conclusion reached on the basis of evidence and reasoning.” We do this often, even on a daily basis. Here is an illustration of inference. Imagine that I have a coin. The coin is in my hand. I put my hand in my pocket. So, where is the coin now? Even though I did not say it directly, you were probably able to deduce that the coin is in my pocket because of the other information I gave you. We can do the same with the Bible.
    For example, in Acts 8:35 we read where “Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached ____________” What does it say Phillip preached? Now, look at the very next verse. “As they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, ‘See, here is water. What hinders me from being ____________?’ (vs. 36). What can we infer, that is, logically deduce from the information given in this passage? We can conclude that baptism must have been a part of the preaching of Phillip. The subject of baptism is included in the preaching of the Gospel of Christ!
    Here is another one, John 8:32 says you shall know what? And, it shall do what? The inference here is that truth can be known and it will do something for us. This means we can, absolutely, know the will of God. But to understand it, sometimes we must put together all of the passages that speak about a particular subject (Psalm 119:160).
    These are good reference points for discerning what applies to us and what doesn’t. It’s important to know because according to 2 Peter 1:3, the Bible contains “all things that pertain to life and godliness”. I believe what 1 Corinthians 14:33 says about God could also be applied to His Word. Therefore, it is not difficult to understand the Bible! We must simply use it accurately, use our mental reasoning to draw sound conclusions, and consider all that Scripture says about a subject. God bless! – TS


YOU CAN UNDERSTAND THE BIBLE

    We live in a truly amazing time! When you consider all the advances in technology, such as the many digital applications we have available to us, it’s simply incredible. For example, we have phones that convert the sound of our voices into a series of ones and zeros, and then transmits them to another phone that converts those numbers back into sounds. How marvelous! Yet, the truth is humanity has been using the sum of numbers for thousands of years in order to accomplish specific tasks. We’re just doing it in a different way today.
    There is a spiritual application here, as well. It has to do with the question, “Why do people not understand the Bible, or think that it is too difficult to comprehend?” One of the main reasons is because many simply do not consider everything the Bible has to say on a particular subject. In other words, they don’t add everything up. They are not looking at the total sum of truth.
    This is such an important concept to understand! This lack of understanding has caused much confusion throughout the religious world. It has resulted in unbiblical doctrines, forms of organization, worship practices, and even differing plans of salvation. How is this even possible? It happens by picking and choosing verses instead of considering all that the Bible has to say about a subject.
    Read Psalm 119:160. However, don’t just read it in the version you always use. Not all versions say it in exactly the same way. Read it in other versions – especially the American Standard (ASV), English Standard (ESV), and the New American Standard (NASB). Notice the word they use, “the sum.” This is a word that has a few different meanings and is always dependent upon context. In this passage, the word “sum” makes the most sense. Literal Translations (like Youngs and LITV) render the word as “sum.” It means, “the total amount of something that exists.” Indeed, every word that proceeds from the mouth of God is true (Matthew 4:4; Titus 1:2). Since all He says is true, then we must be diligent in considering everything He says. Always compare other similar passages on a particular subject.
    This is not a difficult concept to grasp! Just like in math, we know how to use numbers. If we add 2 + 5, we know it does not equal 25. The answer is 7! Easy. Then why can’t we do the same with the Bible? Why do we make it so difficult? If God says one thing in a passage and then adds something else in another passage that pertains to the first, doesn’t it stand to reason that we should add them together? We cannot approach the Bible in just any form or manner. This implies we must investigate all of the things the Bible says so we’ll arrive at a correct understanding.
    What exactly does it mean “to use the Bible correctly”? First, there are many people who do not “rightly divide the Word” (2 Timothy 2:15) because they take passages out of context and do not consider all that the Bible teaches about the same subject in other places/passages. We must also always keep the context of a passage in mind. We must identify who is speaking, when he spoke, and to whom did he speak. To establish the correct interpretation, we must examine the customs and situations of that era. All of this will help us understand how the Bible applies to us.
    As an example, consider the three passages that speak about the Great Commission: Matthew 28:19-20, Mark 16:15-16, and Luke 24:46-48. Luke only mentions repentance. This passage does not mention anything about confession or baptism. Mark mentions belief and baptism. Is repentance unnecessary, since Mark does not mention it? Matthew does not mention belief nor repentance, only baptism. The truth is, all of these passages speak about the same subject. So then, belief, repentance, and baptism are all necessary in obedience. To understand this truth well, you must “add up” ALL of the passages! The Bible is not hard to understand …. as long as you don’t pick and choose!


WHY DO WE NEED THE OLD TESTAMENT?

    Last week we looked at “Rightly Dividing the Word.” We discussed some of the major differences between the Old and New Testaments. It was mentioned the Old Testament is sometimes called the “Law of Moses,” or, just “the Law,” and that Christians are no longer under that old law. This begs the question, “If we are no longer under the law and now under the New Covenant of Jesus (ie. the New Testament), then why do we have, or even need the Old Testament?” That’s an important question because there are some brethren who believe it isn’t necessary. There are many who have never read the Old Testament and some see no value in it at all. I’ve known people who have communicated to me that they don’t want to hear anything from the pulpit but the New Testament (obviously, I had been and still preach from the Old Testament). I’ve known others who flat out refuse the Old Testament. To be quite honest, I simply do not comprehend that type of thinking. It makes absolutely no sense to me! Allow me to explain.
    Look at what the apostle Paul wrote in his epistle to the Christians in Rome (fill in the blank), “For whatever things were written before were written for our __________ , that we through the __________ and __________ of the Scriptures might have _________.”(Romans 15:4). So, before the New Testament was even completed, we have here one of God’s divinely appointed, inspired writers explaining why the ancient Scriptures are important to our faith. Shouldn’t that be enough to convince anyone of the value of ALL of God’s Word? If not, then don’t forget to read what Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:16-17. Here, he clarifies that ALL Scripture is: (a) inspired by God, (b) it is useful, and (c) will make the faithful believer, “complete.” Again, notice the word “all.” These two verses are the best reasons why we need the Old Testament. So, if we have established the necessity of Scripture, then what is it about the Old Testament that Christians need today? We can answer that question with three easy-to-remember points: Reference, Redemption History, and Reflection.
Reference.
    While reading the New Testament, especially the Gospel accounts, there are numerous references to personalities, events, and teachings in the Old Testament. In fact, there are some 855 times it is referenced or cited in the New Testament! While opinions on this vary, it appears that all but 10 books of the Old Testament are quoted by New Testament writers. With that many references, it is certainly necessary to be able to review where the quote is located, who said it, and why. Not to mention, that the New Testament is full of words, concepts, and specifics that can only be explained by reading about them in the Old Law. Without it, it would be virtually impossible to understand a large portion of the New Testament.

Redemption History

    The reason for Jesus coming to earth, the need for salvation, and the purpose of heaven would be greatly obscured and quite confusing without the Old Testament writings! How would we know the history of mankind, the formation of the universe, the fall of man into sin, mankind’s tendency to reject God, and the loving plan of redemption that our Father unfurled over the centuries if we didn’t have them written down to read about and study? Read how Peter describes this in 1 Peter 1:10-12.

Reflection

    Even though we are Christians under the law of Christ, reading the Old Testament will cause one to reflect upon their own life. The examples of God’s faithful servants, of those not so faithful, the rebellious, and even His enemies are written down to help us reflect upon the nature of God, His love for His creation, and His sovereignty as Judge. It is written to help us contrast our own lives against those who triumphed or failed. To show us that God loves His creation, therefore, He loves you! It is written down so that, as the Psalmist put it, “Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You,”(Psalm 119:11) When you pray to God today, thank Him for His word! Then, show that thanks by putting it into YOUR heart!