Ask Your Preacher
I love church, and I love being part of God’s family, but I really dislike being a certain type of christian. I don't understand why there are so many different beliefs for one religion (like Catholic, Methodist, and so on); is it possible to just be a christian and not any thing specific? Is there a special church that's just christian?
No Party Affiliation
Dear No Party Affiliation,
All we should ever be is just christians… you are absolutely right for being frustrated. The denominational world is confusing… exactly the opposite of God’s church (1 Cor 14:33). The term ‘denomination’ comes from the idea that a church believes that it is a subgroup of a larger religious body. Lutherans worship and teach differently than Episcopalians, Catholics, Presbyterians, etc., but they all believe themselves to be christians – this is wrong. Jesus said that there is only one path to heaven (Matt 7:14). Denominationalism teaches that how you act and worship are matters of opinion, but Jesus said that how you act and worship are matters of truth (Jhn 4:24). The only way to avoid denominationalism is to find a congregation that simply teaches what the Bible says – no creeds, no opinions, no personal agendas. If we truly love Christ, we will follow His commandments (1 Jn 5:2).
Everything a church does (worship, membership, how they teach to be saved, how they spend their money, even their name) needs to have Bible verses backing them up (1 Tim 3:15). A church needs to be able to explain the reasons for why they do what they do (1 Pet 3:15).
Our congregation here in Monroe goes by the name ‘Monroe Valley church of Christ’ because ‘church of Christ’ is a Biblical name for a congregation (Rom 16:16). We worship by singing (Col 3:16), studying the Bible (1 Tim 4:13), praying (2 Thess 3:1), taking communion (only on Sundays – Acts 20:7), and taking up a collection (also only on Sundays – 1 Cor 16:1-2). We teach that you must hear God’s Word (Rom 10:17), believe God’s Word (Jhn 3:16), repent of your sins (Mk 6:12), confess Jesus as your Savior (Lk 12:8), and be baptized to be saved (Acts 2:38, 1 Pet 3:21). We do all these things because they are practices found in the Bible. As you said, you don’t want to go to a church that offers their own thoughts – you want God’s thoughts.
There are other congregations like ours scattered across the country and the world. Most of them use the name ‘church of Christ’, but then again, many churches that use that name aren’t faithful. A Bible name for a church isn’t enough to make it faithful. We have helped others, like yourself, looking for New Testament Christianity find faithful congregations in their area by contacting other preachers and christians that we know. We’d be happy to do the same for you. If you feel comfortable, just let us know what general area you live in, and we will try and get you in touch with a congregation that lives like your Bible reads (our e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org). It is frustrating, confusing, and exasperating to deal with denominationalism. Thanks be to God that there is a better option!
I just wanted to follow up on your reply to "Plural Pastors". The verses you cited for having no single pastor as leader, but a plurality of elders in a local congregation, are a bit unclear to me. In Titus 1:5, the verse states "and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you"; that doesn't necessarily mean more than one elder for every congregation. It would be like saying "the governor appointed mayors in every city". This phrase doesn't mean more than one mayor was appointed in every city. Could you clarify?
Dear Baptist Believer,
We are happy to clarify! Tit 1:5 might leave the issue vague if that were the only verse on the topic, but we also have plenty of other places to see that every congregation had a plurality of elders. Acts 14:23 says that they appointed elders in every church. Acts 15:2-6 points out that the church in Jerusalem had multiple elders. In Acts 20:17, Paul called for the elders of the church that met in Ephesus. Jas 5:14 recommends that the sick call for the elders of the church to pray for them. Also, Peter exhorts the elders of each congregation to tend the flock amongst them (1 Pet 5:1-3). There is not a single example of a lone elder in the New Testament. Every congregation was led by a multiplicity of pastors.
I belong to a local, independent Baptist congregation, and we go by the Bible in all matters of faith and practice. My pastor of twenty years is going to retire next month (God bless him), and our church is bringing prospective replacement pastors to preach on Sunday. At some point, we will be asked to vote on a new pastor after careful prayer and consideration. My question is: is this a biblical method of church structure? I can't seem to find anything in the New Testament that resembles what we are doing. Please help.
Dear Baptist Believer,
We applaud your desire to follow the Bible pattern in all things – this is exactly what God expects us to do (2 Tim 1:13). The way a congregation organizes itself should always be based upon the standard and pattern found in the Bible… after all, the church is the pillar and foundation of the truth on this planet (1 Tim 3:15). So, let’s look at the Bible pattern for church leadership.
The Bible makes a distinction between preachers and pastors. In Eph 4:11, notice that evangelists are listed separately from pastors. An evangelist, also known as a preacher, is any man that is preaching God’s Word. Philip was an evangelist (Acts 21:8), and so was Timothy (2 Tim 4:5). Preachers are given the task of preaching and teaching God’s Word. They have no authority beyond the ability to appeal to the hearts and minds of those in the congregation by explaining the Scriptures to them (2 Tim 4:1-5). A congregation can support and hire a preacher as long as he is a faithful man that preaches the truth (1 Cor 9:14, Lk 10:7).
The job of a pastor is entirely different from that of a preacher. ‘Pastor’ is a term only used once in the New Testament (Eph 4:11). ‘Pastor’ is another name for ‘elder’ because elders shepherd the flock (1 Pet 5:1-2). Elders/pastors are in charge of guiding and leading the church. They have authority to make decisions for the congregation, and they have the responsibility of watching over the souls of those in the local congregation (Heb 13:17). The Bible never gives us an example of a pastor leading a congregation on his own. Every faithful congregation functioned with multiple elders (Tit 1:5), and those elders had to meet strict requirements and standards because of the authority they wielded. The qualifications for pastors can be found in Titus 1:5-9 and 1 Timothy 3:1-7. Pastors should be picked out from amongst the congregation (Acts 14:23) – they don’t need to be shipped in.
It seems like your congregation has the common misconception of using a single pastor to run and lead the church. The Bible shows many examples of a congregation bringing in preachers to teach and share the good news, but pastors should always come from within a congregation; they must meet the Bible’s qualifications, and there should always be more than one of them.
Based on your response regarding the authority to interpret the scriptures under the heading “Going for Pope”, I was hoping you could clarify a few things. How can two local congregations, relying on Scripture alone for all matters of faith and practice, still be diametrically opposed doctrinally? This is from my father-in-law’s local independent Baptist church under the “what we believe” section of their website:
- The Bible (KJV) to be the infallible, inerrant Word of God (II Peter 1:20,21)(I Peter 1:23-25)
- The Bible is to be the sole source for all matters of faith and practice (II Timothy 3:16)
- There is one true and living God revealed to us as the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, three separate personages in one divine being (I John 5:7)
- The only way of salvation is by grace through faith in the atonement and righteousness of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8)
- It is the duty of all to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (II Peter 3:9)
- Nothing can separate true believers from the love of God and they are kept by His power through faith unto salvation (I John 5:10-13)
- In the pre-millenial return of the Lord Jesus Christ, that the wicked shall go away into everlasting punishment but the righteous unto life eternal (I Thessalonians 4:15 18) (Revelations 21:8)
- In the autonomy of the local church, and that it is to be self-supporting, self-governing, not dependent on any ecclesiastical organizations; solely dependent on the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 16:16-19)
- The church is the divine means of spreading the gospel and it is our duty to support missions at home and abroad (Matthew 28:18-20)
The pastor of that congregation has studied the Bible for over forty years and can provide scriptural support for every doctrine that he teaches. They consider themselves a model New Testament church and believe they are lead by the Holy Spirit when interpreting Scripture. They rely on no creeds or traditions and go as far as teaching that any other congregation that doesn’t hold similar beliefs are not truly “saved” christians. In direct opposition to what your local church of Christ congregation teaches, they believe baptism is symbolic only and not necessary for salvation. Once a believer is saved, they are always saved. You must tithe ten percent or be cursed by God. They practice communion once every four months. They use musical instruments in worship service. They believe in a pre-tribulation rapture of the church. They use all the same criteria you mentioned in your previous responses (Bible as the sole rule of faith), and yet, you would disagree with them (using the very same Scriptures)! Can you elaborate on your previous answer given this scenario?
Dear Needing More,
We will admit that Baptist churches are much more Bible-centered than most of the denominational world, but just because they say that they do exactly what the Bible says doesn’t make it true. Many of the things that your father-in-law’s congregation believes are right, but there are some glaring practices that simply ignore Scripture. Remember, if you avoid or ignore verses, that is just as bad as adding creeds (Rev 22:18-19). We have to take every Bible teaching, no matter how unpopular, and accept it in order to truly call ourselves a “Bible-only” congregation. We don’t disagree with your father-in-law when he uses Scriptures; we would disagree with him when he ignores or avoids Scripture. So let’s take a look at a couple of areas that this Baptist church is ignoring obvious Bible text.
- Baptism is necessary for salvation. This is one of the clearest teachings in the New Testament. Peter literally wrote, “Baptism saves you” in 1 Pet. 3:21. Mark 16:16 teaches that when you believe and are baptized, you are saved. There is not a single example of someone becoming a christian without baptism. If a church is teaching that baptism is only symbolic… it is ignoring the text. In fact, the Baptist church’s manual (which is a lot like a creed) specifically says, “Baptism was the door into the church; now it is different” (Standard Manual for Baptist Churches pg. 22). Feel free to read our article “Baptism” for further Scriptures on this topic.
- The Bible openly teaches that you can lose your salvation. Gal 5:4 says that people can be “severed from Christ” and “fall away from grace”. 1 Tim 4:1 also warns that people will fall away and follow false teachings. Heb 3:12 also mentions falling away because of an unbelieving heart. The clearest verse on this topic is Heb 6:4-6 because it talks about someone who was “enlightened” and had “tasted the heavenly gift” and yet were “crucifying Christ again”. Once again, these are simple verses with clear and direct implications.
- The Lord’s Supper. Your father-in-law’s congregation only takes the Lord’s Supper every four months. Where is the Bible authority and support for that? Where in the Bible does it show christians taking communion every four months? Acts 20:7 mentions christians taking the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week. Once again, this is a plain teaching with a simple consequence. If we want to be like the first-century christians… we take communion every first day of the week.
This is hardly an exhaustive answer to everything that your father-in-law’s church does, but it should be enough to give you an idea that there are some clear verses that are being avoided by this Baptist congregation. God tells us to test all teaching against the Scripture (1 Jn 4:1). No congregation advertises that they are ignoring parts of the Bible, but many churches do exactly that.
Due to the lengthy nature of these answers and our backlog of questions, if you have further questions on this topic, please include your e-mail address, so we can contact you in a timely manner.
If apostolic authority was meant to end with the last apostle, how are autonomous local congregations meant to settle doctrinal disputes? The sheer number of differing Protestant denominations only proves that leaving the church with the Scriptures alone only leads to division and fragmentation. Calvinists believe in predestination, Lutherans believe in baptismal regeneration, Baptists believe in symbolic adult full-immersion baptism, Pentecostals believe in speaking in tongues, the church of Christ believes in no musical instruments, and Seventh Day Adventists worship on Saturday. All of these local congregations are interpreting the same Scriptures, and yet, all are divided on any one of a number of important doctrinal positions. They can’t agree on the nature of baptism, the causes of salvation, the gifts of the Spirit, the study of eschatology, and so on. The differences are endless. Why would Christ leave His church with a set of Scriptures but no authority to properly interpret them?
Dear Needing More,
Religious confusion isn’t because of the Scriptures. The Scriptures aren’t the weak link; people are. If you look at the vast majority of religious organizations, they don’t take the Scriptures as their only guide. They allow religious tradition, personal whims, various creeds, etc. to sway them from basic Bible teachings. It is when people warp and pervert the Scriptures that they get the divisions and fragmentations that we see today (Gal 1:6-8). False teachers disguised as ministers of righteousness infiltrate churches and lead many astray (2 Cor 11:13-15). False teachers are described as “wolves in sheep’s clothing” (Matt. 7:15) because they pretend to teach Bible, but instead, they teach their own devices. False religions spring up when people are tired of the pure and simple Bible pattern and itch for a more comfortable message (2 Tim 4:3-5). The problem isn’t that we have too much emphasis on Scripture – it is the exact opposite! If you want to remove division and chaos, return to simply studying Scripture and expel all creeds, traditions, and personal preferences from religious discussion.
Your assertion assumes that the Scriptures alone aren’t powerful enough to teach and prepare people to meet their God. The Bible teaches that the Scriptures are the power of God for salvation (Rom 1:16). 2 Pet 1:3 says that the Scriptures provide every answer to life and godliness. Peter said that the apostles wrote down the wisdom God had given them so that long after they departed, we would still have it (2 Pet 1:12-15). When Jesus rebuked the Pharisees, He condemned them for their lack of Bible knowledge (Matt 22:29). Jesus believed the Scriptures were plain enough for anyone to understand if they had an honest heart and applied some effort… He believed it enough to be angry with the Pharisees when they didn’t know their Bibles. When Paul taught the people, he reasoned with them using only the Scriptures (Acts 17:2). The Berean converts were praised as being noble-minded for not accepting the apostle Paul’s teachings without first examining the Scriptures for themselves (Acts 17:10-11). The Bible is sufficient for our salvation, and there is no need for anyone to have modern abilities to “interpret” the Bible for us (2 Pet 1:20-21).