We continue our series on how to defend one's faith, how to respond to various questions concerning the Bible or the church. And every week I remind you of our ground rules for a religious discussion: respect others sincerity and faith. Other people want what we want. They want to know and please God. There's no corner on that market. They want to be pleasing to God. And I think this desire is worthy of our respect, even though we may not agree with how they approach that or what they think the Bible says about that. Also, keep the discussion focused on the Bible. If you don't know what the Bible says about it, it's okay to say, oh you know that question, I don't know the answer to that. I know there's a scripture, but I can't bring it up from memory. It's okay to say, I don't know. We don't know everything. Also, be patient. Not everybody is ready or able to hear what we have to share, okay.
One group of questions that had to do with church attendance, and this question always comes up. If you're a good person, do you still have to go to church? Is three times a week necessary? Is three times a week necessary? Where does it say that in the Bible? And why can't I worship alone, without going to services? I go to the park on Sunday. I'm with the trees, the birds. These are all God's creation. I see the sky, it moves me to give thanks. Isn't that good?
Some of the attitudes that go along with this: it doesn't matter if you attend or where you attend, church is church. I hear people say that all the time on the radio, evangelists. They'll be preaching the gospel, and they'll say, whatever, wherever you want to go. Just make sure you just go to church. It doesn't matter where you go. And another question is: who decides how often we meet? Show me the chapter and verse where it says we've got to be in church Sunday nights. Where is that? Because it's what you feel in your heart that's important, not if you go to church or not. Again, I'm just kind of articulating arguments that I've heard over and over again. And of course, the church is full of hypocrites. I don't go because of that.
These are varied comments and questions, but they boil down to two issues: one, is corporate public worship mandatory? And if so, how often. And number two, is membership in the church of Christ necessary and exclusive.
Is worship mandatory?
If anybody says that they can worship God by themselves, or they can worship wherever or however they wish, or they don't need to attend a public corporate worship at all, they are simply demonstrating that they have not read or understood the Bible. That's the first thing, right. Anybody that says that, you can be pretty sure that they have not studied the Bible carefully. It's an opinion. It may be their opinion. You need to respect their opinion, that's fine, but right away you know that they haven't read the Bible carefully, if they say that. You can say these things, but you can't say them after you've read the the Bible.
From the very beginning God required some form of worship from His people, from the very beginning. In the very beginning it was individual worship through sacrifice. How do we know that? Well, we read in Genesis. Genesis doesn't give us any information about how to worship and the procedure to worship, it simply gives us an example of these two men, Cain and Abel, offering worship to God. So it already existed. After this it was - I mean, history. I'm just drawing a timeline now, okay. A timeline of the type of worship. So in the beginning it was individual worship, we believe, through sacrifice. Because that's what they were doing. Then it was worship performed by the head of the family on behalf of the family. Noah, for example, Abraham. Then from the time of Moses until Jesus, God required, demanded, very specific forms of worship from the people through their priests and Levites. And we see that, of course, in the temple. I mean, how much of the Old Testament is dedicated to explaining the worship in the temple: what the Levites did; what the priests did; when they were to do it; how they were to do it; who is going to do it. And then, of course, Jesus through the Apostles has continued this practice, by giving us in the New Testament the form of worship that we practice in our day. And this, of course, includes prayers and songs, teachings, communion.
They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
- Acts 2:42
On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come.
- I Corinthians 16:2
I use these scriptures to demonstrate that from the very beginning of when the church was established, worship was something that was mandated. It was taught. It was participated in. It was explained, okay. Maybe what I'm trying to say here, it wasn't left to the people. God didn't just leave worship to the people, with the idea, well, you figure it out. Whatever works for you. Whatever you want to do will be fine. No. He didn't do that. He gave specific instructions through the Apostles on how they were to worship Him.
Now, we also note that in every period God was the One who provided the way in which He desired proper worship to be conducted. For example, Cain's worship was rejected by God. We're not told exactly why, but the fact that it was not pleasing to God means that something he did, some form he did, some attitude that he had was not correct, because both of them offered worship to God. One was accepted, one was rejected. The one who was rejected, obviously didn't do something right. I tend to think it was his attitude.
During the mosaic period, the manner in which worship was performed was very specific and some were punished by death for deviating from it. It's kind of hard to accept, but do you remember the story in II Samuel? They're bringing the Ark of the Covenant, they want to take it from somebody's house and bring it into the city, and they load it on a cart. Makes sense, right. I mean, we're not going to carry it. We put it on a cart. And they're bringing it to Jerusalem, and they're singing, they're happy. We've got the Ark, we're bringing it back to where it belongs, and they're happy. And all of a sudden, the oxen are pulling the cart, and the cart does this, and the Ark does this, and Uzzah reaches out to steady the thing. And what happened to Uzzah? He's struck dead, right on the spot. Why? Because in the law you weren't supposed to touch it. You weren't - even the high priest was not allowed. He could go in and offer sacrifice once a year, but an ordinary person, a Levite, someone, they weren't allowed to touch it. After this, if you continue - usually we only read that part to try to, maybe, underscore how important it is to obey God's laws and worship, but if you read a little further, there's another insight. After a while they went back and they sent the Levites who put long poles through the eyelets. There were eyelets on the corners of the Ark. There were eyelets on the corners of the Ark, and the Levites put the long poles through these. And they picked them up like this: two Levites on this side, two Levites. Did they invent that method of carrying? No. That was the way that God had ordained that the Ark was to be transported from place to place. And when they put it on a cart, they were already looking for trouble, because that's not the way it was supposed to be transported. And so, when it began to jostle, somebody touched it. Paid the price.
At the very establishment of the church on Pentecost Sunday, the Apostles immediately began to teach the new converts the manner of Christian worship, and they continued by example in teaching, to encourage them to worship regularly what they were taught and how they were taught to do so.
The God who created the world, the God who gave Moses the law, the God for whom the Temple in Jerusalem was built, the God who sent Jesus, this is all the same God. We don't have a new-and-improved, or a and more cool and loose God in the New Testament. Some people seem to think, well, that's the Old Testament God. He was an angry God. He wanted everything done by the book, but in the New Testament, He's a cool God, and there's a lot of slack. You kind of do what you want. Not at all. Not at all. What makes us think that this God has even changed His mind about our need to worship Him.
If He was so exacting about His people, how and when they worshiped Him, in the Old Testament, what makes us think He forgot all about that in the New Testament, and He makes no demands on us in the New Testament? Nothing has changed. The Bible says, in the Old and New Testament, that we must worship God.
- The Old Testament puts it this way, Exodus 20:8, "Remember to keep holy "the Sabbath day." It's a commandment. So the instruction to worship is conveyed through a commandment in the Old Testament.
- In the New Testament, the instruction to worship is conveyed in the form of teaching and example. We need to understand that God conveys information to us in various ways. Sometimes it's a command, sometimes it's an example or it's a teaching. It's still from God. We're still bound by it. So how does He convey His will in the New Testament, concerning worship? Well, the Apostles' teaching the disciples how to worship. I just read a couple of scriptures there. It says, they continually devoted themselves to what? The Apostles' teaching. Well, there's Bible teaching. What else? To prayer. Okay, the prayer includes prayer, praise, all that. What else? Fellowship. Christians being together for fellowship. What else? The breaking of bread. That's the communion. Those are not kind of, how can I say this, kind of just a loose idea. Those were specific things that the Apostles were teaching the new Christians. And then we learn in the New Testament, as we go along, the Apostles describe various churches worshipping on a regular basis throughout the New Testament.
The point is this, whether the Bible gives us instruction by a specific command, or a stream of teaching, or several examples, all of these things still have the weight of God's will. We tend to think that if it's not in a command form, then we're free to take it or leave it, but no. An example of what we should do is just as weighty as a commandment as to what we should do. So God expresses His will in a variety of ways, a variety of ways through commands, through teachings, through apostolic examples. Again, I'm giving you this, I know I'm preaching to the choir here, but this is what you need to explain to someone else who asks you such a question, because usually their confusion, usually, is about this business of how God conveys His will. They think if they don't see it as a command like the Ten Commandments were given, if they don't see it as a command in the New Testament, then it has no bearing on us. And that's misunderstanding how God conveys information to us, okay. Again, anyone who feels that regular corporate public worship is not necessary, is a person who has not carefully read the scriptures or has read them, but chooses to ignore the passages that inconvenience their chosen lifestyle.
So yes, the Bible teaches that worship is mandatory, but does it teach that you have to do it three times a week? Now, in order to answer this question, I want to use a comparison to married love. So please be patient with me. Don't be offended. I'm not trying to be disrespectful.
Here's what I mean by that: in a marriage relationship, God designed us in such a way that we must have sex at least one time in order to conceive a child. I think we all understand that. But how many of us would say that having sex once every year or two, to produce a child, would be something that would contribute to a healthy and a happy marriage? I don't think anybody would say, well, that's not really - I don't think that would contribute to the happiness and the satisfaction of a couple in marriage. And yet, the command or the basic necessity is only once, to get a child. So in our relationship, here's my point, in our relationship with Christ, the Bible stipulates through teaching and example that Christians should worship at least once per week, the Lord's Day, to take the Lord's Communion. You could argue that, and successfully demonstrate that this is necessary.
Through simple human experience, however, we have learned that the more times we repeat the experience, the healthier and more rewarding becomes our relationship with Christ, our Lord. Just human experience teaches that. We've also learned through experience that those who limit their worship to the absolute minimum, usually end up falling away sooner or later, because of this attitude. Just like in marriage, the more contact and interchange, the better the relationship.
Now, I could list a host of other positive reasons and benefits for repeated and regular worship and fellowship and Bible study, but this one, the fact that it strengthens our relationship with God, is the one I believe that really matters. People who neglect worship for worldly pleasure or pastimes, they demonstrate what their priorities are. It's not a way to build up your faith. I understand, people work shifts, things are happening, babies are sick, we go out of town, we do overtime. There are plenty of reasons why you can't attend worship on a Wednesday or Sunday night, or make it Sunday. I understand that. But when our lifestyle includes regular worship, our faith can stand missing here, there, being gone two weeks. Our faith can stand that type of thing, because we include worship and fellowship as part of our lifestyle. It's not an exception, it's the rule.
Do you have to be a member of the Church of Christ?
Again, there are long and short answers, and since we don't have all night here, I'm going to give you the short answer and the answer to this is, yes. Do you have to be a member of the church of Christ to be saved? Yes. Why? Three reasons.
1. You cannot be a Christian and be saved without being part of Christ's church.
Simple as that. I'll make it even more simple. There are really only two places to be in existence: you're either in the kingdom of darkness, which is the world, or you're in the kingdom of Christ, which is the church (Colossians 1:13). When you are saved, Jesus Himself adds you or places you into His body, which is the kingdom, which is the church (Acts 2:47). And the church, in this world, is an organized religious body. It's organized, of course, according to the New Testament, not according to somebody's idea, but it, nevertheless, is organized.
When I hear people say, "I'm a spiritual person, I love the Lord, but I have no use for organized religion." Really? Is that so? Well, I guess you and God don't agree on this, because He has a role for organized religion, because in the Old Testament He went to great lengths to organize Jewish worship, Jewish religion. And in the New Testament, His Son died on the cross in order to create the, quote, organized church of Jesus Christ, church of Christ, kingdom of light. Call it what you will. People who say they hate organized religion, are saying they hate the Lord's church, because the Lord's church is organized religion. But I understand what they're saying. They hate religion, religious groups that are there simply for money or who talk a good game, but they don't really do what they say. Sure, I understand that. So the very idea of being saved means to be part of the church.
Saying you don't want to be part of the church, you don't need the church, is to say that you don't need Christ. You cannot have Christ without the church. Why? Because He's the head of the body. Some people say, well, I'm faithful to the head, but I have no use for the body. Really? How do you do that metaphysically? You can't do it physically. You can't say, well, I'll just be with the head, but I don't want the body. Well, we haven't figured out how to remove the head and keep it going without the body, not yet. It's the same thing in the church. The body is Christ's body and the head is Christ. If you're faithful to the head, you're connected to the head. No way around it.
2. You don't choose a church, because there's only one church that is pleasing and recognized by God, and that is the one formed according to His Word.
Jesus said, "upon this rock I will build My church," Matthew 16:18. Notice, He didn't say, upon this rock I will build a variety of churches to appeal to all religious flavor. He didn't say that. He just said, My church, one church. And that church belongs to Christ. You can join a religious group that calls itself a church and be part of that if you want to, but the Bible says that when you confess your faith in Christ and repent of your sins and you are immersed in water in Jesus' name, He Himself adds you to His church.
Acts 2:47 says, "And on that day 3,000 souls were added to 'the church.'" Who added them to the church? Christ did. What did He add them to? His body. How? They confessed His name, repented, and were baptized, subsequently added to the church. Has anything changed in two thousand years? No. We continue to add people to the body of Christ in exactly the same way. So you have to be a member of the church that Christ adds you to in order to be saved.
3. There are many religious groups claiming to be Christ's church, but the only church that Christ will receive when He comes will be the one that has obeyed His word and His teaching concerning what a church is or is not.
And He's told us this. Many will say, Lord, Lord, on that day. And He'll say, I never knew you. What do you mean? We did miracles, we called on Your name, we had a big group. He said, no, get away from me. What did they do? They didn't obey His word. You can't have any part of Me, if you don't obey My word. You don't become part of Me on your terms. You become part of Me, meaning Christ, you become part of Me on My terms. And on My terms I accept everyone, on My terms. There's no sinner who's too sinful not to be brought into Me, if he comes to Me on my terms, which is what? Repent, be baptized. Those are my terms.
If you love the Lord and want to be received by Him when He comes, you need to be sure that your church obeys and follows Jesus' word. All I can say to that is to compare the church of Christ to others, as far as their obedience to Christ's words in the New Testament are concerned, and see who is really following the pattern here.
The true church doesn't have a physical address, necessarily. That's not how we decide it. The true church is the one that truly follows Jesus' words. We're not saying, oh, we've got it all down. But we do understand what the goal is. We do understand what it is that we need to do to please God. Now actually doing it all the time? All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. But I've said this before, in my mind, anytime I'm discouraged with the church, sometimes we're not moving fast enough or we've done something not as well as we ought to have done, I'm not just talking about our congregation, but I mean as a brotherhood, and I shake my head sometime, but you know what? Who else has as its target carefully following the New Testament in order to establish the New Testament church? Now, I haven't heard any - People say, what's your mission statement or we need a mission statement. And I hear other churches, whatever, not criticizing any. I'm just saying what I heard. Our mission statement? Well, we are open people who love other people in the name of Christ. Well, good. That's good. That's good, but I'm looking for the church whose mission statement is, we strive to be a faithful New Testament church. because if we are a faithful New Testament church, we will love other people in the name of the Lord; we will sacrifice ourselves in the service to the Lord; we will give generously in order to move the cause ahead; we will aim at sexual purity; we will try to be honest people; and husbands will love their wives. We'll be those people, because that's what a faithful New Testament church teaches and encourages all of its members to do.
Let's put it this way, you have to be a member of Christ's body in order to be resurrected unto glory. And the church of Christ that I know, is dedicated to following Christ's words, and being His church, His body. You get to choose what you want to do from there on. Don't be ashamed of that. You can declare that and share that with someone, without being pompous or self-righteous. Again, it's always not, I think or I believe, it's always, I believe that the Bible teaches... and then fill up the blank, and let the other person say, that's not what the Bible teaches. You mean to tell me the Bible doesn't teach that Jesus wants you to obey His commands in order to be true Christians? Show me the passage where it says that. I'll show you the passage where Jesus says, 'And teaching them to obey all the things "that I have commanded you." Matthew 28. I'll show you that passage, you show me the passage that contradicts that passage.
Here's another question somebody wrote: if a person is baptized in a church other than a restoration church, church of Christ, and then wants to become a member of the church of Christ, does that person have to be rebaptized? That's a good question. A person is baptized by immersion, let's say, by a Baptist preacher. And then later on starts to go to the church of Christ, does he have to be rebaptized? An excellent question, because it refers to a very common occurrence in this area, where there are so many Baptist churches and so many congregations of the churches of Christ. We know that, look at the corner here. In Montreal, this question didn't come up very often. Most of the people who had any religious background were Catholic, and most of them had been baptized as babies. So when the question of baptism came up, it was fairly simple to compare biblical baptism to what they had experienced as Catholics as babies, to show them there was a difference. But in this area, someone has been baptized in the Methodist Church or a Baptist Church or whatever, they've probably been immersed in water. So that question comes up a lot.
So remember the rules, especially rule number two: keep it biblical. When it comes to baptism, the New Testament, while it is the part that teaches about baptism, it says that for a baptism to be biblical, meaning according to God's will and design, accepted by God, achieving its spiritual goal. That's what I mean about a baptism being biblical. For a baptism to be biblical, it must have two things:
- It must be done according to the Bible.
- It must be done for biblical reasons.
Remember, in order to be Christians according to Jesus' words, we must follow His words concerning all the facets of our spiritual lives, and this includes our baptism, which Jesus and the Apostles taught quite extensively on. So according to the Lord, baptism had to be done according to His Word, and for the reasons that He Himself outlined.
The manner of baptism
The manner of baptism is easy to understand, because the actual word for baptism is quite descriptive. I've explained before, so we're not going to spend a lot of time here. I've explained before that baptism means, the Greek word means, to be plunged or to be immersed or to be buried in water. That's what the word means. There are other Greek words that mean to sprinkle. There is another Greek word that means to pour. And the Holy Spirit could have inspired the writers to use any one of these words, but no. Every single time baptism comes up, the word baptizo, which means to immerse in water, is used. So if someone says, how does Jesus want me to be baptized? The answer is by immersion in water. Pretty simple, okay. So if you were sprinkled with water or you had some water poured over your head, or you never had contact with water, then the manner of your baptism was incorrect and you need to be immersed in water in the name of Jesus to be, quote, biblically baptized in the name of Jesus and the name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit. It's the same idea by the authority of, okay.
The reasons for baptism
The reasons for baptism in the New Testament, believe it or not, are quite numerous. For example,
- Baptized in order to become a disciple - Matthew 28:18
- Baptism is also to obey the Lord - Mark 16:16
- Baptism in order to be born again - John 3:3
- Baptism to enter the kingdom - John 3:5
- Baptism to receive forgiveness - Acts 2:38
- Baptism to receive the Holy Spirit - Acts 2:38
- Baptism to be added to the church - Acts 2:47
- Baptism to wash away sins - Acts 22:16
- Baptism to be buried and resurrected with Christ - Romans 6:3-5
- Baptism to put on Christ - Galatians 3:26
- Baptism to have a clear conscience - I Peter 3:21
- Baptized in order to be saved - I Peter 3:21
There are more of these. I just gave you a couple. But here's the point, three points. All right, first of all, in the Bible, every reference to baptism in the Bible associates it with something that means salvation in one way or another. In other words, to be born again is the same thing as to be saved. Why? Because only the saved are born again. To be saved. To be saved is to be saved. Believe and be baptized and you'll be saved. You see what I'm saying? Baptism is always related to salvation in every passage. That is good, solid, Bible exposition. Every single passage where baptism is mentioned, it is always in connection with salvation. How anybody could ever say, no, you don't need to be baptized in order - in the process of salvation, has not read - how many did I read? Ten passages. I only need one. Another point, baptism for any one or a combination of these reasons, is a biblical reason, and thus a right reason to be baptized. You were baptized in order to obey the Lord? You've got a right reason. To be but you were baptized because you wanted to be born again? Good for you. You were baptized because you were appealing to God for a clear conscience? Fine. That's a good reason.
Here's the point on that, very few people know or understand every biblical reason for baptism when they are baptized, but they must do it for at least one biblical reason. I'll use myself as an example, November 1977, I was baptized. What scripture really drew me to baptism? Mark 16:16. I didn't want to be lost. I was a sinner and I knew it. I wanted to be saved. How am I going to be saved? So the preacher opened the Bible. Read Mark 16:16. "Those who believe and are baptized will be saved." What does it say, Michael? Well, it says, if you believe and are baptized would be saved. Does it mean anything else? No. Well, alright, let's go. Where's the water? Why? I want to be saved. I don't want to go to hell. I want to become a Christian. I want to obey the Lord. I've spent my life disobeying Him, now I want to obey Him.
But you know what? I had no idea that night that at my baptism I would also receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. I had no idea. I didn't understand the idea that at baptism I was added to the Lord's body. I didn't know, I hadn't been taught that yet. Can you imagine every time I learned another reason for baptism, did I have to be rebaptized every time? No. That's why I say, if you're baptized for one biblical reason, you get them all. You get everything.
But conversely, the opposite is true as well. Baptism for a non-biblical idea or reason invalidates your baptism. For example, well, my friend was baptized, so I wanted to be baptized too. That's not a biblical reason. My preacher said it's time. Well, that's not a biblical reason. I wanted to join that church. It's not a biblical reason. I wanted to demonstrate that I was ready. I was already saved. That's not a biblical reason. It was my birthday. That's not biblical. I wanted to please my parents. That's not a biblical reason. So as true as the other, if you're baptized for one right reason, you receive all the blessings. Conversely, if you're not baptized for the right reason, then you don't receive any of the blessings.
For this reason, if you're baptized for the wrong reason, your baptism is invalid.
1 It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples. 2 He said to them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" And they said to him, "No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit." 3 And he said, "Into what then were you baptized?" And they said, "Into John's baptism." 4 Paul said, "John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus." 5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying. 7 There were in all about twelve men.
- Acts 19:1-7
So here you see 12 men who were baptized the right way, by immersion. They received John's baptism, but for the wrong reason. They were preparing for the coming of Christ. that's the wrong reason. So Paul comes along and he teaches them that one of the proper reasons for baptism is to receive the Spirit. He then rebaptized them in the correct way and for one of the correct biblical reasons.
So to answer the original question and to finish up my lesson. When you want to know if you need to be rebaptized, compare the reason and the manner in which you were baptized to the Bible. If you were baptized in an unbiblical way or for an unbiblical reason, then the Bible teaches that you should be rebaptized in the correct way and for one or all of the correct reasons.
Of course, as I say, the opposite is also true: if you were baptized correctly for a true biblical reason, then your baptism is okay and it doesn't matter where you were baptized or who did it. What counts is what you believe, not what the person believed.