We started our study on Bible Warfare: How to Defend Your Faith, by listing the rules of engagement. Basic rules to help us maintain communication when discussing religious issues with our friends and families. Briefly, these are:
- Respect other people's sincerity. Remember that others hold deeply and dearly their views and to disrespect that will cause a communication break down. You may disagree with their beliefs, but you mustn't be disagreeable in doing so.
- Stick to the Bible. Your objective is always to understand accurately and then communicate clearly what the Bible says not what you think or feel. Questions that you are asked should be answered in this context, what does the Bible (not Church of Christ or the preacher) say.
- Be patient. Different people are at different points of knowledge and at different points of spiritual maturity. Don't be in a rush, take the time necessary to teach, encourage and share. The world says, "Where there's life, there is hope." What we as Christians believe and say is that, "All things are possible with God."
I'm going to add one more rule at this point, don't be discouraged. Don't be totally destroyed if someone rejects your very best intentions and your clearest teaching. As I mentioned in the previous chapter, there are many obstacles that keep people from believing the gospel or accepting a more accurate teaching from God's Word. Keep trying with others to share your faith and to share the Word. Keep loving your friend or your family member even if they reject the Word.
In this way they will have a constant witness of God's love, even if they reject His truth, and in so doing you will affirm your own faith before the Lord. So much for the rules of engagement, let's get down to typical questions asked during a Bible study.
In my experience, the questions that come up during a Bible study tend to repeat themselves and fall into four general categories.
- Doctrinal Questions – These are the type of questions that require an answer based on what the Bible teaches on a specific issue or practice. You will note that the same doctrinal questions are asked in a variety of ways, but they all require the same answer. For example, many people ask why we, in the Church of Christ, don't use instruments of music in our public worship or why we think that the Church of Christ is the only church to go to heaven.
- Evangelism – Many questions deal with evangelism: how can we be more effective or how do we approach different individuals? These questions have less to do with what the Bible teaches and more with how better to teach the Bible to someone else.
- Bible facts – Some questions are the kind that need an explanation of facts and social customs in the Bible and less about ideas or doctrines.
- Miscellaneous – There are always questions that don't fit any category. For example "Why are there so many religions in the world" or "Which version of the Bible is the best?"
Let's begin with the most common questions asked of those who are members of the Church of Christ.
Many people ask, "what do you answer when someone says, 'the Church of Christ thinks that they're the only ones going to heaven?'" There's no easy one-word answer that can completely answer this question, because it's loaded with so many different meanings.
For example, if the question means, is only the church that is in the Bible, the one spoken of by Peter, (3,000 that were baptized at Pentecost) and the church spoken of by Paul (Corinth and Ephesus) is that church the only one going to heaven? The answer is yes.
If the question is, does the Bible teach that there is only one church and is that the only church that is going to go to heaven? The answer to that question is, yes. Paul says in Ephesians 4:4 that there is only one body, the church, and only that one body belongs to Christ and only the body of Christ is going to be saved. As opposed to the body of Buddha or the body of Muhammad or the body of Krishna.
But this question doesn't usually refer to what the Bible says about the church, it is a response to a certain aggressive attitude that existed in the Churches of Christ in the past and even among some today that said the following: among those who call Jesus the Christ, only those among the Churches of Christ will go to heaven.
So the conclusion drawn from this position was that, well, if you were a Baptist, Methodist or a Catholic or whatever Christian group other than the Church of Christ, you were lost. This position was, to say the least, offensive and spawned a negative attitude toward Churches of Christ by other groups who were also calling themselves Christians and were also trying to serve the Lord sincerely.
The problem here is that the people in the Churches of Christ who promoted this idea broke all the rules of engagement in discussing their faith with other people.
1. They were not respectful of Baptists or Catholics' sincere belief in Jesus.
They openly criticized and ridiculed other religious groups and accused them of ignorance and being insincere. They used public debates, books and periodicals to denounce the doctrines of other believing groups. Most of the doctrinal points that were being made were correct, the biblical arguments were accurate, but the "spirit" was arrogant and combative. The net result was that they won the battle (argument), but lost the war (credibility as sincere teachers of God's word). As a result, Churches of Christ gained a reputation which was crystallized by the phrase, "Oh, the Church of Christ, you think you're the only ones going to heaven." This phrase then is not a question, it is both a summary statement of our mistaken approach in the past and a put-down at the same time.
2. We also broke rule number two in reaching out to others.
Instead of keeping the discussion based strictly on what the Bible taught on various issues of salvation, many times we made it personal. It became the Church of Christ versus the Baptists, the Church of Christ versus Roman Catholics, the Church of Christ doctrine versus the Methodist doctrine. There was a time when we adhered to the motto that said, "We speak where the Bible speaks and we are silent were the Bible is silent." We forgot that piece of wisdom and began battling others, pitting the Church of Christ against all comers and gained a negative reputation for it.
3. We were impatient.
We were also impatient to convert others, thinking that intellectual conversion was the same thing as the conversion of the spirit and of the heart. We began breaking the gospel down into a formula that could be explained and memorized in five easy steps.
If people got this information and they understood it, but they didn't follow through right away with baptism we just discarded them and we moved on. We preached the the formula for the response to the gospel as the actual message itself. The plan of salvation was that God sent His Son to die for the sins of man and thus offer us forgiveness based on faith not works. The response of faith was expressed through repentance, confession, and baptism.
We practiced a scorched earth policy of evangelism which reached its zenith with the Crossroads/Boston/International Church movement that gave us some more bad publicity.
They were the ones in the 70's/80's who would infiltrate and divide churches in order to take them over. They were the natural outcome of this brash attitude of "only we are saved" mentality because they taught that if you weren't part of their discipleship movement you were not saved. What goes around comes around and our poor attitude in the past came back to harm the church in a serious way because of this movement.
This is some of the history and background behind this question. Now that you know where the question is coming from, how do we answer? Well, depending on the circumstances, (whether you have a lot of time or whether the person asking has some biblical knowledge) there are several ways to respond to, "You're the church who thinks you're the only ones going to heaven."
1. No, we believe that only the church described in the Bible is the one going to heaven with Jesus.
16For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.
- I Thessalonians 4:16-17
The Christians who are dead and the Christians who are alive, when He comes, those will be together and will be saved. He doesn't mention 15 different groups, just one group, the ones who are alive and the ones who were dead will be joined together to be with Him forever in the air. This is what the Bible teaches. And I believe what the Bible teaches. So that's the first part of my answer.
2. Only Christians are going to heaven, only Christians are saved.
And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved."
- Acts 4:12
Can you twist this to mean that somebody other than Christians can be saved? In the Churches of Christ, we do not say that we're the only Christians. What we say is that we only want to be Christians according to the Bible. We know that Christians are going to heaven and that's what we are striving to be, Christians, nothing more, nothing less.
3. The Bible teaches that not all who call themselves Christians will be saved.
21"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' 23And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.'
- Matthew 7:21-23
The Bible and Jesus Himself say that there will be some who call themselves Christians; those who will do great things in His name, (from miracles to various ministries); those who will prophecy or preach in His name, who will not enter the kingdom. Why? Because they don't obey the will of the Father, which is contained in Jesus's word.
...I do nothing on my own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me.
- John 8:28
I know that His commandment is eternal life, therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told me.
- John 12:50
The task of the Christian is to obey all things that Jesus taught and teach others to do the same. Religion in His name, not done according to His will and word, will not be blessed or accepted. That's the hard lesson, but biblical.
In the end, who is a Christian and who is not, who is saved and who is not, who's going to heaven and who is not, is all based on God's Word not on what Churches of Christ say or what any other group says.
He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day.
- John 12:48
And so, to summarize, when someone says you're the church that thinks they're the only ones going to heaven.
- I begin by apologizing. I apologize for the person or the persons who gave you this false impression.
- I then inform them that God's Word is the final judge of who will go to heaven and who will not.
- In addition to this I'll assure them that in the Church of Christ, our number one priority is to search the scriptures carefully to make sure that we are understanding and obeying as closely as possible the things that Christ taught.
- Finally I ask them if there is any question or subject they'd like to study the Bible about and see if I can invite them to Bible School and worship.
Remember: respect the person, stick to the Bible, be patient.