The recent efforts by college athletes to form a union have given us insight into this area of big business. When union and management get together to work out an agreement or contract there are usually three areas that are involved:
- Contract issues that will be bargained for (salaries, benefits, etc.).
- Debated issues that will be tabled for future studies or contracts (how workers are trained, pension contributions, part-time help, etc.).
- Non-negotiable issues - those things that are not on the table and will not be discussed or bargained for (union representation, accrued benefits, etc.).
Some things you can discuss, change, compromise, and some things are non-negotiable, there is no wiggle room, there is not even the possibility of a discussion.
This reminds me of when our children were small and we were moving a lot because I was going to school and we were working with different churches. One of the kids asked us if we were getting a divorce. I guess they had seen and heard a lot of their little friends talk about this and with all the moving going on thought this was going to happen to them.
Lise and I were surprised by the question but we answered them that our lives might change a lot, we might live in many different places because of daddy's work, but getting divorced was never going to happen because we loved each other and we were Christians; in "grown up" talk, it was a non-negotiable item.
I believe that there's a lesson here for the church. In this world of shifting values and incredible change we, in the Lord's church, need to do two things:
- We need to change those things that will help us to relate to, serve, and communicate the gospel to this generation.
- We need to know and maintain those things which are non-negotiable.
In other words, we need to know the difference between what to change and what not to change.
With this in mind I'd like to review with you some of the basics, some of the non-negotiables, that we as a church hold to regardless of the pressures, changes, and challenges that we face. No matter how big or small we become, or who leads us as shepherds, or which person is in the pulpit; here are some of the basic non-negotiables that must never be compromised or bargained away for any reason.
Now if I were to examine every non-negotiable item in the Bible it would take days to cover them all so I have chosen key issues that are especially under attack or being considered as negotiable in our day and culture. The first non-negotiable:
1. Inspiration of the Bible
Paul says in II Timothy 3:16
Every Scripture is inspired of God
Peter says in II Peter 1:21
for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
Fulfilled prophecy, historical accuracy, divine quality: all of these come together to say clearly that the Bible is completely and totally inspired by God. Some may disagree, some may not believe, others may say that only certain parts are inspired; but, no one can deny that the Bible itself says that it is written by God. What does this mean for us in practical terms?
- It means that regardless of the fads and social changes, we remain a New Testament church committed to doing Bible things in Bible ways.
- It means that we don't add, subtract, or change anything from the Bible even if others do or if it becomes convenient to do so.
- It means that our basic commitment is to know and obey everything the Bible teaches and commands whether it be by giving us a direct command, an inspired example, or direction that leads us to a proper conclusion.
That the Bible is entirely God's word and we are to be guided by it, and it alone, this is a non-negotiable.
Another basic teaching that many try to trade away for popularity or peace but must remain a non-negotiable...
2. Salvation is in Christ only
Peter, in referring to Jesus, says,
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
Christianity is an exclusive religion. According to the New Testament
- The Jews, who rejected Christ then and now, are not saved.
- The Muslims, who reject Christ, are not saved.
- The Buddhists, who reject Christ, are not saved.
- The Hindus, who reject Christ, are not saved.
- The unbelievers, undecided, uncommitted, who reject Christ, are not saved.
This is not a popular idea in the world of political correctness and relativity where everyone is as good as everyone else, and so is your religion, and your opinion. The practical aspect of Jesus' message is very clear and very harsh:
- Those who believe and are baptized are saved.
- Those who disbelieve or who neglect to be baptized are not.
He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved, but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.
- Mark 16:16
That we need to believe in Jesus as the Son of God, confess His name, repent of our sins, and be immersed in baptism in order to be saved is a non-negotiable; this has always been the only way of salvation and it will remain so until Jesus returns.
3. There is only one true church
upon this rock I will build My church.
- Matthew 16:18
He didn't say a church, some church; He said My church. He didn't say my churches, one of many churches; He said My church - singular.
There is one body and one Spirit...
- Ephesians 4:4
Paul and the other Apostles described the church that belonged to Jesus, and they worked to establish that one body of which Christ was the head. Some say that the church of Christ think they're the only ones going to heaven; we don't say that about ourselves. What we say is that the Bible describes only one church and we are doing everything we can to be that one church. It is for this reason that we don't approve of groups who call themselves churches but don't follow the New Testament in their teaching and practice, or religious organizations that try to replace the church. Nor do we support or encourage movements to unify various denominations at the expense of biblical teaching.
All of these have sincere motives (proclaim Christ, do good) but are going about it the wrong way using man made methods, organizations and rules. When it comes to Christianity the end does not justify the means. Anything not organized and operated according to the New Testament is not the church regardless of its motives or size.
We associate with all kinds of people, good and bad. Some, like the Focus on the Family organization, we associate with to encourage their good works, others we associate with to win their souls, but we only have fellowship with those who are in the body of Christ. I have friends, associates and family members, who are of various religious and moral backgrounds and I love them, but my only brothers and sisters in Christ are in the Lord's church - that is non-negotiable.
4. We only offer God acceptable worship
Our worship, whether it be the attitude of our hearts within, or the way that we act publicly on the outside should always be according to God's will. In the New Testament God describes what He wants both in our hearts and in our public assemblies when it comes to worshipping Him. From our hearts he wants pure, sincere, joyful, and totally committed lives in service to be our spiritual inward worship.
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
- Romans 12:1-2
This is the worship we offer to Him from day to day as individual Christians. God also reveals to us what He accepts when we worship Him publicly as the church.
- Our praise is to be in song only. Joyful, spiritual songs, hymns and Scriptural songs sung by everyone in the assembly.
Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord;
- Ephesians 5:15-19
Historians record that for centuries this is how Christians used music. The idea of using instruments in worship was introduced by the Roman Catholic church and never supported by Scripture or the practice of the early church.
2. Praying is to be done by men who themselves are leading righteous lives so that they can raise holy hands in supplication to God. Again, the New Testament clearly restricts women from leading in public prayer, teaching, or preaching. Paul says,
Let the women keep silent in the churches, they are not permitted to speak.
- I Corinthians 14:34
And again in I Timothy 2:12 he says,
I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man.
By extension, the Bible permits a woman to teach unbelievers when necessary, teach women, and to teach children. Public worship, teaching, prayer, and preaching is to be led by the men in the assembly. That's a New Testament principle.
3. We also serve communion each Lord's day (both the bread and wine) and we collect an offering each Lord's day; again because this is the example and instruction we receive from the Lord in the New Testament. We don't take communion on Wednesday, nor do we raise money for church matters with raffles or bake sales for the same reason they didn't do it in the first century. They had no command, they had no example, they had no suggestion that they should, so they did only what was given to them to do in worship - no more and no less.
This is why we don't offer parades, bands, theatrical presentations, women prayer or worship leaders, choirs to do our singing for us, and all the various religious activities that so many are adopting today, even in congregations calling themselves churches of Christ. These things are not bad in themselves, actually they are entertaining and relevant to younger audiences and meet the needs of women who want to have a greater role in church life. We don't and won't do these things because they don't have any support in the way of direct teaching or command in the New Testament. In addition to this, there are no clear examples of the Apostles actually doing these things or a body of biblical information that leads us to conclude that God wants us to do these things.
The way we offer public worship is defined by the New Testament. We can't change that; it's another one of those non-negotiable items in our faith.
As I said at the beginning there are many non-negotiables in the Bible:
- The need to live holy lives
- That faith without works is dead
- That without love our religion is vain
- That we need to remain faithful to Christ until the end in order to be with Him at the beginning of eternity
- You can add yours here...
But all of these other non-negotiables are taught and supported in one way or another by the elemental three mentioned here.
Now the problem with non-negotiables is that they are hard to accept. They limit us, they draw a line across which we cannot pass. For some people this idea of non-negotiable is frustrating and challenging. If you feel that you are one of these people let me help you accept this difficult lesson.
- Learn to accept the non-negotiables. Fighting the true biblical non-negotiables is a sign of spiritual pride. You can't grow in grace and peace until you accept the limits that God places on you. Remember, the non-negotiables are put there by God, not man. They are not just church traditions.
- Non-negotiables are truly non-negotiable. If you are a person that longs for the day...
- when we don't emphasize the preaching and teaching of the Bible as God's only inspired word
- or that we back off our telling the world that those who are not baptized into Christ are lost forever
- or if you hope the day will come that the church will become more "modern" and let go these basic things you are in for a long frustrating wait. A New Testament church will always adhere to these elemental truths and not change simply for convenience sake.
- Try to understand that "steady" does not mean "stagnant." A faithful New Testament church needs to persevere in the doing of good as well as maintain God's word exactly as it is. Don't confuse this with simply maintaining the "status quo" or with being stagnate. We can maintain that the Bible is inspired but teach it with all the tools that modern technology will provide us with. We can hold to the New Testament pattern of worship but that doesn't mean we can't introduce new songs, use modern A/V tools, plan our worship around themes, get everyone involved in the experience of worshipping God. We must not change the Bible. However, we can change the way we do Bible things so we can communicate effectively to the society of our age.
Let's not be fooled into thinking that change, especially unbiblical change, will improve worship or evangelism; on the other hand, let's not hide behind the excuse of protecting doctrine when all we want to do is stay in our own personal "comfort zone." My purpose is not to discourage or offend anyone with this lesson. The only thing I want to discourage is the attempt by anyone to change the non-negotiables - now or ever.