The Unholy Trinity | The Voice 12.30: July 24, 2022

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

The Unholy Trinity

For some time now we have heard dire warnings about the “faith crisis” in America. Even though our country continues to grow in population, church membership and attendance, on the whole, remains flat or in decline. Warnings are sounded about the dangers that come from so many atheists and others in our society who seek to denigrate God and anyone who would believe in Him.

While it is true that there are such people out there, their numbers are few; around 2 to 9% of the population. Others may believe in God but not in Christ or Christianity and have hard feelings against Christianity and/or Christians. Yet such people are not that much more populous; no more than 20% of the population.

Statistics reveal that about 82% or so of Americans believe not only in God but also that Jesus is His Son. Slightly fewer (78%) agree with the premise that Jesus was raised from the dead. This is not the picture that is normally presented about America; then again, we should remember that it is conflict and sensational claims that sell books and get promoted on television and in movies, and therefore we should not be surprised that the reality does not seem to be as dire as the promoted story.

Nevertheless, the statistics should give us pause. If over three-quarters of Americans believe in Jesus and even the resurrection, where are they? Many, no doubt, are active in denominations and their assemblies. But that still leaves plenty of people who believe and yet are not affiliated with any church and/or infrequently, if ever, attend any assemblies of churches. Considering the message of God in Christ as revealed in Scripture, how can this be? What leads to so many people professing the faith without abiding by its substance?

At least part of the reason can be found in what we will deem the “unholy trinity.” The unholy trinity represents the combination of three pernicious doctrines that have, at some level, led to the spiritual inertia and malaise that affects America today. These doctrines are faith only, ecumenism, and “once saved, always saved.”

The first doctrine is faith only. “Faith only” comes about during the Reformation as a distortion of Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith. Paul did teach that since everyone has sinned (Romans 3:23), no man is able to be justified before God based on his works, merit, or attempts to keep law (Romans 1:18-3:21). Man cannot atone for his own sin. Nevertheless, Paul demonstrated that the proper response of faith in God in Christ demanded obedience to the truth (Romans 1:5, 2:5-11, 6:1-23); the Reformers distorted this into the doctrine of faith only, excluding any concept of works or obedience as necessary for salvation. According to the doctrines of faith only, God is the only Actor: He provides the means of salvation in Christ, He provides believers with faith, He compels them toward righteousness through the Spirit, and so on and so forth. It is an understandable reaction against the excesses of Roman Catholicism but is a distortion of the Gospel message, and flatly contradicted by Acts 2:36-38, Romans 1:5, 6:1-23, 1 Peter 1:22, and a host of other passages.

These days people hear preachers from Protestant and Evangelical churches in churches and on television telling them that all they need to do to be saved is to believe that Jesus is the Christ. A suggested “sinner’s prayer” is often given that “converts” can pray and thus “accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior” and “accept Jesus into their hearts.” Sure, most of these preachers will suggest, perhaps even strongly, that believers need to live like Christ did, avoiding sin and clinging to the good, but they would never make it an imperative. To make becoming Christlike an imperative would be adding “works” to Christ’s “finished work.”

People get this message from friends and neighbors, past church experiences, or through television or other media. This “cheap grace” is very enticing and seductive: all you need to do is believe! Accept the premise that Jesus is the Christ and Lord and you will be saved! That’s all you need to do! Many prove willing to do that, but nothing more. There is no real incentive toward growth and development as disciples of Christ because it is not made strictly necessary. No wonder, then, that people can profess Jesus Christ and yet never darken the door of any church building or actively grow in their belief system; they do not have to! After all, if all you need to do is believe that Jesus is the Christ, why bother with anything else in Christianity?

We then come to ecumenism. There are two strands to ecumenism: “general” ecumenism and Evangelical ecumenism. The latter seems to have come first. In the wake of the “Second Great Awakening” in nineteenth-century America, while doctrinal differences remained among groups like the Methodists, the Holiness churches, the Baptists, and the like, they began to develop an uneasy peace with each other. They would present their versions of truth without necessarily condemning one another to hell, yet most remained uneasy with Roman Catholicism and the “mainline Protestant” denominations.

Around a hundred years ago the “general” ecumenical movement began to pick up steam as different “Christian” denominations wanted to work out whatever differences they could and to work together according to their understanding of Jesus’ petitions in John 17:20-23.

The ecumenical movement has powered through the twentieth and early twenty-first century with great steam. Now most denominations agree that the doctrinal disputations among them involve matters of “liberty,” and thus they are free to “agree to disagree,” while they are in agreement on “essential” matters. It is too bad that the definitions of “liberty” and “essential matters” are not based on God’s definitions (cf. Romans 14:17, 1 Corinthians 1:10, Galatians 1:6-9). Nevertheless, since most denominations are “on board,” the voices proclaiming the need to follow the One True Faith are fewer and denigrated as divisive, contrary to the spirit of unity, and cantankerous.

This ecumenical movement has led to greater “acceptance” and “tolerance” of members of churches of Christ. The number believing we are some kind of “cult” has diminished; many books now speak of churches of Christ as part of this “greater church” despite its distinctive doctrines. Nevertheless, ecumenical forces work to negate the call for the restoration of New Testament Christianity and the appeal to be of the same mind and judgment based in the Scriptures.

Most people who believe do not know much about ecumenism or the ecumenical movement but they certainly believe that “we are all the same.” Under ecumenism, the difference between churches of Christ, Baptist churches, the Roman Catholic church, and other churches is akin to the differences between the church in Rome, the church in Corinth, and the church in Jerusalem. Each denomination has its distinctive heritage that has “value” in the “greater church,” according to this viewpoint. In such a climate, one can hear the message that, say, faith alone is not according to Scripture, and yet remain free to “agree to disagree.” Evangelistic efforts are thus directed toward unbelievers, “cultists,” or members of other religions; it is seen as bad form to proselytize members of other denominations.

We should not wonder, therefore, why it is difficult to gain an audience about the importance of following God according to the New Testament. If all churches are the same, after all, why does anyone need to truly investigate New Testament Christianity?

The final dogma in this unholy trinity is “once saved, always saved.” This doctrine derives directly from faith only, as its adherents often promote: if you did nothing to obtain salvation, you can do nothing to lose it.

In reality, “once saved, always saved” is an offshoot of the Calvinist system. In Calvinism, the idea of the perseverance of the saints follows logically from its earlier principles: man’s sin and inability to seek God on his own (total depravity), God thus specifically chooses whom He will save (unconditional election), the chosen ones will come to faith (irresistible grace), and they are the select few (limited atonement). Thus, the particular chosen ones will be saved no matter what (perseverance of the saints). Calvinism has a ready answer for any who fall into sin and depart from the faith: they were never really part of the elect.

Many evangelical preachers in the nineteenth century objected to the heart of the Calvinist system (unconditional election, irresistible grace, limited atonement), but firmly preached its bookends (total depravity, perseverance of the saints). Thus we have the modern Evangelical synthesis: man is sinful by himself. He must hear God’s message, and accept Jesus into his heart through the “sinner’s prayer.” Once he has been saved there is nothing he can do to lose his salvation. Some will go so far as to say that people who become agnostic or atheist, explicitly rejecting and insulting Jesus, will still be saved if they believed in Him when they were younger!

“Once saved, always saved” is a theologically half-baked argument based on faulty premises. This is evident if an adherent is questioned about what will happen to a Christian mentioned above or who is caught in some other gross sin without repentance. All kinds of answers are given, and all the answers cheapen the idea of “salvation” terribly. “Once saved, always saved” is powerfully refuted by Romans 2:5-11, Hebrews 3:12-14, 6:4-6, 10:26-31, 2 Peter 2:20-22, among other passages. We must add that “if saved, barely saved” is no better a doctrine than its contrast; believers can have assurance in their standing before God, but only when they are seeking to walk as Christ walked and to do His commandments (1 John 1:5-5:21).

If “faith only” is a seductive and enticing doctrine, how much more the idea of “once saved, always saved!” It is a powerful narcotic: no matter what you do or what happens to you, you will be saved. This doctrine is greatly cherished by its adherents, and the truth of the matter is a bitter pill to swallow in comparison.

Many people hear about “once saved, always saved” through preachers on television or in churches, from friends, or in the media. It sounds quite alluring and satisfies the carnal, worldly mind. All you need to do is believe that Jesus is Lord and Christ, and no matter what happens, you will be saved! How great is that!

“Once saved, always saved” is a powerful disincentive for true faith and discipleship. Why follow the moral guidelines of Christianity if you are saved no matter what? Why bother getting up on Sunday mornings, or why bother sitting in a stuffy auditorium when you can be elsewhere, if you are saved regardless? Why bother investing any effort into faith or Christianity when you are saved whether you do or whether you do not?

As bad as each element of the unholy trinity is, when we put all three together, we truly have a Satanically designed monster. We find that people believe that they all they need to do is believe to be saved, and then they are saved no matter what. Furthermore, since all Christians are the same, your difference in opinion will barely impact their belief system. What can we say? If we emphasize what God in Christ teaches about baptism and obedience (cf. Acts 2:38, Romans 6:1-23), we will hear the dogmas of faith only and how we cannot work for our salvation. If we proclaim the distinctive truths of the New Testament church and the need to teach the first century Gospel (Galatians 1:6-9), we will hear that we are all the same, an influence from ecumenism. If we warn about the condemnation coming to those who prove disobedient to God (Matthew 7:21-23, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9), we are told that once a person is saved, they are saved no matter what.

In such a climate the true Gospel of Jesus Christ is left unheeded because it represents an entirely different picture of faith and reality than is presented by the unholy trinity, and one fraught with far more uncertainty and challenge. The idea of mandated obedience is strange for the one accepting faith only. The importance of distinctive doctrines seems foreign to the one raised in ecumenism. Concern about the condemnation of Christians is strange to one believing in once saved, always saved. It is a lot easier to believe that we are saved by faith only, that all Christians are the same, and that we will be saved no matter what. These doctrines are much more comforting and much less controversial.

And that is exactly what Satan, the god of this world, intends (2 Corinthians 4:4). He has blinded the eyes of millions in America and around the world. This is the environment in which we must continue to preach the Gospel from of old. Faith alone never has saved and never will save (James 2:14-26); yet faith alone sounds great and makes fewer demands than obedience. Much of the New Testament, especially Galatians, 2 Corinthians, and Revelation 2-3, are nonsensical if all churches are the same and doctrine does not really matter; yet ecumenism will remain popular as long as “tolerance” is the name of the game. Far too many who accepted “once saved, always saved” will learn too late that doing the will of the Father was also necessary (Matthew 7:21-23, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9); yet it remains a powerful narcotic and a most wonderful lie.

The truth is comparatively more bitter, more challenging, and more controversial. No one has ever been saved by a lie, and that will prove true on the day of Judgment. We must accept and proclaim the truth because it is true, and because God will lead those who live according to the truth in love to eternity in the Kingdom of Christ (2 Peter 1:11, 2 John 1:5-6)!

Perhaps it is clearer now why so many millions believe and yet do not practice Christianity. The unholy trinity provides all kinds of disincentives to believe and accept God’s truths. Nevertheless, let us stand firm in God’s truth despite its challenges and proclaim them to all in the world!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Fanatics | The Voice 12.21: May 22, 2022

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice


I’m sure you have seen them around. They come around and yell at people about their sins.

They are the “fanatics.”

They do not know you or many other people on campus. They might think they are doing something good, but they are really pushing people away. They stir up controversy and then walk away.

Maybe you’re not very religious, and you see such people, and therefore do not want anything to do with religion. That is an understandable reaction.

Maybe you are religious, and their conduct makes you feel ashamed. That is also an understandable reaction.

It does not have to be this way.

When Jesus of Nazareth walked on the earth, He went about doing good for people (cf. Acts 10:38). Many of the common people listened to Him gladly (Luke 5:1).

But it is not as if Jesus had a watered-down message. The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 is exacting in its demands. Jesus strongly exhorts against sin and encourages people to live righteously. He encouraged people to stop being angry with each other, stop lusting after others, and instead to love each other–even one’s enemies!–and to forgive other people when they sin against us.

So why would the people listen to Jesus if His message was so strong?

The people listened to Him because they could tell that He cared. He healed all kinds of people (Matthew 4:23-25). He ate dinner with people known for their sinful behavior, including tax-collectors, who were universally hated (Matthew 9:10).

And Jesus was also known for His condemnation of the religious authorities of the day. They liked to be seen as righteous and treated with reverence by the people, but they did not really care for the people (cf. Matthew 23:1-36). They looked down at everyone else as “sinners” and thought they were morally superior to them (cf. John 9:1-41). Jesus pointed out their hypocrisy and declared that they were no better than anyone else.

We can learn a lot from Jesus’ conversation with the religious authorities and a woman caught in adultery in John 7:53-8:11. According to the Law of Moses, she was supposed to be executed for her sin (Deuteronomy 22:22). Jesus does not deny this, but instead says, “he that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (John 8:7). No one does; everyone leaves except Jesus and the woman. He tells her that He does not condemn her either; she should go, and sin no more (John 8:11).

Jesus did not come to condemn people; instead, He came to rescue people from sin and death (Romans 8:1-3, 31-38). Yes, the day is coming when He will return in judgment, and people will receive the proper result for what they have done in life (Romans 2:5-11, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10). But that day has not yet come. Right now Jesus wants all people to be reconciled back to Him so they can enjoy the blessings of eternal life (Romans 5:6-11, 1 Timothy 2:4).

Many of these “fanatics” will point out that Jesus did have strong words for people, as did the prophets in the Old Testament. Yet Jesus’ strong words were for the people most like the “fanatics” of His own day: those religious authorities who thought they were morally superior to others! The message of the prophets was primarily directed to God’s people to warn them about the consequences of their lack of true faith toward God.

The “fanatics” have a lot to learn from Jesus. He spoke strongly and perhaps harshly to people like them since they were convinced of their own righteousness when they should have remained humble because of their sinfulness. He continued to stand firm for what is right but displayed mercy and compassion on the people despite their sin. People listened to Jesus because they could tell that He lived the message He preached and He cared for them.

We seek to follow Jesus. We do not pretend to be better than anyone else. We want everyone to come to know who Jesus is and to follow Him as well. We are here to take His message out to you and to your friends in a loving and respectful way. We want you to know that those “fanatics” whom you have seen and heard are not reflecting the spirit and attitude of Jesus.

Instead, let’s sit down, open up the Bible, and learn more about Jesus and His way. Please begin by reading John 7:53-8:11 and John 9:1-41. In each story, who provides a message of healing and compassion? Who provides a message of condemnation? Who is blind? Who sees? Why do the Pharisees go wrong? How can we be more like Jesus and less like the Pharisees?

We’d like to talk more with you about God and Jesus and how we may be of service in your life. Please contact us here. Thanks again for your interest, and have a great day!

God Works Through His People | The Voice 12.04: January 23, 2022

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

God Works Through His People

Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, was this grace given, to preach unto the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the dispensation of the mystery which for ages hath been hid in God who created all things; to the intent that now unto the principalities and the powers in the heavenly places might be made known through the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord (Ephesians 3:8-11).

For the past two hundred years the proclamation of the Gospel has featured a very individualistic focus; it seems the ultimate goal of preaching is to “get people saved”. This tendency is understandable in a post-Enlightenment and particularly American context, maintaining a strong focus on the individual and his or her autonomy and independence. Unfortunately this emphasis has led to a Christian spirituality perhaps more wide but significantly less deep. When salvation is described strictly in terms of God solving the sin problem we cannot solve on our own, it is tempting for people to prove willing to “get saved” however they are told to do so and then feel as if the problem is solved and they can get back to their lives.

In such an environment we do well to get back to a fundamental premise of both theology and God’s interaction with humanity throughout time: God works through His people. God has never expected to save an assortment of scattered individuals in various times and places; God intends to save a people, a nation, a people for His own possession, and those people are expected to share in community (1 Peter 2:9).

God’s work through His people makes sense in terms of God’s nature within Himself. The New Testament speaks of God’s unity not in personhood but in relationship: the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Spirit is God. Yet God is one, so unified that we can speak of God in the singular (John 1:1, 1 Peter 1:2, 2 Peter 1:29). This unity in relationship is described in John 17:20-23 with the appropriate conclusion: the Father is in the Son, the Son is in the Father, and since the Son is dying and being raised again so that people can be reconciled back to the Father, the Son prays for the people of God to be one, both with God and with one another, as the Father and Son are one. For God to be only concerned about the salvation of individuals without consideration for others would be a denial of Himself; as He is one in relationship, and man is made in His image, so man seeks after relationship both with God and with each other (Genesis 1:26-27, Acts 17:24-28, Romans 1:18-20).

Throughout time God has first established a people for His own possession and then worked with and through them. God began by making Adam and Eve and through them all their descendants (Genesis 2:4-6:32). He began again with Noah and his family (Genesis 6:1-9:28). Yes, God chose and worked with the individuals Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but always in view of the “great nation” which He established through Jacob, called Israel (Genesis 12:1-49:33). God intended for all Israel to serve Him as priests and to bless the world through Israel, giving them His own Law to follow (Exodus 19:1-20:17), yet Israel continually chose to reflect the nations around them than the particular inheritance given to them by God.

And so it is, as Paul states in Ephesians 3:10-11, that God’s ultimate and eternal purpose in Jesus was to display His own manifold wisdom through the church. The church is the visible manifestation of the Kingdom of God on earth, inaugurated through Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension, and lordship, looking forward to the promise of His return, judgment, and resurrection (Philippians 3:20-21, Colossians 1:13). Paul speaks of the church as the Body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22-23, Colossians 1:18), and emphasizes the need for the members of that body to work both independently and together to strengthen and build up that body (Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, Ephesians 4:11-16). It is not for nothing that as Jesus gives a vision to John of the beauty of the saved after the day of resurrection it is in terms of the “holy city Jerusalem,” the “bride of Christ,” that is, as the church, in unspeakable glory, forever in the presence of her God and Savior (Revelation 21:1-22:6).

At no point in the New Testament do we see commendation of “Lone Ranger Christianity.” To “pick yourself up by your own bootstraps” is a good Americanism but it is never found in the pages of Scripture. Instead Scripture speaks of the need to love one another, to serve one another, to care for one another, to strengthen one another, and to participate together with one another in the faith (John 13:14, 34, Acts 2:42-47, 1 Corinthians 12:26, 1 Thessalonians 5:11). Peter reminds us that the devil goes about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8); as anyone who has watched lions on a television documentary can attest, lions always like going after the loners, the isolated, the weak and ill of a group. Individualism and independence may be virtues in American society yet they prove to be vices in the Kingdom of God which values joint participation and interdependence (Acts 2:42-46, 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, 12:12-28). Even that which we have as individuals is to be used to serve one another (1 Peter 4:10-11)!

Therefore we can see that the God who is one in relational unity works through His people, presently found in the church. God’s working in and through His people has many important implications for discipleship and evangelism.

First and foremost is the need to emphasize that those who are truly God’s people work together in community as the church to glorify God. The Gospel is proclaimed not as the ultimate self-help fix, but to emphasize the need to be reconciled back to God and also to His people; notice in Ephesians 2:1-22 the thrust of Paul’s explication of the salvation process has led to both Jews and Gentiles being incorporated into one body and to share as fellow-citizens of the Kingdom of God. How can one preach Christ without preaching His Body? How can a Gospel truly reflect God’s purposes if it does not emphasize the need to join and share with the community of God’s people to build up and be strengthened in turn? Those who were baptized in Acts 2:41 immediately devoted themselves not only to the Apostles’ instruction but also the fellowship (the association, the joint participation, the community) of believers (Acts 2:42). The call of conversion demands not just a change of mind and heart but also a change of primary identification, no longer of the world and the various ways it divides people, but of Christ and by necessity the Kingdom of Christ, declaring one’s identification with the fellow people of God (Philippians 3:20).

Likewise, as we proclaim the Gospel, we cannot do so entirely independently of the people of God and expect God to bless it or for it to truly succeed. After all, what is the goal of all evangelism? Just to baptize people? That is not even the primary goal of the Great Commission, which sees baptism, along with teaching, as the means by which disciples are made (Matthew 28:18-19). The goal of evangelism is to make disciples and then to help them grow to maturity, and if nothing else, that growth process can only take place in the context of the community of God’s people as it has for millennia. Such is why the members of the church are to strengthen and care for one another; that is why the members of the church assemble, to spiritually build up and strengthen one another toward maturity (1 Corinthians 12:26, 14:26, Ephesians 4:11-16, Hebrews 10:24-25). Even the most zealous and driven self-directed disciple still needs the encouragement, exhortation, and often redirection or perhaps rebuke which comes from joint participation with the people of God as we all seek to come to the appropriate understanding of God’s message to us (Ephesians 4:11-16, 2 Timothy 2:15).

We all are who we are because of God and His grace; yet how often has God worked through some of His people to be the sources of information, instruction, encouragement, exhortation, and perhaps even rebuke in our lives? As the Gospel was proclaimed in the first century, even if great divine effort was necessary to arrange for the hearing of the message, its proclamation was still accomplished by His people (e.g. Acts 9:1-18, 10:1-48). Since God works through His people, we must take care so as to be people in whom and through whom God can work. Are we doing our part to facilitate an environment among our fellow people of God in which disciples can grow in trust, faith, and strength? Are the parts of the body doing the functions God has given them both independently and interdependently? Are lives being transformed to better conform to the image of Jesus so that Christ’s body is growing in Him?

As He did in the original creation of humanity and in Israel, God now works through His people now in the church. On the final day He will glorify the saved as the collective and communal people of God. That which is not connected to the Body of Christ will not stand nor endure for eternity. Let us therefore strive to work effectively in community as the people of God, manifesting among ourselves the unity shared by God in Himself and with God so that He can work through us to make disciples and help them grow to maturity!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Voice 5.07: February 15, 2015

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

Individual Christians and the Local Church

The New Testament reveals that the most basic unit in Christianity is the individual Christian: a person who has believed in Jesus as Lord, has repented of sin, been baptized, and seeks to follow Jesus (Acts 2:38, Romans 10:9-10, 1 John 2:3-6). Individual Christians in the New Testament associate with fellow Christians in a given area so as to comprise a local church of God’s people (Acts 2:42-47, 9:26-28, 1 Corinthians 11:18). What is the relationship between individual Christians and the local church?

We do well to first recognize that God intends for the individual Christian to be part of a local church. We do not find any examples in the New Testament of Christians faithfully serving God while not a part of a local congregation of believers. Through the preaching of the Gospel people came to a knowledge of the truth, they believed it, were baptized, and then began associating with other Christians in their local area as the local church (Romans 10:17, Acts 2:38-47). The connections among Christians are described in terms of a body, and the church is identified as the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-28, Ephesians 1:22-23): to not be part of the body is to not be part of Christ! God is one in relational unity (John 17:20-23): as Christians we must reflect God’s unity both with Him and among ourselves. The concept of being “a Christian without the church” is foreign to the New Testament!

The local church consists of individual Christians. Throughout the New Testament the church is spoken of as the collective of the people of God, either in its singularity across time and place (the “universal” church, Ephesians 5:22-33), or in its expressions in specific areas and times (“local” churches, 1 Corinthians 1:2, Galatians 1:2). The church is described in terms of a body with different members (Romans 12:3-8), a household with God as Father and Christians as adopted brothers and sisters (Romans 8:11-15, 1 Timothy 3:15), or as a temple with individual Christians making up its edifice (1 Peter 2:3-9). In all of these illustrations the church is made up of its constituent members; if there are no Christians, there is no church!

Since individual Christians make up the local church, they must shoulder and support its work. In Greek the church is called an ekklesia, an assembly: what is an assembly that never assembles? And what kind of assembly exists that does not feature the assembling of its constituent members? Such is why the Hebrew author encourages Christians to not forsake the assembling of one another (Hebrews 10:24-25). The local church can only do the works of benevolence, evangelism, and edification if its individual members provide the necessary support to do so; this support ought to involve not only time and effort but money as well (1 Corinthians 9:1-15, 16:1-3, Ephesians 4:11-16).

The work and responsibilities of individual Christians goes well beyond the work of the local church as a collective. Individual Christians must manifest the fruit of the Spirit while avoiding the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-23). Individual Christians are to reflect the light of God in Christ, seeking to do good to all people, especially those of the household of faith (Matthew 5:13-16, Galatians 2:10, 6:10). These efforts reflect upon the local church: just as each part of the human body has its own independent function yet also works with other parts of the body (e.g. the hand grasps but at the direction of the head and in concert with other parts of the body), so individual Christians serve the Lord in their individual lives independently, in concert with other believers, and at times to strengthen and encourage other believers (Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12:12-28). When individual Christians encourage one another they are building up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-16). Thus it can be said that individual Christians are working in the local church and on behalf of the local church through their service to fellow Christians and to those in the world; this is the only way it can be said that “the church” is faithful, or righteous, or reflecting the will of its Lord, when its individual constituent members are doing so!

The New Testament does make distinctions between the local church and its individual constituent members in terms of responsibilities, roles, and some instances of collective function. Local churches are to be shepherded by qualified men; the individual members should be in subjection to them (Hebrews 13:17, 1 Peter 5:1-4). Paul lays down the principle in 1 Timothy 5:16 that individual Christians should provide for widows in their extended families so that the church can support widows indeed; in so doing Paul places the primary responsibility for supporting people on individuals and expects the church to provide continual support only as a means of last resort. We can see that individual Christians are not relieved of the obligations to provide benevolence, to promote and support evangelism, or to be active in encouraging and edifying fellow Christians because the church has also been given those works to do; if anything, Christians are to be all the more diligent in such efforts!

A local church is made up of individual Christians. Individual Christians have responsibilities toward their fellow members of the body of Christ but are also expected to serve and work for the glory of God in Christ in their individual lives. Individuals may make up the church, but it cannot be said that whatever individuals can do the church can do; they are not synonymous. Let us serve the Lord Jesus as Christians, building up the local body of Christ while doing good to all!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Voice 5.03: January 18, 2015

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

The Nature of the Church: The Church as Temple

Know ye not that ye are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man destroyeth the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, and such are ye (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).

Throughout the New Testament the Apostles speak about the church less by direct statements and more through illustrations and imagery. The church is spoken of in terms of a body, comprised of different individual members who work independently and together for its own growth, development, and function (Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12:12-28). The church is also spoken of in terms of a family, with God as Father, Jesus as the elder Brother, and Christians as fellow brothers and sisters in God’s household (1 Timothy 3:15, Hebrews 2:17). Yet in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 and 1 Peter 2:4-6 the church is also spoken of as a temple in which the Holy Spirit dwells. What does it mean for the church to be spoken of as a temple?

The Queen of Sheba before the temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, by Salomon de Bray (1597-1664)

The ancient world was full of temples: from ziggurats in Sumer and Akkad to the elaborate Greco-Roman temples throughout the Roman Empire (Genesis 11:1-9, Acts 19:24-28). It was believed that temples were the dwelling places of divinities: adherents would come and “meet” the god or goddess at the temple, presenting food offerings to feed and/or placate them. The Israelites recognized that not even the heavens could contain God, let alone a physical building (1 Kings 8:27); nevertheless, YHWH their God, the One True God, authorized the building of a house, or temple, in which He would make His name and presence dwell, in Jerusalem (1 Kings 8:1-9:9). The Israelites were to bring their sacrifices to the house of YHWH, the Temple (Deuteronomy 12:10-11); there priests would offer them before God on behalf of the people (Hebrews 9:1-10). Therefore, even though the Israelites recognized that YHWH was God everywhere, they nevertheless were to draw near to God in worship, in prayer, and for atonement, in the place where He established His presence and made His name to dwell, in or towards the Temple (Acts 24:11, Hebrews 9:1-10).

Jesus of Nazareth, as the Word made flesh and Immanuel (God with us; Matthew 1:23-24, John 1:1-14), came not only to provide the perfect atonement for sin but also to re-center the Israel of God around Himself. This is well illustrated in John 2:18-22: Jesus declares His own body to be the temple which is raised imperishable in the resurrection. This explains Jesus’ response to the Samaritan woman in John 4:21-24: the people of God would soon no longer go to Jerusalem to render obeisance to God; God’s presence would no longer be manifest at the Temple. Little wonder, then, that the curtain of the Temple was town in two when Jesus died (Matthew 27:51)!

Jesus’ Kingdom was established after His death, resurrection, and ascension (Acts 1:1-2:47, Colossians 1:13). Within fifty years the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans; it has not been replaced. Yet God had not left His people as orphans; throughout the New Testament all the elements of service present in the Temple in a concrete way were understood now in light of the Kingdom and the gatherings of the people in the Kingdom. Jesus was High Priest in the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:1-28); in a sense all His followers are priests, ministering before God on behalf of the people (1 Peter 2:5, 9). Christians are likewise the sacrifices, offered up to the glory and honor of God (Romans 12:1, 1 Peter 2:5). Prayers are as incense (Revelation 8:3-4); the songs of the saints are praise, their hearts as the instruments (Ephesians 5:19). Thus it was also with the Temple: it is no longer in one physical location, but exists wherever the people of God exist, since the Holy Spirit, God Himself, dwells in their midst, individually and collectively (1 Corinthians 3:14-16, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20)!

Thus the church is as a temple, the place where God has established His name and His presence through the Holy Spirit. This temple is not made of brick and mortar; it is founded upon the apostles and prophets who proclaimed the truths upon which it stands, and Jesus Christ as its cornerstone, who gave Himself for it (Ephesians 2:20, 5:22-33, 1 Timothy 3:15). Its stones are not dead rock but living people, the members of the church (1 Peter 2:5). Thus the people of God, individually and collectively, are to represent where God has placed His name; those who wish to find God ought to see His presence among His people through their words and deeds (Matthew 5:13-16, 1 Corinthians 14:25).

God intends for the church to connect and identify fellow members as a family and to work in terms of a body yet also is to be defined as holy in terms of a temple. The church is not to be any ordinary family or to function as any ordinary body of people; the church is to be a holy family and a sanctified association, empowered by God through His Spirit who dwells in the midst of His people (Ephesians 3:14-16). Let us live in holiness and righteousness, seeking to fulfill the purposes of God in Christ, and reflect the holiness demanded of those among whom the Holy Spirit of God pleases to dwell!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Voice 4.49: December 07, 2014

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

Gods of This World: Efficiency

One of the prized values in commerce since at least the Industrial Revolution is efficiency. The drive toward efficiency, in fact, often powered the Industrial Revolution, leading to the assembly line among other innovations that has led to quicker production with fewer costs. Companies are willing to spend a lot of money to find ways to become more efficient, reducing waste and increasing productivity.

Efficiency is also a prized value when it comes to energy consumption. We have seen significant movement toward making homes, offices, and automobiles more energy-efficient. Energy efficiency is seen as a “win-win” situation: the consumer saves money by cutting down on waste, and there is correspondingly less demand for oil, gas, and electricity.

Thus there is no doubt that efficiency is valuable and has its place. In many senses, efficiency is an indication of good stewardship since it cuts down on waste (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:2).

Yet there can be a darker side to efficiency, as everyone who has ever attempted to call customer service for many products and services knows. It is more efficient for the company to have automated systems answer the call; it is hardly efficient for the consumer. The consumer is often left to feel flustered by the circumstances and more like a number than a person.

While efficiency may work wonders for processes and in mechanical terms, it poses more challenges in the realm of interpersonal relationships. Efficiency tends to be a cold, heartless master, often leading to lost jobs, inhumane conditions, and a contributor to the loss of community in many places.

Nevertheless, efficiency has become a “god of this world,” a self-evident standard that is to be accepted as good in every circumstance. Since it has worked so well, by all appearances, for industry, commerce, and business since the Industrial Revolution, it must therefore be a higher good in any situation. Few will come out and say such things; their actions and reasoning behind various actions demonstrate its fruit.

In the spiritual realm, the quest for efficiency is most evident in how assemblies are turned more into performances, the popularity of fellowship halls, and the practice of churches giving its financial resources to benevolent organizations.

Many churches want to keep to a set schedule and frown upon anything that may take longer than is expected. While it is true that everything done in the assembly should be accomplished decently and in order (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:40), there is no indication that this means that everything must be timed precisely and given the feel of a performance. The assembly is designed for the encouragement and edification of its constituents, not their entertainment or display (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:26, Hebrews 10:25).

Giving church resources to benevolent organizations and the building and use of fellowship halls became strongly popular in waves in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in the heyday of the Industrial Revolution. Such practices are often justified either by an appeal to the ability to do so, or, more often, because that way more people can be fed with fewer resources.

Now, if efficiency were the standard for feeding saints and non-saints, then perhaps that would be commendable. But the point has never been to just feed as many people as possible with as few resources as necessary. It also has to do with showing love and compassion and reflecting Christ to others (cf. Romans 8:29), and systems and organizations cannot do such things.

Christians sharing meals has never been just about food. It represents an opportunity for Christians to associate with one another and be strengthened in their relationships, and God has charged individuals with the task of being hospitable (1 Peter 4:9). It is not as efficient but it will lead to stronger relationships, just as God intended!

James 1:27 is a justly famous passage regarding the need to help others. But notice what it says: pure and undefiled religion involves visiting widows and orphans in distress. It does not say to create an organization charged with the care of widows and/or orphans and for the church to fund such organizations. Instead, God intends for Christians themselves to sacrifice their time, resources, and energy to assist those in need!

There can be value in efficiency in terms of energy consumption, time management, and business practices, among other things. But the Bible never enshrines efficiency as the ultimate standard for anything, and we should never overrule what God has commanded us to do in the way God showed us to do it because, in our estimation, it is “inefficient.” It may very well be inefficient: and perhaps that is how God wants it to be. Let us not be coldly efficient in all things but willing to expend time and money to love and show care for one another and for all!

Ethan R. Longhenry