As was to be expected, my last couple of Reflections have generated questions from some of the readers. This is a good thing, and I am pleased at the ever increasing number who take the time to share with me both their concerns as well as their support. The goal of these writings is to cause brethren to do some serious thinking and reflection upon their beliefs and practices. I understand that this will, at times, cause some degree of discomfort among some disciples who have had their cherished convictions challenged. Thus, I welcome legitimate, honest questions from seekers of Truth, and will try to respond to such queries as thoroughly and thoughtfully as I can.
A dear brother in Christ, who preaches in Russia, wrote, "I not know English. I use an electronic translator, and translation not good quality, so not understand all in your articles. Please, give an answer --- believe you that amongst denominations, for instance amongst Baptists, there be rescued people? You have brothers members of denominations? Please, write briefly and clear what translator could not translate better. Beforehand, you I thank." The question that concerns this young preacher is one that has troubled people in various fellowships for centuries --- are we the only ones the Lord recognizes as saved, or are there others? Who is my brother? Who is not? Similarly, a reader in Missouri asks, "Is it your contention that there are those who are members of various denominational bodies who are in Christ? Are some of their members sheep of the flock in separate folds? Is that what you meant?" Consider also the following comment which was made: "I find your assertions concerning the existence of individuals in denominational bodies as part of the one true flock of Christ strange, to say the least."
History, both biblical and extra-biblical, has clearly portrayed this to be a concept God's people have struggled with almost from the beginning. If someone "does not follow along with us" (Luke 9:49; Mark 9:38), can that person truly be a disciple of Jesus Christ? Most every religious movement, sect and faction has adherents who firmly believe that they, and they alone, are the "one true church" on earth, in its entirety, and that all others are hell-bound apostates whose sole purpose in life is to undermine Truth. For those with such a perspective, it is hard to fathom that there could be any person associated with a group other than their own who could possibly be saved. Such persons have confidently informed me, numerous times, that NOBODY ON EARTH outside of their little group is saved ... not one single person! I asked a Church of Christ preacher recently if he believed that even one Baptist had ever been saved, or ever could be. His answer was "No!" Has anyone in the Christian Church ever been saved? "No!" NOBODY in ANY "denomination" can be saved .... ever! The ONLY people saved are those who assemble in buildings with signs which read: "Church of Christ" ..... "and most of them won't make it either," he stated! Brethren, this thinking is twisted and pathetic! How anyone can even make such statements with a straight face and a clear conscience is beyond me! And yet, such people have always existed ... and, sadly, always will. And let me hasten to add, such thinking is not just limited to Churches of Christ. I have encountered this same mindset in other groups as well. Thus, I'm not singling any faith-heritage out for rebuke. Rather, I am singling out a particular mindset which, sadly, can be found in most all factions within Christendom.
The reader from Missouri asked, "You suggested that if one were to say that the Church of Christ is the only body which comprises the flock of God today, that such would be 'absurd' and 'arrogant.' So, let me ask you: how is it possible to be in Christ and not be in His church?" Here is where many have made their fatal error in reasoning. They identify their particular faith-heritage AS the One Body of Christ .... exclusively and in its universal entirety. I agree that there is only ONE church, and that it belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ. "There is one body" (Eph. 4:4). I also agree that ALL persons who are genuinely IN CHRIST are also numbered together IN THE ONE BODY. Thus, if you are in Christ you are also in the church. You get no argument from me there. Where I differ with sectarian and factional thinking, however, is in the view that one's own little sect or faction is exclusively and entirely that universal One Body of Christ. The "one true church" is comprised of ALL who are "in Christ Jesus." That transcends all denominational, sectarian and factional barriers. Wherever the Shepherd has sheep, there one finds members of the one flock. It's just that simple. To suggest that ALL the sheep in the universe are ONLY gathered in one little faction of one little sect of one little movement in all of Christendom IS INDEED both absurd and arrogant. Such thinking is factionalism of the lowest order, and Paul clearly tells us to reject such perversion of Truth --- "Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned" (Titus 3:10-11).
I am non-sectarian. I am non-denominational. I am simply a child of the Father; one who desires to fellowship all others who are the same. My loyalties are not to a faction, but to a family; to a Person, not a position. I work and worship within that segment of the Restoration Movement known as Churches of Christ. This is the faith-heritage of my parents, and theirs. I grew up within it. I love these people and their traditions, but I also have come to realize that my heavenly Father has other sheep not of this fold. I do not feel personally threatened by the knowledge that I am not an only child; I thrill in the knowledge of extended spiritual family. Wherever one is begotten of my Father, I have a brother or sister. We may not look exactly alike; our tastes may vary; our preferences and perceptions may not be exactly the same; but, if they are in Him and if I am in Him, we be brethren!!
The Jews were absolutely appalled that God could regard NON-Jews as His beloved children. Some Jews never accepted this reality. It was abhorrent to them. This is the attitude of some Christians today. It is inconceivable to them that the Father could ever regard with favor those not in their own little group. Unthinkable! Impossible! In effect, they preach "The pathway to heaven is through our doors." They seem to forget the words of the Good Shepherd, who said, "I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he shall be saved" (John 10:9). "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6). No one group, or faction thereof, is the door .... is the way. That distinction belongs to Jesus! I will thus regard as saved, and as brethren, ALL who enter through Him. I dare do no less.
I love the people and traditions of my faith-heritage. But, I keep it in perspective. I know who and what we are --- believers seeking to the best of our ability to understand and apply God's Word to our daily lives within the parameters of our own perceptions. I also know who and what we are not --- we are not the only honest believers on earth, we are not the only ones who perceive all Truth (does anyone truly perceive all Truth?!!), we are not the only ones favored of God, we are not the only ones "bound for glory," and we are not the One Body exclusively and in its entirety on the face of the planet. Over the years many reformers have tried to get us to realize not only our commitment to the Lord, but our extended family as well --- thus, we are to be Christians only, but we are not the only Christians. It's a hard lesson, and many have yet to learn it.
"So, let me ask you: What is it that you understand places one in Christ? What makes one a member of the universal flock of the Lord?" My answer is simply this: God's grace, our faith! "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9). Let me hasten to clarify. Our faith must be demonstrated to be efficacious! That is the whole point of James 2. A faith one refuses to show, is not truly a saving faith. Saving faith is active faith. It is visible! It is expressed! It is manifested in our daily lives. Saving faith responds to the Lord's free gift of salvation by accepting it. This acceptance must be manifested, and the Lord has specified what He regards as appropriate demonstration of that saving faith: we must acknowledge or confess Him in our lives, both vocally and visibly; we must turn from our futile way of living and turn to Him, which is repentance; we must demonstrate our willingness in a symbolic action representative of our association with Jesus' death, burial and resurrection, which is immersion. These demonstrations of our faith, hand in hand with His grace, place us within His family. ALL those who have done the above are my brothers and sisters in Christ. We may work and worship in differing "folds," but if we have done the above we are in the one "flock" and are sheep of the one Shepherd.
I long for the day when sheep will cease attacking other sheep, and instead present a united front against wolves. We are fighting the wrong battles, brethren, and the real enemy merely watches in amusement .... and feeds upon the wounded. Let's cease doing the work of the wolf, and begin behaving as the sheep of the Good Shepherd. We have grieved Him long enough!
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