Can You Be an Undenominational Christian?

CAN YOU BE AN UNDENOMINATIONAL CHRISTIAN?

By Wayne S. Walker

     What denomination were Peter, Paul, Philip, and Barnabas members of?  I dare say that practically everyone would agree that they were not members of any denomination, for there were no denominations in the first century.  Is it possible today for a person to be as they were?  I am not speaking of being in an ecclesiastical organization which simply claims to be “non-denominational.”  I am talking about actually being an undenominational Christian.

Our aim is to proclaim undenominational Christianity and plead for a return to God’s ways.  The basis for salvation in New Testament times was the response of human beings to the preaching of the good news of Jesus Christ (Mark 16:15-16).  He, possessing all the attributes of Deity, gave up the glory of heaven and came to this earth as a humble Savior (Philippians 2:5-8).  As a result of His death, burial, and resurrection, salvation was offered as a free gift to all who would submit to Him by faith (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

Those who were thus saved by their trust and obedience were added by the Lord to His church (Acts 2:36-41, 47).  They were Christians—and Christians only (Acts 11:26, 26:28; 1 Pet. 4:16).  Our message is that people can be saved in the same way and can still be just Christians today.   The Bible presents all the saved as one spiritual body in Christ (Ephesians 1:22-23, 4:4, 5:23).  Can you be in this body or church without affiliation to a denomination?  God’s word teaches that you can, and this is what we want to announce.

How is all this accomplished?  “The seed is the word of God” (Luke 8:11).  The same gospel of Christ is God’s power unto salvation (Romans 1:16).  It can be preached today as it was in the first century, and folks can obey from the heart that same form of doctrine as they did in New Testament days (Romans 6:17-18; cf. vs. 3-4).  When this happens, then the same results will be forthcoming—just like planting the same kind of seed year after year.  If you are interested in this, we would like to study further with you.  Won’t you give it some thought?

“Behold, I Thought”

BEHOLD, I THOUGHT

By Wayne S. Walker

     In 2 Kings chapter 5, the Syrian general Naaman, a leper, was sent to the prophet Elisha of Israel for healing.  The command of Elisha to the diseased Syrian general, as given through his messenger, was to “go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean” (v. 10).

“But Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said, Behold, I thought, he will surely come out to me, and stand, and call upon the name of the LORD his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper.  Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?  May I not wash in them and be clean?  So he turned and went away in a rage” (vs. 11-12).

Naaman thought that Elisha himself should come out.  He thought that the man of God would put on a big show and use a lot of hocus-pocus.  He thought that washing in the Jordan to cleanse leprosy was a ridiculous act.  He thought that the rivers of Syria were better than those of Israel.  He may even have thought that seven times were a few too many.  His main problem is that HE thought.

Let’s make some applications.  What must one do to be saved or have forgiveness of sins?  “He who believes and is baptized will be saved, but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16).  “Repent and be baptized, everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven.  And you will receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38, NIV).  But someone says, “I thought that faith alone saves a person.”  Yes, we are justified by faith (Romans 5:1).  But what about “faith only”?  Listen to James 2:24.  “Ye see then that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.”  Faith must work through love (Galatians 5:6).

“But,” someone else replies, “I thought that a sinner is saved by repentance and prayer.  My preacher told me to go down to the altar (or mourner’s bench) and pray for salvation till I prayed through.”  Is that how Saul of Tarsus was saved?  The Lord told him on the road to Damascus, “Arise and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do” (Acts 9:6).  For three days he fasted and prayed (vs. 9-11).  But he had still not been told what he must do.  Then Jesus sent Ananias to tell him what to do.  “Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16).  And he did it (Acts 9:18).  This he had to do to wash away his sins even after three days of repentance and prayer.  And what He did to be saved is a pattern for us (1 Timothy 1:15-16)

Again one responds, “I thought that salvation came by confessing the Lord and accepting Him as my personal Savior.”  Yes, we must confess Jesus (Matthew 10:32-33, Romans 10:9-10).  But note what Jesus Himself said in Matthew 7:21.  “Not everyone that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”  How do we show our love for Christ and accept Him as Savior?  By profession only?  No.  “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

Another answers, “But I thought that the Holy Spirit comes into the sinner’s heart and saves him.”  Certainly the Spirit has a role in salvation (John 16:7-13).  But did He save Cornelius directly and miraculously?  In Acts 10 we learn that Cornelius was to send for Peter who would tell Him words by which he would be saved (vs. 1-6, 30-33; cf. 11:13-14).  Peter came and began to preach to this Gentile and his family about Christ (vs. 34-43).  Then the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard.  But is this what saved them?  Peter evidently didn’t think so, because he said, “Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?  And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord…” (vs. 47-48).  These were the words by which Cornelius and his house were saved.

Naaman finally listened to his servants, decided to surrender his stubborn will, and “went down, and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God: and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child; and he was clean.”  When Naaman did exactly as he was told, his leprosy left him and he was cleansed.  The water itself did not cleanse him, nor did he earn his cleansing by dipping, but he had to obey God’s will to be clean.  When a person today has completely obeyed from the heart the word of God, the result is that he or she will be made free from sin (Romans 6:17-18).

What Naaman thought did not matter with God; nor is He interested in what you and I think. “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord.  ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts’” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

The Four Great Calls

THE FOUR GREAT CALLS

By Wayne S. Walker

     One of the amazing marvels of modern technology is the cell phone.  Nearly everybody has one, including everyone in my family.  They are practically ubiquitous.  It is almost amusing to see what I consider “little kids,” twelve, ten, even eight, running around with their camera phones snapping pictures of everything in sight and texting all their friends.

However, I shall let my younger readers in on a little secret.  Back in the “dark ages,” when I was a young boy growing up at home, we did not have cell phones.  Nobody did.  They were not invented yet.  So, if you were expecting an important phone call, you just had to hang around the house, stay near the phone, and wait for that old “land line” to ring.  This raises an interesting question.  From whom might you be expecting that important call?

Might it be a boyfriend or girlfriend?  Could it be Grandpa or Grandma inviting you over to spend the night at their house for a special occasion?  Or would it be your teacher or maybe the principal to talk about some matter at school?  If you were a bit older, might it be your employer, or, if you were looking for a job, a prospective employer?

Not many of us ever expected a call from the mayor of the city or the governor of the state, and most surely not from the President of our nation.  And no one would have even thought to await a telephone call from God.  Yet, although we know that God does not necessarily utilize the telephone, the Bible teaches that God has called people.  “Therefore thus says the Lord God of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘Behold, I will bring on Judah and on all the inhabitants of Jerusalem all the doom that I have pronounced against them; because I have spoken to them but they have not heard, and I have called to them but they have not answered’” (Jeremiah 35:17).

God called Israel, not on the phone but through His law and the prophets, yet they did not listen.  To use the vernacular, He kept calling them, but they would not pick up and answer the telephone.  Therefore, they were ultimately destroyed.  And God is still calling people today.  Are we listening?  Will we answer?  Each of the next four issues of this bulletin will contain an article about one of “the four great calls” that God has for mankind.

The Call of the Gospel

     The first of the four great calls is the call of the gospel.  “But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14).  What is the gospel?

Our English word “gospel” comes from two Anglo-Saxon roots and basically means “good news.”  It is used to translate a word in the original language of the New Testament that literally means “good news” or “good tidings” or “good message.”   The gospel is obviously very important to Christ because He told His apostles, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.  He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16).  From this, we conclude that the gospel is a message which can be preached.

Furthermore, we learn that Christ wants this gospel message to be preached to “every creature.”  He is talking not about cats and dogs, horses and cows, or elephants and giraffes, but about human creatures, mankind, people in all the world.  Thus, we understand that God intends the call of the gospel to be universal.  It is for everyone.  But what is the substance of that message?  “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.”  It is the message of salvation for all mankind through Christ.

Paul confirms this.  “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek” (Romans 1:16).  Of course, this raises the question, salvation from what?  Paul sets forth his thesis here and then explains it through the rest of the book.  “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  This is true of all responsible human beings.  The call of the gospel is universal because the problem which it is intended to solve is universal.

So, we all sin, but why do we need to be saved from sin?  “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).  Sin has a penalty attached to it, and that is death.  The “death” under consideration here is not physical death but spiritual death, the opposite of “eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Hence, because of our sin, we stand condemned to eternal death.  However, God does not want that and has devised a plan to save us.  “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  This is the essence of the gospel message.

Therefore, based on what Paul says, no one can be saved from sin and its penalty apart from hearing and responding to the call of the gospel, and this response involves obedience.  How do we know this?  Notice what Paul says will happen to those who do not hear and respond to the call of the gospel.  “And to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9).

In summary, all responsible human beings have sinned and are under the penalty of spiritual death.  However, God loves us and wants to save us, so He sent His Son Jesus Christ to die for our sins.  He then revealed His plan for our salvation in the gospel, which includes His terms which we must obey to receive it.  Just as God chose the Thessalonians for salvation and called them by the gospel, so He calls all people in every generation through the gospel.  “…Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17).  Have you heard and obeyed the call of the gospel?

The Call of Death

     The second great call from God is the call of death.  “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation” (Hebrews 9:27-28).  The call of the gospel is universal, but God gives each individual the choice of responding or not.  The call of death is also universal, as well as the two to follow, yet in these there will be no choice.  We shall respond to this call, except for those alive when Christ returns.

God ordained physical death as a consequence of the fact that sin was brought into the world.  We remember how God created man in His own image, male and female.  He made the male from the dust of the ground and put him in the garden with the command not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.   Then He determined to make a helper suitable for the male, so took a rib from Adam, and fashioned Eve.  However, Eve yielded to the temptation of the devil, ate the forbidden fruit, and gave some to her husband.  They sinned.

One of the consequences of this sin is found in Genesis 3:19.  God told Adam, “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.”  While we understand that physical death is not a specific punishment for sin—not everyone dies physically when they sin, and little babies who have not sinned sometimes die–we often think of it as a general punishment for sin, and the Bible does call it “the last enemy.”  Yet, there is also a measure of God’s grace and goodness here.  Once man sinned, God did not want him to live forever in a condemned state, so he decreed that we must die.

What happens when we die?  The most succinct description occurs in Ecclesiastes 12:7.  Solomon begins the chapter in the days of our youth, then proceeds in highly figurative language to describe the process of growing old, culminating in the time when the silver cord is loosed and the golden bowl is broken, a symbolic picture of death, after which he says, “Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.”  We humans are dual beings.  We have a physical body which is made up of the same elements as the earth, and we have an inner man, called the soul or spirit, which is made in God’s image.  At death, the body returns to the dust of the ground from which it was taken, and the soul returns to God, the Father of spirits.

While there is a lot that we simply do not know about what happens at death because it is not revealed, Jesus gives us a little more detail in the story of Lazarus and the rich man.  Lazarus was a beggar covered with sores who was laid at the gate of a certain rich man who was clothed in fine linen and fared sumptuously.  The implication is that the beggar was righteous but the rich man was not.  “So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom” (Luke 16:22-23).

At their deaths, we would conclude that the bodies of both men were buried and returned to the ground, but the text tells us that their souls returned to the control of God and were in a place called Hades, the unseen realm of departed spirits who await the end of time, second coming of Christ, general resurrection, and final judgment.  However, Lazarus was comforted in Abraham’s bosom, a portion elsewhere called Paradise, while the rich man was in torments, a portion elsewhere called Tartarus, and they were separated by a great gulf.  Again, this call of death is universal.  All who have lived on earth, except Enoch and Elijah, have died, and all who are now alive or ever will live, except those alive at Christ’s coming, will die.  Are you ready for it?

The Call of the Resurrection

     The third of the four great calls from God is the call of the resurrection.  “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22).  Here, again, we see the universality of this call.  As we noted in our previous article, because of Adam’s sin the sentence of physical death was brought upon all mankind.  Paul then says that because of Christ’s own resurrection from the dead, all mankind will be raised again.

Jesus Himself talked about this coming resurrection.  “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation” (John 5:28-29).  Some claim that there will be two separate resurrections—Jesus will come back once to raise the righteous dead and then after a thousand years, during which time the righteous will rule on the earth, will come back still another time to raise the wicked dead.

Yet Jesus said, “The hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth.”  The word “hour” suggests a point in time.  So Jesus is saying that at the same point in time, all who are in the graves, both those who have done good and those who have done evil, will be resurrected.  There is simply no room in Jesus’s statement for two different resurrections separated by a thousand years.  All the dead, both righteous and wicked, will be raised at the same time.  However, most of the other passages which speak of the resurrection deal primarily with the resurrection of the righteous.

Paul wrote, “Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption.   Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.  For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.  So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’” (1 Corinthians 15:50-54).

As long as we remain in these physical, fleshly bodies we cannot dwell with God in heaven.  So, while not everyone will die before the Lord comes, all must be changed.  Paul is telling us that when Christ returns, the righteous dead will be raised in changed, incorruptible bodies, and then the righteous living will also be changed (cf. Philippians 3:20-21).  In both instances, this mortal will put on immortality and we shall have the final victory.

Paul also wrote, “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope.  For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.  For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.  For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17).

Here Paul talks about the results of this resurrection.  When the Lord descends, the dead in Christ will rise first.  “Aha!” says someone; “then second the dead out of Christ will rise a thousand years later.”  Unfortunately for this doctrine, that is not what Paul says.  The second thing that Paul says will happen is that those who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  “And thus we shall always be with the Lord.”  The word “thus” means in this way.  Following the resurrection, the risen dead and the changed living will meet the Lord in the air, and “thus,” in the air, they will always be with the Lord.  There will be no coming back to this earth to rule a thousand years because there will be no physical world left (cf. 2 Peter 3:10).  This is what the Bible teaches about the call of the resurrection.  Will you be raised to life or to condemnation?

The Call of Judgment

     The last great call from God is the call of judgment.  “But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.  For it is written: ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God.’  So then each of us shall give account of himself to God” (Romans 14:10-12).  “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).  These verses speak of the universal nature of this call.  Some have suggested that perhaps Christians will simply bypass judgment and slip directly into heaven, but the Bible teaches that everyone—including you and me—will be present at the judgment.  Remember that the Hebrew writer said that it is appointed for men to die once and after this the judgment.

Even those in Old Testament days knew that there will be a final judgment.  Solomon wrote, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all.  For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).  Here we learn the basis for this judgment—God will examine every work, including even the secret things, whether good or evil so that each one will receive a reward or punishment based on the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.  “Each of us shall give account of himself to God.”

Jesus also spoke about this coming judgment.  “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him—the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day” (John 12:48).  Here we learn both the standard and the time for judgment.  The standard will be the word of Christ.  The things which we have done will be compared to the teachings of Christ, and we shall be judged accordingly.  The time will be “the last day.”  We do not know exactly when that will be, but it will occur after the second coming of Christ, the general resurrection of the dead, and the destruction of the earth.  Again, Jesus calls it “the last day.”

And Paul talked about the judgment.  “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).  Here we learn both who the judge will be and the assurance of judgment.  Paul said that God has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness, but He will do so by the Man whom He has ordained, who, of course, is His Son Jesus Christ.  And just as surely as Jesus was raised from the dead, so we can be assured that judgment will come.

Someday, everyone will hear the call of death and the call of the resurrection, except for those alive at Christ’s return, and even they will hear the call to be changed and to rise to meet the Lord in the air.  Then all of us will hear the call of judgment.  The only way to be prepared for those calls is to hear and respond to the call of the gospel in obedience to God’s will.  “For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17).

—taken from Faith and Facts Quarterly; October, 2016; Volume 43, Number 4; pp. 63-73

Church Music in the Bible No. 2

CHURCH MUSIC IN THE BIBLE NO. 2

By Wayne S. Walker

     Some people get upset when a gospel preacher presents a sermon or writes an article on instrumental music in worship.  I once knew a person, a member of the Lord’s church no less, who was all put out because a fellow used a whole sermon to oppose using the instrument in worship.  Certainly we should not become hobby-riders on this or any other subject, but even though the division between the Christian Church and churches of Christ is past, there is still a need to teach on instrumental music in worship.  First of all, denominational friends who visit our services frequently ask why we have no piano, and every child of God should be ready and able to give an answer.  Secondly, there are some brethren (and I’m not talking about new converts but a growing number of preachers) who no longer believe that instrumental music in worship is wrong.  They may say that it is unwise, inexpedient, or against our tradition, but they will not affirm that it is sinful.  And third, we need to teach our children what the Bible has to say about church music lest they grow up and fail to recognize the truth.

References to music in the Bible

     The first reference in the Bible to music is in Genesis 4:21 where Moses wrote that Jubal was the father of all that handle the harp and the organ (flute).  This would seem to indicate that he was the inventor of many of the instruments used before the flood.  The first reference to music in regards to the Hebrew people is in Exodus 15:1 and 20.  Following their deliverance from their Egyptian pursuers, the Israelites under Moses’s leadership sang a song of praise to God.  After this, Miriam and the women praised God with timbrels (a type of musical instrument) and dances.  We know from various passages (e.g., 1 Chronicles 23:1-5, Psalm 150:3-5) that instrumental music was used in temple worship from David’s time, but historians tell us that it was not used in synagogue worship.  This answers the quibble of some that the Jews on Pentecost when the church was established grew up using instruments in worship and would not have known how to praise God otherwise.

So we see that the majority of references in the Old Testament to music are to instrumental.  Under the law of Moses, God apparently did permit it in worship.  But all New Testament musical references for worship by Christians are to singing.  Read Matthew 26:30, Mark 14:26, Acts 16:25, Romans 15:9, 1 Corinthians 14:15, Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16, Hebrews 2:12, and James 5:13 (a previous article dealt with Revelation 14:1-3 and 15:1-3).  Notice that all these passages mention only singing or vocal music, and none of them says anything about playing on a mechanical instrument of music.  This silence alone is very significant and should cause us to tread very carefully.

Music in the early church

       The period from about A.D. 33 to 100 is referred to as the “Apostolic Period.”  “We have seen that at the very beginning of the Christian period the Church eschewed all use of instruments in its services” (Theodore M. Finney, A History of Music, 1947).   “Since no instruments were allowed in the church the art of choral music had the monopoly for fifteen hundred years after the beginning of Christianity” (Ruth Pushee, Music in the Religious Service, 1938).  “The music of the early Christian churches was entirely vocal, with little regard for instruments of any kind.  In fact, the early church fathers, such as Clement of Alexandria, St. Chrysostom, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, strongly denounced the use of instruments with sacred singing” (Kenneth W. Osbeck, The Ministry of Music, 1961).   “Although Josephus tells of the wonderful effects produced in the temple by the use of instruments, the first Christians were of too spiritual fibre to substitute lifeless instruments for or to use them to accompany the human voice.  Clement of Alexandria severely condemns the use of instruments” (The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 10, p. 651).

The period from about A.D. 100 to 250 is often called the “Post-Apostolic Period.”  “Here we have the first mention of musical instruments in the Psalms.  It is to be observed that the early fathers almost with one accord protest against their use in churches; as they are forbidden in the Eastern church to this day, where yet, by the consent of all, the singing is infinitely superior to anything that can be heard in the West” (John Mason Neale, 1818-1866).  “The use of singing with instrumental music was not received in the Christian churches as it was among the Jews in their infant state, but only the use of plain song” (Justin Martyr, A.D. 100-167).  “Only one instrument do we use, namely, the word of peace wherewith we honor God, no longer the old psaltery, trumpet, drum, and flute” (Clement of Alexandria, A.D. 170-220).

Even of a little later period, say from A. D. 250 to 400, the German Lutheran church historian Johann Lorenz von Mosheim (1693-1755) informs us, “The Christian worship consisted in hymns, prayers, the reading of the Scriptures, a discourse addressed to the people, and concluded with the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.”  He makes no mention of anyone playing on a mechanical instrument of music.  “All early Christian music was vocal” (Nich Rossi and Sadie Rafferty in Music Through the Centuries, 1963).  “The Christians in early Rome sang their hymns entirely unaccompanied.  They possessed no instruments, in fact musical instruments were in bad repute with them….The  custom of singing without accompaniment, or a capella, was retained for centuries in the Catholic Church” (Grace G. Wiln, A History of Music, 1930).

If instrumental music was not part of the early church, when was it introduced?

     “In the Greek Church the organ never came into use.  But after the eighth century it became more and more common in the Latin Church; not, however, without opposition from the side of the monks.  Its misuse, however, raised so great an opposition to it, that, but for Emperor Ferdinand, it would probably have been abolished by the Council of Trent.  The Reformed Church discarded it; and though the Church of Basel very early reintroduced it, it was in other places admitted only sparingly, and after long hesitation” (Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, p. 1702).  This plainly shows that it was not used in the first few centuries of the church but was added later and, therefore, was not of apostolic authority.

“Pope Vitalian is related to have first introduced organs into some of the churches of Western Europe, about 670; but the earliest trustworthy account is that of the one sent as a present by the Greek emperor, Constantine Copronymus, to Pepin, king of the Franks, in 755” (The American Encyclopedia, Vol. 12, p.  688).  “The organ is said to have been first introduced into church music by Pope Vitalian  I in 666.  In 757, a great organ was sent as a present to Pepin by the Byzantine emperor, Constantine Copronymus, and placed in the church of St. Corneille at Compeigne.  Soon after Charlemagne’s time, organs became common” (Chamber’s Encyclopedia, Vol. 7, p. 112).

Why, then, was instrumental music introduced into worship?  The answer to this is not precisely known, but there are several possible reasons.  One may have been to keep the pagan-minded converts happy by incorporating elements of their heathen religion into the church.  The Catholics have been doing this for ages.  Another may have been to spruce up the music of the church and make it more pleasing to entertainment-seeking worshippers.  Or it could have been done to draw bigger crowds and perhaps thereby to get more members.  But you can rest assured that instrumental music never found its way into the worship of the church because someone read about it in God’s pattern for the worship of His church as revealed in the New Testament and decided that it was right.

Testimony of church leaders

     Most religious denominations today use instruments of music in their worship.  But what most members of these organizations do not know is that many of the founders, early leaders, and scholars of their churches were opposed to the instrument in worship, or at least admitted that it is not of divine authority.  Take, for example, the Catholic Church.  “Our church does not use musical instruments, as harps and psalteries, to praise God withal, that she may not seem to Judaize….Instrumental music as well as singing is mentioned in the Old Testament, but the church has accepted only singing on account of its ethical value; instruments were rejected” (Thomas Aquinas, 1225-1274).  “What does the apostle mean by ‘in your hearts’?  He means that no one should think to please God by bellowing, or by modulated neighing, or by the organs which now blast in our churches….Let us sing as Christ did with His disciples and as Paul and Silas did in prison….Chants…mass…the primitive church had none of this, nor organs” (Desiderius Erasmus, 1466-1536, commenting on Ephesians 5:19).

As mentioned in quotations previously, the Eastern Orthodox Church (Greek, Russian, etc.) does not use musical instruments in worship.  “The execution of Byzantine church music by instruments, or even the accompaniment of sacred chanting by instruments, was ruled out by the Eastern Fathers as being incompatible with the pure, solemn, spiritual character of the religion of Christ.  The Fathers of the church, in accordance with the example of psalmodizing of our Savior and the holy Apostles, established that only vocal music be used in the churches and forbade instrumental music as being secular and hedonic, and in general as evoking pleasure without spiritual value” (G. I. Papadopoulos, A Historical Survey of Byzantine Ecclesiastical Music, 1904).  There are also some Protestant denominations, such as the Reformed Presbyterian, most Primitive Baptists, Conservative Mennonites, Amish, and Plymouth Brethren, which believe that instrumental music in worship is wrong.

Did you know that while Martin Luther apparently made allowances for the instrument he was not an advocate of it?  “Luther considers organs among the ensigns of Baal” (Heinrich Eckard, a German theologian who argued in favor of instrumental music against Calvin).  “There is no reason to suppose that Luther had any interest in the organ.  His voluminous writings scarcely mention the instrument, and when he does, he treats it almost with scorn” (Dr. Edwin Liemohn, who in 1937 founded the choir of Wartburg College, Waverly, IA, and was its first music director).  “The organ too had made its way into the service despite opposition….Even Luther was less than sure about its use” (Conrad J, Bergendoff, 1895–1997, a Lutheran theologian and historian who was the fifth president of Augustana College in Rock Island, IL).  As for the Episcopalian Church (originally the Church of England), two of the best Anglican scholars wrote concerning Ephesians 5:19, “When you meet, let your enjoyment consist not in fullness of wine, but fullness of spirit; let your songs be, not the drinking songs of heathen feasts, but psalms and hymns; and their accompaniment, not the music of the lyre, but the melody of the heart; while you sing them to the praise, not of Bacchus or Venus, but of the Lord Jesus Christ” (W. J. Coneybeare and J. S. Howson, The Life and Epistles of St. Paul).

The Presbyterian-Reformed tradition’s best known champion was John Calvin, who wrote, “Musical instruments in celebrating the praises of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting of lamps, and the restoration of the other shadows of the law.  The Papists, therefore, have foolishly borrowed this, as well as many other things from the Jews.  Men who are fond of outward pomp may delight in that noise; but the simplicity which God recommends to us by the apostles is far more pleasing to Him.”  John Gireardeau, a Presbyterian scholar and professor at Columbia Theological Seminary, said, “The church, although lapsing more and more into deflection from the truth and into a corruption of apostolic practice, had not instrumental music for 1,200 years (that is, it was not in general use before this time)….The Calvinist Reformed church ejected it from its services as an element of Popery, even the Church of England having come very nigh to its extrusion from her worship….It is heresy in the sphere of worship.”  And one other famous Presbyterian, the commentator Albert Barnes, noted, “Psallo…is used in the New Testament only in Rom. 15:9 and 1 Cor. 14:15, where it is translated sing; in James 5:13, where it is rendered sing psalms; and in the place before us.  The idea here is that of singing in the heart, or praising God from the heart” (comments on Ephesians 5:19).

So far as the Baptists are concerned, A. T. Robertson, a Southern Baptist Greek scholar, wrote, “The word (psalleto) originally meant to play on a stringed instrument…but it comes to be used also for singing with the voice and heart (Eph. 5:19, 1 Cor. 14:15), making melody with the heart also to the Lord” (Word Pictures in the New Testament).  One of the most outstanding Baptists of all time, Charles Haddon Spurgeon of the Metropolitan Tabernacle of London, England, said, “Men need all the help they can get to stir them up to praise.  This is the lesson to be gathered from the use of musical instruments under the old dispensation.  Israel was at school, and used childish things to help her learn, but in these days, when Jesus gives us spiritual manhood, we can make melody without strings and pipes….We do not need them; they would hinder than help our praise….What a degradation to supplant the intelligent song of the whole congregation by the theatrical prettiness of a quartet, the refined niceties of a choir, or the blowing off of wind from inanimate bellows and pipes!  We might as well pray by machinery as praise by it” (Treasury of David).

Even during what some refer to as “the restoration of the church” in this country, many of those to whom our Christian Church friends look with pride were opposed to instrumental music in worship.  “So to those who have no real devotion or spirituality in them, and whose animal nature flags under the oppression of church service, I think that instrumental music would be not only a desideratum, but an essential pre-requisite to fire up their souls even to animal devotion.  But I presume to all spiritually minded Christians, such aids would be as a cow-bell in a concert” (Alexander Campbell, Millennial Harbinger; Fourth Series, Vol. I., No. 10; October, 1851; pp. 581-582).  “And if any man who is a preacher believes that the apostle teaches the use of instrumental music in the church by enjoining the singing of psalms, he is one of those smatterers in Greek who can believe anything that he wishes to believe.  When the wish is father of the thought, correct exegesis is like water on a duck’s back” (J. W. McGarvey; Biblical Criticism, p. 116).

Conclusion

     I do not use these historical quotations as authority, nor as conclusive proof of my contention that instrumental music in worship is unscriptural.  I merely cite them as corroborating evidence.  The New Testament specifies singing in worship and is absolutely silent about instruments in the church.  History shows us that they were not used in the apostolic church and that great religious men of all ages have opposed them.  With all this information against them, why would anyone want to place his soul in jeopardy by using mechanical instruments in worship to God?

Due to the fact that many of my sources were secondary, I was not able to document fully each of the quotations, although I did my best to verify their accuracy.  Also space did not allow me to give complete credit for every single source.  However, I am much indebted for information to the following:  Roland Worth, “Instrumental Music in Religious History,” The Preceptor magazine, Sept. and Oct., 1976, Vol. 25, Nos. 11-12; Earl E. Robertson, “Instrumental Music in Worship,” Truth Magazine, Feb. 7, 14, Mar. 3, 10, 1077, Vol. 21, Nos. 7-10; M. C. Kurfees, Walking by Faith: Origin of Instrumental Music in Christian Worship; William S. Irvine, “Instrumental Music” (tract); and bulletin articles by John Gerrard and Irvin Himmel.

—taken from The Gospel Guardian; Vol. XXIX, No. 12; June 15, 1977; pp. 14-17

Church Music in the Bible No. 1

CHURCH MUSIC IN THE BIBLE NO. 1

By Wayne S. Walker

     One of the most noticeable differences between the Lord’s church, commonly referred to as the church of Christ, and the majority of denominational churches is the lack of mechanical instruments of music in worship.  I have heard people call us the “no music church.”  I have even heard some of our own members try to tell others why “we don’t have music.”  Statements like these are misleading because we do have music; however, it is vocal, not instrumental.  That music was a part of the worship of the apostolic church may be seen from passages such as 1 Corinthians 14:15.  In that verse, Paul includes singing, along with prayer, as he attempts to regulate how the Corinthians were to conduct their assemblies.  Let’s examine what the Bible has to say about church music.

I. Charges Made Against Us:

Reasons why others think that we do not use a piano, but which are wrong

     I read a newspaper column some years ago in which Billy Graham said that those who do not use instruments in worship have no joy in their religion.  This is false.  Through faith and obedience (Ephesians 2:8, 1 Peter 1:22) we have all spiritual blessings including forgiveness of sins (Ephesians 1:3, 7).  Therefore, Christians should be a happy people (Acts 8:39, Philippians 4:4).  One way in which this happiness is to find expression is in singing (James 5:13).  The question is not a matter of joy but of what God has said about how we are to express our joy in our worship.

Someone says, “It is only your tradition.”  In psychology this would be known as “sociological environmental determinism.”  The idea is that since instrumental music was used in pubs and brothels, and since it is found in false religious groups which we oppose, we have established the custom of not using it.  But if this were the only reason we object to it, we would stand condemned because Jesus taught that to preach mere human tradition as truth is wrong (Matthew 15:3-9).

Someone else may reason, “They must believe that all instrumental music itself is wrong; or they dislike it; or they personally prefer vocal.”  No, many Christians play instruments at home, in school, and even professionally.  And if I were in the business of establishing a church of my own, I would most certainly include them because I like that kind of music.  But Jesus built His church, and He has all authority in it as its Head (Matthew 16:18, 28:18; Ephesians 1:22-23).  In our worship, we must do what He says and not what we happen to prefer.

Another replies, “You probably cannot afford it.”  I can remember once as a child when one of my friends in school found out that we didn’t have instrumental music in worship of the church where we attended, he told me that he would pray for us that we could raise the money to buy a piano.  But if instrumental music in worship were right, and if we really wanted it badly enough, we would find a way to get it.

When all else fails, it is a common reaction to attack the person rather than the issue.  “Oh, you’re just a bunch of narrow-minded, prejudiced cranks and fanatics who want to be different from everybody else and revel in being unpopular.”  Not so.  From Acts 2:47 we learn that the early church had “favor with all the people.”  We would like that too, but there is something more important.  Peter said, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).  And when it comes to being “narrow-minded,” Jesus said that the way to heaven is narrow (Matthew 7:13-14).  I want to be just as narrow as the Bible is.

II. The Real Reason:

Well, then, why do we not use instrumental music in our worship?

     The basic, primary, fundamental reason is that there is no divine authority for it.  The New Testament authorizes us to sing (Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16).  It says nothing about playing.  Acts 20:27 tells us to preach the whole counsel of God, meaning that we cannot do anything less than what God says.  On the other hand, 1 Corinthians 2:2 says that we are to preach nothing save Christ and Him crucified, indicating that we cannot do anything more.  In fact, we cannot change the word of God in any way (Galatians 1:6-9).  Adding to, subtracting from, or otherwise tampering with God’s will is wrong (Revelation 22:18-19).  Thus we try to do exactly what the Bible directs.  Those who would add playing to God’s commands to sing and so change the divine pattern for church music stand under the condemnation of these passages.

We need to understand the Biblical principle of silence.  In Hebrews 7:13-14, the writer points out God’s demand that the Jewish priests come from the tribe of Levi.  God was silent about priests from any other tribe.  The necessary conclusion which followed was that God did not want priests from the other tribes, or He would have said so.  He did not have to say, “Thou shalt not have a priest from Judah, etc.”  When God specified Levi, that automatically prohibited all the others.  Another example is Noah and the ark in Genesis 6:14.  God told Noah to build the ark out of gopher wood.  He said nothing about pine, oak, maple, or cedar.  He did not have to say, “Thou shalt not use ash, elm, birch, or beech.”  By specifying gopher, He necessarily excluded everything else.

In the New Testament we can examine the communion service.  In 1 Corinthians 11:23-25, Paul wrote that Jesus authorized the unleavened bread and the fruit of the vine used in the Passover for the Lord’s supper.  Christ didn’t say anything about other foods or drinks on the table.  He did not have to say, “Thou shalt not use cake, doughnuts, or biscuits and coffee, tea, or milk.”  He specified unleavened bread and the cup (grape juice), thus revealing that such was His will and nothing else.

In 2 Corinthians 5:7 we are told to walk by faith and not by sight.  Romans 10:17 tells us that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.  Therefore, to walk by faith, we must walk according to God’s word and not go beyond what it teaches.  “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God.  He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son” (2 John v. 9).  Since God tells us to sing, and since the New Testament is silent about playing on an instrument, we cannot use instrumental music in worship and walk by faith.  Such is a transgression of God’s will.

III. Objections Raised:

Answering arguments which are used to defend instrumental music

     “David used it.”  Yes, he did (2 Chronicles 29:25-28).  But remember that the Old Testament has been removed as a source of authority (Hebrews 8:6-13, 10:9).  Besides, David also had concubines (1 Chronicles 3:1-9), danced before the Lord (2 Samuel 6:14-16)—both evidently with God’s permission, and participated in the Passover observance, animal sacrifices, and other Old Testament requirements.  The fact that David did something proves nothing.  But if someone today returns to the old law for even one practice, he must take it all, and in so doing he has fallen from grace (Galatians 5:3-4).

“There will be instrumental music at the second coming and in heaven (I Thessalonians 4:16, Revelation 14:1-3).”  First of all, remember that the book of Revelation is figurative in nature, written in signs and symbols (Revelation 1:1).  Just read Revelation 14:1-3 carefully.  Verse 3 says that they sang a new song.  The “sound of harpists playing their harps” simply symbolizes the beautiful nature of this heavenly music.  John also heard a voice as many waters and great thunder.  If there will be real instruments in heaven, will there also be real waterfalls and thunderstorms?  And even if these were literal instruments of music, what will occur at the second coming and in heave is not necessarily what Christ has authorized for the worship of the church here on earth.

The Greek word psallo and its related forms are supposed to include using an instrument when they are found in New Testament passages concerning church music.  It is true that at one time the term meant to pluck something—like a hair, a bow, or a string.  But all New Testament scholars agree that by the first century it had come to mean “sing a hymn; celebrate praise to God in song”—without regard to any instrumental accompaniment.  Furthermore, in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16, the object of the action of psallo is not a harp string but the human heart.  Whatever the word means, it is done in the heart and not on a mechanical instrument.  In addition, every reputable translator has always rendered it “sing” or “make melody” with no indication about playing on an instrument.  Also, if psallo did mean play an instrument, then everyone would have to play since it is a collective verb that we do “to one another” in these passages.  And it would be a necessity; we could not obey the passages and do without it, yet I know of no one who will admit that.  Finally, since psallo originally meant to pluck, it is doubtful that a piano could be used since we do not actually pluck its strings, and an organ would be totally unsuitable since no plucking is involved whatsoever.

Is instrumental music an aid or an expedient to singing, like songbooks and pitch pipes?  To be expedient, a thing must first be proved to be lawful, and it cannot change the command or add to it in any way (1 Corinthians 6:12).  We do not prove something lawful merely because we claim that it is “expedient.”  Even though we may use songbooks and pitch pipes, we are still only doing exactly what God said—singing.  We are not singing AND songbooking or singing AND pitchpiping.  But to bring in an instrument changes the music from purely vocal to instrumental accompaniment, and thus adds playing, a different kind of music, to singing.  And after all, it really isn’t an aid anyway.  One purpose of singing is to teach and admonish one another, and a mechanical instrument can do neither.

When all other arguments have been answered, the proponents of instrumental music in worship will often ask, “But God didn’t say, ‘Thou shalt not use instrumental music in worship;’ where does the Bible say that it is wrong?”  We have already discussed this point, but let me re-emphasize it with a story.  A mother sent her boy to the store with a $5.00 bill, asked him to get a $2.50 jar of peanut butter for some cookies that she was going to bake, and told him to bring back the change.  He arrived at the market and bought the peanut butter.  But he saw some chocolate drops that looked really good for $2.50, and he said to himself, “Mother likes chocolate drops as well as peanut butter cookies, so I’ll get some of them too.”  When he returned home, his mother asked for the peanut butter and the change.  He proudly handed her the chocolate drops, but she said, “Son, I didn’t tell you to get chocolate drops.”  The boy replied, “Yes, but you didn’t say not to.”  He received a whipping anyway.

Where did God say, “Thou shalt not use hamburger and cola in the Lord’s supper”?  Where does the Bible say that fried chicken and lemonade on the Lord’s table are wrong?  Or where is the passage which specifically teaches that it is sinful to dance in the assembly or to burn incense in worship?  In order to please God, we must learn to act only as the Father has commanded (Matthew 7:21-23), to speak only as the oracles of God (1 Peter 4:11), and not to presume to go where God has not spoken.  “Now these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes; that in us ye might learn not to go beyond the things which are written; that no one of you be puffed up for the one against the other” (1 Corinthians 4:6, ASV).

There are other reasons given for having instrumental music in worship.  “Since we have liberty in Christ, we ought to be free to use it.”  But we cannot use our liberty as a cloak for disobedience (1 Peter 2:16).  “To object to it is to bind where God has not bound.”  But God has bound singing or vocal music, and we must also be careful not to loose where God has not loosed (Matthew 18:18).  “We use it because it pleases the worshippers; it’s entertaining, and we like the sound of it.  Paul asked if we are trying to please men or God (Galatians 1:10).  “I think it is all right; I don’t see anything wrong with it.”  Solomon wrote, “There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Proverbs 14:12).

Those of us who oppose instrumental music in worship are sometimes accused of judging.  “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matthew 7:1).  It is not our desire to judge the motives of people, but we are exhorted to “judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24).  “You preach too much on instrumental music and not enough on real soul-damning sins like atheism, drunkenness, and adultery.”  I doubt that this charge is true; it just seems that way to some.  We do preach on these other things, and maybe we need to teach some more than we do.  But even if the charge were true, it would not mean that we should quit preaching on instrumental music, nor would it give license for anyone to use it for worship in the absence of God’s authorization.  “Whosoever shall keep the whole law, yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10).  If one is right about atheism, drunkenness, and adultery, yet is wrong about music in worship, he is still wrong.

“If we have a piano at home, why not in the church?”  In 1 Corinthians 7 and Ephesians 5, Paul tells husbands and wives what they may do at home, but it would not be proper for them to do some of those things in church!  In fact, Paul makes a very plain distinction between what may be done in the home and in the church (1 Corinthians 11:22).  “But some people have a God-given talent to play the piano, and we should use that talent in the worship.”  Some men have a great talent to grill hamburgers, and some women have a great talent to bake cherry pies; should we not use that talent in the Lord’s supper?  And what about the stripper who used her “God-given talent” in a Dallas, Texas, Unitarian Church?  The use of whatever talents we may have must be governed by the authority of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  There are many other arguments we could cite, but like those above, none of them are based on Scripture.

I am not saying that everyone who believes that instrumental music in worship might be permissible under certain circumstances, or is not completely convinced that it is wrong, is necessarily lost.  There is a difference between what one may believe as a personal opinion and what he practices.  There are probably a lot of Christians—especially new converts—who worship regularly and are in fellowship with faithful New Testament churches of Christ but who have not made up their minds yet concerning instrumental music in worship.  If they are willing to remain part of a congregation without the instrument, work with those who oppose it, and not be contentious about it, I see no problem in accepting them as brethren.  But those who actively teach and practice the use of instrumental music in worship are in error and need to repent, correct their lives, and start following God’s way.  If a person truly loves Christ, he will want to do what the Lord says without quibbling, arguing, making excuses, or trying to get around God’s laws.  We must do exactly what Jesus wants—no more and no less—to please Him.  This is certainly true with regard to church music.

—taken from The Gospel Guardian; Vol. XXIX, No. 11; June 1, 1977; pp. 12-16

Church Recreation

CHURCH RECREATION

By Wayne S. Walker

     “Church of Christ, [street address, city name], is celebrating Family Emphasis Month in September every Wednesday evening at 7:30 p. m.  Each Wednesday a 25-minute segment of the film The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe will be shown followed by family games and activities designed to understand the film.

The above notice appeared some years ago in the local newspaper of a city near where I was living at the time.  This writer does not necessarily believe that it is wrong to show films in Bible classes if they are used to teach what the Bible actually says, although watching The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, while taken from a great fantasy book based on a Judaeo-Christian worldview which I highly recommend, is hardly the same thing as studying the Bible itself.  Furthermore, whatever activities might ensue, they should be designed to understand the Scriptures and not just the film.  There would also be some question about special church celebrations like “Family Emphasis Month” in the first place (Galatians 4:10).

However, the main problem with this announcement is the “family games” which were to follow.  After having lived in that area for a number of years, I have a little knowledge of the history of this particular congregation.  It is what we would call a “liberal church” and has accepted all the social gospel trappings with which that term has come to be associated.  They take the position now held by the Gospel Advocate magazine.  However, I would like for you to consider this quote from the Gospel Advocate Annual Lesson Commentary, 1951, pp. 225-229:

It is not the duty of the church to provide entertainment for young or old.  It is not a part of the program of the church to provide playgrounds, programs of entertainment, or supervisors of such programs….It is definitely no more the duty of the church to provide recreation for the young people than it is to provide a business for every member of the church to conduct….

Building recreation rooms and providing and supervising recreational activities at the expense of the church is a departure from the simple gospel plan as revealed in the New Testament.  The church might as well relieve the parents of feeding and disciplining all the young people at church expense as to take over the job of entertaining and supervising their recreation at church expense….Be sure to get a clear conception of the duties of the home as contrasted with the duties of the church in the matter of recreation.  To confuse the two realms of activity will involve us in absurdities” (end of quote).

Back in 1951 very few if any members of the Lord’s church believed that the church should become involved in recreation and entertainment.  And if someone were so bold as to suggest such, he would quickly be shown the error of his suggestion from the Scriptures (Romans 14:17, 1 Corinthians 11:22).  But today, whole congregations of people who still call themselves after the glorious name of Christ have completely lost faith in the power of the gospel to save souls (Romans 1:16).  Instead they have turned to fun and games to draw men.  And then these brethren claim that they have not changed!

—taken from Torch; January, 1986 (Vol. XXI, No. 1), pp. 20-21

John the Baptizer and Elijah

JOHN THE BAPTIZER AND ELIJAH

By Wayne S. Walker

     In Malachi 3:1, God speaks through the prophet, “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me.”  A more detailed description of this messenger is later given in 4:5-6:  “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.  And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to the fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”  Another prophecy of the same messenger is found in Isaiah 40:3-8.

No Bible personification is more clearly established than that the voice of Isaiah 40:3 and the messenger of Malachi 3:1 are John the baptizer.  Each of the four gospels affirms this (Matthew 3:3, Mark 1:3, Luke 3:4, John 1:23) [Homer Hailey, A Commentary on the Minor Prophets; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1972; p. 418].  Yet the Adventists, the Mormons, the Watchtower, other lesser known cults, and Premillennialists in general are looking for this prophecy to be fulfilled right before the second coming of Christ, which most of them believe is imminent.  Some think that Elijah himself will literally return from the dead.  Others believe in a more symbolic manifestation.  Billy Graham has even been suggested as a possible fulfillment.  Other identifications have also been made.  It is our purpose in this article to determine exactly what the Scriptures teach concerning Elijah and John the baptizer, and whether we can expect another “Elijah” to precede Christ’s second advent.

Jesus plainly stated the identity of this prophesied Elijah in Matthew 11:14, while discussing the work of John the baptizer, by saying, “And if ye will receive him, this is Elijah, which was for to come.”  He had earlier identified in John 10 as the messenger of Malachi 3.  However, the previously mentioned dispensationalists will not accept or “receive” John as this Elijah, but look for another.  When presented with this simple Biblical explanation, they generally turn to Matthew 17 and try to make some arguments from a passage in that chapter.  Let’s turn there and examine what is recorded.

In response to a question by the disciples following the transfiguration, Jesus said, “Elijah truly shall come first and restore all things” (verse 11).  Those seeking an Elijah still to come want to hold Jesus to the future tense, “shall come,” and thus conclude that John cannot be Elijah, or at least the Elijah which Jesus was speaking of in the future.  Some postulate a two-Elijah theory or double fulfillment.  To support this, they will point out that in John 1:21, the baptizer denied that he was Elijah.  So, they reason, John himself, as well as Jesus, recognized that someone else was needed to come along later and fulfill the prophecy.

J. W. McGarvey commented that the Jews expected the coming of the actual prophet Elijah to precede immediately their misconception of the Messianic kingdom, thinking at first that John was this literal Elijah. John denied this, but Jesus informs them that John, though not literally Elijah, was the person so called by Malachi, and thus fulfills the prediction of the Old Testament prophet.  John was called Elijah because the angel predicted that he was to go before the Lord “in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:13-17) [J. W. McGarvey, The New Testament Commentary: Matthew and Mark; Dallas, TX: Eugene S. Smith, 1875; p. 99].

This whole argument rests on the claim that Jesus was talking solely of the future when He said, “Elijah SHALL come.”  Or as one man I talked with said, “Jesus said Elijah is going to come, and he will.”  However, Jesus was not necessarily speaking of a future time.  His statement in verse 11 can be explained satisfactorily in either of two ways.  Either He is saying, “In God’s plan, Elijah shall come first before the Messiah;” or possibly, “It is true what the scribes have been saying, that Elijah shall come first.”  But in no stretch of proper Biblical hermeneutics can Jesus’s words be construed to mean that preceding His second coming, Elijah, or someone similar, will be at work.

In fact, Jesus went on to say in verse 12 “that Elijah is already come.”  So we either take Jesus at His word or reject what He says.  And “the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist” (verse 13).  Now it is true that the disciples did a lot of misunderstanding of what Jesus taught them.  However, it is clear, when we couple these statements with the Matthew 11 passage, that the disciples did not misunderstand in this instance.

Another argument made is that John the baptizer did not “restore all things,” so another Elijah must be coming to take up where he left off.  No scriptural proof is ever offered, and I believe that the Scriptures teach just the opposite.  Malachi’s Elijah had a mission to fulfill, and in Luke 1:17 the angel quoted that mission as belonging to John the baptizer, “to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people for the Lord.”  Zacharias, filled with the Holy Spirit (v. 67), expounded on this as he talked about John further in the chapter: “And thou, child, shall be called the prophet of the Highest; for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; to give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins” (vs. 76-77).

Homer Hailey correctly observes that this Elijah/John was to restore a right relationship between parents and children, and to restore a right relationship between the children of Israel and God [Homer Hailey, A Commentary on the Minor Prophets; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1972; p. 425].  Even William Marrion Branham, who was himself a proponent of the latter-day Elijah belief, admitted that Jesus meant that in John Elijah has “already come, and you didn’t know it.  But he did just what the Scriptures said he would do.  He restored them, and you all, that received and believed on me” [William Marrion Branham, The Revelation of the Seven Seals; Tucson, AZ: Spoken Word Publications, 1967; p. 57].  John truly did complete his mission and “restore all things” which God had given him to restore.

Acts 3:21 may be quoted in an attempt to show that the “restoration [or restitution, KJV] of all things is connected with the second coming of Christ, hence the need for a future Elijah.  However, not all expositors are certain that this verse discusses the second advent, although it most likely does.  It is admittedly a difficult passage, but I think the problem is one of two passages referring to two different restorations.  Of course, the Acts passage says nothing about Elijah preparing the way for whatever it mentions.  A reasonable explanation of Acts 3:21 is that Peter, whether he fully understood the meaning of his words, indicated that Jesus would not come back at least until all the Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled.  These prophecies included the destruction of the Jewish economy which occurred in A. D. 70 (see Daniel 9:24-27).  Thus, Christ would not return before then [cf. J. W. McGarvey, New Commentary on Acts of Apostles; Cincinnati, OH: Standard Publishing Company, n.d.; p. 63].  In any case, according to context, the restoration here is evidently not the restoration mentioned in connection with “Elijah” and John as explained previously.

The plain teaching of Scripture is that John the baptizer was the forerunner of Christ’s first coming and was called Elijah by Malachi.  Nowhere does the Bible hint that the appearance of Elijah in some sense or another will occur as a sign of Christ’s second coming.  Rather, Jesus said of His return, “But of that day and hour knoweth no man” (Matthew 24:36).  According to Christ, no signs will foretell His next advent.  Instead of looking for signs so that they can begin to prepare for His descent, all people need to heed the Bible admonition to be prepared always and to “watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come” (Matthew 24:42).

—taken from Gospel Anchor; April, 1975; Vol. 1, No. 8; pp. 2-3, 15-16