Thursday is the Lord’s day, too!

By Cecil Hook
Taken from Free to Accept

Although the first day of the week became a special day for assemblies in the early centuries, it was not in response to a command or an explicit, binding example. Our inclination toward legalism has led us to try to bind it as a special day to be given to God. We have demanded certain activities on that day and limited their practice to it. This conviction is based upon supposed inferences.

In pre-Christian times in the Roman Empire, kuriakos (the lord’s) signified imperial or belonging to the lord, the emperor. As the empire became Christian, it is not surprising that they would modify belonging to the lord to relate to Christ as a part of their protest against Caesar-worship.

As time went by, many of the rules of the Sabbath were transferred to the first day of the week, but this was rejected in the Reformation by Luther and Calvin. Calvin even proposed to adopt Thursday in the place of Sunday. (See International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, V. 3, p. 1919- 1920).

May we rightly consider Thursday as the Lord’s day? Yes, Thursday is the Lord’s day!

At the end of the persecutions in 325 A.D., because the first day of the week was so special to the Christians, Constantine, the Emperor, made it a holiday (holy day) throughout the empire. That accommodation has greatly influenced the Western world and has been a blessing to the disciples through succeeding centuries. The wide acceptance of that holiday has given it a respected authenticity. As with other accepted practices, efforts to authenticate it by the Scriptures came after the fact through scholasticism. The term Lord’s day is used only once in the Scriptures (Rev. 1:10), and in that instance it was not referring to the first day of the week but to an epoch.

There are two questions that we must ask and answer. First, do the Scriptures demand that the first day of the week be a sanctified day for disciples? Second, was the first day referred to in the Scriptures as the Lord’s day?

The first day of the week is mentioned in inspired church history only two times. That point should arouse enough suspicion about its sanctity to cause us to reexamine the matter. When Paul made his way to Troas, the disciples had a gathering and meal with their honored guest (Acts 20). There is nothing to indicate that this was more than a special meeting or that it was, or became, a regular practice. It is recorded that they met to break bread. To break bread is translated from a Hebrew idiom which means to partake of food as in the eating of a meal. There is nothing that would indicate that this meal was the communion. An uncertain premise destroys the validity of any conclusion based upon it.

The other mention (1 Cor. 16:1f) does not relate either to a ritual or to an assembling of disciples on that day.

Since no law concerning a certain day is given in the New Testament Scriptures, it is only by specious logic that men try to make an ordinance of it. Such is an effort to define laws so that we may be justified by keeping them.

Not only were the apostles silent about obliging us to keep certain days, they actually warned us about observing days. “You observe days, and months, and seasons, and years! I am afraid I have labored over you in vain” (Gal. 4:10). Read the entire context of “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath” (Col. 2:16). Paul did not add, “Except for the Lord’s day which is the first day of the week.”

True apostolic teaching puts keeping of days and the eating of foods in the realm of indifference along with circumcision. Paul permits the weak brother to respect days but not to bind his scruple on others or condemn others who do not hold his conviction. He writes, “One man esteems one day as better than another, while another man esteems all days alike. Let every one be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. He also who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God; while he who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Rom. 14:5f). Paul does not permit either side of the day-keeping controversy to pass judgment on the other. It is the whole person, not certain days or hours, who is sanctified. Every day is raised to the highest plane making us no closer to God or more priestly at one time than another.

If the Lord’s day is a specific day, then we would have to say it is the Sabbath because of Jesus’ own claim, for he himself declared, “For the Son of man is lord of the Sabbath” (Matt. 12:8).

There are numerous instances in the Bible where the day of the Lord is used to denote, not a specific day of the week, but his coming in judgment, wrath, vengeance, or retribution to offenders or in deliverance for his people. This term is translated into the possessive form in only one place in apostolic writings, making it the Lord’s day (Rev. 1:10) rather than the day of the Lord. Both terms mean the same thing.

In the Spirit, John the apostle was transported in vision into the future to see the things that would transpire in the epoch of the Lord’s day or day of the Lord. This was not a day of the week, but it was the manifestation of the Lord against the Jewish nation who had rejected him, and it was the time of his vindication of his saints. This judgment was about to transpire — ”what must soon take place” — indicating that Revelation was written before 70 A.D. John was seeing in vision what is referred to as “the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:25).

If you are having difficulty in accepting this, let me ask you a few questions. Is Sunday holy? Is one day spiritual and another secular? Are some obligations bound on one day but loosed on the next? Are some actions holy if performed on a certain day but profane if done on another? Recently, Stephan Bilak gave me a wallet calendar from the Ukraine. They number their days downward instead of across and have the seventh day in red instead of the first day. In the Ukraine would disciples sin in keeping the seventh day instead of the first day?

Our real problem has related to binding the communion on each first day of the week and limiting it to that day. Is the communion sanctified or is it the day? Our limitation of the communion to Sunday only is without command, precedent, or inference. There is no clear example of the disciples’ communing through partaking of the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week. At Troas they met to break bread, but there is no proof that it was the Lord’s Supper instead of a common meal. It was after midnight before the bread was broken. That was Monday morning. Paul intended to depart on the morrow after the first day. After daybreak he departed. This was the morrow after the first day of Roman time. If they were following the Jewish time, it still would have been the first day and not the morrow. Besides, Jesus initiated the communion on a weekday evening in an indisputable example. The premise is too weak to imply a lawfully bound conclusion as we have inferred from that text.

In a sense, all days (all time) are holy because our whole lives are dedicated to God. That sanctification is not segmented into days or time spans. In a more real sense, it is not time that is sanctified; it is the disciple who is holy when he or she can say, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). That disciple becomes a temple of God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. A temple can be profaned.

Anything that is holy can be profaned. Being holy, the Jewish Sabbath could be profaned by labor on that day. Can Sunday be violated by labor, travel, or some recreational activity? Since we, rather than days, are holy, how can our sanctity be violated? That is accomplished by our sin which is a breach of our dedication, sanctification, separateness, holiness. But sin is not related to any time span. When we sin, we violate our own holiness rather than that of a day. If missing a Sunday assembly scheduled by men is a sin, it is a lacking of sanctification rather than the profaning of a holy day.

Please do not conclude that I am disparaging the need for assembling with disciples or am forbidding communion on Sunday. We all need the support that we gain from sharing with those of like faith. I am saying, however, that these meetings and activities are no more effective on one day than another.

Man was not made for the Sabbath; so Jesus did not bind the keeping of that day at all costs as a legal obligation. The Sabbath was made for man, for God set apart a day to fill the need of man, not to work against his best interest by its inflexibility. In similar manner, assemblies are designed to meet the needs of disciples, but the day and hour of such gatherings are not specified as a law.

Again, I say that the recognition of Sunday as a secular holiday in our society is a wonderful blessing. That has always made it more convenient for us to assemble and it has given social recognition to Christianity that the earliest disciples did not enjoy. To us who were brought up going to assemblies each Sunday, the day seems to have a special hallowed nature. I can appreciate the piety of those who have refused to call the first day Sunday, calling it The Lord’s Day instead. And I would favor our making better use of those free hours offered to us by the holiday. But Sunday is neither a holy day nor The Lord’s Day.

Looking back to Calvin’s proposal — is Thursday the Lord’s day? Yes! So is Friday, Saturday, and all other days. Thursday is the Lord’s day but not The Lord’s Day.

NOT FORSAKING THE ASSEMBLY

“We are commanded not to forsake the assembly on the first day of the week. When you miss a meeting, you sin.”

Does that sound familiar? Especially in the middle half of this century, Hebrews 10:25 was used and misused by well-meaning disciples to intimidate consciences in an effort to enforce attendance to all congregational gatherings. We came to measure a person’s faithfulness mostly by frequency of attendance and to judge the vitality of a congregation by its statistics.

In our sincere zeal we injected into this passage a number of misdirected concepts. Being legalists, it is not surprising that we looked upon attendance as fulfilling our duty even though the assembly attended might have edified little. Overlooking the emphasis on exhortation, we made the meetings into strictly regulated “worship services” in performing our perceived “five items of worship.” Being accustomed to modern ritualistic assemblies on Sundays, we read those elements into this passage. We made not forsaking to mean don’t miss a service. We demanded that, when the elders set a schedule of meetings, it was a sin to miss even one of them. “They have authority to set them,” we reasoned.

In my childhood the church met only on Sunday mornings. That seemed to have met the requirements. But during my teenage years, the congregation added classes, Sunday evening meetings, and midweek gatherings. Each of these assemblies then became obligatory, or at least our consciences were intimidated in that direction. If failure to attend these extra gatherings was forsaking the assembly, then the elders caused many to stumble by adding them!

By reading our ideas into it we made Hebrews 10:25 into a club with which to beat disciples into compliance with a standard of faithfulness set by fellow disciples.

Let us look again at that favorite proof-text to see what it means and does not mean.

Without being too tedious, let us scan the context of this passage. I trust that you are as familiar as I am with the Hebrews epistle. The Jewish disciples had three special problems with which to deal. First, there was the question as to the validity of their change from their national and cultural Judaism to Christ. Second, they were being persecuted because of their change. Third, there was the impending destruction of Jerusalem which would finalize God’s rejection of national Israel and confirm this new spiritual kingdom. The believers would need much encouragement because these matters would test their faith and tempt them to turn back from Christ.

In view of this we see exhortations dispersed throughout the epistle. They were urged to pay close attention to what they had heard to prevent their drifting from it (2:1). No evil heart of unbelief should cause them to fall away with hardened heart, but they should exhort one another (3:12f). None should fail to enter promised rest as their hardhearted forefathers had under Moses (4:1f). Having learned of the new covenant with its new mediator, high priest, and benefits, to turn back would be unforgivable, willful apostasy (6:16). They needed mutual encouragement to hold on to their confession because the day of God’s judgment against Jerusalem and national Israel was approaching (10:23f). That discipline of God should not become a cause of stumbling for them. By it God was to shake heaven and earth like he did at Sinai to remove the shaken nationalism of Israel and to confirm the spiritual kingdom which cannot be shaken (Ch. 12).

The day approaching was the Lord’s day, but not the first day of the week. It was the time of the coming of the Lord in vengeance upon the Jews for their rejection of Jesus. John was transported into that epoch in the Spirit by vision (Rev. 1:10) to see in panorama God’s visitation. God has no holy days now.

By this brief review we can see how the disciples would need the confirmation, support, and encouragement of each other. So the writer is urging them to have support gatherings. He is not commanding meetings for routine ceremonial worship. Whether those gatherings were to be formal or informal was of no concern. No format is offered. A specific day of the week, being inconsequential, is not mentioned. Frequency and length of such gatherings is left to their discretion. Whether those gatherings were to include all disciples in an area or only one’s closer neighbors and friends is given no hint. We have to inject into the passage our modern concepts in order to say that the writer had regular, organized, systematic, ritualistic assemblies on the first day of each week under consideration. There is no command, example, or inference for such a pattern. Rather than warning against forsaking ritualistic services, he is exhorting the believers not to forsake each other in their times of trial!

Rather than the body being made a mediator, its members were to be intercessors. The assemblies were not to become the route to heaven but way stations along the route.

Let us look at Hebrews 10:23-25 again: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (RSV).

This exhortation is not characterized by specifics of a law. It cannot be fulfilled by adopting our own specifics and then enslaving others to them. Lawful demands may be met without producing love, edification, and encouragement — a point amply demonstrated in our congregations. This is not the inauguration of a scorecard system of righteousness. These associations were not to prove faithfulness but to encourage faithfulness.

God knows that we all need others of like mind and he encourages us not to neglect interactive meetings. But my faithfulness is not altogether dependent upon the support gained in assemblies. Gatherings for mutual edification were much more needed in their day when individuals did not have Bibles, printed materials, mail, telephone, radio, television, tapes, and videos dealing with our needs. They had to depend mostly on person-to-person interaction.

Although I continue to be a part of ritualistic assemblies, the encouragement that I get from them is often minimal, for they tend to begin at 10:00 o’clock sharp and end at 11:00 o’clock dull! I gain more uplift from the “hello-ship” with others than from the routine. But the encouraging letters and calls that I receive from across the country and other countries sustain me more than the formal assemblies. The purpose is accomplished; the means by which it is satisfied is of less importance.

Do you think that I am overplaying our misdirection, or that we have outgrown it? A few weeks ago I read this in a church bulletin: “Sister Hayes was a faithful Christian here for many years until ill health prevented her from attending services.” How horrible! Yes, we all need association with other disciples; however, to miss does not mean to forsake! And in the case of this poor woman, any forsaking would be on the part of her fellow disciples who abandoned her when she needed their encouragement, the very attention which our text was intended to foster.

It is proper to review the New Testament writings and see how little attention is given to assemblies other than to correct abuses in them. There is no command for us to assemble. But in our penchant for law, we have tried to make this persuasive exhortation of our text into a law. We tend to revise the meanings of passages to accommodate centuries of tradition. The scriptures emphasize our personal relationship to God in Christ with his Spirit ruling in our hearts and working through us.

There is only one mention of the church meeting on the first day of the week, and there is no indication that it was a regular practice before or after Paul’s visit there (Acts 20:7). They met to break bread — an idiom meaning to eat a meal. Evidently, the fellowship meal was a common setting for their mutual edification in early times. There is no proof that this breaking of bread was participation in the Lord’s Supper. And besides, it was Monday morning when they broke it. We have built too big a case on an uncertain premise. Any conclusion based upon an unproved premise is invalid.

By this essay I am not denying the value in regular assemblies. I am exhorting us to give proper purpose, direction, and emphasis to them and to recognize the limited, legalistic concept that we developed about them. There is nothing that is done in formal assemblies, however, that cannot be done with others at home or where two or three are assembled in his name.

Accepting that our text with its context sets forth a principle to guide us today, we recognize our need to be involved for the common good. We will enjoy being with those of like faith and hope. We will thrive on mutual encouragement. We will leave those supportive sessions invigorated in faith and more fervent in love for each other. Those periods of nonjudgmental interaction will promote an awareness of equality and the common nature of all disciples. No one will have to beg us to return. It will not be a matter of assembling in order to exhort us to assemble the next time to fulfill a duty. What a sad thing when this happens!

But where do we find such a setting? Improvement is being seen in some congregations, but most of our assemblies are still structured, formalized, and ritualized into a spectator experience where the individual’s painful need at the time may not be addressed even remotely. I am convinced that if we will revise our whole design for assemblies so as to meet the individual needs, we will not have to intimidate disciples in order to assure their return. This would call for meeting customary “whole church come together” at one time concept and practice. It might even prove the professional pulpiteer to be both unnecessary, anachronistic, and burdensome.

Before you consign me irrevocably to the nether regions for trifling with our traditional proof- text and practices, please look at it and them with a renewed awareness and honesty. And you may profit by pondering this observation of Jeroslav Pelikan: “Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.”

ACTS 20:7 ONE MORE TIME

In my other books I have challenged some of our teachings based on interpretations of Acts 20:7. It may serve a good purpose for me to treat more fully this text which has been related to the Lord’s Supper at this time.

Why would this text deserve such attention? With our people in the Church of Christ, it has served as a proof-text for several suppositions. It has been used to substantiate claims that we are commanded to partake of the Lord’s Supper each and every Sunday and exclusively upon that first day of the week. This contention and practice has been one of our identifying marks. The related conviction has emboldened our people to reject and condemn those who vary from it.

As you will discern from this treatise, I am emphasizing the purpose and importance of the Communion rather than disparaging it. I want to encourage a richer meaning in participation than is felt in keeping a commanded law or ritual.

Neither Jesus nor any inspired writer prescribed the day or frequency for this memorial observance. In their effort to be correct in every ritualistic detail, sincere disciples have sought to define the required procedures with exactness through command, example, and inference. Let us reconsider the whole matter together now.

As Paul started back to Jerusalem, he determined to go through Macedonia. Seven of the brothers accompanying him went ahead and waited for him at Troas. After the days of Unleavened Bread, Paul came to Troas where he stayed for seven days, hastening to be at Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost.

Now for our text: “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the morrow; and he prolonged his speech until midnight. There were many lights in the upper chamber where we were gathered. And a young man named Eutychus was sitting in the window. He sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer; and being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. But Paul went down and bent over him, and embracing him said, ‘Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.’ And when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed.”

How could this passage come to have importance in relation to the Lord’s Supper? Without some coaching, the casual reader would see no connection since the communion is not mentioned. But as our people turned toward legalism, they looked to Acts 2:42 as a pattern for four of our “five acts of worship” for our Sunday assemblies. In this passage it is stated that the Jerusalem disciples “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers,” though neither the first day of the week nor formal assemblies are mentioned there. Our people interpreted this “breaking of bread” to be the Lord’s Supper in spite of the third sentence to follow stating, “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts” (Acts 2:46).

The first breaking of bread has been interpreted as being Communion and the second as eating food. To interpret the second mention as Communion would have made the Supper proper on any day of the week. That would have destroyed the pattern for Sunday assemblies. But Acts 2:42 does not mention a time for partaking. So those who would establish a pattern grasped Acts 20:7, which connects the breaking of bread and the first day of the week, to “prove” a certain time that neither Jesus nor any inspired writer legislated.

Looking For A Pattern

If we were under a legal code, then we could rightly look for patterns of technical correctness. If we varied from the patterns, then restoration would be demanded. The pioneers of our movement accepted the New Covenant scriptures as our guide but not as a legal code. In time those of the Stone-Campbell heritage became misdirected into being legalists, patternists, and restorationists. Such a course is divisive by nature, for people cannot agree on what the supposed law requires, when its pattern is violated, and when it is restored properly.

In Acts 20:7 we have found the only mentioned connection of the first day of the week and the breaking of bread. But does to break bread mean to participate in the Communion? There is no proof that it does. The round, flat loaf of bread of the Jews was not cut, but it was broken or torn apart. Breaking bread became an idiom or expression meaning to eat a meal or to eat food. Its use with that meaning is unquestioned (See: Matt. 14:19; 15:36; 26:26; Mark 6:41; 8:6,19; 14:22; Luke 9:16; 22:19; 24:30).

“Now as they were eating (the Passover meal: CH), Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body’” (Mt. 26:26. See similar references listed above). “The bread which we break” and “he broke it” (1 Cor. 10:16; 11:24) relate to the Lord’s Supper, but they are not used as idioms meaning to eat the Lord’s Supper.

There is no proof that the communion is meant by to break bread in Acts 20:7. It can only be an assumption. It does seem more reasonable to assume that they would delay the Communion rather than a fellowship meal until the wee hours of the morning. Any conclusion based upon an unproven premise is invalid. God did not bind on us regulations derived from inconclusive reasoning.

Now, after belaboring that point, we will grant for argument’s sake that Acts 20:7 does refer to the Lord’s Supper. We will see whether it fits the pattern and proves the contentions.

A Precedent?

The text states that the disciples met on the first day of the week at Troas to break bread. It does not indicate that they had been doing that previously or that they continued the practice afterward. If Luke had indicated that he recorded that incident as an example for us to follow, of course, we would be eager to look for what was exemplified. Luke recorded a historical account. Incidental details of it are not examples unless a command or principle is involved. For instance, the jailer’s baptism is not a “binding example” of baptism. The authority for it is in Jesus’ command rather than the jailer’s immersion.

Some make an example of Paul’s travel schedule, asserting that he arranged it to permit his meeting with the group on the first day of the week. But they do not make an example of his staying in Macedonia until after the days of Unleavened Bread or his hastening to Jerusalem for the Passover.

A historical detail may reveal an acceptable way a thing may be done but not necessarily the only way. For instance, Paul traveled by land and sea, but no one would think that his example would exclude air travel today.

If we are inclined to conjecture as to why Luke recorded the Troas incident, it is more reasonable to conclude that it was in order to tell us of Paul’s greatest miracle, the restoring of life to Eutychus. But we have overlooked the more obvious purpose in our search for proof of an unwarranted contention.

Someone may be wishing to remind me that, just as “remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” included every Sabbath, so the mention of the first day of the week meant every first day. I taught that also for many years, having inherited the illogical argument as the rest of us did. It is true that as each Sabbath came, it would be included in the command and should be kept holy. But “on the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread” indicates only one specific occasion. Suppose that I should tell you, “On the Fourth of July when the family gathered at my parents’ home to have a reunion, Dad had a heart attack.” Would you conclude that identical events had occurred during each previous year or that they continued each year after that? Certainly not! The account of the gathering at Troas offers no indication that they had been doing it previous to the coming of this special guest. And there is no command or inference that such meetings were to be continued weekly thereafter.

Still granting that they met to commune, they did not do it at Troas on the first day of the week! Paul continued his speech until midnight when he was interrupted by Eutychus’ fall. Then in the early morning they broke bread. That puts the communion on Monday!

Contenders argue that they participated in the Lord’s Supper earlier in the evening and that the breaking of bread after midnight was a fellowship meal! That is an assumption in direct contradiction of what is written. It says they met to break bread and then tells when they broke it. Why reject the plain revelation in order to uphold a presupposition?

If they observed Jewish time in Troas, since the first day would begin on Saturday evening, it would still be the first day of the week after midnight. That would sanction their intention of participation on Saturday night. Would that be acceptable?

But they were following Roman (and our) time with the day beginning and ending at midnight. How do we know that? Our text says Paul was “intending to depart on the morrow.” That would be Monday. After the meal and the conversation until daybreak, Paul departed. So his departure “on the morrow” was on Monday. If the Jewish time was observed, it would still have been the first day of the week, not the morrow. So, granting that this breaking of bread was the Lord’s Supper, we have approval of participation on Monday! There is no escape from that conclusion, as though we should be seeking escapes.

Five Possibilities

In searching for a specified time for participation in the Communion, I find only five possibilities in the Scriptures.

  1. The first day of the week is supported by Acts 20:7, as we have just discussed.
  2. Jesus gave us an approved example of midweek evening participation by his inaugurating it on a Thursday evening.
  3. Jesus initiated the Supper during a Passover meal. As often as they observed the Passover, which was annually, they remembered the passing over of the Lord in sparing the firstborn and their escape from Egypt. In giving the cup, Jesus urged, “‘Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:25f). How would the apostles interpret as often? Relating it to the Passover that they were observing, they would likely understand it to be annually. Is that not obvious?
  4. In the first church they were breaking bread day by day in their homes along with taking of food with glad and generous hearts (Acts 2:46). The breaking of bread and partaking of food may mean the same thing, but again, they may not.
  5. The time and frequency of participation in the Lord’s Supper were not ordered or suggested by Jesus or inspired writers. One short sentence from one of them would have defined the matter forever. It was a matter of indifference to them. These decisions were left to the judgment of disciples in their different circumstances.

This fifth possibility is abhorrent to the legalist who feels that his right standing before God is attained by correctness of detailed procedures. But this answer is in true harmony with the aims and purposes of the Communion. The Supper is intended to keep the atonement by which we are saved ever fresh in our minds. It is a remembrance of his sacrifice and of his saving us in his one body. Those meanings are reinforced by taking tangible bread and wine representing the body and blood in a ritual ceremony with others. It is a participation, or sharing, in Christ with fellow disciples. It is a declaration that he is coming again.

What possible advantage could a certain time of day or day of the week offer in fulfilling those purposes? Disciples are free to decide whether the communion serves their purpose best weekly, daily, monthly, annually, or at chosen times on no set schedule. It is the purpose and benefit rather than a supposed law that should govern our participation.

Although our sincere people in the Church of Christ have loudly denounced others for their observance of special days, we have ignored the plain fact that we were demanding that the first day of the week be given special observance.

Taken from the chapter titled “Thursday Is The Lord’s Day Too!” and those immediately following.

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Love, Isolation, and Violent Intervention, FR 243

By Cecil Hook

The youth of every generation tend to be idealistic. That is commendable for they call for a re-evaluation of accepted standards of conduct. They often envision a peaceful world in which both individuals and nations may coexist without strife and war. So it is only to be expected that many young persons especially are conscientiously opposed to war. For Christians, the problem of loving all others and warring against them is formidable.

The atrocities of September 11, 2001 have unexpectedly and forcefully raised this disturbing issue again. Can we be doves foregoing self-protection while practicing peaceful appeasement? Or must we be hawks employing force to protect society?

Without question, the greatest commandment and fulfillment in life is to love God and one another. All we have to do to have an idealistic society is to love one another. It is that simple, yet it is most complex. It would be simple if everyone loved, but everyone has never reached that state in even one city or society. There are always some evil ones who are disrespectful and destructive.

Loving everyone is not just having a warm feeling about them while we remain isolated from them and ignore the injustices many of them may be suffering. Love must be positive and aggressive. Love is the Great Commandment and the Golden Rule tells us how that love is to be demonstrated. “So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets” (Matt 7:12).

Here I will enlarge on an illustration I have used before. Let us imagine a beautiful, isolated, uninhabited island that becomes open for homesteading. A hundred families are apportioned land according to the size of each household. Several of the family groups, including yours, have thirty members each, but other households are much fewer in number — one old man alone, two younger widows, a widow and four children, five teenagers whose parents are dead, and other households of varying description.

In planning this new community, all agreed to prohibit guns and weapons of any sort so they could live together in peace. It is an ideal arrangement and all goes smoothly — for a while.

One of the larger families, however, begins to force the orphaned teenagers to work its fields each morning. Your family is disturbed, but that is really none of your business. You remind the teenagers that, when forced to go a mile, they should go the second mile as Jesus taught. So they should offer to work afternoons free also. And when they steal chickens from the old man, he should offer them his cattle also.

They seize the land of an elderly couple and drive them off their property. You sympathize, but advise them that Jesus taught, “Do not resist him who is evil.”

Men from one large family frequently force themselves on the two young widows who are helpless to repel their sexual abuse. Your heart goes out to them, but you cannot afford to become entangled in the affairs of others. You only tell them that they should “turn the other cheek” by inviting the men back at any time. (Read Jesus’ teaching in Matt 5:38-48.)

The offenses grow in frequency and in ruthlessness. All these helpless victims cry out to you for help. Members of other larger families come to you suggesting that you all band together to stop the aggressive injustices. A committee is formed and appointed to negotiate with the offending group. You urge them to stop their atrocities, but they only scorn the committee and increase their lawless tyranny. You negotiate again and again. They only grow more defiant and violent.

Now, what are you going to do? Can a Christian be an isolationist in the brotherhood of humanity? Are Christians denied self-defense against atrocious injustices committed against them? When love and negotiation fail, are we left as hapless victims of ruthless, evil men who ignore any intervention except greater force than they have?

You may contend as I did in my youthful idealism with misled conscience. I said that it would be a sin for me to use force against the offenders but that you should call the police or let the army take care of it. Well, that was nice! It would be a sin for me to intervene with violence or force but it is fine for me to call on others to sin for me! I even pay them by taxes to sin for me! I cannot be a policeman or soldier but I can support them by taxes and approve of their giving me protection. Isn’t that a bit … well, I will let you supply your own word there for you may not like mine.

If someone is attacking my family, I may not have time to call the police. If not, I have the right to protect my family and myself. I am not required to love the attacker more than my own family. Neither God nor civil governments demand that.

Let the association illustrated above also represent nations instead of families and individuals. Can a moral nation isolate itself from injustices among the nations of our world? Does a society have the right of self-protection? Who can always be a dove and never a hawk?

“If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all” (Rom. 12:18). Peace in a society cannot be enjoyed unilaterally. Paul recognized that. Peace is bilateral.

Let me add a few words to put Jesus’ teaching in perspective. Yes, he declared, “My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews…” (John 18:36). He was speaking of being rescued from the cross. He was living in an earthly kingdom, the kingdom of Israel. In Matthew 23, we have the expression of his love and mourning for his people. He warned of the destruction that would be brought on them as a nation for their rejection. The great tribulation and destruction would come upon them about forty years later when he returned in the events surrounding AD 70 described in Chapter 24. So the love of Jesus allowed for severe, violent retribution for evil.

Due to my mother’s strong conviction and teaching, I developed the conviction that a disciple of Jesus would be totally out of line in serving in the military. So as the clouds of war gathered and men were required to register for the draft, on October 16, 1940, while I was a ministerial student in Abilene Christian College, I registered as a conscientious objector. I was deferred as a minister; so my objection was never made a point of contest.

As the years passed and I gained more maturity of insight into the Scriptures, I made a more thorough study. This time I did not just look for passages defending my objections, but I looked for a harmony of teaching. So I wrote what I think (immodestly) is a study from which any inquiring person may profit greatly.

That treatise, “The Right of Self-Protection,” is Chapter 21 in my book, Free To Speak. You may access it at my web site or order the book from me for $6.50 postpaid. The illustration used above is revised from Chapter 26 of that book and FR 93. []

(Cecil Hook, December 2004)

Talkin’ Texas: Some of Arkansas is loved for its mountain beauty. Amarillo, Texas, sitting in an expanse of the High Plains at 3,676 feet is 923 feet higher than the highest point in Arkansas, which is 2,753 feet.

Posted in FR 200-300 | Leave a comment

You Cannot Remit Sins by Baptizing, FR 241

By Cecil Hook

This could be the most startling thing you have read lately unless you read FR 101 written three years ago. This will be a revision of that essay. Last week I contended that, if one is baptized in order to do the will of Christ, Christ will fulfill all the purposes of baptism whether that person understands them properly or not. Now I am telling you that you cannot baptize another person for the remission of his/her sins.

In witnessing many baptisms I have observed that most of the men doing the baptizing use some ritualistic words that include “I baptize you … . for the remission of your sins.” I do not attempt to baptize persons for the remission of their sins. Do you say, “Most emphatically, YES!”? Where do you find instructions for doing that? Neither Jesus nor his apostles taught you or anybody else to do it!

As though I have not read, heard, and repeated Acts 2:38 about 13 million times (some margin for error) in my 86 years, you probably want to tell me that Peter commanded convicted, believing sinners, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission / forgiveness of your sins.” (Peter even added, “and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit,” which we have commonly omitted in the ritual.) See, it still says “for the remission of sins” right there in black and white.

Will you look with me to see what Peter did not say? He did not say, “Repent, and let one of us baptize you for the forgiveness / remission of your sins.” The apostles did not claim power or authority to baptize sinners for the remission of sins. “Picky, picky,” you say? This is not just a matter of semantics. There is an important difference. THE PURPOSE OF THE ACTION MUST BE IN THE MIND OF THE ONE BEING BAPTIZED RATHER THAN IN THE ONE DOING THE BAPTIZING.

If you can baptize persons for the remission of sins, we might work out a fantastic deal. We could send you to most any Third World country and offer the natives $5.00 each to allow you to baptize them. We could visualize an unending line of people waiting for you to baptize them. What a harvest of souls!

You are repulsed by that suggestion because you know that you cannot baptize a person for remission of sins. You can only cooperate with those who wish to have the purpose of baptism fulfilled through their accepting action. Knowing this, why do you continue to tell people that you are baptizing them for the remission of their sins in the ritual?

This all reflects back to the sacramental concept of rituals performed by an “authorized” person through which the one baptized receives grace. It was conceived in the early centuries. The infant was thought to be born with guilt of the sin of Adam; so a priest performed a ritual called baptism for the remission of the infant’s sin. It was accomplished without the knowledge, consent, or belief of the one supposedly receiving the remission of the inherited sin. The ritual was performed based upon the knowledge, consent, and belief of the parent or sponsor who acted as a proxy. The consent of the baptized infant was confirmed after the fact when it reached the age of understanding. The concept was also extended to believing, consenting adults who were to receive forgiveness through a cleric authorized to perform the sacramental ritual.

Since you have no such power, is it appropriate for you to indicate that you are exercising such capability in your baptismal ceremony?

Generally, our people have judged and rejected the baptism of those coming from other denominations even though the individuals claimed that they were baptized for the remission of sins. We argued that they were not baptized for the forgiveness of sins because the preacher who baptized them did not believe that baptism was for the remission of sins. Whose belief determines the validity of baptism — that of the person doing the immersing or of that of the one being immersed? If it depends upon the one who performs the ritual, we are all in jeopardy, for the person who immersed us just might have been misinformed or hypocritical.

Perhaps you agree that what I am stating is technically correct but that it is good to include “for the remission of sins” in the ceremony as a teaching benefit for those present. But how can you justify teaching something which is not true?

Others may contend that the purpose should be stated in the ritual so the one being baptized will always remember the purpose for his or her baptism. Remember whose purpose – his/hers or the immerser’s? The candidate should be taught to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins beforehand as a motive for being immersed. Because of the tension and distraction of the moment, I doubt that many persons could tell you later what the preacher said in the ceremony. For that reason, as we approached the ceremony, I usually calmly reminded the candidates of their purpose.

For most of my career, I used some simple wording as, “Upon the confession of your faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and in obedience to his command, I baptize you into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” That’s what Jesus told his apostles to do based on his authority (Matt. 28:19).

In the last congregation in which I served, however, an elder took me to task for not including “for the remission of sins.” I explained to him the points I have made in this essay. He was not convinced. He insisted that I follow his concept. What could I do?

After that, I still did not say, “I baptize you — for the remission of sins.” I changed the focus from “I’ to “you,” like “You are now being baptized — in order that you may be forgiven your sins and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Or, “You are now being baptized as an expression of your belief in Jesus and his promise to forgive your sins and give you the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Yet such a ceremonial statement hardly replaces the need for the previous teaching and understanding of the one being baptized.

Here is another matter for consideration by you who believe in “the law of silence,” that is, that when a thing is specified, all things not specified are excluded. According to that rule, when you specify “for the remission of sins,” you exclude all other purposes that we listed in FR 240, even the reception of the gift of God’s own Spirit in us! Can’t you see how lop-sided our contentions have made us? Are you serious-minded enough to begin to make correction?

Sometimes we can be so “right” that we are wrong! Technical points can be emphasized so as to distort the truth. If, however, we must have a correct understanding of everything about baptism in order for it to be valid, there is little hope for any of us. Even so, that gives no license for us to continue to teach and practice what we know is incorrect. Spiritual growth and maturity are enhanced by more accurate understanding.

(Cecil Hook, December 2004) []

Talkin’ Texas: Dr Pepper was invented in Waco, Texas in 1885. There is no period after “Dr” in Dr Pepper.

Posted in FR 200-300 | Leave a comment

False Teacher and False Teachings, FR 38

By Cecil Hook

I write out instructions for you to turn right off 173rd Avenue on to 170th Drive in order to get to my house. You get to 170th Drive and learn that it does not go right, but only left. Do you mutter contemptuously, “That guy deceived me by giving me false instructions; he is a false guide; he does not want me to visit him”? More likely, perhaps with some disparagement of my age, you will say, “Cecil’s senility is showing! In his confusion he gave me incorrect directions.”

In my earlier days, I taught that it was wrong for a woman to cut her hair. I based that on Paul’s writings in 1 Corinthians 11. Later, I recognized my error in forcing such an interpretation. Paul was not making a universal rule about hair styles. In retrospect, was I giving a false teaching? Was I a false teacher? Absolutely not!

The primary meaning of the word false is “not genuine, intentionally untrue, adjusted or made so as to deceive.” There is whale of a difference between an incorrect teaching and a false teaching, and between a mistaken teacher and a false teacher!

However, too often we have ignored that whale – mainly because we have been evil in our attitude. Sometimes we have been so eager to castigate others who differ that we have judged their motives contemptuously, accusing them of being deceitful teachers whose intentions are to mislead. But when we ourselves are mistaken on a teaching, that is a horse of a different color. A incorrect teaching done by a Baptist or Presbyterian is so much more damning than one taught by a teacher in the Church of Christ!

Every one of you who has spent thirty minutes teaching the Bible has taught something incorrectly! That is a bold assertion that I cannot prove, but I think that few of you will disagree. Were you a deceitful teacher? Or a mistaken teacher?

If I brand others who teach misconceptions as being false teachers, then I am implying that I do not teach any misconceptions. How nice a little conceit can make me feel!

Many times I have heard preachers quote a series of prooftexts to support an erroneous point. I might have to admit to that myself. If the preacher did such a thing, knowing that his argument was invalid, he was intentionally manipulating the Scriptures to deceive. He would be a false teacher.

In earlier years in my simplicity and ignorance (not outgrown yet!), I repeated arguments that I had inherited in our tradition. I taught that such things as midweek participation in the communion or taking a midweek collection or the singing of solos in our assembly were failures to “abide in the doctrine of Christ” that John warned against (2 John v. 7-11) and also made one accursed for preaching “another gospel” about which Paul warned us (Gal. 1:6-9). Later, I realized that the doctrine John warned about was the denial that Jesus had come in the flesh (v. 7), and Paul was condemning those who were claiming justification by keeping the Law of Moses (5:4). My pet issues had not been invented when John and Paul wrote; so they were addressed neither by command or principle.

After having learned of my ignorance in perverting those passages, if I had continued to use them in that manner, I would have been dishonest. I would have been using those texts deliberately to deceive others in “proving” my points. I would have become a false (deceiving) teacher turning passages of Scripture into false teaching (adjusted or made so as to deceive). The principle involved here is wide in its application.

By the frequency of our use of “false teachers,” one might get the idea that it is a favorite term of inspired writers. However, it is used only one time (2 Peter 2:1). And all those “false teachings” – well, my concordance lists not one reference to that term which we have thrown about so loosely. Talk about speaking where the Bible speaks!

The Scriptures offer numerous cautions about those who would intentionally teach error in order to build their cases, but those persons were people of evil intention, not some fellows from the cotton patch like me, or from the university like you, who were earnestly trying to teach God’s word.

The Scriptures speak of false prophets, false brethren, false Christs, and false apostles. They were not false necessarily because of what they were teaching but because of the role or capacity they were claiming or usurping. These were false men! Their intentions were to deceive. Evidently, fellows like that have not all vanished from the earth. Let’s be sure we do not perpetuate their tribe by our misleading use of those terms which reflect our misconceptions and poor attitudes…

(More on this subject is in my first book, Free In Christ, Chapter 10.) []

Hook’s Points

Your loving encouragement and prayers cheer us on. Our outreach continues to expand as my energies and mental concentration diminish. You who might claim to be as strong at 80 as you were at 60 have my sympathy for growing senile at such an early age! My taking over Lea’s household work makes me appreciate her work through the years even more. I am thankful that I am able to do it now.

I eagerly read all the personal notes you send us, but I cannot read all the essays, books, periodicals, and impersonal and forwarded email that you send. Neither do I find time to check out all the web pages that I am invited to inspect, nor to respond at length to the questions you send. I am honored that you think to share these things. It is not due to lack of interest that I fail to respond. Thank you for caring and understanding.

$4,362.09 is in the operating fund (June 30) due to your unsolicited donations. You never let us worry about expenses. Your gifts to the ministry enable us and confirm our mission. There is another aspect that is invaluable to me. It enables me write and publish my thoughts, outlandish and foolhardy as they may be, without having to gain permission of a congregation, committee, or board of any kind. If permission from any such body had been necessary, I feel sure I would never have gotten a book or newsletter published! Your gift is a gift of liberty to me, and we trust that it is liberating to others. We trust that God is using us as we work together.

My computer no longer grinds and groans as it functions at a sick snail’s pace. Mike Lafferty of our congregation and Paul Prince (Lea’s favorite son-in-law J) upgraded it to Windows98. Now it blinks out functions. Some new parts were paid out of the operating fund. Thanks to all.

Freedom’s Ring is free for the asking. If you receive it and don’t read it, please let us know so we can remove your name. We don’t offer a slick-paper publication with white space, fancy fonts, insets, icons, and shadow-printing to lure your attention. Those don’t help the one searching for information. They are not used on the stock market pages, but you go there for information anyway.

We are having to change servers. Vic Phares is handling all that technical stuff that extends our outreach. He is a tireless worker. There will be some added cost.

The Telegu version of Free In Christ, after some delay, is now ready for free distribution. A quality job. The project was headed by Dr. J.B.M. Prasad. We thank God for it and trust him to make some use of the 1000 books among the seventy million people who speak Telegu in India.

Our dear brother, Dr. Leroy Garrett, delivered the commencement address for Emmanuel School of Religion in Johnson City, Tennessee. At that time he was awarded their James A. Garfield Award “For Noteworthy Service To The Church.” He is the first from the Churches of Christ to receive it from this graduate school of theology associated with the Christian Churches.

Leroy has also been invited to participate in the ACU Lectureship in 2000. It is good that, after a lifetime of being on the cutting edge of redirection and bearing all the rejection incumbent upon a reformer, he is receiving this bit of public acceptance from “our people.” His writings have influenced many preachers, pew people; and professors who have been too cautious to give him credit.

Youth Minister Opening! Since Aaron left, about 55 teens here look forward to a new leader. Aaron was deeply spiritual, creative, innovative, energetic, a communicator, self-motivated, and married. If that describes you and you are interested, call Judy Jones at 503-646-2241.

Not All That Simple(Continued)
4. Refining Our Faith

The heavy machinery roars and the crush of rock is thunderous. This process is followed by application of intense heat. Surely, drastic measures are being taken to destroy something.

Actually, that is not the case, however. This is part of the process of producing delicate necklaces, brooches of intricate filigree, and artfully engraved jewelry of gold. Some gold has been found in nugget form needing little refinement, but generally it is not all that simple.

Although they know they do not have all the answers, some disciples seem comfortable and content with their limited understanding. They have “picked up” a few nuggets of faith. Their present set of beliefs offers refuge from the discomfort of facing new ideas and change. They are in fear of any questions or newly found knowledge that creates uneasiness.

Simple, trusting faith – how appealing! There is a difference, however, in simple and simplistic. We may ask, for example, is it simple or simplistic to believe that the sun circles a 6000 year old, flat, four-cornered earth with God on a throne in a specific place just above one’s particular location on earth from which heaven is up and hell is down (all of which can be “proved” by Biblical prooftexts)? If I hold on to such beliefs, that is my prerogative, even though I tend to freeze progress of learning of both religion and science by my limiting attitude. Since our relationship with God is not determined by a correct understanding of these things, I err when I condition fellowship upon conformity to my beliefs in such matters.

A more convincing and rewarding course is that of continual search for, and understanding of, previously unrecognized truth. That path holds no fear of what will be learned and its traveler is ready to initiate changes made necessary by better understanding. Faith is refined by questions – even questions expressing doubt. There is more faith in honest doubt than in holding on to the time-worn creeds, assumptions, and “cut and dried” explanations of men.

Valid faith which rises above suppositions and wishful thinking must be based upon truth. The author of the following quotation is unknown to me. I wish that I could claim credit for it but I am just pleased to copy it: “To love truth sincerely means to pursue it with an earnest, conscientious, unflagging zeal. It means to be prepared to follow the light of evidence even to the most unwelcome conclusions, to labor earnestly to emancipate the mind from early prejudices, to resist the current of desires and the refracting influence of the passions, to proportion on all occasions conviction to evidence, and to be ready, if need be, to exchange the calm of assurance for all the suffering of a perplexed and disturbed mind. To do this is very difficult and very painful, but it is clearly involved in the notion of earnest love of truth.”

Such an attitude may call for the crushing, pulverizing, and application of the intense heat of refinement to the ore of our learning over and over, not in an effort to destroy faith, but in order to refine it. When the disciples pled of Jesus, “Increase our faith” (Lk 17:5), they were expressing this attitude not knowing what it might cost them. Tests of faith, even those of persecution and various distresses, help to cast out the dross. Peter told disciples, “…you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:6f).

Your response to my “Not All That Simple” series has been confirming though I would expect that some of you are disagreeing privately. If you are upset by them, you may “unsubscribe” as one concerned woman did. I don’t want to ruin your day.

There is rightful concern for the “weak” brother. I have reason to suspect that some who are afraid that that my writings will offend the weak brother may be the weak ones themselves. I don’t want to weaken your faith. So far, even after my “Six Days of Creation” in Free To Speak and “The Great Belly-Button Controversy” in Freedom’s Ring, Vol. 1, No. 9, almost all response from you has been affirmative. I have heard of no weak brother losing his faith. On the contrary, I have received response more like the one below from Larry Amyett, Jr. <so2001@swbell.net>.

“Thank you for your article “Adam and Eve in Eden.” I’ve long taken the Genesis Story as allegorical even though I was raised to take it literally. I especially appreciate your statements ‘No scientific theory should be made into a necessary tenet of faith.’ And later ‘Whatever your conviction is, live by it, but don’t reject your sincere brother whose convictions differ from yours.’

When I was a child I was told that accepting Scientific Creationism was a requirement and that it was impossible to be a Christian and accept evolution at the same time. So once I saw sufficient evidence for evolution to convince me it was factual (I’ve always had an intense interest in science and technology) I abandoned my faith. Can you believe I was just 14 years old at the time! Looking back I wish I had my faith. A teenage boy certainly needs the Lord with all of the challenges and temptations presented against him.

I finally returned to the Lord, thanks to my wife, while we were in college. Her faith was the door by which the Holy Spirit was able to reenter my life. Through her our blessed Shepherd was able to bring me back safely into the fold.

Your writings are a comfort and a blessing to me, Brother Hook. I’m so glad every time I receive a Freedom’s Ring newsletter from you. It really brightens my day and gladdens me.”

Well-meaning people, by binding their scientific beliefs on this boy, put an unnecessary obstacle in his course causing him to stumble. In our simplistic approach it has been difficult for us to see the truth of that, and only the Lord knows how many we have driven away because of it. Trying to shield our children and converts from hard questions which they will surely confront later concerning this and other subjects is an evidence of fear.

On a radio broadcast nearly fifty years ago, I spoke for thirty minutes demanding that a person could not believe evolution and the Bible, and hence, could not be a Christian while claiming to believe both. At the conclusion of my message the announcer motioned for me to come into the control room. Expressing some perplexity about my assertions, he confidently claimed,, “I believe in evolution and the Bible and I am a Christian.” What could I answer? Could I tell him it was impossible? I learned a sobering and humbling lesson that morning as the roles of teacher and learner were reversed! He was not playing with the same hand of theological cards that my teaching, training, and tradition had dealt me. I was confused as to which suit was trumps.

While living in that city, there was a young man in our congregation who confided in me that he believed in evolution. His “weak faith” brought him to every service of the church even though he lived fifty miles away! Through the years he has served diligently as a teacher and an elder. Do you still say that is impossible? What I am saying here is far wider in its application than just to the questions I raised about Adam and Eve in the Genesis account.

When we pose questions that shake our current explanations, we sometimes are warned that “The secret things belong to the Lord our God; but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children for ever…” (Deut. 29:29). Meaning: If I don’t already understand and agree, it is one of the “secret things” to be avoided! But why be afraid to restudy the things that are revealed? Is not pursuit of knowledge commendable?

We are not too timid about making explanations that God did not reveal. In the Genesis account, for instance, it is commonly explained that Adam and Eve were given skins to cover their nakedness because blood had to be shed for their sin, and that Abel’s sacrifice was acceptable because it was a blood offering. Sounds good! A neat explanation! But where did you learn that? Such an explanation has not been revealed! Those are suppositions! However, God has revealed why he accepted Abel’s sacrifice while rejecting Cain’s. Please read Chapter 4 of Free As Sons where I have dealt with the revealed answer.

Suppositions and explanations which differ from mine are proud displays of treacherous human wisdom. Mine are wise conclusions discreetly drawn from “necessary inferences!” (L).

No, it isn’t all that simple! Let’s keep the refining and polishing process going. Pondering questions whose answers might have escaped us should be no cause for rejecting evidences which we cannot deny.

What purpose has led me to state these things which do not put a writer on the most favored list? My aim is not to convince you of a certain process and time period God used in making us. The trump suit is the Gospel of which concepts of creation are not a part.

My aim is to emphasize that other sincere believers may differ from you in their studied conclusions and that either they or you who make those conclusions a test of fellowship are at fault. []

The Bible Code

“For three thousand years a code in the Bible has remained hidden. Now it has been unlocked by computer – and it may reveal our future. The events that happened thousands of years after the Bible was written – World War II, the Moon landing, Watergate, both Kennedy assassinations, the election of Bill Clinton, the Oklahoma City bombing – all were foretold in the code.”

In those words we are introduced to The Bible Code, a 265 page book published in 1998 by Michael Drosnin, a former reporter at the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal. Using a computer, it proposes to lay out the Hebrew text of the Bible in block form similar to a cross-word puzzle and then to find messages revealed in “equidistant letter sequences.” The coded messages are laid out horizontally, vertically, or diagonally, often crossing one another.

A long-time partner in this ministry, Bob Gleaves, of Brentwood, Tennessee, bought a copy for me and asked for my opinion of it. Then he suggested that I express my thoughts in Freedom’s Ring. The “evidences” presented are based on computers, the Hebrew language, and mathematical sequences of Hebrew characters in which I claim no expertise at all. So I can neither prove nor disprove the startling claims Drosnin makes.

Favorable review of The Bible Code has been given by numerous well-known newspapers and journals. Noted mathematicians have added their verification. All this tends to be intimidating evidence of the credibility of the material.

If the claims made by Drosnin are true, they only affirm the truth of the Scriptures being God’s message. That would be a definite plus even though we have no answer as to how to react to the predictions other than to wait to see if they all happen. On the other hand, if we believe he is presenting presently revealed truth and the time passes with nothing being fulfilled, it will only cause more distrust in the message of the Bible. The same can be said of all the current “end times” prophetic mania. So I will have to say that I cannot prove or disprove the message but will leave it for time to reveal.

These claimed discoveries of long-concealed truth point to God’s dealing with Israel in “these end times.” I am convinced that God fulfilled all his prophecies concerning Israel in his final rejection of them as a nation in A.D. 70 when he destroyed their nation and scattered their people.

Michael Drosnin and most of the quoted “authorities” are Jewish, so we may well suspect an Israeli bias. Drosnin disclaimed interest in religion, but he writes more like a religionist than a news reporter. We would expect a reporter to arrange his material better. He is repetitious and often vague, not really explaining how the Hebrew characters spelled out English words, especially since the Hebrew text does not have vowels.

Who arranged the Hebrew text like a crossword puzzle, conveniently manipulating some sections in longer lines than others in order to make the “equidistant letter sequences” work out properly? Where did he find a perfect Hebrew text from which to work? Most every page of your Bible has footnotes of alternate, or doubtful, readings. Any change in the length of words or sentences would throw the rest out of sequence.

The writer identifies the “end of days” as beginning with the death of Rabin in 1995. Peter puts Pentecost in the “last days” (Acts 2:17). God had spoken to man by his Son in the “last days” (Heb. 1:2). Other references indicate that the last days were current with the New Testament writers. If I understood correctly, Drosnin has Armegeddon and the end coming through nuclear destruction. Later he indicated the end may come by a collision of the Swift-Tuttle asteroid.

So you can see that I am skeptical of there being such a thing as a divinely devised Bible Code. He seems to play the game with Hal Lindsay and millennialists who seem intent on having as much money in hand as possible when their predicted catastrophes occur. If Drosnin were truly trying to warn the world, he could probably distribute his book for under $5.00 instead of $25.00 hardback and $15.00 soft cover.

As far as world history is concerned, most of the incidents claimed to have been fulfilled are but localized footnotes.

Yes, I admit to having approached this project with skepticism. Long before this book came to view, mankind has not lacked evidences concerning God and his will for us. Through the centuries believers have been able to accept the Bible as God’s revelation to us. That trust can still sustain us. []

WHAT I HEAR FROM YOU

Thank you for the lesson on using the Lord’s name appropriately! I feel like the Lone Ranger when I bring this up to fellow Christians! I’m forwarding your column to some of them. Again, thank you. -Cindy Hochstetler, Bismark, SD <mrsverlin@yahoo.com>.

Thank you so much for this issue of Freedom’s Ring. For many, many years I have been concerned about the language my fellow Christians have used. When I have said something to them about it, they seem surprised that I would think they meant anything by it. I don’t expect any better from non-Christians, but those who claim to be followers of our Lord need to clean up their mouths. -Leecia Penrod <lpenrod@mindspring.com>.

I’ve always thought it interesting that “God” and “Jesus Christ” are such frequent curse words. It is interesting in the sense that nobody ever smashes their finger with a hammer or gets cut off on the freeway and then shouts out, “ Buddha”! or “Muhammed”! Why is this? Could it perhaps be because that yelling out such a curse would not violate Exodus 20:7? Has not Satan done his job well in convincing, not only the entire United States, but indeed the whole world that “the name” to profane is “Jesus Christ”? Yes. The very fact that the only name under heaven by which men may be saved is so frequently blasphemed is proof that it is the only name under heaven by which men must be saved! If those who so frequently took this name in vain only realized the spiritual battle that has been waged against their souls, they would be able to see that the universal acceptance of “Jesus Christ” as a swear word is no coincidence. -Brent . <Brentm@TSIControls.com>.

I just read your article on the conversion of Paul. Thank you. I have been preaching for 29 years and, in fact, have taught that lesson. It still thrills my heart to realize how simple God has made it for us to understand His message. That simple revelation on Saul’s conversion cuts clearly and cleanly through our Biblical interpretations of faith and grace. I have spent a lot of time lately wading through tremendous amounts of material that we preachers and pastors have written and put on the internet. You know, sometimes it becomes almost wearisome to read our stuff. I trust we are investing as much time and energy into loving our fellowman. I guess it is a good thing that Paul did not have a computer. I know he did slow down long enough to write, but the Lord had to throw him into prison to get that done. -Gordon McElvany <tantex@trip.net>.

What Constitutes “Being Married”?

Because it is such an integral part of our society, we assume that everyone knows what marriage is. When a man and a woman agree before witnesses to accept each other as spouses and sign the license before witnesses, they are married. How could there be questions about that?

In an e-mail note a reader poses several questions. What constitutes “being married.” Is not a private commitment a marriage? Is a ceremony needed? Is sexual relationship marriage, as some claim? Does the Bible teach us how to become married?

Each of you has probably pondered these questions as you recognize the lack of definition in the Scriptures. I do not claim to know all the answers, but that has not deterred me from writing on other subjects that I am ignorant about! So here I go!

The Scriptures offer no precedent or instruction for any sort of formal ceremony in which a man and woman are “pronounced husband and wife.” Among the Hebrews and Semitic people, and in a greater part of the world (still common today), marriage was a family affair with strong societal implications. It included negotiations between the families involved through their family head (patriarch) which would include payment to the bride’s father. In our transient culture we have lost most of that sense of family, tribe, and societal relationship.

Acceptance of the terms of contract before witnesses amounted to a betrothal which was perhaps the nearest thing to a modern licensing, though the consummation of the marriage might be months or years in the future. This commitment was taken much more seriously than the present-day “engagement.”

At the time for the wedding male friends of the groom, carrying lamps or torches, escorted him in procession to the wedding feast. After the supper the finalizing of the wedding was the entrance of the groom into the “tent,” or chamber of the bride. Whether all these traditions were followed or not in each case, it seems that when a man would go into the tent or room of his intended wife in view of others, the marriage was recognized.

None of those customs are specified or bound by Christian writers. There is no indication that the wedding is a “religious service” though spiritual principles should influence it (as well as all aspects of our lives). Our concept of a “church wedding” came from the Catholic Church who defined “Holy Matrimony” as a sacrament administered by the Church only, that is, the priesthood. Thus, a “church wedding” was one “blessed” by the Church. A civil ceremony of marriage lacked that “official” blessing.

Although non-Catholics do not accept that theology, they have adapted the “church wedding” idea into a tradition of a formal wedding ceremony in a “church building” with a preacher officiating with no thought of meeting “church approval.” For many it has become a purely social tradition for ceremonial display of a pretentious “church wedding” even by those not spiritually inclined. The white wedding gown symbolizing virginal purity is now worn with impunity by pregnant brides and by those who were “live-in partners” up until the wedding. So for the most part, the “church wedding” is for the pageantry and a status symbol. The holiness and spirituality are determined by the hearts of the groom and bride rather than by the building or ceremony or whether it was officiated by a minister or a civil authority.

“A piece of paper cannot make a marriage,” is heard from some who wish to live together without a license of marriage. That claim has validity. I became a driver of a car before Texas required that we have a license. Later, when I got my license, the piece of paper did not make me a driver or affect my driving, but I would have become a violator without it. I became a law-abiding driver with less culpability in future problems that might be anticipated. The same principle applies to having a marriage license.

If a couple agrees to live together without a wedding, are they married? How long would they have to live together to distinguish it from fornication? Would the relationship begin as fornication and develop into a holy relationship? If a couple pledge their love to each other and privately commit themselves to each other for life, would that not be a marriage? Though it would involve the most basic element of marriage, it still would not fill all the requirements.

The followers of Jesus are taught to obey the laws of the land and to live honorably in accordance with society. Our law specifies that spouses be a male and a female who have signed a witnessed contract to live as husband and wife. Why would any couple balk at signing such a contract?

It is because they want temporary companionship and sexual license without commitment to each other. They refuse the most basic expression of love and marriage – commitment. They want companionship of a person as long as it satisfies the selfish desires. Without commitment each partner, like a commissioned salesman, is on trial for pleasing performance every day of life. Think of living with someone who does not love and trust you enough to make a commitment to continue to love you after the heat of passion has cooled and real-life problems begin to develop. The shadow of rejection and loneliness always looms ahead. Those taught in the Word will also be living with guilty conscience knowing that their sexual immorality condemns them.

No, a piece of paper cannot create love but signing one may express unqualified love. Where that kind of love exists, there is no hesitancy in signing a legal attestation of it. In true commitment each partner is signing a blank check knowing not what demands will be injected in the blank in the years ahead – whether it be sickness, sorrow, or poverty – the contract is “until death do us part.” Is that scary? That assuring love contract has been confirming, satisfying, and comforting for more than 53 years for Lea and me.

A social crusade in our generation has had a devastating effect on this basic social institution of our culture. Living together has replaced marriage by a great segment. Women boast unashamedly of having children out of wedlock thus undermining the family and home which is the foundation of civilized society. In their conceit and rebellion, they think they have greater wisdom than God who created and upholds the family and they seek to prove the wisdom of all previous civilizations outdated.

It is true that neither the laws of our land nor the Scriptures prescribe a ritual or ceremony of marriage. The judge, Justice of the Peace, priest, or preacher acts as one authorized by the State to witness the contract of marriage. In some states additional witnesses are required. Thus it becomes a legal contract.

Previous to the legal contract, each party has already agreed to the contract, and in that sense, they are married except for the legality of it. A contract involves a meeting of minds. Questions of the binding nature of the witnessed contract arise when it may be revealed later that one partner deceived the other in the contract or that there was some legal violation such as lying about age. There is no true meeting of minds where there is deliberate deception. If a person pledges love where there is none, promises lifelong commitment without intention, or promises to be a true husband without revealing his sexual impotence, there is serious question as to whether a valid contract has been formed. When such deception has been revealed later, it may be reason for annulment of an invalid contract rather than “grounds for divorce.”

This is no claim to answer all the questions about “being married.” Maybe some thought has helped to clarify your ideas.

(Some points in this piece were adapted from International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, pages 1996-1999. Some related references: Gen. 24:8; 26:34; 29:20; 34:3; Exo. 2:21; Dt. 22:23; Judges 14:1-20; 1Sam. 18:19f; Jer. 7:34; Matt. 1:19; 9:15; 22; John 2; 3:29; Rev. 18:23) []

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Interpretation of the Bible, FR 20

J. James Albert

(Dr. Jim Albert is an educator by profession.  He has had a long association with disciples who reject those who use individual communion cups and Sunday School though he himself is free from all sectarian spirit.  He offers great insights in his mailout, “California Letter,” which you may receive upon request. This essay is from the December 1996 issue, used by permission.  P O Box 811, Corcoran, CA 93212.  CH)

Recently I was reading a book by an author identified with the Churches of Christ.  His Introduction was prefaced by a quote from The New York Public Library Desk Reference pub-lished in 1989.  The quote was as follows:

“Church of Christ: Organized by Presbyterians in Kentucky in 1804 and in Pennsylvania in 1809.  1.6 million followers.  The New Testament is believed in and what is written in the Bible is followed without elaboration; rites are not ornate; baptism is of adults.”

With my red pen I underlined “what is written in the Bible is followed without elaboration.”  Then I leaned back in my recliner and thought about this for a while.  That’s what I was taught from an early age.  “We let the Bible speak for itself. What we ‘preach’ and teach is not what we are saying, but what the Bible says.  We don’t interpret the Bible; it interprets itself. ”Then I pivoted in my recliner, swinging it around to face the bookshelves behind me.  The first thing that caught my eye was the What The Bible Says About… series, 42 books written by authors having some connection with that movement organized by those early Presbyterians.  Then I looked at the set of commentaries by McGarvey, Lamar, Lard, and others.  Next to these was a set by E. M. Zerr.  Then my eyes traveled to an as yet incomplete set of commentaries entitled Contending For The Faith being written by those associated with the one cup, no Sunday School segment of the Churches of Christ.  Finally my eyes scanned a couple of hundred hardback and paperback books written by persons mostly associated with the Churches of Christ.  Then I thought of the periodicals up in the hall cupboard to which I either subscribe or are sent to me each month.  There’s a dozen or so edited and published by Church of Christ advocates.  “Yes,” I concluded, “the Churches of Christ do follow what is written in the Bible without elaboration.”  If you believe that, you will believe most anything.

Unfortunately many brethren in the Churches of Christ insist that they do not interpret the Bible.  Their elaborations are not interpretations, but what the Bible actually says or the Bible interpreting itself.  If you dispute their elaborations or interpretations, they accuse you of not respecting the authority of God and his written word.  Further still, they might accuse you of promoting the idea that the Bible cannot be understood by man.  I don’t believe this, but I certainly felt this way at times after I’ve read some of the debates between our brethren, or read some of the articles or tracts detailing the rationale for party shibboleths.

We do interpret the Bible.  Reading with comprehension and understanding is interpretation.  Reading is not merely a matter of phonetic pronunciation either in the mind or orally.  In the presence of my mother-in-law I once picked up a magazine written in Spanish and decoded orally a couple of paragraphs quite well.  She then asked me, “What did it say?”  I didn’t know; I couldn’t comprehend or interpret what I had decoded phonetically.

If we didn’t have to interpret the Bible, we wouldn’t have to worry about brethren reading and being influenced by the periodicals of those not of our party.  Errors would be obvious.  We wouldn’t have to worry about the rank-and-file going to the meetings of so-called brethren-in-error or digressive brethren.  We wouldn’t have to constantly propagandize our position(s) from our pulpits.  These kinds of worry smack of partyism and confirm that we do interpret the Bible.

Coupled with this false premise over the years has been the assertion that we are the “people of the Book,” meaning the Bible.  We pride ourselves on this assertion and our dnomination is built around this concept.  Whether it is true or not that we are faithful to the Book, we, each of our segments, like to think of ourselves as being the only remnant of God’s children upon this earth faithful to God’s written word.  Outsiders see us as making such a claim.  We see it as necessary to perceive of ourselves as “people of the Book” and perfectly faithful to it because we think that was the case with the first century Christians.

I deny that any segment of the Churches of Christ represent a group of people that is perfectly faithful to the Bible.  Who will say that they know all of God’s written word as it is to be known and understood and apply and practice its precepts perfectly?  Who among us is/are the official interpreter(s) of God’s written word?  Who is at the top of the totem pole?  Who has the right to demand conformity to his/their interpretations(s)?  Who has the authority to judge brethren as deserving of hell because they don’t subscribe to the party creed?

In addition to the fact that no segment of the Churches of Christ today represents a group of people that is perfectly faithful to the Book, the premise that they should be “people of the Book” because that was the case with the first century church is a false premise.  In the first place they had no New Testament.  After the gospel was preached on the day of Pentecost, seventeen years went by until the first epistle was written.  During the decades of A.D. 50 and 60, the apostle Paul and others began to write documents that eventually gained the status of scripture.  As late as 200 A.D. though there was still no New Testament canon and some “books” we now accept as scripture were still treated as doubtful and some we don’t accept now were regarded as being legitimate.  It wasn’t until about A.D. 367 that there was an accepted New Testament canon of 27 books.  It was part of an official letter by a bishop Athanasius of Alexandria, Egypt.

Second, few people in the early church were literate.  Until as recently as the past three centuries, few have had that ability.  Over the centuries by far most Christians have been illiterate.  God recognized that and that’s why he did not give a book to save the world, but he gave himself in the form of a Person.  That Person is the ground of our faith, the source of our hope, and the basis of our unity.  If a book could have done it, then Christ would not have needed to die.

Certainly there is a book, a glorious and wonderful revelation that tells us of that Person and his expectations of us.  We should cherish it, discuss it, study it, teach it, and use it to see Christ more clearly and to be obedient to his doctrine.  Unfortunately we have lost sight of Christ in our interpretations of the Book.  Our creed has not been Jesus is Lord, but our select interpretations of the scriptures.  We are trusting in our own intellectual abilities to save us rather than faith in Jesus Christ.

Over the decades the Churches of Christ have degenerated into a denomination that confuses the text of the Book and its interpretation.  In turn they want to make binding judgment relative to those interpretations.  In fact, each segment usually has several interpretations that have reached canonical status and you question or challenge them at your own peril.  They think of interpretation as an exact science, all the while becoming very emotionally attached to their comprehension of the text.  Then these emotional attachments increase the potential for bias and add to the complexity of the problem.  We need to believe what God’s written word says, but we need to realize that at any point we may misunderstand what God has said in that written word.

The problem of which I write was not unknown to our spiritual forefathers in the American Restoration Movement.  Let me close with some quotes from Robert Richardson.

“Men seem to have lost sight of the obvious distinction which is to be made between the Bible and the Gospel.”

“It should never be forgotten that the Apostles and first preachers of the gospel had no Bibles, and not even a New Testament, to distribute; and there was no such thing among the early Christians as a formal union upon the ‘Bible alone.’  Nay rather it was a union upon the Gospel alone.”

“Let the Bible be our spiritual library; but let the Gospel be our standard of orthodoxy.  Let the Bible be our test of Christian character and perfection, but let the Christian confession be our formula of Christian adoption and of Christian union.  In a word, let the Bible be to us everything designated by its Author, but let ‘Christ crucified’ be not only our peace with God, but our peace with one another.” []

HOOK’S POINTS

Moving again!  We thought we were settled for the duration in New Braunfels, but Paul and Mira had different plans for us.  Then we thought we were settled for good when we came here over two years ago.  But now that I have our new address in most of my books, we are moving again!

Paul works for Intel about ten miles away and the church building is about a mile beyond that.  Heavy traffic makes commuting very burdensome.  And the kids needed an investment to save on taxes.  So they began looking for a more convenient location.  Yet they did not want to leave us ten miles away.

They found a spacious house that has a “mother-in-law” apartment diagonally across the street from the church property and less than a mile from Paul’s work place.  So we are due to move on March 8 to

17196 NW Woodmere Court

Beaverton, OR  97006-4820.

Please note that change.  We are not sure that our telephone number can be transferred, but perhaps at least a forwarding message can be used for a while.  Our e-mail address and website URL will not be affected.

This will be a downsizing for us which is needed due to our age and situation.  We will be closer to our family, for our living room will open into their breakfast room.  Becoming dependent is a probability for all, but for us it seems more of an imminent inevitability.  We are most blessed to have children who are so concerned about our needs.

Although it is a one-bedroom apartment, it will provide all the necessities of life like a fireplace, central H/A, an intercom, and a sauna J !  Looking out our bedroom window across the all-weather basketball and tennis courts in the back yard, we can see the church building.

With all the distraction of moving, there is no idea as to when the next mailout will be.  I am trying to get this to you now so you will have our new address.

New subscribers to Freedom’s Ring are being added all along.  That pleases us.  It is free for the asking, both by regular mail and by e-mail.  Send e-mail requests to Victor Phares at <vic@freedomsring.org>.  If you wish to receive it no longer, please let us know.  Nothing personal.  Save money.  If you are dissatisfied with its content, we will refund double your subscription price!

(I read) your article on instruments.  I asked a man (named) what he thought and I was quite surprised to find out you are a false teacher.  J  Anyway I wanted to forward my response to you that I sent to him.  Keep on preaching the Gospel.  I have your site linked from my page and so far I  am proud ot it.!  -Lyle Marti, “I read and enjoyed Free In Christ and am nearly finished with Leroy Garrett’s Stone-Campbell book.  As someone who grew up in the Church of Christ, I have found the material to be very interesting indeed.  I feel I could talk a hundred hours or write a hundred pages to you about the things discussed in these books.  But don’t worry, I won’t.  (At least not now!)”  -<JANY73A@prodigy.com

“Thank you for the Freedom’s Ring newsletter and for sending me your book, Free In Christ.  I truly enjoyed them both.  I was baptized in the church of Christ at age 14 and began preaching in small rural churches in East Texas at age 15.  It was not until age 26 that I had a real, personal experience with Jesus Christ.  How wonderful to know that a message of free grace is coming from brethren in the church of Christ.  I will be praying for your ministry.  Keep upholding the message of mercy and grace in Jesus!”  -Athens, TX <mlhdth@aol.com>

“Cecil, Cecil, Cecil…  Why is it that every time I read your writings, I think, ‘Yes, this Brother echoes what I believe, he makes sense.  Surely this is closer to the heart of Christ than this other.’  And then, a brother who also teaches me and gives me strength, has a cow over that ‘crazy Cecil Hook’?  I am of course referring to a year ago when I discovered you.  It was only a few months after I had put on our Lord, in submission, in baptism.  You were a lesson and an encouragement to me.  I e-mailed you and you graciously sent me your books.  Then, on the Gospel Advocate List (discovered to me the same time as Freedom’s Ring)  some chap was ranting about how heretical Cecil Hook was.  You were the topic of at least one thread for a week! J  Impressionable as a child, I put down Free In Christ, and sent back your books.  I wonder, saint or serpent?  Have you the time to talk?  I will try to read more, judging the book less by the cover.”  -<iboden@nts-online.net>  [And we wonder why we lose converts!  He is reading again!]

“I remember when I was baptized all of the congregation was so loving and supportive of their new member and novice in the word.  I was told to study the Bible with an open mind.  But, after a while I began to question some of the things we did or did not do as compared to what the Word said.  Then the encouragement of an open mind was replaced with don’t ask so many questions and toe the party line for we have much more knowledge than you so just listen to us.  That was OK for a while but the more I studied the more questions I had that just couldn’t be swept away by the same standard answers anymore.  But slowly I met and became aware of more of my brothers and sisters who felt the same way I did but were afraid to openly express their views.  Then one day someone gave me a copy of your book Free In Christ and I was so excited that….”

she has little strength or energy for it, Lea is able to move about the house some without assistance.  Your expressed concern for her is appreciated.

Our proofreader, Brian Casey, has been occupied with a new job so that he has not been available lately.  So all the errors you see are mine, not his.

January was a good month with 159 free copies of Free In Christ being sent out.  In February, 30 copies have been sent to a worker abroad who will give them to other preachers with whom he has been discussing.  Our prayers go with each book that it may find an open heart.  We continue to invite you to pass these free books along to others of receptive heart.

Checking our website, you will see that some of Mission Messenger and Restoration Review are accessible.

Your communications are appreciated.  At times I become snowed under and find it difficult to respond to all immediately or with much detail.  If I fail to respond to your questions or requests, it is inadvertent.  Some e-mail with requests or expressing needs have been replied to, but they are not delivered due to technicalities that I do not control or understand.  So please try again.  Sending snail mail addresses also can remedy that problem.

Profound matters to ponder (not original):  Stupidity got us into this mess; why can’t it get us out?  Why do we sing “Take me out to the ball game” when we’re already there?  If you throw a cat out the car window, does it become kitty litter?  When it rains, why don’t sheep shrink?  The trouble with doing nothing is that you never know when you are finished.  The claims levied against O. J. are so enormous that he may turn to a life of crime.

Tim Woodroof is one of the most astute writers among us.  He brings fresh meanings and startling insights to familiar portions of Scripture.  I am pleased to carry a tiny notice of his great list of teaching materials which are used in over 2000 churches already.  It is a gold mine for preachers and teachers.  Ask for a fuller list and description.

WHAT I HEAR FROM YOU

“Glad to see you still on the optimum firing line.  Your awakening of souls to the liberty that is in Christ Jesus is refreshing.  Keep up the good work!”  -Given Blakely, Joplin, MO <GivenB@aol.com>  [Given, a profuse writer, publishes an e-mail thought/lesson each day.  If you would like to receive it, let him know.]

“I put a link to your chat rooms from my CONSER-VATIVE CORNER page.  Would love for you to visit my site!”  -Melanie Schurr <melsch@webtv.net.>

“I am an Elder at the Southwest Church of Christ in Jonesboro, AR.  I am pleased to find this area.  The Elders are now trying to study the roles of women in the church.”  -Joe Stephen Selby <jselby@intellinet.com>

“I first read your theology from your book “Free In Christ.”  I find your religious views to be based on a particular attitude toward the Bible.  You seem to have a low view of Scripture, that is, that it is not the Christian’s complete and perfect guide to faith and practice.  The church, seems to be in your system nothing more than a human organization, with all the flaws of the human beings who have espoused the Gospel.  No wonder you don’t like it.  I am sorry your reaction to a few obnoxious souls in the church drove you so far from the truth.  The enthusiastic disciples of yours, whose copy of your book I read, had a note at the end of it.  ‘We do not go to worship.’  I hope that is not your goal nor the fruit of your labors, but they seemed to think it was.  In Christian love, I will pray for you to be restored to a high view of Holy Scripture and obedience to the Son of God (Heb. 5:8-9).”  -Frazier Conley <fconley@texo-ma.net>  [With all due respect to you, my brother, Frazier, I suggest that you read the book again to more accurately reevaluate your assessment of my writing.]

“God bless you, Cecil.  You’re providing a more valuable service than you’ll probably ever know.”  -Gary Hardy <Ghardy8719@aol.com>

“You have very interesting articles here regarding restoration movements and the present state of churches of Christ.”  -Leong Peng Chuen, Singapore <leongpc@starnet.-gov.sg>

“This is a great page for references on many of the topics I get questions about daily.  Thank you for supplying me with the correct tools (words from the Bible) to inform others of the right choices.  I am finally really feeling like a true Christian now since I’ve been studying and praying, utilizing the writings you have here to make it easier to understand sometimes.”  -Shaun Mullenix, St. Marys, GA <shaun@eagnet.com>

“It’s always a pleasure to receive your Freedom’s Ring. You, along with Leroy Garrett and Carl Ketcherside, have been and continue to be tremendous supporters of my faith.  I thank our Lord for putting you there and for your submission to his will.  All of you have also ‘turned me on’ to several other helpful brethren and resources through your writings.  When I sit down to write (I’m just beginning to learn type – a month and a half of it so far) I realize the time and devotion, the effort and study, the long hours and sacrifice that you must put in to be able to get your materials out as regularly and faithfully as you do.”  -<MattMarkM@aol.com

“I greatly appreciate your devotion to honest truth!  It’s really not difficult to understand, in fact the simplicity of the gospel and God Himself is very easy to see through eyes that have surrendered to truth.  But it’s extremely difficult to see God and the simplicity of His purpose when man’s arrogant pride refuses to surrender.”  -<chrismat@newnorth.net>

“I love the church I attend (named, in Texas), but as a grad student in the college group I see a lack of true worship in our group.  The singing is beautiful and I know that people’s hearts are all for God, but it is as if we can’t get excited about God.  We can’t clap unless it is at a devotional, we can’t lift our hands in praise, etc. for fear that it will distract others in their worship.  Isn’t that underestimating the power of God?  Isn’t he big enough to take care of distractions if that is what the spirit leads you to do in your worship?  I have the opportunity to worship in another college Bible study that is ‘non-denomina-tional’ each week and that is where I see true worship happening.  I know we have to start somewhere in the C of C, but I am really struggling with this whole issue.  How can we let people know the power of God and assure them that hand raising or clapping isn’t ‘getting out of hand’ when the spirit is leading the worship?  As a worship leader this is hard for me right now.”  -<upton@tamu.edu>

“Brother, you have written with compassion and wisdom.  I am very grateful for your voice since mine is not as eloquent on these matters.  Through recent years I have developed a working definition of idolatry as creating God in man’s image.  It’s more than an effort to be politically correct on homosexuality.  Our society is being overrun by other politically correct topics which are nothing more than saying that the individual is the center of the universe and the standard of right and wrong.  The ‘Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem’ passage comes to mind.  People cannot find joy with that false doctrine yet even with my convictions I struggle against the same idolatry.  You encourage me.  Thanks.”  -<gcasella@juno.com>

“I don’t know if you have heard of a gentleman by the name of Don DeWelt, but to me this man was a ‘true’ man of God.  I’ve been in several seminars and classes that Bro. DeWelt taught and was so impressed with his knowledge of God’s Word and his ability to ‘feed’ those who would listen those precious words.  This man captured a very personal spot in my heart and I’ve loved him as I would a father, though my personal relationship with him was nowhere near that.  I say all that, Bro. Cecil, to say to you, that you too are finding a very personal spot in my heart.  I love the way you deliver God’s Word.  I’m more interested in how you have opened a floodgate of truth from the words that others have used to hold us captive.  Those who would condemn you for showing the way to God’s grace are foolish within their own teachings.  I’ll not ramble, but I did want you to know how much of an influence you’ve had in my life and in many decisions I’ve made.  Thank you for taking a stand for the truth, although I know there have been times it hasn’t been the ‘easy’ road to travel.  I failed to ever send Bro. DeWelt a note of this nature and I’ve regretted it ever since his death.  I made a promise to myself that I would not be so lazy in the future.  Thank you again and keep up the fight – it’s well worth it.”  -Jimmy Johnston, <jimmyj@rouge.net>   [Jimmy, that is a treasured note!  Thank you.  Yes, I knew and admired Don as a great promoter of unity.  But I am not of his stature!  He wanted to publish my first book, Free In Christ, when no one else dared, but he was not permitted.  But that is another story.]

“I am a fan of your writings.  Thank you for opening my eyes and allowing me to rethink some of my past ideas and rituals.  I am the webmaster for the Stillwater Church of Christ in Oklahoma.  The address for our web page is: <http://www.fullnet.net/np/cocsw/>  and I would like your permission to link Freedom’s Ring from our sight.”  -Travis Weber, <weber@fullnet.net>  [Great!  Thanks!]]

“I do not know you.  I have read some of our work.  I was in a discussion on the GA-LIST and I told people to read someone had put into book form answers to so many of the questions and concerns that I had about what I saw as inconsistencies of the church of Christ.  Thank you so much for your efforts in encouraging true unity as well as making published materials available.  May the blessings of our God bless you in every way.”  -Mt. Vernon, TX.  [I am thrilled by these and other letters from you sharing your feelings of joyful liberation.  Hundreds of others  who read them will share your joy also.]

“Restoration” and Renewal

Edward Fudge

An inquirer asks, “Can spiritual renewal and ‘restoration of the NT church’ go hand in hand?  What is God doing in the Churches of Christ these days?  Is it business as usual?”

It all depends on what one thinks needs “restoring.”  If restoration focuses on the inner elements of NT Christianity – the core gospel, the Christ-centeredness, the supernatural power, holiness, ministry to the world in divine strength – certainly it can allow, encourage, and stimulate spiritual renewal.

However, if the desired “restoration” primarily revolves around externals, and particularly if the restoration of those externals becomes an end within itself, then it will regard spiritual renewal as a threat and will reject it whenever it appears.

The great “restoration” will be God’s own accomplishment at the End (Acts 3:21).  Even now, however, God gives us “times of refreshing” to sustain us as we wait for his great “restoration” (Acts 3:19).  That is what “renewal” is all about.

What is God doing in Churches of Christ today?  I would not presume to claim a definitive answer.  But I venture to say that part of what God is doing in COC today (and in other parts of his universal church as well) is turning us into Churches of CHRIST – people who talk about Jesus, preach Jesus, measure doctrines and priorities by the example and teaching of Jesus, and who trust in Jesus for salvation rather than in our success at restoration or our feeble efforts to be obedient.

Part of what God is doing in COC is opening us to the reality of God himself and to his personal, powerful presence in the Holy Spirit.  Part of what he is doing is showing us not to depend on our own resources – whether intellectual, spiritual, physical or financial.  Part of what he is doing is showing us that we are not alone in his kingdom, after all, but that we are privileged to be included.  I would say that is NOT “business as usual.”  Praise God from whom all blessing flow!

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A Look at Two Parables

by Greg Rasaka

In Matthew 21:33-46, we find a well-known parable about a landowner who planted a vineyard and put a wall around it, dug a wine press and built a tower. He then rented it out to some vine-growers and went on a journey. When harvest time came near, he sent his slaves to the vine-growers to receive his produce. What did the vine-growers do? They beat, killed and stoned the slaves. He then sent a larger group of slaves, but the vine-growers did the same to them. After this he sent his son. But the vine-growers did not respect the son, and killed him, in order to seize the inheritance. So when the landowner returned, he destroyed the vine-growers, and rented the vineyard to other vine-growers who would pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons. Jesus then made it clear that the kingdom of heaven would be taken from the Jews and given to people who would produce fruit. Even the blind Pharisees understood that the evil vine-growers were in reference to them.

It is easy to see the meaning of this parable. The Jews were handed a special job to further the kingdom of God, but failed miserably because of their self-centered nature. After repeated chances, they were destroyed, and the kingdom was given to others who would do God’s will.

A second parable follows in 22:1-14. This parable is about a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. The king sent out slaves to call out the ones who had been invited, but they did not want to come. Again, he sent out slaves to tell those who were invited that everything was prepared for the dinner. Some paid no attention and went about their ways. Some of them mistreated the slaves and killed them. This enraged the king, who then sent his armies to destroy the murderers and burn their city. He then sent slaves to call all they could, both evil and righteous. The dinner hall was full, but the king found a man who was not in wedding garments and threw him out into the darkness.

This parable is in essence very similar to the first. It shows that the kingdom of heaven was offered to the Jews, but they refused and even killed the prophets sent to them. God destroyed them and their city, and offered the kingdom to others. Many came, but just showing up was not enough. Only the true believers were allowed to remain.

God gave Israel ample time to repent and do his will. He sent many prophets to them through the centuries. The prophets were mistreated, stoned and killed. Even the Son of God was mistreated and killed. In Matthew 23, we find the Lord scolding the scribes and Pharisees for the evil deeds they had done. He told them to fill up the measure of guilt of their fathers, and that they would bear the brunt of God’s wrath. He told them that it would all come upon that generation and that their house would be left desolate.

It was at that point that the disciples asked Jesus when all of these things would happen, and what would be the sign of his parousia and the end of the age (24:3). Jesus made very clear the things for them to watch for, and that it would all happen in that generation. Matthew 24 and 25 are a continuation of 21, 22 and 23. As I have said before, these need to be read as one continuous discourse. Dividing them up destroys the continuity of Jesus’ information packed discourse.

This discourse was focused on the last days of the old covenant. The old covenant did not end at the cross, for we read in Hebrews 8:13 that what was “becoming obsolete was growing old and ready to disappear.” This was written nearly forty years after the cross. Shortly after, it did disappear. The entire Jewish theocracy passed into oblivion. That was the point of the symbolic wedding feast. Revelation 18 depicts the destruction of the great harlot, Jerusalem, and in 19:7-9 we find the marriage of the lamb to the bride. “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the lamb ” (19:9).

This was the last day of the last days. It marked he consummation of the covenantal change. I cannot see where Jesus or any writer of the NT spoke of this last day, or consummation, as in the far distant future. They all spoke of it as to occur within that generation. As the time of the consummation grew nearer, words with more immediacy were used by the writers.

Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Matt. 24:34).

Paul said, “The night is almost gone, and the day is near” (Rom. 13:12).

James said, “The parousia of the Lord is near” and “The judge is standing right at the door” (James 5:8,-9).

Peter said, “The consummation of all things is near” (1 Peter 4:7).

John said, “Children, it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18). “…the things which must soon take place…for the time is near” (Rev. 1:1, 3). “Do not seal up the words of this prophecy, for the time is near…Behold I am coming quickly…Yes I am coming quickly” (Rev. 22:10, 12, 20).

If they were wrong, our faith is in vain and we cannot trust what they said concerning salvation. However, I do not think they were wrong at all. I choose to believe what they said. []

(Our thanks go to Greg Rasaka for this article. He states: “Permission to reprint for personal, non-profit use is hereby granted, provided the context is maintained and the source stated as Eschatology Review, 32080 NE Corral Creek Rd., Newberg, OR 97132).

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Aims and Observations

by Cecil Hook

It is true that, if you don’t know where you are going, you don’t know if you are on the right road, and you will not know when you get there.

That realization causes me to reexamine my aims and to restate them all along to be sure that they are still evident in my writing. I realize that, in pursuit of bigger game, at times I may be distracted to chase some rabbits of different colors. Some subjects that I touch on are in that category, but most of them are related in some way to my main objective.

My first book, Free In Christ, was published primarily as an effort to lead my people in the Church of Christ from our entanglement in legalism into freedom in Christ offered through grace. It challenges the traditional interpretations and practices which have made us a pitifully, tragically divided movement. I have continued on that course with a few deviations. In gaining your loyal readership, my subordinate intention is to make sure that, when you see my name on an article, you will expect to find a new viewpoint or challenging thought. I cannot claim to have done that in every instance.

I still urge any who bother to read my material to begin with my book, Free In Christ, and then read my other books in the order written before reading the material of my newsletters. Otherwise, your understanding of my current expressions will be based on your previous concepts instead of mine. A free copy of the first book can be supplied for that purpose.

My extended purpose is to promote the recognition of unity of those who relate to God in Christ. Paul explained that “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself…” (2 Cor. 5:18). All the saved are in God through Christ. The reconciled ones comprise his ecclesia, his congregation, church, assembly. This is accomplished by relationship rather than doctrinal agreement in all things. It is individuals, not churches (either sectarian, true, loyal, or otherwise) who comprise that group. Can one reject, and dissociate from, others in Christ without destroying his own relationship?

The unity with one another is neither brought about nor maintained by agreement on all doctrinal issues. I have discussed with you many points on which believers disagree, not intending to cause you to override your convictions, but encouraging you to accept fellow disciples in spite of differing understandings and practices.

Almost two centuries ago Presbyterians, Barton W. Stone and Thomas Campbell with his brilliant son, Alexander, unknown to each other at the time, began working to break down the walls of separation among their Presbyterian factions. Their ideal of unity gained growing favor among Christians in various sectarian bodies. Their aim was not to restore a supposedly extinct universal church, to start a “one true church,” or to unite sectarian groups into one new church, but it was for disciples of Christ to accept the reconciled ones who were in the various churches. They wanted Christians in the separated bodies to be Christians only while making no claim of being the only Christians.

Thomas Campbell’s perception of unity has not been comprehended by many who think they pursue his aims. In his famous Declaration and Address, he stated: “The Church of Christ upon earth is essentially, intentionally and constitutionally one; consisting of all those in every place that profess their faith in Christ and obedience to him in all things according to the Scriptures, and that manifest the same by their tempers and conduct.” Since God intentionally brings all the saved together in Christ, universal oneness is an essential quality of the group constituting his redeemed. The universal body cannot be divided into two or more churches. Yes, exclusive factions may organize and identify themselves separately, but if there are any reconciled individuals in the groups, they are still in the one, universal body.

Those in the universal church may assemble and serve locally in groups with different traditions, understandings, and practices so long as they do not reject others whose practices may differ. Each individual and group must respect the discipleship of others even as they themselves wish to be respected. Disciples may work separately due to scruples, culture, race, or location without being opposed to each other. Since the universal body of believers has no name, no group should think its chosen name gives them favor with God.

Each disciple, and every organized group of them, has serious flaws, some more obvious and damaging than others. If we reject all who have imperfections, then we must reject all disciples, and we must expect to be rejected by all others. In a physical family, every member is less than perfect in all respects, but they are no less parts of the same family. They are sisters and brothers because of parentage rather than perfection. They learn to live together in spite of flaws and defects. Being antagonistic, critical, and abusive of each other does not change their relationship in the family but it only emphasizes the differences instead of cultivating loving forbearance.

My writings have been less devotional and inspirational and more doctrinal. In order to promote unity, I have felt the need of dealing with the doctrinal stance that has made us factious. So I have dealt with our legalistic approach to understanding. Thinking the New Covenant writings are a code of law legislating divine patterns for all that pertains to discipleship, we have focused on forms more than relationship. There are constant divisive debates over what the law specifies and how the pattern is maintained. That requires continued effort to restore the vaguely identified authorized pattern. That approach is a proven system for division.

Afraid of Freedom

In view of this, my efforts have been to direct our attention to the Covenant of Grace in contrast to a perceived covenant of law. And it becomes a whole new ball game. Freedom is in grace, not law. Why are we so enslaved to law and so afraid of freedom?

My influence has been limited. I entertain no delusions of self-importance. Yet, from my limited perspective, I have sufficient reason for optimism. The response that I have received from the pew people since Free In Christ, was published late in 1984 has changed drastically. While our congregational structures are still guarded zealously in most places by traditional legalists, there is a more Christ-centered message being preached. Disciples have grown tired of spiritually debilitating doctrinal argumentation which holds us to formulas and rituals. They want a family relationship that gives them strength for daily life and a positive interaction with all other believers. The old “We are right and you are wrong” attitude is fading due to the brighter realization that our righteousness is a gift rather than our being right, or more nearly right, on everything.

In the few years since my first book was published, a good number of men much more qualified than I have made great material available. Their works are receiving attention from spiritually hungry disciples. Our sectarian and denominational status is being recognized and remedied.

Our people are also developing courage to read challenges to other of our identifying distinctions such as instrumental music, the role of women, marriage and divorce issues, patternism, and the work of the Holy Spirit today. Robert Rowland’s “I Permit Not A Woman…” To Remain Shackled is being read widely. So have Edward Fudge’s Beyond the Sacred Page, concerning the working of God in our lives, and The Fire That Consumes, which questions unconditional immortality and unending conscious torment inflicted on the damned in hell.

Various of our splinter groups resist any change because they think their particular group has restored the “one, true church” in its pristine form. So they decry any who would reform as change agents who are trying change God’s “original pattern.” There is a disconcerting militancy remaining among these disciples. So we have a long way to go yet.

For years I wished to be able to attend a session of Restoration Forum, an annual gathering of heirs of the Stone-Campbell Movement to discuss unity among us. Several years ago I had that opportunity when it was hosted by the Skillman Avenue Church of Christ in Dallas. With all the Churches of Christ, Christian Churches (Independent), and Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ) in the metropolitan area, where would they find a place big enough for such a meeting? Texas Stadium, maybe? Not exactly! I think the auxiliary chapel of the Skillman building could have held us all!

What does that say about our interest in unity? No, attendance was not the proof or disproof of an interest in unity, but wouldn’t just a mild interest have filled the building? Paul’s urging to “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3) was interpreted by our action as “make little effort.”

Incidently, in May I received an unsolicited copy of the first issue of Bartimaeus. It explains: “Bartimaeus is a periodic newsletter for the promotion of dialogue between Roman Catholic Christians and Christians of the Churches of Christ. For information: Editors: Rev. Benjamin F. Luther, 6705 Old Highway 45, Paducah, KY 42003 or Bruce Sullivan, 8257 Bunnell Crossing Rd., Hardyville, Ky 42746. Phone: (502) 554-3810. This newsletter is subscription free.” The main article was a review of Richard T. Hughes’ Reviving the Ancient Faith: The Story of the Churches of Christ in America.” The review was an honest and conciliatory outreach. Where will it go and what can it accomplish? Who knows? You may want to be in on it. If so, contact them.

The question is not whether various churches will unite by working out some sort of creedal agreement. Our freedom as individual disciples will not allow any sort of organized system to deliver us as a group. Individuals, however, have the responsibility of erasing needless barriers of fellowship person- by-person. Because someone serves in a congregation with sectarian minded people does not mean that the individual exhibits a sectarian attitude.

In so many of our local groups the rejecting, sectarian attitude is so developed that any suggestion of recognition of, or working with, disciples of other groups is unthinkable! Just recently I received the report of a preacher being dismissed immediately, and area congregations were warned of him, because he conceded that some in other churches might be saved.

Yet, factionalism is receding, our people are more unity minded, and we are centering around Christ more than around church systems

I will conclude this with some challenges. Please restudy the basis of unity for yourself and erase any erroneously erected barriers. Remember, the party spirit is a work of the flesh. Study these matters with other individuals. Feed them literature that emphasizes the correct basis for unity. In time, encourage congregational restudy. A brighter world will come into view!

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Olympic Losses by Split Seconds

By Cecil Hook

The whole world has watched the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. We have felt the joy of victory and the pain of defeat with those who participated.

The difference in the winner and loser was infinitesimal in many instances. How frustrating and devastating it must have been for the losers. Since childhood they had had this dream of winning which caused them to dedicate their lives to obtaining a gold medal. They practiced hours daily for years. They trained physically and mentally with a sort of obsession for winning.

Then, it was by a few hundredths of a second that that they were beaten! Their defeat had to be detected by electronic equipment because the eye or a stop-watch could not detect the difference in the competitors. Or it was the flexing of a knee or an arm that the judges saw and ruled against. Or an embarrassing fall. What a fine line between the winner and the loser!

Several years ago a man in his eighties (that seemed old to me then!) shook my hand in the vestibule as he was leaving the assembly for home. He had been a disciple many years and had served as an elder. I had not preached that day, and I do not know what prompted his remark. But he droned sadly as he shook my hand, “It sure is haarrd to be a Christian, ain’t it Brother Hook?” In that crowded moment, I did not ask why he felt that way and he did not take time to explain his feelings.

Knowing some of that brother’s concept of the basis of our salvation, however, I think he might have had thoughts like these. Maybe in the judgment, God will see that I did not forgive someone as completely as I thought I had, or that I did not give enough. Maybe it is a sin after all to drink from an individual glass instead of a shared goblet in the communion. Could it be that I was in a congregation that had an unqualified elder? I thought the Lord wanted me to help my country by serving in the military, but perhaps that was on his list of prohibitions. Did I fail to help some hungry person when I saw his need? Maybe I did not understand some command properly or missed some inference. On and on, the list of questions of doubt could go. Any one of these fine, hardly perceptible, debatable distinctions could keep me from winning eternal life!

Do you hold any of those doubts and feelings of insecurity? Do you feel that indeed it is hard to be a Christian? There is a world of difference in the comparisons that I have made above. If you can make that distinction, it can change your entire perspective.

The Olympic athlete must win by means of his or her own strength, dedication, skill, and perfection of performance, but you and I will win because of Jesus’ perfect power and performance! Jesus has won for us! We need only to live in a relationship with him.

Read again this great assurance: “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:5-10). To walk in the light does not mean to live in sinless perfection, else we would need no forgiveness. It means to continue in him who has brought us to God. It is not a matter of being able to discern and do everything perfectly but of reliance on him who accepts us as we stumble along as though we were perfect.

Is it all that hard to live a sincere, honest, and ethical life? Do addictions to alcohol and drugs offer too much joy? Is holding grudges too enjoyable to give up? Is it painful to worship God and to depend upon him? Is it just too hard to live in loving faithfulness to your spouse? And when we stumble because of weakness in one of these or countless other matters, is it simply too trying to confess self-will, pride, or ignorance and to ask for forgiveness? Does finding the joy that comes from living in favor with God lead to an unbearably dreary and miserable life?

We are not trying to hide the reality of the warnings about falling into damning sins. There is constant temptation, a warring between the flesh and the spirit. But every person who wants to be can be a winner.

The same Paul who wrote, “Therefore let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall,” also promised, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide a way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:12f).

Paul pictured himself as a contestant in running and boxing. “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable . Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air; but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:24-27). But he was not thinking of being saved by a split-hair perception or achievement. He could revel in the anticipated victory, shouting, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:37-39).

There is an abundance of similar assurances in the Scriptures which should lift any perceived burden from our lives. Jesus’ great invitation is still extant: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30). If the yoke of law that your spiritual advisors lay on you seems exacting, hard, and burdensome, consider Jesus’ own words again. And add John’s assurance, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3f). If you think he has made it hard for you, look again at the Scriptures for the grace they offer instead of a system of detailed law.

The Olympic gold medal is earned and temporal. The garland, or wreath, that we receive is the gift of life, unearned, undeserved, and unfading.

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