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Are There Barnacles on the Bottom of our Boat?

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Introduction

A couple of years ago, my wife Jeannette and I were visiting friends who live on a lovely lake in Canada. We were there in time to help them take their boat out of the water and put it into storage for the winter. One of the things I was able to do was to help scrub the bottom of the boat, which had a layer of residue attached to it. If we had been dealing with a boat in salt water, we would have been concerned with barnacles and the like, especially if it had been in the water for some time. They just seem to attach themselves over time, and they don’t contribute anything to the function of the boat. They merely slow it down and accelerate the deterioration process.

It is my belief that when we study the church today and compare it with the church of the first century, we find that it has many “barnacles” that have attached themselves – largely unnoticed – over the centuries of its history. Thanks to Ron and Kay, our church librarians, we have a good number of books on church history on our library shelves. But these books, like my courses in seminary, focus more on the history of doctrine than they do the history of the church. It is not easy to find a book that describes the subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) changes to the way the church is structured, led, and carries out its mission.

One book is a rather glaring exception. It is a book co-authored by Frank Viola and George Barna entitled, Pagan Christianity?60 I don’t necessarily agree with Viola’s assumption that the best and most biblical model for the church is the house church, but I do find his research and documentation to be thorough and challenging. Essentially, Viola and Barna conclude that much – probably most – of the practices of Evangelical churches today find their origins in secular (and often pagan) culture, rather than in the pages of our New Testament. That should give us pause for thought.

Thus the title and topic of this message is “Are There Barnacles on the Bottom of Our (the church) Boat?” We will begin by looking at church history to see what changes have come about in the church since the days of the New Testament. I will focus on four61 of the most influential periods:

The period of the church fathers (ca. 100-300)

The period of Constantine (ca. 324ff.)

The period of the Reformation (1517ff.)

The Revivalist era (1700-1800’s)

After we briefly survey these four periods in church history, I will attempt to summarize some of the major (and most damaging) departures from the Scriptures in matters of the church. Then we will consider three different types of tradition, ending with that form of tradition that is pleasing to God. Finally, I will make some concluding comments pertaining to the way in which we serve church at Community Bible Chapel. 62

The Period of the Church Fathers (100-300)

We owe a great debt of gratitude to the church fathers who lived in the first couple of centuries after the death of the last of the apostles. Many of them stood tall against heresies and departures from the gospel as declared by our Lord and the apostles. They found it necessary to define sound doctrine and to defend it against false teaching. They also played a significant role in the recognition of those books which would be included in the canon of the New Testament.63 Many of them died for their faith, as these were days when the church was persecuted.

But having said this, I must also challenge a commonly-held assumption. I would summarize this assumption in this way: “Those who lived in closest proximity to the apostles must know best and most accurately how things should be done in the church.” Some are inclined to read the fathers as though they had apostolic authority, at least greater authority than we would grant to Christian leaders today. When it comes to how we should “serve church,” I fear that a number of church fathers simply got it wrong.64 I am tempted to say that a number of departures that are blamed on Constantine are actually rooted in the teachings of some of the fathers. Thus, Constantine merely formalized or institutionalized some of these errors.65

Let me mention some of these unhealthy departures from the New Testament, particularly pertaining to the function of the church. In the period of the fathers, there arose a distinction between the so-called “laity” and the “clergy.” There was the introduction of the doctrine of apostolic succession. There was also the unhealthy elevation of the bishop to a position that approached the authority of our Lord. Here, I rely on the research of Viola and Barna:

“According to Ignatius, the bishop had ultimate power and should be obeyed absolutely. Consider the following excerpts from his letters: ‘Plainly therefore we ought to regard the bishop as the Lord Himself. . . . All of you follow the bishop as Jesus Christ follows the Father. . . . Wherever the bishop shall appear, there will the people be; even as where Jesus may be. . . . It is not lawful apart from the bishop either to baptize or to hold a love feast; but whatever he shall approve, this is well-pleasing also to God. . . . It is good to recognize God and the bishop. He that honors the bishop is honored of God. . . . Do nothing without the bishop. . . . Therefore as the Lord did nothing without the Father, being united with Him, either by Himself or by the Apostles, so neither do you anything without the bishop and the presbyters. . . . You should look on your bishop as a type of the Father.’” (p. 111)

“It fell to the bishop alone to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, conduct baptisms, give counsel, discipline church members, approve marriages, and preach sermons.” (p. 111)

“Tertullian was the first writer to use the word clergy to refer to a separate class of Christians.” (p. 113)

“‘The priest, [Chrysostom] observed, is ever judged by his parish as though he were an angel and not of the same frail stuff as the rest of men.’” (p. 125)

Before Constantine embraced Christianity, the church had already begun to move in the wrong direction – away from the teachings of the Scripture. Apostolic succession, the re-sacrificing of our Lord in the celebration of communion, an elevated position for the priests and bishops, a distinction between laity and clergy were already taking shape. Barnacles – and many of them – were already growing on the bottom of the boat.

We owe the fathers a debt of gratitude, but we do not owe them unquestioned obedience. They, like all the great men of the Bible, were fallible. Unlike the apostles, they could not claim inspiration, inerrancy, and the authority of “thus saith the Lord.” We owe them much, but we also owe them and the church faithfulness to the Word of God, such that error is challenged, no matter what its source.66 I love these words of Paul, which surely apply:

6 I have applied these things to myself and Apollos because of you, brothers and sisters, so that through us you may learn “not to go beyond what is written,” so that none of you will be puffed up in favor of the one against the other. 7 For who concedes you any superiority? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as though you did not? (1 Corinthians 4:6-7, emphasis mine)67

The Era of Constantine68

Constantine had some kind of conversion experience which prompted him to embrace Christianity, making him the first “Christian” emperor of Rome, and thus ending the period persecution of the church. The persecuted church now became the privileged church. Sunday was declared a holiday, and “Worship became more professional, dramatic, and ceremonial.”69 Large and ornate church buildings were constructed, and the church (and the clergy) were granted immunity from taxation. Much of what Constantine added to the newly institutionalized church came from the culture of his day, and a good deal of that was clearly pagan. No doubt it was thanks to Constantine that the Roman Catholic Church was born.

I find it interesting to observe that the cessation of official persecution and this period of governmental favor was not really healthy for the church. And yet this seems to be what many Christians of our own day hope for, particularly when elections draw near.

The Reformation

The Reformation began when Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg and ended with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. It was not Luther’s initial intention to break away from the Roman Church, but rather to reform it, and there was much that needed reforming. But Luther and the Reformers rightly focused on those matters which were of the greatest importance. They are summarized by the five “sola’s”:

Sola scripture (Scripture alone)

Sola fide (faith alone)

Sola gratia (grace alone)

Solus Christus (Christ alone)

Soli Deo gloria (glory to God alone)

The Scriptures alone were the sole authority for faith and practice, and not the declarations of the Roman Church. Salvation is by grace, through faith alone, and not by any works we (or the church) may perform. Salvation is by Christ alone, through His substitutionary death, burial, and resurrection in the sinner’s place. And all of this is to the glory of God alone (and not to men). These vital truths are the foundation of true faith, and thus the basis of one’s eternal salvation. Nothing is more important than correcting errors on these points.

But having said this, there were many other errors that needed to be addressed, many of them pertaining to monstrous “barnacles on the bottom of the church’s boat.” Viola and Barna summarize some of the changes that Luther brought about related to the church:

“In sum, the major enduring changes that Luther made to the Catholic Mass were as follows: (1) he performed the Mass in the language of the people rather than in Latin, (2) he gave the sermon a central place in the gathering, (3) he introduced congregational singing, (4) he abolished the idea that the Mass was a sacrifice of Christ, and (5) he allowed the congregation to partake of the bread and cup (rather than just the priest, as was the Catholic practice). Other than these differences, Luther kept the same order of worship as found in the Catholic Mass.”70

Having acknowledged that Luther was able to bring about some modifications to the practices of the Roman Catholic Church, we must likewise recognize that these modifications were too few and too far between. The priest was still the one who normally administered the sacraments. His title may have changed from “priest” to “pastor,” but his functions remained largely unchanged. There was a very strong and clear distinction between clergy and laity. By and large, the laity was passive participants in the church, while the clergy led. Under the Reformers, preaching came to take a very dominant role and prominent place in the church gathering. While this greatly troubles Viola (and Barna, I assume),71 it does not trouble me nearly as much. I believe that consistent, systematic teaching plays a very important role in the life of the church.

As with the early church fathers, we owe a great debt of gratitude to the Reformers. But they were not infallible, either. While the Reformers strongly insisted that the ministry was restricted to the clergy (whether called a priest or a pastor), it was the Anabaptists who believed that the entire church body (i.e. the “laity”) were entitled to a much greater participation when the church gathered. The Reformers viewed this as a capital offense, and thus Anabaptist believers died at the hand of their Reformed brethren, men like John Calvin. Church history is not necessarily a pretty picture.

The Revivalist Era72

Here, we’re talking about men who were well known, men who were used of God to win many to faith in Jesus Christ73 – Methodist circuit riders and frontier evangelists, and men like John and Charles Wesley, George Whitfield, Charles Finney, and Dwight L. Moody. This movement was characterized by an emphasis on the evangelization of the lost, so that their preaching was aimed at unbelievers, rather than the saints. The focus was on the individual, rather than on the corporate body of Christ. Unlike the Reformers, there was the use of music and other means to appeal to men’s emotions, and thereby win them to Christ. Sadly, this led to various kinds of manipulative methods, and a pragmatic mindset – if it worked to win the lost, it must be right.

Once again we must be grateful for the way God used those through whom a significant number of lost men and women were brought to faith in Jesus. But they were not infallible either, and thus they brought changes to the church which have become “barnacles on our boat.”

Twenty Centuries of Barnacles – Departures from Scripture

So, to sum up the impact of church history on the church itself, let me call attention to several of the departures from Scripture which have negatively impacted the church.

(1) Departure from the biblical doctrine of the “priesthood of all believers” by embracing the false distinction between the “laity” and the “clergy.”

(2) A departure from a biblical emphasis on the “headship of Christ over His church” to an earthly, human, headship.

(3) A departure from the New Testament pattern of leadership by a plurality of men to looking to one man (the priest or the pastor) to lead the church.

(4) A departure from the New Testament precedent of a more informal, participatory gathering (led by the Holy Spirit) to a much more structured and pre-programmed meeting (led by men).

(5) A departure from the New Testament emphasis on the edification of the saints when the church gathers to an emphasis on evangelizing the lost.

(6) A departure from basing church practice on the New Testament Scriptures to operating on pragmatic principles (if it works, it must be right).

I’m not going to attempt to defend these observations or to elaborate on them at this moment in time. My purpose is simply to call your attention to the ways in which the church has departed from its New Testament roots without even being aware of it. Future lessons will develop these observations further.

Traditions: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly74

Traditions: The Bad
Mark 7:1-23

1 Now the Pharisees and some of the experts in the law who came from Jerusalem gathered around him. 2 And they saw that some of Jesus’ disciples ate their bread with unclean hands, that is, unwashed. 3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they perform a ritual washing, holding fast to the tradition of the elders. 4 And when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. They hold fast to many other traditions: the washing of cups, pots, kettles, and dining couches.) 5 The Pharisees and the experts in the law asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with unwashed hands?” 6 He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied correctly about you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. 7 They worship me in vain, teaching as doctrine the commandments of men.’ 8 Having no regard for the command of God, you hold fast to human tradition.” 9 He also said to them, “You neatly reject the commandment of God in order to set up your tradition. 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever insults his father or mother must be put to death.’ 11 But you say that if anyone tells his father or mother, ‘Whatever help you would have received from me is corban’ (that is, a gift for God), 12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother. 13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like this.” 14 Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand. 15 There is nothing outside of a person that can defile him by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles him.” 17 Now when Jesus had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 He said to them, “Are you so foolish? Don’t you understand that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him? 19 For it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and then goes out into the sewer.” (This means all foods are clean.) 20 He said, “What comes out of a person defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the human heart, come evil ideas, sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, evil, deceit, debauchery, envy, slander, pride, and folly. 23 All these evils come from within and defile a person” (Mark 7:1-23, emphasis mine).75

Here, we are dealing with a “tradition” that does not originate in the Bible. Far worse than this, our Lord is chastising the Pharisees and scribes for creating a tradition of their own that “compels” the self-righteous adversaries of Jesus to disobey the commandment of God. The Law taught God’s people that they were duty bound to care for their parents. But in order to evade this obligation, the Pharisees and scribes created a tradition of their own – “corban” – by which they could use their money as they pleased (e.g., on themselves), rather than to care for their parents. They declared their material resources to be “corban,” devoted to God. They could, of course, use this “devoted” money on themselves if they chose, but they no longer felt obligated to spend it on the care of their parents. And thus we have a human tradition that is so strongly held it justifies (in the mind of the sinner) disobedience to God’s commands. This is a bad tradition.

Traditions: The Ugly

“Ugly” traditions come in several forms, but they all have this in common: the traditions (the habitual practice) are prescribed in the Bible. The “bad” traditions (discussed previously) are those which are the “traditions of man,” rather than traditions that come from God. Indeed, these humanly-devised traditions justify (even appear to sanctify) disobedience to God’s commands. But “ugly” traditions are biblical practices, traditions that God’s Word sets out for us to practice. They become “ugly” for several reasons.

First, some biblical traditions become “ugly” when our daily lives do not conform to the traditions we observe:

21 “I absolutely despise your festivals! I get no pleasure from your religious assemblies! 22 Even if you offer me burnt and grain offerings, I will not be satisfied; I will not look with favor on your peace offerings of fattened calves. 23 Take away from me your noisy songs; I don’t want to hear the music of your stringed instruments. 24 Justice must flow like torrents of water, righteous actions like a stream that never dries up” (Amos 5:21-24; see also Isaiah 1:10-15).

In Amos, as well as in Isaiah, God says that He despises the ceremonial sacrifices of Israel because they are hypocritical. They act pious when they perform these rituals (traditions), but they live in an ungodly way the rest of the time. In Romans 2, Paul teaches that circumcision does not benefit the Jew whose life is not consistent with his ceremonial symbol. A Gentile who delights in the law of God is far better off without circumcision than a ritualistic Jew, without obedience.

25 For circumcision has its value if you practice the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. 26 Therefore if the uncircumcised man obeys the righteous requirements of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 27 And will not the physically uncircumcised man who keeps the law judge you who, despite the written code and circumcision, transgress the law? 28 For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision something that is outward in the flesh, 29 but someone is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart by the Spirit and not by the written code. This person’s praise is not from people but from God (Romans 2:25-29).

Some traditions become “ugly” when we perform them before men, in order to receive praise from them (rather than God):

2 Thus whenever you do charitable giving, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in synagogues and on streets so that people will praise them. I tell you the truth, they have their reward. 3 But when you do your giving, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your gift may be in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you. . . . 16 When you fast, do not look sullen like the hypocrites, for they make their faces unattractive so that people will see them fasting. I tell you the truth, they have their reward. 17 When you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others when you are fasting, but only to your Father who is in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:2-4, 16-18).

Some traditions become ugly when we perform them only to get something from God, rather than as an act of worship:

3 They lament, ‘Why don’t you notice when we fast? Why don’t you pay attention when we humble ourselves?’ Look, at the same time you fast, you satisfy your selfish desires, you oppress your workers. 4 Look, your fasting is accompanied by arguments, brawls, and fistfights. Do not fast as you do today, trying to make your voice heard in heaven (Isaiah 58:3-4).

Here, apparently “sacrificial” acts of worship (traditions) are performed for selfish reasons. We cannot expect God to “jump through our hoops.”

Finally, some traditions become ugly when they are only ritualistically performed, without a heart that is rightly directed toward God.

The sovereign master says, “These people say they are loyal to me; they say wonderful things about me, but they are not really loyal to me. Their worship consists of nothing but man-made ritual (Isaiah 29:13).

You plant them like trees and they put down their roots. They grow prosperous and are very fruitful. They always talk about you, but they really care nothing about you (Jeremiah 12:2).

Such traditions are merely “heartless habits,” and thus they don’t please God.

Traditions: The Good

Having seen traditions at their worst, we should now be prepared for good traditions. Good traditions are those traditions based upon biblical commands and apostolic practice, carried out with a heart to glorify God:

“God is spirit, and the people who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).

I praise you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions just as I passed them on to you (1 Corinthians 11:2).

Therefore, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold on to the traditions that we taught you, whether by speech or by letter (2 Thessalonians 2:15).

6 But we command you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from any brother who lives an undisciplined life and not according to the tradition they received from us. 7 For you know yourselves how you must imitate us, because we did not behave without discipline among you, 8 and we did not eat anyone’s food without paying. Instead, in toil and drudgery we worked night and day in order not to burden any of you. 9 It was not because we do not have that right, but to give ourselves as an example for you to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we used to give you this command: “If anyone is not willing to work, neither should he eat.” 11 For we hear that some among you are living an undisciplined life, not doing their own work but meddling in the work of others. 12 Now such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to work quietly and so provide their own food to eat. 13 But you, brothers and sisters, do not grow weary in doing what is right. 14 But if anyone does not obey our message through this letter, take note of him and do not associate closely with him, so that he may be ashamed. 15 Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother (2 Thessalonians 3:6-15, emphasis mine).

The “traditions” we find here are the consistent practice of those things that were taught and exemplified by the apostles (the Apostle Paul, in the case of the texts cited). Thus, these traditions were evident by instruction, command, and example. I believe we can assume that these practices were observed in the proper spirit – the joyful desire to live in a way that pleases God.

I believe we can see that there are traditions which Christians are to observe and that these are plainly evident in the teaching of the New Testament and in the practice of the apostles and the churches. These “traditions” also pertain to how we “serve church,” as well as to how we live our daily lives. The New Testament does not leave us entirely to our own devices. It not only lays down certain principles, but it gives us certain imperatives, and illustrates them by the example of Paul, his fellow apostles, and the churches. We will talk more about this in our next lesson.

Conclusion

One of my goals in this lesson has been to demonstrate that many of the traditions and trappings that we have come to associate with “serving church” have little to nothing to do with the way the churches of the New Testament functioned. I think most Christians would be shocked to learn how little of what passes for “church” is actually found in the New Testament. The question, then, is not “Do we have any barnacles on the bottom of our boat?”, but rather, “Where are our barnacles?” We all have them.

So we must ask ourselves, “Just how bad is it to have barnacles on our boat?” How serious is it for a church to have embraced practices and traditions that have no precedent in the pages of the New Testament? Are we restricted to only those practices we find in the New Testament? Must we repent of any practices not found there? The New Testament churches do not appear to have a formal membership? Does this prohibit churches today from having a membership? I would say not unless it violates some specific command, teaching, or principle of Scripture. This is something we will talk about in our next lesson.

One of the things this lesson taught me was that even the great heroes of church history had their warts (or very big barnacles, if you prefer that imagery). The church fathers contributed significantly to the church by addressing heresy, defining sound doctrine, and initiating the process of identifying what books would be considered a part of the canon of Scripture. But they also overemphasized the role of the bishop, and they gave too much honor and authority to the priest. They paved the way for Constantine to institutionalize Christianity in a way that was not really healthy for the church. Great reformers like Luther and Zwingli and Calvin were far from perfect, and some of the errors they overlooked or instituted themselves are still with us.

But let us not be too hard on the great men of church history; the great men of the Bible had warts as well. I was thinking about the privileged position God assigned to Peter, a man whose foot was often in his mouth, and who could not find the courage to identify himself with the Master after His arrest. I was thinking about Aaron, the first high priest – a man who fashioned Israel’s first idol, while Moses was up on the mountain receiving the stone tablets. I believe that God wanted it to be very clear that men are all fallible. Only Jesus is perfect. Only He deserves our adoration, worship, and unqualified obedience. We gather barnacles on our boat when our focus turns from Him to someone or something else.

As we look back in history and identify those points in time when errors or distortions came into existence, we may wonder just how something like this could happen. It was very easy, my friend, just as it is today. No doubt the variation seemed like the practical thing to do. No doubt people felt that the benefits outweighed the dangers. What happened over twenty centuries of church history is still happening today. Someone seems to be a highly successful church leader, and everyone flocks to hear him tell how he did it. Few bother to question whether his methods or motives might be suspect. We often fail at those critical moments in history when we have the opportunity to obey God’s Word by faith, even when it appears risky.

Incidentally, what is true of “barnacles” corporately or collectively is also true individually. It may well be that as you or I look back over our lives, we may find that we have departed from God’s way of doing things because we felt we could do better on our own. We must persistently evaluate what we are doing and why, and compare this with what the Bible clearly teaches. We may have barnacles on each of our boats.

Finally, it seems to me that one area where many of our barnacles come from is that of our culture. Those who work too hard to accommodate culture will find that they may be doing so at the expense of obedience to God’s Word. The Bible doesn’t use the term “culture,” but it does use the term, “the world.” We are not to allow the world to press us into its mold (I think this is the way J. B. Phillips renders it); we are to be transformed by the Word of God.

1 Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice – alive, holy, and pleasing to God – which is your reasonable service. 2 Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God – what is good and well-pleasing and perfect (Romans 12:1-2).

I dare not end this message without calling your attention to a barnacle that could sink your boat. While every church fails to live up to the standards set in the New Testament, there are some churches who have compromised the gospel itself. They may claim that “all roads lead to Rome” – that all religions lead to heaven. That is not what Jesus said, nor what the apostles taught:

13 “Enter through the narrow gate, because the gate is wide and the way is spacious that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. 14 But the gate is narrow and the way is difficult that leads to life, and there are few who find it. 15 “Watch out for false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are voracious wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruit. Grapes are not gathered from thorns or figs from thistles, are they? 17 In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree is not able to bear bad fruit, nor a bad tree to bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So then, you will recognize them by their fruit. 21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven – only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons and do many powerful deeds?’ 23 Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Go away from me, you lawbreakers!’” (Matthew 7:13-23)

Jesus replied, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, replied, “Rulers of the people and elders, 9 if we are being examined today for a good deed done to a sick man – by what means this man was healed – 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, this man stands before you healthy. 11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, that has become the cornerstone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among people by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:8-12, emphasis mine).

If the church is to do anything, it is to point sinners to Jesus as God’s only means of salvation and eternal life. If you have not acknowledged your sin and trusted in Jesus for salvation, you are not even a member of His church. This is the most critical issue of all. Do not make a mistake here, because the consequences are eternal.


59 Copyright © 2008 by Robert L. Deffinbaugh. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 4 in the series, Can We Serve Church Cafeteria Style? It was prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on February 24, 2008. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit.

60 Pagan Christianity? was initially written by Frank Viola (apparently published in 2002) and was then re-written by Frank Viola and George Barna and published just this year (2008). It is published by Barna, an imprint of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

61 Strangely, Viola and Barna pass over the period of the church fathers and begin with the Constantine era.

62 Community Bible Chapel, located in Richardson, Texas. I have been associated with CBC for over 30 years.

63 http://www.bible.org/node/697

64 In my opinion, it does not take long for men to depart from the truth, and this is certainly confirmed by the Scriptures. We see the Scripture twisting of the Judaisers in Acts 15 and the Book of Galatians, the moral and theological decay of the church in Corinth, the warning and rebuke of our Lord in Revelation 2 and 3, and Paul’s warnings to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20 (note especially verses 28-35).

65 This is not to deny that Constantine introduced some new errors, based not upon the teachings of the fathers, but upon the pagan culture of his day.

66 See Galatians 1 and 2.

67 Compare Revelation 22:18-19.

68 Constantine died in 337 A.D.

69 Viola and Barna, pp. 19, 25.

70 P. 55.

71 “In short, the contemporary sermon delivered for Christian consumption is foreign to both Old and New Testaments. There is nothing in Scripture to indicate its existence in the early church gatherings.” (Viola and Barna, p. 88). Viola and Barna devote an entire (fourth) chapter to this matter (pp. 85-103).

72 This would encompass the 1700-1800s.

73 Not necessarily as many as we might wish, perhaps, or as many as they (and others of their day) may have thought.

74 Though not in this order, as you will quickly see.

75 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.

Related Topics: Ecclesiology (The Church)