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What Must I Do to Be Saved?

There is a tendency as humans to want to feel that we must do something to secure our salvation. God may have done the lion’s share of the work, but we have to do our part and without our part salvation would not have been possible. This enables us to pat ourselves on the back and take some credit. We, in partnership with God, earned our salvation and became righteous.

Is this what the Bible teaches? If we contributed in any way to our salvation then we first must have sought God. If you don’t seek God how can you know God and know what to do to be saved? Yet the Bible says:

“There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God.” (Romans 3:11)

Well that doesn’t sound very good but maybe that was part of God’s contribution. Surely our good works counted for something, right? That must have been our part. I mean, we had to believe and we’re not all bad so surely the good in our life must count for something in God’s eyes? The Bible says salvation is:

“not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:9)

“For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” (Isaiah 64:6)

What? Are you telling me God did it all and I had no part?

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8)

You see, man has two problems. The first is that God hates sin. God cannot sin and will not allow sin to dwell in His presence. Why is that a problem? Because we are sinners! We can’t go one day without sinning much less a lifetime. Well, what if we don’t sin too much? First, if we could see our lives through God’s eyes, we would realize we sin a LOT more than we think. Remember, sins are not just things you do or say but includes your thoughts, your motives, your desires. God can see all that. How many sins does it take to be a sinner? ONE. That’s it, just one. Raise your hand if you have never sinned? No hands. Didn’t think so. So, by definition you ARE A SINNER. What did we say about God and sin? He hates it and won’t allow it to dwell in His presence.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

Is God going to be in heaven? I know, dumb question. So, if God hates sin, and God won’t allow sin in His presence, and God is in heaven, how can we, sinners, go to heaven? Well that’s only in God’s presence. God must have a fancy throne room in a fancy building in heaven and so long as we don’t go in there, we are free to enjoy the rest of heaven. Oh really? Does God have a body? No. Jesus does but not God the Father, not the Holy Spirit. Can God be contained in just one location? No. God is omnipresent which means He is everywhere all at once. There is no place you can go where God is not. Since God is everywhere at all times, I think that includes heaven! So, no sin in heaven.

“Can a man hide himself in hiding places So I do not see him?” declares the LORD. “Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?” declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 23:24)

Well I can’t live a perfect life, and I have sinned, so I guess I can’t go to heaven? You can! Because

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

You see when Jesus went to the cross, for a moment the sin of all the world for all time was put on Him. Even though Jesus had never sinned, He suddenly became sin. But Jesus was righteous. Jesus had never sinned. Jesus was the Son of God. His blood is sufficient to wash away all our sins. Just one drop. God demanded the death of the sinner. Look back at Romans 6:23 I quoted earlier. What are the wages of sin? Death! Are wages gifts? No. You earn your wages. They are due you. You have sinned against God and you have earned the wages of death. Not physical death, though that will happen, by spiritual death which means eternal separation from God!

 Jesus took our place and He died for us. God’s justice was satisfied. The sin problem was dealt with. It was literally nailed to the cross. That’s why Jesus went to the cross. He went there to take on our sin and die for it. It’s like you committed a capital offense, were found guilty, and sentenced to death but then Jesus came and sat in that electric chair for you. Because He died, you don’t have to. Jesus gave His life for yours. It was a free gift.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8)

We call that mercy which means unmerited favor. Unmerited means you didn’t do anything to deserve it. Jesus didn’t die for your sins because you’re a nice guy and He felt sorry for you. No, there was nothing special about you that caused Jesus to die for you. He did it out of love and now is offering you the free gift of His death and His blood to pay the penalty for your sins and to wash them away in His blood. It’s a gift. Can you earn a gift? No. If you earn it then it’s not a gift. Gifts are freely given by the giver. Don’t let our modern holiday and birthday gifting taint your view of gifts. You might give a gift in certain circumstances because you feel it’s expected. You would rather not give it but you feel you have no choice. We might call that a gift but if you feel obligated to give it then it’s not a gift. Not really. True gifts are given because YOU want to give them. You don’t have to, you’re not obligated to, you simply want to. Jesus wants to give you His gift. He loves you. He really wants you to have it. To get a gift though you have to receive it. The gift is not yours until you receive it. How do you receive Jesus’ gift then? We’ll get to that.

You said there were two problems? What’s the other one? Glad you asked. God has another requirement to enter heaven. It’s not enough that you have no sin. You have to also be perfectly righteous. Ah, that’s where our good works come in right? Wrong. You cannot do enough good works to be perfectly righteous. Plus, do you think a sinner is perfectly righteous? Well maybe once God washes us in the blood of Christ, and removes all our sin, then we are perfectly righteous? Nope. That’s kind of like someone paying off all your bills and so you owe no one anything but you have zero dollars in your bank account. Do you get a perfect credit score of 800 if you have zero dollars but no debt? No. Even if after you are saved, you go on to do lots of good works through the Holy Spirit you still haven’t done enough to be perfectly righteous. Well then, it’s impossible!

Every heard of imputation? Impu-what? Imputation. No. Fancy word but to have something imputed to you means to have something not of you credited to you. It’s like having that zero-bank account and less than 800 credit and someone with a perfect credit score gives that score to you and the credit bureaus now view you as having a perfect credit rating. You didn’t earn that credit score. You did absolutely nothing to get it. That’s imputation. When it comes to salvation, God takes Christ’s (Jesus’) perfect righteousness and imputes it (credits it) to us. Now in God’s eyes we are perfectly righteous. We weren’t but we were made righteous by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2nd Corinthians 5:21)

So, if we except Jesus’ gift we can have our sins forgiven and washed away? Yes. Good news. What? Jesus really has two gifts for you. The first is His shed blood and death for you. The second is the imputation of His righteousness. So use the money analogy, you started out in terrible debt and facing a death sentence. Jesus came along and paid off your debts and took your place on the electric chair and died for you. You are so thankful because you know you were in terrible debt and that was your own fault. You also know you deserved to die. All you had to do was say yes and all this happened for you!

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

That’s probably the best-known verse in the Bible. Ever see the guy in the background at football games or other TV events and he’s holding a sign that says “John 3:16?” This is the verse. What did God do according to this verse? He gave his only begotten Son (Jesus). Note God gave us Jesus. That’s a gift. Why did God offer us this gift? Because “God so loved the world.” God did it out of love. How do we receive the gift? “whoever believes in Him.” You have to believe. Is believing a work? No. It takes place in your mind and in your soul. What results from the gift? “[you] shall not perish, but have eternal life.” God offers you a gift out of love. The gift is His Son Jesus who died for your sins and offers you His righteousness. If you believe, you are no longer deserving death and God gives you eternal life!

What’s the catch? I mean, this sounds too good to be true and usually things that are too good to be true come with a catch so what’s the catch? There’s no catch. No hidden clauses. However, in accepting these gifts you have to acknowledge the giver of the gift. Jesus isn’t just some guy. He’s God. He’s sinless and perfectly righteous. He created time and space and everything in it. He is Lord. He is above all kings, all rulers, all countries, all armies, all royalty. He is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. You have to know that and believe that. You can’t just say Jesus was a good man, or a prophet, or a guru, or some great philosopher or teacher. If Jesus were any of those things or all of those things that still wouldn’t have made Him perfectly righteous and no amount of His blood could have washed away your sins. It’s because He is God that He is perfectly righteous because only God can be perfectly righteous. It’s because He is God that His death could satisfy God perfect justice. We sinned against God and it’s God we have to answer to and our own death would not be enough to pay the price for our sins. Only Jesus’ death could do that. If you believe Jesus is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords then what should you do? What did regular people always do in the presence of their king? They got down on their knees and prostrated themselves before their king. They also pledged their allegiance to him and promised to do all he commanded. In return he protected them and provided for them. We don’t bow to Jesus to earn salvation. We bow in recognition of who He is. We humble ourselves and bow before our God and Savior.

If you have any other concept of who Jesus is then believing in that Jesus will not save you. There are a lot of counterfeit Jesus’ out there and lots of groups who claim they’ve got the real Jesus or they claim it’s doesn’t matter who or what you believe in just that you believe. They are wrong. You have to bow your knee and accept the free gift from the one and only true Son of God. He is the only one who can save you. You don’t need to know everything about Him when you ask for His forgiveness. You just need to acknowledge He is God. He is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords and that your sinned against Him and need His forgiveness and His righteousness. Do that and He will give you His gifts and welcome you into His family.

How can you know more about Jesus? Read his book. It’s called the Bible and is the number one best seller of all time even today. He’ll help you to understand it too even though it’s not hard to understand. He will give you the Holy Spirit to live inside you and guide you. He will always be with you. Don’t buy the lie that God has other books. Just the Bible.

Jesus did it all and He offers all of us the free gift of salvation. Don’t make the mistake though of thinking your earned it nor the mistake of thinking you have to add to it. You can’t accept His gift and think you earned it at the same time. You have to acknowledge that you sinned and became unrighteous and that you could not save yourself or contribute anything to your salvation. It’s all Him. Our pride might not like that. We want to think we had some part to play. If we think that then we have no idea how bad our sin is and how useless we are in contributing to our salvation. You have to come to Jesus humbly acknowledging that your only hope for salvation is found in His death and His righteousness. If you believe it was me + Jesus, then you got the wrong gospel and you have not been forgiven. It’s not me plus Jesus. It’s just Jesus.

Once we’ve been forgiven then we begin a new life. Now we have the Holy Spirit of God within us. When we obey God and do good works, it’s not to earn our salvation or maintain it. Jesus did it all. It’s done. Past tense. We do good works now because we love God and want to do His will.

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)

Notice we are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus. Who did the work? Not us. God did it. What did he also do? He created good works for us, beforehand, so that we would walk in them. God has big plans for you. We aren’t doing good works to get right with God. We are doing good works to please God, to obey Him, and because we love Him.

One more thing. Ever heard of an “Indian giver?” Thankfully that saying is out of style. It means someone who gives you a gift and then changes his mind and wants it back. That’s not what the Indians did. The term came from a cultural misunderstanding in the 1700’s. In Indian culture when a gift was given, something of equal value was expected back. If you did not want to give something back then the Indian might be offended and take his gift back. Hence the term.

We already established that you didn’t do anything to earn your salvation and that you didn’t do anything to receive except to believe. We also learned that God offered us salvation out of love. God doesn’t care if you’re wealthy or poor, young or old, have light skin, dark skin, or any other shade of skin, if you’re from America or Russia, you’re a man or a woman. God’s gift is for everyone. God does not play favorites. Once you receive God’s gift, you have eternal life. You can’t lose it, have it taken away from you, or stolen from God.

“and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” (John 10:28)

Some people teach that once you are saved you have to keep doing good works or you could lose your salvation. That’s not what the Bible teaches. We read the verse earlier that God prepared “beforehand” good works for us to do. He prepared these for us to do after we received His gift of salvation. We just read that we can’t lose our salvation so there is nothing more we need to do after receiving God’s gift.  These people think that you have to keep your salvation by adding good works. They get this idea from something James wrote:

“What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?” (James 2:14)

If you read what James wrote, all of it, you see he’s trying to make a point here. An important point. Anyone can go around claiming to be a Christian; claiming to have saving faith. We have some expressions, talk is cheap. The proof is in the pudding. Put your money where your mouth is. Actions speak louder than words. We all know what those expressions mean. Walk your talk.

What did Ephesians 2:10 said God did? It said he prepared good works for us to do. Salvation is about more than making us right with God. God loves you so much that He wants you to be like Jesus. He gives you the Holy Spirit to aid you in living your new life of faith. Those good works you do, that God prepared beforehand, that are the “proof in the pudding.” They are the evidence of the salvation you already possess. That’s what James was arguing. If you say your saved and have faith but your life is not showing any evidence of it, then maybe your faith was not true faith. Maybe you didn’t really mean it. Maybe you talked yourself into saying the words but in your heart they were not true. If that’s your “faith” then that faith cannot save you. You are saved by faith alone but your faith does not leave you alone. You change. God begins working on you. Some things might change quickly while other things might change more gradually. You don’t become perfect. Not this side of heaven. We still have that old habit of sin hanging around that we have to resist. But you do change. If you live a long life after your claim faith and nothing ever changes, then you ought to question if your faith was genuine.

The Apostle Paul, in writing to the believers at the church in Corinth, said:

“Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you– unless indeed you fail the test?” (2nd Corinthians 13:5)

Paul was warning them against complacency and false faith. It is always a good thing to take a good hard look at your life and ask yourself the hard questions. If you see some answers you don’t like, then you know what to work on. A changed life and evidence of a relationship with Jesus is a good test. Was your salvation a one-time event in your life and after that you just went back to your old life and never spent time with God? You never changed, you never sought God in prayer, you never read His Word (the Bible), you never sought the company of other believers. That’s what Paul means by testing. He’s not saying you can lose your salvation but maybe you’ve stopped walking in those good works or maybe you never had saving faith.

So, no you don’t need good works to be saved. You just need faith. That faith is a seed from which a new life will sprout and grow and produce good fruit. That is the outworking and evidence of our faith.

If you have never asked God’s forgiveness, do so now. Ask Jesus to forgive you. Ask for His blood to wash away your sins and His righteousness to be imputed to you. Tell Him He’s your Lord and you will strive, with His assistance, to lead a fruitful life out of love and obedience to Him. There are no special words. You don’t have to be in a church when you pray this prayer. Prayer is just talking to God. He can hear you. No matter where you are. He loves you no matter what you’ve done. More than you know. He will make you beautiful in His eyes. No matter who you are, what you’ve done He loves you. You think God could never love you because you’ve done so many bad things? You’re wrong. God’s love is unconditional. He loves you despite who you are and what you’ve done. He has seen it all. No one is beyond God’s reach. You can’t be too bad for God. Don’t believe Satan’s lie that you’ve cross a line, are too far gone, and God could never forgive you. God can and will even when you are not ready to forgive yourself. Maybe you’ve never experienced that kind of love and forgiveness and it’s totally foreign to you. That’s ok. God understands. Trust Him. I promise you will never regret it.

Will the Church Go Through the Tribulation?

The Doctrine of Imminency
The return of Christ has been expected by the Church since the time of Christ. This expectation that His return could happen at any time with no preconditions is known as the Doctrine of Imminency. The Church is told to “watch” and to “look” for his return. In the description of the Rapture of the Church, we see believers going about their daily lives working in the fields and doing other normal activities. Suddenly some are taken while others are left behind. To me this suggests they were not aware the Lord was about to return (other than knowing it could happen at any time. If any of the events described as occurring in the Tribulation had to occur before the Rapture, then Christ’s return would not be imminent. We would have recognizable events we would expect to see first. This contradicts all the Scriptures that depict His return as imminent and without warning.


The Church in the Tribulation?
In John 14:1-3, in connection with the promise of Christ, “I will come again,” the purpose of His coming is revealed to be to take believers to “my Father’s house,” by which term He describes heaven. After He meets the church in the air, He will take them to the place prepared. In contrast, at His coming to establish the millennial kingdom, all believers remain in the earthly scene. In 1 Thessalonians 5:4-10, believers are assured that they are children of light, not children of darkness. They are comforted with the promise that the day of wrath will not overtake them as a thief, as it will the world. They are promised, “For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:9). In 1 Thessalonians 1:10 our hope is stated: “To wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.” If believers are delivered “from the wrath to come,” why inflict upon them a day of wrath designed for the ungodly? Are not believers assured: “Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him” (Rom. 5:9)? In Revelation 3:10 the godly church at Philadelphia is promised: “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.” In a word, they are promised that they will be kept “from” the period of tribulation ahead. That is different from being kept “through” this time. (https://bible.org/seriespage/6-will-church-go-through-tribulation)

We see in Scripture two programs of God. First, God established the nation of Israel and revealed Himself to them. There were many faithful Jews who responded to God’s revelation and faith in the future-coming Messiah. Not all did, however. Many strayed and by the time of Christ’s first coming faith among the Jews was waning. They thought themselves righteous by virtue of lineage and thinking they were keeping the law. While much of Jesus’ ministry was to Jews, not all of it was. He spoke of “other children” and in the Book of Acts we see the Gospel going to the Gentiles which had been God’s plan all along. While some Jews came to accept Jesus as their Messiah, the majority have not. In 70 A.D. Roman soldiers sacked the city of Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple putting to an end the sacrificial system of Judaism. Jesus’ death on the cross had already rendered that system of no further value. It was to point to the ultimate sacrifice in Jesus. Once Jesus died, there was no longer a need to sacrifice in the Temple (see Hebrews 10.) Most of the Jews rejected Jesus and continued in their useless ceremonies until the Romans destroyed their Temple and dispersed them.

In the over 2000 years that have followed, we have been in the Church age where God’s focus has turned to the Church though He has not forgotten Israel. The Church age will culminate with the return of Christ and the Rapture where His church will join Him in heaven to dwell with Him forever. That is not the end though. As God always saved a faithful remnant of Jews in the OT, He will also save a remnant during The Tribulation. God’s gaze now returns to Israel and the fulfillment of His plan for them. Some Jews and some Gentiles will come to believe during the Tribulation. They are who are in view in Revelation 13:7. They will suffer for their faith but spend eternity with God. At the end of the seven year Tribulation, Christ will return again with His angels and end the reign of the Antichrist and bound up Satan and the demons and the 1000 year Millennial Kingdom will begin.

Romans 13: Obey the Governing Authorities

Anyone living in the United States today knows we are in a political mess. Our nation is more polarized than it has been since perhaps the run up to the Civil War. We have two parties diametrically opposed . If one says black the other says white. They seem obsessed with opposing each other. Both parties was the “Holy Grail” of having the Presidency, the House, and the Senate under their control. Then they can push through all their legislative priorities.

Of course it rarely happens that all three line up under the same party and even when it does, the next time the other party has control they attempt to undo whatever the first party accomplished. The two parties are so gridlocked that increasingly our Presidents are resorting to executive orders to accomplish their goals. Rather than debate budget priorities, now the solution seems to be giving both sides whatever they want resulting in huge deficits.

Each party automatically opposes anything the other party proposes. At the very least they must find some fault with it they can correct and thus take partial credit. Politicians live for re-election and parties live to gain control. It now takes millions of dollars to get elected President requiring huge political organizations. Without the backing of a one of the two major parties, getting elected is nearly impossible. Unless you are a very rich person capable of funding your own campaign, it’s impossible. It takes more than money though. You need media consultants, political consultants, grass root workers, speech writers, and on and on. The two major parties have such people and tend to use them regularly so there are not a lot of people like that waiting to be employed. So while we have more than two parties, for all practical purposes we have just two.

Consider also that in Congress the majority leader of each legislative party gets to be the leader of that body. They are voted on by their own party. A minority leadership position is given to the minority party. What about members from other parties like independents? Bernie Sanders, while an Independent, still aligned himself with the Democratic Party each time he ran for President. He know as an Independent he could never fund and run a successful campaign. Our two-party system also results in each party nominating their most popular candidate to run in the general election. There is no chance for the public to choose among multiple Republicans or Democrats.

Countless hours and millions of dollars are wasted in each party opposing the other. Instead of accepting their have different visions and compromising to get things done, they dig their heels in and refuse to compromise except on minor issues or when forced to. Agreement between the parties seems like a pipe dream and the national debt just keeps piling up.

What should we do as Christians? Romans 13 tells us:

13 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (ESV)

Some Christians have thrown themselves into politics and made it a personal crusade to support whomever they feel is most conducive to the Biblical worldview. While this is the right and privilege of every citizen we should remember Jeremiah 17:9 tells us:

“The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick;
Who can understand it?

Sinful hearts will never lead to perfect government. Until Christ reigns on earth, there will be corruption, strife, and disorder. While we should strive for good government we have to understand the limitations of human nature. Unless redeemed by God, man is foolish, willful, prideful, and corrupt. Yet we are still told to submit to the governing authorities as they are instituted by God.

The Pharisees tried to draw Jesus into politics hoping to trap him between the people and Rome. When asked about paying taxes, Jesus answered that they should render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and render unto God what is God’s. They had hoped if he told them taxes were unjust they could get him in trouble with the Roman authorities. If he told them to pay taxes they hoped the people would turn on him for being a “Roman lover.” Yet his answer disarmed them. As oppressive as Rome was on her subjects, Jesus never spoke out against Rome. Neither did the Apostle Paul who was in chains due to Roman justice. Their focus was always on saving souls not saving governments. Only by changing hearts could society change. Laws will never what the Spirit of God can.

The Supreme Court may change it’s make up and reverse former rulings but they do not determine truth. The Constitution was written over two decades ago and applying portions of it to today’s world leads to different interpretations. As justices retire, who replaces them is largely up to the President. The balance of power between conservative and liberal is ongoing. Justices are not ruling based on God’s Word.

We can’t and shouldn’t expect our government to save us. Nor should not despair if our government is corrupt. Our missions remains unchanged. We are to love the Lord our God, which all our heat, soul and mind, and love our neighbor as ourselves. We are then to fulfill the Great Commission taking the gospel to the world. As citizens of this country, we should be informed and participate but not get distracted so much by politics that we forget our mission. We should not fear government but rather fear God who can throw both body and soul into everlasting fire. Rome did not last forever. Kings and rulers come and go. Only God is everlasting. Live not in fear and despair but in joyful expectation of the return of our Lord.

Church History

Church History

Let’s look a bit at the development of the church as seen in Scripture and history. Jesus died around 30 A.D. Starting about 30 years later, the Apostles and a few authors directly associated with them began writing what we know of as the New Testament. Their writings were circulated among the many fledgling churches scattered throughout the Mediterranean area. Copies were made. The early church, as recorded in the Book of Acts, largely met in people’s homes. A few got to use the facilities of Synagogues but Cathedrals and modern style church buildings were still centuries away. Scripture does not give us a blueprint for their gatherings. It only tells us what the major elements were. They sang hymns and spiritual songs, they prayed and worshipped, they were instructed from those early writings and the teaching of men who either were Apostles or trained by them. They also broke bread and remembered the Lord’s death and resurrection through communion.

There were no priests, choirs, mentions of incense, robes, specific prayers, the order of affairs, etc. No liturgy. Anything that was later added by churches as the “proper way to do things” was not described for us in the Bible. They are manmade traditions we’ve added and like all things must be judged by Scripture.

Scripture (the Bible) is the Word of God. It alone is God’s perfect revelation to man. While it was written by men, those men told us they were moved by the Holy Spirit to write what they wrote. It wasn’t something cultic like automatic writing but the Holy Spirit, using their vocabulary and writing style, guided them in writing each and every word. It’s true the formal declaration of what constituted the canon of Scripture (i.e. the official books) did not happen until much later, history tells us that the books chosen were universally recognized as meeting some important criteria. They had to be written by an Apostle or someone closely associated with an Apostle (e.g. Luke who traveled extensively with Paul). There had to be evidence they were widely accepted and changed lives. Through these and a few other criteria, it was obvious what belonged. This became the New Testament. Together with the Old Testament, It is our only source of revelation from God. It was understood that these writings were unique as were the men who wrote them. Future writings would have to be judged by these writings. They set the once and forever standard. No future writings or teachings could be added to them.

As the early church grew and spread, it continued to be guided by these early writings and Apostolic teaching. We have recorded one time when the Apostles met as a group with Paul to discuss a few matters Paul brought to them. Otherwise, the Apostles themselves eventually left Jerusalem and ministered in different places. There was no ongoing Apostolic council. There was no hierarchy, no single leader. The NT speaks of teachers, elders, and deacons. No mention is made of priests, bishops, cardinals, or a pope. No nuns or monks. No presbyteries, church committees, or denominations. There was no central authority except that of the Scriptures.

In the mid-300’s A.D., the Roman Emperor Charlemagne converted to Christianity. After centuries of persecution, Christianity finally had a patron in a position of power. The Emperor. This is when we start to see some formal organization beginning. Being Emperor of the vast Roman Empire required much delegation and organization. Charlemagne expected the same of the church. He wanted someone in Rome who could be his appointed head of the church so he had someone in a position of power to deal with. Thus was born the office of the Bishop of Rome. Prior to this, there were some learned teachers who were called Bishops in recognition of their gifts but not yet part of any larger organizational structure. It was more a title of honor.

We have some writings of these early church leaders that have survived. They are often collectively referred to as the Church Fathers. None of these men were Apostles or alive during the time of Christ. The earliest or their writings are from time after the Apostles were all gone. Much of their writings come hundreds of years later. While their writings are of great historical value to us, their writings are still the writings of men and not Scripture. Their writings were not chosen to be part of the NT. Jesus lived in an age where there were no recording devices. Spoken words had to be written down then copied. That is one of the reasons a criterion for writing to be part of the NT is that it had to be written by an Apostle or someone in direct contact with an Apostle. Any writing outside of that could not be trusted and had to be judged by those writings. Even today, with all our technology, we don’t have perfect or complete information about things that happened 100 – 200 years ago. There are elements of the story of the founding of the United States that are rumor and not verified fact. The Church Fathers were not writing Scripture. Their letters and other writings were their own thoughts and must be compared to Scripture. We are not free to consider their teachings on par with Scripture. Nothing is on par with Scripture. No subsequent teachings or writings. The Scriptures are the only revelation given by God for our instruction. All teachings must be based on them.

Over the centuries after Charlemagne this new Roman Church, led by the Bishop of Rome, began to expand its power and influence added many traditions and teachings not found in Scripture. While some were consistent with Scripture and allowable, others weren’t. Worse, some of these teachings and traditions were treated as equal to Scripture. Certain decisions and declarations made by this new Roman Church were considered church canon and carried the weight of the Scriptures. All the major teachings of the Roman Catholic church came into being after Charlemagne. Things like the mass, the office of the Pope, Papal infallibility, Mariology, etc. The seeds of some of these traditions may have existed earlier but were not practiced by the early church. Over centuries the Roman Catholic church claimed the authority to establish these things and declared them on par with Scripture but by what authority? They could not claim the authority of Scripture as they were adding to it. Their attempts to find support in Scripture have been contested by many and often are misinterpretations or insufficient. The fact that Peter made the summary statement when the Apostles met with Paul in Jerusalem is often cited as proof he was the early head of the church and thus the first Pope. Some claim Peter was the original organizer of the church in Jerusalem. Even if he was, that does not establish the office of the Pope. As the church scattered, some Apostles stayed primarily in Jerusalem while others made extensive missionary journeys. Naturally, they took on different roles. Paul was the leading missionary of the Apostles whereas Peter ministered more extensively in Jerusalem. Neither one was over the other. In fact, Paul later publicly called out Peter for his hypocritical behavior as recorded in Scripture. They were equals. The Apostles as a group were unique and never repeated but among them, there was no hierarchy. Scholars agree that for centuries the church had no overarching organization of leadership. No Pope can be found. It wasn’t for centuries that the Roman Catholic church sought to establish the office of the Pope and then tried to look back through history and claim a line of succession starting from Peter. Based on what? How good were their records to really know these men they were declaring Popes centuries later? Why is there no record of these men acting as some universal head of the church in their time?

We would do well at this juncture to remember what the “church” is. The church began on the day of Pentecost. Simply put, the church is the collection of believers across the world and throughout history. It is all those who have put their faith and trust in Jesus as their Lord in Savior. The church is not a building, an organization, or those who hold to certain interpretations of Scripture. While Charlemagne was establishing the Bishop of Rome (the forerunner to the Pope and one of the many titles for the Pope) the church already existed and had since the day of Pentecost. What we know as Roman Catholicism is a manmade institution created over time by those claiming authority and thereafter establishing their rule of what correct doctrine and practice should be. There has always been those outside of the Roman Catholic church that were still a part of the church. One did not have to come under the authority and practice of the Roman Catholic church to be a part of God’s church. Eventually, there was a great schism in the Roman Catholic church in 1054 which lead to the east-west split. Later, in the 15th century, the Protestant Reformation caused another schism. So which tradition is right? Is there an overall leader of the church? The answer is found in the Scriptures as it should be.

The church is all those who belong to Jesus. It is not a function of what local church or denomination they belong to. They are subject to no Pope or other ecclesiastical authority. Scripture only defines accountability to one another and to local elders. The Roman Catholic Church has priests leading their local churches across the world. Yet Biblically, Priests were unique to the OT and the Temple. They belonged to an era, pre-Christ, when man still needed representation before God in certain functions. The Book of Hebrews teaches that in Jesus the entire OT religious structure, including priests and the Temple, were done away with. Jesus became our new high priest. Scripture declares that there is now no intercessor between God and man except Jesus Christ. The Roman Catholic function of the priest came about in the 2nd century when some churches began to formalize communion feeling it ought to be administered by those holding a priestly office. This is not found in Scripture. As Paul established churches, he appointed elders who were put in charge of the church but did not give any teaching as to how communion was to be celebrated. The early church met in people’s homes. There were no priests presiding over these meetings or the celebration of communion. If only a priest can preside over communion (later called by the Roman Catholic church the Eucharist) then was the early church’s practice of celebration communion invalid? Over time, the role of the priest expanded to hearing confessions and granting absolution. After Christ freed us from the need for representation, man was reinstituting it. When Jesus died on the cross, Scripture tells us the curtain in the Temple was torn from top to bottom. This was a very thick curtain made from sewing many layers of material together. Tearing such a curtain in half would be like trying to tear a phone book in half a feat very few can do. It happened in an instant and not by the hand of man. Scripture tells us that the renting of that curtain represented the removal of the veil between God and man. We no longer need sacrifices, a Temple, or priests. We have direct access to God through Jesus. We can confess our sins to Him in prayer. Why do we want to go back to the OT and have to have others ministering on our behalf when we have been given the great freedom and blessing to go directly to God! The Jews were afraid to even say the name of God. They took the vowels out of Yahweh and abbreviated it so they would not speak His name. God was always approached very formally. Yet in the NT we are told we can call God “Abba” which means father or more intimately, daddy. We have been given a great privilege, why do we reject it and feel we have to go through others? We are trying to overlay OT ritual over the NT freedom we have in Christ. Jesus described the OT law as a yoke too hard to bear. He’s freed us from that yoke! Why do we want to put it back on?

If you want to see the church that began on the day of Pentecost, read the Book of Acts but keep in mind that for the birth of the church age, God gave signs and wonders and appointed Apostles. We see them planting churches, spreading the Good News, appointment elders and deacons to carry on the work, performing signs and wonders to give testimony to the Gospel and to their unique office, and then they fade from history except through their writings. As they left us so did the signs and wonders that accompanied them and so did the office of Apostle. Their work complete, they joined their Lord in heaven. Their writings became the NT and their pattern of evangelism and church planting was left for us to carry on.

Centuries later men started to add to the church things that are not found in Scripture claiming an authority only the Apostles had. They claimed their teachings were equal to those of the Apostles. This is nothing but the work of man claiming to be the work of God. This is why our faith and our worship must be grounded on Scripture. Many have come forward in the centuries since claiming new revelations from God. Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, claimed to have received revelation from God to restore the “gospel.” With no proof the Gospel was ever lost, he preceded to offer new teaching that was not in agreement with Scripture. He set himself up as a prophet and claimed new revelations. Sadly, he deceived many and continues to today although the deception is from Satan with Joseph Smith only being Satan’s tool. Countless cults have come and gone some in bloody endings. The Roman Catholic church continues on yet has been racked in recent years with terrible revelations of child abuse often hidden by the very church that claims to be God’s true church on earth.
The church is not an organization, a denomination, a building, or a local gathering. The church is all who have put their faith in trust in Jesus Christ and who worship in spirit and in truth. It is built upon the Word of God and the confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God who died for our sins and rose on the third day and will come again to judge the living and the dead. We have direct access to the Throne of Grace through Jesus Christ. We don’t need priests or prophets or those claiming special anointings. We are called the children of God and saints. Not saints as invented by the Roman Catholic church but true saints – disciples of Jesus.

Jesus had barely returned to heaven when false teachers arose. Paul wrote extensively about the Judaizers and Gnostics and other false teachers. Satan loves to counterfeit the things of God to mislead us. Church history is full of such counterfeits. Scripture must be our rock, our foundation against which all things are tested and judged. Any human organization that claims to be the true church or is headed by someone claiming to be God’s representative speaks falsehood. If we build on anything but the solid rock of Jesus Christ as revealed through the Scriptures, we build on shifting sand and what we build will not last.

What Christmas Means to Me

That’s What Christmas Means to Me

I don’t have decorations or a tree,
They’re not what Christmas means to me.

No stockings or cookies or gifts to see,
That’s not what Christmas means to me.

No holiday parties, no cards or carols.
You must think I’m the Grinch,
With no heart and no Christmas apparel.

It’s actually a birthday, I hope you can see.
A savior was born amid the debris,
Soon there were wise men, down on their knees.

He put aside His crown,
For the earth to come down.
He lived His life to die for you and me,
That’s what Christmas means to me.

Jesus is the reason I celebrate the day,
He was God’s gift as He lay in the hay.
So as you gaze upon the star atop your tree,
Remember that first Christmas and who was born for thee!
His love is a gift, no cost it’s free.
You just have to ask Him down on your knees.

Then next Christmas you will say indeed,
Jesus is the reason, that’s Christmas for me.