Navarre Messenger

October 10, 2010

In this issue: Is Acts 2:38 Heresy? by Tommy Thornhill; What is the Work of the Local Church? by Philip Mullins

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By Tommy Thornhill

“Jesse L. Sewell was born in Overton County, TN in 1818. He grew up in a Baptist community and became a Baptist preacher of some note in his native county. In the course of time, he learned the truth about Acts 2:38 (i.e. that baptism was in order to obtain remission of sins) from reading the New Testament. He began preaching this and it caused considerable confusion in the Baptist church. A Baptist preacher by the name of Jenkins Thompkins began to discuss Jesse Sewell's departure from Baptist doctrine, and this resulted in a discussion of the errors taught by the Baptists. “

“Finally, the Baptist association brought charges against Sewell. He was convicted and excluded from the Baptist church. The clerk asked how to make the record of the charges in the minutes of the association? The moderator told him to write "for teaching heresy." To this, Sewell replied that would be recording a falsehood and that they could not make a true record in any other way than by stating that he was excluded for preaching faith, repentance, and baptism, for the remission of sins, as taught in Acts 2:38. After some discussion, it was finally agreed that the record should be made as Sewell suggested, hence he was excluded from the Baptist church for preaching Acts 2:38. The minutes so record it.” - H. Leo Boles in "The Christian Journal."

The above story is true. The same things happened to my grandparents. They were members of the Mount Olive Baptist church near Polk City, FL. In 1914, they had occasion to attend a gospel meeting being held in the area, and one evening during the meeting, both obeyed the gospel, and that same night were baptized into Christ for the remission of their sins as per Acts 2:38. As a result the Baptist church they had been attending took action to exclude them from the Baptist church. According to the minutes of the meeting held to exclude them from the Mount Olive Baptist church, they were voted out of the Baptist church. What was the reason given and recorded in the minutes of that meeting? "Lucious and Missouri Thornhill are excluded from the Baptists because they have departed from both the Bible faith and the Baptist faith."

In both stories people were excluded from the Baptist church for believing and teaching that according to Acts 2:38 a person had to repent and be baptized in order to gain remission of sins, not because his/her sins had already been forgiven. According to Baptist teaching this is heresy. BUT, this is not true. It is the Baptist teaching that is heresy! An inspired apostle wrote there is "one Lord, one faith, one baptism." Ephesians 4:5. Yet, the minutes concerning my grandparents exclusion from the Baptist church mentions two faiths, the Bible faith and the Baptist faith. The minutes name two faiths. One has to be wrong since the Bible says there is only "one faith." I prefer to believe an inspired man, rather than an uninspired one. See I Peter 4:11. Which one will you believe?

Most religious people will freely admit that Jesus taught baptism in Mark 16:16 and Acts 2:38, but deny that one is baptized in order to be saved. They "see" baptism as important, but cannot "see" how baptism can be for the remission of sins because the Bible says Jesus shed His blood for the remission of sins. Billy Graham, a world-renown Baptist preacher says that baptism is important, but not essential to salvation. Note the following:

“Baptism is a conclusive act of obedience and witness to the world that we are Christ's . . . To one who has received Christ, baptism is a necessary and meaningful experience . . .As the scripture is reviewed, the place of baptism will surely be discovered. If baptism were a requirement for salvation, we would certainly say that. But you couldn't support that knowing, for example, that the thief on the cross had no opportunity for baptism or church membership. Yet, on his confession salvation was secured." [Billy Graham, "Is baptism necessary for salvation?", Billy Graham Evangelistic Association]

But what people "see" or "don't see" is a far cry from what Jesus and His inspired apostles "said." Just what does Acts 2:38 teach? "Then Peter said to them, 'repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'" The conclusion is plain enough, even by a casual reading. One who repents and is baptized will obtain remission of sins. Be honest. Isn't that really what this passage teaches?

With what has been written, I can just hear some preacher say, "Oh, no! That is not what it says." He then turns to the prepositional phrase "for the remission of sins" and pointing to the preposition "for" exclaims, "Peter is saying that one is baptized 'because one has already been saved, not in order to be saved.' " It is true the word "for" in English sometimes means "because of," but the "sometimes" is not true of Acts 2:38. Every reliable translation I know renders the phrase "for the remission of sins" as meaning "in order to" or "to obtain" remission of sins. None of them translates it "because of." The message conveyed in this passage is that one must repent and be baptized in order to receive remission of sins.

To further prove that the phrase "for the remission of sins" means "in order to" and not "because of" turn to Matthew 26:28. "For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins." In the Greek, the phrase "for the remission of sins" is exactly the same as the one in Acts 2:38. And, here in Matthew it certainly doesn't mean that Jesus shed His blood because people already had remission of sins. He shed His blood in order that man might obtain salvation. It shouldn't take a genius to understand that whatever the phrase means in Matthew 26:28 it means the same thing in Acts 2:38.

Peter's audience on Pentecost was not composed of critics seeking to justify a doctrine of "faith only." Rather, they were simple, humble people who understood what to do. "Then those who gladly received his word were baptized, and that day about three thousand souls were added to them" (Acts 2:41). ~

What is the Work of the Local Church?

There are so many good causes in the world. There are so many needs that people have. There are so many problems in society that need to be addressed. Of all of these, which ones merit the attention of the church?

First of all, what is the church? As the apostle Paul is addressing the Corinthians in his first letter, he says, "To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord...... (I Corinthians 1:2). The Greek word for church means "called out". It was used to describe a gathering of citizens to decide political matters or a band of men who would go off to war. It is a collective noun and its use in the New Testament indicates the church is a collection of people. However, the church is not just any gathering of people. As the above verse indicates, it is the body of people who are sanctified in Christ, called to be saints, and who call on the name of Jesus. The church is the collection of people who have been called out of sin to follow Christ. The term can either be used for the entire collection of saved people in Christ (Matthew 16:18) or an assembly of them in a given location, as in the case with the church of God in Corinth. According to the instructions and examples of the New Testament, it is only this local church that organizes and works as a unit. What kind of work does the collection of Christians do in a given community? What are the needs and problems upon which they focus?

The local church at Antioch is a good example of the kind of work a local church does. Acts 11:22-30 lists three things that this local church did in fulfilling their divine calling.

In vs. 22-24 we see that Barnabas comes from Jerusalem and works with the church, in Antioch. Vs. 24 ends by saying that, "...And a great many people were added to the Lord." Therefore, evangelism is a work of the local church. The local church is God's instrument to reach others in a community with His saving gospel. A local church can even participate in the preaching of the gospel in other places as Antioch did in sending out Barnabas and Saul to go to other lands and preach (Acts 13:1-3).

In vs. 25-26 of the eleventh chapter of Acts, Saul of Tarsus is brought to Antioch. The passage records that Saul, later called Paul, teamed up with Barnabas to aid this local church. Vs. 26 comments that, "...for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people." This local body of Christ was assembling and securing teachers to aid its members in growing in the word of God. Edification is to be another work of the church. This is the work of teaching and strengthening the faith of Christians. Ephesians 4:12-13 speaks of this work and the goal of it, "...till we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." The church is to devote its energies, time, and resources to aiding individuals to grow in Christ.

Acts 11:27-30 tells us how the church at Antioch heard about coming economic hardship for Christians in Judea. They gathered funds and sent them to the brethren there to relieve them from physical need. Acts 2 and 4 tell us about how that the church in Jerusalem relieved needy saints that were within that local congregation. A local church of Christ is authorized to help needy Christians locally or even in another place. Benevolence is the third work that the Lord's church is to do. The example is clear that the charitable work carried out by the church is to be directed at Christians only. Certainly, individual Christians are taught to aid any fellow human in need (Galatians 6:10).

Evangelism, edification, and benevolence to needy Christians are the only three works that the church of the New Testament did or were commanded to do. It is imperative that if a body of people claim to be Christ's church, that they perform all of these works and these only. For a church to become distracted with other causes, though wholesome as they may be, is to lose its focus and even identity as the church that Christ built. The Lord's church has a distinct reason for existing and it has God given goals to accomplish. The church belongs to Christ and none of us have the right to change the church's mission. Recreation, politics, community service, and relief to needy non-Christians are not sinful in and of themselves. They can freely be engaged in by the individual Christian. However, they are not part of the mission and work of the church of the New Testament. The Lord is wise enough to know what is the best work for His church. Are we wise enough to respect His will on the matter?

Philip Mullins ~

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