The Church is unique to every other group or organization in this world because it is built on a better foundation than human philosophies or ideas or teaching. The foundation of the Church is Jesus Christ, the Word of God. And His Word was administered and solidified by the Apostles and their teaching is recorded in the New Testament. And the only way that a local church can have true unity and make a meaningful impact on this world is if we commit to the foundation and continually build upon it with living stones, the redeemed of the body of Christ.
So why are there so many “different” interpretations of the Bible among the various denominations that exist today? Unfortunately, the answer is not one with which we like to come to terms: False teaching. But the confusion didn’t happen overnight. It came as a result of circumstances, suggestions and sometimes intentional manipulation of the Word of God. Because of all the confusion, there have been many calls through the centuries to return to the teaching of the New Testament only, because it is the only foundation of the Church of Jesus Christ. Early creeds were often created to present a simplified list of Christian teaching to exclude false teaching during an era when the Bible had not been produced in a single volume and was not readily available to the majority of people. The Roman Empire tried to destroy the Church and eliminate the Word of God, making it difficult for the majority of people to own their own copy –though many died to protect it. But Satan found that persecuting the Church had the opposite effect of what he intended –the Church actually grew more rapidly under persecution. So Satan tried a new tactic: heresy. Many philosophers in the Empire liked the teachings of Jesus –but not all of them, especially the teachings that contradicted their cherished beliefs. Many groups emerged that tried to present cafeteria-style Christianity –picking and choosing what they liked, rejecting what they didn’t. And because the Word was not readily available everywhere, people were confused concerning the truth. In an attempt to guard the Church from this false doctrine, church leaders decided to produce a new form of governance for the Church: A hierarchy. The belief was that if there were fewer leaders at the top, then there would be less confusion in the Church. This sounded like a good argument at the time, but this proved to be a very dangerous decision in later centuries. And to complicate matters more, the Empire was falling apart. By the third and fourth centuries, the Roman Empire perceived that its final days were approaching. With the decline of any great civilization comes a rise in ignorance, corruption and immorality.
By the beginning of the fourth century, when Constantine had secured the throne, the Empire was beginning to lose ground and was constantly invaded by foreigners (who could neither read nor write). Internally, the Empire was fragmented ethnically, philosophically, ethically and religiously. Constantine attempted to unify a fractured empire by “marrying” two predominant religions of the time with Christianity. He believed that if he could make one, official religion, then the people would be united. By doing this, Constantine actually “married” the Church to the Roman Empire. Many Christians initially viewed this gesture as a positive one, hearing that Constantine had become a “Christian” and had ended persecution of Christians once and for all. But Constantine’s motives were political in nature as the burden of unifying the empire fell on his shoulders. Pagan priests literally became “Christian” priests overnight. Pagan temples became “Christian” houses of worship. But for all of this “unification”, Constantine would soon find that this gesture did not actually bring unity, but actually produced more fragmentation –which is always the result when human beings try to “marry” God’s truth with human philosophy. Even as early as the first century, the Apostles were writing to correct false ideas about the Gospel of Christ. But unfortunately, some false teaching (even to this day) never completely went away, such as the idea of good works being the means of eternal salvation. By the middle of the second century people were already beginning to adopt a “mystical” and incorrect view of keeping their salvation. Rather than believe that Christ died “once for all of our sins,” rather than believing that it is by grace that Christians are saved, they began to believe that if they sinned after they had received Christ, then they would not go to heaven. Christianity soon became a class-oriented religion, where “exceptional” Christians were “guaranteed” heaven, but anyone who sinned after their baptism was in danger of losing their salvation (a very heretical view concerning the saving power of God’s grace). So people would commonly wait until right before their deaths to be immersed into Christ to ensure a more “pure” passage into heaven. Such a view totally misunderstands the purpose and power of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This view became so popular that the majority of conversions were taking place as “death bed” conversions. Death bed conversions produced a dilemma for the now-official Roman “priesthood.” What if the candidate is so near death that they cannot be transported to a location where immersion could be administered in time? Or what about all of the martyrs who died during the years of the Roman persecution but were captured before they had a chance to be immersed? Two new, man-made teachings were produced: In an emergency situation, when immersion cannot be administered and death is imminent, then a candidate can be cleansed by pouring some water over the candidate. If a martyr dies for Christ without ever having been immersed or having water poured or sprinkled over him or her, then that person receives an “immersion by blood.” While these ideas sound practical, they are not Christian and did not come from the teaching of Jesus Christ. Sprinkling or pouring water at the time of conversion was quicker and easier and soon became the norm for the majority. And as the Empire crumbled and with the enormous influx of foreigners, literacy dropped leaving people to the mercy of an increasingly political and religious hierarchy; the majority of those who called themselves “Church” were straying far away from the Truth.
What we must realize as New Testament Christians, as those who commit to the Truth that Jesus taught, is that God’s Word must be the Standard by which we believe, live and move to action. If we allow human teaching to contradict the Word of God, then we will never have unity as Jesus intended. And, to be sure, the Truth can be divisive when everyone does not ascribe to what Jesus has said. But when we invite Jesus to teach us what is true, then He promises to be among us and teach us. And nothing could be more vital, more unifying or divisive, more the target of Satan, than how Jesus taught us to receive Him as Savior.
My appeal to you is this: If you have not believed that Jesus is the Christ, then please, investigate what He has said and receive Him as Your Savior. If you believe that He is all that He says He is, then confess Him as Your Lord. If you have receive a different form of conversion that does not involve immersion (sprinkling, pouring, as an adult or as an infant), then please consider immersion, that we might be one. There is one Lord, one faith, one immersion, one God and Father of all, who is over all, through all and in all –and we can be that “all” that the world so desperately needs to see. Let’s work together so that many can be saved. Please pray that Jesus would:
Use us, Your church, to change the world
Send us out to serve You and turn our efforts for Your Kingdom into occasions where the unsaved give You glory
Send Your Power, send Your Spirit and refresh us all with the energy and enthusiasm necessary to serve You with confidence
Teach us all to be selfless and to agree concerning what You have said
Flood us with a lot of reasons to get even more excited about You Give us clear direction and guide us as we go
Teach us to fall deeply in love with You and with one another
Love in Jesus,