Two weeks ago Barb and I attended the 2003 Freed-Hardeman Lectures; thirty years have elapsed since we first made the journey to Henderson, Tennessee in 1973. In those days the school was praised because no uncertain sound emanated from the campus. Today, many of the sounds are not only uncertain; they are downright objectionable. One may still, however, come away with some outstanding material from hours of rich and profitable study.
One of the interesting features this year was a review of F. LaGard Smith's new book, Radical Restoration. Many of Smith's former efforts were top-notch, and we have not hesitated to recommend Sodom's Second Coming, When Choice Becomes God, Out on a Broken Limb, and ACLU: The Devil's Advocate. In some of his more recent books, however, he has taken a sharp left turn. Who Is My Brother? was both contradictory and ultimately erroneous. Radical Restoration follows in that same vein, as the review by Gregory Alan Tidwell demonstrated.
After the material in the lectureship book had been presented, questions were allowed, which pertained either to Smith or to the contents of his book. One person, obviously in agreement with the author, affirmed that members of the church have a denominational attitude, as evidenced by the fact that we do not ask other folks, "Are you a Christian?" Instead, he insisted, we ask: "Have you been baptized?" or "Are you a member of the church?" We cannot recall the answer given at that time, but we would like to provide one of our own that addresses this comment.
First: What good would it do to ask most people today if they are Christians? They usually answer in the affirmative. Anyone who attends a religious denomination will profess to be one. Even those who only attend once or twice a year will call themselves Christians. Actually, folks who seldom think about God and never attend anywhere to offer up worship to Him will claim such a status. So it is rather pointless to ask someone, "Are you a Christian?" in terms of learning any useful information.
Second, does the questioner take at face value the word of everyone who claims to be a Christian? Does he just walk away without asking anything further? If he does, he is very naive.
Third, if there is to be any meaningful conversation on this subject, additional questions must be asked. The question, "Have you been baptized?" is actually too general, also. Many will count being sprinkled as a child as baptism. Many adults likewise claim baptism--even though it was to join a denomination and not to have their sins washed away (Acts 22:16). This question is more specific than the first one, but it will not elicit the information we are truly asking for.
Fourth, "Are you a member of the church?" is probably the best question of the three, since the response will probably be, "What do you mean by THE church?" The discussion may then progress to other crucial matters. Generally, the question that receives the most precise answer is, "Can you tell me about your religious background?"
Being a faithful Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindu cannot avail anything, since these religions are outside of and apart from the blood of Christ (Rev. 1:5). Reasoning that salvation may be procured by doing more good than evil also fails because it too provides no contact with the blood of Christ, apart from which no one can be saved (Heb. 9:12).
We want to know if people's sins have been forgiven because we know that, if they have not, they are lost. Like Paul, we are debtor to all (Rom. 1:14)--that they should know the Truth (John 8:31-32) and have an opportunity to hear the Gospel (Rom. 1:16). Some say that we are arrogant to assume that all who are not Christians are lost, but such is the truth of the matter. If the New Testament is right, all who are not Christians are lost. If people today can be saved without being Christians, then the New Testament is wrong!
But the situation is more complicated than pitting Christianity against other world religions. Most of what passes itself off as "Christian" is, in fact, not. This claim may seem to spring from arrogance, also, but it does not. Think about it. What might we expect Satan to do to combat Christianity? First, he arranges other religions which oppose it. Second, he shoots it through with false teachings. Third, he heightens the allurement of the world to draw disciples back into it.
The introduction of false doctrine came swiftly after the establishment of the church. By Acts 15 the apostles and elders in the Jerusalem church had to meet to discuss the Judaizing teachers who insisted that Gentile converts be circumcised and obey the Law of Moses; this problem is combatted in the books of Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews. But that was only the beginning. Doctrines concerning the very nature of Jesus were soon introduced. Some thought He could not have had an actual body; so they tried to make Him a phantom (John 1:14; 1 John 1:2). Some began teaching error concerning the second coming (1 Thess. 4:13-18, 2 Thess. 2); some questioned the future resurrection (1 Cor. 15), even affirming that it was already past (2 Tim. 2:16-18). Some promised liberty through fleshly indulgence (2 Peter 1:1-4; 2:1-22); others required denial (1 Tim. 4:1-3).
All of these things occurred while the apostles were still alive. Imagine what Satan-inspired doctrines have emerged since that time in the intervening 1900 years! Roman Catholicism grew out of the original church, but there is no resemblance any more to the original. Protestant denominationalism has become prominent during the last 500 years, but not one religious denomination is approved of God since the entire concept runs contrary to the teaching of the New Testament (1 Cor. 1:10-13; 3:1-5; 12:25-27).
We do not claim to "know everything." We read what denominational scholars have written, and we benefit from their insights when they harmonize with the Word of God, but we reject them (as everyone should) when they simply espouse the wisdom of men and contradict the Scriptures. We are not bound to the theories of men (even our own); our goal should always be: "What do the Scriptures teach?"
Yes, we believe that we are correct on the issue of salvation and that others are wrong, but we have put these beliefs on the line in public discussion and have usually won converts as a result of our efforts. Salvation is by faith--but not "faith only." Many would exclude repentance and baptism--the very things the inspired apostle included when people asked what they should do (Acts 2:36-38). We are always ready to study the Scriptures--both publicly and privately (Acts 20:20). Unlike many groups who claim to have truth (but refuse to discuss it), we constantly put our beliefs on the line. This is the example that Jesus and the apostles set; people ought to be very suspicious of anyone who will not defend his doctrine openly.
Reasoning together concerning the Scriptures can only profit everyone involved if all maintain a sincere and humble attitude. Since salvation is crucial to our eternal well-being, we should not settle for less than total exploration of the subject and confident conviction. Worship can be vain if it is not in harmony with what God has commanded (Matt. 15:8-9; John 4:23-24). We should be certain that whatever we do is authorized by and therefore pleasing unto God. It is appropriate for us to inquire into a person's religious background, so that we may examine these issues.
*Send comments or questions concerning this article to Gary Summers. Please refer to this article as: "ARE YOU A CHRISTIAN? (02-16-03)."