Whose Church Is It Anyway?

by Tom Wacaster

It has been a few years since I passed that little church building, but the sign certainly caught my attention. It read: “Evangelical Spirit Filled Orthodox Catholic Church of St. Thomas the Apostle.” It was likely a spin off from the Catholic Church that had been influenced by the charismatic movement of the 60’s and early 70’s.  Eleven words without a single reference to God or Christ.   One can only wonder what they believed, and since my schedule would not allow it I did not take the time to inquire. Were I a “non-Christian,” I might read the title on that church sign and wonder, “Whose church is it, anyway?”

While that particular title may be a little out of the norm, so far as the number of words used to identify the “church” that meets in that place, there are many “names” and “designations” being used to “denominate” the large number of small, independent, and novel churches cropping up all across our land.  We now have the “Cowboy Church,” the “Community GLBT Church” (in case you did not get the GLBT, it stands for “Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual, and Transgender”), and the “Liberated Theological Free Thinkers” church (which by the way, is an amalgamation of atheists who have banned together to form a church for non-believers...really!). I have seen the “Harvest Church,” the “Palm Tree Church,” the “Fruit of the Spirit Church,” the “Little Country Church,” and the “Holy Spirit Filled Church” (all here in east Texas). In the past twenty years or so there has been a virtual explosion of independent churches cropping up and with them an attempt to come up with a unique name for a banner of identification. The most recent count of denominations in America has exceeded the imagination, not to mention the strange doctrines being taught and the so-called “worship” that takes place on any given Sunday. In fact, our society has become so inundated with these new churches that one wonders if the Lord has a church at all. 

The Bible tells me that Jesus clearly promised, “Upon this rock I will build my church” (Matt 16:18b).  I am interested right here in three simple, but profound words. The first of these is the word “I.” This simple pronoun suggests the builder, and since it is Jesus Who is doing the speaking, then the builder is Jesus Himself. Any religious institution designed, organized, and built by someone other than Jesus is bogus and exists without divine authority.  Joseph Smith may have organized and built the Mormon church, but he did not build the church about which I read in the New Testament; in fact, he was not even alive when the church came into existence. The same could be said about every single denomination in existence today.

The second word for consideration is the word “church.” Our English word translates the Greek word ‘eklesia,’ and means the “called out.”  Those who make up the church are no more and no less than the saved and redeemed. Why men cannot grasp the force of this simple concept is a mystery to me. If one were present on the Day of Pentecost when the Gospel was first preached to that multitude, and were he to be among the number who, in obedient faith, responded to the Gospel, he would have been added to the church that they were added to in Acts chapter two (Acts 2:41, 47). Here is a sobering question that begs consideration by anyone seeking the truth of the matter: “If I do exactly what they did in Acts chapter two, what would I be? Would I be a Baptist? Would I be a Methodist? Would I be a Mormon, a Seventh Day Adventist, a Pentecostal, a Presbyterian, a Catholic, or any other of the myriad denominations that exist today?” The answer to any of these is a resounding, “No!” Those who obeyed the Gospel were Christians only, and they were added to the church of Christ (Rom. 16:16, Acts 2:47).

The third word for consideration may very well be the most impressive word among the three. It is the word “my.”  The church belongs to Jesus.  He planned it, purchased it with His blood (Acts 20:28), and will save it in that final day (Eph. 5:23).  If it is the case that it is HIS church, would it not be proper to say it is “Christ’s church”?  Who would suggest otherwise? By the same token it is proper to speak of those congregations that are made up of the saved as “the churches of Christ” (Rom. 16:16). Where, then, is the authority [either by example, inference, or command] for any designation the likes of which we see on church buildings in our city, not to mention across this land and throughout the world? Dear reader, will you take just a moment, pick up your Bible, and search its pages? Is there just ONE reference in the Holy Book that contains the name of that religious organization to which you have entrusted your eternal soul? Why not pick up your Yellow Pages, turn to the section on “churches,” and put a scripture by every name that appears in the New Testament. You may find yourself asking the same question I have asked: “Whose church is it, anyway?”

Don't Neglect God's Book

by Tom Wacaster

For many years the Bible has been the bestselling book, not only in America, but in every country where God’s word is allowed to have free run. Non-profit organizations such as the American Bible Society have devoted untold man hours, and millions of dollars to see to it that the Bible is made available to anyone and everyone who desires to feed on the Book of books. The fact is, the Bible is the most widely printed, the most sought after, and the most influential book the world has ever had the blessed privilege of reading. The Bible is, without doubt, the greatest book ever written. 

Consisting of 66 books, it stands as a monumental representation of heaven’s love for mankind. From the moment that God’s word has gone forth to man, Satan has scrutinized, criticized, de-emphasized and sought to minimize the Holy word. Critics have assailed its “contradictions” and “inconsistencies,” but the honest seeker knows that all such attempts to find fault with Scripture are mere subterfuge and a whistling in the wind. The Bible has survived the onslaught of critics, and the more scrutiny and examination the Bible receives, the more it shines. It has withstood the hammers of infidelity, and weathered the howling winds of higher criticism. Within the pages of the Bible the reader can find explicit statements as to its indestructibility. “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Matt. 24:35). “The grass withereth, and the flower falleth; But the word of the Lord abideth forever. And this is the word of good tidings which was preached unto you” (1 Pet. 1:24b-25). The word of God is pictured as an “incorruptible seed” (1 Pet. 1:23), and something that cannot be bound (2 Tim. 2:9). William Hendriksen is credited with having said, “Others will carry on when I leave this earthly scene. The authorities have put me in the dungeon, but they cannot imprison the gospel. It will triumph and no enemy can thwart it.” This book will be preached until our Lord returns, it will be opened at the Judgment scene, and it will be honored throughout eternity. While history books become outdated, and science books re-edited, the Bible remains as fresh today as when it was written and needs no addition, subtraction, or rewriting. So long as men hunger and thirst after righteousness, the Bible will find a place in their hearts.

In view of the indestructibility of the word, why do so many neglect a serious study of its contents? Surely it is not because of it’s lack of availability. Have you ever thought of the amazing availability of Scripture in our modern age? We have ready access to God’s word in print and on the internet. If you have an iPad, you can download free Bible software from Olive Tree. If you have an Android phone, an iPhone, or a simple Trackphone, applications are available at no charge. Software is available for those who prefer studying at the keyboard of a computer, providing dozens of translations, dictionaries, commentaries, maps, illustrations, and study helps. I have on my computers two Bible software programs, both of which are absolutely free. At the click of a button I can look up words, search the meaning of the original Hebrew and Greek words, consult the wisdom of brethren who blazed the trail in our country in order to restore the church of the New Testament and provide generations to follow a sound and solid footing in the word, and scour the internet for literally thousands of websites and blogs by faithful brethren. The sheer amount of material available to the serious Bible student overwhelms me. So you see, it is not a matter of some lack of availability of God’s word that causes us to neglect study of His word. Yes, what an amazing age we live in! And yet, sadly, far too many saints still neglect their sacred responsibility and privilege of studying the word. In a time when our world needs a strong church to counteract the onslaught of the devil, it seems that we are the weakest we have been in decades; all because of negligence and apathy on the part of members of the Lord’s body. Some years ago I came across the following poem that addresses the problem of which I speak:

by Cleah Boaz

I am a Bible proudly displayed
     for all the world to see.
With my leather cover and gilded pages
     I am open at Psalm 23.

But no one ever picks me up
     and lovingly turns a page,
And the place that is open at Psalm 23
     is growing brittle with age.

I am a Bible proudly displayed
     On a beautifully carved teak stand.
But no one ever reads the words
     that were penned by an inspired hand.

My owner thinks my presence
     is his ticket to Paradise,
But he has never consulted me
     or heeded my advice.

I am a Bible proudly displayed
     open but never read.
My owner’s soul will starve to death
     for lack of its daily bread.

I don’t know if you have ever heard of William McPherson. After a tragic accident Mr. McPherson found himself with no hands and no eyes. In his despair, he turned to the Word of God. However, he could not read Braille with artificial hands. He attempted to read the Braille with his lips, but the dynamite had exploded in his face and he had no feeling left in his lips. One day he tried to read the dots with his tongue and discovered that he could distinguish the Moon system of dashes. Unfortunately, his tongue became sore and bled constantly. Sometimes he would stay up the entire night just to learn a single letter of the alphabet. Eventually, he mastered the entire alphabet and read the entire Bible with his tongue four times before his death. This man’s example ought to shame those who complain that they don’t have the time or who do not want to put forth the effort to read the Bible. Their neglect will face them in the judgment, and the very words of Christ that they neglected will judge them in the last day (John 12:48).

This year is rapidly drawing to a close. How did you fare in your daily Bible reading this year? In sixteen days you will be provided a clean slate of time: 365 days, 52 weeks, 12 months! Pick up your reading schedule for the year and don’t neglect God’s Book.


The Wisdom of Our King Depicted In The Beatitudes

(excerpt from my upcoming commentary on Matthew)
By Tom Wacaster

When the Queen of Sheba heard of the wisdom of Solomon, it is said by the sacred writer that “she came to prove him with hard questions” (1 Kings 10:1); and come she did! “She came to Jerusalem with a very great train, with camels that bare spices, and very much gold, and precious stones” (verse 2). Her entourage must have been a spectacle to behold. It is doubtful that anything was spared to make her journey comfortable and her interview with Solomon profitable. Upon her arrival she was granted an appointment with King Solomon, and it is said that “there was not any thing hid from the king which he told her not” (verse 3). Upon the completion of that meeting with Solomon she said, “It was a true report that I heard in mine own land of thine acts, and of thy wisdom. Howbeit I believed not the words, until I came, and mine eyes had seen it: and, behold, the half was not told me” (1 Kings 10:6-7). And then she added this most remarkable observation: “Happy are thy men, happy are these thy servants, that stand continually before thee, and that hear thy wisdom” (verse 8).

Fast forward to a mountain side in Galilee, where “a greater than Solomon” (Matt. 12:42) sat down and taught the disciples and the multitude that surrounded Him. If the sayings of Solomon manifested the wisdom of a mortal king over a physical kingdom, how much more do the sayings of Jesus declare Him to be “the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6:15). It is fitting that the Son of David would begin this Sermon On The Mount with the same word used by the Queen of Sheba to describe the effect of Solomon’s wisdom on the people of Israel: “Blessed”! The first one-hundred-forty words from the lips of our Savior (in English) not only provide us with heavenly advice for a joyful and happy life here upon this earth, they also set the background for the remainder of this sermon, and point us to the majesty of Jesus the Christ. To borrow a phrase from the Queen of Sheba, “And, behold, the half” has not been told.

In slightly more than a half dozen “beatitudes,” Jesus unleashes heavenly wisdom for those who would find true happiness. His sayings are not politically correct, they do not cater to the physical part of man, and they run contrary to the thinking of every generation of men that have walked the face of this earth. How can someone be happy when they are poor? Where is the joy in mourning? How can the meek inherit anything, especially the earth? Why should men hunger and thirst for something they cannot see with the physical eye or hold in the palm of their hands? Who ever heard of refusing to seek revenge, and instead be merciful toward those who do us harm? Of what value is purity of heart? After all, it’s a dog-eat-dog world, filled with “evil men and imposters” who shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Tim. 3:13). Wherein is the value of making peace when those about us promote only hatred and violence? How can a person find contentment when he is being falsely accused and reproached for the cause of Christ?

Keep in mind that our Lord paved the way for us. He blazed the trail as the “author (literally, ‘captain,’ or ‘trailblazer,’ TW) and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:2). He manifested each and every one of these beatitudes (with perhaps the only exception being His mourning over sins committed) to perfection, “one that hath been in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). Being “poor in spirit,” it is said that “he emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:7-8). When Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem at the beginning of the Passion Week, “this is come to pass, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophet, saying, Tell ye the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, Meek, and riding upon an ass, And upon a coal the foal of an ass” (Matt. 21:4-5). His entire life was a demonstration of what it means to “hunger and thirst after righteousness,” showing compassion and mercy to those in sin and in need of redemption. His heart is the epitome of purity, having never once entertained an evil thought or committing some vile deed. He was, to say the least, the Great Peacemaker, reconciling man to God and bringing about a peace of mind and calm assurance for everyone who would take His yoke upon them and thereby “find rest” for their weary souls (Matt. 11:28-30). His godly life caused Him to endure every form of reproach imaginable, culminating in a horrible death upon the cross thereby securing our salvation.

Read again each of these eight beatitudes and see if you don’t see a portrait of our King that will cause the heart to swell with deep appreciation and love for He Who gave Himself for our sins. Let men talk of earthly kings that have come and gone, and then let them look at Christ with an honest and open mind, and in view of the overwhelming evidence, bow in grateful submission to our King. The words of Napoleon Bonaparte bear repeating:

I know men; and I tell you that Jesus Christ is not a man. You speak of Caesar, of Alexander, of their conquests, and of the enthusiasm which they enkindled in the hearts of their soldiers, but can you conceive of a dead man making conquests, with an army faithful, entirely devoted to his memory? My armies have forgotten me even while living. Can you conceive of Caesar as the eternal emperor of the Roman Senate, and, from the depth of his mausoleum, governing an empire, watching over the destinies of Rome?  Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and myself founded empires. But on what did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ alone founded his empire upon love; and, at this hour, millions would die for him (original source not known).

If the beatitudes were all that men might read of the Sermon on the Mound, they would be the better for it. Yet “the half hath not been told,” and as we continue our study of these chapters in Matthew, our life cannot help but be enriched and our allegiance to our King the stronger.

Peace And Confidence Borne Of Assurance

By Tom Wacaster

When our fiery trial descends upon us  - and it will if we are living godly lives in Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 3:12) - it would behoove us to have the kind of faith that will see us through that trial. John has told us in advance of the trials that we will face in life, and that “this is the victory that hath overcome the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4). Look at the catalogue of the faithful men and women listed in Hebrews chapter 11. They endured some of most severe challenges to their faith that men can, and often will, have to confront; and each and every one of those recorded in that “hall of fame of the faithful” came through with shining colors. What is it that saw them through? How is it that they were able to overcome the temptations that came their way, while so many throughout history have simply thrown in the towel and followed the multitude to do evil? I submit to you that it was a faith that gave them unshakable assurance in the face of adversity. Someone once said, “Men will wrangle for religion; write for it; fight for it; die for it; anything but live for it.” What the world needs is more men and women who will be willing to live their faith, and be willing to die for it as well. I submit to you that unless men have the same kind of unshakable assurance in God and His promises to us as did those men and women of faith recorded in the pages of God’s word, when the time for battle comes they will fail the test every single time. The absence of faith and assurance can be seen in the fact that too many Christians live their life in fear and anxiety of what the future holds. Their demeanor and countenance suggest that they have no joy. Were someone to inquire as to their relationship with God their answer would be filled with doubt and foreboding.

When Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy, he expressed great confidence in his eternal salvation: “I know him whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to guard that which I have committed unto him against that day” (2 Tim. 1:12). Again, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give to me at that day” (2 Tim 4:7). John said, “I have written unto you, that ye may know that ye have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).  And yet, in spite of so many passages that speak positively of our “blessed assurance,” there are a great number of our brethren who doubt their salvation! That doubt is reflected in a gloomy disposition of despair and despondency characteristic of a world in darkness. One sister in Oklahoma used to say, “Too many of my brethren act as if they were baptized in vinegar.” One of the most beautiful passages in all the Bible is 1 John 1:7 - “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” There are two important truths that emerge from this passage.

First, while walking “in the light” we are still going to sin. Did you catch the words of John: “If we walk in the light...the blood of Jesus cleanseth.” Even if we are walking in the light we are still going to sin from time to time. All too often we demand of ourselves that which we are not capable of giving, namely sinless perfection. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1:8). Will we stumble from time to time? Indeed we will. But even when we occasionally sin out of inattention or a moment of weakness due to the fleshly limitations in all of us, we can be assured that our relationship with God is not severed.

Second, we have the cleansing blood of our Lord at our constant disposal. Like an ever flowing fountain, limitless in its resources, and powerful in its efficacy, our Lord’s blood will wash away every single sin and remove the guilt associated with it. No wonder John could, in this same letter, write of our assurance of salvation (5:13). It was once said, “A joyless saint will never win a joyful sinner to Christ.” If your lack of assurance has robbed you of the joy of Christian living, how can you ever expect to convert someone who, though living in error, has greater confidence of his salvation than do you? No wonder Paul told us to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 4:4). And as if to drive the point home, he immediately repeats, “again, I will say, REJOICE!”  Beloved, we CAN know that we are saved, and with that assurance comes the great joy of Christian living!

Brethren, let us get on with living, and while doing so, let us rest in the assurance that God is on our side, His promises are sure, and that even though we sin from time to time, we can rest upon the realization that “we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:2). He is the “propitiation for our sins, the Protector of our souls, and the Provider of our salvation. Some years ago I came across the following wonderful illustration/quote:

Cyprian, a third-century martyr, writes to Donatus, saying: “This is a cheerful world as I see it from my garden under the shadows of my vines. But if I were to ascend some high mountain and look over the wide lands, you know very well what I would see: brigands on the highways, pirates on the sea, armies fighting, cities burning; in the amphitheaters men murdered to please the applauding crowds; selfishness and cruelty and misery and despair under all roofs. It is a bad world, Donatus, an incredibly bad world. But I have  discovered in the midst of it a quiet and holy people who have learned a great secret. They are despised and persecuted, but they care not. They are masters of their souls. They have overcome the world. These people, Donatus, are the Christians—and I am one of them.”

That, my friends, was peace and confidence borne of assurance that comes as a result of an undying and unflinching faith in the God Who has promised, “I will in no wise fail thee, neither will I in any wise forsake thee” (Hebrews 13:5).

Who Is The Real Loser?

By Tom Wacaster

The Fort Worth Star Telegram for Tuesday (Nov. 1st) had an interesting article addressing the record turn out for early voting in the state of Texas. A record 2.6 million registered voters have already taken advantage of the opportunity to cast their ballots in advance of the general election on November 8th, almost double that in previous Presidential elections. One expression that caught my attention was the author’s explanation as to why he thought so many voters were voting early: “convenience” and “exasperation” with this year’s elections; they simply want to put it all behind them and get on with their lives. I find it incredibly sad that our nation has reached a point in her trek away from God that they now view the privilege of voting as something to endure rather than an opportunity to elect their leaders for whatever period of time they might have to serve.

In one week we will have elected our next President, along with the re-election and/or rejection of Senators, Representatives, Judges, and so forth. I guess you could say that when all has been said and done (with perhaps far too much having been said rather than done) there will be those who will be winners, and others who will be losers. So far as the Presidential election, one of the major two party candidates will be the winner, and one will be the loser. From what I have seen and heard so far I don’t envision either of them being a gracious loser.  I have no doubt that once the ballots are cast and counted, that sometime in the late evening of November 8th one of the two candidates will appear before the cameras and microphones and give his/her concession speech; the other will claim victory. Then comes the “blame game.” The news media will make sure that the American people know why (at least in their opinion) one candidate won and the other lost.

No one can predict the outcome of this Presidential race at this point. The polls are too close to be reliable and the momentum seems to shift each and every day, depending on what “scandal” we might read about in that day’s headlines. Regardless of who wins or loses in the Presidential race, I think I can say with confidence that the real loser will be the American people. They will have lost because the opportunity to select a true leader for the nation will not occur for another four years. I don’t know who wrote the following but it is certainly pertinent here: “The world today is looking for men who are not for sale; men who are honest, sound from center to circumference, true to the heart’s core; men with consciences as steady as a needle to the pole; men who will stand for the right if the heavens totter and the earth reels; men who can tell the truth and look the world right in the eye; men who neither brag nor run; neither flag nor flinch; men who can have courage without shouting; men in whom the courage of everlasting life runs still, deep and strong; men who know their message and tell it; men who know their place and fill it; and men who know their business and attend to it” (author not known). God, please give us leaders!

The political polls reveal the startling fact that this nation is divided—split right down the middle. We are at war and the opposing sides are represented by two distinct cultures, both of which seem to have an equal following. One culture, the one that captured and captivated the minds of men for the first 200 years of this nation’s existence, is based on God and His word. The framers of our Constitution were part of this culture. The Bible is the foundation upon which this culture was built, and upon which it has survived for more than two centuries. It is a culture whose moral basis has influenced the behavior of its citizens, producing the fruits of freedom, liberty and justice. It is a culture that has allowed the preaching of the Gospel to flourish and have free run, giving every man woman and child the opportunity to enjoy life upon this earth to the fullest, and the opportunity, unrestricted by governmental interference, to pursue God’s will in their lives. The other culture is based on humanism, atheism and agnosticism. It is a culture that has absolutely no moral basis. It is a culture of corruption, crime, and carelessness. It calls for no restrictions except the limitations of basic human rights “endowed by our Creator.” It is a culture where lying and deception are the norm, power is the pinnacle of success, and wealth is the measuring stick for genuine happiness. It is a culture that is divisive rather than unifying, and engenders hatred and animosity rather than peace. It is a culture that is addicted to sex, averse to truth, and antagonistic toward anyone and anything that opposes its path of destruction. What do either of these candidates bring to the table that will reverse the course upon which this nation has embarked? To ask is to answer.

The American people will be the true losers in this election. Who, then, will be the winners? I suggest to you that the true winner in this election, or any election for that matter, will be the people of God. Come what may, the battle belongs to the Lord and the outcome is promised to be one of victory. “What shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?” (Rom. 8:31). “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or anguish, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” (Rom. 8:35). “Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:37-39). Our God is alive, His Kingdom imperishable, her walls impenetrable, and our constitution inspired. “We rejoice in our tribulations: knowing that tribulation worketh stedfastness; and stedfastness, approvedness; and approvedness, hope” (Rom. 5:3-4). If the Lord’s church could remain faithful, upbeat, optimistic, and confident under some of the most cruel and inhumane governmental leaders of the past, what makes us think that we cannot do the same? Meanwhile, we keep fighting the good fight of faith (2 Tim. 4:6), knowing that when our Lord comes again the real winner will be those who have been faithful until death (Rev. 2:10).

In 1992, Dennis Lee Curtis was arrested for armed robbery in Rapid City, South Dakota. In his wallet, police found a list of rules Curtis had written for himself - guidelines for his robberies.  For example, he wrote: “I will not kill anyone unless I have to.” “I will take cash and food stamps - no checks.” “I will not rob mini-marts.” “If I get chased by cops on foot, I will get away.  If chased by vehicle, I will not put the lives of innocent civilians on the line.” “I will rob only seven months out of the year.” “I will enjoy robbing from the rich to give to the poor.” A thief with standards? When Mr. Curtis stood before the court, the judge did not consult Curtis’ list of rules. He pulled out the laws of the state by which to judge him and ultimately to convict him. The judge’s remarks are reminiscent of our Lord’s declaration that His words shall judge us in the last days (John 12:48) - not human opinion, creeds of men, traditions of our parents, or our own feelings and emotions. By what standard are you living? How will that measure up to the standard of God’s divine word when we stand before the judgment seat of Christ to receive our eternal sentence?
You’ve heard some of those little puns that describe a person who just does not seem to get it together. One of these is, “Lights are on, but nobody’s home.”  Here are some that appeared in a military journal some years ago: “Not the sharpest knife in the drawer.” “Got into the gene pool while the lifeguard wasn’t watching.” “A room temperature IQ.” “Got a full 6-pack, but lacks the plastic thingy to hold it all together.” “Bright as Alaska in December.” “Gates are down, the lights are flashing, but the train isn't coming.” “So dense, light bends around him.” “If brains were taxed, he'd get a rebate.” “If he were any more stupid, he'd have to be watered twice a week.” “Was left on the Tilt-A-Whirl a bit too long as a baby.” “Wheel is turning, but the hamster is dead.”

"There Is Nothing In A Name"

by Tom Wacaster

It is quite interesting to listen to the feeble attempts of men to justify those things for which men have no authority. It would seem that once a person has decided to embark upon a certain course, that reason is thrown to the wind, and common sense is ignored. The title of this week’s column demonstrates this very fact.

Some years ago Johnnie Ann and I were making multiple trips to Ukraine to establish and strengthen the Lord’s church in Poltava. We were only allowed to remain in the country for 90 days, so we would do what we could during that time, return home, and reapply for a visa and get back to Poltava as quickly as possible. That was period of great interest regarding matters pertaining to religion in that country, and it provided a unique opportunity to preach and teach the truth with the full expectation that our labor would yield visible fruit for the Lord. But you don’t have to go to Ukraine to hear this oft-stated and ill-advised excuse for failing to abide by God’s divine authority when it comes to the name we are to wear as God’s children, or the terms that we are to use to refer to the church. It just so happens that an incident on one of our mission trips provided an opportunity to demonstrate the foolishness of those who might attempt to claim, “There is nothing in a name.” It was a great occasion to “answer a fool according to his folly” (Proverbs 26:5).

His name of Sergei. He had been converted to the Lord prior to our having met  him on our first trip to Poltava. He served as our contact/sponsor/interpreter on each of those mission trips. On occasion he would meet us at the airport in Kiev and escort us to Poltava. He was diligent, good at what he did, and he was wise beyond his years. I cannot remember the details at how the meeting came about, but Sergei introduced us to two missionaries from Australia who were members of the Church of The Brethren. They showed some interest in our work and wanted to discuss some matters in private. I agreed to meet with them. “George” and “John” were their names. Both spoke good English with the typical Australian accent, which made for pleasant conversation. It also eliminated the need for Sergei to interpret, breaking him lose to work on the Ukrainian preacher that had come with these men. Upon our meeting, “John” suggested that we combine our efforts in order to make a greater impact for the cause of Christ. I simply told him that we could not extend fellowship to those who demonstrated a disrespect for the authority of Christ. I told him there were too many doctrinal issues that separated us and any attempt at cooperation between the two of us could only produce difficulty, not to mention that fellowship with error would render us partaker in their false doctrines (2 John 10-11). “Such as?” came his reply. I immediately focused on the names they wore. “How can we even begin to discuss unity when we can’t even agree on the names and terms that we use? Where, for example is the term “Church of the Brethren” mentioned in the Bible?” His response was so typical of those who cannot see beyond their proverbial noses when it comes to such matters: “There is nothing in a name!” This is where the conversation became somewhat humorous. I responded to John, “George, there IS something in a name!” He quickly responded, “I’m John; he’s George.” I continued, “Ok George, whatever; let’s continue.” Again he responded, “No, I’m John, he’s George!” I continued, “George, turn with me to Colossians 3:17.” I was abruptly interrupted, “Look, I’m John, NOT George!” I could hear the frustration in his voice; he must of thought by now he was talking to some dunce, unable to remember even the simplest of matters such as the name of person. I then made my point: “John, I thought you said there was nothing in a name! If you are so intent on my calling you by your proper name, how do you think Christ feels about you calling the church by the wrong name?” The point was made, the conversation concluded, the study ended, and we went our separate way. I don’t think he ever got the point I was trying to make.

Names ARE important, and there IS something in a name.  If you doubt that for a minute, why not try cashing a check made out to someone other than your self.  How much success do you suppose you would have borrowing money from a bank if you refused to sign with your legal name? Why, then, do we assume that when it comes to religion we can attach any name we select to identify the church of our Lord? It is His church (Matthew 16:16-18), He paid the price (Acts 20:28), and it is His followers, and only His followers, that will be saved (Eph. 5:23). We are told that there is “none other name under heaven, that is given among men, wherein we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The Holy Spirit guided the apostles into all truth (John 16:13), and the only terms used to designate the church all include a reference to the Lord Jesus Christ in one fashion or the other. “The church of God” (1 Cor. 1:2), “the church of the firstborn” (Heb. 12:23), “the churches of Christ” (Rom. 16:16); these are terms the Holy Spirit used to designate the church for which Jesus shed His blood. Where in God’s word do we read of the “Church of the Brethren,” the “Baptist Church,” “Pentecostal Church,” “Seventh Day Adventist Church,” “Harvest Tabernacle Church,” or “Cowboy Church,” to name just a few.

The God given name for His people, as well as that soul saving institution, the church, is extremely important. The Bible tells us that the disciples were called “Christians” first in Antioch (Acts 11:26). Why can we not be satisfied with the name provided by the Holy Spirit, and glorify God in THAT name (1 Pet. 4:16)?   Would to God that names devised by human beings forever cease, and His name be glorified.

Let us wear the name of Christ only. If you have heard that there is nothing in a name, don’t you believe it for a second. Hold fast to God’s word, and make sure you have divine authority for all that you do in matters pertaining to religion (Col. 3:17). Look again at 1 Peter 4:16 and tell me, “There’s Nothing In A Name”! 

Those Noble Beroeans

By Tom Wacaster

Now these were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of the mind, examining the Scriptures daily, whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).

There is a great deal of difference between reading and studying. Superficial reading of God’s word will never produce the kind of spiritual maturity demanded of God’s children.  We are to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18). We must make our “calling and election sure”  (2 Pet. 1:10). Hence the admonition that we “give diligence to present thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, handling aright the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). The KJV reads, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” As important as reading is, none of us will ever be able to reach our full spiritual potential without regular and consistent study of God’s word; the kind of study that characterized those noble Beroeans.  Consider the word ‘noble.’ The original word literally means more noble by birth, descended from illustrious ancestors. Our English word ‘noble’ is defined by Webster as: “having, showing personal quality that people admire (such as honesty, generosity, courage, etc.; of, relating to, or belonging to the highest social class” (Webster, OnLine). Heaven paid a great tribute to those men and women who lived in Beroea and who were of the mind to search and study God’s word. True nobility is not captured in one’s material possessions, or his earthly pedigree. The essence of true nobility is captured in Luke’s description of these Beroeans. Please note the following things said about these “noble” citizens of Beroea.

First, Luke tells us they “received the word.” There was a willingness on their part to listen to what Paul had to say. Their heart was opened; they were eager to listen and learn. Evidently the vast majority of those living in Thessalonica did not possess this same kind of willingness and they were the worse for it. The very fact that the Beroeans received the word places them in a unique class of human beings, for few and far between are those who are ready to receive the word into their hearts. The lure of materialism has dulled their spiritual senses, the sound of the world has deafened their spiritual ears, and the riches of the world has deadened their spiritual taste buds. There is no room in their hearts for the word of God. Sadly, the great majority will go to their graves without so much as a hint of nobility in their spiritual veins.

Second, Luke tells us they received the word “with all readiness of mind.” Wayne Jackson noted regarding this passage that our English “reflects only one word in the original, prothumia (pro— ‘forward,’ and thumos— ‘mind’). The word beautifully pictures a sort of stretching the mind forward in keen anticipation” (Christian Courier, August 1998, page 4). I frequently come across the same kind of eagerness to study God’s word when I go to India and preach the gospel. In 2006 I had the opportunity to preach in a small village that would, in less than five months, be completely destroyed by a tsunami that would strike the east coast of India. Brother Gootam and I were invited to speak at a denominational church. There were about 40 in attendance. The preacher took a seat on the front row, and as I began to unfold God’s design for the church and the plan of salvation, this man’s eyes grew ever wider. He would nudge his chair closer and closer to where I was standing until he was almost at my feet. He was drinking in every word, not to criticize, but to learn; and learn he did. He and slightly more than a dozen precious souls who manifested the same “readiness of mind” were obedient to the gospel that very night. Where is that same eagerness in our beloved homeland? Where are the souls that would rise to the status of nobility as described by the inspired word? To ask is to answer.

Third, pick up on this word “all.” They received the word with “all readiness of mind.” There was no divided allegiance. Spiritual nobility calls for all or nothing. God is not satisfied with those who are not willing to give all in obedience to Him. “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to one, and despise the other” (Matt. 6:24). Until a man is willing to lay all at the Master’s feet, nobility will escape him.

Fourth, the Beroeans went about “examining the scriptures daily.” The original Greek word translated “examining” is a present participle, the meaning of which is an intense and persistent searching of the scriptures. The Greek word ‘anakrino’ suggests a careful scrutiny of what they were reading. If modern day ‘theologians’ would follow the example of the Beroeans it would go a long way to dismantling the present division and confusion in Christendom.

Finally, Luke tells us that they searched the scriptures with the precise goal of determining “whether these things were so.” It is implied that they were looking for the truth. It is also implied that if what they were hearing from Paul was not in accord with scripture, then they would reject it. These Beroeans evidently loved truth, something lacking on the part of so many who will face the wrath of God in the judgment day (2 Thess. 2:10). I would suggest to you that it is because of their the love for the truth that the Beroeans “received the word with all readiness of mind, examining the scriptures daily, whether these things were true.” Every child of God knows that truth will ultimately prevail. The time may be upon us, as in the days of Isaiah, that “justice is turned away backward, and righteousness standeth afar off; for truth is fallen in the street, and uprightness cannot enter” (Isa. 59:14), but be assured, truth never dies. As one poet put it:

As firm and patient as Gibraltar stands,
So truth, unwearied, waits the era blest,
When men shall turn to it with eager eyes,
Truth never dies!

May we, like the noble Beroeans, cling to the truth, being ready always to receive the “word with all readiness of mind, examining the scriptures daily, weather these things were so.”  Only then can it be said that we are noble in the truest sense of the word.