IS IT ENOUGH TO BE
One of the barriers to this plea is the common belief that it does not make any difference what one believes, teaches or practices religiously, as long as a person is sincere.
There seem to be many who believe that God will accept a person on his sincerity alone. They believe that if you teach something directly opposite from what I teach, that God will accept both of us and we should accept each other because we are both sincere in what we teach and practice. This is a great problem and it actually deals with our attitude toward the Bible.
Perhaps you have heard someone say, or perhaps you have said it yourself while studying the Bible with someone, where the truth is pointed out, where the Scriptures are read, perhaps with no comment whatsoever, "that's just your interpretation, I have a different interpretation of that passage." The implication is that the passage can teach one thing to you and a completely different thing to me, and we can both be right. So the attitude is: "Why don't we just accept each other and walk hand in hand even though we teach different things? After all, we all serve the same God and we're all trying to go to the same place." The attitude expressed in this statement sounds good to those who are not familiar with the Bible. The person who says this seems to be loving and tolerant and the person who objects to such a statement seems (to many) to be intolerant and unloving. But, the question is, does the Bible teach this?
WHAT IS THIS PERSON REALLY SAYING?
The person who takes the above view of tolerance, no matter how honest and sincere, is really saying: "The Bible means what everyone wants it to mean to him personally. The Bible can mean one thing to you and another thing to me."
For example, suppose I read Mark 16:16 where Jesus said, "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned," and I come to the conclusion that Jesus is saying that one must both believe and be baptized to be saved. But someone else, just as sincere and honest as myself looks at the passage and comes to the conclusion that Jesus is teaching, "he who believes will be saved and may be baptized to show that he has been saved." Two contradictory positions.
Now those who believe that sincerity alone is enough believe that both of us can hold these contradictory positions on this passage and still be pleasing and acceptable to God. But can both of us take contradictory positions on Mark 16:16 and both be right in God's sight? In reality, many believe that their idea as to what the Bible teaches is the authority in their life and your idea about what the Bible teaches is the authority in your life, and as long as you are both honest and sincere in what you believe the Bible teaches (even if your beliefs contradict one another) you will both be pleasing to God.
What this really does is to make each man's ideas just as authoritative as God's. Yet, Jeremiah was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write, "O Yahweh, I know the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps" (Jeremiah 10:23). Now either what Jeremiah said is true or it is not. If it is true (and I certainly believe that it is) we know that none of us have the wisdom or knowledge to direct our own steps. We must rely upon God. The only way we can let God direct our steps is to let Him direct us through His revealed word, the Bible. So, our ideas don't count. What is important is what God's word really says, not what I may think that it says.
THE IDEA OF SINCERITY ALONE
Suppose you are out driving in your car and a policeman pulls you over and starts writing you a ticket for going 75 miles per hour in a 55 mile per hour zone. How far do you think you would get if you said, "now officer, that is just your interpretation as to how fast I should be going. I have interpreted that 55 mph sign to mean 75 mph." Do you think that would prevent the officer from writing you out a ticket? When you appear before the judge, he tells you that the law says that in a 55 mph zone you must go 55 mph. But you reply, "Now judge, with all due respect, that is just your interpretation of the law. After all, my interpretation is just as good as yours." How do you think the judge would react to such a statement? I have no doubt that you would not only end up paying the fine and court costs, but the judge may want to hold you for psychiatric evaluation!
In the case of the 55 mph speed zone, someone is right and someone is wrong. The law can only be interpreted in one way. The speed limit cannot be both 55 and 75 at the same time. Either the judge is right in his interpretation of the law or he is not. And the judge doesn't say, "well, as long as you sincerely thought that 55 meant 75 I'll let you off," No, he says, "we know what speed you should travel in a 55 mph speed zone because the law tells us what it is, and you have no right to place your own interpretation upon it."
Can you imagine the chaos that would result if everyone had the right to interpret civil law the way they desired? We all can see that this will not work in the secular realm, why can't we see that it will not work in the spiritual realm?
WHAT THE BIBLE TEACHES
Jesus, our Lord said, "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." Jesus said, "...you shall know the truth." Do you believe this statement?. Do you believe that there is such a thing as truth? If you believe that there is truth then what do you believe the truth is? Jesus tells us what the truth is: "Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth" (John 17:17). What is the truth that Jesus said we can know? It is the word of God. It is the Bible. We can know the truth - and we know that we can know it because Jesus said we can know it. This simply means that we can know what is truth and what is error. We can know what is right and what is wrong. We can know what the Bible teaches because the Bible is truth and we can know the truth. Therefore, the belief that the Bible teaches one thing to one person and a contradictory thing to another person cannot be true. We can all understand the Bible, and if we understand it we will understand it alike. We will agree on what it teaches.
This is why the Holy Spirit emphasized over and over again the warning not to tamper with the truth -- not to try to change it to suit our own desires. God commanded Israel, "You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of Yahweh your God which I command you" (Deuteronomy 4:2). John says much the same thing about the book of Revelation: "For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book" (Revelation 22:18-19). The Holy Spirit warns us to beware of those who would change His word: "I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed" (Galatians 1:6-9). Why would Paul warn the Galatians about a different gospel, if it is left up to each man to determine what he thinks the Bible says, or to have his own interpretation? How could there be something contrary to the doctrine if it really makes no difference what doctrine one believes? Paul wrote, "But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us" (2 Thessalonians 3:6). How could a brother walk disorderly or out of step if there is no standard other than what man believes the truth to be? These verses and others, show that there is such a thing as truth which we can know -- and that the truth is not what man thinks it is, but what the Bible teaches.
If we are going to be saved we must not simply decide what we think the Bible teaches, but we must study in such a way that we come to the right conclusions about what the Bible teaches.
But the idea is generally accepted that people can't all understand the Bible alike. Let me make this statement: If people understand the Bible, they will understand it alike. If two people disagree on what a passage teaches, there is only one of two conclusions that can be reached: 1) One of them understands it and the other does not, or 2) both misunderstand it. If they both understand it, they will come to the same conclusion concerning what it teaches -- for it can only teach one thing, not contradictory things.
Now is it possible (and notice I said possible, not probable) that everyone can understand the Bible alike? Of course it is. If everyone can know the truth -- and they can -- then certainly everyone can agree as to what the truth is and what it teaches. We don't have to look very far to understand this. My wife and I have traveled all over the United States and have attended congregations in many different places from California to North Carolina and in between. We didn't know any of the people at those congregations before we visited them. Yet, we did the same thing they did to become Christians. We independently came to a knowledge of the truth. They didn't influence us and we didn't influence them. Yet we took the same steps to become Christians as they did. We came to the same understanding of what to do to become a Christian even though we were separated by time and space. Now, if we came to the same conclusion about how to become a Christian by studying our Bibles independently, then why would one affirm that it is impossible for everyone to reach those same conclusions by studying their Bibles?
THE RESTORATION MOVEMENT
This is how the restoration movement began back in the 1700's. Men from different parts of the country who had never met one another and who were from different religious backgrounds, began to study independently and to slowly come to the conclusion that denominational creed books, names and practices did not agree with the Bible.
As a result of their personal study of the Bible, men like Barton W. Stone, Thomas and Alexander Campbell, "Racoon" John Smith and others began (independently of one another) to teach the necessity to leave denominationalism and to go back to primitive Christianity. They emphasized the need to give up denominational creed books and accept the Bible as the only standard of authority. They taught people to give up denominational names that honored mere men or certain types of organization or practices, and to wear the name "Christian" only. They taught people to worship in the same way the church of the first century worshiped and to teach what was taught back in the first century. It was Thomas Campbell who coined the phrase: "Where the Bible speaks we speak, and where the Bible is silent we are silent." Of course Peter, the inspired apostle, had written this same thing some 1700 years before: "If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God" (1 Peter 4:11).
But here is something we need to understand: If Thomas Campbell or Alexander Campbell or Barton W. Stone had never existed, you and I could be members of the church that Jesus built by simply taking our New Testaments and following exactly what is revealed in it. Over the years, there have been many who have studied the Bible for themselves, who had never heard of Barton W. Stone or Thomas and Alexander Campbell, who came to the same conclusions those men did. They did this because they read the Bible and accepted it for what it said. They were willing to give up their denominational beliefs and practices in order to follow the Bible as their only guide.
This is our plea today. You see, our plea is not that you simply move from one denomination to another. It is not that you join some other denomination. It is that you give up denominationalism altogether and become a member of the church that Jesus built. [See The Church That Jesus Built and The Church of the Lord's Choice].
Please write me at the email address on our main page if we can be of assistance in helping you obey Christ.
1. This is true as far as God would have us to restore New Testament Christianity. I say this because there are some things we can't restore because it is not God's will that they be restored. There were some things that were only temporary in nature and limited to the first century. An example of this are the spiritual gifts that the first century Christians possessed, which were given to them through the laying on of the apostles hands. These were only intended for the time before the New Testament was completed as First Corinthians 13 teaches. Another example is living apostles. When the last of the original apostles died, there were no more appointed, thus there are no living apostles in the church today. The apostles still guide the church today through their inspired written word.