AN INTRODUCTORY PRIMER FOR INVITING PROTESTANTS TO THE CHURCH OF CHRIST
By Brother Joel V. San Pedro
THE Church Of Christ continues to expand rapidly all over the world. When Brother Felix Manalo began preaching about the Iglesia Ni Cristo (Church Of Christ in Filipino), many of the first converts came from Catholicism. Brother Felix’s answers from the Bible concerning questions about idol worship, calling the priest “spiritual father”, and the Catholic claim that Christ is sacrificed in every mass moved many of the listeners to join the Church Of Christ.
Today, as members of the Church take part in worldwide intensive propagation, we often invite our Protestant friends who have a different set of questions about our beliefs.
HOW DO PROTESTANT LEADERS
Protestant apologist Martin Marty gave the following description in his book, Protestantism:
“Protestantism … has been split into churches, sects, denominations, parties, factions, emphasis groups, and national entities—and at times such a premium was placed on ‘the right of private judgment’ that the meaning of Protestantism was reduced to autonomous and private forms of individualism. Lacking a centralized authority, it is then argued, Protestantism can mean and has meant whatever each entrepreneur decided it should mean. It lacked a vital center or a definable border, it is impossible to read extensively in Protestant history or to experience Protestant church life almost anywhere in the world without coming soon to the sense that divisiveness belongs to the nature of Protestantism.” (pp. 77-78)
Because of the divisive character of Protestantism, one leading evangelical magazine gave the following description:
“… today’s churches bear little resemblance to the first century model … Division within the Church arose from unfaithfulness to Christ … has marred the body of Christ…” (Moody Monthly, Sept. 1984, p. 28)
Protestantism is difficult to define because of the wide variety of beliefs that fall under its umbrella. That is why even leading evangelicals have admitted that, as Protestantism comprises contradictory or divisive practices, it is not like the Christian Church that is described in the New Testament. With Christ as the head and the Church Of Christ as His body, the only reasonable conclusion for the contradictory beliefs among the diverse sects of Protestantism is that they cannot all be true and there must be unfaithfulness to Christ under Protestantism.
A further danger of having such divisions or factions when it comes to doctrine and practice was sounded by Apostle James. He taught that factionalism does not come from God but from the devil:
“ But if ye have bitter jealousy and faction in your heart, glory not and lie not against the truth. This wisdom is not a wisdom that cometh down from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish” (James 3:14-15, ASV).
Some Protestant defenders reason out that, despite the abundance of contradictory beliefs subsumed under the rubric of Protestantism, nearly ever sect and denomination of Protestantism agree on at least two principles: (1) “faith alone” for salvation (2) personal interpretation of Scripture”.
Much has been discussed by the Church Of Christ in the past concerning the “faith alone” concept that we do not adhere to. It’s the latter principle that this primer will deal with. When our Protestant friends see our enthusiasm to listen to the Presiding Elder of the Church Of Christ, the INC Executive Minister, Brother Eduardo Manalo, some are a bit puzzled. All the more is their curiosity aroused when we tell them that our Executive Minister continues the mission begun by the man whom God sent as His messenger in the modern era, Brother Felix Manalo.
WHY IS A MESSENGER AND A CHURCH
Because the Bible, through the teaching of Christ’s apostles, does not agree with the idea of personal or private interpretation of the Scriptures:
“Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation,” (2 Peter 1:20, NKJV).
In fact, the apostles warned about the dangers of listening to people who have not been authorized to preach even if they use the Bible:
“This is what he says in all his letters when he writes on the subject. There are some difficult things in his letters which ignorant and unstable people explain falsely, as they do with other passages of the Scriptures. So they bring on their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16, GNB).
The apostles describe the ones who are authorized to preach the message that brings people to God as “messengers” or “sent out”:
“And HOW CAN THE MESSAGE BE PROCLAIMED IF THE MESSENGERS ARE NOT SENT OUT? As the scripture says, ‘How wonderful is the coming of messengers who bring good news!’ ” (Romans 10: 15, GNB, emphasis mine).
GOD’S MESSAGE THAT GOD’S MESSENGERS PREACH
As Apostle Paul spoke about the importance of the preaching of the messengers who are sent, he himself gave a good example in his own preaching of what God’s messengers teach in the Christian era:
“Take heed therefore to yourselves and to all the flock, over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you overseers, to feed the church of Christ which he has purchased with his blood.” (Acts 20:28, Lamsa).
When the blood of the Lord Jesus was shed and He died on the cross, He was redeeming the Church Of Christ. He gave His life for the Church so that He can be the Church’s Savior. Although He Himself is sinless, He paid for the sins of all who become members of His body, His Church, as He becomes their Head. Thus, it is His Church that the Savior will save:
“For a husband is in charge of his wife in the same way Christ is in charge of his body the Church. (He gave his very life to take care of it and be its Savior!)” (Eph. 5:23, TLB).
Since the Church Of Christ is the one body of Christ, the characteristic of the Church Of Christ preached by the messengers whom God has sent is its unity; it is only one religious organization, one Church, with one faith:
“The common object of their labor was to bring the Christians maturity, to prepare them for Christian service and the building up of the Church of Christ, until we all reach the unity of the faith...” (Eph. 4:12-13, NSNT)
ONCE THE MESSENGER IS NO LONGER WITH US
Like the prophets of the Old Testament or the apostles in the New Testament, the man sent to preach in our time was just a man. Brother Felix Manalo passed away in 1963. As the Bible tells us, if the time comes that the messenger sent to preach should pass away, the preaching of the message continues. When the Lord Jesus left this world, God placed an administration in the Church to make His message fully known:
“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you, and I am completing in my flesh what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for His body, that is, the church. I have become its servant, according to GOD’S ADMINISTRATION THAT WAS GIVEN TO ME FOR YOU, TO MAKE GOD’S MESSAGE FULLY KNOWN,” (Colossians 1:24-25, HCSB, emphasis mine).
Rejecting the ones whom the Lord Jesus sent to preach God’s message about the Church Of Christ is the same as rejecting both the Lord Jesus and God Himself:
“Then he said to the disciples, ‘Anyone who accepts your message is also accepting me. And ANYONE WHO REJECTS YOU IS REJECTING ME. AND anyone who rejects me is rejecting GOD, WHO SENT ME.’ ” (Luke 10:16, NLT, emphasis mine)
Therefore, it is God Himself and His Son, the Lord Jesus, who want people to understand the importance of the men sent and placed to preach the message.
“I THOUGHT GOD SHOWS NO FAVORITISM”
Instead of believing that there are men who have been entrusted the authority of preaching God’s message, Protestants give as their argument Apostle Peter’s statement about God showing no favoritism:
“Then Peter began to speak: ‘I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism’ ” (Acts 10:34, NIV)
It is ironic that the above verse is often misused by Protestants to justify personal interpretation of the Scriptures. The very situation in which the Apostle was speaking in the verse was when Peter was sent as a messenger of God to preach to Cornelius and his household so they could hear God’s message and have the faith to receive baptism (Acts 10:3-5,17-22,32-34,44,48).
Cornelius and his household were not told by the angel of God to read the Scriptures so they could understand for themselves God’s message. They had to hear it from Apostle Peter, a man who was sent by God. And the baptism that the people received after believing in the apostles’ message is baptism into the body of Christ or His Church (1 Cor. 12:13, Col. 1:18).
So what did Apostle Peter mean when he said that God does not show favoritism while numerous verses speak of individuals finding favor in God’s sight (e.g., Gen. 6:9, Exo. 33:12, etc.)? In verse 35, we can read how God does not show favoritism by accepting all who fear Him and do what is right:
“but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.”
Therefore, God not showing favoritism means that neither race nor nationality is a hindrance to draw near to God as long as one is ready to do what is right or obey what God commands (Romans 7:12).
Since all are obligated to obey Him, God does not give a free pass to the close family members of His beloved servants so that they can disobey; that would be favoritism. Hence, misfortune befell David’s sons, Absalom and Adonijah, even though David “found favor with God” (Acts 7:46, NLT). Lot’s wife, when she disobeyed, did not escape punishment when Lot was rescued from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:26). God does not show favoritism. He punishes those who remain unrepentant in doing wrong, regardless of who they may be related to:
“Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism” (Col. 3:25).
“THE ONES SENT BRING US CLOSER TO GOD”
One of God’s early messengers, Moses, preached that God brings people closer to Him before they can help others come nearer to Him:
“Isn’t it enough that the God of Israel has selected you specially, out of the entire Israelite congregation, to allow you to come close to the Eternal in the process of taking care of His very congregation tent and place of revelation? To be so distinguished before all of the other Israelites in your service?” (Numbers 16:9, Voice)
In this passage, Moses was correcting the wrong way of thinking of the high ranking Israelite officials who rebelled against his authority. Moses’ statement was in response to their egalitarian complaint that no one is “more important than the rest of the Lord’s people”:
“They came as a group to speak against Moses and Aaron and said, ‘You have gone too far—you are wrong! All the Israelites are holy—the LORD still lives among them. You are making yourselves more important than the rest of the LORD’s people.’ ” (Numbers 16:3, ERV)
God Himself testified how much closer to him was that same man, Moses, His messenger whom He chose to bring His commandments to His people (Numbers 12:1-3, 5-8, NLT)
“While they were at Hazeroth, Miriam and Aaron criticized Moses because he had married a Cushite woman. They said, “Has the LORD spoken only through Moses? Hasn’t he spoken through us, too?” But the LORD heard them. (Now Moses was very humble—more humble than any other person on earth.)
Then the LORD descended in the pillar of cloud and stood at the entrance of the Tabernacle. “Aaron and Miriam!” he called, and they stepped forward. And the LORD said to them, “Now listen to what I say:
“If there were prophets among you,
I, the LORD, would reveal myself in visions.
I would speak to them in dreams.
But not with my servant Moses.
Of all my house, he is the one I trust.
I speak to him face to face,
clearly, and not in riddles!
He sees the LORD as he is.
So why were you not afraid
to criticize my servant Moses?”
Here, Moses’ older siblings, Aaron and Miriam, were involved in a private conversation between family members. Even when the discussion was only between Aaron and Miriam, God heard them and was angry with them when they questioned whether what Moses had done was right or wrong. At least Aaron and Miriam were not instigating rebellion among God’s people against their brother, whom God had appointed as their leader. Hence, they did not receive the severe punishment that God had enacted upon Korah and the rebels in chapter 16 of that same Bible book.
Thus, the Bible gives a guideline on how the ones whom He has placed over His people to instruct us in the Christian life should be treated:
“We beg you, our friends, to pay proper respect to those who work among you, who guide and instruct you in the Christian life. Treat them with the GREATEST RESPECT AND LOVE because of the work they do. Be at peace among yourselves.” (1 Thess. 5:12-13, GNB, emphasis mine)
Neither should it be surprising, as we can explain to our Protestant friends, why we join with our Executive Minister and are one with him, or united with him, as he leads the entire Church Of Christ all over the world in sharing the Gospel message of salvation that he leads the Church in preaching:
“We give you word of all we have seen and everything which has come to our ears, so that you may be united with us; and we are united with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3, BBE).