Just the Facts

As I said in our first lesson, if you have a copy of J.R. Graves’ book, you are more than welcome to read it at home or to follow along in our classes. And even though we will be using it as our “text,” I make no promise that I’ll be quoting it directly. It will be nothing more than our guide over the next few weeks.

In Graves’ first chapter he begins with four facts. In any situation, especially where there are close-knit arguments, there needs to be foundational principles which are agreed upon by those in the debate. If one man is arguing in French and the other in English, they aren’t going to have a very helpful discussion.

And then furthermore, to fully understand anyone, we often need to know the foundation on which he stands. So before we can go on, we need to understand what Graves considers to be basic principles. This morning we’ll look at 4 foundational facts and next week we’ll consider 6 axioms related to those facts.

The First fact:
“That Christ while on earth did build a Church, unlike any institution that had ever been seen.”

Questions: Does it appear that J.R. believed in a church which started at Pentecost? When did Christ begin to build His first church? What is the basic meaning of the Greek word which is translated “church”? (Called out assembly.) Was the Old Testament nation of Israel the church of the Lord Jesus Christ? Well then why did Stephen speak of Israel as a church in Acts 7:37-39? “This is that Moses, which said unto the children of Israel, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear. This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us.” (Stephen called Israel an “ecclesia” – a called-out assembly. He did not refer to Israel as the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ.) If the Church of the Lord Jesus is unlike any other institution, should we assume that it is different from the Elks lodge (BPOE) or the Eagles?

Second fact:
“That Christ set up but one church, and built but one house, which he designed to be called, in all after ages, “the house of God,” “the Church of the living God,” and to be “a pillar and ground of the truth.”

Questions: How many different kinds of churches and denominations of churches are there in the world today? Do they all believe the same things about the Bible? The Person of Christ? Salvation? Then can they all be the House of God or the Church of the Living God? What did the Holy Spirit mean when He called the church “the pillar and ground of the truth?” What if an organization, calling itself a “church of Christ” believes and teaches things which are not the truth?

Third fact:
“That Christ did not found His church parts in deadly antagonism to each other Or in open rebellion to His own authority, laws and government – an house divided against itself. Nor did Christ construct His house, which he designed for His own glory and praise, of heterogeneous and discordant materials, so that, from their very nature they could never be “fitly framed together” and become a homogeneous compacted whole. “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.” And yet Christ’s kingdom is never to be brought to desolation, and his Church is to stand forever.

Questions: Why does Bro. Graves say that Christ didn’t start a church with different branches or parts? What is meant by the word “heterogenous?” But contrary to what Bro. Graves says, wasn’t the Lord’s church started with heterogenous materials? Who said, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation?” How do we know that Christ’s church is to stand forever? What do we call this doctrine?

The Direct Inferences from these admitted facts are:

First Inference: That the popular “church-branch theory” is a bald absurdity. That theory, as preached and taught by those who pride themselves upon being undenominational Christians, is that all these different sects are “branches of the Church.” “Branch” is a relative term, and implies necessarily a trunk or body, but they are unable to tell us what or where the trunk or body of the tree is! The absurdity of the conception of a tree bearing natural branches of fifteen or twenty different kinds of wood does not seem to occur to these people or their teachers!

Questions: What is meant by the words “undenominational Christian?” What do those people usually call themselves today? Have you ever seen a tree which produced more than one kind of fruit? How could that ever be?

Second Inference: The absurdity of the “church – army theory,” which is the popular pulpit illustration with “undenominational preachers.” This theory is, that all the different denominations compose one great army, Christ being the Captain, and the various sects the regiments, brigades and divisions, and their different creeds the different flags, etc. The illustration breaks down fatally when we remember that the parts of an army are all under the same laws and army regulations, and drilled by the same tactics. They are not in conflict each regiment with every other regiment in the army, as these different denominations, called churches, are. They are doing the army more deadly harm than the common enemy can do!

Questions: Does the Bible teach that Christians are to be spiritual “soldiers?” Does the Bible teach that there are different divisions of soldiers? Are there flaws in Bro. Graves arguments here?

Third Inference from the premise is the equal absurdity of the “universal church theory.” This theory is, that all the different and opposing sects, taken together, constitute the “church” or the kingdom of Christ on earth, and all the true Christians in these sects constitute the “invisible, spiritual Church.” This theory is too preposterously absurd to be put forth by men who have any respect for the wisdom of the Divine Founder of the Church. Infidels could wish for no better argument against Christianity. I honestly believe that more infidels are made by those who preach, hold, and teach these absurd and unscriptural church theories than by all the speeches and writings of infidels themselves. Convince a man that it is true that Christ originated all these diverse sects, and is the author of their radically different and mutually destructive faiths, and he must be an infidel or a fool. If they mean invisible kingdom, the reply is, Christ has not two kingdoms or two churches, considered as institutions, for He has but one Bride, and will have but one “wife” – the Lord is not a bigamist.

Questions: Again, what is the meaning of the Greek word translated “church”? (Called-out ASSEMBLY.) When and where does the “Universal Church” assemble? Is it true that people turn from Christianity because they are told that all the sects and denominations together make up the Lord’s church?

Fourth fact:
It will be granted by all that there are fifty distinct religious organizations in America alone, each radically dissimilar in form and faith, each asserting its right to be considered an evangelical – which means scriptural – church, and, in more respects than any other, like the original organization which Christ set up to be the model and pattern for all His churches. Now, the unthinking multitude is taught to believe that all these sects are equally evangelical, and that it is proof of “intolerant bigotry,” and the lack of all “Christian charity,” to assert that all can not be churches, or if one is indeed scriptural all the rest must be unscriptural. The absurdity of admitting them all to be equally churches of Christ does not occur to them.

Questions: What is wrong with Bro. Grave’s statement? (There are now hundreds of different religious organizations.) Is it true that each sect or denomination thinks that it is the true church? How logical, then, for those sects and denominations to still include people in other groups to be a part of the “true church?” In their thinking, what constitutes membership, or how does one become a part, in the “true church”? Is it true that people who disagree with the Universal Church doctrine are considered to be unloving bigots? Is it bigotry to be Biblical?

Is it bigotry to be logical? Do those who believe what Bro. Graves says, have any reason to be proud of themselves? Why?