Defective Views Of The Church

This article was written decades ago; much more is this counsel needed in our day.

Charles D. Alexander
All By Grace
Sola Christus          
Sola Scriptura           
Sola Gratia           
Sola Fida           
Soli Deo Gloria
Defective views of the Church lie at the root of most prophetical errors, and have played havoc with the holy art of Bible exposition. “Dispensations” have been invented to account for the insertion of the Age of the Christian Church where the kingdom of earthly Israel should have been established according to the literal interpretation of prophecy. So convinced are the dispensationalists that all prophecy is for the nation of Israel that they have introduced the extraordinary theory that the Church as such is nowhere envisaged in OT prophecy, but is hidden from the view of the prophets. This despite the fact that the Day of Pentecost was the subject of the main prophecy of Joel, as Peter asserts in his great Pentecostal sermon   and James’s subsequent verdict at the council of the Church at Jerusalem that the calling of the gentiles into the Church was the subject of the prophecy of Amos in his ninth chapter (see Acts 15:13 18). Paul teaches the Ephesians that the Church, so far from being an unexpected event in history was all along that to which God was working from before the foundation of the world, as the means by which He should make known to all creation His manifold wisdom (Ephesians 3:9 10).
 
In Galatians Paul makes it plain that the Church in her NT form is the continuity of the Israel of the OT and the inheritor, as of rights, of the promises made to Abraham (Galatians 3:26   4.7).
 
There has been but one Church from the foundation of the world, and one faith (which Paul describes in its continuity from Abel down to his own day, and from then on to the end of time   see Hebrews 11). Faith does not change either as to its nature or its object. The object of faith is the promise of life in Christ Jesus, first made in the Garden in the presence of our first parents, around from the beginning. The priesthood of Abel anticipated the sacrifice of Christ. Enoch’s translation was an assurance to the antediluvian world that immortality was pledged in the promise death would be overcome. Abraham’s faith was sealed by the same anticipatory sacrifice as was Abel’s. Paul assures us that so far from the promise to Abraham ‘and his seed’ being the exclusive preserve of the natural seed of Abraham, it was in fact the promise of life to all who believe, be they Jew or gentile. Abraham’s altered name was a pledge of this – “The Father of Many Nations”. “They who are of faith are blest with faithful Abraham”, declares Paul. (Galatians 3:9)
 
The promise of life, made to Abraham, was not to be the prerogative of an earthly people who throughout their history thrust it from them, but was something which only faith could grasp. Hence “It is of faith, that it might be by grace, to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all”. (Romans 4:16)
 
Abraham’s seed was Christ: “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many, but as of one: And to thy seed, which is Christ” (Galatians 3:16). So the natural seed of Abraham was never the subject of the promise only that spiritual seed which by faith and the new birth partake of the new life in Christ. This is the only Israel which inherits the promises, and it is an Israel of Jew and gentile, on terms of absolute equality and right, indifferent as to ancestry, a people of faith and repentance.
 
This Church will continue unchanged as to its calling and nature, till the end of time. No assembly of the Jewish people in Palestine can be regarded as the fulfillment of any promise to Abraham. The land of Canaan was not in itself the fulfillment of the promise, but only a temporal pledge until the seed should come to whom the promise was made, even Christ. Any restoration of the nation of Israel to its ancient privileges would be a reversal of the divine order by which the temporal only foreshadows the spiritual. All the prophecies under the figure of the land of Palestine have been fulfilled in the Church, and are intended to be spiritually understood. The literal interpretation requires that the temple be rebuilt and a ‘most favoured nation’ be established; Christ must vacate His eternal throne to come down to earth as a temporal monarch at Jerusalem. The New Testament knows nothing of this and the New Testament is the sole interpreter of the Old Testament   not the reverse.
 
Our readers should not be startled by the present Jewish occupation of Palestine. It may or may not be permanent, but it is certainly not the fulfillment of any prophecy as understood according to the New Testament. The only ‘nation’ to which the kingdom of God is given is one which brings forth the fruits thereof (Matthew 21:43). To avoid the force of this verse Dr. Scofield introduces a distinction between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven a distinction which does not exist in Holy Scripture.
Literalism has sealed up large tracts of the Divine Word from any relevance to the people of God, and lies at the root of much ineffective preaching today. It also lies at the root of much commercialism in the writing and sale on an enormous scale, of books which purport to foretell the future and read current events in terms of Bible prophecies. It is for this reason that we press on without hope of earthly reward, in our task of presenting our thesis  REVELATION SPIRITUALLY UNDERSTOOD.
 
Note: While this article was written over thirty years ago it is as timely as the current [2006] conflict between “Israel” and Lebanon.

A lot to consider regarding our “little sins.”

The following article by Frank Powell gives us a lot to think about:

image9 Sins the Church Is Surprisingly OK With as Long as You Love Jesus

What if the big sins, you know the ones you try hardest to avoid, aren’t the greatest threat?

I was in an engineering class the first time I watched the tragic explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger. Even though I wasn’t alive when it happened, I caught a glimpse of the horror thousands must have felt as the events unfolded.

And, the first question everyone wanted to know was, “What happened?”

After months of investigation, here’s what the Rogers Commission (the group commissioned to investigate the explosion) discovered: An o-ring seal in the right solid rocket booster failed at take-off. I won’t bore you with the details, but an o-ring is a small device relative to the size of a space shuttle. Very small.

It wasn’t something huge, like a puncture in the rocket booster or a hole in the cabin, that caused this disaster. It was a small, seemingly insignificant, o-ring failure.

I think there’s a lesson here for the church. What if the big sins, you know the ones you try hardest to avoid, aren’t the greatest threat to your joy and the church’s mission?

Maybe it’s the sins lying underneath, the ones considered normal or acceptable, the ones going undetected, that are affecting the church the most. I want to address nine of these sins.

Continue reading here.

Not Everyone Can Be The Mouth

Not Everyone Can Be The Mouth

This article contains an excerpt that was taking from my book, Apocity: The Greatest Omission which can now be downloaded for free.
This portion of the book is emphasizing the true meaning behind 1 Corinthians 12, and how this passage cannot be used as means to say that  evangelism is the “mouth” of the body, and therefore, seeing that we have differing roles/gifts, not everyone can be the mouth. Sadly, there are variations to this excuse.


The idea that not everyone can be a consistent witness because they are not “the mouth” is also wrongly pulled out of 1 Corinthians 12. I have actually heard men (more often pastors and teachers within the congregation) say “not everyone can be the mouth.” In other words, we are
not all gifted with the gift of evangelism, and the mouth is the metaphor they use to describe those that do have it. Once again, this is urban legend, and I will clear up this confusion.

When you look at 1 Corinthians 12, right from the get go, in verse 1 Paul clearly says, “now concerning spiritual gifts.” This is a good clue that Paul is about to clarify some things for the Corinthian church. This issue with spiritual gifts and the divisions within the church was one of the reasons Paul wrote 1 Corinthians in the first place. In verse 4 he mentions how there are “diversities of the gifts” that come from the same Spirit. Verse 11 reveals how the Spirit passes out gifts as He wills (This challenges those who think that you have to speak in tongues as proof that you have received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. See Chapter 5). Then, in verse 12, Paul begins to emphasize the unity of the body not only because we are all partakers of His Spirit through salvation (v13), but also because of how the diversity of the members affect the unity of that body. In other words, Paul is trying to give us an illustration that even though there are different gifts within the body of Christ, these divisions of gifts do not mean we are divided as a body. We are unified together by the Spirit, who distributes these gifts, and one gift is not more important than the other in the grand plan of the Church. Are you following? If not, this next part may be harder for you to grasp.

When you look at the metaphor that Paul uses for the body, he repeatedly gives us clues as to what he is trying to get across to the Corinthian church. In verse 15 he says, “If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,’ is it therefore not of the body” (Emphasis added). He asks the same questions concerning another body part in verse 16. Verse 21 he says, “And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you;’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” Once again, Paul seems to be hinting at something here, and in verse 22 he gets to his point: “… those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary.” So basically Paul is trying to say that every member of the body is “necessary” no matter what gift, no matter what background (v13), and no matter how weak one seems to be (v23-24). Paul has said all this so that we realize that everyone within the body should need one another and that we should benefit from each other’s gifts, strengths, weakness, and backgrounds (v25). I might have been very general with my exegesis of this text but my purpose is not to get to the small details (that would be a whole other chapter), but to make some observations that I believe will squash this idea that evangelism is a gift, specifically here, “the mouth.”

If you are one to believe that not everyone can be the mouth (insinuating the mouth being a spiritual gift), or you have heard this from someone and think it is a valid statement, then here are some points to consider. 1) Where in this chapter does it specifically mention evangelism? The urban legend that evangelism is a gift still applies here too, not just Ephesians 4. Also, if you are saying that not everyone
can be the mouth, then you have to show me from 1 Corinthians 12 how believing this is in any way a “get out of witnessing free” card, because that is not Paul’s intent in this particular chapter of Corinthians. 2) Paul did not mean for this chapter to be used as a cop out to not preach the gospel. If you remember what I said in the previous paragraph, Paul’s main concern was unity. There seemed to be divisions in the church for various reasons, and the insinuation that Paul gives in numerous verses is that some believed that there were others that were not needed, or that they were not a part of the body because they seemed weaker or less honorable. There might be more background to this, but the main point is that Paul was more specifically targeting the need for everyone within the body and for every spiritual gift, rather than just emphasizing certain ones over the other. 3) Where does “not being the mouth” come into this metaphor? If you read this chapter carefully, when Paul used the metaphor of the body it wasn’t for us to figure out which body part we are (or think we are), it was to help us understand the importance of unity within a human body and relate that to the body of Christ. This was his main point! It is so absurd when I hear people call this person a foot, or that person the hand, or evangelism the mouth. This is not what Paul is saying! 4) When was the last time you did something without all body parts involved? If evangelism is the mouth, does that mean I don’t use my hands or my feet to preach? The Bible talks about feet being beautiful for preaching the gospel (Romans 10:15), so does this mean not everyone can be the feet either? Do I need someone who is the arms carry me to my corner to pass out tracts because I am not gifted in doing it myself? I am being very caustic for a reason. I have become so sorrowfully burdened about these vain attempts to explain away our responsibility to preach that it has caused me great spiritual distress to see professing believers continually making urban legends, like not being a mouth, a popular excuse. The nature of these excuses call into question the salvation of many who call themselves believers (a topic we will explore in the next chapter).

I can understand that there are persons within the body who are skilled in certain areas in which others are not. For instance, there are men and women who fly missionaries to their destination for the glory of God. These saints risk their lives to fly over dangerous areas to do  amazing things for God. Here is my question though: Just because they metaphorically can be the arms that carry missionaries where they need to go, does that remove their responsibility to preach to the lost themselves? Just because my primary job is “an arm” (I don’t actually believe that, just proving a point) does that mean I don’t have a mouth? If anything, anyone who is supporting evangelism efforts would see the importance of evangelism and would feel the obligation to preach themselves. This example goes for those who mow lawns for the church, who do the finances, those who usher, teenagers in youth group, deacons, pastors, and the list goes on! Your primary duty within the local church includes evangelism. Evangelism is not a secondary duty; it is the indivisible infrastructure of your calling as a Christian!

At this point, I feel it is necessary to say this. As I previously said in Chapter 2, I understand that the roles that God has given within the local church are for us to be perfected and conform to the image of Christ. I am not blind to the reality of our weakness, nor do I think that each
person’s gifting is unimportant. I know that pastors have a part, deacons, leaders, congregations, members, etc.; all play an important part in the whole of the universal church of Christ. What the revelation of Scripture seems to imply, however, is that none of that infringes upon our call to be faithful in our witness. None of it! There is no such gift of evangelism and there are no Scriptures that we can use to justify this position. If we refuse to accept this reality, then gross apocity among many local churches will continue. And I do not know about how you, reader, may feel about it, but I think God is weary of it.

 

-Until we go home

What Is Evangelism?

(This is from the last section in the book I am writing on Baptist theology and practice.)

One of the major purposes we are left on this planet after being raised from spiritual death is to Evangeltake the gospel to every nation, tongue, and tribe; being evangelists and ambassadors of reconciliation. We need to clarify what evangelism is and will begin by identifying a couple of popular practices that are not biblical evangelism. First is the notion that inviting lost people to church is evangelism. This reflects the false notion that evangelism is for the “professionals” and it also lets those who are ashamed of or disinterested in Christ Jesus off the hook of being familiar with His message. 1 Corinthians 14:23-25 shows that unbelievers are welcome but not the focus or even normal attendees in the regular worship of the local church. Ephesians 4 teaches that the local church is to be equipped so the sheep will not be tossed about by the wiles of men. Contrary to the idea of inviting lost people to church, YHWH tells us, So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. (Hebrews 13:12-13). By this, God means we are to go therefore and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19); making disciples of those that have answered the call. About that, more later.

Secondly, many church leaders put emphasis on the personal testimony of those witnessing, rather than making sure they can communicate the gospel. Some even acknowledging that the reason for doing so is because no one can argue with your personal testimony, as it is subjective, whereas the gospel is objective and demands a response. They might argue about the content and the demand of the gospel, but not about what God did for you. This is post-modern thinking and goes directly against the biblical instruction we have as ambassadors of our Lord and Savior (2 Corinthians 5:16-21).

The essential element in all evangelism is proclaiming the biblical gospel (this was covered in some detail in Chapter 8). By doing so, we take the pressure of our performance and insure we don’t contribute to false converts, and we also get confidence in the Word and Spirit of God as we see them do the work that only they can do. Being familiar with the Scriptures will embolden us as we see YHWH has gone before us preparing the soil for the seeds we sow, insuring a good return for His kingdom; see Mark 4:1-9 and:

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven

and do not return there but water the earth,

making it bring forth and sprout,

giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,

so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;

it shall not return to me empty,

but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,

and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

(Isaiah 55:10 & 11)

It is His Word, sent out as He intended, that will not return void, not the 3 minute summary of our personal testimony or a twisted version that He has not commissioned.

As we go about faithfully proclaiming our Lord’s message, we would do well to bear in mind that there are two calls involved in evangelism: we give a general call to every creature (Mark 16:15) and God gives an effective call to His elect (John 6:44). Our call is universal, general, and outward, as we do not know who He has chosen to save. His call is specific, effectual, and internal, as He alone knows those chosen before time to be His adopted children (Ephesians 1:3-10) and He will give ears to hear to His elect. We see this graphically portrayed in Scripture in several places, including the scene wherein Paul and Barnabas had been preaching Pisidia and gained the attention of many people.

The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying,

“‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles,

that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region. But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. But they shook off the dust from their feet against them and went to Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 13:44-52)

The message preached is found in verses 16 – 41. Gentiles and Jews heard the same general call, bringing them the good news that what God had promised to the Fathers He had fulfilled by raising Jesus from the dead. The seed fell on some rocky and thorny soil, but it fell on some good soil that had been prepared in advance by the good husbandman (John 15:1). As we see in the well-known road to Emmaus scene, it is YHWH Who keeps them from seeing or understanding until the right time (Luke 24:15 & 16; 30 & 31).

Jesus gave this general call in Matthew 11:28 and John 7:37, as people without respect to their persons were called to come to Him and find rest, to come to Him and satisfy their thirst. This is also the context of Peter’s sermon recorded in Acts 2, as men from myriad countries and religious beliefs (verses 9-11) were called to repent and be baptized (as a sign of their belief). The problem with this call is the same problem the Jews had with their Law: neither one can save or enable the hearer to be saved. People can claim to obey the law (Luke 18:18-23) and they can ignore or refute the words of men (Luke 14:15-24).

The general and effectual calls are likewise revealed to us explicitly in Acts 16, wherein we see Paul, Timothy, and Silas making a journey which finds them in Philippi where they stayed for a while. And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us. (verses 13 – 15) A good number of women who were somewhat aware of God had gathered at the river and all had heard Paul’s gospel message as the general call went out without restriction. At least this one had her heart opened by YHWH so that she heard the effectual call and was obedient to follow in believer’s baptism.

There are some who think the Law ought to be a part of the gospel, as people need to be convicted of their sin before they can see the need of grace. The law provokes us and reveals sin in us, but cannot grant eternal life. John Bunyan is thought to have written this little poem, showing us with memorable lines the difference between the Law and the Gospel:

Run, John, Run! The Law commands;

But gives me neither feet nor hands.

Far grander news the gospel brings;

It bids me fly and GIVES ME WINGS!

Our Savior has said something similar, in Paul’s Roman epistle: For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:3 & 4)

The gospel is the good news of what Jesus has done to save sinners; refer to the Biblical Gospel in chapter 8. Our focus must be on that message, not 4 spiritual laws or any other nifty scheme man may have invented to make witnessing easy. We are not called to a life of ease; we are called to obedience. We are ambassadors of His message of reconciliation, not a one-off message of our own making. While the Law may rightly be used to show a self-righteous religious man his sin; it is not part of the gospel that every spiritually dead person must hear. Seeing the holiness of God in Christ, even in part, will do more to crush self-righteousness (as in the opening scene in Isaiah 6) than all the heavy yoke of the Law can bring to bear for the one who is being called to new life by the Spirit of the living God.

Much of the activity in a local church under the flag of evangelism takes place in what are called revivals. This is a logical progression under the previously mentioned idea that evangelism is bringing lost people to church. It appears that there is a belief that a specially called meeting with an out-of-town preacher will create an environment for sinners to be saved. I cannot commend revival meetings because I do not find them revealed or recommended in Scripture; I do not find them practiced by the early church; they presume man can schedule the work of the Holy Spirit; they rely on someone other than the shepherd of the local flock to feed them; and they influence many to chase numbers rather than spiritual growth. A century ago, a brother sounded a warning to the church regarding this practice:

The modem “revival,” the work of the “revivalist” who comes under the title of an evangelist, but works as a religious promoter in the organized church, is unexpected in Scripture, except as the word “revival” is used to denote a forward movement in the spiritual life of the church, without including the idea of attempting to regain some spiritual position once held, but now lost. The use of the word usually means, however, a getting up after having fallen down, or a waking after sleeping, or a coming to strength after a period of weakness; while, on the other hand, the Scripture pre-supposes a continual erect, wakeful and aggressive position for service on the part of every Christian (Eph. vi. 10-17). Thus, it may be seen, a “revival” is abnormal rather than normal. It may have a function when needed, but in no way should become a habit, much less a sanctioned method of work. Having regained vitality, believers are not warranted in habitually returning to an anaemic state. … The fact that a “revival” is planned for is a confession on the part of a church of a condition which would render the normal movements of the Spirit in salvation impossible. The call for the evangelist, under those conditions, also reveals the fact that the expectation of the church, to a great extent, is toward the man that is invited, rather than toward the Holy Spirit and His appointed ministry through the church itself. (True Evangelism, Lewis Sperry Chafer, epub, position 38.6 & 40.4, emphasis mine)

Evangelism, like all kingdom work, must be in accordance with the instructions and principles clearly given to us by our God. As discussed in chapters 5 and 6, regarding the nature and use of Scripture, when we use what man has developed to further kingdom work rather than what God has given us, we are betraying a greater trust in man than we have in our Creator. And this should never be the case for people of the Book! God is a jealous God and He will not give His glory to another. There is safety in our standing on and under the Word of God; it is His authority and revelation to us. History aligns with Scripture in bearing this out, as this short extract from an early debate between the reformers and Rome reveals:

Charles Eck had been sent by Rome to Germany to refute what Luther, Melanchthon and others had written in the Augsburg Confession; a document intended to declare essential doctrines and not to be the handmaid or rival to the Word of God. The Duke of Bavaria was the judge. After listening to the reaction to the confession, he asked Rome’s defenders, “can you refute by sound reasons the Confession made by the elector and his allies?” – “With the writings of the apostles and prophets – no!” replied Eck; “but with those of the Fathers and of the councils – yes!” (J.H. Merle D’Aubigne, History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century, Volume IV, page 187, Sprinkle Publications, 2003) As was pointed out in chapter 7 regarding the use of confessions, this peek into history reveals the absurdity of using man’s documents to defend Christian disputes. If we cannot, by sound reason, defend our beliefs and practices by the writings of the apostles and prophets, we have no business expounded them as Christian doctrine or practice.

When man claims to accomplish by the flesh what only God can do, we steal glory from God and He will not allow that to continue. It is His work to raise sinners to life, as He breathed life into Adam, as He gave life to 4-days dead Lazarus by calling him forth. Let us abandon the false hope that we can defer to pastor-man or that we can cause God to respond to our schedule and schemes. His kingdom, His Word, His temple; He is building the New Jerusalem with spiritual stones that He gathers from every nation, tribe, and tongue. We can work with Him or against Him. ‘Tis a far better thing for professing Christians to work with God than in opposition to Him. May it be so with us, as we herald His glorious name throughout the world.

A napkin, a pen, and a Bible verse to prove the deity of Christ.

image“Years ago I read the following simple but effective illustration from Greg Koukl on how to use a napkin, a pen, and a Bible verse to show a Jehovah’s Witness that Scripture teaches (even in their own translation) that Jesus must be God. Greg, who is the president of Stand to Reason and the author of one of my favorite books on reasoning with unbelievers, kindly granted permission to reprint the explanation below. I hope you find it helpful.”

Read the entire article here

The Dangers of Drifting

A review by Stuart Brogden   Evangelicals-Adrift-94x150

We must, therefore, pay even more attention to what we have heard, so that we will not drift away. – Hebrews 2:1 (HCSB)

Matthew E. Ferris’ book, Evangelicals Adrift – Supplanting Scripture with Sacramentalism, is a fairly comprehensive examination of the differences between biblical Christianity and that which is based on sacramental rituals. He also provides examples of people who have crossed the Tiber River from both sides. For the evangelical who drifts into sacramentalism, the dangers are pointed out with the concern of one manning a lighthouse in treacherous waters, where sailing vessels are bound to be broken on the rocks if they drift away from the narrow channel.

In ten concise chapters, our author covers the theological crises in evangelicalism, the nature and authority of the church and Scripture, and the various departures from biblical truth posed by sacramentalism. In the first chapter, Ferris tells us, “My task is to the show that the definition of the bride of Christ put forth by sacramentalism is an erroneous one, and that Scripture is the only sure guide for the way forward in the Christian life. … I am not writing as “anti-Catholic” or “anti-Orthodox”, but rather as pro-Scripture.” (page 25) This is an important point that evangelicals need to keep in mind, as it is far too easy to drift into being against error instead of in favor of truth; and our mission is to be ambassadors of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:20).

In his discussion about the nature of the church, Ferris contrasts the Apostles’ teaching found in God’s Word with the progressively developed extra-biblical traditions of the sacramental church, concluding, “The final arbiter for sacramentalism returns once more, not to the Scriptures, but to the church.” (page 35), giving us quotes from Roman Catholics that explicitly confirm this. He then asks, “in what sense can the Church be apostolic if it runs counter to the model the apostles themselves left us?” (page 37) Ferris supports the plurality and equality of elders and the priesthood of all believers in the local church, pointing out the word “clergy” is applied in Scripture to the entire church, not only the elders (page 42). Anticipating the claim that there is unanimity amongst the Church Fathers, our author provides a few quotes to show they had as much variation on issues as do any group of Christians, observing that anyone who wants a clean and supporting historical record to support their view must pick and choose which bits of history to rest on, ignoring those which do not line up with their case. “The Church is the pillar and ground of the truth only in that she upholds and defends it; she does not originate truth.” (page 74)

One way that Christians fail to stay on the narrow road is to neglect church history and conclude that their traditions are biblical. Ferris bemoans the fact that many research or know church history only as far back as the Reformation (page 84), leaving them adrift in the historical influences left unexamined. In commenting on how tradition overshadows Scripture in sacramental churches, he sums up a good quote from Oscar Cullman by saying, “there is no need for a canon at all if the ultimate arbiter of truth is the Church and its magisterium.” (page 86) “Roman Catholic doctrine claims to affirm the inspiration of Scripture and that the Bible is authored by God, yet in practice it severely undermines both of these positions.” (page 102) The Roman Catholic Church demands its dogma be accepted as authoritative, while denying the self-attestation of Scripture. Rather than holding to a proper understanding of Sola Scriptura, the Roman Catholic Church is shown to truly hold to sola ecclesia (page 103). This is compounded by the long-standing position of Rome that only its select clergy can interpret the Scripture, which undermines the authority of the Bible. If the Bible is God’s Word to His people, all of whom are indwelt by His Spirit, does it make sense that only a small number of people selected by a small number of religious leaders would be able to rightly comprehend the essentials of the Christian faith? History records that these select leaders, charged with interpreting the Scriptures for the common folk often disagreed with one another and many changed their minds on topics over time. Heretics and false sons have been in the temporal church since the apostolic era and it flies in the face of history, human nature, and the Bible for Rome to claim immunity from the frailties that each son of Adam faces.

Ferris also discusses how the various sacraments within many churches claim to impart grace, robbing the gift YHWH gives of its meaning. Baptism is one of these, with infant “baptism” having its basis in the false belief that it is needed for salvation. “Sacramentalism practices infant baptism as both an entrance into the new covenant with God and as that which cleanses from sin.” (page 160). If this were true, why was the Apostle Paul’s priority on gospel proclamation (1 Cor 1:14 – 17 & 9:22)? Further, he asks, “If baptism is indeed effective in imparting new life, in washing away sin, in putting one into the church, how is it that so many people who have undergone infant baptism manifest no signs of divine life whatsoever?” (page 166)

Chapters 7 and 8 are excellent reviews of the unbiblical view that sacraments convey grace and that mystical doctrine of Mary worship and veneration. Chapter 9 explores the spurious notion that there is theological and doctrinal unity within the Roman Catholic Church – pointing out there is as much variety within that religion as they claim there is amongst evangelicals.

The final chapter asks, “To Whom Shall We Go?” – and points out that “By insisting on the mediation of the Church in every aspect of the believer’s interaction with God, sacramentalism replaces the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian.” (page 223) Ferris gives the reader an excellent, concise review of the difference between the Roman view of infused grace and the biblical view of imputed grace as the means of saving sinners. The catechism of the Roman Catholic Church declares that the sacraments are necessary for salvation. Our author observes, “There is no experience of God, no conversion, and indeed no final salvation apart from engaging in the ritual acts defined by the Church. This is diametrically opposed to justification by faith in Christ alone. It is the system, rather than the Savior that assumes the importance in sacramentalism.” (page 225) In light of these dangers that we can drift into, to whom shall we go? As Peter rightly understood, we must flee to Christ Jesus – He has the words of eternal life (John 6:68). And so our faithful author points us to the Word Himself. “Every problem, every shortcoming, every doctrinal aberration with evangelicalism, and indeed with any branch of the church, is solved only by an intentional and sustained engagement with scripture. … Embracing sacramentalism will only lead believers further away from the truth that a relationship, not a ritual, is the scripturally ordained way of growth in Christ. Those who drift away can only regain their moorings by once again submitting to the Bible for everything in their Christian live.” (pages 228 & 229)

This book is a most excellent encouragement to the saints of God and, I pray, a wakeup call to those who are drifting into dangerous waters in the Tiber River. To God alone be the glory and honor and dominion and power – now and forever!