Category Archives: Christianity Questions

Questions about Christianity: Who Are the Free Will Baptists, and What Do They Believe?

 

The Free Will Baptists are one of many denominations within the widely varied Baptist realm. They are organized under the National Association of Free Will Baptists, or NAFWB, an association of autonomous local churches in regional, state, and national fellowships. Each church is governed in a congregational style, meaning the entire membership votes democratically on nearly all decisions the church makes.

As their name indicates, Free Will Baptists teach a strong Arminian theology, which holds neither to predestination nor to an unconditional assurance of the perseverance of believers in their faith. As Baptists, they believe in believer’s baptism by immersion. Their understanding of God, the Trinity, salvation, and the Bible are all congruent with common Protestant teachings. One distinctive in the practice of all NAFWB churches is that they practice foot washing as a required ordinance of the church, alongside baptism and communion.

Aside from their practice of foot washing, Freewill Baptist churches represent fairly standard, conservative Baptist churches, with an Arminian point of view.[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

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Questions about Christianity: Who Are the Gideons International, and What Do They Believe?

 

The Gideons International is an association of Christian business and professional men who are dedicated to distributing God’s Word around the world. The Auxiliary of Gideons are wives who support the work with prayer and by participating in many of the functions of Gideons, including the placement of Bibles. By making Bibles available around the world, the Gideons trust God to use His Word to increase His kingdom (1 Corinthians 3:6).

The Gideons International has its worldwide headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee, but each Gideon is assigned to a local group called a “camp.” Camps usually meet once a week for a prayer breakfast and once a month for education and planning. Members encourage each other in personal witnessing and in their overarching goal of bringing men and women, boys and girls, to a saving knowledge and acceptance of Jesus Christ as Savior.

The Gideons organization was begun in 1899 by two traveling salesmen with a heart for evangelism. They later adopted the goal of putting a Bible in every hotel room in the United States starting in 1908. From those beginnings grew an organization of over 300,000 men and women in 195 countries giving out Bibles or New Testaments in over ninety languages. In their first 105 years, the Gideons have given out over 1.8 billion copies of God’s Word.

The Gideons are lay persons (not clergy) who are members in good standing in an evangelical or Protestant church. Essentially, they represent local churches as missionaries whose sole purpose is winning the lost through providing them the Word of God. Today, they distribute over one million Scriptures throughout the world every week—that’s more than two copies per second. Whole Bibles are left in hotels and motels, and New Testaments are provided to middle schools, high schools, colleges, prisons, hospitals, nursing homes, military facilities, doctor’s offices, and fire stations—all at no cost to those receiving the Bibles. Churches support the Gideons with prayer, with some of their members serving as Gideons and Auxiliary members, and by paying for Bibles. All donations to the Gideons go for the printing and transportation of Bibles—many to countries where traditional missionaries cannot go. In forty-eight of the countries where the Gideons are organized, people struggle to survive; they will never own a Bible without some assistance.

The Gideons believe and teach the basics of orthodox Christian doctrine, and the New Testaments they distribute have two pages in the back devoted to explaining the gospel and how to be saved. Their doctrinal statement and further information on the Gideons are available on their website.[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Christianity: What Is the International Church of Christ (ICOC), and What Do They Believe?

 

The International Churches of Christ (ICOC) is a spin-off from the Churches of Christ; both groups are non-denominational, worldwide associations of churches and part of the Restoration Movement. The ICOC has a network of over 600 non-denominational churches in about 160 countries. The International Churches of Christ was formerly referred to as the ICC.

The International Churches of Christ has a number of distinctives. One is a strong emphasis on discipleship; however, “discipleship” in the ICOC looks very different from what most other churches practice. The ICOC consistently uses high-pressure manipulation to bring new disciples into their fellowship. Once a member is acquired, he is set up in a “buddy system” of discipleship. The neophyte is indoctrinated to believe that only the International Churches of Christ has a true understanding of the Bible and the gospel. The “disciple” is encouraged to imitate the whole life of his “discipler.” The disciple must meet with the discipler at least weekly, have daily contact, and make no major decision without checking with him or her. Disciples are told where to live, whom to date, what courses to take in school, how often to have sex with their spouses, and so on. Individuals must not question their leaders. Such requirements are often made by those who practice heavy shepherding.

Another distinctive is that the International Churches of Christ focuses its evangelism almost exclusively on college students. This fits well with the ICOC’s preferred method of “love-bombing”—suddenly and purposefully surrounding a person with high amounts of friendly contact, various forms of aid, and an overall sense of being immersed in a community—something first-year college students especially crave. While none of these things are unbiblical (indeed, community, service, and friendliness are all excellent aims for Christians), the International Churches of Christ uses these virtues as a façade and manipulative tool to increase membership.

Theologically, the International Church of Christ holds to the basic tenets of Protestant evangelicalism, but with two very important exceptions. First, the group is exclusivist, claiming that the church is meant to be united in one association, divided only by geography. It teaches that any church that remains outside of this unified system, i.e., not under the ICOC’s leadership, is not a part of the “true church.” Such claims of exclusivity should raise a red flag. Any church or denomination that claims to be the “one true church” and that all others are false churches is itself teaching falsehood.

The International Churches of Christ also departs from biblical teaching in its teaching of baptismal regeneration, the belief that baptism is required for salvation. The ICOC believes that anyone who is not baptized is not saved and must be “evangelized” and brought into the church. Further, the ICOC teaches that baptism under the auspices of the ICOC is the only baptism that can save. No other baptism will do. The Bible, on the other hand, teaches that salvation is by grace through faith, apart from works (Ephesians 2:8–9)—including the work of baptism.

Other problems with ICOC theology include their rejection of eternal security and their amillennial perspective of the end times.

The International Churches of Christ has a strict and invasive power structure that uses manipulation and indoctrination to control its membership. Many people have been hurt by this group emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. Because of its manipulative practices and errant view of salvation, we must caution against becoming involved in the International Churches of Christ.

If you have been negatively affected by the International Churches of Christ or another manipulative group claiming to be Christian, we encourage you to seek healing, firm in the knowledge that, even though God’s name may have been used to hurt you, God Himself is loving and able heal those who have been spiritually abused.[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Christianity: What Is the 700 Club? Is the 700 Club Biblical?

 

The Christian Broadcasting Network’s flagship television program, The 700 Club, is a talk show combining news, social commentary, human interest interviews, and responses to questions and prayer requests received by phone or email. The show has been running since 1966, born out of telethons for CBN during which the station’s founder, Pat Robertson, requested 700 people to support CBN monthly. The original show included various interviews, performances, and call-in questions or prayer requests. Today, Pat Robertson is still the main host, while his son, Gordon, has taken over as CEO of CBN.

It should be noted that using television or a talk show format is not inherently wrong or unbiblical, any more than radio, newspapers, or the internet is. Television is simply another form of communication that can be used in many ways. Christian-themed information and the gospel can indeed be communicated effectively through various television formats.

However, The 700 Club itself is not an ideal source for biblical information. Pat Robertson has become well known for his comments about natural disasters, 9–11, homosexuals, and many other hot topics. The way Robertson has expressed his opinions has sometimes been inconsiderate and inappropriate for someone who claims to love others with the love of Jesus. Aside from their social unsuitability, Pat Robertson’s statements on current events are often far from what most Christians would consider to be true about God and the Bible.

This is not to say that The 700 Club never communicates biblical truth or that it is un-Christian. However, one should exercise caution with advice and information from the commentators and hosts of CBN. We are all fallible, and all information should be checked according to Scripture. Some sources of information should be considered less reliable than others, and The 700 Club is one of those sources.[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Christianity: Who Are the Hutterites, and What Do They Believe?

 

The Hutterites, or Hutterian Brethren, are a communal, pacifist Christian sect who live mainly in Southern Canada and the Northern United States. There are approximately 49,000 Hutterites (as of 2011), living in 483 colonies (as of 2004). Since coming to the New World from the Ukraine in the 1870s, the Hutterites have sustained themselves mainly through agriculture, although they are beginning to return to manufactured goods out of economic necessity.

The history of the Hutterites is intertwined with the Protestant Reformation. As Anabaptists, the Hutterites share common roots with the Mennonites and the Amish. The group takes its name from Jakob Hutter, a Moravian Anabaptist pastor who was martyred in 1536 by King Ferdinand I of the Holy Roman Empire. Hutter’s followers emerged as the only fully communal representatives of the Anabaptist movement.

The Hutterites firmly hold to adult baptism by immersion, pacifism, and living completely separate from the world.

The Hutterites practice communal living, where everyone puts their output “in” and takes “out” just what they need. In a colony, each family has an individual dwelling, usually including a yard, and household goods, but the buildings, equipment, land, and all monetary or material gain belong to the colony as a whole. The size of a colony is 100 people, on average. This number could represent as few as nine or ten families because of the large number of children per family. Hutterites base their social format on the facts that Jesus and His disciples shared a common moneybag (John 13:29) and that the early church in Jerusalem held everything in common (Acts 2:44–47 and 4:32–35).

Partly because of their pacifism and beliefs about baptism, and partly because of various European wars, the Hutterites have been forced to move a great deal since their founding in 1528 in the Tyrol province of Austria. Within a hundred years of Hutter’s death, the entire sect had been forced out of Moravia. From there, they spent time in Transylvania and Slovakia, then spent a short three years in Wallachia, a region of modern-day Romania, until the Russian government invited them to the Ukraine in 1770. One hundred years later, the group of 800—a small number compared to the 20,000 once living in Tyrol—had to leave when their military exemption was rescinded. The Hutterites proceeded to abandon Europe altogether, founding three colonies in the then-U.S. territory of South Dakota from 1874–77. This was not to be their last migration, however, as the U.S. also rescinded their military exemption for a time, beginning in 1918. Although some Hutterites slowly returned to the U.S., most now live in Canada.[1]

 

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Christianity: Who Are the Jews for Jesus, and What Do They Believe?

 

Jews for Jesus is a ministry organization based in San Francisco, California, with the stated purpose of making “the messiahship of Jesus an unavoidable issue to our Jewish people.” Jews for Jesus grew out of the turbulent hippie movement in the 1960s in San Francisco. The organization practices truth in advertising by making sure that those people on the front lines of ministry and evangelism are, indeed, Jews who are also “for Jesus.” Jews for Jesus is a non-denominational, independent mission relying on individual and church donations for funding.

Jews for Jesus was founded by Moishe Rosen, born in 1932 in Kansas City, Missouri, as Martin Meyer Rosen. He was given the Hebrew name “Moishe” at his circumcision, and he was reared in a nominally religious Jewish family. When his wife, Ceil, came to know Jesus as her Messiah and Savior, Moishe was convinced that he would be able to prove that Jesus was not the Messiah. He began to study the facts concerning Jesus, and his research became the very way in which he, too, became a believer in Jesus the Messiah. His zeal for the Lord Messiah led him to study at Northeastern Bible College in New Jersey. He then became affiliated with American Board of Missions to the Jews (ABMJ), now known as The Chosen People Ministries. Moishe soon began to reach out to the Jewish hippies and counterculture in New York City and later in San Francisco.

Jews for Jesus uses unique methods in reaching the Jewish population. Rosen developed the concept of the “broadside,” which is similar to a gospel tract but uses a folded, standard-size sheet of paper with humorous quips and eye-catching graphics to communicate the message of the gospel. Evangelists with Jews for Jesus frequently employ music and street theatre to attract people with whom they can share the message of Jesus. The organization gears up for local city campaigns with targeted broadsides and other media outreach. They seem to thrive on fresh ideas and new approaches to sharing the gospel message.

It is also helpful to know what Jews for Jesus does not stand for or practice. They do not live communally. However, because of their unique ministry and the opposition they face from both Jews and non-Jews, they tend to be tight-knit and closely resemble a family. They are not a cult. Members, employees and volunteers choose their own housing, make their own decisions, manage their own finances, raise their own children and are strongly encouraged by the organization to maintain close family ties. They are not hippies. This ministry got its start in the shadow of the counterculture, but they are not against traditional values. They are not in competition with other ministries that reach out to Jewish people. They consider other organizations and individuals as co-laborers for Jesus the Messiah.

Jews for Jesus maintains as a core conviction that a Jewish person does not lose his Jewish identity when he becomes a believer in Jesus the Messiah. Jews for Jesus believes in one God in three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They believe that the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, is the inspired Word of God. They believe that salvation for both Jew and Gentile is through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. They believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the prophesied Messiah. They believe that Jesus is co-equal with the Father and that He is both fully God and fully human. They believe that the Jewish people are in a covenant relationship with God and that God will accomplish His purpose through them. They also believe that the Church is under the New Covenant and composed of both Jewish and Gentile believers. In other words, their beliefs reflect historic Christian orthodoxy. Their heart’s desire is to share the gospel with their Jewish family, neighbors and friends.[1]

 

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Christianity: What Is the Difference between a Sect and a Cult?

 

The word sect comes from the Latin word secta, which means “school of thought.” It is a subjective term that may apply to a religious faith or denomination, or it may refer to a heretical splinter group. Sometimes, the connotation is one of disapproval, similar to the “destructive heresies” spoken of in 2 Peter 2:1, though there are no consistent or accepted exemplars to use to identify a sect.

Sects are found in all religions. Islam has Sunnis and Shias, Judaism has Orthodox and Karaites, Hinduism has Shiyaism and Shaktism, and Christianity has Baptists and Lutherans. These are all examples of religious sects, and they can be thought of as “branches” of different religions. There are also non-religious sects, such as capitalists and socialists among economists, or Freudians and Jungians among psychiatrists.

In contradistinction, the word cult always carries a negative connotation. There are specific criteria used to identify a cult. In Combatting Cult Mind Control, deprogrammer Steven Hassan singles out what he refers to as “destructive cults,” which he defines as “a pyramid-shaped authoritarian regime with a person or group of people that have dictatorial control. It uses deception in recruiting new members (e.g. people are NOT told up front what the group is, what the group actually believes and what will be expected of them if they become members).” Hassan also correctly points out that cults are not only religious; they may also be commercial or secular in nature.

Hassan developed the BITE acronym, which describes the components employed by destructive cults using mind control. BITE covers the following areas of control:

Behavior Control: An individual’s associations, living arrangements, food, clothing, sleeping habits, finances, etc., are strictly controlled.

Information Control: Cult leaders deliberately withhold or distort information, lie, propagandize, and limit access to other sources of information.

Thought Control: Cult leaders use loaded words and language, discourage critical thinking, bar any speech critical of cult leaders or policies, and teach an “us vs. them” doctrine.

Emotional Control: Leaders manipulate their followers via fear (including the fear of losing salvation, fear of shunning, etc.), guilt, and indoctrination.

From a Christian perspective, a cult is any group that follows teachings that contradict orthodox Christian doctrine and promote heresy. Under this definition, the Watchtower Society and the Latter-day Saints (Mormons) are both cults.

Because not all cults are immediately recognized as such, and some people may easily confuse cults with sects or denominations, it is critical to follow the example of the Bereans in Acts 17:11: “Now the Bereans … received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” Always research the beliefs of a group before committing to it, examine its behaviors and doctrines in light of the Bible, and beware of the methods listed in the BITE model. Talk to members, but refuse to be coerced by them. Importantly, if something doesn’t seem right, don’t do it.[1]

 

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Christianity: What Is Jesus Culture? Is Jesus Culture Biblical?

 

Jesus Culture is a movement that began in 1999 as a youth group and has since expanded to have an international influence. The music and conferences of Jesus Culture are aimed at young people, seeking to lead them “to experience the radical love of God” and send them back into their communities “completely impassioned and transformed” (from the official website). The ministry focuses on revival, worship, the power of God, and the “manifest presence” of Christ in the world. The founder of the movement is Banning Liebscher from Bethel Church, a Charismatic church pastored by Bill Johnson in Redding, California.

There has always been and will always be great variety within the body of Christ. One reason for the plethora of church denominations is that human beings are unique and one size does not fit all. With every generation, there has been a revival of passion that expresses itself through different outlets. In the 1940s it was Youth for Christ; in the 1970s it was the Jesus People; since 1997 we have witnessed the 268 Generation, also known as the Passion Movement. The young people of Jesus Culture are passionate about spreading worship over the globe, and they set about to do it the way that seems best to them.

Bethel Church, from which Jesus Culture emerged, teaches salvation by grace through faith. However, the church also teaches that the positions of apostle and prophet are being filled yet today. The “apostles’ teaching” mentioned in Acts 2:42 is not necessarily the doctrine of Peter, James, and John, according to Bethel. It is whatever the modern-day apostles are saying. Obviously, this doctrine can lead to a downplaying of Scripture and opens the door to spurious teaching.

Indeed, Jesus Culture is sometimes criticized for a lack of depth and biblical teaching at their conferences and concerts. The emphasis is on having an undefined “personal encounter with the love of God” rather than on repentance and faith. Such an emphasis appeals to emotion, and as with anything centered primarily on emotion, those participating often miss the mark. Any time we give preeminence to emotional experience over the clear teaching of the Word, we open the door to potentially harmful doctrines.

Another concern is Jesus Culture’s emphasis on signs and wonders, including visions, healings, and speaking in esoteric tongues. Johnson teaches that believers who are sick have “allowed” the sickness into their lives and that those who are not healed should “realize it’s not God’s fault” and pray for a “greater anointing” (from the official Jesus Culture website).

Within Jesus Culture are many committed believers, and their accent on worship and worldwide missions is commendable. We praise the Lord for anyone who is brought to faith in Christ through their efforts. At the same time, Got Questions Ministries disagrees with their stance on the sign gifts and sees a danger in their promotion of modern-day apostles. First Thessalonians 5:21 commands us to “prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” As believers, we ought to carefully examine every teaching and practice and compare it to the written Word of God.[1]

 

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Christianity: What Is the World Council of Churches (WCC)?

 

The World Council of Churches is an international, interdenominational fellowship of Christian churches. Denominations within the WCC include mainline Protestant, Anglican, and Eastern Orthodox churches. The WCC is intentionally ecumenical and inclusive.

The World Council of Churches was founded in Amsterdam in 1948; its current headquarters are in Geneva, Switzerland. The World Council of Churches has member churches in more than 110 countries and territories throughout the world, representing over 560 million individuals.

The stated aim of the World Council of Churches is “to pursue the goal of the visible unity of the Church. This involves a process of renewal and change in which member churches pray, worship, discuss and work together” (from the official WCC website). There is, in fact, much written about unity in Christ and the Holy Spirit in the council’s publications. However, it is a unity maintained at the expense of the absolute truth of the Word of God.

For example, the World Council of churches accepts the ordination of women, approves the ordination of practicing homosexuals, and tolerates an amazing variety of heretical beliefs. At a “Re-Imagining” Conference in Minneapolis in 1993, the deputy general secretary of the WCC, Mercy Oduyoye, taught that we all have “spirit mothers” who avenge us and that the spirits of the dead surround us “in the rustling of trees, in the groaning woods, in the crying grass, in the moaning rocks.” The same conference also featured Kwok Pui-Lan, a WCC member who defined salvation as “bringing out what is within you” and quoted the Gnostic gospels. Pui-Lan justified her use of Gnostic texts by stating that, since it was men who decided the canon of the Bible, she was not obliged to accept it.

Historically, the World Council of Churches has been led by those who hold to liberal theology and who promote “progressive” social policies (such as abortion) and leftist political agendas.

Of course, not every member church of the WCC approves of the council’s stance on every issue. And no doubt there are many genuine believers within the WCC. However, the WCC’s willingness to tolerate departures from foundational doctrine is troubling. Yes, the Lord wants His church to be unified (John 17:22), but not at the expense of foundational doctrine. Truth wields the sword of division (Matthew 10:34).

Revelation 17 symbolically describes an end-times apostate religious system. The apostate members of the World Council of Churches will have no problem joining the false church of the end times, in the spirit of ecumenicalism and inclusion.[1]

 

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Christianity: What Is a Foursquare Church?

 

The Foursquare church, officially known as International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, is a Protestant denomination founded by Aimee Semple McPherson in the 1920’s. Foursquare derives its name from what McPherson called the “Foursquare Gospel: Jesus is the Savior, Jesus is the Healer, Jesus is the Baptizer with the Holy Spirit, and Jesus is the Soon-Coming King.”

Foursquare’s Declaration of Faith begins with “We believe that the Holy Bible is the Word of the living God; true, immutable, steadfast, unchangeable, as its author, the Lord Jehovah; that it was written by holy men of old as they were moved upon and inspired by the Holy Spirit …” This Declaration, penned by Aimee Semple McPherson, contains 22 sections including, to mention just a few, the Eternal Godhead, Salvation through Grace, Baptism of the Holy Spirit, Divine Healing, and Tithing and Offerings. Virtually every belief and statement on the church’s web site contains a scriptural reference supporting it.

However, there are concerns with some of the beliefs of the Foursquare Church that do not line up with Scripture. According to their Creedal Statements and Declaration of Faith, they believe in “the free moral will power of man, who can backslide, apostatize, and be lost” which is a rejection of the biblical doctrine of eternal security. The Bible clearly teaches that a true believer cannot lose his/her salvation or apostatize (John 10:28–29; Romans 8:30; 1 John 2:19).

They also believe in “Divine Healing through the atonement” which would disagree with the understanding that while spiritual healing is in the atonement, physical healing does not necessarily occur until the glorified state. Isaiah 53:5, which is then quoted in 1 Peter 2:24, is a key verse on healing, but it is often misunderstood and misapplied. The context of 1 Peter 2 makes it clear that Peter is speaking of spiritual healing. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). The verse is talking about sin and righteousness, not sickness and disease. Therefore, being “healed” in both these verses is speaking of being forgiven and saved, not physically healed.

Further, the Foursquare Church believes “in the personal Baptism of the Holy Ghost as received by the apostles” which, as explained elsewhere on their website, means that they believe the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a “second blessing” subsequent to salvation. Along with this, they believe that all of the miraculous gifts of the Spirit are active in the church today. The majority of biblical evidence supports the indwelling of the Holy Spirit upon salvation, and while there are subsequent “fillings” of the Spirit throughout a believer’s life, there is only one baptism of the Holy Spirit, and that occurs at salvation.

As for the miraculous gifts of the Spirit, the gifts of prophecy, knowledge, wisdom, healing, etc. verified those who were sent from God and were necessary for the early Christians to know God’s plan and purpose for them. The gift of prophecy, for instance, enabled believers to communicate new truth and revelation from God. Now that God’s revelation is complete in the Bible, the “revelatory” gifts are no longer needed, at least not in the same capacity as they were in the New Testament.

While the Foursquare Church definitely has some biblical stances on many doctrines, there are enough questionable beliefs to warrant caution and prayerfully seeking God’s will and discernment.[1]

 

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Christianity: What makes Christian conversion valid? Can’t it be explained psychologically?

 

Whenever a believer gives his or her testimony, there always seems to be someone who objects to this being used as evidence for the Christian truth-claim. They contend that it seems like everybody has some sort of conversion experience or religious testimony.

The Mormons talk about the burning in their heart; those in Eastern religions will talk about the peace and tranquility they receive; others will admit to a new joy or happiness.

Why is Christian conversion correct and the others incorrect? Can’t it be better explained by conditional responses or some type of self-hypnosis?

It is true that many today are testifying to religious experiences in which they claim to have met ultimate reality. At first glance, the Christian sounds like everyone else because he is also claiming to have experienced truth. The unbeliever or casual observer needs more than a mere testimony of subjective experience as a criterion to judge who, if anyone, is right. The difference is that Christians have that criterion.

Christian conversion is linked to the person of Jesus Christ. It is rooted in fact, not wishful thinking. Jesus demonstrated that He had the credentials to be called the unique Son of God. He challenged men and women to put their faith in Him, that they might know God and what life is all about.

Jesus said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10, KJV). When a person puts his faith in Jesus Christ, he enters into personal relationship with God Almighty, which results in changes taking place in his life.

Christian conversion is neither self-improvement nor culturally conditioned. There are many who put their faith in Christ, and do it against the pressures of friends and family. The Christian’s experience ultimately depends on God and His work in the person’s life. This must take place. The experience is grounded in this fact, not in the person himself.

Besides the fact that Christian conversion is based upon something objective, the resurrection of Christ, there is also the universality of Christian experience that must be considered. From the time of Jesus until today, people from every conceivable background, culture, and intellectual stance have been converted by the person of Jesus Christ.

Some of the vilest individuals who ever walked the face of the earth have become some of the most wonderful saints after trusting Jesus Christ. This must be considered. Because of the diversity of the people, it cannot be explained away simply on the basis of conditioning.

Let’s say, for example, that someone approaches you and says that he has found the meaning of life, ultimate reality. He confesses that his life has undergone a drastic change. So you ask him what the key is to this major change. He responds by saying, “Ever since I started wearing a watermelon rind on my head, my life has been changed.”

You check with this person’s friends, and they tell you that indeed he has been different since the day the rind was put on his head. Now you want to know if this experience is peculiar to this one individual, or if others have made the same claim. Thus you start looking for people with watermelon rinds on their heads.

You look far and wide, but cannot find anyone else with a similar experience. Thus you conclude this person is generating his own experience, and is not meeting ultimate reality.

Christian experience is universal, and though this in and of itself does not make it true, it does make it worth considering. What does make it true is that it is based upon the overwhelming evidence of the deity of Jesus Christ.[1]


[1] McDowell, J., & Stewart, D. D. (1993). Answers to tough questions. Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.

Questions about Christianity: What Is the Reformed Baptist Church?

 

In order to understand the Reformed Baptist Church, we need to answer two preliminary questions: 1) What does it mean to be Baptist? 2) What does it mean to be reformed?

To be Baptist is to be part of a church or denomination that, broadly speaking, holds to adult believer baptism (typically by full immersion) following a credible statement of faith as the only biblically acceptable way to administer the sacrament of baptism as commanded by our Lord in his Great Commission (Matthew 28:19–20). This is the view called credo-baptism (“believer” baptism), which is held over against the view of paedo-baptism (“infant” baptism) that is commonly practiced by Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and many continental Reformed churches.

Baptists also generally believe in the autonomy of the local congregation over the more hierarchically-structured denominations such as Roman Catholicism (which is based on an Episcopal model of church government) and Presbyterianism (which is based on a Presbyterian model of church government).

Within this broad category there are many different types of Baptists who hold various views on soteriology (doctrine of salvation) and ecclesiology (church structure and governance). Some fundamentalist Baptist groups hold that the King James Version of the Bible is the only true, inspired version of the Bible in the English language. Other Baptist groups are so theologically liberal that they fall outside the boundaries of what is generally accepted as orthodox. All this to say that Baptists come in many different shapes and sizes, but nominally they are all unified on the doctrine of adult believer baptism.

Baptist history is also a bit difficult to trace. There are some Baptist groups that claim the Baptist tradition can be traced in an unbroken line back to New Testament times, somewhat akin to the Roman Catholic tradition of papal succession. Others claim that while there was not an unbroken chain of Baptist churches going all the way back to New Testament times, there was a continuity of Baptist forms of faith going all the way back to the earliest beginnings of the church. The most commonly accepted view holds that Baptist tradition is traced back to the English separatist movement of the early 17th century. The English separatists were a group of individuals who were unsatisfied with the changes made during the English reformation, which was part of the larger reformation movement sweeping the continent, and hence they separated from the Church of England. From this separatist movement, two strains of Baptists emerged—General Baptists and Particular Baptists. This leads us to our second question noted above: What does it mean to be reformed?

Generally speaking, to be reformed means to flow out of the Protestant Reformation movement of the 16th and 17th centuries. The Reformers were those who protested against certain abuses within the Roman Catholic Church. It is often said that the Protestant Reformation had both a formal cause and a material cause. The material cause of the Reformation (i.e., the particulars of the dispute) was over what became the doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone. In other words, the debate centered on the question of how a man is made right (justified) before God. Rome’s basic answer to that question is that grace, faith and Christ are all necessary, but they are in and of themselves, not sufficient. The Reformers argued that grace, faith and Christ are both necessary and sufficient.

The formal cause of the Reformation was the question of authority. What is the ultimate authority for the Christian in matters of faith and practice? For Rome, the answer is both Scripture and tradition. However, since according to its dogma, the Roman Catholic Church is the source of both Scripture and tradition, as well as the infallible interpreter of both, the matter of authority essentially boils down to the Catholic Church alone. The Reformers believed that the Scriptures alone were the sole infallible rule for Christian faith and practice; hence the Bible is the ultimate authority in these matters. All other lesser authorities—church councils, synods and other such declarations—are only authoritative insofar as they conform to Scripture.

Inasmuch as Baptists are Protestant, they are reformed in this general sense as noted above. However, there is a more specific sense of the word ‘reformed,’ and this is more germane to our discussion. Reformed in the more narrow sense refers to those groups that follow in the theological footsteps of John Calvin—in particular his doctrine of salvation. This is what separates the General Baptists from the Particular Baptists. The General Baptists are so called because they hold to a belief of general atonement—Jesus died to make all men, in a universal sense, savable. Particular Baptists hold to the Calvinistic understanding of salvation that believes Jesus died only for the elect, and He died to actually secure their salvation, i.e., particular atonement. Reformed Baptists flow out of this Particular Baptist stream.

Today there is no official Reformed Baptist denomination, but there are several federations of Reformed Baptist churches, such as the Association of Reformed Baptist Churches in America (ARBCA). Most Reformed Baptist churches subscribe to the London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689) as their doctrinal standards; the 1689 LBCF is essentially the Westminster Confession of Faith reworded as it pertains to baptism. Some notable Reformed Baptists in history are John Bunyan, William Carey and Charles Spurgeon.[1]


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.