Vol.III No.VI Pg.1
July 1966

The Essential Ingredient

Robert F. Turner

No man is without fault, yet we are not amiss in calling some men Christians. What sins may we safely ignore in deciding who is and who is not a Christian?

No congregation is perfect, yet there are surely some congregations that are acceptable unto God. How may we determine a faithful church?

I can hear the lawyer, tempting our Lord with the question: "Which is the great commandment in the law? (MAT.22:36). And Jesus answered, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind".

No teaching or commandment of God may be safely ignored. There is no resting place this side of complete and perfect obedience. We are not to "judge" the law, but to be judged by the law; and "whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, (deliberately, presumptuously set aside as of no consequence; rft) he is guilty of all" (JAM.2:9-12).

Jesus was not choosing one law from among the many, when He answered the lawyer. He was stating the basis upon which our reaction to all laws is judged. Upon this basis we consider all of God's requirements equally important, and seek "with all our heart, soul, and mind" to serve God faithfully. How utterly blinded are those who conclude "just so one loves God; the commandments are unimportant".

The consequences of some sins are greater (in this life) than those of others. There are commandments which are basic in nature -- involving attitudes which affect further conduct -- which are therefore "weightier matters" (MAT.23:23) but the "offend in one -- guilty of all" principle holds true. "These ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone."

Final judgment is, of course, in God's hands; but Jesus teaches us to judge men (and churches) by their fruits (MAT.7:15-20). We may even, to a very real degree, determine one's love for God by this test. Jesus said, "If a man love me, he will keep my words" (JOH.14:23; cf. 1JO.5:3).

Love and respect for God begins with the reception of the seed of truth, a little leaven. The "germ" of spiritual life must grow to the point that the individual will do what the Lord has commanded him to do for the remission of past sins, and entrance into the "new life" (ACT.2:37-41; ROM.6:3-4) before we are at liberty to call that man a "Christian". We may admire the sincerity of one who is in this "prenatal" state, and acknowledge that "to this point" he has responded to the extent of his understanding; but this does not make of him a "Christian". Such an one is open, receptive to God's truth, anxious to know more. He "hungers and thirsts" for righteousness. A spirit of self-satisfaction, or pride that genders anger when his status is questioned, would be fruit that indicates a bad tree.

After the "new birth" -- as a member of the Lord's church -- the same tests may be applied. No Christian is perfect, but every Christian is striving to be perfect. Paul said, "Not as though I had already attained...but I follow after..". "I press toward the mark" (PHI.3:12-f.). Any attitude other than this would be evidence of serious and possibly fatal error.

And these principles must also be applied to congregations. How may we determine a faithful church?. It must be a church that, above all else, operates upon the basis of love and respect for Christ, head of the church. Make no mistake. This is not a "warm molasses" kind of love -- oozing sweetness but ignoring the word of God in faith and practice. It is a love that obeys. Which divine characteristics are important, and which non-essential?. All are essential, and the congregation that is not making a conscientious effort to comply with all of the Lord's requirements is doomed.

But some may lack understanding of the Lord's requirements. What then??. As in the case of the Christian, certain characteristics are necessary for identity. A given "group" has no right to be considered a "church of Christ" who has not conformed to NT standards. But people who really want to serve the Lord will have little difficulty in determining His will and walking in His ways.

The big problem is congregations that have "left their first love". Being filled with pride; self-willed; they measure themselves by themselves (or the majority of churches of Christ in Texas). The essential ingredient is missing (REV.2:4-f) and every fault becomes a declaration of apostasy.