Examining the Doctrine of the Church of Christ Denomination
The following is an e-mail exchange between a member of our staff (Brian Cooper) and a local CHOCD preacher named Stacey. We were simply trying to make the point that Cornelius (Acts 10) was saved and THEN water baptized later. This CHOCD preacher goes to extremes to try to prove a point that ends up getting lost in the shuffle of words. This is tedious reading and the points are subtle, but it is a perfect example of Scripture twisting. In order to bolster his position, the CHOCD preacher refuses to rely on the actual event as recorded in Acts 10, instead wants you to forget that (as though it was never there) and rely strictly on Peter retelling of the story in Acts 11, because he likes the wording better there.
If you have a few minutes to spare, this is both fascinating and boring at the same time. From Brian to Stacey: I think the main situation that got me thinking about the whole baptism issue was how many times we (when I was in the CHOCD) had to make excuses for our doctrine. The thief on the cross, Cornelius, the Philippian jailor, etc. I think that Cornelius was probably the kicker for me. He was a man that was CLEARLY saved, because he was FILLED with the Holy Spirit. And yet, he had not been water baptized yet. I was taught, "Oh, that's OK. He was an exception to the rule, 'cause he was the first Gentile, so God broke the rules on that one." That didn't set well with me, being that I was trained to be so black and white (B/ W). What do you mean "exception?" B/ W people don't like exceptions. It muddys the water. It makes things...GRAY! From Stacey to Brian: We can go into those matters if you desire so. They can be answered as consistently as everything else pertaining to salvation. As a matter of fact, I just dealt with the jailer. The thief on the cross we can go into. And Cornelius is a very unique case coming out of a transition era. But we can deal with that. It is interesting that you say about him that he was CLEARLY saved? I would like for you to elaborate on that. Saved in what sense? The things that took place concerning Cornelius were for a reason and the scriptures plainly teach that. Let me know if you want to discuss the thief and Cornelius. From Brian to Stacey: An unsaved person cannot be filled with the Holy Spirit. Cornelius was a perfect example of all believers. He heard, he believed (was saved), he was filled with the Holy Spirit and was baptized. Because he doesn't fit the CHOCD "formula" you say...well...he...was an exception to the rule. No, he is the rule. He exemplifies the order of Salvation, perfectly. Saved, then baptized. From Stacey to Brian: Well, I'm glad you went somewhat into Cornelius so I can understand your position. I don't have to make any excuse for Cornelius; I just teach the truth on the subject. You say he is the perfect example of all believers today. You say he heard, he believed (was saved), he was filled with the Holy Spirit and was baptized. Well, let's talk about it first and then let's see if this is what happened, ok?
Cornelius is not an exception. he had to be saved just like every one else. His situation is unique. Let me explain.
His case is unusual in that it was the first case of conversion involving pure Gentiles. We must explain some of the facts presented in Acts 10 in light of the inspired explanation of the purpose of the account provided in Acts 11. God was showing that it was now time for the gospel to be preached to those of pure Gentile heritage. To get Peter ready for the occasion, it took a vision, repeated twice to bring to bear on Peter's mind the point that Gentiles were not common or unclean (Acts 10: 9-16, 28). Why? because of Jewish history and Jewish law. For thousands of years a Jew recognized as his "neighbor" only a fellow Jew (Leviticus 19: 18). The war for Canaan, the prohibition against marrying from certain Gentile nations, the immoral and idolatrous history of Gentiles in general, and, more importantly, the divinely imposed segregation from the Gentiles. All of this is important in understanding the Cornelius situation. If God was going to open the door of the church to Gentiles after all the years of non-association of Jews and Gentiles, it now had to be controversial. Again, this is why Peter is given this vision and it is repeated twice in Acts 10.
Now let's look at Corneilus and his situation. First, we need to understand that Cornelius was not (1) an alien sinner in the sense that a non-Christian man in the world today is an alien sinner. In other words he was not an unsaved man! he was not practicing sin! He was not refusing to do what was divinely required of him. He was still under God's moral law of Patriarchy as a Gentile. They (Gentiles) were not under the law of Moses, and up to this point were not amenable to the gospel. But, Cornelius was a righteous man and not only so, but his family feared God as well (Acts 10: 2). Righteous in what sense? Under the law (Patriarchy ) he lived under. He was not (2) a hell-bound man. If Cornelius had died the day before the events recorded in Acts 10 occurred, he would have gone to Paradise. He was a man who was acceptable to God (Acts 10: 35). He was not (3) a man amenable to the gospel prior to Acts 10. How could he be? He was a faithful Gentile serving God according to moral law (cf. Roman 2: 14-15). he was a God-fearing, devout, righteous man whose prayer the Lord heard and whose alms were by God remembered (vs. 1, 2, 31). He had been practicing righteousness (vs. 35) and based on that fact had been acceptable to God who is no respecter of persons (Acts 10: 34-35). He was acceptable on a basis other than his having obeyed the gospel. He was not (4) a man who could have come into the church any earlier. he had not rejected the gospel; he had not earlier even heard the gospel. there was no need. He was doing all he knew to do up to Acts 10.
Now, in what sense was Cornelius "saved" in Acts 10? Brian this is why I asked you this question. But let me further explain. Remember, in clarifying some matters for Peter, Cornelius said, "Now therefore we are all here present in the sight of God, to hear all things that have been commanded thee of the Lord" (Acts 10: 33). And later in explaining the whole case to the apostles and other Jewish brethren in Jerusalem (Acts 11: 1-2), given the relationship between Jews and Gentiles, Peter said that Cornelius had said that in his own vision he had been told to "Send to Joppa, and fetch Simon, whose surname is Peter; who shall speak unto you worlds, whereby you and shall be saved, you and all your house" (Acts 11: 13-14). Cornelius could "continue in the grace of God" or the favor of God only by now doing what Peter told them for the first time to do!
This all shows why it was not inappropriate for the Holy Spirit to fall upon the Gentiles in Acts 10 prior to their baptism in water. More on that in a little while. But Cornelius and his family were not unfaithful Gentiles! They were not practicing sinners! The Holy Spirit fell on them as Peter "began to speak"--no at the end of his lesson (Acts 11: 15). More on that in a little bit. And we know the Holy Spirit clearly cannot abide in an unholy place (John 14: 17; Galatians 4: 6). The coming of the Holy Spirit upon them indicated their already righteous standing before and acceptability to God just as it had shown with Peter and other Jews before preached on Pentecost of Acts 2. They (Cornelius and his family) were now to be saved in the sense that God was taking them out of their prior divinely authorized system of religion that was no longer to serve them. God was now imposing on them the obligation to come into the church. Their continued acceptability was dependant on whether or not they would become Christians! These gentiles, as I said before, were caught up in the transition era. They were being told to leave their divinely authorized gentile religion behind and to accept the gospel just as the Jews were being told (beginning in Acts 2) to leave their divinely authorized religion behind and to obey the gospel. God was now making peace between Jews and gentiles as well as between all men and Himself (Ephesians 2: 14-22). God was terminating the divinely imposed segregation of the Jews.
Now, let me make this point. The Holy Spirit came upon Cornelius and those with him before their water baptism (Acts 10: 44-48). But why? remember the vision Peter was given, and repeated twice? That took him to the house of Cornelius, right? Alright, the Holy Spirit coming on them showed Peter and the six Jews with him that it was time for Gentiles to come into the church (Acts 10: 45; 11: 12). The Holy Spirit fell on those who had been acceptable to God and who were now being told to become members of the Lord's church. Peter raised the question (now that he was convinced and ll pointed to the Gentiles acceptability before God) as to the propriety of refusing water baptism to those who had received the Holy Spirit like the Jews had (Acts 10: 47). he then commanded the Gentiles to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
Alright, let's now look at what you think happened and what actually happened.
Again you say he heard, he believed (he was saved) he was filled with the Holy Spirit and was baptized. That is not what happened! The text says, as Peter "began to speak" (Acts 11: 15), not at the end of his lesson! So, it was the Holy Spirit first to prove to Peter and the six the time was ripe for the Gentiles entrance into the church (Acts 10: 45; 11: 12). Then (2) they heard what they were commanded to do which prompted their belief. They (3) had to repent leaving their divinely imposed religion of Patriarchy to becoming Christians if they were to be saved; (4) they had to make the good confession per Romans 10: 10; and then (5) Peter commanded them to be baptized (Acts 10: 47)!
Therefore, Brian, it is wrong to use the case of Cornelius to prove that a man can be saved today before he is baptized in water or the Holy Spirit can indwell a child of the devil. Cornelius was no child of the devil; in fact he was a righteous man caught up in a moment of time when God's divine arrangement for the Gentile had changed. And no man on earth today can at all be in a comparable position before God.
From Brian to Stacey: You seem to indicate that Peter had not even preached the Gospel to them yet, before they received the Holy Spirit.
When in reality, Peter had preached the fullness of the Gospel by saying in Acts 10, "You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. We are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem They also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible, not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins." While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message."
From Stacey to Brian: You say he heard, he believed (he was saved) he was filled with the Holy Spirit and was baptized. That is not what happened! The text says, as Peter "began to speak" (Acts 11: 15), not at the end of his lesson!
When Peter was explaining to the Jews what had happened, he tells them when the Spirit fell on them in Acts 11: 15. Notice, that Peter says it happened, "as upon us at the beginning." When did the Spirit come on the apostles? And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak..." (Acts 2: 4). When did the Holy Spirit come on the apostles? At the beginning. When did it come on Cornelius and his family? At the beginning.
From Brian to Stacey: Stacey, you need to read what you just wrote, it's scary, my friend. I simply quoted the Scriptures word for word to prove my point. It's there in black and white, plain as day. All I am saying is that your original statement was easily proven wrong by simply reading the text, in context. You then come up with some sort of scripture dance to say that A+B=C. Not necessary. Just read Acts 10. "You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. We are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem They also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible, not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins." While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message." The Holy Spirit fell on Cornelius AFTER he heard the entire Gospel. Why would you want to deny something that is so plain and obvious? What is your motive?
From Stacey to Brian: Brian, I am not disagreeing with what is said in Acts 10. I agree with all of it. But you have to put it together with Peter's explanation of when it happened. How can you dismiss the information Peter has in Acts 11? Are you saying that the Bible is contradictory? Remember, the SUM!!! Brian, in Acts 11, the Jews contended with Peter because he went in to the Gentiles and ate with them (Acts 11: 3). Now notice, "But Peter explained it to them in order from the beginning, saying:..." (Acts 11: 4). Now read verse 5-18. That was the "order from the beginning." Now was peter telling the truth or not? Acts 10, truly tells us, "While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word" (Acts 10: 44). Absolutely! But Peter, tells us when it happened! "And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning" (Acts 11: 15). Now, of paramount significance is the term "began." It derives from archo. J.H. Thayer comments that the word: "...indicates that a thing was but just begun when it was interrupted by something else...Acts 11:15..." (78-79). Alright, here is the scenario: Just as Peter started speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon the Gentiles. This occurred before Cornelius and his family heard "the words" (11: 14) regarding the death and resurrection of Christ, and thus before they had faith. Before they had FAITH! Now, please, reason with me Brian. If the gift of the Spirit before baptism proves that baptism is not essential to salvation, why doesn't the gift of the Spirit BEFORE FAITH prove that faith is inconsequential? It your logic holds, then you don't need FAITH to be saved! Brian, I'm not denying anything. I'm putting the additional information with Acts 10. My motive is to reason correctly about the events that took place. Brian, can you show me in one place where it mentions all of God's plan of salvation? Or do you have to look elsewhere for the WHOLE story? Think, Brian. Let me give you another. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we read about one of Jesus' disciples cutting off the ear of a man. Now, does the story end there? What if there is more information about the account? Do we gather that information as well? In John, it tells us it was Peter who cut off the ear. And, in John, it tells us whose ear was cut off--Malchus, where the other accounts don't give us that information. Brian, this is what I'm talking about. Just look at the order, Brian, in Peter's explanation in Acts 11 and you can put it all together!
From Brian to Stacey: Maybe I am missing something here, Stacey. So help me out here, cause I need to know if this is what you are saying...
Acts 10 says, "You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. We are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem They also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible, not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins." While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message."
The Holy Spirit clearly fell on Cornelius AFTER he heard the entire Gospel. It sounds like you are saying that Acts 11 contradicts when the Holy Spirit fell on Cornelius. It sounds like you are saying that in Acts 11 Peter says the Holy Spirit fell on them "as I began" my message as if he never actually preached anything. You know that CAN'T be true, because Acts 10 clearly records Peter preaching the fullness of the Gospel, Cornelius believes (FAITH) and is then baptized with the Holy Spirit (as Jesus promised), then gets water baptized sometime later. How could you say that statement negates the need for Faith when Cornelius obviously believed what he was taught (that's the faith part) so God baptized him in the Holy Spirit.
But by pounding on the word "began" are you trying to say that Acts 10 is wrong, that Peter did NOT actually say those words in that order?
From Stacey to Brian: No, I'm contradicting what you are saying. Peter tells us when the Holy Spirit fell on them in Acts 11: 15. It negates it because of when the Holy Spirit fell on them. I can't make you understand Brian. Peter gives the order in Acts 11. Just read it.
From Brian to Stacey: Cornelius was not a believer in Jesus. But he lived in the church age, the age of Grace, when the plan of Salvation had been revealed and fulfilled in Christ. Are you saying that Cornelius was saved by his own righteousness? Then the Cross was not necessary. Are you saying that he was already saved before Peter got there? From Stacey to Brian: No, Brian. Cornelius was saved by obeying the gospel like everyone else! I said, being in the transition era, he would had been saved being a faithful Gentile had he died before Peter preached the gospel to him. But, up to that point he was not amenable to the gospel. He didn't even know about the gospel. When Peter preached to him, he then became amenable to the gospel and he obeyed by being baptized! Please reread what I wrote again about his situation.
From Brian to Stacey: Like I said, the CHOCD always says something was an "exception" when it doesn't fit their doctrine. Your comments about the condition of Cornelius' heart and mind are true of many unsaved people. He was a "good" person. Great. But, he was not saved. He was under the New Covenant, not the Old. After Jesus said, "It is finished," the Old was ushered out and the New was ushered in. Some say it (the New Covenant) wasn't "official" until the resurrection or even the Day of Pentecost, but never-the-less, this is 10 YEARS LATER, and the plan of salvation had not changed.
Cornelius was under the New Covenant and was a good person, but not saved. He heard Peter preach the Gospel and believed and thereby received forgiveness of his sins. God then baptized him with His Spirit (showing that he was saved) and then he was later baptized in water. What is complicated about that? From Stacey to Brian: Like I said in my explanation about Cornelius and the events that transpired, no man is in the same situation that he was in. He was a faithful Gentile caught up in the transition era. He as not an unsaved man. He would become a saved man in the sense that he would no get off the sinking ship of Patriarchy and become a Christian. Yes, he became amenable to the New Covenant. But it wasn't until he had the information to do so. How would he know? I pray you study your way through these matters.
From Brian to Stacey: Like I said, there's always an "exception" when it contradicts your doctrine. Transition era? How long did this "transition era" last, Stacey? The bottom line is that he was unsaved just like you and I, before we heard the Gospel. And if you or I would have gone to hell (without Christ) then so would Cornelius. So Cornelius was an unsaved Gentile, who after hearing the gospel, he believed (faith) was saved and baptized in the Holy Spirit. That's the facts and you can only twist them to your own demise. From Stacey to Brian: I just pray you give what I wrote about it all some serious thought. You are fighting something that could be helpful if you would just take the time to study this matter out. Everything you are now asking me, I dealt with in my commentary about Cornelius and his family. Please study that material again.
Like I said, if the Scriptures don’t line up with their denomination’s perspective, then it was an "exception." Watch out for statements like: "Cornelius is not an exception. He had to be saved just like every one else. His situation is unique. Let me explain…."
This type of Scripture twisting is used over and over in the CHOCD. It's the same "logic" used when dealing with the CHOCD issue with the word "pastor." You may have noticed that they call themselves "preacher" instead of "pastor." That's because a pastor is an Elder, and Paul gives standards for pastors/elders/deacons in Timothy and Titus. Because they don't meet those standards, they call themselves "preachers" instead, which (in their mind) allows them to pastor a church, without having to meet the standards of an Elder or even a Deacon. Ask the CHOCD preacher the next time you see one, "Why not call yourself a Pastor?"
Scripture twisting is an art form that the CHOCD has mastered. The only other organizations that do it any better are the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Mormons...which is nothing to be proud of.