Unity

By H. A. (Buster) Dobbs

Vol. 117 No. 2
February 2002

I pray … they should be one” (Jesus). The fact that the Lord prayed for unity among his disciples has been used to generate a hateful judgmental rejection of those who “having heard the word, hold it fast.”

Not a few among us incorrectly claim that Jesus’ prayer for oneness means doctrinal purity must yield to fellowship with all who profess to accept Jesus as the Son of God … and some go so far as to say that the unity must extend to religions that reject Jesus as the unique Savior of the world – which, of course, makes the cross meaningless.

Well, let us look at the prayer once again. The exact words of Jesus are, “Neither for these only do I pray, but for them also that believe on me through their word; that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us: that the world may believe that thou didst send me” (John 17:20-21).

Jesus prayed for those who believe on him through the word of the apostles – which was not their word, but the word given to them by the Spirit of Truth (John 16:13; 1 Cor. 2:13).

Paul made the point that he had not received the gospel from men, but it came to him “through revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:11-12).

It is by the power and truth of the word of Christ that belief comes (Rom. 10:17).

Belief and faith in the New Testament translate the Greek word pistis. This word is sometimes translated “faith” and other times it is rendered “belief.” There is therefore no essential difference in faith and belief in New Testament usage.

Those who hear, receive, and obey the word of Christ as reported by the apostles through the agency of the Holy Spirit are believers. All others have a dead faith, or no faith at all. Demons are said to believe and shudder (James 2:19), but demons are not saved. They believe that Jesus is the Son of God (Matt. 8:28-29), but do not obey him, and, therefore, their worthless faith is dead (James 2:26).

When Jesus prayed for those that “believe on me through their word,” he was obviously and undeniably praying for those whose belief was sincere and strong enough to obey him. Only such believers were the subjects of the Savior’s prayer for unity. To make the plea of oneness apply to unbelievers or professing believers who do not- or will not- obey him is egregious.

For example, the Bible teaches that baptism is to be administered to penitent believers (Acts 2:38; Mark 16:16), and involves burial and resurrection (Rom. 6:4-5; Col. 2:12). Its purpose is a new birth (John 3:5), a washing away of sins (Acts 22:16), and is unto (to obtain) the remission of sins (Acts 2:38). Baptism saves because it is the point at which salvation from alien sins occurs (1 Pet. 3:21).

There are several possible reactions to this biblical teaching on baptism. The correct response is to accept what the Bible says and practice what it teaches about baptism. However, a person may (a) disregard what the Bible says about baptism involving immersion and insist on sprinkling as a substitute, or he may (b) deny that the candidate for baptism must believe and repent, or (c) that baptism is the new birth, or (d) some combination of these possible responses.

Others may insist on baptism being a burial and resurrection but stoutly deny that it brings forgiveness and salvation, asserting that salvation comes at the point of faith before and without further works of obedience – all of this without any credible scriptural proof and in defiance and denial of unmistakable Bible teaching.

How is it possible for a person who accepts the Bible teaching that baptism is a burial and a resurrection (Rom. 6:4-6; Col. 2:12) to have unity with one who rejects what the Bible says and teaches that baptism is sprinkling?

How is it possible for one who knows that “except one be born of water and the spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5) to unite with someone who advocates the false idea that the new birth into the kingdom of God does not involve water?

Here is another illustration: the Bible teaches that in making music in praise of God we are to sing (Eph. 5:18-19; Col. 3:16-17; James 5:13). The believer is also told “Whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the teaching of Christ, hath not God” (2 John 1:9). To emphasize: anyone who goes beyond the New Testament command to sing and uses machinery in an attempt to worship deity has not God. … He is without God. … He is devoid of a right relationship with his Creator.

Now, how can a believer who has God be “one” with another person who does not have God?

Contrary to what some seem to think, those who first raised the appeal on the American continent for a restoration of the New Testament church were primarily and above all else concerned with going strictly by the Bible. The idea that “calling Bible things by Bible names and doing all things in the Bible” way was also a basis for unity came later.

Here was the sequence: those who first raised the clarion call for a return to the new covenant pattern of teaching, work, and worship were members of various denominational churches. Many were Presbyterians, some were Methodists, others were Baptists, or were identified with some other Protestant or Anglican denomination. Their study of the Bible convinced them that the creed books of their assorted religious orders were wrong.

If the Bible is right, inherited depravity, direct operation of the Holy Spirit on the human mind, salvation by faith alone and through grace only, impossibility of apostasy, mechanical instruments in worship of God, and ecclesiastical hierarchies are wrong. Their plea was, “Let us cast aside the creed books that are of purely human origin, and go by the Bible only, which is given by revelation of Jesus Christ.”

There is a magnetic power in the magnificent plea to “speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent.”

It is right. It is scriptural. It is charming and, when properly presented, almost irresistible, though it is always possible to deny the obvious.

Search the scriptures, because ye think that in them ye have eternal life; and these are they which bear witness of me [Jesus]; and ye will not come to me, that ye may have life (John 5:39-40).

In other words, there can be a rejection of the teaching of Jesus while the person is claiming to search the scriptures in pursuit of righteousness.

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven (Jesus of Nazareth).

Some honor God with their lips but their heart is far from him (Matt. 15:8).

Note, too, that Jesps is in a familial·relationship with those who do the will of God (Mark 3:35). The implication is that if the will of God is not honored with obedience then there is no fellowship with Jesus.

Shall we fellowship those whom Jesus rejects?

When the 19th-century pioneers of the restoration of New Testament Christianity began to “speak as the oracles of God,” and reject human creeds that vainly “teach as their doctrine the precepts of men” (Matt. 15:9), they were driven out of their denominational affiliation.

When Campbell spoke the truth on the two covenants and baptism, he was forced out of the Redstone Baptist Association. They would not accept the teaching of the Bible, and Campbell would not turn away from that teaching. There was an impasse. All of the early advocates of restoration had the same experience.

Now, what makes anyone today think that the denominations will tolerate the whole truth on baptism, or worshiping God only in song, or the Holy Spirit working through the revealed and confirmed word?

The creed books are still preferred above the Bible.

When people do “the will of God from the heart” and steadfastly refuse bowing to manuals and disciplines of mortal origin, there will be a dichotomy – an irreconcilable difference. To bridge the chasm the Bible must be compromised because most men will not give up their cherished human creeds. They “love vanity, and seek after falsehood.”

It is embarrassingly tragic when some among us present the champions of denominationalism as heroes, and brand those who stand staunchly for the Bible, the Bible only, and nothing but the Bible as culprits.

Some use Jesus’ prayer for unity as an excuse to wrongly accuse the faithful of being the cause of division. The saints are browbeaten in public discourse because they will not forsake eternal verities, and those who place man-made creeds above Christ are adored.

Guilty about what? – Guilty at being ourselves, guilty at not being ourselves. I don’t know: guilty at feeling guilty, guilty because we don’t feel guilty. Above all we want to confess – to anybody about anything (Cecil jenkins, Message From Serius, 1961).

Self-contempt and self-loathing cause some national leaders to travel the world apologizing for the imagined sins of previous generations (but never mentioning their own iniquity).

We may feel noble for confessing when we haven’t done anything wrong. Many religious leaders have fallen into this error.

God grant that we never express regret and ask forgiveness for being right. And may he give us the inner strength to stand foursquare for the saving gospel though the entire world may frown its displeasure.

And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever (1 John 2: 17).

Neither for these only do I pray, but for them also that believe on me through their word (John 17:20).

I have given them thy word; and the world hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world (John 17:14).

P.O. Box 690912
Houston, TX 77269-0912

Miracles of the Bible

By H. A. (Buster) Dobbs

The idea of a miracle holds fascination for many people because it is charged with enigma. Strange and unknown things somehow appeal to the human psyche. Everybody talks about miracles but few know what they are talking about. The first step in discussing miracles is to say what we are talking about and note what we are not talking about. The purpose of this study is to consider the miracles of the Bible. We are not surveying unusual events in the human experience that some wrongly call miracles and that have no connection with the Word of God. Things like Unidentified Flying Objects and little green men with antennae coming out of their heads and long, snake-like fingers, and squeaky voices are figment and not miracle. Neither are we discussing the magician’s tricks. Furthermore, not every strange thing that is difficult to explain is a miracle.

The word “miracle” in the New Testament translates two Greek words. These two words are variously translated “miracle, sign, token, wonder, ability, power, might, strength, violence, and virtue.” The King James translators use the word 37 times. The American Standard translators use the word only 9 times. Often where the King James translates “miracle” the American Standard uses the word “sign.” A miracle is a sign, but not every sign is a miracle.

The New Testament speaks of signs or miracles performed by agency of the devil. In warning of a coming apostasy, Paul wrote: Now we beseech you, brethren, touching the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto him; to the end that ye be not quickly shaken from your mind, nor yet be troubled, either by spirit, or by word, or by epistle as from us, as that the day of the Lord is just at hand; let no man beguile you in any wise: for it will not be, except the falling away come first, and the man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition, he that opposeth and exalteth himself against all that is called God or that is worshipped; so that he sitteth in the temple of God, setting himself forth as God. Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now ye know that which restraineth, to the end that he may be revealed in his own season. For the mystery of lawlessness doth already work: only there is one that restraineth now, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall be revealed the lawless one, whom the Lord Jesus shall slay with the breath of his mouth, and bring to nought by the manifestation of his coming; even he, whose coming is according to the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceit of unrighteousness for them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God sendeth them a working of error, that they should believe a lie (2 Thess. 2:1-11). The lawless one would come with the power of Satan to perform signs and lying wonders. In the book of Revelation the miraculous power of evil spirits is mentioned. “And he doeth great signs (miracles), that he should even make fire to come down out of heaven upon the earth in the sight of men” (Rev 13:13).

“And he deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by reason of the signs (miracles) which it was given him to do in the sight of the beast; saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast who hath the stroke of the sword and lived” (Rev. 13:14). “For they are spirits of demons, working signs (miracles); which go forth unto the kings of the whole world, to gather them together unto the war of the great day of God, the Almighty” (Rev. 16:14). “And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought the signs (miracles) in his sight, wherewith he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast and them that worshipped his image: they two were cast alive into the lake of fire that burneth with brimstone” (Rev. 19:20). Malignant spirits, under the control of the great Red Dragon, were able to perform wonders and signs to deceive people and bring them under the power of the Prince of Darkness. When the empire of Satan is utterly crushed by the heavenly army of the Captain of our salvation, these wonder working spirits will be cast into the lake that burns with fire and brimstone.

In the book of Acts we are told of a pretender to magic powers who amazed the people with his sorcery. “But there was a certain man, Simon by name, who beforetime in the city used sorcery, and amazed the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one: to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is that power of God which is called Great. And they gave heed to him, because that of long time he had amazed them with his sorceries” (Acts 8:8-11). Simon of Samaria was a charlatan, but the people were fooled. His humbug was effective. He was a fraud, but the people didn’t know it. The great and the small in the city of Samaria thought Simon was the real thing. They jumped on his bandwagon.

This Samaritan, Simon, was a conscious agent for Satan, and knew he was using trickery to deceive the people. Every generation produces swindlers who exploit gullible people eager to believe in voodooism. It is strange that people would rather accept claptrap than truth. The kind of signs these people do cannot favorably compare with bona fide miracles. Philip, a preacher of righteousness, came to Samaria and when the people of Samaria “heard and saw” the signs which he did they knew they had been bamboozled by Simon.

“And the multitudes gave heed with one accord unto the things that were spoken by Philip, when they heard, and saw the signs which he did. For from many of those that had unclean spirits, they came out, crying with a loud voice: and many that were palsied, and that were lame, were healed. And there was much joy in that city” (Acts 8:6-8).

Satan has real power and can pull wool over the eyes of sincere folks. We need to be alert to this and not allow ourselves to be hoodwinked by quacks. To be guided by astrology, Tarot cards, alchemy, palm readers, and fortune-tellers is about as sensible as making life-changing decisions on the basis of a message found in a Chinese after-dinner-cookie.

In the first century, the devil was allowed to use his mystical power without limit. The wonder-working power of God was also fully unleashed. There was a great contest. The supernatural power of God was arrayed against the supernatural power of the devil. The devil lost! Demon possession of Bible times was a display of Satan’s power. In the case of the woman with the “spirit of infirmity,” we are told that Satan had bound her for eighteen years (Luke 13:16). The maid with “a spirit of divination” was a tool of evil spirits (Acts 16:16-18). Every time demons came into contact with one having the supernatural power of God, the demon lost. In each case, the demon was cast out. In one case, demons were sent into a herd of swine (Matt. 8:31-32). They could not predominate in the presence of divine omnipotence.

Satan was defeated. Jesus’ victory over death was the final blow. Evil was pulverized. The terms of surrender were dictated by the conquering Christ. He who used his power to bind many was himself bound. Wherefore he saith, When he ascended on high, he led captivity captive, And gave gifts unto men” (Eph. 4:8). “And he laid hold on the dragon, the old serpent, which is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and cast him into the abyss, and shut it, and sealed it over him, that he should deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years should be finished: after this he must be loosed for a little time” (Rev. 20:2-3). The vanquished Satan will never again be allowed to use his supernatural power to afflict humanity. God also restricts his power to natural means by his own choice. We have the sweet assurance that “there hath no temptation taken you but such as man can bear: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation make also the way of escape, that ye may be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13).

Having looked at fake miracles and having considered Satanic signs, we now consider the miracles performed by the power of God that are recorded in the New Testament. A study of supernatural acts executed by divine power will demonstrate the nature of miracles performed in the name of God. There are several conditions that determine what constitutes a miracle performed by the power of the Creator. First, the heavenly miracles of the first century were always successful. No applicant for miraculous healing in the days of Jesus and the apostles ever went away disappointed. And the report of him went forth into all Syria: and they brought unto him all that were sick, holden with divers diseases and torments, possessed with demons, and epileptic, and palsied; and he healed them (Matt. 4:24). “And when even was come, they brought unto him many possessed with demons: and he cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all that were sick” (Matt. 8:16). “And Jesus perceiving it withdrew from thence: and many followed him; and he healed them all” (Matt. 12:15). “And he came forth, and saw a great multitude, and he had compassion on them, and healed their sick” (Matt. 14:14). “And there came unto him great multitudes, having with them the lame, blind, dumb, maimed, and many others, and they cast them down at this feet; and he healed them” (Matt. 15:30). “And when the sun was setting, all they that had any sick with divers diseases brought them unto him; and he laid his hands on every one of them, and healed them” (Luke 4:40).

There were no failures! No one ever went away from a “healing service” of Jesus or the apostles still sick, possessed, or bound. We are told of an epileptic the disciples of Jesus could not heal, but the Lord healed him (Matt. 17:15-18). There was no failure in this situation. Jesus, we are told, “did not many mighty works” in Nazareth (Matt. 13:58). The reason he did not do many miracles in his hometown was not that he could not do it, but the people did not believe him and therefore did not come to him for healing. He was not going to break their doors down to demonstrate his divine credentials. If a person wants to reject Jesus, he is allowed to do it. This, obviously, does not constitute failure, but lack of opportunity.

There never was a failure. So, the first thing we learn is that God-authorized miracles never fail. No sufferer who applied to Jesus or his disciples for healing was told that his lack of faith caused the cure not to materialize. Second, the cure was always perfect. No person was ever partially cured. If God heals supernaturally, the cure must be complete, or the power of God is inadequate. It is true that on one occasion at Bethsaida a blind man was brought to Jesus with a request the he be healed (Mark 8:22). Jesus “spit on his eyes” and said “Seest thou aught” (Mark 8:23). The man answered, “I see men, for I behold them as trees, walking” (Mark 8:24). Jesus laid his hands upon the man and he “saw all things clearly” (Mark 8:25). Why Jesus healed this man in stages I do not know, but it is true that the blind man never left the presence of Jesus until he “saw all things clearly.” In supernatural healing there is never a period of recuperation. The sick person does not begin to get better and over a period of weeks or months or years finally recover health. Miracles of healing always take place instantly. Third, there was no relapse. There is not a single instance in all of the New Testament where any person healed by the power of God ever suffered from the same complaint. A blind person who received his sight did not at a later time retrogress to darkness. The miracles of Jesus and the apostles were long lasting. Fourth, it was instantaneous. There was no waiting period. The cure was always abrupt.

“Now Peter and John were going up into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour. And a certain man that was lame from his mother’s womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the door of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms of them that entered into the temple; who seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, asked to receive an alms. And Peter, fastening his eyes upon him, with John, said, Look on us. And he gave heed unto them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but what I have, that give I thee. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk. And he took him by the right hand, and raised him up: and immediately his feet and his ankle-bones received strength. And leaping up, he stood, and began to walk; and he entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God: and they took knowledge of him, that it was he that sat for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at that which had happened unto him” (Acts 3:1-10). The God-authorized miracles of the New Testament were always without failure, or setback, perfect, and immediate. Anything that purports to be a miracle but that does not have these earmarks is not a God-authorized miracle. It may be a man-made fraud, it may be a Satan inspired fake, but it is not an act of God.

The miracles performed by approval of Jehovah in the New Testament were for the purpose of confirming revelation. God spoke through his appointed representatives and then sealed the message by signs and wonders. Nicodemus said to Jesus, “no one can do these signs that thou doest, except God be with him” (John 3:2). Nicodemus was right about that! The message of the New Testament is confirmed by signs and wonders. “God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders, and by manifold powers, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to his own will” (Heb. 2:4). If God performed miracles today, they would be available to all and would not be selective. “God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34). They would be immediate and perfect and there would be no regression. The purpose of God’s miracles was to confirm his word. “God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders, and by manifold powers, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to his own will” (Heb. 2:4). “And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word by the signs that followed. Amen” (Mark 16:20). When that purpose was realized, miracles ceased. Satan is defeated. The truth is established. Miracles are no more. They are not needed. If miracles had remained after the truth of the gospel was certified to be of God, then many people would follow Jesus for the wrong reason. If believers are put under a glass and protected from sickness and hurting, many would come to Jesus for the loaves and fishes. We are cautioned to not labor for the meat that is perishing, but for that which endures to eternal life (John 6:27).

“If then ye were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are upon the earth. For ye died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall be manifested, then shall ye also with him be manifested in glory” (Col. 3:1-4).