For those who have written and browsed this site wanting to know just exactly what do these guys (or… ahem… this guy) at the TruthForFree.com website believe, well, I just wouldn’t want to disappoint anyone or cause any unnecessary stress… so, here’s the whole deal. Actually – believe it or not – this is a much more condensed version than what I had posted previously. I hope it covers most of the basics to some level of satisfaction concerning what most people write and ask me about. I have also added an extended description of “church” following the list and I encourage readers to examine the many extensive articles on this site that explore these topics more fully. If anyone has more questions, finds something mis-spelled or thinks I left out something, please feel free to contact me using the Contact form on this site.
- The New Testament Scriptures demonstrate the act of baptism with water as a kind of physical symbol of identification with the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Historically, the act of baptism represented a person’s total identification with and submission to the teachings of a master (and, obviously – in the context of the Christian faith – that Master is Jesus). It represented a total leaving behind, “death”, or “washing away” of a person’s former life, even to the extent of separation from their family, and former associations to follow after and embrace a new life entirely. This was a most significant and quite public statement (far more intense than how most regard it today – as some little activity that you do in a conveniently scheduled church service among a smattering of fellow Christians in a little bathtub at the front of the church auditorium)!
1 Peter 3:21 tells us that this “cleansing by water” does NOT wash us literally (as though it has the ability to cleans us from sin), but it is a SYMBOL of our willingness to allow God to cleans our conscience according to the resurrection power of Jesus Christ. For this reason, water baptism still certainly has significance for believers today, especially as we consider what it actually represents. But there is, I believe, much more to this subject than a mere act of being dunked in water, which has basically become a kind of “sacrament” or religious ritual among Christians. The word baptism literally translates “immersion” (it means to be continually and repeatedly immersed, saturated with and overwhelmed by). Many Christian denominations have argued for centuries over the subject of baptism and whether it is properly represented by complete immersion in water (i.e. being “dunked” under the water) or whether by a ritual of sprinkling water on the head (and so on). It is my opinion that much greater emphasis should be laid upon the reality of what the term baptism represents; for the Scripture teaches that the physical act of baptism is ONLY SYMBOLIC! It is NOT the fulfillment of what it represents. Baptism in water does NOT save anyone! God is the one who saves (Revelation 7:10)!
If we are talking about true baptism, we are really talking about total immersion into Christ. John the Baptist even remarked that his baptism was only with water, but Christ would baptize people with the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:8 – “I baptize you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit!”). Continue to think of this word in terms of “continual immersion and saturation” and you can begin to understand the magnitude of purpose in this concept. Jesus Himself reminded His disciples about this after His resurrection when He said in Acts 1:5, “John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” So we are seeing a fulfillment of the symbol; and that is immersion with the Holy Spirit of God. This is what God requires! A number of other passages speak of a baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire (Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16; etc.). There are various perspectives on this statement; however, I believe (as most Greek scholars have also stated) that these are not two separate kinds of baptism being mentioned, but this is rather a statement defining the fiery character of the Holy Spirit’s operations upon the soul – searching, consuming, refining, sublimating, purifying, etc.
I have written an article on this subject called “Baptism and the Followers of Jesus”; CLICK HERE to view it. I encourage believers to study these things out for themselves and ask the Holy Spirit to open up a greater understanding of what it means to be baptized/immersed into Him.
The second activity (or “ordinance” if you prefer) Christ taught His followers to observe is the Supper of the Lord, which ideally is a full fellowship meal that looks back to Christ’s sacrificial work and looks forward to his glorious return. Personally, I do not believe this is akin to the little solemn ritual performed in most institutional churches today (a morsel of cracker and a thimble of grape juice) which is really a product of Roman Catholic influence (nor do I think it was intended to give Christians the idea they are supposed to legalistically observe the Jewish Passover – though I think it’s fine for Christians to study the significance of the Passover and how it relates as a prophetic foreshadow of the Gospel). The point here is that Christ was NOT introducing some kind of religious ceremony. How sadly common is it today though for the religious to take what is meant in Scripture to be a living, vibrant expression of truth and turn it into a solemn ritual.
As an extended point of clarification: the word “church” is actually an English word that came into use more than one hundred years after the NT (New Testament) was written. It finds no direct parallel in the original text of the Greek NT Scriptures and, therefore, is really a poor translation of the original Greek; However, it is not the desire of this author to “play semantics” with words – so I will simply define my comprehension of the word as it is presented in the Scripture according to its Greek definition and the context of the passages wherein it is used.
The word “church” is “ekklesia” (pronounced: ek-klay-see’-ah – Strong’s number 1577 – also alternately spelled “ecclesia”) and simply refers to people assembled together. The word ekklesia is a compound of two words, which together mean “called out from”. The spiritual element of this word’s contextual use as it refers to the people of God implies a spiritual assembly represented by those who have been called out from the world into intimate relationship with Jesus Christ and are therefore included in the Fellowship known as His body, which is the Family of God. It is important to note that virtually everywhere the word “church” is referenced in the Bible, it is this word, ekklesia, which means “people assembled.” Perhaps an even better description of the word would be the idea of a “community” of believers. Traditionally, even the term “assembly” bears in mind a religious institution or organization, which ekklesia in no way represents. The ekklesia of the first century was identified in terms of Christian communities (i.e. the entire populous of believers in a given town). In every Christian context (as we have already mentioned), it refers even more specifically to “the body of Christ” (whether locally or globally manifested). This is an important note because the Scripture teaches that the Church is, not a building or an organization, but Christ; That is not to say that you and I are Christ, but rather that Christ lives in us and is manifested corporately through us as one body. This is God’s purpose for the ekklesia. The apostle Paul said, “I became a minister according to the purpose of God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God, the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:25-27) So the Church is Christ’s body; a living organism (Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:18, 24; etc.). This is why it can never be defined as a building or an organization because it is neither.
The meeting place, the service, or building is NEVER the emphasis where use of this word is concerned. Only the “assembly” or “community”. Therefore, the Lord’s “Church” is simply the Lord’s “Assembly” or His “Body.” The term “local church” does not exist anywhere in Scripture; however, we do find the concept of local communities of saints. In other words, believers in Christs spread throughout an area who met uniquely and individually in different ways. If we must use the term “local church” then it is simply to identify those believers that assemble/gather together – wherever, whenever, and however few or many of them are assembled (even it be merely two or three – Matthew 18:20) but the Church local is not a denomination – it is the same, undivided Church being represented (within that community). This simply reveals that the Church is not something institutional, material or programmed, for that is not its meaning at all according to the Scripture; Rather it is something organic and alive, representative of God’s people assembled who find their life and being in Christ Jesus. They are His body!
It is important to note is that Scripture identifies that there was only one “ekklesia” in every city – NOT many. Every single reference of the word ekklesia in the New Testament with respect to various cities reveals a singular form of the word consistently – NEVER plural. In other words, there was no such thing as “denominations” or “churches” or “multiple ekklesias” in a given city. Each city had only one because there is only one! This makes sense when you take into considering the biblical meaning of ekklesia as we have been discussing. This also reveals a sharp contrast to the way “church” is perceived in our day. In the early Church, “denominational” mindsets were shunned by the Apostles! Paul said (in 1 Corinthians 1:12-13), “…One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas ‘; still another, ‘I follow Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?” Obviously, Paul did not teach denominational gathering, but emphasized ONE unity in Christ; ONE body and ONE Church that we are all connected together through because we are members of CHRIST. This is why we only see one ekklesia (“church”) in each city. However, there is a plural form of the word ekklesia as well. The plural form of ecclesia, without exception, when referring to location, speaks of a country, a province, region, or of a plurality of cities. For brief example here, let’s look at “the churches in Asia”. There are, mentioned, seven communities of believers represented singularly in seven cities in Asia (one community of believers in each city) – Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodiciea. Again, these are communities of faith. In other words, we see a unity among Christians in each community – NOT denominations or separate organizations with differing doctrines, etc. While that may be common today, that is not the biblical idea of ekklesia.
It may take some time to wrap this concept of ekklesia (the “church”) around our brains because of the damage that has been done with respect to our western way of thinking. There are some great articles offered on this website to help you reason this understanding out. I encouraged you to take the time to study them. It is helpful to keep this definition in mind when reading the New Testament Scriptures, as it enables us to better understand that what we are reading about is far more relational and alive (not to mention united) as opposed to institutional. For example, when we read, “to the church of God which is at Corinth,” and understand that church means the assembly of saints within that city, it changes our perspective from envisioning an institution to a body or rather a “community” of people – who themselves represent the very body of Christ. If it helps you, rather say, “the assembly” or “people” or “congregation” instead of “church” or just use the Greek word itself; Ekklesia.
This may also help to bring more clarity to the ministries we see in operation in the New Testament Church. Suddenly we stop thinking of “elders or pastors in the church” as meaning the leadership of some institutional gathering across town in who meet in a specific building and preside over a group of believers. We begin to see that elders (who are biblically just older, spiritually mature brothers) in the assembly could be far broader throughout a city or region, rather than just a hierarchy of so called “leaders” in one small building. When we understand the true definition and nature of the Lord’s Church, we also begin to understand with greater clarity passages like Ephesians 4:11, which are not titles of hierarchy in a religious organization, but they are descriptions of function and service to the body of Christ; “He gave to His body, the Church, some with a special commission as emissaries according to His purpose, and gave others to speak by inspiration, and some to preach to the lost, and some to shepherd and teach. These He gave to equip His people to follow His will and build up the Church, the body of Christ…” (my paraphrase of Ephesians 4:11) As one might note, all of these functions could be performed by multiple individuals within the body of Christ (brothers and sisters), not just one man with some official title as is so common today. When our eyes begin to focus on the broader reality of the body of Christ, we will start to see that these gifts of ministry are not enclosed within the walls of some particular denomination… but they exist within the body of Christ. When we begin to look at the New Testament Scriptures in their proper context, we see that the Ekklesia of God begins to be recognized as connected to each other throughout the city and region (and ultimately the world) as the ONE body of Christ – not a religious organization housed in one location in an official building with a hierarchy of elite professional ministers. In other words, God does not require an official building and program to employ these gifts for the building up of His body. Wherever the body is, these gifts may be manifested! Whether in the streets, in the home or anyplace else He so chooses.
Here are some other questions I am sometimes asked:
Ugh… do you really want to open this can of worms? hahaha… Okay, here we go… Admittedly, the word “trinity” is not found anywhere in the Bible; however, I do believe the core concept is sound and biblical (and, no, I do not accept the argument that it was Roman Catholic-derived or a product of religious tradition). That having been said, I do not think God requires a label to be defined. In fact, I believe that if God could be conveniently defined by our clever human titles, then He probably wouldn’t be God. Both camps of Christians (i.e. Oneness or Trinity) have their valid points of logic and both, arguably, have their failures in logic. We have to understand that among us all are believers who come from all kinds of doctrinal backgrounds in Christianity; some of these folks may well be described as “mature saints” as well as some who are still growing in maturity, and we must allow grace for that growth. I might add that I think anyone who thinks they have “arrived” spiritually, might be suffering from a tad bit of arrogance. There might be areas of my life that I am more mature in than others, still I realize that God is not finished with me yet, and I am growing in maturity day by day. There have been and will continue to be aspects of doctrine that I hold to which will likely be amended as the Holy Spirit continues to lead and guide me. Many of us have been infected by a lot of religious garbage that has tainted our perspective of things in Scripture, but God is flushing those things out and shaping us up, line upon line, as we yield to His instruction. While the nature of God is absolutely important (I do not deny this at all), I think it’s fair to say that sometimes human arrogance and over-zealousness can cloud our vision and the call of Jesus to love one another the way He loves us. While I absolutely believe doctrine is important and the Bible to be upheld and trusted 100%; I also believe that there ought to be a graciousness among us who claim to be followers of Jesus. Even the religious leader who approached Jesus about the subject of God’s oneness, earned the Lord’s gracious approval when Jesus saw that this man (though he had not yet embraced Christ as the Messiah) at least understood that God desires that we love Him and love others more than He desires legalistic observance of His Laws. Jesus said to him (Mark 12:34), “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” We ought to exhibit this same attitude toward one another.
Now, with regard to my personal conviction about how the Godhead is perceived according to Scripture, I have already said that (if I be forced to apply a label to what I believe) I am, for all practical purposes, a believer in the Trinity (One God manifested in three Persons… The three persons are distinct, yet are one “substance, essence or nature”). I do feel that some people have wrongly assumed that the belief in (what has come to be called) the Trinity equates to a belief in three gods. I do not believe any such thing (nor do I know any “Trinitarian” who believes such a thing)! God is ONE – yet Scripture does present God, I believe, within a “trinitarian” complex. I don’t claim to fully understand this (and there is no way possible I can fully cover this doctrine here), but I will simply say that I believe there is too much plain Scriptural reference to deny it (some examples include: 2 Corinthians 13:14; Matthew 28:19; Ephesians 2:18; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2; etc.).
Oneness doctrine teaches what is known as Modalism (the doctrine that the “manifestations” of the Godhead – Father, Son, Holy Spirit – represent only three modes or aspects of the divine revelation, not distinct and coexisting persons in the divine nature) and generally ignores plain passages that indicate clearly that God is actually manifest in a plural personage throughout Scripture (examples include: Genesis 1:26 (where God says, “let US make man in OUR image…); Genesis 3:22 (God said, “Look, the human beings have become like US, knowing both good and evil…”); John 1:1-4 (God is the Word who IS God and is WITH God); Hebrews 1:2 (God the Father speaks to us BY HIS SON and has appointed His Son as heir of all things); etc.). There are so many verses that indicate this “unified plurality”. 1 Corinthians 11:13 is another one of many example that illustrates this point, illustrating that Christ is the head of mankind, and God (i.e. the Father) is the head of Christ. This shows plainly that Christ Jesus the Son and God the Father are separate Persons. Ephesians_1:3 says, “All praise to God, the Father OF our Lord Jesus Christ…” Romans 8:34, Hebrews 12:2 and other similar passages indicate that Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father… How would this be possible if Jesus were both the Son and the Father? Ahem… it wouldn’t. John 14:16 indicates plainly that Jesus prayed to the Father while on the earth. If Jesus and the Father are not distinct Persons, then why would Jesus pray to (speak to) the Father? (and keep in mind that, on many occasions, Jesus speaks with the Father and shows a clear distinction). Jesus also clearly told the disciples to go and baptize people in THE NAME of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. If Jesus meant only Himself, then why mention all three? I think it’s a very weak argument to suggest that Jesus did things like pray to the Father only to give an example for us. The text NOWHERE indicates that this is why Jesus consistently demonstrated what may be called “trinitarian” verbiage. We also see, at Christ’s baptism (Mark 1:9-12) that the Father’s voice was heard saying, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased while, at the same time, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus and then also prompted Him to go into the wilderness. We see clear and obvious example of the “Trinity” in united function. Other passages like 2 Corinthians 13:14 show the apostles commending the believers to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit together… and so on.
Now, for a moment, consider how the Gospel itself presents that the Father SENT His Son to be the propitiation (i.e. atoning sacrifice) concerning our sins. 1 John 4:10 says, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation concerning our sins.” The Father poured out His wrath against sin upon His Son (Romans 1:8; Romans 3:24-25; Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 2:2; etc.). If Jesus and the Father are the same Person and not simultaneously, individually existent, then whose wrath was poured out? We are left to conclude that no one’s wrath was poured out, because the Father was the one who was being crucified. Hopefully even the most feeble student of Scripture can recognize the problem with this concept, and that is that THE BIBLE DOES NOT TEACH IT! The Bible teaches that it pleased the Lord to crush Jesus (Isaiah 53:10), and that Jesus committed His Spirit unto the Father (Luke 23:46). Ephesians 5:2 also says that, “…as Christ also has loved us, and has given Himself for us as an offering and a sacrifice TO God for a sweet smelling savor.” Was Jesus giving Himself as a sacrifice to Himself? Someone who believes in Modalism might believe that, but the Bible certainly does not actually say that!
Modalism really has to avoid plain logic present in plain text in order to interpret a “Oneness” ideology. I really don’t mind if someone wishes to avoid the term “Trinity” (because of the fact that the word itself does not appear in Scripture); but I hope it’s clear enough for folks to recognize that God indeed manifests Himself to us as being ONE yet a Tri-unity of three Persons. As I said before, this is difficult for humans to fully comprehend (and, as I have said, I do not claim to entirely comprehend it myself) but I still believe it because it is presented in Scripture and my spirit bears witness to this testimony.
Though I would not suggest that extra-biblical references (such as the Anti-Nicean Church Fathers) are concrete support for sound doctrine, I must say that when I also consider the fact that so many of the early Gospel teachers from the very close of the first century and entrance of the second century onward, especially those whom were said to be direct disciples of the apostles of Jesus, promoted the concept of Trinity (even, on occasion, by literal mention of the term “trinity”), I find it difficult to imagine they would have immediately began to espouse an entirely different doctrine so opposite of those disciples of Jesus that instructed them, but I digress on that argument as it is not essential… I simply find it interesting and even compelling when you look at the plain references of Scripture that we have just looked at… Even back then, they observed the same clear logic and also considered Modalism to be a false teaching.
It is also quite evident to me that Scripture does not so readily offer any definition that might clearly be offered as “Oneness” doctrine from my observation. For example, nowhere does Scripture ever say that God is “unitarian” or that God exist as one Person (at a time). In fact, just the opposite is evident (and I have already given several references indicating why I say that).
Oneness theology (Modalism, Sabellianism, etc.) which, as we have observed briefly, is the doctrine suggesting that God is one person who has revealed himself in three forms or modes but is the same single Person in each manifest mode. According to this doctrinal viewpoint, during the incarnation, Jesus was simply God acting in one mode or role, and the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was God acting in a different mode. Thus, God does not exist as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit at the same time. Rather, He is one Person and has merely manifested himself in these three modes at various times. Oneness doctrine thus denies the basic distinctiveness and coexistence of the three persons of the Godhead, which is what the doctrine of the Trinity intends to represent and which Scripture presents clear and abundant evidence for. A person literally has to con-volute logic to come up with an alternate teaching (like Modalism). I know some people are absolutely convinced that the Bible supports it, but I cannot fathom how unless select passages are ignored or manipulated. I do NOT personally believe in Modalism, Oneness or Sabellianism (or whatever you want to call it) because I simply cannot see it in Scripture. I really think the Bible is quite plain on this subject and I feel that a person really has to force another idea into the text to come up with a Modalistic view, since it’s not readily present through even the most basic exegesis by anyone simply observing the Scriptures. That’s my opinion anyway.
I am not, however, willing to zealously label as “heretic” every brother or sister who presently holds to a non-trinitarian or “oneness” ideology, despite that fact that I personally believe Modalism is a heretical (false) concept. Let me explain this… In spite of my conviction against Modalism, I believe that a person who presently is convinced by “Oneness” doctrine (and there are also varieties of this doctrine) can still be a born again Christian if they hold to the deity of Christ and genuinely believe in the Gospel of Jesus. I am also quite interested in the attitude by which a Christian handles these subjects; Is there humility and grace along with a teachable spirit, or is there arrogance and anger? I do think there is room to explore doctrines like this without automatically concluding that a person is “going to hell”. Many Oneness folks believe that unless a person is baptized in the name of Jesus only they are not truly saved. By the same token, many Trinitarians believe that unless a person is baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit they are not truly or fully saved. And by another token still some Christians believe that, whether baptized in the name of Jesus only or in the name of the Trinity, a person is not saved unless they are baptized period. I would argue that each of these people are a bit misguided about the subject of baptism and each are wrong in a number of their conclusions of judgment. Baptism does NOT save anyone; God alone is the Savior! I really believe that a person can genuinely embrace the core truth of the Gospel with a sincere heart without fully understanding the mystery of the Godhead. In the body of Christ, we must give each other room to grow and mature and we must maintain the humility that we all will make mistakes along the journey. Furthermore, as I have already discussed, baptism is far more than some ritual practice of being dunked in a tub and I think there is a grand revelation to be had by those who are willing to allow the Lord to speak to them concerning it. Rather than getting caught up in legalism, we ought to be seeking to hear the voice of the Spirit concerning these things so that we come to a full understanding. So many of these groups are dividing from one another based on the wrong reasons entirely (see my comments on Baptism).
While I am always willing to engage friendly discussion about virtually any topic, I am not interested in wasting time on fruitless debates and bumping religious egos back and forth about topics like “Oneness” verses “Trinity”. Whichever camp a person finds themselves in here, I believe it is entirely possible to be born again, have a genuine relationship with God, and exist as a valid and thriving member of the Lord’s Family – despite potential misunderstandings about facets of His nature. Some will label me a heretic for holding this opinion. I’m not really sure I care about that. They can take it up with Jesus and, by all means, I invite your prayers! I need them! And if you really think I am off the mark to embrace a brother or sister who does not hold to one doctrinal technicality or another, please go ahead and write me. I will sincerely and prayerfully examine your concerns and I am willing to amend any error I have made, if I can be convinced by Scripture, sound reason, the voice of the Holy Spirit, and the truth shared in love by the brother or sister who intends to correct me. Some have come at me with a soap box and a sword (ahem… and the sword I’m talking about is not the Bible). Ugh, all this talk about doctrinal technicalities is giving me a big ol’ religious headache. There, you have my perspective for what it’s worth.
A portion of the beliefs Statement was originally adapted from Roger and Lisa Upton’s statement on the Grace Abounding Website. While I have made some (significant) changes from their original document in order to clarify my own perspectives on various points of doctrine, I still wish to mention their website as it was one of the early sites I visited after my own exodus from institutional churchianity and God encouraged me greatly through some of their posts. Thanks Roger and Lisa, God bless you guys!!!