Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 10, 1967
NUMBER 14, PAGE 4,7a

"Say It Isn't So!"


As I look back over my five years as a Bible teacher at Stephen F. Austin State College, there is one typical scene, repeated over and over again, which keeps coming into focus in my memory. A student is in my office (it could have been either a boy or a girl), serious, sincere, and obviously troubled. This student has been in my class for several weeks; he is intelligent and thoughtful about life. He is enjoying his Bible course - and has developed a genuine respect and liking for his teacher. Indeed, that is why he is here. All his lifetime he has heard a certain thing about the "Church of Christ," But up to now has never had any really close contact with a member of that church to whom he can talk freely and without restraint. But this student likes me; he knows I am not going to "jump down his throat," regardless of what he says; he feels he can talk to me. And he wants to talk.

"Mr. Tant," he begins. It is quite apparent that he is embarrassed about the thing on his mind. He is about to suggest something that implies a simply incredible and preposterous thing. He doesn't know quite how to proceed; but is determined to see it through, now that he has come this far. "Mr. Tant, is it REALLY true that the Church of Christ teaches everybody is going to hell who is not a member of the Church of Christ?"

The student looks at me with what I can interpret only as an imploring, beseeching look. Every line of his face seems to combine with the pleading look in his eyes for me to issue a quick and emphatic denial. "Say it isn't so... PLEASE SAY IT ISN'T SO!" are his unspoken words that seem to hang in the air. You see, this student has come to look upon me as a reasonable, even-tempered sort of fellow, tolerant and sympathetic to sharp clashes in the class-room, fair and open-minded with those who differ from me. I simply don't fit the mental picture he has always held of the "Church of Christer" - narrow, dogmatic, belligerent, opinionated, and quite ready to assign all Methodists, Baptist, and "non-Church of Christ people" to hell at the drop of a hat. He simply cannot believe that I share that unchristian and narrow-minded point of view. But he has been solemnly assured, from his youth up, that ALL "Church of Christ people" are firmly convinced that they are the ONLY ones who are going to heaven. He is troubled.

"Why, Joe," I respond very quickly, "I believe about that EXACTLY what you believe - that is, all those who obey the will of God are going to heaven; all those who do not obey the will of God are going to hell. Don't YOU believe that?"

It may take a bit of discussion, but when he fully understands the question, he agrees that this is what he believes. In fact, that is what everybody believes who has any faith at all in God's existence and in the Bible as a revelation of God's will.

The problem here is one of semantics - the use and understanding of words and terms. My college students think of "Church of Christ" in denominational terms; they have no other concept of it. (Indeed, most people, including a considerable portion of those who are of the church, so conceived it.) But I try to get them to define for me "the true kingdom of God." After a more or less lengthy discussion, they finally come around to saying that the "TRUE kingdom of God, the real family of God, are the truly 'saved' people of all the earth; these make up the REAL church of God."

"And that's exactly what I am talking about when I use the expression 'church of Christ'." I respond. "The church of Christ IS 'the saved of God'. Every 'saved' person on this earth is a member of THAT church. It is not a denomination; it wears no denominational creed. It is the family of God. Your problem lies in the fact that you have been equating 'church of Christ' with a denominational concept - to you the 'Church of Christ' is a sister denomination along with the Methodist, Baptist, and Nazarene Churches. But the Biblical sense of the word that is not correct. In apostolic days there were NO denominations - but there WAS the church - the church of Christ, if you please, the kingdom of God, the saved ones who had been redeemed and made holy through the blood of Christ."

My student is beginning to understand - but still is not satisfied. "Do you believe that a Methodist or a Baptist can go to heaven?" he asks.

My response is instantaneous, "Why, Joe, I believe about that EXACTLY what you believe - all those who obey the will of God are going to heaven; all those who do not obey the will of God are going to hell. Don't YOU believe that?"

"W-e-l-l.., yes, I believe that all right," he replies, "but what about Methodists and Baptists and Presbyterians... ?"

"Certainly such people can be saved," I respond.. (A quick look of relief spreads over his face)... "the men who murdered Jesus Christ were saved. (The look fades.) Anybody can be saved who does the will of God, be he atheist, murderer, Mohammedan, or vegetarian! But nobody (and that does mean NOBODY) can be saved who does NOT obey God's will. Paul says that when Jesus Christ comes from heaven with the angels of his power in flaming fire he is going to render "vengeance to them that know not God, and to them that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus." (II Thess. 1:7, 8. )

I may, or may not, have finally baptized that student. But I am haunted by the memory of his earnest and honest questions. He is not altogether to blame for his misapprehension; being untaught in the scripture, he has every rational and reasonable ground for conceiving of the "Church of Christ' as a denomination, at that. What a tragedy it is that so many Christians of our day are quite willing to accept the denominational idea, but want only to remove and dissipate the reputation of bigotry and narrow-mindedness.

But removing the "denominational concept" immediately takes care of the image of bigotry and narrow-mindedness. And, besides that, it is right and scriptural!

F. Y. T.