by Graeme Campbell, New Zealand
Please remember that there is nothing to be feared and everything to be gained by studying Scripture —
“the truth shall set you free.”
1. The Jewishness of our Faith
Growing up I never realized that I could be included in the blessings of Israel and that it was a Jewish Messiah that I served and loved. The Church was presented as a gentile body that was unseen in the Hebrew Scriptures and Jews had to forsake their Jewishness to become Christians if they were to become saved. I have come to realize that it is the middle wall of partition that has been broken down by the work of Messiah and we have been made one people, one body, the “ekklesia” (congregation) of the New Israel (Gal. 6:16), or as we know it, the Church. Jesus was the predicted Messiah of the Old Testament but traditional Christianity has reduced the New Testament equivalent, “Christ,” to a kind of surname, which loses the linkage to the Hebrew Scriptures. The Jews were never told to give up belief in their Hebrew Messiah. We were told to become believers in their Messiah too — the fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures and the great hope of all true followers of Yahweh. It is useful to read the word “Messiah” wherever the Greek word “Christ” appears. (Christ, of course, is a correct translation, but people have forgotten what it means.) This will link us again to the Hebrew roots of our faith and remind us that we too are children of Abraham as Paul explains in Galatians 3:29. “If you belong to Messiah then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise.” We have been indeed “grafted in” and Jewish and Gentile believers are one. It is the Messiah’s return that we eagerly wait for. It is the Messiah whom we will see at the rapture/resurrection and with whom we will spend the millennial reign on the earth. At that time a remnant of the Jewish nation will recognize him and worship him as they should (Mic. 2:12).
2. Life Only in Messiah (The resurrection, heaven and hell, eternal life/eternal death)
This area is much more ingrained in our thinking and teaching and thus more controversial. I have thought long and hard about bringing this subject up, as it is likely to cause heated debate and has real possibilities for entrenchment, leading to division. However, I bring it to my fellow elders first. All I ask is that it be looked at seriously.
By “life only in Messiah” I mean that the human being’s soul is
not immortal and does not live on forever of its own accord. We are not
inherently eternal once we begin. We currently believe and teach that
at the point of death only our bodies die, but we actually translocate to
another realm and are just as real and alive as before we died! I have come to
see that this is not a scriptural idea. Eternal life is available only to those
who bow the knee to the Lord Jesus Messiah. Only through the finished work of
Messiah on the cross and obedience to his Gospel can we move into eternal life.
This means there is “life only in Messiah,” and this life is only received by
passing into death and then being raised again at the resurrection, following
the path taken by Messiah himself. He was “the first to rise from the dead” and
“the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” as we read in
1 Corinthians 15.
Our whole Christian culture and society believes that while the body dies, is buried and awaits resurrection, the soul is immortal and lives on forever, both saint and sinner alike. This is almost unquestioned, almost universally taught by both the evangelical and nominal Church as well as many of the cults. It is constantly reinforced at funerals. However I have found that the Hebrew believers of old never believed in an afterlife like this. This is a pagan Greek thing — this idea that souls live on after death in various places in the underworld. The old Hebrew followers of Yahweh simply “rested with their fathers.” No mention is made of disembodied souls waiting anywhere except in the grave for God’s future judgment. One of the most important principles of good Biblical interpretation and exposition is, “What does the bulk of Scripture say on this subject?” While there are some verses that do seem to support the immortality of the soul, the vast majority do not. To make the Scriptures fit our long-held beliefs we have come up with many convoluted ideas that, frankly, confuse and puzzle most people.
What I have come to realize is that the Greek view of death is not the Hebrew view. When Jesus told the story of Lazarus in the afterlife, he was getting a point across that even if someone were to come back from the dead to speak to them, they still would not believe. We have used this passage virtually on its own to come up with an idea of the afterlife that is unsupported by other Scripture. Almost everywhere else the Bible speaks of resurrection and judgment, and immortality given to the righteous and the destruction and burning up of the wicked (like chaff in a fire) in the lake of fire. It never speaks of the dead being alive, but because we believe they are, we “interpret” many passages to support that view. Jesus was the first to rise from the dead and is the firstfruits of all those who will follow at the rapture/resurrection. The great hope of the resurrection is what we should be looking forward to, when the dead in Messiah will rise first and then we who are alive will go with them to meet the descending Lord in the air. This is the message that Paul preached and we should do the same. Someone asked me recently why we don’t talk about the resurrection much and I had to say it is because we have no need of it really, because we teach that we are already in paradise when we die. So the resurrection loses its great excitement and thrill. It was always the resurrection and the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant (“The Kingdom will never pass away”) that the Jews waited for, and (a few) are still waiting for. We too come under that same blessing, grafted into the same rootstock or vine. We await the return of the Messiah, the trumpet call, the shout of the archangel who ... will one day announce his return to this earth. The mortal will put on immortality. Corruption will put on incorruption. Death will be swallowed up in victory. Together the raised saints and the living saints will go to meet the Bridegroom as he returns to the earth. (Remember the story Jesus told of the ten wise and foolish virgins who went out to meet the bridegroom as he came to the home of the bride. They met him as he came and went with him to celebrate the marriage with a great feast. This is a picture of what will happen when Messiah returns to set up his kingdom.) This was the hope of the Old Testament Israelites, the constant theme of the preaching of Jesus, the message that the Apostles taught, and should be the expectation of the Church today. By replacing the hope of the resurrection with the hope of death, we have severely dampened our enthusiasm for the return of the Lord Jesus Messiah.
Another result of our immortality of the soul belief is that there are many strange and unscriptural doctrines, for example the teaching about Purgatory promulgated by the Roman church, by which the “living dead” are struggling to get themselves into God’s good books. A true appreciation of the unconscious sleep of the dead and immortality being given only when the Messiah comes back to the earth at the resurrection of the righteous, would completely do away with this and other false teachings which cripple a clear presentation of the Gospel.
The everlasting punishment to be faced by the wicked is just that — a punishment that is final and with no hope of reprieve. The old saying that “where there’s life there’s hope” will ring very true as those who have “taken their chances” will face no hope. The second death will be the loneliest thing imaginable but will represent true justice from a truly just God.
Recently we learned a new song which brought great joy and excitement to our
congregation. It is taken from Rom. 8:19, 20; 1 Cor. 15:51-54;
2 Cor. 4:17-18; 1 Thess. 4:16-17; 1 Jn. 3:2; Rev. 21:4.
“There is a day that all creation’s waiting for, a day of freedom and liberation for the earth. And on that day the Lord will come to meet his Bride. And when we see him, in an instant we’ll be changed. And we will meet him in the air. And then we will be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Then all hurt and pain will cease. And we will be with him forever. And in his Glory we will live. The trumpet sounds and the dead will then be raised by his power, never to perish again. Once only flesh, then clothed with immortality. Death will have now been swallowed up in victory.”
Singing that song absolutely electrified our congregation because it rang true with the simple Biblical truth of the great hope of the resurrection and going to meet the coming Lord Jesus Messiah. The dead are now dead, but they will be raised to life and together we will go out to meet the returning Messiah. Many have never rejected all the false teaching of the false church on this subject of the Christian destiny. Yes, we rejected “salvation by works” in favor of the scriptural “salvation by faith” and we came out as protestors or “Protestants” from the established church. Later we rejected the unbiblical hierarchy of the church in favour of “the priesthood of all believers.” We dropped infant baptism and special robes for various offices in the church. We set up autonomous groups governed by local believers. The cost of stepping back from previously held error has always been high, with persecution of the severest kind frequently the result. However this should not stop us from facing up to error if it is there and doing the right thing at whatever the cost. I know that some of these things are a bit radical, and the thought of going against the mainstream belief is for myself very scary, as I don’t want to be labeled as divisive. I just want to “live a quiet and peaceable life in all Godliness and honesty.”
My experience in raising questions about long-held beliefs is that most will shoot the questioner without examining the question or the answer. I certainly don’t have all the answers but the Scripture seems to fit so much better with “immortality only in Messiah” than with “no one ever really dies.” “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life” is a wonderful verse to be able to take literally. The great message of the Gospel is “life or death” and not “life regardless.” I admit that there are a few verses that seem to mention the wicked alive after death, but I would rather wait for understanding on these verses than throw out the mass of Scripture which says that the dead are unconscious.
3. The Trinity
This is perhaps “the big one.” This is the issue that many have been burned at the stake for, killed without mercy for, and hounded out of communities into obscurity. I have always held as a basic tenet of my faith that God is three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I have never understood it or even tried to, as it is completely incomprehensible to the mind of man. This is fine too, if it is true. There are many things about God that our finite minds cannot grasp. Take creation for instance, or how could God always have existed? The threeness of God is something I have argued about with Jehovah’s Witnesses and “heretics.” I have said hundreds of times that it must be accepted “by faith.”
About three years ago a Roman Catholic work colleague and I were talking
about the Trinity. I was somewhat surprised at how close our beliefs on this
subject were. However he went on to explain to me how this doctrine
proved that Mary was the mother of God. His logic ran that if Jesus was God and
Mary was his mother, then Mary was obviously the mother of God. I said this was
ridiculous but I had no counter-argument because I also believed that Jesus was
God. This forced me into a complete examination the doctrine of the
Trinity. I knew that Mary was not God’s mother. So then, perhaps Jesus was
really the Son of God and not “God the Son.” I found that “God the Son” is not a
biblical term just as “the Trinity” is not a biblical term. While this might
mean nothing in itself, it did set warning bells ringing, and I began to take
particular note of the biblical language used to describe the relationship
between God and Jesus. About this time a friend of mine gave me a book that he
had been reading called The Doctrine of the Trinity: Christianity’s
Self-Inflicted Wound by Anthony Buzzard and Charles Hunting. This
book traced the history of the early Church and the political and theological
maneuverings of powerful groups down through the centuries. I have since read
many other books on Church history and the Trinity. It became evident that the
doctrine of the Trinity was not always held universally. I reread the Old
Testament and took careful note of how God spoke of Himself to His people and
how His people understood Him to be strictly One. I found that in hundreds of
places God claims to be One. In fact this became the rallying cry of His people
“God is One” — and this monumental fact is still recited almost daily in Jewish synagogues around the world.
We in the evangelical church daily say, “God is Three.” Something didn’t seem right. I was introduced to others who were questioning our interpretation of Scripture on this subject, and I found that there are a small but growing number of godly believers who have come to the conclusion that the Father is God alone and that Jesus is His Son and not a member of an eternal Trinity.
I began to examine the passages of Scripture that we use to prove so
emphatically that Jesus is God, and found that in many cases they seemed to do
the opposite and prove that Jesus was no less than the beloved and perfect,
uniquely begotten Son of God. I had always thought of
“the Son of God” as a title, but why should it not actually be a description of who he is, the Son of God? This unsettled me somewhat and raised questions. Was it necessary to believe in the Trinity? What difference did it make to the Gospel message? Could the death of the Messiah be enough to cover my sin if the Messiah was the Son of God and not God Himself? Did this radical change of perspective somehow reduce the value of what God had done or the cost to God of my salvation?
What I have found has revolutionized my faith in God and His wonderful Son, Jesus our Saviour. It is as though someone has removed a pair of smudged reading glasses from my eyes and replaced them with magnifying glasses. Everything seems so much clearer now. What I have found is that as I have looked at Scripture in this new light, everything that God has done has been enhanced in my understanding.
Scriptures that once confused me now seem clear. I now understand how Jesus could die when we know that God is immortal and can never be claimed by death. Jesus really was a man. I can now understand about Jesus being the second Adam, how by the disobedience of one man many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one man many will be made righteous. I began to realize that the Lord Jesus chose to obey his Father, and that he could have chosen otherwise. It wasn’t just a natural progression, because Jesus was “God” and “God can’t sin.” But on the other hand, “God can’t be tempted.” The fact is that Jesus could have chosen disobedience just as Adam did, but he didn’t. Therefore God has highly exalted him and given him a name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow and every tongue will confess that he is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. God’s plan of salvation is just amazing. ...
As God is unable to die, ... He provided a perfect Son, whom He asked to die
in our place. ... God’s love for His Son Jesus was truly a real father’s
love for a real son and not some mysterious transmutation and appearance of God
Himself. When Jesus prayed so earnestly to his Father it really was a son
talking with his father just as we understand it with our own children.
As I have come to see just what God was asking of His Son, so I have come to
understand and appreciate in a new way just how much God loves mankind.
To be able to grasp literally that Jesus was the Son of God has added new depths to my love for both God, and His wonderful Son, my Saviour and the Lord Messiah Jesus (Luke 2:11).
Taken from http://www.focusonthekingdom.org/78.htm#4