Keeping A Clear Focus
While debates can clarify issues, they can also confuse them. When one of the protagonists does not have a clear answer for a point, they will often seek to distract the audience from seeing the power of a good argument. We often call this “throwing dust in the air.”
Accordingly, the rebuttals will be more useful if one keeps in sharp focus the following pertinent facts.
- Megiddo’s foundation— this debate concerns the doctrine that led to the formation of Megiddo as a separate denomination. The teaching was first promulgated by their founder, L.T. Nichols in 1880.Following is the pertinent section of a biography of Mr. Nichols. Prior to 1880, Mr. Nichols “preached, practiced and enforced a religion of doing, so that the standard of conduct in his ecclesia was always in marked contrast with the more lax behavior [in Megiddo’s opinion] of other Christadelphian groups. Yet there was [in Nichols’ teaching up to this point the idea that] there was some efficacy in water baptism to wash away past sins; some vague, mysterious [according to Megiddo] virtue in the sacrifice of Calvary, some loophole in the wall of salvation to let in the well intentioned but imperfect believer. If a man believed and was baptized, should Christ come the next day or he die that night, he would be ready, regardless of his past life.”
In 1880, Mr. Nichols faced his followers “with a confession of past error and the most stupendous proposition offered to men since the Seventh Century..When Jesus said, ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect,’ (Nichols) told them, He meant just that and no less: the perfect ordering of every aspect of one’s moral life and conduct …No man could be saved apart from knowing and keeping every commandment of God …
”With the great foundation stone laid bare and swept clean, the temple could now grow in an orderly manner. The Reformation had begun!”
This fundamental view came through clearly in Megiddo’s opening statement in such phrases as: “the basis of our salvation is indeed our own life of obedience and virtue before God …there is no suggestion of any efficacy to be derived from Christ’s literal death …where is any need for the sacrifice of Christ?”
- Megiddo believes baptism is unnecessary— “we take the position that water baptism is not necessary or commanded for today” is the Megiddo statement in their correspondence course, “Understanding the Bible.”
- Christadelphians believe a person can fall away from the grace of God through denial of the faith or flagrant misbehavior. This is a prominent element of our first principle teaching and of our exhortations.
- Figures of speech are founded on reality. That is certainly true in the Bible and is consistently the case in everyday speech. For example, a steamship is spoken of as “sailing” because ships once used sails. A wooden wall will be spoken of as “paper thin” because paper is very thin.In the Bible, deliverance from the fatal control of sin is spoken of as “redemption,” because the Israelitish slaves were redeemed from the fatal control of Egyptian bondage. And sharing in the benefits of Christ’s sacrifice is spoken of as”eating his flesh” because the flesh of animal sacrifices was eaten. The existence of figures of speech, therefore, does not negate the fact of an underlying reality.
Summary Of The Christadelphian Position And Rebuttal
Many of the points raised in the Megiddo opening statement are covered by the reasoning presented in the initial Christadelphian statement.
Man is of sin-prone nature both before and after conversion (Rom. 3:10,23; 7:12-25; Jer. 10:23). Except for Jesus Christ, who is the only begotten son of God, it has not been possible in practice for any of us to attain God’s perfection through our own righteous acts. For this reason, salvation is conditioned on faith in the sacrifice (the blood, the death) of Christ (Rom. 3:25 cp. Heb. 11:28) and is through grace, i.e. unmerited favor. “(God) hath saved us …not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus” (II Tim. 1:9 cp. Acts 15:11; Eph. 2:5,8).
Faith is developed by an intellectual response and appreciation of God’s word (Rom. 10:17), and its existence is shown by works which are motivated by our response to the great salvation which was accomplished through Jesus Christ. Christadelphians do not suggest that works are irrelevant in God’s scheme of justification; but while we will not be saved without works, we are not saved because of them. We are saved by God’s grace as He provides the gift of redemption in Christ.
Our faith is in the gospel concerning Christ— that he was our representative, sharing our nature, yet he never sinned personally. Therefore his body was raised from the dead, and glorified with immortal life. By being baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection and by continuing in his way, our faith is counted for righteousness. In other words, we are treated by God as if we are as righteous as Christ. Because of this, those “in Christ” have the sure hope of “the redemption of the body” at Christ’s return, to be given a glorified body like he now has (Phil. 3:19-21). It is for this reason that we presented so many passages which link salvation with the body and blood of Christ, which were offered for the forgiveness of our sins.
The Authorship Of Salvation
Christadelphians and the Megiddo Church agree that God is the author of our salvation. But Megiddo fail to analyze on what basis He achieves this. Hebrews 5:4-10 explains how God called Christ to the priesthood, and perfected him on account of his death on the cross: “And being made perfect, he (Christ) became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.” God became the author of salvation through the death of Christ. It is for us to show that we really believe this by living in obedience to Christ.
The Gift Of Righteousness
The fact that salvation is a gift from God (Rom. 6:23) on account of His grace, contradicts the Megiddo statement that “The law of God is as straightforward as ‘Obey and live.’” If our obedience merits salvation, there is no place for God’s unmerited favor, or “grace.”
Furthermore, righteousness itself is a gift: ‘They which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by …Jesus” (Rom. 5:17). Megiddo makes clear their view that developing a righteous character is our responsibility. They do not view righteousness as a gift. In contrast to Megiddo, scripture speaks of righteousness as a gift because we do not have to reach a point of full obedience to be considered righteous by God. Rather, our faith in Him is counted for righteousness: Abraham “did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why ‘it was credited to him as righteousness.’ The words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead” (Rom. 4:20-24 NIV).
Our obedience, however, is not irrelevant to God’s system of salvation. The balance between faith and works is to be found in appreciating that God’s gift of salvation is offered in response to faith, not works; but real faith will produce works as an intrinsic by-product (James 2:18-26).
Megiddo does not reconcile two great Bible themes:
1) That salvation is by grace through faith in Christ’s sacrifice, “not according to works of righteousness which we have done” (Titus 3:4-7).
2) That works are also necessary in God’s scheme of redemption, “that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works” (Titus 3:8).
Their position is that these two themes are contradictory. They contend that one or the other must be explained away.
The fact is that the two themes beautifully complement one another. Belief in the sacrifice of Christ elicits from us the need for self-sacrificial love and dedicated obedience in our own lives. Attempting to live an obedient life teaches us the need for the grace of God to forgive us for Christ’s sake.
The concept of justification by a vibrant faith makes perfect sense of both these themes. Note that in Titus 3:8 belief comes first; first we must believe in the work of Christ and then we show this belief by our works.
Both Themes In The Same Scripture
While Megiddo may feel these themes are contradictory, the Bible obviously does not. They are found together throughout scripture, even in the places Megiddo uses to prove their points.
In The Old Testament
Isaiah 1:16,17 is quoted by Megiddo as proof that repentance, not the blood of Christ, is the basis of salvation. But it is only one of the preconditions for it. That passage goes on to say that God will make our scarlet-red sins “as white as snow …as wool.” It is Christ who is “white like wool, as white as snow” (Rev. 1:14; Mk. 9:3). By being in Christ, we are counted by God to be as righteous (as white) as he (Christ) is. This same figure of speech is used in Revelation 7:14, which speaks of believers washing the redness of their sins in the blood of Christ, so that their clothing is white. It is therefore in Christ that our sins are forgiven and we are presented holy and without blame before God.
Later in his prophecy, Isaiah makes clear that God offers forgiveness on the basis of the literal death of the Messiah: “The chastisement of our peace was upon him (Jesus); and with his stripes we are healed …the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all …thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin …by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities” (Isa. 53:5,6,10,11).
Ezekiel speaks of repentance resulting in forgiveness. But the repentant Israelite at that time was under the Mosaic law. If he repented, he would have to offer a sacrifice: “it is the blood that maketh atonement” (Lev. 17:11), and “without the shedding of blood is no remission” of sins (Heb. 9:22). Repentance was not, therefore, the only necessity for forgiveness under the Old Covenant.
In The Gospels
Megiddo claims that Jesus did not teach that he was going to die and shed his blood for the salvation of mankind. That is not true.
At the last supper, he referred to the symbolic significance of the wine: “This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matt. 26:28). Earlier in his ministry, he told his disciples, “the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:45). Jesus taught Nicodemus about the efficacy of his literal crucifixion: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). After his baptism, he was introduced as “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). While the Lord stressed the need for obedience, his teaching about the need for us to share in the benefits of his sacrificial death was perfectly clear.
In the gospels, the language of the rituals of the Law is consistently applied to the sacrificial death of Christ: blood of the testament …life a ransom …serpent on a pole …lamb of God. His sacrifice was superior to and replaced these rituals with the true sacrificial death to which they had pointed forward. Sharing in the merits of his death is thus essential; it is the only way to eternal life. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:53,54). The eating and drinking speaks of sharing in the benefits of his literal death. We do this when we believe and are baptized into Christ: “He that believeth on me hath everlasting life …he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst” (vs.47,35).
Yes, Jesus may refer to the need for obedience more than he refers to his sacrificial death. Both, however, are an integral part of his message and neither should be denied.
In The Acts
Megiddo claim that the gospel which the apostles preached focuses on the need for repentance rather than faith in the blood and death of Christ. But Jesus told them to preach “remission of sins …in his name” (Lk. 24:47). Remission is through Christ, not just through our personal repentance and obedience. This is why we preach the gospel of salvation through Christ, not of human effort.
Acts shows how the early preaching stressed the death and resurrection of Christ, repentance and then water baptism: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins …by him all that believe are justified from all things” (Acts 2:38; 13:39).
Furthermore, Jesus Christ is presented as unique: “Neither is there salvation in any other …through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: and by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses” (Acts 4:12; 13:38-39).
His teaching was not unique. All that he taught is found in the Old Testament including the need to love God with all the heart and to love our neighbor as ourselves (cp. Deut. 6:5; Lev. 19:18).
Jesus was not unique in providing an example of right conduct. Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Daniel and many others provided examples of the conduct of which God approves. But right teaching and right example were not enough to provide deliverance from sin. What was needed was the Savior: “To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43).
In The Epistles And The Revelation
The passages which speak of salvation through obedience also include our need for the sacrifice of Christ. Some of these passages consciously allude to this need. Revelation 22:14 is an example: “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.” Yet Christ is the way to the tree of life, he is the door through which a man may enter salvation (John 14:6; 10:9). It was through his sacrificed body and poured-out blood that we have this way to God (Eph. 2:16-18). Likewise, “He that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” (I John 2:17); but an integral aspect of the will of God is that we should believe on Christ as the sacrifice provided by God (John 6:33-40).
Megiddo say, “Walk in the light and that’s all you need.” This contradicts I John 1:7: “If we walk in the light …the blood of Jesus cleanseth us from all sin.” The Biblical position is that we must forsake our sins believing that the blood of Christ cleanses us from both our old sins and the new ones we commit.
Obedience and the sprinkling of Christ’s blood are needed for salvation: “elect …unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ” (I Pet. 1:2). “Ye were not redeemed with corruptible things …but with the precious blood of Christ [his sacrifice] …unto unfeigned love of the brethren [obedience]” (I Pet. 1:18-22). The blood of Christ purges our conscience, resulting in our doing the “works” of continued obedience (Heb. 9:14). This was prefigured in the cleansing of the leper (representing our need for cleansing from sin). The blood of the lamb (representing Jesus) was placed on the ear, thumb and toe of the leper, to show how the blood of his redemption should affect his every action; the blood enabled him to enter the congregation of God’s people, and then he could do acceptable works of virtue (Lev. 14:25). Obedience must be on account of the redemption which has been made possible through Christ’s blood.
Obedience And The Blood Of Christ
Obedience is likened to a man building on a rock (Mt. 7:24-27). But “that rock was Christ,” the rock smitten on the cross (1 Cor. 10:4); the rock refers to faith in Christ as God’s Son (Mt. 16:16-18). It is upon the rock of our faith that we build our house of obedience. Faith in Christ’s sacrifice comes first, for it is Christ’s blood which purifies us (Rev. 15:6; Heb. 1:3; 9;14,22) and makes it possible for us to offer acceptable obedience to God. As Jesus says, if we are not in the Christ-vine (through baptism into him), we cannot produce good fruit before God (John 15:5).
It is our faith in Christ rather than our works which will save us (Rom. 3:27; 9:11; Gal. 2:16). Because salvation is by grace, it is not by works, but on account of Christ’s sacrifice (Rom. 11:6; 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 3:5; Heb. 4:10). Righteousness is imputed by faith to us “without works” (Rom. 4:2). There is the need for works, but works cannot save us; yet we will be judged for our works. There is no conflict in this. The resolution of this is that salvation is conditioned upon our faith in Christ’s sacrifice; but if that faith is real, it will inevitably show itself in works.
Acceptable faith will not exist without works. Works alone cannot bring salvation and acceptable works cannot exist without our being cleansed by the redeeming blood of Christ. These two scriptural themes do not contradict one another; they complement each other.
The Forgiveness Of Sins
The Bible does not teach that repentance alone can bring forgiveness. In the case of the bank robber, each time he robbed a bank, he committed a sin. If he stops robbing, each of these sins has still been committed. The punishment for sin is death. It’s not enough just being sorry and saying “I won’t do it again.” Adam sinned, therefore he had to die. Every sinner needs some other intervention to bring about his salvation in addition to forsaking his sins. Galatians 3:10 shows that everyone who didn’t always obey every one of God’s commands was condemned. That situation has been changed by Christ’s sacrifice (Gal. 3:13). If Megiddo do not accept the benefits of that sacrifice, then they are in the same position as Israel under the Law-condemned because they have not all their lives always obeyed God’s laws.
Christ Over The Law
If forgiveness is conditioned only upon obedience, then there is no difference between the Old and New covenants. Megiddo’s legalistic attitude to the Sermon on the Mount seems identical to Israel’s relationship to the statutes of the Mosaic law. Hebrews 9:9 and 10:1 reasons that the priesthood of Christ can make us “perfect,” in contrast to the previous system which could not do so. “Perfection” is not attainable, therefore, by our own obedience alone. If it was, then Christ’s work would not have made “perfection” any more possible than it was before.
The Law denied blessings to those who broke it in any way (Gal. 3:10; Ex. 24:7). Yet we know that men who did break that law will be saved and were called “perfect” (e.g. David). It follows that they found justification with God in a way other than perfect obedience, i.e., through faith in Christ’s perfect sacrifice. David knew that “with the LORD there is mercy and …plenteous redemption (because) he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities” (Psa. 130:7,8). These words are quoted about Jesus, “He [Jesus] shall save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).
David was forgiven for his “secret faults,” those which he did not even recognize. Megiddo addresses only major flaws in our conduct which will be exposed upon reading the Bible. However, we often sin without realizing it. For example, we may be discourteous, irritable or slothful and never realize our sinful acts. Like David (Psa. 19:12), we ask for God’s mercy regarding this. In this sense, we receive forgiveness without specific repentance, through recognizing our frequent sinfulness.
(To be continued, God willing)
Duncan Heaster, September, 1992