Bob writes from New York, stating that he belongs to a congregation that “many have left their denominational roots” to join, “to be part of the Lord’s church, to preach Jesus and the way of salvation stated in the New Testament.” He hears that “many brethren” in the Churches of Christ “are very ‘legalistic’ and others have gone towards the ‘liberal’ side, namly Max Lucado, Shelly Rubel [sic].” He wants to know where I stand “in terms of the Gospel plan of Salvation, who are the saved, is denominational baptism valid, and denominational fellowshipping among the Lord’s church.” He closes with the explanation, “I must test the spirits out, if you know what I mean.”
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I know both Max Lucado and Rubel Shelly and I am happy to tell you that they both urge people to trust Jesus Christ alone for salvation, then to obey and follow Him. Fewer of us were doing that 30 years ago in Churches of Christ, but today we are a joyful multitude. It is God’s grace to our own religious heritage that Max and Rubel both serve among Churches of Christ as well as a much larger audience in these changing times.
I encourage you not to confuse “the Lord’s church” with some particular historical religious movement of which we happen to be a part. God’s program is worldwide and it includes many brothers and sisters who know Jesus Christ, even if they never heard of the Churches of Christ or the 19th century American “restoration movement” from which those congregations descended.
The gospel is not “good do’s” or “good views” but “good news.” And the good news is that our salvation doesn’t depend on our figuring out all the answers, or making 100% on some doctrinal test, or always living up to what we know is right. Instead, we may rely on God’s undeserved kindness which he bestows on those who repent and trust in him. We see the extent of God’s love for sinners in the self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross for our sins. And we see the power of that love for sinners in Jesus’ resurrection from the grave for our justification (Rom. 4:24-25).
I encourage you to read some of the gospel booklets on my website, perhaps beginning with The Grace of God or One Life, Death and Judgment. These little books have helped many others in your situation come to appreciate God’s great salvation in Jesus Christ — and to enjoy great peace and hope as a result. Testing the spirits is an excellent idea, but, like charity, it really needs to begin at home.