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In the Steps of the Savior

Is the Alien Sinner Amenable to the Gospel?

Harry Osborne


For almost two centuries, Baptist preachers debating baptism with brethren have raised the case of a man on the way to be baptized who was killed by a falling tree limb. Their attempt was to blunt the clarity of Bible teaching on baptism by an appeal to emotion. They asked, "Do you Campbellites want to send this good man to hell just because he hasn't been dipped in water yet?" Many people have fallen for the emotional appeal and have remained in error.

For 50 years, institutional brethren have focused on the support of "orphans' homes" as the our sole difference. Why? The emotional issue of "caring for children" keeps focus off their unauthorized practice and rational consideration of scriptural principles involved. In debates, they placed a sack of fertilizer and a baby bottle on the stage, then asked, "Why will you antis take money out of the treasury to buy this fertilizer for the church lawn, but won't take a dollar out of the treasury to feed a poor, starving baby?" Many brethren acted on emotion and left the truth. In the end, there was division in countless churches.

Several years ago, I attended an open forum where the divorce and remarriage issue was discussed. One man raised a case of a couple he had known. It seems that the woman had been married at the age of 16 for "a few months" before the marriage ended in divorce without scriptural cause. Later, she heard the truth and was baptized. As time went on, she fell in love with a Christian and married him. They had four children and were pillars in a local church. After several years, the facts regarding this woman's first marriage and divorce were revealed. The brethren of the local church decided they could not fellowship the couple if they continued their unlawful sexual union. The man recounting the story asked, "Are you brethren wanting to break up fine families like this over one mistake made by people before they obeyed the gospel? Do you want to bring heartache, not just on a man and his wife, but also on poor, innocent children who need a father and mother?" No Scripture was cited, but the appeal to emotion was clear. Move over tree limb! Shove the fertilizer and baby bottle to the side! Another appeal to emotion has arrived.

Why do the cases raised to justify acceptance of a divorce and remarriage not in harmony with Matthew 19:9 always involve one so doing before baptism? That is where an emotional appeal exists. However, the effort does not have the justification of such cases as its sole end. When that is accepted, the next step will be justifying unlawfully divorced and remarried Christians. It will end in justifying anyone continuing in any legal marriage regardless of past marriages and divorces contrary to God's will. Some brethren already say that marriage is always holy — no matter who — no matter when. Though our focus is the amenability of aliens to Christ's law regarding divorce and remarriage, let us never be so naive as to think the error stops there. It never does!

Those justifying the continuance of a marriage not in keeping with the teaching of Matthew 19:9 are prone to making mutually exclusive arguments. On one hand, they say the alien is not amenable to Christ's teaching regarding divorce and remarriage because it is part of the gospel which governs only a Christian, not the alien. On the other hand, they affirm baptism cleanses one of all sin involved in the unlawful union, thus freeing one to continue in such. It cannot be both ways. If Christ's law regarding divorce and remarriage does not apply to an alien, there is no sin to cleanse related to such marriages. After all, where there is no law, there can be no sin (Romans 4:15). But if such marriages do involve sin, it must be because they are governed by Christ's law in Matthew 19. Taking both sides of the issue manifests the inconsistency of this error.

Universal Reign of Christ

The absolute, universal sovereignty of Christ in this dispensation is a point of clear Bible teaching. Jesus claimed all authority in heaven and on earth at the point of His ascension (Matthew 28:18). At that time, fulfillment of the prophecy in Psalm 110 regarding the Messiah sitting to reign at the right hand of God began (cf. Luke 22:67-69; Mark 16:19-20; Acts 2:29-36). We are also told that His reign at the right hand of God will end at the resurrection of the dead (1 Corinthians 15:21-28). Thus, we are now living in the time of that reign.

But who is under Christ's rule according to Psalm 110? The writer lists two classes: (a) His enemies and (b) His people who offer themselves willingly (Psalm 110:2). By what means does He rule these two classes? By different laws or by means of the same law? Those denying an alien's amenablity to Christ's rule through the gospel jump to the conclusion that two laws are necessitated by the fact that two distinct classes are present. That conclusion is an unwarranted assumption. In this state, prisoners in the penitentiary are under the law of Florida just as I am. However, the law treats those "enemies" of the state differently than it treats me. Two results, but one law. Let us see if the Scripture shows us the means of Christ's rule and the extent of its governing power.

Gospel of Christ & Work of Spirit

The Hebrew writer tells us that God spoke to rule men in various ways in past times, but now speaks solely through the Son (Hebrews 1:1-3). The message He declared by His authority is the gospel which was to be preached to every creature (Matthew 28:18 cf. Mark 16:15). That message of Christ was declared by His apostles as they were inspired by the Holy Spirit (John 14:26; 16:13-14). Peter confirms this by saying that the gospel foretold by the prophets was "announced unto you by the Holy Spirit sent forth from heaven..." (1 Peter 1:10-12). These facts present a path of study we need to examine in order to aid our understanding of the question at hand. First, it is clear that Christ rules through His gospel. Second, that gospel which is Christ's means of rule was declared by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, if we can go to the word and see who was called upon to obey the message announced by the Holy Spirit, we will know who is amenable to that gospel. The book of Acts should aid that study.

In Acts 2, the gospel was declared "by the Holy Spirit" and Jews were called upon to obey. In Acts 8, Samaritans received the message preached "by the Holy Spirit" and obeyed it (Acts 8:4-25). The same message was proclaimed "by the Holy Spirit" to the Ethiopian and he obeyed it (Acts 8:26-40). In Acts 10-11, Cornelius received the Spirit's gospel and obeyed it. Throughout the book, we find case after case of the gospel being preached "by the Holy Spirit" to Jews and Gentiles, aliens and Christians, and all alike were called to obey. The terms used make no distinction between the message preached to the Jew and Gentile, alien and Christian. There is no hint of an alien being condemned under one law and living in salvation under another law, the gospel.

Gospel of Christ & Judging Man

The "two law theory" rests upon the idea that aliens are not condemned under the regulations of the gospel. Yet, Jesus said the Holy Spirit "when He is come, will convict the world in respect of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment" (John 16:8). Who will be convicted? The world. Not just Christians, but the world is also condemned of sin by the Spirit's revelation -- the gospel. Paul also says that "God shall judge the secrets of men according to my gospel by Jesus Christ" (Romans 2:16). Does Paul mean just the secrets of Christians? No, the secrets of all men are judged by means of the gospel.

The context of 1 Peter 4 provides a clear, detailed refutation of the "two law theory." Verses 1-6 contrast the alien sinners ("they") with the Christians ("ye") repeatedly. They were walking in sin and thought it strange that ye did not act like them, so they spoke evil of you (v. 4). Verse 5 warns that one "shall give account to him that is ready to judge the living and the dead." But who is it that will give account? By what means or law shall they be judged? Verse 7 answers those questions, "For unto this end was the gospel preached even to the dead, that they might be judged indeed according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit." Peter says the Gospel was preached to some who were "dead" for the very purpose of judging them while "in the flesh" that they might "live" spiritually. In other words, the Gospel was preached to those who were spiritually dead calling them to spiritual life. The dead of this verse are identified with "they" (aliens) throughout the context. What is it that condemned these aliens as sinners? It was the Gospel.

Consequences & Conclusion

Those advocating the "non-amenability theory" claim the gospel of Christ is only binding on Christians. They claim that the alien sinner is condemned solely because of unbelief and not due to violations of Christ's law in the Gospel. As we noted earlier, the New Testament clearly refutes this idea. Brethren who advocate the "non-amenability theory" need to consider the clear statements of Scripture that contradict their doctrine. However, we are caused to wonder whether many of these "non-amenability theory" advocates really believe what they teach when we consider their teaching to the denominational world.

If aliens are not amenable to Christ's law regarding divorce and remarriage, aliens are not amenable to the Gospel instructions in general. For instance, if an alien is not amenable to the Gospel's instructions, how can we oppose the use of instrumental music in denominational worship? Are they not aliens? How could the practice be judged sinful for aliens if the regulation of the gospel does not apply to them? Furthermore, how can we oppose the boards, conferences or the papacy if aliens are not amenable to regulations regarding the organization of the church which is uniquely a part of the Gospel? Yet, many preachers who advocate the "non-amenability theory" have disputed strongly with those in denominationalism because of their practices being contrary to Scripture. They cannot have it both ways! Brethren advocating this false doctrine need to look at its consequences and reject it as a theory obviously opposed to the truth of God's word.

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