How to Argue Like a Christian: Elision (Skipping Steps) (and Part 1 of the Dialogue with Robert Prater)

dialogueTo “elide” is to omit something. We Southerners tend to elide our trailing g’s — that is, our trailin’ g’s. And some of our thought leaders have a habit of eliding critical steps in their argumentation.

An example is Kerry Anderson’s article in the March 2006 Gospel Advocate dealing with the proposed re-unification of the Churches of Christ and independent Christian Churches.

Second, I don’t think what I believe on issues like worship, roles of men and women, and baptism to be wrong. If I did, I would change and try to get others to change with me. But I still hold my beliefs and want others to join me. I am unwilling to relegate them to “don’t matter” or “non-salvation” status.

Did you see the skipped step? It’s obvious enough to a Church of Christ audience why baptism is considered a salvation issue. But how does his position on worship or the role of women become a salvation issue? What makes these issues questions of salvation — other than the fact that he has a position he wishes to defend? He doesn’t say.

Similarly, in the June 2008 issue of the Advocate, Neil Anderson argues that adding an instrumental worship service is “apostasy,” that is, falling away from salvation.

Error claims a preference for its judgments on all disputed points, resulting in apostasy.

Again, even if we were to concede that instrumental music is error, what makes this particular error damning? He doesn’t say.

Now, obviously enough our writing would be tedious indeed if we had to explain every single logical step every single time. The capable writer leaves some steps to common sense and implication. Nonetheless, the most critical arguments require the most careful explication. And there is no question more critical than who is saved and who is not.

And yet, our conservative Church of Christ brothers are remarkably reluctant to tell us the rules: how are we to decide which errors and which sins damn and which ones are covered by grace?

Although he is not the first to have notice this elision, in Facing Our Failure, Todd Deaver has offered the most comprehensive demonstration of the utter failure of the conservative Churches of Christ to answer this question. We have seen a few conservatives take up the challenge — and yet not a one has finished what he started. For some reason, the trend is to promise a clear refutation and to then leave the project unfinished.

Gil Yoder began a series criticizing Deaver’s logic, but when challenged to state how we should distinguish damning error from grace-covered error, he stopped posting.

And I’m still anticipating the continuation of Matt Clifton’s series at the7ones.com.

None of this is surprising. I’ve engaged in private email correspondence for years with prominent authors and editors asking just this question, and have received no guidance — other than: some sins damn and some don’t.

It is remarkable to me that we could have overlooked such a fundamental principle — dividing and damning over some sins and not others while unable to articulate a standard for how to tell the difference.

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12 Responses

  1. It’s been my experience that the “sins” which violate the silence of scripture (instrumental music, supporting a children’s home) are usually regarded as far more damning than the sins which violate scripture itself (failing to sell possessions and give to the poor; neglecting widows and orphans).

  2. I have found it frequently frustrating to be confronted with the discussion stoppers of “that’s NOT a salvation/fellowship issue” and/or “that IS a salvation/fellowship issue”. The first typically from someone on the losing end of a discussion and the second from someone who wants to assign you to a place in hell; an assignment I have recently and repeatedly received from some of my adversaries.

  3. Jay, you wrote, in part:

    > “(O)ur writing would be tedious indeed
    > if we had to explain every single logical
    > step every single time.

    How astute in explaining why so much of my writing has been tedious. My “Goliath of GRAS” argument has confounded so many (i.e., Gil Yoder, David P. Brown, Daniel Denham, Jerry D. McDonald, David B. Willis, etc., etc., etc.) and it is so simple.

    I keep having to explain its simple, fundamental logical steps over and over again.

    I’ve known Gil Yoder since way back when he was preaching in Oklahoma. I think he wrote me off when we took different paths on the young earth creation science issue.

  4. It happens on both sides. Within our own circles, we don’t have to provide those missing steps. They are mutually agreed and assumed. And when those outside our circle don’t make those assumptions, but instead challenge them, it comes as a surprise. We feel that the other person must have some fundamental misunderstanding, because “our people” see it so clearly.

  5. Jay,

    I think it is you who have skipped some steps and really are “out of step” with your understanding and reasoning on this point and how the BIble teaches.

    First of all,

    Grace is dependent on faith. (Eph. 2:8) At issue is approaching God faithfully by reverencing and obeying his word that he has spoken. The argument is hermeneutics—how can we faithfully read and understand and obey scripture. Music comes into play at the specific point at which we read and understand in God’s word where He said how He wants to be approached in the assembly. In so far as music (worship) is attached to faith, and the willful disregard of the evidence of God’s Word on this subject, it can become a grace (salvation) ssue.

    Concerning this question that you and others like to ask which is: “Is this is a salvation issue?” Let me say the following.

    I believe this question on this subject and many others like subjects to be an illegimate question. I don’t think a person committed to God even asks that question, “Well, is it a salvation issue, if I do or not?” The question is: “What did God command?” Read Nehemiah 8 sometime for example or any of the Reform kings (Hezekiah, Josiah, etc. With Nehemiah, they read the Bible, and as they do, they make a discovery that during the Feast of Tabernacles, they are supposed to be living in little huts made out of trigs. And it said nobody had been doing it since the days of Joshua (1000 years!) And I can only hear people now if they were back then, saying, “Wait a minute, before we do, is it a salvation issue? I mean, nobody’s done it for a thousand years, surely it don’t matter anymore! It was probably even just a culturally thing.” You read Nehemiah chapter 8, they didn’t even ask that question. They stopped the Bible study and went and got the trigs. This just isn’t a question to a person who is committed to surrender themselves to total obedience to the will of God. Now, I do hope that a lot of people who worship with instrumental music are in heaven with me. And yes, I will leave that to God. But, what we have to do as Christians and members of the body of Christ is whatever God commands I’ll do. I’ll leave the salvation issues to Him.

    Stafford North has written and made the following points: “We are to judge whether a teaching or practice is in harmony with the scripture. IT is not our role to be the judges of the souls of those around us……While we must judge whether a teaching or practice is in accord with the scripture, we do have the to predict anyone’s eternal destiny. There is much we do not know about the Lord’s judgment and much we do not know about the heart of another. Christ will judge the secrets of men, according to His Word. (John 12:48)……We do not have to condemn to hell someone we believe is wrong about an essential doctrine. We should teach what the Bible says on the point and should, in an appropriate way, contrast it with false teaching on that point.” (Directions For the Road Ahead, “How to be Undenominational in a Denominational World”)

    Finally, I like how Phil Sander’s in his blog philanswers deals concerning this question. He writes: “In the end, the “going-to-hell” argument is designed to hush up the Truth, to bully away anyone who reminds us of right and wrong. When people can’t find evidence to support an unauthorized practice, they resort to complaint and fault-finding. The point of the complaint at the top of this post is to make it appear that anyone who thinks instrumental music is wrong is arrogant and judgmental. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is said, “we are all wrong about something.” There is a difference between being mistaken through human weakness and in willfully driving a wedge in the body of Christ by pushing a divisive practice and making fun of anyone who disagrees. Well, Phil, do you think you know everything or that you are always right? Of course not, I am a fallible sinner saved by the grace of God, dependent upon His mercy for salvation. I understand what it means to be saved, since I cannot save myself. But in all my weakness, I do not suppose that I can presume upon the grace and never need repentance. The blood of Jesus can certainly cleanse those who walk in the light. Walking in the light is not sinlessness, because no one is capable of sinless perfection. But people can fool themselves, thinking they are in the light, when they are not (1 John 1:6). Sand theology does not yield the same results as rock theology (Matt. 7:21-27). Sand theology is when people build where they want rather than heed the words of Jesus. Self-made religion and innovations are sand theology. Those who plant their own plants will find themselves uprooted (Matt. 15:14). That’s what Jesus says about it. That is how He feels about such things. I take that view because He has expressed His will in the matter.” (Tuesday, October 16, 2007, http://www.philanswers.blogspot.com)

    For Unity found in Truth,
    Sincerely

    Robert Prater

  6. Robert, Phil would then surely maintain that there is a Truth about instrumental music, which the “going-to-hell” argument is designed to hush up. If I understand his writings correctly, from his blog and his book, that Truth is that God does not command instrumental music in worship, and therefore it is wrong.

    Yet, at least to the extent of my reading, he does not attempt to address why God commanded it in 2 Chronicles 29:25, why He never directly rescinded the command, and why He revealed to John worship in heaven accompanied by harps in Revelation 15:2.

    This, in my opinion, skips a step – addressing possible lines of thought that would lead to a worshiper to conscientiously believe that instruments are not only acceptable, but commanded and exemplified both before and during the messianic era.

    His argument against the practice – as is the argument of many others – is that the silence of scripture forbids. Yet scripture is not silent on this matter, and there is enough reasonable support for the practice that it can hardly be condemned outright.

    He insinuates that some of those who disagree with him are “willfully driving a wedge in the body of Christ by pushing a divisive practice and making fun of anyone who disagrees.”

    But he skips a step by assuming that those who cross the line he has drawn are the ones who have made a practice divisive – not the ones who have drawn it where scripture draws no lines.

    Finally, and simply, to your point about Nehemiah: good king Hezekiah prayed on behalf of the people who came late to celebrate the feast and did not observe it as commanded, and “the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people” (2 Chronicles 30:20). So I’m not sure that anyone can conclude that there can be no forgiveness for practicing worship or observing God’s commands incorrectly – even when done in ignorance or delayed due to distance. If God listened to Hezekiah pray on behalf of the people He loved, how much more will He listen to His own Son on behalf of those who believe, yet sin?

  7. Well said, Keith!

  8. Keith, regarding your second paragraph ~ a friend once cheerfully told me that maybe the reason God didn’t address the issue of instruments in the NT was because He thought He got it all settled in the OT. Reckon?

  9. From a reader —

    “Music comes into play at the specific point at which we read and understand in God’s word where He said how He wants to be approached in the assembly.”

    This is an honest question. But where are those passages where we “read and understand” the music issue as it applies to the assembly?

    And I have a problem with the “willful disregard of the evidence of God’s Word on this subject”. What am I missing? Apparently lots from Robert Prater’s comments.

    I’m so thankful that how He is approached in the assembly seems to be a lesser part of my walk than the rest of the 98.5 percent of my life ~ which, I believe, actually bears more scrutiny. Please set me straight, as always, if need be.

  10. Did God mean for David to write this in the Bible? Did this one get past editing? Oh, wait this is from the Old Testament so it doesn’t matter, right?

    From the Psalms
    150:3 Praise Him with trumpet sound; Praise Him with harp and lyre.
    150:4 Praise Him with timbrel and dancing; Praise Him with stringed instruments and pipe.
    150:5 Praise Him with loud cymbals; Praise Him with resounding cymbals.
    150:6 Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD!

  11. And I have a problem with the “willful disregard of the evidence of God’s Word on this subject”

    Since the non-instrumental position is based on silence, I think we’d have to say the “willful disregard of the lack of evidence of God’s Word”.

  12. Funny — in the Kerry Anderson quote at the top, I didn’t immediately notice the elision you pointed out. What I noticed was the — I think the word is “equivocation” — where “non-salvation issue” is the same as “doesn’t matter.” Oh my. Just as there is surely a lot of room on the continuum between “salvation issue” and “doesn’t matter,” there must be some room between “non-salvation (but still important” and “doesn’t matter.” I think he elided a bit of a continuum between those two points, also.

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