Dialogue with Robert Prater: What Is “Faith”? Part 1 (Toward a Definition)

dialogueRobert Prater posed an important question

If you take such position that a person is saved/justifed/forgiven of sins on the basis of faith alone/only without its inclusion of further acts of obedience which demonstrate/define, etc. true “faith/belief” (i.e., confess, repentance, baptism), then I fear we debating the wrong topic/issue/question and need to immediately shift focus to how a person, according to the N.T., is saved.

By the way, I think I might know what you are saying (maybe). I agree with the proposition and every one of the passages you sited concerning this point and have no problem with the proposition that we are justified/saved by faith in Christ Jesus. We are saved by grace through faith. (Eph. 2:8) And if a person properly understand the nature of true, saving faith, then I guess we might be able to say and undersand “faith alone.” But I completely oppose such terminogly due to such the large scale accetpance of the otherwise false doctrine known as “faith alone.” I reject completley this denomintional view of “faith alone/only.”

You see, I’ve heard all the verses you quoted above in my years of trying to help lead people out of the “faith alone” doctrine and then show them that not only single verse like the ones you quoted, has the words “faith alone/only.” As you probably know, the only time that phrase “faith alone/only” appers in the Bible, it is condmened and not put forth as true faith (i.e., faith without works/obedience) – James 2:24, 26.

Robert wrote in response to a post where I challenged his teaching that we aren’t saved by faith alone. To make my point, I listed a few dozen verses that say that all with faith are saved. My point was simply that asserting these verses are true could hardly be damnable. But it’s important, I think, to explain what these verses do mean. It’ll take about four posts.

It’s important that in this conversation we get past the last-verse-read argument. Robert cites James. I cite the many faith-only verses. And back and forth we go. That’s an utterly futile way to argue. I’d like to try this from a different angle.

Here is the cinch points:

  • Do the faith-only verses eliminate the need to be baptized?
  • Do the faith-only verses eliminate the need to obey God’s commands?
  • How do we reconcile the faith-only verses with James?

Now, it’s absolutely critical that we separate the first two questions. You see, throughout the 20th Century, we in the Churches of Christ had such zeal for the doctrine of baptism for the remission of sins (which is a true doctrine) that we tried to prove the doctrine by asserting that baptism is a “work” and arguing that works are required to be saved, following an interpretation of James and ignoring huge portions of the rest of the Bible.

I mean, anytime someone quotes Paul —

(Rom 3:27-28 ESV) Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

— we quote the baptism verses and James, as though by getting in the last word, our verses would trump the faith-only verses. But all the verses are inspired, true, and God’s word. And none should be explained away.

There are a couple of important Biblical truths we overlook when we see these passages as contradictory or in need of being expanded.

N. T. Wright explains in Christian Origins and the Question of God: Jesus and the Victory of God, p. 263, how “faith” was used by First Century Jews. He refers to story told by Josephus regarding a Jewish rebel named Jesus —

Josephus asked Jesus the Galileean brigand leader, ‘to repent and believe in me,’ in other words, to give up his agenda and follow Josephus’ instead. Jesus of Nazareth, I suggest, issued more or less exactly the same summons to his contemporaries.

Josephus notes that “believe in me” is translated “be loyal to me” in most translations (see p. 250).

The same meaning shows up in modern Bible translations, where the Greek word for faith, pistis, is sometimes translated faithfulness.

(Rom 3:3)  What if some did not have faith [pistis]? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness [pistis]?

(Gal 5:22-23)  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness [pistis], 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

You see, we begin our readings by assuming “faith” is somehow divorced from obedience or loyalty, when in fact the word means faithfulness as well as belief.

And part of the confusion arises because we modern Christians tend to miss the full depth of meaning of other aspects of the gospel. For example, when we ask our converts to give the “Good Confession,” we ask them to quote Peter —

(Mat 16:16)  Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

But to modern ears, “Christ” sounds like Jesus’ last name. Let’s return to the original meaning: You are the Christ = Messiah = Anointed One = King promised by the prophets, the Son of the living God. “Christ” means “king” and not just king, it means the king who would sit on David’s throne and rule all the nations as prophesied.

Now, compare this to —

(Rom 10:9)  That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

“Lord” is not a special word for heavenly beings. “Lord” is the word used in the Roman world to refer to Caesar as emperor. Quoting Wright once again

The accession of the emperor, and also his birthday, could therefore be hailed as euaggelion, good news (we should remember of course that most of the empire, and certainly the parts of it where Paul worked, were Greek-speaking). The emperor was the kyrios, the lord of the world, the one who claimed the allegiance and loyalty of subjects throughout his wide empire. When he came in person to pay a state visit to a colony or province, the word for his royal presence was parousia.

With all this in mind, we open the first page of Paul’s letters as they stand in the New Testament, and what do we find? We find Paul, writing a letter to the church in Rome itself, introducing himself as the accredited messenger of the one true God. He brings the gospel, the euaggelion, of the son of God, the Davidic Messiah, whose messiahship and divine sonship are validated by his resurrection, and who, as the Psalms insist, is the Lord, the kyrios, of the whole world. Paul’s task is to bring the world, all the nations, into loyal allegiance — hypakoē pisteos, the obedience of faith — to this universal Lord. He is eager to announce this euaggelion in Rome, without shame, because this message is the power of God which creates salvation for all who are loyal to it, Jew and Greek alike.

In short, the confession of Jesus as Son of God, which we call “faith,” is also the confession of Jesus as Lord, ruler of the universe. It’s repentance. Faith and repentance are two sides of the same coin — we believe Jesus is God’s Son and Lord and we submit to that — faith and penitence — or faith and faithfulness — or pistis and pistis — or just “faith.”

You see, we’ve misread many of the faith passages as though they say nothing about obedience. And therefore we feel obligated to graft on to them other passages from radically different contexts. But they stand quite well on their own.

Now, let’s take a fresh look at a faith-only passage —

(John 3:16)  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

All my life, this was a Baptist passage. We couldn’t read it without immediately flipping over to James, to wash the Baptist heresy off it. But let’s see how what we learned from Josephus changes our understanding —

(John 3:16)  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever [is loyal or faithful to] him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Is this right? Let’s check the context —

(John 3:19-21)  “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”

Immediately afterwards, the subject is plainly good deeds and evil. It’s about doing — which makes sense if it’s about faithfulness or loyalty or Lordship. If it’s about the purely intellectual exercise of belief — as we use the word in English, as in “I believe in ghosts” — well, then the passage makes no sense. Jesus does not call us to radical abstract thinking. He calls us to radical discipleship — and centuries of Augustinian/Reformation thought has clouded our reading.

Now, obviously enough, we can’t be loyal to someone if we don’t even believe in his existence. If we deny that the Son is the Son or that the Lord is the Lord, we can hardly submit to him as Son and Lord. Believing is a part of faith. It’s just not the entirety of faith. It is, indeed, only the beginning of faith. (I urgently note that in English translations, “believe” is simply the verb form of pistis. There is no distinction in the Greek. In English, though, “believe” often means a mere abstract intellectual acceptance. That is not good Greek.)

[to be continued]


65 Responses

  1. I’m definitely tracking with you so far. I think there has been a serious misunderstanding of the word “faith,” as if it were merely some intellectual exercise.

    I’m looking forward to the continuation…

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  2. Jay,

    Considering some of the passages you have cited, it might be that, as you progress, you can tie in your analysis of Prater with an analysis of Royce’s “once saved, always saved” doctrine he has been proposing here based on some of the same passages you are discussing.

    Robert Baty

  3. Jay,

    I agree with what you are saying. And I think we both agree and belief the same thing concerning the true nature of proper faith. Faith/belief is more than just a mental exericse “mental assent.” Confession is faith. Repentance is faith. Baptism is faith.

    I just still would object to using the terminology “faith only”, first of all, because the Bible makes no such statement. I completely agree when you refer to being saved by “faith.” By the way, for the record, the Bible teaches that baptism is a work—it is GOD’S WORK. (Col. 2:11) Again, I stand by James 2:23 “You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed in God, and it was credited to him as righteousness…..you see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.” (James 2:23-24)

    Let’s try to speak Biblically. The Bible condemns “faith alone” (i.e., faith without obedience). I think we both agree on this, and even though as I stated in my response I understand properly defined, “faith alone” can be right, if, if, if faith has been properly defined. But when you teach someone with a denomintional concept of “faith alone” (i.e. mental assent alone/without acts of obedience), I’d suspect we’d be saying the same thing. That is not a true, Biblical faith. Which of course was James whole point.

    Now, Paul and James had two entirely different contexts. But they can be harmonized. Paul and James were talking about two different “kinds” of faith. When Paul used the word, it was understood that in included obedience to the will of God. (Romans 6:3-4, 17; 8:1-8; 10:1-2, 9-10; 16:25-27) When James was talking about faith he was saying what some called “faith” was in reality dead. That is, not really faith in the true sense of the term. Because God’s will not being fulfilled in obedience. Paul taught works of merit (in the context of the kind of approach under the Law of Moses) are excluded. James taught acts of obedience to God are included. He of course pointed out how this was demonstrated in the lives of Abraham and Rehab. They did not earn, they did not merit justification from God based upon what they did. But they acted, they worked, they carried out the will of God.

    So I think we both agree that the New Testament teaches that faith includes acts of obedience (i.e., works of faith) By the way, Jesus even called “faith” a work in John 6:28-29.

    I guess we are just disagreeing over “semantics”, but I think we both agree in the same thing. Properly understood we are saved by faith. (i.e., if understand, alone/only, nothing else) But we are not saved by ‘faith alone/only” as many understand faith. Therefore, I personally choose to not refer to it in those terms.

    Robert Prater

  4. Defining “faith” from a biblical perspective is not a one step process. Depending upon what book of the Bible we are reading, our definition would be nuanced. For example, the Gospel of Mark’s definition would certainly differ in some ways from the definition would get from a book like Galatians just as much as we would find some differentials by reading the Psalms. Another words, if Webster’s Dictionary was using the biblical definition of faith the entry would read something like: “Faith” 1)… 2)… 3)… 4)…, etc…

    This does not mean that their are not paralells running in each book. But it does mean we cannot just take a simple textbook definition and read it into every place the Bible uses the word ‘faith.’ Yet this is what seems to happen in most conversations among confessing Christians. One takes the nuance James 2 offers us while another takes the definition Ephesians 2 gives us. And around and around we go, never resolving our differences of understanding.

    Grace and peace,


  5. Robert,
    If you look at faith it is more than a statement of belief or even obedience; it is transformation. If you look at the works James speaks of in context they are not religious rituals or acts of piety or the work worship and organization of the church. They are acts of love like feeding the orphans and the widows and visiting those in jail and so on. Acts that are only done by a transformed heart, acts that many sincere religious people will never do. The true mark of faith is personal transformation. Maybe this may clear some semantics.

  6. This “Robert” is going to propose that “Joe” is addressing his comments to that other “Robert”.

    Robert Baty

  7. Robert,

    I suppose if you object to the terminology of “faith only” because of the way it is misused in Calvinism” then we should also object to “baptism is a work” because it is misued by many to denote an action we work in respose to God. I see Jay as promoting the Biblical concept of how aith saves us just as you have promoted the Biblcal concept of baptism as something God does.


  8. Robert,

    It’s good to see that we are in substantial accord. In the next couple of posts on the topic, I’ll take on James, but not to disagree with you. It looks like we’re in agreement on James as well. I will get to baptism and faith before I’m done.

    As you note, baptism is God’s work, not ours. Therefore, it is a mistake (which I’ll be addressing) to speak of baptism as the convert’s work and get all caught up in the faith/work issue as though we must teach a works salvation to defend baptism. Many have bought the Baptist argument that baptism is a work and responded that therefore we must do works to be saved, resulting in great confusion as we read Romans and Galatians.

  9. I pretty much agree with the upshot of this post

    I’ve always thought this was a false dichotomy that had more to do with judging a given person/persons than criteria for salvation. I’m glad to see people here reconciling these things rather than being divided by them.

  10. Jay,

    Your point about the definition of faith is spot on. Definitions of faith are usually extremely truncated. One thing we rarely consider (and I’d be interested in either hearing your take or being pointed to where you’ve addressed it) is the possibility that our definition of “works of the law” is also sub-par (with a common definition being “trying to earn salvation”)..


  11. Jay and Joe,

    I think we are in agreement. Joe, I think you speak of faith more in terms and relation to the “santification” aspect (growing in our Christian faith), however, Jay and I were discussing the intial process of conversion/justification/salvation/forgiveness. There is a point in time in which we can be declared saved by God’s grace through our faith. I submit it is the kind of saving faith that is obedience (from the heart, i.e. Romans 6:17) to the commendments that God/Jesus has given in order to come into that saving relationship with God through the redemptive work of Jesus and His shed blood. Only after a person has believed in Jesus as the Son of God, determined to to repent (make the committment to change their mind & actions to be harmony with the will of God), confessed the sweet name of Jesus, and are baptized (immersed) in water, to we ever find int he Boo of Acts a person being declared or prononced forgiven/saved. Not before, but after. (Granted not every conversion case in Book of Acts specifically reference hear, believe, repent, confess, baptize), but enough do and they collectively by their example and other passages in the N.T., help us without doubt or question, have assurance that we are saved when we trusted in Jesus Christ and His saving blood and through our faithful obedience to His commandments, demonstrated our faith thus God saving us by His mercy and grace.

    I think we all certainly would agree that we find ourselves at times in a difficult position of having “unteach” what others have come to believe, but is not in accordance to the truth. Of course, we all have to do some “unteaching” from time to time in our faith.

    But particuarly the plan of salvation and what constitudes inital “saving faith.” Sometimes we like the early disciples have to “explain the way of God more adequately.” (Acts 18:27) So many denominations these days teach that one is saved before baptism, and that baptism is merely an, “outward sign of inward grace.” I for one, am committed to helping people come to know the falsehood of this teaching and in love, kindness and patience help teach them how the amazing powerful saving work God performs when we by faith are baptized into Christ. ” You’ll just never find me knowingly baptizing a person who doesn’t to the best that I can perceive, understand as the old saying went,” You’ve got to get in the water to get to the blood of Jesus.” I think must people are more than capable of understanding Colossians 2:11-13 and Romans 6:1-17 salvation terminolgy in connection with faith, baptism and the blood of Jesus. (cf. Romans 6:3-4; Gal. 3:27; Eph. 1:7; Matt. 26:28; Acts 2:38; 22:16)

    Robert Prater

  12. Robert,

    This is an engaging conversation and thanks for the time you are taking to put into it and especially that loving manner of your tone (that goes for all of us).

    The word “justification” is an interesting term. In Romans, it seems to be used both as a legal (forensic) metaphor and as a transformative metaphor. Typically in the CoC this term is used exclusively in the legal sense which we get from the Reformed Tradition (and who said we’re not Calvinist? :-)). That is, we use the term to describe the precise moment at which we are forgiven from sin.

    But is this limited legal use of “justification” acurate? I no longer believe so. While there is certainly a legal aspect to justification, there is also a transformative aspect to justification to the role of salvation and thus, in part, connects justification and sanctification as belonging together. First, in Romans 3.24, the word *dikaioumenoi* (justified) is a present-passive participle. The present tense is important because it strongly suggests that our justification ‘has and continues’ to occur. Another words, God has already justified us, continues to justify us and will justify us. The work of justification is ongoing. It is also important to note that the same verb is a present-active in v. 26 and is a present infinitive in v. 28. Secondly, the larger context of Romans suggests that justification is more than just about being legally declared “not guilty” of sin (the legal sense) but also with the over all redemptive goal of eternal life. See for a small example Romans 5.9-10, 17; 8.30-4; 10.9-13.

    In the larger context, justification appears to be about the transformative work of God’s redemptive activity for us in Christ. Thus I now understand justification to be in some sense part of being sanctified. God is not just interested in forgiving our sin but actually justifying us in our sinfulness so that even as we sin, we are acceptable (sanctified, being made holy) to God…which is indeed a mystery.

    How does this relate to faith (which in Romans assumes both trust and obedience. See for example Romans 1.5 which the NRSV acurately translates “obedience of faith”)? No one can read Romans and expecially these passages and separate the role of faith from the work of God’s justification. But I would call us back to the example Paul gives of Abraham in chapter 4. Does Abraham trust God? Yes! Does Abraham obey God? Yes! But when does justification occur in Abraham’s life, before or after he obeyed? Paul’s answer is before (and it is interesting to note the frequent use of the Aorist tense in this chapter). Whether circumcision should be equated with baptism at this point is irrelevant. Paul is not trying to negate the role of trust and obedience but Paul does appear to be trying to exclude the notion that God’s work of justification is dependent upon us (our understanding, our response in the sequence of time, etc…).

    That is why say we miss the point when we say our salvation depends upon this, this, this, and this… or ask the question of at what precise point does our salvation occur in relation to this, this, this, and this… We need to be obedient and do this, this, this and this (the commands of God) and simply trust that God will do as he promised regardless of what time sequence the work of God unfolds in relation to our faith. Does that mean someone can be saved without obedience? My answer to this question would depend on whther we are talking about rebellious disobedience or the lack of obedience due to the lack of understanding (something we all have at some level). The former is an absolute “No!” while I would argue that the former does have salvation because even in spite of their lack of obedience based upon ignorance, they still trust in God and respond to God in obedience as best as they know how.

    So, what about Baptism… I believe baptism is essential to salvation. I also believe there will be people who will be saved even though they have not fully participated in biblical baptism (including us…since none of us fully understand baptism). Baptism is part of our response to the work of jusification God has brought about in us back on the cross of Jesus and the work of justification God will bring about in us when Jesus comes again. As to whether one can be saved without baptism, I would answer the question in the same manner I answered the question of whether someone can be saved without obedience. This is main reason my my definition of who is a Christian/Saved-Person belonging to the body of Christ has gone from being at one time exclusively limited to the CoC to now a much wider constinuency of confessing disciples of Jesus Christ.

    Whether you or anyone else will agree with me or not, you should know that my conclusions have been reached because of my biblical studies rather than the lack of. Could I be wrong? We all can be wrong. So that is why I will continue to study and why I continue to have an interest in dialogues such as this.

    Your brother in Christ,


  13. Once a true faith has been established in the heart of the repentant sinner, works are inevitable. Baptism becomes a burning desire, as does anything we can do to show our devotion and love to our Savior. I got a call Thursday am from a fellow who said, after 2 years of being ministered to, “What do I need to do to be Baptized? ” The scales had fallen away and he will do whatever it takes to follow the example of his Lord, and the commands of His Faith.
    We may discuss all the day, but the Holy Spirit convicts. Praise God.

  14. Yes, Praise God!!!


  15. Jay,
    My response to “faith only” advocates who use verses like John 3:16 or Romans 10:9-10 is that there really is a larger context that gets shrowded by the chapter and/or verse divisions. Remember Paul didn’t write in chapters and verses. It makes more sense to see that, along with John 3:16, there is also a John 3:5 (and make no mistake, Jesus’ statement here is an ultimatum!). In the case of Romans 10, remember what Paul has already covered in chapter 6. Paul didn’t intend to have these salvation topics to be mutually exclusive to one another. It’s clear that these passages do not contradict, they harmonize.
    I totally agree that in CofCs we have shot ourselves in the foot with the James passage as one of the proof-texts. It doesn’t take but two seconds for our baptist friends to fire back with Eph. 2:8! I found that out the hard way early on in my own ministry.
    My focus on baptism has shifted from the “works” view to a “response” view. Yes Jesus did all the work on the cross for my salvation, and in baptism, He is the one operating (working) on me by cutting out my sins. But a response is still required nonetheless.
    The calvinistic idea that you don’t have to do anything contradicts a “sinner’s prayer” approach just as much as it would baptism. In all honesty, baptism is even more passive than saying a prayer or asking Jesus to come into your heart! Baptism is done to you. You are allowing the saving grace of God to do it’s perfect work. Thank you for the post on these observations.

  16. Some more thoughts regarding baptism and salvation…

    I agree that too often in the 20th century CoC, baptism has been presented as our work when in fact it is God’s work in us. The majority of Evangelicals who have been shaped by the Reformed Tradition have tried to defend a “faith only” position meaning that nothing was done on the part of the believer to receive salvation. Yet the frequent use of the sinner’s prayer is self-contradictory to the typical “faith only” position, for offering a prayer is doing something (and most Evagelical presentations of the gospel say something to the effect of “all you need to do is pray this prayer…”).

    While I believe we in the CoC have pressed the baptismal relationship to salvation to a point that is equally incongruent qith scripture as the typical Evangelical position that supresses the baptismal relationship to salvation, it is entirely proper to point back to our baptism as that decisive moment when the hope and promises of God transformed our life. Interestingly this baptismal event of God’s grace is reflected both in the contemporary praise song “What the Lord has Done in Me” (Rueben Morgan , Hillsong Music, 1998) and the classical hymn “Come Holy Spirit, Dove Divine” (Adoriram Judson, words, 1832; H. Percy Smith, music, 1874; I believe this is originated among the Lutheran Church). The former has gained some popularity in contemporary worship among us. The later hymn is, too my knowledge, almost unknown among the CoC but it is #427 in the “Songs of Faith and Praise” hymnal.

    Grace and peace,


  17. Lanny,
    Thanks for sharing. I might suggest that the “calvinistic idea” you refer to is not Calvinistic. I suspect there are just as many folks in churches with an Arminian background that teach it as do folks in churches with a Calvinistic background. I would suggest the notion is neither Calvinistic nor Arminian, but simply a not very well thought out idea.

  18. point well taken

  19. Rex,

    I too am thankful and appreciate this good discussion and the tone and Christian spirit in which it is being conducted, even though we do have some disagreements among us, some in my view, are serious in nature. But we are still “brethren.” And in the end, maybe after all, the Lord knew what He was doing with this little thing called “autonomy” in the local congregation:;lol!! But, let’s have a little fun here in our discussion of when Abraham was justified by faith and Genesis 15:6 and Romans 4:22. Jay, Joe, or anyone else can “jump in” the discussion and study. Some of this material comes from an exegetical paper I recently did from a class I’ve taken from Genesis with Dr. Shank in my Master’s class at OC.

    Rex, just like your comparison with circumcision and baptism in regard to salvation, I once again don’t quite agree with your interpretation and understanding of Genesis 15:6/Romans 4:22 and when Abraham was justified. I don’t think your answer that Abraham was justified when he believed the Lord and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness, which is recorded in Genesis 15:6 is being handled correctly. Now, certainly Paul’s use of this text in defense of justification by faith apart from works in Romans 4 and Galatians 3 confirms that Genesis 15:6 was about of this. But, I’m convinced, as is from what I understand from surveying many of some of the greatest theologians and scholars that Abraham was indeed already justified prior to the events recorded at the beginning of Genesis 15.

    From what I’ve read, the form and construction of the Hebrew verb in Genesis 15:6 strongly suggests that this was not the first time Abraham believed; rather, faith was Abraham’s “characteristic response to God.” That is, this was not the recorded Abraham’s first act of genuine faith. It seems like most Hebrew scholars believe that the independent imperfect and the perfect verbs used are often “semantically equivalent” and are used to convey “modality, frequentatives, or futurity.” Therefore, the “frequentative” is the most likely meaning in this context. The idea would be something like, “And he kept on believing the Lord.” The grammatical evidence, then, suggests that this was not Abraham’s first act of faith, and consequently not the point of his justification.

    Now, yes, while it is true that the first mention of the word for faith in the Bible is not until Genesis 15:6, the act of faith is clearly present prior to that. From the very beginning of the account of Abraham’s life, the Scripture records his devotion to the Lord and his response of faith to all that the Lord promised him and asked him to do. The continual pattern of Abraham’s life for the first ten years of its recorded history was radical obedience rooted in a deep trust in God.

    Removing all doubt, Hebrews 11:8 makes clear that Abraham’s faith in Genesis 12 was genuine faith: “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.” The author of Hebrews, in setting forth examples of faith to be followed, intentionally begins the story of Abraham with Genesis 12, when he “by faith” obeyed the Lord, believing His promises to him to be reliable. Had Abraham still been an idolater (cf. Joshua 24:2) and his faith something less than genuine, surely the author of Hebrews would have cited Genesis 15 or some point later in the narrative as the start of Abraham’s exemplary faith.

    If we conclude, then, that what Abraham had prior to Genesis 15 was genuine faith in God and His promises—which is where all the evidence points, it seems we must also conclude that Abraham was justified prior to Genesis 15. Thus, I reject your use of Romans 4 and Genesis 15 to demonstrate that God somehow justified on the basis of “faith alone” without acts of obedience. (Now, I hope we’re not guilty of reading NT theology back into the OT. I grant that the OT does not explicitly connect justification to the first act of faith. But I think the burden of proof lies on the one who would suggest that justification does not take place when genuine faith first exists)

    Again, as confirmation (they don’t prove anything of themselves) to the above conclusion, it is nice to know that virtually all the commentators and theologians that I have come across who deal with the issue are in agreement that Abraham was justified by the events recorded at the beginning of Genesis 12. (Luther, Calvin, Brakel, Spurgeon, Brueggmann, Palmer, Robertson, Vickers, etc defend a Genesis 12 justification)

    Here’s a sampling:

    Robertson said: “The fact that this declaration concerning the faith and resulting righteousness of Abraham comes at this particular juncture does not imply that now for the first time he believes and his faith is reckoned to him for righteousness. To the contrary, he continues in a state of faith and its resulting righteousness. But the placing of this declaration of righteousness at this juncture of the patriarch’s life underscores the fact that nothing has been added to faith as the way to righteousness.” (“Genesis 15:6: New Covenant Expositions of an Old Covenant Text,” 266-67)

    Origen said, “Was Abraham justified just because he had the faith to believe that he would be given a son? Or was it also because of all the other things which he had believed previously? . . . Before this point, Abraham had believed in part but not perfectly. Now, however, all the parts of his earlier faith are gathered together to make a perfect whole, by which he is justified. (Commentaries in Epistulam ad Romanos, ed. T. Heither (New York: Herder, 1990–95), 2:166–168 cited in Gerald Lewis Bray, ed., “Romans 4:3,” Romans, vol. 6, ACCSNT, ed. Thomas C. Oden (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1998), 111.

    Allen P. Ross says: “Genesis 15:6 provides an important note, but it does not pinpoint Abram’s conversion. That occurred years earlier when he left Ur. (The form of the Heb. word for “believed” shows that his faith did not begin after the events recorded in vv. 1–5.) Abram’s faith is recorded here because it is foundational for making the covenant. The Abrahamic Covenant did not give Abram redemption; it was a covenant made with Abram who had already believed and to whom righteousness had already been imputed. The Bible clearly teaches that in all ages imputed righteousness (i.e., salvation) comes by faith. (Allen P. Ross, “Genesis,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, p. 55)

    Brain Vickers says: “When Paul chooses to include Abraham in Romans, he is not simply using a handy example that just happens to support his argument, nor does he merely use Genesis 15:6 as a proof text. While Genesis 15:6 is not, as we will see, the first time Abraham believed, and subsequently not the time of his, so to speak, conversion, it is a pivotal moment in the biblical narrative. (Jesus’ Blood and Righteousness: Paul’s Theology of Imputation, 72-73)

    The reality seems to be that Abraham characteristically (not perfectly) responded in faith and obedience from the beginning of the narrative in Genesis 12 until his death in Genesis 25, and I submit that he was justified by his faithful trust and obedience in God and His Word. Thus, we find a parallel for us when dealing and discussioning conversion in the NT and being saved by faith. Abraham’s actions in Genesis 12–14 were acts of faith and obedience. Abraham’s response in Genesis 15 was no more a response of faith than his responses of faith in 12–14.

    Something for you to think about.

    So, Rex, I still submit to you that Paul’s point of using Abraham is simply an example of being justified by faith and not by works of law and is not dealing so much with the exact precise moment of when he was justified. I just don’t think we hvae an exact parallel. (Obviously we don’t) I would personally probably argue it was in Genesis 12. Remember, Paul quotes (with slight modification) Genesis 12:3 in Galatians 3:8 and says that Abraham had the good news preached to him, which—he believed.

    What many scholars argue for is that the language of God’s reckoning as righteousness is perhaps used as “non-conversion language.” Paul’s use of Genesis 15:6 in Romans 4:22, where he says, “Thefore, it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” is connected to Abraham’s faith in Genesis 18, which is post-conversion for both the Genesis 12 and Genesis 15 views. Many argue on this basis that God reckoned Abraham’s subsequent faith as righteousness as well. This would mean that God’s reckoning righteousness need not be connected merely to conversion, but to faith as often as it is exercised throughout the Christian life. This is essentially the point Calvin makes. That is, we always considered or reckoned righteous through faith—from start to finish. I think we would certainly all agree in this point in general.

    Now, back to my original point and proposition: according to the NT, there is a specific moment/time, when a person goes from being “dead in their trespasses and sins” to being “made alive with Christ.” It is my conviction and proposition that that moment is when the person in sincere faith, demonstrates its trust and belief by repenting and being baptized into Christ.

    Rex, I agree with you in general, that there is a transformative aspect to justication in the role of salvation. But, my point and proposition is that there has to be a point in which this justification/salvation/transformative process begins, does it not? I submit to you it is when a person in penitent faith is baptized into Christ. Thus, I disagree with you and believe yes, indeed there is a precise moment at which we are forgiven from sin. Furthermore, your position would seem to make the precise time of justification rather arbitrary or open to each individual person’s subjective “salvation experience.”

    And of course, I’m also not in agreement with you concerning not knowing the “time sequence the work of God unfolds in relation to our faith.” I believe the Bible teaches we can know.

    And I’m not in agreement with you and Jay and other more “progressives” in the church who argue people can be baptized and not know a thing about the purpose of it, except to be obedient. (i.e., accidental baptism) I know, I know, I know, you’re going to cite this promise and that promise that God gives us when we are baptized (become a Christian), and ask: Does a person have to understanding the meaning and purpose behind all of them? Yet, they still receive the promised blessings. But, you’re greatly mistaken on one major point here I think: Obedience to God includes also demands that the action be based on the right purpose. Obedience devoid of faith in what God has promised to do is not obedience to God. Acts 2:38 and other such baptism passages

    When we act for a certain purpose, we can open up a door to many other blessings. These blessings can be the result of the act without been the purpose of that act. The analogy has been given between a man getting married and the person being baptized. Like the man getting married, the one being baptized has to know only what is necessary to enter into that relationship and act for that purpose. By doing this, all the blessings of baptism, whether understand or not, will be available to the person as they grow in their faith and understanding.

    Cecil May. Jr., rightly observed, ‘The question is not whether one must understand ‘for the remission of sin’ rather than ‘to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’ It is whether one must understand ‘for the remission of sins’ rather than ‘because sins are already remitted;’ ‘into Christ’ rather than because I am in Christ;’…..For one to be baptized believing salvation has already occurred nullified every Biblical purpose for baptism.” (The Purpose of Baptism and the Rebaptism Question, Magnolia Bible College Preacher Talk 8, February 1991, 3)

    It is in baptism where our sins are washed by the power of the blood of Jesus. (Mt. 26:28; Rom. 5:6; Acts 2:38; 22:16) Christ died to shed His blood for our sins. Where can I contact this saving blood? In His death, which Paul states is accomplished in baptism. “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” (Romans 6:3)

    Does Christ’ blood cleanse those who are not in Christ? The answer is simply either yes or no. If no, then please tell me when the Bible states a person come “into Christ.” I submit it teaches it is in baptism, and not a moment before. Paul says we have redemption through His blood, but that it is only “in Christ.” (Eph. 1:7) Baptism is the transitional act that puts one into Christ and into His death where His blood was shed for our sins. Paul said when we are baptized into Christ we “have put on Christ.” (Gal. 3:27) This shows that a sinner does not get into Christ and into His death before they are baptized.

    I plead sincerely and humbly (as I’m sure you do as well) but with conviction in my heart to invite every person alive who I come in contact with to study God’s Word to see if they have become a Christian according to His way. People’s souls are at stake here so it should be of great importance for them to search the scriptures to see what is truth and what is error. (Acts 17:11; 1 Thess. 5:21)

    Sincerely your brother in Christ,
    Robert Prater

  20. Robert,

    Thanks for your loving engagement. Right now I only have time to read what you wrote but check back in a day or two and I will make a loving response.

    Your brother in Christ,


  21. Robert,
    Please consider this.
    17It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, 19through whom[d] also he went and preached to the spirits in prison 20who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge[e] of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.
    “Not the removal of dirt from the body”. This means to me that it is not just about getting dunked, it is not a religious ritual or act, but a symbolic of a pledge.
    The pledge of a good conscience toward God; this means to me that if we decide to be physically immersed it is out of a sincere faith in God and pure mind not set of religious rituals to complete in order to get saved.
    Dunking without this sincere conscience toward God is nothing more than a bath without soap. Also the idea that someone is forgiven all their sin just because they got dunked is a cheapening of the grace of God. Thousands have been dragged to the baptistery only a few real disciples have been made pledging their minds and bodies to God. To me Robert when someone pledges their conscience toward God that is the day of salvation regardless of their age, depth, time or type of dunking. Otherwise you have a list of five religious one time rituals that someone can do through and never pledge their conscience toward God. We must not continue to separate salvation and discipleship this has cost us dearly. Salvation is not only an immediate moment but a process of spiritual transformation. If we don’t see it that way then we risk becoming mere sacramentalist.

  22. Joe,

    It grieves and breaks my heart that you feel like you do about what your perceive churches of Christ are saying about baptism. I’m also saddened that you say and take such unscriptural views of baptism. Jay, I think it further demonstrates the concerns that Phil Sanders and Greg Tidwell raised with you. We have men, preachers in the body of Christ who no longer hold to the truth (in our minds/conviction) concerning baptism and salvation. I really do fear, and hope I’m wrong, but this will more than likely ulimtaely lead to the complete separation and division of many (not all) progressive and far left liberal churches of Christ and preachers from those of us more moderate/middle of the road conservative ones. I’m afraid baptism will be the proverbial “straw that breaks the camel’s back.” I think we are there much sooner now than later. Some of Rex’s (sorry Rex, you know I love you), but mostly Joe’s recent comments illustrate such when it comes to teachings and views seemingly against the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. There seems to be a great deal of (if we can borrow Atchley terminology) both/and being said lately. Salvation both without baptism and with baptism.

    Joe has expressed it in his own words. Joe, even though I profoundly disagree with you and believe when you teach such a view about baptism, you are teaching false doctrine and leading others astray, in this forum, I at least appreciate that you have shared your convictions. And make no mistake about it everyone reading this blog, Joe did: Joe said: “if we decide to be physically immersed it is out of a sincere faith in God and pure mind not set of religious rituals to complete in order to get saved.” If I’m reading and understanding that last part correct, Joe is saying that baptism is not necessary and connected to salvation. That is, we aren’t commanded (i.e., required/obligated by God) to do it in order to be saved. Joe said, “To me Robert when someone pledges their conscience toward God that is the day of salvation regardless of their age, depth, time or type of dunking.” Your last statement is also most interesting, ‘regardless of…….type of dunking”, I’m assuming your referring to sprinkling/pouring verse immersion?? Is it a both/and now?

    Now, Joe, you said, “also the idea that someone is forgiven all their sin just because they got dunked is a cheapening of the grace of God.” Who has ever said that? Please give examples? Name the preachers? Refer to the article or journal?? A person is not forgiven of all their sins “jus” because they “got dunked.” They are forgiven of all their sins because of the grace and mercy and blood of Jesus shed on the cross and the way that God has commanded/chosen to distribute His grace by “faith”, not faith/alone/only (i.e., mental assent), but when a person with sincere, genuine heart, believes in Jesus as the Son of God and Savior who died for them, is willing to repent of their sins, confess His name and be baptized into Him (into His death, where they have access to the saving blood), are saved. Do we “cheapen the grace of God’ by telling people the necessity to be repent? Belief? Confess? What is your objection to baptism??

    Joe, I wonder what your views are concerning Jesus statement in John 3:5 that a person cannot enter the kingdom of God unless/except he is born again. Aren’t born again people saved people? When do then people get “born again?” At the moment of mental assent/faith only? Or, when by genuine faith, having repented and confessed the name of Jesus are baptized into Christ for the remission of their sins?

    Again, Joe, your problem seems to not really with Churches of Christ, but ultimately with God. He is the one who has given the terms or conditions to receive His grace. God always has given His terms or conditions. Go back and study your Old Testament. His grace was never, unconditional. Never was and never will be. You just don’t seem to either like the terms of conditions or don’t believe in certain ones, like baptism. But Jesus still said, listen to the NAS wording, “He who has baptized (past tense–rp) and has been baptized (past tense–rp), shall be saved (future sense–rp).” Was the apostle Peter “cheeping the grace of God” when he taught his listens when they asked what they needed to do to be saved and he said, ‘repent and be baptized?” The Bible says, “they they that gladly received his word, were baptized…” (Acts 2:38, 41).

    And Joe, let’s please get off this “almighty horse” and self-righteous judgmental attitude that me or any other number of more conservative minded preachers are somehow teaching and preaching that all that matters is that a person just “go through the motions” and just “get dunked.” I have never taught or seen it done as you describe that we somehow are just “dunking without this sincere conscience toward God.” From what I teach and I have taught and have read about from so many preachers in the Lord’s church is just that, baptism is a “pledge of a good conscience toward God.” That is a straw man argument if I’ve ever seen or read one By the way Joe, can’t it be both as you like to refer to it “a religious act” and something done as a “pledge of a good conscience toward God?”

    The truth is, that a person in genuine, sincere, faith who has repented and is baptized, is in fact, “calling on the Lord” in the act of baptism. On day of Pentecost, Peter quoted Joel and said, “it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Peter told the people on the Day of Pentecost “how” to call on the name of the Lord—Acts 2:38; cf. Acts 22:16. You see, it is in the act of baptism, that the sinner who has heard the gospel, believed in Jesus as God’s Son, repented of sins, and confessed faith “calls” or “appeal” to God for salvation. (Col. 2:12) Never is a person told to “believe” themselves into Christ, “repent”, or confess, or prayer. (Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:26-27)

    Joe, again, because in baptism we call on the name of the Lord. “Arise and be baptized, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16) Baptism is like an action of prayer. In this action we call upon God to fulfill all promises which He has made to us through Christ. Such calling upon the Lord is essential to our salvation.

    Joe, I think I’ll let Bruce Oberst, in his commentary on 1 Peter from College Press, really answer your posting. He says about this part of verse 21, “a good conscience toward God”, he says: W.E. Vine states that the word is not here in to be rendered ‘answer.’ It was used by the Greeks in a legal sense, as a demand or appeal. The word is often rendered ‘seeking.’ The meaning is easily seen when his phrase is compared with the previous. The purpose of baptism is not to cleanse the outside. Rather, it is to gain a clean inside, that is, to gain or obtain a clear conscience toward God. Any true Christian can testify to the truthfulness of this verse in this own experience. When me met the blood of Christ in the baptismal waters by faith, and arose to walk in newness of life, his conscience no longer condemned him and the purpose for which he was immersed—to meet the blood of Christ—was fulfilled. He was ‘seeking” and he found! If you have not obtained a clear conscience in baptism, then it has not fulfilled its purpose in your life.” (Letters From Peter (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1979) p. 93-94.

    May God help us all only speak and teach the truth,
    Robert Prater

  23. Couple of corrections……one, yes I do love Joe also, but I know Rex. He and I went to Harding together about 10 years ago. And second, Atchley’s both/and was only applied to instrumental music not baptism. Although I fear it won’t be too long before it begins to be applied to other matters, and yes, that includes baptism.

    Robert Prater

  24. This is absolutely wonderful Robert. You build a very strong case for Abram being an idolater in Ur when God called him and he believed or had faith (knowledge, assent and trust) in God and was justified. I am both surprised and pleased to see your use of Calvin’s arguments among others as so many in the CofC seem to go out of their way to distance themselves from Calvin.

    I wonder if you are also familiar with Luther’s position as none of the reformers or “faith only” folks I am familiar with ever thought of faith as merely assent that something is true – it always included trust and thus was a faith that led the person to obedience. Luther was well know for saying things like “man is saved by faith alone, but not that faith which is alone” and “man is saved by faith not works, but by a faith that works.”

  25. Robert,
    I am confused by yoiur use of the words “progressive and far left liberal churches of Christ.” I believe my CofC pedigree is as good as any and better than most and I never met a far left liberal in there. A liberal denies things like the resurrection, the virgin conception/birth, the deity of Jesus, the inspiration of scripture etc. Do you know of churches of Christ that hold to these positions? I know you want to be fair in your characterization of those with whom you may disagree.

  26. Jay, I want to post on here in light of me, Rex and Joe’s discussion on baptism, if I can, the following below from Dr. Richard Oster, professor at Harding Graduate School that he wrote a few years ago for The Bridge. His scholarship and study have been a great blessing to churches of Christ. If you are searching for light on this topic you will find his article helpful as you seek God’s will for your life. If you are a minister or teacher of the Bible, you will profit from it.

    Thanks is given to Clyde Slimp, a friend and preacher at Lakehoma congregation in Mustang, Ok who posted it in his blog.

    God bless,
    Robert Prater

    Baptism and Forgiveness of Sins
    Dr. Richard E. Oster Jr.

    It is certainly no surprise that believers from every generation of the church have explored and debated the meanings of Christian immersion. In one form or another this doctrine has ended up on the desk of most great thinkers in Christian history. And it is certainly no accident that this has been the case since the baptismal experience is so often mentioned in the New Testament and is always joined to other central doctrines of the Christian faith.

    In all the discussions and debates about this doctrine one can find much that is out-of-step with the clear teaching of Scripture. This has been so since the beginning. There was clear confusion about God’s will regarding baptism in the first century. Luke records that certain of “the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by John” (Luke 7:30). In Corinth Paul had taught a baptism that united Christians, while some Corinthians taught baptism as a water that divided (1 Cor. 1:13-15; 12:13). The Baptists at Ephesus still had a “defective” baptism which required re-immersion (Acts 19:1-6).

    One of the perennial points of discussion about immersion in Christ is its relationship to the forgiveness of sins. Specifically, does this act, performed in faith and accompanied by the Word of God, lead to the forgiveness of sins? Or, does this act of obedience serve as a symbol, token, or a visualization of a spiritual experience which happened some time earlier, perhaps even months or years? If truth were determined by the voice of the people rather than the voice of God, then the latter perspective would surely be true. Most currently popular Evangelical leaders have opted to diminish the central significance given to this spiritual experience both in Scripture and in the theology of their Protestant forefathers. Once one has located conversion and Christian salvation at the moment of the “Sinner’s Prayer,” a paradigm for conversion found nowhere in the Scriptures, then it is certainly awkward to try to find an integral place for baptism in the process of salvation.

    What evidence is there that the event of baptism looks toward salvation rather than backward to it? Or, to put it in other terms, what evidence is there that baptism looks forward to (“for,” “so that”) the remission of sins rather than backward to (“because of”) the remission of sins?

    The Greek prepositional phrase found in Acts 2:38 (eis aphesin harmartion) has been hotly debated by New Testament grammarians and exegetes because of its significance for this issue. It has been commonplace to find Baptist scholars arguing that the Greek preposition eis meant “because of” and that this prepositional phrase meant that baptism was “because” one’s sins were already forgiven. Generally speaking New Testament Greek scholars have found this line of reasoning and evidence linguistically unacceptable (M. J. Harris, “Prepositions and Theology in the Greek New Testament,” in The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, ed. Colin Brown. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1978, vol. 3.1187). Even now some Baptist scholars have refused to align their traditional Baptist view of baptism with this flawed linguistic argument about the meaning of eis (Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics. An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, pp. 369-71).

    This prepositional phrase located in Acts 2:38 is found four other times in the Greek New Testament and its meaning in these other verses sheds light, in my judgment, on the meaning found in Acts 2:38.
    1. In Matthew 26:28 one reads that Jesus’ blood was to be shed eis aphesin harmartion. Who would want to teach that Jesus died because mankind’s sins were already forgiven?
    2. In Mark 1:4 and Luke 3:3 one reads that John the Baptist preached a baptism of repentance eis aphesin harmartion. Who would want to teach that John’s message of repentance-based baptism was given because the sins of his Jewish audience were already forgiven? Would this not imply that forgiveness preceded repentance (cf. Luke 13:5)?
    3. In Luke 24:47 we find the Lukan statement of the Great Commission. There the Lord explained that repentance is to be preached to the Gentiles in his name eis aphesin harmartion. Who would want to teach that the Apostles preached repentance to Gentile audiences (=pagan) because the sins of the Gentiles were already forgiven prior to repentance?

    In light of the clear meaning of the prepositional phrase eis aphesin harmartion in these four other occurrences in the Greek New Testament, it certainly requires special pleading and a tendentious use of Greek grammar to miss the point of this prepositional phrase in Acts 2:38. The Apostle Peter is certainly putting baptism in the sequence of salvation and connecting it with the redemptive blood of Christ. Martin Luther captured one aspect of this connection between baptism and the blood of the Messiah when he noted that Christ’s “blood, with its merit and power, has been deposited in Baptism so that men attain it there. For the person who is receiving Baptism in faith is in effect actually being visibly washed with the blood of Christ and cleansed from sins” (What Luther Says. A Practical In-Home Anthology for the Active Christian. St. Louis: Concordia Press, 1959, p. 46, no. 128).

  27. Robert,

    I appreciate bringing your research from Genesis into the discussion. There is a part of me that misses the academic research and writting (do I need help or what?:-)). I love the book of Genesis but I am not familiar with the research you are talking about but more on that in a moment.

    I wish you could have been a fly on the wall for a conversation I had with a Christian friend of mine from a Reformed-Tradition church a year ago. He wanted to take the position that baptism was irrelevant to salvation and especially becoming a part of God’s redeemed people (don’t assume his position represents all of the Reformed tradition). Naturally, he wanted to dance around Acts 2.38 (and other passages). I told him that there is no way to get around the prepotitional phrase “for the remission of sins” which looks forward to the remission of sins just as much as it does in the other places where that exact phrase occurs.

    As I see the problem, people of his persuasion want to dance around passages like Acts 2.38 because to accept them as is along with their baptismal/salvation theology would be like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. But the same problem occurs on the extreme other side (represented by your views) with passages like Romans 4. I fully agree that obedience cannot be separated from faith. A healthy (sound) reading of the biblical narrative shows that faith is a trust so deep (often in the most challenging of circumstances) that the trust yeilds obedience against all conventional/secular wisdom. Such faith is the faith Abraham had. Paul’s point is not when Abraham’s faith began but that justification/righteousness was credited to him BEFORE his faith resulted in circumcision.

    Now before I go any further, let me make clear a couple of things I think you are misunderstanding me on (which is perhaps my fault and not yours). I am not fully convinced that circumcision and baptism are equals. I simple think Colossians 2 makes it a possibility. More probable is the equation of circumcision to the Holy Spirit. Under the old covenant, circumcision was the sign that one was part of a covenant with God. Where as in the New Covenant, the Holy Spirit is the (sphragizo) sign/mark (Eph 3.14). The Holy Spirit is also the promise and presence of God’s salvation upon people, which gets real interesting in the book of Acts since we have one group of people receiving the HS along with baptism (Acts 2.38), one group prior to baptism (Acts 10.44ff), and one group who must receive the HS from the laying on of hand after receiving baptism in the name of Jesus (Acts 19.4-6).

    Please know Robert that I have no interest in diminishing the practice and signigicane of baptism (believer’s immersion) from God’s gift of salvation. The point I am trying to make and with Romans 4 (which by the way, historicall is written to address pastoral circumstances that were not envisioned on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2) is that God, in Christ, calls all people to faith. God discretion is to justify those who have faith. His discretion is not bound by when Abraham was circumcised or by when we were baptized. That fact does not negate the need for Abraham to be circumcised nor does it negate the need for us to be baptized. And for either Abraham to reject circumcision or us to reject baptism would be a rebellious act demonstrating the absense/lack of faith.

    For us, faith is a journey that we begin by recognizing sin in our life and renouncing it as we confess that Jesus is the Lord and Savior. At some point in that journey, we recognize that ultimately for us to renounce sin and live both under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and in the resurrected power of Jesus Christ, we must die to ourselves which leads us to baptism where we die and allow God to raise us into Christ (this is why I think we have do believers a disservice if we do not talk about baptism as a baptism of discipleship). Our journey is not complete, for its completion will only come when Christ returns. As we continue our journey we will face many more faith challenges from the schemes of Satan for which we will need to remind ourselves that we live by faith in God and have died (baptism) to the ways of this world and thus we should continue in the way of Christ.

    When our only question about baptism is at what point does God save us in relation to our baptism, we miss the bigger point. It really does not matter at what point…our job is to have faith in God that he will justify us from sin at whatever time he, in his discretion, chooses to do so. My fear, is that the question about what point we are saved is ultimately a mask covering up a faith in our own ability to get it right rather than to trust God and obediently live for God even if/when that trust and obedience is less than right (which is the case for us all).

    Since we both disagree on the issue of whether one must understand the proper meaning of “for the remission of sins” to have a valid baptism and are both equally aware of the issues, I will not go into that with you except to say…I hope you are right. Because, by your own argument, if your get to the day of judgment and discover that your understanding of “for the remission of sins” has been wrong or less that perfectly accurate all this time then you are, in effect, saying your baptism was invalid and therefore are lost. But does that not place the burden of faith upon your own ability to accurately exegete one particular scripture?

    Also, I would not label being baptized for the mere reason of being obedient as an “accidental baptism.” When I lived in Ithaca, I met reguarlly with some other conservative (in the theological sense) pastors from a variety of Christian fellowships. No we did not agree on everything regarding the nature and purpose of baptism but one thing I learned form then was that baptism was not treated in a trivial or accidental manner. One person, who had some prior contact with someone from a CoC (and a bad one) was appauled by what he viewed as a reduction of baptism to being nothing more than getting a ticket to heaven (he was equally appauled at how popular Evangelicalism has reduced the gospel to the same level though the use of the sinner’s prayer). Now I assured him that most in our fellowship would not reduce baptism to such a shallow level. But my point is that he, along with the others, did take baptism seriously even if we did not all agree on its nature and purpose.

    Any ways…Thanks for the conversation and dialogue Robert. We do have some disagreement. You think I misunderstand the doctrine of salvation as it relates to faith and baptism. I, on the other hand, think you misunderstand. We both think we are right and we both have our reasons for thinking so. We both also know that we are still learners. I hope and pray that your errors and my errors are never a cause for division, for you are my brother in Christ and I would still gladly join you in places like Arkansas or Brazil to preach the good news of Jesus Christ to those who do not know of Jesus (and I did learn something from you in Brazil but that is for another story).

    Grace and Peace! Your brother in Christ!


  28. Randall,

    I do want to be fair in my characterization of those with whom I disagree. But many times, its the old, a liberal is liberal until you try to call him one. In my judgment and defintion, liberalism, yes, when we think about it in the larger “Christian” context in the denominations and religious schools, is defined mainly by a denial of things like the resurrection, the virgin conception/birth, the deity of Jesus, the inspiration of scripture.

    However, in my judgment and concern, those more on the far left, who by the way, many of them are self described as “liberal and progressive”, who are denying the authority and teachings which are behind, the words of Christ and apostles and their commandments, I think that in the context of the Lord’s church, in churches of Christ, liberalism also includes false teachings and practices concerning unscriptural worship, organization, women preachers, instrumental music, the Lord’s Supper, pemillennnialsm tendency (new earth/remodeled) denial reality of eternal hell, and in Joe and I’s discussion, the nature, purpose, mode and neccesity of baptism.

    And what makes you think, that compromise in these areas, won’t lead to more compromises in the others? Have you not noticed that most of the mainstream denomations/community/church growth movement is getting progressively more and more liberal in those areas. I mean, we’ve got in some instances, preachers like Billy Graham who know will not affirm without question that God will only saves those who have a personal faith and relationsihp with Jesus Christ. Go check out one of his last Larry King Live interviews. And he also made such comments with Robert Schuller. I think many of us in the churches of Christ most wake up and be able to “understand the times” and the direction which many are going.

    Now, of course, not everyone who compromises on instrumental music or women preachers or even baptism, will necessarly end up denying the virgin birth, inspiration of Scripture, homosexualtiy as sin, etc. but many are doing such in many groups outside the body of Christ. The pattern seems to be in that direction.

    By the way, you might have noticed that Jay in his response to my views concerning salvation issues and matters of fellowship, rejected my belief that Some error attacks the credibility of the Bible as an infallible revelation from God. He responded: “We are saved by faith in Jesus, not faith in the Bible. And the earliest Christians were saved without any position at all on the credibility of the New Testament, as it hadn’t even been written yet.” Humm. Interesting.

    There is a great debate going on right now about is the Bible, the final, complete, inerrant, revelation from God.

    I don’t know if Jay or you have noticed lately, but, there are a lot of people out there who are claiming to be delivering new Revelation or messages from God. Have you watch any TV preachers. Keep in mind, most of them are now considered respectable, mainstream.

    No, we look for no further Revelation from God–period!! If the Bible is right & correct what tells us– complete, final revelation of God, we’re not still looking for God to reveal messages to man! He’s already given it to us.

    Now, I’m not not concerned about modern day revelations becasue of the view of the personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which iby the way, are my view and conviction.

    Again, the reason is becasue there are NO such revelations any longer, whether they contridict or confirm what Scritpure teaches and says.

    Again, my problem with what Jay wrote, is not so much the objection to modern revelations that lead to contradictions of scripture (which of course I agree with), but ANY SO CALLED MODERN DAY REVELATION, i.e., “the Spirit has lead me to belief” (not talking about after studying and meditating a passage), but separate and apart from it. “The Spirit has lead this on my heart………the Spirit has told me to come here and share this message with you…..so and so…” Let me tell you, we are already there in churches of Christ. I

    Joe Beam for example you ask for, has attempted for years to make a case for what he calls “anecdotal evidence “as proof of the direct and supernatural leading and working of Holy Spirit to reveal “information/knowledge” outside the Word. He likes to citie the council at Jerusalem in Acts 15 as an example of how the Holy Spirit operates today, Beam says they based their decision on anecdotal evidence. Beam, has taken this passage completely out of context and twisted it to suit his own theological speculations.

    In a lectureshp tape from Nashivlle Jubille, 96, Beam asserted that, “The Holy Spirit of God speaks to us not just through the Bible,” Relating a string of personal stories, Beam attempted to make the point that they constitute proof of God’s work today, as long as they don’t contradict the Word of God. But his plea for personal testimony falls short of proving anything. While he pays lip service to the Word of God, he denies its all­sufficiency by saying, “The Holy Spirit of God speaks to us not just through the Bible.”

    He then made this shocking statement:

    “For example, I was dealing with this couple one time, … and she just discovered they had thousands upon thousands upon thousands of dollars charged to credit cards she didn’t know they had…. As I’m driving over to meet them, not knowing how to handle that, knowing that I just had one shot, I just said, ‘God, would you give me the wisdom to know when either of them lies?’ I sat in front of them talking to them. The guy says something, I said, ‘Pardon me sir, but that’s a lie.’ He said, ‘What makes you think so?’ I said, ‘Gut feel.’ Then I thought, ‘No, that’s a lie.’ I said, ‘I may have finally sailed over the edge, but I believe God just told me that you lied.’ He said, ‘You heard a voice?’ I said, ‘No, it’s just this. I prayed to God to give me wisdom to tell me when you lied and I had this overwhelming sensation that you lied, so I’m believing God answered the prayer and you just lied to me.’ He talked for a few more minutes. I said, ‘You lied again.’ A few more minutes and I said, ‘You …’ This went on for an hour. Finally, after an hour, he said, ‘Okay. I’ll tell you what I did.’ He said, ‘I’ve been gambling. I’ve been getting money against cash … you know, cash withdrawals, go into these bars and drinking and gambling.’ And his wife, of course, it was all news to her. Her jaw fell open. She turned and looked at him. She said, ‘If you were in those bars drinking and gambling where there were women. You were with women.’ He said, ‘No, I swear, no women.’ She looked at me and she said, ‘Is he lying?’ I said, ‘No, my sense of it is he’s telling you the truth about that’ (The Holy Spirit, Nashville Jubilee, 1996).

    What Beam claims differs not in the least from claims made by Pentecostal preachers. He says his ability “to know when either of them lies” is “spiritual wisdom.” He claims to possess a miraculous gift surpassing gifts of the apostolic church.

    Beam attempted to give some elders an explanation in Western Oklahoma who asked him about this claim, Beam is reported to have said he was able to know the man lied because “the man got red in the face” That puts Beam on what some call “the horns of a dilemma.” If he was able to discern lying by physical phenomena, then he lied when he claimed God gave him the gift of discernment. If God gave him the gift of discernment, he lied to the elders when he told them he could tell by the man’s face. It can’t be both ways

    I heard Terry Rush preach one time out there at Tulsa Workshop, he just stopped and if you to know Terry’s style, in my judgment, is very “pentecostal/charmastic”, say, talkign to himself in the middle of his sermon”Wow! Great point Spirit!” and then he proceeded to “Tell us the point apparently the Holy Spirit just gave him.” The audience out there, ate it up, laughed and clapped!

    Speaking of more on Terry Rush, he for years has taught that the Spirit provides the Christian with direct divine revelation. Iin his awful book, “The Holy Spirit Makes No Earhtly Sense to Me, he declared on page 70, “Christians are led by the Spirit conclusively in that we are able to see secret signals.”

    Later on in his book, Rush teaches, in the doctrine of “Divine Illumination.” This false doctrine claims that a man cannot understand the Bible unless the Holy Spirit “empowers” him to do so by “opening” his mind and heart to receive it. Rush expressed, “It is my observation that without the Holy Spirit the Bible only makes earthly sense” (page 14). To this he added, “I am thoroughly persuaded that the Scriptures become nothing more than a book of ‘blah’ if we are not Spirit led” (page 14).

    And Randall, speaking of accepted definitions of liberalism, involving the virgin birth and the nature of Christ, Terry Rush, again, to many of us who grew up in the Tulsa area and stopped attending it years ago and know first hand, how division and destructive that thing has been, espeically for the Tulsa churches. Rush has been known to say all kinds of “crazy/biarzze things” at the Tulsa Workshop.

    Again, In his terribly theological and perverted book on “The Holy Spirit Makes No Earthly Sense to Me,” Rush seems to accept and put forth a form of the ‘Adoptionism’ heresy which holds that Jesus was merely a human during the early years of his life.” Although he at times attempts to buffer the full impact of this false doctrine, it’s hard to deny that Rush he teaches a form of “Adoptionism” (that is, between his birth and his baptism, Christ was nothing more than and was only a human being). Concerning Jesus, on page 28, Rush said, “He was emptied of being on the level…of the nature of the invisible God” On page 48, he wrote, “Jesus was totally human.” When Jesus was baptized, Rush stressed, “The Spirit moved toward the ‘Word-became-flesh’ and immediately it was declared that Jesus is God’s Son” (page 18). Hhe then seems to have reached a climax on page 124 with, “Jesus set the pace. He never misstepped. He was as common as a Missouri farmer. He was as good as a New England fisherman. And until he linked with the Spirit of the Father, he was only a man.”

    The repudiation of the deity of the pre-baptized Christ is as plain as it is shocking. And in my judgment, is very likely to so false and blatant as to become, “soul-damning doctrinal error.”

    Another preacher in the Tulsa area, influenced by the likes of men like Terry Rush, was fired over makin the claims that “The Holy Spirit’s work work is not limited to the effects of the words of the Bible on the human heart and mind. He works when, and where, and how He pleases, rather than according to predictable and fixed patterns.”

    I could offer more examples on this and other teachings, but I’ll stop here.

    God help us “watch out for thsoe who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have. Keep away from them. For such people are not servng our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.” (Romans 16:17-18 NIV)

    For Christ,
    Robert Prater

  29. Rex,

    Thanks for your kindly reply. Yes, we do agree on much. And yes we do disagree on some other matters here. I’m not where you are at in your understanding/perceptions on some of these matters. Yes, I love you. Yes, I only have the most fondest memories of our time together at Harding, in Brazil together and campagins. (You’ll have to share with me the Brazil story you mention:)lol)

    I believe in many ways, we could still work together. But we are clearly not on the “same page” on some, what I believe are important and serious matters facing and threatening churches of Christ. You are more self-described as “progressive” (if I’ve read you words right on such blogs like this). I am not.

    I’m thankful for blogs like Jay’s and the grace conversation blog that are attempting to engage in healthy conversation. We God help us all to be less “conservative”/”progressive” and more biblical. I think that is the goal of most al of us and will most bless the kingdom of God.

    So, we’ll keep discussing, debating (I’m sure of it) and growing in our faiths.

    May God bless us in teaching the truth to the lost and building up His church in the ways pleasing to Him.

    Until next time….

    Your friend and brother and Christ,
    Robert Prater

  30. Robert,

    Though I hate the labels of progressive/traditional in the way we use them in the CoC, I would fit in the catagory of progressive but that is where my journey with God and the scriptures has taken me.

    Any ways…about that Brazil story…there was a young woman/girl (maybe 19, 20, or so) whom I invited to study the Bible. In one afternoon we studied (in hind sight, I pounded here with all the ‘important’ scriptures) for a couple of hours and then she shaid she was ready to be baptized (which did happen later that evening). You voiced some concern that she did not appear ready to understand what becoming a Christian really meant. Of course, in my evangelistic zeal, I dismissed your concern full of excitement that this girl was going to hand her life over to the Lord. Well, do you know how faithful she has been since we left? Ricardo Maia (whom I still am great friends with) has only seen her once since we left and that occasion was her coming out of a bar very intoxicated. You were right! Knowing how her life proceeded after her baptism finally caused me to do some reflection on what I am doing evangelistic wise…am i just trying to get someone their magic carpet ride to heaven or am I trying to make disciples as our Lord told us to do? Any ways, since then I have discarded the “quick, I need to get them from John 3.16 to Acts 2.38 in one hour” bible studies in favor of consentrating on making disciples.

    Coincedently…if you remember, there was a man named Charles that sort of helped us all navigate the streets as his background was in street hustling…he was baptized while we were there…he is still a faithful Christian.

    Grace and peace,


  31. Rex,

    Thanks for sharing the Brazil story. I do think I remember that young lady. I think we are in complete agreement about the need to “make disciples” who are truly committed to the Lord and not just rush to get people “in the waters.” But, indeed, it is my conviction, that it is in the waters, when a person in faith, is baptized, tha the powerful blood of Christ then justified/saves and the beginning of a transformative life in Jesus begins. And must continue.

    So I do share your concern as well about “over rushing” baptism when people need some more time to be taught about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. Of course, every situation and circumstances around each person is different and takes on the need for special emphasis in certain teaching areas.

    Thanks again for sharing,

    Robert Prater

  32. Robert:
    Surprisingly this is not the first time I have been called a false teacher and so on. Do you know that no one has influenced my change in beliefs but only through sincere bible study and personal introspection have I studied myself out of the sacred Cow syndrome? My cofC pedigree goes back at least seven generations on both sides of the family. I have attended churches of Christ in almost all the lower 48 states and four foreign countries. Just because someone has not specially written something in a journal does not mean that it wasn’t understood. And just getting dunked was very well understood whether we want to admit it or not. It is interesting because when people from other denominations visit the churches of Christ it is the impression they get regardless of whether it is said verbatim. Do you really think that after the present ecclesiastical war is over that is going on the churches of Christ that there will be anything left? People are reading and studying for themselves like never before and they are changing their minds there is nothing that can be done to stop that they are actually seeking truth. I once thought and acted as you do. I don’t harbor contempt for those with whom I think differently. Nor do I look down on those who are sincerely in the so called traditional camp. It seem whenever you question someone they get all bent out of shape. It is interesting because the churches of Christ use to focus most of their energy on opposing the error from other denominations such at the Baptists and Methodists. My Grandfather who taught at Sunset for 18 years wrote a book in the mid 80’s called denominational doctrine exposed. In short it was about how the churches of Christ were right and all other denominations were wrong. Even though it never said that verbatim. Now that those in the traditional wing of the churches of Christ have realized that most of the denominations have turned a deaf ear to them; they are focusing their efforts on the so called false teachers from within. Many of the people in the non-traditional churches of Christ are now turning a deaf ear to those opposing error. So I wonder when what will the traditionalist wing of the churches of Christ do once no one else wants to listen to their opposition of doctrinal error? I once thought and acted as you do Robert which is why I have decided to continue this conversation. I thought about not responding a long time ago. I want to suggest a book for you to read it is called “12 steps for a recovering Pharisee”. http://www.amazon.com/12-Steps-Recovering-Pharisee-like/dp/0764222023
    You seem like a pretty nice sincere guy so please take this in a manner of love.

  33. Rex said
    ” Any ways, since then I have discarded the “quick, I need to get them from John 3.16 to Acts 2.38 in one hour” bible studies in favor of consentrating on making disciples.”

    Amen, this is what I am saying.

  34. Robert, what are your thoughts on the following false teachings within the Churches of Christ: calling something a sin that God has not called a sin (isn’t this adding to the Word of God?), passing judgement on fellow Christians and dividing from them when there is disagreement, demanding proper gnosis before one can be saved even if one has proper faith, denial of the Holy Spirit living within and exercising influence on the hearts of Christians.

    All of these are false teachings promoted by many who call themselves “conservative” Churches of Christ, but are easily provable as not consistent with what is written in the Word of God.

    The reason I have found the non-traditional Churches of Christ to be MORE scriptural than the traditional Churches of Christ is because they are WILLING to constantly reexamine their traditions against the Word of God. The traditional Churches of Christ, while trying to stick to the Word of God do so by extrapolation and relying on the writings of the uninspired.

    God bless.

  35. Alan,

    Thanks for the question. I appreciate you and your willingness to always desire to constantly reexamine everything we do and believe and only teach and practice what is in harmony with the truth of the Scriptures, which Jesus promised us we can know and believe. (John 8:32) I will attempt to address each of the matters you ask about.

    Now, time must always be people to grow and learn the truth. We also must be allowed to study differences and attempt to mutually arrive at the truth and there may be times, when both sides will not force their views/interpretations into the local congregation or worship assemblies. Unity is a product of two believing and practicing the truth (John 17:17) To the converse, division is the product of not believing and practicing the truth and even opposition to the truth, usually.

    In the local congregation, people who push to teach and promote teachings not taught in the Scriptures need to be confronted and dealt with in a loving, understanding and patience way. Like Apollos was handled. That goes for me, you and everyone! And if a person continues to persist to promote false teachings with are causing disruption in unity and division in the local congregation, he needs to be disciplined accordingly. (Titus 3:10)

    As for some of the issues you list and ask about, “calling something a sin that God has not called a sin (iisn’t this adding to the Word of God?)..” I think I know where you are growing and asking this question, espeically concerning instrumental music, right? I’m sure there are other matters in mind, but certainly this one, right??

    Let me ask you Alan: do you believe God has to specifically name every sin that we might possibly commit? Or does God give us His positive instructions/teachings/commandments, and then expect us to faithfully follow them and not adding or taking away from them?

    Sin is transgression of God’s law (1 John 3:4). Some sins are specifically mentioned, such as those in Galatians 5:19-21. While others may not be mentioned by name, anything that is in transgression with God’s law is sin, whether doctrinally or morally. Assurance of God’s grace and the blood of Jesus is giving to us if we continually strive to walk in the light, (1 John 1:7) which John says involves “keeping the commandments” (1 John 2:3-6). God doesn’t demand perfect obedience in order for us to be saved (thankfully!!), but He does demand our loving, sincere faithful obedience to strive to do His will. (Mt. 7:24-27; John 8:31)

    And God will judge and determine ultimately and according each person’s life and heart acccording to His word. (John 12:48). Fellowship may be one issue. God eternally judging indivdiuals is an entire different matter. We judge the fruits of obedience, that is what is in harmony with the truth.

    Let me give you a couple of passages to consider in this light. Notice Matthew 15:1-20, and Jesus had encounter people who were divided over the doctrines and teachings of men, during His personal ministry. The Pharisees came along and began to try to critize his own disciples because he wasn’t following some of their traditions. Jesus pointed out that these were traditions or religious services or rights, that had originated with men. (Matthew 15:9) Jesus is saying, “There’ trying to bind upon me, you, disciples that did not originate with God; they started with men somewhere.” He says in verse 15, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. He said in John 15, talked about abiding in Him and His Words (vs. 3-5), He says in verse 6, “if anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” Every teaching, doctrine or religious practice which does not originate with God is doomed to destruction. So, therefore, don’t hold onto something that God Himself repudiates or condemns. So, don’t hold onto a human name, human doctrine or practice in religion that God Himself repudiates or doesn’t authorize.

    Paul in Colossians 2:16-22 discusses similiar issues, holding onto teachings and doctrines which don’t come from God. He says in verse 22, “these are all destined to perish with use, becasue they are based on human commands and teachings.”
    Some of the early Christians were being pressed to practice certain things in their religion, similar to what Jesus was being pressed during His ministry. (cf. Col. 2:18-19, 22-23) Col. 2:23 refers literally to “will worship ” or will religious service; that is service that men want. But that don’t originate with God; therefore Paul says don’t have anything to do with them. He’s telling those Colossian Christians don’t submit yourselves to the principles and rules that are made by men in religion. It may sound good in the world and a lot of people may like it. But don’t submit to those things; there doomed to perish;

    Now, Alan, some would argue that if God does not tell us that we cannot do something, His silence permits us to do this thing. Now, we can discuss the silence issue another time. I certainly don’t base my entire theology out of the silence issue, nor do I believe that silence is always forbidding. But neither do I believe it always permits. But, nonetheless, for example some might say that God did not tell us that we can’t use roasted lamb and potatoes in the Lord’s Supper. Yet, when the Lord instituted it he gave the bread and fruit of the vine as the components (Matthew 26:26-30). Again, we must realize that we cannot add to nor take from what He tells us (Deuteronomy 4:2 and Revelation 22:18-19). The same person that would argue this statement would turn around and expect their children to obey their silence. For example when a parent tells their child to be home by 8:00 PM, the parent does not say “not 9:00, 10:00, 11:00, etc.” That parent expects their child at 8:00 because that was the order given. God expects us to do what He has said, nothing more and nothing less.

    Quickly you also mention “Demanding a proper gnosis before one can be saved even if one has proper faith..” It is my conviction that the action of proper faith demands that the action be based on the right purpose. Baptism is administered today for all kinds of reasons, some becoming a member of a denomination, some showing one has been saved, etc.) Certainly obedience to God is a motivation in being baptized, but obedience devoid of faith in what God has promised to do is not obedience to God.

    Also, I think your equating the denial of the Holy Spirit within and exercising influence on the hearts of the Christian separate and apart from the Word are not the same. I accept the idea that the BIble teaches that the Holy Spirit indwells the Christian, personally! Now do I believe that the Holy Spirit works only through the Word. Although, I would be very cautious without further explanation your statement about the Holy Spirit “exercising influence on the hearts of the Christians”, outside of the Scripture.
    Again, in affirming that the Holy Spirit dwells within the Christian is not the same as suggesting that He operates in some mysterious way directly upon the saint’s heart, outside of the Scripture. The role of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is not to give directoins, feelings or direct guidance. I also reject the notion that the Spirit “guides” or “illuminates” us in some way apart from the Scriptures.

    Now, I would add that concerning in the of the views about the manner in whihc the Holy Spirit indwells the Christian, all agree that the Holy Spirit exists, is apart of the Godhead (Deity) and He indwells in the Christian. We do differ over the nature and manner of that indwelling, and I have stated my conviction. I would agree that this issue we should not divide over.

    Yet, still, there are many ‘doctrines’ being promoted today which are false, unscriptural and which are leading people to lost by followin the teachings and traditions of men , and I believe we as Christians need to speak out against them.

    Of course, in all things it is important for us to treat one another as brethren, to discuss matters and ask questions if we have differences among us and seek to resolve them in peace and unity.

    Robert Prater

  36. Alan,

    Got a correction……I meant to say regarding the Holy Spirit, “I do NOT believe that the Holy Spirit works only through the Word…”

    Robert Prater

  37. Robert,

    I think one of our fundamental differences (and one that represents what is going on in the CoC’s) is the way we read scripture, specifically the NT. You appear to read the NT as a legal, constitutional-like, document that has fixed for all time and places the practices and restrictions by which the church adhere too. That is not meant to be a put down of you and your faith, just a clarification of your approach to scripture. I, on the other hand, read the NT as a collection of early Christian writings that bear witness to what God is doing in Jesus Christ which serve as a guide for how the church today lives out its calling but does not prescribe a uniform practice for which every congregation must adhere to in all historical time and culture.

    Now let me clarify two things. First, both approaches still hold scripture as truthful and authoritative. The difference is what sort of authority the scripture has (legal or missional). Secondly, the later approach (my approach) still believes there some practices that cannot be discarded (i.e., baptism, communion-fellowship) but it grounds these practices as indispensible in the gospel-life that Jesus lived out which scripture bears witness too.

    This is why I don’t share the same conviction as you when it comes to instrumental worship or how women serve in the life and ministry of the church. Now that does not mean I push every view I have regarding those issues and more upon every local church (when and if such views should be advanced upon churches is an entire different discussion).

    The difference is a hermeneutical difference. I realize that no person, Christian or not, can live without a hermeneutic (how we discern right and wrong) and neither can the church. Yet in one sense, I find it irritating that it is a subject called “hermeneutics” (which, even though that word is not in scripture, I find interesting) that causes so much division.

    Any ways…for those churches that do wish to read scripture as a legal document (especially in the literal sense), I just wish they would begin the practice of literal foot-washing since Jesus commanded it (Jn 13.13-17) and there is an example of the early church continuing this practice (1 Tim 5.10). I also wish they would literally greet one another with a holy kiss since the scripture does command that practice five or six times in the NT :-).

    I am having a little fun here too…

    Grace and peace,


  38. Robert,

    I believe God has specifically forbidden us to pass judgement where he has not. Romans 14:16 teaches us to not allow what we consider to be good tobe called “evil”. Certainly we cannot call good what God has specifically called evil, so this must be talking about where God has not called something evil. In other words, where God is silent. If God has not called something evil, we are not to allow it to be called evil. If we call something – anything – evil that God has not called evil then we are speaking where God has not, we are passing judgement where God has not, and we are violating this command.

    If we wish to fully follow God’s commands then we must also follow Romans 14:16 – “Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil.” I will obey this. Will you?

    God bless.

  39. Alan,

    Where has God specifically called abortion evil? Gambling? Drug use? Watching R rated movies? Having a Pope? Sprinkling? Praying to Mary? I could go on……must we have an express declaration of the Bible to know the moral nature and lawfulness of every action, sentiment or custom? Have we any such declaration as to the slave-trade or arson or gambling or obscene literature? And yet what mind enlightened by Scripture can hesitate to believe that these things are as forcibly forbidden by the Spirit and implications of the Bible as they could be by direct declaration?

    You seem to be guessing about what God has not said. You build your liberty on the assumption that silence does everything else but prohibit.

    And the idea that we are not to judge when something is wrong is likewise flimsy and inconsistent. Again, there is no specific prohibition of sprinkling, infant baptism, papal primacy, holy water, incense, gambling, or polygamy either. We judge these things wrong by taking heed of what God has positively told us.

    Let me illlustrate the inconsistencies of your thinking and to help prove my point than from none other than Rick Atchley and the Richland Hills Church of Christ.

    Rick Atchley, in his infamous “The Both/And Church” sermons he preached attempting to justify Richland Hills adding an instrumenal service. After he comes to the very end of his three-part sermon series attempting to try to prove that instrumenal music is justified according to the N.T. At the end of his sermon series, he comes to what he calls the “bottom line” of the issue. He says: “For all the emails I’ve gotten “The authority to forbid instrumental music must be established a part from a clear command of God. You can’t open your Bible and show me where God forbids it. He says, ‘All the emails I got from crities never mentions the verse where God says forbids or condemens instrumental praise, because it’s not there.”

    Bottom line, after all his arguments, he comes down to the old, worn out, denominational line and finally admits, “It just says you can’t do it.”

    Now, Richland Hills has produced a brochure (don’t know if Rich Atchley wrote it or not), entitled, “Does Anything Happen at Baptism?” But it is Richland Hills perspective on baptism. In that brochure, it explains that infants are not subjects of baptism for many reasons. It then reads: “Though these reasons are why we believe infant baptism was begun, there are many who practice infant baptism today simply as a dedicatory rite. We believe this also is WITHOUTB BIBLICAL PRECEDENT (emphasis mine-rp) and therefore, we do not practice it.”

    There is not one word in the NT of condemnation concerning infant baptism.

    Alan, think about it.

    Bottom line, God does not authorize of give His permission by what He does not say. God authorizes, requires, and gives persmission by what He says.

    “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name (i.e. authority-rp) of hte Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Col. 3:17NIV)

    Robert Prater

  40. Robert:
    “Bottom line, God does not authorize of give His permission by what He does not say. God authorizes, requires, and gives permission by what He says.”

    Then you must get rid of large expensive church buildings, high paid local preachers and all the other things that are not mentioned. Or risk becoming a hypocrite. Don’t try the expedient argument it is a straw man argument if I have ever heard one.

  41. Robert says:
    “Bottom line, God does not authorize of give His permission by what He does not say. God authorizes, requires, and gives permission by what He says.”

    Then you must get rid of calling something sin where God has not and give up passing judgement where God has not. God has never authorized or given us permission to call something a sin that He has not. God has never authorized or given us permission to pass judgement where He has not.

    God HAS commanded us to not allow what we consider as good to be spoken of as evil.

  42. “Bottom line, God does not authorize of give His permission by what He does not say. God authorizes, requires, and gives persmission by what He says.”

    To echo Alan and Joe, if this is true then we have some serious issues in our congregations. Church buildings (forget the kitchen/fellowship hall controversy), song books, pitch pipes, individual communion cups, two Sunday “gatherings” (Shouldn’t we be gathering daily?) are all potential problems, aren’t they?

  43. Joe,

    And now, of course, the “where’s the authority for church buildings, songbook, kitchens, etc. argument. Usually this argument is used when trying to liken church buildings (because they aren’t mentioned in Scripture) to instrumental music in Christian worship (because it is not in Scripture). It is a popular thing to do. But such a suggestion is like mixing apples and oranges. For example, instrumental music is like adding a “fourth floor to the ark,” when only three floors are specified. Church buildings are like the tools necessary to build the ark. One violates Biblical authority and silence, while the other does not. Why? Because when instructions are specific, they should be fulfilled specifically; and when instructions are generic, they can be fulfilled by the use of the most expedient means.

    In generic instructions, God grants permission for expedients (the means to do what He has instructed); but when God gives specific instructions, the addition of other things is a violation of God’s will.

    The use of expedients do not change the instruction. They are there to help people fulfill the instruction. The tools used to build the ark did not change the instructions, but they surely helped Noah. We don’t know what tools Oholiab and Bezaleel used in the construction of the tabernacle. They used many and used them as they saw fit, but Moses checked them out to see that they built the tabernacle according to the pattern. (Hebrews 8:5) Talking tools is one thing; changing the pattern is another.

    And so, nothing about church buildings, songbooks, etc. (I would argue contrary on supporting and paying a local preacher—it seems to be quite Biblical— (1 Corinthians 9:14) is done with them that is not within the scope of God’s will concerning the worship service. They do not set up actions in worship separate and apart from that which God has ordained, such as is involved in the use of instrumental music.

    God has commanded Christians to meet (Heb 10:25). He has not specified where to meet. They can meet under a tree, by a riverside, in a large building, in a private dwelling, in the daytime, at night, etc. No matter where they meet, when they meet to worship God according to the activities that He has designated (singing, praying, etc.), they are doing no more nor less than God’s will. They have not added anything; the building just aids them as a convenient place to meet. They have added nothing to the Lord’s command to meet. Same could be said about song books, pitch pipes, or any other of the typical arguments, which contrary to your view, are indeed “straw man arguments” that have been raised in the past.

    Anyway, I’m sorry you have apparently completly rejected the notion/concept of the expedient argument. So do you feel you must have any kind of authority to do what you do religiously? If you worship in a “large expensive church building” on Sundays, how then do you justify it??

    Robert Prater

  44. Rex, you are certainly right about you and I being different on how we view Scripture? The matter of authority gets to the heart and core of every issue that causes religious division. The issue separating you and I is are approach and interpretation Scripture (hermeneutics). First of all, let me say to answer your question about seeing Scripture as being a “legal, constitutional-like, document, that has fixed for all time and places the practices and restrictions by which the church adhere too.” Verses your view of “Christian writings bear witness to what God is doing in Jesus Christ, which serve as a guide for how the church today lives out its calling, but does not prescribe a uniform practice for which every congregation must adhere to in all historical time and culture.”

    Some of what we may be disagreeing over is a little “semantics.” You say po-tay-to, I say po-tah-to; you say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to.

    But, there is much misunderstanding on this subject by many. We tend to think that everybody else has a “legalistic view” of Scripture, but that we don’t. The subtle and difference you attempt to make between us is obvious, but one that fails to make any real sense or practically speaking, doesn’t hold up when tested. I mean, after all, if we establish a commandment or instruction from God to us, are we not obliged to believe and practice it?

    Many believe that to avoid legalism, one must be an antinomianist (a person without any law). Nothing is further from the truth. Neither will the casting off of standards free one from legalism, either by the way.

    The love of God emboldens His disciples. To actively keep God’s laws, in the spirit of the law as well as the letter. It is NOT legality or legalism for Christians to believe God through Christ and His inspired apostles and NT writers, has given “standards, commandments/guidelines, etc.” which are bound upon others to follow. We all surely believe that there are “commandments/rules/teachings/guidelines, etc.” that must be adhered too, right?

    Jesus Christ has become our new Lawgiver. He expects us to follow Him in wholehearted obedience. In Luke 6:46 He said, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” Understanding our freedom in Christ (Jn. 8:32, 36) is contingent upon understanding our slavery to Christ. Paul (Rom. 1:1; Gal. 1:10; Phil. 2:7; Tit. 1:1), James (Jas. 1:1), Jude (Ju. 1:1), Peter (2 Pet. 1:1) and John (Rev. 1:1) all gratefully acknowledge themselves as a “bondservant” of Jesus Christ. He is our Lord. He is our Master. As Christians we are commanded to do as He says. We have been set free to do as He says. Anything less robs our joy and fails to display our love for the Savior. “If you love Me, (Jesus said) you will keep My commandments” (Jn. 14:15).

    It just amazes me how so many people who have sought to abide by these expectations of Jesus Christ, can then be called by others legalist.” Instead of rightly encouraging them people in their Christian commitment, obedient saints are discouraged (by being wrongly critiqued as legalists) in their pursuit of doing what God desires.

    I fear that because of this massive false assertions within the church of Jesus Christ, many people are more afraid of being deemed “legalistic” than they fear displeasing the Lord by not being obedient to to Him. If we are filled and being lead by the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:16), we “must walk in the Spirit….” And not fulfill the “works of the flesh.” Our greatest goal should be (Colossians 1:10) to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” desiring daily to be conformed further into the image of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29).

    It is not legalism to view the New Testament as being our “guide”, instructions, and pattern what we do in the church. You say your view of Scripture is it is a guide” but does not “prescribe a uniform practice for which every congregation must adhere to in all historical time and culture.” What does that mean exactly? Are local congregations then free or left alone to “do church” however they desire?? Is any worship acceptable? Teaching? Organization? Morality?

    Actually, David in the Old Testament, knew the definition of God’s love. He knew the inseparability of love and commandment-keeping: “How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word. With my whole heart I have sought You; oh, let me not wander from Your commandments! Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You” (Psalm 119:9-11).

    And I do also agree with Cecil May, Jr. who recently said at Freed-Hardeman lectures, “To lovingly strive to please God by seeking his pattern in Scripture and to endeavor to live by it is not legalism. Legalism is the notion that we can save ourselves by our own doing either by being correct enough, believing all the right things or being good enough, doing all the right things.”

    Now, let’s talk about the church. What is the church supposed to be? There’s a never ending list of how to “do church” books. There are conferences, study guides, church planting manuals and on and on the list goes. When it comes to telling the church how to be the church, God has already written the book. The Bible as a whole describes everything we need to know. One of the best examples in this area would be specifically the pastoral letters where Paul gives instruction to us about church life. One of the key verses being 1 Timothy 3:15; “I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.” There it is, Paul clearly spells out his purpose as nothing more than to describe for believers how to “do church.” Rex, does Paul “prescribe a uniform practice for which every congregation must adhere to in all historical time and culture?”

    You remember the context I’m sure of this verse, in the fourteenth verse we find out that Paul intended to come and speak face to face with Timothy. Remember from chapter one that when Paul left Timothy in Ephesus he himself went on into Macedonia. Also in chapter one we see that he gave Timothy some basic instructions. But time has passed and while he intends to return to Timothy soon he also recognizes that he may yet be delayed further and yet it remains necessary that Timothy and the Ephesians church understand how it should act.

    Recognizing that the apostle believes he is going to be delayed should give us confidence in what he was writing. He really was taking the time to develop a proper instruction which could fill the void created by his absence. This letter therefore is super-important for the church. It really does contain the “church’s operating manual,” to some extent. Paul wrote this letter in order to make sure that the church knew how to “do church” correctly.

    Now, of course, there is so much more in this letter than a mere “instruction manual”. 1 Timothy is a letter to us about God’s relationship with us. And more than anything else – it is God’s relationship with us which not only fills out the content of this letter but which drives the application of it home.

    And of course, the single thread which ties together this all, and specifically the identification of the church body, the center of the detail of what the church is and does is first and foremost found in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The Gospel is the center of the church.

    Still, I wonder, if Paul had said these things to the church today, especially some of our progressive brethren, I wonder if he would no doubt be labeled a legalist?

    So, Rex, let me ask you a question: In light of Paul’ instruction to Timothy in chapter three (and Titus 1:5) about leadership in the church, does your view of Scripture being a mere “guide”, include the scriptural organization of elders and deacons being God’s “guide” for every congregation? What I mean then, are these just mere “guidelines” we can have and forms of spiritual organization instead of a plurality of elders shepherding each local congregation? Like I don’t know, let’s say, churches under earthly headquarters or centralize any of the work of several churches under oversight of one church or manmade institutions? Is that contrary to God’s will for the church? If so, why or if not, why not? My faith and conviction comes from understanding how the apostles, according to the New Testament, appointed elders in the churches they established (Acts 14:23), commanded their coworkers to do the same (Titus 1:5), designated the qualities of those who were to be appointed as overseers (1 Timothy 3:2-7; Titus 1:5-9), and often referred to them and to their work (Acts 20:17-38; 1 Peter 5:1-5; Philippians 1:1).

    These scriptures indicate this arrangement is neither incidental nor accidental. If a congregation looks for direction in the New Testament to see how to organize itself and its affairs, this is what it finds. It has to look elsewhere, outside of apostolic authority, to find any other arrangement. “Scripture is silent” on any other method of church governance.

    How about Paul’s argument for the roles of men and women in 1 Timothy 2, was it just a limited instruction or “guide” to use your words, that was only limited for the first century Jewish/Gentile culture and not for all time, for all congregations, in every location?? His argument seems to be based on God’s eternal truth (man was created first, Eve sinned).

    The reality is that the Bible is clear and consistent, and it is relatively easy, although not with every single issue or question, to see when a command is affected by the culture of the times by using good hermeneutical understandings. The Bible is to be trusted wholly, for it is the inspired, infallible Word of God. It provides detailed commands and principles to govern all the activities of the individual believer and the church.

    Of course, I admit and acknowledge that there will still be differences of interpretation, even between those who in the body of Christ who love and respect and want to sincerely follow and obey God’s Word, but this is a far cry from the confusion talked about by so many today.

    I guess much of this discussion comes to the issue of “patterns.” You and others seem to completely reject the idea and concept of Biblical “patterns.” Now, admittedly, “patterns” have been looked for and pushed too many times where no patterns exist. examples of that can be multiplied. On the other hand, even those who speak and write against patterns” recognize there are some patterns to be followed. At least, it is agreed, Jesus Christ is Himself our pattern of conduct. I think

    But I do believe in faithfully striving in love and sincerity to follow God’s patterns revealed in the NT. Dr. Jimmy Allen (one of our beloved professors from Harding University), wrote in his book on Survey of Hebrews, concerning Hebrews 8:5, “See that you make all thins according to the patter shown you on the mountain.” He says, “God expected his people to follow a pattern in Old Testament times. Consider how this truth applied to Noah in building the ark (Gen. 6:22), David and Solomon in constructing the temple (1 Chron. 28:7, 11-13, 19), and Moses in erecting the tabernacle (Exodus 25:9, 40; 26:30; 27:8). God still expects his people to follow the pattern he has given (John 12:48; Matthew 28:20; Acts 2:42; 1 Peter 4:11). We are not under the law (8:5-13; 9:15-17) but the same God who gave a pattern for Old Testament religion has given one for New Testament religion. Surely, he is not less concerned with the church today than the Jewish institutions of the Mosaic era… ..those who citizen pattern authority usually accept one of three positions. First, they may have a pattern too although it will be smaller than one the one they denounce. For example, if they reject partaking of the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7), they will insist on its observance at some time. The fact that they have communion, however frequent or infrequent, is part of their pattern. If not, why not? Second, if they reject the smaller pattern concept, consistency demands that they reject the total New Testament message in doctrine and morals. If there is no pattern in the word for church organization or the way of salvation, what right does one have to think there is a pattern for morality? It is not surprising to learn that a person who will not listen to God in religious matters also refuses to give heed to him concerning sexual purity. This posture leaves and individual at sea without chart or compass. Third, the man who refuses the New Testament pattern may reach a point where he believes in latter day revelation (i.e. either God speaks to him directly or he considers his impulses and hunches as divine communications.” (p. 89)

    I also do agree with N.T. Wright, when he said, “We are people of the book in the Christian sense; people who are being remade, judged and remolded by the Spirit through scripture.” He also said, “The authority of scripture” refers not least to God’s work through scripture to reveal Jesus, to speak in life-changing power to the hearts and minds of individuals, and to transform them by the Spirit’s healing love.” (How Can The Bible Be Authoritative?)

    Robert Prater

  45. Rex, you mentioned another popular ‘straw man” argument, ((I’m assuming that is what it is, since I’m guessing you don’t literally practice this consistently), let say this about foot washing, since you brought it up. (I can’t believe you pulled out the old foot washing argument?) Certainly in your advanced studies, you’ve “figured” this one out. To wash the feet of a guest (in the Bible) expressed humility coupled with courtesy, goodwill and helpfulness. It is the humility, courtesy, goodwill and helpfulness which are important in all generations. The washing of feet was the social custom of that time and place. In cold countries, where open footwear is not worn, and where the paths may not be dusty, it is not part of the culture, and would not be appreciated.

    To wash the feet of a guest (in the Bible) expressed humility coupled with courtesy, goodwill and helpfulness. It is the humility, courtesy, goodwill and helpfulness which are important in all generations. The washing of feet was the social custom of that time and place. In cold countries, where open footwear is not worn, and where the paths may not be dusty, it is not part of the culture, and would not be appreciated. I believe the application to today would be that anytime others really need our help, we should be humble and kind enough to willingly serve in whatever capacity they need. We must not think we are too good to do certain tasks.

    We ask ourselves: Is it necessary to adopt this particular expression of humility, courtesy, and so on? Is foot washing essential to God? Is it the only valid way of expressing the virtues listed? Most reasonable people would say no to each question. There is no unique spiritual significance or grace in foot washing. It was a practical courtesy, of that region at that time. It was the cultural expression of humility and courtesy.

    To find out whether the literal expression, is binding for today (or whether the important matter is the underlying principle), we need to ask the following simple questions:
    1. Was the act a social custom in Bible-times?
    2. Could the underlying principle or purpose be equally well expressed in some other way? (In other words, the act carried out in Bible-times is not essential to express the principle.)

    The following chart I’ve found helpful: one can add any question/issue.

    Tests for whether a Biblical Command is Literally to be Obeyed*
    1 Was the act a Social Custom

    2 Could the underlying Principle be equally expressed in some other way?

    That we should work with our own hands
    The prohibition of women from preaching and leading YES NO
    The washing of feet YES YES
    Greeting one another with a holy kiss,
    The Lord’s Supper NO (new) NO
    Baptism NO (new) NO
    Elders YES NO
    The financial support of preachers YES NO

    Robert Prater

  46. Robert:
    In your list you say “was it just a social custom?” Well if it was just a social custom then why is it in the Bible when you all cite “All scripture is God breathed and useful for….” There is deeper meaning. The greeting with a holy kiss or other similar passages cannot be simply excused as a social custom because that would negate the all sufficiency scripture. It was always suspicious to me that where we couldn’t apply CENI and its cohorts consistently we had to think of something else like expedients to authorize things that our own hermeneutic would not allow. The expedient argument or is a man made doctrine if I have ever heard of one, worse than”the silence it prohibitive” one.
    You say God commanded the assembly but left the where to liberty. Well in the clear example in the NT of the early Christians meeting was in homes and free public places even until the early fourth century when Constantine built the first church building. But you ignore this. How different would the church in America be if it didn’t use most its money for buildings but actual spiritual things? But now we have a problem because “WE” not God are going to decide where to apply CENI/Silence/Etc. and where not to. That is an inconsistent man made doctrine of the worse kind. Robert your continued mis-applied logic and hermeneutics is bordering on hypocrisy. You have finally admitted that the main difference between yourself and other on this blog is the approach to scripture. Well instead of attacking people’s character you might start arguing why CENI/Silence/ and so on is the only way to scripture that actually might address some of the actually issues rather than claiming people don’t care about truth. There are thousands of well educated sincere people who pick up the bible and read it and don’t come the same conclusions as you do or as I do. You must always be willing to re-examine your hermeneutic and approach to scripture. If you don’t then you run the risk of hypocrisy and caring more about the emotional security of being right over an honest search for the truth.

  47. Robert,

    When I pointed out the differences in the way we read scripture, I never used the word “legalistic” to describe your approach to scripture (If I did, then my bad because that was not my intention). I used the word “legal” which was not meant to be a negative assertation nor is it intended to mean the same thing as “legalism” or “being legalistic.” It is simply meant to say that your view treats the NT as a constitutional law just like the law of Moses.

    As far as legalism…I think that is something we all struggle with and not just in doctrinal matters but also in moral and ethical matters as well. As far as the NT being a “new law” as I have heard some in our fellowship teach before…keep in mind that Paul believed there was nothing wrong with the Mosaic law. The problem was us…we could not keep the requirements of the law. So if God wanted us to still be bound to law keeping, he could have just kept us under the Mosaic Law. But God did not. Also, the only place I am aware of where the phrase “law of Christ” is used is in Gal 5.2 which is about Chrstians bearing the burdens or each other (and the fact that this phrase occurs in Galatians, of all books, says volumes about the gospel of Christ being a new typology of the Mosaic law).

    As far as the differences between our approaches to scripture… First, we both still hold scripture as “truthful and authoritative”. The question is what sort of authority does the NT serve as? Second, we both believe the NT still contains commands which we are not at liberty to reject. Our disagreement centers upon how we discern the means and mode by which we must carry out the commands (how they find expression in the contemporary life of the church). But I believe it is upon those who claim that church practice today must look exactly like the practice of the first-century church, using the NT as a pattern, to show why a commandment like “singing” must be the same today as it was then but commandments like foot-washing and greeting others with the holy kiss are not binding in their literal form (and though I am not the most read on the subject of hermeneutics, I have read some and so far, I find the patternistic hermeneutic to be inconsistant among other problems).

    Any ways…I am just trying to clarify a few things.

    Grace and peace,


  48. Great point! The early church met in the homes of men.

  49. Joe,

    I am not afraid to reexamine and question by hermeneutics and approach in Biblical discussions. Never do I have any desire to practice hypocrisy or “caring more about the emotional security of being right” over an honest search for the truth.” Although, I must ask you: “Can we not ever reach having an “emotional security of knowing that we are right” after we have honestly and sincerely searched for truth and found it? Once again, it never ceases to amaze me about the arrogance of the progressive liberals. But, I’ll go no further on this.

    Contrary to what you may think about me and other more conservative minded brethren, I strongly believe that understanding of the Biblical text is intrinsically influenced by the hermeneutic one uses in the process of interpretation. Thus, it needs to be closely examined, revaluated and closely monitored.

    Here is my effort to define the approach to interpretation so commonly referred to as CENI. I’m not sure we can meaningfully discuss the subject if we don’t have agreement as to what it is, at least to a significant extent. Then, I hope, we can discuss its relative strengths and weaknesses.

    Joe, you seek to destroy a common sense method of establishing authority by overstating and saying too much in your railing against CENI and acting as though NONE of it is valid or exists as a proper means to interpret scripture.

    The definition of command from Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary is: “To order with authority; to lay injunction upon; to direct; to bid; to charge; an authoritative direction or instruction to do something.”

    Surely, we all agree that in fact, there are commands given by God that are applicable to us?? Can we agree on that gernal principle or truth? No Christian in his right mind would deny that.

    Joe, do you want to deny that there are examples of actions of a church that was approved by the apostles? Do you want to deny that there is such a thing as making a conclusion that is necessary?

    It seems Joe that you want to reject CENI as a whole, but I don’t think there is a single person that can successfully show that even one part of this method of establishing Bible authority is not logical, rational, reasonable and valid.

    Why would one NOT want to look at examples…?
    Why would one reject Commands?
    Why would one think NI is not reasonable, illogical or illegitimate?

    No one has ever claimed that CENI is a cure for all problems in the church. First, there have always been those who do not understand it, there have been those who reject it and, now, lately, we have seen some who seem to claim (at least in part) that it does not exist.

    There are some things that are difficult to classify and there are disagreements. But to argue that CENI is illegitimate, useless and wrong is indeed not only wrong but foolishness. What alternative is there to CENI?

    Joe, you can’t make CENI go away just because you want it to. You can never justify an unscriptural action, (whatever it is) by attacking authority, which is what you seem to do when you deny any aspect of CENI.
    It would seem that CENI has its place as long as the context is considered and the PURPOSE for hermeneutics is kept in mind. If the original audience would have understood the same (the point, the command, the practice, the teaching, etc.) as I do, then surely most likely we are on track

    Joe, I’ve never argued or heard it argued, that “command, example, and necessary inference” has never been the complete hermeneutic in churches of Christ. We have always used many other principles in seeking to understand a passage. Alexander Campbell, in his discussion, for example, speaks about determining word meanings, interpreting figures, using context, determining the dispensation, understanding the conditions which prevailed when the book was written, noting who speaks and to whom, and coming within an “understanding distance” of things written long ago

    Where I’m at in my hermeneutics is probably more in line with the proposal and thinking from F. LaGard Smith in his book, “The Cultural Church.” He proposes three different terms: purpose, principle, and precedent. First, he says, we must understand the purpose the original author had in mind. The we must determine whether there is principle which should apply to us. Finally, we ask whether there is a precedent. This latter term he uses to suggest something a bit more restrictive than example since many examples are not binding. Yet, I can’t help but think that if “command, example, and necessary inference” are properly understood and utilized, the outcome would be the same as his purpose, principle, and purpose.

    LaGard Smith notes, “Unlike creeds, which formalize particular doctrinal understanding, our hermeneutic (command, example, necessary inference) has always called us back to the written Word itself” (p. 20). “More than simply a hermeneutic (method of interpretation), our formulation..is a rejection of human creeds and a commitment to the authority of God and his divine revelation..It commits us to the authoritative leading of Scripture without stating any doctrinal beliefs” (p. 35).

    Joe, I’m greatly concerned that anytime people abandon the desire for needing to have Bible authority for what they do and practice religiously, all of a sudden they need guidance not found in the Bible. All of a sudden, the Bible doesn’t give them the answers to a host of questions. When the Bible is ridiculed as a blueprint, constitution or law, then people lose their respect for its commands, examples, and necessary conclusions. The writings of the apostles cease to be binding (2 Thess. 3:14; 2:15; John 16:13; 1 Cor. 14:37; Matt. 18:18), and now are viewed as human opinion.

    Let me say this here, about “hard cases” that might come up in this process. “Hard cases” don’t prove that Bible authority doesn’t work or that command, example, and implication must be discarded. Yet this is exactly where people with your thinking often begin. “What about foot washing as Jesus did in John 13?” we are asked. “Why don’t you bind the holy kiss from Romans 16?” Let’s be very clear: these are legitimate questions, and they deserve an answer. What they don’t prove is that somehow command, example and implication fail. All these questions show is that we need to study more carefully so we know why we believe what we believe. Is Jesus making a command for all believers for all time in John 13? That’s the same question that needs to be asked from every text, isn’t it? We should ask that about Matthew 28:18-20 or the material about the Holy Spirit’s coming in John 14-15 and every other text! And the answer to those questions is always found in precisely the same way: by studying the Scriptures!

    The same must be said of the holy kiss of Romans 16:16 or questions about the head covering in 1 Cor 11 or any other “hard question.” These passages just need to be studied so we can understand what is and is not being bound there. The fact that these matters are difficult, or that brethren have reached different conclusions about them, doesn’t prove that commands, approved examples and implications fail us. They only show that often we haven’t studied the Scriptures as we should or that we don’t understand how to derive authority from God’s word, or both!

    Another, argument used against CENI is that it requires too much human thought. Somewhere out there, people seem to think, there is something so much simpler, easier and that eliminates all ambiguity and human thought. No, Joe, the Bible implies truth that we are then responsible to infer. In Matthew 22:32 Jesus rebuked the Sadducees because they failed that very test: “And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” From the present tense of the verb “be” Jesus argues there is an implied truth. Since the Bible doesn’t say “I was the God of Abraham” Jesus says that means Abraham is still alive – and the Sadducees should have known that. That inference was very necessary, Jesus said!

    Further, I confess a complete lack of understanding at the objection that deriving Bible authority requires our minds and careful thought. What part of our service to God is done without our minds? How could it possibly be pleasing to God to do something mindlessly? Remember, even when God said “Do not work on the Sabbath” (Exo 20:9) that still required people to think and consider what was and was not work. Some folks got pretty far off on that by New Testament times but Jesus didn’t tell people “Stop thinking! Anything that requires thinking is flawed.” Jesus actually used teaching that made people think, perhaps more than anyone else ever did! Yes there are questions associated with finding authority that require study (as noted above) and much thought. How is that a bad thing? God gave us minds so we could think and serve Him fully with all our hearts!

    Let’s talk more about COMMANDS

    As far as I know, everyone agrees that plain commands of God are binding upon men. John said: “And by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, ‘I know Him’, and does not keep His commandments, is a lair, and the truth is not in him.” In the Jerusalem conference over circumcision, James appealed to a statement of fact from Amos, and concluded that the raising up of David’s tabernacle and the seeking the Lord was fulfilled in the Gentiles entering the church. When Paul wrote the Corinthians, he commanded them to “lay by in store upon the first day of the week,” just as he had given “order to the churches of Galatia”
    (1 Cor. 16:1,2). Many other commands could be used, but these are sufficient, because this point is not challenged.

    Though not all commands are binding on us, when we want to know God’s will on a subject, we can look at his commands, or statements of fact, then study the context and compare our situation to that discussed and draw our conclusions. If we were disposed to ridicule commands, we would ask if you brought Paul’s cloak and the books and parchments, as he commanded Timothy (2 Tim. 4:13). Again, we might even ask if you have washed anyone’s feet lately, as Jesus commanded (Jn. 13:14). My point is that if we are to reject examples because not all are binding, and men disagree on which should be followed, then the same reasoning would reject all commands!

    How about “APPROVED EXAMLES?”

    Is the appeal to examples for authority a “church of Christ tradition,” or is it an apostolic tradition? We understand that the apostles and others in the first century had to be taught to do certain things before they could leave the example, but we may have a record of the example and not the command. Paul commanded the Philippians to “Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have for us a pattern.” (Phil. 3:17)

    The Jerusalem conference again, I think shows us how the apostles regarded examples. When there had been must discussion of the issue of circumcision, Peter said: “Brethren, ye know that a good while ago God made choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.” (Acts 15:7-9). The Spirit could have had Peter issue a command for the Judaizers to quit binding circumcision, but he did not. He used an example of Gentiles being accepted without circumcision, and concluded that this revealed God’s will on the matter. Paul and Barnabas also gave some examples of the same fact, which are not enumerated (Acts 15:12).

    It is by example that we learn that elders were appointed in “every church” (Acts 14:23). We could learn from command that they are to be in “every city” (Titus 1:5), but the example of what the apostle Paul did reveals God’s will for every church. Likewise, we learn when to observe the Lord’s supper from an example (Acts 20:7). Some who want to deny examples in the work of the church have tried to hold on to the example of the Lord’s Supper, but they cannot be consistent and do so. Others have begun denying that the example in Acts 20:7 is even the Lord’s Supper. (cf. Acts 2:42)

    And of course, then there is the always controversial NECESSARY INFERENCES.

    The fact that truth can be learned from necessary inferences should be obvious to anyone who believes that the Bible applies to him. How did he determine that? Was it written to him, or did he draw a conclusion that the same revelation given to others should be applied to him?

    There are examples in the Bible of men who drew necessary conclusions from the facts given them and those conclusions were obviously God’s will. Peter saw a vision of animals on a sheet, which he was told to “kill and eat,” and concluded that he should not call any man “common or unclean” (Acts 10:11-16,28). At the Jerusalem conference, he said that God “bear them witness, giving them the Holy Spirit, even as he did to us,” and concluded: “Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?” (Acts 15:8,9). This conclusion was necessarily implied from the example and those who wanted to know God will knew it!

    These principles did not originate in the “Restoration Movement,” but are found in both the Old and New Testaments. Dungan’s book on “Hermeneutics” illustrates necessary inference with the first verse in the Bible.
    He said: “It is not stated in verse one that God existed; that he had the wisdom and power to accomplish this work; but it is assumed, and, being assumed, no interpreter has a right to call it in question” (p. 92).

    Now, yes, Joe, it is my conviction that the rejection of “pattern authority” is the rejection the Bible as the source of authority. “Reading and understanding” God’s word includes understanding how truth authorizes, and we do not do that by ridicule of the very principles illustrated in the Bible.

    The apostles in Jerusalem did not ask the Judaizers how they felt about admitting Gentiles into the church without circumcision, nor how they thought Jesus might act. They appealed to objective revelation – a statement of fact in Amos and the example of Cornelius, then drew the necessary conclusion that Gentiles did not have to be circumcised. That “hermeneutic” is as old as Scripture, and when we want to know God’s will on any subject, we had better find a command, statement of fact, approved example or draw a necessary inference or general truth principle.

    Joe, it’s been said, “It is always good to try to determine where a road is leading before you travel it.”
    Some are impressed with any-thing “new” and which seems to give them more “freedom.”

    From my correspondences with many on this blog, it’s become very clear who is considered a threat to the body of Christ. People like me!! But, I do fear this rejection of the New Testament as a pattern for anything we do in the church will lead, and is already leading to apostasy.

    Now today, it’s easy to be taken away with such statements as “Our relationship is with a Person, not a system; and that’s what’s wrong with patternism.” It’s easy for some who might have been apart of an unloving congregation at some point to appreciate this defense of “freedom” because “Covenant theology leads to life, while legalism only brings forth not righteousness but death.”

    I just always kind of kind it funny and ironic, when I hear people who advocate a “new hermeneutics”, and do so by using the Bible to try to prove that we should not use the Bible as a pattern? Huh??

    James Bales wrote:
    “One of the signs of error and confusion which can lead into modern-ism or other types of error, is the charge of `legalism’ when someone insists on teaching people to do what Jesus commanded. . . . These confused individuals, however, do not abandon law. They firmly believe and may even fiercely proclaim, `Thou shalt not be a legalist. It is wrong to be a Pharisee! … One is not being a legalist in maintaining that we are in some sense under law to Christ. There are commandments which we are to keep (Matt. 28:20; Acts 2:42; 1 Cor. 9:21; Heb. 8:10)” (Modernism: Trojan Horse in the Church 112).

    I’ve tried to offer my defense, briefly, the precept, example, and necessary inference as a legimate way and hermeneutics. I also fear that some brethren are so enamored with “denominational scholarship”, sometimes they are influenced without even realizing it.

    I appreciate and agree with what Jack Cottrell wrote in his “What the Bible Says About God the Redeemer.” (Jack Cottrell is a fairly conservative professor in the Christian Church.) He says:

    “The sinful heart is hostile toward law; but even many Christians, as the result of a misunderstanding of the relation between law and grace, are quite indifferent toward law (i.e., God’s commands as they apply today) and do not consider it to be binding upon them. They disdain the so-called “letter of the law” and embrace a false freedom in which the only “imperative” is a nebulous subjectivity euphemistically known as “love.” Such an approach may begin as an honest misunderstanding, but it is always secretly fed by the heart’s sinful tendency toward lawlessness. What must be understood is this: since God’s law is the outward expression of his own holy nature, any rebellion against law is also a rebellion against God personally.”

    Again, Joe, the use of “command, example, and necessary inference” are a valid method of applying a passage after we have used other principles of hermeneutics to understand its meaning. Writers in the Restoration Movement who have spoken of “command, example, and necessary inference” have never intended these to be our total hermeneutic. There are two basic steps in hermeneutics: (1) determining what the passage meant to those who first received it and (2) determining what God wanted me to do as result of what that passage meant to those who first received it.

    To understand what a passage meant to those who first received it we must use such principles as the following: (1) learning from history, archaeology, culture, and geography about the conditions under which these words were spoken, (2) defining words that need to be explored, (3) studying the syntax of the passage, (4) recognizing the type of literature are we dealing with, (5) discovering who said these words to whom, (6) learning from the context around the passage, (7) interpreting the figures of speech in this passage, (8) learning from other passages about the passage we are studying, and (9) finding out what the “big picture” about dispensations and theology presented in the Bible tell us as we fit this passage into it.

    Only after we have explored the original meaning of a passage through such means as this are we ready to ask the question, “Now what does God want me to do as result of what this passage meant to those who first received it?” I propose to answer that question, we use “command, example, and necessary inference.”

    God isn’t playing hide and seek with us! If there was a way, a hermeneutic, or a method that eliminated all controversy, discussion, and was “utterly plain” then wouldn’t God use that? God has given us the New Testament. It says it will “equip us for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17). This is God’s way of giving us the instructions we need to please Him. If we trust God and if we will diligently seek Him we will find Him (Jer 29:13)!

    Finally, that’s what these issues all come down to: What is God’s will? That is what we’re saying when we bind something: this is significant to the Lord. I believe I can demonstrate plenty of evidence to make the case for baptism by immersion for the forgiveness of sin. I believe I can make the case for every Sunday observance of the Supper. Same goes for acappella (vocal only) singing, elders and deacons as church leadership, male spiritual leadership in the worship assembly. I cannot see that case being constructed for holy kissing or foot washing or instrumental music, etc. There are some who have tried, but after careful study and thought I am not compelled by the evidence offered. That may mean I just need to study more. But again, I am confident that if I am seeking God I will get to the truth if I will just keep studying. That is why questions about authority always go back to the Bible. More study, more thought, more prayer – that is the answer to our questions and even the objections to Bible authority!

    Robert Prater

  50. Robert,

    If you get a chance sometime (which will take a lot of time), pop over to the blog of John Mark Hicks and wade through his work on hermeneutics (perhaps you already have). He taught a class at HUGSR titled “Theological Hermeneutics” and whether one agrees with all of his conclusions or not, students of that class will tell you it is one of the best classes offered at HUGSR. I keep hoping he will write a book on hermenuetics one day.

    Grace and peace,


  51. Robert, sorry to wreck the thread but I’m going to chime in once again…

    “Can we not ever reach having an “emotional security of knowing that we are right” after we have honestly and sincerely searched for truth and found it?”

    There’s something about “finding *the* truth” (or, more accurately, deciding that one has found truth) that closes the mind off to contrary evidence. Avoiding this bias by maintaining an attitude of personal fallibility is anything but “arrogance”.

    “Joe, you seek to destroy a common sense method…”

    Ah, “common sense”… what most of us young people would call “duh”. Humanity has always been imbued with “duh”, and as often as it has been wrong we’re amazingly still willing to put so much trust in it. It does go wonderfully with the “*the* truth” bias though, as “truth” is almost always “common sense”.

    What is it we’ve always heard…? “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man…”

    “… I don’t think there is a single person that can successfully show that even one part of this method of establishing Bible authority is not logical, rational, reasonable and valid.”

    Do you believe most people who rejects CENI do so because they simply don’t like it, Robert?

    “Why would one NOT want to look at examples…?”

    Beats me. I’m still trying to figure out how anyone could manage to read narratives (Acts, for example), decide to proclaim some bits to be “examples”, then fold it all up by making the “example” a commandment.

    “Why would one reject Commands?”

    Per the above, need to work out what a “command” is before moving on.

    “Why would one think NI is not reasonable, illogical or illegitimate?”

    Beats me, again… usually the people who believe inferences are okay also believe that “scriptural silence” = prohibition. How they manage the cognitive dissonance, I do not know.

    “First, there have always been those who do not understand it, there have been those who reject it and, now, lately, we have seen some who seem to claim (at least in part) that it does not exist.”

    Again, we don’t reject it because we don’t like it… we reject it because we believe it to be a man-made doctrine.

    “What alternative is there to CENI?”

    Read the parables as parables, the narratives as narratives, the proverbs (sayings) as proverbs, and the letters as letters. Read them for genre, in context for their purpose and audience. Apply to your life with great care and with the humility that you could be wrong. Don’t be hyper-critical when others come to other conclusions.

    “…you can’t make CENI go away just because you want it to.”

    How many people under 30 do you think read the GA (much less the SS)? I’d give good odds that not only do the majority of us young folk not buy the traditional form of CENI, but most of us (who aren’t preacher’s kids) haven’t really heard of it, or don’t care. A few generations are all it takes…

    LaGard Smith notes, “….It commits us to the authoritative leading of Scripture without stating any doctrinal beliefs” (p. 35).”

    Great! So if my elders decide that IM or Saturday services are in keeping with scripture we won’t get static from other congregations? Sign me up.

    “…I’m greatly concerned that anytime people abandon the desire for needing to have Bible authority for what they do and practice religiously, all of a sudden they need guidance not found in the Bible.”

    Robert, when we disagrees with you about this hermeneutic, that doesn’t mean we’re rebellious toward scripture (IE, we don’t desire some authority).

    “All of a sudden, the Bible doesn’t give them the answers to a host of questions.”

    Ask elders who deal with very modern problems, it doesn’t. (At least, not letter for letter.)

    “What about foot washing as Jesus did in John 13?” we are asked. “Why don’t you bind the holy kiss from Romans 16?” Let’s be very clear: these are legitimate questions, and they deserve an answer.”

    And yet they are never addressed.

    “These passages just need to be studied so we can understand what is and is not being bound there.”

    That much is clear. What’s interesting is what happens when elders study and honestly decide that something isn’t bound. Ask Quail Springs how that turned out for them…

    “The fact that these matters are difficult, or that brethren have reached different conclusions about them, doesn’t prove that commands, approved examples and implications fail us.”

    You’re absolutely right, but then, such a point doesn’t speak to the veracity of CENI as a hermeneutic. What we don’t need is “we can’t prove it wrong”, what we need is “this is right, and here’s why”.

    “From the present tense of the verb “be” Jesus argues there is an implied truth.”

    Ever notice how in the “Sermon on the mount”, Jesus says “Ye have *heard that it was said* by them of old time…” repeatedly? Why didn’t Jesus say “It was said…”? Ever thought about it? It wouldn’t be a foregone conclusion to say that Jesus was implying that the law wasn’t maintained, or was misunderstood. That could imply that our OT is in error, of course… not inspired. Would you be willing to accept a congregation that had come to this conclusion?

    “Yes there are questions associated with finding authority that require study (as noted above) and much
    thought. How is that a bad thing?”

    It isn’t, as long as we’re willing to accept others when they come to conclusions that differ from our own. That doesn’t happen very often, in practice.

    “My point is that if we are to reject examples because not all are binding, and men disagree on which should be followed, then the same reasoning would reject all commands!”

    Bad logic, examples are not commands. What happens when we disagree that what you assert are “examples” actually are examples?

    More tomorrow… interesting topics!

  52. Why did I give up on the CENI hermeneutic?

    My first uneasiness with this approach came as I read the Bible and realized how inconsistent this hermeneutic has been applied. In fact, CENI actually stands for “Direct Command,” “Apostolic or Approved Example,” and “Necessary Inference.” My problem is those adjective direct, apostolic/approved, and necessary…just who decides what is approved or necessary? Secondly, I discovered that the Bible is comprised of a multiplicity of genres often written as occasional responses to and within specific human contexts. Yet the CENI hermeneutic, coupled with several other troubling factors, treats scripture as a more flat, contextless document that can be reduced to a series of propositions which often end up becoming the rule through which scripture is read and filtered. Third, is the fact that the CENI along with the “common sense” approach it is coupled with is rooted in a rather modern, Scottish philosophy (Locke, Hume). Now this fact does not invalidate the CENI approach in an of itself. Yet it is distrurding that despite its philosophical roots, there are so many who think it is “biblical” and will go to greeat lengths to show that a philosophical approach rooted in the 18th century is actually taught in scripture (this is a fine example of “eisegesis” rather than “exegesis”). My problem with this philosophy is that since the 18th centruy, more recent developments have raised some serious criticisms that are worth their merrit. Lastly, and what should trouble us the most, is that this method has often resulted in an epistemological arrogance that has produced division over every last issue because we were fooled into believing that unity meant uniformity and since we were right, all who were in dissent (both internally and externally to our movement) were outside of fellowship. As for this fact and the validity of the CENI…the Brittish say “the proof is in the pudding.”

    Grace and peace,


  53. Robert,
    I do not reject bible authority. So please stop suggesting that. I do reject CENI and the traditional methods of establishing it. I don’t specifically wish for CENI or its cohorts to go away. I believe it was a sincere well intentioned effort by some to try and understand the Bible. Robert if you keep re-studying using the same methods why do you think you will ever learn anything more or deeper? The definition of insanity is doing the same repeatedly expecting different results. If you truly desire a deeper understanding from scripture then I would suggest you put CENI and its cohorts aside for the moment and ask God to remove any pre-supposed idea ( conscious or subconscious) and study afresh and see what the Holy Spirit may reveal to from scripture. I know this is scary but I did it and it I have never been the same. I have learned more about God and his nature then I ever did before. I have learned more about who man is and who Jesus is and what sin is along with a whole bunch of other things. God is deeper than just authorizing specific acts or rituals that are to be performed during a one hour assembly. In fact attempting to establish authority for what you do religiously without understanding these deeper issues of God’s character, who we are to God, what sin is and so on is a significant mistake. If a specific act or ritual helps us to transform more into the nature of God and less from the sinful nature then it is authorized even if the first century didn’t do it or the NT doesn’t specifically mention it. God’s nature is a much more consistent method for establishing authority because it transcends all cultures and time not just the first century. If you predominantly treat the bible as detailed book of how the church is to operate, who is qualified to do what, and what specific religious acts and rituals are to be performed then that will become your god not the God who is trying to reveal himself through the scripture.

  54. Joe,

    The self-righteous arrogance and smugness is getting a little old. You and other more progressive liberals speak and act as though you and you alone, have now discovered something “new” that all the rest of us “traditional” ones have failed to grasp about God and His nature.

    You seem to imply that God is somehow “too deep” in His nature to “just authorizing specific acts or rituals that are to be performed during a one hour assembly.” I’m sure glad you are sure self-confident enough so as you can speak on God’s behalf about the depth of God and His nature and what might or might not please Him. Far be it from any of us spiritually “shallow” minded folks to presume what concerns God or what does not concern God beyond that which is revealed in the Scriptures.

    Let me ask you: Does “going to the heart of God” not embrace the words of God? Can we come to find God and not find His commands? One postmodern writer, has said: “Persons who have placed their faith in their Bibles more than in the God the Bible reveals, end up sending the signal that the ‘real purpose’ of the Bible is to mine it for doctrinal tidbits. I find this approach disgusting and spiritually malnourishing.”

    Jesus said, “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” Paul said, “I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.” James wrote, “Receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.”

    Joe, I wonder if there is a common ground you and I can find together: Does the proposition have to be the Bible is either: the law of God or a narrative of God’s heart, character and love? From my perspective, in fact it combines both, but it most certainly contains all kinds of rules and regulations that God expects His people to obey.

    Joe, why can’t we agree that we must be doctrinally sound (i.e. speak where the Bible speaks, etc) and imitate Christ and the heart of God in our daily lives? Can know have both a mission and focus of Christology and be committed to the ideal of the restoration of New Testament Christianity? Is it not good and right to be committed to being doctrinally sound and not just another brand of denominational Christianity today??

    Recently I have been reading through James D. Bales, beloved, longtime Bible professor at Harding and his 1971 book, “Modernism – Trojan Horse in the Church.” It is amazing how much this “new” part of “hermeneutics” was basically the same old arguments that Dr. Bales was answering against Modernists in the church back then. Certainly, the two positions are not identical, but the end result – denying the New Testament as an objective pattern for God’s people is identical. The Modernistic approach ended with those who advocated it leaving the New Testament pattern and joining denominationalism. It does not take a prophet to foresee that the same end will come to those today who are embittered toward the New Testament as a pattern.

    I will quote from several passages from this book. It is obvious that you can change a few words and have the same arguments for and against this new hermeneutics philosophy.

    He said:
    “One liberal said: ‘We must avoid the proof-text mentality in which statements of Paul addressed to a specific historical situation, are erroneously transformed into absolute statements valid for all times and appropriate for every circumstance…’”

    “To this we reply: First, if texts do not prove anything for us today, it is futile to appeal to the Bible at all. If its text is not related to our times, and valid for our times, the Bible must be abandoned as God’s revelation to man and as our authority. Second, care must be exercised that a passage not be taken out of context and used to prove something which is not taught by the passage. Third, even when a specific local situation is being dealt with, it is important for us to accept and to utilize the principle which Paul applied to a specific situation” (p. 106).

    Bales continues:
    “One of the signs of error and confusion which can lead into modernism or other types of error, is the charge of ‘legalism’ when someone insists on teaching people to do what Jesus commanded (Matt. 28:20)…These confused individuals, however, do not abandon law. They firmly believe and may even fiercely proclaim, ‘Thou shalt not be a legalist. It is wrong to be a Pharisee!’…One is not being a legalist in maintaining that we are in some sense under law to Christ. There are commandments which we are to keep (Matt. 28:20; Acts 2:42; 1 Cor. 9:21; Heb. 8:10)” (p.112).

    Bales further writes:
    “There is a love of novelty which pants as it pursues the latest fad in theological circles. They are like those in Athens who ‘spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell or to hear some new thing’ (Acts 17:21). They want both to be different and on the frontier of what they consider to be the intellectual boundaries of the day. As Reuel Lemmons put it, in speaking of some being attracted to neo-orthodoxy, ‘It’s popular because it is something different from the centuries old fundamentalism; we are suckers for something new and different. We do not want to ‘parrot the party line…… We want to know what it is to be ‘free.’ We want to ‘cast off restraints’ so we become suckers for neo-orthodoxy’” (p. 141).

    Does that sound familiar in the voices, and writings of progressive liberals today?

    Bales says:
    “What is called ‘new’ may be a new revival of an old error. Although there are new fads and wrinkles there are, basically speaking, few new errors. Even the modern errors in modernism are the results, as a general rule, of applications of old errors” (p. 145)

    Joe, it seems like to me that many in the churches of Christ in fact, have no hermeneutical principle by which they can say anything they believe is wrong. If so, what are they and how do they apply today? From what I read from many of the liberal bloggers is more of accepting (albeit unknowingly in many instances—they’ve just ‘breathed the air for so long’) the cultural hermeneutic of our age which says whatever a person sincerely believes to be true is truth for him and this makes him free from legalism and able to fully develop spiritually!

    And many today are more impressed with the scholarship of the world than with the “ancient order of the New Testament.” The canon of Scripture did not become authoritative in the fourth century (as advocated by many liberal scholars of the new hermeneutic) but what the apostles bound and loosed on earth was what God had bound and loosed in heaven and constituted a pattern before it was ever written. People knew the pattern on how to be saved before the book of Acts was written, and they knew when to observe the Lord’s Supper before Acts 20 was written. God’s word was a pattern when it was spoken and we have that same message preserved for us in written form (1 Pet. 1:23-25). The principles of Bible interpretation did not begin with Francis Bacon (as so-called scholars argue), but has always been God’s way of communicating with men.

    I’m sorry, but Jesus used precept, example, necessary inference and generic and specific authority in his ministry. The apostles used precept, example and necessary inference in revealing God’s will on whether Gentiles had to be circumcised in order to be saved (Acts 15). When men lose their respect for what the apostles bound and loosed, by the direction of the Holy Spirit, they are following the wisdom of men, not the wisdom of God. It reminds me of a ship in a swift stream that has lost its rudder and has no paddle. It may drift safely for a little while because it had been guided into safe waters, but the end will not be pretty.

    Joe, I’m just striving to avoid the two extremes in the church today. On one side, many progressive liberals are saying “we conservatives are only about rules and commands.” That we sit back in our buildings with people who look, act and sound like us, patting ourselves on the back and condemning everyone else and that we don’t have love or compassion. Truth be told, there is a whole lot of truth on both sides of the isle. Truth be told, progressive liberals have gone overboard concerning doctrine and think nothing matters, but they are very Christ-like in their compassion and seeking the lost and hurting.

    I do fear that there is much of an ill wind blowing across the landscape of the Lord’s church. It is being fueled by many disgruntled Christians who chafe at the limits and restrictions of biblical authority. They speak of “Church of Christ traditions” and “Church of Christ doctrines” and say that the time has come for change. Such expressions indicate a misguided and erroneous understanding of the true nature of God, Christ, the Lord’s church and the Bible.

    Now, I’m not arguing that there isn’t much that needs to be “overhauled” in churches of Christ, concerning some of our teachings, attitudes and especially our methodology. If I can generally speak, I’m finding myself becoming more progressive in methodology but remaining moderately conservative in doctrine.

    But I fear this paranoid extremism and a wholesale abandonment of much of the truth churches of Christ have stood for. There were good reasons why people turned away from the denominationalism of the 1800s. Their stories are both amazingly fascinating and incredibly applicable. The desire to abolish unscriptural church names, creeds, and confessions of faith in favor of unity and a pursuit of Bible truths can still be appealing to many people today.

    We don’t need more of the same spirit fluff and no substance being passed off as genuine Christianity today. If we must always have to “ re-interpret our “views” we held in the past because of “new” interpretations, what will keep us from adopting what one writer so pointeldy called, “all sorts of culturally-influenced “bastardizations of the truth in future?”

    This may come as a shock to you, but when it comes to God’s commands, every one of them, there is a direct or indirect relationship to the heart, nature and character of God. In each case, the nature/character is enhanced and deepened by the commands of God. And of course, Jesus Christ revealed in His life the spirit in which the commands are to be lived out. He is the “incarnated Word.” This relationship should not have been a surprise, because Jesus Christ is the personification of all true character and His character is the goal and result of being conformed to His image.

    Throughout Scripture, the commands of God and His related character and qualities are intertwined. The development of the character of Christ is the objective of all the things that God desires to happen for us and should be our goal as we seek to keep His commandments.

    Now, Joe, of course no method of anything should take the place of Jesus in the life of the Christian. But, you can’t have Jesus in your life without the word which reveals Him to us, can you? If so how? Does He operate in our hearts apart from His word, the sword of the spirit? How? Are we coming to the point that like some of our denominational friends who say, I know its right or wrong, because Jesus tells me so “personally” or “down in my heart”, or “because it feels right”!

    Joe, you say, “I do not reject bible authority. So please stop suggesting that. I do reject CENI and the traditional methods of establishing it…..” It kind of hard to not believe that you don’t to some degree when you say, “If a specific act (act of worship??) or ritual helps us to transform more into the nature of God and less from the sinful nature then it is authorized even if the first century didn’t do it or the NT doesn’t specifically mention it. God’s nature is a much more consistent method for establishing authority because it transcends all cultures and time not just the first century….” So, in other words, we are “Free” to do as we please let’s say in worship, so long as we are acting in some subjective way that we feel and think is more in harmony with God’s nature? So could include instrumental music, choreographed and religious dance, any kind of special “talents” in the assemblies, taking the Lord’s Supper on any day other than Sunday to name a few?

    In the book of Revelation, the Lord disapproves of both adding to and taking away from the words of John’s prophecy. One cannot presume to go further than what God has revealed. The consequence of doing so? “God shall add to him the plagues which are written in this book” (Revelation 22:18). And if it’s wrong to add to or take away from the words written in Revelation, wouldn’t it be wrong to add to or take away from the words of Ephesians? Colossians?

    Bottom line, true, genuine Christian discipleship is what the Christian life is all about. But how do we know when we are true disciples? It always comes back to this fail safe test: “Do we keep the commandments of Christ with a pure heart?” Jesus said it. ‘If you love, you’ll keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) The Greek word translated keep is tereo, which means “to guard, to watch, to observe closely, to hold fast.” This same word is used to describe the care that the Philippian jailer was to exercise in keeping Paul and Silas from escaping.

    During the times of wind-driven ships, navigators would use the phrase keeping the stars. This meant that they would use the stars to chart a course across the ocean. This is precisely how the commands of Christ are to be used: as dependable lights for charting a course throughout life.

    May God help us all to always make great importance of keeping all of Christ’s commands before our spiritual eyes of faith. (2 Cor. 5:7)

    Robert Prater

  55. Drake,

    Don’t mind you at all, “chiming” in on the conversation. Glad to have you. Appreciate your thoughts and concern and apparent sincerity. I as well, think these are interesting and very important topics! We may not agree on everything, but maybe together we can find some common ground and help restore and bring more Biblical unity to the body of Christ.

    Now, one of my concerns in this discussion is the fact that ours is a culture with ambiguous beliefs and morality. We have many Christian “agnostics” now in the church who say, “Can we really ever know the truth?”

    Truth is discernible. We can know what the truth is. Do you believe it is possible for a person to really know the Truth? How can a person be expected to obey ( Hebrews 5:8,9; cf. 1 John 2:3,5) Christ if he is incapable of knowing what constitutes obedience to him? How can a person be expected to abide in ( John 8:31) the word of Christ if he is unable to learn and know Christ’s teaching? How can a person be expected to prove (1 Thess. 5:21; cf. 1 John 4:1) what the Bible says if the truth cannot be distinguished from error? How can a person be expected to take heed to as well as continue in ( 1 Timothy 4:16) the truth if the truth cannot be known? How can a person be expected to beware ( Matthew 7:15; 2 John 7) of false teachers if there is no discernable way of telling whether or not they are teaching error? How can a person be expected to speak Eph. 4:15) the truth in love if he is unable to differentiate between truth and error?

    I also must correct your evaluation and accuracy of my views and statements. You didn’t clearly read my statements about CENI not being our only hermeneutical approach to Scripture. I said we also need “To understand what a passage meant to those who first received it we must use such principles as the following: (1) learning from history, archaeology, culture, and geography about the conditions under which these words were spoken, (2) defining words that need to be explored, (3) studying the syntax of the passage, (4) recognizing the type of literature are we dealing with, (5) discovering who said these words to whom, (6) learning from the context around the passage, (7) interpreting the figures of speech in this passage, (8) learning from other passages about the passage we are studying, and (9) finding out what the “big picture” about dispensations and theology presented in the Bible tell us as we fit this passage into it.”

    I then concluded, “Only after we have explored the original meaning of a passage through such means as this are we ready to ask the question, “Now what does God want me to do as result of what this passage meant to those who first received it?” I propose to answer that question, we use “command, example, and necessary inference.

    There may be other hermenutical approaches as well, including the very important Christology which I’ll come back to later.

    The fact of the matter is, we do see at times both Christ and the first-century church appealing to statements, commands, examples, and necessary implications as having authority. Let me ask you, do you observe the Lord’s Supper each first day of the week? Does the congregation which you worship at have elders and deacons? Men who serve as the preachers? Why or why not? What hermeneutics did they use to come to such conclusions?

    Drake, if you’ve noticed, Joe, in his comments always seem to be deprecating the use of commands, examples, and necessary implication , but he really proposes no real alternative. In my experience, this is nearly universal among “CENI” objectors. Joe proposes like others who think like him, that Scripture is merely a communication from a loving God-something like a love letter. This suggestion may supply a perspective, but it really offers no concrete guidelines from its major proponents about “how to do church” according to God’s specific desires. Others are advocating taking advantage of the current interest in what is called “narrativity.” But, again, no concerete methods and ways of how to properly be the church God intended has been seemingly put forward.

    As far as our young people go, you need to really take notice what is going on. They aren’t being taught basic Bible truths, commands and principles of God’s word in many congregations. Rather than shrugging off the conflicting views and positions on various subjects (such as baptism, music in worship, role of women, etc.) and rather than dismissing religious differences as hopeless, irresolvable, and irrelevant—we must study and search God’s book with careful attention to the task with an honest heart that is receptive to the truth.

    This is especially true in moral matters. Recently here at Central, we had Dr. Alan Martin from OC, professor of Family Life Ministry speak on the home and family. He was talking about how we are failing to teach the Bible in our home, and in many of our churches. He gave the illustration of being on a recent panel at OC where students could ask Bible questions. He said a large majority of the questions dealt with the sin or lack of it, of homosexuality. He simply said, they really are confused. They don’t know the answer. They don’t know what the Bible says and many of them, if they do, DON’T LIKE WHAT THE BIBLE DOES SAY and will often appeal to the subjective matter of feelings, pesonal experience and the love and mercy and grace of God and Christ. As if, the two are opposed to each other.

    The reality is that many of our young people aren’t being taught in the home and to some extend any longer in many churches the truth about what the Bible teaches. The tide of pluralism and its siren call for tolerance is still in.

    Yet, interestingly enough, in the confusion of so many members of the church’s mind, there is becoming a less and less on common link to our past hermeneutic. No, we less and less hear the watchword: “We must have divine command or apostolic example before we will accept it.” Instead we hear a new watchword: “If there is no verse against it why can’t we do it?”

    Now, I will tell you that I am searching and open minded when it comes to the issue of hermeunitcs. I’ve been reading again, and reevaluating (despite Joe’s false charge) an article by Thomas H. Olbricht from Restoration Quarterly (Vol. 37/No. 1, 1995)

    Although, I don’t agree with everyone of his observations and conclusions, I do agree with much of his assement.

    Dr. Olbricht observes:
    “Each culture has a network of basic presuppositions for viewing reality that has its own distinguishing features. They refer to this as ‘mapping the culture.’ I have labored today to say that the Restoration Movement emerged within a particular culture – Post-Enlightenment American Christianity. The ways that the early Restorationists construed the faith and explained it were appropriate to the culture of the time. We now live in a different culture. This does not mean that the ancient faith once delivered to the saints is superseded. And it does not mean that viewing Christianity at its beginnings as true and commendable is wrong. But it does mean that we need to shift the lens by which we view the common faith of the ancient church. Hermeneutically speaking, that faith cannot be reduced to some kind of an abstract quasi-metaphysical philosophical system. It must center in the dynamic truth of the Gospel and how its proclamation united people across the Greco-Roman world into one dynamic faith. For want of a better word, we may call this ‘the common faith’ of the ancient church. I believe that our own Stone-Campbell tradition has witnessed to the central features of this faith in the past.”

    He continues to observe about our restoration history:
    “As head ead, lawgiver, and savior for the church, Christ is an authorial figure. He is the one imposing upon the church its exterior blueprint. The church is a glorious body because the structural features have been provided by Christ himself……….in the past thirty years another shift is obvious. The grace of God, rather than the works of the believers, has surfaced more and more so that in several quarters now the church is more and more depicted as a family of loving and forgiven people of God. The structural church remains, but its privileged position has receded into the background. Once again, a theological and concomitant hermeneutical shift has occurred.”

    Now, I struggle and wonder why the church can’t be both of one involving the “correct structure” and amicable, sharing, family like, fellowshipping community??

    Bottom line, Drake, I’m still studying, reading, learning and growing in my faith. I’m a “work in process.” And I’m grateful for the wonderful grace of God. But, I’m still committed to the fact that the Bible presents itself in terms of principles by which its truth may be ascertained. We can transcend our prejudices and presuppositions sufficiently to arrive at God’s truth—if we genuinely wish to do so.

    And with diligent, prayerful and rational study and time, we can arrive at the truth on any subject that is vital to our spiritual well-being.

    My conviction is that any particular hermenticus that doesn’t lead us to having a genuine, faithful, loving and obedient personal relationship with Christ and His church, and very importantly, sola scriptura, is not one I will embrace, and in fact, one I will oppose.

    Sincerely in Christ,
    Robert Prater

  56. Robert,

    In light of some of the comments and way we perceive others to be making comments…

    I hope none of my comments have come accross as elitist or arrogant. Though our coversation reveals a disagreement between us, I certainly have not taken your comments as arrogant or anything like that (perhaps it helps that I know you and can put a face with the typed responses).

    Any ways…if anything in my post sounds arrogant, that was not my intention. At times I tried a little humor to illustrate a point (the little conversation with you and God) but I certainly do not think I have the Bible and theology all neatly figured out.

    Well, take care my brother and preach Jesus Christ. For it is Jesus who has been raised and exalted as Lord and Savior. As such, we have hope and will not live in fear.

    Grace and peace,


  57. Rex,

    None of your comments in our discussion have been taken to be in an arrogrant tone. I can’t say that about others posting and responses to me. Of course, as you mention, we “know” each other personally and that makes a big difference.

    We certainly can “disagree” without being “disagreeable.” I don’t always claim to do that perfectly (hey, I’m come on, I’m in the minor here on the comment postings:)lol), so I may get “frustrated” at times with my more progressive libeal brethren.

    Hopefully all done in humlity and sincerity and for a love for Christ, the Truth and His Church.

    God bless brother,
    Robert Prater

  58. Robert,

    I think Jay has a definition for those who call their brothers in Christ “liberals” – it is called slander and sin. It is a definition that is substantiated by history and a sin to be avoided according to the Bible.

    I plead with you to quit sinning against your brothers in Christ.

    Humbly and asking for God to forgive you,
    Alan Scott

  59. Alan,

    I do not wish to call someone a name to produce prejudice. If I have done that to you or anyone else who reads this blog, I sincerely apologize, repent ask for your forgiveness. I will not do it again. I’ll cease using the word “liberal” and just use Jay’s accepted term of “progressive.’ I always do want to be fair in my characterization of those with whom I disagree. Of course I understand and agree with Jay’s broader definition of liberalism, in the traditional larger circle of those who deny the deity of Christ and the inspiration of the Scripture to a few.

    However having said that, there are attitudes and actions by some in the Lord’s church who are “going beyond” the limits of the word of God in my judgment and are going into apostasy. (cf. Col. 3:17; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 1 Cor. 4:6; 2 John 9) It is in this light and definition and concern that I and other more “conservative”/traditional minded brethren have that there are those within the body of Christ, who first of all, many of them describe themselves as being “liberal and progressive”, and many of them have no trouble calling those of us who don’t agree with them as being “legalist” or promoting “legalism” in our teachings. Some have even implied or stated by about me on this blog. But that’s okay.

    Many are now openly and boldly declare that they want the church of Christ to fundamentally “change” the teachings and practices that have long been held as being distinctive marks of the early church (not the only ones hopefully) but certainly in the historical context of the restoration movement and striving to restore undenominational Christianity–salvation being by faith in Christ demonstrated in obedience by repent, confes, and baptism being immersion for the remission of sin, singing vocally without instrumental music, scriptural organization of elders and deacons, women not preaching and leading in the assembly, partaking of the Lord’s Supper only on each first day of the week to name a few.

    Anyway, I don’t want to come off as “defensive” in my apology, but to only help understand where I am coming from in my perspective.

    Again, I apologize if I have made any “false” or slanderous assertions or misrepresentations of my brethren who disagree with me.

    Humbly and sincerely,
    Robert Prater

  60. Robert,

    I’d like to echo Rex’s comments, unfortunately this medium isn’t conducive to tone or other nuance. It’s difficult to catch the intent or the disposition of a writer. If anything I’ve said came across as arrogant or elitist, that wasn’t my intention. I do disagree with a lot of your stances, but I don’t intend to be disrespectful. On to the discussion…

    “We have many Christian “agnostics” now in the church who say, “Can we really ever know the truth?”

    From a philosophical standpoint it’s a valid question. I think a more accurate way to represent the question is this – “Can we really ever know with 100% certainty that we know the truth?” For me at least, a lesson I’ve learned from the systematic skepticism that permeates the philosophy of science is that no – I can not “know” anything with 100% certainty, philosophically speaking. That’s not the same as claiming that there is no truth, but rather I recognize that I may be wrong in my perceptions. Speaking practically, that philosophical recognition doesn’t keep me from acting, judging, and living according to the best available information (and deduction) available to me.

    “Truth is discernible. We can know what the truth is. Do you believe it is possible for a person to really know the Truth?”

    I’m not sure we can know anything absolutely and with perfect certainty, no. Epistemologically, it seems very difficult to make this case. This view doesn’t demonstrate that I believe nothing or that truth doesn’t exist, it’s a question of philosophy, and the real impact is only that I recognize that I may be wrong.

    “How can a person be expected to obey… ( Hebrews 5:8,9; cf. 1 John 2:3,5) Christ if he is incapable of knowing what constitutes obedience to him?”

    Even though I recognize that I may not actually be sitting in this room typing this message, I still type it. This example may seem obtuse, but consider that we “know” such basic things only through our senses, and our senses can be fooled. This is a simple recognition, nothing more. We always go by our best available information.

    “How can a person be expected to abide in ( John 8:31) the word of Christ if he is unable to learn and know Christ’s teaching? How can a person be expected to prove (1 Thess. 5:21; cf. 1 John 4:1) what the Bible says if the truth cannot be distinguished from error?”

    Again, I’m not claiming that we lack any ability to discern what is true and false or to act upon such discernment. I am claiming that I do not “know” in the strictest sense, that my discernments are accurate.

    “I also must correct your evaluation and accuracy of my views and statements. You didn’t clearly read my statements about CENI not being our only hermeneutical approach to Scripture.”

    I assure you that I did indeed read your statements, I would appreciate it if you would refrain from stating that I “clearly” do and do not do things. What we have here is most likely a misunderstanding. The things you reference (in my circles/knowledge base) are considered to be exegetical rather than hermeneutical.

    “I then concluded, “Only after we have explored the original meaning of a passage through such means as this are we ready to ask the question, “Now what does God want me to do as result of what this passage meant to those who first received it?” I propose to answer that question, we use “command, example, and necessary inference.”

    I wholeheartedly disagree (at least in CENI as it is widely applied), however, I have no issue if you (or your congregation) decide to hold these beliefs. The issues only crop up after people decide to declare others to be damned because of such disagreements.

    “Let me ask you, do you observe the Lord’s Supper each first day of the week? Does the congregation which you worship at have elders and deacons? Men who serve as the preachers?”

    The answer to all is effectively yes.

    “Why or why not? What hermeneutics did they use to come to such conclusions?”

    The short answer is the same for us as it is for the Baptist, Catholics, Pentacostals, Muslims, Buddhists, and everyone else… people tend to do what they honestly believe is the right thing.

    “In my experience, (proposing no alternative to CENI) is nearly universal among “CENI” objectors. Joe proposes like others who think like him, that Scripture is merely a communication from a loving God-something like a love letter. This suggestion may supply a perspective, but it really offers no concrete guidelines from its major proponents about “how to do church” according to God’s specific desires.”

    Why do you assume that we need an alternative? You’re going into this assuming that it is God’s intent to tell us how to “do church” (as in, that thing we do on Sunday morning that we often call “assembled worship”) at all. Reading a book like Acts (which many claim contains a “pattern” for our worship, I do not reach the conclusion that this is God’s intent. (Check out Leviticus for some fine examples of how to “instruct” someone in such procedures and processes. It doesn’t look anything like “then on the first day the disciples got together upstairs and broke bread”, forgive the paraphrase).

    “Others are advocating taking advantage of the current interest in what is called “narrativity.” But, again, no concerete methods and ways of how to properly be the church God intended has been seemingly put forward.”

    Many of us have reached the conclusion (from scripture) that God is much more interested in us “being the church” in our lives and in the lives of others than “being the church” properly on Sunday morning. No disrespect intended, but I believe that your answer (CENI) is a flawed answer to an even more flawed question. Of course, I could be wrong…

    “As far as our young people go, you need to really take notice what is going on. They aren’t being taught basic Bible truths, commands and principles of God’s word in many congregations.”

    Maybe not as you understand them… but I bet those “liberals” and other denominations/religions aren’t intentionally teaching their children lies.

    “Rather than shrugging off the conflicting views and positions on various subjects (such as baptism, music in worship, role of women, etc.) and rather than dismissing religious differences as hopeless, irresolvable, and irrelevant—we must study and search God’s book with careful attention to the task with an honest heart that is receptive to the truth.”

    Again, no problem there, as long as we learn to live together when we come to different conclusions.

    (Re: Homosexuality) “They don’t know what the Bible says and many of them, if they do, DON’T LIKE WHAT THE BIBLE DOES SAY and will often appeal to the subjective matter of feelings, pesonal experience and the love and mercy and grace of God and Christ. As if, the two are opposed to each other.”

    Let’s discuss homosexuality for a moment then. When you read Leviticus, what do you think of the punishment for homosexuality? I’ll be honest, if God is love (1 John 4:8), something seems wrong here. Maybe the punishment isn’t too disturbing to people living in “conservative” areas of our country where gays are stigmatized (though people might change their minds if they actually witnessed a stoning), but stoning is proscribed for far “less”: If parents complain that a son is “stubborn and rebellious… a profligate and a drunkard” (Deut 21), or a daughter is not found (the “evidence” is extremely questionable at absolute best) to be a virgin on her wedding night (Deut 22), they were to be put to death by stoning as well.

    I’ll be honest, such issues challenge my faith, to say the least. There may be answers to issues like this, but it seems like we just shy away from such discussions. (I’ll be shocked if it gets another mention here, in fact.) When that “shying away” happens, of course people develop “subjective” coping mechanisms to bridge the gaps on their own – they have to.

    “The tide of pluralism and its siren call for tolerance is still in.”

    So… we should be intolerant?

    “Yet, interestingly enough, in the confusion of so many members of the church’s mind, there is becoming a less and less on common link to our past hermeneutic. No, we less and less hear the watchword: “We must have divine command or apostolic example before we will accept it.”

    Maybe it isn’t confusion, maybe it is happening because a lot of us are seeing all of the inconsistencies with this approach, and have found it to lack a scriptural basis.

    “Now, I struggle and wonder why the church can’t be both of one involving the “correct structure” and amicable, sharing, family like, fellowshipping community??”

    It could be, but it won’t be without a lot of compromise and tolerance. We’re rearranging the chairs on the Titanic, as it is.

    “Bottom line, Drake, I’m still studying, reading, learning and growing in my faith. I’m a “work in process.” And I’m grateful for the wonderful grace of God. But, I’m still committed to the fact that the Bible presents itself in terms of principles by which its truth may be ascertained. We can transcend our prejudices and presuppositions sufficiently to arrive at God’s truth—if we genuinely wish to do so.”


  61. Robert,

    Thanks for the change in your choice of terms. I would note that there’s a huge difference between “apostate” and “liberal.” Not all apostates are liberal.

    I imagine that there are some among the progressives who describe themselves as “liberal” in the theological sense of the term, but I’ve never heard anyone do so. It’s certainly atypical. Nearly all progressives would find the term offensive because it implies that they take positions that they don’t take.

    On the other hand, if you’d prefer to use “change agent,” I’d take no offense. I truly wish to be an agent of change in the Churches of Christ. I can’t speak for anyone else among the progressives, but I kind of like the term.

  62. Jay,

    I too have learned to take the label change agent as a compliment. I know I am not trying to deliberatly subvert the word or lead people astray nor do I sow the so called seeds of discord. I simplu study and challenge others to do so as well.

  63. Yeah, I would not describe myself as “liberal”, for I certainly believe in the historical Jesus as the crucified, risen, exalted, and coming-again Lord and Messiah. And I also believe that the scriptures are true and inspired of God. Am I a progressive? Yes, I think from a progressive stance but I am really interested in “missional” thinking. Like Jay, I want to see change in the Churches of Christ and whatever small influence I may have, I hope to have the influence of change because I fear that without change most of the movement will slowly die due to an impotent gospel.

    Yes, that is what I said…an impotent gospel. That is a gospel that is contextualized for a culture that is quickly becoming history. Without learning how to contextualize the gospel for a post-Christian culture, we will not evangelize and minister to a growing generation that neither knows God nor knows where to begin a search for God.

    Grace and peace,


  64. Rex said:
    “Yes, that is what I said…an impotent gospel. That is a gospel that is contextualized for a culture that is quickly becoming history. Without learning how to contextualize the gospel for a post-Christian culture, we will not evangelize and minister to a growing generation that neither knows God nor knows where to begin a search for God.”

    Amen Rex! All you have to do is look across the big ponds to see what is in store for the traditional church. The phenomena you speak of have already occurred in the UK, Western Europe, Japan South Africa, Australia and many others. Now only 7% of the population attends a regular traditional worship service one a week. It started in the USA back in the late 60’s and early seventies and is now knocking on the doors of all churches in America regardless of doctrine or intuitional affiliation. Jay has a post about reaching our emerging post modern generations but there are only four comments. Don’t you wish we could spend as much time talking about how to solve the problems instead of endless meaningless ramblings or doctrinal matters?

  65. The mordern/enlightment view believed the human engine was at the center (as opposed to the premodern that saw God at the center) and that truth was located in scientific inquiry (as opposed to the religious inquiry of the premodern world). As a result, the modern human said believed it could conclusively know all things through scientific discovery and hence, solve all problems through scientific means. Of course, rather than solving problems like wold violence and poverty, the modern approach was able to develop the inner-city “projects” which only created more urban problems, develop nuclear technology which killed thousands of people in Japan and has held the rest of the world captive to the fear of nuclear war, and many other problems created by its so-called solutions (all based in human optimism). From a Christian viewpoint, there seem to be so many illusions in the modern world of people trying to build their tower of babel.

    The response to the failures of modernism is postmodernism. Postmoderns have come along and seen the human quest for truth as simply one more quest for domination. That coupled with the failures of the modern human has led postmoderns to conclude that there is no such think as an absolute discernable truth. They also have concluded that humans are not the center of all things, rather there is something bigger (a god or gods perhaps) but nobody can ultimately know that bigger.

    I am neither modern or postmodern, as I hold a Christian world-view which is counter to both the modern and postmodern view. I do believe there is such a thing as truth and that we can know it (that much modernism had right). However, I think a moderate dose of postmodern views was needed as a corrective to the arrogance of modernism. While I believe in truth that is discernable and knowable on our part, I also believe that 1) we all need to recognize the various biases that we come to the table of discernment with and 2) we must discern in humility that reconizes we have limitations and we will not know all truth there is to know.

    In our movement, a movement that was very influenced by modern/enlightment approaches, there seem to be some who think they can discover all there is to know and do so perfectly. I once heard a preacher say that we (the CoC) have figured out everything that God wants us to know about being a Christian, have restored it perfectly, and now our job was simply to correct and rebuke the denominations for their error. I also grew up in a church that held a view like for a long time. This is an arrogant rather than humble approach that sees no limitations or biases in our quest for truth. The corrective (indeed influenced by some postmodern concerns but not wholesale postmodernism) is to be humble enough to say “I know some things about God and Christianity but I don’t know it all and in fact those Methodist or Catholics down the road don’t know it all either but they might know somethings that I don’t know, thus we might be able to discern together what it means to be disciples of Jesus” (however, this takes humility on the part of all seekers of truth).

    So I do believe in truth (or should I say in Truth, named Jesus). I believe we can make “reasonable” claims of certitude but we also must acknowledge room for error. That keeps me humble (I hope).

    Grace and peace,


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