Dialogue with Robert Prater: Robert’s Comment About Progressive Dialogue

dialogueSeveral days ago, Robert posted a comment that I’ve been meaning to get to for a while.

Rich,

I would just continue to encourage you to stand for truth in a balanced and loving way and have no desire to run full stream and embrace the far left progressive view of truth (which in many instances demonstrates many are infected with postmodern thinking).

For the past few months I’ve been engaged with progressives bloggers like Jay and others and it has been very eyeing opening to see just how far down the road many in the church are. They seem to exalt and glory in their “doubts and diversity” in teachings and practice in the body of Christ and seem to think that little if any error will condemn souls.

Robert, obviously we have different views as to which errors damn. But what warrant is there for the “if any”? I’ve certainly never said that there is no error that damns. I’ve said quite the opposite. Nor do I “exalt and glory” in “doubts and diversity.” I certainly take no delight in doubt — and have idea where you get that impression.

With regard to diversity of opinion, I see it as a necessary evil. I’m not pleased that there is any disagreement among Christians at all. But we are finite beings and we sometimes make mistakes — moral and doctrinal. Hence, I exult and glory in God’s grace — for those who are in grace. And I’m saddened that many are not in God’s grace.

Have I said something that gives a different impression?

There really is a spiritually “arrogance” demonstrated in their attitude I’ve noticed that somehow they’ve been “liberated” and “set free.”

Do we progressives exult in being “set free”? I certainly hope so. Freedom is a deeply scriptural concept.

(Gal 5:1)  It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

(John 8:31-32)  To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

A truly Biblical theology sets believers free. How is this wrong?

One thing that’s been most eye opening has been to see how the “progressive” Church of Christ people have just as much ability to be close minded as they accuse us more conservative minded brethren to be. It’s very easy to believe that you’re more advanced in theology and relationship to God than “those poor conservatives.” Progressives have to be charitable in working with other churches of Christ, as well as denominations. Spiritual superiority complexes have no place in the Kingdom.

Are progressives stubborn in their beliefs? I’m sure they are. But there’s an important difference. There are far more former conservatives among the progressives than former progressives among the conservatives. You see, most progressives have a story much like mine. I was raised conservative. I was educated conservative. But because I am willing to change when I learn better, I changed. Most progressives have changed from being conservative.

Therefore, there really is very little a conservative can say to persuade a progressive — because we progressives have heard the same arguments all our lives — and rejected them. Most of us — myself included — once even taught conservative theology. Most of us know conservative theology as well as any conservative does. Our rejection of conservative theology is not because we are closed minded, but because we are open minded, have heard both sides, and have been persuaded.

If the conservatives are openminded, why are they so very unfamiliar with our positions? Why are our views so severely mischaracterized? And why do conservative periodicals and blogs routinely refuse to allow our side to be presented? Why are our views grossly distorted? Why not take the trouble to understand us, even if you don’t agree?

Do we sometimes act superior? Yes. I know I have. I don’t defend it. It’s wrong. On the other hand, when someone finally discovers grace — the true Biblical doctrine of grace — and truly feels saved for the first time, you can’t help but feel joy in your newly discovered condition. You want to celebrate — and well you should. And some take our celebration and delight in our assurance and confidence as arrogance.

Nonetheless, I readily admit two failings among us progressives. We do tend to be dismissive toward conservative theology. Again, I don’t defend that attitudue. Rather, having seen the error of conservative thought and the joys of progressive thought, we often find it hard revisit conservative arguments that we’ve heard and dealt with many times before. But the lack of patience and dismissive attitude we sometimes evidence is wrong.

Second, I have to admit that some progressives do a poor job of articulating progressive theology. There are books I wish had never been published. I’ve said many times that we’ve done a poor job of explaining ourselves at times, and it remains true. But there are plenty of excellent presentations of the progressive viewpoint. I’d especially commend the work of John Mark Hicks and the late Cecil Hook.

But make no mistake about it, the one thing I’ve learned about the strategy and approach of “progressives” is that their “openness” and “genuine dialogue” is carefully coughed in their steadfast zeal to change the conservative brethren and churches of Christ. They talk big on gaining “mutual understanding” but what most of them seem to really desire is that if you listen to them enough, you will convert.

Reflect a bit on what you’ve just said. Isn’t it equally true of you? Don’t you have “steadfast zeal to change the [progressive] brethren and churches of Christ”? Why is it okay for you to contend for your position through dialogue and wrong for a progressive to do the same? Haven’t you been commenting on this site in hope that someone will listen to you and be persuaded?

I’ve gladly let you post tens of thousands of words on this site, completely uncensored and unmoderated, even though you were arguing vigorously against my beliefs? Have you paused to wonder why? Trust me, there aren’t many conservative blogs that would give me the same privilege! There are no conservative periodicals that would let me publish articles in their pages. Why do I let you publish freely on my blog?

You see, I believe that truth is best found in dialogue. I think it helps for both sides to be freely advocated. The readers are bright people. They can make the right decisions — but only if they’ve heard both sides. If someone chooses to agree with me, I hope it’s because they’ve heard both sides and agreed with mine. I’d far rather persuade in open competition with those who disagree with me.

I wish more conservatives would post here. Unlike many of our periodicals (nearly all), I am not interested in presenting only one side of the argument. It’s not right. I don’t like being cut out of the pages of the Gospel Advocate etc., and so I figure conservatives would want to be able to post at length here. It’s the Golden Rule. And it’s confidence in my position and in my readers. I believe the more the readers know about both sides and the more the two sides interact, the more likely my readers are to be persuaded to the progressive view. I hope that you feel the same way about the conservative viewpoint.

This was the position of Alexander Campbell as editor of the Millennial Harbinger and Lipscomb as editor of the Gospel Advocate. Both published articles they disagreed with. I think they were exactly right.

And, of course, one advantage of an open editorial policy is that when you do make a mistake, it’s more likely that it gets corrected. Allowing readers to disagree at length keeps me on my toes. And sometimes they persuade me that I’m wrong. It’s good for me.

But how much of this “understanding” goes the other way? I would bet none. Of course there are issues within the church that we need to have “mutual. As far as discussion goes, though, perhaps if the conservative brothers do well, they might dissuade someone trying to learn more about these issues from jumping off the doctrinal deep end.

And so I do stay in “the ring” (although less and less) because there are hopefully lurkers (people who read but who never post) who might be persuaded by the arguments presented. As far as the opponents goes, our arguments generally fall on deaf ears

I don’t have a way to measure the impact of your arguments. I’m grateful for your participation. In fact, the hit counts consistently go up whenever there’s a conservative/progressive dialogue going on in the comments. I assume I’m getting hits from both sides, but have no idea who is being persuaded and who is not.

This site gets over 1,000 hits a day, and there are rarely more than 10 people commenting on a given day. The vast majority don’t comment, but they read. And I’m glad they read both sides.

It remains my view — deeply held — that the ongoing division in the Churches of Christ is contrary to God’s will, and I continue to believe that the cure is dialogue. I don’t know any other possibility.

Not a one of the print periodicals in the Churches of Christ is willing to print both sides. Therefore, the internet seems the best place to talk through our differences.

Of course, both sides thinks it’s right. And neither side comes in wishing to be shown in error. If that weren’t so, there’d be no division to cure!

Thus, both sides need to present their views in a forum where they can be considered, critiqued, and discussed — and where misunderstandings can be corrected. The internet is a great place for exactly that. And even if neither side persuades the other, some good things will surely result.

First, some of the lies being spread by one side about the other will be corrected — and the liars will be proven liars.

Second, the two sides will understand each other much better. As I said, we progressives don’t always do a good job of explaining ourselves. The conservatives have sometimes done a poor job of this as well.

Third, forcing both sides to carefully state and defend their views will force each side to think more carefully about its position — and get away from sloganeering and instead focus on the scriptures more deeply. Both sides will be better for being pushed to a fresh study of the scriptures (and, trust me, that’s happening).

Fourth, those watching the dialogue will learn more about both sides — and learn more than the slogans and rhetoric. They’ll see the points of contention. When they pick a side to agree with, they’ll do so for good reason — not based on mischaracterizations of either side but by that side’s own arguments.

Will the divide disappear? No.

Will the division get better? How could God not bless the courteous, prayerful discussion of his word?

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51 Responses

  1. Jay

    I do not label you or Robert as anything but devoted Christians seeking truth.

    I hate labels. I hate them because once labeled you are put in a neat little box and we don’t have to deal with you anymore.

    Jesus died so we could once again be one.

    Bob

  2. Amen Bob, Thanks for sharing the discussion Jay. Dialogue is the first step to unity.

  3. Dialogue is the first step to unity.

    Exactly Trent. And that’s what Jay is trying to do have dialogue. But some like Robert make it hard to have dialogue with them, making such comments as Robert did yesterday on the “Regulative Principle: The Acts 20:7 Argument.” These are three quotes Robert made in his comment there yesterday.

    “It is truly scary and deeply sad how far many have gone in the body of Christ. Unity will not be able to reached with such a new generation in the church. Our only hope is that many will honestly and sincerely leave only and stop trying to make the Lord’s church inot another community type denomination, and just go out and “church plant” as they like to call it (what kind of church?? Only they know!)”

    “In reality, many like myself, Phil Sanders, probably Mac Deaver, and many other more moderate conservatives in the Lord’s church have already come to the realization and conclusion these extreme progressives are no longer “one of us” and for the mos part will not be reached.”

    “So just be careful in here Rich, there are “Sharks” all around (change agents), and they are “hungry for blood” (figuratively speaking:)”

    Robert clearly showed his hatred not just for other church denominations but also for the “progressives.”

    Robert doesn’t seem to care much at all about having dialogue, except to blast on others.

  4. One word……Love!……

  5. Robert, whom I know and went to Harding University with, loves the Lord and cares deeply about the mission of God.

    However, it is regretable to see his inflamatory comments. They serve nothing but to polarize, even if that is not the intent. He thinks of the progressives as being on the far left while he (and others who think like him) are balanced. But he is closed to the possibility of the exact opposite: that he is on the far right while progressives are actually the ones who are balanced…after all, logic necessitates that if Robert’s claim is possible then the opposite is equally possible. He accuses the progressive as being immersed in postmodernism but appears OBLIVIOUS to the modernism/enlightment paradigm he himself is immersed in. In other words, he claims the progressive is shaped in part by a philosophical/cultural paradigm while he himself is not. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!

    Frankly speaking, it is just a little insulting to listen to Robert. We may disagree on how certain passages of scripture should be understood and applied. We can dialougue about those misunderstandings. I do not mind having Robert or anyone offer a dissenting critique to my understading of scripture. But there is no place for inflamatory remarks and to do so only serves Satan and his will to harm.

    Like Wade, I am moving to the Denver metro area to help establish a network of house churches which we are calling Clay Neighborhood (those who want to know our vision can contact me personally). My purpose in doing so is not so I can have all sorts of innovative practices that the traditional CoC would shun. My purpose is because I love God and his mission and want to reach the broken-hearted, wounded, and lost. After serving as a minister in a traditional CoC for the last five years, I am more convinced than ever that this is needed (though I do not believe this is what every member of the CoC should do). I am not leaving, disfellowshiping, disassociating, etc… the CoC. I do regard the body of Christ as larger than the CoC and so I will fellowship with the larger body of Christ as much as I will fellowship with the CoC. If some in the CoC will not extend fellowship too me…that is on them but my assurance is not grounded in what any human, Christian or not, thinks

    Having said that…May we all follow in the steps of men like Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Swingli on down to men like Thomas and Alexander Campbell, Barton W. Stone, and Walter C. Scott who all walked in the same footsteps of Jesus Christ who refused to allow men to use the pretense of godly religious authority to cower him from living out the mission of God as his Father called him to do.

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

  6. Rex-My purpose is because I love God and his mission and want to reach the broken-hearted, wounded, and lost.

    Amen, Rex!

    Rex, by me showing support to the mission God has given to you to glorify Him to others may make some look down on you or even be hard on you, which I would hope that they would rather show support to you, I still want to encourage you to never give up on reaching out to others. I was one who people probably never thought would change, well I did. The Lord took me by surprise and His amazing love won my heart over to Him and I totally surrendered to the Lord, I haven’t been the same since, praise God! My life isn’t perfect and I still have struggles, God didn’t say life here would be without trials and tribulations, but my life sure is a whole lot better with Jesus than without Him. I have read some of the very hard struggles you’ve had in your life Rex and my heart goes out to you, and seeing how strong your faith is uplifts me and I’m sure others too. God Bless you Rex.

    Grace, mercy, and peace

  7. It’s hard to know where to start as a response.

    First of all, Robert and I don’t know each other but I have greatly valued his comments. I have appreciated his willingness to speak from his heart.

    Secondly, I fully understand the concept of ‘change agent’ in a 21st century vernacular. That was my unofficial title the last 7 years of my first career (recently retired after 32 years).

    I found that convincing people to change was easy if it was perceived to eliminate constraints and allow more local decision making.

    Change was difficult when the perception was that local decision making was reduced.

    However, in our climate, this achieved the best business results. We saw a direct improvement in customer satisfaction when we unified internal procedures (equivalent to worship and organization) and allowed more innovation in customer based methods (equivalent to evangelism).

    Since the progressive movement portrays a reduction in constraints (worship and organization don’t matter) any claims of growth are merely acknowledgment of typical human behavior rather than a better way.

    I do appreciate dialogue. I learned a long time ago to get information ‘straight from the horse’s mouth’ I once read a book titled “What’s Wrong with the Church of Christ.” It was written by someone outside of the restoration movement. The biggest impression was the author’s treatment of quotes from many of our well known preachers like Batsell Barret Baxter. The author would provide the quote and then say what was wrong with it. Nearly every time, the author interpreted the quote to say we believe something we don’t. So I concluded I can’t rely on negative comments about others even if sincere.

    I do appreciate Jay’s time and skills in managing this blog.

    Third, let’s talk about effectiveness. During our (cofC) high growth years (50’s and 60’s) our best minds focused on innovative evangelism techniques (Jule Miller filmstrips, specific flip charts and Open Bible Study as examples). I understand those methods are no longer as effective. However, it seems that our best minds today are more preoccupied with telling us what’s wrong with our procedures rather than being truly innovative in what is most effective in growing the Kingdom of God. That’s where we need change.

    Based on experience, I truly believe the Lord’s church would be far better off focusing on other issues.

  8. Rex,

    I would like to know more about your house church endeavor. I recently finished reading ‘Pagan Christianity’ by Viola and Barna which highlights the positives of a house church model. The book is full of cofC philosophies although most seem to miss them.

    I know people today want more variety. Some are providing it via the big (mega) church way (like one stop shopping at Walmart) and some are advocating the house church (like home based businesses on the internet). Both seem like experiments to me. We do need innovative evangelistic techniques.

    I hope the unchurched are led to the Bible.

    Rich.

  9. I cherish a rational discussion of the scriptures, reaching the lost, edifying the saved.

    By “rational” I mean
    the only names we call one another are Brother and Sister,
    we discuss one thing at a time
    seeking first to understand the other person before explaining ourselves, and so on (I end with “and so on” as I don’t want to write a book on congruent communication here, but I’m delighted to discuss the topic).

  10. ‘Worship and organization don’t matter’ … ? Are you quoting someone, Rich? Because I’ve never heard anyone propose or defend that on this blog, or anywhere else I’ve read, to the best of my memory.

  11. Apologies in advance for the length. I have to say this.

    “I hope the unchurched are led to the Bible.” – Rich

    “During our (cofC) high growth years (50’s and 60’s) our best minds focused on innovative evangelism techniques (Jule Miller filmstrips, specific flip charts and Open Bible Study as examples). I understand those methods are no longer as effective. However, it seems that our best minds today are more preoccupied with telling us what’s wrong with our procedures rather than being truly innovative in what is most effective in growing the Kingdom of God. That’s where we need change.” – Rich

    In regards to the first quote, I understand what you mean, but the phrasing reveals the thinking. I hope people are led to God (we all do, I know), but the idea of hoping people are led to the Bible does speak to one of the differences I have with CofC, mainly the Bible being idolized. It isn’t the Bible that will be riding in on a white horse at the end of the age. I want people to read the Bible because they’ve met God. In the 50s and 60s that might’ve been the other way around. Today, it’s gospel preached via lifestyle first, Scripture second.

    Regarding the second quote – and hear me with the gentleness that I type this with – innovative evangelism techniques aren’t really necessary. If we lived what we preached, things would be just fine.

    If we want to innovate in America, let’s sell our possessions and give to the poor, especially while the world is fearfully hoarding things. Lets help widows and orphans. Let’s get out of the church building and into people’s lives, and do more than tell them, “If you come to us and do what we say, we can warm and fill you.”

    Yesterday, I digitized a tape of Carey Dowl preaching a Bridgewood Church of Christ in 1995. He preached on Jerusalem under siege in 2 Kings 6. He talked about how the lepers outside the city decided to go out to the enemy camp: “If we go back into the city, we will die. If we stay here, we will die. If we go to the enemy, they might kill us, but they might not.” He said that many talked about the “good old days” when the church was growing. But if we go back to that, we will die. If we keep doing what we are doing, we will die. Maybe, if we step out and take a risk, we will find life once again. He preached that message almost 15 years ago, and we’re seeing that very truth occurring in front of our eyes.

    As a progressive (I guess), I could not respond to his message within the Churches of Christ. The protection of the past, the unwillingness to discuss sacred cows, the inability to talk about issues calmly and rationally, the holes in the logic that had to be bowed to, the constant threat of Satan and Hell from the pulpit to the saved, the “play it safe” mentality – all of these (and more) are shutting the door to the kingdom of God in people’s faces. It is not the “life and to the full” found in Scripture.

    It was not until I was out of the churches of Christ (in a church started by other ex CofCers) that I really learned how to hear, believe, repent, confess and be baptized as a lifestyle, not a one-time event:
    – Hearing God’s voice
    – Believing in what He tells me in all aspects of life
    – Repenting via lifestyle changes as He renews my mind
    – Confessing that I am totally unable to do what He asks without Him
    – Being baptized in (immersed into, filled up by) the Holy Spirit.

    As a result, God has led me in an incredible story, with this being the next chapter: http://www.hopecanyon.org/.

    Again, sorry for the long post, but there are hundreds of thousands of progressives like me who have found the incredible joy the CofC taught us about, and taught us to pursue. I wish with all of my strength that those who consider themselves defenders of the faith would listen to our stories, hold the Bible up next to them, and see how they line up.

    The Pharisees missed Jesus though they knew the scriptures better than any. Let’s make sure that such is not the case with us. I have found life outside my upbringing, but it is the very life that my CofC upbringing told me to seek with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength.

    Comments like Robert’s – whatever their intent – convince me that while the words of Jesus can still be found in the CofC, His life – boundless unending rivers of it! – cannot be.

    And I pray for unity while I weep.

  12. Keith,

    This concluding remark from Jay (CENI – 1 Cor) is an example of what I was referencing:

    “Paul manages to address many issues of worship and division without once mentioning the need for authority, the laws of generic and specific authority, positive law, or such like. He has no rulebook. Rather, he argues over and over from the gospel and from love.” – Jay

    I found the above comment interesting because Paul gives more detailed procedural-based instructions for the Corinthian brothers and sisters (and “all churches”) concerning morality, marriage, giving and corporate worship than can be found in any other NT book.

    Did I misinterpret Jay or did you misunderstand my comment?

  13. Brad,

    I appreciate your passion and I’m sure God does also.

    Rich.

  14. It’s funny. I’ve always considered myself a consevative. My wife and children have recently left the Church of Christ, but not the church of Christ. We are at a truly non-denominational church. It was very hard to do and may cause division in my family, but I have not regretted it at all. My marriage, my relationship with God, and most every aspect of my life is better. I can’t explain it.

    I imagine some people at our former church think I’m leading my family straight to hell, but for now we are being led to greener pastures and still water.

    Why did we leave? God led us there even though I resisted.

  15. Yay Brad! Don’t worry about the length. That was a great post!

  16. Brad, I enjoyed your post ~ especially your perspective on the “five steps”. I will be sharing that and other points you made in appropriate discussions.

  17. I was absolutely shocked when I read Robert’s accusations and his quotes of the slanderous attacks on faithful members in the Churches of Chrsit who happen to disagree with him on a few points. Neither was “speaking the truth in love” but instead appeared to the heights (or depths) of an arrogant rock-hard heart. Such slanderous and blatantly false accusations need to be immediately apologized for.

    Jay, your desire and commitment to dialogue is scriptural, honorable, and commendable. What we have seen in reply is not dialogue, but is abuse of the invitation.

    God bless and have mercy

  18. Only Jay could tell you for certain whether you misrepresented his comment. My reservations are two-fold:

    That drawing such a conclusion – “Worship and organization don’t matter” – on behalf of all so-called “progressives” based on a single quotation by a single person places too much responsibility on that person – even Jay!

    That drawing such a conclusion from that quote would require the same hermeneutic that it would take for me to read your phrase …

    I found the above comment interesting because Paul gives more detailed procedural-based instructions for the Corinthian brothers and sisters (and “all churches”) concerning morality, marriage, giving and corporate worship than can be found in any other NT book.

    … concluding that you see the Corinthian letters and all scripture as only command – even teaching that of the great poem in 1 Corinthians 13, whose meaning would then be rendered “Thou shalt be patient; thou shalt be kind ….” You see, I would have had to have approached what you wrote with a judged your meaning based on one comment, slipped out of context, exaggerated in its scope and intent. You would not consider that a fair conclusion, and you would be right!

    Surely most of us don’t do that with scripture; why would we do that with a text written by a brother in Christ?

    Why not, rather, try to look at texts – whether inspired or not! – with the greatest possible lack of presupposition and ask for clarity of meaning, rather than draw conclusions from what we think it to mean?

  19. Rich,

    You quote a sentence from my post at http://oneinjesus.info/2009/05/25/ceni-a-better-way-1-corinthians/ as supporting your assertion that I believe “‘Worship and organization don’t matter.”

    I indeed wrote,

    Paul manages to address many issues of worship and division without once mentioning the need for authority, the laws of generic and specific authority, positive law, or such like. He has no rulebook. Rather, he argues over and over from the gospel and from love.

    My request is that you read my sentences in context just as you would want to be taken in context. In that same post I wrote,

    Here’s perhaps the most practical of Paul’s epistles, which addresses the Lord’s Supper and the assembly more than any other book in the Bible — and there’s no 5 acts of worship. Rather, we are told the purpose of the assembly and that whatever accomplishes that purpose is fine.

    Paul tests their communion practices, once again, against the purpose of the communion — to proclaim the Lord’s death — and finds their behavior abhorrent.

    But there’s no semi-secret rule book. Rather, it’s all very pragmatic in a gospel-centered way: Does it edify? Does it serve to honor Jesus? Does it show love?

    Look as hard as we might, we find nothing of conservative Church of Christ thought in 1 Corinthians. Rather, we find a very immature congregation being taught to honor the gospel, to proclaim Jesus, to edify each other in the assembly, and above all, to love one another.

    Did I say worship doesn’t matter?

    I said worship should honor its God-given purposes. And I said that it’s not about rules but purpose.

    Now, one could parse words and argue with some accuracy that having to fulfilled God’s purposes is a “rule,” and that would be true. But the kind of rules I’m arguing for are radically different from the traditional Church of Christ rules.

    Rather than looking for rules regarding what is and isn’t authorized (and regarding which we’ve been unable to agree at any time in the last 100 years) we should look more precisely to what Paul told us to do: love each other, fulfill the purposes of the gospel, and edify, strengthen, encourage, and comfort one another.

    These are indeed rules, but they are not mere rules. These reflect the purposes of God going back to the Fall. These principles reflect his character and purposes throughout the scriptures. They are what’s required to restore relationship and keep us together as a community that’s a light on a hill.

    Rather than a bunch of positive commands that are, at best, hinted at in the scriptures, this approach fulfills God’s purposes at a deep and rich level — as I tried to explain in the Blue Parakeet series.

    Does worship matter? Yes, but not as a ritual following arbitrary rules created to test our faith (as Franklin, Harding, and many others taught). No, worship matters because God sent his Son to restore our relationships with God and with each other — and the assembly, done right, helps heal and deepen that relationship — and it presents a sensory testimony of that relationship to unbelieving visitors. You see, it’s not rulekeeping so much as sharing God’s love as community.

    Therefore, I abhor the checklist mentality that what God really wants is certain acts performed a certain way at certain times. He tried that approach and replaced it with a radically different new covenant.

    Hence we worship, not out of constraint or in fear of breaking some rule imagined by a preacher with a printing press. No, we worship in celebration of what God has given us and to encourage one another to live as God wishes — because we want nothing more than to please God.

    Does worship matter? Yes, indeed, it’s a mark of the church because the Spirit is a mark of the church and we worship in the Spirit —

    (Phil 3:3) For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh–

    So sometimes when I’m arguing against our legalistic traditions I get caught up in the vocabulary and mindset of legalism and fail to fully express myself — because I can’t and do so syllogisitically, if that makes any sense. Therefore, I sometimes stop short of where I really should take the conversation.

    I apologize for having been less clear than I should have been and thank you for pushing me to explain myself better. It’s much appreciated.

    If I stll seem to be arguing that worship doesn’t matter, let me know and I’ll give it another try.

    Worship matters. Keeping rules found only in the Patristics does not.

  20. I have found the conservative-progressive conversations enlightening, but not attractive. Could these conversations be doing more damage than good to everyone?

  21. But if we don’t talk about it how do we find out how to move forward? The discussion might be ugly and frustrating but it is vital to the health of the Body.

  22. I have been a reader of your site for a while, and was convicted and felt that I was not adding to the dialog. Like a voyeuer, I was lurking on the outside watching the dialog take place, but wasn’t actively engaging in the conversation.

    I atttend a fairly conservative church in the brotherhood, but find myself questioning more and more the approach and attitude of a “minority” of those I worship with. In fact, I am sure that many would say they are more progressive than they might show on their face.

    That leads me to this one conclusion, that I think Robert is saying if I read between the lines. There is more concern by a very few for “Institutional Loyalty” than “Christ Loyalty”. In fact, so many of those that I worship with went to COC colleges (I didn’t), that there is almost a feeling that maintaining the insitution as they know it overrides any common sense regarding really reading and understanding what was meant in the Word. Thus, the use of inflammatory phrases such as “off the doctrinal deep end”.

    I have found this site refreshing, as it has given me a light to know that there are others who question what we are hearing, not out of heresy, but out of a deep desire to really be the church.

    Please keep the dialog going.

  23. At some point, I will be trying to develop a blog about the church planting plans. Right now I am finishing the editing process of the vision presentation.

    As for “Pagan Christianity”… Yes, there seemed to be a big “patternistic” overtone to their approach which sounds much like the CoC. Of course, this did not impress me because I do not believe our call as “New Testament Christians” (to borrow more of our language) is to reproduce every form of the first century Church (as I do not believe the NT does not contain a specific and singular pattern of church structure) and this is what I found Pagan Christianity to be calling for. I believe we are faithful Christians/church when we reproduce the life of Jesus Christ.

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

  24. Jay,

    I have no intentions of misrepresenting you.

    I was referring to the non-binding aspect that seems to permeate throughout the posts.

    Let me summarize my understanding of your recent posts:

    In matters affecting decisions on the manner and methods of worship, they must:

    1. Be edifying
    2. Not violate other direct commands in the Bible
    3. Not be binding on anyone else. (this includes any instructions Paul gave the Corinthian church).

    Is this closer?

    Rich.

  25. It is important to understand that the the Jules Miller film strips and the flanelgraph boards and door knocking asking for bible studies in the home were developed in a churched nation and those who did not attend came a somewhat Christian world view. Most of them already believed that the Bible had some truth and that there was a God like that of the Bible. This is no longer the audience. When I was in college we did a research project to trace back individual churches of Christ. Most of the first generation converts to the churches of Christ came from other Christian denominations such as Methodists, Baptists, Lutherans etcetera. I beg everyone to wake and realize it is no longer 1950 America is post modern and no longer churched and no comes from a presupposed Christian world view. If we can’t accept this reality and adapt then our fate is sealed! Almost all major Christian denominations in America are now in decline with the exception of the Christian church and the Assemblies of God. But they have also stagnated. All you have to do is look at other post modern countries in Western Europe, Japan, and so on and you can get a picture of post modernism does traditional Christianity. Only 7% of Western Europe attends regular traditional church weekly. Funny thing is they did believe it would happen to them. If we don’t wake up our doom is sealed there are thousands of churches in America that are just a few funerals away from extinction. I now we are always looking for excuses or examples of a church that is growing to deluded ourselves from reality but just look across the ponds. It would be easy to take a tour through Western Europe and England to look at all the “empty” churches. They are actually being turned into mosques and new age religions.

  26. I would also encourage us to remember that many house churches are not counted in statistics. As Jay pointed out at some point, if both atheists and Christians are worried because of dwindling numbers, where are the people going? It can’t be both “to” and “away from” God. There are many people seeking God right now. But they know from experience that He can’t be easily found at the churches.

    House- and cell-based churches give their members the freedom to focus on the needs and lives of the members. It’s all about the needs of the cells, or members. This is where the Kingdom is being experienced right now in America, in a very personal, needs-meeting, life-giving community of believers who have completely sold out to God.

    Many churches think that a “small group” is the new place to have Bible class. That’s only half true, because the Bible that is studied in the effective small group is the members’ lives. Scripture, then, goes to explain the deeper meanings behind the actions that have already been observed.

    While our traditional intellectual class might say:
    “Imagine if we all served God daily, What would that look like?”

    …the small servant-based group says:
    “Our neighborhood barbecue is this week at the Smith’s house. We’re really praying for people to see and hear Jesus in our lives this weekend. Let’s find out what kind of needs our neighbors have and ask God to use us to provide for them.”

    The world can tell the difference between an intellectual organization and a soup kitchen. When they get hungry, they will follow their stomachs. Blessed are the churches that feed both stomach and spirit!

  27. John,

    Thanks for joining the conversation. I agree that institutional loyalty plays far too big a role in our thinking. In fact, one of the unspoken but deeply felt fears of the progressive movement is a loss of institutional identity. But as you say, our identity should be in Jesus — and just Jesus.

  28. RIch,

    Closer, but not yet there. Let me take these in reverse order.

    3. Have I said that Paul’s instructions aren’t binding on us? I think not. Rather, I’ve said we’ve deeply misunderstood them. He tells us to love each other intensely. And that’s binding. He tells us to honor the gospel. And that’s binding. He tells us to edify, encourage, strengthen, and comfort each other in the assembly. That’s binding. He says to discern the body when taking the communion, don’t have sex with prostitutes, don’t get drunk, care for the poor, take turns, don’t interrupt — all binding.

    However, he says nothing about how often or how to give to the church’s general fund. Nothing binding because nothing said. He says nothing about church organization in 1 Corinthians. He says nothing about a cappella singing vs. instrumental.

    On the other hand, he says women must wear a head covering in worship — not binding, but not because of some new, progressive theology. Most conservatives reach the same conclusion. It’s because the rules that are for all time are about permanent things. Hence, the underlying principle — which is for all time — is that wives are to be suitable complements for their husbands. In some cultures, this requires a veil.

    I’m actually quite big on the authority of the scriptures and the power of God, through his Spirit and apostles, to issue binding instructions. I just refuse to read into those instructions either the Patristics or 19th Century church practices. You see, I think it’s very wrong to treat the Bible as insufficient and in need for human supplementation. If the scriptures don’t answer the question, then we’re asking the wrong question.

    2. I agree that we shouldn’t violate God’s commands. Of course. (I don’t know the difference between a direct command and a command. Is there such a thing as an indirect command?)

    The point isn’t merely to avoid violating commands. The point is to honor the gospel and love for God and our neighbors — but not out of adherence to a command. You see, true love acts out of love and not fear of disobedience. We behave in loving ways because God has, by his Spirit, transformed our hearts so that we find joy in a love that acts and worships, a love that is salt and light. Hence, the point isn’t really to avoid violating commands. Rather, we are to be Christ-like, that is, like Jesus. Jesus obeyed, but not out of fear of hell. Jesus obeyed because his heart was so in sync with the heart of God that he wanted what God wanted. We should be the same.

    Hence, the notion that the scriptures’ silence allows us to do anything at all is quite false, but so is the notion that silence is a prohibition. Our worship, our organization, our marriages, our families, our lives are all done to the glory of God — which places severe constraints on what we can do — but constraints that we are happy with because we don’t want to do anything else.

    1. Yes, we should be edifying, but “edifying” — building up one another — is simply one means of loving as God loves, that is, sacrificially and completely. We edify because we want what’s best for the other person. And because we know it’s hard to walk with Jesus and easy to get lazy or yield to temptation, we encourage one another to love and good works. Yes, it’s a command. Even a direct command, I suppose. But we do it because we love our brothers and understand the challenge before us.

    You see, one of my several complaints about CENI is its tendency to reduce Christianity to a rulebook. Even if you get the rules right (and we don’t, but if we did), reducing Christianity to rules omits the vast majority of what it’s all about. Indeed, a rule-oriented attitude tends to destroy Christianity. Let’s just take worship as an example.

    If I worship because I’ve been commanded to, then I’ve not really worshipped. I’ve just done certain acts. If I worship because my heart leaps at the thought of God’s special presence in the church and at being with beloved brothers and sisters, then my worship is worship indeed.

    When I was very young (preschool age), grandmother insisted that I kiss her when I visited her, and I refused, largely because she insisted on it. I was that kind of kid. And so she bribed me (candy corn). And so I kissed her. Until I found where she hid the candy. Then I stopped. Then my mother threatened me with bodily injury. And so I begrudgingly did it. And I made every effort to never visit her if I could help it.

    She wanted affection, but you can’t get real affection with bribes and threats. You can change behavior that way, but not hearts. And God wants a changed heart. Undue focusing on commands and minimizing the Spirit and heart of Christianity is very unhealthy for the church — and its members.

  29. Well said, Jay. Thanks.

  30. You see, true love acts out of love and not fear of disobedience. We behave in loving ways because God has, by his Spirit, transformed our hearts so that we find joy in a love that acts and worships, a love that is salt and light. Hence, the point isn’t really to avoid violating commands. Rather, we are to be Christ-like, that is, like Jesus. Jesus obeyed, but not out of fear of hell. Jesus obeyed because his heart was so in sync with the heart of God that he wanted what God wanted. We should be the same.

    If I worship because my heart leaps at the thought of God’s special presence in the church and at being with beloved brothers and sisters, then my worship is worship indeed.

    Amen and Amen, Jay!!

    Jay, your words are spoken as a person who has a BIG heart for God and for people! 🙂

    Grace, peace, and mercy

  31. My comment above Jay’s comment was suppose to have been here.

  32. What I want to know is why, after again and again raising the straw man of authority and seeing it brought down by the strong assertion that the progressives, on the whole, are just as conscious and concerned with Scriptural authority as the conservatives, this continues to be the point of the debate. The overwhelming majority of the posters on this blog affirm without reserve the absolute authority of the Scriptures. If God gives a clear, concise command we will never be found in rebellion.
    We differ with the conservative element and sometimes with each other on the nature and extent of the actual commands given in Scripture.
    Our problem is not a desire to disobey a Scriptural command but a refusal to bow to a command read into the text by the reason of man – itself a direct violation of Scripture. Lacking a clear “thou shalt take the Lord’s supper on Sunday” or “thou shalt not use an instrument while singing” or “thou shalt not cooperate with other congregations to support missions or orphan’s homes” it is man’s reasoning we are stuck with on these and many other issues. And frankly, in all humility, my reasoning from the text is just as good as yours. What’s more I have Scriptural authority telling me in no uncertain terms that such things are indeed left up to me and God. (Romans 14)

  33. I happened upon this site and find it fascinating. I was raised conservative(anti if you will) and find my heart naturally moving toward the progressive mind set simply because I read the Bible not from a Church of Christ perspective but how the Spirit has revealed it to me over the past several years. It is so freeing and overwhelming to live in Christ’s love. I think there are many people in the churches of Christ who are baptized by water but have yet to be baptized by the Holy Spirit. I think God is truly moving our hearts to be able to be his lights on a hill because of the things that are occuring and will occur in this world before His glorious return. I pray for all of your endeavors.

  34. Jay,

    Thanks for the clarifications.

    Rather than a rulebook, I see CENI as the way that most fully reveals God’s will for me. It includes following the examples of love demonstrated by Christ and the apostles as well as answering questions concerning worship and other edifying issues.

    I believe you and I have experienced very different journeys to get where we are today.

    Several years ago, I ran across a model of the journey toward mature Christianity that matches my experiences. It defines the maturation process in four stages (source long lost).

    Stage One: called Borrowed Faith
    This is typical for a new Christian whose main objective is to mimic the faith of the most influential people in their life. For those who grow up in a church environment it is usually the parent(s). For those who become Christians as an adult, it is usually those who were most influence in the life change.

    Stage Two: Legalistic
    This is where the main motive is to do the right thing and do it right. This is positive progress from Stage One by should not be the final step.

    Stage Three: Questioning
    This is where one begins to challenge any past beliefs or motives. It is reminiscent of doubting Thomas who needed physical proof that Jesus had been resurrected. This stage is usually triggered by one of two situations. The first is when the shallowness of following rules is discovered. The second is when a major calamity occurs and one questions how a good God could let such an event happen. This is an extremely risky step but necessary to reach the most mature stage.

    Stage Four: Mature, motivated by thankfulness
    This is where one’s actions are motivated by a response of thankfulness for the grace given by God. This is often following the same rules as discovered in Stage Two but for a completely different reason. They don’t feel like rules. The stage is characterized by Christ’s total focus on completing His Father’s will even when he didn’t want to do so. Another example is Paul’s dissertation (Philippians) on the joy of being a Christian that was written simultaneous with his incarceration.

    Unfortunately, not all people make it to Stage Four. They become stuck in one of the previous stages. I recently talked with a 40-something deacon who told me he has only followed his parents’ belief system without questioning.

    Likewise, some progress to Stage Two but get caught up in following rules rather than some of the more weightier matters. It sounds like several people who provide posts here know many of these.

    As stated earlier, Stage Three is high risk. We question our belief systems and sometimes even question the existence of God. There is a large fallout rate here. This often occurs in the early twenties for those who grew up in a church environment. My generation (I’m 52) tended to dropout in their twenties and come back and reinstate their belief system in their thirties. I believe the popular term ‘born again Christian’ tried to capture this phenomenon. It’s my understanding that those today who have made it through the questioning stage are coming back to a church environment but at least 50% choose a different belief system (denomination), -Barna. This seems to be true regardless of the original denomination. There seems to be no real trends here. Some switch to more liberal and some switch to more conservative. The issue is it must be different. I suppose this helps convince us that we no longer have a borrowed faith or proves we are open to change.

    Sometimes Stage Three survivors revert back to Stage Two but pick a different rule system (perhaps fewer rules). Others make it to Stage Four. Again, stage four is when we give up our personal choices and basically say ‘whatever God wants I want’. Jesus exemplifies this by going through with His crucifixion even though he personally didn’t want to do so. We humans do this because we appreciate and are thankful for the Father’s gift of grace.

    I moved past the borrowed faith stage quickly. My parents seldom were in a church building for events other than weddings and funerals. My brother once told me a church building was the last place he wanted to be. One of my rebellious actions as a teenager was going to church and church related events.

    I was blessed during my college years when I went through a huge questioning period. First, I challenged nearly every cofC teaching. Some I didn’t accept (I was baptized at a place that said no eating in the building and KJV only). Some almost caused me to jump ship. Concerning one in particular, my bible class teacher, the elders, and the current preacher could not answer my questions satisfactorily. I actually laughed at the lame reason given in the Gospel Advocate Commentary (please excuse my bluntness). But, just when I was about to leave a new preacher came to my home congregation who approached the scriptures in a totally different perspective than I had seen or heard previously on the subject. It made tremendous sense to me so I stayed (but at a different congregation). Secondly, the cofC I attended while away at college taught me well what it means to reach out. We sent ten+ buses out twice a week to bring children in for bible class and worship. I spent about 20 hours each week in bus ministry and other church related events while attending a very tough college. It was especially cool learning twenty years later that one of the kindergartners I routinely picked up on my route had stayed, married another member and was raising a Christian family. These and many other events have permanently shaped my heart.

    In reality, I (and I suppose most) back into any of the earlier stages on any given day or any given moment. We do some questioning and refresh our studies and experiences.

    To summarize, I don’t feel like I am following rules. I feel like I am genuinely searching scripture for God’s will. I don’t always like what I find. Nevertheless, I am driven to search and experience Him regardless of my personal preferences.

    I don’t know if this makes much sense. Thanks for your patience if you read this far.

    Rich.

  35. Rich,
    Your post actually makes a lot of sense and it is loosely my story as well. The faith journey is certainly not without its perils but the rewards are so worth it all. Thanks for sharing.

  36. Rich,
    I would suggest that most of the faith progression that you speak of is unique to the American churches that were heavily influenced by modernism. There are many Christians in the world who never experience the type of legalism that the churches of Christ and other similar religious groups have. Have you wondered what your spiritual life may have been like if you weren’t given the lens of CENI? Also those who leave the religion of their youth are most likely to leave for no religion at all according to the PEW report from two months ago. Comparisons of belief systems now take place between actual world religions such as Buddhism, Islam, and Hinduism and new age religions such as Baha’i not different Christian denominations. I would also suggest that the typical church of Christ is not equipped to compare Christianity against other claims to truth mostly because they never had to, they only had to prove the churches of Christ were more correct on doctrine than other Christian denominations. This is no longer the case. If the study of the bible doesn’t lead to constantly transformed lives there is something wrong with the approach. There are many who were very well intentioned and have been using CENI for years but have little to no story of personal transformation.

  37. Joe,

    Thanks for the feedback. You might be right although the second stage is meant to reflect the motivation of correctly following whatever faith system one has accepted regardless of whether that system is considered over or under constrained. This is different than the connotations we typically associate with the word legalistic.

    That is why a movement away from what feels like an overconstrained system does not necessarily indicate movement to a more mature stage. Moving from more-rules to less-rules still indicates a stage two thinking. A person truly moving closer to God (stage four) may need to accept more or fewer constraints in their life depending on where they have been. [ I know the word constraint is a post-modern no-no. However, as example, living within our means is a positive choice but does reflect a real world constraint.]

    Thanks for bringing the PEW study to my attention. Every study I see shows different statistics. We are all hoping those who are leaving religion in their twenties will come back in their thirties like the previous generation. Let’s hope so anyway.

    We are seeing a big Eastern influence in current U.S. religious trends. The need to feel good inside (some call this a closer relationship with God) is one example. It gets confusing when our Eastern friends use the word ‘spiritual’ to indicate an inward tranquility even though the word has nothing to do with Eastern religion.

  38. I like your grandmother story, Jay. Good analogy.

  39. Joe,

    Another response to your insightful observation. These four stages are meant to be more of an observation of what seems to naturally happen rather than a blueprint to follow.

    My guess is that it applies best to Western postmodern thinking and is not limited to the cofC . My reason is the positive light it gives to the questioning stage. When I have taught this topic recently in a men’s class I stressed how our reactions to people who do question should be as positive as possible to help them get through that stage successfully.

    On a related note. The questioning seems to be permeating among the Hindus as well. Business colleagues in India tell me that the twentysomethings are rapidly leaving the Hindu faith (or at least not practicing). The art of nutritious vegetarian cooking is being lost among the younger generation. The older generation is blaming the Western influence.

    I understand that the cofC is growing rapidly in India. I hear they are about 600,000 strong and still growing. Maybe they will start sending missionaries to the U.S.

    Again, thanks for your comments. They helped me think some more on the subject.

    Rich.

  40. Rich,

    Again thanks for a very thoughtful comment. (I am so glad you comment here. You make me dig more deeply.)

    Let me suggest a wrinkle or two on steps 1 – 4. In my experience — myself and lots of people I know — there’s a little different transition for those of us brought up in the Churches of Christ. It goes like this —

    1. Inherited legalism.

    2. Questioning.

    3. Discovery of grace.

    4. Adding grace on top of legalism. At this stage, the Christian compartmentalizes his thinking. He’s delighted to learn that grace covers many sins, but doesn’t think of grace as applying to certain pet sins — particularly those doctrinal errors that define the identity of the Churches of Christ. Thus, error in instrumental music is outside of grace and error in fellowship halls is covered by grace. (Different doctrines are identity doctrines depending on where you’re from.)

    5. The Christian’s concept of grace grows to cover even the identity issues. Instrumental music is still considered a sin but not damning.

    6. The Christian’s concept of grace grows even further. He realizes that God is not concerned with such things as instrumental music. Instrumental music is not a sin, but may be unwise or inexpedient in a given case.

    Somewhere in 4, 5, and 6, the Christian wrestles with pride, for having discovered a better Christianity, and he begins to look down on those not as far down the path as he.

    7. God defeats pride and shows that grace is about far more than rejecting identity rules. Rather, grace is about being gracious — through service to others, in evangelism, in helping those in need. The Christian discovers true commitment and true cross-carrying. This leads to humility because the task is so large and the need so great — and it’s too heavy a burden to carry without God’s help.

    The Christian becomes much more deeply aware of his own unworthiness and so humility leads to gratitude and to joy in an unmerited salvation. The Christian looks for ways to share his delight in God not as duty but because his heart will burst if he doesn’t.

  41. And he realizes that, finally,God is truly the most exciting element in his life.

  42. (My comment above was misplaced. Should have been here.)

    And he realizes, finally, that God is truly the most exciting element in his life.

  43. Jay, you are good and right on about wrestling with pride for having discovered a better Christianity. This took my breath away. I think the HS told you to write this so that I could read it. Wrestle is right.

  44. Jay,

    Thanks for the insightful look at your personal journey. This seems quite consistent with the thinking you have posted before and what I am observing in some of my close Christian brothers.

    My guess is that I am at step 4.5. I have always (or at least for many years) understood that grace covers procedural mistakes as well as moral ones. I can’t accept Bro. Harding’s comments on positive laws being graceless.

    I see steps 5 and 6 as just pure biblical interpretation on right and wrong.

    Step 7 is very interesting. Although I can understand it from a human perspective (why people feel this way) I’m not sure it is consistent with step 6.

    As an example let’s move from interpretation issues and use a biblical example that deals purely with grace. I’m referring to the famous words of Jesus while on the cross,

    “And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” … Luke 23:34 (English Standard Version)

    The question now becomes, do we predict that God answered Jesus’ prayer in the affirmative or the negative?
    To say it a different way, Did/will God forgive Pontius Pilate, Caiaphas the High Priest and the soldier who drove the stakes into Jesus’ hands and feet?

    I think the only humble response is “I don’t know.” God certainly can if He desires and I would be happy if He does. However, I have a hard time believing that He did based on the accountability issues revealed throughout both the OT and NT. I would consider anyone who thinks they know for sure as being somewhat prideful because we humans can’t know how God thinks that well.

    There are two responses to the “I don’t know”. One response is to say since I can’t tell for sure I’m certainly not going to try to correct anyone, not even Pilate. The other response is I can observe behavior and should try to lovingly correct bad behavior because not doing so may produce a ‘false confidence’ response in people like Pilate, etc. Note: I’m not sure this totally represents my understanding of grace but it’s a start.

    On another note, I still owe you a response to a question on instrumental music. I am revisiting research I had done years ago. However, it might be a while. It looks like life will be extremely hectic for the next three weeks. It will be positive if everything works out well.

    Rich.

  45. Pat,

    Exactly. I’ll address exactly that thought in the next two posts.

  46. Rich,

    I’m not following your argument. My point 7 is —

    7. God defeats pride and shows that grace is about far more than rejecting identity rules. Rather, grace is about being gracious — through service to others, in evangelism, in helping those in need. The Christian discovers true commitment and true cross-carrying. This leads to humility because the task is so large and the need so great — and it’s too heavy a burden to carry without God’s help.

    The Christian becomes much more deeply aware of his own unworthiness and so humility leads to gratitude and to joy in an unmerited salvation. The Christian looks for ways to share his delight in God not as duty but because his heart will burst if he doesn’t.

    Did I say we shouldn’t correct anyone? Did I say we shouldn’t “lovingly correct bad behavior”? I’m just at a loss as to how you take 7 to mean this. So I figure maybe you meant to refer to my step 6 —

    6. The Christian’s concept of grace grows even further. He realizes that God is not concerned with such things as instrumental music. Instrumental music is not a sin, but may be unwise or inexpedient in a given case.

    Again, I didn’t remotely say we shouldn’t correct error. I said that things like instrumental music aren’t error. Those are two very different assertions.

    You see, to me, it’s obviously contrary to the nature of God, as revealed in scripture, to think that instrumental worship somehow violates his will. Now, I’m quite willing to argue the case from a technical, textual standpoint, but my confidence in my conclusion comes from my awareness of the nature of God.

    I’ve been working through a book, Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology, in which the author points out that Jesus is God’s ultimate self-revelation. And Jesus’ character is one of self-emptying. Therefore, if you want to be like God, you need to be like Jesus. And to be like Jesus, you must empty yourself as Jesus did. Hence, he concludes theosis is kenosis — becoming like God is becoming self-emptying.

    (Phil 2:6-8) Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing [emptied himself], taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross!

    Such a God does not create rules just to test our faith. Nor does such a God act arbitrarily. Rather than creating an obstacle course that only a master of logic could navigate, God calls us to lives of selfless service.

    Why not both? Why not an elaborate, hard-to-find set of rules for worship and lives of selfless service? Well, because as soon as we decide that church is about being smart enough to figure out a bunch of arcane, hidden-in-the-silences rules, we lose our focus on service — and while God’s Spirit has been powerful enough in some churches to overcome the legalism and push his people towards selfless lives despite their legalism, in far more cases, it just doesn’t happen. (And I’d be glad to take you on a tour of dead and dying congregations to demonstrate the point.)

  47. Dear Jay,

    I’ve been out for the past week directing a week of Bible camp. I will simply respond with a few words to hopefully clear up any misunderstood slander and mischaracterization on my part of your views and beliefs or any other conservative, liberal or progressive for that matter. And I certainly don’t want to leave any such impression or sin against either you as my brother, despite our enormous disagreements. I have no intentions of wanting to misreprensent you and offer inflamatory comments.

    So, yes, I do want to retract and apologize for much of what I posted in regard to giving your readers the view that you personally, believe and promote all of the following general statements and observations made by me in my post:

    1. “That there is really no error that damns.” We just simply disagree over which errors might condemn. I painted you with too broad a brush. Jay you were right when you said, “guess we both necessarily see the other as “digressing” from God’s word. That’s the nature of disagreements that are as fundamental as ours. Nor should I expect you to see me as truly “progressive,” as you certainly don’t see my efforts as being efforts in the direction of progress.” I think that sums up quite well our difference.

    2. That you are “seeking” (meaning intend for the result of spiritual death) of souls. I overstated. I may think that by what you sincerely believe about faith and truth, may in fact, either because you or those you teach to go into error, I retract that you somehow are seeking or intending such result. That you are attempting to “emulate and admire” men such as Spong. I may believe that the fruits of some of your teaching, may be similar in result, but not the same. You and a majority of the progressives I’d dialoged with genuinely seem to teach what you believe is true and right from a good and pure heart. I may believe that it is “the blind leading the blind….and they may both fall into the ditch….” But such does not give me the right to mischaracterize the intentions of your heart.

    3. When quoting Mansel’s article and particularly John Shelby Spong, I again, painted with apparently too broad of a brush in giving the impression that all his quotes are shared by you and are your beliefs and convictions. Yes, I may believe that you and other progressive may be influenced by such type of thinking, without directly being influenced by the actual man (Spong) himself but attributing his words to being your beliefs is wrong.

    4. Neither do I mean to state that you “abhor absolute truth.” Too broad. We may disagree over the nature of truth and what is and is not the truth and the saving doctrine of Jesus Christ.

    I just want to say, progressives may disagree with conservatives such as myself reasoning (and vice versa) but I hope we can come to have a better understanding of each other’s thought progresses and feras, concerns, etc. However, we must do this through fair and Biblical argument and reason, and not through slander or false accusations. If my love for the Lord, His Word and Church blinded me from seeing the poor and unChrist manner in which I conducted myself, I repent want to repent of such. We must only judge according to the Word (John 12:48; 17:17), and the fruits of any such beliefs and practices.

    Sometimes I am a poor “fruit inspectors,” and although, there is much in principle and application that I fear will result of the honest beliefs of many of my progressive brethren, I have no desire or intention to mischaracterize them and associate them with every liberal view in which there may be some similarity. And that goes the same for more conservatives such as myself. We each are judged on the merits of our own heart, life and teachings as to whether to not they are in harmony with the truth.

    It can be easy to misconstrue my arguments against Jay and other more honest, sincere, progressive brethren, without accusing them of embracing any and every form of postmodern relativism and pluralism. Although I do fear that many progressives in the body of Christ are moving further and further away from New Testament truth as I understand it, and some seem to be unaware of the influences that are shaping them.

    Finally, let me say I appreciate Jay for his confronting about the perceived slander on my part against him. I want to be a Christian always, first and foremost. No debate there. I thank Jay for being fair and reasonable to me and providing such a forum which I freely have participated in where I’ve been allowed to express openly and freely without censor my thoughts and views.

    I make no claim to having a monopoly on all truth and spirituality. Or that I could stand before God who has been “out of harmony” with His will and truth and that my more progressive brethren have been right.

    Sometimes yes, the heat of the debate and moment get the best of us. Passion can be an achilles heal! Let us both avoid the mistake of painting each other with too broad a stroke.

    I hope all who read this accept my apology in the most sincere and heartfelt manner in which I give it.

    Your brother,
    Robert Prater

  48. Robert,

    Your apology is happily accepted. And I deeply appreciate your willingness to say what you have.

    Your brother,

    Jay

  49. Has Robert even posted again since this hit-and-run post?

  50. […] Rich wrote, with considerable insight, that there are four stage of maturity for a Christian – Stage One: called Borrowed Faith This is typical for a new Christian whose main objective is to mimic the faith of the most influential people in their life. For those who grow up in a church environment it is usually the parent(s). For those who become Christians as an adult, it is usually those who were most influence in the life change. […]

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