Replanting a Denomination: The Empty Church

Gregory Alan Tidwell (my favorite conservative preacher), who participated with me in the GraceConversation dialogue, wrote in a comment,

I would recommend you consider the points raised in “The Empty Church: The Suicide of Liberal Christianity.” Thomas C. Reeves, a member of a major Protestant denomination, chronicles the demise of his and other liberal groups.

Except for a vague ecumenical aspiration, and a shared disdain for traditional Church of Christism, I find very little around which my Progressive friends can coalesce. You message almost seems to be, “You don’t believe very much, and we don’t believe very much, so why don’t we all get together and share our lack of convictions together.”

I love comments that disagree with me, because they force me to clarify either my thinking or my explanation of my thinking. Both are good. I need to take a couple of steps back and explain more carefully where I’m coming from — and writing this post has forced me to think through some things I really hadn’t thought through as well as I should have. I really do love critical comments (the thoughtful ones, that is, like this one).

“You[r] message almost seems to be, ‘You don’t believe very much, and we don’t believe very much …'”

First, my views are very similar to those of Stone, the Campbells, Walter Scott, and Robert Richardson. They are not the same, but they are similar in that I agree with the founders of the Restoration Movement that Christian fellowship is based on faith in Jesus as Messiah and Lord and obedience to him (not perfect obedience, of course).

And I agree with Alexander Campbell, who wrote,

The case is this: When I see a person who would die for Christ whose brotherly kindness, sympathy, and active benevolence know no bounds but his circumstances; whose seat in the Christian assembly is never empty; whose inward piety and devotion are attested by punctual obedience to every known duty; whose family is educated in the fear of the Lord; whose constant companion is the Bible: I say, when I see such a one ranked among the heathen men and publicans, because he never happened to inquire, but always took it for granted that he had been scripturally baptized; and that, too, by one greatly destitute for all these public and private virtues, whose chief or exclusive recommendation is that he has been immersed, and that he holds a scriptural theory of the gospel: I feel no disposition to flatter such a one; but rather to disabuse him or his error. And while I would not lead the most excellent professor in any sect to disparage the least of all the commandments of Jesus, I would say to my immersed brother as Paul said to his Jewish brother who gloried in a system which he did not adorn: “Sir, will not his uncircumcision, or unbaptism, be counted to him for baptism? and will he not condemn you, who, though having the literal and true baptism, yet dost transgress or neglect the statutes of your King?”

Now, I reached these conclusions independently of my studies of Restoration Movement history, based on my reading of the scriptures. My thinking is laid out several places, including the “Amazing Grace” series of lessons.

Is it fair to characterize my views (or those of Stone, the Campbells, etc.) as “we don’t believe very much”? I don’t think so. But I think I know where Greg is coming from. (Please correct me if I’m wrong.)

You see, a mistake commonly made among the conservative Churches of Christ is to assume that doctrines only truly matter, are only truly “believed,” if they are salvation issues. After all, if my salvation doesn’t depend on obedience to the doctrine, then there’s no reason to obey it. And many among the conservative Churches believe many things indeed — as they make many things salvation issues.

But that line of thinking errs in several respects. For reasons laid out in the “Amazing Grace” series and at GraceConversation, this is simply not a scriptural understanding. For reasons laid out in the last post of this series, neither is this position true to the Restoration Plea. But rather than critiquing that view, I need to pause just a moment to explain how I think it really works.

We don’t need the threat of damnation to be motivated. Rather, perfect love drives out fear.

(1 John 4:18)  There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

This is not to suggest the impossibility of falling away, only that saved people should be sufficiently confident of their salvation that they can serve out of love rather than fear. You see, it works because of God’s work in the heart of the Christian through the Spirit.The Spirit transforms us so that we want to obey God’s teachings. Indeed, doing so gives us joy.

(Rom 5:5)  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

(Rom 8:1-2)  Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.

(2 Cor 3:18)  And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

(Gal 5:16)  So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

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

And there are many more passages to similar effect. And so perhaps the biggest flaw in conservative Church of Christ theology is the absence of the work of the Spirit in the heart of the Christian. That doctrine, which suffuses the New Testament, is essential to understanding how God can save us based on faith, not works, and yet expect us to work in his Kingdom —

(Eph 2:8-10)  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

(Phil 2:12-13)  Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed — not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence — continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

(Heb 8:10)  This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.

Now, if we accept the Restoration view of salvation, and if we accept the work of the Spirit in Christians, then we see that it’s quite possible to hold that faith saves, as the Bible so often declares.

(John 3:18)  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

It all fits together and it all makes sense.

Now, if faith in Jesus is enough to save, what else is there to believe? Why not be like the demons?

(James 2:19)  You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder.

The demons believe but they’ve not submitted to Jesus as Lord. And except in James, where a demonic, false faith is in mind, “faith” includes submission to Jesus as Lord.

(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.

And so, no, it’s not fair to characterize my views (or the views of Campbell) as you “don’t believe very much.” First, believing that Jesus is the Messiah, Lord, and Savior is quite a lot.

Second, it’s not necessary to make something a salvation issue to believe it. I’ve posted about 1,500 words for 3 years running regarding what I believe. I don’t lack for positions and beliefs. I just try to be very careful not to impose my views as salvation issues. I believe that good, Spirit-filled Christians need only be persuaded, not threatened with condemnation, to be motivated to obey. And my 55 years on this earth have only proven how much more powerful the Spirit is than fear of hell. (I have stories.)

Third, God’s commands are much more about participating in God’s mission than getting the rules of how to worship or organize right.

(Mat 5:16)  In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

(1 Pet 2:12)  Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

(Eph 4:11-12)  It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up …

(Gal 5:6)  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Therefore, I agree with the Campbells and Stone that we should call Christians out of the division that so characterizes modern Christianity, into a single, unity communion. To quote Alexander Campbell

Nothing is essential to the conversion of the world but the union and co-operation of Christians.

(emphasis in original). Obviously enough, Campbell is arguing that the Christians in the denominations should unite. Amen. He is not arguing that the people in the denominations are damned and will be saved if they leave.

“I would recommend you consider the points raised in ‘The Empty Church: The Suicide of Liberal Christianity.’”

I own The Empty Church: The Suicide of Liberal Christianity. I bought and read it when it first came out. It’s a good, eye-opening book. It explains just how very far removed from the scriptures the United Presbyterian Church leadership has become and how very many members the mainline denominations have lost because of their theological liberalism. We should not emulate their bad example.

But things aren’t so simple as “the Presbyterian Church is liberal and so they’re all going to hell.” We shouldn’t confuse the views of their national leadership with the views of their members. For example, in my hometown, a major Presbyterian Church has left the Presbyterian Church (USA) (PCUSA) denomination and joined the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) denomination to flee the errors of the PCUSA. They are actually quite conservative.

Meanwhile, despite the liberalism of the national office of the United Methodist Church, many of their congregations are extremely conservative. Indeed, in my hometown, there’s a Methodist congregation that is as theologically conservative as any church in town — having a deep devotion to the scriptures and to living as the scriptures teach.

When the Episcopal Church in Boston ordained Gene Robinson, the local Episcopal Church lost many members, who found the notion of ordaining a non-celibate gay man to the episcopacy contrary to the scriptures. The congregation continues to wrestle with whether to leave the Episcopal Church to join the Anglican Church of North America.

In short, the fact that the national headquarters of a denomination has no respect for the scriptures does not mean that all members or all congregations feel the same way.

We cannot judge salvation and damnation by denominational membership. God neither damns nor saves denominations. He damns and saves individuals.

(1 John 4:6)  We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.

Saved people necessarily respect apostolic authority, although saved people may well disagree on how to interpret the scriptures. It is certainly true that some denominations have leaders (and some members) who do not listen to the apostles, and they are not saved. That doesn’t mean we should therefore damn the entire denomination.

It does mean that the traditional approach to ecumenical unity — discussions among denominational leaders — is futile. But there are other ways to seek unity across denominational lines.

One approach, the one Alexander Campbell proposed, was to invite people to leave the denominations and join a Restoration Movement church. It worked for a while, but it hasn’t worked for over a century. I don’t think it’s an approach likely to work today. In fact, I’m not aware of a single place where such an effort is succeeding.

Therefore, I’m going to propose another approach. But it’s not time yet to put it on the table. Stick with me.

“Except for a vague ecumenical aspiration, and a shared disdain for traditional Church of Christism, I find very little around which my Progressive friends can coalesce.”

I agree. Not entirely. But I agree a lot.

I believe it’s time for the progressive Churches to have a discussion about where we go from here. It’s not nearly enough to reject the legalism of the 20th Century. We have to have a vision that goes beyond that. No movement can survive long simply by being against something. We have to be for something that justifies our continued existence as a fellowship.

And as I said earlier, I think traditional approaches to ecumenical unity are a waste of time. They don’t work, and as the national leadership of many denominations becomes less and less respectful of the scriptures, working through such people becomes a really bad idea.

Which leaves us looking for a direction forward. And so I’ll present some ideas on that as the series continues.

(I may be biting off more than I can chew, but it’s a discussion that needs to happen.)

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45 Responses

  1. The issue for me is not that I “don’t believe very much”, the issue for me that is that I have chosen to believe a few things very strongly. I have chosen to believe the gospel as taught by Paul in I Cor. 15, I have chosen to believe that Jesus was serious about the 2 greatest commandments being to Love God and Love Each Other. I have chosen to believe that as a doctrinal position the pursuit of unity is of preeminent importance. I have chosen to believe that the Holy Spirit is alive and well and working in His church.

    If we have to be right on every doctrinal position to be right with God, we don’t need Grace.

  2. I agree with Bill.

    And interestingly, I think one of the issues with the “conservative” view is that they have difficulty with the simplicity of those basic commands and want to explain to everyone what those basic commands mean.

    That’s where it starts — but the difference become bigger the farther away you get from this starting point.

  3. “Except for a vague ecumenical aspiration, and a shared disdain for traditional Church of Christism, I find very little around which my Progressive friends can coalesce. You message almost seems to be, ‘You don’t believe very much, and we don’t believe very much, so why don’t we all get together and share our lack of convictions together.'”

    It may be worth pointing out that conservatives like Greg agree on a general theory: salvation depends on correctly understanding and conforming to the NT pattern. And they’re usually able to unite around shared convictions in a few basic areas: a cappella worship, communion every Sunday, male leadership in the church, etc. Yet they disagree on other aspects of the pattern, divorce/remarriage being a prime example, and somehow remain united anyway–in contradiction to their fundamental principle that salvation depends on getting the pattern right.

    Greg disparages the lack of agreement among progressives, but as you point out, our theology allows us to remain united in spite of many disagreements (cf. Rom. 14). Conservatives, on the other hand, remain united with other conservatives who disagree with them on what the NT pattern requires, though their own theology expressly condemns such unity.

    Until conservatives face up to their own lack of agreement and the contradiction between what they preach and what they practice regarding unity in diversity, I’m not going to be too bothered by their critique of our position.

    I appreciate your discussion.

  4. Hi Todd, I am glad you have chosen to “weigh in” here as I have been waiting for over a year for your promised solution to “where the line ought to drawn.” While I may have missed it somewhere…if you ever did come up with the solution, I am very interested in considering it. However, if you never came up with one — I still do not see how your view is any more consistent than that of the conservatives you attack. In other words, while the progressives do indeed have a line somewhere (as you yourself have admitted), the difference is in that while the conservatives seek to highlight it…the progressives refuse to consider it, as they despise the notion of any type of disunity.

    I hope Jay won’t mind me including a response of mine to a post you had written a year ago as a refresher. Here it is:

    “Todd,

    Wow, I never imagined that my one little response would warrant an entirely new post from the owner of the site! To be honest, I think it’s kind of cool — even though you basically called me a “neo-conservative” and I’m not so sure whether that was cool or not. At any rate, and per your request, I will patiently await your “solution” to the question of “where is the line to be drawn.”

    In the meantime, please know that I am a little confused at what seems to be contraditory in your piece. Although I may have simply misunderstood you.

    My confusion lies in the fact that in the eighth paragraph of the article above, to the point I made that there is a line between needing to obtain/maintain a perfect understanding of the entire word of God and the idea that one’s understanding of such has nothing to do with the saving of his soul — you wrote, “Absolutely.”

    Yet at the closing of the same article, you write:
    “A neo-conservative view, exemplified in the reader’s comments noted above, answers that there’s got to be a line somewhere, but no one except God knows where it is. This answer removes from us the terrifying pressure of having to get this thorny issue completely figured out. However, there is no biblical basis for it, it precludes the possibility of having assurance of one’s own salvation, and it leaves us with virtually no guidance in determining what our fellowship boundaries should be.”

    Surely you wouldn’t “absolutely” agree with something for which there is “no biblical basis”?

    Again, I may just be missing something but when you do get around to posting your solution, please clarify that.

    Brotherly,

    Hank — a.k.a. The neo-conservative”

    P.s. How is MDR part of any “pattern”

  5. Jay wrote:

    “I believe it’s time for the progressive Churches to have a discussion about where we go from here. It’s not nearly enough to reject the legalism of the 20th Century. We have to have a vision that goes beyond that. No movement can survive long simply by being against something. We have to be for something that justifies our continued existence as a fellowship.”

    Agreed.

  6. Jay, Excelllent discussion from you and the commenters. Keep it up. God bless.

  7. Interestingly enough, I felt that there has been broad agreement among progressives on what we believe:
    a. Jesus is the sole source of salvation for man.
    b. That salvation is a gift of God – grace, not the result of our ability to figure out what God wants from us to save ourselves.
    c. We stand on scripture alone where God has given express commands and stand on Christian liberty where He has not.
    d. We will respect the decisions of others concerning issues determined by that liberty.
    e. Christianity and true Christian worship should be the Christian’s fullest expression of living the Christ like life, not a perfect Sunday morning ritual.

    What else do we need to plug in here?

  8. As one ordained in a mainline (oldline?) and dying denomination, I very much appreciate your recognition that there is a world of difference between the follies of many of our denominational headquarters, and what is happening in the minds and hearts of the people in the pews – and the pulpits.
    I wrestle constantly with whether I should stay and keep up the good fight, or should I distance myself from a fellowship whose theology is becoming increasingly unbiblical.

  9. Come on Pastor Mike…..what gives you the right to say whether any fellowship is becoming “increasingly unbiblical”?

    So long as they believe that Jesus is the sole source of salvation for man, then whatever else they do and/or believe is their right. And you should not ever charge that their theology (and for sure not their worship) is “unbiblical.”

    I mean, unless you believe that you have to have perfect doctrine along with perfect Sunday morning rituals to be saved…then you shouldn’t ever judge whether what they believe and/or how they worship is biblical or not.

    Actually, you shouldn’t even use the word “unbiblical” because using words like that makes you seem legalistic, unloving, un-Christlike, and agaisnt the unity of the church at large.

  10. Mike, I meant to add that I was being facetious there.

  11. Pastor Mike,

    I have a friend who’s a good Methodist. He is devoted to the authority of the scriptures and very unhappy with his national denominational HQ. And yet he continues to give generously to his denomination via his church. I don’t get it.

    You haven’t said what denomination you are with, and so what I say may not apply or even make sense. But my thinking has been along these lines —

    I come from a congregational autonomy tradition, and maybe that’s the reason I can’t see sending money to an institution that denies the faith. I mean, a lot of the old line denominations support seminaries that deny the historicity of Jesus and advocate very anti-Christian behaviors.

    I’m a pretty tolerant guy, but I can’t see taking funds away from the cause of Christ and giving it to people committed to opposing the work of the church.

    On the other hand, I know that in some denominations the HQ owns the building and the trust funds, and this has caused many a congregation to stay in the fold contrary to conscience. I think that’s a mistake, myself.

    An Episcopal Church not far from here withdrew from the denomination. The denomination made them leave the building. They offered to buy it for a fair price, and the denomination said no.

    They met in a high school for a while, and the old church building sat empty. Eventually, the denomination sold it to them for a fraction of the original price!

    It seems to me — speaking as someone with no experience with hierarchical denominations — that the congregations ought to leave when the HQ abandons faith in Jesus and respect for scriptural authority. That’s the only way to force change and avoid being compelled to subsidize evil.

    If enough do, the denomination will change. As long as good people support corrupt theology, corrupt theology will destroy the denomination from within. Better for the congregation to leave now and re-build itself than to slowly wither away.

    Am I missing something?

  12. Hank,

    Jay and I offered a solution at http://graceconversation.com/. It remains advertised at my blog: http://todddeaver.wordpress.com/.

    Regarding your quote, the contradiction you perceived in my post is not real. What I agreed with was your statement that “Surely there is a line between needing to obtain/maintain a perfect understanding of the entire word of God and the idea that one’s understanding of such has nothing to do with the saving of his soul.” What I rejected was your suggestion that only God can know where that line is. Those are two very different things. I don’t believe my post (http://todddeaver.wordpress.com/2009/01/22/there%e2%80%99s-got-to-be-a-line-somewhere/) was confusing on this point.

    Finally, you asked, “How is MDR part of any ‘pattern’?” By “pattern” conservatives generally mean those obligations and prohibitions that are taught in the NT. So if the NT requires or forbids something, that’s part of the pattern and–per conservative theology–it must be correctly understood and implemented for one to be faithful. My point was that conservatives disagree among themselves about (among many other things)NT teaching on divorce and remarriage, with some saying certain marraiges are scriptural and others saying those same marriages are adulterous. In other words, they disagree over what the NT requires in this matter (“the pattern” regarding MDR), yet they remain united anyway, contrary to their own paradigm which predicates unity on getting the pattern right. That is self-contradiction.

  13. Jay, does that apply to the local congregation, and decisions disagreed with by the elders? Personally I can understand Pastor Mike’s loyalty, so of my country right or wrong, dtc.
    To me its like a family or a marriage. Kids put ketchup on the wrong things! I’m out of here. No, maybe we can build a family on ketchup and non-ketchup people.
    Actually, it much more complicated. Usually the leadership slowly leaves the members. One decision is not popular, but maybe not really wrong. Then a future one pushes it further….. No clear line crossed, just pitching the tent closer to Sodom.
    To the extent that a congregation is conservative in practice, but preaches grace, doesn’t make our habits salvation issues, do you stay or seek a more progressive place?
    I am in favor of all Christians regulary examining their faith and practice. It I can do it better, understand it better, I want to improve. Personally, that’s why if I was sprinkled upon learning of immersion, I would seek that (as the Campbells did), and I would wish to be at a congregation that practiced immersion.
    Lastly some things are less important. If I never sing many modern songs, or have a praise team in assembly, well, I never got to the Taj Mahal either.

  14. Thanks Todd, but can you be more specific as to where I can find your better solution? It appears that both of the links you’ve included above only take me to home pages that say nothing of any solution(s). And as what I have been patiently waiting for is rather specific…to find it on my own would feel like looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack.

    I did take a look from time to time (on both sites) in search of the solution you kept promising, but never saw anything?

    Remember, that I kept suggesting that without your solution, that the progressives were in the same boat of inconsistency in terms of acknowledging a line — but not being able to clearly define where it was.

    Thanks.

  15. Larry,

    You have go back to this post from 12/23: http://oneinjesus.info/2009/12/23/amazing-grace-what-if-we-fail-to-convince-others-regarding-baptism/

    In some denominational national offices, the scriptures are demythologized (following Bultmann, for example) to the point that the resurrection is denied. In some denominational national offices, faith in Jesus is not seen as a requirement of salvation. In some denominational national offices, church leaders feel free to overrule the scriptures with their own wisdom or preferences.

    Some things are salvation issues. Some are not. John says in 1 John 4:6 that the saved will “listen to us,” that is, respect the authority of the apostolic witness.

    The “Empty Church” documents this quite well. I’m no expert in being part of a hierarchical denomination, but certainly at the point the leadership teaches against those things that are necessary to be saved, it’s time to either cast the deceivers out or leave. I can’t imagine supporting such men.

  16. Hank,

    This post was to see just how close our avatars are. Coincidentally, I’m resonating with your inquiries.

    Rich.

  17. Hank,

    In the Table of Contents, look under —

    Progressive Statement of Position and Defense of First Two Propositions (Falling Away Due to Lack of Faith or Penitence) by Progressive Authors

    (in large bold type) and then click on —

    Statement of Position on Apostasy.

    Here’s the link —

    http://graceconversation.com/2009/06/18/a-progressive-position-statement-of-position-on-apostasy/

  18. I think Greg misses the point. “Progressives” are quite clear on what they agree on, and it is the “conservatives” who are confused as to what that means. “Conservatives” accuse the “progessives”, “Except for a vague ecumenical aspiration, and a shared disdain for traditional Church of Christism, I find very little around which my Progressive friends can coalesce.” This “vague ecumenical aspiration” is the Bibilical rooted unity of faith in Christ (see Todd’s and Jay’s link above). If it is shared by those outside of the Churches of Christ and that is a point of accusation, then perhaps it is the “conservatives” who are trying too hard to be against something (not like the denominations) than for something Biblical.

    Blessings

  19. A Progressive Position: Statement of Position on Apostasy
    by Jay Guin

    What would cause a saved person to no longer be saved – to fall away or become an apostate? There are three ways a saved person can fall away –

    •A Christian falls away when he no longer has faith. “Faith” means faith in Jesus.
    •A Christian falls away when he is no longer penitent. Equivalently, a Christian falls away when he no longer submits to Jesus as Lord. Equivalently, a Christian falls away when he willfully continues to sin.
    •A Christian falls away when he seeks to be justified other than by faith in Jesus.

    Thanks Jay. But, who is the one who knows whether an individual is in violation of one (or more) of these statements? What specific Bible teachings are (or are not) to be included? For example, if a church were to appoint women to eldership, would that vioate any of the above statements?

    You see, that was the point I was trying to make with Todd. If the lines of fellowship drawn by progressives are so vague that no two people will understand them the same…what kind of ines are they at all? Would it not be more correct to say that while the conservatives have actual lines (albeit applied inconsistently), the proggressives have no real (usable) lines at all?

    For example:
    Has the pope crossed the line you describe?
    How about the average practicing Catholic?

    Thanks.

  20. To me, your 3 point “line of fellowship” would be just as clear as to say:

    “A Christian has fallen away once he no longers walks in the light and ceases to be cleansed by the blood of Jesus”

    Of course that is true. But what specific teachings and or practices would constitute the above?

  21. Personally, I don’t believe we are called to be pre-ocuppied with the “lines of fellowship.” We are called to be pre-occupied with loving others the way Jesus loved us.

    Perhaps that is the clearest line between the “conservative” view and the “progressive” view.

    With what are you pre-occupied?

  22. Amen David! Love people. If someone has a genuine faith, and is genuinely trying to live according to the will of God, invite them in with open arms. Eventually you may earn the right to discuss you different doctrinal perceptions in a healthy way. Close such people off because of some “error,” and – paradoxically – you’ve just missed out on some wonderful opportunities meaningfully discuss that very “error” with them.

  23. Weldon,

    Do you believe that some peope who have genuine faith, and who are genuinely trying to serve God sometimes believe and practice things that are “error”?
    If so, do you really blieve that we ought to “meaningfully discuss that very error with them”? And if so, why? For what purpose? Seriously….?

    Finally, what type(s) of “error” would you consider worthy of being “meaningfully discussed”?

    I realize progressives aren’t very comfortable when it comes to specifics, but I would honestly like to know what they think. Above I mentioned a couple:

    1. Catholicism (praying to saints, seeking forgiveness via the instruction of a “priest,” etc.)
    2. Women preachers and/or elders (or pastors, apostles, bishops, etc.)

    Would the above be considered “error”? If so, are they sinful? If so, do they need to be repented of? Do they violate any of the 3 things Jay offers in describing apostacy?

    Hank

  24. Hank
    I do not presume my understanding is so perfect and complete that I should seek to impose my view of the text on anyone. My goal is to live such an authentic life that those near me will come to me.

    While I differ on many points with Catholics (using your example), James 4:12 still says I am not the Judge — God still reserves that role for himself.

    I am called to live by what I believe and teach what I believe. But I can only teach is one is willing to be taught. And telling a person they are wrong, generally does not lead to a useful teaching opportunity.

    So again, I encourage you to live out the love of Jesus for yourself and I suspect you will find much to rejoice and praise God about.

    Spending time trying to ensure everyone agrees with you about doctrinal understandings is rarely as important as showing them how much you love them by caring for and about them

    Love is so much more important than doctrine. And I suspect you and I agree on most doctrinal matters

    but we likely differ on the need to draw lines of fellowship based upon those doctrines.

    Personally, I will gladly worship God with anyone who wants me to. How can worshipping God do any harm?

    In my view, thebobject of love ianto give yourself to others, for their good, expecting nothing in return — kind what Jesus did for me.

    That’s hard enough, without having todraw lines of fellowship as well.

  25. Todd,

    While I hear what your saying, there has to be a line and/or point wherein you have to stand up and say a certain beief/teaching is wrong.

    You ask — “How can worshipping God do any harm?”

    To which I would answer — whenever it is unbliblical either in attitude and/or practice. And while, we might disagree on whether a thing is unbliblical (against God’s will and therefore sinful), surely there are some beliefs/practices that are indeed.

    “But the wisdom from above is first of all pure; THEN peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” James 3:17.

  26. Sorry,

    I meant “David” and not “Todd”

  27. The dilemma for you, Hank, is who made you the judge of others in these matters — James wrote that only God is the judge.

    I agree there is a line, somewhere, but my responsibility is not to judge where that line is, it is only to love the way Jesus loved.

    As I commented earlier, one of the principle differences between the “conservative” and “progressive” views centers around the need to draw lines around fellowship based upon doctrine.

    I’ve decided to let God make those calls — but I will also say, that I get into lots of discussions with people about doctrine — I just don’t make fellowship decisions based upon people’s position on doctrine.

  28. David,

    I think we would do well to remember that the word “doctrine” as primaril used in the Bible simply means — “teaching.”

    Accordingly, when you say there is no need to draw lines of fellowship based upon people’s doctrine… that means the same thing as saying you see no need to draw lines based upon what peope teach? I find it odd how so many people vehemently oppose “doctrine” when the word means “teaching.”

    You write:
    “As I commented earlier, one of the principle differences between the “conservative” and “progressive” views centers around the need to draw lines around fellowship based upon doctrine.”

    Which begs the question — If fellowship isn’t based upon what the Bible teaches (doctrine), then upon what is it based?

    Remember that the resurrection of our Lord is just as much “doctrine” as is the meaning and purpose of baptism.

    You aslo wrote:
    “I agree there is a line, somewhere, but my responsibility is not to judge where that line is, it is only to love the way Jesus loved.”

    I suggest you consider 1 Cor. 5:12-13 where Paul said that IT IS the job of the church to judge! He said that God will judge the outside. But, we are to judge each other and EXPEL the wicked persons from among us. Even Jesus himself commanded churches to repent of holding to unbiblical doctrines (which means teachings).

    And for you to refuse to “make fellowship decisions based upon people’s position on doctrine” instantly puts you at odds with the direct teaching of the Bible. I encourage you to reconsider you doctrine.

  29. Paul knew it’s not good to stay around people when they are active in their struggles. It is especially not good to be around someone when a person has struggled with the same issues themselves.

    1 Corinthians 5:11 “But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person.”

    Paul also said that we are not to remain in such a state toward someone, we should forgive them giving them love.

    2 Corinthians 2:6-8 “This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man, so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow. Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him.”

  30. Hank,
    Like you, I appreciate the meaning of the word doctrine and I especially appreciate good teaching on the most important tenets of Christianity. Regrettably, there have been so many times that the CofC focused so much attention on tertiary doctrines that now many in the fellowship hear the word “doctrine” and immediately think of all the little issues the CofC has chosen to make tests of fellowship. (it is interesting that the CofC continues to justify their fissiparous nature by claiming Paul told them to act that way – go figure?) I wonder if you and David could be using the same word, but meaning different things when you use that word.
    Peace,
    Randall

  31. Randall,

    You say that you, “appreciate good teaching on the most important tenets of Christianity.”

    But don’t you appreciate “good teaching” on the remaining tenets of Christianity as well? — The tenets you which have chosen to deem “less important”?

    Do you in fact believe that the less important the doctrine is (in your opinion), the less important it is to apply “good teaching”? Because that is what you’ve implied.

    You accuse the cofc of focusing on “tertiary doctrines” and I would really like to know what formula you use in determining which Bible teachings are “most important” and which ones are “tertiary”?

    Serioulsly.

  32. Anonymous,

    You wrote:
    “Paul knew it’s not good to stay around people when they are active in their struggles. It is especially not good to be around someone when a person has struggled with the same issues themselves.”

    However, and as the verse you cited states, Paul’s instruction was for Christians not to keep company with A BROTHER who was so sinning. Not because of any bad influence, but because people who call themselves Christians that are sexually immoral, or greedy, or an idolater, or a slanderer, or a drunkard, or a swindler….should not be fellowshipped by faithful Christians.

    Of course, that doctrine/Bible teaching is hard to accept and even harder to consistently practice…but it is still what the Bible teaches. And my point is that we have no right (for the sake of “unity”), to just consider the teaching “tertiary” and brush it aside.

    I mean, do we?

  33. Hank and Anon,

    I think Hank is closer to the meaning of the passage. Paul is specific that he expects us to be around the immoral among the lost — how else would we convert them? Paul opposes retreat from the world. We engage with the world to teach Jesus.

    But Paul is speaking of moral sin, not honest disagreements over how to obey God. He addresses that question in Rom 14. When a brother is impenitent — refusing to refrain from what he knows is sin, church discipline may well be appropriate. That does not justify withdrawing over instrumental music and such like — because those who worship God are not doing so impenitently. After all, they are worshiping God! They are seeking to honor God. They play the instrument to the Lord. Therefore —

    (Rom 14:6) He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.

    (Rom 14:3-4) The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. 4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

    Grace covers sin. It does not cover rebellion. Honest error in how to worship or organize is not rebellion. It is therefore covered — and hence not grounds for breaking fellowship.

  34. Hank,

    I cannot speak for Randall, but the distinction is simple enough. Faith and penitence are the boundaries of the kingdom. Nothing else is.

    (Acts 20:21) I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.

    (1 John 3:23) And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.

  35. Hank,

    There have been more than a few that have written that it has been problematic that the CofC has seen all doctrine/teaching as “flat” – that is, that all doctrine has been seen as equally important. Thus the teaching about who Jesus is and what he accomplished on the cross is not seen as being more important than what one believes about IM. MDR, women leading a prayer when men are present and such inane doctrines as having kitchens in church buildings – simply name the teaching that anyone chooses to focus on at the moment. I appreciate good teaching on even these tertiary issues, but I do not think they compare in importance with the main things – and I agree that it is important to keep the main thing the main thing for we will never agree on many of these other issues.

    Speaking of the gospel Paul said something (I Corinthians 15:1-4) about delivering to us things of first importance about the death, burial and resurrection of the Christ. There are many other issues that are of less importance and that are NOT issues over which we might separate. This concept is simple enough and it is neither necessary nor prudent that we make so many other issues into tests of fellowship.

    Grace and peace,
    Randall

  36. Jay, thanks for allowing me a voice here.

    You write:
    “Honest error in how to worship or organize is not rebellion.”

    Could you share your thoughts on what determines whether an error in how to worship or orgainze is “honest” as opposed to it being “dishonest”?

    And what about in other areas?

    How about the sincere individual who believes he is pleasing God to pray to Mary and seek forgiveness instructions via a Catholic Priest? Assuming you agree that such is in fact error, would you consider it “honest”?

  37. Also, this morning I saw a post wherein you addressed something I had stated. However, I cannot seem to find it now. Did you remove it?

    Thanks

  38. Umm, is a brother not a person?? Where did I disagree that we should not be around people who are doing such? Notice Hank avoided addressing that Paul said that we should forgive reaffirming our love to them.

    2 Corinthians 2:6-11 “This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man, so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow. Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him. For to this end I also wrote, that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things. Now whom you forgive anything, I also forgive. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ, lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices.”

    God reaches out to help people, a whole lot more so than people reach out to help each other. There are people who’s lives for years have been wrecked and ravaged by sin. The church is where people go to get healing, instead many churches have become a place where people there do their best to discourage and destroy them!

  39. Randall,

    While I agree that the DBR of our Lord is of utmost importance, I do not understand your decision to label so much of the rest of the teaching of the Bible to be of the third order or level of importance?

    Instrucion on how to worship, how to organize, the role of women, church discipline, etc, etc, may be challenging indeed, but do we really have a right to deem so much (or really any) of the word of God to be “tertiary”?

    Hank

  40. Even Paul wrote that everything can be summed up in “love one another”, so there are principles that form the core of what God wants from us.

    In 1 John 4, John tells us that the very act of loving God (the most important command, according to Jesus) is demonstrated by loving people.

    So, yes, Hank, I think loving others is more important than how we worship, how we organize, the role of women, church discipline, etc. In fact, the only thing Jesus every described as a command (in John 13 and John 15) was to love others the way he loved us.

    I believe everything else is secondary to that one command — and must be reconciled to it.

  41. Hank,
    Please do not misunderstand what I said. I did not “label so much of the rest of the teaching of the Bible to be of the third order or level of importance” There is frequently a significant difference between the teaching of the Bible and what any particular person CLAIMS is the teaching of the Bible. The Bible teaches that we ought to be baptized but it does not teach that we had to have the understanding that baptism was in order to obtain the remission of sins in our mind at the time of our baptism in order for our baptism to be valid. Yet this is the teaching/doctrine that I received in the CofC. The Bible teaches that we ought to observe the Lord’s supper, but it does not teach that it must be observed on Sunday; every Sunday, only on Sunday and never more than once on Sunday. So the answer to your question is Yes, I believe that a lot of the insignificant doctrines/teachings the CofC has focused on are of third importance. In fact there have been times when our teaching (as well as other denominations) have misrepresented what the Bible teaches.

    We have presumed that there is a PRECISE pattern that must be followed exactly (e.g. church organization, IM, women not allowed to speak at all except for singing and comments in Sunday school or when teaching unbaptized boys – surely there is no need to provide additional examples) and we have claimed that is the teaching of the Bible; and I think we have been wrong about any number of things we chose to emphasize. At the same time we have placed too little emphasis on important doctrines like the nature and attributes of God the Father as well as the person and work of Jesus. At one time we taught that the Bible taught that the HS was little more than a retired author.

    I’ve had conversations similar to this one dozens of times and I do not find them particularly edifying or encouraging. I hope l responded to your questions and gladly grant you the last word. It is doubtful that I will participate further in this thread. It is this emphasis on tertiary doctrines over primary doctrine (aka majoring in the minors and minoring in the majors ) that has led me to conclude that I do not wish to spend the rest of my life in the CofC. I was a junior in a Christian college before I was ever presented with anything close to a complete doctrine of who Jesus is (Jule Miller taught it was wrong), but I knew from early teens that it was necessary to understand that baptism was in order to obtain the remission of sins, and that you had to know that at the time that you were baptized or else your baptism was not valid. Kind of like saying that if you swear by the gold of the temple you must keep your oath, but if you swear only by the temple then you have some wiggle room regarding your oath. I believe Jesus referred to that type of thinking as foolish.

    I prefer to be involved with a church that focuses more on the enormity of God in all his attributes and the love and grace he extends to sinful men through the finished work of Jesus and the indwelling of the HS. As a sinful man I am in frequent need of encouragement and being built up in the faith rather than going to church to be taught/hear doctrine about us being saved b/c we believe the right way about instrumental music. I need to hear that God graciously saved me in spite of my ugliness rather than women can’t speak a word of edification to me. I need to be told again that God will cause me to stand even though l would choose to fall rather than the church must have a plurality of elders as one would never do, and don’t even think about a woman being a deacon no matter how much of a servant she is.

    I pray that you understand my feelings and that you will forgive any bitterness I hold towards the CofC. They are my church family but I see them as a dysfunctional family. I will always wish them well and look forward to news from home and be elated when it is good news – I even tune in occasionally to see what is going on. But I can’t spend too much time with them or in conversations like this one that can drag on literally for decades.

    May God be gracious unto you as you strive to know him better and serve him with all of your being.
    Peace,
    Randall

  42. Ok.

  43. Hank,

    Within the boundaries of faith and repentance, “honest error” means error where the penitent believer is genuinely intending to obey.

    Let’s assume that God in fact intends to ban instrumental music in worship. Suppose a church prayerfully searches the scriptures and believes instruments are permitted and so they worship with instruments, fully intending to honor God in so doing. They are, under this hypothesis, in honest error. In other words, they remain penitent, are not in rebellion, and so remain saved.

    This is, I believe, much of what Paul means in —

    (Rom 14:6) He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.

    Honoring a day as special or as not special “to the Lord,” means doing so with the intent of honoring God in so doing. Plainly, if someone worships with an instrument (not in rebellion), he is worshiping. He is intending to honor God. He does so to the Lord.

    He remains penitent and is acting on his faith. He does not fall away and so remains in full fellowship.

    One of the gravest sins of the 20th Century Churches of Christ was to presume, for convenience of argument, that all who worship contrary to our understanding of scripture do so from a hard heart. It wasn’t true.

    Those among the Churches who worship with an instrument don’t do so in order to be “like the denominations” or as a matter of “will worship.” They do so to worship God — and to provide a form of worship that helps bring more people to Jesus — having concluded that God finds such worship acceptable.

    Those are penitent motives. If they’re wrong, it’s honest error.

    Of course, there are honest errors that damn. Regardless of the purity of one’s heart, only those with faith in Jesus are saved. Only those who are penitent are saved. And only those who seek salvation by faith and not by works are saved.

  44. That is good Jay, and thanks.

    However, assuming that worshipping with instruments is error (for argument’s sake only), even though the people who do so are in “honest error” truly believing such is pleasing to God — it would still in fact be error and not according to the will of God, right?

    Concerning the people who truly believe it is error and against the will of God (and since we are here assuming that it is in fact wrong), how could we encourage the latter to approve of (accept, allow, etc) the error of the former?

    Whether “honest” or not?

    The same might be asked about our Catholic, Mormon, and JW friends.

  45. Hank,

    If it’s sin, it’s contrary to God’s will. Certainly.

    Those who see the error should not approve the error. However, it’s not their call as to whether to accept them. It’s God’s.

    And God forgives sinners. Those without sin don’t need grace. The rest of us do.

    The question, therefore, isn’t whether they are right. By assumption, they are wrong. The question is whether they are forgiven. And if God forgives, so must we.

    I mean, we are all sinners. Indeed, we all commit sins that we know are sins. We lust even though we know better. We aren’t eaten up with materialism, even though we know better. We fail to evangelize as we should, even though we know better. And yet we’re forgiven.

    If God will forgive us for what we know is wrong, surely he’ll forgive his children who commit sins in ignorance! And if God is that gracious, so must we.

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