Replanting a Denomination: In Reply to Greg

Gregory Alan Tidwell, my favorite conservative preacher, recently posted a challenging comment. It merits a detailed reply because he raises some important questions.

Jay;

You paint with a very broad brush. Among those whom you would call “traditionalists” there have ALWAYS been a sizable number who believed in the personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit and who taught very clearly the gospel of grace of God.

Let’s deal first with the Holy Spirit. The vast majority of conservative Churches of Christ in the 20th Century took either of two positions. Many argued for a “word only” position, that is, that the Spirit operated on a Christian’s heart only via the word.

Others accepted what H. Leo Boles called an “ordinary measure” indwelling, and so accepted that the Spirit indwells a Christian directly and not representatively through the word.

The best I can tell, both these views go back to the merger of the Stone- and the Campbell-influenced congregations.

However, until recently, most in both camps denied the “direct operation” of the Spirit on the heart of the Christian. Some in the ordinary-measure camp would acknowledge the Spirit’s help in our prayer (Rom 8:26) and presence within us, but saw any direct influence as contradicting the view that 1 Cor 13 says miracles have ceased.

The best I can tell, most who teach that the Spirit indwells through an ordinary measure, such as Wayne Jackson, deny that there is any direct operation on the Christian’s heart. Thus, Jackson quotes J. D. Thomas, who wrote, “The awareness that the third member of the Godhead personally and actually dwells within us is a tremendous incentive to holiness.”

Notice that Thomas’ language makes our growing in holiness solely a matter of our own work, but helped by our knowledge of the Spirit’s presence in us, rather than helped by the Spirit himself. It’s humanistic in the extreme, and clearly calculated to avoid any accusation that the Spirit actually changes the Christian’s heart.

Thus, a substantial part of the “ordinary measure” school of thought denies the Spirit’s ability to actually help the Christian live the Christian life, and remains very consistent with the works-based theology these men also teach.

On the other hand, it appears that even some conservative authors have come to realize that the Spirit may operate on the heart and mind of the Christian. Weylan Deaver argues, for example,

The question is, how does God get wisdom from above (Jas 3:17) into my mind on earth? I believe no one has a complete answer to that. It could involve further study of the Bible, or God arranging events behind the scenes, etc. But, remember, it is granted in answer to prayer–and, not just any prayer, but a specific kind of prayer. If God answers the prayer, He does something. Now, if God–perhaps even through His indwelling Spirit–chooses to grant wisdom to a saint without it being tied to external factors, isn’t that His prerogative? I’m saying that is at least a possibility. Your guess is as good as mine how wisdom is granted in response to any given prayer. What I object to is some of my brethren ascribing to God’s word more than it claims for itself. In other words, they treat the scriptures as if the printed words are the sole necessity for man, when, in fact, those same printed words claim there is more available to the saint than just the word. I do not believe in modern day revelation, but I believe in modern day help from heaven in providence.

Deaver seems to be reluctant to suggest a direct operation and also wants to cling to the notion that God and the Spirit will only work providentially.

(I find the whole direct-operation/providence distinction incomprehensible myself. I mean, either God is acting to cause something to happen that otherwise would not or else he’s not. See the series “Church of Christ Deism.”)

Now, I’m sure there are those who teach an actual indwelling/direct-operation position among the conservatives. But you sure don’t hear much about it. I subscribe to and read the Gospel Advocate and the Spiritual Sword. I read the Christian Courier online. And I just don’t see the direct operation of the Spirit being taught among the conservative Churches. There likely are preachers who hold to that view, but it’s not made it into the major publications. I doubt that the conservative lectureships allow such a view to be taught. Indeed, isn’t opposition to “direct operation” a test of fellowship among most conservatives? The Spiritual Sword sure seems to take that position.

I would be greatly encouraged to be shown that my conservative brothers are courageously teaching a Spirit that helps Christians live as God wishes by direct operation on the Christian’s heart.

I, also, was a student of Harvey Floyd’s. Dr. Floyd is, and always has been, a proponent of inerrancy, of male leadership in worship, of the essential nature of baptism in salvation, and (believe it or not) he is a proponent of the regulative principle in worship. There is no way Harvey would fit in with what you call “progressive.”

The Churches of Christ don’t divide neatly into two camps. There’s more of a grace continuum, with Church members and congregations being at different points depending on the extent to which they impose works as a condition of continued salvation.

Some have quite a long list of works that must be adhered to be saved – no fellowship halls, no elder re-affirmation, and on and on and on. Some have fewer works, perhaps just 5 acts of worship and a plurality of elders and deacons. But all along the continuum nearly all draw the boundaries of the kingdom with certain “marks of the church” or “tests of fellowship,” that is, that teach justification by works in addition to faith and penitence.

To me, you are a progressive if you define apostasy as Todd and I did at GraceConversation, that is, that you only fall away when you reject faith in Jesus, when you rebel against the authority of Jesus (rather than being penitent), or when you insist on justification by works rather than justification by faith.

Therefore, in my vocabulary, you can insist on a cappella worship and still be a progressive, so long as you don’t make it a fellowship issue. There are, therefore, many ministers in very traditional congregations that are in fact progressive (as I use the term) even though they may well bristle at my saying so.

Hence, I think it’s fair to refer to Dr. Floyd as a progressive. That’s certainly how I understood his classes on Romans.

You see, to me, it’s infinitely more important that we treat each other as saved than that we have a uniform view on worship. I don’t think we’re going to ever all agree on everything. I do think it’s possible for us to consider each other saved.

As to the Gospel Advocate. Please recall that “The Way of Salvation” by K. C. Moser was published by Gospel Advocate way back in the traditional days of 1933. While I do not claim that everything published by Gospel Advocate has been to my liking over the past 150 years, there have been many authors who have written clearly both about the personal indwelling of the Spirit and concerning salvation by grace.

Oh, wow! We are blessed to have this book available on the internet, and it’s remarkable! I wasn’t familiar with it until Greg’s comment sent me to Google looking for it. It’s a brilliant work – and I agree with nearly all of it.

I’ve always considered K. C. Moser as a father of the progressive movement. I had no idea how very close our views are.

But Moser’s views aren’t the same as Greg’s. I take Greg’s point to be that there has always been a progressive element in the Churches, not that Moser got it right.

I’ve always taught that progressive theology is not far removed from the teachings of Stone, the Campbells, Walter Scott, Robert Richardson, and others. It’s just that their views were largely repudiated by the late 19th Century and 20th Century a cappella Churches of Christ. I mean, you can’t break fellowship over the instrument and credibly claim to stand in the shoes of these men!

In the early 20th Century, there was an effort to restore unity between the instrumental and a cappella churches, but the Gospel Advocate, in the person of its editor H. Leo Boles, staunchly resisted the unity effort and indeed adopted a policy of refusing to publicize the unity meetings.

Yes, I agree that there have been progressives in the Churches of Christ since their inception, but their views were largely suppressed by the editor-bishops. The Spirit has always been alive and working among the Churches to bring light to God’s word, but it was in the latter half of the 20th Century that the true doctrines of grace and the Spirit came to prominence – despite the best efforts of the editor-bishops to silence them.

As to your contention that conservative magazines have declined because of their traditionalism. I would just compare Gospel Advocates circulation with Wineskins’ circulation…oh, wait, we can’t…the progressives aren’t even able to keep one journal afloat.

You got me there. Except I have over 1,500 readers a day. Al Maxey and Edward Fudge have much larger audiences. The Gospel Advocate doesn’t publish its circulation figures, so I can’t compare, but I think we’re seeing a change of medium rather than an unwillingness to support a publication.

(I think Wineskins would have had much greater success but for a flawed business plan.)

There are many reasons journals have declined in readership, the digital revolution being just one example. To say that conservatism is the cause of decline is disingenuous considering that the same time GA was declining in circulation, the Spiritual Sword was gaining by leaps and bounds.

Is that right? That’s truly astonishing. I mean, the GA is much more readable. I find the SS really hard to slog through. Why do you suppose their readership is up and GA’s readership down?

Regarding being disingenuous, that presumes I’m personally familiar with the SS circulation figures. I’m not. I can’t find where they publish their numbers. Would you mind sharing the numbers showing their growth? And the GA’s declining readership?

This is really interesting – and surprising. And did I say “astonishing”?

But, then again, I am just a simple Midwestern preacher, what do I know?

–Greg

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7 Responses

  1. It seems to me that the universal church is much more mysterious than anyone could image. For one those who work beyond church local autonomy have the passion of the Apostles and have become the greater teachers. Should we leave the denomination of non Holy Spirit teachers? Is it any different than Apostle Johns teaching on Gnosticism or the Pharisees. Unity at all cost is a heavy price to pay for the body of CHRIST and losing a eye or hand maybe a better solution.

  2. Jay;

    You wrote:

    “But Moser’s views aren’t the same as Greg’s. ”

    Please provide me with an actual quote from Moser with which I disagree. (not what you are SURE Moser would have said, or MEANT to say, but what Moser ACTUALLY said.)

    I’m just a simple Midwestern preacher, but having studied Moser over the past 30 years, I am unaware of my disagreement with him.

    -Greg

  3. Jay, you said: You see, to me, it’s infinitely more important that we treat each other as saved than that we have a uniform view on worship. I don’t think we’re going to ever all agree on everything. I do think it’s possible for us to consider each other saved.
    Is it really important that we see each other as saved? I see no Bibllical principle here. Parable of the Weeds Mt 13:24-30 & 36-43.
    Mt 13:27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ 28 ” ‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ 29 ” ‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest.
    This is the anti-religious-terrorist message. Since we cannot remove evil without damage, can we know who’s in the book of Life? Is it for us to know?

  4. The Gospel Advocate, like all publications, has to print a Statement of Ownership, Management and Circulation each year. The most recent one was on p.47 of the November 2009 issue. According to it, they have a paid circulation of less than 14,000.

    I subscribe more out of habit than anything else and have been debating whether I’ll send in the renewal notice I received a couple of weeks ago. In my case, the GA really doesn’t represent my views very well (and I was published there years ago). It’s also an issue of time– I have a stack of magazines on my desk now that I haven’t gotten to, which is how I could so easily find the circulation numbers.

    So, I suspect there are a number of reasons for declining subscriptions, including a shift toward the Internet, but I have to think a significant portion of it has to do with a corresponding decline in those in the church today who hold the “Old Reliable’s” positions.

  5. Best Commentary,

    Thanks for looking that up. I’ve not been able to find the same information for the Spiritual Sword. There’s no doubt that the subscriber base is in decline because the Churches of Christ — esp. the conservative Churches — are in decline, and aging.

  6. Greg,

    I’ll be posting something. You’ve persuaded me to be a K C Moser fan.

  7. Point taken about Wineskins. I’ll bring it up at our board meeting this month.

    Let me just say that our business plan has been to offer our content free for several years now, and we do not take the editorial position that you must agree with everything we publish or you are eternally lost.

    In fact, I personally find it wonderful that God’s kingdom is breaking out through dozens of web sites and blogs like Jay’s where people are not constrined by such an editorial policy and may think and speak freely.

    I find it a bit saddening to think that there is even one person who measures the success of a ministry’s outreach to the circulation of a printed journal in a world which is moving further away from the more expensive and traditional print media.

    This comment on this blog is accessible to everyone in the world who has internet access, as there are even search engines and other online services which will freely (and mostly accurately) translate it from English into any major world language.

    As I understand it, the board moved several years ago to stop squandering money on less effective media and to communicate a message of “A Life of Worship” – the kind of life Jesus lived and wants to live in us through His Spirit – in a world that increasingly does not know God.

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