Replanting a Denomination: Moser and Tidwell, Part 1

Gregory Alan Tidwell, a contributor to the Gospel Advocate and my favorite conservative preacher, commented,

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.

Fair enough, except I’m a little bit of a disadvantage. I only know a handful of Greg’s positions, and so as to some issues, I’ll just have to ask Greg whether he agrees with Moser or not.

For those not familar with the personalities involved, K. C. Moser was a controversial figure in the Churches of Christ in the first half of the 20th Century. He wrote several influential works that helped point many in a more progressive direction. He was supported by G. C. Brewer, but criticized by Foy Wallace, Jr. and many others, and he suffered severe criticism and ostracism for his views on grace.

He main works are —

plus his seminal The Gist of Romans, a brief commentary on Romans. All but The Gist of Romans are available on the internet.

John Mark Hicks has summarized and commented on Moser’s work.

I commend all of the above to your reading and study. It’s excellent and courageous work.

Now, Moser’s work focuses almost exclusively on the doctrine of justification and the work of the Spirit. He rejects the “plan of salvation” approach to justification, as it undervalues the work of Jesus and tends to turn our salvation into a works religion. He teaches a personal indwelling that “Incites” the Christian to holy living.

There’s a subtle but critically important distinction here. The Churches of Christ have always taught justification by grace through faith — when they are speaking of someone’s initial conversion. Even when teaching “the plan,” we teach salvation by faith — except many teach that baptism is a “work” and that we are saved by faith plus works, in an effort to preserve baptism as essential to our salvation. This is a large part of the teaching opposed by Moser.

However, traditional Church of Christ teaching is that once you are saved, obedience to certain laws is required as an condition to salvation, and this means obedience to the pattern of worship and pattern of church organization. Get those wrong and you don’t have the “marks of the church” and so are lost.

Thus, we taught (and some still teach) that you get in based on faith + baptism, but certain (or any) doctrinal errors engaged in thereafter damn, at least if you’ve had time to learn better, even if you are in fact unaware that you are sinning. Some would insist that merely holding an erroneous view does not damn until one practices in error based on that view. Some hold that merely holding the erroneous view damns. Among conservatives, however, honest error in worship, for example, is no excuse. Worship with an instrument and you are damned, even if you are unaware that the scriptures silently instruct us to sing a cappella.

Thus, traditional Church of Christ teaching draws a clear distinction between becoming saved by grace and remaining saved by grace. Indeed, our preachers often reject the language of salvation by faith in the context of one already saved. Thus, in the dialogue at GraceConversation, Mac Deaver argues,

Titus 3:5 is a discussion of initial obedience, and not a reference to obedience required of Christians. The salvation of Titus 3:5 excludes works of righteousness because before conversion, the sinner is not producing any righteousness. He is living in sin. Verses 5 and 6 clearly show that the salvation referred to is that whereby one leaves the world of sin.

Greg, of course, was also a participant at GraceConversation, but had to drop out early and was replaced by Mac. I do not presume to impose Mac’s views on Greg. We need to let Greg speak for himself.

I want to consider four questions —

1. What was Moser’s view of the sufficiency of faith after initial salvation?

2. Does Greg agree with Moser?

3. What was Moser’s view of the work of the indwelling Spirit?

4. Does Greg agree with Moser?

1. What was Moser’s view of the sufficiency of faith after initial salvation?

John Mark Hicks summarizes Moser’s view on this very question —

Moser is concerned that Christianity can be made into a legal system of seeking our own righteousness just as the Jews turned the Mosaic law into seeking their own righteousness.225 The principle of justification is faith and our view of sanctification must not undermine that principle. If sanctification is pictured as the pursuit to maintain our righteous standing through the righteousness of our works, then this undermines the principle of justification. We are righteous by God’s gift of righteousness in justification, and we do not add to this righteousness by our own good works through sanctification. The purpose of sanctification is to conform to the image of Christ, to grow toward Christ, but it is not the basis of our righteousness before God. The principle of faith, not works, is the means by which we receive and continue to stand in the state of justification through imputation. By this imputation we are always perfect before God as he continually credits righteousness to our accounts through faith.

Moser opposed a view of sanctification which sees our life of faith as contributing to the righteousness by which we are saved. This would be salvation by works rather than by faith. According to this notion, when our past sins are forgiven, then we start with a clean, but blank slate. It is our task to fill the slate with righteousness, and God expects a certain standard of righteousness or else we will lose our standing before him. In other words, staying saved depends on how righteous we are; it depends on being good enough to stay saved. Moser sees this as a reintroduction of the principle of works which undermines the doctrine of justification by faith.

Moser was not opposed to works, nor did he deny the need and goal of sanctification. Rather, he rooted sanctification in the principle of faith rather than works. Sanctification is an expression of faith. Faith will express itself in works, and if it does not, then it cannot be true faith. Consequently, it is not “faith and works” which save, as if they were coordinate, but a “faith that works” which saves. Faith must remain the principle because it is the only appropriate response to grace. Works are expressions of the faith by which we receive the imputation of God’s righteousness, but they do not contribute to the righteousness of our standing before God. However, where there are no works, then there is no faith, and thus no salvation.

Amen.

Moser writes in “The Way of Salvation,”

Repentance does not make one righteous. It is rather an acknowledgment of sin. Nor does faith make one righteous. It is rather a confession of a lack of righteousness. But to the believer in Christ a divine righteousness can be reckoned–that is, because of the merits of the blood of Christ, in which is located the faith of man, God can and does declare the guilty to be innocent. This justified man is not subjectively righteous. He is so only because of the power of God that can forgive sins. He is simply declared not guilty. Declaring the unrighteous to be righteous is simply saving the lost, quickening the dead. The saved cannot be saved, nor can the living be quickened–that is, the “righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ” is not for the godly, but for the “ungodly.” The “ungodly” has nothing in himself to plead, but he can trustingly plead the blood of Christ; and because of this faith God reckons unto him righteousness. As the poet has so beautifully and Scripturally expressed it:

My hope is based on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

What a wonderful revelation the gospel makes! A righteousness for the ungodly! The ungodly instinctively shuns the presence of God, as did Adam after his sin in Eden; and if man had to go before God with nothing better than his own imperfect righteousness, who could be able to stand? Not one sinner could be saved! But he does not have to appear before God unclothed. A “righteousness of God” is offered him. This is perfect righteousness, because it is a divine one. God will recognize this, because it is a gift from himself.

Moser, following Paul, argues what should be obvious. Grace is for sinners. Having been justified, we remain sinners and so we still receive grace through faith.

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10 Responses

  1. Jay

    What a beautiful piece of work by Moser. I have his book and it was difficult for me then to grasp. Doesn’t he say that in santification we are continually washed or made righteous not of our works but by the spirit leading us, When we walk in the light and boy do I often times stray from the light not so much in doctrine but from the love of the things in the world and a lack of faith in the spirit.

    Thanks for the simplification of this post

    Bob

  2. Moser clearly presents the concept of being declared righteous by grace through faith. This is consistent with the Reformed/Calvinistic forensic view of justification. In light of the very favorable reception of N.T Wright’s ideas/writings among many progressives in the CofC, I wonder if Moser might come to be viewed as ahead of his time while he was yet living, but not quite up to speed with current thinking regarding justification.

    This is offered simply as an idea to keep in the back of one’s mind – not to compete with or detract from your conversation with Greg regarding Moser’s beliefs.

  3. I agree with Moser.

    Randall, Unless I missed something, N.T. Wright would not agree with Moser. His contention is that we who hold to a declared righteousness or “imputed” righteousness (a rather biblical way of stating it by the way..) have it all wrong and wrote a book giving a different view.

    My guess is that Bro’ Tidwell does not agree with Moser.

    Royce

  4. Bob H,

    That’s quite an insight. Yes, Moser does see the doctrine of salvation as a thing of beauty, and he presents it with a remarkable elegance.

  5. Bob H,

    PS — I have another post coming on Moser’s view of the Spirit.

  6. I had the pleasure of knowing and being taught Romans and Galatians by KC when he taught at LCC and attended the Greenlawn church next to the LCC campus. He was brought there by FW Mattocks, the then President of LCC. He taught me grace and justification , and the work of the Holy Spirit, as John Mark Hicks describes. Me , a legalist, raised on a steady diet of the gospels and Acts! I use to interrupt his class on Romans and spout all the “against grace and faith only” scriptures that I was taught to refute the Baptists. (The Baptists were way ahead of us on this important biblical doctrine).He was patient and very kind to me. After one Sunday morning’s class a Deacon put his arm around me lovingly and said, Boy, your’re sure having problems with KC!” I replied, “I can’t believe that the Elders let him teach.’ At which my Deacon friend said, “Would you do us all a favor and shut up and just listen to what he says and see if it is in the Bible, just as he describes it (justification by grace through faith Eph 2:8-10, and Romans 8 & other scriptures on the HS).” It took me three years of diligent of study and friendship with him to fully understand the all encompassing love and grace of God, and for ME!! I understood it first intectually, but the emotional componet of feeling (accepting, believing, joyful relief from chronic guilt of never doing enough) saved came later, which is just as, if not more important than just mere intellectual agreement . What freedom and liberty I experienced. My life has not been the same since! He was a great friend and beloved man by those who knew him and loved him for teaching the simple but profound gospel of God’s love in Christ. His autographed books have a special place in my library.

  7. Jim,

    Amen!

  8. Thanks for the links to Moser’s writings. I’ve got the “Gist of Romans,” that a brother gave me as a gift, and admit, I haven’t read it yet. Recently discussions of justification, as well as having read a fair deal of N.T. Wright have put Moser back in my mind and I plan to read from him thoroughly starting tomorrow. I’m interested also to read what bro. tidwell will have to say.

  9. KC Moser elevated the cross and its significance as the only means by which God aquits/justifies sinners. He wrote in one of my bibles when we were talking one day about the great truths of Romns – “Legalists stay out.” Legalists prefer perfection of doctrine over the sublime doctrine of salvation by grace through faith. And , of course, the “teachers of the law” (Editor Bishops) assume they are the only ones who interpret saving doctrine(s) correctly. The simple yet profound doctrine of the cross trumps the legalists collection of “saving” “jot and tittle” doctrines that they impose on those that God has called His own! The principle of adiaphora concerning eating meat offered to idols and the role of conscience in the disputable matters of Romans 14, drives them crazy. They wouldn’t dare apply this great principle to the many disputes (matters of indifference – adiphora, i.e., liberty!) we have painfully endured over the years. Such a principle of personal conscience (Rom 2) applied to disputable matters allows differences (liberty) in understanding of difficult passages that are individually determined and lived according to ones conscience as it relates to the meaning of the cross and its overflowing blood of grace., yet holding dearly in love those brethern who see things differently. God will judge both my their faith and dependence in the cross, not ones adherence to disputable doctrines of man made law (Mt 15), which no man has ever nor can ever keep perfectly/completely. We are made perfect/complete by the grace God offers in the cross. Legalists read between the lines of scriptures on instrumental worship, clapping, raising of hands and other expressions of pure worshipful praise, which they see as feigned emotionalism. searching for some pattern that they alone can decipher. The problem of legalism lies in the simple fact that one does not understand Romans. Ah! “Free at last, free at last. Thank God almighty I’m free at last!”

  10. Jim

    Great comments. I have K.C. Mosier’s book and threw it down in disgust about ten years ago while attempting to understand baptism.
    Without the Spirit and Grace we are in a poor state to do anything. Sanctification is the continual washing and cleansing by the Spirit that makes us righteous.

    but with our freedom comes an awesome response of faith and a burning desire to talk to the lost and guide them home.

    A great post. Jay is ahead of most young guys his age.

    Love and regards

    Bob Harry PS We are in Bastrop, Texas

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