The Fork in the Road: A Different Gospel, Part 1 (Gal 1 -2)

In a recent post regarding the “progressive agenda,” I wrote,

Of course, my view of the gospel differs from the gospel as taught by conservatives in important ways. I’m persuaded that if they’ll understand the gospel as I teach it, unity will be easy.

That wasn’t exactly transparent writing, but sometimes the details conceal the larger reality. And the larger reality is that I teach a different gospel from what is taught in 20th Century Church of Christ theology.

This statement, of course, has led to questions I thought I’d try to answer. Now, I could simply say what I believe, or I could work through the scriptures and explain what I believe. And in this case, only the second way makes any sense because only the second way has any chance of being persuasive.

Now, many readers already know my views quite well, so I’ll explain myself a little differently this time — from Galatians 3. It would help, of course, for the readers to have read the recent posts on Gal 2 —

The Cruciform God: Chapter 2, Gal 2:15-21, Part 1

The Cruciform God: Chapter 2, Gal 2:15-21, Part 2

It’s not essential to have read these, but it would help.

What I’m not saying

Now, I think I have to begin by saying what I’m not saying. I’m not saying that all progressives agree with me. Some do. Some don’t.

I’m not saying that 20th Century theology rejects faith in Jesus, submission to Jesus as Lord, or obedience. Moreover, I’m not saying 20th Century theology teaches error with regard to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Generally speaking, we’re in complete agreement on these essential elements of the gospel.

I’m not saying that the conservatives and I have different gospels because we disagree about instrumental music. A disagreement over how to interpret Eph 5:19 does not, by itself, constitute a different gospel. You see, to me, “gospel” does not include the doctrine of how to worship or how to organize a church or how to support missionaries. Those are not gospel questions, and so disagreeing with me on subjects such as those does not mean we teach different gospels. It doesn’t.

But according to 20th Century Church of Christ theology, it does. And that’s why I say we teach different gospels.

What I am saying

When we require works other than obedience to the gospel as a condition of salvation or fellowship, we teach a different gospel and are in jeopardy of falling away. This is the lesson of Galatians. Therefore, while I would disagree, you don’t teach a different gospel when you teach that God requires us to worship a cappella. Nor do you teach a different gospel if an eldership insists that their congregation worship only a cappella. But when we deny the salvation of those who use the instrument or refuse to extend fellowship to them, then we teach a different gospel.

The gospel includes faith in Jesus as Messiah and Son of God and submission to him as Lord. Therefore, teaching and insisting on these things is teaching the gospel. When we accept people for baptism because of their faith in Jesus and repentance, we are indeed honoring the gospel. But when we damn the very same people because they disagree with us over how often to take the Lord’s Supper or congregational autonomy, then we’re teaching a different gospel because we’ve added additional terms to the purity and simplicity of the gospel of Jesus.

You see, the gospel is “Christ and him crucified.” Our baptism is into the crucifixion to become a part of the body of Christ. And we are saved by being made a part of that body.

We are not saved by the excellence or purity of our scholarship. Obviously, those who worship in error out of a spirit of rebellion aren’t submissive to Jesus as Lord. Their salvation is in jeopardy. But it would be supremely foolish to suggest that every member of the independent Christian Church worships with an instrument in intentional rebellion against God. It’s just not true.

The argument, therefore, is not about psallo or what Justin Martyr said about instruments. It’s about whether disputes like instrumental music (or missionary societies, or fellowship halls, or church buses, etc., etc.) are salvation or fellowship issues and, therefore, part of the gospel.

This is the progressive/conservative divide. It’s quite possible to be what I’d call a progressive and oppose instrumental music. But such a person would not see instrumental music as a fellowship or salvation issue. There are people who’d call themselves conservatives and who speak at conservative lectureships who are plainly progressives by my definition. Praise God!

Galatians 1

(Gal 1:6-9 ESV)  6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

Paul, of course, is not speaking of each and every doctrinal error. No, he’s speaking exclusively of those who divide over issues other than the gospel — as we’ll see.

Galatians 2

Paul clearly taught in Galatians that we teach a different gospel and fall from grace when we seek salvation other than through faith or when we break fellowship over issues other than the gospel. He wrote,

(Gal 2:11 ESV) But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Peter (Cephas) was refusing to eat with Gentile Christians because they weren’t circumcised — to preserve his relationship with his critics. Paul said that “he stood condemned”!

Now, the usual 20th Century Church of Christ theory is that Paul’s condemnation here and in chapter 5 speaks only to the Law of Moses, and certainly Paul is addressing issues within the Law of Moses. But the principle is plainly much broader. This is clear from how Paul argues.

But let’s suppose the Law of Moses theory were correct. Today, many within the Churches insist on treating Sunday as the “Christian Sabbath” — plainly an effort to bind the Law.

Others insist that we wear our “Sunday best” to church on the theory that God told the Israelites to only offer him their best. Again, this is an effort to bind the Law.

Interesting, the particular command in the Law that Paul deals with is circumcision, and it’s nearly universal in Western Christianity that we circumcise our children. Again, we’re practicing the Law of Moses.

And if the countless arguments built on Nabab and Abihu aren’t efforts to define who is saved by reference to the Law of Moses, I don’t know what could be!

So limited Galatians to efforts to bind the law won’t protect many of us from Paul’s condemnations.

Of course, Romans 14 teaches the refusing to eat meat and treating some days as more holy than others are matters on which we should not judge each other. It’s a virtual certainty that the vegetarians were either keeping kosher (because it’s next to impossible to eat kosher meat prepared by a Gentile butcher) or refusing to eat meat sacrificed to idols. The holy day controversy seems have been over Jewish feast days. And yet Paul prohibited judging over such things.

Therefore, there’s got to be more going on here than just an attempt to bind the Law of Moses.

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12 Responses

  1. Jay,

    This is simply one of your best posts in a while. It certainly resonates within my heart and within my theology, for whatever that may be worth. You captured Paul’s message in fullness instead of accepting the easy-out of only applying it to Mosaic law-keeping.

    I keep praying that we will do that more and more. Open our eyes, Lord, to see Jesus and know the joy of living Him.

    Glenn

  2. “it’s nearly universal in Western Christianity that we circumcise our children. Again, we’re practicing the Law of Moses.”

    That has more to do with 20th century health recommendations than with religion, though. At least, I’ve never heard anyone claim that it would be a sin not to circumcise.

  3. Had an interesting weekend. I attended a men’s retreat in Virginia and the topic was the eldership. What amazed me however was the little “freebies” that the speaker would throw out – Acts 2:42 is actually the order of worship for the first century church assembly and “the fellowship” represents our contribution. Any who teach a lenient view of alcohol consumption are false teachers because everyone knows that Jesus drank an ancient form of koolade. We must avoid being like the world in any fashion so we don’t confuse people. And folks, this was a group from the instrumental CoC. The problem is the need to find the required pattern for our behavior and the definitive answer to every question so that we can stand before God and be pleasing to Him. It is indeed another Gospel than that which is taught in the New Testament.

  4. Jay said in regards to the Law of Moses: “But the principle is plainly much broader. This is clear from how Paul argues.”

    END JAY GUIN

    Can you explain the “how Paul argues” part? To me it seems that this is the crux of your entire teaching on this passage. I assume you go into this further in “Do We Teach Another Gospel?”, but to the extent of this posting, I remain unconvinced.

    As I read through Galatians and Gal. 5, it still seems to me like Paul is just referring to Law of Moses things…so I need to better understand how you can take it from that to an over-arching application to all inferential-based beliefs (IM, drinking, gambling, etc.)

  5. Insturmental Drink Gambling

  6. I dont see how Paul’s arguments in Galatians could extend to much more than a condemnation of the Moses Law considring that it is based on the law being represent by Hagar the slave concubin and the New Testament by Sara. His argument seems to be a debasing of the Moses Law not a condemnation of rules in general.

  7. Juan,

    I will have a post up tomorrow addressing that very question.

  8. Where does the text actually say Peter refused to eat with Gentile Christians because they weren’t circumcised? Seems to me the reason on why he stopped eating with them is not specified exactly.

  9. jeffrey,

    (Gal 2:12 ESV) 12 For before certain men came from James, [Peter] was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party.

    Paul makes several references to circumcision in c. 2, leading up to this, making it clear that circumcision was the heart of the controversy under discussion. And why be afraid of the “circumcision party” unless eating with Gentiles contradicted the desires of the circumcision party.

  10. Jay,

    Many “High Church” Christian parents reject circumcision for their children on religious grounds.

    JMF,

    I would suggest that Gal 4:9-11 (the stoicheion, particularly) are strong evidence towards a broader interpretation. From there, he argues that since the hope of Israel has come in Christ to fulfill the covenant, the Law of Moses itself has become vestigial, and nothing more than another example of the stoicheion. He makes the more Gentile-flavored version of this argument in Colossians.

  11. […] The Fork in the Road: A Different Gospel, Part 1 (Gal 1 -2) […]

  12. That Jay is right on Paul’s writing concerning more than just the Mosaic Law can be seen in the fact Paul was writing to mainly GENTILE Christians. The confusion concerned eating meat sacrificed to GENTILE idols. This was not controversy over keeping the Mosaic Law. It was disagreement about how followers of Jesus should act based on apostolic teaching. Peter, who knew well that all meats were clean and could be eaten by Christians, surely should have refused to be shaken by the coming to the city of “Jewish Christians.”

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