The Fork in the Road: A Different Gospel, Part 2 (Gal 3)

Galatians 3

In a truly astonishing passage, Paul explains that our salvation is found not in the Law of Moses (no surprise) but in the covenant with Abraham (big surprise) —

(Gal 3:2 ESV) Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?

Paul is speaking particularly of the Law of Moses, but he contrasts it with “faith.”

4 Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith — 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?

There are two systems under consideration: works of the law and being credited with righteousness by faith. There’s no third choice: faith + worship according to the right rules. Of course, “faith” is pistis and includes having a submissive heart (faithfulness). The rebellious don’t have faith in the Pauline sense of the word.

Paul is not considering outright rebellion. He’s considering those who, misunderstanding God’s heart, damn those who aren’t circumcised — a requirement going all the way back to Abraham! You see, even if the Law of Moses was repealed, its repeal wouldn’t repeal circumcision, which was part of God’s covenant with Abraham — and part of the covenant by which we are saved!

7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

Paul declares that we are “sons of Abraham” — Israelites, the elect, the called — if we have faith. And the “gospel” preached beforehand is salvation through faith.

Now, at this point, the 20th Century Church of Christ theologian desperately wants to jump to James or talk about baptism. But we’ll never understand Galatians if we don’t let Paul speak for himself rather than editing him into Church of Christ othodoxy. There is no contradiction, but we need to find the truth that is never contradicted in Paul’s words — not by stringing prooftexts together out of context.

And to this point, Paul has plainly contrasted a faith system with a works system. And the flaw in the works system he focuses on is that it doesn’t give the Spirit, who perfects (or completes) us (3:2-3). Now, Paul will have much more to say about the Spirit, but we shouldn’t forget that he begins the discussion with the Spirit — and he’ll conclude with Spirit in chapter 5.

10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us — for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” — 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

Paul now points out another problem with the Law of Moses. The Law requires you to get every single law right! This, he says, is a curse. Rather, Jesus redeemed us from the curse (paid the price to redeem us from slavery) by taking the curse upon himself — so we might receive the “promised Spirit” through faith.

We would want to say “so that we might [be saved] through faith,” but Paul chooses to emphasize the Spirit in this place. “Promised” is a reference to the several Old Testament prophesies promising the outpouring of the Spirit on all God’s children. When we minimize the role of the Spirit, we struggle to follow Paul’s logic. To us, it’s all about getting saved. To Paul, salvation is just a part of it.

21 Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. 22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

Why was the Law a curse? Well, because it could only save those who get it all right — but law can’t give life because we can’t meet its standards. We simply can’t do it. Therefore, God redeemed us in Jesus — so that salvation could be by faith. There was no other way.

But in 20th Century Church of Christ thought, while we should certainly endeavor to obey all God’s laws (Amen!), we will inevitably fall short, and so must have grace to be saved (Amen!). But if we get certain laws wrong — such as instrumental music — we’re damned (Not amen) or at least dismissed from fellowship just as Peter dismissed the uncircumcised from his fellowship.

This has led to a certain doubletalk, as we try to simultaneously honor Pauline theology while holding on to our pet salvation issues. Consider this from PlainFaith.com

Do members of the churches of Christ believe in works salvation? No. We believe in salvation by faith through grace, which includes humble submission to the commands of God. If this is objectionable to some, then we ask, what command of God can be disobeyed and we still get to go to heaven?

I agree that salvation by faith through grace includes humble submission to the commands of God. But if I have to obey every single command, what does grace do?

The same author writes,

This means some who are religious, diligent in their labors, and believe in Jesus as Lord will not go to heaven. The Lord will reject them. Why? Because they worked “lawlessness.” That is, they did not do the will of the Father in heaven. They did not listen to Him. They did not follow His Word, where His will is found (1 Cor. 2:7-13). This includes people who use instrumental music in worship, practice the social gospel, or pervert the plan of salvation. The typical denominational pastor will not say a peep about this.

The New Testament uses “lawlessness” of wilfull rebellion, not an honest mistake as to how to worship (1 John 3:4; 2 Thes 2:3-8; Matt 23:28; 24:11-12).

And so, PlainFaith teaches that someone with a genuine faith and submission, who disagrees with the author about instrumental worship, is damned. But this theology suffers from the very same problem the turned the Law of Moses into slavery — it could not be obeyed! The Law required perfect obedience, and so does 20th Century Church of Christ theology — at least when it comes to pet issues: issues that vary from editor to editor and school of preaching to school of preaching. I mean, never have the Churches even agreed among themselves on which issues are the salvation issues. Indeed, some even say they are all salvation issues!

Thus, in order to be able to damn those who use the instrument, the Churches invented a theology just as burdensome and just as impossible to obey as the Law of Moses. And — much more importantly — neither system teaches “The righteous shall live by faith.”

The false teachers didn’t think they were seeking salvation through the Law! At least, they didn’t think so. All they did was add circumcision as a requirement of salvation to the gospel Paul was teaching. And it made sense: the command of circumcision — like salvation by faith — goes all the way back to Abraham. It was required for centuries before the Law!

But faith + circumcision, as a condition of salvation, is not faith and therefore is not the gospel. Now, the people could have obeyed that command. It’s entirely possible to perfectly obey the command to be circumcised! It’s a far sight easier than obeying all the commands that come out of our periodicals! But Paul intends to condemn not only the Law of Moses, but all systems other than the pure gospel.

23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.

Over and over and over, Paul says were saved, we’re given the Spirit, we’re redeemed, and we’re made sons of God “through faith.” The contrast isn’t “Law of Moses” versus “correct law.” It’s law vs. faith.

27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

Obviously, Paul doesn’t see baptism as a “work of the law.” Right? If he thought baptism was a work — because it’s something you do — he never would have written this verse. The “for” (gar in the Greek) logically connects our salvation “through faith” with baptism. Baptism is not a work. Indeed, it’s not even something we do, as it’s always in the passive voice. It’s a gift we receive, not a task we perform.

28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

Our baptism shows that we’ve “put on Christ,” and so “are Christ’s” and “one in Christ Jesus.” And this makes us “heirs,” meaning that we’ll inherit the new heavens and new earth.

One consequence of all this is that we’re added into a single body, because those things that once separated us — circumcision, race, gender (circumcision was only for males!) — have been removed. We are one. And faith makes that possible because we all have faith.

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97 Responses

  1. I had been in ministry a long time before I realized the importance of the promise to Abraham. How embarrassing is that? How did I miss something so crucial? I don’t know.

    When we came back to the States, I did a sermon on the promises to Abraham and had some older members tell me, “I’d never heard that.” Wow!

    Through Christ, we became heirs to those promises. That’s the basis of our relationship with God.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  2. But Jay,

    “Faith without works is dead.” So to be faithful we have to obey…

    Okay….just kidding. I couldn’t resist….

    This was an EXCELLENT post regarding Paul’s theology in Galatians. There is a big fat line between reliance on Christ and reliance on obedience (even if it is to Christ), and we want to step right over it all the time.

    And I appreciate what you said about baptism not being a work. Though I would add that 20th Century CofC theology came dangerously close to making it a work. Many times a person has judged his or her salvation based on whether or not he or she was baptized. Reliance on baptism is not faith in Christ, either. We need to get back to emphasizing commitment to Christ in our discussions about baptism.

    Clint

  3. Jay,
    I appreciate your exegesis of this text. I believe it makes its meaning very clear.
    I know this is a new direction and a “whole new kettle of fish,” but what do you or what does anyone else reading this post understand to be the significance of verse 28 as it relates to roles of women in the church? (I haven’t searched you site for other articles that address this, but I have scrolled through your list of topics to the left of your page and find nothing listed there. If you have already addressed this issue before I became a OneInJesus blog subscriber in March, please just refer me to those articles.)

    Do you agree with Bilezikian that verses 26-29 and Acts 2:15-21 are “normative” texts regarding the roles of women in the church? Bilezikian’s statements on pp. 95-96 in Beyond Sex Roles, include the following: “The commanding prominence of these two statements as constitutional declarations of the church and their crystalline clarity endow them with normative power.” “Guidance for present practice should be drawn from normative texts [like these] and not from any exceptional case.” “These texts define the composition of the church and determine it functioning. But above all they stand against forming value judgments about persons and against attributing worth, rank, role, office, or participation on the basis of race, class, or gender.” “Together, these texts teach that Christian oneness can be achieved despite diversity of race, class, or gender in the church. But they also teach that oneness cannot be actualized without full opportunity for participation in the life of the church regardless of race, class, or gender.”

    Tom

  4. How refreshing and liberating to know that our salvation comes through faith and NOT faith worshiping and/or living according to any so called rules. When we think we have to follow actual rules for how to worship, how to organize, the role of women, etc., it only leads to arguing and division. Indeed, Christianity is so much more gratifying when we allow love to render any such rules meaningless.

    After all, God cares about our heart…not about how we worship, if our women preach to men in the church, and if we are off on any number of doctrines (Bible teachings).

    We all have different beliefs and understandings of the Scriptures and God should probably respect them all. So long as we don’t draw lines over them and think we are ever right and that others are ever wrong.

    🙂

  5. Jay,

    I think Paul makes a couple of radical claims here that actually help your case, but that you haven’t mentioned.

    First, the idea of reliance upon works of the law. NT Wright, and other NPP writers, make a strong case that the phrase “works of the law” does not refer to obedience per se, but rather to certain external markers of Jewish righteousness (diet, dress, day, circumcision, alms, and prayer are the six that come to mind). And I think Paul makes a bold statement about such things that affirms the NPP position when he says, “all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.'” It is precisely the same accusation Jesus makes in Matthew 23 – “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” Jesus doesn’t criticize them for obedience, but for reliance on their particular external markers. White-washed tombs, etc.

    This is precisely what you’re arguing against in the traditional CoC way of doing things. Now, the conservative says, “I don’t rely on a cappella for my salvation.” But he can certainly spot an unsaved individual, one who cannot be spiritually fellowshipped, by such a marker. So, while he doesn’t rely on it himself, he expects others to rely on it for justification – for what displays right here and now that I’m part of the group that will be saved in the future. So while he’s SAVED by his faith, he justifies himself by IM.

    Okay, now I can’t remember what the second thing was, and maybe even the first one doesn’t contribute to your actual argument, but writing it helped me clarify a few things in my head.

    And hank, after that comment, I can’t imagine why anyone would accuse you of sneering.

  6. hi jay,
    i’m one of those “lurkers” you speak of. enjoy reading your posts very much. i don’t usually reply to posts ( this is my 2nd time ) as i don’t feelas scholarly as those who usually do. i was “raised” in the church of Christ. my mothers’ family have pretty much all been members for about 4 generations. during my formative years i was convinced that the bible was written for the expressed purpose of warning us against the evils of musical instruments, names of signs in front of church buildings and food in buildings used for worship whether it was a “church” building or a rented vfw club or even an occasional city auditorium. i learned my lessons well and avoided these tools of the devil with much fervor. i found that by incorporating such profound knowledge with just a touch of self righteousness i could even tell for sure who was and wasn’t saved, how long they had been saved and the liklihood of their remaining saved according to their attitude and ability to eat , sing and judge others scripturally. what power!! as you can imagine this made me quite popular with my school chums who were all baptists, methodists, episcopalians, etc. since i was the only member of the church of Christ i felt it my duty to inform them of all of the grave errors in which they were ensconched.
    i left out the subject of baptism because it deserves a little more serious treatment. when you say that baptism isn’t a work but a gift we receive it seems that smacks as a sort of backdoor method of saying that even though we believe baptism is necessary for salvation we really don’t because it’s only a part of the grace imparted to us because we are saved. i’m confused. please help me and forgive my little tongue in cheek above. i’m 59 years old and i need to resolve this.
    thank you,
    sid

  7. Nick, for the record, I was not sneering love per se, only the unbiblical way in which it is frequently used here. When one uses the word “love” to stand in opposition to obedience, or to mean that we ahouldn’t draw lines anywhere…well, he or she only proves that they don’t know the meaning of the word.

  8. When a person consistently sees things that aren’t there, I typically suggest some sort of medical attention.

  9. hi jay,
    in responding to my own response– i have been baptised 3 times just to make sure i was baptised for the right reason. on judgement day what if God has 3 doors behind him representing my 3 different baptisms and asks me to choose which door i wish to open representative of the baptism i would like for him to consider? 1,2, or 3. sort of like multiple choice salvation. although i realized the signicance of baptism the 1st time i really did it to make my grandmother happy. the 2nd time i did it because i realized being baptised to keep granny happy probably wasn’t all that biblical. the 3rd time i was baptised was because i figured being baptised to straighten out my baptism for grannys’ happiness wasn’t going to fly either. i figured i’d better stop getting baptised so much cause the preacher was complaining about there never being any sheets and towels for the others and something about a skin condition aggravated by water. anyhow, hope this helps you further understand the clarity with which i was taught scripture at an early age.
    thank you again.
    sid
    p.s. also, i had chosen door # 1, 2,or 3 would turning the knob been considered a work ofr a gift as part of the whole scheme of things?

  10. How about for consistently not seeing things which are there? Are you serious Nick? As if scores and scores of people haven’t here argued that “love” refuses to draw lines between sin and not sin. For a recent example of this idea played out, take another quick look at the comments from brethren who who sickenned by the “Holy Ghost Hokey Pokey” and yet refused to call it sinful. “Love” prevents them? You see, they know that if they say its sinful, they will have to say why, and then they will be in the same mess of inconcistency that they see the conservatives in. Its just easier to refuse to say its wrong…even though it makes them sick?

    Am I missing something? How about you Nick, you think the HGHP is against the will of God? Might at least IT be a sinful practice before God?

  11. Love refuses to say that those people are damned because they practice the Holy Spirit Hokey Pokey.

    Is it sinful? I think so. I think it treats the things of God with great irreverence.

    But that doesn’t necessarily damn.

    Progressives believe there is a difference between sin and damnation in worship.

    Conservatives do not – conservatives believe that all unauthorized worship damns.

  12. A brother writes: If baptism isn’t a work but a gift we receive it seems that smacks as a sort of backdoor method of saying that even though we believe baptism is necessary for salvation we really don’t because it’s only a part of the grace imparted to us because we are saved. i’m confused. please help me and forgive my little tongue in cheek above. i’m 59 years old and i need to resolve this. thank you, sid

    To clarify–baptism is done TO us rather than BY us. It’s not part of God’s grace. It’s obedience to Jesus as Lord. It’s the “water” in the new birth of “water and the spirit” while our choice tor repent is the new birth of the (human) spirit. Leaving selfishness and self-love beind, we accept baptism by free choice. Those who repent and ARE baptized are promised remission of sins and the “gift of the Holy Spirit.” Earned? No. Worked for? Not. Promised as God’s gift? Yes. Conditional? Yes. The Spirit is not promised to any who do NOT repent and accept baptism into Christ.

  13. Nick Gill suggests, “Progressives believe there is a difference between sin and damnation in worship.

    Conservatives do not – conservatives believe that all unauthorized worship damns.”

    RAY REMARKS: If Jesus taught, or His apostles taught, that formal worship was a part of the Way, that would be opening the way for “damnation in worship.” But neither Jesus nor His apostles taught anything at all about a Christian “worship service.” Every urging to gather as Christians is linked to edifying fellow Christians and being edified as a Christian. Not one inspired word speaks of any “worship service” for Christians.

  14. Jay suggests: “In a truly astonishing passage, Paul explains that our salvation is found not in the Law of Moses (no surprise) but in the covenant with Abraham (big surprise) –”

    But the apostle doesn’t link our salvation by grace through faith with Abraham as the Savior or the covenantor. Our faith is not in Abraham. Our Savior is Jesus. Grace is received by us through faith in JESUS as the unique Son of God. The gospel is about Jesus, not about Abraham and HIS faith. The new covenant, as is made clear in Hebrews, is a covenant taught by and entirely within our relationship with JESUS. And the old covenant is a law of works which was given by God through Moses. How does Abraham fit in? He had faith in God long before the law of God was given. If we now have faith in Jesus, our faith also is apart from law, just as Abraham’s was. But the faith which saves is not the “faith of Abraham” but it’s faith in Jesus Christ.

  15. Yes, Ray – it is our faith in Jesus Christ, whose faithfulness to the covenant with Abraham provides our salvation.

  16. Further, with the exception of Hebrews 12:24, every appearance of the phrase New Covenant in the Greek Scriptures uses the Greek word kainos rather than neos to describe the nature of this covenant.

    As we’ve studied many times here at One In Jesus, kainos does not describe a replacement, but a restoration, a renewal, a “making fresh again.” So it fits very well that our kainos covenant is a fulfillment and outgrowth of the covenant with Abraham.

  17. Nick, so love does not refuse to say that certain Christians and/or churches are sinning in how they worship God, nor does love refuse to say that said people are guilty of great irreverance in how they worship? But, love does refuse to say that because of their sin of worshipping God with great irreverance, that their sin might cost them their salvation?

    You seem confused Nick because at one point you say that love refuses to say that the people who practice the HGHP are damned…and then in your next sentence you say that you believe it is sinful and greatly irreverent, and that is does not “necessarily” damn. Which is it? I believe such is precisely why the others refused to say it was sinful — even though it made them sick. Plus, in saying you believe such is sinful, you go against the very foundation of “progressivism.” Here is why:

    Since sin is “the transgression of the law”….what law did they violate? Don’t progressives deny there being any rules regarding how God’s people choose to worship him? If you, as a progressive, do not believe that we have to have either a direct command OR an approved example, on what grounds do you believe that the HGHP people are sinning? Why are they guilty of irreverence but not the motorcycle and hamster blessing worship services? Was it that thei hearts were not into it? Or was it because it was unauthorized?

    Please explain.

  18. Hank,

    I really wish I knew when you’d been appointed as high inquisitor – I might take umbrage with whoever appointed you.

    I don’t see anything confusing about what I said. Love does not pronounce the judgment of damnation, but love warns against treating the One True God like a child’s toy.

    I see a qualitative difference between asking God to protect the riders of a motorcycle and dancing the Hokey-Pokey to invoke God’s favor. I see a qualitative difference between asking God to bless a pet and asking God to heal me because my minister danced the Hokey-Pokey.

    Their sin is neither because their hearts aren’t in it (I can’t tell one way or the other) or because their practice is not specifically authorized. Their sin is in disrespecting the name of the One True God. It is a violation of the First Great Command.

    Will God damn them for this sin? Dunno.
    Will I fellowship sinful brethren? I don’t have any other kind.

    Their stance before God is precisely the same as mine: faith in Jesus and repentance unto God. If they’ve asked God to forgive them for unknown sin, who are you to decide that He will not?

  19. And I would have to ask if the “Holy Ghost Hokey Pokey” approach to the Spirit’s power and purpose is any worse than the opposite extreme: insisting that He no longer works God’s purpose and power through people today just because some man or group of men decided that the thing which is “perfect” in 1 Corinthians 13 was the written Word of God rather than the resurrected Word of God?

    One error rests in the incorrect perception of the Spirit’s purpose: that He fulfills wishes for everyone who asks, doing their will rather than the Father’s.

    The other error rests in the incorrect perception of the Spirit’s power: that it was once mighty, inspiring, miraculous, life-changing, soul-healing, truth-guiding, and down-payment-full of the refreshing water of eternal life and sustaining air of eternal breath … but now serves only as an invisible and not-necessarily indelible mark of salvation.

    Which is worse? Can either be worse?

  20. Both are bad, but the Holy Ghost Hokey Pokey is worse…by a landslide!

  21. Tom,

    I’ve written extensively on the role of women under the title “Buried Talents.” There’s an ebook under the Books tab. There’s a more recent series of posts based on the book Buried Talents: Studies in the Role of Women http://oneinjesus.info/index-under-construction/theology-church-of-christ-issues/buried-talents-studies-in-the-role-of-women/.

    I don’t disagree with what you quote of Bilezikian. I just wouldn’t say it that way, as he speaks in modern categories: “opportunity,” “constitutional declarations,” and “diversity.” Rather, I’d argue that the Spirit gifts us and we are prohibited from saying to a gifted person “I don’t need you” per 1 Cor 12. As the Spirit lives and gifts as he sees fits, we cannot refuse to use those gifts. As Paul wrote in Rom 12, if someone has the gift of leadership, that person should lead. It’s about service and sacrifice, not rights and privilege.

  22. sid,

    I can identify! (Third generation, former expert at damning all my friends at school). My views on baptism are detailed in the ebook Born of Water. http://oneinjesus.info/books-by-jay-guin/born-of-water/

    The observation that baptism is a gift does not make it necessary or not necessary. Salvation is a gift, and it’s unquestionably necessary. The Holy Spirit is a gift, and it’s unquestionably necessary. But, then, prophecy is a gift, and it’s not necessary to have that gift to be saved.

    Whether baptism is essential depends on a much deeper study. It’s unquestionably not a work — that’s an argument made by Baptists to dispute the CoC position, and we were foolish enough to accept their argument — forcing us to contradict 90% of Paul. Martin Luther disputed with Calvin on this question, as argued that baptism is a gift. I think he was right.

    For to be baptized in the name of God is to be baptized not by men, but by God Himself. Therefore although it is performed by human hands, it is nevertheless truly God’s own work. From this fact every one may himself readily infer that it is a far higher work than any work performed by a man or a saint. For what work greater than the work of God can we do? …

    But if they say, as they are accustomed: Still Baptism is itself a work, and you say works are of no avail for salvation; what then, becomes of faith? Answer: Yes, our works, indeed, avail nothing for salvation; Baptism, however, is not our work, but God’s (for, as was stated, you must put Christ-baptism far away from a bath-keeper’s baptism). God’s works, however, are saving and necessary for salvation, and do not exclude, but demand, faith; for without faith they could not be apprehended. For by suffering the water to be poured upon you, you have not yet received Baptism in such a manner that it benefits you anything; but it becomes beneficial to you if you have yourself baptized with the thought that this is according to God’s command and ordinance, and besides in God’s name, in order that you may receive in the water the promised salvation. Now, this the fist cannot do, nor the body; but the heart must believe it.

    Thus you see plainly that there is here no work done by us, but a treasure which He gives us, and which faith apprehends; just as the Lord Jesus Christ upon the cross is not a work, but a treasure comprehended in the Word, and offered to us and received by faith. Therefore they do us violence by exclaiming against us as though we preach against faith; while we alone insist upon it as being of such necessity that without it nothing can be received nor enjoyed.

    http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/wittenberg/luther/catechism/web/cat-13.html

  23. How do you figure that, hank?

  24. Hank,

    I need to reiterate Nick’s central point. There’s a difference between saying (1) X is sin and (2) X damns. The conservative position leaps without scriptural justification from (1) to (2) — just assuming that all sin damns or else that all doctrinal sin damns or that all doctrinal sin that violates the Regulative Principle damns. Or something like that. I can’t find a conservative to actually say what the thinking is in any detail. Rather, I observe that conservatives teach that sin is continuously covered by grace but violating a command of God damns — which is obviously self-contradictory.

  25. And, by the way, hank, sarcasm through mis-characterization and misstatement of other’s points-of-view – with which you disagree – is an ineffective way of refuting them. It’s cheap and effortless.

    May I edit for content to more accurately reflect the point-of-view with which you think you disagree?

    How refreshing and liberating to know that our salvation comes through faith NOT faith worshiping and/or even when living according to any so called rules fails us. When we think we have to follow create actual rules for how to worship, how to organize, the role of women, etc., it only leads to arguing and division. Indeed, Christianity is so much more gratifying glorifying to God when we allow love to render the condemnation of others over any such rules meaningless.

    After all, God cares about our hearts…not about which determines how we worship; if our women preach to men in the church are silenced or empowered to speak of Jesus, and if we are off on enslaved by any number of doctrines (which are not even remotely Bible teachings).

    We all have different beliefs and understandings of the Scriptures and God should probably respect them all offers His Holy Spirit to guide is into all truth, and will give Him if we ask. So long as we don’t let Him draw lines over them and don’t think we are ever always right and that others are ever always wrong.

    See the difference, bro?

    Other folks … am I getting the general consensus right?

  26. Keith, very well done – especially the part about relying on the Holy Spirit.

    Irreverence is no worse than resistance.

  27. Jay wrote:

    “I need to reiterate Nick’s central point. There’s a difference between saying (1) X is sin and (2) X damns. The conservative position leaps without scriptural justification from (1) to (2) — just assuming that all sin damns or else that all doctrinal sin damns or that all doctrinal sin that violates the Regulative Principle damns. Or something like that. I can’t find a conservative to actually say what the thinking is in any detail. Rather, I observe that conservatives teach that sin is continuously covered by grace but violating a command of God damns — which is obviously self-contradictory.”

    I can only speak for myself, of course. That being said, I do not believe, as Jay wrote, that “all sin damns or else that all doctrinal sin damns or that all doctrinal sin that violates the Regulative Principle damns. Or something like that.” I have NEVER even implied as much…

    What I believe, is that sin (at some point), damns. Fortunately, we have the blood of Jesus to forgive us of our sins. However, there is a line between being continuously covered by the bood of Jesus and pushing it to far and no longer being covered. Therefore, I believe that we ought to give due diligence in attempting to stay within “the light.” I mean, who will actually argue that there is no line and that the blood of our Savior will forgive any and all sin to any extent? Be it “doctrinal” (a certain teaching) regarding how we are to worship, how we are to organize, the role of women, or whatever…

    We all know that one does not have to be free from sin to be saved (we are saved by grace through faith and not by “works”), but is it really unbiblical to say that AT SOME POINT, continued particular sins may in fact damn? (Whether or not one understands and/or believes that the actual sin(s) are in fact sinful?)

    Don’t get me wrong, God knows that I honestly wish that every Christian would be saved no matter how they worship and/or what they believe, but such is surely not the case. There are boundaries, aren’t there?

    Jay, you say — ” I can’t find a conservative to actually say what the thinking is in any detail.”

    But, we all know that you (nor has any other progressive here), written what THEIR thinking is in any actual detail (specifics).

    You all say that so long as the sin (whether in teaching, in how we worship, in how we organize the church, etc.), is commited in “ignorance” that it will be forgiven. But, how do you know that? Are there no lines where God can and/or ever will say, “You have gone to far and are no longer forgiven!”??

    Brethren, I realize that I am in the minority here on this the best progressive Church of Christ website, but don’t play like you all have it all figured out and that the conservatives are in a mess of inconsistencies.

    While it is quite easy to find and point out the inconsistencies of others…it is oftentimes quite hard to realize and admit the inconsistencies of ourselves.

  28. Hank, I hope you don’t hire people for a living, because you’re a rotten judge of character. I blog at Fumbling Towards Eternity – hardly a claim that I’ve got ANYTHING figured out. Keith blogs at Blog In My Own Eye – again, hardly a pretense of having it all together.

    While there are a couple of contributors here that deny the possibility of apostasy, I know you’ve witnessed Jay and I (and other so-called ‘progressives’) address that position JUST AS passionately and directly as we address you and Prater, et al. So saying we who disagree with you are pretending to “have it all figured out” just ignored the obvious – if we disagree with each other, we don’t have it all together.

    Where we are consistent, however, is in the following: we try to apply our understanding of fellowship consistently. If someone has fulfilled the conditions of salvation as we understand them (repentant faith expressed in baptism and striving for obedience), we extend the right hand of fellowship, regardless of their perceived errors. Our disagreements with them are family disagreements. If someone confessed like me, repented like me, was baptized like me, and asks God to forgive them for their mistakes, I expect God to treat us the same – as forgiven members of the body of Christ.

    I know you believe in caution – but which is more cautious? Denying fellowship to someone who might be a member of the body, or offering fellowship to one who might not be? And which has the potential to bear more fruit in the life of the other person?

    Do you believe love covers a few sins or a multitude of sins?

  29. I agree that salvation by faith through grace includes humble submission to the commands of God. But if I have to obey every single command, what does grace do?

    I think I understand the objection that some conservatives have to that mindset. They think we are saying we get to pick certain commands that we chose not to obey, on the premise that grace will cover that disobedience. Of course that would be a problem.

    The distinction in the two views boils down to whether intent makes a difference. I think the discussion needs more focus on that aspect.

  30. Nick, with all due respect, the clever and humble sounding names that you give for your blogs don’t change the fact that you think you are much wiser and consistent than the conservatives whom you tenaciously attack (challenge).

    It may be helpful to know that I first learned of all you brethren via a friend who asked me if I had heardd about the controversial book written by one of the sons of Mac Deaver. It was he (Todd), who styled me as a “neoiconservative” since he was unable to group me in with the rest of the conservatives he exposed. When his (Todd’s) blogg was suspended, I learned about Jay and his blogg and here we are today.

    Remember that the name of that book is “Facing Our Failure, the Fellowship Dilemna In Conservative Churches of Christ.”

    Now, am I wrong in taking from that that he believes he (as a progressive), has no such fellowship dilemna? Which is what you seem to believe as well?

    Well, not unless you are williong to extend your right hand of fellowship to even the rankest sets of so called believers, regardless of how they choose to approach our Creator. I mean, you yourself believe that the Holy Ghost Hokey Pokey people are guilty of blasphemy (you admit they treat the things of God with great irreverence which is the definition of blasphemy), and yet you still will fellowship them? Goodness gracious Nick…

    If being consistent necessitates the fellowshipping of blatant blasphemers, I would rather be inconsistent.

    But in your fellowship dilemna free position, don’t pretend that you have any real and practical lines of fellowship at all. Or else, be the first one here to explain them. Because as it appears right now, you all are forced to extend you right hands to even blatant blasphemers who make even the leading progressives sick.

    But, I love you still bro.

  31. But, hank, having no fellowship with folks you’ve never had fellowship with before … isn’t that kind of like writing them off as hopeless? unteachable? lost and damned? Isn’t that pre-judging in the extreme?

    By having no contact with them at all, how do you hope to teach them … or at least communicate to them what you believe? Is that wrong because they believe differently?

    If you don’t communicate that you love them, is that essentially different from communicating that you don’t love them?

    Should Priscilla and Aquila have just thrust Apollos out of their assembly?

    Shouldn’t we at least go through the first couple of steps Jesus outlined in Matthew 18 before rushing to the third?

    It it “safe” to assume that the congregations of the early church rushed to the third step in expelling heretics and believers whose lifestyles belied their confession and profession of faith? Or that they diligently pursued those first two steps – even though we don’t read about it in scripture – because it was the Christlike thing to do?

    Is our fellowship such a blessing and a favor to folks we’ve never met or communicated with that they would miss it and turn away from errors and misperceptions to embrace perspectives on truth they’ve never heard because we’ve never shared them?

    hank, you share a perspective about fellowship that I simply cannot understand – as if it is only a privilege to be shared with those who merit it by their correct belief. Jesus went to the table with (and to the cross for) people who didn’t believe correctly; people with whom the established religious leaders would barely associate; people who had a deep need for truth and didn’t even know it.

  32. Nick, where do you get your deffinition of the word used in Hebrews – kainos – new, recently made, fresh, recent, unused, unworn, of a new kind, unprecedented, novel, uncommon, unheard of.

    It seems to me to translate exactly as the word used in – Jer 31:31 Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:
    chadash – 1) new, new thing, fresh

  33. If being consistent necessitates the fellowshipping of blatant blasphemers, I would rather be inconsistent.

    Blasphemy is always intentional – the HGHP folks are not blaspheming. Irreverence doesn’t equal blasphemy.

    But in your fellowship dilemna free position, don’t pretend that you have any real and practical lines of fellowship at all.

    Luke 15 suggests to me that I shouldn’t be upset with your judgment, brother. So I’m not – actually, I’m glad you said it that way, because I think you’re right.

    Or else, be the first one here to explain them.

    hank, we’re talking past each other, because we see the world very differently. You describe things in terms of a box – a box where holiness is at the center of the box and your mission is to stay as close to holiness as possible and to maintain the integrity of the sides of the box, so that nothing unholy gets in. The six sides of the box conservatives describe are DIET (don’t drink don’t smoke), DRESS (modesty and normal hair color – except for the elderly who are the only Christians allowed to have blue hair), DAY (The Lord’s Day and all that must occur on that day), NAME (Rom 16:16) IM (the unforgivable sin), and HOLY SPIRIT (retired after writing a training manual).

    In contrast, I don’t have a box at all. See, when Jesus came, the Jews believed that uncleanness was contagious, so they lived in a box much like the box described above. To get into the box, to approach holiness, you have to pass the six tests above (which were slightly different for the Jews, with PRAYER, ALMSGIVING, and FASTING replacing IM, NAME, and HS) Jesus taught and practiced the radical idea that spiritual cleanness was contagious.

    Such passages as Luke 4:14-30 (Jesus’ inaugural address); Matt 9:9-17 (the call of Matthew); Matt 15:1-20 (clean and unclean foods); Luke 10:25-37 (parable of the Good Samaritan) clearly show that Jesus is teaching that compassion, not purity, is the basis of fellowship.

    With reference to worship and fellowship, there are six episodes where Jesus addresses the Sabbath:

    Jn 5 – healing the lame man
    Matt 12:1-8 – picking grain
    Matt 12:9-14 – healing the shriveled hand
    John 7 – Feast of Tabernacles
    John 9 – healing man born blind
    Luke 13 – healing woman bent double
    Luke 14 – healing the man with dropsy

    in those six episodes, he uses five different arguments to explain the two phrases, “Obedience is better than sacrifice,” and “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.”

    -God is always working, so worship time isn’t special
    -Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath (likewise the assembly, cf Heb 10:19-25)
    -it is evil to erect barriers between God and people
    -if cutting the flesh is acceptable, healing is acceptable
    -a child of Abraham is worth more than an ox (an erring child of God is worth more than our status)

    In all these ways and more besides, Jesus (and later, Paul) show that there are no more walls. We are mobile tabernacles/temples carrying the presence of the One True God wherever we go. Anyone we talk to comes into contact with the God for whom we are ambassadors.

    Because as it appears right now, you all are forced to extend you right hands to even blatant blasphemers who make even the leading progressives sick.

    Indeed – Jesus expects no less of us. Our Lord is the Jesus who washed the feet of Judas. The Jesus who loved the traitorous Peter. The Jesus who grieved bitterly over Jerusalem, who begged them to just COME. Who spoke harshly against fornication but fellowshipped fornicators often (Jn 4:18; Luke 7:39)

    Your Jesus seems a lot cleaner than mine. Or maybe your lines of fellowship prevent you from experiencing the dirt and disease and impurity and irreverence and sinfulness Jesus encountered.

    I’m not wise, hank. I’m not even well-educated. I have a high-school degree and a few college courses. I hope I’m more consistent than I used to be – but it is pretty ironic to be scolded by a conservative for supposedly being unloving by pointing out perceived error.

  34. Hank,

    I, too, am not one to post often, but lurk a lot. One thing I wanted to point out about the conversation you have had going on with Keith and Nick above concerns me.

    I consider myself a “progressive” in that I grew up in the church, but found that I couldnt support many of the “beliefs” that I was taught. I still attend a semi-conservative COC, but am a quiet voice of reason (IMHO) in our midst.

    But here is my dilemma. You seem to imply that there is some point at which we need to “give up” on people because they are damned. I work with our singles group and have a young catholic man who has been attending our class for a year and a half. At this point, we have discussed this faith, his beliefs and devleoped a great relationship. But NEVER have I said to him that he is damned because of his beliefs.

    So what would you suggest I do in this case? Tell him that he is damned, try to “convert” him, and if he refuses, send him out to the street? I think our real love is shown when we can accept those who don’t believe like us, and love them anyway. Perhaps, just perhaps, accepting them is all that God wants.

    You see, your view seems concerning. Perhaps in your mind I am “extending my right hand to the rankest sets of so-called believers”. I am sure that’s what Jesus did, and thus, so do I.

  35. Laymond,

    from Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance:

    Kainos: New, Fresh

    Of uncertain affinity; new (especially in freshness; while neos is properly so with respect to age — new.

    Here’s another explanation:

    Chronological newness is expressed in the Greek word neos, as when Paul told Christians in Colossae not to let others pass judgment on them based on the observance of “a festival or a new [neos] moon or a Sabbath” (Colossians 2:16). Newness, in the sense of time, is unavoidable. Time passes regardless of human activity, although undeniably, many of us wish it wouldn’t. It is part of the natural order of things that God created when he invented time at Creation. Without time, there could be nothing neos.

    By the same token, nothing old (Greek, archaios) can become neos again. I could bang out all the dents in my car, apply a fresh coat of paint, even rebuild the engine, but my reliable old 1996 Subaru would not suddenly become neos. It might appear neos, but it would still be ten years old and have 172,000 miles.

    In America, we worship the neos. Every Christmas brings commercials offering the outrageous suggestion that a new Lexus is an appropriate Christmas gift. Many products are built for obsolescence – probably not so much because they couldn’t be made more durable, but because manufacturers know we want a neos version regularly. In addition, we are a distinctly youth- (another meaning of neos) oriented culture. Advertisements bombard us with words and images disingenuously promising us neos by appealing to our innate vanity. Miracle cosmetics, chemical injections, facelifts, tummy tucks, and hair dye might make us look neos, but time cannot be deceived. Foolish older men discard their archaios wives for “trophy” models, seeking to feel younger. But they’re still archaios, often only looking even older by contrast to the neos woman on their arms. No human effort produces any kind of meaningful newness to the individual. People may look neos, but they are still the same archaios individuals in the same hopeless state they started in.

    There is, however, another kind of newness used more prominently in the New Testament. Unlike neos, kainos is not a chronological change, but a qualitative one, and it is the kind of newness that can only come from God. When the believer takes on Christ, an internal process begins that is not the result of any human effort. The degree to which we submit our lives to God’s loving care can enhance or detract from the internal work of the Holy Spirit, but we cannot make ourselves kainos. Paul clearly describes that process: “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration [paliggenesia, to be reborn] and renewal [anakainōsis, to be made qualitatively new again] of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:4-5).

    Paul also distinguished between neos and kainos: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away [we cannot make it neos], our inner nature is being renewed [anakainoō] (by God) day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16). When we submit ourselves to the process of anakainōsis through Christ, we are “a new [kainos] creation. The old [archaios] has passed away; behold, the new [kainos] has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

    This is why the New Testament is a kainos diathēkē (new covenant). The promises God fulfilled through Christ Jesus are not neos, they are qualitatively different than those of the old [Mosaic] covenant. In the words of the Hebrews writer, “Jesus (is) the guarantor of a better (kreittōn, literally, stronger) covenant (Hebrews 7:22). It is kainos and kreittōn because it is the free gift of God, offering us a way to be something other than what we are by nature. Through that covenant, we have a high priest whose single sacrifice is sufficient for all time to make all who follow Him completely what God intends for us to be (Hebrews 10:14). His sacrifice is not like those under the old covenant, which only offered temporary, superficial newness. For humanity, the end result of the kainos diathēkē is that God “will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more” (Hebrews 10:17).

    Now that’s really being made new, which brings me to my all-time favorite passage of Scripture:
    “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new [Greek, prosphatos, recently made] and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:19-25).

  36. Nick,

    Fair enough bro, we just flat out disagree on the issue. And you are the first (that I recall) to at admit and adhere to the conclusions of the progressive position. Namely, that there are no lines/boundaries in terms of who our churches should consider to be faithful and walking in the light and pleasing to God and saved.

    The majority here, want to say that there are actual lines, yet refuse to reveal them specifically. Thus, making you the most concistent one – and I mean that. I think your position is wrong….but you are at least consistent.

  37. Nick, Kainos: New, Fresh, Maybe I misunderstood your earlier statement Nick, because I thought you said it meant , refresh or renew.

  38. Nick,

    i like your contagious uncleanness vs. contagious cleanness metaphor. That’s really provocative and a clear way to characterize a flaw with a lot of modern western christian culture. i hope you don’t mind if i use it.

    As someone with a conservative background myself, i don’t think Hank’s concern is with the claim that it’s okay to touch or hang out with unclean people in the sense of associating with people we assess to have sin in their lives (he can correct me if i’m wrong). But sometimes some commenters here come across as though it’s okay to endorse the particular things we assess to be sin in their lives. While Jesus touched unclean people and associated with social outcasts, i don’t see where he endorsed the idea of refusing to pray or give alms or fast, nor that people who refuse to do such things are perfectly okay and well-off in their refusal to do such things. Despite that many religious people in Jesus’ day took those practices and abused them, treating them as a mark of pride and entitlement and prejudice, Jesus nevertheless taught and modelled that people should pray, be charitable, and reserve special time of devotion to God.

    Hank and others may believe that some things are sinful which you don’t personally believe are sinful. But can you see how from his perspective, you may come across as doing something akin to endorsing people’s refusal to pray/fast/give?

    Suppose that someone with whom you currently share a close spiritual cammaradery with right now were to inform you that she no longer believes in traditional Christology. She is leaning towards something like Doceticism or Arianism or Adoptionism (or any garden variety Christological heresy) being true. How would you respond? What do you believe your obligations are in that situation? What would Christ have you do?

    –Guy

  39. Hank,

    You don’t think Jay specified the “lines” in his GraceConversation discussion about apostacy? i thought his basic position specified the same set of “lines” that i’ve generally understood for several years myself (though i might differ with him on the issue of ignorance and definitely differ with him on baptism), and i definitely don’t take myself to believe that are no lines.

    –Guy

  40. Namely, that there are no lines/boundaries in terms of who our churches should consider to be faithful and walking in the light and pleasing to God and saved.

    hank,

    that is an intentionally deceptive mischaracterization of my words.

    If that’s too wise for you, I’ll say it simpler – you slander me. But Luke 15 tells me to expect that too.

    I stated plainly that compassion, not purity, is the basis of fellowship. No, there are no lines for people to trip over. There’s compassion.

  41. Laymond,

    kainos is an adjective, not a verb.

    So it can’t mean “refresh” or “renew.”

    But since you know that already, I’m wondering when the trap will snap.

    Neos means new in terms of time (new wine)
    Kainos means new in terms of quality (new wineskins)

  42. Guy,

    thank you for your kind words. The “cleanliness is contagious” metaphor doesn’t originate with me: I learned it while listening to free lectures online at Mark Moore’s website

    you asked:

    Suppose that someone with whom you currently share a close spiritual cammaradery with right now were to inform you that she no longer believes in traditional Christology. She is leaning towards something like Doceticism or Arianism or Adoptionism (or any garden variety Christological heresy) being true. How would you respond? What do you believe your obligations are in that situation? What would Christ have you do?

    I believe John’s response at 9:41 above is almost perfect.

    I work with our singles group and have a young catholic man who has been attending our class for a year and a half. At this point, we have discussed this faith, his beliefs and devleoped a great relationship. But NEVER have I said to him that he is damned because of his beliefs.
    So what would you suggest I do in this case? Tell him that he is damned, try to “convert” him, and if he refuses, send him out to the street? I think our real love is shown when we can accept those who don’t believe like us, and love them anyway.

    I would differ on his last sentence, which I did not quote. I don’t think God ever calls us to mere acceptance, but to compassionate engagement.

    Will I break bread with a believer in Christ whom I perceive to be in error? Yes.
    Will I work alongside them in kingdom service? Yes.
    Will I pray with them? Yes.
    Will I let them pray over me? Yes.
    Would I support them in preaching the gospel? That’s a pricklier issue, and I believe I would follow the example of Priscilla and Aquila with Apollos.

    Back to an earlier thing you mentioned:

    Hank and others may believe that some things are sinful which you don’t personally believe are sinful. But can you see how from his perspective, you may come across as doing something akin to endorsing people’s refusal to pray/fast/give?

    Yes, I can see that. Absolutely I can. But Guy, don’t you see that those who say we endorse the actions of the people we embrace are playing the role of the elder brother in Luke 15? Luke 15 is told specifically to counter the grumbling that Jesus was endorsing the lifestyle of the publican and the tax collector.

    Christians should be able to tell that that accusation is ludicrous. Jesus wasn’t endorsing, he was inviting. He was placing the horse (healthy relationship with Himself) in front of the cart (healthy spiritual behavior), which is where it belongs. I fully believe that if I teach and model and encourage people to draw closer to Jesus, in a spirit of humility and integrity and community, the Holy Spirit will work with Scripture and the community of believers to carry out the mission of God in that place.

    Discipline is part of that mission, absolutely. But I will not carve a line in granite and say, “This far, and no farther, may you disagree with me and remain in fellowship with God.” I have no authority to draw that line – I must only teach the lines that Scripture teaches, and those, I’ve consistently discussed here.

    If someone teaches that Jesus did not come in the flesh, they need to be disciplined.
    If someone rejects the most basic moral teachings of the New Testament, they need to be disciplined.
    If someone continually manifests a divisive attitude in the local assembly, they need to be disciplined.
    If someone teaches that exhibiting external, morally-neutral works of obedience (like DIET, DRESS, DAY, IM, and NAME above) are required to belong to the body of Christ, they’re recapitulating the Galatian heresy and need to be confronted.
    If someone rejects compassion, according to John they have ceased to walk in the light.

    hank will accuse me of inconsistency yet again. And the wheels on the bus go ’round and ’round…

  43. Hi John,

    I am not suggesting that we are to ever give up on and/or treat anybody with less love than anybody else. All I am suggesting is that not everybody is walking in the light, faithful to God and saved. They just aren’t

    Believe it or not (although its really true), one of my best friends is not only a practicing Catholic, but also lives in my house with my familly. He is also perhaps the nicest person I know and I would love for him practice more of the truth. I.e., be immersed into Christ and start following his teachings.

    In the meantime, while I will refrain from telling him that he is “damned” I will not make him feel as though he is my faithful brother in Christ. And yeah, I will keep trying to convert him.

    and as far as actual Christians (those who have been added by God to the church), sometimes, under certain circumstances, God wants us to put them out of the church because a little leaven leavens the rest. Did he not say that? If so, what does it mean? And does not obeying that command necessitate some judgment calls? And making people feel as though they are lost?

    Sounds harsh I know, but it is nevertheless recorded as instruction to the churches of God.

    Go ahead and call me a headhunting legalist but I am not. I care more about getting people in the church and helping them to stay there than I do looking for people to expell. But it says what it says.

    And I realize that however rare it should be, sometimes it is the will of God for us to treat people as though they are in darkness and lost.

  44. Nick,

    No, i don’t necessarily see the connection to the elder brother in Luke 15. The prodigal son had left his life of sin to return home. From Hank’s perspective, it appears as though you are playing the welcoming father, but to people who have not walked away from their life of sin.

    Suppose you took the Priscilla/Aquila route with someone you perceive to be an Apollos. However, contrary to Apollos, she refused your teaching and decided to stick with her limited/erroneous understanding of things. Then what?

    There’s a ring of sense to some of what you’re saying to me in terms of how to handle those who disagree, but i’m still not sure what i think exactly about fellowship matters. i more or less practice what your string of yes/no questions. But i’m always concerned that in the NT, it does seem there’s a difference in the relationship between Christian/Christian and Christian/non-Christian. i often find myself in doubt whether i’m making any distinction in those relationships.

    i’m also concerned because how do i show or exhibit my belief that someone is believing/teaching/practicing something i genuinely believe is a dangerous error? It appears sometimes the modern thing to do is just agree to disagree and go have a beer with them anyway like it changes nothing, but how can you let it go if you honestly think the point of disagreement matters? Obviously fellowship is built on *some* degree of agreement. i don’t have fellowship with people who don’t believe in God, or don’t believe in Christ, or don’t believe Christ was God, or don’t believe themselves to be sinners, or don’t believe themselves to have any need of baptism.

    i’m not at all telling you that i have it figured out. i’m saying i don’t because i feel pulled in two different directions. i feel pulled toward saying disagreement is okay and things can be overlooked because people should be allowed time to mature and learn and be taught and some things aren’t as clear as i might think, but i also feel pulled toward saying there has to be some disagreement such that i don’t accept someone in fellowship the same way i accept someone with whom i agree because there are some ideas that are just plain dangerous. i encounter a lot of latent relativism even in Christians among those of my generations. i also encounter people who think it’s perfectly acceptable to follow their “common sense” even when it counters very plain, very explicit teaching in scripture. What do you do then? i don’t know. Especially when you find yourself in a minority in some of those cases (the recent pacifism discussion on this site being a prime example).

    anyway, i’ve rambled enough.

    –Guy

  45. Guy,

    Here’s what I mean about Luke 15. Luke opens by setting the scene:

    Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

    Then Jesus tells two stories about someone going to look for something. Two common-sense stories that would have his critics nodding and amening.

    Now, having set the hook, he tells a story where something is conspicuously missing. What’s the major difference between the third story and the first two?

    Nobody went to look for the lost son! This meshes perfectly with the Sabbath teaching of Jesus that I mentioned above (a child of Abraham is worth more than livestock), as well as what Luke is about to write in the next chapter (the Pharisees being lovers of money). They were more than happy to go look for a lost sheep or a lost coin, but a lost child of Abraham??? No, they stayed home “with” the father.

    The whole salvation story is about God sending the elder son to rescue the younger. Israel, God’s beloved, was to be a light to the Gentiles, but they weren’t. They stayed home. The religious elite should have gone and begged and pleaded the poor and the tax collectors and the sinners to come home, but they didn’t – and they GRUMBLED when Jesus came to them. The Incarnation is the story of the Son of God leaving the Father’s house and rescuing the prodigal children of God.

    Christians are not called to stay in the Father’s house and draw lines. We are called to imitate Jesus who washed the feet of traitors, sat at table with sinners, and worshipped with anyone who came to Him.

    Guy, you’re right that there is a clear difference between Christian and non-Christian in Scripture. Christians believe in Jesus, live repentant lives, and rely on Jesus for salvation. Compassionate engagement doesn’t mean that disagreements are papered over – it means that disagreements are held in proper perspective, because Christians operate like Jesus operated – self-sacrificial love and truth-telling. Our relationship with those who don’t yet believe in Christ has at least two facets, I think: we confront the powers afflicting them, while submitting to the needs of the person and serving them as best we know how.

    We’re *only* told to reject fellowship with the flagrantly immoral brother, the “incorrigibly divisive in the local assembly” brother, and the brother who refuses to love.

    What if the hypothetical Docetist rejected my teaching? At some point they’d get tired of listening to me, I expect, and they would break fellowship. But until then, I would not stop loving them, serving them, and chewing on Scripture together.

  46. For what it’s worth, hank, here are what I believe to be the scriptural reasons for not associating with believers:

    In the New Testament, people were (or were to be) expelled or shunned for sexual immorality, greed, idolatry, slander, drunkenness and swindling (1 Corinthians 5), for teaching heresy (Romans 16:7, 1 Timothy 3-4, Titus 1, 2 Peter 2, 2 John 1, Revelation 2) and shunned – for a time, until they repented – for being lazy and trying to live off of others (2 Thessalonians 3).

    Heresy, as I read it, had many forms, but all of them pretty much boil down to a denial of Christ – of His divine nature, of His enfleshment as a human being, of His authority as the Son of God, of the sufficiency of His self-sacrifice to save (as opposed by the professed need for supplemental, man-made holiness like circumcision). It is the teaching of a different gospel, a different Jesus – something that man made up (Galatians 1); cleverly-invented stories (2 Peter 1).

    I’ve never read in scripture anything about not associating with people we don’t know, such as in other churches or in other cities/towns. As for other faith fellowships or those who might be regarded as underperforming or undertaught believers ….

    It may have been a Jewish term or custom, but in Acts 23, Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and called them “brothers.” He called the erring Corinthians “brothers.” He called the misled souls in Galatia “brothers.” To Thessalonica, where there were misconceptions about the imminence of the resurrection: “brothers.” Peter to those who misunderstood some similar instructions: “brothers.” James to those showing favoritism: “brothers.”

  47. Hi Guy,

    Thanks for writing the things you have, I appreciate it.

    As far as Jay and his boundaries/lines, if you look again, I am sure you will see that they are only ambiguous guidelines that are quite subjective and not at all practical in terms of actually defining who (specific sins and/or false teachings) and at what point a person ought to be treated as unfaithful. I believe he gave 3 points such as 1. So long as the person believes in Jesus as the Savior 2. So long as the person is not reblliously sinning and 3. So long as they don’t try to be saved by works.

    Whatever they were exactly, they are of no practical value and here is why…

    Because take an openly and practicing homosexual pastor for instance. He believes in Jesus as the savior (1), he is not rebelliously sinning since he believes God made him that way and is cool with his homosexualliity (2) and he is not trying to be saved by works.

    Look at his guidlines again and see if they help you with any of the questions you have. There is hardly a proffesing believer alive who would actually be in violation of his boundaries/lines of fellowship..

    Except that the really conservative brethren are verry close.

  48. Because take an openly and practicing homosexual pastor for instance.

    Ok. let’s substitute a “smaller” sin into your example to see if it holds up. Suppose the sin is not coming to a full and complete stop at a stop sign. That’s a violation of law and therefore a violation of Romans 13:1. The guilty person is not aware of his violation, because he feels like he stopped. He does it frequently but always thinks he stopped. He believes he is innocent, but he is not. Is he condemned?

    I’m guessing you’d say “No.” So apparently the question is, “How big of a sin committed in ignorance will God forgive?” If you know the answer to that question, I can’t wait to hear it.

  49. Hank,

    i wouldn’t say they are of no practical value.

    First, i’m not sure the criterion is restricted to Jesus as Savior, but is meant to exclude Christological heresies. Even though it’s not common, i’ve encountered the occasional member of the CoC that had a very wacky Christology. Anti-trinitarianism doesn’t seem completely uncommon. And i’ve heard forms of Arianism as well. Nevertheless, that’s one clear line to draw.

    Second, there are people sinning rebelliously. There are people who know very well they’re doing what they shouldn’t be doing. i think that’s more common than you think. And it may be the case that they have justifications for their actions, but those justifications are self-deceptive in nature. In other words, however justified they feel about what they’re doing, they still know and on some level acknowledge that it’s contrary to the teachings of scripture.

    Third, i’m not sure it’s the criteria that generate a practical problem insomuch as how the criterion relates to the matter of ignorance. Or whether one’s own self assessment is always the measure of whether or not one is sinning. If you allow that someone genuinely doesn’t believe they’re doing anything wrong while doing something wrong, then you allow for people who are living in sin yet not sinning willfully. That would be a breakdown in the criteria i think. But you could just make an addendum. Trouble is, i don’t think that solves all the problems you’d like it to. Alan’s case is an example.

    i’m slightly of two minds about it. Mostly because i’m puzzled by “heroes” of the Old Testament that seemed to have glaring, never-rectified problems. For instance, was it really okay that Solomon or David had multiple wives? Abraham had a lying problem. Jacob was a total manipulator. Samson seems like a huge…well…King-James-Donkey-hole IMO yet the guy made it into the Hebrews 11 hall of fame. All these guys that are lauded and admired seem to have sins they never repented of. Does that mean they’re all eternally lost? Maybe. But if so, it seems very weird that the Bible doesn’t give more commentary regarding their sinfulness. But in my mind, this opens up something more radical. It seems fair to everyone that God will forgive *some* measure of sins committed ignorantly. But some of the OT guys seems to me to suggest that He may even forgive *some* measure of sins committed willfully. i’m not sure. Just trying to harmonize all the data.

    What i’m more confused about is a unity/fellowship problem. Acknowledging that people are saved is one thing, but if you genuinely believe that they practice Christianity in a way that is wrong, how then can you practice it alongside them? Lately, i’ve come to think of some issues not as being right or wrong, but rather that there are better and worse ways of doing things. That seems okay to me to participate with people who do things differently if you simply think there are better ways of doing it. But what if you genuinely believe that something someone is doing is sinful? Pick your garden variety historic CoC issue. Say you’re part of a group of people that are founding a new congregation. If you genuinely believe it’s sinful to build a gym or a kitchen in the building, how can you just go along with it when the rest of your group decides to build one? In other words, how is that not equivalent to tolerating sin? How is that not equivalent to supporting sin?

    People can play the “stronger/weaker” brother motif, but i don’t see how that solves anything. It’s not that a person just doesn’t see themselves as strong enough to be okay with having a gym. They genuinely believe that doing so violates the will of God. Furthermore, if we can play the “stronger/weaker brother” card in these situations, then it seems like the gates are opened for any and everything about which we disagree to be ultimately okay. If that’s okay, then i don’t see why heretical Christological views won’t simply become a matter of “stronger/weaker brother” as well. i’ll quit rambling about that. i think i’ve put my point much more clearly elsewhere in comments before. i don’t think anything Jay has said has given a clear solution to the truth/unity problem i’m getting at.

    i’m not settled on much. i do think that “walking in the light” in 1John can’t possibly require perfect obedience. i had teachers at Brown Trail who thought that was the obvious conclusion. It’s always been obviously wrong to me from the text itself. If i’m right, then the question is, what kind or degree of imperfection is allowed? However insufficient you may find Jay’s proposed criteria, that doesn’t make the question any easier to answer–or i should say, to give an answer that is consistent with the rest of one’s beliefs.

    –Guy

  50. Nick Gill, on April 28, 2010 at 3:27 pm Said:
    Further, with the exception of Hebrews 12:24, every appearance of the phrase New Covenant in the Greek Scriptures uses the Greek word kainos rather than neos to describe the nature of this covenant.

    As we’ve studied many times here at One In Jesus, kainos does not describe a replacement, but a restoration, a renewal, a “making fresh again.” So it fits very well that our kainos covenant is a fulfillment and outgrowth of the covenant with Abraham.

    Nick Gill, on April 29, 2010 at 11:48 am Said:
    Laymond,

    kainos is an adjective, not a verb.

    So it can’t mean “refresh” or “renew.”

    But since you know that already, I’m wondering when the trap will snap.

    Neos means new in terms of time (new wine)
    Kainos means new in terms of quality (new wineskins)

    Nick, am I the only one who sees a contradiction in these two statements?

  51. As I read through the essay and note chain, I have begun to wonder if we are keeping Ephesians 2:1-10 too distant from 4:1-5:21, for example.

    Specifically, in a world under spiritual siege, all of us face the constant struggle of distinguishing light from darkness. A spiritual war is real — not merely a social or cultural struggle. We have faced what the Ephesian Christians faced. The “grace of God” can easily seem to transform into a license to believe, live, and worship as we wish. The danger in Galatia of a humanistic approach to spiritual salvation reveals darkness as well. Both are the result of Satan’s work.

    We have probably all seen Paul’s guidance as he starts his letter to Ephesus (and Asia) by writing about both the riches of God’s grace and the word of truth (Eph. 1:3-14). As Jesus reveals during a desert war, depending on the Lord and His Word represents our only means to distinguish light from darkness.

    Too simple? Let me share an illustration:
    I have friend, a young man who railed for hours against Christianity, hypocrisy, church-going, and on and on. I did not stop him; just let him continue. Finally, he seemed to have “unloaded” and stopped. I think he was beginning to wonder what I thought about all that he was saying.

    I began my conversation with one question: had he read a Gospel? He got sheepish. “No.” Had he read some specific teachings of Jesus? “No.” Finally, I kindly asked, “What of the Bible have you read?” His answer, “Nothing.” We then opened and began to read together.

    Paul was urging the Ephesians to lean on the word of truth as the only means to “expose” darkness (Ephesians 5:8ff.). As we lean on the Word, speak the Word, read the Word at-length in our assemblies, and sing the Word, the temptations that confronted Galatia and Ephesus will become clearer. And our response to darkness will increasingly become a matter of “speaking the truth in love.” (Eph. 4:15).

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton

  52. Hank,

    As you know, I’ve laid out my thinking in considerable detail at http://graceconversation.com, in two ebooks posted here, The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace and Do We Teach Another Gospel? — as well as in the series Amazing Grace, and I’ve expanded on that substantial base in several series, such as the Fork in the Road series that’s ongoing. So the charge that I’ve failed to say my thinking is “in any actual detail (specifics)” is unjustified. (Have you read any of these materials?)

    And it’s just not complicated or vague. The path out of salvation is the same as the path in. You enter through faith and repentance, that is, by accepting and submitting to Jesus as Lord, Messiah, and Savior. Give that up, and you’re lost. And I’ve given the scriptural arguments for that position in depth — and I keep finding more and more.

    You see, we have no trouble saying of convert X that X has a genuine faith and X has genuinely repented, and so we are delighted to baptize him. We don’t agonize over the fact that he might have an imperfect understanding of the Trinity or that he has some sin in his life that remains undefeated. We baptize him and welcome him into our fellowship — with joy.

    So when the question arises whether I should treat Y as a brother or sister in Christ, I ask: if Y came to me asking for baptism, would I refuse? And, indeed, there are times I would refuse. For example, I don’t think I could baptize a Marcionite who denies that Jesus is the son of the God of the Old Testament — which contracts the gospel as presented in the Law and the Prophets and the Gospels and Paul. Wrong gospel. And I certainly wouldn’t baptize someone who is guilty of a sin that would require me to disfellowship him. Rather, I’d insist on penitence.

    But, you see, as I explained in http://graceconversation.com the sins that would require us to disfellowship someone are the same sins that, if they persist long enough, will cause someone to be damned and the same sins that prevent someone from being saved in the first place. If you know enough to convert someone, you know enough to know who will fall away and who should be disciplined. These are sins that deny our faith in Jesus or that rebel against God or that add works to faith — and so divide the church.

    If you are looking for “bright line” tests, well, these lines are just as bright for someone saved as for someone about to be saved. And they focus on the state of the Christian’s/convert’s heart. But this is as the Bible says it should be —

    (Mat 9:13 ESV) 13 Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

    Pro 21:3 To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.

    Mat 5:7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”

    Psa 51:16-17 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

    Isa 1:11, 18-20 “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. … 18 “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. 19 If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; 20 but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

    Over and over, in both testaments, we are told that it’s about the state of our heart. That’s not say that it’s purely subjective. It’s not. We have to submit to Jesus as Lord — not just “try to be good.” It’s about being in right relationship both with God through Jesus and with our fellowman, and faith in Jesus expressing itself through love does exactly that.

    Now, of course we have to be obedient. But every sin is an act of disobedience. In fact, if we think we’re sinning, but objectively we are not, it’s still a sin — per Rom 14, right? And the fact that a sin against my conscience is a sin against God demonstrates that our consciences matter. We can be perfectly obedient — objectively viewed — and yet be damned by our rebellion if we rebel in our hearts against a “law” that isn’t really a law!

    That’s because, of course, the right relationship with God is defined by “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.” It takes faith and it takes a certain state of heart, and subjective sin that’s not objective sin means we’ve sinned against God by not loving as we should.

    Right relationship with our fellow man is based on love (not “love” but the kind of love that dies to self and sacrifices for others through service. I’ve written a series on just that recently, you know).

    Now, these are very real boundaries. And very challenging.

    Admittedly, they do mean it can be very hard to judge someone else as damned. But as Guy pointed out, many of the people commended in the “rollcall of the faithful” in Heb 11 are people we might have disfellowshipped. But what they have in common is a devout commitment to God’s mission. Gideon was a coward, but he ultimately did as God commanded him, despite his doubts and fears. Abraham lied and was disloyal to his wife, but he followed God’s command to go to the Promised Land. Samson was guilty of all sorts of sin, but he fought for God. Rahab was a prostitute, but when it came down to a choice, she chose God’s people. They were very imperfect, very weak people — not at all the kind of people we make into heroes — and yet these are who we teach our children to honor, because these men and women were committed to the mission of God, despite being deeply flawed people guilty of serious sin.

    If a modern-day Noah showed up in our congregation — fiercely committed to God and yet guilty of being drunkenness and indecent exposure — would we hold him up as a hero? Fortunatlely for Noah — and all the other heroes of scriptures — God judges the heart. And nowhere in scriptures does God reject someone who comes to him with a genuine faith and repentance (that is, submission to his lordship). (The only exception is the Jews who, after the resurrection, believed in God and submitted to him and yet rejected his Messiah. Of course, the Messiah was and is God — and so rejection of Jesus is rejection of God.)

    Where you and I differ, I think (and I know you’ll correct me if I’m wrong, and please do) is that you are looking for a system of rules in the New Testament that gives us concrete guidance for how to worship, how to organize the church, etc. — and you think these concrete rules should be salvation issues. And yet they’re just not there. Indeed, the more closely we study the 5 Acts and other rules that so defined 20th Century Church of Christ thinking, the more we find that our conclusions about them can’t be defended as assured commands. And that’s because the New Covenant isn’t like the Law of Moses. It’s not a replacement of one legal system with another. Rather, God replaced a legal system with a Spirit system — built on hearts circumcised by the Spirit, on which God, through the Spirit, writes his laws.

    I mean, Paul could barely say a word without mentioning the Spirit or the crucifixion. And we are all removed from Paul’s teachings if we don’t need those concepts to express our beliefs — not just about how to become saved, but how to live now that we’ve been saved. Therefore, Rom 8, Ga 5 and Heb 8 should carry the same importance in our theology that they carry in the New Testament’s, because these passages are climactic in the epistles that comprehesively focus on our salvation — now that we’ve been saved.

  53. Alan,

    Thanks.

  54. just as i thought . as usual your arrogance is astounding!!! typical coc reasoning. do you really believe God expects every christian needs to be this intellectual ? how absurd! no wonder the coc is in such a mess! methinks you all protest too much. what snobbery!! where is the freedom in Christ? why do you continue to strain at the gnats? do you have nothing else to do?

  55. do anhy of you think God is going to read any of your pseudo intellectual spiritual snobbery? i have encountered this all my life and have never seen anyone presuaded. why persist in this futile effort? how many of you have spent any fraction of the time you’ve spent on this “preaching to the choir” in evangelizing the lost or helping the poor and widowed as Christ commanded. get of your couches and from behind you laptops and do as Christ directed and teach Christ and HIm crucified. can you imagine God asking you how many you convinced anyone of your position from your computer. shame on all of us!

  56. all of the verse dissecting and theological hairsplitting serves foe naught. do you really think God cannot see past this? jay, if you don’t think it’s necessary to be baptized to be saved, just say so. don’t try to intellectualize us into believing that this is something we can just “slide” into without any real conviction. either baptism is a work or it isn’t. if you have to change clothes and walk down into the baptismal pool i would like to suggest you have committed a “work”. if not why not?

  57. Sid,

    Your comments are such a fine, upstanding example of grace and humility…please keep it up!

  58. Alan said, .” Suppose the sin is not coming to a full and complete stop at a stop sign.”

    Alan, tell him to bring a dove to the priest, or his checkbook before a judge, and he will be forgiven 🙂

    you might want to check out the discussion over at Tim’s kitchen, on Romans 13.

  59. Yeah, my father in law, rather than conform to the teachings he admitedly had been violating, pointed out that I often exceed the posted speed limits and therefore have no right to say that other churches are wrong for having opennly and practicing lezbian pastors. After all, a sin is a sin….

  60. Ok Hank.

    1. In your opinion, is the unknowning rolling-stop violator covered by grace?

    2. In your opinion, is an unknowing violator of the (alleged) a cappella singing mandate covered by grace?

    3. If your two answers are different, what is the scriptural (book, chapter, verse) justification for the difference?

    Those are very reasonable questions, which I hope you’re willing to answer.

  61. Sid,

    While your disposition may be something to consider, I think your points are fair and reasonable.

    First, on the top left of each page is a sort of “mission statement” for this blog. You’ll notice that it is specifically directed to members of the COC.

    So if that is not your heritage, I could certainly see you coming on here and seeing this as a “gnat straining” event. Again, it is important to consider the desired audience.

    Most of us are members of the COC, and not only that, many of us have been highly legalistic and rule-oriented in our thinking and teaching. And, as you accurately stated, we have found ourselves in a dying denomination. We are trying to change this. But it is hard to do when our religion has gotten in the way of Christ.

    This blog serves to help us that have been shackled into a bad theology to study our way out. And as we exit our legalism, we are renewed to share Christ again.

    I’m sure you agree that we all have strengths (gifts). It seems to me that Jay’s is teaching and theology. Thus, this is what he is offering here. Should Jay turn off his computer and drive down to the homeless shelter? Of course. And I imagine he does, at times.

    But consider this: My legalism had me in a state of outright rebellion, completely fallen away from the church. Through outreach like this (OIJ), I have a new-found love for Christ and a new desire to share Him with others, since I’ve improved my theology by having a healthier understanding of grace and what God wants for our lives. And I’ve begun helping out at a shelter, and I’m having a bible study with an illiterate guy tomorrow. He’s never met Christ.

    So we go back to the point of this blog, as we continue to consider your critique. Because Jay (and others, include the other posters) sit behind a computer and go into a deep theological study, I’ve been freed through Christ to start serving in His mission in this world. I’m just one guy, out of probably thousands of readers. Do you think anyone else has been blessed by what they’ve learned on here?

    I’m not subscribing to “trickle-down Christianity” here, but I am saying that through Jay using his gifts, I’ve been better able to access mine. And tomorrow, a guy will meet Christ. That is huge.

  62. Alan writes,

    “Ok Hank.

    1. In your opinion, is the unknowning rolling-stop violator covered by grace?
    2. In your opinion, is an unknowing violator of the (alleged) a cappella singing mandate covered by grace?
    3. If your two answers are different, what is the scriptural (book, chapter, verse) justification for the difference?

    Those are very reasonable questions, which I hope you’re willing to answer.”

    1. Sure, the stop sign ignorer is covered by grace (not sure why you made him the “unknowing” stop sign violater — they are pretty hard to miss).
    2. Yes, the violater of the (as you put it), “(alleged) a cappella singing mandate” is also covered by grace.
    3. Just like the women pastors are covered by grace.
    4. And the Holy Ghost Hokey Pokey churches are covered by grace.
    5. And the practicing homosexual preachers are covered by grace.
    6. Just like the greedy, the liars, and all the fornicators.
    7. In fact, now that I think about it….all sins no matter what or how bad they seem to be to some of us are all covered by grace.

    There is no line that can ever be crossed where a believer could possibly commit certain sins to a certain extent that they will no longer be covered by grace.

    Or, is there?

    Acually Allen, I believe that there is a line somewhere that can be crossed which causes a saved believer to be no longer saved, and that we ought to give diligence in making sure that we don’t cross it.

    Do you believe there is such a line, or no?

  63. Hank, you’re hiding behind sarcasm. That’s not an answer to the questions.

    There is no dispute about whether such a line exists. If you’ll give a straight answer to those questions we’ll be well on our way to a fruitful discussion about where that line is.

    If you prefer to say you don’t know the answer, that’s ok. But then you’d be revealing to the world that you really don’t know what grace covers and what it doesn’t cover. And so your previous arguments about what is not covered would be pretty unconvincing.

  64. The consistent answer to your questions, Alan, has always been, “Avoid the invisible, unknowable line.” The inherent impossibility of avoiding something invisible, and the amazing cruelty of setting such an expectation before one’s children, has never fazed them. God did it, so it must be right.

  65. Alan Wrote:

    “If you prefer to say you don’t know the answer, that’s ok. But then you’d be revealing to the world that you really don’t know what grace covers and what it doesn’t cover. And so your previous arguments about what is not covered would be pretty unconvincing.”

    Alen,

    You are right, I do not know the answer in regards to where the actual line exists (I actually believe it may vary between people). And I am willing to admit that I do not know precisely what grace covers and what it does not cover. I have been admitting that all along. In fact, that has been my entire point here!

    My problem has been with the people here who imply that there is no line at all…. Or that there is a line, but instead of explaining where it is (be it in false teaching, worship, the role of women, etc.), they attack and challenge the conservatives who are actually willing to put there foot down.

    You write, “There is no dispute about whether such a line exists.”

    Then go ahead and tell us where the line is. You admit that there is a line. Do you know precisely where it is in every case? If not, then you are just like me.

    But, if you actually know where it is, then be the first to explain it all…

    If not, then don’t be frusterated with me bro.

  66. Hank wrote:

    But, if you actually know where it is, then be the first to explain it all…

    I can tell you what I believe to be true. I cannot tell you with certainty that I have it figured out exactly right.

    I believe, in order to be saved, a person has to believe that Jesus died for our sins and that God raised him from the dead. And then, believing that, a person has to make Jesus Lord of their life — meaning that we choose to obey Jesus in everything. I believe that obedience begins with baptism. Then as long as a person continues to walk in the light, the blood of Jesus continues to cleans the sins we commit. I believe that walking in the light means continuing to believe those basic gospel facts, and continuing to live consistent with Jesus as Lord — continuing to listen and learn and obey, and to repent when we realize that we have sinned. When we do that, we still sin, but the blood of Jesus cleanses that sin.

    So the line that must not be crossed is this: We must not abandon our faith in the gospel, and we must not reject Jesus as Lord. That is, we must not leave the light. So the rolling stop offender would be forgiven by grace. He is unaware of his sin, and is not in rebellion. The case of an openly practicing homosexual pastor I cannot decide, because I do not know whether he is in rebellion or just ignorant… although it is hard to imagine how one would reach that position without having seen enough to know better.

    I’m sure some refinements in that description are in order, but that’s basically what I believe in a nutshell. Now it’s your turn.

  67. My turn for what?

    You have only solidified the point I have been attempting to make all along….

  68. Hank, I answered your question. I told you where I think the line is that must not be crossed. If you don’t want to answer mine, that’s your prerogative.

  69. Nick wrote:

    The consistent answer to your questions, Alan, has always been, “Avoid the invisible, unknowable line.” The inherent impossibility of avoiding something invisible, and the amazing cruelty of setting such an expectation before one’s children, has never fazed them. God did it, so it must be right.

    The problem with that answer from conservatives is that they seem to know with certainty that certain alleged doctrinal errors cause damnation. So they act like they know more about that line than they have (up to now) been willing or able to articulate.

  70. We keep saying ” saved by grace” but I have never heard anyone here ask “WHY” lets take a lesson from Ruth and examine why one is saved by grace.

    Rth 2:10 Then she fell on her face, and bowed herself to the ground, and said unto him, Why have I found grace in thine eyes, that thou shouldest take knowledge of me, seeing I [am] a stranger?
    Rth 2:11 And Boaz answered and said unto her, It hath fully been shewed me, all that thou hast done unto thy mother in law since the death of thine husband: and [how] thou hast left thy father and thy mother, and the land of thy nativity, and art come unto a people which thou knewest not heretofore.
    Rth 2:12 The LORD recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust.

    Why had Ruth found grace in the eyes of her lord, her good works, what came first the works or the grace/ favor in the eyes of her lord.? the good works, you cannot gain favor in the eyes of anyone by saying I am going to do this or that. And you cannot enter the kingdom if you are out of favor with the Lord.

    Rev 20:13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.

  71. Yes, I do understand. faith/trust was involved here, on her part, but not his.

  72. Hank and Alan, the only sin that I read of in scripture which is not covered by grace is the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:29; Luke 12:10); it is an eternal sin. Also, 1 John 5:16 speaks of a sin that leads to death, and while the author is not specific about it, I can’t come up with a good reason why it should be any different from the one Jesus describes.

    (If you’re curious about my further thoughts on what constitutes that sin and why, see The Sin That Cannot Be Forgiven.)

    Laymond, works testify to our faith; faith without works is dead (James 2). Through the gifts and empowerment of God’s Holy Spirit, we are His fellow workers in achieving them (1 Corinthians 3:9 and 12:6; 2 Corinthians 6:1; 1 Thessalonians 3:2). So they are not any more our works than they are God’s (Ephesians 2:8-9; Philippians 2:13; Colossians 1:29). Therefore, we are not justified by them (Romans 4-11), though we are judged by them (Revelation 20:13, as you cite; also Matthew 25:31-46) because our faith has first led us to partner with God in them (John 6:28-29) and later, our works complete or perfect our faith (James 2:22). So we are justified by our partnered works with God, not faith in Him alone (James 2:24).

    For instance, in baptism, we share in Christ’s resurrection (Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12; 1 Peter 3:21).

  73. Hank,

    It’s certainly reasonable to admit that you don’t know where the line is between those saved and those no longer saved. I just don’t see how you can simultaneously take that position and then judge others as no longer saved — because you admit you have no standard by which to make that judgment — which means you’re necessarily applying a subjective standard.

  74. Jay,

    I do not recall ever saying here that any particular person and/or group of persons were “no longer saved.” Did I do that?

    Rather, all I have been saying here is that sin separates from God and although grace covers the sins of faithful Christians who “walk in the light,” at some point a person (or group of persons) can commit a certain sin (to a certain extent?), that they end up going from saved to no longer saved. Is that reasonable too?

    And while I don’t go around judging others as “no longer saved,” neither do I assume that everybody IS saved regardless of what they believe, teach, and/or practice. I simply believe that what we believe, teach, and practice matters (it has beasring on our salvation).

    And even though we are all sinners, the Bible nevertheless teaches us to avoid and have no part of sinful teachings and practices.

    Which I believe includes the realm of how we worship and what we teach.

  75. Keith wrote:

    “Hank and Alan, the only sin that I read of in scripture which is not covered by grace is the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:29; Luke 12:10); it is an eternal sin.”

    So then, do you believe that every Christian will be saved (have their sins covered by grace), regardless of what they believe, teach, and/or practice?

    So long as they don’t specifically blaspheme the Holy Spirit?

    What are you getting at Keith?

  76. Hank,

    So where do you see that we disagree?

  77. Hank, if you will, please follow the link I provided to The Sin That Cannot Be Forgiven, so I don’t take up a lot of Jay’s pixels.

    Short answer: When a person reaches a point that you can no longer discern good from evil – when he/she calls good “evil” and evil “good” (as did the folks who accused Jesus of casting out demons by Satan) – there can be no repentance.

    That includes, of course, what a person teaches; that’s what the Pharisees and teachers of the law were doing in Matthew 12, Mark 3 and Luke 11 & 12.

  78. So Hank,

    According to your post at 1:47, I can infer that one can do the HGHP and still go to heaven! 🙂 I’m glad we agree! 🙂

    Seriously though, unless you are saying that the HGHP is blasphemy of the HS, then we would agree that while it may be sinful, it isn’t necessarily damning. Agree? Disagree? Why?

  79. JMF,

    I believe that the Holy Ghost Hoky Pokey actually is blasphemy of the Holy Ghost. I mean, how could it not be? It’s as if those people are trying to get struck down from on high.

    And since I do not know for sure who, for what, and at the precise point God will consider a person (or group of people) condemned, the HGHP people appear to be prime candidates.

    And when a church takes it upon themselves to worship God without the reverence and awe he expects, when they choose to ignore the clear commands about women not being pastors, when they decide to trade in the purpose of baptism for a “sinner’s prayer,” etc., then they too are headed down that wayward road that leads to death.

    Now since I wrote “headed,” you can go ahead and infer that to mean “not necessarily there yet,” but — at the same time — they very well may be.

    I mean, if the churches that are lukewarm are lost until they repent…

    In the meantime, our job should be to encourage repentance and the practicing of the truth. Not, to say “maybe they won’t necessarily go to hell for that sin” and extend them our right hands of fellowship.
    (which is where I believe Jay and I disagree?)

    Because, God does not require a person to be free from sin before that person is expected to tell another person (or church), to repent.

  80. Hank,

    The difference between us with which I struggle is that your description above offers no confidence in our salvation.

    Now, this doesn’t trouble you very much because you’ve never written anything here that suggests that you believe anyone can have confidence in their salvation.

    But for those of us who believe that Jesus and Paul and John teach us that believers can know they are saved, your test doesn’t work for us. The litmus test you present always returns “no” to the question, “Am I saved?”

  81. Nick,

    Truly, I am not sure that I understand 1 Jn. 5:1 — “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.”

    Surely, he didn’t mean that every Christian, in every place, was saved? Perhaps there is more behind the phrase “you who believe in the name of the Son of God”?

    I mean, the same apostle who wrote 1 John also wrote the book of Revelation, where he clearly wrote to Christians (if not entire churches), who were no longer saved and needed to repent.

    Take, for example the Christians comprising the church in Laodicea….would you say that 1 Jn. 5:13 applied to them (or any other church(es) just like them? You know — lukewarm churches? Or how about the church in Sardis who, though they had confidence in their life (salvation?), really, the Lord said they were actually dead? To that particular group of believers, Jesus said that their works were incomplete, most were dead, others were about to die, and unless there was some serious repenting, the Lord was going to visit them like a thief against them.

    I could go on, where Paul wrote for the Corinthians to examine themselves in order to determine whether they even be “in the faith”? Or, where he told the Philippians to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling?

    My point is that not every believer is in the same boat. And I am sure that there are at least as many believers who “know that they are saved” not realizing that they are actually spiritually “wretched, poor, pitiable, blind and naked” as there are believers who tremble in view of the coming judgment and yet are actually saved. And I believe that there are every type of believers out there somwhere in between.

    As for me, I feel pretty secure in my salvation. But when I honestly ask myself whether I am in fact greedy and/or or lukewarm, and when I think about what God’s book says about such believers, I do then detect a certain amount of trepidation.

    Do you think you may be able to help me know for sure how to know for sure that I am neither greedy or lukewarm (like you apparently know you are not?) in the eyes of God?

    If so, you would be the first and for it…I would be extremely grateful?

    Thanks.

  82. One more thing…

    I think it might be similar to what Paul wrote in Phil. 4:13 where he said that he could do all things through Christ who strengthens him.

    A non Christian buddy of mine is getting that tattooed on his arm, but that verse does not apply to him. Nor, do I believe that it applies to even every Christian. I mean, contexctually, Paul had just said that HE had learned to be content in every situation of life. I believe that it was because of what he had learned through his experiences and groeth in Christ that enabled him to say that he can do “all things.”

    However, I have known many believers who could not truthfully say the same thing as the great apostle. And in that sense, Phil. 4:13 does not exactly apply to them..

    But to many of us…it may

  83. Hank wrote:

    I mean, the same apostle who wrote 1 John also wrote the book of Revelation, where he clearly wrote to Christians (if not entire churches), who were no longer saved and needed to repent.

    Jesus did not tell those churches they were “no longer saved.” He warned them that they must repent. Those are two different things. If they would not repent, he would remove their lampstand, or come like a thief. He was”about to” spit them out of his mouth. Those whom Jesus loves, he rebukes and disciplines. That doesn’t mean they have lost their salvation.

    Christians do not swing back and forth from a saved state to a lost state and back again every time they need to repent. The blood of Jesus does continually cleanse us from sin. Maybe you would feel more assurance of your salvation if you accepted that promise.

  84. Alan,

    How about the Christians in Sardis who although they had a reputaion for being alive…according to Jesus, they were actually dead?

    And just for the sake clarity, do you believe that lukewarm Christians (the type that makes Jesus sick), are saved before and without repenting?

    If so, my comments here are not directed at you…but toward the people who actually believe that a saved person can actually so sin so as to no longer be saved.

    Which I assume is the position of the vast majority here. At least, of Jay, JMF, Keith, and Nick (the ones I have been primarily talking to).

  85. Hank,

    I do not believe that John is saying, “you’re receiving this letter so that you’ll know you’re saved.” I believe he is saying, “I’ve sent this letter to teach you a simple litmus test so that you may know whether or not you are saved.” The simple test has two parts: do you believe the Christ came in the flesh? Do you actively love your brother/neighbor?

    Yes, I know it looks too easy. Why do you think Paul was accused of preaching that sin doesn’t matter – that sin could be a good thing? Because compared to every other religion in human history, it LOOKS too easy!

    Laodicea? Dude, that’s easy. Listen to how the Lord describes their attitude! “You say, ‘I am rich, I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.'” That is how Jesus defines lukewarmness. It exists in my congregation, and I wish I had the convicting ability of Jesus to powerfully motivate people to repentance. I pray and teach and strive to model “hot” Christianity. But lukewarmness is NOT some vague, hard-to-define sin.

    Sardis? If they were as dead as you believe, there wouldn’t still be anything “about to die.” From the rest of the letter, we can tell that there is a particular sin that the Sardis church is struggling to overcome. Many have soiled themselves; a few have not. Even those who have soiled themselves still have the opportunity to overcome. But the key phrase is precisely what Jay has been teaching! Listen to the Lord’s remedy: “go back to what you heard and believed at first; hold to it firmly. Repent and turn to me again. If you don’t wake up, I will come to you suddenly, as unexpected as a thief.” (Rev 3:3 NLT) Faith and repentance – do what you did at first and you’ll remain clean. That is precisely the litmus test Jay has presented.

    The passage from Paul to Corinth presupposes that such a test can be definitively answered. When you describe your own self-examination, it certainly sounds like you are struggling to find such an answer.

    Your first reference to Philippians, “work out your salvation…” is such an important concept as it points to us partnering with God in salvation work. He effectively works (energeo) salvation into us, and we strive (katergazomai) to live out what we see in Jesus and the apostles.

    I think I agree with your reading of Php 4:13. Not all Christians have “laid aside every weight, and the sin that so easily entangles.” (Heb 12:1) That’s my big problem with “Promise Bibles” and “Name It and Claim It” theology. But the difference between John’s teaching and Paul’s is that Paul’s talking about himself in the concluding remarks of the letter, while John is stating the purpose of his letter. Paul’s teaching is limited to those who might attain a comparable level of spiritual discipline; John’s teaching can be applied by his whole audience.

    When Jesus arrived at Capernaum, he told the Jews there that his yoke (his method of interpreting God’s will – his way of teaching others how to please God) was easy and that the burden HE would lay on them would be light. I believe that, and I know you do, too. But the yoke you’re actually laboring under seems even harder than the yoke under which the Jews labored. That’s why I’m concerned, and why we are still having this conversation. The Jews at least had the “traditions of the elders” written down and able to be studied and memorized; your lines are invisible and impossible to actually know and obey.

  86. Hank, I’m still hoping you’ll explain to me how removing fellowship from someone we don’t know or haven’t met or won’t communicate with makes it possible to teach them where they might be in error.

    I could also use some help in understanding how that would help them turn to the Lord because of the loving example we set in shunning them without explaining why, and how to do it without appearing judgmental.

    And as long as we’re on the subject, how does Matthew 7:3 fit into that, when we all have some pretty big beams in our eyes, but act as if God loves only us and saves only us because we have all the doctrines straight?

    Because – I can’t believe I’m saying this – here we all are judging seven churches in Asia which are absolutely, incontrovertibly, definitively dead, and none of us knows their hearts or whether they repented or whether they’re saved.

    And this big ol’ chunk-of-oak is blocking my view of my monitor.

  87. Nick,

    I just don’t understand it to be as simple as you seek to explain it.

    As far as Sardis, the “dead” and “those about to die,” are two separate groups. For one simply both be dead and yet “about to die.” And them that were “not soiled” represent yet a third group within that particular church.

    Which, actually, is a clear picture of the fact that even within a single church, there can easily be at least three groups of people: 1. no longer forgiven 2. about to be no longer forgiven and 3. the faithful.

    And as far as certain believers being actually dead (spiritually), while they are yet still living (physically), consider the self indulgent (a subjective term) widow who Paul said to be “dead — even while she lives.”

    In what sense do you believe the dead in Sardis (along with the self indulgent widow), to be dead?

  88. Well, Hank, they’d have a hard time repenting if they were “dead all over like Rover.” So its pretty obvious that they’ve rejected either faith or repentance (the first works) – and “soiled clothing” language is almost always a metaphor for flagrant immorality. On top of that, you have the Lord mentioning their “reputation” – a mention that seems to pile hypocrisy atop their immorality.

    Regardless, since all you’re interested in discussing of all your examples is Sardis, let’s stay there: if it isn’t really simple, why does Jesus present such a simple solution? “Go back to what you heard and believed at first; hold to it firmly. Repent and turn to me again.”

    What is so complicated?

  89. Nick,

    I am trying to follow along with you, I seriously am. Could you explain what you understand to be the difference betwwen them that were “dead” and them that were “about to die”?

    Not sure what you meant in saying that, “…they’d have a hard time repenting if they were “dead all over like Rover.””

    I will wait for you to tell me the sense in which you understand the “dead” to be dead? I believe it means that they were no longer forgiven (covered by grace). But, that doesn’t mean that they could not repent, or that it would be any harder for them than it would be for any othr spiritually dead (not forgiven) sinner to repent.

    Unforgiven sinners repent and are saved (or saved again) every day…

  90. Hi Keith,

    1. I don’t recall ever suggesting that one “remove” fellowship from someone we don’t know or haven’t me. Did I say that and forget?

    2. How do YOU reconcile Mat. 7:3 with Paul’s instruction to expell the imoral brother in Cor.? Or the command to keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness in 2 The.?

    3. I likewise never said that God “loves only us and saves only us because we have all the doctrines straight.”
    Rather what I have said (and still do say), is that what we actually believe, and teach, and practice (if wrong and sinful) can AT SOME POINT cause us to go from being saved to no longer being saved?

    Do you contend that every believer will be saved regardless of whatever error (sin) he may actually be guilty of? Whether it be in what he believes, what he teaches, and/or what he does?

  91. Hank,

    I don’t know how much clearer the Lord can be.

    Forgiven sinners and dead in sin unbelievers can repent.
    Dead in sin once-Christians cannot.

    I do not agree with your three-group theory in Sardis. There are only two: the dead who soiled themselves, and the forgiven who needs to repent. the one who “walks in the light” experiences “continual cleansing” – their garments are never soiled. The one that has soiled their garments in worldliness has left the light. There are only saved and lost: those are the only two categories John describes, ever.

    Forgiven sinners can still repent – in fact, one of the expectations of salvation is that we continue to repent. Those in Sardis whose garments remain unsoiled have not been “working out their salvation” very well – otherwise their congregation wouldn’t be overwhelmed with self-satisfaction and worldliness.

    But your assertion that it is just as easy for dead-in-sin once-Christians to repent as it is for unforgiven sinners flies in the face of two key passages for the believer in the possibility of apostasy. Remember that it is the Lord Jesus Christ himself who declares these folks dead- we can be assured that they are well and truly apostate.

    “And when people escape from the wickedness of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and then get tangled up and enslaved by sin again, they are worse off than before. It would be better if they had never known the way to righteousness than to know it and then reject the command they were given to live a holy life.” (2 Pet 2:20-21)

    “For it is impossible to bring back to repentance those who were once enlightened—those who have experienced the good things of heaven and shared in the Holy Spirit,who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the power of the age to come—and who then turn away from God. It is impossible to bring such people back to repentance; by rejecting the Son of God, they themselves are nailing him to the cross once again and holding him up to public shame.” (Heb 6:4-6)

    “Worse off than before…”
    “Better if they had never known…”
    “Impossible…” (x2!!!!!!)

    Sounds… well… impossible! Surely more than “not any harder.”

    Christians are forgiven, until they aren’t Christians anymore.

  92. Hank wrote:

    How about the Christians in Sardis who although they had a reputaion for being alive…according to Jesus, they were actually dead?

    Jesus also said “Strengthen what remains and is about to die.” In the words of Miracle Max, there’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Their deeds were not complete, and Jesus warned them to wake up or be lost.

    And just for the sake clarity, do you believe that lukewarm Christians (the type that makes Jesus sick), are saved before and without repenting?

    I’ve answered that previously. There is a line you cannot cross without being lost. In the case of the church at Laodicea, Jesus was rebuking them out of love, warning them to repent. Would you go to such a church and preach to them out of love calling for repentance, or would you say they are already lost and unreachable?

  93. The passage in question is —

    (Rev 3:1-6 ESV) “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. “‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. 4 Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. 5 The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. 6 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ “

    John paints with a broad brush and then limits and refines what he says. They are dead, meaning almost dead — and not really all of them.

    V. 1 says “you are dead.” Grammatically, this isn’t “some of you are dead,” but all of you. However, v. 2 says “is about to die” and v. 3 urges repentance.

    V. 4 says “a few names” have not “soiled their garments” and are “worthy.”

    John doesn’t mind seemingly contradicting himself because he intends for the reader to see the picture he paints from all the verses. It’s apocalyptic literature and can’t be read like a statute.

    Regarding the lukewarm, I wrote a comment to Hank some time ago —

    Jay Guin, on March 7, 2010 at 4:48 pm Said:

    Hank,

    In one of the Faith Lesson DVDs by Ray Vander Laan, he shows video of two cities in the area of Laodicea. Some of the notes are on his website.

    Hierapolis was famous for its hot springs, which people would visit for healing. http://www.followtherabbi.com/Brix?pageID=5552

    Colosse was famous for its cold water from the nearby mountains, considered as highly invigorating. http://www.followtherabbi.com/Brix?pageID=5553

    Laodicea, however, had foul water that made people sick. http://www.followtherabbi.com/Brix?pageID=5554

    Vander Laan concludes that Jesus’ complaint with those in Laodicea wasn’t so much a tepid passion as a failure to be of any value. They didn’t refresh and they didn’t heal. They weren’t good for anything.

    (Rev 3:17) You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.

    The irony is that they were self-satisfied, saying they need nothing, when people of wealth should be providing for the needs of others, rather than bragging about the self-sufficiency.

    As John wrote,

    (1 John 3:16-20) This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. 19 This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence 20 whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.

    A failure to love is evidenced by a failure to serve others. There are many ways to serve, but those who brag that don’t need to be served but fail to serve others are far from the heart of Jesus.

    That being said, I don’t know “precisely when” someone falls away. Rather, the scriptures speak in terms of having a “sure” election and confidence, which is evidenced by growing in the Lord. Those who are saved but aren’t assured are at risk of stumbling and falling. But it’s not easy for a mere mortal to judge their hearts to know precisely when their hearts are so hard that they’ve grieved and then quenched the Spirit. Only God can make that judgment.

    From a pastoral standpoint, therefore, we shouldn’t give up on those who have weak faith easily.

  94. Hank,

    I certainly agree that Christians should “encourage repentance and the practicing of the truth.” However, we do disagree on one point. I don’t think we are allowed to refuse fellowship to someone whom God forgives except when they are at risk of losing their salvation over the issue — because they are denying faith in Jesus, are engaging in rebellious behavior, or binding a works salvation. Of course, you leave by the path that brought you in — by rejecting faith in Jesus, by surrendering your submission to Jesus as Lord, or by seeking salvation in works rather than in God’s grace.

    But we don’t disfellowship to show ourselves pure. We disfellowship as an act of love to shame our beloved brother into repentance. And it’s a pointless, even counter-productive exercise in some cases. I know of churches who’ve “disfellowshipped” someone years after they left the congregation. You can’t take away what someone doesn’t have or value. Refusing to eat with a brother only works if he was previously a regular guest at your table.

    So, yes, 1 Cor 5:12 plainly teaches that we are judge those among us —

    (1Co 5:12 ESV) 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?

    — but that’s a judgment internal to the congregation for the sake of helping bring that brother back to the faith and repentance he began with. It’s an act of love to rescue someone walking toward a cliff. (And, yes, I know of cases where it’s been done well and worked.)

    Therefore, there are serious restrictions on what we can disfellowship someone over. Instrumental music doesn’t fit the standard, for example, because in reality people don’t worship God in conscious rebellion against God. And how can we judge the hearts of people we’ve never even met?

    And there are plenty of practices among charismatic churches that I disagree with, but not many actually threaten the boundaries I mentioned earlier. On the other hand, if I had a relationship with a Pentecostal preacher that allowed me to teach him where I see him to be in error, I would do so — gently and kindly.

    (2Ti 2:24-25 ESV) 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth,

    Therefore, I see Matt 7:1-3 warning me to be very cautious condemning others, but see 1 Cor 5:12 teaching me to have the guts to judge whether members of my own church are in danger of losing their souls, so they can be warned and, where necessary, disfellowshipped, so that they’ll repent. This is not a judgment of condemnation but a pastoral judgment, recognizing that people who fall away normally show signs that we should pick up on so we can seek the lost sheep.

  95. Hank,

    1. I’m assuming that you haven’t met any of the folks participating in the Holy Ghost Hokey Pokey, for instance, in order to be able to discuss the fact that you regard them as blaspheming.

    2. I asked you first! 🙂 Humility would seem to be a key factor. Not an attitude that says, “You’re all wrong and I’ve got it all right,” which is too often how we sound on the rare occasions when we go to others. That’s how we’re perceived when we go into a conversation having expressed that our fellowship is withheld from them already. I think we know that’s futile – so we just don’t go to them in the first place. We tend to take pot shots over the wall we’ve built between ourselves and the ones we disagree with, and let it go at that. Not scriptural practice!

    3. I know you’ve got a lot of conversations going here – and I truly appreciate your willingness to have them! – but I wasn’t trying to attribute to you the words or attitude “God loves only us and saves only us because we have all the doctrines straight.” But that’s the perception people have of us if we shun, ignore or “disfellowship” them even before we have the first conversation about our differences. That’s why I find the practice counterproductive.

    (I’ve already answered your last question above. Short answer: No, I do not believe “that every believer will be saved regardless of whatever error (sin) he may actually be guilty of? Whether it be in what he believes, what he teaches, and/or what he does?” Repentance is not optional. But how can one repent when one does not know he/she is in error?)

    I’m a world-class screw-up, and I’m sorry if that language offends, but it’s the truth. I’m also a longtime believer, and I try to do my best with what God has sent my way. If I’ve been taught something is right all my life and I believe it and practice it, yet it’s dead wrong … what hope is there for me if someone doesn’t spend a little time in fellowship with me, treating me as a fellow believer in Christ, and speak the truth in love to me? What hope do I have if someone that God wants to partner with in bringing me closer to Himself … if that person decides I’m too far gone to bother with?

    I’m going to be more open to conversing with someone about the issue at hand if he/she asks me questions about what I believe and why, and then tells me what she/he believes and why. We do a lot of that on blogs like this!

    On the other hand, if my first exposure to that person is to be forwarded a copy of a church bulletin in which I’ve been “marked,” or “written up,” I’m very unlikely to change my view.

    And if no one ever comes to me at all, there will be precious little chance that I’ll see things any differently.

    All that said: God is still sovereign. He knows what is in the hearts of others, and we don’t. He has mercy on whom He wills; He hardens whom He wills. I believe He judges us on a case-by-case basis rather than a class-action basis. He knows what each of us has been taught, how much our brains can process on our own, what our biases and temperaments are like, and how strong our wills are. On the whole, I trust His judgment a lot more than I trust anyone else’s and especially mine.

    That’s why I would much rather leave the judging up to Him than to take it upon myself.

  96. Jay wrote:

    “Therefore, I see Matt 7:1-3 warning me to be very cautious condemning others, but see 1 Cor 5:12 teaching me to have the guts to judge whether members of my own church are in danger of losing their souls, so they can be warned and, where necessary, disfellowshipped, so that they’ll repent. This is not a judgment of condemnation but a pastoral judgment, recognizing that people who fall away normally show signs that we should pick up on so we can seek the lost sheep.”

    I agree.

    I guess where we may disagree would be in terms of which members (of our own churches) “…are in danger of losing their souls, so they can be warned and, where necessary, disfellowshipped…”

    Would you agree that such judgments are subjective and would vary from one individual (or church), and another?

    Of course, I do not believe that the entire church in Sardis was considered to be “dead” when the text goes on to say that some were “about to die” and that others (a few names), were “unspoiled and worthy.”

    I still see that as three groups — the dead, those about to die, and the faithful. For, why would the unspoiled and worthy be lumped in with and described as “dead” or “about to die”?

    Having said that, I do appreciate your thoughts, and suspect that we are much closer than it sometimes may appear.

    Thank you for your comments.

  97. Hank asked,

    Would you agree that such judgments are subjective and would vary from one individual (or church), and another?

    The standards for how such judgments should be made are, of course, universal. The judgment to make in a given case is a matter of, well, judgment. Whether a beloved brother or sister is in rebellion is often a difficult call.

    On the other hand, there are some fairly clear boundaries. For example, when some among us declare all members of the independent Christian Churches damned because their use of instrumental music is in conscious rebellion against God (and, yes, I’ve seen published articles to this effect), we make an impermissible judgment — in plain violation of any number of commands. If someone wants to declare these people in error, while I disagree, it’s no great sin to disagree. We can talk as brothers about our disagreements — the inevitable result of our being weak, broken humans. But to declare them damned or even in such danger of damnation that we must disfellowship them — because of the state of their hearts –– is unjustifiable.

    Just so, if my congregation decides to have a children’s church and another congregation nearby considers that sin, they may well write us a letter warning us. I honestly don’t mind getting those letters when they are written in terms of love.

    However, if they choose to disfellowship us or proclaim us damned over the issue because we are supposedly in conscious rebellion — having been warned — they are make an unjustifiable judgment. Warning and convincing are two different things. They can’t judge our hearts, and common sense should tell them that most people don’t worship God in conscious rebellion against him.

    If they’d resist making that judgment, we could remain sister congregations, enjoying the blessings of Christian fellowship, despite our disagreement over the children’s church. If they insist on judging the hearts of strangers, they divide the church all the while thinking they are purifying the church. And that’s wrong at a very deep and fundamental level.

    You see, pastorally, it’s very important that we see the warning signs of someone actually in rebellion against God and implore them to return to their first love. But we can’t take that essential doctrine and turn it into a means of dividing the church over every doctrinal disagreement.

    (And I’m not arguing against you, as I don’t know your views. I’m just trying to be very clear about my own views.)

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