The Future of the Progressive Churches of Christ: Article by Elizabeth Achtemeier

cooperation.jpgFor some time now, I’ve advocated for all churches in a given community — across denominational lines — to join forces to pursue God’s mission in that community as a single body. I think the cure for denominational division isn’t the ecumenical movement, but local churches working together.

Edward Fudge recently mentioned a 1984 article by Elizabeth Achtemeier, “Covenanting: New Directions for Ecumenism,” written near the collapse of the COCU, a failed effort of several denominations to merge despite Reformation-type disagreements. She concluded with some insights that are well worth repeating.

Denominations were important in bringing the Christian faith to the variegated areas of American life, especially to the frontier. Their value now is by no means as clear. Because their structure is organized to secure the preservation and extension of the larger institution, congregations that take their primary identity from their denominations cannot relate to the total life of a community. Thus, denominational organization tends to make congregations a force of division rather than of reconciliation in their communities. The result of this fragmentation is that denominationally defined local churches do not feel ultimately responsible for representing God’s reign in or to their area.

If we see our task is to further the goals of the Churches of Christ and to support its institutions, the task of ministering to our home towns is diminished. It’s hard to find the resources and time to do both.

To serve communities effectively, congregations need to be oriented to the needs of an area, assuming holistic pastoral responsibility for their immediate environment. They must exercise a priesthood for their communities, being the church for a particular place. This can only happen if their primary associations are with other groups of Christians in their immediate neighborhood, not with a denominational officer, or with other congregations of the same denomination many miles away.

If our work with other churches in our communities, for our communities, is first, then we’ll serve our communities. Are we an outpost for the Church of Christ in Tuscaloosa, meant to serve fellow members here, or are we an outpost for God’s kingdom bent on serving all people?

In recent years COCU conducted experiments in joint mission and worship among local congregations — experiments which made clear the value and possibility of such a concept of congregational mission and identity. The consultation learned that a group of congregations, bound together by covenant and regular eucharistic worship, can more effectively address community problems than can those divided by their denominational identities.

And the idea’s been tried! The churches joined in “covenant” across denominational lines to serve their communities together — not waiting on the day when all Baptists and Methodists would be converted to our way of thinking and not waiting for some national merger effort. Just walk across the street, agree to work together, and together seek God’s will for how to bring his redemptive work to Tuscaloosa.

But this works best when the churches share worship and eucharist — when they enjoy table fellowship as one.

If congregations are to be such a sign, firstfruit and instrument of God’s purpose of reconciliation in any place, it is vital that they have a sense of being one people in worship and service, in association with other Christian congregations in the area — not in isolation from or in competition with them. What emerges is a new ecclesial identity as a “household” of local congregations, defined as Christians together meeting the needs of a particular place. … Uniformity in such interrelatedness is not necessary: the activity of the Holy Spirit is seldom very orderly.

If we stop competing with each other and instead cooperate in a unified, unifying mission, we become a common household. We’ll know and serve alongside Methodists and Baptists and all sorts of other people whose differences don’t matter in a soup kitchen.

Establishing a covenanting relationship with other churches is not “cheap ecumenism.” A change in identity is required; intentionally becoming a sign to a broken human race demands communal strength. COCU denominations will accept these challenges only as they realize that being baptized into Christ and the cross really does signify an abandonment of self and the acceptance of a new identity.

One thing is certain: it is in the cross, and the weakness and defeat it represents. that the power of God was and will be made manifest. It is to that cross that Jesus wishes to draw all people. And it is at the foot of that cross that each of us will recognize and experience our oneness with him and with each other.

She concludes by pointing out the centrality of the cross and the surrender of our identities at the foot of the cross in order to show the lost world a single church living as Jesus lived.

While this kind of thinking is foreign to the Churches of Christ, we have some natural advantages. Because we have no denominational authority, we don’t have to ask permission or create committees to write position papers. All we have to do is walk across the street to the other churches in town and invite them to join us in ministry.

Now, it’s already true that many churches in many cities cross denominational lines to work together — but rarely is it for more than a weekend or two. Rarely do their leaders gather to put together a common strategy for participating in God’s mission in their city. They might agree to jointly sponsor an inner city ministry — but do they lay all their outreach efforts on the table and suggest that they all be coordinated? Are these token efforts to symbolize unity — or are they utter unity in action?

I don’t know whether Tuscaloosa is in any sense typical, but we have fairly cordial relationships with other churches in town — other than the other Churches of Christ. But we’re never notified or consulted when a denomination plants a new church in town. For all they know, we were planning to plant a church across the street. We don’t discuss how to meet the city’s medical needs or the needs of the poor.

In short,  cooperative efforts exist, but they are minimal — largely symbolic. But they demonstrate that more could be done. And if a Church of Christ were to initiate the effort, who could say no?


109 Responses

  1. In a few days our cities of Monroe/West Monroe, LA will have an event in the civic center for worship, testimonies, and sharing a vision of community transformation in Christ’s name. I think the number of churches represented is about 88 who have worked together for the last year to change the complection of a community, and we are just getting started.

    Our congregation’s contribution has been over a few years now, going after the down and out, the addicted, the incarcirated, and we’ve seen scores of lives transformed. Most recently we took on the worst community in our area. We chose an area with the highest crime, the worst conditions, predominately black, and with the help of one of our black members who is also a Police Juror (county commissioner) we set out to radically change a tough neighborhood into a safe place for kids and their families.

    No, all 88 churches are not alike, but we are one in purpose. Our common faith in Jesus and our love for people is bigger than our differences. We all want people to know Christ and go to heaven, but on the way we want them drug free, clean and safe, with jobs and educations, and to know the church folks love them in tangible ways.

    Thanks Jay,

  2. Jay, I believe the doctrine of the church does matter, and should determine the church you attend. I know the CoC has sounded somewhat harsh in their doctrine, and some in today’s world are trying to change that, so those who believe differently can be incorporated into the mix, and we can all worship under the same roof, some have even abandoned the necessity for baptism, to appease others so they can be included in the brotherhood.

    2Jo 1:8 Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward.
    2Jo 1:9 Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.
    2Jo 1:10 If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into [your] house, neither bid him God speed:
    2Jo 1:11 For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.

    I don’t believe John agrees with that eschatology. “go along to get along” when we start accepting another doctrine to appease others, as John said we are partakers.

  3. Lamond,

    In quoting from 2 John, you omitted three verses just before the beginning of your quotation that set the stage for what you quoted:

    And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.

    Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.

    In view of those 3 verses, the “doctrine of Christ” under consideration is not every inference and nuance of teaching peculiar to the Church of Christ. It is either (a) walking in love, if you take it to be the doctrine Christ taught or (b) the teaching about Christ that He is truly come in the flesh and is who He claims to be. Few denominations fail to bring both of these doctrines. Your text simply does not say what you claim for it.


  4. The last congregations (CoC) I have served have worked with other (non CoC) congregations in the community to demonstrate God’s reign upon this world and I enjoyed this very much. That does not mean that I nor the congregation I served with had no differences with the other congregations when it comes to doctrine, values, and practices. I can also say that in Ithaca, NY, it was nice having those other congregations help financially support the after-school coffeehouse ministry we ran for high school students.

    Grace and peace,


  5. Mat 7:28 And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine:

    Jerry, I do believe Jesus doctrine contained more than “love your neighbor”

  6. Most of the Churches in our community are committed to the ministerial alliance that meets monthly. The two local COC do not. Maybe one on a very nominal basis. The first Baptist does not but do have a good outreach to the poor.

    It is one way to unite and help the poor and to give council to who ever needs it. To me that is a great need; to help the unfortunate and even share
    Christ with them.

    Anything to bring us to a common purpose.


  7. I came across an old movie a while back (I don’t think I’ve mentioned this in a comment before). The name of it is “Stars in My Crown.” Joel McCrea plays a minister in a small Southern town after the Civil War. At the end of the story we find Parson Gray standing between his old black friend, Uncle Famous Prill, and many of the irate townspeople who are bent on lynching this ignorant wretch for interfering with the community’s prosperity by not giving up his land.

    The scene is terrific, as this minister reads the last will and testament for Uncle Famous in which he purportedly gives all his meager possessions to his friends who are assembled with torches and ropes at his front porch.

    As the mob sheepishly disperses, the minister’s nephew picks up the document and finds it blank. He says to his uncle, “There isn’t any will here.” The parson replies, “Yes there is, son. It’s the will of God.”

    Some just see racial bigotry in that story. To me that scene pulls the mask off self-righteousness of all sorts better than any movie I have ever seen.

    Whether it be the CoC or any other Christian group bent on proving itself “the only true church,” when we consider ourselves meritorious and other “lesser” individuals as unworthy, we are no different than anyone else who ever put a sheet over his head.

    The apostle Paul was joyous that he had finished the race. In this generation, some of us may actually live to see Christianity stumble and fall in its mission to take the good news to the world. And we are shamefully arrogant enough to scratch our heads and wonder why as we deliberately continue to trip each other at every step.

  8. Laymond,

    That word you have translated as “doctrine” in Matthew 7.28 is probably better translated as “teaching” and I say that because of the context this verse is located within. Matthew 7.28 comes at the end of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount which was not doctrine as we think of doctrine, as having something to do with a specific set of creedal beliefs. The Sermon on the Mount was “teaching” of an ethical disposition or a way to live and pursue life.

    Of course none of that means that doctrine, as we think of doctrine, was unimportant to Jesus. However, the New Testament seem only concerned with doctrine in so far as it leads to right practice and was even tolerable to a certain degree of bad doctrine so long as the right practice was maintained. After all, in 1 Corinthians 8, the apostle Paul assumes that some of the Christians still have a polytheistic belief (not possessing the knowledge that a Christain proper monotheistic belief has) and is only concerned that the lack of a monotheistic knowledge does not cause them to appease the ‘gods’ by offering sacrificed food to those gods or seeing the knowledgable Christian eating such food because he knows the gods are really not gods.

    Thus, the emphasis seems to be more on orthopraxy – that we learn how to practice a love for God and one another rather than have every precise orthox belief nailed down perfectly to the inth degree.

    Grace and peace,


  9. Rex, I was under the belief that doctrine and teachings were always interchangeable. is this not so?

    That is the reason I quoted,
    2Jo 1:9 Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.

    I believe that is why Paul taught against those who, teach another gospel, than the one taught by Jesus.

  10. Laymond,

    Doctrine and Teaching are from the same word in the New Testament and therefore they are interchangble. However, after 2,000 years of Christian history those terms have taken different trajectories with different meanings – “teaching” remaining a more generic noun referring to any instruction within the broad scope of theology, piety, church polity, ethics, etc…, while “doctrine” has come to be associated more with propositional creedal beliefs relating to matters of orthodoxy. That is why I believe in our contemporary context, the word *didache* is probably better translated as “teaching”…at least in Matthew 7.28.

    Any ways…I agree that Paul taught against the teaching of another gospel but the question is why. As I read the NT, I am inclined to believe his reasons for combating against those who were teaching a false gospel (e.g., the “Judiazers” in Galatia) was not so that they would have a perfectly precise systematic doctrine/theology but because their false gospel was resulting in false practice. In the case of Galatians, the false gospel resulted in placing faith back in Torah which resulted in upholding the ethnic divisions that the gospe of Jesus Christ had removed.

    Grace and peace,


  11. Gal 1:9 As we said before, so say I now again, If any [man] preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.

    2Jo 1:10 If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into [your] house, neither bid him God speed:

    I don’t see a lot of difference in what these two men said.

  12. “The gospel” is good news about Jesus–how He lived, how He died, and especially that He lives again. Apostolic doctrine has to do with what Jesus taught and what they were led to teach about living FOR Jesus. “The gospel” and “doctrine” are two different people. Note that “obeying the gospel” does NOT refer to perfectly obeying apostolic teaching. It’s hard to obey the gospel imperfectly. It’s easy for any of us to disobey or misunderstand apostolic teaching. The gospel deals with ENTERING the kingdom. Apostolic doctrine deals with living daily for Jesus. Not the same.

  13. I can’t imagine a church of Christ down here doing anything at all with a denomination.

    Its not done even with other churches of Christ but seldom and only then with those few of like faith.

    Do not be unevenly yoked together and keep yourself unspotted for the world is heard often.

  14. The below indicates the direction of many progressives. Perhaps most will stop before reaching such a destination.

    From Wikipedia:

    “Unitarian Universalism (UUism) is a religion characterized by support for a “free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” Unitarian Universalists do not share a creed; rather, they are unified by their shared search for spiritual growth and by the belief that an individual’s theology is a result of that search and not obedience to an authoritative requirement. Unitarian Universalists draw on many different theological sources and have a wide range of beliefs and practices.

    Both Unitarianism and Universalism have roots in the Christian faith. Historically, Unitarianism referred to the monotheistic belief in the single personhood of God and a rejection of the Christian Trinity; Universalism taught that all souls would achieve salvation and rejected everlasting Hell. Other Christian doctrines were often also disclaimed within Unitarian and Universalist movements. Such beliefs became more prominent during and after the Protestant Reformation, but with antecedant movements and theological debate stretching back to the first centuries of Christianity. Contemporary Unitarian Universalists do not necessarily subscribe to the historic beliefs of Unitarianism and Universalism.

    Unitarian Universalism became organized as a religious group in 1961 with establishment of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), a consolidation of the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church in America. It is headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts, and serves churches mostly in the United States. The Canadian Unitarian Council became an independent body in 2002.[1]

    Other international religious groups have become affiliated with the movement, many of which predate the 1961 consolidation in the United States. Unitarian churches have persisted in Hungary and Transylvania since the sixteenth century and in Britain since the seventeenth. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries witnessed the emergence of related communities around the world, often by single local individuals. Significant populations are now found in northern India, the Philippines, and various African countries. The International Council of Unitarians and Universalists (ICUU), founded in 1995, coordinates national Unitarian and Universalist associations of churches throughout the world. National organizations may include the title “Unitarian Universalist” or “Unitarian” alone.

    At the time of the North American merger, the theological significance of these terms had expanded beyond the traditional Christian understanding. Unitarian Universalists today draw from a variety of religious traditions. Individuals may or may not self-identify as Christians or subscribe to Christian beliefs. Unitarian Universalist congregations and fellowships tend to retain some Christian traditions, such as Sunday worship with a sermon and the singing of hymns. The extent to which the elements of any particular faith tradition are incorporated into personal spiritual practice is a matter of personal choice for congregants, in keeping with the creedless, non-dogmatic approach to spirituality and faith development.”

  15. Rich,

    If Unitarian Universalism is where you think the so-called progressives within the CoC, then you have not read any primary sources of these so-called progressives.

  16. Royce,

    I’m thrilled to hear it! Praise God!

  17. Laymond,

    I don’t know anyone who adopts a doctrine “to get along” or “to appease others.” Maybe they exist, but I’ve never met such a person. My experience is that those who disagree with me do so for reasons they consider very serious. I don’t think it’s fair to attribute questionable motives to our opponents — without some pretty solid evidence. In fact, many conservative and many progressive Churches have paid very high prices for their positions in terms of lost family relationships and criticism from other churches. While I strongly disagree with much of the conservative Church agenda, I rarely find a reason to question their motives.

  18. Rex,

    Thanks for the feedback. The issue isn’t where progressives are today. I suppose there is enough cofC influence to prevent this generation from going there.

    My concern is the future. The motivations given in the first paragraph description of Unitarian Universalism (from the Wikipedia article) sound almost identical to the motivations many progressives use to run away from the 20th century church of Christ. I’m referring to the support of the individual heart (“search”) and abhorrence of law (“obedience to an authoritative requirement”).

    I know there are differences today between progressives and the U.U. However, there seems to be more similarities than many would care to accept. Where is the theology that draws that line?

  19. Alabama John,

    First, thanks for adding “Alabama” to distinguish you from other Johns. And “Alabama” is always in fashion around here!

    Second, I agree that most Churches of Christ can find it in their hearts to cooperate with other Churches, much less to cross denominational lines. And it’s great tragedy — and a most peculiar way to unite.

  20. Rich,

    It’s awfully easy to play the “where will this lead to?” game — because every change is in the direction of one extreme or another. Again: Every change is toward an extreme. Therefore, it’s always possible to caricature a change as leading to some extreme or other.

    How many times must I say that faith in Jesus and submission to him as Lord is essential salvation and that loss of faith in Jesus or rebellion against his Lordship damns before I’m free of the charge of denying the necessity of faith in and submission to Jesus?

    Sorry if I’m a bit curt, but it gets old being accused of such things.

  21. Rich,

    Again, the theology that draws the line is found throughout the NT —

    (Joh 3:18 ESV) 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

    (1Jo 3:23 ESV) 23 And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.

    (Gal 5:6 ESV) 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

    These are not unfamiliar verses to regular readers of this blog. Why suggest that the theology taught here draws no lines?

  22. Admittedly, I merely skimmed through this section, but, I have a question.

    If, the goal of working/serving together is to convert sinners.. Do we encourage them to say the “sinners prayer” or to be baptized? Or both?

    And at which point do we welcome them as brethren and inform them tat they are members of the church?

  23. Rich said,

    “My concern is the future. The motivations given in the first paragraph description of Unitarian Universalism (from the Wikipedia article) sound almost identical to the motivations many progressives use to run away from the 20th century church of Christ. I’m referring to the support of the individual heart (“search”) and abhorrence of law (“obedience to an authoritative requirement”).”

    What evidence do you have to support that claim? I have read a few books from so-called progressives in the CoC and even been taught by a few of them in College and none of those fit your characterization.

  24. Rex, every journey, no matter how long, begins with the first step.

  25. Well, I do know of a place where all the churchs of Christ fellowship and worship with others of various denominationss and that is in prison.

    At a church of Christ bible study there, anyone is welcomed and all opinions and comments are welcomed. What I call a real dedicated bible study as it is hard and inconvient to be there.

    There were still a couple that would not come and study with this type of group as thay were raised in the conservative cofC,.

    That’s why I appreciate this site and what Jay is doing so much as it is allowing the same expression and voicing I witnessed at the prison classes. One point, because of the patient consideration of others points and opinions, the reasult of those coming to christ were way beyond what I see from the conservative churches.

  26. Jay,

    Points well taken. I did stretch it a bit in my “what if” thinking.

    I have found the following true as a leader in both industry and church: When I seem to lean to the right on an issue (constraining) maybe one in ten people will take it farther to the right than I intended. When I seem to lean to the left on an issue (more open) probably nine in ten people will take it more to the left than I intended.

    It took about 50-70 years for the big divisions to emerge in the Restoration Movement. Progressives say those divisions are due to the false thought that unity comes from seeking common rules of engagement in worship and church organization.

    I’m wondering 30-50 years from now how the new problems introduced by progressives will look.

  27. Laymond,

    That is the lamest response ever.

    Would you like someone to go around saying Laymond’s going to wind up a ______ and then when asked what evidence do they have for drawing such a conclusion, they respond that all journies begin somewhere?

  28. Jay,

    Let me share my heart’s struggles on this issue.

    I do believe we need to be honest about the fellowship problem we have in churches of Christ with our religious friends and neighbors in our community. We’re acted at times terribly arrogant, judgmental and superior. Throughout our history, as the restoration movement, we have justified our separation from other Christians on many grounds. Some I heartily agree with. Others I’m just not so sure about.

    I struggle at times trying to reconcile some of this.

    How can I just simply “write off” and reject so many who are so remarkably similar to me in all they hold dear, namely Jesus Christ my Lord. Their churches are growing, lives are changed, and ‘by their fruit you shall know them” seem to be evident.

    It appears that I sin if I judge them, and I sin if I accept them – or so I feel and struggle with at times.

    Of course, this leads me to the great study and issue and quite frankly the single major hindrance I have with open fellowship with the denominations—the issue of baptism.

    Recently as I have been pondering and considering this issue I’ve been rereading F. LaGard Smith’s book, “Who is My Brother.” Smith seems to recognize the dilemma and central tension of this issue of baptism and fellowship.

    Smith puts it this way:

    “It is one thing to give someone the benefit of the doubt in terms of fellowship; it is another thing altogether to give that doubt doctrinal legitimacy… What that translates into, I think, is an obligation to be as vocal regarding baptism’s true significance and purpose as we might be vocal in calling for fellowship with those who have been baptized under the mistaken illusion that they are already saved. Not wholly unlike what has come to be known as ‘tough love’, call it ‘tough fellowship.’ If there is to be more than faith fellowship (i.e., in Christ fellowship-rp) with these baptized believers, then let it not be without corrective confrontation.” (p. 130)

    Smith also writes,

    “Being a biblically-baptized believer is a watershed line of fellowship. At the point of becoming a Christian there are no degrees of fellowship. No ‘first-class Christians’; no ‘second-class Christians.’ Either a person is a Christian, or a person is not a Christian. Either a person’s sins have been forgiven, or they haven’t. Either a person is a brother or sister, or not. There is no such thing as a half-brother or half-sister.” (p. 123)

    And of course, most here probably remember how in Smith’s epilogue, “Open Letter, Open Heart,” he responded to Max Lucado’s “In the Grip of Grace.” He wrote it to encourage “tough and tender dialogue” on issues that divide, and he particularly targeted Lucado’s call for unity with “believers who have never been immersed or whose only baptism was as an infant.”

    To Lucado he wrote these pointed words:

    “As hard as it is for us to grasp the thought that there are friends and colleagues who live and think perhaps more Christianity than we do, yet still are not biblical Christians — still not saved, still not forgiven, still not brothers and sisters in Christ — even so our quandary is no cause for open mutiny. It’s not our ship. We don’t make the rules.”

    Now, I’m convinced from the New Testament that the unbaptized are not part of Christ and have no fellowship in Him. And I’m greatly alarmed and concerned about what I perceive as an effort (sincerely albeit) on the part of progressives to mimimize baptism. I fear down the road many will begin to argue more of its role being just a symbol and not having any direct role in the plan of salvation.

    Yet, I do struggle. I do believe we can and should have some interaction with those who are trying to sincerely follow Jesus. Both the unchurched and those who are active religiously need “someone to explain to (them) the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26) can benefit from association with us and from what we have to teach them. And, yes we can learn from them as well as we don’t have the monopoly on all truth.

    We will not help everyone whom we get to know, but we are highly unlikely to teach more fully anyone we do not know.

    At the congregation where I’m preaching both the eldership, ministry leaders and the staff I’m on are looking into community efforts and program to help the needy, homeless, those without food, etc. One in particularly is a national program which many denominational groups are involved in is called “Family Promise.” This community program mobilizes faith communities to embrace homeless families and help equip them for a self-sustaining future.

    Because you are right. In view of our historic isolation, it is for us to take the initiative to make and cross some bridges in our communities with people of faith.

    But, feeding, clothing, housing and ministering to the physical needs of people in our community is one thing, but when the issue of their spiritual need and need to obey of the gospel of Jesus Christ, I still must part ways here with you Jay.

    I could not support and sponsor and be equal participant in an evangelistic campaigns or cooperate in some type of “unified, unifying mission” as you say in which a generic “faith only” message is preached and those who respond are encouraged to “join the church of your choice.” This involves too much of a compromise of truth.

    Nor can I support your idea of some joint inter-faith “church plant” where the same false teachings and ideas are promoted.

    Is God concerned with how and with whom His people do ministry? I believe so.

    Truth matters. I believe a conviction, no matter how sincerely held, is contrary to divine truth. Jesus did not condemn the folks in Matthew 7:21-23 for being irreligious people. These were quite religious people. Yet, people who have failed to carry out the will of God in their efforts to do things in the “name of the Lord.”

    The fact is that the current ecumenical movement (which you seem to be advocating for) always brings together some who are true to the doctrines of the word of God with some who are not. There is no Christian unity where there is not unity in the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3; cf. 1 Cor. 1:10-13; Eph. 4:4-7).

    Also, your statement about pursing “God’s mission in that community as a single body” to me causes me great alarm about the progressive agenda and movement in churches of Christ right now.

    Is this where you ultimately want to go? Just how exactly do you view the church? Do you see all the denominations collectively making up the one universal church and each part (i.e., denomination) making up the individual body?

    Bottom line, I am striving for the way of Christ without denominationalism!

    I want neither compromise nor isolation!

    Robert Prater

  29. Robert Prater:

    I’m going to assume that when you wrote your post you were either in a really big hurry, or perhaps typing on your Blackberry, because that was your shortest post ever! 🙂

    Seriously though, I don’t so much struggle with the things in the second half of your post, but I do really struggle with the baptism question. Who is my brother? And if they are NOT my brother, how do I reconcile that with the ripe bushel of fruit they seem to be bearing for Christ?

    I’ve never been shy about the fact that I struggle with the idea of baptism. It is the only thing in the bible (NT) that really just throws me for a loop. In my mind (logic, not referencing scripture here), the concept of what I know the Baptists to do falls more in line with what I see in Christ. We come with our faith and repentant heart, and we are “in Christ.” But our first act of submission and obedience is to take him on in baptism.

    To me, that just makes so much more sense than what you and I believe. Mine and your beliefs lead to abundant questions like, “…So if you are walking to the water, slip and fall, hit your head, die, would grace cover you or do you go to Hell now since the accident happened before immersion.” The questions have no end. That seems to me to be the weakest part of our “moment in time” sacramental view. Sure, I know you can make a scriptural case for it. I don’t need you to defend it. But for me, where I am at in my walk, this is still a really tough issue.

    I don’t know, man.

  30. I want to practice and teach baptism as I find it in scripture. That is, I teach and practice it as a submissive act of immersion in water that has everything to do with the gospel, salvation, repentance, discipleship, etc…and yet I still could be wrong. There are others who confess faith in the same God, same Jesus that I confess and yet they have a different practice and/or understanding of baptism. What can they do? Can they obey an understanding and/or practice they don’t believe is biblical? No! Does their different understanding and/or practice mean they are trying to be less faithful, less obedient to God than I am?

    Does that mean God is locked into a box where he can only redemptively respond to the faith of those who share my understanding and/or practice of baptism (whcih could be wrong too)? There are just too many examples in scripture that show God is not bound to any box we might try to place him in.

    So are those who do not share my understanding and/or practice of baptism but have no less submitted themselves to God in baptism as they understand Christians, disciples of JEsus Christ, my fellow brother and sister in Christ? Let’s look at their fruit, the way they love, the confession they make because scripture – which we all take seriously – is clear that these (and not baptismal doctrine) are the marks of who is a disciple of Jesus, who belongs the universal body of Christ, who have an inherritance in Christ.

    That surely is the reason why Luke recognizes the twelve in Ephesus as disciples and why Paul addresses them as believers. Because despite their not having been baptized in the name of Jesus yet, they still belonged to Jeuss, to the church, since they were living as his disciples.

    Now, I stil believe, based on Acts 19, that I ought to do my best to teach those who have not been “biblically” baptized to do such just as Paul instructed the twelve to be baptized in the name of Jesus. But that does not mean I need to treat them as outside of the body of Christ, as not belonging to Christ, when their lives demonstrate in numorous ways that they are of Jesus Christ.

    Grace and peace,


  31. Rex said, “Now, I stil believe, based on Acts 19, that I ought to do my best to teach those who have not been “biblically” baptized to do such just as Paul instructed the twelve to be baptized in the name of Jesus.But that does not mean I need to treat them as outside of the body of Christ, as not belonging to Christ, when their lives demonstrate in numorous ways that they are of Jesus Christ”

    Rex correct me if I am wrong, but I seem to remember somewhere, you said (as all progressives do) works do not save, grace does. .yet you seem to say here that these people are saved , evidenced by the way they live. their works.

    sorry if I have you confused with some one else.

  32. Laymond,

    I did say that. And what I said was that their fruit (works) was evidence of their salvation not the basis of their salvation.

    Grace and peace,


  33. Hummmm, I thought you said good works took the place of baptism, now where could I get that idea?
    Maybe if we are good enough, we don’t need to be baptized.

  34. Laymond,

    With all due respect…maybe you got that idea because that is what you want me to say so that you can carry on your own mischaracterization of what I actually said.

    I don’t know but I never said once that good works take the place of baptism, that we don’t need to be baptized, or that we are saved on the basis of works.

    Grace and peace,

  35. Laymond,

    Yes, all journeys begin with a first step — both good and bad journeys. Taking no steps is only a good idea if you’re in exactly the right place already.

  36. Alabama John,

    Very good point. My congregation has been involved in the Kairos jail ministry for a while. It’s a cross-denominational ministry and very effective.

  37. Rich,

    There are extremes in both directions, of course. And you’re right that some denominations have moved to become very liberal over time, even rejecting faith in Jesus as a requirement for salvation. It’s important that any movement not be away from something but toward something. If the progressive movement is simply a reaction against 20th Century Church of Christ theology, then there’s no limit on how extreme it could become. But so long as the movement is toward Jesus, then it won’t abandon faith in and the Lordship of Jesus.

    Some few progressives have made exactly that mistake — even fleeing to universalism — but most are pursuing the cross.

  38. Robert,

    I appreciate the tension you feel between the fact that outside the Churches “lives are changed, and ‘by their fruit you shall know them” seem to be evident.” How do we reconcile that brute fact that many give every evidence of living Spirit-filled lives despite the absence of scriptural baptism?

    When Wineskins published an April 21, 1996 sermon by Mike Cope concluding that we should not consider baptism as essential for salvation, it very nearly made me physically ill — because I saw the article as encouraging people to forsake baptism, even though it’s essential to salvation. I had much the same reaction to In the Grip of Grace by Max Lucado. I was sympathetic to both, but neither offered what I considered a convincing argument.

    But neither could I entirely dismiss the obvious devotion to Christ and fruit-bearing of believers who lacked a proper baptism. And so I began my own study, which included a careful study of Lagard Smith’s book that you quote. Ultimately, I realized that the argument for a more generous view regarding the necessity of baptism had rarely been made well. And so I went looking for the best arguments on both sides.

    The result is my ebook Born of Water — where I lay out both sides as well as I can. And as you know, I finally concluded that the weight of the evidence is that God never rejects anyone who comes to him with a genuine faith and submission (and there are many more scriptural arguments).

    If you’ve not done so, I encourage you to read the book. It’s not long. I don’t think I’ve ever broken the book down into a complete series, but I’ve post the core of the book several times.

  39. Terry,

    Thanks for the links. N. T. Wright is not a universalist — and that’s not what he was arguing for in the quoted passage from his writings. Scot McKnight isn’t either — he just reviews books that don’t always agree with his thinking. Richard Beck is in fact a universalist. And I disagree. I’ve read the Bible.

  40. You’re welcome, Jay. I did not mean to imply that you or the others you mentioned were universalists. I’m not a universalist either, which people could have mistakenly concluded since I simply provided the links without stating that I disagreed with them. I apologize for being too brief and vague. Thanks for letting me clarify.

  41. Jay:
    I will note that your concluding “God never rejects anyone who comes to him with a genuine faith and submission” comment sounds EXACTLY like the comments by the two Wiccan priestesses with whom I conversed. They think that folks can have genuine faith in Jesus and… faith in the “goddess,” and whatever — and all is well. And they believe popular American Christianity is headed in their direction — at speed!

    See also the feminist Charlene Spretnak’s Missing Mary (2004) — a powerful, postmodern appeal for “Christian (Catholic) mysticism.” Let me warn: with the view you propose, I suspect she will win you over if you dare to dive in to her Jesus + practical Wicca/Goddess Mary treatise. The Los Angeles Times called her late 20th Century writings among the nation’s most influential — quite a statement of praise. She is brilliant, biblically knowledgeable, and passionate!

    It seem so easy to make an ecumenical statement such as you and others have made. We are all surrounded by people we love and who sprinkle, etc. So, in our tolerant, easy-going spirituality age, are we ready to express acceptance of what many Wiccans believe?

    Put another way, how can Paul write to the Ephesian congregation suggesting that some peoples’ religious (not just ethical) expressions in the name of Jesus exclude them from having an inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and of God? (Eph. 5:6). Were Christ-Asian cult “blends” by people with honest hearts okay (and Paul should have kept quiet and not have written the Ephesian letter)?

    Your thought is bringing this blog to the capital city of Roman Asia. In trying to avoid the “Galatian problem,” you have landed in the middle of the “Ephesians problem.” I am not going to congratulate.

    For those unaware, my conversations with Wiccan priestesses formed part of the background to the recently released book Deceiving Winds (21st Century Christian, 2009). The below URL will direct to more information:

    I hope brothers and sisters consider the study and Paul’s letters to Ephesus. Feel free to forget who the author is, but I hope you will consider reading through the study of Paul’s letters, the religious culture of Roman Asia, and some applications of apostolic teaching to our time.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton

  42. I understand where Robert Prater is coming from. I’ve been in turmoil over worshipping with a congregation where baptism is not considered essential, yet the members display a committment to Christ in general that is extremely refreshing and challenging. Interestingly, I’ve witnessed more people being baptized at this congregation (immersed) in a matter of months than I have seen in the totality of my life of 35 years in the CofC. Probably most of these people, if not all believe to be saved by “asking Jesus into their hearts”. So I find myself asking: “Why is it that the previous churches I’ve worshipped with were more right on baptism (in my opinion), yet they produced much less fruit (# of baptisms) and this church is baptizing people hand over fist?” I don’t understand it, but I know by the spiritual fruit of these people with utmost certainty that they are saved hands down, whether they were baptized for the “wrong reasons” or not. I am convinced that God will save anyone who trusts in Christ. I doubt the Ethiopian eunoch was fully versed in the technicalities of baptism before he was baptized. He just wanted to sign on the dotted line. Maybe we shouldn’t worry so much about explaining our understanding of the terms of the contract and just dunk ’em?

  43. Many people just cannot, or refuse to believe, that God justifies those who repent and believe the gospel, wholly upon the work and merit of Jesus plus nothing.

    How arrogant to claim that somehow church of Christ folks are the only Christians or better Christians because they have been baptized according to the right formula when many of their lives prove otherwise.

    At the great white throne judgement “I was scripturally baptized and sung a cappella” will not be sufficient to keep you out of hell.

    Do a survey in your congregation and simply ask people why they think they are going to heaven. If the answer is because I have been baptized right, sing right, take communion right, etc, etc, that person is probably lost.

    It is dishonest to claim you believe in salvation by grace though faith and then teach salvation by a works based formula every Sunday. If you do that you are no less guilty than those Paul condemned in the book of Galatians.


  44. Royce:
    So, let me ask a question that you can see I asked Jay. Is “Christian Wicca” okay with you and with the Lord?

    Put another way, how can Paul write to the Ephesian congregation suggesting that some peoples’ religious (not just ethical) expressions in the name of Jesus exclude them from having an inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and of God? (Eph. 5:6). Were Christ-Asian cult “blends” by people with honest hearts okay (and Paul should have kept quiet and not have written the Ephesian letter)?

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton

  45. “At the great white throne judgement “I was scripturally baptized and sung a cappella” will not be sufficient to keep you out of hell.”

    Not, if without genuine faith it won’t.

    However being scripturally baptized and singing a cappella is a whole lot wiser (and a greater demonstration of faith) than saing the sinners prayer and dancing the Holy Ghost Hokey Pokey.

    After all, Jesus said, Why call ye me Lord and do not the things I say?”

    I am sure that would include “and do them the way in which I said.”…

  46. Bruce,

    I cannot speak for others but I fail to see what the Wican religion has to do with this discussion. In an earlier comment, I expressed why I believe there are people counted as Christians (as belonging to Christ and his universal church) who have not understood and/or practiced baptism according to the convictions I hold regarding baptism. I suggested this because I see the confession they live by plainly evident in their lives, displayed by the fruit and the love that permiates their good deeds (not as the basis of their salvation but as evidence of). These are people who have learned to be imitators of God, living in love as Christ loved us (Eph 5.1-2) and in doing so have renounced the ways of fornication and impurit, greed, obscene and inappropriate talk (Eph 5.3-4).

    So these Christians I have in mind, who in my judgment have not understood the full picture of biblical baptism, have a genuine faith in Christ alone…not a genuine syncretized faith in Christ and some other so-called god(s) such as Wicans believe in. Because of their singular faith in Christ, they are living as “children of light” (Eph 5.8) rather than of darkness. Yet it seems to me that contextually it is the later, those who live in darkness (practicing the deeds of darkness, some of which have been mentioned in v. 1-2) for whom the wrath of God is coming.

    So again, I cannot speak for everyone, but I am not suggesting that salvation belongs to those who practice an blended religion that is just a syncretized concoction of two or more religions they wish to pick and choose from. I am saying that their are people for who salvation belongs who have not understood and/or practiced baptism as I believe the BIble teaches because they have a different biblical understanding but none the less live by faith in Christ, that is they put all there trust in Him and live in honest obedience to what they believe he teaches just the same as you and I seek to do. And while I presume everyone on this blog thread places all of our trust in Christ, seeking to live in honest obedience to what we believe Christ teaches us, we too have some misunderstandings (unknown to us, otherwise we would presumably repent). So if those with faith in Christ yet whose baptismal theoloy is wrong cannot have confindence in Christ for their salvation, none of us can for we all have a faith that has embrace some wrong idea, value, or practice.

    Further, in Ephesians 5.6, the exegetical context suggests(as I tried to show from the context) that those whom the wrath of God is coming are those who continue living the deeds of darkness and are apparently still trying to defend their dark way of life with “empty words.”

    Grace and peace,


    P.S., I received your book and will read it once my family and I complete our move to NJ. Thanks!

  47. I sat with a group of Christian men at a prayer breakfast earlier this week and listened to several of them rant about immigration, going so far as to say, “I try not to even support the legal ones at their convenience stores and motels and Subways …” to which several nodded there heads.

    Then I read remarks on hear such as “the Holy Ghost Hokey Pokey” and I want to crawl into my closet and pray by myself from now on.

    Jesus looked very much like the middle eastern people we see running local convenience stores. And we never read of Him making fun of anyone for their spiritual misunderstandings (including His apostles). But we DO read about him taking to task the arrogant religious hacks who made snide remarks about “those people” who weren’t living and worshipping “properly.”

    With each passing day I gain a greater understanding of the comment attributed to Gandhi: “The whole world would be Christian, if it weren’t for the Christians.”

  48. “Many people just cannot, or refuse to believe, that God justifies those who repent and believe the gospel, wholly upon the work and merit of Jesus plus nothing.”

    Yes Royce I do refuse to believe that because there is no place in the bible that says that. I don’t agree with the “plus nothing” part.

    Mat 14:28 And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.
    Mat 14:29 And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.
    Mat 14:30 But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me
    Mat 14:31 And immediately Jesus stretched forth [his] hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?

    No we cannot be saved without Jesus,and we cannot walk in the ways of Jesus, without faith, If we believe in what Jesus said, why would we not do, what he asked? Even in this story, Peters salvation required action on his part. “he cried, saying, Lord, save me”

  49. Rex:
    Let me highlight Ephesians 5:6. Many who practice “blended” religion do not even see it as blended religion. I appreciated your comment of some days ago — on target. They believe they are “Christian,” but their definition of the word takes us far from the discussion of “how much a person needs to know in their immersion baptism.” That is why I emphasized that Jay’s comment lines up exactly with that of two Wiccan priestesses, who are of the opinion that they are “Christians” too.

    “Darkness” is also a matter of “beliefs.” That is one of the messages of Ephesians. We cannot easily unravel “religion” and “ethics” as we may think we can. Paul wrote Ephesians 4:1ff. for a reason; he was writing to Christians who were leaving Christ in their beliefs, but had no idea it was happening.

    We should not underestimate Satan. The Ephesian Christians who were headed toward having no inheritance in the Kingdom likely thought of themselves as believers in Christ, “good people,” and exhibited some/many of the fruits of the Spirit as well. But “faithfulness” (or simply “faith;” Gk. pistis in the text) is one of the fruits. “Faith” is taking more of a beating in our time of new-age spirituality than many may be comfortable acknowledging.

    That is why Jay’s conclusion puts him in the middle of the “Ephesian problem.” So, let me ask you, are the Wiccan priestesses Christians, in your opinion?

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton

  50. Bruce,

    Obviously I don’t believe in any such idea as “Wiccan priestesses Christians” but that is besides the point because the people I have been discussing in my previous comments are not practicing a religion of syncretism. They are striving to be as faithful and loyal to Christ alone as you and I. They are not leaving Christ anymore than you and I are leaving Christ. If there imperfect understandings can be classified as the darkness Paul has in mind or as a “blended religion”, then so must our imperfect understandings be classified as the same.

    We all error and have some biblical misunderstandings regarding the original intent and practice of Christianity. That is just an unforunate by-product of trying to interpret scripture nearly two-thousand years and many cultures removed after the writing of scripture. That does not mean we are in darkness and under the judgment of God, it just means were human. Despite our misunderstandings, we are still striving to be faithful and loyal to Jesus Christ alone and so are many others who have come to a different biblical understanding regarding the purpose and intent of baptism. Does that make them less Christian?

    I believe the question that some secterian practicioners of Christianity need to ask is this: is the object of their faith Jesus Christ or their human intellectual ability to perfectly understand the Christian faith and thereby ensure their salvific confidence on the basis of that intellectual ability?

    Grace and peace,


  51. Rex:
    I appreciate your comments. But I think you understand that the “sinning versus damned” and “imperfect understanding” discussions that have been in the news here and Jay’s comment that he believes “God never rejects anyone who comes to him with a genuine faith and submission” do raise the question of “Christian Wicca.” I am aware that many may not want to go there now, but it is likely that the years ahead will usher in new pressures.

    I have been around multiple Wiccans — who exhibit love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and who say they believe in “Jesus.” But their understanding and yours/mine are worlds apart. But to be clear they would not say theirs is “blended religion” either. That is why the slope Jay is trying to walk (and others with him) can get very slippery.

    So, let me conclude this post by striving for some clarity with you/others. Are you saying that “Christian Wiccans” have no inheritance in the Kingdom of God?

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton

  52. Jay,

    I will check out both your ebook Born of Water and consider it.

    You said:

    “And as you know, I finally concluded that the weight of the evidence is that God never rejects anyone who comes to him with a genuine faith and submission (and there are many more scriptural arguments)”

    Would it be accurate then to summarize your belief on baptism as the following: “Baptism is normative (meaning, in most cases usual) way of receiving Christ’s salvific work but not without exceptions.”

    Or would you take it even further as: “It is regularly associated with conversion and salvation, rather than absolutely required for salvation.”

    I’d be very interested and curious about your response.


    As you well know, there are people who argue that baptism isn’t necessary for salvation, because it’s a work; “we’re not saved by works, grace through faith.”

    Here’s what I believe about salvation by grace through faith as it pertains to baptism.

    To reject baptism as necessary for salvation is to reject the very place that God said this is where I’m going to apply the saving work (blood) of Christ!

    Our baptism is faith in the working of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, that we too will be raised from the water of baptism. (cf. Rom. 6:3-4)

    Can we reject the very place that God said He is going to work? Baptism is not a work of man, it is work of God.

    Jesus Himself should end all the discussion when he said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of)water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5)

    One time a preacher who often preached on the necessity of being born again was asked why he preached so much on that subject, and he replied “because you must be born again.”

    Folks, God shows no partiality (Romans 2:11). The things which He required from men and women in the early days of the church are the same as He requires from people now.

    Take the conversion of Saul for example. Here was a man, who when he met Jesus on the Damascus Road, believed in Him. Here was a man who was repentant, as exhibited by his prayer and fasting as he waited to be told what to do. Here was a man who confessed with his mouth Jesus as Lord (Acts 22:10). But had his sins been forgiven?

    The answer is an unqualified NO as seen in Ananias’ statement “be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” (Acts 22:16; cf. Acts 2:21, 38, 39; 1 Peter 3:21-22 for more connection between “calling on the Lord” and baptism).

    The man who was to become the great apostle Paul had to be baptized to wash away his sins! God shows no partiality (Romans 2:11). What God required of Paul, He requires of everyone else – rich, poor, black, white, male, or female, American or Eupopean, etc.

    Our job is to believe, obey, and preach – without question – what God says is necessary for salvation.

    If it doesn’t come from the Bible, what God Almighty and His Son Jesus the Christ has told us, I can have no confidence in it; no assurance and hope of salvation.


    Robert Prater

  53. I forget to add the scripture I wanted after saying:

    Our baptism is faith in the working of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, that we too will be raised from the water of baptism. (cf. Rom. 6:3-4)

    “having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.” (Colossians 2:12 NAS)

    Robert Prater

  54. “That is just an unforunate by-product of trying to interpret scripture nearly two-thousand years and many cultures removed after the writing of scripture.”

    Rex the requirements today are exactly the same as in the day the bible was written.There is no big long list we must memorize in order to be a Christian. Just two things.

    Mat 22:36 Master, which [is] the great commandment in the law?
    Mat 22:37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
    Mat 22:38 This is the first and great commandment.
    Mat 22:39 And the second [is] like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
    Mat 22:40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

    If we truly love God above all else, we will obey him.
    (therefore we obey and follow Jesus, because he spoke for God)
    If we truly love our fellow man as our self, we will not harm him. If we live with this in mind we will not need to worry about what others may think.

  55. Dear Bruce, let me join here …

    Actually it is very simple: I assumme the Wiccans are some sort of modern witches, is that correct? Now, is witchcraft a work of the flesh? Yes, it is:

    Gal 5:19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,
    Gal 5:20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,
    Gal 5:21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

    So the word of God is very clear about this. But this raises anonther question:

    Is it really only about what a person has to know and understand in baptism? Is faith only about an intellectual state of mind?

    When I look at this list Paul provided, I can name Christians for every single work of the flesh mentioned there. I even can find myself in this list – not that I live a lifestile of (e.g.) envyings, but occassionally I do have to struggle with envy, hatred, uncleanness “and such like” (that means, there is more than Paul listed, that falls into the same category).

    The question is whether we justify the works of the flesh and live in them delibarately, or whether we fight them and crucify our flesh.

    And so, no, the Wiccans have no inheritance unselss they repent from their witchcraft. And neither has any one of us unless we really repent from our carnal desires and strive to live holy lives.

    And I fear that a “gospel of grace” that minimses the need for obedience, that teaches that all comes from the Spirit (quasi automatically) will in the end produce Wiccans and other carnal Christians. I mean: Look at the changes in our ethos! Look at the divorce rate, look at the materialism, look at disobedience to simple commands as the role of the women in church, look at the developments of carnal worship, look at our TV-addiction and our lus for entertainment of all kinds … I mean, really, aren’t we (as the church of today) pretty carnal, worldly and luke-warm?

    If I have to fear for the souls of the Wiccans, I have to fear for the souls of a many a Christian who lives a “blended Christianity” of any kind.

    I believe, the faith of most confessors who are going to be rejected as doers of lawlessness by the Lord, will be sincere and well meaning – but heavily misled – Christians. Sopme of whom one could say: “God never rejects anyone who comes to him with a genuine faith and submission” Because even submission can be genuine but based on a wrong standard. Sure, God will look at the heart, which we can’t do. God will judge, which we mustn’t do. But then we must not ascribe salvation to anyone too hastily either (not even to ourselves).

    Unless we purify ourselves and persevere unto the end, we will join the “Wiccan Christians”.

    in Christ

  56. Alexander:
    Let me confirm for you/others that modern Wiccans have nothing to do with “witchcraft” as we have used the term (also, they do not believe in Satan).

    Before I wade in more, let me keep my questions to Jay, Royce, and Rex simple and straightforward.

    A similar question for you, “Christians Wiccans” would say that they have repented of “evil.” So to reference Jay’s conclusion again, does God reject them when they come to him with a genuine faith and submission, or does He accept them?

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton

  57. Robert,

    Is our baptism about faith in God or faith in how we understand God to work in baptism? Perhaps that is hairsplitting but I have been around our fellowship long enough to sense with good suspicion that some of what has been written about baptism and faith in our fellowship is more about faith in our understanding…that is the object of faith is our intellectual ability rather than God in Christ.

    Obviously, I know you want the object of your faith to be God in Christ so I’m not trying to be accusatory. I am just trying to clarify a distinction that I believe is often confused. When the object of our faith is God in Christ, I don’t believe such faith has a prerequisite of understanding completey how and when God works for our salvation.

    Grace and peace,


  58. Bruce,

    I too have been around a few professing Wiccans and I understand your concern. I pray that Christianity in North America is not becoming some blend of Christian and Wiccan belief…that is obviously something I want no part of.

    For clarification, in one of my earlier comments I suggested that we can discern who is counted among Christ and his church by their fruit (good works) and love but also by their confession. So the people I have in mind that I believe are Christian despite what I believe is a flawed understanding of baptism share our confession that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, Lord and Messiah.

    That confession excludes any belief or practice that diminishes our fidelity to Jesus as the one true God Incarnate. As such, any form of syncretism is excluded. And while it is possible that anyone of us, as we continue to mature in faith, may still unknowingly entertain some belief or practice that diminishes our fidelity to Jesus, I believe it is safe to say that those who trivialize their fidelity to Jesus and/or just apathetically entertain idolatry and other religions are in danger of not inheriting the Kingdom of God.

    And also, while sycretism with Wiccan/Pagan beliefs might be one of the dangers Christianity in North America is facing, I also believe we could add to this list of impending dangers a syncretism with a national/civil religion but that is another subject :-).

    Any ways, it has been good dialouging with you and I appreciate your willingness, as well as everyone elses, to thoughtfully stand up for your convictions.

    Grace and peace,


  59. Rex:
    I appreciate your wading in and your thoughts; I could tell from previous posts that you have been around individuals drenched in syncretism.

    This is no mere “intellectual” conversation on my part. The question I have put to Jay is part of a desperately serious discussion for churches of Christ (and everyone seeking to follow the Lord). The “Age of Aquarius” has come again in the early 21st century.

    It is telling that Paul is willing to say more than “in danger of.” He said that some will not inherit the Kingdom. No questions; no hesitancy. He saw the spiritual darkness. It is not limited to Ephesus; it is where we live. The question is whether in “religious-tolerance” America we are willing to say what Paul said at some point. Not easy; we probably stand in Timothy’s shoes more than we want to admit.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton

  60. Bruce,

    WIth all due respect, you read too much into my “in danger of”. In light of the larger canon of scripture and my feeble mind, I am just trying to leave the final declaration of judgment to God. Remember, some of the Christians in Corinth apparently still held on to some polytheistic beliefs (cf. 1 Cor 8.7) not to mention some of their other immature Christian practices and yet Paul still referred to them as “the church of God in Corinth, sanctified in Christ Jesus…” (1 Cor 1.2).

    Grace and peace,


  61. Rex:
    Thank you for the note; I understand.

    Yes, Paul does the same with the Ephesians Christians, calling them “saints,” but making clear the ultimate consequences of the beliefs/actions of some of the them if no change.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton

  62. And I agree!

  63. Rex,

    Seems like we’ve had this discussion before about what a person must understand to be Biblically baptized.


    But as I told Jay, this is a very tough and emotion driven discussion at times and I’m not immune from having those feelings. Becasue my head knows and believes one thing (no unimmersed “Christians” according to the NT) and my heart tugs at times in other direction when we have “seemingly all kinds of devoted, pious, yet unimmersed followers of Christ.”

    But I must, I repeat, I must follow my head and let my heart and emotions be guided and instructed by faith in God’s Word and what He has revealed. We walk by faith, not feelings! (2 Cor. 5:7; cf. Rom. 10:17)

    Still having said that, I do appreciate the good discussion and the attempt to clarify and make distinctions. I respect your love for God and His Word.

    You asked the question: “Is our baptism about faith in God or faith in how we understand God to work in baptism?”

    To be real clear: we must have faith in what God tells us to have faith in!

    You also said, “When the object of our faith is God in Christ, I don’t believe such faith has a prerequisite of understanding completey how and when God works for our salvation.”

    And respectfully but strongly take issue and disagree with this misguided assessment of what the New Testament teaches about faith, baptism and salvation.

    I’ll explain.

    Me thinks no act speaks louder of our absolute faith in the grace and mercy of God, than baptism, for baptism is an act of faith. Acceptable baptism is that which is born of faith in God.

    Baptism is a statement of our faith in the saving blood of Jesus Christ, and the hopelessness of being saved without it. Paul said, “Baptism is an act of faith that emulates the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. (cf. Rom. 6:3-4)

    Because the salvation which Jesus brings depends upon the blood he shed in his death as an atoning sacrifice, Paul described that justification which comes through trusting in Christ as being “faith in His blood.” (Romans 3:25; 5:9) To be a Christian involves depending upon Christ’s blood to justify ourselves.

    Baptism that is not based on faith in Jesus’ blood to forgive sins is not an act of faith in His blood! Since the blood of Jesus, not baptism, has the power to remove sin, the benefit of baptism is received only by the one who has faith in His blood. Forgiveness simply because one is baptized would make baptism the basis of salvation instead of faith in the blood of Jesus Christ.

    Paul further teaches this same principle I believe in the most clearest of terms in Colossians 2. You probably know as well how the ancient city of Colossae was noted for its influential schools of pagan philosophy and religion. Paul warns gentile Christians of the dangers of seeking some “deeper enlightenment” when, in fact, they were “complete” in Christ (Col. 2:10).

    They had also been subjected to the influence of Judaizers who sought to bind the Old Law, especially the rite of circumcision, on gentile converts. Paul tells them they have already been circumcised spiritually – “without hands” – and have put off “the body of the sins of the flesh” (2:11). How had their sins been put off?

    “Having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who) raised Him from the dead.” (NAS)

    When had their sins been put off? When they were buried with Christ in baptism. Not because of the physical act itself, but because it was an expression of faith! They were “raised” with Christ through faith in God’s power to raise them from spiritual death, just as He had raised His own Son from the grave. That’s what baptism is about – not a “meritorious work,” but a declaration of faith in God! And Paul explains the result of this spiritual circumcision.

    “And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses” (2:13). It is by faith that we’re saved, and that faith is declared when we submit ourselves to the emulation of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, relying on God’s power to raise us up!

    Any separation of faith from baptism is foreign to the Bible’s teaching of salvation.

    So good friend and brother, this has nothing to do with making the “object of faith our intellectual ability rather than God in Christ.”

    Let’s not further aggravate the confusion by promoting a baptism without proper faith in its purpose—salvation!

    Instead, let’s speak in Bible language, showing that baptism is a logical act of faith, and that baptism
    without faith is useless.

    God bless,
    Robert Prater

  64. Robert,

    What if you are wrong? Do you still have salvation?

  65. Rex,

    Who are you going to believe?? I am going to believe God my friend!

    I believe and teach all people to respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ in actually the same way Peter, Philip, Ananias and others in the NT told lost souls how to receive salvation. (Acts 2:38; 36-39; 22:16).

    The apostle Peter wrote, “and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 3:21)

    The Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” (Romans 10:11)

    The certainty and assurance of my salvation is in God and His Son Jesus! I’m not opposed to ever reexamining and questioning the truth upon which my faith rests, but I have no intention of living with a “what if I’m wrong” faith!

    Robert Prater

  66. Bruce,

    I don’t remember Jay ever advocating for the position that God approves the sexually impure and idolaters. (You should look at context….) A penitent person is not going be do those things Paul addressed in the verses just prior to the one you cited.


    Give us the chapter and verse where Jesus said we are to be baptized according to some formula and that we should sing a cappella.

    It appears that most of you believe that only the church of Christ is saved. I ask you, which ones? Your only logical answer would be “all of them” but you know that is not true. So tell us, is everyone who has been immersed while someone said the right words and does the RM 5 acts of worship each Sunday saved?

    What about those who cheat on spouses? Yep, we have those just like the Baptists and Assembly of God. What about those who habitually lie? Yes, there is lots of those and some of them are elders.

    Only those who have Christ have eternal life and you don’t have a monopoly on HIm.


  67. Robert,

    I asked the question because in your previous comment you insisted that having the precise knowledge of when and how God was working in baptism was part of our faith. Which I also know from previous conversations with you is the reason why you believe that without such knowledge one does not have sufficient faith and therefore is not saved. So I asked the question because if you are wrong (and that is a possibility that you even acknowledge) then you are essentially saying you are not saved because faith requires right understanding which, if you are wrong, you do not have.

    That is where are disagreement exists. For me that just seems to make the object of our faith Christ plus our human intellect to interpret scripture correctly.

    Any why? If that precise knowledge of when God acts all that important when in the book of Acts we have the reception of the Spirit (which is the seal/sign of our salvation, cf. Eph 1.13-14) occuring in connection with baptism, prior to baptism, and after baptism. As Ben Witherington observes: “Any careful analysis of Acts will show that Luke (and probably the earliest Christians before him as well) was not interested in nice distinctions about the chronology of events in a particular person’s life. By this I mean we have some texts in Acts where water baptism precedes the reception of the Spirit (cf. Acts 8:4-25), some texts where water baptism follows the reception of the Spirit (cf. Acts 10:44-48), and others, as here in Acts 2 and Acts 8:38-39, where the two seem to happen almost simultaneously. One can only conclude from this that Luke was not trying to teach his audience some sort of normative order to be followed in later church practice. God can do it however Go wants to do it. Acts seems rather innocent of such later ecclesiological concerns about church polity and practice in general” (see Ben Witherington III, “The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary,”Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998, 154).

    Is it possible that we’ve made too much about WHEN salvation occurs in relation to baptism and especially to the neglect of some other very important biblical reasons for baptism like 1) because we are being baptized “in the name of Jesus” we are identifying ourselves as his disciple and 2) as we are identifying ourselves as a disciple of Jesus now we are also surrendering ourselves to his Lordship which is why in Romans, Paul can invoke baptism as the point of depature for the reason why we should no longer be living as slaves to sin but instead as slaves to righteousness (cf. Rom 6).

    Any ways…I don’t want anyone thinking I believe baptism is a trivial matter or an optional matter. Baptism is a command we are not free to accept or reject. But I believe our fellowship has placed to much emphasis on the wrong aspects of baptism and even worse, made salvation dependent on understanding these aspects correctly.

    Grace and peace,


    P.S., as always, it is good dialouging with you. Take care and God bless your ministry in OK.

  68. Royce:
    What you suggest by “sexual impurity” misses the meaning of Paul’s use of “impure” (Gk. akathartos and akatharsia) in his letters (see also 2 Cor. 12:21). The word talks about impurity in a way Americans often do not (it speaks of cultic and ritual separation from God, which can include sexual impurity).

    I know that many on this weblog suggest a distinction between ethics (sexual and otherwise) and religious/cult beliefs. However, Paul’s letters to Ephesus (and Corinth — the other hub of the Dionysian cult) do not allow such a sharp distinction. I am convinced part of the reason has to do with the Asian cults as Satan’s tools. The “ruler of the kingdom of the air” (Eph. 2:2) is interested in corrupting ethics and as well religious beliefs and practices. Both are in his view. “Impurity” speaks of what separates from God. The word “impure” (and “impurity”) and Paul’s letters to address the “Ephesian problem” turn a powerful beam of light on the problem of religious diversity in the West.

    So, let’s go back to the question I asked you. It mirrors the “Ephesian problem.” Is “Christian Wicca” okay with you and with the Lord?

    Put another way, how can Paul write to the Ephesian congregation suggesting that some peoples’ religious (not just ethical) expressions in the name of Jesus exclude them from having an inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and of God? (Eph. 5:6). Why does he have to write Ephesians 4:1ff? Were Christ-Asian cult “blends” by people with honest hearts okay (and Paul should have kept quiet and not have written the Ephesian letter)?

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton

  69. Royce:
    I will also mention that the 21st Century Christian (2009) publication Deceiving Winds includes some background information regarding the Asian cults, if an interest.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton

  70. Bruce,

    I don’t mind your using my blog to sell your book


    you don’t mind a free flowing discussion of its arguments. I’m wondering whether at some point we need consider the book in detail. What do you think?

  71. Bruce,

    I struggle to respond to these sorts of comments. I have no idea how sprinking vs. baptism leads to Wiccanism.

    We are all surrounded by people we love and who sprinkle, etc. So, in our tolerant, easy-going spirituality age, are we ready to express acceptance of what many Wiccans believe?

    You actually seem to argue that the way to avoid becoming Wiccans is to hold the line on baptism — as though baptism is the doctrine that separates Christians from Wiccans!

    I may write a most extensive response once I get past the Theobloggers transition, but for now —

    1. “Faith in Jesus” is Paul’s phrase. I try to mean whatever Paul means by it.

    2. It’s packed with meaning — and it’s unfair to expect me to include a full exposition on the meaning of “faith” in Paul everytime I post. I try to keep my posts to less than 1,500 words.

    3. Let me say it this way for now — without intending this to be a complete exposition. I like to express “faith in Jesus” as having three elements —

    a. Jesus is the Messiah (=Christ, =Son of God)
    b. Jesus is Lord
    c. Jesus is Savior

    (Phi 3:20 ESV) 0 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,

    The Caesars were called son of god, lord, and savior — and when Paul calls Jesus any of these, he is making a radical claim: Jesus is Son of God, Lord, and Savior, and


    Caesar. He, of course, doesn’t have to say “not Caesar” for the message to be clear. Imagine a sermon calling Jesus “leader of the free world” — wouldn’t that implicitly deny that the President is? There can only be one.

    And, of course, Paul always intended to be understood as making exclusive claims for Jesus — he is Son of God, Lord, and Savior — and no one else is (outside of the Godhead, of course).

    However, Paul does speak of other spiritual beings — powers, authorities, angels, demons, etc. He doesn’t claim that the Trinity is/are the only being/beings in the spiritual realm. Rather, no one else in heaven or on earth is to be worshiped or served.

    Indeed, while Christians may well honor the laws of the land, it’s not because the lordship of Caesar, but out of submission to the one true Lord — whom Caesar serves (or should serve) whether he knows it or not. We serve a higher Lord — and none other.

    So what about Wiccans? Well, I don’t know much about Wiccans, but what I read tells me that they are a blend of pantheists and pagans. And as they worship gods other than the One True God, they are idolators. Period.

    Does that mean a Christian who turns to Wicca is damned? Here’s a fair analogy —

    (Rev 2:18-24 ESV) 18 “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: ‘The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze. 19 “‘I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first. 20 But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. 21 I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. 22 Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, 23 and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works. 24 But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden.

    As pagan and idolatrous as “Jezebel” was, God gave her time to repent before rejecting her. I have no idea how long. Therefore, I figure that after some period of time, God will reject a Christian who adds Wicca to his Christianity — but not immediately. But it’s not because the Christian’s beliefs are syncretic — nearly all American Churches of Christ are highly syncretic with American culture — but because submission to Jesus as Lord prohibits idolatry.

    And this has very little to do with baptismal theology, doesn’t it? I mean, would teaching orthodox 20th Century Church of Christ baptismal theology someone make us safer against Wiccan heresy? Actually, I think traditional 20th Century Church of Christ teaching makes Wicca a greater threat. It’s easy enough to see the appeal of Wicca to some Christians —

    * They believe in caring for the environment. Most traditional Churches of Christ have never had a pro-environment sermon or lesson and have no developed theology of Creation care. This creates a theological vacuum where none should exisit. (This is true of most American evangelical and fundamentalist churches, not just the Churches.)

    * They believe in equality of the sexes. Much of our traditional practice is horribly sexis — leaving women looking for a religion where they can find some respect. Of course, the Churches are getting better, but we still won’t even let women pass communion! Many churches refuse to let them even attend church business meetings. (And the Churches are not alone in this one either.)

    * They strongly oppose the making of harsh judgments.

    When you point your finger at another in judgement, anger, etc., you have three fingers pointing back at you. Where is the opportunity for spiritual growth? Your judgement of the person you are pointing one finger at? Or in reflecting upon the three fingers pointing back at you? Worth a moment to consider, eh?

    Sounds like Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, doesn’t it? But the church has not lived the Sermon on the Mount, preferring to be extremely judgmental of those outside the church contrary to a very explicit command —

    (1Co 5:9-12 ESV) 9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people– 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 … 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?

    And so, by so often judging those outside the church, we encourage people to find the attitude Jesus and Paul taught elsewhere.

    Do I therefore approve of Wicca? Far from it! I just think we have a really big beam in our own eye — and one way to see it is to study the reflections in the eyes of others. We need to ask why they left something given by the hand of God for a fairytale?

  72. Robert,

    Umm …. I think the normative one is closest. I think we were certainly intended to be baptized as believers for the remisssion of our sins. That’s how it ought to be.

  73. Jay:
    Why have you “locked out” some of the 72 responses in this note chain from being easily seen? It hinders getting at my original question to you and also referencing it for others to read.

    Brother, let me suggest that you are evading the “Ephesian problem.” And I understand; it is becoming the thorny problem that folks I have talked with who call themselves “Progressives” would prefer disappear. But it is here to stay. So…

    What has Wicca to do with baptism? You brought forward the connection when you responded to Robert Prater’s question and concluded that God would not reject genuine faith and submission (i.e. no baptism — correct? cf. Mike Cope’s conclusion — yes, I know Mike). “Christian Wiccans” (who have not been baptized into Christ) would say they are right there with you. They would say they believe in the One power, love, joy, peace, and “salvation” by that One Power (and they are okay with folks calling the One Power “Jesus” if they wish — everyone to their own name of deity).

    So, does God accept them?

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton

  74. Bruce:

    I may try to speak for Jay here, as he may have shut down for the night. He mentioned in another post that he is changing the blog over to a different format, and things might get botched up a bit. I’ve noticed that in some threads, the responses are out of order.

    So I don’t think he has intentionally removed your (or anyone else’s) posts…just collateral damage of improving the site.

  75. Bruce,

    i gather you didn’t see on another post where i asked you:

    Do you have a blog? (If so, what’s the URL?)


  76. Bruce,

    As I posted yesterday, the site is going through a conversion from one web server to another. Expect problems such as a temporary lock out.

    I answered your question at —

  77. Jay:
    And regarding your comment about my book and your weblog, I think the comment misrepresents my approach to this note chain. Folks can ignore the book, forget who the author is, whatever. I have referenced on only a rare occasion — and as background if they wish to see more. I think you know this has nothing to do with “me” (fame or royalties — not the reason to write a Bible study book these days — which is okay with me). My hope is that folks see the “Ephesian problem” and take a further look at Paul’s letters to Ephesus. If they want to do that without grabbing a copy of Deceiving Winds, I am okay with that.

    And as for a “free flowing discussion of its arguments,” I think you/I/others have been doing some of that over the past month. And this note chain and your conclusion about God not rejecting genuine faith and submission touches on the very heart of what Deceiving Winds is about — as I think you know.

    Also, I think all should know that it was you who declined to review Deceiving Winds. But I am not sure a “free flowing discussion” of the entire book will be easy for folks to follow, especially when it has a good bit of relatively new information — with some placed into the notes.

    fyi: Two reviews have already been published: in Gospel Advocate and Also, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) has told me they are currently reviewing. At Everett Ferguson’s suggestion, I have also sent to The Christian Chronicle, The Restoration Quarterly, and the Stone-Campbell Journal for potential review.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton

  78. Jay:
    So are you saying that the conclusion you documented to Robert is one you are adding a “condition” to? Isn’t that different from what you were urging: just “genuine faith and submission”?

    Why don’t “Christian Wiccans” fit in there too?

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton

  79. Jay, JMF:
    Yes, I understand now that One in Jesus is facing a technical difficulty.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton

  80. Guy:
    No, I did not see your question. In brief, no I do not maintain a weblog at this time.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton

  81. Jay:
    I decided to write a separate post to lay out a proposal for your consideration and all listening in. I want to keep this straightforward for you/

    When you take the position that God does not reject anyone with a genuine heart and submission (i.e. immersion baptism not essential for salvation — similar to Mike Cope’s stated conclusion), then let me suggest that you have no choice but to embrace Catholic mystics, second century Gnostics, Montanists, “Christian Wiccans,” Jesus-Dionysus folks (i.e. much like the second century Gnostics), and New-Age Jesus people as brothers and sisters. Or are you confining your statement to “Evangelicals?”

    If no, how/where do you draw a line among all those various folks — who would stand with you and say they genuinely believe “Jesus saves” them? Interested in your thoughts — and those of others.

    That, brother, is part of the “Ephesian problem.”

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton

  82. Bruce,

    You seem to be arguing that my saying that we must worship and serve the Trinity only is somehow an “addition” to faith and repentance/submission to Jesus as Lord — so that my interpretation of Galatians would admit Wiccans and other non-Christians to salvation. But consider traditional Church of Christ teaching. I assume you agree with our long-time 5-step plan of salvation: hear, believe, repent, confess, be baptized.

    Now, for a fact, my difference with this is to argue that God’s explicit promises in the NT mean that there will some who aren’t baptized as the scriptures intend who will nonetheless be saved. However, I entirely agree with our traditional interpretation of “hear, believe, repent, confess.” I do.

    Now, “repent” = repent/submit to Jesus as Lord.

    “Hear, believe … confess” are all part of faith in in Jesus. I mean, we hear what we believe, which is what we confess. We confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, right?

    Now, I see no difference between what I teach and these very things. You can read my books — from as late at 15 years ago — and read that I said the same thing back then.

    But you now insist that faith in Jesus and repentance aren’t enough. We must add a sixth step – a “condition” — to the plan of salvation: we must submit to


    Jesus. But that has always been implicit in “repent” as well as “believe.” And it’s implicit in what I teach. And the reason is that it’s implicit in what the scriptures teach.

    Consider, for example —

    (Joh 3:18 ESV) 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

    Now, John spoke these words. Did he intend to include Wiccans who express a faith in Jesus? No, of course not. It would be silly to make such an argument, and yet his choice of words is simply “believes in him.” He doesn’t even say “repent”! But, as I’ve pointed out elsewhere, “faith” includes the thought of repentance. John is quite clearly not arguing for an purely intellectual faith — and he didn’t expect his readers to have to pull James out of their back pockets to understand that. He intended his words to be clear in their own context.

    (Joh 3:18 ESV) 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

    There are dozens and dozens of verses like these — which say nothing of “believe only in Jesus and not in idols” and say nothing of repentance other than “believe” — but to First Century Greek speakers, it was entirely clear that belief “in the name of the only Son of God” was exclusive — no idols allowed — and required submission to him as Lord. Indeed, sometimes the terms were abbreviated all the way down to “faith” or “believe” —

    Rom 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

    So to suggest that “faith in Jesus” and “repentance” permits idolatry unless “a condition” is added is to impose a meaning on those terms entirely foreign to their scriptural use and to my own use.

  83. Jay:
    To get some clarity, let’s go back to your post to Robert Prater. Didn’t you declare that God does not reject genuine faith and submission? I think you were stating that baptism is not being essential. Correct?

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton

  84. Bruce,

    Your proposal strikes me as unfair and utterly illogical.

    The standard I find in scripture is not “a genuine heart and submission.” It’s faith in Jesus and submission to his Lordship. I’ve made that pretty clear — many times. You have unfairly mischaracterized my thinking.

    Just so, I’ve never said that those who “genuinely believe ‘Jesus saves’ them” are saved. Again, you unfairly mischaracterize what I teach.

    How do I draw a line? Well, I’ve just said: faith in Jesus and submission to his Lordship.

    I fail to see how you imagine that baptism is the way to keep Wiccans, Gnostics, Montanists, Jesus-Dionysus folks, etc. out of the church. Indeed, many of those very people submit to baptism. (Many converted to Catholicism as adults are baptized by immersion for the remission of sins.) And so your argument is utterly without logic.

  85. Jay:
    Yes, without having your original quote in front of me, I indicated “genuine heart” when you said “genuine faith.” My error. But, back to the focal point of our discussion.

    I am okay with “faith in Jesus and submission to his Lordship” as a basis for discussion. Revise your phrase to Robert as you want. So, is your conclusion that God does not reject genuine “faith in Jesus and submission to his Lordship?”

    And I understand that related to the above in this chain of notes is the question of baptism. Is baptism (immersion) — as an act of God’s grace (my conclusion from apostolic teaching) essential for salvation or not? A simple question to continue our discussion.

    Jay, I am not trying to mischaracterize your teaching. Instead, I am looking first for your conclusion about baptism. Thereafter, glad to wade into the “Ephesian problem” further. From what I can tell it is one of the biggest issues brethren calling themselves “Progressives” are facing. And it as “humanistic” as the “Galatian heresy” you appropriately challenge (I think you know I am glad of your writing on that subject).

    Looking forward to your note.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton

  86. Sigh. Here is where the wheels come off the train while it’s still in the station. We must assure that we will not rub up against anyone who is doctrinally impure, and if invoking the fear of second-century Gnostics and the massive Wiccan community in Tuscaloosa will do that, then so be it. After all, Bruce, there’s no substantive difference between the worshippers of the Goddess and those who serve Jesus but have communion only once a month. God deliver us from both. Sigh.

    Sure, we can have unity, just as soon as I am satisfied that I only have to sit next to people who think just like me. God forbid I should ladle soup for a poor child into a bowl washed by a Catholic in the kitchen of a Methodist church…

    This is why, even in the face of the joyous optimism and godly outreach touching our neighborhoods for Christ, the viewpoint my brother Bruce presents keeps us effectively locked in the building, except for the occasional Thanksgiving service. Which is, as you say, minimal and largely symbolic.

    Jay, thanks so much for posting this article. My sister Elizabeth’s words mean so much, even if we might differ on approaches. It’s the spirit in her words that refreshes me. And she hits the bullseye about what the true raison d’etre of the average local congregation has become. It’s not about the good news of Jesus, or the kingdom of God, but about continuing the existence of our particular religion club. I appreciate you posting a sentiment that is so antithetical to our current religious environment. Perhaps it is a seed that will grow.

    I do think the most important note is yours, that the key is sharing eucharist and worship. (Without it we are only peripherally and tenuously connected.) I’ve seen it done–once. It is incredibly powerful– but it takes singular vision by church leadership and a willingness to operate against a congregation’s traditional best interest. Once you dismiss your service next Sunday to meet with a Baptist and an Episcopal congregation for worship, you wade into a very real Rubicon. And few would risk the crossing.

  87. Charles:
    Let me keep the question I asked Jay between Jay and I.

    I have more on my heart, but I am going to pray about it. Your note brought hurt; it was unkind and inaccurate. I hope you reconsider how quickly you are judging the outreach/actions of an individual. If you knew me, you would find I am far from “locked in the building.” Indeed, I have waded into Wiccan communities — with truth and love kindly spoken (and the priestesses I have talked with have agreed). My discussion with Jay is no mere “intellectual exercise;” it is no exaggeration for emphasis.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton

  88. Bruce,

    I’ve stated my views more than once recently. I’m not inclined to get into a debate on baptism with you unless you’ve read Born of Water. Otherwise, I wind up having to restate the book here in these little comment boxes.

    It’s a challenging study that is very emotional for many (including me). It’s not very helpful to try to address such a topic in only a few words.

  89. Jay:
    Yes, I have read Born of Water. You spend a good deal of time chastising churches of Christ about a “work” view, time with RM leaders’ views, and less than one page taking a look at Titus 3:4ff. and Paul’s use of “washing.” And no time citing/wrestling with Jack Cottrell’s careful study (save in one footnote about Calvin).

    And then from what I can tell you do not “land.” at the end — an emotional study as you put it. I noticed the same man wrote these statements:

    “So suppose that this person declines baptism, do we treat him as a member of the congregation? I think not. In theological terms, therefore, I suppose I’m against “open membership.” (84). But why does he/she need to be baptized?

    But Jay you also say, “So how can we be so arrogant as to suppose that God loves us so much that he’ll forgive our doctrinal mistakes, but he won’t forgive the mistakes of those Baptists or Methodists who are otherwise people of genuine faith and faith and repentance?” In fact this puts a finger on a very important failing of many of us in churches of Christ. We sometimes are guilty of a modern-day Gnosticism. The Gnostics were second-century heretics who taught that salvation would be gained through knowledge.” (95) I am assuming you read apostolic teaching as a means to assessing “open membership.” Are you “forgiving mistakes” of various folks when you “close membership?”

    Yes, to confirm I believe much of Gnosticism was nothing less than evil. And our day? Let’s broaden this beyond Baptists and Methodists (as we often think of them). For example I am aware of multiple Methodist churches that are now wading into Wicca — embracing some of its views of God, etc. Any evil religious beliefs in early 21st century America? Any desire such as Roman Ephesus saw: freedom to believe whatever I want to believe? I can ask because I am one of those seemingly “strange” people who actually believes the “ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient” (Eph. 2:2) exists and seeks to corrupt ethics and religious beliefs — both. I believe religious beliefs exist that are nothing less than Satan’s work. What are we going to say to those folks? What must they do to be saved? Is it arrogance to have an answer, to follow apostolic counsel?

    So, what message would you deliver to the folks in the cults of Roman Asia? Or the Wiccan coven down the road? Not nearly as “out there” an issue as Charles McLean suggests. Did people live in spiritual darkness when they “blended together” Jesus and Dionysus or Jesus and Artemis of the Ephesians? Note: spiritual darkness is coming in more subtle ways in our time than folks often see. For example, compare two novels: The Shack with The Secret Life of Bees!

    Jay, I am aware that you may not want to wade into this subject further. As you put it, the subject is filled with”emotions. And that is a danger too. If we start with our experiences, our emotions and not the Word of God, then we come face-to-face with another form of humanistic religion. My goal in all of this was to highlight the “Ephesian problem” a little more clearly.

    To confirm, I will move on from the subject now, as I think that is the kind thing to do. Let you have some quiet time to consider the “Ephesian problem” further. So, will leave you to consider baptism as taught in Paul’s letters to Ephesus and to Titus (

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton

  90. …I think I’m reading a more polished and coherent Kenneth Sublett.

  91. Royce:
    I do not know Kenneth Sublett, but I have read a little (not a lot) of Respectfully, Kenneth often confuses me — but I am sure his commitment to the risen Lord and His Word would encourage.

    To confirm I believe there is value in looking at the historical, cultural, and religious background of the Mediterranean world. I believe most of us who wade into the NT do such. I am no different in that respect from many others. However, respectfully, I take issue with some of Kenneth’s applications of the religions of Roman Asia to our time. I believe some of his conclusions are not valid.

    If you want to see a careful approach to earliest Christian history, let me suggest Everett Ferguson’s Backgrounds of Early Christianity, 3rd edition. Dr. Ferguson has much worth hearing. That and his new Baptism in the Early Church are rooted in a deep understanding of apostolic teaching and historical fact.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton

  92. Royce,
    How funny that I was thinking exactly the same thing and then read your post. The only difference being that I don’t think brother Sublett gets his feelings hurt if someone takes his comments to task.

    While I do consider Ken Sublett a brother (never met him and don’t want to) and I will admit he is committed, I cannot ever imagine using the word “encourage” to describe what he does. There is a viciousness in his machinations that surpasses even the Pharisees.

  93. Rob:
    I was trying to be kind re Kenneth. Let me confirm that I do not like the tone of some of Kenneth’s comments. I hope you do not hear such tone in what I write; I do not think it is there — but I am committed to apostolic teaching as the Word of the risen Lord.

    Are my feelings being critiqued (gets feelings hurt if someone takes him to task)? To be clear quite a number of folks in One In Jesus have “pounced” on me. I think if you look back, you will notice that I have attempted to receive with graciousness. What I do not accept is folks judging at a distance who they think I am/what I do. And yes, I remained convinced that experiencing “hurt” and expressing it gets at part of the sensitivity Paul talks about in Ephesians 4:17-5:21. It is a good thing, not a reason for critique. From what I see the U.S. is rapidly becoming a sharp, caustic nation — far from being “children of light.” (Eph. 5:8)

    My wife tells me I am a kind man; the Katy congregation tells me my teaching and personna are kind. I strive to bring together “truth and love.”

    I hope that helps you get to know a little more about Bruce Morton. If you want to know more, I will be glad to wade in further.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton

  94. Charles/Apostle,

    Delighted to have you commenting here! It’s been a long time.

    I tried to get on the ex-CoC discussion board the other day, and discovered that I’d been gone so long that my account had been deleted. I really should try harder to stay in touch, but God only gives us 24 hours a day.

  95. but I am committed to apostolic teaching as the Word of the risen Lord. Bruce

    There are other commenters, readers, and myself who are just as committed, if not more so committed, to not just apostolic teaching but to the Bible as a whole. Jesus stood in the synagogues and taught from the Hebrew Scriptures, the apostles taught from the Hebrew Scriptures, Genesis to Revelation is the Word of the Lord, His Word has been from the beginning.

  96. Bruce,

    I have no doubt you are a kind man in the sense that you are not a striker. But I have witnessed more than a few mild-mannered, well-intentioned men leave irreparable emotional scars as they waged personal campaigns to purify the church.

    As members/congregations step up efforts to narrow the gate and identify all those who “are not of us,” they are winning battles left and right, yes, but the cause of Christ is suffering and the war against evil is being lost. Not just by the Church of Christ regiment, but by every other group of Christians who defend their distinctives with all their might and have no energy left to seek the lost.

    The Piney website may well be the most extreme example of extremism in the brotherhood of the Church of Christ. But there are many more that rally the contentious ranks by more measured means, “” being one of them. The page “Problem Songs,” in which hymns such as “Farther Along” and “Just a Little Talk with Jesus” are condemned may be a delightful work in the eyes of some; but to me it simply makes our group look foolish. Not only that, I believe it is the kind of harangue that makes many of our own members wonder whether this movement has fallen off its foundation altogether.

    Grace and peace,
    Rob Woodfin

  97. Anonymous:
    Perhaps it is because of the vigorous debate in One in Jesus that folks seem to take every statement by someone (or a “conservative” specifically; though I despise labels) as critical.

    My comment was not intended as a critique of anyone in the Weblog. It was intended only as a personal affirmation.

    You can take a deep breath, and relax a little.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton

  98. What makes you think I’m not relaxed?? Too bad that is all you would seek to see in a comment that is about the Bible.

  99. Rob:
    We should talk some time. Perhaps in that way we better get beyond the “guilty until proven innocent” paradigm.

    I am not contentious; but neither am I lackadaisical regarding apostolic teaching. I am certain that as an elder you take seriously the “guard the flock” imperative by Paul. The problem in our day is indeed that folks called “Progressives” and “Conservatives” have polarized some. I think Satan is at work in that. And I fault both sides for allowing it; I have been in too many Bible studies that generated more heat than light (by both groups). That is not who I am and that is not the substance of the recent book I authored (Deceiving Winds, 21st Century Christian, 2009). People have told me (both “Progressives” and “Conservatives”) that they are enjoying the “digging.”

    Also, I am not one of those folks who has “no energy left” to reach out to others. I am quite the opposite. I spend a little time (not a lot) on One in Jesus — and it is not all “negative.” Jay knows (I have told him multiple times) that I appreciate his emphasis on the “Galatian heresy.”

    I also believe he/others are facing a trap just as dangerous: the Ephesian problem. But I do NOT see this as a “one man crusade” among the churches, just one brother kindly urging some thought here and there.

    Finally, let me suggest that in the current “I want freedom to approach God/Goddess in my own way” mindset of the U.S. (hence the reason Wicca is growing rapidly), any effort by churches of Christ (or Independent Christian Churches, Baptist Churches, Mennonite Churches, a few others) to express commitment to Scripture and actually teach apostolic teaching is going to sound absurd to many. I hear it daily. Satan? Many do not believe he even exists. Evil? Just social or cultural in the minds of most of a 16-29 year old generation.

    I believe the more we show expressions of kindness and read the Word, sing the Word, speak the Word, and share the Word with others in the years ahead, the more we will be perceived as “nice people but nuts” to many and inviting to some (i.e. Paul’s metaphor re the fragrance of life versus the smell of death). But the “fault” is not in our sharing the Word of God.

    I think enough for this post, and I hope that tells you a little more about who I am.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton

  100. Anonymous:
    I do not understand your post. It sounds like you have something on your heart that you would like to say to me; weblogs are notoriously difficult for such conversations.

    I gather you had a reason to highlight my statement and I was attempting to clarify that it was no more than a personal affirmation. Did you have an issue with that or with something else?

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton

  101. If my point was inaccurate, I’ll stand for correction, Bruce. I’d love to hear about your congregation sharing worship and Eucharist with other congregations in your community who don’t have the same sign out front as your own. And about your congregation’s cooperative efforts with those groups to affect your community for Jesus. That would really be refreshing, and might indicate that I have misunderstood the fruit of your position.

  102. What I do not accept is folks judging at a distance who they think I am/what I do. Bruce

    Do you expect others to take you seriously when you don’t even go by your own words. You judged me at a distance saying I need to relax, which doesn’t square with your comment:

    I couldn’t help but to chuckle at that, I couldn’t be more relaxed.

    Deuteronomy 31:8 And the LORD, He is the One who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed.

    Joshua 1:9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.

    I have issue with the fact that too many people are so blind to the Hebrew Scriptures.

  103. Charles:
    I was referencing what I heard as your assessment of me and my being personally “locked in the building.” I and many others in the congregation “rub shoulders” with many (including visiting their assemblies) — but that does not translate to my agreeing with what they believe. I do not agree with what Wiccans believe — or other Goddess worshippers. That is why I chat with them about Christ; I believe they are spiritually deceived, and I love them as the Lord wants us to express love. Kind ladies. So, do you believe I am mistaken regarding my conclusions?

    I took opportunity here since it was being discussed to chat about the importance of baptism as a (saving) act of God’s grace. That has been the focus of my posts in this chain. I believe Jay needs to consider.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton

  104. Anonymous:
    I still do not know why you highlighted my statement initially. Was it intended as a critique? I can see I offended without intending to do so; please forgive.

    Now, please tell me if there is something on your heart regarding your posts to me.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton

  105. I stated what was on my heart, and you didn’t offend me, I couldn’t help but laugh at your oxymoron statement to me. Can you read good?

  106. Anonymous:
    Do you understand that my original statement about a commitment to apostolic teaching was intended as no more than a personal expression about myself?

    Just want to confirm that was clear to you.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton

  107. And I said, There are other commenters, readers, and myself who are just as committed, if not more so committed, to not just apostolic teaching but to the Bible as a whole. Jesus stood in the synagogues and taught from the Hebrew Scriptures, the apostles taught from the Hebrew Scriptures, Genesis to Revelation is the Word of the Lord, His Word has been from the beginning.

    Why did you find that to be so offensive to you?

  108. Anonymous:
    You said, “Why”? (Drawing conclusion at a distance?) Your comment after the highlight was not offensive to me.

    But I could not figure out why you would highlight my comment and then write what you wrote. I was genuinely trying to understand — people matter to me. If it was a critique, I wanted to let you know I was listening — and you could say more. And I simply shared that it was intended as no more than a personal statement of my committment. That is all.

    Glad to move on if you wish.

    I hope God keeps you safe this day.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: