A Favorite Church of Christ Word, “Sound”

Being the curious sort, I often read the classifieds in the Christian Chronicle, a wonderful news paper filled with news of interest to church of Christ people. Each issue will have ads where local churches are trying to hire preachers. It is not uncommon for the job requirements to include that the candidate be married, that he has graduated from a “brotherhood school”, or has earned a four-year degree.

One of the most interesting requirements is that he be “sound”. What does that mean? “Sound” is one of those words with many, many meanings but in the context of describing a preacher one or more of the word’s use as an adjective would apply. Which of these do you suppose churches intend when they advertise they want a “sound” man?

1. free from injury, damage, defect, disease, etc.; in good condition; healthy; robust: a sound heart; a sound mind.2. financially strong, secure, or reliable: a sound business; sound investments.

3. competent, sensible, or valid: sound judgment.

4. having no defect as to truth, justice, wisdom, or reason: sound advice.

5. of substantial or enduring character: sound moral values.

6. following in a systematic pattern without any apparent defect in logic: sound reasoning.

7. uninterrupted and untroubled; deep: sound sleep.

8. vigorous, thorough, or severe: a sound thrashing.

9. free from moral defect or weakness; upright, honest, or good; honorable; loyal.

10. having no legal defect: a sound title to property.

11. theologically correct or orthodox, as doctrines or a theologian.

Several of these could apply but number 11 likely comes closest to what is intended. Or does it?

I think that rather than using the word as an adjective, many of our folks use the word “sound”, when referring to a preacher, as a noun.

The primary criteria is not that he teaches “sound” doctrine. The wish is that he holds forth the traditions that the traditional churches of Christ hold dear.

An example of the subtle difference would be the subject of a capella singing. Does this church want a man who will open the Scriptures and teach what it says, and only what it says on the subject? Or, do they want a man who will perpetuate a myth?

I must ask myself the question, am I a “sound” man? Do I love truth? Do I pursue it? Do I settle for less than the truth? And, much more important than if I have the truth, does the truth have me?

Is my life controlled by the words of Scripture or do I use Scripture to my own ends? Do I pick and choose verses, sometimes out of context, to prop up my pet doctrine? I hope not. I pray that I don’t.

I hope that when we in the churches of Christ use the word “sound” in relation to a preacher or teacher we will sincerely want him to be devoted to the Lordship of Jesus and a sincere seeker of the truth of Scripture, even if it goes against what we hold dear.

I want that kind of “sound” man behind the sacred desk on Sunday.


It takes 2 to tango..

Yesterday I learned the discourse at GraceConversation.com is no more. What began as sincere effort for two theological camps within the churches of Christ to have a civil conversation about apostasy ended abruptly with a verbal smack down by Mac Deaver.

My hat is off to Jay Guin who hosted the discussion at OneInJesus.info for his hard work to make the conversation between “Conservatives” and “Progressives” a possibility. I was not surprised that it ended as it did.

On the “Conservative” side, first Greg Tidwell bowed out citing health issues and the business of being a preacher. Then Phil Sanders stepped in to take Greg’s place. Now Sanders is “too busy” and Mac Deaver decided it was “pointless to continue”.

Both Todd Deaver and Jay Guin (especially Jay) articulated their views and challenged the views of the “Conservatives” with clarity, charity, and consistency. It was clear to this observer that the conversation was not going to accomplish very much shortly after the first exchanges by the two sides. The “Conservatives” were unable to state solid biblical evidence for their views and their inconsistencies were glaring.

The series of posts by these five men generated perhaps more comments, including my own, than any blog within the scope of churches of Christ. In the comments the “pattern” (pun intended) continued. Traditionalists stated positions, many of which cannot be supported by Scripture, that were well worn in the 60’s. And, with some exceptions, those on the “Progressive” side won the day with more reasoned conclusions and more Biblical foundation.

My conclusions are the following:

  • GraceConversation.com was not about grace. It was a discussion between two theological schools of thought, neither of which fully comprehends God’s grace. (In Jay’s defense, it was stated from the beginning that the conversation was to be centered on apostasy, with both sides agreeing that a Christian can be saved, and then lost, the only disagreement being when or how).
  • Behind all the talk, the whole of the discussion centered on one issue, instrumental music in worship in churches of Christ. The whole discussion can be summed up in this neat package. The traditionalists believe people who have a piano in worship are lost and the progressives don’t. That is what the whole debate was about.
  • It is a tired subject and will not be resolved. There is not one verse of Scripture that addresses musical instruments either being used or not being used in the assembly of New Testament churches. Traditionalists decide arbitrarily what is sinful and what is not based on their church history, and personal preferences. It is better for them if they can find a proof text but it isn’t necessary to have any to doom those they disagree with to hell.
  • Both the tradiditionalists and the progressives believe that at some point God may damn a born again Christian, one side just believes God is more patient than the other. Neither can say at what point God decides to zap a Christian back into a non Christian status. So, the conclusion is clear. According to Greg Tidwell, Phil Sanders, Mac Deaver, Jay Guin, and Todd Deaver, staying saved depends on how well a Christian performs, and not upon the ground of the work and worth of Christ Jesus our Lord.
  • The light of God’s truth is shining in the fellowship of believers called “churches of Christ”. I have seen many signs of hope in the past decade. Just look at how far we as a people have come away from fear and a legal system, and many, many of our dear people are tasting the fresh, life giving grace of God in Jesus Christ.
  • I long for a day when if the average church of Christ member is asked the question “Are you sure you are going to heaven?” they well be able to give a quick “Yes!”answer based on what Christ accomplished for sinners. Until that day comes I will keep holding up Jesus and the salvation He purchased with His own blood as the only ground and hope of helpless and hopeless sinners.

I love and have the utmost respect for Jay Guin and Todd Deaver. It has never been necessary for a man to agree with me, or I with him, for me to love him deeply and respect him as a fellow follower of Jesus. We agree much more than we disagree. I sincerely hope to be out yonder in eternity with Greg, Phil, Mac, and Jay and Todd. I wish God’s best to each man and hope they live long, healthy, happy lives.

Finally, I realize that I am in a razor thin minority within the “brotherhood” of churches of Christ. I deeply appreciate so many of you who while disagreeing with me have embraced me with love and patience and have encouraged me to continue to preach Christ. I hope that every reader of Grace Digest will clearly understand that disagreement does not necessarily mean estrangement. My dearest friends on earth completely disagree with me on some theological points, and I with them, but our common trust in Jesus makes us one, and nothing else can. Thanks for reading and for your comments.

for Jesus,

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Faith 101

Over the past several months I have written what I thought were some pretty good posts and they hardly got a look. I am astounded that the number 1 post of all time on Grace Digest is one about Gov. Sarah Palen. She is still a headline maker and we aren’t done seeing her smiling face on national TV just yet.

Interestingly, most of the readers of posts ranked 2 and 3 are from the African continent, and over whelmingly so. I wonder why that is?

Just as interesting, the post ranked in 5th place has drawn mostly readers from the British Isles, perhaps as much as 85 to 90%.

Not surprisingly a short series on the Deity of Jesus and other similar posts hardly got a notice. Some of those topics I am most passionate about, and am sure are largely neglected by most Christian bloggers, are perhaps not posted for a reason; no one reads them.

One would reason that blogs in the category of “Christian” and with largely a church of Christ readership would have some posts about the foundations of the historic Christian faith but alas a cappella singing, discussions about how many ways a Christian can be lost and why, how church A does something different than church B and who is in and who is out because of it continue to get top billing.

I once asked on my blog why was it necessary for Jesus to be born of a virgin. One fellow said “I’ll have to think about it and get back to you” and that was about it. Most of what I am seeing on “Christian blogs” is at best “theology lite”; Not all, but most.

I know mine is far from being among the best blogs but I do enjoy the exercise and when I get an occasional private message or email from someone who says they have been helped or encouraged by reading I know it is not completely in vain.

Trey Morgan, John Dobbs, Patrick Mead, Jay Guinn and others have great blogs, some of them with very intersting glimpses into the lives of their families, friends, and their interests. I enjoy those very much. At 64 years and counting down, my life is far too boring  to open the window very often.

Thanks for reading and for your encouragement.

for Jesus,

On Grace Conversation

When Todd Deaver announced that he, Jay Guin, Phil Sanders, and Greg Tidwell would have an online conversation addressing the inconsistencies of the traditional brothers in churches of Christ I was really hopeful and excited. Now GraceConversation.com has been up for a few weeks, each of the four men has made statements, and those statements have received hundreds of comments from readers like me. What I fail to see at this stage of the discussion is any progress toward a common understanding of what should be grounds for “fellowship”, or “dis-fellowship” of other Christians. 

Any conversation about Christianity and the Bible is pointless unless it is founded upon truth. The whole idea I would think is to find truth and to dispel error. What I am seeing in GraceConversation is the hyper-traditionalists restating many of the same old tired propositions, handed down from legalists who espoused the same views fifty or so years ago. 

Hyper-traditionalists hold these views that I completely disagree with. 

1. The total membership of churches of Christ (living and dead and future members) is the exact same body as the body of Christ universal (catholic). They believe when the word “church” is used in the Bible it is the “Lord’s church” that every coC member understands to be only churches of Christ and perhaps other Restoration Movement branches.

Not one of the founders of the Restoration Movement believed this. In fact, the whole idea of the “Unity of all Christians” made it plain that the Campbell’s, Stone, and others believed there were Christians in other churches. There would be no Restoration Movement but for the ministries of Baptists and Presbyterians.

2. No one is saved who has not been baptized by a church of Christ man with the understanding of both parties that the immersion is “for the remission of sins”. I know of no Hyper-traditionalist who believes Baptists or anyone in other denominations are saved. In a post several months ago on Grace Digest I gave quotes from five Restoration Movement preachers, including Alexander Campbell, who completely disagreed with their modern day followers. I am certain Campbell would be distressed to see that sectarianism has become orthodoxy in most churches of Christ. That sort of cultism was precisely what he was trying to correct.

3. The Bible, (therefore Jesus), does not “authorize” singing in worship other than a cappella. This view stands alone as the weakest, most pitiful excuse for Bible scholarship I can think of. Every man to the last one who adamantly defends a cappella only singing in worship uses extra-biblical material to make his defense. The reason is obvious, the Bible doesn’t support a cappella only singing.

4. Worshiping God is only acceptable when a “pattern” is followed to the “T”. Proclaiming, prayer, communing, singing, and giving are the five biggies that must be included for worship to be valid. Of course people for centuries had been worshiping God before church of Christ men decided on these five acts. They are not bad at all, I am glad to do them all, but worship is far broader and cannot be confined to a man made template. Some of the most narrow thinkers (or unthinking) will add several other rules that must be followed, too many to try to list here. 

As I see it, one of the most troubling obstacles to overcome when dialoging with Ultra-traditionalists is that the markers are always moving. There are not many clear cut lines of demarcation. Bro’ A will say that in addition to following the “pattern” if you don’t have a service on Sunday night you are wrong and in danger of hell. Bro’ B disagrees but adds that more than one song leader is sinful and will damn folks who allow it. And the list is as endless as the nutty, unscriptural ideas of carnal men who believe they will somehow be justified by what they do, rather by what Christ has already done. 

When any of us stray far from the pages of the Holy Bible, and especially the good news about Jesus and His work for sinners, we are prone to trouble. The very reason we have page after page of denominations (including the church of Christ) listed in the Yellow Pages of every large city in America is because people see things differently. Almost all of those denominations can rally around one central truth, Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life and no man comes to the Father but by Him. They disagree on last things, on modes of baptism, and dozens of other doctrines but find unity because of their common trust in Jesus as the only way to God and salvation. 

Before you ask, No, I don’t think every person in every denomination is saved. Some are trusting in themselves, their heritage, their way of worship, or some other distinctive. I also don’t believe everyone in our beloved churches of Christ is saved either. Only those who are trusting Christ is saved and those who are depending on anything else are lost. Jesus made it plain that there would be more lost than saved. He let us know to expect tares in with the wheat, wolves imitating sheep, make believers among believers, and even those who will deceive the very elect. 

I have adopted the plan of Jesus and Paul as I understand it. If they are not against us they are with us and if Christ is being preached I will rejoice. I will do what my elder Phil Roberson says and “let God sort’em out”. I will keep insisting in my writing and preaching that men should repent and turn to Jesus, trusting Him alone, and then try earnestly to do all they know He wants them to do. 

I learned long ago that I can be a pretty good husband, and a great grandpa, and a fair crappie fisherman, but I’m a very poor Holy Spirit. My role is to tell people the truth and leave the rest to God. It works out well. 

I would like to see a unified group of believers, namely the churches of Christ, but I also want to see world peace. Neither is likely. I do admire and appreciate men like Jay Guin and Todd Deaver who continue the fight for Jesus and the grace and truth He is.