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.