History Repeats Itself in the Churches of Christ.

Just now I finished reading an insightful, scholarly article by John Mark Hicks titled “K. C. Moser and Churches of Christ: an Historical Perspective”. It is published on Abilene Christian University’s “Restoration Quarterly” section of their website. You can read it here. I have always enjoyed and appreciated bro’ Hick’s writing due to his attention to detail, documentation, and yet easy readability.

This post might be of particular interest to Church of Christ folks and especially preachers and teachers. Others might find this historical feast by bro’ Hicks very interesting as well.

Hicks paints a word picture of a church movement shaped by particular men, the periodicals they published and wrote for, and the schools where they were educated and where they taught. My intention is not to repeat what John Mark Hicks wrote but to point out one man who had a penchant for swimming upstream in the river of Church of Christ tradition/theology and made a mark on the Restoration Movement Churches that is still present today.

The man was K. C. Moser. Evidently he was the first real “change agent” in the Churches of Christ. Way back in the 1930’s he recognized that the gospel of Christ was being compromised and substituted by a “plan of salvation” that leaned very heavy on what man should do to be saved and little on the person and work of Christ.

On December 1, 1932, Moser published an article in the Gospel Advocate entitled “Preaching Jesus.” To preach Jesus, according to Moser, is to proclaim him as the Son of God who bears the sins of the world as a sin-offering to God. Consequently, when Philip encountered the Eunuch, he “preached not a plan, but a man.” Moser was concerned that the conditions of salvation were preached “apart from their reference to the atonement.” “When this is done,” he argued, “the conditions of salvation become pure law and salvation is based on mere works.” As a result, grace is voided.

Moser’s first book, “The Way of Salvation” bore this interesting subtitle. “Being an Exposition of God’s Method of Justification Through Christ.” It was the first of his many written works that proved to be very troubling and disturbing to many of Moser’s brothers in the Churches of Christ. He was roundly criticized by many of them. He was branded a “traitor” and as a “Baptist in sheep’s clothing”.

Moser advocated for preaching the “man” (Christ Jesus) rather than the “plan”. As Hicks points out, for many Moser and others who agreed with him, helped to move the focus of salvation away from “ecclesiology back to Christology” Moser’s commentary on Romans was his most important work. “The Gist of Romans” was perhaps the pinnacle of all Moser did. in Hick’s article the following appears.

During this time, he wrote his thematic commentary on the book of Romans entitled The Gist of Romans It was first printed in 1957, with a second edition in 1958.(53) The book’s theme reflects the emphases of Moser’s writing over the past three decades. His concern was still legalistic preaching and the subtle legalism to which it gives expression. His purpose was to give “an exposition of the fundamental doctrines of salvation through Christ” as they appear in Romans. He was set for the “defense of the cross” as opposed to the defense of the “conditions of salvation, or some theory.”(54) The preacher, according to Moser, must not only know what to tell someone to do to be saved, he must first understand what salvation is. Only when one understands the “fundamental doctrine of the atonement, of grace, and of faith” can anyone be a gospel preacher.(55) Moser feared that many of his preaching brothers did not truly or fully understand the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith. He was not alone in his fear. G. C. Brewer had expressed similar fears. He was concerned that many were preaching a creed instead of Christ, and “too many us instead of trusting in Christ, depend upon working out our own salvation as though this means that we should achieve it by works of merit in this life.”(56)

Moser and Brewer, two men who had shared the burden of proclaiming the gospel of grace, both feared the context of the mid-1950s. Both saw the danger of legalism; both saw the need for trusting in Christ alone for salvation. The 1960s, with the turmoil of the “Man or the Plan” controversy, saw a brotherhood coming to conscious reflection on the doctrine of grace and a renewal of the doctrine of “God’s righteousness” as the ground of salvation.

Those are pretty plain and pointed concerns and they exist today. Fortunately, Moser and Brewer, and others of their contemporaries who shared their views of gospel grace are not alone. Men like Cecil Hook, Ketcherside, Edward Fudge, Leroy Garrett and several who are currently preaching in churches of Christ, like Moser, are contending for the historic gospel of Christ just as these men have. I could name several here but will not.

Enter Anglican Bishop and theologian N.T. Wright and the “New Perspective on Paul”. Wright, was shaped partially by his predecessors, Lutheran theologian Krister Stendahl, E.P. Sanders and James D.G. Dunn. It was Dunn who first coined the term “The New Perspective on Paul”. While N.T. Wright does not wholly agree with the others who began this movement (Wright said “there are probably almost as many ‘new perspective’ positions as there are writers espousing it – and I disagree with most of them”) He agrees with them that the historical understanding of justification and righteousness as espoused by K.C. Moser is wrong.

Many of my friends have very passionate opinions in their wholesale agreement with N.T. Wright’s version of the so called “New Perspective…” But, I contend none-the-less that in the end what they are buying is a modern version of a works based theology of salvation, though very, very subtle. I think it is very telling that those groups which have been most accepting of the NPP are Roman Catholics, Orthodox churches, and Churches of Christ.

Due largely to the influence of Bishop Wright, it is becoming increasingly popular for church of Christ ministers to forsake the historic version of the work of Christ for sinners that Moser advanced in favor of this “new perspective”. The idea that based wholly upon the worth and work of Jesus Christ a sinner can be justified instantly and be assured of eternal life is frequently substituted by the theory that only at the end of one’s life can a person finally be decisively declared eternally safe by God.

The most obvious problem with the latter view is that it assumes God doesn’t know the end of a man’s life until the end of a man’s life. It assumes that God can’t know if a person will remain faithful until he has been faithful. God does know. He knows the end from the beginning.

These words spoken by the Apostle Paul (who Wright assumes we have misunderstood for some 1500 years) stand in stark contrast to Wright’s theory.

38 Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, 39 and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses (Acts 13:38-39)

Wright contends that Paul did not have in mind the Law of Moses when he mentioned that man is not justified by “works of the law”. I ask, What did Paul have in mind in the passage above?

A gospel is not the true gospel unless there is hope for the wicked. If wicked sinners can not have their sins removed, if they can’t have eternal life, if they can’t count of being resurrected from the dead, if they can’t live without guilt, that version of the gospel is not good news.

When Paul spoke of the “works of the law” in Romans 3 and in Galatians 2 and 3 he meant exactly what he did in Acts 13 above. The passage in Galatians 3 is as clear as can be.

For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” (Galatians 3:9-10)
How anyone can miss this is a wonder. Is there any doubt that Paul had in mind the “Book of the Law” when he said “works of the law” in the same breath? Yet the “New Perspective on Paul” insists that is not what Paul intended.
Those who rely on their own morality, their own faithfulness, even in part for their salvation are guilty of relying on “another gospel”. Once more, hear Paul’s words.
Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses (Acts 13:38-39)
This is the gospel in a nut shell. “…through this man forgiveness of sins in proclaimed”. “By Him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the Law of Moses”, or by good works, or by covenant faithfulness. Christ alone is the hope of sinners!

18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
(1 Corinthians 1:13-31)

Paul’s version of the gospel offered up Jesus Christ as our righteousness, our redemption, and our sanctification. Jesus the God man, the suffering servant who bore the sins of us all and made it so that God can be just and justify the ungodly. Paul insisted that a gospel different than the one he preached was “another gospel” which was really “not another”, it was only a lie. That is still true. I’ll go with Moser on this. Subtle or not subtle, a modified gospel is not good news at all.