The “Gospel Advocate” Creed

WomanLately the Gospel Advocate’s insistence on establishing a new creed for the Churches of Christ has really started to bother me. I mean, it’s just so very wrong to claim to stand in the shoes of the founders of the Restoration Movement all the while trying to impose a creed—in exact contradiction to what they stood for.

Restoration background

Nowadays, a creed is simply a statement of belief. But as the word was used nearly 200 years ago, “creed” meant a statement of doctrinal belief by which you define who is in the church and who is not. For example, in a famous story, Alexander Campbell was not allowed to take communion at his home Presbyterian church until he’d affirmed that he agreed with that church’s creed. Campbell said he agreed with the creed insofar as it agreed with scripture, was given a token that would admit him to communion, but then, rejecting the entire concept, tossed the token in the plate and left, refusing to accept communion on such terms. Al Maxey tells the story well. http://www.zianet.com/maxey/reflx148.htm.

Today, when we quote the Campbells, saying we have “no creed but Christ and no book but the Bible,” we should understand that they meant that anyone who is in Christ should be considered a part of the church—as opposed to requiring a church member to agree to the denomination’s creed as a condition to receiving communion. You could agree with, say, the Westminster Confession on all points but one, but if you disagreed on that point, you were denied communion and considered an infidel.

Alexander Campbell wrote,

Faith in Jesus as the true Messiah, and obedience to him as our Lawgiver and King, the ONLY TEST of Christian character, and the ONLY BOND of Christian union, communion, and co-operation, irrespective of all creeds, opinions, commandments, and traditions of men.[1]

Now, Campbell’s point was not that creeds are bad because creeds are in error—

Our opposition to creeds arose from a conviction, that whether the opinions in them were true or false, they were hostile to the union, peace, harmony, purity, and joy of Christians; and adverse to the conversion of the world to Jesus Christ.[2]


Some have said we have no creed but the Bible, meaning by this that we have no creed except our interpretation of the Bible—as though there were some profound difference between a written creed and an unwritten creed. Obviously, there is none. Rather, Campbell taught that we should replace creeds with faith in Jesus, not faith in our understanding of divorce and remarriage or our understanding of the role of women in the church.

Thomas Campbell, Alexander’s faith, taught the same thing in his “Declaration and Address,” generally considered the founding document of the Restoration Movement and frequently quoted by even the most conservative writers—including Daniel Sommer in his “Address and Declaration” and H. Leo Boles in his “The Way of Unity between ‘Christian Church’ And Churches Of Christ.”[3]

Thomas Campbell wrote,

8. That as it is not necessary that persons should have a particular knowledge or distinct apprehension of all divinely revealed truths in order to entitle them to a place in the church; neither should they, for this purpose, be required to make a profession more extensive than their knowledge: but that, on the contrary, their having a due measure of scriptural self-knowledge respecting their lost and perishing condition by nature and practice; and of the way of salvation thro’ Jesus Christ, accompanied with a profession of their faith in, and obedience to him, in all things according to his word, is all that is absolutely necessary to qualify them for admission into his church.

The Campbells came to their understanding of baptism some years later. Hence, except for baptism, Proposition 8 of the “Declaration and Address” is simply the plan of salvation as we’ve traditionally taught it. To be saved you must be aware of your lost condition, confess faith in Jesus, and consent to be obedient to him—hear, believe, repent, and confess.

9. That all that are enabled, thro’ grace, to make such a profession, and to manifest the reality of it in their tempers and conduct, should consider each other as the precious saints of God, should love each other as brethren, children of the same family and father, temples of the same spirit, members of the same body, subjects of the same grace, objects of the same divine love, bought with the same price, and joint heirs of the same inheritance. Whom God hath thus joined together no man should dare to put asunder.

However, Proposition 9 is dramatically different from our traditional teaching. Here, Campbell urges that everyone who meets the standards stated in Proposition 8 should be considered a fellow Christian and “subjects of the same grace” and “joint heirs of the same inheritance.” In other words, Campbell contends that the standard by which we first become saved is the same standard by which we stay saved. “Hear, believe, repent, confess, and be baptized” defines not only who is first saved but who goes to heaven, provided, of course, they remain true to their faith and repentance.

This is also precisely what the Bible teaches. I demonstrate this in Do We Teach Another Gospel? and in The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace, which you can buy at http://web.ovc.edu/bookstore/holysp.shtml or download for free at The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace.

The Gospel Advocate’s different approach

However, the Gospel Advocate takes an entirely different approach. The editors and authors certainly agree with Proposition 8 (plus baptism, of course), but they strongly disagree with Proposition 9. They teach instead, that although I can be saved without knowing a lot of theology—just faith, penitence, and baptism—I won’t stay saved unless I become quite the expert in theological matters. One mistake in a point of doctrine considered important that these men, and I’m damned in my sins, regardless of how innocent my mistake may be.

For example, in the March 2006 issue, Kerry Anderson, president of the Gospel Advocate Company, writes that “issues like worship [and] roles of men and women” are salvation issues. Hence, if my congregation has any worship practice that Br. Anderson disagrees with, he must consider me lost—beyond the reach of the grace Jesus died to give.

In the August 2006 issue, Jimmy Jividen declared certain men “on the road to apostasy [damnation]” because they “ignore the gender and qualifications of elders and deacons” In short, if I disagree with Br. Jividen’s interpretation of whether a woman may be a deacon, I’m damned.

I think women may be deacons. I think the scriptural and historical evidence is actually pretty strong. Buried Talents. It’s not absolutely conclusive, however. Br. Jividen disagrees with me. There’s evidence on his side as well, but neither is his evidence conclusive. Nonetheless, he considers me apostate for being wrong.

Ironically, the list of Restoration leaders who agree with me is quite long. The evidence is summarized in J. Stephen Sandifer’s excellent Deacons: Male and Female? (Houston: Keystone Publ. 1989) beginning at page 119. The following men supported the ordination of female deacons: Alexander Campbell, Walter Scott, Robert Milligan, Tolbert Fanning, W. K. Pendleton, Moses Lard, J. M. Barnes, E. G. Sewell, David Lipscomb, J. C. McQuiddy, C. R. Nicol, B. W. Johnson, Winkler, G. C. Brewer (considered Phoebe to have probably been a deacon), J. Ridley Stroop, J. D. Thomas, J. W. Roberts (“evidence seems strong”), James Bales, and many more.

By Br. Jividen’s logic, the men who edited the Gospel Advocate the longest, Lipscomb and Sewell, whose articles are being republished even today by the Gospel Advocate, are apostate!

In the January 2007 issue, Aubrey Johnson urges elders to divide ministerial candidates between “sheep” and “wolves.” He cites Jude 3-11 and describes these wolves as liars, ungodly, disruptive, self-important, unfaithful, divisive insurgents. He then tells elders how to tell who is a wolf and who is a sheep. He suggests a series of questions, some quite appropriate, and some astonishing.

Now, there’s nothing at all wrong with an eldership insisting that the church’s ministers teach the Bible as understood by the elders. Even if the elders consider a minister forgiven for his error, elders should not put a man in a pulpit to teach what they consider error. However, the point of the article is that these men are not only wrong, but they are also “godless” men for whom “blackest darkness has been reserved forever” (Jude 13, describing “wolves”).

So, who are these evil men? Well, they are ministers of the gospel who believe the Lord’s Supper may be taken on days in addition to Sunday, ministers who limit the authority of the elders to moral authority, rather than positional authority, or youth ministers who allow girls to lead songs or prayers in private, mixed-group settings.

Well, Jesus took his supper on a Thursday night. The early church “broke bread” daily (compare Acts 2:46 with 20:7). But Br. Johnson concludes that anyone with such a point of view is outside the church entirely, ungodly, and outside the faith.

As David Lipscomb and E. G. Sewell taught that elders have only moral authority, they become very notable examples of faithless, ungodly wolves.

And if 1 Tim. 2:11-15 only prohibits a woman from teaching a man in a public setting, as demonstrated by the fact that Priscilla taught Apollos in private, why doesn’t the public setting limitation also apply to song leading or prayers?

Now, I give these very typical examples to demonstrate how very destructive this approach to grace is. Once it’s admitted that we can pick some teachings in addition to faith, repentance, and baptism as so important that we can deny salvation to those who disagree with us, there’s no limit to how narrow and petty we can become. I mean, the Gospel Advocate is damning Christians for daring to agree with Lipscomb and Sewell—whom the Gospel Advocate lauds as heroes of the faith!

I have asked some of these men where they intend to draw the line. Is every single truth taught in scripture a salvation issue? Or just some truths? If it’s just some truths, what’s the Biblical standard for determining which truths are salvation issues and which are not? I’ve yet to receive a straight answer.

I agree that failure to repent can damn (Heb. 10:26-27). I agree that losing one’s faith damns (1 John 4:2-3). I don’t agree that agreeing with some preacher’s opinion on who may be a deacon is essential to my salvation.

The Gospel Advocate is not by any stretch a Restoration Movement periodical. You can’t damn people for agreeing with Lipscomb and contradict the founding principles of the Movement and credibly make such a claim. Much more importantly, this tendency to arbitrarily pick emotional issues and declare them salvation issues is utterly contrary to the New Testament.


[1] Preface to the second edition of the Christian System (1839) (emphasis in the original).

[2] Ibid.

[3]; These famous documents justify division based on grossly distorted interpretations of Thomas Campbell’s work.

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0 Responses to The “Gospel Advocate” Creed

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  2. Jack Exum Jr says:

    Jay,
    Thank you for bringing this to the attention of your readers. Truthfully, I am concerned at the direction of the church. I personally am so grateful for God's grace and forgiveness, and am somewhat leery of sitting in the Seat claimed already by our Master.
    When dad was in Ireland, he tells of a brother who was asked to serve the Lord's Supper "to the saints". Now the Irish are very sharp and quick witted, and this brother 'shot back', "brother____, if you will kindly mark out the saints, I will serve them." Not bad.
    Then again, Marshall Keeble, once said, "I'm not a judge, just a fruit examiner." So while one can make righteous judgement, based on the fruit, still it is not wise to forget the autonomy of congregations, the grace of God, and the basis by which even Paul said we are saved, I Corinthians 15:1-4. Ultimately, the "weeds" will have to be pulled by the One who truly knows show they are. Fortunately, because some brethren consider you, or others, "apostate", doesn't make it so. Unfortunately, they use religious mass media to dissiminate their opinions, which historically has had alot of influence over congregations.
    My encouragement is for brethren to stay with our foundations which Paul laid as to the salvation we have. Keeping it simple seems to be best. Jesus saves, His grace is HIS GRACE to extend, not ours to limit. Where scriptures "draw a line of fellowship" is what we must respect. Not the "line" that others draw.
    While many are lost and dying in their sins, waiting for someone to cross their paths with the good news, what are we doing? Can it be possible that Ruel Lemmons was right when he reportedly said that the church has become "navel gazers"? Hope not.
    Anyway, I am reading this and the following articles with equal concern for the future of My Master's body.
    Thanks again Jay,
    Keep challenging us,
    Jack ExumJr.

  3. Chris Buxton says:

    Brother Guin,

    I just got around to reading this. Spot on insights. Thank you! I learn and grow every time I visit your site.

    Chris Buxton

  4. Jay I appreciate your finely worded essay. We have come a long way from the freedom to study and think for ourselves since the days of Campbell, Stone, Lipscomb and Harding.

  5. Jay Guin says:

    Bobby,

    Wow. That's about the first post I ever put up. I'd nearly forgotten about it. Thanks.

  6. Perry says:

    I tried to read this. Really, I did. But at about seven hundred words in, I could see that that writer tried hard to disguise his intent: beat the same old dead horse.
    What he should have written an essay about is the phenomenon that exists where a christian does not care for the Gospel Advocate, nor does he Wineskins.
    There is something unique going on. A small but virile group is growing that does want anything to do with the Politics of the Restoration Movement. It’s tight knit little circle of families that have squared off into Progressives and Conservatives is dwindling rapidly. The Lord has removed their candle stick.
    Perry

  7. Bob Brandon says:

    The GA appears determined to make a go of a race to the extreme right-wing and to lead it. The new owners of the Firm Foundation make the same effort after buying the paper from the Showalters in 1983. Does anyone know if the FF is still in print? Did they win their race?

    It would be a sad event if Bro. Tidwell became the Buster Dobbs of the Gospel Advocate.

  8. Avatar of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Bob,

    Actually, I see the GA following a very different course from the FF. It’s become less strident in the last few years, with fewer articles declaring specific issues matters of apostasy. The old theology is still there, but the language is less strident and the lines aren’t drawn as starkly as in the materials quoted in this article.

    The theology taught in Yeakley’s new book “Why They Left” is not nearly as strident as the GA of 5 years ago. I’ll cover some those materials in a future series (Lord willing).

    On the other hand, the underlying theology of FF and GA are the same. But the heart is different. The FF under Buster Dobbs revealed a truly dark, worldly heart. The GA reveals a heart that is torn between the darkness of 20th Century Church of Christ theology and what the Bible truly says. There’s a palpable tension — a desire both to preach both salvation by grace through faith and to cling to the errors of the last century. The GA can’t have it both ways, but it is at least trying to hold on to salvation by grace.

    The FF reveals where 20th Century CoC theology leads. The GA hasn’t sunk to those depths, and appears be considering whether it wants to wind up in the same place.

  9. Bob Brandon says:

    Jay:

    I certainly hope you’re correct; FF was founded as an opposition publication from the start and in reaction to the GA. The GA was always intended to be an educational publication; I believe it is resilient enough a forum to be able to allow differing views to be presented if its publisher and editor are resolved to be so inclined: Lipscomb himself was will and able to provide such room (it was Bro. Goodpasture who eventually was most unhelpful in that regard). But there is little time left for that once and future course to be pursued under the present business model.

    My two-cents worth.

  10. JMF says:

    Jay –

    I pointed this out to Bruce Morton a couple weeks ago. The GA and CFTF are theologically very similar. The difference is in execution. I asked Bruce to point out any doctrinal/theo differences he had with an ultra-conservative person, and he suggested that he wasn’t dogmatic about using the KJV (he had one other point, but I don’t recall what it was). That was his difference.

    When I went to church at Crieve Hall in Nashville, I remember sermons filled with woe about “those brethren that insist on loosing.” Everyone knew that Woodmont/Rubel was who was being referred to.

    At least with the FF/CFTF, they say what they think. That was my point about the moderate COC a couple weeks ago. Same theology/doctrine…but with smiles and/or pleasantness. No “…marking them”.

    So I guess I just don’t see the usefulness of the differences you speak of between the GA and the FF. They are the same thing — one is just more cuddly.

  11. Gregory Alan Tidwell says:

    JMF:

    Cuddly ?!?

    GATidwell

  12. Charles McLean says:

    Don’t worry, Greg, that accusation won’t stick.

  13. Charles McLean says:

    I think if GA is trying to “restore” anything, it is to restore the CoC to Daniel Sommers and HIS disciples. Sommers’ POV is certainly more consistent with GA’s than is that of any of the more widely-recognized voices of this movement. GA’s folk most certainly would mark Campbell and Stone and toss them out in a New York minute.

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