As I read each month’s edition of the Gospel Advocate, I’ve been noting some of the issues that the authors consider as “salvation issues” or “marks of the church.” I call these issues a “creed” because that’s the original meaning of the word in Restoration Movement thought.
When the early Restoration leaders said that we have no creed but Christ, they were criticizing the practice in many denominations of denying fellowship to all who disagreed with any element of their creedal statement. Thus, when Alexander Campbell was required to affirm his belief in the Presbyterian Church’s creed to take communion, although he passed the test, he refuse to participate, as he considered the practice anti-Biblical.
This month’s issue provides a fuller statement of the Gospel Advocate‘s creed than most. A series of articles by Br. Gregory Alan Tidwell teach that certain errors cause one to be part of a “different religion.”
Tidwell seems reluctant to call those who disagree with him lost or damned, but he concludes that those with a different religion have a “different faith” and blur “the lines that make being a Christian distinct from belonging to a different faith.” He says those using instruments in worship “have already lost their faith, if you define ‘faith’ as trusting and obeying the Lord.”
It’s polite, I suppose, to allow the possibility that those who lack faith in Jesus will be saved, but Tidwell doesn’t believe that. He’s just indirectly declaring those who disagree on certain issues lost. What are these salvation issues?
The first article criticizes “many church leaders” for introducing “other sources of authority” in addition to the Bible. Worse yet, these leaders attempt to be sure that reading the Bible is “reserved for an academic elite.”
Now, I have some very serious problems with this line of argument. First, I just don’t think anyone is actually doing this. I’m pretty well read in Church of Christ literature. I attend and speak at lectureships and seminars. I’ve yet to read or hear a word seeking to add sources of authority or reserving Bible study for the academic elite.
Ironically, these are the identical charges that many progressive thought leaders make as to conservatives, such as Tidwell. For example, the Gospel Advocate often argues against instrumental music by citing early church authors, such as Justin Martyr and Thomas Aquinas. When the Catholics and Orthodox base their doctrines on these same authors, we condemn them. Surely, this kind of argument constitutes adding sources of authority to the Bible!
And many have suggested that any argument built on the silences of scripture leads to a certain elitism, as only those with a certain kind of education seem to know just which silences are binding and which are not. Indeed, nearly every split in the Churches of Christ has been over which silences are binding!
But much more fundamentally, there’s a serious problem with making faith in the Bible a salvation issue. Now, I’m personally very conservative on this issue. I have no patience with those who question the Bible’s authority or inspiration. But I’ve also taken the time to read the Bible.
And the Bible tells me that salvation is based on faith in Jesus–not faith in the Bible. Now, there are very serious and important reasons why we need to agree on the Bible as authoritative. As Tidwell points out, it’s hard to reach agreement on most issues if you don’t accept the Bible as your primary source for God’s self-revelation.
But I know of no Christian–and certainly none in the Churches of Christ–who completely rejects the Bible. On the other hand, there are some who reject particular parts of the Bible. Martin Luther, for example, questioned the inspiration of James and Hebrews. I disagree with him, but I don’t think God would damn him for his opinion.
If someone doubts the inspiration of the story of Noah or Lamentations for serious, prayerful, thoughtful reasons, I see no reason to consider him damned. Wrong is not necessarily damned, you know. If you deny the story of Noah, you’ve not denied your faith in Jesus.
I asked Tidwell whom he was referring to? He gave as his prime example ACU’s series of books called “The Heart of the Restoration.” And so, I bought the volume called God’s Holy Fire, because it’s about how to understand the scriptures.
Chapter 2 deals with inspiration, and the authors specifically assert that the Bible is authoritative and inspired. However, they assert that the Bible isn’t necessarily free from historical or scientific error.
The question is whether taking this position causes one to be damned, and the answer, quite plainly, is that it doesn’t. No one has to even read the Bible to be saved. No one has to believe in the Bible to be saved. Salvation is all about faith in Jesus.
Now, there can come a point where you deny so much of the Bible that there’s nothing left to believe in–but admitting doubts about a small handful of verses (as is the case in God’s Holy Fire) hardly puts you in that category.
You see, Tidwell is guilty of the logical fallacy called a “false dichotomy,” assuming that if you deny any of the Bible, you must deny it all and so deny Jesus. It’s just not true. It doesn’t mean I agree with the authors. But they don’t have to agree with me on everything to be saved. They do need to believe in Jesus–and they most certainly do.
In the next article, Tidwell condemns those who don’t require baptism as a condition of salvation.
If I’ve been properly baptized, and I then conclude that one does not have to be baptized for remission of sins to be saved, well, I’m still properly baptized. Those who fail to be properly baptized may well be lost, but why am I lost? I’m correctly baptized. Again, salvation is by faith in Jesus, not faith in baptism. Disagree with me and I must consider you in error, but I don’t have to consider you lost.
Tidwell’s views of baptism are disagreed with by Barton W. Stone, Thomas and Alexander Campbell, Walter Scott, and J. W. McGarvey–men repeatedly lauded by the Gospel Advocate–and yet Tidwell declares them lost in their sins for disagreeing with his views on baptism–even though each man was himself baptized.
In fact, this same issue of the Advocate has an article celebrating the life of Barton W. Stone even though Tidwell declares him to be of a different religion! You just can’t have it both ways. You can’t honor the memories of the giants of the Restoration Movement, claiming to stand in their shoes, while declaring them damned.
Tidwell declares these men to all be “of a different faith,” and yet they each had faith in Jesus. What other faith does the Bible require? In the New Testament, “faith” is faith in Jesus, not in a doctrinal system.
As important as the Bible and baptism are, they are not our saviors. They did not die for our sins. They did not arise on the third day. Saving faith is, therefore, only faith in Jesus.
(1 Cor. 2:2) For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
(Gal. 3:1-2) You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2 I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?
(Acts 20:21) I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.
(Rom. 3:22-23) This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God … .
Tidwell then argues that the use of an instrument in worship not only is error, but also damns. Ironically, he cites J. W. McGarvey for authority, and yet McGarvey contended his entire life that the instrument is not a salvation issue. He frequently preached in instrumental churches–although he insisted they not use the instrument in his presence. McGarvey was wise enough to see the difference between accusing someone of error and making just any error a salvation issue.
Of course, it’s also ironic that Tidwell cites for authority a man he considers part of a different religion!
Role of women
Finally, Tidwell argues that female leadership in worship causes one to have a different religion. He quotes Samuel Johnson: “Sir, a woman preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done all.”
It’s insulting to women to declare them incapable of preaching as well as men. After all, I’ve heard some pretty horrible preaching from men, and I know some women who could certainly do better–much better! It’s one thing to argue that God has chosen men for this role. It’s quite another to use this as an excuse to mock women. Misogyny has no place in the pages of a publication bearing the name “gospel”!
But the point, again, is that while you or I may disagree on just what women may do in worship, there’s no basis to argue that either of us is lost because we disagree. You and I both still believe in Jesus. We are both penitent. We’ve both been baptized.
There are two false assumptions that permeate these articles. First, Tidwell assumes that those who disagree with him on these issues question the inspiration and authority of scripture. It’s just not true.
The fact is that it’s entirely possible to strongly believe in the inspiration and authority and even the inerrancy of the Bible and disagree as to the arguments we make on instruments. You can agree on the authority of the Bible and disagree as to how to interpret it! My Bible class does this every Sunday morning!!
Second, Tidwell assumes that being in error on some point or other makes you lost. This can only be true if you have to be correct on every single point of doctrine to go to heaven–and God help us all if that’s true!
Now, Tidwell denies that he insists on doctrinal perfection for salvation. And yet his articles reveal no standard for how these particular doctrines cause those in error to be lost. Why these doctrines? I asked him. I’ll let you know if he ever responds.
In fact, some doctrines are essential to our salvation and some are not. These aren’t decided by Restoration history or what we chose to split over or what the editors of church periodicals are harping on. If you respect the authority of scripture, then you insist that salvation issues are only those that the Bible says are salvation issues. Or else you’re adding to the Bible! Indeed, do this and you’re adding another source of authority–you!
I’ve covered this before. But there are just a handful of salvation issues, for those who’ve been saved.
- If you lose your faith in Jesus, you’re lost (1 John 4:2-3).
- If you surrender your penitence, and no longer let Jesus be Lord of your life, you’re lost (Heb. 10:26-27).
- If you add to the gospel, by making requirements for salvation that the Bible doesn’t, you may have fallen from grace (Gal. 1-5).
Disagreeing with the Gospel Advocate on the role of women, on worship, on baptism–or even the inerrancy of scripture–does not do any of these, so long as you come to your conclusion penitently seeking to honor the will of Jesus.
Now, I recognize that these are very emotional issues. But one of the great failings of the Churches of Christ has been to act as though certain “hot button” issues damn while other, less emotionally charged issues do not–as though our emotional states somehow govern which doctrines put someone into hell!
If we are serious about our Bibles–and we certainly should be–then we may only declare someone of a different “faith” if he denies faith in Jesus and we may only declare someone lost if the Bible does, too.