I’ve been reading a lot of literature from the right wing of the Churches of Christ lately — just wondering where they are in their thinking nowadays. The notorious ad in the Oklahoman is, of course, one example of right-wing thinking, and I earlier posted a series on Dave Miller’s A Plea to Reconsider. I’ve lately been reading Frank Chesser’s The Spirit of Liberalism and Phil Sanders’ blog as well.
And I’ve come to realize just how very, very far we’ve drifted from the original vision of the Restoration Movement — as well as the scriptures. And this drift is built on certain false understandings regarding human nature, two of which I want to address here.
They are lies — not that these men are liars. Rather, they’ve been deceived by the Father of All Lies regarding how real people act and think.
Fortunately, we have a truer, deeper, better understanding of human nature as revealed in the scriptures, available to us by reading the writings of Thomas Campbell. Campbell was right because, well, he was a better Bible student and student of human nature than many of today’s preachers.
Read both understandings and decide for yourself: which better reflects the human condition and a gracious God?
“I can judge the hearts of my enemies, and they all sin knowingly and so deserve their damnation.”
Ultimately, the goal of much right-wing literature is to prove that their opponents are damned. It’s not good enough show their behavior is unwise or even sinful. No, they must be damned for their error.
It’s easy enough to show that those who deliberately continue to sin are lost (Heb 10:26-27 says so). It’s easy enough, or so they imagine, to show that they sin. All that remains is to show that their sins are “knowing” or “deliberate.”
The Oklahoman ad, for example, declares,
Seeing that the case has been proven, it comes down to a respect or lack thereof for God.
The argument is that, because the authors feel they’ve proven their point, those who disagree do so out of a lack of respect for God. They can’t imagine that someone might disagree out of a lack of respect for the authors — a very different thing!
Similarly, they argue that those who disagree with the authors do so out of presumption, relying on 2 Pet 2:10 —
(2 Pet 2:10a) This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the sinful nature and despise authority.
The argument is that those who disagree with the authors do so from a “corrupt desire” and because they “despise authority.” But these three ministers are not the sort of “authority” Peter refers to.
Just so, in A Plea to Reconsider, Miller condemns Rick Atchley with this reasoning —
Yet, consider: what honest, sincere person, having heard the pure Gospel, having learned what God has done for us in Christ and the rich spiritual blessings that accompany that sacrifice, would balk at complete submission to Christ simply on the grounds that the worship of God excludes a humanly-devised, mechanical contraption? Answer: only one who has not had a genuine change of mind (repentance), and who is reluctant to render complete allegiance to Christ to the point of abandoning fleshly allurements!
Miller presumes to know Atchley’s heart so well that he can find that he has not repented of sin because of his insistence on worshiping God with an instrument.
The overriding theme of Frank Chesser’s The Spirit of Liberalism is that “liberals” do what they do knowing it to be wrong but not caring.
Now, the reality is that none of these authors knows the hearts of all their opponents. How could they? There are millions of them!
More importantly, what would make anyone think that a believer would go to church, donate to the Lord’s work, volunteer for Christian service, and worship God Almighty with an instrument believing he was sinning in so doing? What kind of human acts that way?
I mean, if I have a rebellious heart, why go to church at all? It’s easy enough to imagine why a few people might act this way — but not people by the millions.
The obvious truth is that these worshipers of God use an instrument because they believe it’s consistent with God’s will. It is therefore false — a lie from Satan — to declare that they all intend to violate God’s commands in so doing.
While God may overlook error in the immature, at some point the mature become accountable for getting doctrine right.
Phil Sanders writes,
That we are all imperfect, having imperfect knowledge and living imperfect lives, is not under question. What is under question is if ignorance is a license to self-made religion. Are we to assume that we can (because the water is presumably muddy) act on our own initiative? Do we really think that ignorance grants us the right to presume upon the grace of God?
Now I can perceive a novice or babe in Christ being judged less strictly. The disobedient who did not know the master’s will will be beaten with few stripes rather than many. What of the church leaders who, departing from a unified view, presume to embrace out of a supposed uncertainty the right to self-made religion? Will not teachers incur a stricter judgment (James 3:1)? Will not leaders who grant permission to go beyond the instructions of Scripture be held accountable? Can people plead endlessly they lack certainty (all the while acting without evidence from the New Testament)? Do people never have to repent of self-made religion? Can they knowingly continue to practice their presumptuous ways?
Notice the cleverness of the argument. He begins by conceding that a new Christian won’t be held accountable for all error. After all, it takes a while to learn all the truth.
But by the end of his argument, he’s concluded that the leadership of a church always violates Biblical teaching on worship “knowingly.” No one disagrees honestly!
It’s just not true that there comes a magic moment in our lives when we suddenly have perfect Biblical knowledge. It doesn’t happen for anyone, ever. God holds us accountable to study his will. He holds us accountable for faith in Jesus and a penitent heart. He does not require us to agree with any of these authors to go to heaven.
A truer understanding
Rather, Thomas Campbell got it right nearly 200 years ago when he wrote the founding document of the Restoration Movement, the “Declaration and Address” —
5. That with respect to the commands and ordinances of our Lord Jesus Christ, where the scriptures are silent, as to the express time or manner of performance, if any such there be; no human authority has power to interfere, in order to supply the supposed deficiency, by making laws for the church; nor can any thing more be required of christians in such cases, but only that they so observe these commands and ordinances, as will evidently answer the declared and obvious end of their institution. Much less has any human authority power to impose new commands or ordinances upon the church, which our Lord Jesus Christ has not enjoined. Nothing ought to be received into the faith or worship of the church; or be made a term of communion amongst christians, that is not as old as the New Testament.
6. That although inferences and deductions from scripture premises, when fairly inferred, may be truly called the doctrine of God’s holy word: yet are they not formally binding upon the consciences of christians farther than they perceive the connection, and evidently see that they are so; for their faith must not stand in the wisdom of men; but in the power and veracity of God — therefore no such deductions can be made terms of communion, but do properly belong to the after and progressive edification of the church. Hence it is evident that no such deductions or inferential truths ought to have any place in the churchs’s confession.
7. That although doctrinal exhibitions of the great system of divine truths, and defensive testimonies in opposition to prevailing errors, be highly expedient; and the more full and explicit they be, for those purposes, the better; yet, as these must be in a great measure the effect of human reasoning, and of course must contain many inferential truths, they ought not to be made terms of christian communion: unless we suppose, what is contrary to fact, that none have a right to the communion of the church, but such as possess a very clear and decisive judgment; or are come to a very high degree of doctrinal information; whereas the church from the beginning did, and ever will, consist of little children and young men, as well as fathers.
Have you ever wondered why a unity movement became divisive? It’s simple. We’ve forgotten our roots. 200 years ago, Campbell saw what caused Christians to divide from each other — the very same things that divide us today — an insistence that only those with “a very clear and decisive judgment” may be saved, an insistence on imposing inferences on people who disagree with those inferences — and an insistence on filling the silences of the scriptures with commands.
If only we’d have listened, our history would have been a much better one. Indeed, we’d be united on the basis that Campbell urged —
9. That all that are enabled, thro’ grace, to make such a profession [of faith in Jesus], 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.
(Campbell says nothing of baptism as he and Alexander came to their conclusions re immersion much later.)