Do you remember my earlier summary of Joe Beam’s article on what’s going on in the Churches of Christ? Well, his description, accurate at the time, was couched in Church of Christ terms — “change agents,” “innovation,” “Christian Churches,” and such. But the real issue is grace. And that means we need to see ourselves through a different lens — a grace lens.
You see, the Churches of Christ don’t divide neatly into a progressive and a conservative camp or, for that matter, a grace camp and a works camp. In fact, the situation looks something like this—
In the far left, there are the “100% grace” advocates, while on the far right are the “100% works” advocates. In between, there’s a near infinity of mixtures of some grace and some works.
There’s likely no one entirely on the far right. I know of no author who denies the necessity of some grace. And yet some get very, very close.
As we look at the graph, we can imagine that those on the right are more likely to find a particular doctrine a question of salvation (a matter of “faith,” as many say) than those on the left. Thus, there are those on the leftward side who practice weekly communion but don’t see the choice to do so weekly as essential to salvation. Toward the middle are those who not only practice weekly communion, they see it as essential to salvation. And a bit further to the right are those who not only see weekly communion as essential to salvation, they see believing that weekly communion is essential to salvation as itself essential to salvation. Numerous other issues follow the same pattern.
I have books on my shelves that contend that one’s salvation depends, in addition to “hear, believe, repent, confess, and be baptized,” on having the author’s understanding of the doctrine of divorce and remarriage or agreeing with the author as to the age of the earth. Of course, countless authors have added having a scriptural form of congregational organization, having a scriptural name, and having a worship service consisting of only the right five acts of worship.
I could make literally hundreds of examples. The point is that, except for those on the very left edge, all of us within the Churches of Christ see some matter or other as a law essential to salvation in addition to the simple “hear, believe, repent, confess, and be baptized.” We often take comfort in the fact that there’s always some brother or sister to our right more legalistic than ourselves, and so we feel free from the accusation of legalism. But those on our left look rightward and see us as legalists. In fact, we’re nearly all legalists, just to different degrees.
Paul declares in Gal. 5:4 that those who seek to be justified by works are fallen from grace, and when I was a conservative, I sought to be justified by works. This is the theme of the entire book of Galatians.
What I’m going to say isn’t going to win me many friends among the conservative Churches, but I believe the conservative Churches — and many progressive Churches of Christ — are guilty of the Galatian heresy. Indeed, anyone who hangs his salvation on anything other than the saving work of Jesus and faith — we are saved by grace, through faith — violates the teachings of Paul in Galatians.
I explain this carefully in Do We Teach Another Gospel?, which is a book-length study. If I’m sounding crazy or mean-spirited, please click over there and read Parts I and II of the book. They aren’t that long. If you see my point, then read on.
Here’s my key conclusion from the book,
I am not qualified to judge the fate of those among us who teach modern equivalents of circumcision, and less so to judge those who’ve been deceived by such teachers. I only know that having become aware of the problem, I must speak out and call for repentance — urgently — desperately. Out of love, not condemnation — out of concern for souls.
It is not enough to be less legalistic than the church down the road. It’s not enough to be less legalistic than you used to be. There is only one gospel, and it won’t admit of any additions at all. Nothing is required to be saved or to stay saved other than the gospel. Those who teach otherwise have been cursed by Paul in the most unambiguous terms. I pray daily for the souls of my brothers and sisters in the Churches of Christ. Please, let’s stop biting and devouring each other and learn to accept one another just as Jesus accepted us.
The “gospel” is the fact that Jesus is Lord, Son of God, and Savior and that he died and was resurrected for our sins. It is not the doctrine of divorce and remarriage or the 5 acts of worship. Making such things tests of salvation is, therefore, to add to the gospel and so to teach a different gospel.
I hope you see my quandary. The legalism of the right wing churches is devastatingly destructive. It can even be damning. As hateful as some of their preachers might be, how could we even consider ignoring their plight?
Moreover, there are thousands of members in churches, led by false teachers, who know that there must be a better, truer gospel, but they can’t find it. They haven’t been able to find the resources to do so. And they’re miserable.
I know because they write and call me nearly every day.