How to Argue Like a Christian: Answering

Now, the second-most common problem I observe in Christian discussion groups is the failure of one side to finish the conversation.

For me, the common pattern is: a conservative Christian announces that progressives have no well-defined theology of when someone falls away — accusing us of universalism or some such. I respond with a well-defined theology of when someone falls away. The conservative disappears from the site.

Here’s how Christians ought to argue. When you’ve been corrected, admit it. It’s called humility. If you make a mistake, admit it. If the other side teaches you something, thank them for it.

But we are a proud people. We think that admitting a mistake makes us looks less Christian. Wrong. Refusing to admit a mistake makes us look worldly, vain, and proud. The Biblical term would be “stiff necked.”

It’s a difficult discipline to adopt, but as a married man, I’ve been forced to learn how to apologize. It’s becoming nearly second nature.

Christian advocates apologize when they are wrong. They apologize when they’ve written so poorly the other side misunderstands them. They are the first reach across the aisle and offer love and compassion. And they readily apologize even when the other side is wrong, too. They turn the other cheek. They go the extra mile.

Now here’s the astonishing thing. When we argue like a Christian, rather than like the world, we are more convincing. Jerks who won’t finish conversations because they were wrong or who refuse to admit a mistake are just not very persuasive. Pride doesn’t change hearts.

You see, we are long past the age when people will believe us because we’re preachers or educated or own a website or a periodical. No, nowadays, to be persuasive, we have to persuade our reader as to what the Bible says — and that we believe it intensely enough to actually obey it. Refusing to admit a mistake or that we don’t know everything only hurts the cause.

In fact, in a grace-based system, which is predicated on the assumption that we all sin and cannot earn our salvation, attempting to be persuasive by claiming a perfect understanding is absurd. Grace gives us license to be imperfect, that is, to stop pretending that we’re who we’re not.

And by being who we really are – imperfect, weak, and prone to mistakes – and being comfortable in our skins, willing to admit our weaknesses, we convincingly argue for the grace Jesus died to give us.

And by being willing to admit our mistakes, we transform lecture into dialogue. In fact, perhaps the most persuasive words in the English language are “I’m sorry” and “thank you.”

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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17 Responses to How to Argue Like a Christian: Answering

  1. Jay, this will probably be my last postings for a while on your blog. I’m just too busy to debate right now with full time ministry, six hours of graduate school at OC, and a family of five! Finding the time as you wrote about the other day is the problem.

    But I do think it is a good natural stopping point. Especially when we can’t even agree on the most fundamental issue of authority for what we do and practice as Christians and members of the body of Christ. We just have different hermeneutics. I just believe that to commit a deed or activity or ministry to God that is pursued in disregard to His expressed will is the height of pretension and presumptuousness.

    Regardless of what you may think or conservative preachers like myself, the fact is, we do value the grace of Christ. I love God enough to simply do what He says to do. Hearing and obeying the commandments is how we love God (John 14:15). We are to learn righteousness and godliness from grace (Titus 2:11-14). I do not want to presume upon the grace of Christ by inventing my own doctrines and practices.

    I have no desire to make laws but simply obey the laws God has given. I believe in loving lawfulness. Love for God is shown listening to God, not presuming one can do what one pleases and relying on the grace of God will “bail him out.” I would also refer to you to read, if you haven’t already, on John Mark Hicks blog, he had some great things to say about Cecil May’s sermon Freed-Hardeman entitled “Can Patterns Go To Far.” It is my sentiment as well when he said, “To lovingly strive to please God by seeking his pattern in Scripture and to endeavor to live by it is not legalism. Legalism is the notion that we can save ourselves by our own doing either by being correct enough, believing all the right things or being good enough, doing all the right things.”

    Jay, I do want to address a few things in this posting. First of all, I must also comment on your statement that, “Reading over Robert’s arguments about instrumental music, the Regulative Principle, fellowship, and falling away, he obviously sees God primarily as someone to be feared. In the conservative mind, God puts his most serious requirements in the silences — and will damn those who misunderstand what the silences ban. Faith, penitence, and a life of dedication to God and his mission are all of no avail to the poor schmucks who worship God with an instrument. It’s not a matter of our hearts — it’s mainly about getting the rules right.” First of all, I never, NEVER said that it doesn’t matter what is in our hearts and that it only matters about getting “the rules right.” That is prejudicial and false and you owe me a retraction. And I have repeatedly said that I will be more than willing to “let” God do all the eternal judging on the issue of instrumental music. As a matter of fact, I have tried to stress my biggest reason for denying full and open fellowship with the Christian Church is primarily due to their leaders who continue to practice this unscriptural worship and keep contributing to the division between instrumental and non-instrumental brethren.

    Second, you said, “I serve God out of fear.’ My Bible says fear of the Lord, is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom. That's a major reason why our churches aren't as obedient and fruitful as they ought to be. It's true: most Christians no longer "fear" the Lord. Jesus is considered an understanding pal, right? The Father is our good buddy, who winks at our continual failings. And we can either take or leave the Holy Spirit's suggestions, depending on how well they fit into our busy schedule. We especially are fear-less in prayer, mistaken treating it as heaven's delivery service. We now live in a culture with absolutely no reverence of or respect for Almighty God. As a group, the collective church has forgotten who and what the Lord is. As His representatives, we don't practice the presence of the living God very well, do we? Isaiah, though, cried out "Woe is me!" when he saw God's radiant holiness. The Bible is full of people who fall down as if dead upon encountering a form of God's presence.

    Jay, every God-used person of the Bible walked in fear — reverence and respect — of God. It's a fact. Walked in fear. Walked in fear. You see the words over and over. "Now fear the Lord and serve Him with all faithfulness," Joshua commanded God's people in Joshua 24:14 after telling them to "be very strong; be careful to obey all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, without turning aside to the right or to the left." By not staying in God's word, too many individuals and congregations have lost their reverence and respect of God and gone astray of His will.

    Jay, to walk in fear, we must conduct our daily lives in reverent awe of God and obedient respect of His word. That should be the motivation for our lives — to do everything His way and thus want to please the Almighty more than ourselves, our families, our “restoration history,” etc. Should we shudder at the prospect of God's wrath and dread His punishment? Perhaps. More than being afraid of God putting His hand on us, though, we should fear having the Lord take away His hand of blessing and power. (Matt. 28:18-20; Phil. 2:12-13; Eph. 3:19-21)

    I do sometimes think that most Christians today wish that a bolt from the blue would strike nearby to keep us on the straight and narrow when we stray. Trouble is, too many straying Christians and congregations take the lack of that bolt as God's approval instead of His loving patience, which is longsuffering but has a limit.

    Jay, you and I are just different. I believe we need to encourage one to walk in reverence and respect of Almighty God. We need to get into His word and stay there in prayer. My Bible says, “Therefore, since, we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and fear. For our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28-29)

    I obey God because I do fear and revere Him and I also serve and obey Him out of the greatest love and gratitude. I believe the very opposite of you I guess. The more I know Him and love Him, the more I do fear (respect/reverence) Him. Love does not “drive out” that kind of fear as you claimed 1 John 4:17ff teaches.

    Third, you are just completely wrong about Romans 14-15 not being about matters of preference. The issues that Paul considers in those chapters are NOT inherently doctrinal issues before God (some men, yes). This passage has been ‘hijacked” by progressive thinking brethren to promote virtually all kinds of doctrinal “diversity" in unity and accept sinful doctrines and practices. It is clear from the text that nothing is being considered that is a sinful doctrine or practice since it is said of those who have "scruples" about "meats" (vv. 21) and ''days" (vv. 51) that "God hath received him" (v. 3). The practices under consideration in the chapter are "clean" (v. 14), "good"(v. 16), "acceptable to God"(v. 18), and "pure" (v. 20). Though one brother was "weak" (v. 1, lacking knowledge) and another "strong" (15:1), they were not to "judge" each other (vv. 10, 13) but, on the contrary, "receive" one another (v. 1), for "God has received him" (v. 3). It is a wresting of the Scripture to imply that any sinful doctrine or practice could be included among those things "clean," "acceptable to God," and "pure."

    It is simply a grievous error to imply that God "receives" brethren in doctrines or practices that are "unclean" and "impure." Paul said to have "no fellowship" with sin but to "come out and be separate" (2 Cor. 6: 14-18). He also taught that we are to "have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness but rather reprove them" (Eph. 5:11).

    Now, of course, Jay, it is clear that the Bible teaches us to be longsuffering and patient with those in sin (Eph. 4:2, etc.) and to "give answer with meekness and fear" (1 Pet. 3:15). But the proper attitude we must exhibit is not the same thing as "receiving them" and, in the language of Romans 1 4. not to "judge" them (vv. 3, 10, 13). Scripture nowhere, repeat, nowhere, calls upon us to give the "right hand of fellowship" or accept into fellowship those who teach and practice sinful practices or those "tolerating contradictory teachings and practices on moral and doctrinal questions. Fellowship is not to be extended to "accepting each other" in matters that all concede to be "sin.”

    Fellowship with God and with the body of Christ is thus conditional upon acknowledging the truth revealed by Christ's ambassadors (1 Cor. 2:12-13; 2 Cor. 5:20). This truth is knowable (Jn. 8:32), understandable (Eph. 3:4), teachable (2 Tim. 2:2), completely revealed (Jude 3) and will be the basis of our judgment (Jn. 12:48).

    Jay, we are taught "that we all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment" (1 Cor. 1:10). The apostolic practice was to "remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church" (1 Cor. 4:17). Jesus prayed that all believers "might be one." Did Jesus pray for something that can never be? Did Paul command us to speak the same thing when it is not possible to speak the same thing? Are we to accept that a unity in diversity that allows fellowship with doctrinal error is the fellowship that is in Christ? If "historical reality denies that such unanimity existed in New Testament congregations or that it exists today," why does Acts 2:42 declare that the early church "continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine?" To suggest that unity in doctrine is not possible is to deny the witness of the apostles. Unity in doctrinal diversity is soundly condemned. It is axiomatic that "going beyond the doctrine of Christ " to allow fellowship with "major moral and doctrinal differences" which will divide the fabric of fellowship. One cannot be, both and at the same time, "abiding in the doctrine" while embracing "works of lawlessness" (Mt. 7:23).

    Now, I am not denying the need to be patient and longsuffering toward brethren in sin (1 Thes. 5:14; Eph. 4:2-3; Jude 21-23). In 1 Thessalonians 5:14, Paul exhorted the brethren to "be longsuffering toward all." That "all" included the "disorderly" along with the "fainthearted" and "weak." Yet, the "disorderly" could not be received into an on-going fellowship for Paul instructed them in a letter shortly after this instruction to "withdraw yourselves from every brother that walks disorderly" (2 Thes. 3:6). No one denies the need to work with brethren, whether "overtaken in a trespass" (Gal. 6:1) or in the grip of sinful practices (Gal. 3:1-4). But patience and longsuffering which is intended to bring sinners to repentance is not the same as "receiving one" in matters of personal conscience in an open and on-going fellowship (Rom. 14). The proper action in Romans 14 toward the one practicing the disputed action is: "receive him" (v. 1), do not "judge" him to be sinful for God receives him in the practice (v. 3-4, 10, 13), recognize that he "stands" before God (v. 4), "let each be fully convinced in his own mind" (v. 5), accept his practice as "clean" (v. 14), "good," (v. 16), and "pure" (v. 20), admit him to be "acceptable to God" (v. 18), keeping that matter of personal faith "to yourself" (v. 22), and not disputing about it (v. 1).

    Let there be no mistake that patience and longsuffering with sinners is not the same as toleration, an on-going fellowship with, or a "receiving" of one in the teaching or practice of sin. Patience and longsuffering has limits and the sinner must repent or be brought to discipline. Lacking repentance, sin must be removed from the fellowship or the fellowship itself will be corrupted (1 Cor. 5:6; 2 Thes. 3:6, 14). Romans 14 (which demands on-going, continuous fellowship in matters of personal conscience) is not properly applied to fellowshipping the practice of sin.

    Now, how, then, do we apply the principles of fellowship in a local church in the presence of brethren who are less than perfect? First, we acknowledge that there will always be in the fellowship of the saints those who have imperfect knowledge of Bible doctrine (including you and I). One reason is because we of course, are always leraning, growing in our faith knowledge. And no, I don't believe God expects at any time "perfect" understanding of His will in order to be saved. But, we are saved by grace through faith. But, we must contine to walk by faith and "add" the Christian virtures of 2 Peter 1:5ff which includes "knowledge." (cf. 2 Peter 3:15) If we don't continue in this knowledge (and we'll at different levels), then we can and will "fall" Peter says. Second, the church is composed of babes in Christ, mature Christians and those at every step in between. Third, these imperfections in belief and practice are to be addressed through preaching of the whole counsel of God, calling on men to turn away from every erroneous doctrine and sinful practice. Bringing the weak to maturity (Eph. 4:13) is not equal with toleration of sin! Finally, when men are perceived as rebelling against that revealed word, either with reference to sinful conduct or rejection of divine doctrine, they are to be disfellowshipped. (Romans 16:17-18, “…avoid them..”)

    Now, now, I know that you and others like to run to restoration history – Campbell, Stone, etc. and cry “well, they did this or they didn’t do or believe this.” Jay, Historical tolerance of error proves only one thing: historical tolerance of error! If some restoration era churches tolerated instruments of music, does that provide a present argument for toleration of instruments today? In fact, a case could be well made that restoration churches did not tolerate instrumental music. (See my previous postings concerning J.W. McGarvey) But historical arguments which offer advice to tolerate fellowship with moral or doctrinal error based on past generations should carry no more weight than the "traditions of the elders" (Mt. 15:3).

    Quickly, let me attempt to try to finally outline the fellowship issue when it comes to error. Fellowship may be restricted, to one degree or another, from the following general classes.
    (1) The rebelliously immoral—In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul clearly states that impenitent, immoral persons, e.g., fornicators, drunkards, and extortionists, are worthy of church discipline. Such characters are to be “delivered unto Satan” (5:5), or “put away” (5:13), for their own soul’s sake (5:5), and for the protection of the church (5:6-7). The church of today is woefully remiss in this duty.
    (2) Apostates—Those who “fall away” (Luke 8:13) or who “depart from the faith” (1 Timothy 4:1) are surely subject to some degree of discipline. Formal withdrawal of fellowship may not be appropriate for a “babe” in Christ who almost immediately leaves the faith (such a one may not even understand the significance of the act), but for those who have matured somewhat, and then depart, discipline surely should be exercised (2 Thessalonians 3:6,14-15).
    (3) Teachers of false doctrine—Inspiration instructs us to “turn away from” those who teach divisive doctrines contrary to apostolic truth (Romans 16:17). A heretic, after proper admonition, should be rejected (Titus 3:10). Hymenaeus and Alexander made “shipwreck of the faith,” and Paul “delivered them unto Satan” (which means he severed fellowship with them—cf. 1 Corinthians 5:5) that they might be taught not to blaspheme (1 Timothy 1:19-20). But the problem with this is: How does one determine which teachings are significantly erroneous to warrant disciplinary action?

    When brethren hold opposite viewpoints on various points of Bible interpretation, quite obviously someone is in error. But the question may be: Is that error of such serious consequence as to be a threat to the eternal welfare of others? Let us consider several matters.
    1) Some error reflects upon the nature and/or character of the Godhead
    2) Some error attacks the credibility of the Bible as an infallible revelation from God
    3) Any error that undermines the finality of New Testament revelation is worthy of censure
    4) Error that denies the Lord’s clear plan of salvation and who obliterate the concept of the distinctiveness of Christ’s church. (Gal. 1:6-10; 1 Cor. 15:1-4; Eph. 4:4 “one body”, “one baptism”). What about teachers in the Lords’ church who publicly advocate that Christians may/should extend fellowship to those “baptized” as infants, to those who have been sprinkled instead of immersed, and to those who endorse the idea of salvation by “faith alone?”
    5) I believe those who argue that the New Testament establishes no pattern for acceptable worship. (Matt. 15:7-9; John 4:23-24; 1 Tim. 3:15 [which included “worship” instructions]; Acts 2:42 “breaking bread [Lord’s Supper reference, that abided in that apostolic doctrine]; 1 Cor. 11:23-34; 14:33-34)

    Jay, what should be our posture toward those who, by their anti-biblical ideas, promote, encourage, or, at the very least condone, immoral acts or doctrinal errors? Should the blanket of “toleration” be thrown over them indefinitely? In his letter to the church in Thyatira (Revelation 2:18ff), Christ, though commending these brethren for some things, nonetheless said of them, that they were clearly “tolerating” immorality and doctrinal errors. There was, within the church of Thyatira, an influential woman who is called Jezebel. (would suggest that she was similar in character and teaching to that ancient queen who corrupted Israel (1 Kings 16:29ff; 2 Kings 9:30ff). As wicked as she was, the Lord had given her time to repent, but his patience had been ignored by this evil woman, hence, judgment was imminent. But here is another matter: Christ had a strong rebuke for the brethren in Thyatira because they continued to tolerate (apheis—present tense) her false teaching (v. 20). Surely, we ought to learn something from this inspired narrative.

    How long can the church go on, tolerating compromising views such as these? The church has been patient with some teachers who advocate and promote unscriptural practices without authority and which have causes and continue to cause great division within the body of Christ, yet they show no sign whatever of changing their corrupting views. Should we ignore their corrupting influence forever?

    Jay, the Scriptures predict that some will “abandon the faith” (1 Timothy 4:1) and John even tells of those who have done so (1 John 2:19). Those who apostatize by leaving the truth in doctrine and practice are the ones who establish a new branch. If it was wrong to depart, as the Scriptures clearly say it is, then it must be right to go back beyond that departure to the Bible to find what to believe and practice.

    I believe I am making a plea for firm balance within the Christian brotherhood. On the one hand, one should not call for wholesale head-hunting; that is, that we withdraw from every brother with whom we may disagree regarding various points of Bible interpretation. Such a fanatical approach has fragmented the church and made Christianity a reproach before an unbelieving world.

    On the other hand, it is equally foolish to shut one’s eyes to blatant false teaching that undermines the spiritual and moral foundations of the church. And some of the various doctrinal errors we’ve been talking about do just that.

    Yes, Jay I grant to you that this is not the easiest and simplest decision and matter of discussing unity and fellowship and error. As we seek, however, to determine what doctrines and practices are essentials in the Christian faith, and thus vital for us to believe and practice, we cannot just ask ‘Which errors can we hold to and not be condemned and which ones can we not?” This subjective measure could lead us to set aside something the Scriptures make a matter of salvation. The apostles were guided into all truth and were told to teach what Christ had commanded. We must, therefore, take all of their teachings Seriously and seek to follow all of what they said as closely as we can. Certainly all of those things to which they attach a warning about salvation or damnation should receive our careful attention. It is my humble and sincere conviction that your approach to scripture, would lead to less exactness and certainty in understanding Scripture. The Scriptures do not encourage this more flexible approach. Those who have followed such a path in the past have typically moved far from where we as a body have stood. Christ said to do both the weightier and the lesser matters (Matthew 23:23).

    Again, Jay, you and I just have different approaches to scripture. The difference between myself and other more conservative minded brethren in churches of Christ and you and more liberal minded progressives in the church (and Christian Church) is how we approach and interpret Scriptures. (Hermeneutics). It’s just going to hard for us to have much genuine dialogue and conversation when you and I don’t agree about the simple matters as to whether or not we even need Biblical authorization for what constitutes appropriate worship to God in our assemblies.

    You and other progressive minded brethren easily dismiss and “write off” the Nadab and Abihu argument as old hat, but there are cogent parallels. Nadab and Abihu were destroyed by fire from the presence of the Lord for the use of fire on the altar which the Lord “had not commanded them.” They may have thought it was no big deal to use “strange” (KJV), “unholy” (RSV), “unauthorized” (NIV) fire. Various reasons have been suggested as to why what they offered was not acceptable, but the Lord Himself explained, “By those who come near me, I must be regarded as holy” (Leviticus 10:1-3). They sought to worship a holy God with unholy, because unauthorized actions, God rejected them and their worship.

    Your approach and hermeneutics seems to be that as long as God did come right out and specify and say, “If you have any other form or kind of church organization, you will be condemned in this error.” Jay, my hermeneutics believes that we need to faithfully follow God’s clearly revealed plan and pattern for church organization, and to teach and refuse those who practice otherwise and warm them against changing or adding too God’s commandments.

    Again, I come back to the instrumental music issue (which you seem to not want to debate). Again, the issue before the use of the instrument is the issue of how one approaches and interprets Scripture (hermeneutics). The problem with your reasoning in instrumental music is that God has spoken specifically about the topic. Added to this is the theology behind what He has said. (I’d recommend John Mark Hicks, who although I wouldn’t agree on many things he teaches, I still think he has done one of the best jobs in presenting the theology behind why we just sing in his excellent article is, “Why Don’t You have Music in Your Church?” And yes, I understand that it is his conviction that instrumental music should not be made a test of fellowship. He's right on one and wrong on the other.

    Bottom line Jay, your basic hermeneutical approach seems to just be a restating and repackaged version of the old, tired argument that says a thing is all right for worship unless explicitly forbidden.

    I’m sure you don’t care too much for brother Phil Sanders, but his words he once said on his blog, but I think they are so true in many (not all) instances in our discussions.

    “When I think of the agenda of many progressives today, I wonder what is really new about what they are offering. Instrumental music? No, it has been around for centuries (and some who have it found it wasn't all that great and are longing for a simpler, more reverent, way to express their hearts).

    Choirs? Those started more than a thousand years ago. Many churches who have them have people in the pews who don't sing much, and the people up in the choir constantly seem to compete to be noticed. Choirs have caused a lot of friction. When churches have choirs, folks get far more concerned with the quality of the music than the quality of the worship. The focus settles more on how good "we" sound than how great God is.

    Grace? Many progressives flirt with an ill-defined grace that has little need for repentance or for obedience to the will of God. What they offer is little different than the hard-core Calvinist that removes any responsibility for righteousness from men and puts it all upon God. God will save you in your ignorance, so there is no need to listen and obey. And if you made a mistake, just pray up; God will excuse your disobedience. This too is not a new notion. It is as old as time and just as foolish as it ever was. Progressive grace is grace without repentance–it is an old lie that we can presume upon the grace of God.

    When progressives get to where they are going to, where will they be? They will have created a bad imitation of a tired denomination.

    The restoration leaders sought to lead us out of the digression of man-made religion. There is no real progress in returning to the very things our fathers left. It is delusional to repaint old error with new names and think we have somehow "progressed."

    One last note: people can progress too much. They can progress to the point that they lose their identity and the blessing of God. The Gnostic anti-christs of old did just that; and people who want to remake Christianity in their own image today can make the same mistake.

    John said, "Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son" (2 John 9). The word "goes on ahead" is "proagon," and is much akin to our word 'progress.' While the specific reference in 2 John is to a first century heresy, we must realize that the principle of going beyond the will of God holds little hope in any area of doctrine or practice.

    Let us hold fast and not be moved from the truth of God's word. Phil Sanders.

    In conclusion, (which I know some of your readers will be glad to hear me say) Jay, I want to be very clear about something: Those who are promoting clearly unscriptural practices and doctrines: The faithful will not let it pass. We love you, and we do not intend to abuse you; but neither will we use you and openly embrace your distorted view of fellowshipping error. We will not extend our pulpits to you. We will attempt to stop your influence. From time to time, we will continue such pressure until there is repentance, or you pass from our midst. I say that in deep love and concern for your soul and the souls of all those who read your blog but have clearly embraced error when it comes to truth and the church.

    For Christ and the truth,
    Robert Prater
    Pulpit Minister,
    Central Church of Christ,
    Shawnee, OK

  2. Tim Archer says:

    I don't have quite as much to say as Robert, but I did want to note that blogs are similar to discussion groups on this point. How many times have you seen a blog owner post a followup saying, "My commenters have convinced me that I was wrong"? On my own blog, I think I've only done it once.

    Seems like most discussions are a contest to see who will get the last word, not an attempt to arrive at truth.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  3. Alan says:

    It seems to me what Robert is saying is that he is willing to bind where God has not specifically bound. Robert will likely deny this, but I find it hard to reach any other conclusion. Does Robert think he can be wrong about anything he believes? That is where I see the primary difference between the conservatives such as Robert and conservatives such as Jay – Some conservatives seem to be incapable of believing they could ever be wrong about how they interpret the Bible. Some conservatives acknowledge that they could be mistaken. Which, I wonder, is the more humble approach?

  4. Alan says:

    I am sorry – one more thing. Robert said, "The restoration leaders sought to lead us out of the digression of man-made religion. There is no real progress in returning to the very things our fathers left. It is delusional to repaint old error with new names and think we have somehow “progressed.”"

    The first generation of restoration leaders sought to lead us out of the digression of man-made religion. Too many, however, of the second and latter generation leaders led too many right back in. What Jay calls "conservatives" today are the ones who are content to stay in this new man-made religion and call it "God's only way." What Robert calls "progressives" are the ones trying to lead us back to the vision of the first generation of restoration leaders, where all Christians can unite without the man-made rules.

  5. Joe Baggett says:

    Alan said:
    "The first generation of restoration leaders sought to lead us out of the digression of man-made religion. Too many, however, of the second and latter generation leaders led too many right back in. What Jay calls “conservatives” today are the ones who are content to stay in this new man-made religion and call it “God’s only way.” What Robert calls “progressives” are the ones trying to lead us back to the vision of the first generation of restoration leaders, where all Christians can unite without the man-made rules."


  6. Robert Baty says:


    I find your comments to have specific application to my own experience in Internet forums where I, a real nobody, have had occasion to converse with a variety of somebodies (i.e., preachers and the like).

    In many cases, the discussion progresses to the point where you can see the typical preacher preference for getting in the last word. I typically play along, in part, to see just what it takes for a preacher, or similar sort, to let somebody like me "have the last word".

    As to admitting errors, your comments are also quite on target.

    It is quite common to hear preachers, and the like, talk about how they used to believe some such thing in the long ago.

    Alas, catch them on something "right now" and it becomes quite a chore to get admissions, explanations, and corrections.

    For instance, the Maury myth and bible-in-hand statue claim!
    For instance, the simple, logical validity of modus ponens form arguments!

    Of course, those are just examples from my own experience which is a continuing testimony as to why "we" can't handle the weightier matters very well.

    Matthew 7:1,2 & James 3:1!

    Robert Baty

  7. konastephen says:


    Thank you for those honest and heart-felt words… I mean, it is obvious that this is an important issue for you, and that you long for peace and harmony in persuading others to understand your perspective.

    I wish, though, that you could put a critical eye to your own presuppositions that help to bring about the gulf in understanding you mention between Jay and you. It would be helpful if you understood the foundationalism that your hermeneutic stands on—for the ‘law of silence’ is certainly a man-made philosophy erected to fill the void of tradition and a creational eschatology in our somewhat Gnostic and a-historical circles.

    Deeper, way deeper than instrumental music are the basic question and ideas that we approach the bible with—these determine the constellation of biblical passage we string together to make up our various doctrines. I must say that the constellations often seen over the “conservative” skies, though biblical, have a very Lockean, Baconian, Newtonian vibe to them.

    I think you are right about the issue of legalism and grace—those are words that are like coins with the faces worn off from overuse.

    I think you are right about the fear of God—though I wonder if there are different shades of fear. Do you have a view of the fear of God shown by the man in the parable who buried his talents? Was it not silence and a misconstrued view of the mission of God that was his downfall?

  8. I think I've had to apologize on this blog … For misreading something Jay wrote. I should be a better "listener" – the on-target subject of a previous post! – and I wouldn't have to apologize so often!

    Then, of course, when it comes to matters of long and firm conviction, I'm generally not persuaded even by a lengthy exhange of posts, comments or chats. As Randy Harris points out, "We all think we're right." I'd add that we all like to think we're right, even when Webster, Britannica and holy scripture strongly indicate otherwise. Of course we should be humble. Of course we should be open. But we're ornery critters, us human folk, and long-seated beliefs aren't quickly unseated.

    I didn't accept the kindness and severity of God overnight.

    It took a while for the kindness to soften my old heart and help me understand that the severity is reserved for those who will not believe.

  9. Jay Guin says:


    I'll read and respond but the next few days are pretty busy. Don't give up on me.

  10. Jay Guin says:

    I've been convinced a few times. I've even rewritten some posts based on reader's criticisms. But I can't keep count. I find myself repressing the memories.

  11. Jay Guin says:

    Agreed. If Robert would adopt Thomas or Alexander Campbell's doctrine of fellowship (previously detailed in replies to Robert), we'd be very much on the same page.

  12. My biggest problem with Robert's post is the focus on doctrine as being the defining issue for fellowship.

    Jesus told us that people will we're his disciples because of the way we love one another. He made no reference to the label on our buildings, the way we worship, or even whether we had all our doctrine "right" (by whoever's definition of what is "right" doctrine).

    I cannot help but wonder if we would do better, from God's point-of-view, if we focused on loving one another the way Jesus loved us, rather than trying to decide who has all their doctrine right.

  13. Joe Baggett says:

    We have come to worship doctrinal perfectionism. It is what we spent our time on, it was the thrust of our message to the other denominations, it is what we built our institutions (universities, Schools of preaching) around, and it is what we put our money into. It is why we have these long conversations that lead nowhere. The need to be right on everything every time and enforce that on others is a poison that plagues the cofC to this day.

  14. Jim K. says:

    From these readings I see that we are indeed in the midst of change, but even moreso, it is deeper than many want to admit. We tend to define the changes as being about the instrument, and other such items. From my seat in the bleachers (which is way up in the cheap seats) It seems like we spend all of this time and energy on something that may not be the root of the problem.

    My question to Robert and to all of the others reading this is "How many people are you reaching with the gospel message of Christ? Are you baptizing people? Are you carrying out the Great Commission by doing something and not just sending money to some country that you will never see? What are you doing to convert those in your city, neighborhood, or next door? HOW's THAT BEEN WORKING OUT FOR YOU???

    I believe that we are all dancing around issues, and may be ignoring the central part of what is expected of us. Conservative, Liberal, progressive, whatever you want to call us, How are you going to answer God when he ask you what you did to do his work?
    "I really hammered them on the instrument!"
    "God I really pushed the envelope on the silence issue and started a new movement!"

    The bottom line is that if we focus on getting the message of Christ out to this world (especially in todays environment) then we may not have as much time to sit around and slap each other around or even worry about what or who is doing what, etc. etc.etc.

    I get tired of all of us on all sides slugging it out in the middle of the Christian arena while the world outside continues to spiral downward. IF – those brothers and sisters are practicing something different that what we teach – so be it!! If they are not against us, then let them do it!! Isnt that what Jesus said when he was told about others doing this???

    I love this blog. I enjoy it and I really gain a great deal of insight from all who post. But I believe that I am at a time when I would rather not worry about who is fellowshipping who in the brotherhood, and concentrate more on doing the will of God. I also realize that we will not be able to bring other along with us on our journey to eternity, but that they will come along at their own pace and in their own time.

    I pray that all of us – will end up there together!!

  15. konastephen says:

    I'm not sure it is worshipping doctrinal perfectionism—for assuming there is error and truth, we should all strive towards what is perfect and good. I imagine that those who sincerely believe against IM also believe that their ideas correspond to reality in such a way that any tampering with form or content will, at best, be a slippery-slope towards corruption. That is, their worldview develops a coherency only towards ideas that fit with their particular logic. And our logic is as transparent to us as water is to fish…

    But no one is ever swayed by logic. Logic is an afterthought to help elucidate why we believe what we believe. The logic against IM hides the underlying symbolism that instruments often still hold. For instant, instruments often still represent hierarchy and not the populism (liberalism) of the early coC. Instruments still antagonize the cracks in the dualistic worldview of those dying to escape this world (quasi-Gnostics). Instruments still provoke the difficulties that arise in a worldview that puts emphasis on mental assent and cognitive (rationalistic) side of religion. Instruments irritate those who find comfort in the various dichotomies and social contracts that allow us to live life without dying for the Other. But none of this will make sense to those addressed—again, a fish doesn’t know he is wet.

  16. Joe Baggett says:

    Kona Stephen,
    But what is truth? Is it a list of things that may or may not be done in a one hour assembly once a week? Is it a list of people who are qualified for church office? Is it a divine hermeneutic through which all scripture must be examined? Or is it something else more about the nature of God and Jesus? The effort to understand God’s good and perfect will is not in itself wrong or unhealthy in fact it is the basis for truth seeking. I fear that many times we have come to worship the bible instead of the God who is trying to reveal himself through it. But when people are so sure of their convictions that they are unwilling to listen to criticism of the logic and reasoning by which they arrive at their convictions they are no longer seeking God’s good and perfect will but rather the emotional security of being right. This is what I would call doctrinal perfectionism.

  17. konastephen says:


    I hear you regarding perfectionism. Sorry if I sounded confrontational. I simply worry that rhetoric of grace versus legalism, or perfectionism versus relational doesn’t help to rise above the current divisions. But I agree with your lament.

    I agree that some appear to worship the bible (how many have heard comments that tacitly imply that the Holy Spirit is the bible?) But the bible is God's Holy word, it is the book of books—and the key, like you mention, is hermeneutics.

    It is a shame that hermeneutics has been reduced down to that of a science, a method for dredging the bible for meaning and application. It is a shame that we view the bible like astronomers, from afar—detached Cartesian souls. This is truly the mechanical instrument to reject!

    I wish we all could take a step back—flop around on the beach for a second—to see how our hermeneutic truly works.

    I encourage everyone to read a little N.T. Wright to get an idea of a post-secular, post-enlightenment theology—can we even say a radically restorationists hermeneutic??? My belief is that the coC would be a lot more faithful to the first century if we listened to Wright—and the old view of 'pattern' would appear as authentic as a civil war reenactment. Just a hunch…

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