Dialogue with Robert Prater, Part 6

dialogueAs before, I’ve edited out portions of Robert’s comment from yesterday, not out of lack of respect, but to simplify the reading. And I’m not going to respond to arguments I’ve already responded to. And this discussion is not about the sinfulness of instrumental music; it’s about whether such a sin damns. Hence, I’ll not address those arguments. The full text of Robert’s post may be found in a comment under Part 5.

<snipped presentation of familiar arguments for the sinfulness of instrumental music in worship>

This attitude leads to the conclusion that instrumental music is a perversion or corruption of New Testament worship, and I will not openly fellowship those who promote it. Whatever is sinful is a barrier to fellowship with God.

If you mean what you just said, you’ve denied all grace. We all sin. Yes, sin is a barrier, but a barrier that’s been removed by the blood of Jesus. Otherwise, we would all be damned. I mean — do you seriously contend that you cannot fellowship those who sin? Just who do you fellowship?

<more arguments previously made>

I agree completely when Dr. North goes on to write concerning the issue of fellowship: “Should those who oppose the use of instruments, then, extend their fellowship to those who do? Fellowship implies approval.

I’m sorry, but everyone with whom I’m in fellowship is a sinner. Fellowship implies that I consider them saved by grace — not that I consider them perfect. Do I approve their sin? No. Neither does God. But he’s in fellowship with them, and so am I.

(Rom 3:23-24)  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul addresses the question of fellowship with the man who has his father’s wife. He says that even the pagans do not approve of such behavior. For the Corinthians to continue to fellowship him would be to send a message of approval for something even pagans condemn. Paul then commands them to withdraw from him.

You will notice that this is not a good faith doctrinal dispute, but a very wrongful celebration of an abuse of grace to willfully sin. Of course, Paul opposed all willful sin. You see, as taught very plainly in Heb 10:26 ff, willfully continuing to sin can cause us to fall away. When we see a brother on the path toward such destruction, we take desperate steps to rescue him — even removing him from our fellowship in hopes of bringing him to repentance before it’s too late. The goal is repentance, and hence the problem being solved is impenitence.

Paul also writes in 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 that “if anyone does not obey our instruction in this epistle, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed.” To associate with those who have strayed, Paul says, is to send the message of approval of what they do.

The “instruction in this epistle” in context is clearly refusing to work while expecting to be supported by the church. Paul is certainly not saying that we must disfellowship all who sin. And he’s not talking about doctrinal error. He’s talking about rebellion — a hard heart. It’s the same teaching as in 1 Cor 5. Or would you insist that all sinners be disfellowshipped? And if not, which sinners?

In the same way, John tells Christians that if someone “comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him” (2 John 10).

“This teaching” is the incarnation of Jesus. We’ve covered this. As I said before, if this passage applies to all doctrinal error, then we must disfellowship all whom we disagree with on every point — which is surely not what John meant. But you’ve not offered a sensible interpretation, just asserting that this applies to whatever error suits your argument, while refusing to explain how this applies to instrumental music and not to all disagreements.

Again the point is clear, to extend fellowship implies approval. This does not mean, of course, that we can have no contact with such people, but does mean that we do not extend to those who are engaging in a practice which is not in harmony with scripture the same fellowship we would to those who are in such harmony.

So we are back to the beginning. Do we disfellowship all error? Or do we disfellowship only certain kinds of error? And what is the Biblical standard for deciding which error to disfellowship?

It’s obvious that you have no answer. Rather, you pick whatever error is convenient to the result you want and recite those passages that can be read as meaning “all error damns” or “all error must be disfellowshipped,” and you apply the “grace covers error” passages to other errors. It makes the decision of whom to fellowship and whom not entirely subjective, depending solely on which verses you wish to use — making you, not God, the judge. It’s very wrong.

Once again, I urge you to limit your doctrine what you find in the Bible. Until you show from the Bible how you condemn or disfellowship over this doctrine and not that, you are simply making up rules as you go along — and not teaching scripture.

(Mat 15:9)  “They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.'”

I’m still waiting on a scriptural argument for why instrumental music damns even those who participate in good faith and yet not all error damns. So far, I’ve only seen references to other writers, history, and tradition — men. And you’ve continued to assert that all error must be disfellowshipped, which is obviously not true.

If those not believing the use of instruments is God’s plan for Christian worship extend full fellowship to those who do, by such fellowship they indicate that they consider the matter of no consequence. For them to extend their fellowship, indeed, is an encouragement to use the instrument. If it makes no difference in fellowship, then it really makes no difference.

So when Jesus ate with sinners he was approving their sin? I’ll follow Jesus’ example rather than your graceless teaching that no error may be fellowshipped.

<snipped arguments previously made and answered>

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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15 Responses to Dialogue with Robert Prater, Part 6

  1. Joe Baggett says:

    "So when Jesus ate with sinners he was approving their sin? I’ll follow Jesus’ example rather than your graceless teaching that no error may be fellowshipped."

    Amen Jay!

    If no error may be fellowshipped, then we must all disfellowship each other because we are all in error in one way or another.

  2. JdB says:

    This has been a very interesting discussion and I appreciate the kind way in which it has been advanced.

    The older I get, the more of a "strict constructionist" I become…both politically and religiously. In the past, I have been "forced" to address the disfellowship verses that have been addressed here. (Or as one of our members said a couple of weeks ago, 'Tell me more about this church that dismembers it's congregation.')

    I think we have done great harm to the body of Christ in stretching these verses beyond the point of breaking. I think what folks lose sight of is that these verses teach that we take these painful actions for two distinct reasons. The first being concern for the soul of the one who is caught up in sin. The second being to protect the witness of the church. I have a hard time being willing to take such drastic measures on something that the Bible is silent concerning. (Yes, I know the mashed potatoes on the Lord's Table argument…) However, there are times when reasonable brethren can disagree as per Rom. 14-15 but the disagreement is not terms for withdrawl, it is a means for growth.

    Again, thanks for the discussion, it's been enlightening.

  3. K. Rex Butts says:

    As long as Christians continue to be taught to read the New Testament as though its purpose is to be a constitutional law, we will continue to have discussions like this. The funny thing that I cannot figure out is that the Old Law was good. There was nothing wrong with it, the problem was us. So if God wanted our salvation/fellowship with him to depend on law keeping and the Old Law was good, why did he not just tell us to keep trying to perfect all those various laws we read of in Exodus, Leviticus, etc…? Because as long as salvation/fellowship hinges upon our ability to keep the law, there is no salvation/fellowship because we cannot keep the law as God wills. Yet somehow, we have become very good at taking the books of the NT, forgetting the occasional nature in which they originated, and turning them into one large legal code and then selectively deciding which commands, examples, and inferences we want to observe as binding and which ones are non-binding. Amazing!

    Grace and peace,


    P.S. Does scripture call us to follow the pattern of the early church or to follow Jesus? Of course our selective approach to defining the pattern of the early church sure makes it easier to follow such pattern than to follow Jesus.

  4. Kasey says:

    I also will follow Jesus' example. Thanks for what you're doing, Jay. I have two young daughters and am hopeful that some day our church will be overcome by the grace of God. I am thankful that you use your God- given talents in this way. It glorifies God and encourages me.

  5. Summer says:

    For whatever reason, many in the C of C feel like error in worship services or over pet doctrines is more serious than other sin. I've never heard a good reason why that is, and I don't ever expect to. It's just not a biblical concept.

    I'm glad that you have kept the focus not on IM vs. acappella, but on the shocking truth about what is really at the heart of the idea that IM damns and that those who use it should be disfellowshipped.

    Very good post. Thanks!

  6. Alan says:

    It is incredibly hard to change your fundamental premises after having built your entire value system on them over a lifetime. I want to have compassion on the conservatives who are having a tough time doing that right now. Sometimes you have to extend compassion even when that same virture is not returned to you.

  7. Summer says:

    Alan, very good point. Only in the past few years – after searching for and reading books and articles from people like Jay and Cecil Hook – have I even begun to realize the fundamental flaws in the CoC I was raised in.

    I have been where the conservatives/legalists are now. I hope you weren't addressing me in your above post because I did not mean to come across as not compassionate. lol.

  8. Alan says:

    Summer, I was addressing it to myself as much as to anyone else! Certainly not to you specifically.

  9. kris says:

    I would hate to have to face Jay in court. I would certainly lose. lol

    My journey out of legalism and ultimately the CoC began with this very topic of why churches condemned for using IM or not having LS every Sunday when we commit all sorts of sin in and out of "assembly" time, yet we are somehow forgiven. It takes all sorts of arguments full of logical fallacy and all sorts of proof texts OUT of context to make it work.

    I grieve for my friends left behind. It takes a total paradigm shift for one stuck in legalism to come into the "grip of grace". Totally new synapses must be formed in the brain. It reminds me of those children in Romania who were orphaned and not touched and loved at all in the orphanages from birth and were never able to function properly because their brains didn't have the synapses that should have formed in early life. It's devastatingly sad for the legalist/condemner/judger to not know the real love of God and His grace poured out on us. We should never feel an ounce of fear or worry over our salvation. Yet in the CoC, we are made to constantly fear and second guess the work done on the cross.

  10. Pat says:

    Think about it Robert. There must be some reason Jay's readers are not flocking to the topic that interests you so deeply. Is it possible that it just doesn't grab so many of us? I don't mean to be unkind ~ and I am truly glad that the subject intrigues you, and that you gain much from the post. But I, for one, am just not there.

  11. Robert Baty says:


    Indeed, there must be some reasonS.

    I have my own ideas about that, and they are quite different from your own.

    I'll wait awhile longer and see if Jay, Shon, Alan, Jack, Kris, Jimmie, Joe, et al, requite my efforts and/or officially express an "I didn't know that" and/or "I don't care" attitude about it.

    Just how does that "law of silence" work in a case like this?

    Oh yeah, something to do with the fifth amendment, right? :o)

    Robert Baty

  12. Eric Free says:

    grace and love will always win!

  13. Eric Free says:

    grace and love will always win

  14. Randall says:

    The CofC is still talking about instrumental music. We have been doing well over 100 years and it is something I guess we can count on for decades to come. For those interested, John Mark Hicks has discussed the CofC hermeneutic on his blog and notes the distinction between positive law and moral law. When one understands that one can understand how the CofC has made a violation of the supposed pattern for church much more grievous that moral failings. Please do not take this to mean that JMH advocates this hermeneutic. He does explain it well enough to make it easily understandable even to those not educated in theology.

    On another note – in the post above it is said that "Paul opposed all willful sin." Isn't almost all sin willful? Granted I may neglect to do something I should because I was ignorant of it, but most all the sins I commit I do so because I willfully choose to do it. I don't recall anyone ever holding a gun to my head and forcing me to be greedy or envious. No one ever twisted my arm behind my back and made me lie or steal or lust or abuse alcohol or drugs. No one ever encouraged me to be bitter or resentful or to slander or gossip. If I did those things I did it b/c I wanted to. It was my nature to behave in those ways.

    Children do not need to be taught to be selfish or misbehave in any way. It comes quite naturally to them. If we knew ourselves better we might recognize how much God has forgiven us and have a better understanding of the riches we have in Christ – both now and in the age to come. It might make it easier for us to show charity to others in their failings,

    In the CofC I learned a great deal about sins but little about sin as Paul sometimes uses the term. We know all about particular acts of iniquity but in Romans 7 when Paul discusses how he didn't do what he would do but instead does the very thing he would not do he goes on to say that it is not him doing it but SIN which indwells him. I wonder if we will one day focus a little attention on that sin principle that is active is us – even after we have been saved. Maybe we would stop our condemning of others and breaking off fellowship with everyone that disagrees with us on how church should be done.

  15. Jack Exum Jr says:

    Hey Jay,
    Well sometimes a good debate grabs my interest. I myself am struggling with what seems to me, inconsistencies in the body of Christ as far as what is "outside grace". But then I'm not a judge. Like John Newton said, "My memory has faded, my eyesight is gone, but I know two things, that I am a great sinner and God is a great Savior." I have done my share of shaming the Lord, and have promised to Him never again. But sin still bothers me. It is found in every Christian. So depending on His grace is so critical. Once we move to a law/works system, it's over. Proof texting, is not correct exegesis if we want to properly understand scriptures. I don't go for instruments in the assembly not so much over the "clarity" of scriptures on this issue, as much as over the fact that it has hurt the church so much. It has taken our eyes off the mission of Christ, to bring the lost to Jesus. Yet I like to listen to good contemporary Christian music on my own, with or without the instrument. Inconsistent? I guess. But for brethren to get into the mode where we have to "police" everything, and withdraw over things like that, I do not understand.
    In the end, each person must face Jesus one day. But I believe, the difference will be His blood, His grace.
    Even though we are sinners, He will say, "welcome home". Because of His blood we are "credited" as righteous. What is covered, is more up to Him, than us. Thank God.
    The letter you posted a while back about the poor lady who was, in my opinion so mistreated by a congregation that should have loved her enough to be patient, it was sad. Your response…. just right. Responses from so many who did, blessed my heart, knowing that so many Christians have the heart of the Master.
    But what shall we do with each other? Will we keep dividing until there is no one left to fight the real battle?
    Bonhoffer said,
    "He who is alone with his sins is utterly alone. It may be that Christians, not withstanding corporate worship, common prayer, and all their fellowship in service, may still be left to their loneliness. The final breakthrough to fellowship does not occur because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners. The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everyone must conceal his sin from himself and from their fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners! (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together. p. 60).
    Think what you wish about this response. I love Jesus, and His body, and hope one day there can be no divisions, just the greatest group of people in the universe, leaning on the grace of God. Allowing God to draw lines of fellowship as revealed by His word, within the context it is mentioned. It helps, and will get rid of alot of disfellowshipping.

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