Dialogue with Robert Prater, Part 2

dialogueRobert Prater wrote a lengthy, thoughtful comment to my earlier post on elision (skipping steps of logic). As I hate typing in those little comment boxes, I respond by means of this post. His comment is restated here in italics. I interlineate my replies.

Jay, I think it is you who have skipped some steps and really are “out of step” with your understanding and reasoning on this point and how the BIble teaches. First of all, Grace is dependent on faith. (Eph. 2:8)

I entirely agree.

At issue is approaching God faithfully by reverencing and obeying his word that he has spoken.

I know of no one in the Churches of Christ who disagrees. Have I said something that suggests we should disobey God’s word?

The argument is hermeneutics—how can we faithfully read and understand and obey scripture.

Again, I quite agree.

Music comes into play at the specific point at which we read and understand in God’s word where He said how He wants to be approached in the assembly. In so far as music (worship) is attached to faith, and the willful disregard of the evidence of God’s Word on this subject, it can become a grace (salvation) issue.

If someone were in fact willfully disregarding God’s word, their salvation would be in serious jeopardy. I’ve often cited Heb 10:26 for this very proposition. We agree.

Concerning this question that you and others like to ask which is: “Is this is a salvation issue?” Let me say the following. I believe this question on this subject and many others like subjects to be an illegitimate question. I don’t think a person committed to God even asks that question, “Well, is it a salvation issue, if I do or not?”

I really can’t agree. Now, if I were saying, “I won’t obey this unless it’s a salvation issue,” I would certainly not be penitent, and I would not be true to my confession of Jesus as Lord. My salvation would be in jeopardy.

But I don’t know anyone who asks the question with this motivation. Rather, the question comes up in terms of whom I need to try to convert and with whom I may have fellowship. I mean, when Quail Springs Church of Christ added an instrumental service, some ministers bought an ad in the local paper to condemn their minister as apostate. Isn’t important to ask whether they are right? It was important enough to spend tens of thousands of dollars to publicize their unhappiness (and Phil Sanders defended their decision). Why isn’t it important enough to defend their doctrine? How can they announce to the world that this man is lost in his sins but consider the question of whether he is apostate illegitimate?

Just so, countless congregations have split over issues they considered salvation issues. And others have separated from other churches in town over salvation issues. Don’t we need to know how to tell which issues are salvation issues and which are not?

The question is: “What did God command?” Read Nehemiah 8 sometime for example or any of the Reform kings (Hezekiah, Josiah, etc. With Nehemiah, they read the Bible, and as they do, they make a discovery that during the Feast of Tabernacles, they are supposed to be living in little huts made out of trigs. And it said nobody had been doing it since the days of Joshua (1000 years!) And I can only hear people now if they were back then, saying, “Wait a minute, before we do, is it a salvation issue? I mean, nobody’s done it for a thousand years, surely it don’t matter anymore! It was probably even just a culturally thing.”

Again, who is saying that they’ll only obey a command if it’s a salvation issue? I’ve never said that. This is a strawman argument. You are arguing against a position that I don’t take. Yes, we need to obey God’s commands even they aren’t salvation issues.

You read Nehemiah chapter 8, they didn’t even ask that question. They stopped the Bible study and went and got the trigs. This just isn’t a question to a person who is committed to surrender themselves to total obedience to the will of God.

No, because God tells us to be unified with our brothers — to accept one another (Rom 15:7). To honor this command, we need to know who “one another” is, at least in principle.

Now, I do hope that a lot of people who worship with instrumental music are in heaven with me. And yes, I will leave that to God.

Very good, but a great many of thought leaders in the conservative Churches of Christ are quite happy to declare those who use instruments as damned. This is the editorial position of the Gospel Advocate. And countless Churches of Christ have acted on this theology by refusing fellowship with those churches that use instruments.

But, what we have to do as Christians and members of the body of Christ is whatever God commands I’ll do. I’ll leave the salvation issues to Him. Stafford North has written and made the following points: “We are to judge whether a teaching or practice is in harmony with the scripture. IT is not our role to be the judges of the souls of those around us……While we must judge whether a teaching or practice is in accord with the scripture, we do have the to predict anyone’s eternal destiny. There is much we do not know about the Lord’s judgment and much we do not know about the heart of another. Christ will judge the secrets of men, according to His Word. (John 12:48)……We do not have to condemn to hell someone we believe is wrong about an essential doctrine. We should teach what the Bible says on the point and should, in an appropriate way, contrast it with false teaching on that point.” (Directions For the Road Ahead, “How to be Undenominational in a Denominational World”)

It’s a noble sentiment, but very few among the conservative Churches of Christ live by that principle. I mean, if we really aren’t judging, then why aren’t we cooperating with the independent Christian Churches? If they are saved by grace, well, so are we. But most Churches of Christ cooperate with non-instrumental churches and refuse to have anything to do with instrumental churches. We treat our disagreements among the a cappella churches as mistakes of weakness, and so covered by grace. We treat our disagreements with instrumental congregations as willful violations of God’s plainly revealed will, and so a salvation issue.

The Bible department at Freed-Hardeman has announced that instrumental music is a salvation issue, and didn’t limit their condemnation to those who are wilfully sinning.

Moreover, while I agree we can’t judge the salvation of every individual, because we just can’t know their hearts, we very much need to have a theology that answers — at least, in principle — the question: who falls away? Because we need to know how to teach our members to stay away from those things that damn. We need to know whom to discipline. We need to know who are our sister congregations and with whom we may cooperate.

Finally, I like how Phil Sander’s in his blog philanswers deals concerning this question. He writes: “In the end, the “going-to-hell” argument is designed to hush up the Truth, to bully away anyone who reminds us of right and wrong. When people can’t find evidence to support an unauthorized practice, they resort to complaint and fault-finding. The point of the complaint at the top of this post is to make it appear that anyone who thinks instrumental music is wrong is arrogant and judgmental. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Umm. How is do I “bully” someone by asking how they defend their views from scripture? Seriously. My post simply asks those who condemn others to be willing to state how they reach their conclusion from scripture. How does this “hush up the Truth”? Refusing to explain one’s reasoning, refusing to answer the question, and falsely accusing those who ask for an explanation of wanting to willfully violate God’s will does, indeed, bully people and hush up the truth.

(Col 4:6)  Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

(1 Pet 3:15-16)  But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

It is said, “we are all wrong about something.”There is a difference between being mistaken through human weakness and in willfully driving a wedge in the body of Christ by pushing a divisive practice and making fun of anyone who disagrees.

I entirely agree. But what if someone reads the Bible and concludes that instrumental music is fully acceptable to God. Are they mistaken through human weakness or are they willfully driving a wedge in the body of God’s people? Can you say with confidence that everyone who worships God with an instrument does so intending to drive a wedge in the body of Christ? Really? Is that a factual assertion?

I’m quite certain that there are people who worship God with an instrument entirely unaware of the arguments made in the Churches of Christ. I know people who worship with instruments purely because they want to worship God.

Well, Phil, do you think you know everything or that you are always right? Of course not, I am a fallible sinner saved by the grace of God, dependent upon His mercy for salvation. I understand what it means to be saved, since I cannot save myself. But in all my weakness, I do not suppose that I can presume upon the grace and never need repentance. The blood of Jesus can certainly cleanse those who walk in the light. Walking in the light is not sinlessness, because no one is capable of sinless perfection. But people can fool themselves, thinking they are in the light, when they are not (1 John 1:6). Sand theology does not yield the same results as rock theology (Matt. 7:21-27). Sand theology is when people build where they want rather than heed the words of Jesus. Self-made religion and innovations are sand theology. Those who plant their own plants will find themselves uprooted (Matt. 15:14). That’s what Jesus says about it. That is how He feels about such things. I take that view because He has expressed His will in the matter.” (Tuesday, October 16, 2007, http://www.philanswers.blogspot.com)

Again, you presume to know the motivations of your opponents, and you conveniently assume that they all act fully aware of their error. But it’s just not true.

Consider the independent Christian Churches. They have members who give generously to their churches and other Christian works, who plant churches across the world, who dedicate their lives to missions, who write theology so well that we sell their books and literature in our own catalogues and bookstores — and it’s just not true that they all worship with an instrument in willful disobedience, intending to act in rebellion to God.

Phi Sanders posted comment here a while back, saying,

The vision of the Restoration Movement was not ecumenical. The vision of the Restoration was not ecumenical (join hands but stay in error). The vision of the Restoration Movement was not to develop new, self-made religion. The vision of the Restoration Movement was [to] unite believers in the truth. Before Jesus prayed for unity, he prayed for his disciples to be sanctified (set apart) in the truth.

The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) urges believers to be trained so that they may “observe all things whatsoever I have commanded.” This is a process that the Lord wants observed. It is clear from Scripture that people grow in grace and knowledge of the Lord (2 Peter 3:18). But there is a point of maturity which Christians do reach, a functional maturity where they by practice can discern right from wrong (Heb. 5:12-14; Eph. 4:11-16).

The Lord expected Thyatira and Smyrna to discipline the false teaching among them (Revelation) and rebuked them for their toleration of error. Error is a salvation issue (James 5:19-20), and the mature should train the immature and watch for their souls to keep them from straying.

As for instrumental music, I will happy to point to my study at www.God-answers.org. Go to online tools. I will also offer my book, “Let All the Earth Keep Silence” at the Seminar.

Now, perhaps I misread Br Sanders, but he certainly seems to be reasoning that (a) instrumental music is error, (b) all Christians are required to mature to the point where they are accountable for error, and (c) error is a salvation issue. Thus, except for the immature, instrumental music damns.

But, you see, he also skips a step. How do we know which error damns? Or is he seriously contending that all error damns? I responded to him, saying, among other things,

Even the most prominent and presumably most mature among the conservatives can’t agree on what’s permitted and not and what damns and doesn’t. And I’ve yet to hear anyone from among them give a rule for just what doctrinal error is covered by grace and what error isn’t.

He did not reply. However, we did have another conversation, this time on his blog. When I posed the same question, he replied,

I think we must be careful not to place ourselves in God’s role of deciding what God will do with the saved who act ignorantly in sin. “Am I in the place of God?” is a good response to many things.

God will make His own decisions and does not need my help. I do believe that we must not also be so presumptuous in opening that door of grace as to give false hope or to so dismiss the will of God that we actually enable sin to continue.

Certainly judging (as one-cuppers do)is as reprehensible as any other sin. We can only wish for the grace of God for our binding-what-God-has not-bound brethren; but we do not wish to so excuse the right or the left to the point that we enable binding or loosing where one has no right.

So we’ll continue to speak out against error (ignorant or otherwise)and not presume to take the place of God.

I really don’t know how to reconcile the two views.

I’m still waiting for an answer to the question: How do the conservative Churches of Christ distinquish those errors that damn and those that don’t? Their reasoning suggests that all error damns, but none actually practice that way. So how do they decide?

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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21 Responses to Dialogue with Robert Prater, Part 2

  1. Donald says:

    Your blog is such a blessing to Churches of Christ. Excellent post. I greatly appreciate the heart with which you discuss things and your logic. God used Paul's Jewish background and mastery of apologetics to accomplish great things, and God is using your law skills in a similar way.
    I think most of us in churches of Christ can relate to comments like those of Phil Sander's because many of us once thought like he did. But even at a very young age I realized the house of cards on which some of our "doctrines" were based. For those of us who no longer subscribe to the ideology of the Gospel Advocate and such there is a dilemma: Do you leave the Church of Christ? (big "C" not little "c") Finding a better alternative is difficult based solely on doctrine.
    You've pointed out that Churches of Christ are in decline. We can't exactly claim "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". The truth is I worry about the souls of the hard-liner, traditionalist CofC's like my father who hold so strongly to tradition without spiritually discerning what scriptures say. In that sense I feel I might be abandoning those who could change their views if given time and a good example.
    What I've found in visiting a rapidly growing independent Bible church is that staying where I've been is easy (a pretty conservative Church of Christ) but the faith of the people in the independent Bible church is frightening to me because mine pales in comparison to so many of them.

  2. Some questions:

    (1) Is it wrong to listen to someone else praise God?

    (2) Is it wrong to listen to someone else sing?

    These two questions may sound like "traps," and I guess in part they are because how you answer them may lead to a discussion that you don't want.

    Then again, they are traps because they seek to establish what is "right" and what is "wrong." I guess it is too simple to say "It is right to love God and love my fellow man" and "it is wrong to hate God and hate my fellow man."

    Perhaps I am too simple minded.

  3. Jay,

    I appreciate you taking the time and giving the response that you did to my comments. Please know that I have tremendous respect for you and your views. In part, my response was probably more on the “defensive” side (I guess of the traditional “Church of Christ” view you’d probably say) and not spoken with the best words of kindness and gentleness. But, I do feel very strongly about this issue and greatly as a preacher of the gospel and having grown up in Churches of Christ, I fear we are standing at a vital crossroads like maybe no other time, especially concerning the issue of instrumental music and unity. So it is with great sincerely and humility of heart I respond once again.

    There are two primary reasons why I don’t encourage “inter-congregational” fellowship between Independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ. The first is my matter of conviction on this issue that using instrumental music in worship is an unauthorized practice and has resulted in division within the body of Christ. Jay, the history on this couldn’t be any clearer than it is.

    The Restoration Movement was a unity effort. The plea was to limit teaching and practices to just what all could agree was a God-given directive and be silent about (not teach or practice) those things that were without direct evidence. For example, individuals may have an opinion that instrumental music would be accepted by God, but for the sake of unity would limit their practice to just doing what God clearly asked for–singing. And this seemed to work for the most part until some began to push their opinion and division resulted. (And I know about the Historical argument of the context of the Civil War during the mid/late 1800’s between the North and South that has to be factored into this discussion)

    Second, I believe intercongregational fellowship with congregations (either Church of Christ (i.e., Richland Hills or Christian Churches) would most certainly encourage them to continue to practice what I believe to be an unscriptural practice and secondly, more importantly, would eventually, be a discouragement for anyone to oppose it. When churches of Christ and preachers fellowship those who use the instrumental, will there not be over the long term, pressure to begin to use it themselves in certain congregations, thus creating more disruption and division??? (Gal. 5:20) Jay, it’s already happening within Churches of Christ. Didn’t you read last month’s Christian Chronicle about the 28 Churches of Christ being excluded (mostly notably Richland Hills) for using instrumental music? Do you honestly think they will be the last ones? Don’t you think their example and even encouragement (don’t tell me some of them aren’t encouraging other Churches of Christ to consider using IM) will cause others to follow their example?

    Jay, quite simply, for those of us who believe that spiritual activities must have authorization from God, our fellowship is going too hindered. Because I cannot violate my conscience or give up my conviction that all activities in the worship assembly must have authorization from God.

    Now, if you think the fellowship issue only concerns the Christian Church and the use of instrumental music, than you are greatly naïve. (which I don’t think you are) This “ecumenical” road that so many on the far left in Churches of Christ are seemingly dead set on going down has been put into motion. Where will it all end? Who “won’t be fellowshipped?” How much false doctrine does a person or religious body have to teach and practice before they are not fellowshipped and brought into the mix? Who will ever be “excluded” and not “recognized as a brother in Christ?” Disciples of Christ? Southern Baptist? Lutheran’s? Methodist’s? Yes, even Catholics???

    Being a member of the church and being in fellowship with God are two different things. One may by error lose fellowship with the Lord and His church. (2 John 9-11 [yes I know "liberals" hate the use of this passage and only limit the “doctrine” mentioned to the doctrine of Jesus Christ coming in the flesh, but I do think a general principle if still found there, see also 2 John 4; 3 John 3-4)

    I do think there is a principle found in the New Testament that one who willfully and persistently adds to the teaching of God and leads other men to do, can sin in such a way against God and fellowship with faithful Christians may be limited. (Rom. 16:17-18; Phil. 3:17; 2 Thess. 2:15; 3:14) When J.W. McGarvey left the Broadway congregation in Lexington, he did not leave because he no longer considered them brethren. He left because they introduced an error, which he could not participate in or approve or fellowship. When people leave the Word to practice unauthorized forms of worship, they can separate themselves from the will of God. They may think they are disciples, but they are not truly disciples (John 8:31).

    Yes, if you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m talking about the “slippery slope” argument. Take The Disciples of Christ denomination. They have now become one of the more theologically liberal denominations in America. They will not say with certainty that Jesus is the only way to heaven that the Bible is the final authority, or that homosexuality and abortion is a sin.

    Charles Spurgeon was a reformed Baptist preacher as you know who took doctrine seriously. He also understood how lacking it was in his time. His words remind us of the need for doctrinal emphasis in our own generation. “Remember, too, that error in doctrine is not only a sin, but a sin which has a great tendency to increase. When a man once in his life believes a wrong thing, it is [incredible] how quickly he believes another wrong thing. Once open the door to a false doctrine – Satan says it is but a little one – yes, but he only puts the little one in like the small end of the wedge, and he means to drive in a larger one; and he will say it is only a little more, and a little more, and a little more…….take care, Christians, if you commit one error, you cannot tell how many more you will commit. (Spurgeon sermons, “The Form of Sounds Words”, May 11, 1856)

    Jay, I just strongly feel that we in Churches of Christ need to continue to faithfully proclaim and encourage all people to “stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.” (2 Thess. 2:15) To remind people that said Jesus that the Word he spoke will judge them in the last day. (John 12:48) And you and I both know and believe that Jesus continued to give His “Word”and pattern for the church through His inspired apostles and other N.T. writers—1 Cor. 14:37; 1 Tim. 3:15. I fully admit that this is a fine line in pressing this truth and yes even withholding fellwoship from others without personally condemning them to hell. Again, I'll let God do the eternal juding. But it is a fine line that am trying to walk because I believe it is the most Biblical approach.

    In conclusion, I leave you with the words of Everett Ferguson’s conclusion he wrote concerning a Cappella Music. “We are on good historical and theological grounds to engage in a cappella music in our public worship. This is safe, ecumenical ground that all can agree is acceptable. Instrumental music cannot be confirmed as authorized in the text of the New Testament. It did not exist in worship until centuries after the New Testament was written. Vocal music is more consistent with the nature of Christian worship. Neither side of the instrumental music controversy has had a monopoly on Christian love and humility, and neither side has reason for pride. My hope is that we can go beyond our recent history of bitterness and unite on the original undivided ground of the Restoration Plea. This should not be done out of the spirit “one side is right and the other wrong.” But let us be New Testament churches – in practice and in attitude, in loyalty to the Bible, and in the exercise of Christian freedom.” (A Cappella Music in Public Worship)

    May God help us to work to this end,
    Robert Prater

  4. Joe Baggett says:

    I have had similar conversations with people like Phil Sanders and his buddies at the Gospel Advocate and Apologetics Press. When someone does not reply when asked a pointed question that is the best way of determining which line of reasoning was better. These questions like you ask do not have good answers and reveal how flawed this logic and theology really is. I have tried to have dialogue on Phil’s blog and others like him but most of the time the comments were deleted or edited because they disagreed with post editor. Phil also needs to restudy history; the restoration movement was much more ecumenical than Phil gives credit. For example Alexander Campbell was convinced that there were saved Christians in other churches who did not practice exactly like the early restoration churches. Stafford North also contradicts himself with his actions. He was one the main proponents of the petition “ A time to speak” in the Christian Chronicle outlawing Instrumental Music and encouraging minters to sing up and teach against it and damning those who did not. This thinking and the men driving it are digging their own grave.

  5. Dear Joe,

    First of all, I’ll let Phil Sanders answer and defend himself. I don’t agree with him on everything he writes or says, but certainly do on a majority.

    As far as Stafford North, who is one of my beloved instructors in OC’s graduate program, you simply don’t know what you’re talking about. First of all, concerning the ad in the Christian Chronicle, which I was one of the signers, I don’t remember reading anything in the ad about “sending people to hell” or anybody associated with this For a Cappella committee- (Dr. North) “damning” anyone who did not signed it.

    Also, I’m assuming your referring to Alexander Campbell’s Lunenburg Letter which is used by those on the far left to promote a wider view of Christian fellowship with those who not only are clearly in doctrinal error and practice, but also those who aren’t even my brethren by faith, repentance and baptism.

    Glenn Paden, wrote several years back in an article one time in Restoration Quarterly, entitled, The Lunenburg Letter – An Incident in the History of the Interpretation of Baptism as follows:
    “It was the work of the reformer Alexander Campbell which gave widespread acceptance to the position that New Testament baptism is adult baptism of a penitent believer for the remission of sins. The Campbell’s at first did not envision a new religious fellowship as a result of their work. They were forced to become an independent group when their plea for a united church upon the pattern of New Testament teaching was rejected. In time they came to believe that the willful adherence to denominational organizations and human creeds in the face of a plea for a return to the simple New Testament church constituted grounds for regarding these denominations as sects and as being in rebellion against God’s way. They began with the idea of Christians in all churches but came to see that many rejected the plain teaching of the Bible as to what constituted a Christian. The discussion of “Christians in the sects” was an important discussion in the history of the Restoration movement. The Lunenburg Letter helps us to understand what the younger Campbell believed about this question.)”

    One last quotation shows the real attitude that Campbell had: "But the question is, are we authorized to make the sincerity and honesty of a person’s mind a rule of our conduct? ‘Tis God alone who is judge of this, and surely he would not require us to act by a rule which we can never apply to the case. Neither, perhaps, is it a fair position to assume that any man’s sincerity in opinion or belief will have any weight in the final judgment; but whether or not, it cannot be a rule of our proceeding in any case. We judge from actions—God judges the heart; and, therefore, we look for visible obedience; and when we are assured that the Lord has commanded every man to confess him, or to profess the faith and be immersed into his name, we can never justify ourselves before God or man in presuming hi our judgment of charity to set aside his commandment, and in accepting for it a human substitute. (24 Campbell, Millennial Harbinger, Vol. II, p. 393.)

    Surely Campbell’s idea that if one had never had opportunity to hear the truth or study the Bible, but had done all that he knew of right and wrong and all he knew to do to be a Christian, he might be considered a Christian in an imperfect sense and the Lord might save him is of little comfort to those who set aside the plain teaching of the New Testament when they have learned it. Campbell’s insistence that those in error come out of denominationalism is decisive as is his plain teaching that baptism for remission of sins is a part of the New Testament pattern.

    Lastly, why don’t you answer my question very simply and directly: do you think that intercongregational fellowship with Christian Churches over the long term would pressure more and more churches of Christ to begin to use it themselves in certain congregations, thus creating more disruption and division? Now, I’d like a simple answer to this pointed question. I'm not convinced at all that we don't have everything to lose, and nothing to gain on the issue of instrumental music and fellowship with Christian Churches.


    Robert Prater

  6. Joe Baggett says:

    If you read the article it says that anyone who uses IM is in sin and implies that they are in eventual jeopardy of their souls. There was then a link to a website to sign your name. One of my personal friends who is a minister was fired for not signing the petition. If you must know, that article created more divisions and heartache than any other event in recent times within the churches of Christ. Preachers were fired for not signing the petition, churches split because elders would or would not force there ministers to sign the list. I could go on but this why the Chronicle actually changed their advertising policy the month after it was published. Thank God! If you were one of the steering committee proponents I think it is important that you are aware of the effects of this article and subsequent letters sent t all churches of Christ in the USA. I (and many others) lost respect for a lot of the men on the steering committee that day when I read it. The essential implied message of the article was agree with us on this issue or leave. Whether it was intended that way or not that is how it was perceived. I can give the names of many ministers who left the churches of Christ because of this specific push.
    Yes I was referring to the letter you speak of in your response. I was also referring to sayings of “We are Christians only not the only Christians”. There are many other quotes as well. There are also many books that confirm this as well such Leroy Garret’s book The Restoration Movement and Richard Hughes Discovering our Roots. If Alexander Campbell thought the way you infer he did he would not have put up with Barton W. stone or any others with whom he disagreed.

    I will answer your question directly. I think that the more the churches of Christ and Christian churches work together the more over all good will come, even though there it will be a struggle for a while. Many churches have recently merged between the groups and the results for the two congregations were very positive. Now there were other churches of Christ in town and in the brotherhood who did not like it and had to write letters and publish articles condemning it. The division will only be proliferated by the institutional loyalists who resort to “opposing error”.

  7. Joe Baggett says:

    Robert I read the other part of your first post,
    The main thing is this how do we understand authority and apply it? The old ideas of how this would be done or that there is only one way to do it are wrong and based a lot on presupposed ideas and the culture and religious landscape of beginning of the restoration movement. Whether we want to admit it or not there is no divine hermeneutic. Alexander Campbell did not discover the keys (CENI) to understanding truth in early part of the 1800s. Any attempt at understanding the scriptures is a “human” attempt. The scriptures themselves never change they don’t rewrite themselves overnight, but way we understand the scriptures will always be changing. The results of our traditional hermeneutic of CENI have been filled with division after division. Why? Because it is inconsistent. Under this hermeneutics large expensive church buildings are authorized but instruments are not. It says in Acts 2 that the Christians met every day in homes to break bread and pray. We don’t do that. Then in Acts 20:7 it says that in Troas they met on the first day of the week to break bread and we use that to say this is a global binding command for all churches until Christ return. Women are allowed to sing in unison but say nothing else during an assembly where men are present. The commands for head coverings and other things that don’t fit in to our culture are explained away and ignored. The greatest failure of this hermeneutic is that it distorted the nature of God; who he is and what he is like.
    Let me suggest something better to determine authority: the nature of God and what he is like. Otherwise we are hypocrites because through our preferences and culture we arbitrarily decide how to apply the CENI approach.

  8. Because many things which are not "authorized" by scripture we deem "expedient" and are therefore all right to use because we like them and want to use them.

    And because doctrines of silence and expediency are teachings of man and not of God, we cannot agree on which items are authorized, expedient or forbidden. So I judge those doctrines to be unprofitable and divisive and to actually speak where God is silent.

    Is there a flaw in my logic somewhere?

  9. Robert Baty says:

    I think so! :o)

    Expedient things are "authorized".

    The extent to which "doctrines of silence and expediency" are not reflected in the scriptures is something to be proved and cannot be assumed.

    Whether of God or man, it seems to me that we cannot agree on such specifics as are mentioned and many other things. Disagreement should not be deemed a justification for "anything goes".

    The "logic" being proposed, "I judge", just might justify others to reject religion altogether.

  10. I would think the burden of proof would be on those who maintain that Gid specifically authored these doctrines, then … Because I can point to books by men who defend them and am unconvinced that the scriptures they cite specifically outline a doctrine of silence and expediency. Citing an instance or two in scripture where silence forbids does not prove that silence always forbids. Sometimes silence may permit, as is the case made for expedients. Sometimes silence just indicates silence. So sometimes silence just calls for discretion, or indicates that the matter is not essential to God.

    Naming four kinds of apples that are red does not prove that all apples are red. (I like the yellow ones a lot.)

    I know of people who have left religions that were all rules. I've yet to meet someone who has left a religion because it has some rules.

  11. Robert Baty says:

    I suppose if one wants to be more formal, the "burden of proof" typically rests with the affirmative.

    Many of us, if not all of us, are unconvinced of the truth when others have tried to convince us in their written works or otherwise.

    I suppose your "doctrine on silence" is that silence may forbid, but may not always forbid.

    If that be the case, and I suspect it is, it is at least arguable that, in the case of instrumental music, what "silence" there may be on the subject may forbid?

    Naming four kinds of apples that are red would not prove all apples are red, but if you were asking for apples you would not be asking for oranges.

    Regarding your experience with folks who have left religions, you may be demonstrating the "fallacy of the too small sample".

  12. Jay Guin says:


    Silence is sometimes a prohibition and sometimes not. It depends on lots of things.

    If I tell my son to pick up an apple at the grocery store and he brings back an apple and 5 bags of groceries, has he violated my command? Not if we really need the groceries. He may have saved me a trip to the store. He may be the member of the family who does the shopping routinely.

    But if we don't need or can't afford the groceries, I may be upset with him.

    In neither case do I disown him and cast him from the house.

    There is no way to reach the right conclusion on just the words. You have to know the context, the personalities, the relationship of the parties.

    Now, if he bought 5 bags of groceries without a single apple, I would be disappointed in his disobedience. But I still wouldn't disown him. He'd still be my son, and I'd still love him. You see, he's my son, and that matters far more to me than occasional misunderstandings of my instructions.

    On the other hand, if he willfully rebels, refusing to honor me as his father long enough, and if his heart is truly hard, there may well come a point when I throw him out of the house. But that point won't come quickly or easily. Very few people disown their children, but it does happen.

    Imagine a father who disowns his son because his misunderstood an instruction, thinking the family needed an orange as well as an apple. Imagine the father disowning him over that. What kind of a man would do that? Not the God who is love.

    Now imagine the son's brother, telling the father to cast out the son for buying an orange because he misunderstands the principles of generic and specific authority. Which son will disappoint the father more?

  13. Robert Baty says:


    It's those "lots of things", the "details", that cause much of the trouble when trying to discuss a substantive, serious matter.

    For instance, if you "command" your son to pick up an apple at the store, and he picks up an apple and more, has he kept your command?

    I would say "yes".

    You would say "it depends".

    As to the consequence of the behavior, that's the more difficult issue, in my opinion.

    Skeptics, I think, would propose that the "God of love" has done, or proposed he would do, according to the scriptures, just such things as you would condemn for just such reasons as you seem to propose are quite inconsistent with a "loving God".

  14. Robert Baty says:


    That should be:

    > I would say "no"!

  15. Then we reach these skeptics by perpetuating their perception of an only- vengeful, only- just, never-merciful, never loving God???

    Forgive me; I am truly confused now!

  16. Robert Baty says:

    Truly confused???

    I'm glad I didn't say anything to cause such confusion!

  17. J. Prince says:

    The following quote appears in one of the posts above: "…those who set aside the plain teaching of the New Testament when they have learned it. " Contained in this quote is a concept that has finally driven me out of the conservative CoC. I have found that normally when the "plain truth" is referenced in the context of condemning or criticizing an erring brother or one of the myriad evil denominations (all denominations other than the CoC), what is actually meant is the plain truth according to our infallible discernment of it.

    The conservative CoC leaves no room for and tolerates no interpretation other than their own – faith is a zero sum game and there are no doubtful things. They typically only allow for just enough grace to cover their mistakes and errors but not enough to cover the errors and mistakes of someone who would dare associate themselves with a denomination of any sort. Also (in my experience) those who are condemned for their misinterpretations are accused of being rebellious and stiff necked. I guess this in necessary because if it were admitted that their obvious doctrinal error was an honest mistake, the condemner might have to allow that grace just might cover such an error.

    A quick example: While presiding over the Lord's Supper a couple of years ago, an elder began to condemn those who take the Lord's Supper any time other than the first day of the week. In fact, he called such people “ungodly" and the practice "evil". I later asked him why he would condemn as ungodly a practice that at the very worst was a mistake. He informed me that any one who partakes other than on Sunday is "breaking one of God's commandments:". HUH???? I think this commandment is some where in Second Luke.

    The most blatant, mean spirited and evil example I've seen recently of this type of condemnation based on the "plain truth" is the abominations perpetrated against the Quail Springs CoC when they added an instrumental service. While I don't agree with this potentially divisive move by the QS church, those who publicly attacked and slandered the QS leadership did much harm to the cause of Christ and to His body.

    I am NOT saying that any thing goes and any belief or doctrine should be accepted. What I am saying is that I believe we are called to have a level of spiritual humility and that we are also called to practice a form of grace towards others as God does towards us. Also I've read Romans 14 and I am convinced that many of the “doctrinal errors” for which others are condemned are, in truth, doubtful things. However, I haven’t yet figured out who is the weaker brother – me or those who hold different views from me.

    I have left the conservative CoC because I would rather be a part of a group that is grace focused rather than one which is pattern focused and insists on condemning those who don't get the pattern just right. Finally, I adhere to Barton Stone's definition of those to whom I extend the hand of fellowship: All who call Jesus their Lord and serve Him the best they know how.

  18. Paul says:

    A bible hermeneutic (CENI) that is based on emotional subjectivity as to which things to bind and which to not bind is no more than a creation of man to generate the doctrines and precepts of man that God detests. I have been reading this blog and see circular reasoning and appeals to traditions of man. Has anybody ever tried just reading the Bible chapter by chapter (not verse by verse with a microscope) and understanding what the word of God REALLY says? It takes less than a year to read through the Bible, reading it like you were reading a book not the penal code, but it will revolutionize your Christian maturity. Just a thought…

  19. Larry says:

    Jay said, “Imagine a father who disowns his son because his misunderstood an instruction, thinking the family needed an orange as well as an apple. Imagine the father disowning him over that. What kind of a man would do that? Not the God who is love.”

    Not only can I imagine, I think I can prove it scripturally:

    Gen 2:17 — But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

    Gen 3:24 — So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.

    A plain reading of these texts makes it seem certain to me that God would “cast out” someone who disobeyed even a simple portion of His word. Although it wasn’t an orange or apple, Adam and Eve killed themselves over a piece of fruit, and God “drove” them out of the Garden because of it.

    Now granted, this happened under the law before Jesus. But it does illustrate the need for people who claim to be Christians to take the laws of God seriously.

  20. Charles McLean says:

    A few errors, Larry. You seem to identify Adam as God’s son. Oh, and you appear to equate God’s casting Adam out of the Garden with God destroying him eternally, a bit of an addition to the text. AND… Adam was not under the Law. I seem to recall that the Law came along just a WEE bit after the Fall. (A couple of millenia, at least.) AND… you appear to equate believing in the faithfulness of God with not taking “the laws of God” (whatever THOSE are) with due seriousness.

    This is the ultimate worst-case of proof-texting, taking a preset position and desperately scrambling to find some sort of scripture to paste onto that position. Here, one skips back over the entire biblical revelation of salvation in Christ to find something even remotely supportive of his position.

    Will God punish disobedience in his children? Certainly. Will he kill his children if they step out of line? Not according to any NT writer. And even the writer of Proverbs tells us, “My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.” So, even the disobedient son in need of rebuke is still one in whom the Father delights!

    It seems you have confused the razor strap a father might apply to his son with the executioner’s axe. There is not a father among us but who knows the difference, and to whom the axe would be unthinkable. If a believing man here wants to suggest that he treats his own children with more love and patience and long-suffering than that with which God treats him, let him make that case.

  21. Larry says:

    Hi, Charles. You wrote:

    >>“You seem to identify Adam as God’s son.”

    In a sense, he was God’s son (Gen 6:2,4).

    >>“Oh, and you appear to equate God’s casting Adam out of the Garden with God destroying him eternally, a bit of an addition to the text.”

    Nothing is said about Adam repenting of his sin, but if he didn’t, he most certainly would have died in his sin. So the principle remains. And Paul used this disobedience as an illustration in the New Testament as a warning, so if he can use these illustrations, so can I (2 Cor. 11:3; 1 Cor 10:6-11).

    >>“AND… Adam was not under the Law. I seem to recall that the Law came along just a WEE bit after the Fall. (A couple of millenia, at least.) AND… you appear to equate believing in the faithfulness of God with not taking “the laws of God” (whatever THOSE are) with due seriousness.”

    Sin is defined as a transgression of the law (1 John 3:4). If Adam and Eve were not under law, it would not have been possible for them to sin (Romans 4:15) The law was, don’t eat of the tree — but they disobeyed. Consequently, they died because of their sin. So Adam was most certainly under law, just like we are today (Gal. 6:2). If not, then how did Adam and Eve die?

    >>“This is the ultimate worst-case of proof-texting, taking a preset position and desperately scrambling to find some sort of scripture to paste onto that position. Here, one skips back over the entire biblical revelation of salvation in Christ to find something even remotely supportive of his position.”

    Well, Paul (and other NT writers) used examples from Genesis on to illustrate their teachings, so they must be guilty of taking “preset positions and desperately scrambling to find some sort of scripture to paste onto” their teachings. If not, why not?

    >>It seems you have confused the razor strap a father might apply to his son with the executioner’s axe. There is not a father among us but who knows the difference, and to whom the axe would be unthinkable. If a believing man here wants to suggest that he treats his own children with more love and patience and long-suffering than that with which God treats him, let him make that case.

    God is certainly longsuffering, and was so before the law of Moses (1 Pet. 3:20). God’s long-suffering is not at issue here; rather, it is lax attitudes toward sin. This is the point I am stressing.

    Have a great day, Charles.

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