Leading Change: Email from a Non-institutional Preacher

I get emails –

Allow me to explain why I am writing. In short, here is what you may want to know: I preach for an “anti” church of Christ. I have been on a spiritual journey the last 2 years that has led me to a much more “progressive” position. Your blog has been a blessing to me for which I cannot begin to express my gratitude.

This journey has been liberating and terrifying. The reason I am writing you is because I have no idea what to do.  I am at the end of my rope with my ministry. I have been trying for over a year and a half to patiently, slowly, and methodically, move this church toward an understanding of grace and love. A few members of the congregation know of my “new views” but most of the church does not.

I want to stand up and tell the church that it’s time for a drastic change, a different hermeneutic, a better understanding of the Holy Spirit, a Biblical understanding of grace and the gospel. Yet I do not want to cause a division in this church. I love these people. That’s what makes this so difficult. I want them to feel the freedom available in Christ, but what if they don’t accept it? I don’t want to cause problems between them. I don’t care if they fire me but I DO NOT want to hurt this church.  I would love to see this church as a group move in a better direction, but I am afraid that the CofC tradition is too deeply ingrained here.

I don’t know what to do. I have thought about calling a meeting with the men of the congregation (we don’t have elders) and just coming out and telling them what’s going on. Then they could decide if their hearts are in a place that is willing to study these issues or if they would rather just get rid of me.

As I said, I don’t know what to do. I don’t like feeling like my beliefs are a secret, but I am confused as to what I should do.

Thank you for reading this email. I hope you can get back to me.

Here are my thoughts, but I’d love to hear from the readers:

I’m not entirely sure how to answer your questions. Here’s my first reaction. 30 years or more ago, the first series I ever taught on grace was based on the Restoration Movement’s history. I taught the class what Stone and the Campbells taught, demonstrating how far removed we are from the founding principles of the Movement.

This had several advantages.

  • We weren’t talking about the Bible per se, but rather letting the founders of the Movement argue their own case. I wasn’t arguing for their views so much as reporting them — but doing so in enough detail to let them make their own cases.
  • Most students had never studied our history and they were fascinated by it, even though some disagreed with much that the founders had taught.
  • It was easy to show how the Stone-Campbell principles led to a merger of many churches into a growing fellowship, and how the departure from these principles led to a series of separations. (Earl Irvin West’s The Search for the Ancient Order Volumes 1 & 2 is not an adequate history, but does an excellent job showing this fact and has many other details not available elsewhere.)
  • It was easy to demonstrate that we have a history and that some of our practices and attitudes trace back to the 19th Century, not the First Century.

As we considered this material, we discussed the merits of the Last Will & Testament of the Springfield Presbytery and the Declaration and Address. If I were to do it again, I’d compare those documents to Daniel Sommer’s Address and Declaration and H. Leo Boles’ The Way of Unity (both of which quoted the Declaration and Address out of context to turn the teachings of Thomas Campbell on their head).

We also considered the great slogans of the Movement — and what they originally meant and what they mean now.

Now, this would be a much easier class to teach today than when I did it, because (a) the internet gives access to the full text of these documents, which were next to impossible to find 30 years ago, and (b) there have been some great books published (Christians Only: A History of the Restoration Movement by James Deforest Murch and The Stone-Campbell Movement: The Story of the American Restoration Movement by Leroy Garrett especially).

Now, to me, for a church with a very legalistic perspective, this would be easier to teach than Romans or Galatians. Rather, you have to peel the onion of legalism off one layer at a time.

Of course, there are other approaches, one of which is to study from my book The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace (free download), which was written for exactly this purpose. But I’m not sure I’d start there with your congregation. Rather, I’d start with the history and then maybe do classes on grace.

And I’d certainly work through classes more than sermons. People get less upset when a teacher says something they disagree with, because they can respond and let the entire class hear their views. It’s more of a dialog than a lecture.

And somewhere in there I’d teach this lesson built on a survey of the class on doctrinal issues.

I wouldn’t up and announce my new position. I think that either gets you fired or divides the church. Rather, I’d reveal my views by teaching my views.

People need time to change and they need reasons to change. But prayer, the Spirit, time, love, and gentle instruction will change most of them.

And may God bless your ministry and give you courage and wisdom.

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66 Responses to Leading Change: Email from a Non-institutional Preacher

  1. Alan says:

    2Ti 4:2 Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.

    This is the kind of situation where that great patience is especially needed. Don't willingly sacrifice people in the process. Take your time and be patient with everyone.

  2. Nancy says:

    I agree with Jay, gentle teaching, prayer and the Holy Spirit will drive change. And even then, not everyone will be receptive to the change.

  3. abasnar says:

    My first reaction is: Be aware of NOT falling into the other extreme. Changing your views is like steering a car. When you realize that you would fall of the bridge on the left side if you don't change your course, you will turn to the extreme right immediately.

    Which is absolutely necessary! It is not about gradual corrections, it is about a paradigm-shift.

    But as soon as you come away from the left edge of the bridge and saved your life and the ones listening to you (1Ti 4:16) steer to the left again, but moderately, so you stay on the middle of the road. Otherwise you will fall off the bridge on the right side.

    My greatest concern about the "Progressives" is that they tend to fall prey to modern Evangelical theology – a misleading teaching of salvation that requires nothing of you. For me the parable of the sower and the seed or the one of the vine and the branches are the best illustrations to understand the Gospel. There fruit is required for salvation, and this fruit is a natural offspring of the seed planted into our hearts by the Grace of God. But we have to weed the garden in order to not hinder the seed to produce the fruit. Holiness is therefore likened to weeding, while the fruit is coming 100% from the seed which is from God.

    I hope this is in any way helpful
    Alexander

  4. Wendy says:

    Alexander.. I have never heard teaching or read any book that is "a misleading teaching of salvation that requires nothing of you." Perhaps I lead a sheltered life?

  5. abasnar says:

    Maybe you live in a sheltered life – good for you! ;-)

    Max Lucado's "John 3:16" would be a typical example. Or Philipp Yancey's "What's so amazing about grace?". But I don't wan't to discuss these brothers here (they are not my servants). And it is not the topic of this thread.

    Any Teaching that focusses on "Faith alone" is basically built upon a grave misunderstanding of the Gospel and on Luther's mistranslation of Rom 3:28 (where he added the "alone") which since that time became the "dogma" of Protestantism.

    I discussed this in great detail with others here: http://oneinjesus.info/2010/07/amazing-grace-on-r

    Since my original background is Evangelical, and I used to believe in unconditional eternal security and teach it, I see this theology sometimes already in side-remarks – and maybe I put people in a box where they don't see themselves or really don't belong. In general I see a tendency among the progressive wing that goes into that direction where I came from. But I also see the other extreme among the conservatives. So I am as critical when discussing with them …

    Alexander

  6. The congregation needs the same kind of time and study it took the preacher to reach new conclusions. While the odds are stacked against the change — hanging infuses with them is the kind of love Jesus would endorse

  7. I agree that the "just come right out and tell everybody" approach will not work. I am not a preacher but I did lead a small ministry at my congregation, taught classes, and lead projects. Like the author of the email, my views changed over several years from "anti" to "mainline conservative" to progressive. Instead of slowly letting people know how I felt I started a facebook bible study group and a blog where I suddenly announced to the world… "hey, my views have changed." The result: I was removed from all teaching, ministry and leadership positions.

    I wish you all the best but knowing how CofC people tend to react, well, I am not that optimistic. I hope I am wrong.

    But silver linings abound… if all does not go well a new path will open. Keep heart.

    Scott

  8. Royce Ogle says:

    Neither Max Lucado or Phillip Yancey teach that God requires nothing of you.

    What they do teach, and correctly so, it that nothing you do contributes to your salvation. We are justified wholly upon the merit of Jesus and not our own.

    God doesn't need any assistance from wicked sinners to save those same wicked sinners. Once a person is born from above what God requires is EVERYTHING. There is a difference in discipleship and salvation.

    Many believe there is God's part and man's part in salvation. Jesus did man's part, that is why salvation is by grace, a free gift.

    Royce

  9. Royce Ogle says:

    A friend who preaches in south Texas, after about 4 years of walking a tight rope on Sunday morning, fearful he would say something that offended someone, finally told the elders that he could no longer facilitate unbelief and false doctrine in the church. A bold move.

    Sunday by Sunday he preached through coc distinctives and compared them to the Bible and gave solid historical documentation detailing where we went wrong.

    Now, two years later the church is thriving, families are being saved, and the church has moved from being "those odd people" to being the leading church in town.

    It can be done.

    Royce

  10. Alan says:

    God doesn’t need any assistance from wicked sinners to save those same wicked sinners. Once a person is born from above what God requires is EVERYTHING. There is a difference in discipleship and salvation.

    Royce, that may be the clearest and best statement on the subject I've seen you make.

  11. abasnar says:

    And still I disagree strongly. Because this is simply not true.
    Salvation is a process that involves discipleship.

    Many believe there is God’s part and man’s part in salvation. Jesus did man’s part, that is why salvation is by grace, a free gift.

    God's part is planting the seed:
    The seed, once it is recveived by the soil brings forth a plant.
    This plant is determined to bring fruit.
    All of that is God's work – not ours.

    BUT: unnless we care for the plant, see that it gets inough water, enough soil to be firmly rooted – and unless we pluck out the weeds around it, the plant will die. And consequently it will not produce fruit.

    Such a person started with a new God given life from above – all grace! – but he died and lost his salvation anyway. So caring for the plant is our Job, if you like garden work or don't. And a gospel that says, gardening is not necessary for salvation, is a false gospel.

    I challenge you, Royce and Alan, read the gospels – only the words of Jesus – and count how often he says that what we doe does matter for salvation – you'll be surprized. It might make you rethink your position.

    Alexander

  12. Alan says:

    I challenge you, Royce and Alan, read the gospels – only the words of Jesus – and count how often he says that what we doe does matter for salvation – you’ll be surprized. It might make you rethink your position.

    I doubt there is any substantial difference between your view and mine. As for Royce's comment, I think what you described would fit under this: "Once a person is born from above what God requires is EVERYTHING"

  13. Gary Cummings says:

    The only "work" we can "do" to be saved is to believe in the One God sent to save us-Jesus. In no way do I teach we can live as we please as we follow Jesus. I have never seen Jay teach that. From what I have read, Lucado does not teach we can live as we please.
    We need to get the first things right and the very first is salvation, it is by faith and nothing else except faith and through faith alone in the person and work of Christ on the cross. There is nothing we can add to the atonement through Jesus Christ. Once we are saved, we are baptized (this is a definite point where I left the Restoration teaching). Once we are baptized , we commit out lives to Jesus as His disciples in a life open to the Holy Spirit. This is where the Letter of James comes in- our faith is a faith that works, not a set of works which saves us. So I would have the following as my paradigm: The Gospel of the atoning death and bodily resurrection of Jesus/ Faith in the person and work (atonement) of Jesus/Salvation/ baptism of believers/Discipleship.

  14. Laymond says:

    Alan if Royce had only said, "Once a person is born from above what God requires is EVERYTHING"
    great! .
    But Royce never stops, at a point that connects the words of God, spoken by Jesus, to salvation.

    How and where does this connect to the above statement?
    "What they do teach, and correctly so, it that nothing you do contributes to your salvation. We are justified wholly upon the merit of Jesus and not our own."

    Seems to me that this statement is a direct repudiation of the above statement, or vice versa.

    The bible plainly states we are justified by our works.
    I would be glad to point to those scriptures , if you need me to.

  15. Gary Cummings says:

    Laymond,
    What work does a brand new believer in Jesus who is saved and baptized have to justify themself before the Holy God of the Universe? The answer is none. Both the "Mainstream" and NI churches have a theology of salvation based on works, and I have to honestly ask "Are they saved?" If we rely upon on our own works or righteousness to save us, we are still damned.

  16. steve says:

    It seems life every single thread eventually devolves into having to explain to a legalist this confusion over grace, faith, and works. Jay maybe you should post the explanation at the top of every single thread to avoid this, then we can just stay on the topic at hand, which was answering the questions from the above email.

  17. Alan says:

    Alan if Royce had only said, “Once a person is born from above what God requires is EVERYTHING”
    great!

    There's a reason I stopped my quote of Royce where I did. Maybe I was too subtle about that.

    Anyway, I can't speak for Royce. Since he believes “Once a person is born from above what God requires is EVERYTHING”, it would be interesting to hear what he has to say about how God deals with someone who does not meet God's requirement. In other words, what does "God requires" mean to Royce?

  18. Rich W says:

    The issue is the correct understanding of both grace and accountability. When one only speaks in terms of grace it sounds like that person advocates no need for accountability. When one speaks on accountability it sounds like that person doesn't believe in grace.

    Jesus taught both on grace and accountability although he never used either word in the recorded gospels. I haven't performed a scientific count, but my recollection is that Jesus spoke more often about accountability.

    Any discussion that advocates one over the other is missing a major section from the gospel.

  19. Laymond says:

    Mat 12:37 For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.

    Rom 2:13 (For not the hearers of the law [are] just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.

    Rom 3:20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law [is] the knowledge of sin.

    Rom 4:2 For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath [whereof] to glory; but not before God.

    Jam 2:21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
    Jam 2:22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?
    Jam 2:24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.

    People who say we are Justified by faith alone are referring to the words of Paul.and not really knowing what Paul was saying. Paul said no man will be justified by the deeds/works of the law.

    And James is saying no man will be justified without the works/deeds of faith.
    Jam 2:26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

    By using the example of Abraham, both James, and Paul are telling us the same thing, just in a different manner. Paul didn't get to the point as quickly as James, but I believe he said pretty much the same thing, you won't be saved by the works of the law, you can only be saved by works of faith.

  20. abasnar says:

    I'm sorry for having led the topic of this thread into a different direction. Actually it should be about helping a brother from a non-institutional background to deal with his new insights in the context of his old church.

    I actually only wanted to point to the danger of falling into another extreme:"Evangelicalism". Maybe a different thread would be nice for discussing the issue of salvation (maybe it has been done some time ago, already, but we all learn some new things on or way, don't we). Or if someone wants to write me in private: a.basnar@gemeinde.christi.at

    So, maybe we could pick up where we departed from the original topic, which is a very interesting one.

    Alexander

  21. Tom Forrester says:

    Back to the topic, I can appreciate our brother's attitude in wanting freedom in Christ for the church where he preaches. The church I grew up in went through this very thing and is now a very strong and loving church. We used to be termed "antis", but not simply because we were anti-institutional, but we were anti just about everything. We had been weaned on a dill pickle. We would fight at the drop of a hat and we'd throw the hat.

    Our preacher's solution was to begin to preach, focusing on Jesus rather than the church, doctrines, practices, etc. I believe there was wisdom in doing it that way since Jesus is the true foundation of the church. Don't misunderstand, he still preached doctrine, but did so as it relates to Jesus.

    Although some left when Jesus became the focus, I believe casualties were kept at a minimum. The great thing is that most stayed and they truly have the love of Jesus dwelling in them with Christ as the foundation.

    If our brother would like to speak with one of the elders (now 81 years old and sharp) who has been with this group since 1978, feel free to send me an email at tj4ster@hotmail.com

  22. Royce Ogle says:

    What God requires of sinners is that they repent! God has commanded all men everywhere to repent. A few who hear the truth of the gospel will repent and believe. Most will reject the message and the cornerstone of our faith becomes a stone of stumbling for them.

    The reconciliation of sinners to God was completed by the living and dying and rising again of Jesus. Reconciliation is complete. The gospel offer is turn from your own way and appreciate and appropriate the work of Jesus that brought us to God.

    I have never won an argument with anyone who thought they could live good enough to deserve God's righteousness. I have stopped trying. Our task is to preach Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit and let God sort them out.

    He doesn't need me or you to fulfill his purposes, He is God.

    Royce

  23. Alan says:

    Royce, you didn't answer the question. What does God do with someone who, after receiving salvation, refuses to do what (as you termed it) God "requires?"

  24. Royce Ogle says:

    Alan,

    I don't intend to debate here. Read 1st John and my article "How we can know we are Christians" and you will know my views. http://gracedigest.com/2010/07/15/how-can-we-know

    Royce

  25. JMF says:

    Laymond:

    Please post the justified by works verses. All I know of is James.

    Rich W:

    I just don't see the disconnect where one thinks that if someone is teaching about grace, they are immediately suggesting that works aren't necessary.

    I think anyone that understands grace will clearly say that grace exists without the requirement of works — but a faithful, penitent person that is within grace will necessarily produce good works.

    And if he/she is NOT producing good works, then there is something wrong with his/her faith and penitence. I think this is clearly the lesson from James.

  26. Alan,
    maybe God just forgives them … I hope that's what he does for me. And for you, as well.

  27. Nancy says:

    Alexander wrote; "BUT: unnless we care for the plant, see that it gets inough water, enough soil to be firmly rooted – and unless we pluck out the weeds around it, the plant will die. And consequently it will not produce fruit."

    Alexander, Jesus parable of the soils give no indication that we can "tend" our soil enough to change it and become fruitful. That's a man made overlay to the story. It's just a story about the different types of soil (or hearts). Some don't get it, some hear but reject, some have many earthly struggles that impede their fruitfulness and some are abundantly fruitful.

  28. Tom Forrester says:

    When you good brothes get done with this, can you get back to the topic and share your wisdom with this brother in need?

  29. Gary Cummings says:

    Aren't we all justified sinners? I do believe that faith brings justification and salvation, then the works come forth by the power of the Holy Spirit. If we make our justification and salvation dependent upon works rather than faith, how perfect do our works have to be? What if we fail, does God take into account that at least we tried?
    The ORDO SALUS is this, in my opinion, :
    The Gospel, faith, justification,salvation, baptism, works of the Holy Spirit in ones life.
    The NI churches, in general place baptism per Acts 2:38 and perfect doctrinal obedience about the Gospel, faith justification and salvation. For a preacher to challenge that does take courage.
    I was a NSS (non-Sunday School) preacher married to an NI raised woman. We both attended ACC (mainstream). We all had our prejudices and pet doctrines and 'isms', and they often conflicted. I got to the point where I could not honestly stay in the NSS churches, or even the mainstream churches of Christ. My decision cost me a marriage and a lot of pain.
    So my advice to the NI preacher is to preach grace at any cost.

  30. abasnar says:

    Alexander, Jesus parable of the soils give no indication that we can “tend” our soil enough to change it and become fruitful. That’s a man made overlay to the story. It’s just a story about the different types of soil (or hearts). Some don’t get it, some hear but reject, some have many earthly struggles that impede their fruitfulness and some are abundantly fruitful.

    As I said, we might discuss that in private or in a different thread. But just a short answer:

    What killed the plants was
    a) Denying Jesus in Persecution
    b) Care for worldly things, materialism, wordly pleasures

    Is this something we should just accept as it is? Say: "Well I am a superficial Christian, that's my soil, I can do nothing about it!"??? Really???

    OK: further comments please: a.basnar@gemeinde.christi.at

    Alexander

  31. JMF says:

    To the OP:

    I really do feel for you, and empathize with you. I'm in the same situation; though I am merely a teacher, and my livelihood is not on the line.

    I've been sharing a grace message at my church (largely based off of The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace), and like anything in life worth doing, it has been a challenge.

    As it stands right now, my "contract is not being renewed." I was teaching the class to 20's and 30's, and it was so outrageously popular, it drew unwanted attention. Rather, it put me (and my class) under a microscope.

    I had several meetings with the elders, all ending with "well, we can't find anything unscriptural about what you are teaching." I handled myself lovingly, respectfully, and graciously. Which for me can be a stretch, as my natural response to being challenged is combative.

    Finally, after a random discussion with an elder where I mentioned some thoughts I was considering (though I told him I was exploring and CERTAINLY wasn't teaching as much…had nothing to do with my class), and I suppose that was enough to end my teaching. (If you must know, he wanted my view on re-baptism…and I told him. We were talking casually and wasn't about my class. In hindsight, I'd avoid like the plague the two sacred cows of baptism and IM. I should have known better.)

    So, I'm not teaching. My class (most of them) are so thoroughly engaged, and they want me to continue on a weeknight at my home. At first I balked, as I told them that even though I wasn't attending there anymore, that could be disruptive and even viewed as divisive. But they pointed out that the elders had no problems with my class per se; the problem was with me.

    From my recent experience, here is what I've learned:

    1) Keep a loving nature. That is enough. Don't fall into "liberal legalism" where you are still forcing your views…just from a different angle.

    2) Language is HUGE. If you go in one Sunday and your sermon language is, "And thou knowest who these false wolves are, for they makest Christ's bride into a harlot" and the next week you go wearing a v-neck t-shirt with a big crucifix necklace saying things like, "…the Spirit is really leading me to pour out a message on your heart today, I hope you'll receive it", you are going to have problems.

    Keep your language the same. Don't get all lovey-dovey, it weirds out people that aren't used to it. Even a simple statement like "it is your heart that ultimately matters" is going to cause you problems. Certainly, that is a true statement. But it is a statement that will meet immediate resistance. So make the same point, just frame it in legalese that doesn't jolt the legalists.

    3) A big part of me doesn't like the concept of "go slow/go easy." 2 Timothy 4:2 suggests to be patient, but I doubt Paul meant, "Be patient, and a few years from now you can finally arrive at the truth." I sure think he is saying to teach the truth NOW, and be patient to those that don't come around to it immediately.

    4) Dealing with a challenging topic in class is tough — as soon as someone questions you and you rebut, then the heels dig in. However, if you scheduled a bible study with each man individually and said, "You know, I've been studying and have been extremely blessed. I've learned some things that frankly scare me. I want to explore them with you. I'm not looking for you to correct me; let's just me and you study this free from preconceived ideas, and see what we conclude."

    Another option on this would be to have the same discussion but say, "Let's do this: you now understand my views on this matter…let's argue it out. I want to take the traditional position, you take the progressive position. You give it your best shot, and let me defend with traditional arguments and see where we arrive."

    Hopefully some of the wise guys on here (I mean that as a compliment :) ) will offer some feedback. For me, this is the most challenging question I struggle with: Do I stay with a sinking legalistic ship and try to help, or move on to somewhere else that is healthy.

    For me, I'm passionate about helping people out of legalism. And I'm good at it. But man, it stings.

  32. Laymond says:

    JMF- here are a few scriptures which place the value on the works we do, there are more I,am sure.

    Mat 5:16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
    Mat 16:27 For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.
    Act 26:20 But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and [then] to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.
    2Cr 11:15 Therefore [it is] no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.
    2Ti 3:17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.
    2Ti 4:14 Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the Lord reward him according to his works:
    Tts 1:16 They profess that they know God; but in works they deny [him], being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate.
    Tts 2:7 In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine [shewing] uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity,
    Tts 3:8 [This is] a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men.
    Tts 3:14 And let ours also learn to maintain good works for necessary uses, that they be not unfruitful.
    Hbr 10:24 And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:
    Jam 2:14 What [doth it] profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?
    Jam 2:17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
    Jam 2:24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
    Jam 2:26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
    1Pe 2:12 Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by [your] good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.
    Rev 20:12 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is [the book] of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
    Rev 20:13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.

  33. Jay Guin says:

    Guys,

    The works/faith/Calvinism discussion is off topic and not fair to the brother who asked for our advice and counsel. I mean, is it really more important to us to rehash these arguments than to help a brother with his struggles?

    I'm going to post something that allows this conversation to take place as part of a different discussion. My urging is, however, that you not simply combat "their" verses with "your" verses. Rather, if you are pro-Calvinism, take the classic anti-Calvinism passages and demonstrate how they really support Calvin — and the same holds for the non-Calvinists. The only theology worth paying attention to is theology that is built on the proof texts from both sides.

    Everyone knows your texts. Everyone knows their texts. What few know is how the two sets of texts work together to form a coherent, Christ-honoring whole.

  34. Gary Cummings says:

    Jay,
    I did get off topic and apologize for that. I think that "preaching grace" in the NI church takes courage and wisdom from above.
    There are issues between NI/NSS/Mainstream COC that are worthy of discussion.
    I have a challenge to the NI/NSS/Mainstream folks:
    What is the one message worthy to be preached in any church? I know there is more than one, but what is the central primary message of the Gospel and the New Covenant.? Are you willing to preach it at the risk of being fired and abandoned?

  35. Good response, Jay.

  36. Rich W says:

    I actually thought we were on target but I can see why it was perceived otherwise. These tangents will happen and the original poster needs to understand and be prepared to handle.

    JMF made some great comments concerning language. The issue isn't always what we say but how what we say is interpreted.

    For example: whenever I hear the phrase "we need more love" I actually cringe. To me (in my 50's) that phrase reminds me of the Beatles song and era when my buddies would say "all we need is love" as they sat back, smoked their dope and fried their brains. To me the phrase represents someone who wants to feel good about themselves but not willing to take responsibility for their actions. One may argue I am warped but I know I'm not alone with that feeling.

    A second example, in the 80's I taught a lesson on grace in an ultra conservative cofC (KJV only and no eating in the building). I presented our motivation to serve God should be out of thankfulness for all He and His Son have done for us. I contrasted that motivation with one of serving God to earn our salvation. I didn't condemn that view, but rather explained it as a less mature view. The more mature faith is one of thanksgiving. I used many of Paul's passages on the subject.

    I had no problems with that lesson at that place. In contrast, many verbally said they appreciated it. You don't have to tell people they are wrong in order to get them to change their thought processes. One can either build bridges or build walls with their language.

  37. Jack Exum Jr says:

    Dear brother in Christ,
    A heart full of prayer and concern goes out to you from here in Lake City, Fla., as you go through a period that is understandably difficult. Know this, you are not alone in your struggle. Since Feb. '09 I have been teaching, and preaching part time for a small congregation. Like you, I love this congregation and only desire that it grow in grace and truth. When I found Jay's web site, I was so surprised to find the warmth of unafraid, open study of the Bible. Grace filled the pages. I grew, and slowly, introduced what I was learning. I shared with my dad, and he was amazed at the truths taught so simply.
    I wrote and shared in the bulletin lessons on "Hermeneutics", "C.E.NI", and taught evening class on Sunday on, "Renewing our worship", and Sunday am adult class, we have studied "The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary grace". We are almost finished with this study.
    These are life changing ideas for a congregation that has been fed ultra conservatism for years. Change is difficult. It therefore is a burden on the teacher to:
    1. Be patient
    2. Encourage open discussion and questions
    3. Make sure all have a copy of the book for the class.
    4. Preface your study with acknowledging your love for the congregation, and desire to grow in grace. Tell them we are going to study scriptures afresh and go wherever it leads.
    5. Bias has to be faced… (cf. Jays introduction to his study on "Hidden Talents") … and people have to be willing to consciously lay them aside… We always tell people we study with about scriptures, "Lay aside prejudice, ands what parents have taught, and study scriptures for yourself." (But we are unwilling to do the same.)
    6. You must have an attitude of love, and grace, all through this class.
    7. Pray…
    I would however, speak with leadership and let them know you are wanting to study grace and the Holy Spirit, and it is a challenging class.
    You are not pressed for time, so study, pray, and think about how you move forward… You will be surprised at the joy this subject will bring to some, and disappointed at others who will for some unknown reason to me, 'fight' against it.
    Catch a glimpse of how wonderful big grace is, and preach the word. Saved by grace.
    Hope this helps…
    In Christ,
    Jack Exum Jr.

  38. And the congregation said, "Amen." Well said, Jack

  39. Darin says:

    Some great advice. I think not preaching about it is spot on, class is a good suggestion. In my life experience I first tried to talk to leaders one on one before we even started discussing it in class. I gave them books, asked there thoughts on some different articles etc.

    I understand the feeling of not wanting to bring division. I pray for you as you minister in the name of Jesus Christ.

  40. Jay Guin says:

    David,

    I entirely agree that the preacher must give them the same kind of time it took for him to change. So often we spend a decade coming to a new perspective only to dismiss others who don't make the turn in a single conversation!

    When my congregation was going through this transition, I taught grace from every angle. If the curriculum was the Sermon on the Mount, I taught grace from the Sermon on the Mount. If the lesson was on marriage, I taught marriage based on the grace of Christ shown to his bride the church.

    And while perhaps 60 or 80% of a class would get it from a class directly on grace, the rest had to hear it over and over until it just made sense, because they'd seen how grace permeates all doctrine and all the Bible.

    One of the great difficulties in making the transition is the very natural temptation of the class to add grace to existing theology, so they see grace in the grace passages and legalism in other passages. And so it's important to teach a hermeneutic of grace that applies to all the passages. But I didn't do it with classes on hermeneutics. Rather, I just explained how the doctrine of marriage or divorce or the role of women must be consistent with and breathe from the same air as the grace passages.

    PS — Another useful angle is narrative hermeneutics (see the Blue Parakeet series at http://oneinjesus.info/index-under-construction/a…. This is not explicitly about grace, faith, works, etc. but rather a way to understand how the whole Bible fits together. It'll be very attractive to the class as it makes so much sense and explains so much — and it builds a framework that supports many other lessons.

  41. Jay Guin says:

    JMF,

    I think your insight re language is very important. Those raised in a legalistic environment have been trained to consider certain words sure signs of heresy. If you quote Max Lucado, you've just lost your audience.

    I would teach straight from the scriptures and would never, ever mention how this idea can be found at so and so's blog or in so and so's book. It's easy to slander and dismiss a human. Stick to the text.

    And avoid hot-button phrases like "faith only" or "faith alone." And I'd refuse to discuss baptism at all until finishing with what is required a Christian to fall away. We are so emotionally tied to baptism that the discussion can't be had in that context until a foundation is laid regarding the Spirit, grace, faith, etc.

    Begin the class by assuring the class what you DON'T believe. If you're discussing grace, assure them that you don't believe "once saved, always saved." If you're on the Spirit, assure them you aren't teaching Pentecostalism. You see, they've been taught that any deviation from their views inevitably leads to Calvinism or Pentecostalism or whatever. Some will try to fit your teaching into a familiar category — making you sound like a heretic. Therefore, insist that you don't fit on those categories and what you teach doesn't lead to those errors either.

    Which brings me to the Spirit. I think it's essential that a proper understanding of grace include the doctrine of the Spirit. And most classes are thrilled to read the OT passages and other texts that assure us that the indwelling is personal. They are quite strong — and even the most conservative elements of the Churches are moving toward a personal indwelling position.

  42. Terry says:

    I became a Christian among the non-institutional Churches of Christ. I had to leave after 9 years, but I still have some understanding of them, the way they think, and what they fear. I would like to make a few suggestions that may possibly help this preacher.

    1. It should be possible to preach the gospel of grace in a non-institutional church without challenging the practices that make the church unique. You can assure the congregation that you are merely teaching what the text says…and that teaching what the text says is actually a conservative way to teach the Scriptures. You can assure them that you are not interested in changing their practices. You are not wanting to add instrumental music to worship assemblies; you are not wanting the church to send money to a parachurch ministry; you are not wanting the church to engage in a sponsoring church arrangement; you are not wanting to change the church into an entertainment center. You are merely wanting to teach grace and love accurately. Their practices do not need to change in these areas in order to appreciate and practice grace and love.

    2. You may want to make Hebrews 10:24 a centerpiece in your preaching ("And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works"). The non-institutional Churches of Christ could become leaders in the missional church movement. Missional churches want to take Christianity out of the church buildings and into the community. The non-institutional churches have strict limits on what is allowed within their church buildings. Many of their members may be eager to demonstrate love to their neighbors outside their buildings, but they may need some encouragement to be creative (Don't use the word "innovative"). You could encourage them from the pulpit to get together (without official church sponsorship) to reach out and love the people in their community. You could encourage some to volunteer to tutor at-risk children in the local public schools, some to take sandwiches or cookies to the homeless, some to volunteer at a hospital or burn center, and some to paint houses for those in need. Encourage them to put love into practice. Some are starving for the encouragement and the permission to do good for the sake of Christ. They may want to do good, but they have been fed a steady diet of what they are not permitted to do. They may have a difficult time in conceiving of ways to put their faith into practice in a meaningful way. Granting permission to love others in practical and creative ways can be liberating.

  43. JMF says:

    Terry–

    These are some of the finest words I've yet to see posted on this site!! You said:

    Encourage them to put love into practice. Some are starving for the encouragement and the permission to do good for the sake of Christ. They may want to do good, but they have been fed a steady diet of what they are not permitted to do. They may have a difficult time in conceiving of ways to put their faith into practice in a meaningful way. Granting permission to love others in practical and creative ways can be liberating.

    AMEN!!!!!

  44. Rich W says:

    A follow up on my previous post concerning language:

    Today, in foster parenting class, we were presented with old and new paradigms of thinking in regard to foster parenting and adoption.

    On the slide labeled "Old Thinking" was the phrase, "All you need is to love the child and everything else will eventually work out."

    Knowing what I had posted here previously, I just nodded my head and smiled. A 30 year old youth minister in the class spoke out, "I take exception to that." He explained his concept of Biblical love. He was reflecting the progressive language often mentioned on this blog.

    The instructor, who was presenting the government based training material, answered this way.

    Many people have differing concepts for the word love. In fact, we believe that most of the biological parents do indeed love their children but for some reason they don't have the necessary skills to raise a child.

    As a foster/adoptive parent you must have a relationship with the child. You must be observant and empathic of the child's needs. You must be supportive for them to develop. You must spend much time with them. Love is not enough.

    I believe both the youth minister and the instructor believed the same thing in the long run. However, language usage makes a world of difference in getting the point across.

  45. Dan says:

    Dear brother ( from the non-institutional church):

    Over the past two years I have been making some of the same changes that you are talking about. However, I have the luxury of not having to depend on a congregation for a salary. I would suggest you reread brother Exum's excellent earlier post several times. I would also encourage you to begin cultivating friendships among more progressive brethren in your town whether they are preachers or lay people in the Baptist (or other) church or the church of Christ. It might not be a good idea to confide in those new friends yet, but I think it is important to have friends. ….. You should also read some of the archival blogs from Jay and the other blogs which he recommends in the margins of his web page. Al Maxey has many excellent posts on his web site which are archived by subject and Bible passage. Dallas Burdette has posts on many subjects concerning grace, liberty, and law.
    Maybe you could ask your congregation for suggestions on scriptures they would like to hear you preach. Now that you have a better understanding of grace you will see that almost every passage of scripture takes on a deeper and more meaningful lesson on the tragedy of sin and the loving kindness of God. Then you can preach the congregation's scriptural suggestions from a more grace centered point of view that may be helpful to them.
    Also I would suggest, don't exclude your wife from your thoughts. Set aside time for bible study with her and let her know what you are thinking and ask for and listen to her input. Make no significant family decisions without her input. Go way out of your way to make sure you understand her point of view.
    Try to think of ways to compliment your children when you see them show a kindness and remind them that God smiles when He sees us being kind to and forgiving one another because that is how He is toward us. Let them know it is OK to ask you to be more kind and forgiving if they see the need. They might not be old enough to understand scripture but they understand kindness, forgiveness, and hugs.
    You may also want to start toying with the idea of things you enjoy doing that would bring an income into the household in case the people there have trouble letting go of a legalistic mindset. The congregation will gradually notice a difference. They may embrace the change they see in you; they may not. Try to save more in the bank.
    God bless. I'd be happy to talk with you at any time (I'm not that smart, but I like to encourage people in their growth). (205)873-4312………….Dan

  46. Larry Short says:

    You already have the right spirit: you love these people! Second, you have the right Spirit: you love God and seek to know, teach, and preach Him better. Now do both with patience and love.
    By the way, what you have come to know now will seem immature and incomplete later. Just like the folks above arguing for works alone or faith alone. Be complete, beleive it, work it, teach it. And when you know a truth more clearly later, teach it better then. Don't be so hard on yourself, you sought truth, found some, and now found more. I hope your whole life is like this: growing in understanding. May God give us all your heart.
    .

  47. Jay Guin says:

    JMF and Terry,

    I agree. Terry's advice strikes me as wise counsel. You have to start with where your audience is.

  48. Jay Guin says:

    Dan,

    Thanks for a very thoughtful comment.

  49. Jay's word about revealing your views by teaching your views is good counsel. Watch your motivation. If your motive is to "move these people", I suggest you stop that. The Holy Spirit is capable of doing this, and it's His job. You can turn on lights that help people understand what He is up to.

    Also, while I appreciate the counsel of patience, don't hedge what you have learned. God will out you. I remember long after I understood from scripture that spiritual gifts were operating in the church, I still protected myself by not talking about it. Then, He started releasing those gifts, and I could no longer deny it. People who were going to be offended were still offended, but also people who were seeking God were a bit offended at my lack of faithfulness to share what I knew.

    You don't have to hammer what you have learned, but be wholly honest and transparent when asked. The true shepherd lays down his life (or his job prospects) for the sheep. Godspeed!

  50. Alabama John says:

    God bless your attitude and effort!

    I feel you are in for a rough time and would be better to shake the dust off your feet and move on where you will have a better opportunity to teach sincerely interested folks.

    brainwashed, indifference, fingers in ears, steeped in tradition much less those that just attend because its close to home are hard to overcome regardless of how much you love them. Hard to teach someone that is convinced and has a support group that agrees that he or she has it all right and everyone else, including the churches of Christ down the road both ways, much less the OTHER denominations are wrong.

    Sorry to be negative, but the past success rate of hard line conservatives being changed is very low.

    Odds are much greater that they will kick you out if not kick your [JFG: vulgarity deleted] while doing it !

    I'm so thankful God will judge us all someday and will look at our hearts and not how many verses we can quote.

  51. Terry says:

    Alabama John,

    If you want to convince me of your position (and I don't remember what you believe on any issue), keep your language clean and I will pay more attention.

  52. Alabama John says:

    Terry,

    If my sinple word expression will cause you to not consider my advice it proves to me you sure can't stand the heat you will be getting.

    You and your family will experience much more and be called much worse than the word I used.

    In your case,you'll be going up against the brethren that live in the real world in the congregation not debating other preachers. These people you'll oppose talk, think and live in a world quite different from paid full time preachers.

    Get away now!

  53. Terry says:

    Alabama John,

    I don't think you know me.

  54. Alabama John says:

    Terry,

    You shall be known by your works and I am very familiar with those if you are a "full time"LOL conservative preacher.

    I pray for your success as its sorely needed but also pray for your backbone and for your family that will suffer right along with you.
    Had a man get right in a preachers wifes face that was trying to teach what you'll be teaching and tell her you are an abomination to the Lord"! and shake his fist in her face. What a (insert your word here). Remember, there is a time to slap the SNOT ( like that wording better) that will get you points with the congregation, not the turn the other cheek preacher.

  55. Tom Forrester says:

    (Mat 5:11-12) Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

    While there may come a point in time we kick the dust off our feet, it's important that those who may hold us in contempt see someone who practices what he preaches. Our light really needs to shine when we're under attack. I know – easier said than done. But what an opportunity to really show our faith.

  56. Alabama John says:

    Agreed Tom,

    and at the same time Terry is going to experience adversity at a level he might not be prepared for, He and his family (I assume he has one being a conservative preacher) needs to be ready and if he fails in the effort know there are those of us that will just as quick put our arms arounf him and comfort and support him. God bless his efforts and willingness to try. I'm proud he's taken the challenge and putting himself on the firing line, no pun intended.

    Things are changing for the better among the churches of Christ and we need more fighters like him!

  57. Anonymous 2 says:

    Hey guys,

    I am not sure how the confusion got started here, but Terry is not the one who wrote this email to Jay. But the one who did write it, deeply appreciates the advice of those of you who have been encouraging and supportive.

  58. Terry says:

    Thank you anonymous. I'm not sure how or why these false accusations against me have come into existance, either. I appreciate you for trying to clear it up.

  59. Terry says:

    Also, thank you Jay for editing out the vulgar language from one of your readers. I appreciate it.

  60. Jay Guin says:

    All,

    The "Anonymous" who posted his appreciation for the advice is not the same "Anonymous" who often posts here.

    Anonymous,

    It would be less confusing to pick another name. Therefore, I've edited you to be "Anonymous 2" — because I'm not feeling very creative right now. I'm open to better suggestions — and any suggestion would likely be better.

  61. Terry opined: "It should be possible to preach the gospel of grace in a non-institutional church without challenging the practices that make the church unique."

    Indeed, it should be, but it's not. One of the most closely-held distinctives of the CoC (generalization warning!) is that they are separate from all the other denominations. The gospel of grace cannot co-exist with the assumption that we are entitled to judge and even condemn believers who do not agree with us on sundry doctrines. When we grasp that we have indeed been saved not by our works but in spite of them, we cannot any longer deny to others the grace which we have received.

    Now, a CoC can keep its most famous distinctive– acapella music– but the basis for that distinctive has to change. Grace will not tolerate even indirect condemnation of those who disagree on this point, so insisting that this practice is "the will of God" has to die. Keep that music as a tradition, as a matter of honor of past church practice, but making it a test of salvation contradicts the Gospel.

    I think Alabama John has a more realistic perspective on what our brother can expect. I have been there, and can show you the scars. But letting love overarch everything is the only way to cross such a desert experience without losing half the tribe along the way.

  62. Gary Cummings says:

    NI Preacher,
    Preach the truth of grace in the Spirit of love. Prepare to get fired for saying what has to be said. Let's the bodies fall where they may. In the meantime, start training for a secular job for when you are fired. Grace and legalism will not live in the same church.

  63. Jay Guin says:

    Alabama John,

    Terry is not the author of the letter.

  64. Alabama John says:

    Thanks for pointing out my error Jay,

    Wil you while your editing put in the correct name where I said Terry?

    Terry I apologize to you!

    Hope now all my posts are directed to whoever started this.

  65. Neal says:

    I'd suggest that the two most important attributes that "Non-Insitutional Preacher" needs now are Patience and Humility.

    I have come to this conclusion from my own somewhat limited experience in the CofC. I felt that my life experiences as a non-CofC member could create change within the CofC congregation where I am now a member. While I have not been overtly seeking to create change because I do not want to create conflict, I became disappointed when change didn't occur in the time frame and in the abundance that I expected. That was a very non-humble and non-patient response on my part. After all, I am not formally a leader in my church (and probably will never be because of my previous Church history) and all I had to offer was my life's experience and testimony. Still, some change has occured and some think I've been a part of creating the conditions for change to continue occur.

    I'm resolved to continue my testimony with Patience and Humility because I truly believe Christian "Works" come out of Love for our Neighbors as a result of the work of the Holy Spirit within a Christian. I spent too many years trying to force "Works" because I felt that I needed some proof of them in my life. When Works come from Love, it's not work at all… it's just a natural occurance.

  66. Randy says:

    I believe that most have a view of legalism
    that is misunderstood. The Pharisees are sometimes associated with being legalistic, but in truth weren't legalistic enough, especially in there understanding
    and making the proper judgements. See Matt 23 to the end. Because of there lack of study of the law they became unable to properly judge spritual matters
    and what was important to God. I see the same here
    in these articles between some of you. We must
    work out our salvation with fear and trembling Phil. 2:12. the Law of liberty is righteous if we use it properly.
    If there are those who are not using it properly it is our job to reprove and correct. Jesus died to save us from
    Gods wrath Rom 5:8-13 and reconcile us to God through being like him and growing in grace and knowledge in Christ. I Pet 2;1-4. In Gods mind
    his justice is satisfied concerning the obedient and his love is made known.
    That Love is powerful but only if we understand how
    God views sin and lawlessness. The God of justice
    shows grace and mercy in Christ and teaches us what is important in life. many come to christ out of longing for love that the natural man cannot find. That love is realized even more through walking a narrow path
    that will reveal a life of joy and not suffering, especially in our relationships with others. To walk any other way will lead to suffering.
    Institutionalism;
    I study the Bible very intensely and have taken positions against institutionalism, although Mercy, judgement and faith are required so is the other we cannot leave undoneMatt 23:23. But to approach lessons on authority carefully with gentleness. Lead the horse to water he will drink if he is thirsty, we can't make him thristy unless we ride him, (be careful here)or don't water him. Oppression is the job of a preacher, Jesus was opressed for his work in well doing. IS 53 We will also suffer persecution because its God's will that we do.
    If not we are fatherless and lacking in discipline. Rev 3:19 . II Tim 2:15 therefore Study to show yourself approved and rightly Teach the truth. Is that legalistic yes, I hope so the law of liberty is good, but if the bible don't teach something why do we? Show me one apostolic example, command or logical inference that teaches support of an instution other than the members of the lord's church.
    A widow must be 60 y/o before she is considered for support not benevolence.(difference) ITim 5:9. Mens positions on James 1:27 contradicts that since they are written by two different writers. There is no example, We could just as well sprinkle for baptism if we could arbitrarily come up
    with something we think is good or better, or call it an expedient when it is not a lawful expedient. ICor 10.
    I teach the truth, THE BEST TIME TO TEACH IT IS NOW.
    Ever wonder why Jesus never put himself in a position
    to compromise by having things he needed to pay for.
    preachers, true men of God are frugal, if you are concerned about others welfare that is good, if you are worried about losing your job, I would question why?
    Be true to your self and teach the full cousel of god at all times, you will save your self and them that will hear you. The things here i mentioned concerning
    issues are easy things to understand, basic teaching on authority. People don't study because they
    don't like opression, or being told what to do by God.
    Let's really look at it for what it is… Their consciences
    concerning spiritual matters are not being excercised.
    Why? They don't listen to God? Therfore they have no shame. When people should be trembling over
    working out there salvation Phil 2:12, they will
    die because they don't really know God and his
    authority. He is a consuming fire-Heb 10;28-end.
    II Thess 1:7-9- The person who truely thirst 's for Christ
    is chosen- that means god knows who are his just like we who uphold all of the truth are in him. He chooses all who will obey him truely and not willing that any should perish but all come to repentance. I know how to walk as an adult, a mature man in Christ- That is our goal…Do you know if you are in Christ? Do
    you know the minds of other people- a tree by it fruits.
    Not obeying simple instructions is a big indicator people are not excercising there minds spiritually.
    Judging a whole congregation as being corrupt is
    saying alot. peple are on different levels of belief and
    some have strong faith and some weak. You need to support the weak too. Our Job is to edify and teach/Preach the truth realizing that all have weaknesses and sin, I John 1:8-9 he wrote that to christians, a passage designed to keep us all humble on our knees before the father. Do you know the extent of your own weaknesses? What wil it take for you to sin, how much persecution or suffering? I don't think you know but God does, but that doesn't mean we live in sin consciously. We need to be like the master.Gal 2:20 we need to overcome as he did…see revelations 3:12 rev 2:10 be faithful till death.

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