We’re working our way through Leroy Garrett’s book: What Must the Church of Christ Do to Be Saved? The paperback is $7.95, but it’s also available in Kindle edition for $0.99. For $0.99, it’s really an offer you can’t refuse!
Now, by “saved” Garrett doesn’t mean that he questions the salvation of the individual members of the Churches of Christ. Rather, he is concerned to save the Churches of Christ as a “viable witness to the Christian faith. What must it do to escape extinction in the decades ahead …?”
Chapter 10 is entitled “Have an assurance of our own salvation.”
If the Church of Christ is to be saved its members must begin to believe that they are saved. … If the Church of Christ is to have a redemptive role and an effective ministry in our changing world, then its members must have a victorious faith and a joyous assurance that they are a redeemed people, saved by God’s grace. I am fearful that this is not the case with the majority of our people. We do not know that we are saved. We hope we are. We trust that we are. We work at it. We answer the question, “Are you saved?, with a qualified yes at best, such as “If I am faithful . . .” (p. 118)
Bro. Garrett continues,
Someone has said a gathering of Christians for worship should be something like the locker room of the winners of a Super Bowl game. That may be an overstatement, for there is a place for subdued quietness in our assemblies. But in that quietness there should be a contagious sense of joy, not unlike an athlete sitting quietly before being crowned for winning the race. That says it, we are winners, all the time we are winners in Christ, and we should feel it and act it. We certainly shouldn’t have the demeanor of the losing team after a Super Bowl game. Yet many of our people behave just that way, like losers. They are scared to live and afraid to die. Are you saved, are you bound for glory? “I hope so. I’m working at it,” they say. (p. 120)
We don’t really believe in the grace of God.
While we deny it, we really believe in works-salvation. We are saved by being baptized (exactly the right way, mind you!), by taking Communion regularly (it has to be the right day!), and by studying our Bibles (the doctrine has to be exactly right!) To be saved we have to be “faithful” and “right” about all the things that make us good members. No wonder we are nervous when asked if we are saved! Who can measure up to the standard that we set for each other? We keep trying harder, but we are weary of trying. (p. 121)
Assurance comes only in approaching the throne of God empty-handed and with a contrite heart.
This is the way that we can know that we are saved, fully assured of our redemption in Christ. We can be as sure as Paul was when he wrote in 2 Tim. 1:9, “He has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began,” and the apostle goes on in verse 12 to say “I know and I am fully persuaded.” We don’t have to equivocate. We can be sure, for we are relying upon Him “who is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy” (Jude 24). (pp. 124-125)
Yes, we have accepted a works salvation, but with a limited definition of “works.” Originally, the Regulative Principle, which we borrowed from Zwingli and the Puritans, taught that worship could only contain elements authorized by commands, examples, or necessary inference. We expanded that teaching to include church organization (elders, deacons), the name of the church, how the church treasury is used, etc., etc. Thus, we discovered prohibitions for all sorts of things (fellowship halls attached to a building, busses, missionary societies, located preachers, bake sales).
On top of this, we took the 19th Century notion that “positive commands” are non-negotiable tests of faith and hence salvation issues, and we applied that logic to all the conclusions we reached via the Regulative Principle.
Hence, connecting a fellowship hall to the building by a breezeway is not only sinful but damns. Having a children’s worship damns. Buying gym equipment for the fellowship hall with church funds damns.
On the other hand, we find plenty for room for grace when it comes to a failure to love as we should, to evangelize as we should, or help the poor as we should. Grace covers those things — even though the scriptures say much, much more about our salvation being tied to our love for others and our helping the poor than it says about the wickedness of fellowship halls. This is why a church that is filled with bitter, hateful people, who help no one but who adhere strictly to the Regulative Principle will be hailed as “sound,” while a church that cares for widows, orphans, the hungry, and those in prison will be damned if it allows a woman to pass communion while standing. We have very odd priorities driven by a deeply flawed theology.
And as Bro. Garrett demonstrates, the result has been to destroy any confidence in our salvation. I attended the funeral of a missionary, a man who’d baptized thousands and planted hundreds of churches. The eulogist said, “If anyone has done enough to qualify for heaven, surely this man has!” Imagine the reaction of the hundreds in the pews who’d not accomplished as much! And notice how the eulogy was: “If anyone …” “If”! Perhaps even he would not make it!
So much more powerful would have been a lesson that praised Jesus and his work, declaring that the great missionary was in the arms of Jesus because of the work of Jesus. The missionary had built up treasures in heaven by his diligent Kingdom service, but even he failed to earn his salvation. Praise Jesus, however, that problem was solved the day he was baptized and adopted into God’s family. Even the great missionary did not qualify for heaven, but he was nonetheless saved by grace — a grace that we can all celebrate because it’s a grace enjoyed by all Christians.