Churches of Christ in Decline: 21st Century Christian changes policy on what is a Church of Christ

Long-time readers will remember the controversy that arose in early 2009 over the new edition of Churches of Christ in the United States. At that time, 21st Century Christian decided to exclude instrumental congregations — even congregations with both instrumental and a cappella services that continued to be in active communion with other Churches of Christ, such as The Hills Church of Christ (formerly Richland Hills Church of Christ) in Ft. Worth, our largest congregation.

I protested this change vehemently —

Yeakley States Churches of Christ in Decline; Richland Hills in No Man’s Land

What Is a “Church of Christ”?

A Supplemental Directory

A Response to Carl Royster

Others did as well. And 21st Century Christian responded with a change in policy. According to an email sent to the Christian Chronicle,

During the discussion process, it was determined that most of the congregations in question do continue to identify themselves as what we in the “religious bodies statisticians world” term as “independents,” meaning that they have chosen not to identify with any denomination or religious body. In addition, a few were verified as having chosen to identify with the Christian Church/Church of Christ, or they were simply misidentified at some point in the past as a congregation of the Churches of Christ. In both cases, coordinated efforts were established between ourselves and the appropriate data collectors to see that those congregations (as well as any future discoveries) were accounted for properly.

The handful of remaining congregations that adopted Sunday instrumental worship service practices, yet have chosen to still identify themselves as part of the historically a cappella Churches of Christ have all been included in the coming CCUSA 2012 data. Two new self-identifying characteristic codes were added for the congregations to describe themselves with as having some or all of their worship services involving instruments.

In other words, if an instrumental or partly instrumental congregation chooses to remain affiliated with the Churches of Christ, the 21st Century Century publication will now include them. This is as it should be. Thanks to all those involved for the correction!

Now, that being said, you should go to the 21st Century Christian website and check out their database entries for your congregation. They have an interactive link that allows you to check their information on your congregation. They’re going to print in early 2012; so check the data soon. If your congregation is new, you may have ben overlooked entirely and will certainly want to have your church’s name entered.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

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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112 Responses to Churches of Christ in Decline: 21st Century Christian changes policy on what is a Church of Christ

  1. Royce Ogle says:

    Thanks Jay. I too am pleased with the change. I protested as well and in a few moments will send a note to tell Mr. Royster how glad I am that they reversed their decision to exclude so many churches of Christ.

  2. Price says:

    Jay, this is pretty incredible. I went back and read some of your comments back when this change was made.. Am I wrong in saying that this is the first time since 1889 or 1906 that the CoC, more perhaps more accurately, it’s statistical arm, has recognized another church that uses instrumental music as being a part of the CoC denomination ?

    If so, it’s truly amazing…

  3. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    Yep. It’s a big deal — a huge step away from our sectarian past. I’m sure they’ll be widely criticized by the rightwing, but it’s unquestionably the right call.

  4. God is good! Incredible.

  5. Bruce Morton says:

    It is indeed strange to see you write, “This is as it should be.” with such definitiveness when you have also written multiple times about your struggle to decide if immersion baptism is a human work or an action of grace (since as you have written, “the ultimate test of salvation is faith in Jesus”).

    I, for one, hope we recognize that it is less important what policy 21st Century Christian announces about who is a “church of Christ” and more important how the risen Lord sees each congregations of His followers. And our focus needs to be on Him and on His Word, not on announcing “Churches of Christ in Decline.”

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas

  6. JMF says:


    I can think of probably a dozen times in the last two years since I’ve followed this blog that the question you raise (baptism: work or grace?) has been directly addressed by Jay and others in the responses.

  7. Bruce Morton says:

    I know that Jay has spoken a great deal about baptism. However, I have asked him numerous times even in the past two months if he believes baptism is an action of God’s grace. He has declined to answer the question — in each case.

    And I have looked back and read his essays on baptism. He has spoken a great deal in reaction to “traditional” (as he calls it) church of Christ teaching. Also, he has announced with clarity that he believes that “the ultimate test of salvation is faith in Jesus” (cf. to an Evangelical stance regarding salvation). But he has yet to answer the simple question about baptism — human work or action of God’s grace?

    And no. I am not the only one who has seen it. Alexander commented to me recently that he has also noticed that Jay vanishes from the discussion when the question surfaces.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas

  8. aBasnar says:

    To say “Faith is the ultimate test of salvation” (in downplaying baptism) is the same as to say: “It’s the vitamins that nourish us, not eating”. But eating is the way we get the vitamins into our body where they can nourish us.

    Of course it’s all about faith in Christ, about being cleansed in His blood – but where and how are we cleansed? Scripture teaches baptism as the way to obtain God’s grace in Christ. Separating baptism from the saving faith is like separating vitamins from eating them.

    To go further in this analogy: I do understand that some make much more of eating than necessary, boilng the apple till all the vitamins are destroyed and gone. Such eating does not profit us much, such as baptism without genuine faith profits us nothing (although we get wet like a true believer).


  9. Royce Ogle says:

    After reading comments here and at the Christian Chronicle blog, I continue to be amazed at the comments of people who pretend the Bible forbids instruments in Christian gatherings, it doesn’t.

    It is one thing to decide you prefer to worship without instruments. It is quite another when you condemn everyone else on earth who does not agree with your preference. And, at the end of the day, a cappella only is only a preference. Every single person who insists otherwise uses some extra-biblical material to prove his point because he can’t do it using only the Bible.

  10. Royce Ogle says:


    You said: “Such eating does not profit us much, such as baptism without genuine faith profits us nothing (although we get wet like a true believer”, and proved that what matters most is faith. I think that is all Jay and others have been saying all along. Baptism is not an act of grace, in the sense it is the means of grace. And the reason is quite simple. As you also point out, one can be immersed in water and not be saved.

  11. Charles McLean says:

    Bruce, I sense in your post a dissatisfaction that CoC’s with part-time pianos are NOT excluded from a directory of your denomination. And you seem to imply that God excludes them from His “directory”. I assume that you are not indifferent on the subject, based on your participation in the thread. But if you ARE pleased with the inclusion of your semi-instrumental brothers, please do correct my impression. Your somewhat elliptical expression leaves some room for misinterpretation.

    If you think a more exclusive CoC directory would be in order, then be of good cheer. There are some online directories who specialize in only including what they call “sound congregations”. Your own group might not be there, however, as these folks are pretty selective. I found one local 70-member CoC listed that claims that they are the only “sound congregation” in a 35 mile radius from my little suburb. That radius includes 150,000 people and dozens of CoC’s. The resulting percentage of 0.047% of the whole population lends a whole new meaning to “few there be that go in thereat”.

    And thanks for continuing to add to my long list of examples of how some of my CoC brothers seem to turn every conversation about the church into a discussion about baptism. This is a long-standing inside joke which other people continue to write for me, unsolicited.

  12. Glad to see the change as well. Sadly this is still only taking into account the churches of Christ in the U.S., not those of us serving congregations globally.

  13. Bruce Morton says:

    To be clear I am less focused on a policy change by a publisher and more on the deeper issue challenging faith in America (and the West as a whole). I have no doubt that the direction Jay has urged in his weblog is exactly what seems to best FIT our time and place — and indeed that is one reason we should hear a fire alarm!

    All that Paul writes about music and worship in Ephesians 5 is tied to the situation of a spiritual war. And that same spiritual war rages in this country — and throughout churches of many names. And no I do not think I exaggerate. The exodus of many of our youth are one of the clearest indicators of just how much the darkness rages. But I am NOT a doom and gloom person. Indeed, reading Ephesians lifts me up! It reveals how we should respond! And praise! For my two cents Jay should listen closer to the letter. Then he would throw away the “decline” button…. The Barna Group is making a similar mistake of late.

    An elder in a Christian Church emphasized that to me recently. He wrote indicating that Jack Cottrell’s encouragement had directed him to a book I authored. He read it and indicated that the section on “good song” caught his attention. He indicated to me that over 35 years of experience had convinced him that instrumentation serves to diminish our song as Christians.

    Charles, in summary I believe many are doing all that they can to avoid hearing Paul in context. Now that I have studied the context and see the parallels, I am convinced. Instrumentatlon in and of itself is no spiritual threat — but read on…. In a world drenched in darkness, we are a nation fooling ourselves to think it does not matter whether we use instruments or not. Paul is calling us to good song — just song — for a reason. Song — singing the Word — represents one of the most powerful means to see darkness for what it is.

    If we will listen to all that Paul writes in context, we will discover that all of our talk of “silence” in the text represents a serious distraction to the message of the Spirit through the apostle.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas

  14. Bruce Morton says:

    I have always believed “context matters.” Please note WHY I raised the subject of baptism. Jay is choosing to be definitive in one place and evasive in another.

    But indeed I believe that immersion is important. It is the acting out of Jesus’ death and resurrection in our time — our participating in it! But, perhaps I cannot convince. Hard for any of us to convey all of who we are in a weblog. And yes, I teach and preach on other subjects as well.. such as the patriarchs recently! I know, unbelievable 🙂

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas

  15. HistoryGuy says:

    I found this link with church statistics in America (even top 25) worth looking at —

    Churches of Christ hold an interesting rank among other denominations. Every group has its problems, but before labeling a practice or problem amongst ALL churches of Christ “legalism vs. X” compare the various liturgical practices of the churches listed with overall church stats and positions.

    Since these studies and y’alls web discussion have primarily been focused on numerical growth, I find it interesting that the Catholics are #1 and growing even though their worship is vastly different from acappella COC or instrumental COC and thus, out of consistency, would be labeled legalistic by many here.

    Additionally, I find it even more amazing that Orthodox churches in America grew 16% in the past decade while many instrumental protestant groups (including COC) were and still are declining. Note the number is from participants in church life, not the total claimed adherents (i.e. it is a minimal number instead of the maximum).

    This is intriguing because Orthodox worship is generally acappella and more ritualistic than mainline churches of Christ. I pray that we will reflect on these numbers, worship styles, and trends as we reevaluate our own movement (COC), especially as to what legalism means and how it should applied.

  16. Gregory Alan Tidwell says:

    The best position on this issue was well stated by my predecessor, H. Leo Boles in 1939.

    GA Tidwell

  17. Todd Collier says:

    History Guy, Thanks for the reports. Especially the data from the Orthodox census. In reading them I noted something interesting – the Southern Baptist loss and the Catholic gain were statistically small right around 1/2 of 1% each. The Orthodox indeed report a 16% increase but provide no explanation for it. I wonder how much of this growth is from immigration from Orthodox countries – especially in light of the data that shows the growth of parishes in states that usually benefit most from immigration. Also not the broad – really huge – difference between “adherents” and “regular attendees.” What ever factor is driving their “growth” it does not seem to be worship related.
    In my admittedly limited experience the people I have known who have “converted” to either Orthodox or Catholic were leaving strongly left leaning mainline denominations drawn to the conservative social views of the Orthodox and Catholic leadership. It was not a choice made because of worship style.
    I think we tend to focus on worship issues because we have been trapped in these worship wars for the past century and have let them define both our movement and out thinking. Most “seekers” I know are more interested in authentic expressions of Christianity and really don’t tend to question how worship is conducted so long as they witness the faith being lived out with integrity. For instance, by God’s grace we have baptized about 20 since this time last year, all of them have asked questions about how to handle difficult areas of life change, repentance and forgiveness. None of them have asked why we partake of communion every Sunday, why we are lead by shepherds instead of a single pastor, or why we sing this song instead of that one.

  18. Charles McLean says:

    Bruce wrote: “Paul is calling us to good song — just song — for a reason.”

    Except that Paul never said any such thing.

    The “just song” part of that sentence is a raw added inference. Paul did not actually say that, nor is there any place in scripture where one can find support for the idea that Paul was even implying it. Bruce et al infer the exclusion of instruments out of tradition, and from a hermeneutic that allows them to selectively convert silence to probition, to convert a lack of biblical information into doctrine.

    Now, Paul does mentions “melody” in the context of singing, but my brothers do not use this exact same reasoning to infer that Paul prohibits the use of vocal harmony. So, even if the hermeneutic itself were not so logically porous, it is applied so errratically as to be indefensible.

    Sorry for the hijack. I’ll let someone else have the last word on this and go buy some guitar strings.

  19. Bruce Morton says:

    Before you speak further I am asking that you take me up on an offer. Who knows, you might find yourself looking at Ephesians 4:17-5:21 differently after a further look at the parallelisms in the context. Or is that a challenge you are hesitant to accept?

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas

  20. Ken Sublett says:

    Early scholars taught what Paul said: “singing and melody is IN the heart.” It is true that singing in a tuneful sense was never included in the text in any of the actual “assemblies”(synagogue) where Jesus or the others came together. Singing as an ACT was added in about 373 as propoganda.

    Consider that Paul used lots of Parallelism. Peter warned us about Paul.

    II. Antithetical Parallelism–The thought of the first line is expressed by an antithesis in the second;
    or is counterbalanced by a contrast in the second. This parallelism is very common in the Book of Proverbs:
    (a) The tongue of the wise adorneth knowledge,
    {but} The mouth of the fool blurteth out folly.

    Prov., xv, 2.
    (b) Soundness of heart is the life of the flesh,
    {but} Envy is the rot of the bones.
    –Proverbs 14:30.

    The thoughts of the righteous are right,
    BUT the counsels of the wicked are deceitful. Proverbs 12:5 (NKJV)

    Proverbs 15:14 The heart of him that hath understanding seeketh knowledge:
    BUT the mouth of fools feedeth on foolishness.

    Eph. 5:17 Wherefore be ye not unwise,
    BUT understanding what the will of the Lord is.
    Eph. 5:18 And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess;
    BUT [instead] be filled with the Spirit;
    Eph. 5:19 Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,
    {BUT} singing and making melody IN your HEART to the Lord;

    The Greek SPEAK is defined as the opposite of poetry or music. Since, the assembly is a school of Christ in the Prophets and Apostles, why not just do that. Then people have 167/168 to sing, play or otherwise entertain themselves. “Could you not wait with Me for one hour.” Why not give a try?

    Psallo in the Greek texts never speaks of musical melody. The word is “Melos.” Melody is a series of single tones. Psallo specificially forbids the plectrum and can never be applied to anything but a finger-plucked string.

  21. HistoryGuy says:

    Thanks for your thoughts and I tend to agree with them. My primary purpose in posting the stats was to ask folks here to use caution when assuming one worship style is more legalist than the other, or that church growth and decline are attributed to a certain style of worship. You made a great point about numerical growth and what I would call “denominational shuffle,” which is where believers jump from one group to another. Whether Baptist, Orthodox, COC acappella or instrumental, there is a lot of jumping going on. In my opinion it is the result of study or influence as people get deeper into Christianity and embrace specific positions. Most of US are genuinely concerned about the lost, and though it’s from 2007, even the Orthodox have a perspective on how to reach and welcome newcomers –

    I also agree with you about Seekers (i.e. those who did not grow up in a Christian based home, non-Christians) and worship wars. Before I converted to Christianity, I did not care what denomination or worship style one had, as I believed yall were all nuts and lacking intelligence. Nothing could have brought me to any church. Even after I converted, my primary focus was a desire for love and support in genuine community of Jesus followers while dealing with the heart ache of loosing non-Christian friends, putting away sins, and striving to cling to Christ. I wanted to learn, but that was a secondary issue. Theology matters and I believe conversations about it must be had in the growth of a Christian, but your point that generally new converts are neutral to the worship wars, ordinances, etc., is something we can all reflect on. Jesus is truly the anchor of our soul (Hebrews 6:19-20); Thanks again for your thoughts.

  22. HistoryGuy says:

    I cannot believe I forgot a link that you will smile about when thinking of converts. This Orthodox outreach group [Death to the World] was referenced in the Orthodox article and here is a link to some of their clothing! I smile because I am learning not stereotype people. –

  23. Todd Collier says:

    DUDE, that is some mind blowing stuff.

    A few months ago I picked up the Orthodox Study Bible in a discount shop here in town. It is the only Bible that contains an English translation of the Septuagint instead of the Masoretic. The introductory material is truly fascinating and it made me smile quite a bit as the language used in describing their movement is almost identical with the language I grew up hearing about the Church of Christ.

    I also find it interesting – as these t-shirts point out – how comfortable the Orthodox are with death and relics in general. But then again historically Catholicism is the religion of the conquerors, Orhodoxy of those who were either conquered by others or oppressed by their own governments. I do wonder sometimes if we forget how truly blessed we are to be able to have the luxury of our little debates on fine points when others have had to debate whether they give up Christ or die.

  24. Todd Collier says:

    A lot of that language I talked about is in the Antiochan article. And that article answers our “coming from where” as far as some of that movement is concerned? I love the idea that these kids are seeking authenticiy. That is what we need to provide, well actually, it is what we need to be.

  25. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    The 16% figure you quote is based on number of parishes, not adherents or members. I can’t find in that report a rate of growth of membership.

    In fact, the Orthodox have found that many of their communities have severely over-reported their membership Even the corrected figures reported here are greater than shown by the 2010 census figures.

    In short, the Orthodox seem to be suffering the same exaggeration of results the Churches of Christ were guilty of in the 1960s, but are in the process of correcting their numbers. The self-reported numbers found in some Census reports are clearly wrong, as some national groups claim more adherents than the Census found for all of Orthodoxy combined (1.5 million self-reported by Greek Orthodox compared to about 1 million for all Orthodox groups combined per the Census). I’m not sure there are reliable numbers prior to 2010 to compare to tell whether any growth was really happening.

    A growth in parishes may only mean that the Eastern European communities are becoming more dispersed within the US, not that the numbers are growing. Or the numbers, if growing, may be almost entirely from immigration.

    In short, the information is, as admitted by the Orthodox themselves, unreliable.

  26. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    1. I agree that the synagogue did not include singing at the time of Jesus. But neither the scriptures nor history insist that the Christian assembly be patterned after the synagogue. Indeed, it clearly appears not to have been. For example, there was no common meal at the synagogue, but meals were typical of early Christian gatherings.

    2. Psallo in the Psalms is often used of playing a stringed instrument, but in the NT is usually used of singing (with or without instruments). There are countless examples from other First Century literature to support that meaning of the word.

    3. Eph 5:19 is taken from Psalm 118–

    (Psa 108:1-4 ESV) My heart is steadfast, O God! I will sing and make melody [psallo] with all my being! 2 Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn! 3 I will give thanks to you, O LORD, among the peoples; I will sing praises [psallo] to you among the nations. 4 For your steadfast love is great above the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.

    Obviously, “sing and psallo” is parallel with “Awake,O harp and lyre!” We would naturally take Paul’s quotation from the Psalter to use David’s words as he used them. He obviously didn’t quote Ps 108 to mean “sing a cappella” — much less “don’t sing at all.”

    4. To speak [laleo], in First Century Greek, does not necessarily contradict to sing. One can speak through song, as this very verse demonstrates.

  27. HistoryGuy says:

    Thank you for your thoughts. I admit my post was confusing, poorly worded, unclear, and merged several thoughts. I realize the 16% growth pertains to parishes, but parishes include some number of people. I don’t doubt that perish increases are the result of some dispersion and immigration, but that seems to be an unlikely explanation for all new perishes. Member growth occured through converts, children, marriages, and denominational jumping, but to what extent is unknown. Todd’s comment about church swapping from more liberal denominations, like Episcopalian, rings true for several I personally know who were searching for something more conservative and thus became Orthodox (Sorry, they were not ready to be as conservative as us COC folks… something about their incense smelled better than our glade plugins – ha ha).

    While 16% growth in parishes clearly does not equate to people, I believe they focused on parishes because those numbers were known and they are really trying to reflect on themselves, whereas previous member numbers were tainted (as you pointed out). I believe they cut their adherent numbers in America from 2M to 1.2M. I commend them for being honest about it and trying to grow. Now, if all denominations would follow suit we would get somewhere. In truth, the church growth statistic that I trust is the one admitting problems with church growth statistics (ha ha). As a whole, Christianity is declining in America (I have not looked at stats in the world). Still, I hope people will focus on my intent of posting, which was to ask for reflection on worship styles before concluding that worship style equals growth or decline. After all, according to the stats, Orthodox parishes are increasing, more Pentecostals spoke in tongues, and Catholics are still #1. 🙂

  28. Hank says:

    So, does the book at least place an asterisk next to the churches which worship with the instruments? That way, visitors will know that they will be worshiping at their own risk…

  29. Alabama John says:

    Here there are several church buildings that were built as Christian Churches, Disciples of Christ, or Reformers which was the titles Campbell liked to use. Barton Stone preferred Christian and was criticized for it.
    From the names on church property titles in early 1800’s, you could tell today which of the two that church followed and were Campbellites or Stonites.

    Our greatest mistake in the early 1900’s up to today in the church of Christ congregations was teaching our young to memorize all the verses that showed what and who we were against and practically no time teaching what we were for.
    Now, today, with 25 separate positions and dwindling numbers and practically no new converts we should of learned from that divisive, exclusiveness error. Today in our discussions lets try hard to concentrate on learning and teaching what we are FOR, unity, seeking bringing the Good News to the world about Jesus and His grace instead of teaching even more what we are AGAINST.
    That was the main theme of the early COC, UNITY among ALL Christians!

  30. Gregory Alan Tidwell says:

    How can I know I am saved?

    In answer to this question, some have looked to themselves, seeking to earn or deserve salvation.

    This is legalism, and it is wrong.

    Salvation is by the grace of God. As we sing in the old hymn: “Jesus paid it all. All to Him I owe.” There is nothing I can add to the work done for me by Christ. As the apostle wrote: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8,9).

    Grace, however, is conditional. Not everyone will be saved, but only those who accept God’s free gift through repentance and faith, as expressed in the good confession, in baptism, and in the faithful life which begins with baptism’s new birth.

    The Progressives among churches of Christ, however, cheapen grace by teaching a gospel devoid of penitent faith. Using “grace” as a catch-phrase, they dismiss any call to obedience as “legalism.”

    Perhaps no holy word has been more desecrated in the current apostasy than the word “grace”. Sometimes I hear people complain that the Progressives teach too much about grace. This, however, is not possible. As we sometimes sing:

    “could we with ink the ocean fill, and were the skies of parchment made; were every stalk on earth a quill, and every man a scribe by trade; to write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry, nor could the scroll contain the whole, though stretched from sky to sky.”

    The problem is never that truth is taught too much, but rather that what is taught is not true.

    God’s grace, in Scripture, means forgiveness of error. Among Progressives, grace has come to mean acceptance or indifference towards error.

    While these Progressives confess Christ with their lips, their hearts are far from Him. For healing to come, hearts must be changed. There must be both repentance and the fruit appropriate for a penitent heart.

    The Bible is a book of grace, revealing our Lord as the loving husband who buys back the unfaithful wife. This is the power of the restoration principle: not that we are perfect, but that we aspire to the perfect standard. If we are faithful in the small things, God’s grace will permit us to be faithful in much.

    The Progressives, however, do not stress repentance, but rather acceptance as a response to grace. This emphasis comes through clearly in the hallmark question of the Progressives: “Is that a salvation issue?” Implicitly, this question consigns most, if not all, doctrinal and moral matters into the dustbin of irrelevance.

    Selective obedience is the greatest legalism threatening the church today. Rather than believing God’s objective way of salvation, the Progressives have presumed to decide for themselves who is saved and who is lost. Setting themselves up to decide which commandments are required and which are optional, they set themselves up to play God. The way of faith accepts God’s right to command without question. The concept of selective obedience springs from a lack of faith.

    In contrast to this infidelity, the Bible shows clearly repentance is a salvation issue. A Christian, bought and paid for by the blood of Christ, is not free to indulge in selective obedience. If it is the will of God that I sing to him without instrumental accompaniment, for example, I disobey God’s will in this matter at the risk of my soul. Every aspect of our obedience to God is a salvation issue, not only the things which are culturally convenient, but (more importantly) those aspects of obedience which cause us to deny ourselves.

    None of us is perfect. We are not perfect in our doctrinal understanding, so we continue to study the Scriptures. We are not perfect in our attitudes nor in our actions, so we continue to repent and to rely on God’s mercy. We are sorry we have failed in our service to God. Loving the Lord, we want to please him in every way.

    The Restoration ideal is simply applied repentance, recognizing that God’s way is right and must be followed in all things. Such obedience is not legalism. It is humble service before a gracious God.

    GA Tidwell

  31. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    There will be a footnote for instrumental churches, which is as it should be. To do otherwise would violate the principles of Romans 14.

  32. HistoryGuy says:

    I have seen you place IM as a Romans 14 issue, but have not seen your reasoning for doing so (I am sorry if I missed it, please point me to it). Some from the AC and IM groups (depending on their points) would say IM is not a Romans 14 issue, so don’t think I am asking because I am an AC advocate. Generally, only those taking the position that IM is a matter of conscience, which denies BOTH the AC and IM varied affirmative arguments, would hold this view. In the past, you seemed to have swayed more toward an IM affirmative position. I am truly interested in your thoughts… what are some points on which you conclude that IM is a Romans 14 issue?

  33. HistoryGuy says:

    No worries, I am not trying to spark a long debate. I am just interested in where you stand.

  34. Charles McLean says:

    GAT opined: “While these Progressives confess Christ with their lips, their hearts are far from Him. For healing to come, hearts must be changed.”
    I agree that at least one heart must be changed. That is the heart of the man who presumes to know the hearts of other men. Not only their actions, but their very hearts, as he so blithely claims here. In the spirit of this repentance which GAT insists is so lacking among Progressives, I would recommend that repenting of judging the servant of another would be a good starting place. Repenting of the pride and presumption of taking up a place held by God Himself would be a good follow-up. Plenty of sackcloth to go around on that one.

    After all these years, however, I am not inclined to hold my breath waiting for such a miracle. Contrary to popular belief, it is not doctrinal disagreement which separates us; it is our incredibly durable willingness to stand in judgment of one another. This ungodly predilection has shown itself capable of splitting any doctrinal hair progressively into finer and finer filaments, until the only unity possible is that of a man with his theological identical twin… and even that unity is only temporary.
    In the interest of full-disclosure here, I must confess that I do have something of a stake in this matter. This ongoing practice has allowed me to make a nice living selling my “Restoration’s Finest” Handy-Dandy Gnat Strainer. All our shipments are made in plain brown wrapper labeled “Bible Study Materials” for the convenience of our customers, as each customer, without exception, insists he has no need of such a handy device. For an item that nobody needs or uses, our sales are up for the third straight year. In appreciation to all our customers, all Christmas shipments will include our soon-to-be-famous “1906 Camel Seasoning”, a secret blend of salt and bitters with a hint of smoke. A familiar taste from generations past!

    C R McLean, VP Sales
    Hoalyer ‘n’ Thou Products

  35. Charles … a mouthful indeed. I’m not sure that you have the right kind of strainer in “strain out gnat” though. I may be wrong, so I’ll check it again

  36. Matt Dabbs says:

    I spoke with brother Royster back in January 2009 about the matter when it first came up –

    I found him to be a very humble and careful man and my respect for him only grew through the conversation. Thanks for updating us on this Jay.

  37. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    What makes an issue a Romans 14 issue? Some argue that only matters of indifference are Romans 14 issues, but if you and I agree the item is a matter of indifference, why might I judge you on it? Why might I question whether you’ll stand before God? Why might I look down on you regarding a matter of indifference? And why would Paul say that one party has “weak faith” when it’s not perceived by either party as being a matter of faith?

    In reality, the two issues — eating meat and honoring holy days — were seen as salvation issues by many Jewish believers, as amply evidenced by Galatians, which dealt not only with circumcision but holy days (Gal 4:10) — not to mention —

    (Col 2:16 ESV) 16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.

    Thus, Romans, Colossians, and Galatians all evidence that some parties saw these as salvation issues. Thus, these are issues seen by one party as a salvation (faith) issue and by other parties as not a salvation issue.

    Paul specifically prohibits both parties from treating these as salvation issues. There are, of course, true salvation issues, and Paul just spent Rom 1 – 11 covering them. He doesn’t repeat the lessons in chapter 14, assuming the readers capable of retaining their prior learning.

    (Rom 3:28 ESV) 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

    Those who are “weak in faith” (Rom 14:1) may not judge or look down on those with stronger faith. And vice versa.

    Now, some want to argue that they only have to honor Romans 14 if they concede that IM, for example, is a matter of indifference. But by that logic, no disagreement would ever be resolved by Rom 14 and those who wish to make IM, fellowship halls, or whatever into salvation issues aren’t bound by Rom 14. Indeed, only those who already agree the items are indifferently are bound to stop judging — which they, of course, are already not doing.

    No, those who insisted on holy days or eating meat were part of a group that saw these as fellowship/salvation issues. Otherwise, Rom 14 would never be written. More importantly, in Romans, Paul never answers the holy-day question. He doesn’t bother even to say who is right! Rather, he insists that the two sides welcome each other without regard to who might be right or wrong.

    Notice how some preachers argue. They go to Colossians or Galatians to prove holy days are not salvation issues. They conclude that holy days are indifferent. Thus, they reason, Romans 14 only deals with matters of indifference. What they ignore is —

    * The Roman church didn’t have Colossians and Galatians in their Thos. Nelson & Sons leather-bound New Testaments. They’d never even met Paul! All they had is Romans, and Romans does not answer the holy day question — other than by showing that we are saved by faith and not works.

    * Paul declares that both sides do what they do “to the Lord” and urges both sides to be “fully convinced in their own minds.” He doesn’t resolve the problem by giving the answer. He resolves it by telling them to get along despite their disagreements and by being sensitive to one another’s consciences. (Proving, of course, that the issues were perceived as matters of conscience!)

    I could go on. But that’s the argument in a nutshell.

  38. Todd Collier says:

    Mr. Tidwell,

    Your post reaches much too far. I was raised in very mainstream CoC’s in the Memphis area. And I learned my lessons well! I was there every time the doors were opened and was that annoying kid in class who knew every answer to every question. I was about 19 before I ever heard a sermon on grace that was not bashing those who taught salvation by grace alone. The first positive sermon I ever heard on the work of the Spirit I preached myself. I was clearly taught that if we got our behavior on Sunday AM right we were covered for the rest. This is no where taught in Scripture and even flies in the face of what Jesus taught and I can’t yet believe it was the intended message. But it was what we were taught.

    I am a progressive and I never ever preach about IM, once a week communion, the evils of other people’s denominationalism, or which Bible version you need to use or face hell – the “mother’s milk” upon which the Church raised me. All my sermons and teaching focus on what God has done for us in Christ and what we MUST do in response – turning away from selfishness and sinfulness, crucifying our addictions and favorite habits and developing lives that are devoted to serving Christ as we serve others. Does this sound like cheap grace to you?

    And I learned these truths from the Scripture and from Randy Harris, Patrick Meade, F Lagarde Smith and a dozen other faithful Christian servants who would be labelled “progressive.”

    It is traditionalism with its constant focus on external man made rules wihout any requirement for true life change that is teaching a truly “cheap grace.” And this makes the traditional CoC as much a denomination as any it chooses to condemn and as much in danger of christ’s wrath as the Pharisees He contended with over the same issues two thousand years ago.

  39. Johnny says:

    It is always easier to follow rules than live by grace. Rules set limits on what is expected of you. It allows you to measure yourself against others.

    The measuring stick is Christ not some other denomination, church or Christian. When we see God for what he is, we like Isaiah see ourselves “”Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”

    That he loved me and saved me and made me his child deserves all I have.

  40. Alabama John says:

    Amen Todd.

    I highly recommend Al Maxeys this months post.

  41. HistoryGuy says:

    Thank you for your thoughts.

  42. Ken Sublett says:

    In Romans 14 Paul outlawed “doubtful disputations” which are personal opinions not related to edification which in context means education.

    “come together, assemble or gather” are synagogue words. In Romans 15 Paul outlawed SELF pleasure and commanded that we “use one mind and one mouth to speak that which is written for our learning” or “Scripture.” Luther identified that as unison singing which was not possible until some Psalms (only) were rewritten and set to a simple unison meter.

    Related to Psalm 108

    Consistent with that abandonment to kings to destroy the nation, David and the staff were devoted to the Astrial gods as a national or gentile civil-military-clergy system: the godly Christ in the prophets rejects all of the Civil-Military-Clergy complex who always murdered God’s prophets.

    Psalms 108:1 O God, my heart is fixed;
    …..I will sing and give praise,
    …..even with MY glory [MY splendor]

    Hebrew 2167 Zamar like Psallo only MEANS to strike a string with the FINGERS unless an instrument is added with another word.

    Latin 2] paratum cor meum Deus paratum cor meum cantabo et psallam in gloria mea

    cant?to , To sing or play to produce melodious sounds (by the voice or an instrument), to sound, sing, play
    Psallam is translated as “Praise” in Latin

    Psalms 108:2 Awake, psaltery and harp:
    …..I myself will AWAKE early.

    Psalms 108:3 I will praise thee, O LORD, among the people: and I will sing praises unto thee among the Nations.

    4] confitebor tibi in populis Domine et psallam tibi in nationibus

    Conf?t?or, implying a sacrifice of will
    psallam is translated sing praise.
    Among the nations is not in the temple

    David wanted to AWAKEN his lyre so that he could AWAKEN the dawn. Fits with the kings being abandoned to worship the starry host (re the Star of David) OR “poems tend to be poetic.”

    “We even have a mention at a later date of a similar custom in connection with the cult in Jerusalem, where certain Levites, called me’oreim, ‘arousers,” sang every morning this verse from Ps 44: ‘Awake, Lord, awake! Do not abandon us for ever.” The Talmud tells us that Johy Hyrcanus suppressed the practice because it recalled too readily a pagan custom.

    A similar practice is attested in connection with the cult of Herakles-Melkart. According to Menander, as he is quoted by Josephus, the king Hiram, who was a contemporary of Solomon, rebuilt the temples of Tyre and, ‘he was the first to celebrate the awakening of Heracles in the month of Peritius.” (de Vaux, p. 247)

    In an inscription from Cyprus, in one from Rhodes and in several from around the district of Carthage, there are references to important personages who bear the title Mqm”lm which we can translate as ‘arouser of the god.” (de Vaux, p. 247).

  43. JMF says:

    A few highlights from GA Tidwell’s post:

    God’s grace, in Scripture, means forgiveness of error. Among Progressives, grace has come to mean acceptance or indifference towards error.

    While these Progressives confess Christ with their lips, their hearts are far from Him. For healing to come, hearts must be changed. There must be both repentance and the fruit appropriate for a penitent heart.


    Firstly, I certainly appreciate that GAT is willing to come and express his opinions to a more challenging crowd. That speaks well of you.

    Secondly, even though I will offer a “progressive” perspective, I loathe that term … but will accept it for the sake of clarity.

    If you read the second half of GAT’s last post, it seems the general direction of his thoughts is this:

    1) Progressives trust a “cheap grace” which is a basis for lawlessness.
    2) This leads to subjective obedience.
    3) Due to subjective obedience, repentance isn’t really occurring.

    *If this isn’t a good representation of your views Greg, let me know. I’ve tried to be fair as I understand you.

    Here’s the rub: I wholeheartedly agree with you IF, and only IF, one is being intentionally disobedient! So, as it applies to this conversation, if I am convicted that Scripture teaches IM to be sinful — yet I do it anyways because grace will cover me — then I am indeed being rebellious (opposite of repentant)!

    Of course, Greg, you know as well as I do that that isn’t the normative case.

    That is the main issue I take with your most recent post; the implication that we are not penitent since we are rebelling against God’s Word by using IM.

    We just disagree over what God’s Word teaches on the matter. Disagreement and rebellion are vastly different.

  44. guestfortruth says:

    Jay said “ What they ignore is – * The Roman church didn’t have Colossians and Galatians in their Thos. Nelson & Sons leather-bound New Testaments. They’d never even met Paul! All they had is Romans, and Romans does not answer the holy day question — other than by showing that we are saved by faith and not works.” God does not contradict itself Jay! Sola fide is the beginning of obedience of the Gospel and James clarify that misunderstanding in James 2:26 “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also”. The scripture is its own best interpreter.
    So, according to this conclusion,the Holy Spirit was not in the leaders of the locals churches of Christ in the first century? During the 20 years of oral teaching of the church? (Acts 8:14-20; 1 Tim. 4:14;2 Tim. 1:5-7;Acts 6:6 ); (Eph.4:7-16) Showing them what God’s wants from them? Paul’s clear statement that he spoke and wrote by inspiration (1 Cor. 2:11-13), that an apostle was not to be “anxious how or what ye shall speak: for it shall given you in that hour what ye shall speak. For it is not yet that speak, but the Spirit of your Father that spaketh in you” (Mat. 10:19-20).We have the example of the first century Christians Col. 4:15-17 “ Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea, and Nymphas and the church that is in his house. 16 Now when this epistle is read among you, see that it is read also in the church of the Laodiceans, and that you likewise read the epistle from Laodicea. 17 And say to Archippus, “Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.”

  45. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    Thanks for saying what I wish I’d said sooner:

    Many thanks to Greg for being willing to express and defend his views in this forum.

  46. Bruce Morton says:

    I am going to offer a bit of a challenge to your post here — without tackling all of the background discussion. You urge a sense of “openness” in your critique of Greg. Correct? But… when I have asked for your openness toward me and some of my study of an important context of Scripture, you have, to date, declined a free copy of a book.

    Perhaps you can explain how you seem to be using your own “Handy-Dandy Gnat Strainer.”

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas

  47. Todd Collier says:

    Remember Bruce, it is possible to read your book and appreciate it without agreeing with your conclusions. Just as it is possible to read the volumes of well reasoned Scriptural exegesis on this website and be unmoved from the traditionalist position. In the end we are but men and this just reinforces our need to be patient with each other and spend our energies on the true work of the Body which is making and growing disciples according to the clear teachings of Christ and His apostles and not what we think or believe was being taught.

  48. Charles McLean says:

    Bruce, I have been happy to read and discuss your posts here. So, it seems to me that for you to take me to task about “openness” is unfounded. Failure to read your book does not render a believer closed-minded. You seem to be placing on me a debt I do not owe. I could make a number of reading recommendations myself, but to expect another person to do such homework so as to facilitate his understanding of my points in this blog would be an imposition.

    To decline to add your book to my existing tall stack of unread materials is simply part of my freedom as a believer. Please don’t feel offended; the bookstores are chock-full of books I have not chosen to read. This decision passes no judgment on their content, it just indicates that their authors have not stirred enough interest in me for me to invest the reading time. I may well be missing some important things by the selections I make, but this cannot be helped.

    As to your own ideas, at this time you’ll have to be satisfied with explaining them here… at least in my regard. If your arguments here begin to resonate with me, I may later take up your book offer. Thanks for the offer.

  49. Bruce Morton says:

    You debate my posts and when I offer to give a gift that will provide more in terms of background, you decline. That is my point. You are doing your own brand of “straining” whether you want to admit it or no. I did not say that you would agree, only that you will have some further background for why I write what I write.

    I, for one, am not sure I understand why receiving a free publication to browse (or throw away…) is such an onerous issue. But I will leave that with you.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas

  50. Bruce Morton says:

    I think you know that I agree with you re Charles not agreeing with me! And yes, you know that I see any publication as being imperfect. But that was not the point of what I was attempting to convey (and perhaps did a poor job of such). Hope all is well, brother.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Katy, Texas

  51. Brent says:

    I have read a few of the posts and thought I would add something. History Guy mentioned earlier that the Orthodox had grown 16%, and Todd stated that he wondered how much of the growth was due to immigration and that it didn’t seem to be worship related. I think there is more to the numerical growth in Orthodoxy than Immigration.

    One of the reasons I think this is from my own experience. Orthodoxy is most fascinating. I stumbled upon it a few years ago studying church history on my own. I keep dismissing it and then find that I am drawn to it over and over. While doing my own digging, I found a new website that started in October 2011 which chronicles an ongoing discussion between a 35 year old married man and his mother. The young man, Mark Bradshaw, was once a part of a Christian Church (one of our restoration churches). He studied church history and read the early church fathers (ECFs). He began to question Sola Scriptura. He studied his way out of what he now calls” Protestantism” and came to embrace the way of the Orthodox. It is a great read. And it is scary because I find myself walking several steps behind him. Anyway . . . In the ongoing discussion he talks about the influx of new converts in the parish he is a part of and in those that he has visited; he being one of those new converts. He has the following to say on his 12/02/2011 post:

    “I am so focused in on the conversion experience that I never considered how all this looks to people who are multi-generation Orthodox. Definitely there’s a bit of a mix-up in the Orthodox community right now due to the sheer size of the influx of converts. It’s huge, and that’s a bit of a problem for a faith community that relies so strongly on consistency and mentorship to pass the faith on to the next generation. And all these converts are coming in with preconceived notions of what Christianity is. It’s an interesting problem, and I’m considering what that means for me and how I should work to relate to those who may appear to me to be in the slow lane. Sometimes still waters run deep. I need to be doing all I can to connect to the people who’ve been doing this their whole lives!”

    From the sound of it, at least in the parishes he is familiar with, the growth is due to conversions from other denominations. If interested, check out his site at

    Wouldn’t it be great if we had this “mix-up” in our restoration churches of Christ? Oh how I wish the “problems” would magnify!

  52. Gregory Alan Tidwell says:

    As Progressives abandon Sola Scriptura, the Bible as our only authority, they become easy prey to those who put forward alternative sources of authority in religion. The Abilene professors writing in God’s Holy Fire put forward the quadrilateral of Scripture, reason, experience, and tradition as sources of authority in the church.

    Once we open the door to tradition as a source of authority it sometimes leads to Rome or to Constantinople. This has been something of a trend among Evangelicals (note, for example Franky Schaeffer’s conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy).

    Note, also, the fascination many of our Progressives have developed with Medieval Catholic mysticism.

  53. Brent says:

    I agree with you. At least I always have. However I have begun to question the thinking that we can trust that the ECFs made the correct choice about the cannon, but that we shouldn’t place any importance on anything else they did.

    The bishops who met in ecumenical counsel and decided what should be placed in the cannon believed that Jesus had deposited the faith into the Apostles, and that from the Apostles they (the bishops) were in possession of the liturgy (worship), Scripture, and the correct episcopacy of the Church. They did not see Scripture (the Cannon) as separate from tradition, but rather is a large and necessary part of it. They also did not see Scripture as separate from the pattern of worship they held to (the liturgy). And they did not see Scripture as separate from their responsibility for continuing to pass down The Way from person to person to person . . . as they were practicing at the time. All these things were tied together . . . and to them . . . were a part of the whole. They were in possession of “the whole.”

    Once this sank into my mind, I have become increasingly uncomfortable with the idea that I can accept the Cannon that was the fruit of their labors but that I should not give any credibility to the other aspects of their testimony and witness. Somehow, I think I have been cheated from connecting with my real roots. And not just me . . . but all of us.

  54. Bob Brandon says:

    Greg, that’s disingenuous of you. Lazily accusing those whom you disagree with of “abandoning sola scriptura” by using “reason, experience, and tradition as sources of authority” is no more that projection on your part. What you call “sources of authority” are actually application of the text in local situations.

    Take using reason as an example. I am shocked, shocked, I tell you that you object to using reason in reading the text. If any side in this matter has been rigorous in not using their brains to figure out what the text meant then and how it applies now, it’s been your traditionalist side. Plus it stands [not] to reason that anyone could both approvingly quote Boles and then quote C.S. Lewis and J.I. Packer agreeably, neither of whom Boles would have regarded as even Christian. You would use Boles to marginalize those within our fellowship with whom you disagree yet quote Lewis and Packer, both loyal Anglicans, as props to your side.

    But if brains, or reason, or clear thinking doesn’t matter, since the “progressives” are using theirs, you’re not left with much to go on. After all, disparaging contemporary circumstances eliminates the necessity of practice consistent and gracious application of the Gospel in invariably unique and diverse situations. When your little group of uniformly opinionated colleagues already have your own sources of “reason, experience, and tradition,” albeit from some 3-6 generations ago, it’s easy and convenient to think that all you think you actually need is the text “sola.” Everything else is unspoken and unthoughtful.

    In the local big scheme of things, I suspect that the Gospel Advocate, sadly enough, has entered the “Buster Dobbs/Firm Foundation” phase of development. If the direction of the magazine is only reactionary, at some point the reactionaries simply die off or – as with the far right in our fellowship – dissolve into chronic feuds among old men and their partisans over who is the purest. Then die off.

    Good luck with that. I suspect most of the rest of us will leave you and yours to your little spats.

  55. Royce Ogle says:

    Greg Tidwell,

    It may well be true that some so called Progressives have abandoned Sola Scriptura. Just wondering though, by Sola Scriptura, do you mean what Scripture actually says, and your opinions, even including what it does not say?

    It seems odd to me that men who claim to be Conservatives, and that the Bible is their only source of authority, routinely damn other church of Christ folks to hell who don’t agree with their opinions, based largely upon what the Bible doesn’t say. Any person who settles on a position based on “the silence of Scripture” and then elevates that opinion to the same level of authority as what the Bible actually does say, probably should not be a critic of people he supposes are not loyal to Sola Scriptura.

  56. Charles McLean says:

    Brent, thank you for your comment as regards “the whole”. Indeed, many of us have recognized the inconsistency of this almost magical view that the canon was delivered to us directly from the hands of the Thirteen. We simply closed our eyes to the church as the living body of Christ, denied the Holy Spirit’s life in it, and replaced it with a book which was untouched by human hands. We disavowed the historical church as history came forward, and then tried to leap over it as we charged headlong toward the first century to find the “real” church.

    I am of the view that all this which we have lost in our foolishness is important to us. There is, in those past believers, both revelation and rebellion, wisdom and folly, dedication to God and the rise of the rule of man. Sort of like what we read of in the Bible. It is, as you suggest, of a whole.

  57. Gregory Alan Tidwell says:

    Robert and Royce;

    I have no interest in responding to your judgmental and personal attacks.

    Best Always,

    GA Tidwell

  58. Gregory Alan Tidwell says:


    Before you go too far down the road to Rome or into Orthodoxy, please take time to review the way in which early Christian writers approached Scripture. The Bible was not made authoritative for the church by the early councils, rather the church from the very beginning had a high level of agreement as to the authoritative role of Scripture. Several of the works done by Everett Ferguson may be of interest to you.

    Ultimately there are not many seats at the table when you look at rival claims of authority. One must either be self-directed, claim an immediate (personal) guidance from God, follow tradition, or embrace sola scriptura.

    If one follows tradition, of course, the question must arise as to which one. The two major claimants are Catholicism and Orthodoxy, and yet their are Coptic and Eastern faiths with histories going back as far as the rise of these ancient faiths.

    Please let me know if I can ever be of help to you in your search.

    Best Always,
    GA Tidwell

  59. Matt Dabbs says:


    I have a question about this,

    “Ultimately there are not many seats at the table when you look at rival claims of authority. One must either be self-directed, claim an immediate (personal) guidance from God, follow tradition, or embrace sola scriptura.”

    I don’t think anyone here would say they are inspired and receive personal divine revelation from God. I think few would put tradition on par with scripture. I could be wrong, but the vast majority of people commenting here would agree that scripture is our authority. Unless I am missing something here, I don’t think the disagreement is over whether or not scripture is important. The disagreement is over several different people both believing the same scriptures have authority but are coming to differing conclusions as to what the scriptures mean (interpretation). So what do you do with a brother you says, “Yes Greg, scriptures are the final authority…but I don’t agree with your position on X, Y, and Z.”? It would not be fair to assume they don’t hold the same view on the place and authority of scriptures in the life of the Christian just because their conclusions do not fit your own. That is where things get tricky and we need to be very respectful in how we handle this topic among brothers because the scriptures are some times very easy to understand but other times very, very difficult to understand. On the difficult issues, whose interpretation is the standard? We would all like to think it is our own but that just isn’t so.

  60. Charles McLean says:

    Greg, I find myself agreeing with you in part. Many of us who have set aside sola scriptura have tried to replace the second-hand relationship with God we were given as children with another, equally one-off connection with God. This is trading one error for another. You seem to be able to decry any number of extrabiblical ideas or traditions while holding to sola scriptura– an equally extrabiblical tradition.

    In the interest of a wider understanding, many of us have not simply welded tradition and reason on to biblical revelation. We have embraced Jesus’ promise that the Holy Spirit would take what was of Jesus and make it known to us. We reject the latter-day concept that this is a small promise, limited to the words contained in 27 essays, histories and letters. Or, alternatively, a promise limited to eleven long-dead men, whichever end of the inconsistency one chooses to hold to. Greg, we do not set aside the scripture, only the extrabiblical idea that divine revelation is exclusive to its pages. We also reject the idea that we — and those who agree with us — are the sole custodians of the truth.

    I suspect that for many of my brethren, it is the idea that someone who we have long dismissed as unsaved might actually hold truth or divine insight which we have not touched which is really troubling. When one lives in a religious world wherein one’s eternal destiny depends on being right on all points at all times, there is nothing more terrifying than the possibility that he might just have been wrong about something. For when error damns, we naturally do our damndest to prove we are not in error and never have been. Such a singleminded mission allows — even demands– that we overlook all manner of inconsistencies and possibilities.

  61. Doug says:

    While I have not read “God’s Holy Fire”where apparently the quadrilateral of Scripture, reason, experience, and tradition as sources of authority in the church was put forth, Episcopalian theology is based on the “3-legged stool” of Scripture, Reason and Tradition mentioned many times. This was a teaching of Anglican Richard Hooker but it is my understanding that he never meant for the 3 legs of the stool to be of equal strength but for Scripture to be the main leg of stability for the “stool”. Now, we all know of the recent decisions of the Episcopal Church USA and so while I enjoy the idea of the 3-legged stool, I am also very cautious in my endorsement of it because I see it as subject to corruption. I think it erroneous to put Tradition and Reason as equal legs with Scripture but at the same time find it curious that most Restorationists more or less despise Catholics while at the same time, hold fast to the biblical canon that the Catholics passed on the them. It’s easy to see why there are so many spinning wheels when it comes to theology.

  62. Charles McLean says:

    Matt said:
    “I don’t think anyone here would say they are inspired and receive personal divine revelation from God. I think few would put tradition on par with scripture. I could be wrong, but the vast majority of people commenting here would agree that scripture is our authority.”
    Sorry to be an outlier, Matt. Never assume that simply because you see something as fundamental that other believers in the neighborhood hold the same view. If we do not receive any personal divine revelation from God, how are we to know how we are to live as Jesus lived? Why should anyone pray for divine guidance, if no specific divine answer is to be expected? As I recall, Jesus’ description of his own walk was “I only do what I see my Father doing.” He later promised that the Holy Spirit would take what is of Jesus and make it known to us. If we have retired these biblical realities and replaced them with, “I only do what I interpret select scriptures to teach,” then perhaps we are overstating the “authority” under which we are working. If we have indeed replaced the personal guidance of the Holy Spirit with our own handling of ancient writ, then said ancient writ takes on the very authority that once was held by God Himself. We honor a new Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Bible.

    I would suggest that the Prophets did not disregard the Law, but their words were also seen as being from God. “The Law and the Prophets” was a singular term, not a contradictory one. Paul encouraged us to desire to prophesy, until we assigned a dubious expiration date to that inspired instruction. As neither Jesus nor any writer of the canon are recorded telling us to expect a new book which would contain ALL of God’s revelation to us, I decline to take such a limitation on the authority of lesser men. Sola scriptura IS tradition, Matt. It is not found in scripture itself. But yes, I do believe that many of my brothers take that particular tradition as an article of faith no less than any they actually find in the texts.

  63. Matt Dabbs says:


    Have you ever heard God speak to you, audibly?

  64. Alan S. says:

    You baffle me. You pronounce judgement on “progressives” having “abandoned sola scriptura” then when that judgement is questioned, you claim that those who questioned you were being “judgemental”. Would you explain how your response is different from theirs? Thanks and blessings.

  65. Charles McLean says:

    Matt, what exactly do you mean by “audibly”? Physically or spiritually? I’ve never hear the apostle Paul audibly, and that has never been a issue…

    I’d be happy to talk about hearing God, but the limitation in your question deserves attention first.

  66. Matt Dabbs says:

    Audibly would mean physically. I don’t want to derail this topic with this so I am going to leave it with this…I do believe God can and will guide us if we seek Him. I don’t believe He is going to give me special revelation into new teachings or new truths via special revelation. I believe it is prudent to ask God for direction and guidance. I think it would be foolish to ask for that if you didn’t think God would actually do it. So, yes, God does give us insight, guidance, etc…but I don’t believe I receive special revelation from God that is on par with scripture or serves the same purpose as scripture.

    The reason I asked if you hear God audibly is that some people believe they do and that those revelations may as well be written down into a new book of the Bible. I would have an issue with that.

  67. JMF says:

    I find the discussion that is taking place between Charles McLean and various others on divine revelation to be fascinating. In fact, I think I might rank it at the top of ALL the challenges that exist between COC’s (legalistic and progressive) and Christendom in general.

    I recall Jay did a short series on this this summer … I believe it was Guy (where is Guy?!) that brought up the question. I think Jay discussed the Abilene book heavily.

    At any rate, I propose —

    …From the same folks that brought you ‘Grace Conversation’ comes ‘Revelation Conversation!’ 🙂

    I would enjoy seeing a back-and-forth conversation on this topic. I believe Jay would hold a position far closer to Sola Scriptura than Charles seems to, and both write clearly, effectively, and most importantly, voluminously. 🙂

    I’m sure you both appreciate me for volunteering you for this role. 🙂 In seriousness, if you guys were able, I think this would be awesome.

  68. Charles McLean says:

    JMF, I must bring you a warning from my kids. They ask their mother a question and she says, “Why don’t you ask your father?” They reply, “We didn’t want to know that much about it…”

    One has opined that “you ask Dad what time it is and you get the history of watchmaking.” ;^)

  69. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    There are indeed some “progressives” here who argue for according the Early Church Fathers a measure of authority that’s less than apostolic but greater than later scholars. But there are also “conservatives” here who make the same argument. And you’ll notice that I resist that suggestion from both sides.

    The irony is that I see the conservative Churches of Christ — as a whole! — binding the ECFs in areas of worship, indeed, clothing their teachings with authority by assuming that Aquinas etc. knew the apostles’ minds better than we can from just the scriptures.

    The argument that most find convicting re instrumental music is the “historical” argument, which could more precisely be called the argument from church tradition. Indeed, our books on a cappella music read very much like Catholic and Orthodox writings supporting their traditions. They also cite the same ECFs as authority, accord with them same supposed superior knowledge of God’s will, and even point out how their practices lasted for centuries before being upset by the Reformation. It’s the same argument.

    You can’t build your case against instrumental music on Clement of Alexandria and simultaneously deny that Clement had special authority.

    So, yes, I beg the Churches of Christ to return to sola scriptura! But that means stop damning others based on the ECFs. Indeed, eliminate the history argument from our rhetoric and tract racks and debates altogether. Let’s just talk scripture — and stop opening the door to binding the ECFs on each other. Please.

  70. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    Many years ago, I wondered whether the NT had been correctly canonized. And so I checked out a copy of the Ante-Nicene Fathers — the early church fathers — and read them. And the NT has the right books. It’s not even close.

    The style and quality of drafting shifts dramatically from the apostles to the Apostolic Fathers (the early writers who knew the apostles). It’s obvious when you read the books.

    It’s been said that the church councils did not so much decide which books belong in the Bible as affirm what had already been decided by centuries of consensus building, as Christians sorted through a huge number of books and preserved and honored the books that truly reflected apostolic teaching.

  71. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Charles wrote,

    We simply closed our eyes to the church as the living body of Christ, denied the Holy Spirit’s life in it, and replaced it with a book which was untouched by human hands.

    Let me try to paraphrase what I’m hearing, and you let me know if I’ve missed the point.

    1. The apostles did not hand the manuscript of the Bible to Thos. Nelson & Sons ready to print. Rather, their letters and books when to many different churches in many different parts of the world.

    2. The church gathered the writings and decided which writings were truly apostolic and which were not. Those who did this had no special measure of inspiration — just the same gift we have today — but they worked as a community, sharing ideas, disagreeing and debating, until they reached consensus.

    3. The current canon is the result of that consensus.

    4. Therefore, (a) we should greatly respect the results of such consensus building but also (b) feel justified, even compelled, to test that consensus. We are not bound by their decisions. But we can easily see the power and work of the Spirit in leading the church to arrive at consensus.

    5. Therefore, Luther was not “liberal” in questioning which books in the Catholic Bible are truly inspired. Neither are modern scholars out of bounds to ask the question.

    6. On the other hand, modernity should not arrogantly suppose the early church fools or distant from the Spirit. Nor should some small segment of the church impose its views on the greater church. The question of inspiration is always fair game, because the decision of canonicity was post-apostolic. But as was true then, any change should come about by debate, discussion, sharing, and consensus building — by Spirit-led people. And not all theologians are Spirit-led.

    Personally, I think the early church got it right. Just like I think they got the Trinity right at Nicea. But I can and should read my Bible to test their results. They are not apostolic.


  72. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    Thanks for mentioning the Copts and Eastern segments of Christianity. The Nestorian branch made it all the way to Japan by 1000 AD, only to be beaten back, in part because of rejection of their faith by the European churches.

    We tend to assume that the church was European, but it was founded in Asia and spread east as well as west. As a result, there are communities of believers in Iraq, Egypt, and many other Islamic nations — but these communities are quickly disappearing. War between Islam and the US is perceived in the Middle East as war against the Christian US, and so Christians in these nations are associated with the enemy. Of course, these Christian communities naturally reach out to the Americans for protection, which makes them look all the more like collaborators.

    Many thousands of believers have died in these nations due to these wars — a pattern that’s been true for over 1,000 years. And yet we Americans are barely aware of their existence.

  73. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Greg wrote,

    The Abilene professors writing in God’s Holy Fire put forward the quadrilateral of Scripture, reason, experience, and tradition as sources of authority in the church.

    You’re probably right, but I can’t find that in the book. But it’s a fairly conventional teaching in hermeneutics, going back to the Anglicans and popularized by John Wesley. It’s hardly a new teaching.

    But the point has never been that the four elements have equal weight. Rather, as I heard it taught by another ACU professor, who called it the “hermeneutical spiral,” we read the scriptures, we then test our conclusions against reason, against experience, and against tradition — what have previous students concluded? how has that passage been understood by the great scholars of the past? has anyone else put this into effect? do my conclusions make sense? — and then return to scripture to re-test our modified conclusion — and then start over.

    The idea is that we are always testing and revisiting the scriptures to be certain we understand — and understand for purposes of our current situation. How should the Lord’s Supper be practiced today and now? One cup? Many? The multi-cup conclusion was reached based on experience (over against tradition in light of Pasteur’s discovery of germs) but tested against the scriptures based on reason. And the question continues to be asked.

    Today, in many a cappella CoC house churches, the one cup has been re-introduced. Why? Because they asked whether the same considerations apply in this differing context — and many have decided, based on experience, that the emotional intimacy and unity symbolized by a single cup in a house church and the connection with ancient tradition outweighs any health risks.

    They continued to travel along the spiral, always holding scripture as the highest, infallable authority but asking over and over how to apply the scripture today in light of tradition, experience, and reason.

  74. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    I think Matt and Charles are doing a pretty good job of it. I’m enjoying their discussion.

  75. Doug says:

    Maybe we ought to throw Apostolic Succession into this mix too… might as well. This was very important in the early Church and is a honored tradition still for many Christians although many of them will privately confess that their sucession might be slightly suspect. But since I have had hands laid on me by a bishop with a line of Apostolic sucession, I guess I’ll take the viewpoint that this is very, very important and if a person hasn’t experienced the same… well, you know what happens to CofC’ers who miss a jot.

  76. Emmett says:

    “…God’s grace, in Scripture, means forgiveness of error…”

    Error. That seems a common denominator in a great many of the books, articles, discussions, etc. that I have read, written, and participated in over the past 40 some odd years in churches of Christ. It seems that some of us have focused on being without error (which of course is not possible, doctrinally or in any other way) to the extent that we’ve convinced ourselves that the way we see doctrine is the only acceptable perspective. Though we will probably all agree that some amount of error is covered by grace, the exact placement of the dividing line between damning error and grace-covered error is problematic. Surely there’s more to it than that…Is grace really amazing?

  77. Brent says:


    The issue is not with the cannon. I agree that the writings of the early church fathers do not seem to compare to the NT and that it is not even close. I believe that the NT has the right books. And when you say that . . . “It’s been said that the church councils did not so much decide which books belong in the Bible as affirm what had already been decided by centuries of consensus building, as Christians sorted through a huge number of books and preserved and honored the books that truly reflected apostolic teaching,” . . . I believe all of that too. I’m with you and Greg on this.

    The issue has to do with tradition . . . our inherited understanding of the tradition and the early church fathers’ (ECF) understanding of tradition. One result of the Reformation, which focused on Rome, was that the scriptures were carved out and elevated while what was thought to be tradition was discarded.

    However to the ECF, tradition included the scriptures. The 27 NT books were viewed as a part of tradition, as well as the liturgy and the episcopacy (the role of the bishops). All of these were a part of their tradition; some of which was written down in the cannon, some reflected in the liturgy, some evidenced in the episcopacy. This is what I was referring to in a previous post when I talked about the bishops being “in possession of the whole.” Of course the Restoration Churches are built on a Reformation foundation, and so we don’t have this concept of “the whole” in our theology. This is what bothers me more and more.

    Now how were the 27 books viewed during the “centuries of consensus building” you mentioned? They were greatly valued of course and were held to reflect apostolic teaching. But the important thing to note in this discussion is that these books, along with the OT, were considered to support the liturgy and episcopacy; the books were certainly not anticipated to be used to rule out the practice of the liturgy and the episcopacy, nor to replace or surpass them. The ECF would have been aghast at such a thing. Nothing within this tradition was seen to be in conflict, and no one aspect ruled the other. The “consensus building” that you refer to occurred within the framework of the bishops practicing what they considered to be the apostolic-given liturgy that they safeguarded with extreme care. They valued the liturgy as much as the scriptures. We know this based on the liturgy itself. Not sure? . . . go sit in an Orthodox Church building for a while and just listen. The scriptures were never intended to supplant the rest of the tradition.

    Stated differently, during this consensus building period, the ECF did not believe that the scriptures contained everything necessary for the life that God intended for a Christian to experience. For example, they believed that the liturgy handed down from the apostles as they observed it was a means of grace. That is why they placed such a very high regard on the liturgy. (That is why it is still practiced in the ancient forms). The liturgy was also seen as God’s voice in dealing with heresy.

    In ECF theology, the different aspects of the tradition supported each of the other aspects and together were “One”. The Reformation broke the unity of the tradition. So now what? Bury our heads in the sand? I’m good at that, but it doesn’t feel right. How do we reason that our current treatment of scripture and “tradition” is pleasing to God? This has to be reasoned, and I don’t know how to do it alone. I am not sure that the scriptures give the answers to this question because they are only a part of the original tradition. What can I read that will help me? Jay? Greg? Charles?

  78. aBasnar says:

    Jay, you are too much black and white here:

    You can’t build your case against instrumental music on Clement of Alexandria and simultaneously deny that Clement had special authority.

    You are a lawyer, aren’t you? View Clement as one witness among many others! A witness does not have to have special authority, he just must be able to record what he has seen and heard. The ECF – the fullness of ther writings still in existence – are “a cloud of witnesses” that show us the practice and doctrine of apostolic churches.

    The differences and local customs are less interesting than the points where they all agree. The same is true for witnesses: Where witnesses disagree is less important than where they agree. So far not one promoter of IM could present a witness for the use of instruments in the Early church. Danny Corbitt tried it with the Odes of Salomo, but he misread completely the figurative language of this hymn-collection. But all of the ECF who wrote about this topic speak with one voice.

    This means: If we declare that IM was an Apostolic practice, we have to explain how this got lost immediately after the Apostles throughout the whole empire. There is a “tradition gap” of bout 1000 years until musical instruments slowly were introduced – in the Western churches.

    If on the other hand we declare the Apostles were indifferent on the matter, we’d have to explain the strong opposition to IM so soon after the Apostles. This means: We’d have to dismiss all these witnesses as “biased” – but where does that leave us? You dismiss the only ones who are in the position to tel us what the Earliest churches did and believed, opening the arena of our debates for assumptions, theories and preferences.

    Last not least there remains this quasi-silence about IM in the NT. In fact it is not silence, but there are two lines of thought:

    The one Bruce is regularly pointing to: The role of music in the ancient cults (his analysis from Eph 4 and 5).
    The other one is the typological meaning of instruments: In Eph 5:18-19 a psalm is quoted, but instead of making music with an instrument we are called to make music with our heart.

    Both lines of reasoning we find in the ECF! As early as in the Odes of Salomo (between 100 and 130 AD) the symbolic meaning of the instruments is confirmed: We are the instrument; and the ECF continue these thoughts! You know the texts, Jay.

    If I sum this all up: The evidence is compelling, Jay. We don’t have to look for a law that forbids IM. The question is: Why didn’t they use IM? This leads away from a legalistic approach to the meaning of the issue. And once this has been understood there is no more ambiguity concerning the application.

    Back to the quote from the beginning:

    You seem to be very afarid that we call the ECF an inspired and infallible source. This is indeed an overraction to an abuse of the ECF. Your alternative, however, never worked: Sola Scriptura never created unity. Thus I was surprized that you the confirmed the approach of ACU:

    But the point has never been that the four elements have equal weight. Rather, as I heard it taught by another ACU professor, who called it the “hermeneutical spiral,” we read the scriptures, we then test our conclusions against reason, against experience, and against tradition — what have previous students concluded? how has that passage been understood by the great scholars of the past? has anyone else put this into effect? do my conclusions make sense? — and then return to scripture to re-test our modified conclusion — and then start over.

    So it’s not Sola Scriptura after all (which is a myth), but you have to check your conclusions. Whenever I come to an understanding of a passage, I want to be sure that it is in line with what the Spirit said to the churches in history. If I can’t trace back my ideas/assumptions to the first few centuries, I don’t trust my exegesis.


  79. HistoryGuy says:

    What most folks (here) think Sola Scriptura means and how it applies compared to what it originally meant seem to be vastly different. The Reformation had safeguards to protect from individualism, which have all but been forgotten. Hence, the Solo Scriptura movment.

    Everyone here holds the Bible as the highest source of authority, but the rub is the fact that we are being shaped by secondary sources of authority as we interpret the Bible. I have tried to flush this out and many are finding agreement with it; some are shaped by one hermeneutic, while others are shaped by another, yet these are not scripture. My method of reexamining the pre-Constantine liturgy and 1-4th century creeds to guide our understanding of the Bible is different from most here in method, but not authority since we all use secondary sources to guide our interpretation of the Bible, the highest authority. This method is vastly different from latter Catholic and Orthodox appeals to tradition, as well as the Episcopalian method and that mentioned by GAT regarding the Holy Fire… even CENI is just a secondary method to guide the biblical understanding of those who use it.

    While we must examine everything, there are several good reasons to give the patristic period higher authority or weight, than any other post-apostolic period (books have been written about this subject). The early church held the Scriptures as their highest authority while simultaneously agreeing with early tradition and consensus that pre-dated the Orthodox, Catholic, and Coptic schisms. The “tradition” in the first 300 years of the church is far more reliable than “tradition” that is commonly associated with the Catholic argumentation in the 1500s.

    Consider the following quote from D.H Williams, “Tradition, Scripture, and Interpretation: A source book of the ancient church,” p.26-27.

    No matter what theory of biblical inspiration was held, the practice of reading and hearing Scripture in the ancient church did not occur without the tradition… The patristic mind comprehended tradition and Scripture in reciprocal terms. While Scripture had the primacy of place for the fathers, they did not believe that Scripture could or should function in the life of the believer apart from the church’s traditional teaching and language of worship. Scripture was the authoritative anchor of tradition’s content, and tradition stood as the primary interpreter of Scripture.

    In the first few centuries several arguments over Scriptural interpretation had to be settled by appealing to the historical evidence for apostolic tradition because Scripture alone was insufficient to defend the truth. Not all historical arguments are fallacious, nor do they detract from the authority of Scripture. After all, the Canon of Scripture is a historical argument. My stressing of “consensus” is often overlooked and responses are given as if I had focused on just one ECF. I see this done to Alexander as well.

    I think I would posit it this way… if you grant a consensus regarding the Canon of Scripture (which is a historical argument for understanding Scripture as the highest authority), then examine other matters in which the ECF found consensus, and before disregarding their view, be willing to be consistent with what you keep and what you reject.

  80. Bob Brandon says:

    The real problem with “sola scriptura” is that none of can practice it. We all come to the text with the all-too-uninspired commentary of our own opinions, and – try as we might – we are never able to put that book aside.

  81. Bob Brandon says:

    And one more thing. Tidwell coming here to insult and then complain about being insulted is like a patron urinating in the pool, then objecting to the hygiene.

  82. Jay,

    In all probability, you have misunderstood Charles’ comment. I believe I understand it well. About 20 years ago, Mike Peters, a former minister of the Church of Christ brought a handful of people to Indianapolis from Vermont to build a “church without walls.” One of his followers, then a student at Harding University, was Bahamian. Peter’s and the group came to the Bahamas and visited our congregation. They left a lot of free tapes and documents with our members. I evaluated the material. Charles posts and ongoing commentary appear to argue from their position. He is grown and quite eloquent, I’m sure that he’ll make his position clear soon enough.

  83. Royce Ogle says:

    Greg Tidwell,

    Attack? Hardly. The day you or any other conservative defends your positions using only what the Bible says will you have the credibility to come into a forum like this one and broad brush people as not following the Bible. It’s really funny that you object to leaning too heavily on tradition in on the one hand and then insist that IM is forbidden by God. Tradition forbids it not the Bible.

    What we who comment here routinely do here is challenge the thinking of each other. I trust that all of us have good intentions. My intention was not to attack you personally. For all I know, you are a very good man who loves the Lord. But, when you accuse others of what you clearly seem to do yourself you might be challenged.

    You need not reply, I’ve seen the standard defense many times before.

    I wish you well and intend you no harm,

  84. Charles McLean says:


    Long day on the road here, so I’ll be brief and try to expand later. You do have one of my objections right; that is, I would surface and debunk this unspoken assumption that Paul somehow mailed his manuscript to Thomas Nelson. Ignoring the church in the development of the canon is at best mere thoughtlessness, and is at worst, full-blown intellectual dishonesty intended to keep our prejudices alive.

    However, I apparently was NOT clear on the other side of the issue, which is inspiration. I am arguing FOR later inspiration, not against it. I see no real reason beyond tradition to assume that the later believers who handled God’s revelation were any less inspired than the people who penned it initially. This distinction is wholly absent from scripture either in clear language or in type or prophetic language. The idea that the Holy Spirit somehow “dialed back” his work of taking what was of Jesus and making it known to us is an extrabiblical one. It is more akin to “nobody makes bread like Grandma used to bake”. No one wants to disrespect Grandma, and we all accept the quality of her bread. But our statement of honor has little to do with actual breadmaking, which has not experienced wholesale change since the clay oven.

    Those who defend the closed canon most often do so from the “slippery slope” after-the-fact argument warning against potential heresy. What I seem to be missing is their prima facie argument which cites any evidence as to how and why or whether God closed the canon in the first place.

    More later, but this is the basic thought.

  85. Matt Dabbs says:


    You wrote,

    “I see no real reason beyond tradition to assume that the later believers who handled God’s revelation were any less inspired than the people who penned it initially. This distinction is wholly absent from scripture either in clear language or in type or prophetic language. The idea that the Holy Spirit somehow “dialed back” his work of taking what was of Jesus and making it known to us is an extrabiblical one.”

    Is it reasonable to think that the NT should address everything after their own generation? Wouldn’t it have been nice if they had addressed powerpoint and humming? Hope you know I am kidding there…Isn’t it possible that the NT doesn’t deal with that because the NT documents were written to address situations specific to their own time and place without much direct information given to address what to do the next hundred years and the next and the next. There was no reason for them to address whether inspiration would continue or not because when these documents were written it was occurring and it wasn’t in dispute.

    Also, what you are saying basically puts us today on par with Paul, Peter, John, or whoever. When you ask when does the HS “dial it back?” are you implying it is the same today as then, right? Are you comfortable with saying you have the same inspiration as Paul…after all you have the same Holy Spirit and why would he treat you different than Paul, right? What is more, why did even Peter make a distinction with Paul’s letters being among the scriptures (2 Peter 3:15ff)?

    John 16:13 says, “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.”

    The hard part for us logical folks is how would the Spirit be equally inspiring of those who followed when there is much disagreement, heresy, etc that is still happening today? Would you then say those who are heretics are not inspired like those who are “sound?” Or how would you deal with disagreements between two equally inspired people today? Point to the disagreement between Peter and Paul?

    What would keep all of the comments in this post from being on level with Colossians? I really would like to know your response. I am not just being a smart aleck.

  86. Charles McLean says:

    Matt, you answer my request for scripture with questions which you seem to think there can have only one possible answer. I disagree with your assumption. You indicate that the scripture does not address the canon, or the closing thereof, because it was not an issue for the audience of those letters. Very well, then who later made it an issue for the church and who provided the necessary further instruction? And on whose divine authority? SOMEBODY had to initiate these things. The puzzle is simple, as I read it: if the NT writers did not close the canon, and only they had the inspiration to say “Thus saith the Lord”, then the only people who could have the authority to close the canon are the only people we are certain did not do so.

    You ask if I place us on a par with Paul. You conflate personage here with revelation, but if I correct for that, I would still say, “Why not?” Where does the canon even remotely suggest that this should not be true? A biblical answer would be nice, rather than the astonished outrage that makes up most responses. Who in scripture suggested that such work and callings as were given to Paul, Barnabus, Timothy, Silas, et al, should somehow cease and all be replaced with a small book? If one reads Ephesians 4, the divine purpose for gifts such as apostles and prophets has certainly not been accomplished yet. Oh, and please don’t offer me another question to my “Why not?” I am asking, even begging, for biblical evidence of a theory about the bible; a theory that has been assumed by latter Christians, but which so far finds no root in the canon itself.

    Matt, I asked if the Holy Spirit has “dialed it back”. Could you not find it in your heart to add a simple Yes or No to your answering my question with other questions? I say clearly, “No. There is no biblical evidence that such a thing was ever foretold, or experienced, or described. We decry people who come in after the fact, read the scripture and say, “But it’s not like that any longer.” Except when we do the same thing ourselves.

    I’m still looking for a biblical prima facie case for a closed canon, and you have unfortunately offered me nothing of the sort. You basically tossed my request aside as untimely. Well, it’s timely now, so my request stands. If you have no biblical evidence to offer for a closed canon, please provide the bona fides for the authority you DO stand on. To put it in in short terms, “You hold that the Bible is the SOLE divine revelation. If you do NOT get a closed canon from the Bible, then where DID you get it and WHY are you accepting it?”

    I find it mildly ironic that I, as a believer in the open canon, find myself trying to press Matt back to the basis of scripture to ground his position. He, as a proponent (I think) of a closed canon, replies with everything but the scripture.

    End of lunch break. On down the road, amigos!

  87. Matt Dabbs says:


    We both agree that the scripture does not specifically address the closing of the canon (some would point to the close of Revelation but I don’t think that was John’s point). As far as who later made it an issue you know as well as I that there is a long list of names one could answer that question with and it came as a result of persecution, heresy, necessity and practicality I am sure they had no idea it would stir up discussions like this one. Eusebius, Irenaeus, Origen, and Athanasius to name a few.

    Now, here is what you are getting at. The ECF viewed the canon as closed. Is anyone here contending that they viewed it as open? The question is whether or not they were right in that conclusion and whether or not we are correct in accepting it as well. Most assume they did and you assume they didn’t. I think it is a fair question to ask what the NT says about this. Asking someone to open the Bible and make their point is always a good suggestion.

    “The puzzle is simple, as I read it: if the NT writers did not close the canon, and only they had the inspiration to say “Thus saith the Lord”, then the only people who could have the authority to close the canon are the only people we are certain did not do so.”

    This statement has a few problems. The biggest one is that it assumes that God needs the inspired writers to put in writing that the canon is closed in order for it to be so. Right? Is that a necessary assumption or requirement for the canon to actually be closed is for the NT to record that it is? Does God need John to perfectly describe the details of heaven for it to exist in its present form? Just because scripture doesn’t specifically address something does not keep it from being the case.

    Also, I am a little confused why you would think I would answer all of your questions in one comment. I was hoping to have more of a conversation of it. So please give me a minute rather than do the, you didn’t answer this or that thing. I could say the same thing in regard to your comment but I am patient and trust that it will all get hashed out in time and respectfully. Also, I don’t really think it was warranted to say my position is scriptureless or that I am unwilling to use scripture to make my point when A) I am using scripture and B) you don’t even know my stance on this issue.

    I will get to your questions when I have time to write an intelligent, biblically informed response.

  88. aBasnar says:

    I think we should make a distinction between

    a) inspiration
    b) authority
    c) infallibilty
    d) canon

    Each and every believer is inspired. This is a fundamental aspect ofthe New Covenant. That’s why I find it totally wrong and unfitting when someone says the ECF were not inspired. And I certailny do hope that our sermons are inspired (and inspiring).

    But not every believer has authority. God (!) appointed first (!) apostles, second (!) prophets and third (!) teachers (1Co 12). this order is hierarchical. We see that the apostles had the highest authority followed by the prophets. Both are the foundation stones of the church (Ep 2:20), but only the names of the apostles are on the foundation stones of the New Jerusalem. Teachers – and later elders – are local authorites, while apostles and prophets worked within the whole church (travelling ministry). Elders or teaches in a local church are inspired and should be viewed and followed as authorities (and they should live up to their responsibility).

    Infallibilty is not tied to the persons but to the written word. Here God did something remarkable: He used fallible humans to provide an infallible book for all times. This is a special act of revelation – while Paul could err and sin, His writings God made sure to be perfect.

    The Canon was compiled by inspired brethren who took as main criterion: Apostolic origin, which means only inspired sources of the highest authorities that have been written. Oral tradition (even of the same apostles) was regarded secondary, it had to match with the scriptures.

    The ongoing inspiration makes us confident that God is still at work among us.
    The scripture makes us confident that His revelation, will and commands never change, nor His grace, love and promises. And we can trust in a prophetic teaching ministry that goes beyond “dry hermeutical issues” and speaks to the heart of the congregation.

    Unless we make a distinction between these categories (inspiration, authority, infallibility, canon) we are bound to talk past each other.


  89. HistoryGuy says:

    I do not wish to intrude or comment on the conversation between you and Greg, but I must point out what both of you seem to be missing about “historical arguments,” (not all historical arguments are fallacious or trump scripture). You said, “… defends your positions using only what the Bible says will you have the credibility…” You cannot follow your own standard, my friend. You cannot define NT Scripture or list the 27 NT books using only the Bible. Please reflect on my post, or at least the final paragraph from December 20, 2011 at 2:04 am.

  90. HistoryGuy says:

    Matt & Charles,
    I am loving the conversation between you guys. Matt, I am rooting for you… Charles, nothing personal 🙂

    On a side issue (for all other conversations) there is the canon of scripture, but we must not forget, or be uniformed that canon applied to many issues to defend orthodoxy from the heretics. Canon included scripture, theology, and other matters. The Apostles Creed and Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, for example, functioned canonically. Still, none of this denies that Scripture is the highest source of authority.

  91. Matt Dabbs says:


    I am pulling for the truth, whichever way that takes us 🙂

  92. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    I’m not aware of any argument in the ECFs that the liturgy has weight equal to the scriptures. If there was such a view, it developed quite late — but I’m willing to be better instructed. Maybe I just never heard that one.

    There did come a time — centuries after Christ — when church councils were accorded the authority of infallibility, virtually equal with scripture. But this post-dates Nicea.

    Thus, the idea that the liturgy and tradition (conclusions of councils and popes) are infallable is late development, post-Nicea. It’s actually one reason that the Reformation came about, as the accretion of errors and contradictions made the notion unsupportable — resulting also in the Counter-Reformation and Council of Trent, which revised infallible church tradition in several particulars in response to the Reformation.

    Therefore, I can’t get excited about feeling guided by liturgy and councils as sources of authority having equal weight with scripture. That’s a medieval doctrine, not even an ECF doctrine. ( Indeed, if you read the conclusions of some these councils, I think you’d agree that their wisdom is sometimes very questionable.

  93. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Alexander wrote,

    If on the other hand we declare the Apostles were indifferent on the matter, we’d have to explain the strong opposition to IM so soon after the Apostles.

    No, we don’t. Since I consider the scriptures both inspired and sufficient, I consider the question irrelevant. It could be that the apostles indeed instructed the early church to be non-instrumental for some reason — but if so, that’s an instruction that Spirit chose not to include in scripture. Therefore, the Spirit himself tells us it’s irrelevant.

    I reject the notion that there is a body of authoritative commands not found in scripture binding on the church today that we are supposed to glean as historians by sifting through the ECFs. That notion denies the sufficiency of the scriptures.

    There is virtually no evidence either way (other than the Odes of Solomon) for 100 years! It’s not until the very late Second Century before anyone begins to speak about instrumental music either way (150 years after Jesus) — and then it’s from Alexandria, by authors who are heavily influenced by the allegorical school of Philo — who was a Hellenized, non-Christian Jew.

    It’s just not a convincing argument.

  94. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    HG —

    The Protestants (and I along with them) agree with some ECF consensus conclusions and not with others. Regarding the canon, the decisions of the early church are testable by observation. We can read what was accepted and rejected, consider the reasons they gave, add to that our own observations, and see whether we agree.

    Thus, we aren’t bound by the early church, but happen to agree with their consensus view based on many of the same arguments.

    That hardly means that we do or should agree with all ECF consensus views. You see, for every attractive consensus view from the 3rd or 4th century, there’s an absurd, objectional view that also received broad support.

    The ECFs were, by and large, serious students of the scriptures who tried hard to get it right, and like each of us, sometimes did and sometimes didn’t. Thus, they are part of the conversation. Their thinking is part of the consensus building process. But they are not authority.

    State one doctrine we should glean from the ECFs that is not found in scripture. Describe in particular the process by which you reach your conclusion. And then let’s see whether the same logic that produces that new doctrine will produce only good and healthy doctrine. I’d be surprised.

  95. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Charles wrote,

    I am arguing FOR later inspiration, not against it.

    Meaningless hypothesis unless you can produce a concrete example of said “later inspiration” to which we should accord the same level of inspiration as Romans.

  96. Charles McLean says:

    Matt said: “This statement has a few problems. The biggest one is that it assumes that God needs the inspired writers to put in writing that the canon is closed in order for it to be so. Right?”
    Charles replies: No, I never made that claim. God does not need to do this. But if you are insisting that God closed the canon, you should offer some evidence for this other than silence and tradition. Otherwise, why should anyone believe that this is of God? OTOH, if you are saying that the canon was closed by people who did not receive divine revelation to do so, you should admit that claim clearly, and explain why we should pay any attention whatsoever to a purely-human edict that tells us not to listen for God to speak anywhere outside the canon. Matt, your suggestion that “maybe He closed the canon and just didn’t tell us about it,” is not very convincing to me. It is simple hypothesis being offered as justification for a doctrine.
    Matt: “Is that a necessary assumption or requirement for the canon to actually be closed is for the NT to record that it is?”
    Charles: No, but I would argue that if some man is going to insist that God has stopped speaking after 6000 years, that man had better have something besides his opinion up his sleeve –if his opinion is to have any credibility. Matt, this is your “maybe He did” hypothesis repeated.
    Matt: “Does God need John to perfectly describe the details of heaven for it to exist in its present form? Just because scripture doesn’t specifically address something does not keep it from being the case.”
    True. Maybe God hates capitalism and endorses communism. Scripture doesn’t say this is NOT the case. Maybe God abhors plaid. No one ever said he didn’t. Does he have to put plaid in the bible in order to hate it? No. But this is all pure conjecture. And man is free to offer all kinds of conjecture about what God thinks– in the absence of actual revelation. BUT when a man proceeds to make that conjecture a matter of doctrine– a matter of “truth”– he better be prepared to offer me more than “maybe”.

    Here, we are binding on ourselves (and by extension, on others) a possibility about the scriptures that the scriptures themselves do not even suggest. And this is not a tempest in a teapot like that melodion in the church building. Whether you sing with accompaniment or not is not of any eternal moment. If you find the Metropolitan more authoritative than the Vatican… frankly, who cares? This, OTOH, is a matter of “shutting the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces”, at least in terms of divine revelation. If God has NOT stopped speaking directly to mankind– and no one has offered yet a scintilla of evidence that He has stopped speaking to us directly– then for us to claim such a cessation is in fact a refusal to listen to Him for further instruction and enlightenment, and worse, a campaign to keep other people from listening. This position is an awfully long way from what the scriptures DOES clearly teach us, i.e., “desire to prophesy and do not forbid speaking in tongues”. Paul clearly did not want the church cutting off ongoing revelation.

  97. Charles McLean says:

    Charles wrote, “I am arguing FOR later inspiration, not against it.”

    Jay wrote: Meaningless hypothesis unless you can produce a concrete example of said “later inspiration” to which we should accord the same level of inspiration as Romans.

    Jay, I would offer Revelation as being “later inspiration” than Romans, and I accept it as inspired. (Okay, I know that’s not what you meant, but you need to clarify what you are seeking from me by giving me a cutoff date which defines “later”… and kindly justify that date biblically. I argue that there is no reason to believe that God has altered his historic practice of speaking directly to mankind. Oh, since you are asking for a concrete example, I need the standard you would apply to any revelation I would note. If you are going to sit as counsel for one side of the argument and also create rules on the admissability of evidence, we should tread carefully, IMO. I keep asking for biblical support for the closed canon theory and freely accept anything found there as reliable. There’s the standard I have applied to the theory.

    As to what evidence I would offer? I offer the same fundamental support for later inspiration that we offer for the inspiration of the canon. 6000 years of God speaking to mankind. It is the cessation of revelation which boldly deviates from 6000 years of history, and does so without any evidence. The fact that the church has held to this tradition for so long is no evidence. We have had papal succession for just as long. Oh, and the canon is in no way “settled” as closed. Unless we just want to hide within Protestantism and exclude the Douay and the Apocrypha. Not to mention the Magisterium. Or are we just to go as far back as Luther for our foundations?

    More on point, I would also offer Paul’s insistence that the Corinthians continue to seek direct divine revelation, both for their own benefit (tongues) and for the benefit of the church (prophecy). (I Cor 14) Cessation of revelation requires the church to abrogate Paul’s instruction. I need more than tradition to consider this as more than opinion.

    Jay, your lawyering skills are showing. It appears to me that you presume an affirmative assumption (the canon is closed) as established fact, then when that assumption is questioned, you demand that we prove the negative rather than offering any evidence to support your affirmative. My affirmative assumption (the canon is open) rests on the same basis as my contention that mankind will be behave in a generally self-interested manner tomorrow. Why do I think so? As this has been the state of affairs throughout recorded history, I expect it to be the same way tomorrow… unless someone gives me some reason to believe otherwise. Could things change? Certainly? But I need some reason to expect it.

  98. Charles McLean says:

    No offense taken, HG. The betting line would fall clearly in Matt’s favor. Thus has it always been for contrarians. I take comfort from Gandhi:

    “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you. Then, you win.”

  99. Chic says:

    Thank God we got out of this cult. The church of Christ is the body of believers, not people who evolved from the mid-19th century Western Reserve. Keep it up guys, get that order of Worship down! Whoa!!!

  100. mark says:

    Now the publishers are going to decide if they want to exclude those congregations with women in the pulpit.

  101. Royce says:

    Mark, that shouldn’t take long. Is there a church of Christ with a woman preacher?

  102. mark says:

    More than one has woman minister. No woman is a senior minister yet but that could change in a few years.

  103. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    Here’s a list of gender-inclusive Churches of Christ:

  104. Royce says:

    Thanks Mark and thanks Jay for the link. I had no idea there were that many churches allowing women to use their giftedness..

    The Hills Southlake, in Southlake, Texas has women serve communion, give the communion meditation (along with their husbands) and serve in other ways.

  105. mark says:

    That was one place where I got my info. I made a distinction between women allowed in the pulpit and women ministers on paid staff. The website is quite good too. it had a post about Naomi Walters getting a paid minister in residence position in Stamford, ct. According to the post, The comments after her interview were so good that when she gets done with her D.Min. She will likely wind up in a pulpit and as a church’s only minister.

  106. Alabama John says:

    Women can have roles we have not allowed in my opinion.

    Serving the Lords supper and jobs waiting on and serving men has always been a position best attended by a woman.

    We men, whether Elders, Deacons, or just male members should allow women to continue their subservient roles even in our churches.

  107. laymond says:

    Spoken like a true chauvinist, John 🙂

  108. mark says:

    John is not a modern man.

  109. guy says:

    i don’t have Brent’s email anymore, but just wanted to find some way to tell him “Thank You.”

  110. Paul Thomas says:


    I grew up in Hackleburg and worked at the Russellville for 2.5 years at the Winn-Dixie.

  111. Tiffany says:

    There are a couple of churches with female pulpit ministers. Very little opportunity though for others with similar gifting. Several women with Dmins have recently taken professorship jobs in bible departments our universities rather than pursue church ministry (Naomi included), and much of this is to be able to stay in the church of Christ while still using their gifts and knowledge. Others simply feel called to academia.

  112. Paul Thomas says:

    I disagree with these comments on music and especially Baptism. If music cannot take a Christians focus on focusing on the glorification of God, then why does a local Methodist church take the bass instrument out of one progressive service, and place it in another? I can tell you since I played bass in bands when I was young. I’ll guarantee that I could write bass notes in a progressive christian song that would have sexual overtones to it. Second, referring to Baptism you are very close to Blaspheming the Holy Spirit, since he descended on Christ as he was raised from Baptism. Christ’s baptism was to bring in the Spirit. Remember that there is NO FORGIVENESS for blasphemy against him. To even suggest that Baptism is a man made ritual. This is not a court of Law, and deals cannot be cut. Maybe each one of you need to think about this.

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