We are reflecting on Why They Left: Listening to Those Who Have Left Churches of Christ by Flavil R. Yeakley, Jr.
The first two chapters of the book give the raw data. The next few chapters summarize the reasons given for leaving the Churches of Christ by people who left. The chapters are based on 300 essay responses.
The approach is not entirely scientific, as Yeakley points out, as the survey resulted from an online questionnaire advertised via the Christian Chronicle. Only those former members who still read the Chronicle would be likely to know about the survey.
As the comments to this blog site have shown over the years, there are countless former Church of Christ members who still have a heart for the Churches and so who keep up with Church news via the Chronicle (and blogs). But there are surely even more who’ve completely severed all contact. Therefore, Yeakley’s survey applies largely to people who’ve left but who still have a concern for the Churches. He probably did not hear from the most angry of those who left.
A few of the people who responded to this survey mentioned the false perception that members of the Churches of Christ believe they are the only ones going to heaven. Although that is one of the most common things one hears about Churches of Christ, I have not personally known of any congregation where that was taught.
I find this statement more than a little naïve. I’m a third-generation elder of the Churches of Christ. I grew up in north Alabama, which is notorious for its legalism. I attended Lipscomb. And I’d say that the majority view of those members I knew in my early years considered the Churches of Christ the only ones going to heaven — and only their particular sub-sect of the Churches at that.
The non-institutional Churches routinely (not universally, but routinely) damned the institutional Churches, and the feeling was often reciprocated. Moreover, the Baptists and Methodists were routinely called out for damnation from our pulpits.
And while the Gospel Advocate has become less outspoken in recent years, it wasn’t long ago at all that the Advocate damned all who disagreed with their views on baptism, instrumental music, the role of women, the authority of elders, and Pentecostalism. They plainly damned the instrumental Christian Churches and Churches of Christ. Under those rules, just who outside the Churches of Christ could be saved?
Now, in fairness to Yeakley, he lives in Arkansas, and my understanding is that Arkansas Churches are not been as sectarian as in other parts of the country, largely due to the influence of James Harding (the namesake of the university). Nonetheless, you really can’t read the literature produced by the conservative Churches and reach the conclusion Yeakley reaches.
I have on my shelves a book by Thomas B. Warren called Christians Only and the Only Christians written in opposition to Rubel Shelly’s I Just Want to be a Christian. I have Goebel Music’s Behold the Pattern and Bert Thompson’s Non-Denominational Christianity: Is Unity Possible? These men have argued strenuously that only the Churches of Christ (and not all of them) are going to heaven.
More recently, Dave Miller damned the Richland Hills Church of Christ in A Plea to Reconsider. Yep, he even damned those who worship in a cappella services.
And then there are the fine people who published a full page ad in the Daily Oklahoman to disfellowship Mark Henderson, then the pulpit minister of the Quail Springs Church of Christ, for daring to be the preacher of a church that added an instrumental service. And we shouldn’t forget all the Churches of Christ in Oklahoma that said not a word in protest.
I should add the brothers at Contending for the Faith, who’ve damned as apostate countless good men, even an associate editor of the Gospel Advocate, for failing to agree with them on every single point of doctrine.
Will God’s grace cover intellectual errors? It must or no one would be saved. That being the case, my personal belief is that when we get to heaven we may be surprised to see others we did not really expect to see in heaven — and they may be even more surprised to see us.
Well, that sounds right! Amen. But Yeakley wants to have it both ways —
[C]haracteristic of most denominations today today … [is they] judge other believers to be saved in spirit of what they see as serious errors in what others teach and practice.
So here’s the rule: intellectual error does not damn unless it’s serious error. Then it does.
Yeakley seeks to solve the paradox by suggesting —
A middle ground between the … extremes teaches what we understand the Bible to teach and leaves the judging to God.
Therefore, I suppose, when a Baptist Church invites us to a joint service, we tell them that we don’t teach what they teach and leave the judging to God — and don’t meet with them. Or do we? How does salvation agnosticism solve anything at all?
How can we avoid judging them when they invite us to work with them on disaster relief projects? Or Franklin Graham Crusades? Say no, and I assure you, they’ll feel judged.
I would like to suggest that the Bible plainly teaches where the line between damned and saved might be found, and that we’d do well to stop inventing new theories on the subject.
Those with faith in Jesus are saved. I’ve covered the essential elements of faith many times here. It’s more than mere intellectual acceptance. It requires a change in heart evidenced by a life that submits to God. And it requires that we trust God to save us by the blood of Jesus.
(Mark 9:23 NIV) “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.”
(John 1:12-13 NIV) Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God-children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
(John 3:14-18 NIV) “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.'”
(John 3:36 NIV) “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”
(John 5:24 NIV) “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”
(John 6:29 NIV) Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
(John 6:35 NIV) Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”
(John 6:40 NIV) “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
(John 6:47 NIV) “I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life.”
(John 7:38-39 NIV) “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.
(John 11:25-26 NIV) Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
(John 12:46 NIV) “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.”
(John 20:31 NIV) But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
(Acts 10:43 NIV) “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
(Acts 13:38-39 NIV) “Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses.”
(Acts 16:31 NIV) They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved-you and your household.”
(Romans 1:16-17 NIV) I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
(Romans 3:22-24 NIV) This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
(Romans 3:25-28 NIV) God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished-he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.
(Romans 4:4-5 NIV) Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.
(Romans 5:1-2 NIV) Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
(Romans 10:4 NIV) Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.
(Romans 10:9-13 NIV) That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile-the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
(1 Corinthians 1:21 NIV) For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.
(Galatians 2:15-16 NIV) “We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.”
(Galatians 3:2 NIV) I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?
(Galatians 3:22 NIV) But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.
(Galatians 5:6 NIV) For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
(Ephesians 1:13-14 NIV) And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession-to the praise of his glory.
(Ephesians 2:8-10 NIV) For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
(2 Thessalonians 2:13 NIV) But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.
(1 Timothy 1:16 NIV) But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.
(Hebrews 10:39 NIV) But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.
(1 John 3:23-24 NIV) And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.
(1 John 4:2-3 NIV) This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.
(1 John 5:1 NIV) Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well.
(1 John 5:3-5 NIV) This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
(1 John 5:13 NIV) I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.
This is not complicated. The way in is the way out. If we’re saved upon coming to faith and repentance, marked by baptism (which need not be executed flawlessly), then we’re damned when we surrender our repentance by rebellion (not a single act of rebellion but a heart that is no longer faithful, penitent, or submissive toward God) or by losing our faith.
But the conservative and moderate Churches of Christ do not teach this. Rather, they prefer an entirely subjective, ad hoc interpretation of “serious error” — and damn for those errors the editors and preaching schools harp on, and yet grant grace when — purely subjectively — the issue seems unclear and not serious.
My view has the advantage of being supported by a whole lot of scripture and by the works of Barton W. Stone, Thomas Campbell, and Alexander Campbell. The conservative view is foreign to both scripture and the Restoration Movement — and is one reason so many children refuse to attend the Churches of their youth.
Refusing to judge while simultaneously refusing to fellowship is not the solution. Pretending not to judge while we set up tests that only we can meet is not the solution. Taking seriously the plain teachings of scriptures about the nature of our salvation will work quite well, though.