I’m flattered that you consider my blog worthy of your time and attention.
I began writing this as a comment in response to your comment, but I proved too long-winded (surely proving my own need for an editor).
I regret any offense, but I think my statements regarding your book are fair. It is very well written. It is poorly edited (although the second edition is much improved over the first). And it’s very much a statement of 20th Century Church of Christ theology — in line with what would be found in a conservative Church of Christ tract rack — in novel form.
My friend and brother Edward Fudge is also correct in describing your theology as a false gospel. Before I ever began blogging, I wrote a book on that very subject, Do We Teach Another Gospel?
I beg you to take a few hours — these are short books — and read The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace, followed by Do We Teach Another Gospel?
Both are free, fairly short, and very pertinent to your work as an author and evangelist. Neither is in novel form and neither is written by an author as gifted in the art of narrative as you. But, together, they explain Edward’s “false gospel” statement.
Read them and then let me know whether Edward was fair in his assessment.
Consider this. We in the Churches of Christ have a very inconsistent position on joining the church. We are delighted to criticize our “denominational” friends for speaking about “joining” a church. After all, we crow, the Lord “adds” converts to the church. We don’t “join.”
And then we turn around and declare then damned for joining the wrong church — which is, of course, by our own logic, impossible. And indeed it is.
In Biblical terms, there is but one church and there are no denominations. Just one church. Period.
What are its boundaries? Well, taking the most conservative position found in the Churches of Christ, the boundaries are: hear, believe, repent, confess, be baptized. Thus, all who’ve done those things are saved and members of the one church that exists. Unless they’ve left.
But what if a Baptist pastor did the baptism? What if a Catholic priest immersed a convert for the remission of sins upon his confession of faith in Jesus? Is that person saved nonetheless? By our own logic, yes. And we are right. There is no magic in the person doing the immersing, and any errors held by the baptizer are quite beside the point. Jesus saves — not the pastor and not the priest.
Or must he join the right church? Which, of course, he cannot do, because as he emerged from the baptismal waters, God added him to the only church that there is.
You see, you think in 20th Century categories and not in First Century categories. Therefore, you ask which is the right denomination? Rather than who is Lord and Messiah? But those who’ve confessed Jesus as Lord and Messiah are saved and added to the only church that there is or ever will be.
So this leaves us to ponder when someone might fall away — which certainly can happen, but it cannot happen by virtue of joining a wrong church as there is only one church and God added the convert to it.
In this morning’s post, I briefly addressed falling away. Here’s another approach. You exit the way you came in. If you give up your faith or your repentance, you leave the church.
Moreover, the Plan of Salvation or Five Steps ignore the necessity of trusting Jesus for your salvation. And if I no longer trust Jesus, but instead wish to trust our Five Acts of Worship or our strict adherence to New Testament church organization, then I’m no longer trusting in Jesus.
We in the Churches of Christ are uncomfortable speaking of “trust” rather than “faith” because it sounds so, you know, Baptist, but “trust” is one definition of pistis, the Greek word for faith. And the New Testament uses it in that sense quite often.
But more importantly, Paul teaches,
(Gal 5:2-6 ESV) Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
You argue in Muscle and a Shovel that “law” refers exclusive to the Law of Moses. That’s half true. Paul certainly has Torah in mind, but notice how he argues.
Why is it that insisting on circumcision as a condition of salvation damns? Why? Well, Paul says, because circumcision doesn’t count for anything (doesn’t “avail” KJV). The only thing that counts (or avails) is “faith working through love.” Because circumcision is neither faith nor love (although one might well choose to endure circumcision to show his faith or his love for God), it doesn’t count (or avail) — and as a result, it destroys faith.
Really? Really. “[Y]ou who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.” Is this because Law is a terrible, sinful thing? Not at all. The reason — as plainly stated by Paul — is that the Law is not faith in Jesus.
Paul didn’t say: You’re following the wrong law. He said: You’re following Law rather than faith in Jesus working through love. And only faith working through love avails.
Adding circumcision to faith in Jesus as a requirement of salvation damns. And that’s a false gospel — as Paul plainly declares in Gal 1.
So what’s the difference between requiring a cappella singing or weekly communion or a plurality of elders as a condition of salvation and circumcision as a condition of salvation? Both add to faith in Jesus. Both make faith insufficient. None are faith working through love.
This is not say that obedience and works don’t matter, but that they aren’t the path to salvation. They are, rather, evidence of salvation because they are fruit of the Spirit — which only the saved have.
You and I should certainly teach what we believe regarding worship or church organization and advocate for that position. But we are not empowered to make those views conditions of salvation. They aren’t faith in Jesus working through love. They just aren’t.
The saved, as possessors of God’s Spirit, will inevitably seek to obey and to be fully committed. Indeed, they’ll work hard to learn and obey God’s will by studying his word —
Studying and understanding the Bible isn’t for the lazy. Studying the Bible requires muscle and a shovel. Mental muscle and a willingness to use honest intelligence (the metaphorical shovel) to dig deep beyond all of our preconceived ideas, our false beliefs and our comfortable traditions.
Studying the Bible takes muscle and a shovel. Peter said to Jesus in John 6 :68 that Jesus had the words of eternal life . How many people today are really willing to take their time and effort to dig down deep where that vein of Truth can be found?
Shank, Michael (2012-06-01). Muscle and a Shovel (Kindle Locations 4354-4363). They’ll do exactly that as part of being penitent people of faith. Exactly.
And they’ll get some of it right and some of it wrong. Perfection will not be achieved in this lifetime — and grace is there to cover our mistakes, both our moral errors and our doctrinal errors — so long as we don’t surrender our faith, our repentance, or our trust and so leave the church via the path by which we entered.
The damned denominations
As a result, it is plainly untrue to claim that every single member of the Episcopalian denomination is damned. Even under the most conservative Church of Christ view of baptism, a great many Episcopalians were baptized by immersion for the remission of sins on a confession of Jesus as Lord and Messiah. I know, because many were baptized by Church of Christ ministers in Church of Christ baptistries.
But there are other denominations that baptize by immersion for remission of sins. We are not the only folk who can read Acts 2:38! And yet we don’t bother to reach out to our brothers and sisters because they’ve joined the wrong church!!
Oh, you might say, but now they partake of denominational errors. Well, adding “denominational” to “error” doesn’t make the error damning. Yes, the Episcopalians are guilty of some errors. But do they have a genuine faith in Jesus as Lord and Messiah? Do they remain true to the penitence with which they first came to Jesus? Do they trust Jesus for their salvation?
In other words, have they all walked back out through the path by which they entered the Kingdom? Obviously, they did not choose the wrong church (there is only one), nor did they join the wrong church (you can’t join; you can only be added).
No, the question is whether they fell away according to the Bible, not are they in error or imperfect or sinners. Yes, they are. We all are.
Please — I beg you — read the books. Then I’d be delighted to talk by phone or email or here at the blog regarding any questions you may have.