We are considering Michael Shank’s book Muscle and a Shovel.
This idea that the Church of Christ denomination is the only saved denomination is wrong on so many levels that I have to say a few more things before we move on.
I’ve twice posted articles defending my view that damning everyone outside the Church of Christ denomination commits the Galatian heresy —
The Galatian heresy is the mistake of adding salvation or fellowship boundary markers to faith in Jesus working through love. (“Faith” is defined throughout this post as previously defined.) The Judaizing teachers added circumcision as a condition of being recognized as saved — and because circumcision is not faith in Jesus working through love, it’s not necessary for salvation. Insisting otherwise divides God’s church and falsely adds circumcision to the gospel. It produces what Paul calls a “different gospel” (Gal 1:6) that can ultimately cause those deceived by such teaching to fall from grace (Gal 5:1-6).
I explain this in more detail in the linked posts and the materials linked in them. And this should be a terrifying thought. It terrifies me — so much so that I post here daily in an effort to rescue people I love from the Galatian heresy.
Shank ultimately damns not only over baptism but also instrumental music and several other marks of the church, such as the Five Acts of Worship. He finds enough “marks” unique to the Churches of Christ that no other denomination can possibly satisfy them. As a result, in his teaching, about 98% of believers in Jesus are damned. Maybe more. After all, there are plenty of Churches of Christ that don’t agree with Shank on much of what he’s written — even within the conservative camp.
(Gal 5:2-6 ESV) 2 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.
Let’s consider how this passage would read in more contemporary terms:
(Gal 5:2-6 ESV) 2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you [make a cappella music a mark of the church], Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who [makes a cappella music a mark of the church] that he is obligated to [make no doctrinal errors at all]. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified (that is, declared righteous) [based on certain supposed marks of the church other than faith in Jesus and love for your neighbor]; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness [that is, we confidently expect to be found righteous because of our faith in Jesus]. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither [instrumental music nor a cappella music] counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
I have a friend who worshiped in a very conservative church that wouldn’t allow teaching on grace. The preacher began spouting the marks of the church and the importance of obedience, and my friend asked him if he was free from all doctrinal error? He said “yes.” Soon thereafter, he resigned. I mean, that’s the choice — either be boastful enough to consider yourself doctrinally perfect or else humbly admit that you might be in error and be forced to rely on grace.
Unless you have the guts to say, “Yes, I have no doctrinal error at all in my understanding and teaching,” then you can’t damn others for error just because it’s error. I mean, you’ll be judged by the same standard you use to judge others.
But judging based on faith working through love is simple and easy. It’s easy to confess your faith in Jesus, and whether your faith is working through love should be obvious from your life. You won’t have a perfect love, of course, but that’s not the standard.
If the standard is faith working through love, we can judge others and not risk being damned because God will judge us by the same test. And we have the decided advantage of having scripture on our side — which is much better than even 200 tracts.
When I began this blog, my central concern was to teach that these “marks of the church” simply do not draw the boundaries of the church. I had no interest in who is right about instrumental music or the frequency of communion or all sorts of other issues. I just wanted to teach grace.
However, I soon found that the willingness of many to even hear grace is caught up in a certain arrogance — the notion that I cannot be wrong and therefore do not need grace for doctrinal error. It was normally unconscious but clearly a part of the psyche of many of our members.
You see, when you deny the full scope of God’s grace, when you insist on a narrow grace, then you’re forced either to believe that you don’t measure up — and so suffer the agony of knowing you’re going to hell — or else figure that you do measure up — and so become arrogant. And we’ve all seen it, and some of us have been guilty but got over it by being humbled by God.
No, a truly humble person will be miserable in a graceless church. And this why so rarely will someone who denies scriptural grace — perhaps even referring to the “grace-unity heresy”! — ever admit a doctrinal mistake, even when the flaws in his logic are plainly and lovingly laid out, even when the grace-denier must ignore entire books of the Bible to hold to his views — because to admit error is to admit damnation, in the mind of a grace-denier.
But the humble person will find in grace the freedom Paul promised.
(Gal 5:1 ESV) For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
I remember as a teenager in Bible classes being asked to read this and then laughing outloud at the absurdity of calling my religion “freedom.” It was anything but …
Praise God that I found teachers who opened my eyes to grace. I don’t know that I could have gotten there on my own — and my life’s ambition is to share the same blessing with others — because I know exactly what it’s like to feel damned and hopeless, knowing that I could never get all the answers right and please God with my doctrinal perfection.