What Must Be Preserved of the Churches of Christ? (Unity, Part 3)

churchofchristThe 20th Century Churches of Christ have staunchly opposed the ecumenical movement, largely because they saw the other denominations as lost and saw no hope of converting the others to their way of thinking.

In those days, the unity efforts largely were handled by negotiations among bishops and patriarchs and other high officials of the various denominations — with minimal success due to non-negotiable differences regarding the sacraments and church organization.

However, today, the real ecumenical movement is taking place in the pews, as church members reject the thinking of their leaders and insist on respecting baptisms and honoring faith in Jesus across denominational lines, with no concern for the ancient doctrines that have long separated denominations.

This is not Postmodernism or liberalism or any other -ism. It’s the work of God’s Holy Spirit bringing unity despite the best efforts of our leaders — and it’s right, holy, and good.

That is, much as Stone and Thomas Campbell originally pleaded, unity need not be about creating a new denominational structure (and pretending not to be a denomination). Rather, unity is a state of mind and heart — it’s recognizing as saved people who are members of another denomination but who have a genuine, penitent faith in Jesus. And the glory of this approach is that it doesn’t require that anyone surrender his conscience — so long as he recognizes those with faith in Jesus as saved.

I attended an Episcopalian funeral yesterday — a Saturday — and they offered Holy Communion to all present — not just Episcopalians. We in the Churches of Christ might wonder whether we have authority to take communion on a Saturday, but the Episcopalians reason that anything that brings us closer to God during a time of mourning is a good thing — even if it means crossing denominational lines for family and friends to do this together.



This bit of history raises two critical questions. First, how can someone be saved while in error or sin? Second, how can someone be saved while in error as to his baptism? And obviously the second question depends in large part on the first.

We begin in one of the verses that convicted me on this point early on in my studies —

(Rom 8:1 ESV) There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

If you read much conservative Church of Christ literature, you soon find yourself up against the concept of saved Christians and lost Christians. The idea seems to be that you can be a Christian (did all Five Steps) but are somehow in unrepented sin or serious error so that your salvation has been lost — but can be regained.

And yet Paul seems to very plainly say that if you are “in Christ Jesus,” that is, a Christian, there is “no condemnation.” None. Zero. Zilch.

The well-schooled Church of Christ disputant immediately objects that this sounds very much like once saved, always saved (OSAS) or perseverance of the saints (POTS) — Calvinist heresy that we don’t agree with. Nor do I. But we can’t just erase Paul’s words from the Bible by calling a Paul a Calvinist! He means them. In fact, they appear at a particularly climactic place in Romans. Contextually, Paul is clearly making a major point built on the preceding seven chapters.

For example (read these together),

(Rom 4:4-8 ESV)  4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.  5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,  6 just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:  7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered;  8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

(Rom 6:23 ESV)  23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Again, Paul insists that, while we earn death, eternal life a “free gift.” We don’t and can’t earn it — not even part of it. We don’t have to pay 20% down and hope God handles the balance. It’s 100% free. And this is entirely consistent with there being no condemnation. Right?

Even earlier in Romans —

(Rom 3:21-25 ESV)  21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it — 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:  23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,  25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.

This is no anomaly and Paul means it. It’s true. There’s no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. That means that if you are a Christian at all, you are saved.

And this doesn’t mean you can’t fall from grace. Paul teaches that this can happen in Galatians 5 — but when you fall away, you are no longer a Christian, alienated from Christ, and as Hebrews puts it, “no sacrifice for sins remains” (Heb 10:26-27).

We don’t flit back and forth between saved and lost depending on how good we were last night or how well we prayed for forgiveness at church. Generally speaking, Romans 8:1 states the rule: “No condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.”

So why not sin all the more that grace may abound? Why not live in utter rebellion? Why not treat Jesus’ sacrifice with contempt and live for self and not for God?

Well, for these very good reasons:

1. Salvation is for those with faith in Jesus. The Greek word for “faith” includes the meaning “faithfulness” (and is often translated that way in the New Testament). If you rebel against God, you no longer have faith and you’ve thrown away your salvation.

2. The scriptures teach that rebellion damns those who’ve been saved. (Heb 6:4-6; 10:26-27).

3. You can’t love God and willfully sin.

4. Remember the Spirit? Unless you work to grieve the Spirit, the Spirit will work to transform your heart so that you love God from the heart and so you want to please God. The desire for rebellion will be taken away — not immediately, but over time as you walk with God.

I won’t promise that it ever entirely leaves you, but it’s power is slowly defeated. Of course, we can all experience hard times in our lives when the urge to rebel is rekindled. And the Spirit helps — but often fails because we fail to take advantage of all that we’ve been given.

You see, I have the Spirit. So do you. So do our brothers and sisters at church. And we are saved not only into a personal relationship with Jesus but into a community of saved people, filled with the Spirit.

When times are tough and temptations are strong, the solution may be more than prayer and Bible study. Quite often, it’s calling upon brothers and sisters in Christ for support. It’s the church that God has given us to help us make it to the end.

(Heb 10:24-27 ESV) 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,  25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.  26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,  27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.

Verse 25 is typically interpreted as “Go to church or you’re a sinner!” whereas the real point is that, if you don’t meet with your brothers and sisters, you won’t have the encouragement essential to avoid falling away.

I know of many Christians who’ve formed accountability groups, typically no more than four men or women, who meet weekly to help push each other to mature in Christ — and to resist falling away. They hold each other accountable in order to build each other up. And that’s very much in line with the thought of this passage.

If you don’t find the encouragement you need in your Sunday morning assembly, or prayer time with your spouse, or small group, consider forming such a group. It’s one way that the Spirit can powerfully work in your life.

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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16 Responses to What Must Be Preserved of the Churches of Christ? (Unity, Part 3)

  1. Price says:

    I can think of another reason not to give up and rebel… [Jhn 10:10 ESV] 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” I’m not talking Rolls Royce’s and Mansions… I’m talking about walking in the Kingdom where God is alive and doing quite well being King !! I’m talking about prayer that gets answered ! Lives healed. Circumstances changed. Lost souls redeemed… Waistlines slimmed… Encouragement and Enlightenment from the Spirit to address everyday circumstances… A Purpose….

    The “falling away” seems to me to be a fear based evangelism… It’s the difference between teaching about a God that destroys to get His jolly’s versus a God that redeems. It seems to me that so much emphasis has been placed on fear of “getting it wrong” that we’ve missed the very love of God who sacrificed His Son for a bunch of unworthy people. We fear Hell more than we participate in the Kingdom. [1Jo 4:18 ESV] 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”

  2. Grace says:

    Amen, Price!

    There are people who insist that we should be afraid to have confidence in God. To them God is just hanging around in Heaven waiting to see how we will turn out because such things are beyond His sphere of influence.To say God loses His own children presents an impotent God who is incapable of keeping and protecting His own children!

    John 10:26-30 But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one.

    Romans 8:31-39 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels NOR PRINCIPALITIES NOR POWERS, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

    Paul says God’s power in us is greater than any other power, there isn’t any evil power greater than Him that can turn those who are His away. Paul said he knew the Lord would deliver him from every evil work and preserve him.

    2 Timothy 4:18 And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen!

    If a person attended church for a month or even 5 or more years but then walks away they did not have salvation, going to church doesn’t make a person a Christian anymore than going to a garage makes a person a car. People who continue to trust in anything except Christ alone, who is the light that scatters all shadows, it is said to be tantamount to “trampling under foot the Son of God” believing that His once of all sacrifice is insufficient in itself to save. If something in place of or in addition to Jesus is trusted in, it is no different than a denial of Him.

    If you know the truth about salvation you don’t leave when you know deep in your heart and soul it’s the truth. It’s absurd to seriously suggest that God is only interested in saving people for a few weeks or years. That is a God who is not sovereign and a God we could have no confidence in!

  3. laymond says:

    Price said, “we’ve missed the very love of God who sacrificed His Son for a bunch of unworthy people.”
    Jhn 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

    Price give me your take on John 3:16 just what was God doing when he offered up his son as a sacrifice, a sacrifice from him to whom. And just what did it prove. I really don’t think we should be saying God did worthless things.
    Recall back to Abraham and Isaac. I believe God was asking something instead of declaring something, making a covenant, a commitment from both sides. I will wait on specifics of that covenant, because I hear “heretic” ringing in my ears, already.

  4. Excellent addition to an excellent article, Price! This morning I had breakfast with my son and three friends. They meet weekly for encouragement and Bible Study. Mostly for encouragement. It thrilled me to see my son (who lives 600 miles from me) involved in such a group.

  5. Thanks, Jay for exposing clearly the error of “intermittent salvation”. I think this doctrine may have done us more harm than almost anything else.

    And Price, when Laymond labels you a heretic, it’s clear evidence you are on the right track. Few indicators are more sure. 😉

    And Grace, you opined: “If a person attended church for a month or even 5 or more years but then walks away they did not have salvation…” Grace, membership in a local religion club is not the seal of our salvation. Many of us have stopped doing Sunday mornings in the same pew and we have not departed from the faith– just from that particular sort of meeting. Please don’t be so quick to consign us to hell. Your argument is the one ordinarily offered by proponents of OSAS, to retroactively damn those who do fall from grace, by insisting that they were never saved in the first place. This reasoning kills off the sinner and leaves the rest of us under a suspended sentence, but leaves the doctrine intact. When we fall, God does not “lose” us, as one might lose a dog who chews through the leash. We are connected to the Father by faith in Jesus, not chained to him against our own will. Father will, with tears I believe, still let us walk away.

  6. laymond says:

    Charles, only you could interpret what I said as derogatory toward Price. I was speaking of the name I will be called, as soon as I complete my understanding of John 3;16. I am only waiting for Price’s interpretation of 3:16 before I continue with my own. how would God sacrificing his son, lead to our salvation, what was going on there.

  7. Price says:

    Laymond. The verse explains itsel. Whosoever Believes. Read Romans 4 sometime with fresh eyes. God didn’t declare abram righteous by what he did but because of his faith. His faith was faithful but god doesn’t redeem coupons for salvation based on works. If by works it makes negates and voids the promise. We are children of Abraham by faith

  8. Grace says:

    Charles, Sorry that you were offended. I wasn’t saying people who don’t go to church won’t go to heaven, I know many Christians who for different reasons don’t go to church. I don’t believe going to church makes a person a Christian. I believe people who leave to deny the Christian faith didn’t have genuine faith. If you know the truth about salvation you don’t leave when you know deep in your heart and soul it’s the truth.

  9. Grace, in 1 Timothy, Paul said that some had made shipwreck of their faith. If their faith was not genuine, how could they have shipwrecked it? Note that THEY shipwrecked it. Also, Hebrews 6 speaks of those who have tasted of salvation who turned away. With warnings such as those, how can we say that genuine faith will never be lost?

  10. Grace says:

    Tasted doesn’t mean swallowed.

  11. Grace offered, “I believe people who leave to deny the Christian faith didn’t have genuine faith. If you know the truth about salvation you don’t leave when you know deep in your heart and soul it’s the truth.”

    I’m not entirely sure where you picked up this idea, but I do not find it anywhere in scripture. I do not see the purpose of retroactively judging those who fall from grace, which is really all OSAS does. This reasoning robs the believer of any real assurance. Perhaps I DON’T have genuine faith. Perhaps I am unsaved, and I just don’t know it yet. No way to really know I am genuinely saved until I am dead and beyond repudiating the faith. Funny, but in this, both OSAS and works salvation come to the same conclusion: “When you’re dead, then you’re sure.”

  12. laymond says:

    What brought me to make the statement that I made, was the words Price wrote.
    ” It seems to me that so much emphasis has been placed on fear of “getting it wrong” that we’ve missed the very love of God who sacrificed His Son for a bunch of unworthy people”

    Jhn 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
    Jhn 3:17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
    Jhn 3:18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

    I believe God made this sacrifice to make amends for the way he treated his children out of anger.
    And I believe those of us who willingly accept this new covenant are seen as worthy, worthy of God’s forgiveness of all the retaliatory actions we participated in because we were afraid to accept God as our savior because of what he had done in the past.
    This sacrifice was a way to show that he really did love his creation, that it was not just something to take out his anger on. As has been said we only knew obedience out of fear, and that is no obedience at all, that is doing just enough to not arouse the anger of God. Where obedience from love is full obedience.

    Isaiah – Chapter 12

    Isa 12:1 And in that day thou shalt say, O LORD, I will praise thee: though thou wast angry with me, thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortedst me.
    Isa 12:2 Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the LORD JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation.
    Isa 12:3 Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.
    Isa 12:4 And in that day shall ye say, Praise the LORD, call upon his name, declare his doings among the people, make mention that his name is exalted.
    Isa 12:5 Sing unto the LORD; for he hath done excellent things: this is known in all the earth.
    Isa 12:6 Cry out and shout, thou inhabitant of Zion: for great is the Holy One of Israel in the midst of thee.

    No I don’t believe “God sacrificed His Son for a bunch of unworthy people”

  13. Grace says:

    Charles, I haven’t said you’re not going to heaven, really I’m not sitting in my little place on this earth thinking Charles is going to hell.

    You say we should have assurance about our salvation. I believe we can have assurance, it’s about who we trust to complete what He has begun in us Philippians 1:6.

  14. If you don’t find the encouragement you need in your Sunday morning assembly, or prayer time with your spouse, or small group, consider forming such a group. It’s one way that the Spirit can powerfully work in your life.

    I appreciate this encouragement. Many people do not get the needed interpersonal benefit God provides us because they are trying to get it in a place not well-suited to that. “Church services”, by and large, are good formats for one man to communicate a message to a group of like-minded folk. These services are not really appropriate for personal interaction, and were not designed to be. No indictment here, just a recognition that a wrench is not a hammer, no matter how often you hit things with it. We do need “that which every joint supplies”, as Paul says, but we have to spend time “in the joint”, so to speak, if we are to participate in that supply. Life flows between us in these joints, not just one way.

    Since God joins us together in the Body as He sees fit, I would encourage us to seek out just who God has joined us together with. We may have hundreds of friends and acquaintances in the Body of Christ, but in my experience, we do not have nearly so many God-formed joints. Letting God lead us to those people is one of the most valuable pursuits we can undertake.

  15. Philip sims says:

    I read a lot of comments, I think about many things. I usually just try to ask folks to think and to ponder these things myself. I usually do not comment, I understand the pain of being misunderstood. If i am wrong here, well i am honestly sorry.
    Laymond, unless i misunderstand, you are way off base. None of us are worthy of the gift of God’s son, He gave it out of his love. None of us deserved it, in fact no one wants what is deserved, the wages of our own sin.

    The first thing Jesus taught in his sermon he gave on mountains and valleys was, Blessed are those who know they are not worthy, or pour in spirit.

    Issiah wrote these words.

    We have all become like one who is unclean,
    and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.
    We all fade like a leaf,
    and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

    I am only worthy when i am dressed in Jesus’ worthiness.
    if i am misunderstanding you i apologize.

  16. Rose Marie says:

    This message recalled to me, Jay, your explanation of the covenant that God made with Abraham. Abraham provided the animals, cut open and divided and God passed between the halves of the sacrifice twice, thus completing the covenant with Abraham completely by God’s own work. All the talk about what we do and what we fail to do, seems pointless. Maybe to point to our own works. Since your message several months ago about this covenant, I have been convinced that I didn’t and can’t do any works. What God thinks of me matters. What the rest of you deduce about my actions and words will not count. In fact as I have grown older, I am astounded that anyone – even my husband or children – can find good in me. It feels more like putting my hand to the plow and just plowing along. When someone notices the furrow, I am astounded. I need to credit God with that furrow more often.

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