The reason I am writing to you is because I have been doing much questioning over the past few years regarding “doctrinal” issues in the churches of Christ. I was raised in what is commonly known as the “mainstream” churches of Christ.
I have zealously and aggressively fought against any type of progressive movement. I would “mark” anyone who didn’t agree with my exact belief system as a heretic. Furthermore, if someone didn’t agree with me on everything, then certainly they didn’t love Jesus like I did!
Around 4 years ago I was at a lectureship. Like most mainstream lectureships, they had an open forum. The discussion revolved around so called “salvation issues” versus “opinionated issues.” I had always had some struggle with this idea because it seemed very convenient to call something a matter of opinion when one wanted to agree to disagree. On the other hand, when one wanted to mark someone, they would mark them based upon what they would call a “salvation issue.”
At this open forum I simply asked what constitutes an issue of salvation (where we must agree) verses an issue of opinion (where we can agree to disagree). The answer given didn’t make sense. In fact, it was basically circular reasoning. It went something along the lines of “when something violates God’s will, then it isn’t a matter of opinion … as long as it doesn’t violate God’s will, then it isn’t a matter of salvation.”
This would be like me asking “what do I have to do to go to heaven?” and receiving a reply like “the things that God tells you to do.” So, I followed with a question. “What about the qualification of elders? If we were to go around the room and ask each person in here what the qualifications of elders are, we would receive many different and conflicting answers. Is this a salvation issue? If not, then why not?”
The answer I received to my follow up was pretty similar to the first answer I received. It went along the lines of “no, that is not a salvation issue because it doesn’t affect our salvation.” At that point, I sat down knowing that I wasn’t going to receive a logical answer from the men leading the forum that day.
This puzzled me for some time, the idea of a salvation issue versus an issue of opinion. You see, if there were so called “issues of salvation” versus “issues of opinion,” they would be clearly outlined in the Scriptures. The fact is everyone has their own set of matters of opinion and matters of doctrine. That which seemed so objective before in reality is nothing but a subjective mess depending upon each person.
This was only the beginning of my honest quest for truth. I am writing you because I am curious as to what books/articles you would recommend for one such as me who is trapped in this vicious brotherhood and for one who is sincerely searching for truth after defending for years what I thought was the truth.
I certainly still have many convictions at this point that I am sure you would disagree with. However, I am finding myself further and further away from that tradition which I was taught to love and cherish. Any advice or reading material you recommend would be greatly appreciated.
Check out Todd Deaver’s book Facing Our Failure. Todd is a son of Mac Deaver and has done a masterful job of demonstrating that the Churches of Christ have no theology of what doctrines are salvation issues and which are not. It’s entirely ad hoc, and the attempted explanations are circular and never applied consistently. However, the book does not address what a better answer would be.
Todd and I discussed this very topic with Greg Tidwell, Phil Sanders, and Mac Deaver at GraceConversation a few years ago. The posts are still there and there’s a table of contents. You’ll find that Todd and I laid out a very thorough doctrine of salvation, and our opponents quit shortly after they finally stated a position.
Since then, I’ve addressed the question countless times at One In Jesus. A very brief explanation of my current thinking is posted here. You’ll find that the most recent post is pretty simple and not very long. The book and the debate delve much more deeply into my understanding.
Finally, I think you might enjoy this post, because it deals with many of the questions you raise in your email.
May God bless your studies.