Meandering thoughts on Nein Quarterly, hermeneutics, a little Kierkegaard, and leading change in a Church of Christ, Part 2

nein

From Nein. A Manifesto by Eric Jaronsinki, compiled from his Twitter feed of philosophy based humor: @neinquarterly

Solutions

Family, our denominational identity, the story we live, and hermeneutics. It’s a tall order to expect any church leadership to successfully lead their congregation through so many barriers to change. The solution, I think, is to tackle these issues long before the church deals with such issues as female deacons or … well, you know the list.

If the leaders are talking about family resistance to change in the context of female deacons, then the members will weigh their Thanksgivings against the benefits of female deacons. And no matter how strongly you feel about female equality, your life is likely far more impacted by how your family treats you on Thanksgiving.

Legalism

But if the impact of our families on our walk with Jesus is considered separate from doctrinal disputes, our members’ may find themselves richly blessed by learning how very deadly dangerous their family’s legalism is. You see, the real reason that we need to help our members’ cope with legalism back home is not so we can have female deacons. It’s so their family will be rescued from a false doctrine that not only makes people miserable; it can damn (Gal 5:2-6).

Church of Christ legalism — the teaching that error on such incidental doctrines as the role of women, instrumental music, and the use of the church treasury — this teaching is not just wrong, but potentially damning. Therefore, it’s not just that our members need to have thicker skins so their parents’ don’t keep them from accepting needed change. Our members need to be taught how to teach their families the true gospel.

I lay this out in detail in my eBook (free download) Do We Teach Another Gospel? The short version is this. Paul wrote,

(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

Paul’s point is not that relying on the law for salvation damns. It does. But that’s not the point. The point is that only faith in Jesus saves. Nothing else does. Therefore, the law cannot save.

We enter the Kingdom through faith in Jesus. We leave the Kingdom by the same path by which we entered. If we give up our faith, we are no longer saved.

But the thing is, the Galatians Paul declared fallen from grace did not deny the necessity of faith in Jesus. Rather, they denied its sufficiency. They insisted on faith in Jesus + circumcision. But Paul says it’s either all faith or all works. We pick one or the other. When we require both faith and something else, then we’d better get the something else perfectly — because we’ve refused to accept grace through faith. We’ve asked God to judge us by a higher standard — and he does.

If we insist on faith + works of the law, such as circumcision, then we must obey the entire law — perfectly. In the modern Churches of Christ, many insist on faith + correct pattern of worship + correct church organization + correct teaching and practice on divorce and remarriage … and the list goes on without limit. So by that standard, who can be saved? And Paul’s point is simple: no one. No one can measure up to even the standards we impose on ourselves.

I mean, we damn churches that use instruments, and pray that we haven’t done something unauthorized and so damned ourselves. But we have. Establishing a standard for who is saved and who is not, other than faith in Jesus, is deadly dangerous.

And so, our teaching against legalism shouldn’t be: give up your legalism so we can appoint female deacons. Rather, we should urge our members to give up their legalism so they can be saved by grace through faith in Jesus — and their families with them.

Family

If we have a problem with legalistic family pressure pushing our members to insist on legalistic church practices so they won’t be considered damned by their families — quite literally — the solution is to teach grace but also the dangers of legalism. The idea of submitting to legalistic demands should be unthinkable to our members. I mean, surely the fact that Peter stood condemned for doing just that (Gal 2:11) would motivate us to flee legalism rather than submitting to it. We do our families no favors when we pretend that we agree with their sinful attitudes toward who is saved and who is not.

Identity

We take great pride in our denominational identity even while we deny being a denomination. I’ve spoken to members who insisted that they saw no sin in instrumental music but were afraid that, if we used instruments, we’d lose our identity. “Identity”? As what? And where does the Bible ask us to have an identity other than as disciples of Jesus? What subset of the church are we supposed to be — according to the Bible?

This goes entirely against the teachings of scripture —

(1 Cor. 3:3b-4 ESV)  For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?  4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? 

Our identity is in Jesus. If that’s not good enough for us, then we’ve misunderstood our salvation top to bottom.

So why do we wait until the church leadership wants to adopt some controversial change before discussing our identity issues? Again, this is an issue that should be discussed very directly and frankly long before any changes in church worship or organization are planned. After all, this is about much deeper, much more important issues than laying a predicate for female deacons. It’s about how we perceive ourselves in relationship with God and to other Christians. It’s about whether we build into our Christian identity a “holier than thou” attitude. And we have a bad case of the holier than thou’s.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

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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6 Responses to Meandering thoughts on Nein Quarterly, hermeneutics, a little Kierkegaard, and leading change in a Church of Christ, Part 2

  1. Mark says:

    Perhaps it’s past time to change the sermon beginning from “if you have your bibles, turn to first Corinthians chapter x, verse y….” to “in the gospel we just heard, Jesus taught the people/did something that pious Jewish men did not do…..”. Also, the end might need to be changed from “come now as we stand and sing” to “the choice is yours, Amen”

  2. Profile photo of Kevin Kevin says:

    Jay wrote:

    “When we require both faith and something else, then we’d better get the something else perfectly — because we’ve refused to accept grace through faith. We’ve asked God to judge us by a higher standard — and he does.”

    I don’t disagree with you here, but I have had difficulty understanding why this is true. Between help from NT Wright and Ray Vanderlaan, I think I have arrived at a reasonable explanation. It all goes back to Gen 15.

    The blood oath would have required a perfect faith from Abraham, and Abraham knew that he couldn’t keep his part of the covenant, hence his fear and dread. The meaning of the ceremony is lost on us Westerners, but it basically means, “If I do not keep the promises of this covenant, you may do to me what we have done to these animals.” The covenant thus required a perfect Israelite. Rather than Abraham passing through the blood, God passed through on Abraham’s behalf, and Christ was sentenced to the cross…He would be the man of perfection that neither Abraham nor anyone else could. God was saying that if Abraham and his descendants didn’t keep the covenant, they could walk in HIS blood.

    Fast forward to Gal 2, and we see that a person is not justified by works of the Law but through the FAITHFULNESS OF JESUS CHRIST. He was obedient to the covenant in Gen 15!
    In verse 21, Paul forcefully states, “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” If we can be righteous on our own, then we could have passed through the ceremony on our own.

    As Jay articulates, “If we insist on faith + works of the law, such as circumcision, then we must obey the entire law — perfectly.” Meaning…we have rejected the offer of God to walk through the ceremony on our behalf…thus we have ultimately rejected the sacrifice and sufficiency of Christ…thus we have to be perfect in accordance with the ceremony of Gen 15.

  3. Jeremy says:

    Jay, if we insist on something because it is our identity, is that not denominationalism?

  4. Dwight says:

    Denominationalism has many different meanings depending on who is doing the defining. But basically it means taking on a name that puts you in a relationship with other names. Religiously it is expanded out to mean those who have a name and are under a hierarchy. Depending on what group you are apart of this is bad and sinful. But technically all groups that carry a specific name are denominational. The scriptures never argue for or against a name to be used. Even in I Cor. Paul never said stop using names and he never said this is the name you go by, but rather stop dividing along the lines of those names you have taken. Even the conservative coC who claims non-denominational status is a denomination by the virtue they have a name. And if one calls themselves a Christian they use a name and are under the hierarchy of Jesus as the head. Paul was a Jew and a Pharisee, but was a Christian. He didn’t deny his association with the Jews and Pharisees, but did deny that those associations compelled him to deny Christ. So, all in all, it is a myth that a name brings condemnation any more than a name can bring you righteousness, otherwise there are many who call themselves Christians that are indeed Christian by virtue of their name.

  5. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Jeremy,

    Not necessarily. But it’s always wrong. In fact, it smacks more of idolatry than denominationalism to me. Let me explain.

    If we insist on apostolic succession or infant baptism or a cappella because “that’s who we are,” then we must ask, “Who is this ‘we'”? “We” is some subset of Christians who feel obliged to engage in practice X in order to maintain their distinct identity as practitioners of X. X because of X.

    That is, we insist on being separated — at least to some extent — for the sake of something other than Jesus. Jesus is not enough for us. We must have Jesus + X because we are God’s people chosen to preserve X or because, dagnabit! — X needs to be preserved.

    So a church decides that they want to preserve the rule that women must not wear pants solely because someone somehow must preserve this bit of Christian heritage. And even though insisting that women not wear pants is harmful to the church’s ability to seek and save the lost. Meaning our love for skirts and dresses has overridden our love for Jesus and for the lost. Making it idolatrous.

    Now, if we want to preserve X because — honest to God — it’s a good thing for the mission of God, then by all means preserve it. If it helps us reach the damned, preserve it. If it helps us become more Christ-like, preserve it! But if it gets in the way of the mission — which, by the way, includes being united in fact with our fellow believers — then it has to go.

  6. Dwight says:

    Jay, I think that is very spot on as the English would say. There is a assembly in town that calls itself “the _________ coC” and they are what some would call “consiberal” or not quite conservative and not quite liberal, (which could technically apply anywhere if you looked close enough). There attendance isn’t that great. There is another ___________ coC that is definitely conservative. My theory is that for those who want a coC, they most likely are drawn to the conservative one and not the one that is lesser known and it has to do with reputation. The one has a great reputation among conservative coCs because it is conservative, the other one not so much. One is in the conservative loop and the other one not, There is branding involved and expectations met. I actually like the “consiberal” more because there is more opportunity to operate, but they have less people, less children and I have children and a wife that wants other children, etc.
    The thing I dislike about the more conservative assembly though is how they look down upon the other assembly, because they aren’t exactly like them. They know the other assembly is there, but won’t legitimize it for specific reasons that are part of the conservative creed. I would think that the one congregation if they lost their coC name and just put up a sign that said “Christians meet here” would bring in more people than they would know what to do with, but they too are caught in the “practitioners of x, x because of x” mindset.

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