As I’ve often said, Gregory Alan Tidwell, editor of the Gospel Advocate, is my favorite conservative Church of Christ preacher. One reason for this is that the Gospel Advocate under his editorship had stopped routinely publishing pieces that damn those in the Churches of Christ that disagree with the editorial positions of the Gospel Advocate. The magazine had become less divisive and more uplifting. I had assumed that this was due to Greg’s editorship.
In fact, early in this blog’s history, I routinely responded to divisive, sectarian Gospel Advocate articles in posts captioned “The Gospel Advocate Creed.” But it’s been years since I felt the need to post such a post. I thought the GA was returning to its roots and reflecting the kinder, more irenic spirit of David Lipscomb, one of its founders. I seem to have been mistaken.
Last month, in the February GA issue, Greg wrote an editorial essentially declaring the progressive wing of the Churches of Christ damned. I discussed this article over at Wineskins.org. However, the same issue published articles on church unity the reflected a range of views, some much less narrow than Greg’s. So at least the GA was willing to give other points of view a hearing.
The March GA has a series of articles by Greg essentially damning all who disagree on any of the following issues:
- The first article has been posted on the Internet. “The church of Christ is dividing into two irreconcilable camps. On one side are those who have kept the same faith. On the other side are those who are experimenting with a broad range of differing faiths.” (page 12)
- In the next article, Greg quotes Alexander Campbell and J. W. McGarvey as willing to accept the unimmersed as saved (obviously not addressing those who refuse baptism out of a spirit of rebellion against the known will of God). Greg disagrees and sees those with faith in Jesus but an improper baptism as damned — because they “do not share our faith.” (page 14)
- In a third article, he declares those who worship with an instrument to be guilty “of a change to a different religion.” (p. 17) He bases this on the writings J. W. McGarvey, who is, of course, apostate for his liberal views on baptism. McGarvey believed instrumental music to be sinful but not a fellowship or salvation issue. Greg takes a much more extreme view.
- In the same article, Greg declares that allowing women to lead in worship means you’ve “already lost their faith if you define ‘faith’ as trusting and obeying the Lord.” (page 17)
- In a fourth article, Greg disagrees with Alexander Campbell’s approval of a missionary society. (“Society” is a 19th Century term for what we call a “nonprofit organization” or “parachurch ministry.”) He sees such organizations as “purveyors of a different religion” and at risk of becoming “parasites, draining resources away from congregations.”
- In the same article, Greg cites his standard for who is saved, quoting Lipscomb: “When [a church] change the smallest appointment of God, it dethrones God as the only Lawmaker and ceases to be a church of God” (from Lipscomb & Sewell, Queries and Answers, p. 227).
Now, these articles are only a slight re-writing of Greg’s articles from the August 2007 GA issue. It’s the same list of issues and many of the same articles, as well as the same tendency to redefine “faith” from the New Testaments “faith in Jesus” to faith in baptism and faith in the scriptures, meaning, faith in the Gospel Advocate‘s editorial positions.
Of course, this brand of Christianity quickly produces absurd results. For example, to prove the sinfulness of instrumental music, Greg quotes J. W. McGarvey (whom he declared apostate in the preceding article) as saying,
We cannot, therefore, by any possibility, know that a certain element of worship is acceptable to God in the Christian dispensation, when the Scriptures which speak of that dispensation are silent in reference to it. To introduce any such element is unscriptural and presumptuous. It is will worship. If any such thing as will worship can exist. On this ground we condemn the burning of incense, the lighting of candles, the wearing of priestly robes, and the reading of printed prayers. On the same ground we condemn instrumental music.
(p. 17; quoting from The Millennial Harbinger, 1864, p. 511).
Of course, McGarvey did not damn over these practices; he says they’re sinful. Greg damns.
And did you catch the reference to “the reading of printed prayers.” This is just as wrong as instrumental music. In fact, the argument is: if reading printed prayers is sinful, then so is instrumental music.
And I thought I’d heard of all our odd scruples! Seriously: “printed prayers”? We’re sinning for reading the Lord’s Prayer from print? From reading a prayer written by a uninspired human if it’s printed rather than made up on the spot? Does this make any sense at all? This is sort of absurdity that Greg’s approach to scripture leads to.
So here’s where I come down. If you think it’s sinful to read printed prayers, then by all means, you should agree with Greg’s articles — and pray that you don’t err in the “smallest appointment of God” on fear of eternal damnation. (Aren’t you glad that you now know not to read printed prayers!)
Otherwise, you should reject Greg’s hermeneutics.