Facing Our Failure: The Fellowship Dilemma in Conservative Churches of Christ, Part 2

deaverDeaver’s book is a big deal. In fact, it’s so important that I’d imagine very few conservative writers will dare take it on. My prediction, cynical though this may be, is that the progressive blogs and forums will appreciate the book for so thoroughly documenting what the progressives have been saying for so long — but the conservative authors will either ignore it or mischaracterize it. I don’t expect to see a reasoned response.

I hope I’m wrong. I really do. But my experience with popular authors among the conservatives is that they simply will not respond to questions of this nature. I know. I’ve asked, and when I press for them to get beyond truisms and explain the obvious inconsistencies, I find myself ignored.

I’m hopeful, however, that Deaver’s credentials earn him a fuller response than I’ve ever seen. He was trained at the still-conservative Freed Hardeman University. His family have been stalwarts of the conservative movement for many years. So maybe this time will be different.

But you can’t help but notice that is a self-published book. That plainly means that neither the conservative nor the progressive press was willing to publish it. And it’s a very well written book by a very recognizable name, with a forward by Randy Willingham. It deserves to have been professionally published. But since it’s not, it’ll be easy for the conservatives to ignore.

Now, I express my frustration and cynicism for this reason. It’s great if my more progressive readers buy and read a copy. You should. Please do. But it would be even better if we bought a copy and sent it to a conservative thought leader and respectfully and gently asked for a response. Persistently. We should buy copies and send them to every editor or contributor to a conservative periodical — and ask for a published response, either in the periodical or on the internet. Better yet, we should send copies to conservative leaders with whom we have some connection. We need a grassroots campaign to insist on a response.

I’m sure a few honest men will read the book, admit that Deaver is right, and then quietly and secretly admit this. Big deal. For far too long we’ve had preachers and elders and Sunday school teachers who questioned the conservative doctrinal status quo quietly while pretending to agree. Many of us teach and preach and lead with mental reservations, tacitly supporting a system of thought that we know is wrong.

Well, we now have in one place a thoroughly documented, tightly reasoned explanation for why our doubts and suspicions are right. And it’s time to come out of the closet and encourage others to do the same.

And it’s really as simple as this —

* Buy the book (maybe more than one)

* Hand it to your preacher and your elders.

* Ask them whether they agree or disagree. If they disagree, ask them why. If they agree, implore them to say so from the pulpit. 

Now, I urgently remind us all (me especially) of the importance of being respectful and patient and gentle.

(2 Tim 2:24-26)  And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25 Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.

A change in paradigm takes time. Even if you’re persuaded to doubt the conservative position by this book, most men won’t be ready to announce a change of view. After all, Deaver does not offer an alternative position. He only asks that his readers admit that what has been taught is logically incoherent and impossible to actually apply in practice. 

I have, of course, offered my own alternative theology for who has fallen away and who should be in fellowship. But, for now, the point to make is that the current theology is indefensible. If your leaders will just admit the need to be open to other interpretations, then there are plenty of people who teach a better theology.

But it has to start with an admission of a need for something better. And Deaver has given us a tool written in the language of the conservative Churches, addressing the issue on their own terms. It’s a great place to start a conversation.

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.
This entry was posted in Facing Our Failure, Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Facing Our Failure: The Fellowship Dilemma in Conservative Churches of Christ, Part 2

  1. Royce says:

    The ongoing debate/discussion among coC folks about what is a “fellowship issue”, or a “salvation issue” is very telling. I probably should not be, but I am still shocked that so many church of Christ heavy weights have such questions.

    Much larger than “fellowship” questions is the glaring lack of Biblical doctrine and theological understanding, especially the doctrine of salvation. Unfortunately most so called “conservatives” embrace a “man centered” theology of salvation making salvation as weak as man himself. A good object lesson is watching a drunk try to walk a white line on an episode of “Cops”. It is just that easy to loose your salvation according to many preachers.

    Churches are full of deceived people who think they are saved and stay saved because of what they have done and will do rather than because of what Christ has done for them.

    Sad but true facts.


  2. dellkimberly says:

    Wow, I can't add much that has been said. Jay and Royce so well said. If we could but change the culture of our brotherhood to a culture that emphasizes Jesus

  3. Joe Baggett says:

    Here is the issue. To be willing to accept other interpretations is to be willing to admit that one does not know the whole truth and will never know the whole truth and that we will always be reunderstanding the Bible as we see the results of our interpretations played out. I think one of the biggest things affecting this whole conversation is the results. We are products of our teaching and practice. Our division is rooted in our theology and subsequent actions. The results of the church of Christ experiment is more division than there was before the early restoration leaders started talking unity. Sadly unity came at the cost of everybody agreeing on almost every detail. Truitt Adair recently put an article in the Chronicle after not going the Tulsa workshop about real unity being that everyone understands and interprets the Bible the same. Hello when we realize that this will never happen. How many more churches will have to split how many more divisions will there be in the restoration churches? Will have a praise team division just like the acapella division? You see these are results of our theology it is not only inconsistent but eventually even people who aren’t Christian can see it is against the very Character of God. I know many in the traditional circles will try to excuse this or explain it away and show that division is really just people with bad attitudes not the theology. That argument does not hold water because those who hold to the hard-line doctrines and demand lines of fellowship be maintained around them are the most divisive. They will publish books like Dave Miller did about North Richland Hills; they will take out ads and circulate petitions in the Chronicle like the “Time to speak”. All in the name of “truth”. But even the unchurched who read the newspaper ads that we take out against each other can see there is no God in the truth we claim to know and hold to.

  4. Alan says:

    Life as a conservative church of Christ preacher must be pretty tough. Taking one "wrong" stand can cost you your job — and your future job prospects. But there is no consensus among those folks about what is "right" and what is "wrong" on many subjects, and they all know it. It must be a scary thing to venture into subjects like this one. Instead, to be safe, I think most will limit their comments to the well-rehearsed phrases and examples that they know will not get them into trouble. That blocks the path to learning something new, or to abandoning an erroneous old position.

  5. Nick Gill says:

    Jay, your last paragraph is exactly right — I think if this book had appeared 30 or 40 years ago, it could have done more harm than good. But we've had so many brethren articulating healthier theologies that the groundwork is already laid.

    I fear that too many people have too much at stake to be able to admit error. Admitting error is for sinners.

  6. jdb says:

    This is a reply to Alan. You are absolutely right. Life as a conservative c of C preacher can be very hard (and rewarding). A few years ago a fellow preacher called me at the office. We were roughly the same age and had known each other as kids. We were in different states and so he felt he could talk to me without fear of it getting back to the congregation he served. His question was simple, "What do you do when your convictions have lead you away from the convictions held by your leadership? Are you free to preach what you have discovered the Bible to say? What would you do?" He knew that if he preached on a certain subject and voiced his beliefs, he would be putting his family in jeopardy. So, yes, Alan, there can be trying times when preaching for the conservative c of C.

    BTW, this wonderful man did a great job in that congregation. Eventually he moved on to a congregation where he felt free to preach all his convictions and to the best of my knowledge is still doing it today.

  7. Todd says:

    And sadly, truthfully, the solution to this problem is the one this website has proclaimed so many times before. We emphasize doctrinal perfection when we should instead emphasize God's grace in Christ. So long as perfection is our goal, we will continue to fail and wound one another. If grace can become our focus we will indeed find unity – unity of love which will allow a variance of practice without condemnation.

  8. Bob Harry says:

    I have seen it all in my firty two years in the Church of Christ. The Sunday school issue , located preachers, one cup, women teachers, praise team, instumental music and about one hundred more trivia that do not determine salvation, in my opinion.
    However, there are those, much wiser than I, who not only disagree with me but with each other. Some even have a PHD attached to their name.
    I have seen good scriptural arguements from several sides of all the above issues, and they do sound good and reasonable.
    I guess I will be in error on most of these doctrines as at this time in my life I want to spend what time I have remaining telling the lost and undesirable about a compassionate Jesus who God nailed to a cross that we might have our sins removed.
    Those of you who are wise and learned use all your time to debate and divide so you can be doctrinely correct. After you finish, edify us also so we can know the truth and your unified conclusions.Then we who evangelize can be right with you and in your fellowship.
    i pray that it won't take you longer than what you have been at it for the last 100 or so years.
    The conclusion is, why don't you spend your time reaching the lost like Jesus wants you to do?. He too was not in tune with his contempories. They declared him unclean and killed outside the camp.
    God have mercy on us for neglecting a lost and dying world. Bob Harry(no title on my name but Christian)

  9. At first, I wasn't sure I had anything to add to this thread, but I think I do.

    This problem of "tests of fellowship" is not unique to churches of Christ. It exists in other Christian denominations — and even more broadly, in society, itself. Is there not a sense in which racial segregation is an example of a test of fellowship? What about ethnicity? Income levels? Age groups?

    There are so many points which can become a test for some form of fellowship. As we've seen in the news recently, even the Islamic faith and the Jewish faith have lots of divisions based upon various tests of fellowship.

    All every test, no matter which scripturally supported or not, gets in the way of loving one another the way Jesus loved us.

    Of course, there are certainly some point at which God will say to people, you did not seek to be within my grace and you will be separated from me forever. But I've not met the person, in this life, that I've found to be wise enough or smart enough to make that decision for God. And he counseled us to leave that judgement to himself.

    Whether another person is saved by God or condemned by God is not relevant to how I treat him, how I serve him, how I love him.

  10. J. Prince says:

    Though we've proven that we can't be unified in how we worship, we CAN be unified in who we worship. We just refuse to do so.

    As David says above, "every test, no matter whether scripturally supported or not, gets in the way of loving one another the way Jesus loved us ". Seeking unity in who we worship doesn't mean that we accept and support every thing taught by all who serve Him.

    It does mean that we accept our flawed brothers and sisters even with their doctrinal mistakes. However, the conservative CoC along with conservatives in many other denominations will not do so. I think this grieves our Father far more than any doctrinal mistakes that exist in various churches.

Comments are closed.