The Fork in the Road: “The Way of UNITY between “Christian Churches” and Churches of Christ,” Part 7

Charles wrote,

I used to be mystified by Greg’s inhuman standard of “precision obedience”.

Charles and Greg,

Here is what I hear when Greg speaks of “precision obedience”

1. Greg believes the progressive churches teach that obedience is not important. He gets that from our teaching on grace. Every time we say that “X error is forgiven and so not a barrier to unity,” Greg hears us teach, “We can do X because God will forgive it.”

2. Thus, I understand Greg to perceive himself, in contrast to the progressives, to be obeying the scriptures to the best of their abilities, whereas he perceives the progressives as engaging in license, that is, sinning in reliance on grace.

It’s a common mistake. You see, the key distinction between the two movements is the progressive understanding that grace does not allow you to intentionally sin (God forbid!) but that grace allows you to be in fellowship with those who honestly disagree.

Thus, if congregation X believes that instrumental music is a sin, and they use instrumental music in reliance on grace, they are in rebellion against God and their souls are in great jeopardy.

(Rom 14:23 ESV) 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

However, if congregation Y prayerfully concludes that instrumental music is not sin, and it turns out that they are mistaken so that their worship is sinful, they are not condemned by Romans 14:23. Rather, they are saved by grace.

Now, to someone raised in conservatism, this line of thinking can be uncomfortably subjective. It makes someone’s conscience matter far more than a confirmed conservative would want. Indeed, it’s often argued that “Ignorance of the law is no excuse” — as though the common law of England were the standard for such things.

No, God judges the heart.

(1Sa 16:7b ESV) “For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”

The conservative responds that such a theory rewards ignorance of God’s will. It looks like a loophole, because the conservative sees the world through legal eyes. He assumes people respond to God based on his laws, rather than his love.

But we, as parents, judge our children by their hearts. If a child tries to do right but errs, we forgive because we parents judge the heart as well as we can.

It is, you see, quite impossible for a child to take advantage of this grace that we naturally extend to those we love — because if she were to intentionally sin in reliance on our grace, she’d no longer be acting with a pure heart. Hence, there is no loophole at all. You cannot be penitent and simultaneously sin in reliance on grace.

Moreover, my child loves me, and since she loves me, I know that over time she’ll come to better understand me. An error I would easily tolerate in a three-year old might be outright rebellion coming from a nine-year old. But children mature at different rates, and there’s no way to make up laws and standards that govern such things. You see, it’s all about the heart.

And while a mortal parent can’t know his child’s heart perfectly, he can know her heart well enough to raise her well. God, however, knows our hearts perfectly, making it entirely impossible to fool him.

Children who love their parents will learn their parents’ will and become more and more obedient in fact, that is, objectively obedient. Subjective obedience — attempted obedience in error — becomes obedience in fact for those who love because those who love seek to learn the will of the person they love.

Thus, grace does not provide license to sin. It’s a false assumption that comes from thinking in terms of law rather than relationship — and forgetting that penitence is always required of God’s children.

And it misses the Spirit entirely. A century of denying the personal indwelling necessarily produces a theology with a huge gap. You see, it’s the Spirit who changes our hearts and minds so that we’ll be the children God wants.

It starts in Deuteronomy —

(Deu 30:6 ESV)  6 And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.

The passages speaks of a time, after the Jews rebel against God, when God will restore his Kingdom. The prophets spoke about the fulfillment of this passage.

(Eze 36:25-27 ESV) 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.  26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

(Jer 24:7 ESV)  7 I will give them a heart to know that I am the LORD, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.

Notice the recurring theme: God himself will change the hearts of his people to return to him — and this will happen with the giving of God’s Spirit. This is at the very heart of Christianity! It’s Acts 2 and baptism. Which is why Hebrews 8 – 10 is a lesson built on —

(Jer 31:33-34 ESV)  33 “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Again, the theme is God’s action within his people to change their hearts, but now it’s also about a covenant and about God’s law. God’s people won’t write God’s laws on their own hearts by diligent work. No, God himself will write his law on their hearts!

Paul also picks up on this theme —

(Rom 2:29 ESV) But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

Paul is more explicit than even Jeremiah. Our hearts will circumcised (conformed to God’s will, softened) “by the Spirit, not by the letter.” The letter is inadequate because we humans can’t sort it out all by ourselves. We can’t transform our own hearts — not nearly well enough.

But this also means that the laws that matter most, the ones so important that God began talking about them 3,500 years ago, are the ones that God writes on our hearts — not necessarily the ones that handed down by the preacher schools, academies, and periodicals.

(2Co 3:17-1 ESV) 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

What does God do in our hearts through his Spirit? Well, he transforms us into the image of Jesus. What is the law that God writes on our hearts? Jesus.

Jesus the physically circumcised? Jesus who kept kosher? Jesus who honored the Torah scrupulously? Is that the law written on our hearts? No, it’s Jesus on the cross.

(John 13:34-35 ESV) 34 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

(Rom 13:8 ESV)  8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

(Gal 5:13-14 ESV)  13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.  14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

(1Jo 3:16 ESV) 16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.

You see, by the Spirit, those who have faith find their hearts transformed to love as Christ loved. And those who love as Christ loved obey precisely. He’s the standard.

They don’t engage in license, relying of grace to sin (which damns) but instead seek God with all their hearts.

They may disagree about how to conduct a worship service, but they all agree that Jesus is Lord, the Son of the Living God, and they all strive to love as Jesus loved them — sacrificially.

And that accomplishes God’s purposes. God did not send Jesus to impose an order of worship on Sunday mornings. He sent Jesus to transform the hearts of God’s people to become like Jesus — because it’s only with God-transformed hearts that precise obedience is possible.

(Phi 2:12-13 ESV)  12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,  13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

(Eph 5:2 ESV) 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

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 The Fork in the Road: “The Way of UNITY between “Christian Churches” and Churches of Christ,” Part 7

  1. Royce Ogle says:

    Spoken like a true change agent. 🙂

  2. aBasnar says:

    Grace allows you to be in fellowship with those who honestly disagree.

    However, if congregation Y prayerfully concludes that instrumental music is not sin, and it turns out that they are mistaken so that their worship is sinful, they are not condemned by Romans 14:23. Rather, they are saved by grace.

    Basically I can agree with both statements, but there are some limitations:

    a) How can the “other party” discern whether you honestly disagree or stubbornly? There is a way, but this involves fellowship and openness; but as soon as there is even only a geographical distance, rumors are louder than facts. So the action alone becomes disturbing and open to interpretation.

    An example:

    Jos 22:10 And when they came to the region of the Jordan that is in the land of Canaan, the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh built there an altar by the Jordan, an altar of imposing size.
    Jos 22:11 And the people of Israel heard it said, “Behold, the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh have built the altar at the frontier of the land of Canaan, in the region about the Jordan, on the side that belongs to the people of Israel.”
    Jos 22:12 And when the people of Israel heard of it, the whole assembly of the people of Israel gathered at Shiloh to make war against them.
    Jos 22:13 Then the people of Israel sent to the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh, in the land of Gilead, Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest,
    Jos 22:14 and with him ten chiefs, one from each of the tribal families of Israel, every one of them the head of a family among the clans of Israel.
    Jos 22:15 And they came to the people of Reuben, the people of Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, in the land of Gilead, and they said to them,
    Jos 22:16 “Thus says the whole congregation of the LORD, ‘What is this breach of faith that you have committed against the God of Israel in turning away this day from following the LORD by building yourselves an altar this day in rebellion against the LORD?
    Jos 22:17 Have we not had enough of the sin at Peor from which even yet we have not cleansed ourselves, and for which there came a plague upon the congregation of the LORD,
    Jos 22:18 that you too must turn away this day from following the LORD? And if you too rebel against the LORD today then tomorrow he will be angry with the whole congregation of Israel.
    Jos 22:19 But now, if the land of your possession is unclean, pass over into the LORD’s land where the LORD’s tabernacle stands, and take for yourselves a possession among us. Only do not rebel against the LORD or make us as rebels by building for yourselves an altar other than the altar of the LORD our God.
    Jos 22:20 Did not Achan the son of Zerah break faith in the matter of the devoted things, and wrath fell upon all the congregation of Israel? And he did not perish alone for his iniquity.'”
    Jos 22:21 Then the people of Reuben, the people of Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh said in answer to the heads of the families of Israel,
    Jos 22:22 “The Mighty One, God, the LORD! The Mighty One, God, the LORD! He knows; and let Israel itself know! If it was in rebellion or in breach of faith against the LORD, do not spare us today
    Jos 22:23 for building an altar to turn away from following the LORD. Or if we did so to offer burnt offerings or grain offerings or peace offerings on it, may the LORD himself take vengeance.
    Jos 22:24 No, but we did it from fear that in time to come your children might say to our children, ‘What have you to do with the LORD, the God of Israel?
    Jos 22:25 For the LORD has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you, you people of Reuben and people of Gad. You have no portion in the LORD.’ So your children might make our children cease to worship the LORD.
    Jos 22:26 Therefore we said, ‘Let us now build an altar, not for burnt offering, nor for sacrifice,
    Jos 22:27 but to be a witness between us and you, and between our generations after us, that we do perform the service of the LORD in his presence with our burnt offerings and sacrifices and peace offerings, so your children will not say to our children in time to come, “You have no portion in the LORD.”‘
    Jos 22:28 And we thought, If this should be said to us or to our descendants in time to come, we should say, ‘Behold, the copy of the altar of the LORD, which our fathers made, not for burnt offerings, nor for sacrifice, but to be a witness between us and you.’
    Jos 22:29 Far be it from us that we should rebel against the LORD and turn away this day from following the LORD by building an altar for burnt offering, grain offering, or sacrifice, other than the altar of the LORD our God that stands before his tabernacle!”
    Jos 22:30 When Phinehas the priest and the chiefs of the congregation, the heads of the families of Israel who were with him, heard the words that the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the people of Manasseh spoke, it was good in their eyes.
    Jos 22:31 And Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest said to the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the people of Manasseh, “Today we know that the LORD is in our midst, because you have not committed this breach of faith against the LORD. Now you have delivered the people of Israel from the hand of the LORD.”

    Good that they talked before they fought; but the action was easily to be misunderstood. The flipside of 1Sa 16:7 is that we don’t see the hearts but only what is before our eyes. To say: I do it with an honest heart, is something “the other party” cannot prove true or false – it is a matter of trust. If the relationship is already disturbed, then the interpretation of the action will be rather negative. This means: Those who introduce change are part of the problem, not only those who resist change.

    b) We are not isolated from other congregations in the present, the past and the future. Claiming the right to have our own way, convictions and understanding is in fact contrary to unity. If we depart from a common understanding and practice, we basically depart from fellowship of growing in knowledge (Eph 4:11-16). I readily admit that being bound inflexibly in traditions is another way to depart from this fellowship. But to push ahead and simply introduce the change while the others are not ready is taking action, is the first visible step of division.

    As for IM, which we have debated over and over and seems to be a good example, because it is not about the heart but about what we see: This is not a salvation issue, so why did you have to have it? Couldn’t you just have dropped the whole matter? You say it is not a fellowship issue either, but in fact it turned out to become one.

    You don’t only break from the conservative churches of Christ. You broke away from the consensus of the Early Church, the church until the 1200s, the churches of the Reformation until the 1700s, the Anabaptists (old order) and Eastern churches. Attempts to rewrite history (as by Danny Corbitt) actually confirm that you are aware that you broke away from the historic practice – but in order to make this less obvious it is “necessary” to rewrite history. This is blurring the facts, and enhances the consternation and irritation on “the other side”.

    As I said in other discussions: Romans 14 is not the text to solve the questions at stake.


  3. Price says:

    When I was a kid, I saw my older friends get bicycles and learn to ride and when they fell it wasn’t pretty…blood, pain, crying and running into the house for Momma… Well, when it was my turn to ride like the big boys, I decided to learn how to ride my bike…in the grass… did I fall ? Yep. Did it hurt ? No so much…Looking back, the reason I was able to learn to ride so fast was that I didn’t have a fear of falling so I could concentrate on balancing the bike…

    The conservative position seems to be (certainly not all but in my experience, mostly) that we serve God to avoid being damned…burning in fire for all eternity… All you have to do to avoid eternal torment is be like Jesus…exactly like Him…but make sure if you sin, you repent, just in time or else you’re gonna burn… That’s just not Good News…

    So many of my friends in the CoC just couldn’t bear the weight of that experience and condemnation… They moved to churches that were less Law and more Grace… They moved into the grass.. They’ve learned to live for God because they believe He wants them to have an abundant life…not because they fear eternal torment… It’s a different approach to love… One that you could never leave to go back to Law.

  4. David A. Braden says:

    How wonderful it would be if all the C of C were made of “change agents”. Rather than living in a hold and maintain pattern, the church could be touching hearts with the gospel message of Christ’s redemption and conforming to his image rather than conforming to worship procedures.

  5. Royce Ogle – lovingly tongue in cheek? Price, good analogy.
    As I look at the content of the article and the comments that unfold I see clanking of symbols far too often than love your neighbor. Love never fails. The law kills. Grace brings salvation through Jesus the Christ on the cross. When the believer “adds to” as Peter describes, we can not as individuals fail. It is a growth in process of completion effort. Paul tells us not to judge another man’s work in Romans. The work may die a horrible death, but the one who works in faith will not suffer the loss of his salvation. Let grace and peace be ours. The salvation for those in Christ Jesus can not be taken away by any man’s judgments.

  6. Charles McLean says:

    Quentin noted: “Paul tells us not to judge another man’s work in Romans. The work may die a horrible death, but the one who works in faith will not suffer the loss of his salvation.”
    Man, this makes it hard to keep judging people. (BTW, it is interesting –if only to me– that the basis of the NT word “judge” is to “separate”, as the sheep from the goats.) So it makes it hard to separate ourselves from one another over each and every thing we see as wrong. I am well aware of the passages wherein we are advised to avoid people who engage in evil behavior, or to “mark” those who would teach that which is evil. But I would suggest that this is something akin to checking the sex offender registry for your neighborhood. When we have serious offenders who are likely to offend again, we want to keep them from our children. But what if they started putting all the jaywalkers and drunks and hot check passers and shoplifters on the list, and we tried keeping away from all of them? We would wind up as some groups have, tiny islands of people whose identifying criteria is, “I am not as other men are…”

  7. Lonnie says:

    Good point Price! I read a comment somewhere that said the opposite of love is not hate but fear, i.e. 1 John 4:18

  8. Jay,
    I am new to this blog, I’ve been playing a lot of “catch up” if you will. I am a young minister. I wanted to say to you and all your readers, “Thank you.” You seem to talk abotu the very things that I am thinking and struggling with. I work for a very conservative CoC, but I’m more of a progressive – you can understand how the tension is there. I love the people, I love the church. I came from denominationalism and I became a “Pharisee” for awhile, but over the past few years, God has reignited His word in my heart and these posts have played a monumental part. On behalf of all the struggling, burnt-out, and bedraggled ministers (young and old) out there, keep doing what you’re doing! We are a Unity movement, not a divisive, isolationist calcified relic. God is moving in great ways! Those of us in the heritage of the Restoration Movement should consider ourselves blessed to be part of such an amazing movement of the Spirit. God is changing the calloused hearts that have been marred by the disunity of the Unity we preach, and grace is flowing like rain to the deserts of our hearts. Thank you, Jay, and Others for all you are doing and discussing! I know you have encouraged this person! Thank you!

  9. quentin says:

    I come from a conservative position of thought. Study, meditation, outcomes and experience has brought me to the same conclusion that separation is very difficult to do for the Christian. When we study the teachings of Christ we see that it is god’s job, not ours. Save for a few obvious behaviors this is the teaching. May God be glorified.

  10. Todd Collier says:

    Jay your article makes something quite clear, even if it is unintentioned. Legalism isn’t just about me knowing and feeling “safe” in my approch to God. It is also about my being able to keep tabs on you. Since I can’t really tell about how the Spirit is guiding and using you on a daily basis (aside from the fruit of that work which for some odd reason doesn’t count in our legal calculations) I want to lay this list of rules and commandments on you so I can monitor your progress. The progressive fears disobedience to God alone, the traditionalist must fear everyone.

  11. Todd Collier says:

    Scott Son of John…

    Psalm 91 is all about you my man. Keep the faith!

  12. Jerry says:

    I remember an editorial in the old Firm Foundation, Reuel Lemmons, Editor. In it bro. Lemmons spoke of only three Biblical reasons for withholding fellowship:

    a) Denying the Deity/Lordship of Christ.

    b) Gross immorality unrepented.

    c) A sectarian spirit.

    All of the Biblical reasons for withdrawal fall under one or the other of these, he said.

    I believe he was right. Maybe that is why many were eager to get rid of him as the editor of The Firm Foundation, which was on a much firmer foundation then that it was under his successor as editor.

  13. Tina Seward says:

    I’ve looked up the phrase “precision obedience” several times, and what’s interesting is that while I get several “hits” about the theological meaning of “precision obedience”, know what else I get “hits” on?


    Does God expect us to act like trained animals? “Come!” “Sit!” “Stay!” “Roll over!” “Play Dead!” When we obey, we get pats on the head and a treat. “Good doggie.” When we disobey, we don’t get the treat. “No! Bad dog!”

    There are days I feel like beating my head against the wall because of the stuff we argue about. Instrumental music, divorce and remarriage, roles of women in the church, baptism, gays and lesbians, etc. etc. etc. I am tired and burned out from everything we argue and scream about.

    Was anyone ever converted because of our “Biblically correct” positions on all those issues?

  14. Mark says:

    I believe too many were converted to those “Biblically correct” positions. I was told oncce by a very conservative cofC member that our stance on issues could never change because if it were to, some people might lose their faith. After all, that was what they were converted to.

  15. Jay Guin says:


    Dog training, huh? Makes sense. Two of the top three Google hits for “precision obedience” are about dog training. One is —

    So it seems that our preachers should wear fanny packs filled with tasty treats. When we get obedience exactly right, they can pass out rewards. I’m thinking bits of chocolate might just do the trick (Cf. the Big Bang Theory episode where Sheldon trained Penny to behave by similar means).

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