The Fork in the Road: An Email from a Church of Christ Preacher, Part 1

forkintheroadI get emails —



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.



Dear reader,

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.

Years earlier, I published The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace to advance a better explanation of who is and isn’t saved. It’s now available as a free .pdf download.

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.


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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7 Responses to The Fork in the Road: An Email from a Church of Christ Preacher, Part 1

  1. To the Questioner:

    I began a similar long period of searching in my late 20’s (I am now in my mid-70’s). I have remained in the “mainstream Churches of Christ,” though I lean toward more grace-driven views than many of my brethren, and am not as “hard-nosed” as I once was. My search began when I was determined to set another brother straight on the baptism of someone divorced and remarried. The other brother said he should remain in his marriage; I was thinking (as do many) he should divorce his present wife to show repentance. The other brother based his position on the indisputable fact that divorce was rife within the Jewish and Gentile worlds in the first century – yet there is no record of a divorced person being required to divorce to become a Christian. My initial reaction to that argument was that he was making too much of the silence of the Scripture. Then it dawned on me (as in “it began to become light”) that I was the one who violated the silence of the Scripture by requiring something Scripture does not, except through inferences, require – and something that had, indeed, been expressly forbidden in Deuteronomy 24:1ff.

    Since that time more than 45 years ago I have quit assuming that what I was taught in my youth is actually taught in Scripture. I have been more careful in my own pronouncements and more gracious toward those who disagree with me. I have imbibed more of the spirit Paul taught in Romans 14 – and have come to understand Romans 16:17 (i.e., “offenses contrary to the teaching you have received”) as at the very least including what Paul had just written 2 chapters earlier.

    As I have gotten older, I have become more willing to openly question some of the doctrines, but (most of the time anyway) without creating disturbances in congregations. This has not always been “satisfying” to me, but I’ve also learned that my satisfaction is not a Biblical criteria for accepting someone as a brother in Christ.That I’m more willing than some to act on this than some others is an unfortunate circumstance that I regret – but live with knowing that God’s grace also extends to those more “conservative” than I as well as to those more “liberal” than I since neither I nor my opinions are the standard. The Scriptures are.

    I invite you to look over some of my postings at, especially those posts that deal with questions such as “What Is Truth?” or “Can the Ordinary Person Understand Truth?” These are only 2 of many other posts you may be able to locate on my site by searching it with the question “What Is Truth?”

    May God bless you as He is blessing me as you continue your search of the Scriptures!

  2. It was very helpful to me to tap into natural contrarianism when I started facing this issue. Instead of starting with the whole Bible and trying to curry out what was “not a salvation issue”, I approached it from the opposite direction. I took a minimalist approach to salvation in scripture. Instead of assuming that our salvation depends on everything in scripture, I assumed that hardly anything in scripture fits that bill. I assumed that most of the scripture is about other subjects. Sure enough… it is. God is reconciling us to himself through Jesus. We receive this reconciliation by faith in Christ. There it is. The gospel is who Jesus is, and what he has done.

    One important error that has to be rejected is the idea that we must defend every scrap of scripture as a “salvation issue” or we are somehow rejecting the importance of scripture itself. This is not true, but as long as we debate this, we cannot escape the briar patch.

  3. Royce says:

    The less a man knows about what God has done for sinners in the person and finished work of Jesus the more “salvation issues” he is likely to have.

  4. Ray Downen says:

    Charles speaks well to the same matters addressed well by Jay concerning issues over which we should be willing to divide. I also recommend a booklet by Marion Owens of California explaining why he has changed his mind about some teaching of “the church of Christ.” It’s at That’s PB-S02.pdf “Doing Things As JESUS Wants.” Easy to read and/or print at my web site, I include two reviews of the book, by John Clayton and Garland Bare. John is a long-time member of a Church of Christ. Garland switched when a young adult from the Church of Christ to Christian Churches/Churches of Christ.

  5. parsontodd says:

    Personally, getting acquainted with the teachings of Jesus did more to unhinge my staunch legalistic upbringing than anything else. There is no way to not see our doctrines as being those of the folks who were in opposition to the Gospel of the Kingdom. (Unless, like them, we are so sold out for those doctrines that we prefer to ignore Him.)

  6. Dwight says:

    We in the coC are more concerned with damnation issues, than salvation issues as that is our default. We see things from the negative before we see the positive.

  7. Dwight says:

    I have grown up in the conservative branch of the denomination of the coC and it has taken me awhile to get past the fact that our doctrine is not the same as the doctrine and we tend to make more doctrine than what is there. It is easy to point the finger at others, but not so easy to say, “What is wrong with me?” We have gone down the road of- We may not be right, but we are never wrong. I have gone to a conservative site where they are talking about CENI or “Commands, Examples and Necc. Inference” as the way to understand scripture. While CENI is good I brought up that CENI doesn’t capture “Statements of Fact”, such as “God is love” as CENI only concentrates on what we are to do from a legalistic standpoint. Also, Jesus told them things they did not understand because they were not looking at it from a Spiritual Perspective. So i suggested that it be changed to SFCENISP. They were not amused. It appears that the man-derived CENI is not to be messed with, thus showing how willing we are to create laws out of nothing. It is CENI or the highway.

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