The Gospel Advocate Creed: The March 2016 Issue

Loss of Biblical AuthorityAs 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 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.

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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44 Responses to The Gospel Advocate Creed: The March 2016 Issue

  1. Travis says:

    Wouldn’t printed prayers also include psalms…..that we’re supposed to sing … Sometimes with instrumental accompaniment…? These issues are never as black or white as some want to believe. I heard the same arguments when I was in the non institutional camp years ago, except the things being damned were orphan and widow homes, youth mi sitters, and church subscriptions to and financial support of the Gospel Advocate!

  2. David Himes says:

    If we are saved by our compliance with Law, then we are all damned.

  3. Alabama John says:

    Those that hold to that type of GA thinking have not experienced many of the obstacles to over come while trying to convert and bring folks to Christ. They live in a very narrow world.
    That is why that type of thinking church is fast disappearing and that is so sad.
    This causes folks to see the Church of Christ members and buildings like the one in the movie Deliverance.

  4. Jim H says:

    More of our dirty legalistic wash to hang on the line in the sunshine of God’s wonderous grace. Please, no more!

  5. Kevin says:


    That is why that type of thinking church is fast disappearing and that is so sad.”
    Or…maybe their disappearing is not sad at all…?

  6. K. Rex Butts says:

    Hermeneutics is what it boils down too. There are at least two fundamentally different ways in which the Bible is read among the Churches of Christ. It’s good to read the Bible but how we read the Bible (hermeneutics) matters too! The hermeneutical approach the GA represents is fraught with problems.

    I’m not trying to self-promote but I wrote an article published in Wineskins for the October 2014 issue titled “Story Tellers: Reading and Performing Scripture” which introduces what I believe is a better hermeneutical approach to the Bible, one that is missional.

  7. Bob Brandon says:

    Just rename the publication the “Ira Rice, Jr., Memorial Gospel Advocate”.

  8. Monty says:

    Hey, it’s a tough job keeping those few saved people saved. But somebody has to do it. Only problem is according to their own way of interpreting scripture most of the GA crowd are lost because they are too liberal for their more conservative brethren.

  9. laymond says:

    Where is the great difference in them judging you, and you judging them ?

  10. Mark says:

    At the end of the day, in whom or what is one’s faith, God? Or in the rules & tradition of the conservative cofC? That sounds like the Pharisees whom Jesus tried to set straight.

  11. Price Futrell says:

    Sad… [JFG: deleted per site policies]

  12. jimhwoodell says:

    Ritual trumps relationship with the GA doctrine. This takes you back to “The man or the plan” debate in the 50’s.

  13. David says:

    Speaking from printed prayers – Singing from printed hymns. As I recall, one of these is an expediency while the other is introducing an unscriptural item of worship. I had forgotten which was which, but now I remember Thanks to Greg for refreshing me on that.

  14. I am saddened by the course of the GA

  15. Richard Blankenship says:

    I echo Bobby’s sentiments. The course of the GA is extremely sad. And I can’t help but think that the founders and early writers of this publication would be grieving deeply if they knew what it had become. Fortunately we serve a God who is far greater than any of these publications.

  16. Jovan says:

    I’m reading through the GA articles and haven’t read the article which includes the “printed prayer” excerpt (not saying its not there) but I’m pretty discouraged by some of the comments which have nothing really substantial in dealing with Tidwell’s article but instead about a “money” trail. I’m surprised that if Guin has some regard for him that he would not address that particular personal attack.

    Still, how many of us quote people we do not entirely agree with. I might think someone has great insight on a given point but I might turn the page or two and wholeheartedly disagree with the same author. I get what Guin is pointing out but I still think part of the argument is flawed.

    I can’t wait til someone says of me, I like part of what he said but not this part. I’m reminded of my need to study and pray more over my convictions and their implications. God bless.

  17. I have to express my thanks to the GA for reiterating in the most arrogant and irksome way possible who the hardline CoC continues to be. That is, purveyors of a quasi-gospel whose proponents need no grace and offer none. This is a group of people whose relationship with God spends its entire life under the sword of Damocles, teaching a “gospel” wherein the cross is merely a step-stool, giving one his first and only assist on the lifelong ladder-crawl to salvation. Tidwell’s editorial plainly ensconces “I thank you, Lord, that I am not as other men are,” as the identifying scripture for their denomination, supplanting even Acts 2:38.

    So, if I am so critical, why am I thankful? Because Tidwell boldly brings into the light what is often obscured by CoC folks who want to save their denomination from shame, even if it means tut-tutting their way around such proud, hateful, anti-gospel messages, progressives who attribute to weak exegesis what is actually a false gospel from the evil one. Tidwell does the community a service by saying unabashedly that being exactly like them is still the only way to heaven, even if the progressives shudder a bit to hear it. Tidwell tells it like it is for his branch of the CoC, and IMO, the more he does it, and the louder he does it, the sooner this gospel-substitute loses its remaining shred of credibility and those who seek God become less and less likely to turn to that denomination for help.

    At this season, I am reminded of Donald Trump being asked by the media to denounce violence at his political rallies, only to hear a response like, “Well, I didn’t ask them to do it! I’m not responsible for it.” No, a clearer demarcation is needed, IMO, if the mainline CoC is not to be identified with the views of Tidwell et al. When will it finally be time to say, “This is a perversion of the message of Christ, and is not the gospel at all”?

    While I appreciate the efforts of some to be kind and gentle, there is a reason why a stop sign has only four letters. As opposed to: “I think– and I could possibly be wrong– that you should consider that as traffic moves unimpeded along the road you are about to cross, that stopping here before proceeding is probably the best approach to addressing this intersection and the complexities involved in navigating it successfully.” Civility is important; clarity is also important.

  18. Kevin says:

    Jovan said:

    Still, how many of us quote people we do not entirely agree with. I might think someone has great insight on a given point but I might turn the page or two and wholeheartedly disagree with the same author. I get what Guin is pointing out but I still think part of the argument is flawed.

    I have to disagree with you here, Jovan. Having been in Churches of Christ my entire life, Jay makes a relevant point. Here’s why…in many of the right-leaning CoCs, there are “authorized” authors, “authorized” lectureship speakers, and “authorized” scholars. CoCs are one of the most insular denominations that you will find. We really do drink the cool-aid and rarely read material from “denominational” scholars and those with whom we disagree.

    I know of one popular journal that warned of using bible study material by Apologetics Press because the editorial board believed that the Director of AP erred in a specific example of marriage-divorce-remarriage application! The bible study material was about the Christian beliefs of the founding fathers, a topic in which the journal’s editorial board heartily agreed. Yet, the use of the material by any CoC congregation constituted sin because the author of the material misapplied MDR to a specific and unique situation many years earlier. To use the material would have constituted fellowship with a marked, false teacher and violated 2 John 9. True story. Ironically, the author of the material holds to the exact same doctrinal viewpoint of MDR as those who author the journal!

    I don’t know if the GA holds similar views or not, but Jay does make a valid point for many within CoCs because of the prevalent and unique doctrinal position / application of 2 john 9 and fellowship.

  19. Ray Downen says:

    I wish editing was possible. I see that I have a typo in my sentence which should read “We simply are NOT saved by keeping laws.” I typed a “w” where a “t” belonged!

  20. Jay Guin says:


    Happy to oblige.

  21. Jovan says:

    Kevin, you only make them authorized by accepting their authority.

  22. Jovan says:


    So only right leaning groups have “authorized” speakers, lectureships, publications, etc.? Somehow I find that hard to believe.

  23. Kevin says:

    I can only speak for what I have witnessed among those on the far right.

  24. Kevin says:

    The fear of being written up in publications, disfellowshipped, and publicly labeled an apostate by friends and family is a pretty powerful motivation for many members to accept their authority.

  25. Larry Cheek says:

    You could easily add, “this is done without a trial”. Whereas, then other factors could become known which could validate the messages. The judges or jurors never have the opportunity to view “page two”. We are very fortunate on this blog to be able to touch base with “page two” of our comments. Some of the things which many have been charged and convicted with within the local churches could well have had totally different results if the congregation as a whole would have been aware of the situations prior to sentencing.

  26. Jay Guin says:

    Kevin wrote,

    The fear of being written up in publications, disfellowshipped, and publicly labeled an apostate by friends and family is a pretty powerful motivation for many members to accept their authority.

    I’ve seen it. It’s true. Many a preacher has been ruined by saying the wrong thing about the personal indwelling or MDR or clapping.

    I am blessed not to receive my living from the Churches — and to have an understanding congregation and eldership. Therefore, I can look forward to the next time I get written up as a “change agent” or whatever the latest fashionable epithet might be. I emailed Seeking the Old Paths and asked them to include me in their next Profiles in Apostasy lectureship — so I could fill a spot that might otherwise be filled with someone who would be hurt by being included. I offered to appear in person and address whichever of my many apostasies they prefer. But they ended the series. Having declares 99% of the Churches of Christ apostate, I imagine attendance was getting to be problem. 🙂

  27. Jay Guin says:

    Jovan wrote,

    I’m not intending to be rude on this aspect of the subject, but I don’t think this is unique to any one “side.” Some might do it on a website, others in a publications, others at lunch, others etc., etc.


    I’ve been among the “progressive” camp a long time. I know of no list of excluded preachers or writers. It wouldn’t occur to me to ask for a list, and if one were made, I’d refuse to participate. In fact, I encourage those who disagree to come here and express their views. I believe dialogue is the best path to a common understanding: group hermeneutics.

    Hence, there are readers here who regularly comment even though they disagree with me — both to my right and to my left. Which is exactly as I would have it. I don’t need affirmation. If I’m wrong, I need correction. If I’m right, I need to find the deeper truths behind what little I already know.

    And as a result, after doing this daily for about 9 years, I’ve learned A LOT from and because of the readers. They push me. They challenge me. They disagree with me. And I’m better for it — and I think it’s helped some of the readers, too.

    Now, show me the conservative blog that operates under a similar philosophy. The Christian Courier doesn’t even allow comments. The Gospel Advocate only publishes letters to the editor that are laudatory.

    Alexander Campbell famously made friends of the men he debated, often inviting them to his home to spend time in preparation. Read the 20th Century debates of our conservative brethren and see how friendly they were. I checked some out of my church’s library. I couldn’t read them, the tone was so ugly and bitter and unfair. Some of our 20th Century debates were unspeakably rude and hateful — and we use them as training materials in our schools of preaching!

    I’m not saying the progressives are free from fault — far from it. I’ve yielded to temptation more than once, but I’ve apologized when called out on it. I don’t celebrate it when a good man is attacked with untruths. I can’t say the same for many conservative preachers and editors.

    There’s something about the rightwing of our movement that justifies un-Christian tactics to win an argument — the ends justify the means, as it were. Strawman arguments, ad hominem attacks, damning over gnats. It’s very ugly, and many good people have been hurt by it. And if you doubt me, I can point you to published articles.

  28. Monty says:

    Unity based not on the person of Jesus, not on the basis of the Gospel, nor love for one another in Christ, and not even on the “thus sayeth the Lords of scripture, or even those of the Apostle Paul or Peter, but unity based on properly diagnosing “examples”, and “inferences”, and worst of all the silences of scripture, how absurd! How’s that working out for saving the world? Churches of Christ are about as insignificant as you can get at being a player in Christianity. A tiny fraction of a percent, a minuscule fraction and the majority of them are in the U.S. and in 2-3 states mostly. But it gets even sadder, depending on which conservative/ultra conservative faction you talk with perhaps the majority of those in the CofC aren’t “truly” saved, but are tares. And why? Oh, big Biblical issues like hand clapping, eating in the building, paying a located preacher, using more than 1 cup for communion, Sunday Bible class, supporting Disaster Relief, praise teams, reaffirming of elders, and the list goes on and on and on. Hardly the small seed that would grow into this huge tree where so many birds would come and live. Their pet verse for being so small and insignificant is “narrow is the way and few there be that find it.” It gives them great solace.

  29. James says:

    Why on earth did I click the Apologetics Press link on clapping? I won’t waste my time arguing against it on your sight, but I did come back to share this visual in the article:–DM2.png

    It’s not just an example of how the CENI exercise is done in such circles, it is a also an example of how we have long used a rubber-stamped passage completely devoid of true context or justifiable application. Luke 17:10 is stamped there to show you that you are “but an unworthy servant” (a passage about humility and duty), but done so in an article about “handclapping” to basically say, “shut up the worldly clapping, you ungrateful pleb”…not how Jesus used the parable at all.

  30. dummy says:

    Please ignore my previous comments, it was totally un-Christian and improper for me to post hate messages without using my name. If I am going to say something negative I need to sign it and I did not. Tom

  31. Jay Guin says:


    Please provide your correct email address. It only goes to me, but it’s required as a condition of participation.

    I’m going to delete your previous comments per your request that they be ignored.

  32. Matt says:

    Why is there such a strong commitment to keeping the name ‘Church of Christ’ even among those in the progressive camp who don’t agree with articles like this?

    I’ve been in the throws of this issue for several years now. My wife and her family were raised in very conservative CofCs that hold the belief that everyone else is going to hell. Every time I tell someone we attend a CofC I get a very negative response due to the testimony damage these types of CofC churches have wrought for generations. They also hold the view that ‘Church of Christ’ is the only biblical name. I can find no evidence of this; in fact I continually am finding evidence to the contrary. I have found one instance where it’s mentioned in the plural (churches of Christ) in the book of Romans. I have found numerous times where the church is referred to as ‘church of God’ or ‘churches of God’. Statistically that would make ‘church of God’ the most biblical name, if that’s even a thing.

    So why the undying devotion to the name ‘Church of Christ’ if it carries with it so much negativity and condemnation due to people like Mr Tidwell and his article. Christ himself referred to the churches as ‘the church at (city name)’ in Revelation. Wouldn’t that then be the ‘most biblical’ name since Christ himself said it?

    If dropping the name in favor of another biblical name that doesn’t have all these negative connotations would bring even one single person to Christ would it not be worth it?

  33. Dwight says:

    Matt, There is no good answer except that is one of those things that people like to hold on to as an identity marker or else they believe they will lose who they are amongst everyone else and it might be true to some extent in that a lot is placed on the name. Ironically if a coC stopped calling itself a coC and chose no name (which is more scriptural), most likely they would be dropped by all of the other coC even though the doctrines are identical.
    1. There is no such thing as a plural church or churches. The word for church or churches is the same word…ekklesia or congregation and congregation already carries a plural sense.
    2. to be exactly scriptural it would be “congregation of Christ”
    3. In I Cor.1-3 Paul hits the Corinthians for the taking on of names and dividing over them and one of the name was Jesus, so using any name, even the name of Jesus, is sinful if used to divide from others.

  34. Jay Guin says:


    I entirely agree with 2 and 3. Not so sure about 1.

    The word for “churches” in Rom 16:!6 is ἐκκλησίαι ekklesiai. This is the plural form.

    In 1 Cor 1:2, the singular form ἐκκλησίᾳ (ekklesia) is used.

    You may be using a resource that links English words in a Bible translation to the Strong’s number and Greek root word, but almost all of these resources don’t specify the voice, tense, etc. of the word, just the root, and so they can make it appear that the Greek is singular when it’s not. (I’m a big fan of BibleWorks because it makes finding the declension, etc. of Greek words very easy.)

  35. Jay Guin says:


    You make a good point. The Bible does not offer a proper noun sort of name for the church. The most common name for the church — by far — is “church.” The word is used because of its OT roots to refer to Israel, especially when Israel assembled to hear God’s word or to form an army to conquer the Promised Land.

    All other “titles” are simply common noun sorts of descriptions. The “churches of Christ” just means “the Messiah’s churches” or maybe “the Messiah’s gathered peoples” or even “the Messiah’s gathered Israel.”

    Although the root of ekklesia is “called out,” that is not its First Century meaning (although Christians are in fact called out). Rather, the meaning was “an assembly” or “gathering” but the OT roots make it a near synonym for Israel — a point rarely made in our teaching because we have thrown our OTs away and so don’t see the connection.

    (Ps. 149:1-3 ESV) Praise the LORD! Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise in the assembly [LXX: ekklesia] of the godly! 2 Let Israel be glad in his Maker; let the children of Zion rejoice in their King! 3 Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre!

    So why be obsessed over the name? Because it is perceived that the name indicates loyalty to the denomination and its principles. In fact, even very progressive churches often fear (a) being excluded from lectureships and other denominational activities if they abandon the name and (b) being unable to attract CoC members moving into town – which is still our largest source of growth — far outweighing evangelism. And since we grow by transfer, we have to wear the identifier.

    It’s a short-sighted strategy. Soon the progressive congregations will have provided a better CoC for all those willing to change churches and then growth will stop — unless we get busy with actual evangelism — which is much, much harder. And as you note, the denominational name hurts our ability to be attractive to the lost because our denomination has a terrible reputation in many areas. It just does.

    Some have finessed the problem with a hybrid name “The Southside Family of God, a church of Christ.” That sort of thing. Not really a bad idea. If a conservative church does that, no one complains. If a progressive church does that, they are damned heretical apostates for abandoning the “name of Christ”!

    The Gospel Advocate has written against the name “community church” countless times, and yet “community” translates koinonia — which is a very biblical description of the church. But they know that giving up the name often means giving up loyalty to the human denomination we call “Church of Christ.”

  36. Matt says:


    Thank you for your response. I think you have explained it rather well. It’s rare to find self reflection with such honesty. I’m sure there are many who find it to be unsettling. Personally I think it shows spiritual maturity.

  37. Dwight says:

    Jay, Thanks I went to and found what you were talking about in regards to Rom.16:16 and other places. Although congregation is technically plural in its sense, this would be a case where many groups would be in view. It appears the Strong’s concordance has led me astray it seems. The Strong’s interlinear corrects this. I stand or rather sit corrected. I will have to correct my study that I have been working on.

    Tyndale’s and Coverdale’s Bible correctly used congregation instead of chirche or church, which was used by Wycliffe’s translation, but which made it into the KJ version and the rest is history, otherwise we would be using congregation in place of church. And we would be seeing “congregation of Christ” being promoted as the “correct name”. Or maybe not as it doesn’t have the same flow and it sounds less namey.

    I totally agree with you Jay. We in the coC have a branding and a proprietary issue. The argument is if it is not coC, then it is not scriptural and thus the people inside must not be scriptural, but will agree that there are many coC that are not Godly despite the name. The fear is if we have no name then people can go and will go to any other church who of course are wrong.

    And then the argument is that we must name our congregation after God and not man, which all others do, even though the Baptist and Methodist don’t name themselves after a man and then there is the problem of Israel and Judah…God’s chosen people…named after men, not to mention the twelve tribes and they all somehow still managed to be united in God.
    God seemed to be less concerned about names than we are as He was concerned with the character of the people and not labeling.

  38. Kevin says:

    I think the ‘controversy’ surrounding naming conventions manifests itself based on our approach to scripture. In the CoC, we have approached the Bible as a rule book, and that is how we read scripture. We intuitively look for rules because we read scripture as a lawyer. That is how we read, understand, and apply God’s word. Because of this horribly flawed and faulty approach to the Bible, we have preachers who characterize the term “Church Family” as the language of Ashod.

  39. Dwight says:

    Kevin, we approach the scriptures like the Pharisees approached the scriptures, looking for ways to impose law on the people instead of looking for way to help the people apply the law to themselves. Many of the Jews looked at the Law as a way unto salvation, instead of the Law as a way to God who saved. I fear we often do the same. Ironically we who use the CENI method, shouldn’t have any reasonable grip against names as there is neither command, example or NI to argue for a name or naming convention as a rule. There is only our thinking on what we think God would want. God is not vague. If he had a problem with this he would have condemned the Israelites.

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